It Could Never Happen to Me
E. A. Mallory
I hate this sort of thing.
Officer Peter J. Malloy must have adjusted his tie on his uniform, checked his hair, and straightened his hat at least a hundred times in preparation for this moment, but now that it was here, he felt like there had to be something wrong with him, somewhere. He stood at full attention on stage, trying to pretend that his body wasn't wearying of the position. The Chief of Police stood at the podium, droning on and on. Pete scarcely listened to him, though words like "heroism" and "bravery" registered in his brain and made him squirm.
I hope I don't look as miserable as I feel. Pete sneaked a glance down into the audience, seeking out one particular table in the front. His partner of almost seven years, Jim Reed, sat at that table. Pete could easily see Reed's broad grin in the darkened auditorium, despite the spotlights shining on the stage and nearly blinding Pete.
He looks like everything's okay. If something was wrong with me or my uniform, I'd see it in his face. Jim's wife, Jean, also smiled sweetly up at him. Sergeant MacDonald sat at the same table, looking quietly proud. MacDonald's wife Mary met Pete's eyes, and she smiled supportively. Pete let his lips flicker slightly in response, but quickly broke eye contact. I don't want all this attention. Pete never felt comfortable with praise or accolades, but this time it was even harder to take.
He preferred not to ask himself why.
Pete let his eyes return to the straight-ahead stare required of an officer at attention. His eyes had never moved toward the right side of that table, the side where Judy sat. He couldn't look at her just now.
He didn't ask himself about that, either. Pete chose instead to tune in the speaker, letting the speech drown out his inner thoughts.
"…As I'm sure all of you know, Officer Malloy's injuries prevented him from taking part in Medal of Valor awards ceremony two weeks ago. Normally under such circumstances, someone would accept the award on the injured officer's behalf. But in this case, since Officer Malloy had almost single-handedly prevented the assassination of the governor of the state of California, an unusual exception was made. Governor Wilson, the Mayor of Los Angeles, the Police Commission and I agreed that this officer's exemplary action merited this special ceremony. And your presence here shows that the people of California heartily agree."
Pete allowed himself a deep sigh as the audience applauded. I wish he'd just be quiet so we could get this over with. Unfortunately, it seemed that the Chief of Police wasn't a good mind reader. As his speech lengthened, it became painfully clear that he wouldn't content himself with reciting the facts of the events that led to this award. No, he had to drag Pete's entire career into the spotlight, pointing out far too many supposedly heroic feats.
I guess he needed to fill some time, since I'm the only one getting an award tonight. Pete's discomfort grew by the minute. And far too many minutes kept dragging by.
"…it is my pleasure to present this Medal of Valor, the highest honor the Los Angeles Police Department can bestow, to Officer Peter J. Malloy."
Finally! Pete strode to the podium, bowing slightly so that the shorter man could loop the ribbon over his head. The shiny medallion that it supported clunked heavily against Pete's chest, and the applause of the audience thudded painfully against his eardrums. He accepted the proffered handshake, and then turned to acknowledge the audience as he had been instructed to do. He watched with dismay as they rose to their feet.
I have to get out of here.
Pete tried to smile, tried to pretend his head didn't feel like exploding. He'd shaken hands with what felt like half of Los Angeles. He'd endured Reed's incessant boasting about him. Harder still, he'd endured the barely hidden worry he saw in his friends' eyes. Some things were best ignored.
He'd tried to avoid Judy's eyes, and he had a feeling she was getting more and more upset about it. The thought brought a little flare of anger.
There's nothing I can do about it. She just doesn't understand.
No one does.
"Thank you, yes, thank you very much," he said to the next little party of well-wishers at the reception, using all of his body language to politely encourage them to move along. I feel like I just got married or something. Don't these people have anything better to do?
I hurt. I'm tired and I hurt all over.
"Are you all right?" The quiet words in Pete's ear made him flinch. He turned toward the familiar voice.
"Yeah, Mac, I'm fine."
His sergeant and friend looked him over with a compassionate eye. "You don't look fine to me. Is this too much standing for you? Are you in pain?"
"Some," Pete acknowledged.
"Look, Pete, everybody here heard what you've been going through. They would understand if you bowed out early."
Pete felt sorely tempted. I'd love to get out of here. He glanced around and saw to his satisfaction that he had ceased to be the center of attention. The reception offered a wide range of munchies which now captivated the crowd.
"You know, Mac, you may be right."
"Of course I'm right. That's how I got these stripes on my sleeve."
Jim approached from over by the punch bowl. "How're you doing, partner?"
Pete shrugged a bit. "Mac and I were just thinking that I could probably manage a graceful exit right about now."
"You look like you're hurting. Do you want me to drive you home? It wouldn't be any problem. Jean could follow along with our car. I think she's ready to leave anyway. The sitter will be expecting us soon." Reed popped a cracker into his mouth as soon as the last word left it.
"Ahhh, no, thanks anyway, Partner. I'll drive myself."
Jim swallowed. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah, I'm sure. I'll be fine, really."
"Okay, suit yourself." Reed headed back toward the hors d'oeuvres, but then turned with an afterthought. "I'm off tomorrow. Do you want me to swing by? Or how about coming over to our place? The kids have been missing you. Jimmy asks about you all the time."
Pete's heart sank. I can't face those little ones.
He didn't ask himself why.
"I can't, partner. I really think I need a quiet day alone, you know, to recover from…this." Pete gestured to encompass the whole of the evening.
Please don't push this, Jim.
Reed's disappointment played clearly across his face, accompanied by the worry that Pete so hated to see there.
"Well, all right…but if you change your mind, or if there's anything we can do for you…"
Pete waved him off. "I know, I know. And I appreciate it, really. I'll come by some time…when I'm feeling better."
Jim clearly didn't even attempt to mask his worry, but he evidently decided to let the matter drop. Jean's voice beckoned him, and Jim nodded to his friend before finding his way back to his wife. Pete's eyes idly followed his friend, until they rested on Judy and he had to look away. She looks so hurt and confused, not to mention angry.
It's a shame, really.
Pete breathed a sigh of relief now that he was free to leave. He turned toward the door, only to be faced with the worried eyes of his sergeant.
"Pete, are you sure you're all right?" Mac's voice lowered to a private level. "I've been kind of worried about you…"
Pete cut him off with what he hoped was convincing nonchalance. "Mac, I'm a big boy. I can take care of myself."
"Yeah, okay." Mac looked less than convinced. "But I'd like to drop by some time… you know…just touch bases."
"Yeah, yeah, some time. We'll do that some time." Pete nodded and forced a smile. "G'night Mac." He turned and made a beeline for the door, walking as quickly as he could without seeming to rush. He pushed the bar on the door and stepped gratefully outside, breathing in gulps of crisp fall air as if he'd been drowning.
Jim walked back to the sergeant, noting the concern in his eyes. I think he's finally realizing how bad it is. Mac acknowledged Jim's approach, and since he made no attempt to cover his concern, he was clearly open to talking about it.
"He, uh, seemed like he was in a hurry to get out of here," Jim broached the topic.
"Yeah, he did." Mac's eyes returned to the doorway as if he could still see Pete there.
"Did you notice that he wouldn't look at Judy?" Jim continued.
"I noticed they weren't standing together. There seemed to be some tension. I guess she's really upset about this latest injury." Mac turned his eyes back to Reed. "Do you think she'll stick with him?"
"That doesn't seem to be the question, Mac. That's the really weird thing. Judy's been nothing but supportive of Pete. She was so proud of him, you know, saving the governor and all. But she says he's been shutting her out more and more, and he won't even talk to her, at least not on more than a surface level. She can't understand what's going on."
Mac scanned the crowd. "Where is she now?"
Jim jerked his thumb in the direction he'd seen them go. "Jean went into the ladies room with her, because Judy had started crying."
Mac shook his head sadly.
"Mac, Pete's even shutting me out. He won't come visit, he doesn't want me to visit…" Jim realized he'd begun speaking in a conversational tone, and lowered his volume again. "I didn't want to tell anyone this, but the other day … I showed up at Pete's house uninvited. He looked unhappy to see me there. He didn't let me in … said he was just leaving for a doctor's appointment.." Jim lowered his voice to an emphatic whisper. "Mac, I staked out his apartment for an hour. He never set foot outside the door."
Why now? Why tonight? Heavy Friday night traffic and one 502 accident were lengthening Pete's already interminable night. He sat in the traffic jam, watching as an unidentifiable officer performed a field sobriety test on one of the drivers involved. The driver was failing miserably, and Pete felt himself strangely fascinated by the sight.
The poor guy. He can't help it. He's trapped.
I wonder why I never saw it that way before.
Jean offered yet another Kleenex to her friend.
"Thanks for inviting me over, Jean. I couldn't stand it at that reception, and when Pete left without even saying goodbye…" Judy dissolved into tears again.
Jean patted her friend's back and wished she could offer some words of comfort. What can I say? I don't understand Pete anymore either.
Out of the corner of her eye Jean caught a glimpse of her husband. He had retreated to the den to give the ladies some privacy, but now he stood in the hallway, his face filled with sorrow. Jean held his gaze for long moments, giving and receiving as much love and support as she could.
Judy spoke up again, her voice choked with pain.
"I think it's over, Jean. I really think it's over."
Jean's heart sank, and she saw Jim sag against the wall. He raised his face toward the ceiling and blew out his cheeks, body language that spoke to Jean as clearly as words.
If Jim can't reach Pete, and Judy can't reach him either, then who can?
Ten p.m.! I can't believe it's this late! Pete dragged his weary body into his apartment. He kicked angrily at the throw-rug in front of the door, and spoke aloud to his empty home. "I need some sleep." His apartment remained silent, which was just exactly how he wanted it.
Alone at last!
As tired as he was, Pete knew there was one thing he needed more than sleep, and he didn't waste a moment getting it. There, in his bathroom, in the medicine chest, was the only thing he'd really wanted all evening. The prescription bottle said, "Take one tablet every four to six hours for pain." Only four hours had passed, and Pete briefly wondered if he should wait. He felt troubled, but the pain haunted him, so he took a pill and gulped it down with some water. Even as he swallowed it he felt relieved.
I'll feel better soon.
He walked over to the dining room and sat down at the table.
Maybe I should have paid more attention to Judy. Pete grimaced at the thought. No. Things have changed too much.
Pete didn't ask himself why.
Lately, 'why" had seemed like a pointless question. "Why" was for people who hoped to gain control of a situation. Pete felt more like a leaf in a river, pushed along by the current, not in command of himself or his circumstances.
And not sure he wanted to be.
Pete stood irritably and headed to the fridge for some milk. He would have preferred a beer, but the doctor had told him he couldn't drink alcohol when he was taking this pain killer. The old wives' tale said that milk would help him sleep, and he wanted to be nearly asleep before he crawled under the sheets. Before the troubling thoughts could find him there.
Images of the evening came back to hound him. Praise. Applause. Kind words. Proud faces.
The side of the table that he wouldn't look at.
Pete slammed his glass down onto the counter and retreated to his room, but the accusing voice in his head came right along with him.
She's not the only thing you're refusing to look at. Face it, Pete! Own up to it before it's too late!
Pete growled and shoved the thoughts aside. He quickly stripped down to his shorts and crawled between the sheets, letting the coolness of the fabric distract him.
Face it, Pete.
He growled again, jerking his blanket up to his chin and curling up on his side.
Nothing's wrong. I'm okay. He prayed for the pain medicine to kick in and soothe him to sleep.
Everything's fine. There's no way it could ever happen to me.
Jim fretted as he sorted through the bills and wrote checks. Some of them had to get into the mail today, so he couldn't put this job off any longer. But each moment he'd spent taking care of things this morning had kept him from doing what he really wanted to do.
"No, no, Honey, those are Daddy's papers." Jim gently pushed his little Jennifer's hand away for the umpteenth time. She grinned impishly at him and slapped her hand down on the papers again. "Defuh's," she gurbled at him, becoming positively coquettish. She could often flirt her way around Jim's resistance, but not this time.
"No, these are not Jennifer's, they're Daddy's." He spoke gently but quite firmly.
Jean came in from the living room and scooped the 15-month-old into her arms. "Yes, and besides, it's 'Defuh's' naptime." Jean often called Jennifer by her own baby pronunciation, though Jim worried that it might not be good for her.
The little girl's playful grin dissolved into tears. "No, no, Daddee! Daddee!" She reached her arms out toward Jim as Jean started to carry her away.
Jean stopped. "I think she wants you to rock her. Do you think you can?"
Jim sighed and glanced at his watch. He hated to take the time, but…
"Yeah, I can do it." He got up and gently took his daughter from her mother's arms. She cuddled into his shoulder and stuck her thumb in her mouth, giving Jim the same warm flood of love that he always felt when he held her.
Jean smiled sweetly at them. She loved watching him hold their children. She always had.
Jim carried his precious bundle into her room and sat down in the rocker. He stroked her blonde curls and hummed a nameless tune, feeling contentment stealing over him despite his worries. She seemed to sink deeper into his shoulder, and he suspected that she was already nearly asleep.
She's such a miracle. No matter how much time went by, Jim couldn't stop thinking how easily things could have been different, how Jennifer might never had come into being. She'd been conceived right after Jim had recovered from an accident that nearly left him paralyzed. The memory of that terrible time still made him shudder sometimes, but it also filled him gratitude. I can't imagine being paralyzed for the rest of my life. He gingerly shifted the little child around to get a look at her face. And I can't imagine life without this little one.
She truly was asleep, and Jim placed her gently in her crib. Jean's right. She's getting too big for this thing.
Jim made his way back to the table and re-focused on his paperwork. And on Pete.
I'm not going to let him shoo me away this time. If he says he's going somewhere, I'm going with him. Period.
"Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!" 6-year-old Jimmy burst in through the back door and ran panting up to his father. "Daddy, Frankie found a snake in the back yard!"
Jim jumped to his feet and hurried outside. He spent several minutes searching for the wayward reptile before he found it and determined it wasn't a poisonous variety. "Go on, get out of here!" He stamped his feet to shake the ground, and the excited little boys joined him in chasing the snake away.
"Wow, Daddy, that was so cool! Weren't you scared?"
"No, that kind of snake isn't poisonous. But you did the right thing in coming to me, because it could have been a different kind. You were right to stay away from it."
"Will you stay outside with us and play some football?" Frankie chimed in.
"Yeah, Daddy, please??" Jimmy pled.
"No, kids, I'm sorry. I have too much to do this morning. Maybe this afternoon."
"Daddy, why doesn't Uncle Pete come over any more?" Jimmy's innocent face darkened as he looked to his father for answers.
Jim looked away from his son's guileless eyes. "I don't know, son. But I'm going to try to find out."
Jim's heart sank as he pulled into the parking lot of the Blue Dolphin Apartments. His car's not here. Unless he parked it around back to make me think he's not home.
Jim drove slowly around the entire lot, looking for any sign of Pete's car. He even looked on neighboring streets, by now unwilling to put anything past his partner.
Nope. Not here.
On a sudden impulse Jim decided to park around back. If he comes home and sees my car, he may leave again. He got out and locked his car, then climbed up the back stairs to the second floor. As he rounded the corner onto the front side of the building, he paused near Mrs. O'Brien's door, wondering if he should ask Pete's landlady about him.
Jim fought down feelings of guilt as he fished a key out of his pocket. Pete gave me this key in case of emergencies. He didn't give it to me so I could spy on him.
For all I know, this is an emergency.
Jim firmed up his resolve and put the key into the hole. For a moment he wondered if Pete would have changed the locks, but the key turned easily and the door yielded to his hand.
He reached for the light switch and flicked it on. Pete's tidy apartment greeted his eyes, looking as normal as ever. At least on the surface. Jim knew he had to look deeper, though the feeling made his skin crawl.
I'm not snooping. I'm trying to help a friend who's in trouble. Jim kept reciting that assertion to himself, trying to ease his conscience.
He threw open his friend's closet. A lot of his clothes must be out at the cleaners. That was nothing unusual. The confirmed bachelor preferred to pay others to do his laundry.
The phone shrilled, and Jim jumped nervously. For a moment he considered answering it, but chose instead to continue his endeavors. The bedroom told him nothing, so he moved on to the next room, and the next.
Pete's apartment looked frustratingly, maddeningly normal. No matter where he looked, he simply could not find any clues to his partner's activities or state of mind. Jim looked around for several minutes more before his conscience could stand it no longer. When he decided to leave, his legs carried him quickly, responding to his goosepimply fear of being discovered.
Just a few steps from the door Jim was startled again, this time by loud knocking.
"All right you, whoever you are, I know you're in there, and I've already called the police!"
Jim had to smile a little. Mrs. O'Brien tried to sound tough, and she really was tough for her age. But Jim doubted she could have scared any burglars. Just as he doubted she'd really called the police.
He stepped to the door and opened it, taking in the sight of the petite, grey-haired fireball that was Pete's landlady. "Hello Mrs. O'Brien."
"Oh, it's you, Officer Reed. I thought it might be, but I figured I'd better be safe." The little woman shook a baseball bat at Jim for emphasis. "I saw the lights were on in here, and when I called, Pete didn't answer. So I knew he hadn't stopped back home, and I wasn't about to put up with any shenanigans in Pete's apartment."
I bet she wouldn't. If she were younger, she could probably scare me. Mrs. O'Brien was a formidable presence, purely by strength of character. Jim suspected that was why Pete liked her so much.
"Mrs. O'Brien, how many times have Pete and I told you that you shouldn't take chances like that? If there really had been a burglar, I doubt you would have been a match for him, even with your baseball bat."
"Don't you underestimate me, young man," Mrs. O'Brien's eyes flamed at him, and she shook her bat again.
Jim chuckled. "No, ma'am. I wouldn't make a mistake like that. But don't you go underestimating burglars. I've had a few of them throw me around. They might possibly be able to take you on, too." They'd be fools if they tried…
"Hmph. You're just like Pete. Always molly-coddling me. What am I going to do with you two?"
The mention of his friend's name brought Jim's mind back to unpleasant realities. "Do you have any idea where Pete went, or when he'll be back?"
"I do indeed. He told me you'd probably be by."
"Oh? Well, where is he?"
"He said he was going to see his doctor, and then he was going on a little vacation. Said he needed to get away from it all. Wouldn't tell me where he was going, either. But he said it wouldn't be the fishing cabin, because he figured you'd follow him there. Have you two had a row?"
"No ma'am, we're not fighting. I'm just … I'm just a little concerned about him, Mrs. O'Brien. He hasn't seemed like himself lately."
"No you're right about that, he hasn't. But after everything he's been through…" the landlady waved her hand dismissively. "Pete's Irish. That means he's strong, and he'll pull through. It's you that needs worryin' about." She squinted up at him. "You don't have a drop of Irish blood in you, do you?"
"No ma'am, I don't think so." Jim had to smile again.
"Then you'd better watch yourself." She shook her finger at him. "A man shouldn't even put on that badge if he doesn't have Irish blood. Our men are born for police work, that's all there is to it."
"Don't worry about me, Mrs. O'Brien. I may not be Irish, but my Guardian Angel is."
"Mmm, maybe so, but your Guardian Angel doesn't seem to want you to find him right now." The little woman let her guard down and let her worry peek out. "Is he going to be all right, Jim?" Her tiny hand rested on Jim's arm for reassurance.
"I hope so. If you see or hear from him, please let me know, okay? Even if he doesn't want you to. We can keep it between us, all right?"
"Well, I wouldn't like to break my word to Pete …"
"It would be in his best interest if you did."
"Then something really is wrong? I was afraid of that." The landlady seemed fretful now, betraying her fondness for Pete by her worry.
"Maybe not. Maybe he's really okay. But I'd like to be sure."
Boy, would I like to be sure.
"Oh hi, Pete! I didn't recognize you in that car. Where are your wheels?" The manager of the Mountain Vista Lodge knew Pete well, since his fishing cabins were Pete's favorite retreats.
Pete shrugged casually. "I was having some car problems, but I really wanted to come up here, so I rented this." It wasn't exactly a lie, Pete told himself, because his car really was a problem. If Jim or Judy came up looking for him, his car would give him away.
"Well, everybody will be glad to have California's biggest hero back! Hey, Marilyn, guess who's here?" The manager called over his shoulder to his wife.
"Shhh, Harv, don't spread the word, okay?"
"Oh," the manager lowered his voice. "You're getting tired of the spotlight, are you?"
"You got it. I don't want anyone to know I'm here. I mean anyone. Not any of my friends, my co-workers, not even Judy. That's why I wanted a cabin on the far side of the lake." Pete gave Harvey his best pleading expression. "Can I count on you?"
"Malloy? Malloy? Haven't seen him in a while," the manager rehearsed.
"Perfect. Thanks, Harv. I really need this time away."
"Mi casa es su casa." Harvey handed the cabin key to Pete, who accepted it with a nod and a wave.
"I'll see you around, Harv. Thanks again." Pete stepped on the gas pedal and made his way toward the shelter he so desperately needed.
I'll be able to get my head straightened out here. I'm sure I will.
"Should I go, Jean? What do you think?" Jim paced back and forth between two points in the bedroom, even as his brain shuttled between two options. "It's been a week since he left, and no one's heard a word."
"But Jim, it's long way to the cabin, and he specifically told Mrs. O'Brien that he wasn't going there. You would probably be wasting the trip."
"Unless he told her that to throw me off."
"He also made it clear to Mrs. O'Brien that he didn't want to be followed." Jean's tone became very gentle, clearly sympathizing with her husband.
She knows this is killing me. Jim appreciated his wife's support, but his frustration could not be so easily soothed.
"Sometimes when people don't want help is just the time they need it most." He said it quietly, almost speaking to himself.
Jean rose up from her seat on the bed and walked to her husband, wrapping him in a hug. After a moment his arms encircled her, and he nuzzled into her hair.
"I'm really worried about him, Jean."
"I know, honey, I know." She rubbed his back soothingly. "Why don't you get some sleep and make your decision tomorrow? Maybe he'll come back tomorrow morning and you won't have to worry about it."
"Yeah, maybe." Jim didn't feel too hopeful about that. But Jean did have a point. Sleep couldn't hurt, especially if he wanted to get up early and head for the cabin. He glanced at the clock.
"I had no idea it was 11:00 already."
"Well, it is." Jean broke their embrace and steered him toward the bed. "And you need to go to sleep."
Jim let himself be steered, and he couldn't believe just how wonderful it felt to be under the covers. Today had been a long day, and worrying about Pete hadn't helped.
"Good night, honey." Jean whispered softly.
"G'night." Jim felt sleep stealing over him even as the word left his mouth.
I knew I was right to come here. Pete sat in the aluminum john boat, dangling his legs over the side into the cool water. His fishing pole rested comfortably beside him, and a six-pack of soda floated in the water on a tether. He almost hoped no fish would bite, since he didn't feel like fighting with one just now.
The troubling thoughts still came, but he could push them away easily here. His pain pills kept him comfortable, and the relaxation at the lodge helped him forget about the rest of life. Even his recurring nightmares, the one about the accident, and the one about his father, rarely bothered him here.
"Hey, Pete!" The shout broke into Malloy's calm. "Pete! Come over here!"
Pete turned and squinted at the caller. "Harv, 'zat you?"
"Yeah, and your buddy Jim just drove up and asked me if you were here. I told him you weren't but he asked if he could look around anyway. I couldn't exactly tell him no. I know he won't recognize your rental car, but if he sees you out in the water…"
Pete had started rowing the moment he heard his partner's name. "How did you beat him here?"
"He headed around the lake clockwise. Lucky for you, huh?"
"Yeah, Harv, thank's so much. You're a real pal."
"Sure, no problem, Malloy. I aim to please."
"That's what I like about you." Pete clambered out of the boat and hauled it halfway up onto shore behind him, grateful that his back could now tolerate such endeavors. He glanced nervously around as he retrieved his supplies, but there was no sign of Jim yet.
"I'd better get back to the office. Just wanted to let you know." Harvey loped back to his car.
"Thanks again." Pete made one last survey of his surroundings and then trotted to his cabin. Once inside he locked the door and pulled the curtains, keeping only a slight opening so he could watch for Jim.
Why couldn't you leave this alone, Jim? Why can't you ever leave anything alone? Pete began to sweat as if he were hiding from a would-be assassin. Reed, you're like a dog with a bone, and you've ruined a perfectly good day. Resentment welled up inside of him.
He didn't ask himself why.
Jean paced nervously in front of the window. What could be taking him so long? She checked her watch for the hundredth time, and then she caught sight of headlights turning onto their street.
"Finally," she sighed. She strained to see the inside of the sedan, and when the dome light came on she felt a pang of disappointment. Pete's not with him.
Jim's dejected posture told her all she needed to know, and she offered him a hug as soon as he got inside.
Jim returned the embrace. "I looked everywhere. No sign of his car, no sign of him. I kind of got the feeling that the manager was lying to me when he said Pete wasn't there, but I went around the whole lodge twice. He's not there. Or if he is, he's hiding really well."
Jean rubbed Jim's back supportively. "Maybe it's for the best, Jim. Maybe he really does need to be alone for a while."
Jim pulled away from her and sat down with a sigh. "Yeah, I keep telling myself that. Too bad I don't believe it." He rubbed his eyes with his knuckles. "You wouldn't happen to have any decaf made, would you?"
"It's ready and waiting for you." Jean moved to the kitchen and pulled a cup down from the cabinet. "I figured you'd want some."
"You're the greatest. Thanks, hon." Jim accepted the coffee and took a healthy swig. Jean sat down beside him. "Who do you think you'll have for a partner tomorrow?"
Jim shrugged. "I dunno. I'm just glad it's time for a change. I couldn't have taken much more of Wells."
"I wonder how Bob has put up with him all this time." Jean smiled. She didn't know Bob Brinkman well, but she felt like she did, since Jim talked about him so often.
"Brink's just easy-going, that's all. He lets everything roll off his back." Jim took another swallow of coffee. "I'm just glad he's back from vacation. He's welcome to Wells." He polished off his coffee with a few gulps and stood up. "Ready to hit the hay?"
Jean accepted his hand and let him help her up. "I've been ready for a long time."
"You didn't have to wait up, you know." Jim gave her a little squeeze.
"Don't be silly." Jean stopped herself from voicing the attendant thought. I'm as worried about Pete as you are.
Pete tried to relax, but he couldn't regain yesterday's peace of mind. The boat was the same, the weather was the same, and the fishing was the same. But Pete kept looking over his shoulder, and he couldn't let himself doze off. Knowing Jim, he'll probably be back today, and maybe Harv won't get to me in time. Pete grabbed a soda and popped it open, wishing desperately for a beer. I don't think I'll ever forgive Jim for ruining my vacation like this. Why couldn't he just leave me alone?
A jerk on the fishing line yanked Pete's thoughts to the present. He grabbed the pole and started reeling, noting with satisfaction that the fish put up a good fight. Right now Pete wanted a good fight. He played the fish expertly, allowing it to wear itself out before he reeled it in. The doomed creature finally came into view next to the boat, and Pete reached down with a net to scoop it up. He sized up his prize as it flapped helplessly in the net. A good catch, definitely a keeper. Pete left it in the net for a moment while he pulled in the little underwater basket that would become the fish's final prison. He opened the basket and lifted the net, ready to dump the fish in as he'd done hundreds of times before. But something caught his attention. Something desperate in the fish's eye, in its frantic struggle against death. Pete stared, transfixed, at the suffering he was causing this helpless creature. A moment later he shook himself and dumped the fish into the basket, watching with some relief as its gills worked to bring oxygen back into its starved body. There you go, fella. You can at least be comfortable there until it's time for the knife. Pete shuddered a little. He'd never felt pity for a fish before, and he didn't like it. Right now the poor creature simply gulped, too exhausted to do much else. But Pete knew that before long it would swim desperately around its little cell, jamming its mouth against the mesh, searching frantically for a way of escape. And you won't find it. It's hopeless. I'm going to kill you and eat you. For the first time in his life, Pete felt regret about that fact. He shook himself again, clamping down on his emotions and dragging his eyes away from his victim. If it's any comfort to you, Mr. Bass, we're both in the same boat. Both of us caught in a trap that we won't get out of until the chopping block.
A wave of annoyance washed over him. Quit being so melodramatic, Pete. You're fine. There's nothing really wrong, nothing that some time alone won't fix. He anxiously scanned the shore for any sign of intruding friends. Just leave me alone!
Jim sat through the morning briefing, trying to focus on the Sergeant's words. He took notes automatically, but he didn't really know what it was he'd written. That wouldn't be a problem, though. Jim eyed his new partner, an eager young rookie who took notes as if he expected to be quizzed on them.
"Any questions?" Mac's usual query signaled the end of the meeting. The officers all rose, and Jim's rookie tucked his precious notes under his arm.
Boy, am I going to quiz him on those notes. That's the only way I'll know what the Sergeant said. Jim gave himself a mental kick. Get with it, Reed. Riding with a brand-new rookie is ten times more dangerous than riding alone. This wasn't Reed's first rookie, but he still worried a little about the responsibility. His life is in my hands, and he doesn't have a clue what he's doing. Jim hoped fervently for an uneventful shift.
Jim extended his hand to the new fellow. "Welcome to the force, Harris." The younger man returned the handshake enthusiastically, grinning broadly. "Thanks, Reed. Uh, call me Chip, okay?"
"Only if you'll call me Jim." Reed smiled at his partner, finding that he liked the fellow right off the bat.
"Hey, Jim, would you mind if we grabbed a cup of coffee to go? I missed my dose of caffeine this morning."
"Sure, no problem. You know where the break room is, right?" When Chip nodded, Jim continued. "I'm going to talk to the sergeant for a minute. I'll meet you there in a few, okay?"
"Thanks." Chip grinned again and dipped his head in a quick nod to Sergeant MacDonald before leaving.
"I heard you wanted to talk to me. What's up? Any word from Pete?" Mac's concern showed clearly on his face.
"No, none. I went up to the lake yesterday. I got the feeling the manager was lying when he said Pete wasn't there, but I drove through the place twice. No sign of him or his car. I just don't get it, Mac. Why would he want to disappear like this?"
Mac shrugged. "I can think of a few times when I've wanted to disappear, but it certainly wasn't when I'd done something terrific like saving the governor. His injuries weren't as severe as others he's had, and he's always bounced back before." The sergeant shook his head thoughtfully. "I've been wracking my brain trying to figure out what's eating at him. But I can't make heads or tails of it." Mac's expression lightened a bit. "But I've got confidence in Pete. He's as level-headed as they come, and he'll pull through whatever this is. If he chooses to spend his medical leave time by himself, that's his right."
Jim tried to feel reassured. "You're probably right."
Mac shook his head dismissively, his posture changing to signal a change of subject. "What do you think about your new rookie, Jim?"
"He seems like a nice enough fellow. Looks good on paper, like you told me in the locker room. I don't foresee any problems."
Mac clapped him on the shoulder. "Then what are you standing around here for? Get out on the street!"
"Hats go in the back. The ceilings on these units are too low." Even as he said it, Jim's mind leaped back six-plus years, to his first day riding with Pete Malloy. Has it really been that long?
Jim started Adam-12 and rolled out into traffic. He liked being in the driver's seat, but he hated the reason why he was there. Where are you, Pete? What's going on with you?
"So, Chip, are you married?" Jim figured it would be better to chat with his new partner than brood about Pete.
"Yeah, just six months." Chip grinned like a newlywed, and Jim had to smile back at him. "Whoa, that's great! Congratulations!"
"Yeah, her name's Maggie. She's the greatest, you know? Like we were made for each other or something." Chip glanced away and shrugged, looking a little sheepish. "I guess that sounds corny, huh?"
Jim shook his head. "Not to me! That's the same way I feel about my wife. Her name's Jean, and she's been my soul mate since I was a senior in high-school. Love at first sight, if you can believe that."
Jim signaled and turned right, making a pass by the front of R.H. Thomas Elementary School. "I always like to check out the schoolyards right about now. Sometimes you get pushers or even child molesters hanging around." The men rode in silence while they surveyed the school grounds from every angle. All looked innocent, and a few kids waved enthusiastically at them. Jim gave a friendly toot on the unit's horn, and the kids cheered. Jim couldn't help grinning. I've always wanted to do that, but I don't think Pete would have gone for it.
Where are you, Pete?
"Yeah," he continued as they returned to routine patrol. "We've been married nine years now, and I can hardly believe it. It's gone by so fast." Jim shook his head. "And we've got two great kids. I feel really lucky."
"Wow, nine years. That's really good. You hear about people going 50 years or more, and I really admire that. I know Maggie and I will make it. We're gonna grow old together, her and me."
Jim bit back the desire to correct the rookie's grammar. There were more important things to work on. "So, Chip, where are we right now?" He smiled inwardly, hearing himself echoing his own training officer. I hope I'm as good a TO for Chip as Pete was for me.
Jim taught Chip how important it was to always know his location, and then relaxed back into conversation.
"So, Chip, you got any questions? Feel free to ask anything, any time."
"I've heard that your regular partner is Officer Malloy, the guy who saved the governor. Is that true?" Chip gave him the wide-eyed look of a man having a brush with stardom.
"Yes, that's right." Jim felt worry flooding him again.
"Wow, it must be great having a genuine hero for a partner." Chip sounded awestruck.
"Hmph. A guy doesn't need TV coverage to make him a hero. Pete's been a hero to me since the first day I rode with him." Jim stopped at a red light and turned to face Chip. "Just about any cop you meet is a hero, and you can take my word for that. Most of them are just unnoticed by the press." The light changed and Jim turned left. "Pete knows better than to let it go to his head. The same people who cheered him on stage will call him a pig when he pulls them over for speeding."
Jim's mind wandered back to his own brushes with the press, some lauding him, some lambasting him. "One of the most important things you can learn is to know who you are, and make sure you live up to what you want to be. Because you can't let the press or the public tell you who you are. Most of the time they'll hate you. All you can do is be sure in your own heart that you're doing your best."
"It must be rough." Chip sounded subdued now.
"That's why we depend so much on each other. Whether or not you like an officer on a personal level, you'll be there when he needs you, and he'll be there for you. We'd die for each other. I've had several officers put their lives on the line for me. That's why I say they're all heroes."
"You ever put your life on the line for somebody?"
"Yeah." For Pete especially.
Silence fell again.
"Do you have any idea who my TO will be once Malloy gets back?"
"No, Mac didn't mention it. He may not have decided that yet. It could still be me, for all I know."
"Do you know when Malloy will be back?"
Jim sighed deeply. "No, I sure don't."
Pete polished off the last of his bass dinner. He hadn't enjoyed it as much as usual, and he had a sneaking suspicion that it was Jim's fault. In fact, everything that bothered him was somebody else's fault. That's why he needed to be alone. Everything was wrong, but at least when he was alone he didn't notice it as much.
Pete checked his watch. It's only been two hours? He groaned inwardly. Just great. I've got to wait another two hours before I can take another dose. He toyed with the idea of taking it early, but eventually decided against it. No, I can wait.
As much as he craved the pain medication, Pete felt a sense of relief at being able to postpone it. See, there's nothing wrong.
He flipped on the TV, glad that for once he'd chosen a cabin which came so equipped. He surveyed all of the channels and at last settled on a John Wayne movie. It didn't really interest him, but it provided some distraction.
I want a pill.
"C'mon, you idiot, don't you know there's an Indian hiding behind that rock? There's always an Indian hiding behind that rock." He spoke aloud to drown out his own thoughts. John Wayne rode on toward danger, heedless of Pete's warning.
I want a pill.
Pete growled, lashing out angrily at John Wayne's stupidity, fighting against the anger he really felt at himself. He swore colorfully and jumped to his feet. A quick turn of the knob put The Duke in his place, and Pete hurried off to bed.
I want a pill. I want a pill so bad.
"NO!" He shouted it aloud to the darkened bedroom. "I am Pete Malloy. I am not a junkie, I am not an addict. And I never will be. I can control this. There is nothing wrong!"
He rolled up in a little ball on his side and pulled the sheet up over his head. There is nothing wrong!
I want a pill so bad.
"Mac?" Pete released the key on his handy-talkie and listened for the sergeant's response.
"I've got my eye on somebody. No real PC, but he looks kind of hinky to me. He just went upstairs on the outside of the 700 building."
Pete couldn't really explain what it was about the man that caught his attention. Maybe it seemed unlikely to him that a window-washer would be cleaning windows as a parade marched by. Maybe it was the way the guy looked around before heading up the outside stairwell. Maybe it was…maybe it was…
"Roger, Pete. Go ahead and follow him. I've got plenty of folks on the ground. If this guy is hinky, he might be after the governor. His car's gonna drive by soon."
Maybe it was nothing. But Pete Malloy was used to trusting his instincts. And Mac was used to trusting them too. The seasoned officer glanced around, noting with satisfaction that Jim was listening intently to his handy-talkie and was moving into position to take up the slack for Pete's absence. The partners locked eyes for a brief moment, and then Pete sprinted up the stairs. It felt good to know that Mac and Jim were both keeping an eye on his situation.
As he mounted the stairs he felt a skin-tingling desire to draw his revolver, but he knew he didn't have PC for such a move. He couldn't exactly draw down a window washer for doing his job.
Pete flattened himself against a corner and looked warily around it. His window washer wasn't there. But his squeegee and his bucket were down on the ground beside his ladder, and next to them stood a window pane. Pete glanced up to see the empty window frame, his heart rate going up a notch.
He realized he needed backup, and he backed away from the window. He whispered huskily into his handy-talky, hoping he was loud enough for Mac to hear but too soft for the suspect to hear. As he spoke he turned his own speaker volume down, not wanting Mac's response to carry too far.
"Roger, Pete. I'm sending Reed and Casey up. I'm going to send word to delay the governor. Let me know when I can let him proceed again. I don't want to throw more of a monkey wrench into the parade than I have to."
"Roger. I'm going to take a look inside. If it doesn't look too dangerous I'll go on in."
"Roger. Be careful, Pete."
Pete moved swiftly but silently back to the corner and peered around it, gun drawn. The suspect was still nowhere in sight. Pete closed his eyes and thought for a moment. If the suspect was after the governor, chances were he'd be looking out the west window, toward the street and away from Pete's position. Pete swallowed hard and moved cautiously up the step ladder, leading with his revolver before bringing his head into any potential line of fire.
Nothing. No suspect.
Pete double-checked and then holstered his pistol, freeing both hands to hoist himself up and through the narrow window. He noticed a door, slightly ajar, leading into an adjoining office. With the governor safely delayed, Pete considered waiting for his backup to arrive. But then the sound of a sliding rifle bolt made his blood run cold. Maybe the target wasn't the governor after all. Pete drew his revolver again and ran quickly toward the door. He couldn't wait for Jim. He had to act now.
Pete burst through the door, aiming his revolver at what he assumed would be the shooter's position. His guess wasn't far off, and it took only a second to readjust his aim. "Freeze, Police!" he yelled in his most authoritative voice.
Something was off…something was wrong…this wasn't the same man. Pete had only a second to grasp that fact, only a second to feel the chill of fear, the deadly realization that someone else was here. Rough hands grabbed him, shoving him powerfully off balance, toward the window. Pete fought hard against the assailant he hadn't managed to glimpse yet, but he felt outmatched. His gun arm remained maddeningly powerless in the grip of a beefy hand.
What's taking Jim so long? Pete wondered as he struggled. A moment later he felt himself nearly lifted, hurled toward a second window. His revolver skittered across the floor as Pete landed with a grunt.
"I've got the pig, you keep your eyes peeled for the governor!" the strongman shouted, and Pete saw the would-be assassin scanning for his target again. Pete made a desperate lunge at the gunman, but the accomplice hit him like a linebacker. What followed was a blur of combat, two men shoving Pete backwards, Jim's shout from the doorway, the sound of shattering glass, the pain as it sliced into him, and then falling, falling, falling…
Pete gasped and sat up in bed, grasping wildly for a handhold until he realized it was just the dream, the familiar nightmare that brought reality back in merciless detail. He found little comfort in thinking that it had only been a dream. It all had happened in real life not so very long ago, and even though it was over, his world had never been right since.
His whole body reverberated with remembered terror and pain. Memories rushed back, and he couldn't stop them. After the would-be assassins had shoved him out the window, Pete had fallen onto a metal awning, driving more shards of glass mercilessly into his back. For a moment he'd collected himself, thinking his ordeal was over, but then the damaged awning had given way. Pete had clutched at thin air, trying to stop his fall, but the sidewalk rushed up to meet him with a sickening impact. People had screamed, Pete had moaned in terror and pain, friends in blue had shoved bystanders aside and gathered around him, and then the world had gone black.
It's okay. I'm in the cabin. I'm doing better. I'm okay. Pete stood and felt his way through the darkness to the light switch. If it's just a memory, and if I'm doing better, why do I hurt all over?
A quick glance at the clock told him he could take more pain medicine, and he gulped it down gratefully. Then he shook the remainder of the pills out into his hand and counted them. Only two days' worth left, if I take them every four hours. I've got to see Dr. Whitten again. I need to get a refill. Pete hated the thought of leaving his mountain refuge, but going without medication was out of the question. He dumped the pills back into their bottle and put it back on the side table. I'll have to check out tomorrow, and I'll have to convince everybody that I'm okay.
Pete climbed reluctantly back into bed. I am okay. I am. It's the truth. I'll be fine. I'll be fine.
Jean patted Jim affectionately as he headed out the door. "Have a good day, sweetie. And why don't you invite Chip over for dinner? Any night this week would be fine, and I'd love to meet his wife." Jean secretly hoped that a little get-together would lift both their spirits.
"Yeah, okay. I'll ask him." Jim bent down for a quick kiss. "Maybe Pete will call today."
Jean smiled sadly. He'd said the same thing every morning for days. "I hope so." She watched him until he drove out of sight.
God, please take care of him today. And take care of Pete, wherever he is.
Pete looked up at the sour-faced receptionist. "Yes?"
"Dr. Whitten will see you now." She looked as if she hated to deliver her message, but Pete was more than happy to receive it. He closed his magazine and followed her back to the examination room.
"The doctor will be in in just a moment."
Pete acknowledged the receptionist, but she didn't seem to notice. The door closed behind her, and Pete sat down to wait. A moment later the door swung open to admit the man on whom Pete pinned his hopes. Pete had known and trusted this doctor for years.
"Malloy!" The doctor smiled warmly and extended a hand. Pete stood to accept it and returned the greeting.
"How's my most famous patient?" Dr. Whitten asked as he seated himself. Pete settled back into his chair, feeling suddenly nervous. He hadn't actually given much thought to what he'd say to the doctor. What will I do if he won't give me more medicine?
"Well," Pete began with a slight grimace, "I'm improving, but I still need the pain medicine."
"Really? I was hoping you would have improved faster than that. I don't have much experience using this new drug, but everything I've heard indicates that it works very well." The doctor frowned as he looked over his notes from Pete's last visit. Pete waited silently and tried not to squirm.
"Stand up, Mr. Malloy, and let me test your range of motion." Pete obligingly performed a number of stretching movements without difficulty.
"Did you feel any pain when you did that?"
"No," Pete smiled and adjusted his shirt. "But I've taken my medication."
"Mmm-hmm. Take off your shirt and let me have a listen." Pete complied again as the doctor plied his stethoscope, breathing and coughing whenever the doctor told him to. Then he yielded his arm for a blood-pressure check.
The doctor finally stopped his examination and began scribbling in his chart. "Well, everything sounds good, though your blood pressure is a little high. Not dangerously so, you understand. Just like it would be under stress."
Dr. Whitten adjusted his glasses on his nose and regarded Pete again. "When you do feel the pain, what is it like? Could you describe it to me?"
"Describe it?" Pete felt suddenly at a loss.
"Yes, you know, where you feel it, what activities bring it on, how severe it is, that sort of thing."
"Well … I never really tried to analyze it, Doc." The question made Pete far more uncomfortable than he cared to admit.
"Well, suppose you tell me what sorts of things you have and have not been physically able to do in the last week or so."
"Okay … I did go fishing for a couple of days. I was able to lug the boat out of the water, haul fish in, that sort of thing. No problems."
"That's good. I think that's a definite improvement. Go on, please." The doctor gazed intently at Pete.
Pete shrugged, feeling almost panicky at the way the questions were going.
"Is the pain sharp and stabbing, or dull and throbbing, or what?" Doctor Whitten quizzed him, his pen poised to take notes.
"It's … well … it's just hard to describe, Doc. It's kind of an all-over feeling … not so much pain exactly … more like a feeling that things just aren't right. But the medication helps it a lot."
"Oh? I see …" Dr. Whitten's voice trailed off as he appeared to consider his patient's words. He tapped his pen idly on Pete's chart.
Pete began to wonder if the wait would cost him his sanity.
"Do you feel up to light duty?" The doctor asked, piercing right through him with intense blue eyes.
"Uh, yeah, I could handle desk work. Not a problem. But what about the pain … or whatever it is? I can't go back to work if I'm still needing pain medicine to get me through the day."
Dr. Whitten's face became even more serious, and he closed the chart. "Malloy, I'm going to square with you. It sounds to me like perhaps you've got some emotional issues to deal with. That's to be expected when you've been through a trauma. I suspect that your discomfort may be directly related to that. For that reason, I'm not going to refill your prescription."
Pete's heart sank. "But Doc …"
Dr. Whitten held up a hand to silence his patient. "I think that a return to your normal routine may be just the 'medicine' you need. Of course, it won't exactly be your normal routine, because I'm not about to clear you for patrol. But I think you'll find yourself feeling a lot better when you're back in the thick of things, even if it is just desk work. I've known you for years, Pete, and I know that you live and breathe your job."
Pete nodded and tried to swallow his rising panic. He watched as the doctor sat at his desk and pulled his prescription pad out. "What's that, Doc? A new prescription?"
"Yes, but of a different kind. I'm prescribing counseling for you. With this referral, you'll have no problem getting an appointment."
"Counseling?" Pete groaned. "Oh please, I don't need my head shrunk. You know me better than that, Doc."
"I am very serious about this, Malloy. If you don't agree to counseling, I can't let you return to work, not even to light duty. I want your word that you'll see a trained counselor, either one employed by the department or an independent one. If it were anyone else, I wouldn't take their word for it, but I trust you, Pete. Will you do it?"
Pete reluctantly took the paper out of the doctor's hand and pocketed it. "Yeah, okay." No way on earth.
"All right then. I want to see you back here in a week. I want to know how you're doing without the medication, and how you're doing with the counseling. Then we'll decide what to do from there. Deal?"
Pete worked up a smile and shook the doctor's hand. "Deal." Somehow, lying to the doctor didn't feel as bad as he thought it would.
"All right then. See Irene at the front desk to set up your appointment." Dr. Whitten rose and walked to the door. "Hang in there, Malloy. I really think you'll be fine once you get back to work."
"Thanks, Doc." Pete pulled his shirt on over his head while the doctor took his leave. Then, free from the doctor's scrutiny, Pete slumped onto a chair and put his face in his hands.
What am I going to do now?
Jim waited for an approaching Buick to pass, and then steered his Corvette onto Miramont street. His eyebrows raised a bit when he saw Judy's car in his driveway. I wonder if she's heard from Pete? He pulled in beside her and started for the door.
"Daddy!" Jimmy burst out the door to greet him in his usual hearty way. "Hey, Daddy, Aunt Judy is here!" He leaped up into Jim's arms.
"Yes, I know, son. I saw her car." Jim smiled and tweaked the bill of Jimmy's baseball cap. "Did you have a good day at school?"
"Uh-huh, and I even got my picture I drew hanged up on the wall!"
"Hey, that's great!"
"Daddy, how come Uncle Pete didn't come with Aunt Judy?" Jimmy's earnest expression and searching blue eyes tugged at Jim's heart. "Doesn't he love us any more?"
Jim stopped short of the door, hoping Judy hadn't heard that question. He gave his son a long, heartfelt squeeze. "I don't know why Pete didn't come, son, but I do know one thing. He will always love you, and he will always be your uncle. Okay?"
"Okay, Daddy. Do you wanna play ball?" Jimmy squirmed out of his father's arms, and Jim resumed his trek to the door.
"No, son, not right now. I want to visit with Aunt Judy."
"Oh, okay. Can I go over to Frankie's then?" Jim nodded his assent, and the little boy raced across the lawn toward his friend's house. Jim sighed deeply and walked inside, scooping up his daughter and giving her a kiss. He put on a front for her, but his heart was still aching from his son's innocent question. Doesn't he love us any more?
Their guest rose from the sofa, and Jim greeted her warmly. "Hi Judy. It's nice to see you. How are you doing?"
"Oh, I'm hanging in there." Judy's smile looked very fragile. "I'm sorry to come by on such short notice, but I called Jean this afternoon, you know, just needing to talk. She thought maybe I should come over. She said …" Judy's eyes misted, "… she said that there was no reason for us to stop seeing each other just because of this thing with Pete."
"That's right. You're our friend, too. You always will be." Jim gave Judy's shoulder a gentle squeeze. "Speaking of Jean, where is she?" Jennifer started to squirm and he put her down, watching as she trotted over to her favorite doll.
"Oh, she's fixing herself up. She spilled some flour on herself, and she said she didn't want to greet you looking like that. She should be out in a minute."
Jim chuckled a bit. That sounded like Jean. She wasn't at all vain or even self-conscious, but she still always wanted to look her best for him. Jim liked that.
"I'm going to get myself a soda, do you want anything?" Jim asked as he started for the kitchen.
"No, I'm fine. Thank you."
Jim tried not to ask, but he couldn't help himself. "No word from Pete yet?"
Jim popped the top off his soda and took a quick swig. Then he poured the rest into a glass, since he knew Jean preferred that. She had some funny ideas about what to do when company was here.
"Did I hear Jim?" Jean's voice drifted in from the living room.
"Yeah, I'm home." Jim rejoined the ladies, giving Jean a little kiss and complimenting her looks.
"Okay, now we're here to enjoy ourselves," Jean began. "That means no shop talk, and no talking about anything that anyone doesn't want to discuss." She wagged her finger and spoke with a no-nonsense tone.
For the next fifteen minutes the three friends tried not to talk about Pete. The awkward silences made Jim's blood pressure rise exponentially. Only Jennifer seemed unaffected.
Judy mercifully put an end to the charade. "This isn't working. I need to talk about it. I think we all do." Jim and Jean traded meaningful looks and remained silent.
"What's really bothering me is that it started out okay, you know? When he was in the hospital he was his usual self. He was in pain, but he kept his spirits up. There was no sign that anything was bothering him. It came on gradually over several weeks, and I can't figure out what might have triggered it."
Jim thought back over the last six weeks or so. "Yeah, you're right. He was okay at first. So when exactly did you first notice the change?"
"The first time I felt like he was avoiding me was about two weeks after the accident. At least, that's the earliest I can remember now. Do you know of anything that happened around that time?"
Jim and Jean looked at each other and shrugged.
This is getting us nowhere.
Pete rehearsed all the way to the station. The doctor's right. I don't need that medication. I'm fine. I'm not the type to get addicted. Getting back to work will be a relief. I'm sure that's all I need.
He pulled into a parking spot and got out, feeling a mixture of relief and dread at seeing his workplace again. He mentally checked himself out, making sure his posture and his expression spoke of confidence and health. And he strode inside.
"Malloy? Is that you?" Jerry Woods hurried up to him and extended a hand. "We've been worrying about you, Pete. Are you all right?"
Worrying about me? Somehow Pete hadn't thought of it like that. He knew that folks would want to invade his privacy and ask him uncomfortable questions, but for some reason he'd never thought about their feelings. That troubled him for a moment.
"Oh, I'm okay, Jerry. I just needed some time away." Pete made sure he smiled convincingly and put enthusiasm into his handshake.
"Well, who can blame you? We're just glad to have you back. You are back, aren't you?"
"That's what I'm going to talk to Mac about. The doctor just cleared me for light duty yesterday."
"Hey, that's great! You'll be back up to full speed in no time." Jerry gave him a mock punch on the shoulder. "Nothing keeps the Strawberry Fox down."
"That's right," Pete replied, hoping he looked like he meant it.
"Malloy!" another colleague hurried up to welcome Pete. In a matter of moments he was surrounded by co-workers, men he liked and respected, men who looked up to him.
Men he no longer felt worthy to associate with.
Pete's skin began to crawl, like it had on the podium when he got city-wide accolades. I have to get away from them.
"Hey, it's great to see all you guys again, but I need to get in to see Mac before roll call." Pete gave what he hoped was a cheery wave and waded through the cluster of men. He felt plenty of brotherly thumps on his back as he went by, but it only made him more miserable. His whole body ached for a pain killer.
I don't need a pill. It's all in my head. I'll feel better once I'm working again.
Just before he arrived at Mac's office, Pete heard a voice he'd hoped to avoid hearing.
"Pete?" Jim strode up with his broadest grin. "The guys told me you were here, but I wasn't sure if I should believe them. Where have you been?" Jim's smile couldn't hide the worry in his eyes.
Pete had practiced for this meeting a thousand times. He smiled and gave Jim a thump on the shoulder. "Jim, I'm sorry I've been kind of scarce. But my time alone was just what the doctor ordered. I just went and saw him yesterday, and he's cleared me for light duty. Looks like I'll be back in the saddle again."
"All right, man, that's great!" Jim's worry seemed to lessen considerably with that news.
"Yeah," Pete continued, "I want to get in and talk to Mac before roll call. I'm almost too late as it is."
"Yeah, and I have to get dressed. But man, it's good to see you." Jim radiated sincerity, and Pete felt a rush of gratitude that almost helped him forget his guilt.
"It's good to see you, too." The two friends shared a warm handshake, and then Jim hurried off to the locker room. Pete turned to see Mac regarding him through the office window. The sergeant beckoned him in, and Pete took a deep breath to prepare himself before opening the door.
"Hello, Mac." Pete's friendship with Mac went back much further than his friendship with Jim, and the warmth of that relationship buoyed him now.
"Pete. How the heck are you? And where have you been hiding?" Mac looked relieved and irritated at the same time.
"I've been getting my head pulled together. I'm doing better now. That's why I'm here. I saw the doctor yesterday, and he cleared me for light duty."
"Is that so?" Mac seemed a tad skeptical. "Do you think you're up to it?"
"Yeah, Mac. In fact, I think it would be the best thing for me. That's what the doctor said, too."
Mac remained thoughtfully silent for several long moments.
"You sure haven't been acting like yourself lately, Pete. Hiding from everybody, even your closest friends, shutting out your lady friend … Pete I hate to say it, but I'm not sure you're ready for it."
Pete pulled out his well-rehearsed explanation. "A week ago I would have agreed with you. But my time alone really gave me a chance to get some things straightened out in my head." Pete put on his warmest friend-to-friend expression. "Mac, you know me. You know I wouldn't try to get back in uniform if I didn't think I could hack it. I wouldn't do that to you, or to the other guys, or to the public. Why not give me a week to try it out? If you don't like what you see, I'll respect your opinion." Pete hoped he could count on the trust he'd earned over the years. And he tried not to think about the fact that he was betraying that trust right now.
I need a pill so bad.
Mac looked him over long and hard. Pete just sat and steeled himself against the squirmy feeling in his gut.
"Are you still taking medications for pain?" Mac asked.
"Nope. The doctor said I don't need it any longer." Pete was glad to be able to tell the truth about that.
The sergeant still seemed unsure. The clock ticked. Roll call would start in just a couple of minutes. Pete began to think his head would explode.
Finally Mac nodded ever so slightly.
"I'm going to take your word for it, Pete. But I don't think I'd do it if you were anyone else." The sergeant opened up his duty roster. "The desk is covered for today, but I could put you in starting tomorrow." He looked back at Pete, and his lingering doubts showed clearly in his eyes. The sight nearly broke Pete's heart.
I will be worthy of your trust. I'm still Pete Malloy. I'm no addict. This is the right thing to do.
Jim bounded up his front steps, glad to bring his good news to Jean. He threw the door open, and heard Jimmy pounding down the hall to meet him. He grabbed the little fellow in mid-leap. "Where's your mommy?"
"I'm right here," Jean huffed, carrying an overstuffed laundry basket in from the garage. She did a double-take when she saw her husband's face. "What's with the big smile?"
Jennifer grabbed onto Jim's legs, keeping him from walking. He reached down with his free arm and picked her up too. "You'll never guess who I saw at the station this morning." Jim knew his broad grin would leave Jean in no doubt.
"Pete?!" Jean dropped the laundry basket and hurried to Jim's side. "Really?"
"Was it Uncle Pete, Daddy?" Jimmy chimed in. Jennifer bounced in his arms. "Uh Peee!"
"In the flesh! He's doing a lot better, and he's going to start desk duty tomorrow."
"Yeah!" Jimmy clapped his hands.
"Honey, that's wonderful! What did he say about what's been bothering him?"
"I didn't get a chance to talk to him much. He got there right before roll call, and I had to get changed and all. But I talked to Mac later, and Mac's starting him tomorrow, so he must feel pretty confident in him." Jim decided to keeps his doubts private, as well as the doubts he'd read on Mac's face.
"Oh, that's such good news. I've got to call Judy." Jean hurried to the phone, leaving Jim to wonder whether that was a good idea or not.
"Is Uncle Pete gonna come over to our house soon?"
"I don't know son. I sure hope so."
Jim lay quietly in his bed, not quite wanting to sleep just yet. Jean was still brushing her teeth, and Jim had an important question to ask her when she got done. One he hadn't wanted to ask in front of Jimmy.
He closed his eyes and tried to imagine what the future held for Pete, for Judy, for all of them. Then he felt Jean slip in beside him, and he rolled over to face her.
"What did Judy say when you called her?"
Jean's face grew sorrowful. "She was quiet at first. I almost wondered if we'd gotten cut off. But then she told me that she wasn't sure she wanted to face Pete just yet. She asked me to give her time, and not to try to rush the two of them into getting back together."
"I can understand that." Jim reached for his wife and cuddled her close for comfort.
"Yeah, so can I. I've tried to imagine how I would feel if you changed so completely, the way Pete has. If you just shut me out, and disappeared without a word…Jim, it would tear me up. I can't imagine what she's going through."
Jim sighed and reached back to turn off the bedside light. Jean settled in with her head on his chest, the way she liked to cuddle the most. Jim stroked her hair softly, his mind wandering off in the thousand different directions his worries were taking.
"Honey?" Jean's voice brought him back to her.
She raised up on one elbow to better see his face. "Let's try not to think about that right now, okay?"
"Reed, go up and back up Malloy. His suspect's apparently gone in through a window. I'm sending Casey up, too. Be advised, the suspect may be dressed as a window-washer."
"Roger, Mac." Jim glanced around for Casey, and saw him jogtrotting toward him, handy-talkie pressed to his ear. The two officers fell into step, mounting the stairs quickly but cautiously. Reed flattened himself against the corner of the building as soon as he reached it, and Casey fell in right behind him.
Jim peered around the corner. There was the window washer, standing below a window frame which had no glass. He appeared to be guarding the window. But where was Pete? Inside?
Jim motioned to Casey to follow him, and the two officers stepped out into the open. The window washer started, obviously frightened by the officers' appearance. "Uh, hello officers. Is there something I can do for you?"
Casey was moving around toward the suspect's other side, intending to hem him in. The window washer grew visibly more nervous, and a moment later made his break, dashing away before Casey could get into position. It was a desperate move, and doomed to failure. Casey and Reed both took off after him, when Reed saw the suspect fishing for something under his jacket.
"He's got a gun!" Jim shouted, drawing his own weapon. "Freeze! Drop the gun!"
Casey drew too, and the suspect dropped his gun, his hands raised fearfully. "Hold it mister," Jim warned him. "Don't make any sudden moves."
The suspect began to turn slowly, keeping his hands raised.
"The man said 'hold it!' Casey commanded.
"You won't shoot an unarmed man with his hands in the air." The suspect kept turning. Jim felt the hair on his arms standing up. This idiot could be up to anything. Unfortunately, he was also right. Jim couldn't shoot without provocation. Every nerve in his body tingled, wondering what form that provocation might take, and whether he could react to it fast enough.
Somewhere behind him, Jim thought he heard Pete's voice shouting, "Freeze, Police!"
"Where's the other officer?" Jim demanded.
"What…what other officer?" The suspect's manner had the look of truth. And he cast a nervous glance back toward the glassless window.
"Get down, on your face, NOW" Jim demanded, and the suspect complied with gratifying speed. "Cuff him," Jim ordered impatiently, wanting desperately to find Pete and help him out. Casey got it done quickly. "Stay with him. I'm going inside. Get me some more backup." Jim turned and ran for the window without waiting for Casey to respond. Casey was a good cop. He'd take care of things.
Jim stopped at the base of the stepladder, knowing he didn't dare rush in, or he could get himself blown away. But then he heard the sounds of a scuffle, muted as if coming from a room further away. Jim led with his revolver and went up the stepladder. He heard the angry shout, something about a pig and the governor, and he spotted the door that led to where the action was. He quickly holstered his gun and hoisted himself with some difficulty through the narrow window. He drew again as soon as he could and rushed to the door. The scuffle was becoming fierce, and Jim threw caution to the wind. He shoved the door open, his eyes taking in a tangled mass of fighting men that he couldn't possibly shoot toward.
"Freeze, Police!" he yelled above the din, but even as he spoke, he saw Pete hoisted and shoved, bodily, into a window pane. "Pete!" he yelled, but the last glimpse he had of his partner was the stark terror in his face as he shattered the glass and disappeared with a cry. Some part of Jim's mind went blank, refusing to accept what he'd just seen. The rest of him saw the gunman coming around to fire at him, and Jim squeezed the trigger in response. The gunman fell, jolted backwards by the bullet's impact. The other suspect dropped his gun and surrendered even as Jim's backup arrived. Jim went through the motions to secure the suspects, but all his ears could hear was the chaos below, down on the street where he knew his partner lay. Women were screaming and crying, cops were shouting orders for people to clear away, but Jim had no clue if his friend was alive or dead. People could survive a fall from a second storey. Jim knew that. But he also remembered the people he'd seen flattened on sidewalks, and he felt his bile rising. To see Pete that way…
"Jim, honey, wake up." Jean was shaking his shoulder and speaking urgently into his ear. "Wake up honey, you're dreaming." Part of Jim's mind fought awakening, feeling the need to stay and look after Pete. But part of him clawed toward consciousness and finally broke through to the surface. Jim opened his eyes.
"There you are, hon. Was it that same dream again?"
"Yeah." Jim shuddered.
"I'm so sorry. Would you like me to get you a glass of water?"
"Okay." Jean hurried off to the bathroom as Jim's body began to come down from its rush of adrenaline. Jean returned quickly, and the drink of cold water helped restore him fully to consciousness.
"I wonder how long you'll keep having that awful dream," Jean fretted.
Jim thought back on all of Pete's strangeness and distance that even now troubled him.
I'll keep dreaming it as long as Pete's still falling. Until I can be sure he's landed safely.
Chip stowed the gear in the trunk and looked at Jim. "I bet you're glad to see Malloy back, even if it is just desk duty."
Jim nodded distractedly. This morning Pete looked about like he did yesterday. Something about him still troubled Jim. He sure didn't seem to want to talk.
"Hey, Reed, how about letting me drive?"
Jim froze in his tracks, struck both by the decision facing him and the irony of the question. Usually I'm asking Pete that.
"Uh, maybe not quite yet, Chip, okay?" Jim didn't know quite why, but letting the rookie drive would have made him nervous. He looks so young. Jim slid behind the wheel and had to stifle a laugh. Now I know how Pete felt when I was new.
Chip looked crestfallen, but he slid dutifully into the passenger's seat. After a moment his normally cheerful disposition surfaced again. "Maggie says that Friday night will work fine for us. Is that still okay with you guys?"
"Yeah, Jean said any night this week was fine. Do you like steaks?"
"I do. Maggie's more of a salad person. She'll eat a little meat, but not much."
"I'll be sure Jean makes lots of rabbit food, then."
The two men drove in silence for a little while. Then Chip straightened up and swiveled his neck backwards. "Hold on, Jim."
"Whatcha got?" Jim asked him.
"I'm not sure, but I thought I saw someone holding up that liquor store back there."
Jim checked his mirrors and hurriedly circled the block. "Call us in code 6" he reminded the rookie when they arrived. Then he got out, moved swiftly to a good vantage point, and peered inside.
"Bingo," Jim whispered to himself. Then he called to Chip in a loud whisper, "Get us some backup!"
The rookie complied quickly, and Jim was pleased to see that he grabbed the shotgun before hurrying to Jim's side. "Good call. I only see one suspect, but there may be more. Don't assume anything."
"Shouldn't one of us go around back?" Chip asked nervously.
"There's no other way out. I'm familiar with this store." Jim replied without taking his eyes off of the drama in front of him.
"Do we go on in or wait for backup?" Chip whispered almost inaudibly.
"That depends on what they do. Right now the situation looks stable. If we jump in, we could get him started shooting. I'd rather catch him on his way out, when he's further away from any potential hostages."
A black and white pulled up nearby, out of the line of vision of the suspect inside. Reed gestured the officers over as soon as they got out of their car. Soon the two pairs of officers flanked the door. "What do you see from that side?" Jim asked.
"I've got a good view of the perp," Officer Sanchez responded, "and there's another guy further back that doesn't seem like a hostage. I think he's a lookout."
"Has he spotted us?"
"I don't think so." Sanchez flinched further back and motioned to the others. "They're headed out."
Jim heard Chip pump a shell into the shotgun chamber. "Keep a cool head, kid. Don't use that thing unless you absolutely have to."
The two suspects burst through the door, one facing inside, and the other facing out. The officers brought their guns to bear, and Jim yelled "Freeze, Police!"
At the same moment the lookout man spotted the officers. "Fuzz!" he yelled, and chaos broke out. Shots rang out, and Jim wasn't sure exactly who'd fired. But he did know who'd been hit. Hot, searing pain coursed across his chest, and he went down hard. His vision sparkled, and he felt himself flirting with unconsciousness. No! he commanded himself, and tried to figure out where to aim. But his injured chest muscles couldn't command his arms, and he lay helpless, trying to piece together what he saw before him.
Okay, Chip's up, Sanchez is up, Embry is up. Two suspects down…it must be a four. Jim felt relief flooding over him, and with it came even more shuddering weakness. Stay conscious, Jim. You can't be hurt too bad, or you wouldn't be doing this well.
Embry kept his rifle trained on one spread-eagled suspect while Sanchez ran towards Jim. Chip ran for the patrol car. Everyone pretty much ignored the second downed suspect, so Jim figured he was probably dead. I hope Chip didn't kill him. That's an awful hard thing for a rookie to deal with.
"Reed, are you all right?" Sanchez rushed to kneel beside him and unceremoniously ripped his shirt open. "Oh, man. Oh man. Are you one lucky guy!" he whistled as he inspected Jim's injury.
"Funny, I'm not feeling so lucky right now." Jim managed a weak smile.
"You would if you saw this wound. It looks like just a deep flesh wound, but it goes all the way across your chest. You could easily have been killed."
"I'm not out of danger yet," Jim murmured. "Wait 'til my wife hears about this. She'll be the death of me."
Sanchez smiled. "You're gonna be fine, Reed." He turned briefly to supervise the scene. Chip hurried to join them, his face wearing stark terror.
"Is he all right? How bad is it?" His voice came out unnaturally high with fear, and Jim could see him trembling.
"Why don't you ask him?" Sanchez asked gently.
"I'll make it," Jim replied weakly. "How are you holding up?"
"I'm okay." Chip lied. Jim had to smile at his spirit. He'd told that lie plenty of times himself. The pain seemed to be easing, and Jim began to feel silly lying down for so long. He started to get up, but the effort was rewarded with an explosion of pain and enveloping darkness.
Pete sat at the desk, rubbing the back of his neck and wondering why the hands of the clock moved so slowly. It wasn't that things had been slow. He'd had plenty of phone calls and walk-ins to keep him busy. It was just that there were too many people to fool, too many people to pretend for. The façade of comfort cost Pete a lot of emotional energy. The morning wasn't yet half gone, and Pete already wondered if he'd make it through the day.
"How you holdin' up there, Malloy?" The friendly question came from his partner on desk duty, an older officer who preferred the desk to patrol. Pete knew he meant well, but he'd heard that question far too many times today.
"I'm fine, George." Pete resisted the urge to rub at the bridge of his nose. I can't let him see how worn out I am. Pete could hardly have failed to notice the unusual amount of time that Mac was spending near the desk. He knew he was on trial, and he didn't like the feeling.
I'd feel so much better if I could just have one pill. Just one.
Pete shook the thought out of his head. "Hey George, is it all right if I go get myself a cup of coffee?"
"Sure, we seem to be having a lull. How about bringing me one while you're at it?"
"No, a little cream. Not much, though."
"No problem. I'll be right back."
Pete stood and started to leave when a call broke through on the radio. The voice stopped him in his tracks, its tone terrified, urgent.
"1-Adam-12, officer down, shots fired…"
Pete's blood turned to ice. The voice was definitely not Jim's. It sounded young and inexperienced, like a rookie.
Is Jim down?
"Excuse me, officers, are you guys working here or listening to the radio?" The voice was demanding, rude.
Pete turned to glare at the speaker. An older man, probably in his late 50s, looked at him impatiently. "I expect better service than this. I am a taxpayer, you know."
Pete felt rage boiling up, and he felt relieved when George took over. I should have handled that. He was at my side of the desk. But I can't. Not now. Pete turned his attention back to the radio, inwardly pleading for some news of his partner and friend. Other units called in, reporting themselves as backup. The "officer down" call never failed to bring in a swarm of blue.
After a while the young voice came back over the radio. "1-Adam-12, show me en route to County Hospital." Dispatch acknowledged the call while Pete absorbed its meaning. He said show me, not show us. Jim must be down. Pete's knees went rubbery, and he sat down quickly.
"Hey, what's with your buddy back there? If he wants to work the streets, why doesn't he go out there? Or isn't he qualified for that?" The citizen's sneering contempt brought Pete's rage to a murderous level. He turned hate-filled eyes toward the complainant, but immediately reined in his emotions. George was looking at him worriedly. And a woman was awaiting attention at George's side of the desk.
I have to handle this. Pete forced himself to his feet. "How can I help you, ma'am?" He tried to focus on the woman, but images of Jim, bloody, perhaps dying, swam before his eyes. Somehow he followed protocol, taking the woman's report and notifying the correct people.
I need a pill. Pete couldn't deny it now. It burned in every fiber of his being, worse than the most desperate thirst or hunger he'd ever known. He couldn't bring himself to pretend any more. He let George handle the next walk-up, barely noticing anything.
"Pete." A gentle hand rested on his shoulder. Pete looked up and recognized the sergeant.
"Come to my office. I've got someone to replace you on the desk."
Pete nodded mutely and walked woodenly behind Mac.
I need a pill.
Mac remained silent until Pete was safely seated in his office. "Are you gonna be all right Pete?"
Pete only nodded.
"The hospital says the ETA on the ambulance is about 2 more minutes. The attendants have reported Jim's condition as stable. We'll know more once he gets to the hospital."
Pete nodded again. So it was Jim. Every cell in his body cried out for medication. He managed to speak somehow despite his bone-dry mouth. "Have you called Jean?"
"No, not yet. I want to know more."
Pete nodded again, not even trying to speak. He could feel Mac's worried eyes on him, but he made no attempt to pull himself together.
"As soon as I get some kind of word from the hospital, I'm going to call Jean. Then I'll meet her at the hospital. Do you want to come with me?"
Pete nodded again. Mac checked his watch, sighed deeply, and reached for the phone. Pete listened dully as the dial made its rounds. A pause followed, and then Mac identified himself. "I'm looking for information on an injured officer, James Reed. Has his ambulance arrived yet?" He paused to listen. "Uh huh, I see." More silence followed. Pete didn't even look at him. "I see. Thank you, nurse. I'll take care of the necessary notifications." Mac hung up. Pete scarcely breathed.
"It's going to be okay, Pete. It seems to be just a deep flesh wound. He's alert, and they don't believe his life is in any danger."
Pete closed his eyes and let the relief wash over him. Oddly, his craving for medication abated only slightly.
He opened his eyes to see Mac squatting beside him, looking worriedly into his face.
"Let's go," Pete replied, and forced himself to his feet.
"After I call Jean." Mac looked as if he feared that Pete would fall over.
"I'm all right. Take care of Jean." Pete forced some starch back into his spine. Jean will need me to be strong.
He listened as Mac dialed Jim's number, as he gently broke the news, and as he offered his best reassurances. He could imagine Jean's frightened questions on the other end of the line. The thought of helping her made him feel dizzily weak.
I don't think I can be strong. Not without the medicine. I need the medicine.
Pete trailed behind Mac toward the emergency ward's waiting room. He barely registered his surroundings. Some small part of him knew he should have been worrying about Jim and Jean, but all of that seemed remote somehow. The only immediate need he could feel was the craving.
"Malloy?" Mac's voice filtered through the fog, and Pete shook himself back to reality. "Jean's here. Are you ready for this?"
"Yeah, Mac. Let's do this." Somehow.
They walked together through the doorway, and Jean spotted them immediately. She stood quickly and hurried to them, wrapping Pete in a hug. "Pete, it's so good to see you!" She turned to the sergeant next, giving him a more reserved but equally sincere hug. "Thank you for coming."
"You couldn't have kept us away," Mac responded. He put a hand on her back and gently steered her toward the chairs. Chip rose to greet them, and Mac introduced him to Pete. Pete noticed how dejected he looked, but he didn't feel any inclination to reach out to him. He wasn't even sure he had enough reserves to help Jean out.
"You look good, Jean. Have you heard some good news?" Pete felt almost surprised to hear himself speak.
"Yes, I've talked to the doctor. He said there's no danger to Jim, though he's likely to have an ugly scar. But maybe not even that. There's a plastic surgeon working here, and the doctor thinks maybe he can minimize the scarring." Jean pushed her hair back behind her ear, and her voice grew softer. "Jim's really lucky. An inch further in and he'd probably be dead." The words seemed to shake her, and her eyes misted, but she pulled herself together again quickly. "No, I don't think he was lucky. I think God was looking out for him."
Mac nodded, and Pete mimicked the gesture. I'm so glad he's okay. But now he didn't even have worry to pull his attention from his cravings. He felt himself turning inward. Mac, Jean and Chip conversed for some time, though Pete had no idea how long.
"Pete, how are you?" Jean's question drew him suddenly back. "We've been awfully worried about you, Jim and I. And Jimmy asks about you all the time."
Pete gave her a regretful smile. "I'm sorry I worried you."
"And of course …" here Jean seemed uncertain about continuing. "… of course Judy's been really upset." Her eyes searched his gently but probingly, and Pete had to look away. No wonder Jim can't keep anything from her.
"Mrs. Reed?" A nurse appeared from somewhere, saving Pete from responding to Jean.
"Yes, how is my husband?" Jean asked, sounding anxious despite her brave words.
"The plastic surgeon asked me to update you. This is a very slow process, you know, but that's one reason why the results are so much better than conventional suturing. He wanted you to know that he's about one-eighth of the way through, and your husband is doing just fine."
"Oh, that's good news. I never knew that plastic surgeons worked on anything other than faces."
"Well, they'll work on anything, if the need is there and they're available. Dr. Sorensen is a very busy man, but he happened to have the time to do this. Another way that your husband was lucky, I guess. He says that, when the hair grows back, you may not even notice the scar."
"They shaved his chest?" Jean looked almost amused.
"Yes, of course. They had to."
"Oh, I'll bet he hated that! Or was he already knocked out for that?"
"No, he's staying conscious throughout the procedure. There's no need for general anesthesia. A local works just fine. And yes, he tried very hard to talk us out of shaving him. Men are so funny that way."
Mac spoke up for the first time. "What about the muscles underneath the skin? Surely there was some damage there."
"Yes, but the plastic surgeon is stitching that up as well. He expects a full recovery, though it will take some time. Mr. Reed will be sore for a while. But things could have been much, much worse."
Pete felt relieved at the good news, but his cravings didn't respond. He felt antsy, irritable, and increasingly desperate. He had to do something, anything.
"Does anyone mind if I go for a walk?" Pete's voice sounded wrong in his ears, and he realized belatedly that he'd just interrupted a conversation. Everyone stared at him oddly.
"No, of course not, Pete," Jean finally answered. The whole atmosphere seemed suddenly strained and awkward, and Pete knew it was his fault. All the more reason to get out of here. He nodded and started off down the hall.
Purposeful footsteps fell in behind him. "I'll walk with you, Malloy." It wasn't a request, and Pete knew Mac wouldn't be dissuaded.
"Suit yourself. I just need some fresh air." To Mac's credit, he gave Pete space, staying a few paces behind him and keeping quiet.
Pete escaped into the cool outdoors. He instantly wished for a sweater, but at least the coolness grabbed his body's attention. For the moment, he could feel something other than his craving. He stuffed his hands into his pockets and surveyed the sky. It was a beautiful blue, with lazy clouds drifting along. A few seagulls wailed overhead. Pete breathed deeply and let his mind go blank.
"This is very hard for you." Mac's voice broke in gently.
"It always is. But it's hard for you, too." Pete wanted to divert the attention from himself.
"Yeah, it is. But you and I both know that you were starting out on fragile footing. Now this has happened. I think you should take a few more days off, Pete."
Pete turned to look at Mac, and he felt a gulf opening up between them. It's not his fault. There's no way he could understand. There's no way anyone can. Pete nodded, lacking the emotional energy to argue. After a moment he turned his face back to the sky.
He's right. I'm not up to it. I'm done for. It's over. I'm hooked, and I'm a goner. His mind flashed back to a certain desperate bass, flapping uselessly against its inevitable doom. I killed that fish. Maybe it was a kindness. I put it out of its misery.
He felt a certain freedom in giving up the fight. He had no more need for charades, for pretending, for anything. He had no idea how he would survive without a job, but that didn't seem to matter much. It was only so much useless flapping in the net. He'd make do, and he'd get his pills, and nothing else would matter. Pete Malloy was dead. It was a shame, but there was no use denying reality any longer. There wasn't anything he could do about it.
Pete and Mac both turned toward the voice. Chip Harris stood in the doorway. "There's a phone call for you from the station, sir."
Mac turned to Pete, giving a final, lingering, worried look.
"I'm okay, Mac." Pete smiled faintly. "Go take your phone call." It felt like a goodbye, and in many ways it was. He would never work for Mac again, never be in his circle of friends again. He would be someone Mac would speak of with sorrow, maybe even with anger. But none of that really mattered.
Mac stopped beside Chip, and Pete heard him clearly. "Keep an eye on Malloy, will you?"
"Sir?" Chip sounded confused. "What am I watching for, sir?"
Mac turned back for another look at Pete. "Just make sure he's all right, is that understood?"
"Yes sir." Chip didn't sound like he understood at all. Pete smiled a little. It really didn't matter. What did anything matter?
Pete sat down under a tree and looked back at the sky. Chip kept an eye on him from a distance, and that was fine with Pete. I hope your life always matters, kid. Or at least, I hope you can always convince yourself that it does.
He closed his eyes for a while, until he heard footsteps approaching in the grass. He opened one eye and saw Chip standing near. The rookie looked nervous.
"Sir? I promised Reed's wife I'd come right back. Do you want to go back inside, sir?"
"Sir." The term struck Pete as ironic, and he chuckled humorlessly. "I'm the last person you should be calling 'sir'."
"Uh, all right. Officer Malloy, do you want to go back inside, you know, back to Reed's wife?"
"Yeah, I guess we should." Pete rose to his feet and started inside after the rookie. You remind me a bit of Jim when he was green. It's really too bad. I hate losing him for a friend. And his kids… the thought hit Pete like a wall. Those little kids matter. How can I let their uncle Pete, their godfather, turn into a junkie?
Pete's mind and emotions went into a whirl. There has to be some way to make everything work out. But how?
"Officer Malloy, is that you?" Pete jumped a little, startled by the voice. "Oh, hi Doctor Alexander." It took him only a moment to come up with the name of the doctor who'd first attended him in the hospital.
"I've been wondering about you, Malloy. How are you doing?"
Pete felt a sudden glimmer of hope. Maybe he's the answer I've been looking for. He turned to Chip with a dismissive wave of the hand. "You go back to Jean…Mrs. Reed, okay? I'm going to talk with my doctor for a few minutes."
Chip looked uncertain about leaving his charge. Pete smiled reassuringly. "Go on, I intend this to be a private conversation." Chip furrowed his brows, still uncertain of what was right to do. Pete knew full well he was taking advantage of the rookie's inexperience, and he knew Mac would chew on the poor fellow when he found out. That didn't matter, though. Important things were about to happen.
"All right, sir. I'll see you in a few minutes." Chip turned and walked away.
"Do you have a minute, Doc?" Pete asked with his best charming smile.
"For LA's finest hero, sure. Come on into my office." Pete followed him around a corner and into the privacy of the office. He felt as if a burden lifted off of him when the door closed behind him.
"Have a seat, Officer Malloy. What can I do for you?"
"Well, sir, I feel kind of stupid. I've been taking a pain medication to help me, and I ran out of refills. I was planning to call my doctor about it today, but then an emergency came up. My regular partner got shot, and I rushed out here, and well … now it's too late to reach my doctor. I know I'm going to be in a lot of pain when this dose runs out. Is there any way you could possibly…?"
"What kind of medication were you on?"
Pete told him the name, hoping he didn't sound too eager.
"Ah yes, I remember. Doctor Whitten was eager to try that out with you. How's it working?"
"It's been a godsend, sir."
"Well, I don't see any problem with giving you a few doses, just to get you through until the next time you can see Dr. Whitten. How often do you take it?" The doctor reached for his prescription pad.
"One every four hours." Pete didn't like the idea of getting only a few pills. "Dr. Whitten isn't going to be in until Monday. He's taking a long weekend." Pete fervently hoped the doctor wouldn't call anyone to verify that.
"All right. Here's a prescription for you. That should see you through until Tuesday. That way, if Dr. Whitten doesn't have any openings on Monday, you can still get by."
"Thanks, Doc. You are a real lifesaver." Pete rose to take the prescription, anxious to leave before the doctor thought better of it.
"No, you're the lifesaver," Dr. Alexander chuckled. "Do you know, I met the governor once. He's a fine man. I would have been really sad if those madmen had managed to take him out. All of California owes you, Officer Malloy."
"No, I was just doing my job. Now I need to get back to my partner's wife. She's having a hard time right now, as you can imagine."
"Yes, of course. I'm sorry to keep you. Just one more thing … if you're going to run out of medication tonight, why don't you stop by the hospital pharmacy? It's open 24 hours, and it will fill any prescription that was written here in the hospital."
Pete could hardly believe his luck. "Thanks, Doctor. I'll keep that in mind. Uh … where is that pharmacy?"
He made a quick mental note of the directions and excused himself, pleading again the need to go comfort Jean. But as soon as he got out of the doctor's sight, he doubled back and headed in the opposite direction, toward the pharmacy.
Mac fumed, and paced, and hoped his anger wasn't too obvious to the ladies. Chip stood off at a distance, looking miserable. As he ought to.
As angry as Mac was with Chip, he realized that much of the blame lay with himself. I shouldn't have left a rookie in charge. But I thought I could trust Pete better than that.
He checked his watch for the thousandth time, and then re-crossed his arms. I don't believe he talked to his doctor this long. Where did he go?
Pete stood at the water fountain, drinking in glorious gulps of water. The first swallow had taken a pill down with it, and Pete knew that relief was only minutes away. He felt infinitely better just knowing that.
He didn't know what he'd do once this short-term supply ran out. But he knew he'd find a way to get more, somehow. He no longer found lying difficult. LA was a big town, with plenty of doctors. Some were more scrupulous than others. He'd find the ones who'd give him his pills, and no one needed to know. He could have his cake and eat it, too. I can handle my job with my medicine. I know I can.
He turned and made his way through the maze of hallways, back toward the emergency waiting room. As he walked, waves of relief began coursing through his veins. The sensation was beautiful beyond words.
He finally rounded the corner into the waiting room. His eyes fell first on Chip, whose posture told him everything. Mac appeared a second later, grabbed Pete by the arm, and escorted him out of the room.
"What … Mac, what's wrong?" Pete was able to convince himself that he didn't know the answer to that question. Lying to himself had become very easy, too. "Did Jim take a bad turn?" That's a question that I would normally ask. Pete was glad he'd thought of it.
Mac spun him around and pinned him to the wall with fiery eyes. "How could you do that?"
"Do what? Mac, I don't understand."
"Don't understand?! You took advantage of a rookie's inexperience to slip away from him. Why didn't you want him to keep an eye on you, huh? What's going on, Malloy?"
"Slip away?" Pete let a little righteous indignation burn in his own eyes. "I didn't slip away. Harris knew exactly where I was. I was talking to my doctor. Didn't he tell you?"
"He told me." Mac's voice sounded like a slow burn.
Pete let his volume increase a little. "You don't mean to tell me that I have to include that rookie in my medical affairs? I can't have a private conversation with my physician? If that's the case, then you'd better tell me what's going on!" He jabbed his finger at Mac's chest for emphasis.
Pete felt very satisfied with his anger. He felt pretty certain that he'd reacted just as he would have if he'd really been innocent.
Mac still glared at him, but he no longer seemed so certain of himself.
"Just what exactly did you think I was doing, if you don't believe I was talking to my doctor?"
"What's the doctor's name?" Mac asked.
This time Pete really was angry. "Dr. Alexander. Michael Alexander. He treated me when I first came to the hospital. Perhaps you remember him. What are you getting at, MacDonald? Just what are you accusing me of?"
A passerby shot them a curious look, and Mac backed down. "We'll finish this conversation later. Right now I've got a worried woman and an injured officer to look after. You do remember them, don't you?" He spun on his heel and strode back to the waiting room.
Pete slumped against the wall, hating what had become of his life. How am I going to get him to trust me? If I can't manage that, it's all over.
After a few moments he remembered that nothing would have kept the old Pete away from Jean. He sighed and headed back to where she kept vigil.
How can it take this long just to stitch Jim up? Hours had passed. Jean looked miserable, and Pete had a feeling that she was all too aware of the tension between himself and Mac. Chip's despondency didn't help, either. Of course by now the waiting room was full of Reeds and Baileys, so Jean had plenty of family to help her through. But she kept casting worried glances at Pete, and at Mac, and at Chip in turn.
I've got to get this thing worked out with Mac soon. There's no way I could hide this kind of tension from the guys at work.
Pete wondered if the pharmacist had given him the right medication. The relief seemed to have worn off after only one hour. He used to be able to count on at least two hours. He felt antsy again, but he decided that had to be Mac's fault for not trusting him, and the plastic surgeon's fault for taking so long, and the hard chair's fault for being so uncomfortable.
The waiting room door swung open, and in came the same nurse that had briefed them all through this long ordeal. Each time she'd come in, Pete had hoped she would say it was over. But she always announced some stupid percentage of completion, and told them Jim was fine, and then left them waiting again.
I can't wait 'til I can take another pill.
"Mrs. Reed? I have good news for you. The wound is completely closed, and if I say so myself, Dr. Sorensen did a wonderful job. Your husband is resting now, and you'll be able to see him as soon as they move him to his room."
"Thank you so much, Nurse." Jean smiled with relief, and the room soon filled with chattering voices. Mac walked over to Jean and said something to her, and then left the room.
I wonder where he's going.
Pete suddenly realized that he should say something to Jean, too. He got up to take care of that duty, giving Jean the requisite hug and kind words. Her eyes made him horribly uncomfortable again. She looked right into him, or so it seemed. But she did it so gently, so caringly, that he couldn't seem to defend himself against it. It was spooky, and he escaped back to his seat as soon as he could.
"Excuse me, Nurse. Could you tell me where I could find a Doctor Michael Alexander?" Mac tried to appear nonchalant to the woman behind the desk.
"His office is nearby. Let me call and see if he's there." The nurse punched a button on a switchboard and listened for several moments before hanging up. "I get no answer. But he may have just stepped out for a moment. If you'd like to wait and try to catch him, his office is just around that corner. His name's on the door."
"Thank you." Mac headed off in the direction she'd indicated. He figured his chances were slim, but at least he could wait for a little while.
Mac found the right door and knocked on it. When he got no response he opened it. No one was inside. He frowned and closed it again, then turned at the sound of another door squeaking open. It was the men's room, and a white robed man was exiting it. Mac thought he looked familiar, but he'd seen so many doctors over the years.
Could I really be so lucky? "Excuse me, are you doctor Alexander?"
"Yes, officer." The doctor glanced at his watch. "I'm in a hurry to go to my next surgery, but I could spare you a moment if you need it."
"I'd appreciate it," Mac responded. "I was wondering, did you get a chance to see Officer Malloy today?"
"Why yes, I certainly did. He's a fine man. Why do you ask?"
Mac wasn't sure what to say. "He just started back to work today, on desk duty, and I was wondering what sort of impression you had of him. Does he seem… strong enough to you?"
"Well, of course I can't reveal the details of a private patient-doctor conversation," the doctor began. "But I can tell you that we talked for a little while. I understand a friend of his was injured in the line of duty today."
"Yes, that's true." It felt reassuring to think that Pete had discussed that with the doctor.
"I'm afraid I did keep him a bit too long. He was anxious to get back and support the injured officer's wife. I'm sorry about that."
"That's all right. I was there with her." Pete was thinking of Jean? Maybe he's not as spacey as he seemed to me, after all.
"He seemed to be holding up pretty well to me. Does he seem weak to you?" The doctor started walking again, clearly wanting to get to his duties.
"Uh, not particularly. Thank you doctor." The doctor excused himself with a nod and continued down the hall.
Mac leaned back against the wall and blew out his cheeks. Maybe I jumped all over Pete for nothing. Acted like I didn't trust him…no wonder he was so mad at me.
Mac ran a hand through his hair and sighed. I'd better get back there.
Pete sat anxiously in the waiting room, wondering how he was ever going to get home. I shouldn't have let Mac drive me here. If I had my own car, I'd have skipped this joint a long time ago.
At least he didn't have to think of supporting Jean right now. She was in with Jim, and she'd doubtless be in there for quite a while. The hospital staff had even allowed Jim's parents to go in at the same time, further proof that Jim was doing well.
So why do I need to be here?
"Pete." Mac spoke softly, and Pete looked up at him. I didn't even hear him come back. His sergeant looked very different from the last time Pete had seen him. His face looked subdued, even chagrined.
"May I … uh …" Mac gestured at the chair next to Pete.
"Sure, Mac." Pete struggled with conflicting emotions. Part of him felt triumphant because of the apology he knew was coming. And part of him felt very, very guilty.
The sergeant sat down and rested his forearms on his knees. He seemed very interested in watching the fidgeting of his own hands.
"Pete, I, uh … I'm sorry." Mac looked up at him at last. His voice was soft, his apology clearly sincere. "I don't know why I overreacted the way I did. It's just that you've been so different lately, and … I don't know. I won't offer any excuses. I'm sorry."
Pete smiled a little. "It's okay, Mac. I understand." You were right, after all.
Mac turned to look toward Chip, who'd remained miserably alone throughout everything. Jean and her family had made several overtures toward him, Pete knew. But he seemed to prefer solitude. "I came down too hard on him, too," Mac said quietly.
"Maybe you need to tell him that."
Mac nodded with a grimace. "I'm going to have my fill of crow tonight."
"It happens to the best of us," Pete replied softly. How would I feel if I had to apologize to everyone for what I've been doing?
They mustn't ever find out.
Mac stood and briefly rested his hand on Pete's shoulder. The touch nearly broke Pete's heart, because it drove home what their friendship had once been. What it could never be again. He watched as the sergeant walked over to Chip and sat down beside him.
He's a better man than I am. A better man than I can ever hope to be.
Pete's guilt and sorrow gave him resolve. I don't care how badly I want a pill. I'm not going to take any more. When I get home, I'm going to throw them away. He meant it, too. He really meant it.
"Pete?" This time it was Jean who beckoned him. He turned to her, suddenly feeling very guilty that he hadn't been more concerned for her.
"Jim wants to see you," she told him. Pete could see on her face that she was holding up well. That's a good woman. Jim deserves her.
I don't deserve Judy.
He pushed the thought out of his mind and walked to Jim's room, pausing in the doorway to give Jean a heartfelt hug. "I'm so glad he's going to be all right," he told her. At the moment, he could actually bear to look her in the eye.
I'm going to throw those pills away.
Jean smiled at him and patted his shoulder as he passed by her. Pete looked at the hospital bed, wishing Jim didn't have to lie in one again. How many times is he going to end up like this? The memories of Jim's many trials bore down hard on Pete, and suddenly he craved a pill again.
"Hey, partner." He worked up a smile for Jim. Pete's eyes took in the bandages around Jim's chest. "It was close this time, wasn't it?"
"Yeah." Jim cast a worried glance in Jean's direction.
"She's strong, Jim. She's holding up well."
"How are you feeling?" Pete looked into those familiar blue eyes, and wished with all his heart that he didn't have to keep such horrible secrets from his friend.
"I'm hanging in there. They're giving me pain medicine, of course."
Pete felt a surge of panic. God, don't let him end up hooked like me! "What … what are they giving you?"
"The usual. Codeine. It's always worked well for me in the past."
Pete felt a surge of relief. "Good." He knew some people got hooked on codeine, but Jim never seemed to have a problem with it. "Stick with that, since you know it works. Might as well not mess with a good thing."
Jim looked as if he thought Pete's comment was odd, but he just nodded.
"So, how did it happen?" Pete asked.
Jim told his story. As usual, the details were a little fuzzy. Traumas like that always happened so fast, Pete knew, and the victim often was left wondering how it all happened. But it felt good to talk shop with Jim, like the old days. And he knew Jim liked to get things off his chest.
The two men talked easily, and for a time, Pete could almost forget that anything had ever changed between them.
When Jim tired, Pete excused himself to leave. He turned to see that Jean and Mac were watching from the doorway. They both looked as if they'd found great comfort in watching Jim and Pete talking. Jean reached out a hand to him. "It's so good to have you back, Pete. I can't tell you how I … how we have missed you."
"It's good to be back," Pete answered sincerely. Right now he felt like he really was back, and he was determined never to touch that medicine again.
Mac spoke up. "I'll stop by and spend some more time with you tomorrow, Jim. I'm going to let you rest, and I've got to chauffeur Pete back to the station."
Jim looked as if he tried to raise his hand, but then he grimaced and fell still. "Bye. Thanks for being here."
Mac walked quietly beside Pete out to the parking lot. They settled into his black-and-white station wagon, neither of them speaking until they were on the road.
"It's going to be a while before Jim can lift his arms without pain," Mac ventured.
"Yeah. That's gonna be rough. But at least he's alive." Pete got a sudden vivid sense of how awful it would have been if Jim had died. He shuddered.
"Yeah," Mac agreed. They fell silent again.
"How is Chip holding up?" Pete asked after a while.
"Oh, I think he'll pull through. He uh … he seemed to accept my apology."
"That's good. Jim mentioned that he thought one of the suspects was killed. He was worried that Chip might have been the one who got him. Do you know who it was?"
"Chip didn't fire. We think it was Embry who got him."
"Oh, that's good."
"I didn't realize Jim was worried about that. I could have helped him out." Mac signaled to turn into the station. "Leave it to Jim to worry about someone else at a time like this."
"Yeah." Jim's one in a million.
I'm never going to take a pill again.
The two officers took their leave in the parking lot. Pete drove home with the warm feeling of belonging still buoying his spirits. I've been so lonely.
He walked into his apartment and dropped wearily into an easy chair. The little bottle of pills in his pocket pressed accusingly against his leg. Pete sighed. He stood and walked into the bathroom. His reflection caught his attention, and he stared at if for a few moments. Do I really know who I am?
He pulled the bottle of pills out of his pocket and looked at it. I'm going to throw it away. He hesitated. Somehow it seemed like a shame to do that with perfectly good medicine. He struggled with himself for a few moments, then dropped it into the trash can.
I want a pill, but I can control it.
He hurried off to bed before he could change his mind.
Jean sat beside Jim in his hospital bed, wishing she could snuggle up and rest her head on his chest. It will be a long time before I can do that.
She was finally alone with him, and he was sleeping peacefully. She didn't have to be strong right now, and she allowed the tears to come.
Thank you, God, that You're not through with him yet. He has so much living left to do. Please keep letting him stay with us. Please don't forget how much we need him.
And thanks for bringing Pete back to us.
Pete got up and stumbled through the darkness until he found the light switch.
Why does that keep happening?
He made his way to the easy chair and dropped into it. The clock told him he'd been asleep for three hours, but he didn't feel at all refreshed. His body cried out for medicine, but he didn't intend to take any.
Why, with everything else that's going on, do I keep dreaming about my father? I didn't even think about him for years, until all of this started. What's the connection? I don't get it.
He considered sleeping in the easy chair. It wasn't quite comfortable enough to let him fall deeply asleep, and he figured that he wouldn't dream there.
No, I'll go to bed. I need a good, deep sleep.
He decided he needed to go to the bathroom first. It's okay. I won't touch those pills.
He used the bathroom, flushed, and then looked at the bottle of pills in the trash can. I don't want to ever take one of those again.
Pete felt suddenly outside of himself, watching his body move and feeling no control over what it did. His hand reached down and picked up the bottle. His hands opened the bottle, shook out a pill, put it in his mouth, fetched a cup of water, and washed the pill down.
I didn't want to do that, but I did.
Pete's mind went back to all the junkies he'd arrested and re-arrested. The people who just couldn't stay away from the stuff, no matter what. I used to look down on them. Now I understand. It owns you. The drugs own you.
He stared again at the bottle in his hand, then put it into the medicine cabinet. I'm not putting it there because I plan to take any more. I'm just putting it there because… Pete couldn't come up with a believable excuse, so he just pushed the issue out of his mind.
At least it will help me sleep.
Pete managed to talk Mac into letting him come back to work after just one day off. That day had gone fairly well. As long as the pills gave him relief, Pete could function just fine. The only problem was, the relief wasn't lasting nearly long enough.
He went home and dreamed about his father.
The next day back at work helped him perfect his balancing act, helped him further divide himself into the two people he needed to be; the productive Officer Malloy, and the addict who needed his pills and would do anything to get them. He knew he couldn't get rid of his Mr. Hyde, so he just worked on minimizing the time he spent being the monster. I'll only lie and cheat when I need to. No one can blame a guy for needing to survive.
Sometimes it was hard to sneak a pill at work. There was always someone around, and Pete had to go to great lengths sometimes to disguise his actions. Like everything else, he learned to manage this too.
Pete was already scheming, trying to figure out the best way to get a new prescription. He didn't dare ask Dr. Whitten, and he would really raise suspicion if he went back to Dr. Alexander. Time to get a new doctor. But what story do I have to come up with that will get me my medicine?
And then it was another new day at work, four days since Jim was shot. The pills were almost gone. Worse yet, Pete realized he was supposed to check back in with Dr. Whitten. He'll want to know about the counseling. What's the best thing to tell him? He considered various half-truths and downright lies, but none of them seemed plausible enough.
"Hey Malloy." Mac's voice startled Pete out of his thoughts.
"Yeah, Mac?" Pete could slip instantly back into his good self when he needed to. Somehow, when he was being Dr. Jekyll, he could pretend that Dr. Hyde didn't even exist. That helped with the guilt.
"I just got a call from Jean. Jim's going home today." Mac smiled broadly.
"And she's on hold, line two. She wanted to talk to you."
"Oh, okay. Thanks Mac." Pete lifted the receiver and punched the second button on the phone. "Hey, Jean, I heard the good news!"
"Yes, it's great isn't it?" Jean sounded tired but in reasonably good spirits.
"What can I do for you?" Pete asked. He had a sinking feeling that he knew what she'd say. He'd been avoiding socializing as much as possible, but he was running out of excuses.
"Pete…Jim and I would really love it if you'd stop by tonight. It's been so hard on the kids, first losing you, and then their daddy going to the hospital … . Last night Jimmy cried for both of you. And when he heard that I was bringing Jim home today, he was thrilled, but the first thing he asked was, 'Is Uncle Pete coming too?'"
Pete closed his eyes. He ached at the thought of causing those precious children pain. They must never know. They must never find out.
"Of course I'll come, Jean. If you're sure Jim is up to it."
"Yes, in fact, we think it would be a help. The kids'll need lots of attention and lap time, and Jim can't exactly hold them right now."
"All right. I'll come over right after end-of-watch. I have to go now. Poor George is handling the calls and walk-ins without me."
"All right Pete. Thanks so much. Everyone will be so glad to hear you're coming."
Pete said his goodbyes and hung up with a sigh. Then he turned to the woman who'd just arrived at the desk. "Yes Ma'am, how can I help you?"
A horrible thought crossed his mind.
I hope she hasn't invited Judy, too.
Pete breathed a sigh of relief when he turned onto Miramont street. There was no sign of Judy's car. She might still show up later, but at least there was hope.
He'd taken a pill before coming over. It was only three hours since his last pill, but he felt he had no choice. Tonight offered too many challenges.
Too much guilt.
The shame and guilt seemed to mount up with every step up the Reeds' familiar driveway. And then it happened. The door burst open, and out he flew. Jimmy. His godson. His best friend's son. The little boy threw himself into Pete's arms, all squirm and wiggle and excited chatter.
"Uncle Pete, Uncle Pete!" Two little arms wrapped themselves around Pete's neck and squeezed hard. Pete closed his eyes and returned the hug, feeling tears welling up in his eyes.
"Uncle Pete, is Aunt Judy coming too?" Piercing blue eyes, so like his father's, and yet so searching, like his mother's.
Pete collected himself as much as he could. "I don't know if she's coming, Jimmy. Your mother may have invited her. I don't know."
"Don't you love Aunt Judy any more?"
The question rocked Pete to his core, and he had to close his eyes again.
I'm so glad I took that pill.
He opened his eyes again. "Sometimes … these things are hard to explain, Jimmy."
"But does she still love you?"
"I don't know, son. Let's go inside, shall we? I want to see your daddy." Pete stood hurriedly and blinked hard. I can't let them see how I'm feeling.
"Pete, come on in." Jean stood at the front door, holding Jennifer on one hip. Jean gave him a sisterly squeeze when he reached her, and Jennifer wormed her way into his arms. Pete swallowed the lump in his throat as yet another tiny pair of arms wove themselves trustingly around his neck and held on tight. He hugged the little girl close and rubbed her back.
Jean smiled at him, the sweetness in her expression only adding to his guilt. "Thanks so much for coming over."
"No, thank you for having me. Your family means so much to me …" Pete stopped himself quickly.
Jean looked at him a little oddly, seeming unaccustomed to his emotional state. But she answered him with obvious sincerity. "You're awfully special to us, too. Come on in. Big Jim's eager to see you." Jimmy shoved his way past Pete and beat him in the door.
"Jimmy!" Jean reprimanded him. Pete chuckled a little. "It's all right."
Pete stepped in and was instantly met by his partner's bright smile.
"Hey, Pete. Great to see you! It's been too long since you've been here!"
Don't remind me! "Yes, it has."
"Watch this." Jim's face took on an intensity of focus, and he slowly raised his arm up to shake hands. Pete smiled. He could see that it was difficult and painful for Jim. And he could tell by the angle of his arm that Jim was using shoulder muscles to take up the slack for the weakened chest muscles. But he was making the effort, and he was improving. That was good to see. Pete grabbed his friend's hand, but he didn't shake it for fear of hurting him.
"You're looking good, partner." Pete could say that with all sincerity.
"You too." A look of curiosity and concern flashed across Jim's face, but it quickly disappeared. He sure is dying to know what's been going on.
What am I going to tell him?
"Uncle Pete, Uncle Pete, lookit the present Papa Bailey gave me!" Jimmy proudly flourished a plastic pirate's sword, trying his best to look intimidating.
"Ooh, you're scary," Pete told him with feigned terror. Jimmy laughed aloud, since of course he knew better. "Yeah, and me and Frankie …"
"Frankie and I," his father corrected him.
"… Frankie and I like to play pirates. His tree fort is our ship, and it's so cool."
Jimmy continued to chatter endlessly, clearly trying to make up for all the time he'd missed with the two most important men in his life. Pete and Jim sometimes shared amused looks, but Pete could also see pain in his friend's eyes. The same pain he himself felt. None of this should have happened. Jimmy shouldn't have had to do without either of us.
Jennifer needed only endless repetitions of "Ride a Little Horsey" on Pete's knee to keep her happy.
Jean made herself scarce, clearly wanting to give the men room to talk. Pete could hear the sounds of her television in the den.
As the afternoon gave way to evening, Pete began to worry once again about Judy showing up. They might have invited her for dinner. I wonder if I should beg off. He could hear Jean puttering about in the kitchen, and wonderful smells began to catch his attention.
Pete watched idly as Jennifer napped beside her Daddy on the couch. Jimmy pushed a toy truck around, making lots of loud engine noises and spouting endless narratives. Pete was content to let him dominate the conversation in the room. I won't be able to get away with that if Judy comes.
"What's wrong?" Jim had spotted his worry, and spoke to him softly, below the level of Jimmy's "motor".
Pete felt suddenly uncomfortable. He didn't really want to share his worries with Jim. But at the same time, he really wanted to know.
"I was just wondering … did Jean invite Judy over? I've been kind of worried that she might have."
Jim looked saddened by the question. "She hasn't invited her that I know of."
The men fell awkwardly silent, while Jimmy played in innocent oblivion.
"Have you spoken to her at all?" Jim finally asked.
"No." Pete answered in almost a whisper. He felt almost panicky.
Another long silence followed.
"If you're going to let a longstanding relationship die, you should at least let her know why." Jim spoke gently, but he drove a sword through Pete's heart nonetheless. Pete closed his eyes, struggling to master the flood of emotions that ran through him. Sorrow, guilt and shame poured over him in ever higher waves until he felt he might drown.
"Dinner's ready!" Jean called from the kitchen, putting an end to the uncomfortable conversation, at least for now.
Pete stretched his legs out, hoping somehow that would ease the discomfort in his muscles. I ache all over.
I need a pill.
Pete was sure that dinner had been good, because it looked good, and because he knew Jean was a good cook. But he hadn't been able to enjoy it. Worse yet, it sat like lead in his stomach now, and he was beginning to feel nauseated.
He glanced over at Jim. His partner had begun to look fatigued during dinner, and had taken some pain medicine right afterwards. Now he was snoring softly on the sofa. That was fine with Pete. Jim couldn't ask any uncomfortable questions that way.
"Look, Uncle Pete! CRASH!" Jimmy smashed his toy police car into his toy race car with destructive delight. Jennifer was "helping" her mommy in the kitchen.
"Jimmy, daddy's sleeping. Please stay quiet." Jean said from the kitchen. Pete felt bad that he hadn't offered to help her with the dishes, but he couldn't find the energy. Besides, he figured by now she was about done.
Sure enough, she came out a few moments later. "I'm sorry he fell asleep. Thanks for staying here for the kids."
"It's my pleasure," Pete replied. "I've missed them." It hurts so bad. I need a pill.
"They've missed you." Jean sat down and looked at Pete in a way that made him nervous. She's going to start asking questions now.
"Jean, this is probably awfully rude, but I'd love to put my feet up for a few minutes."
Jean smiled. "No problem. My mom always said that if the men all fell asleep after the meal, it must have been a good one. So I'll take it as a compliment."
"All your meals are good ones." Pete managed a smile, though even talking about food made him feel worse.
Jean looked at him worriedly. "You look like you don't feel well. Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I'm just tired." Liar.
"Well, I'll just go give Jennifer her bath. Jimmy can play with his cars just as well in his room. You get some rest." She stood and gave him a kind look. "I hope it helps."
"I'm sure it will."
"Jimmy, come on sweetie. You're going to play in your room now."
"Yeah, I know. I can't believe some people like to take naps." Jimmy shook his head at the strangeness of it all as he collected his toys and started down the hall.
"Youth is wasted on the young," Jean commented as she took Jennifer's hand and followed behind her son.
Pete sighed with relief at the chance to be alone. He knew there was no way he'd fall asleep. He felt fatigued, but his body was far too jittery to be able to rest. In the back of his mind, he knew what was happening.
I'm getting the DT's. The detoxification symptoms were familiar to every police officer. Pete thought of every junky he'd ever seen going through withdrawal.
This isn't going to be fun. Though he didn't want to admit it, he was afraid to be alone when it happened.
But he kept all of that in the back of his mind. The rest of him wasn't willing to let anyone know his dark secret. Pete had gotten a lot of practice lately at switching between two opposing realities, and living in denial of whichever one wasn't currently helpful. So right now he refused to think about what was happening to his body, and he refused to admit that he was setting himself up to be discovered.
If you don't get help today, tomorrow may be too late. Pete knew it was true. The voice of truth and reason became harder to hear every day. He'd met plenty of folks who couldn't hear that voice at all anymore, and their lives were always in ruins.
Pete pushed that voice down, but not exactly away.
I couldn't stand for anyone to know. I'm not going to let anyone know.
Then why am I still here? Why haven't I gone home?
Be quiet! Be quiet. I don't want to think about it.
Because either way I look at it, it's terrifying.
Pete suddenly felt violently ill. He got up and raced to the bathroom, where his nausea got the better of him. His stomach continued its rebellion until Pete felt like he'd lost everything he'd eaten in the past week. By the time he could stand up again, he felt impossibly weak and trembly. His hand shook as he reached to flush the toilet and as he cleaned his face.
"Uncle Pete?" a worried little voice spoke up behind him. Pete's heart sank. But before he could answer, Pete saw that big Jim was watching him as well. I wonder how much they saw.
"Jimmy." Jim spoke softly to his son.
"What, Daddy? Hey, what's wrong with Uncle Pete?"
"He's not feeling well right now, Jimmy. Please go tell Mommy that it's your bath time."
Pete struggled to hold himself together, at least until Jimmy left the room.
"Momeeee. Daddy says it's my bath time." Jimmy's voice faded down the hallway. "And Uncle Pete's not feeling well."
Pete's trembling worsened, and he found it very hard to make his way back to his chair in the living room. Once there, he could no longer deny what was happening to him. He also couldn't silence the voice that told him to open up to Jim. Before it's too late.
But I can't! I couldn't stand to see the reproach in his eyes.
"Pete." Jim's hand rested on his shoulder. "What happened, man? I didn't know you were sick."
Pete's armor seemed to be weakening along with his body. "I can't believe it's come to this. I can't believe everything that I've lost. I can't stand to think how I've let everyone down." Pete couldn't look at his friend's face. Instead he drove his knuckles into his eyes, trying to hold back the tears and gain some control.
Jim gave him time, but eventually Pete knew the questions had to come.
I'm so tired of hiding. But how can I tell him such shameful, horrible things?
"Talk to me, partner." Jim's voice was full of gentleness and compassion, along with a good dose of worry.
"I don't know where to start." How could anyone ever tell a friend such news?
"Start with whatever's easiest to say." Jim's voice still held no condemnation. Pete still couldn't look at him.
Easiest to say? Was any of this easy?
"Do you know what's really weird?" he heard himself beginning.
"I've been having this dream. Over and over again. A dream about my father. And I can't figure out why. It just started when … when all of this started. Before that, I hadn't even thought of my father for years." The subject felt safe enough, and Pete found that he could control his emotions now. He met his partner's eyes for a moment, and saw only the deepest caring there.
"You've never once spoken to me about your father," Jim noted.
Jim prodded him a little. "Is the dream about something that really happened, or is it completely off the wall?"
"It's about what really happened. But I can't figure out why I'm thinking about it now. What's the connection?"
"Why don't you tell me about the dream?"
"Well, it's just the story of my childhood." Pete shrugged dismissively. He'd convinced himself years ago that he was past whatever pain his youth had held.
"My dad was my rock. He was my best friend. My mom and I … we never gave a second thought to it. We just knew that he was steady, stable, dependable, always going to be there. He taught me to fish, and we used to go every weekend. I lived for those fishing trips. We were buddies. I could talk to him about everything. We talked about life, about girls, about school, about the future … everything. He was a huge part of my life, and I knew I was a huge part of his."
The narrative took on a life of its own, and Pete just let it flow.
"He and my mom were sweethearts. High school sweethearts, just like you and Jean. Every day when he came home from work he'd say it was time for his sweetie, and he'd start smoochin' on my mom until she'd laugh and tell him to behave himself in front of little Pete." Pete smiled a bit at the memory.
"It sounds about perfect." Jim said quietly.
"I had a birthday right before my father shipped off for Europe in World War II. He told me he wanted it to be my most special birthday ever. He bought me a bike … not just any bike, either. It was one I'd been admiring for months. I never thought I'd get it. It was pretty expensive for a gift. He told me that when he got back from the war, we'd go bike riding together. I was in heaven. I felt like that was my guarantee that he'd come home. He had to, so we could ride together, you know? I rode that thing every day that he was gone. That was a long time, but I kept that bike in tip-top shape. It stayed almost as good as new."
Pete stopped and sighed deeply. "I still can't see what this has to do with anything."
"Is that the whole dream?"
"No, no, there's more." Pete sighed again and took up his narrative.
"Finally, we got word that he was coming home. He'd taken some shrapnel … nothing life-threatening, but he had a permanent limp. My mom was so glad. She said to me, 'That shrapnel probably saved his life, because it brought him home.'"
Pete asked for some water to moisten his throat and help with the taste in his mouth. He waited until he had his drink to start talking again.
"I was ecstatic, of course. The day my mom went to get him I gave my bike an extra coat of wax, just to make it shine."
Pete fell silent, feeling the hurt he thought he'd left behind long ago.
"But his bad leg made him unable to ride?" Jim's eyes reflected his deep empathy for his friend.
"Well, yeah, but that wasn't really the problem. He got out of the car and I rode right up on my bike. I was just a dumb kid. I didn't know any better. The first words out of my mouth were, 'Hey, Dad, do you wanna go for a ride now?' I just knew he'd be thrilled. I felt sure that he'd gone to sleep every night dreaming of our first bike ride together, because that's how I fell asleep every night. But … it would have been okay if he'd just given me a smile and said he couldn't, you know? I would have understood that. But he got furious. I had never seen him so angry. He said … terrible things to me. Told me I didn't love him or I wouldn't ask him such things. He actually took a swing at me."
Pete swiped at his eyes, and then took another drink of his water. His craving throbbed in his veins, but he ignored it. He didn't know why, but talking about this long-buried memory was helping.
"Unbelievable." Jim's eyes now showed a flash of anger as well as sympathy. "Why would he do that? He should have understood that you didn't know any better."
"The problem was," Pete recalled aloud, "the man who came home wasn't the same man who left. I understand now. I understand about things like 'shell-shock'. But I didn't understand it then. I just knew that the father who came home was mean and angry and abusive. He … didn't often hit us, but he often swung at us, and we were terrified of him. When I got older, I wasn't so afraid for myself, but I was really scared for my mom."
"You were abused?" Jim sounded shocked.
"Well, not really. Not physically, anyway. Like I said, he rarely managed to hit either of us. But we dodged a lot. And we put up with constant verbal abuse. We never knew what would set him off. Sometimes it was nothing at all."
Pete paused to stretch the kinks out of cramping muscles. I want a pill so bad! He struggled to return to his train of thought.
"My father was so unstable that he couldn't hold down a job. He tried several, and of course he'd get fired, sometimes in less than a day. Then he'd come home in an uproar, and we just had to survive it. We were glad when he stopped looking for work.
"After a while I had to work to help support the family. My mom just seemed to collapse in on herself. She did what she had to do, but she was just going through the motions. There was no spirit left in her."
Pete took another long drink.
"Then one day I came home and found her dead. The doctor said it was a heart attack. I always figured it was more like a broken heart. I went to live with my Uncle and Aunt until I turned 18."
Jim's eyes now shone with heartbreak for his friend. "That must have been devastating to you. How did you deal with it?"
Pete looked away from Jim with a sigh. "Well, when my father changed, I realized that you can never really know a person. You can never really trust a person. Because one day they could be the most important person in your life, and the next day they could be your worst enemy. Then later I learned that the people you love can die, too. So I figured there was only one person in the world that I could count on, and that was me. I was the only person I could really know. And I made up my mind that I would always be the kind of person that I could trust. I wasn't ever going to let myself down, and that would be enough for me. I would be the only one I needed. And I would never, ever hurt anyone the way my father hurt me. Or the way he hurt my mother. I would never betray someone's trust. And I would never marry until I knew for sure that I could trust myself … to be good to her forever."
Pete got suddenly choked up again and had to struggle for control. After a few moments and some hearty eye-rubbing, he continued. "For years I was kind of a loner. I wasn't alone, but I was a loner. I went to parties, had a good time, dated women, but I never let anyone close to me. Never let anyone inside my heart. I don't think I've ever taken anyone into my confidence like this." Pete felt a resurgence of nausea, and he felt as if everything inside him was shaking. He rubbed at his forehead and tried to focus on talking. "I decided to become a police officer because it seemed so self-sufficient. And because it gave me a chance to prove to myself that I was a better man than my father was. By then, of course, I knew about 'shell-shock', but I still felt angry at him for not being strong enough to fight it off. Every time I had a chance to prove myself strong, I did. My first six months of probation were full of fool-headed risk taking, because I felt I had so much to prove to myself. Sort of like you on your first day." Pete smiled at Jim, and Jim smiled a little in return.
"What helped you to get your head on straight?" Jim looked genuinely curious, as if he were almost enjoying this part of the tale.
"Mac. One day my life depended on him. Literally. And he laid his life on the line to save me. He could so easily have been killed." Pete took another swallow of water. "That's when I realized that it was possible to know a person. Someone who'd lay his life on the line for you, that was someone you could trust. And I realized that I'd already proven that about myself. I knew I was trustworthy then. Only with women was I still not sure I could trust myself. I didn't want to break my faith, didn't want to change, didn't want to leave some poor woman struggling and confused, raising my children in fear."
"You're not your father, Pete. The Pete Malloy I know could never, ever do such a thing." Jim's face radiated sincerity.
"The father I knew could never, ever do such a thing. Until he did it." Pete felt briefly buoyed by anger, and he leaned forward to press home his point.
"Do you really know me, Jim? Do you?"
He saw a flicker of uncertainty cross Jim's face, and Pete nodded. "That's right. You don't. No one does. Not even me. I thought I knew myself, until all of this happened. Now I've become someone I never thought I could be. The one person I knew I could count on … the one person I needed … that person is gone. He betrayed me. He changed. I don't know how to change him back."
"You're talking about yourself." Jim looked confused. Pete couldn't blame him.
"That's right. Pete Malloy. His own rock. His own steady, dependable self." Pete heard the sarcasm in his voice. He felt it in the pit of his stomach, tasted it as bitterness in his mouth. He leapt to his feet and started to pace, his body swinging from its earlier exhaustion to jittery motion. "I've betrayed everyone. I've changed in the most unforgivable of ways. And I've lied to myself, just like I've lied to everyone else." By now his voice was cracking, and he knew he was coming apart. Jim looked almost frightened by the stranger Pete had become. As you should be. As you should be.
Pete stopped pacing to stand, chest heaving, next to his friend. "It happened, Jim. What I've feared most since I was a kid. It happened. I changed. I betrayed everyone who trusted me. I hate who I am, and what I've done, and you would too, if you knew." With that he dropped down into his chair, his face in his hands, completely spent.
Jim stared at his friend with complete astonishment. He's completely flipped! He hasn't betrayed anyone! What is he talking about?
Some instinct made him turn, and he saw Jean standing at the entrance to the hallway, watching with tear-filled eyes. She seemed as stunned and confused as Jim felt.
"Where's Jimmy?" Jim mouthed silently. Jean mimed someone putting his head on a pillow, and Jim nodded. Good. He doesn't need to see this.
Jim cast an anxious glance at Pete, but he seemed oblivious. He sat with eyes closed, rubbing his forehead with one hand, looking totally distraught.
Why is he shaking like that?
Jim turned back toward Jean. He flashed her a grateful look for her support, and then gestured with a jerk of his head that she should go back to the den. She nodded, gave another sorrowful look toward Pete, and then went back down the hall. Jim turned his attention back to his broken friend.
What do I say? Do I dare say anything at all?
"Pete," he began as gently as he could, "you're not making any sense. Who have you betrayed? How? When?"
He got no answer.
"Pete, you've got to help me out here. I don't understand what you're trying to tell me."
"You don't want to believe me, do you? You're hoping it's all some kind of misunderstanding." Pete shook his head and swiped at his nose. "Sorry, Jim, but the old man is never going to be the same again."
Jim's voice became heated. "This is not your childhood, and you are not your father. You are Pete Malloy, and you've got some kind of problem. You have two choices now, as I see it. Either you can run away, or you can stay with your friends and loved ones and work things out."
Pete looked at him briefly, and then looked away, focusing on nothing. "Don't you see? Pete Malloy isn't who you thought he was. He isn't who anyone thought he was."
"Don't talk to me about 'he'. This is you we're talking about. If you have something to say about yourself, then say it about yourself!" By now Jim felt deeply afraid, and his fear made him angry. In many ways, Pete was Jim's rock. Seeing him like this was deeply distressing.
Pete, on the other hand, seemed to have gone numb. Jim could read no emotion on his features at all. He reminded Jim of someone in deep shock.
"Pete, what has happened?" Jim asked it in an intense whisper, almost pleading with his friend.
For several long moments Jim thought he would get no answer.
Pete wanted to yell at Jim, wanted to tell him to shut up and leave him alone. The desire to run away was almost unbearable. But the very strength of that desire made it terrifying. If it gets any stronger, I won't be able to fight it anymore. This may be my last chance to get help.
But I can't tell him!
Pete wrapped his arms around his middle and rocked miserably back and forth, as if his whole body felt the opposing pulls of his two terrible choices.
Run away. Get away. Don't tell him.
Tell him before it's too late.
Too late…too late…too late…
He struggled with himself for a very long time, while Jim tried desperately to pry his secret out of him.
"Pete, please," Jim said at last. "Haven't I earned your trust after all these years?"
Pete licked dry lips and opened his mouth, feeling like someone about to hurl himself over a cliff. If I die, I die.
His own voice sounded distant and strange to him, the words coming out slowly as they each fought their way through his defenses.
"I'm … addicted … to my pain medication."
The words stole over Jim's consciousness slowly, as if trying to soften the blow.
Okay, he's having a problem with his medicine.
He said 'addicted'. Addicted?!
What does he mean by that? Has he done anything illegal?
Oh no, what has he done?
This is the end of his career. He'll go down in disgrace. He's ruined. He's lost everything.
Is he going to end up living on the streets, or in prison somewhere?
No, he couldn't mean he's addicted like that.
But then, what does he mean?
Pete stood and turned his back to Jim, choosing instead to walk to the back window and stare outside. Even from across the room, Jim could see him shaking.
Jim realized that he'd been silent for quite a while, and he could only imagine what torment Pete felt, waiting for him to respond.
Jim tried to work some moisture back into his mouth. "I … I don't understand. Last I heard, you weren't taking any medication."
Pete's voice came back emotionlessly, and he kept his back turned. "When I told Mac that I wasn't taking it, it was true. I had just stopped. But not by choice. The doctor had decided not to refill it. And I tried to do without it. I really did. But I couldn't."
"Because the pain would come back?"
"No. The pain stopped a long time ago. For a while I didn't even realize it. The awful feeling in my body … it wasn't pain from the fall any more, it was the pain of a craving. But I … I wouldn't admit it to myself. On some level I knew, and I felt terrible about it. I started avoiding everybody, because I didn't want them … didn't want you to figure it out. The longer it went on, the worse I felt about myself, and I knew I had betrayed everybody. I knew I wasn't even worthy to associate with any of you, or to wear my uniform. But all the while, I was getting praised by everybody, and I was trusted even though everyone could see I wasn't myself. That just made it worse. That's why I had to get away."
Jim felt his jaw muscles clenching tightly. I can't believe this is happening. "Where did you go, anyway?"
Pete sighed deeply. "To the fishing cabins."
Jim's draw dropped. "But I went through that place twice!"
Pete snorted. "I know you did. And I was furious with you."
"How did you manage to stay hidden?"
"I had rented a car, because I figured you'd come looking for me. And I told Harv not to let anyone know I was there. When you came, he rushed out and warned me to come inside. I hid for the rest of the day."
"What did you think I would do to you?"
Pete turned around, his face full of anger. "You would find me! Discover me! Force me to look at the truth about myself! And then it would all be over, because I'd have to confess the truth to everyone. I'd have to become lower than dirt in the eyes of everyone I cared about. I'd have to give up my career. I would have to see the accusations, the disgust in everyone's eyes as they told me how I'd disgraced the uniform. I would lose everything." Pete turned his back again. "I have lost everything." He looked as if he might be ill again.
"How did … how did it happen?" Jim could feel his world collapsing around him, and he tried to regain some sense of control by getting the facts.
"I never meant for it to, believe me." Pete's shoulders slumped, and he ran a hand through his hair. "I didn't abuse the medication. I took it just the way the label said to. It was perfectly innocent, I swear it was." Pete turned back and trailed his way to the chair. He sagged into it and rested his forehead on his hand. "But I guess that doesn't matter now, because it didn't stay that way."
Jim felt a thread of hope. "At the time that you first became addicted, was it still innocent?"
"Yes. I just hadn't admitted the addiction to myself yet."
Jim grasped at the thin lifeline of hope and tried to toss it to his friend. "Well then, it wasn't your fault! Why would anyone blame you for that?"
"No one would. But like I said, it didn't stop there." Pete met Jim's eyes briefly, for the first time since his admission. He looked away again quickly.
Jim was fighting hard now against despair. This would not be hopeless. It would not destroy his friend. It would not, because Jim wouldn't let it.
"All right." Jim realized he needed to organize the facts to get control of them. "Let's start at the beginning. You took the medication exactly as it was prescribed, but it got you hooked. Right?"
"But you didn't realize it right away?"
"Right. But it wasn't long before part of me knew it. I went into denial. I didn't consciously know it for quite a while. Even when I thought about it as a possibility, I kept telling myself that it couldn't happen to me. I was Pete Malloy." His voice dripped with sarcasm again when he said his name.
"What was your state of mind when you went up to the fishing cabin?"
"Denial. I was considering the possibility, but I worked hard to prove to myself that it wasn't true." Pete raised a trembling hand to wipe the sweat off his upper lip. "But by then the pills only gave me relief for two hours. I wanted to start taking them more frequently, but I wouldn't let myself. That's how I convinced myself I wasn't addicted."
Jim paused to consider the facts, trying to imagine what his superiors would ask. "Just for the sake of argument, how do you know you were already addicted at that point, if you weren't abusing it?"
"I wasn't feeling the same kind of pain anymore, remember? The pain from the accident was gone. The pain of the cravings is … it's like nothing I could describe to you. It's all-consuming. You can hardly think about anything else." Pete managed another brief glance at his friend. "Frankly, I'm amazed that I'm able to talk like this. My whole body is screaming for a pill." Pete held up a hand. "Look at me. I'm shaking. Just like any street hype. I'm no better than one of them, now."
Pete paused, and Jim tried to come to terms with the fact that his friend was going through withdrawal, right there in his living room.
"What is the pain like? Try to describe it."
Pete snorted. "That's exactly what my doctor asked me, and when I tried to answer him … that was the first time that I realized that it wasn't pain, exactly. It's like … it's like the worst thirst and hunger you can imagine. Like you're near death from the need, and you'll do anything to satisfy it." Pete's voice lowered to a murmur. "Anything."
Jim felt fear knotting in his throat again.
"What did you do, Pete?" He found it hard to breathe, thinking about what he might learn next.
Pete sighed. "It's so … I'm so ashamed of myself, Jim. You were in the hospital. You had just been shot. I'd heard the officer down call, and my cravings went through the roof. I needed my medicine, and I didn't have any more. That's when I stopped lying to myself. That's when I knew I was a junky, and I figured I'd have to go live in a ditch somewhere." Pete's nostrils flared with disgust.
"Then I ran across Dr. Alexander, and I lied to him. Led him to believe that I was still supposed to be taking the medication, and that I'd missed reaching my doctor because you got shot. He gave me more."
Pete sighed again. "You were injured. Your wife, your rookie, the whole department was worrying about you, and I was out lying to get drugs. How does that strike you, Partner?"
"Like a man in a desperate situation."
"Don't give me that social-worker talk!" Pete's anger flared again. "People want to excuse junkies, and coddle them, and tell them it's not their fault. I've always hated that. You know that. People have to accept responsibility for their own actions."
Jim could see only self-loathing in his best friend's eyes. He looks awful.
Jim rallied. "Most, maybe all of the junkies out on the street got there because of a conscious decision to try illegal drugs. In their case, I can see where a person could argue that it was their fault. But that's not what happened to you."
Pete shook his head emphatically. "I decided to lie. I decided not to go get counseling, like my doctor told me to. I sneaked the pills while I was at work. I plotted and schemed to figure out how I could get more drugs. It was me." He wrapped his arms around his middle and groaned a little.
"Was it? Or was it the drugs? Didn't they take over at some point, before you made those decisions?"
Pete looked as if he half-conceded the point. "But if we make that excuse for me, what then? Every junky out there could just…" he waved his hand dismissively. "I don't know." His fidgeting spoke of increasing misery.
Jim leaned forward, then reached out and grabbed his friend's shoulder. Pete finally looked up at him.
"You are not 'every junky out there'. You're the victim here." Pete rolled his eyes, and Jim knew what he was thinking. "Yeah, it's true that a lot of people claim to be victims when they're not, but would you please tell me what you did to deserve getting hooked?"
Pete seemed to be searching unsuccessfully for some proof of his guilt. He reached up again to wipe the sweat off his upper lip.
"Anything?" Jim prodded.
"No, nothing." Pete's answer came out softly. "But when we arrest a junky for stealing to support his habit, we don't let him off because of whatever circumstances led to his drug use."
Jim felt fear wrench at his gut. "Did you steal anything?"
Pete quickly shook his head. "No, nothing like that." He sat back in the chair with a groan, face toward the ceiling. "I need a pill so bad."
"So you haven't done anything to break the law?"
"Abusing prescription drugs is against the law, partner." Pete didn't bother to look back at him.
"But no stealing, no forging prescriptions, nothing like that?"
"No, nothing but lying to the doctor. That's bad enough." Pete could no longer sit still. His whole body seemed to be desperate to escape from some internal torment.
"Look, partner," Pete's voice sounded strained. "I appreciate what you're trying to do. Maybe you can excuse this. Maybe you won't despise me. That's great. It would mean the world to me." Pete paused to rub his knuckles into his eyes, and then sprang up from his chair. He paced like a man whose legs had a mind of their own.
"But the brass won't see it that way," he continued. "Maybe they won't blame me on a personal level, but professionally I'm ruined."
Jim's heart sank to think about it. He knew Pete would be crucified.
"I need to go to the bathroom." Pete's feet took him in that direction. Jim started to let him go, but then he jumped quickly up and grabbed Pete's arm to stop him.
"Give me the pills first."
Pete shook his head wearily. "I didn't bring them. I didn't figure I'd stay this long, and I was too afraid you'd catch me with them." He looked at Jim with miserable eyes. "If I'd brought them, I'd have taken one by now."
Jim searched his friend's eyes, and he knew Pete was telling the truth. He released him and sat back down to await his return.
What are we going to do now?
"Jim." Jean's voice startled him, and he looked up. One glimpse of Jean's face told him she'd heard it all. He stood and walked quickly to her, wrapping her in a hug that they both desperately needed. Jean wept a bit, and Jim wished he could allow himself the luxury of doing the same.
"What are we going to do?" she whispered into his shoulder.
"I don't know, babe. I don't know." He gently pushed her back until he could look into her eyes. "I'm not sure if he's ready to know that you know."
She nodded her understanding, wiped her eyes, and turned to go down the hall. "I'm going to lie down in our room, but if you need me, come and get me. I want to do whatever I can."
"I love you." Jim's heart swelled with gratitude. She's standing by Pete.
The bathroom door opened, and Jean hurried to close herself into the bedroom to avoid discovery. Jim looked Pete over with a critical eye as he returned to the living room.
He looks just as miserable as when he went in there. Good. It proved to Jim that he'd been right to believe his friend.
Pete paused beside Jim and reached around to the back of his belt. "Here. You're required to confiscate my sidearm under these circumstances." He handed his revolver to Jim, who accepted it only reluctantly.
"Are you prepared to have someone go through the DT's right here in your house?" Pete asked as he sagged back into his chair. "Maybe you'd better get me to the hospital." Pete's face took on a whole new level of misery. "And you'd better call Mac."
Jim's heart sank, but Pete was right. This thing had gotten far too big for him.
I don't want him to go to the hospital, because then it will be on the record. But he's right. Jimmy can't see him like this. And if it gets bad enough, he could tear our house apart.
I wonder if he could safely detox outside of the hospital.
"I need to find out more about this drug. What did you say it was called?"
Bill MacDonald felt his eyelids getting heavy. It was nearly 10:00 at night, and he'd put in a full day of work. His wife Mary sat quietly beside him, working away on her knitting and ignoring the television. Not that I'm paying much attention to it myself.
He lingered in the delicious limbo of near-sleep, wondering whether to rouse himself and finish his movie, or to surrender and head off to bed.
Or maybe I'll just fall asleep right here.
"Bill MacDonald, if you fall asleep in that chair, don't expect me to carry you off to bed." Mary's tone didn't quite manage to sound irritated, and Mac smiled. "Aw, hon, why not? You were able to sweep me off my feet years ago."
"Ohhh, you rascal." She swatted playfully at him. "I thought it was the other way around."
"Maybe we both swept each other off our feet at the same time," he mused sleepily.
"Hmph. Sounds like a good recipe for falling on our rumps!" Her voice was full of affectionate mischief, the same trait that first made her so irresistible to him so long ago.
"I'll fall for you anytime, my dear." He feigned a romantic flourish.
"Oh, go on!" She laughed. "If you didn't look so sleepy, I'd say you were up to something."
"I could wake up."
The phone rang, jarring him out of his pleasant train of thought. He frowned at it, willing it not to ring again.
It rang again.
Whoever it is, it'd better be good. Mac rolled his eyes at his wife and reached for the receiver. "MacDonald."
"Mac, it's Reed. I'm sorry to bother you so late."
"Reed? What's this about? I was about to hit the sack!" He hoped he sounded irritated, but in truth he felt more concerned than anything.
"Mac … I think you need to come over to my house."
"What? Your house? Why?" He threw a worried glance at Mary, who laid down her knitting and watched him with concern.
"Well, it's about Pete. Can you come?"
"It's not something that can wait until morning?" Mac wasn't so concerned about the time, but he was very concerned about the implications. If it can't wait for morning, it must be bad.
"No, I'm afraid it can't. Will you come, please?"
Mac nodded, feeling the armor of professionalism wrapping itself around him. I'm not going to like this, but I've got to do it.
"All right, Reed. I'll be there in about 20 minutes."
"Thanks, Mac. I really appreciate it." Reed hung up, and Mac turned to Mary.
"It's about Pete, isn't it?" she guessed.
Mac only nodded. "You might not want to wait up."
"What is it? What's happened?" Mary sounded very frightened now, concerned for her good friend.
"I don't know. But Reed wouldn't call me here at 10:00 at night for a hangnail." Mac pulled his boots on with a sense of dread and stood to leave.
"I'll wait up for you," Mary said softly.
Mac shook his head with gentle exasperation, knowing it wouldn't do any good to argue the point.
What would I do without her?
He bent down for a quick kiss and then headed out, battling against an imagination that wanted to run wild.
I'm about to hear the whole story. I don't need to imagine all sorts of awful things. I'll find out the truth soon enough. And that will probably be awful enough.
Mac stopped to wait for traffic as the seconds ticked by. He tried to focus on preparing himself, on listening with an unbiased ear, on doing his duty no matter what the cost. But what he kept seeing was his friend, one of the people he respected most in the world, and he felt almost nauseated.
Pete, please don't let anything be too wrong.
Jim hung up and looked sympathetically at Malloy. The man looked ready to come unglued, but Jim could tell that, even now, he was fighting.
"Mac's on his way."
Pete closed his eyes miserably.
This has to be so hard for him. Jim thought back to what Pete had told him tonight. Mac was the first person he was able to trust after his father changed.
I can't imagine what he's going through.
Jim sighed and forced his mind back to the task at hand. "I've got to find out more about that medicine…" he thought aloud, "… but how? No pharmacy is open now."
"The hospital pharmacy," Pete rasped.
"The hospital pharmacy is open 24 hours. Call them."
Jim stared at his friend. As badly as he's hurting, he's still reaching out for help, not trying to escape back into pills. Surely that's got to count for something. Jim wanted to have an arsenal ready to defend Pete when Mac arrived.
Jim dialed the main number for County Hospital from memory, and a few moments later was patched through to the pharmacy. He identified himself as a police officer, and asked about withdrawal from Pete's pain killer.
"Funny you should ask," the pharmacist said without a trace of humor. "I was just reading about that drug in an FDA publication today. It seems that it's causing a lot of people a lot of problems. A lot of addictions. Nobody's sure why, or why it didn't show up during FDA trials. But they're seriously considering recalling it altogether."
Jim closed his eyes, a wave of relief washing over him. Then he quickly re-opened them and started jotting down notes.
"What is withdrawal like?"
"Here, let me get that article. Let's see … here it is." The pharmacist began reading, stopping frequently to interpret the medical-ese for Jim. "'Intense cravings with generalized somatic distress.' That means they're miserable all over. 'No life-threatening effects of detoxification have been observed. Tachycardia has been observed, but not within dangerous levels.' That means their heart rate gets fast, but not fast enough to kill them. 'Withdrawal symptoms are worst over the first 48 hours, with milder symptoms continuing up to 96 hours. After detoxification, physical cravings do not tend to recur, and no psychological addiction has been noted.'"
"Okay, wait, slow down. I'm trying to write all of this down." Jim scribbled as fast as he could, asking for repetitions and clarifications as he needed them.
"Let me see if I've got this straight," he said at last. "This sounds like good news for the person who's addicted. Is that right?"
"Yes, it's not like heroin, where cravings continue long after detoxification."
"Do they …" Jim paused for a moment, reluctant to let Pete hear his next question. He lowered his voice just a little. "Do they become violent during withdrawal?"
"No, I haven't seen anything about that."
"Thank God," Jim whispered. He saw Pete look up at him, showing a glimmer of hope for the first time in hours. "Is there anything that can be done to make withdrawal easier?"
"Hmm…" the pharmacist seemed to be reading some more. "No, they don't recommend putting anything into their stomachs because of nausea, except of course sips of water. You don't want them getting dehydrated. But if they're nauseated, you can't really give them aspirin, and of course we wouldn't use anything harder than that in a case like this."
"So there's no way to help?"
"Just be there for them. Don't make 'em sweat it out alone. Of course it's best if they detox in a hospital, just in case anything goes wrong."
"Like what?" Jim's heart sank.
"Well, I would think the greatest risk would be dehydration, if the patient isn't able to keep water down. If you're trying to detox someone privately, make sure to give the water in sips, and give it frequently. If they can't keep it down, get them to the hospital. It's better to have a record of the incident than a dead patient."
Jim nervously wished that the pharmacist hadn't figured him out so perfectly.
"Is that everything you need to know?"
Jim thought for a moment. "You tell me. Do you know anything else important?"
"Hmmm, let me look this article over one more time." The pharmacist started a quiet stream of nonsense sounds as he half-pronounced the words he read. "Nope, that about covers it. Do you have somebody hooked on this stuff, or is this just for general knowledge?"
"Uh, listen, I have to go." Jim saw headlights pulling into his driveway. Pete's head sagged back down.
"Thanks for all your help. Goodbye." Jim hung up. After a moment he put a supportive hand on Pete's shoulder. "He's a friend, Pete. Remember that."
"How could I forget?" Pete murmured. "That's what makes this so horrible."
Mac appeared in the glow of the front porch light, and Jim walked over to let him in.
This can't be happening.
Mac stood with his back to the other men in the room, trying to collect himself. He'd been standing there since the first sentence out of Pete's mouth. He listened silently while Pete trembled and moaned and told his story. Mac couldn't speak.
I've seen hundreds of people acting just like this. I've even seen some officers in this condition. But I never, ever dreamed I'd see Pete like this.
So unlikely was this scenario that the seasoned officer hadn't even recognized the DT's when he saw them in Pete. He'd been terribly concerned about his friend's obvious distress, but it never occurred to him what it had to be. Not until Pete had told him, bluntly, unceremoniously.
Mac wanted to be sick.
Pete finished his explanation and fell silent. The whole world fell silent. Mac wouldn't have been surprised if it had stopped spinning altogether.
His pain began to solidify into anger.
Finally Mac managed to speak, but only in a strained whisper. "I would rather have heard that I had only a week to live, than to hear news like this."
"Mac," Jim began to speak. Mac cut him off angrily. "Quiet, Reed!" He wasn't ready to hear any loyal defense from a loyal friend. I was a loyal friend, and he betrayed me! He lied to me!
Mac's anger had begun to boil into fury. Finally he spun around to face Pete, and found his former friend unable to face him. After a moment he strode across to Pete's chair and squatted down in front of him, forcing them to come face-to-face. "You lied to me. You took advantage of my trust and lied to me." His words spat out with an angry hiss.
"Mac!" Jim protested.
"Shut up, Reed!" Mac barked. Right now he didn't care about how he treated his officers. Not when his officers treated him like this.
Pete only closed his eyes and looked utterly dejected.
Mac wasn't close to being through. "I was mad at you like this a little while ago, remember? I backed you up against a wall in the hospital and told you what I thought of you, taking advantage of a rookie and slipping away. You looked me in the eye… in the eye…! And convinced me that I was wrong to suspect you, and that you were perfectly innocent. And you had just swallowed a pill that you'd lied to get. You not only took advantage of that rookie's inexperience, but you took advantage of my years of trusting you. You trashed that trust, Pete. You trashed it!"
Mac's voice now fell only slightly below a shout, and he shook his finger in Pete's face.
"MAC!" Jim's voice held no less anger than Mac's had, and the junior officer dared to grab Mac by the shoulder. Mac rose to his feet with daggers in his eyes. "Reed," he hissed, "I know you're his friend. I know you're going to defend him. But there's nothing, nothing you could say that would make this right. And frankly, I'm in no mood to hear it."
The two men looked fire into each other's eyes for long seconds, when a much softer voice interrupted them.
"Gentlemen!" They both turned, startled, to see Jean standing there.
"Would you mind not having this shouting match in here? The children don't need to hear this." Jean showed no intimidation in the presence of the sergeant.
Mac fumed silently, but at least he was beginning to try to rein in his emotions.
He wasn't succeeding very well.
Jean walked up to him, dwarfed by his size, but not by strength of will. "Jim's loyal, but he's no idiot. If he's got something to say in Pete's defense, then it's something worth hearing. You spoke of the years of trust that Pete trashed. Well, if you won't hear them out on this, then you've trashed it, too." Her eyes never wavered from his, and Mac felt admiration despite himself.
"You owe it to both of these men to at least listen. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to check and make sure my children haven't been frightened by all of this." Jean turned and walked down the hall without a backward glance.
I'd better cool down. Mac could see out of the corner of his eye that Jim looked proud of his wife. Pete just sat and shook.
"All right, have your say," Mac finally said through a tightly clenched jaw. He listened, but he didn't look at Jim.
Jim explained. He explained about the FDA report, and Pete's innocence when he first got hooked. He explained how much strength Pete had shown in coming forward with this information, despite the high personal cost. He explained the high probability of success with detoxification. Finally, he ended with an impassioned plea.
"There's no way that Pete is to blame for getting hooked. He's the victim of an FDA foul-up. Think about the Pete you've known all these years, Mac. That's the real Pete. That's the man he'll be again as soon as these chemicals are out of his system. He doesn't deserve to go down for this, Mac. He deserves a chance to prove himself."
Mac turned away again, walking back to the front window and staring out into the darkness. His whole being still throbbed with the indignation of betrayal, and he found it hard to even consider letting go of his wrath. Especially when anger felt so much more bearable than heartbreak. But as Jim's words sank in, Mac began to cool off despite himself.
No one spoke for a long time. Mac heard doors open and close in the hallway, and hoped that the kids were still asleep. Pete moaned in quiet misery.
Mac found his anger slowly dissolving back into pain. He forced himself to turn and look back at Pete. Jim was kneeling beside him, speaking softly to him, supporting him as best he could. After a moment Jim helped Pete up with some difficulty, and steadied him as he staggered over to the couch and laid down. Once there, Pete simply writhed, tormented by demons that Mac couldn't begin to imagine. Jim rubbed at his sore chest.
The sight of Pete's distress broke the sergeant's heart.
Jim stayed with his friend for a while, and then walked over to Mac. "He agrees with me that he doesn't want to go to the hospital if he doesn't have to."
Mac only nodded. He didn't trust his voice yet.
After a few moments of silence, Jim left for his bedroom, saying he wanted to check on his wife.
Jim closed his bedroom door behind him and looked at Jean. She'd left the bedside lamp on, and he could see she was awake, staring at the ceiling, still fully dressed. She's been crying. The sight tugged at his already raw emotions.
He walked over and sat down beside her. Jean didn't look at him, but she was the first to speak.
"He doesn't deserve this." She shook her head, growing visibly more upset. "Of all people, why him? A man of such integrity…" She finally turned brimming eyes to Jim. "He really is going to be ruined by this, isn't he?"
Jim hated to say it, but he'd learned over the years that it was best not to try to shelter Jean too much. "Probably." She closed her eyes, and a few more tears found their way onto the pillow.
Jim wished he could comfort her, but what could he say or do? He lightly brushed her tears away and waited for her to collect herself.
"Did we wake the kids up?"
Jean nodded. "Yeah, Jimmy." She sniffled and reached for a tissue. "I told him at first that it was the TV that was on too loud. But he said he heard you and Mac yelling at each other. He was really shaken by that."
Jim closed his eyes, his heart sinking even further.
"I didn't know what to say," she continued. "Finally I told him that Uncle Pete was sick, and you and Mac were arguing over what was the best way to help him. Then I told him you were through arguing, and you weren't mad at each other any more." By now she seemed more collected, and she blew her nose one last time before throwing the tissue away. "Since you guys did manage to stop yelling at each other…" her eyes took on a reproachful look, "…he seemed to believe that. I hope it's true."
"I think Mac's coming around." I hope so.
They sat in silence for a few moments.
"Pete's really suffering out there." Jim said at last. "The withdrawal is getting really bad. Part of me says he shouldn't have to go through that here, but I can't think of any place that would be better."
"The hospital?" Jean asked.
"I don't want him to have a record anywhere that says he had to detox. And the pharmacist said he wouldn't be in any danger." Jim suddenly remembered the pharmacist's warning. "As long as he can drink water, that is. I'd better go get him some."
"Wait." Jean sat up. Jim stopped to hear her out.
"What are we going to do about Jimmy? He's going to wake up in the morning, you know, and Pete's still going to be in bad shape. I'm not too worried about being able to keep it from Jennifer, but Jimmy would be harder to fool."
Jim felt stupid for not having thought ahead that far.
"We might be able to move Pete to our room before Jimmy gets up. Maybe he won't notice anything. We should be able to keep him distracted until the bus comes."
Jean looked doubtful, but she didn't say anything else. Instead she got up to join her husband.
"It didn't sound like Mac was ready to offer much support to Pete."
Jim shook his head regretfully. "No."
"Then I'd better go to him."
A wave of gratitude washed over Jim, and he gently touched her face. I love you so much. He didn't need to say it. He knew it showed.
They opened the door quietly and walked out into the living room. What they saw there made them look at each other with grateful relief.
Mac was kneeling beside Pete, comforting him.
Mac watched Jim until he got into his bedroom. Then he stared at Pete for a while, feeling himself softening toward his old friend. He felt his tightly folded arms loosening. He took a tentative step toward Pete, and then walked quickly to his side. Pete's eyes were squeezed tightly shut, and he didn't acknowledge Mac at all. Mac put a hand on his arm.
"Pete … be strong. Get through this."
Pete couldn't or wouldn't open his eyes, and he spoke shakily through clenched teeth. "Nothing … keeps … the Straw … berry … fox … down." A tear trickled down the Strawberry Fox's face.
Mac closed his eyes and swallowed hard.
"Pete," his whispered almost pleadingly, "Even if I back you, I doubt the brass will go for it. I don't think I can protect you."
"I kn … know." Pete chattered. "I … don't … expect … to keep my … job … but … if … I can … still have … a little … worth … in their eyes … that will … mean … a lot."
Pete seemed to be seized by a more intense wave of agony, and he reached shakily for Mac. Mac grabbed his hand and held it tightly, trying to somehow help him through his ordeal.
"God help me," Pete whispered hoarsely. "48 hours of this?" For once his eyes opened, and he searched Mac's eyes almost pleadingly for help.
What help can I give?
Pete's eyes closed again, and he looked as if he would shake himself to pieces. Suddenly Mac knew exactly what he had to do.
He jumped to his feet and hurried to the phone, dialing it with quick, decisive strokes. Out of the corner of his eyes he saw Jim and Jean take his place next to Pete, both of them clearly suffering with him. I didn't hear them come back out.
"Hello, Murphy? This is Mac." Jim looked up sharply at him, and Mac knew what he had to be thinking. Why was Mac calling another sergeant, one that Pete didn't even know well?
"Murph, I have a favor to ask you, and I think you owe me a few." Mac paused to listen. "I need tomorrow off." Another pause. "It's a personal matter, and I'd rather not discuss it. But you know I don't take time off just for the heck of it. Something has come up … something in my family." His eyes fell on Pete as he said 'family', and Pete's eyes opened to lock with his. Mac's throat grew a lump, and he had to look away for a moment. A sound made him look back.
Good, Jean's getting him some water.
Murphy grumbled about trying to replace him, but Mac didn't have time for that. "I don't care who you call in. I just need this, really badly. Look, I know it's short notice. Can you do this for me, or not?"
"You just better remember that you owe me for this," Murphy grumped.
"All right. I appreciate it." Mac hung up quickly, not wanting to give his colleague a chance to change his mind. He won't have any idea where to reach me either, unless…
Mac snatched up the phone and dialed again. "Mary?" He nodded as she began a barrage of questions. "I know," he interrupted, "you've got a ton of questions. I can't answer them now. All I can tell you is that I've taken tomorrow off to help Pete. Please don't tell anyone where I am or what I'm doing. Don't let them know it has anything to do with Pete."
"Bill, this sounds serious. What's going on?" Mary sounded terribly worried.
"Don't worry. I think everything's going to work out. Pete just needs some help right now, and I'm going to give it to him. I don't want to stay on the phone long."
"Okay, I'll do what you asked. But please keep in touch with me, okay? You know how I fret sometimes."
"I know. I will. When I can." Mac tried not to sound brusque, but it was hard for him to stay strong at times like this if he didn't at least put a little armor on.
"I love you, Bill. And give my love to Pete."
"I will. Bye." He knew she understood his heart, even when he couldn't speak it.
Mac hurried back to Pete's side. His friend seemed very grateful for the water, and wanted to take it more quickly than Jean wanted to give it. "Slowly, Pete," she gently warned him. "You don't want to make yourself sick."
Mac waited until Pete finished drinking. "Mary sends her…best wishes." He didn't want to get mushy.
"She … she knows?" Pete asked through chattering teeth.
"No, she doesn't know."
Pete looked back at Jean, and the worried question in his eyes needed no words.
"Yes, Pete, I know." Jean responded. "And I'm here." She bent down and kissed his forehead, then brushed his sweaty red hair back with her hand. "I believe in you, Pete."
Pete seemed overwhelmed with gratitude and relief, and Mac thought he saw another tear escape him. A moment later Pete disappeared into his misery again, and his three friends looked at each other for support.
"Thanks, Mac." Jim said softly.
Mac looked back down at Pete. "You couldn't drag me away."
Pete had no idea how much time had gone by. It could have been minutes, or it could have been days. He knew nothing but the need, and the murmur of voices, and the need, and gentle hands giving him water, and the need, and occasionally getting help to drag himself to the bathroom, to preserve what little was left of his dignity. In the rare moments when he could think about it, it seemed funny, in a pitiful sort of way. He'd once had such high standards for himself. Now he only hoped he could make it to the bathroom when he needed to.
He had vague impressions of his friends most of the time, sometimes identifying one or the other through his fog of pain-that-wasn't-pain. Sometimes he murmured to them, and they would bend down to hear him. He would apologize, or ask them to help him through a particularly tough time, or tell them he didn't think he could take it any more. Sometimes he couldn't even speak, but just reached out frantically for a hand to hold. He always found one, though he didn't always know who it belonged to.
And then came the worst time, the time when he knew nothing at all except the need, when his friends seemed to fade away, and he felt himself adrift in a sea of torment. Surely he was in Hell. Surely even God had given up on him and left him here forever. After what I did, I deserve it. "God, forgive me! God, don't let it be too late. Don't leave me here forever!"
How much longer can this go on? How much more of this can he take? Jim wasn't sure how much more he himself could stand, and he knew it must have been infinitely worse for Pete.
Jim had slept for a little while, still fatigued by his injury. But he'd stayed close enough to hear his friend's suffering, even in his sleep. He hadn't rested well.
The dark of the morning stretched out endlessly. Jim and Jean both kept watchful eyes for the sun. Jimmy would get up not long after the sun did, and they wanted to be ready.
"Why don't you just move him to your room now?" Mac asked as if reading their minds.
"We wanted to keep him as far from Jimmy's room as we could. But I think the next time he gets up to go to the bathroom we'll take him back to our room." Jim watched his friend fretfully. "He looks so much worse now. I would have thought it couldn't possibly get worse, but now I don't think he even knows we're here."
Jean sat on the couch next to where Pete lay, putting a cold washcloth on his forehead. For a moment she laid a hand on his chest, and then turned to Jim with worried eyes. "Didn't the pharmacist say something about a fast heartbeat?"
"Yeah, but he said it wouldn't get dangerously fast." Jim felt his worry increasing. I hope we don't end up having to take him to the hospital after all.
"Come feel this," Jean beckoned. Jim went to his partner, choosing to feel for the carotid pulse that he was most used to checking. He looked at Mac, his eyebrows raised with worry. "Mac, check this out."
The sergeant felt the rapid pounding, and he too looked worried.
"How do we know when fast is too fast?" Jean asked.
No one had an answer, but a moment later Pete himself interrupted them. His eyes flew open wide, but he didn't seem to see them. "God, forgive me! God, don't let it be too late. Don't leave me here forever!"
"He thinks he's in Hell," Jean whispered through her tears.
"Isn't he?" Mac asked, looking almost as shaken.
"He's closer to it than I ever hope to be," Jim murmured.
Pete thrashed, seemingly unaware even of the cold cloth that Jean tried unsuccessfully to keep on his forehead.
"Jim…" Mac's worried voice told Jim what the sergeant was thinking.
"If he doesn't get better, we'll have to take him in. But for now, let's keep him here, please. He told me he really doesn't want to go."
Mac frowned, but didn't argue.
I hope I'm right on this. If he dies ... I can't let that happen. But what can I do?
"Who could we call?" Jean's voice broke into Jim's thoughts. "We know nurses from church, and you know nurses from the hospital. Pete's even dated some nurses. Surely there must be someone who would understand … someone we could trust to keep a confidence." Jean's eyes seemed to plead with Jim.
Jim looked at Mac, who shook his head and shrugged. "I don't think it should be anyone that Pete dated."
"I agree." Jim thought deeply, and an idea began to crystallize. "Mac, there's that halfway house in our patrol area, over on 4th and McMillan. There's a full-time nurse there. She lives upstairs. She's really dedicated to helping people with addictions. I think we could trust her."
"You think we should take Pete there?" Mac looked doubtful. "I'm not so sure it's a good idea to move him in his condition."
"No … I think we should ask her if she'd come here."
"Do you think she would?" Mac still looked skeptical.
"It's worth a shot." Jim felt his confidence growing. "Look, Mac, that nurse has told us more than once how she appreciates the work we do, because we're interested in helping the addicts, rather than just locking them up. I think she'd want to help, Mac."
"You say she knows and trusts you. You'd better be the one who goes down there." Mac rubbed tiredly at his forehead. "You planning to go now or wait until sunup?"
"I'll go now. She's used to people calling on her at all hours." Jim walked for the coat closet as he spoke. "My only concern is that she might be too busy. She might not want to leave the halfway house for that long." He carefully pulled on a cardigan, trying not to wince at the pain in his chest. "We'll see."
Jim's tires crunched on gravel as he pulled up in front of the Today House. He thought about the first time he'd been there, when he'd asked someone about the name. "Don't worry about tomorrow," the man had told him. "Just get through today."
Pete's gonna need a lot of help to get through this day.
He took the front steps quickly and rang the bell. His chest ached. I should have taken my medicine before I left.
Lights came on upstairs, and a few moments later he heard footsteps coming down. A moment later a woman's voice called out, "Just a moment."
She shouldn't be answering the door at this hour. I could be some creep, for all she knows. Jim shivered a little against the nighttime chill. In fact, in her line of work, she must answer the door for every kind of deadbeat imaginable.
That's one brave lady.
The door opened, and a familiar thirty-something woman peered out at him. Jim was again struck by her features, by the way she kept herself open and accepting, and yet without looking weak or vulnerable. He wondered for a moment what interesting stories she could tell.
"May I help you?" she asked, and she squinted at him with a puzzled expression. "Where do I know you from?"
Jim smiled. "I'm Officer Reed, Nurse Benson. You're not used to seeing me out of uniform."
"Oh yes, of course!" She smiled broadly now. "Do come in. Are you working undercover tonight?"
Jim walked into the front room. Nurse Benson indicated a chair, and his weary body sank into it gratefully. "No, I'm off duty tonight."
"Well then, you must know someone who's in trouble, at least hypothetically. Am I right?"
Jim smiled and dipped his head a little. He was always totally disarmed by women who got right to the heart of things with no-nonsense precision. I wonder why she's never married.
"I was wondering … are you ever willing to help people outside of the Today House?"
Nurse Benson looked at him with a critical, discerning eye. She remained silent for a few moments. "Are you detoxing someone?"
"Why are you keeping this one a secret from law enforcement?" She sat back in her chair, her gaze never wavering.
"Because this is an upstanding citizen who quite innocently got addicted to a prescription drug. He didn't abuse it. Frankly, it abused him. And he needs help."
"Why not take him to the hospital?"
"He wants to avoid that, if possible."
"So this is someone with a public image to protect?"
"I guess you could say that." Jim leaned forward, hoping to project more confidence than his aching body and heart really felt. "But we will inform law enforcement, as soon as he's in a condition to speak in his own defense. He wants to do what's right."
Nurse Benson's eyes narrowed. "This must be someone you really trust."
The nurse's eyes seemed to look inward, and she thought in silence for a while. Jim gave her time.
"Has it already started?" she asked at last.
"Yeah. He's suffering."
"At my house."
She looked surprised. "This is someone in your family?"
"Almost." Jim decided it was time to drop the bombshell. "It's Pete Malloy."
Her eyes widened with shock, and she didn't speak. Jim scarcely breathed as he waited for her reaction.
"I'll get my purse," she said at last. "And I'll let Dr. Morgan know that I'm going to be out." She looked narrowly at Jim again. "May I give him your number in case he needs to reach me? My responsibilities to the Today House come first."
"Of course." Jim stood and pulled out his little notebook and pencil. "Here's the number." He gave it to the nurse with a little surge of fear. "He … he'll be discreet?"
"Yes. And I won't tell him any more than he needs to know."
Jim sighed with relief and gratitude. "Thanks."
"We'd better take him to our room now. The sun is starting to come up." Jean nodded out the window, and the others looked out as well. Jim and Mac exchanged glances.
"I'll get the top half, and you take the bottom half," Mac suggested.
"I'll help with the bottom half," Nurse Benson said matter-of-factly. "I've noticed that you're not feeling so well yourself, Officer Reed."
"Thanks." Jim found it a little hard to accept help with heavy lifting from a woman, but he knew she was right.
After some struggling the three hoisted Pete up and carried him to the master bedroom. Pete's constant motion made carrying him difficult, and Jim was relieved to put him down on the bed. His chest muscles screamed in protest.
Jean appeared at the bedroom door with an urgent expression. "I just heard Jimmy's dresser drawers closing. He's going to be dressed and out in no time." She closed the door behind her as she went back in the hallway.
Jim turned to Mac and the nurse. "Would you mind staying in here with Pete for a minute? I want to help Jean with Jimmy."
"Sure, Jim. Whatever works out best for you," Mac responded. The nurse simply bent over her patient, feeling the pounding of his heart and looking concerned.
Jim nodded his thanks and went out in the hall just as Jimmy was emerging from his room.
"Hi, Mommy. Hi, Daddy." Jimmy did a double take, clearly reading his parents' mental state. "What's the matter?"
Jean hurried Jimmy toward the dining room, hoping he wouldn't hear his godfather's distress. "Pete's sick, honey. He was too sick to go home last night, so he spent the night here. He needs to rest, so I'd like you to stay quiet."
"Is he still throwing up?" Jimmy asked in a softer voice. "He's making weird noises in there."
"Sometimes people make sounds when they don't feel well," Jim interjected. Jean flashed him a thankful expression.
"Well, he must really not feel well." Jimmy pulled out his dining room chair. "What's for breakfast?"
Jim and Jean glanced at each other with relief. At least he's not too upset by this.
"Something easy this morning, Jimmy. Mommy didn't get much sleep last night. How about cereal?"
"Okay." Jimmy shrugged.
"Oh, Jimmy…" Jean gave Jim a significant look. "… I was thinking maybe Nana Bailey could pick you up at school today, in case Uncle Pete is still sick. Maybe you could even have a sleepover."
"Oh, cool! I never get to spend the night at Nana and Papa's on a school night! Thanks Mom!"
Jim nodded his approval at her idea. "I think I'll go back and check on Pete." He bent down to give Jimmy a quick kiss on the top of his head, and then walked back to the bedroom. As he opened his door he heard Jimmy ask from the dining room, "Mommy, is Uncle Pete going to be okay?"
"Yes, dear, I'm sure he will." Jean reassured him.
Jim closed the door behind himself and looked at his tormented friend. I wish I was sure.
Pete used up every prayer he knew and confessed all of the sins he could think of, during the periods that he could think at all.
Hell didn't listen. Neither did Heaven, as far as Pete could tell.
Wait, who's that? Pete began to hear voices, distorted and frightening. He struggled to make out the words.
"A disgrace to the uniform." "He should be ashamed of himself." "I strip you of your badge, and all the rights and privileges associated with it." "Turn in your firearm." "I sentence you to three years in prison for drug abuse."
Pete sobbed at the voices. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry."
Then came the worst voice of all. Small, innocent, hurt, even damaged. "Uncle Pete, how could you do it? If you got hooked, I guess I probably will too." Little Jimmy picked up a pill and swallowed it.
"No, please don't do it, Jimmy. Don't join me here in hell. Somebody please stop him!
What have I done?"
Pete grabbed desperately for support, but he started falling, falling, falling.
Jim sat in miserable silence in his bedroom, listening to Pete's endless suffering. Jean had stayed out of the room most of the time, busying herself with keeping Jennifer happy and unaware. But now Jennifer was napping, and Jean had joined in the continuing vigil. No one spoke, so Jim had nothing to listen to but Pete. The sound drove him deeper into his own dejectedness.
"Jim," Nurse Laura Benson spoke softly, pulling Jim out of his dark thoughts. As the hours had passed, they'd all started talking on a first-name basis.
"I'm afraid he's getting dehydrated."
Jim hurried to join Jean and the nurse at Pete's side. "What makes you think that?"
"You know I haven't been able to get him to drink for a long time. Now it's been three hours since I had to clean him up. It used to be a lot more frequently than that."
Jim sighed deeply and closed his eyes. "I guess that means we're going to have to take him in."
"I'm afraid so."
Jean reached out to touch Jim's arm. "I'm sorry, honey. You did your best. He'll understand."
Jim shook his head, feeling anger welling up inside of him. Was it too much to hope that something would go right for him?
He turned regretfully and reached for the phone.
A strangled cry from Pete stopped Jim in his tracks. This was different from the moans that he'd filled their room with. This sounded like a call for help. And for the first time in more hours than he cared to count, Jim saw Pete's arm shoot out, flailing around for support. Jean grabbed Pete's arm and spoke soothingly to him, even as Jim rushed back to his side.
"I've got you, partner. I won't let you fall." Jim grabbed Pete by the shoulders, hoping his friend would feel reassured. If I hadn't let you fall that day, none of this would have happened. Jim clamped down on the sudden rush of guilt. That won't help anything.
Pete's hand grabbed Jim's shoulder and held on tight.
"He's coming back!" Jim called out excitedly. "Quick, Jean, get him some water."
Jean grabbed the cup from the nightstand, and Jim helped to support Pete's head. "C'mon, partner, you've got drink something."
At first their efforts failed, as they had for so many hours. The water ran out of Pete's mouth as if he didn't even know it was there.
"Should we try tipping his head back again?" Jim asked.
"You know that just makes him choke," Jean replied with some irritation.
"But he seems more 'with it' now. Maybe it'll work. We should at least try it."
Jean glared at him for a moment. She looked exhausted, frustrated, and most of all worried about Pete. And Jim could see that she didn't like the idea of making Pete cough and sputter again. She turned to Laura for advice, and Jim did as well.
"Please?" Jim asked. "Just a little bit."
The nurse nodded.
Jean sighed with resignation, and Jim helped tip Pete's head back a little. Jean dribbled in a tiny bit of water.
Pete started to cough, but then swallowed instead.
"More," Jim urged, "slowly."
"Is he drinking?" Mac's voice asked from the doorway. He'd just come back in from mowing the Reeds' lawn.
"Yeah, I think so." Jim watched his friend's throat working, taking in the life-saving water. "He is!" He turned with a smile to his boss, and saw the first smile he'd seen from Mac all day.
"Oh, Mac, look at you," Jean sighed. "You look so tired, pretty soon you'll be crashing here too." She shook her head. "That was so sweet of you to take care of our lawn." Except for her first glance at the sergeant, she never took her eyes off of her patient.
Mac spoke softly, and Jim could see the pain in his eyes as he watched Pete. "He's had the hardest job."
"I think that's enough water for now," the nurse cautioned. Jean pulled the cup away. Laura continued, "I'm not sure how well he'll keep it down after going without for so long."
Jim nodded and put Pete's head back down on the bed. Man, my chest is so sore.
"He looks a little better," Jean noted. She brushed Pete's hair back off of his forehead, a gesture that Jim decided had more to do with her affection for Pete than any real need of his.
"Yeah," Jim agreed, "he does seem a little more comfortable. Maybe the worst of it is over?" Jim was almost afraid to say it, afraid he might jinx it.
"Let's hope so," Mac said quietly.
The phone rang.
"I'll get it." Jim got up and trotted quickly to the den, wanting to use the phone that was furthest from Pete's distress.
A few moments later he was on his way back to his bedroom to fetch Mac. "It's your wife," he told his boss. Mac went on his way.
"Maybe after Mac gets off the phone, I should call mom and check in," Jean thought aloud.
"I'm sure Jimmy is fine there. His Papa has probably taken him to the park and worn him to a frazzle."
"Jim?" The raspy voice caught them all by surprise.
"Pete … are you with us?" Jim bent over his friend, grateful that the nurse moved out of his way.
"Jim?" Pete seemed to be looking around, but with his eyes closed. His voice was little more than a murmur.
"Do you want more water, Pete?" Jean asked quickly.
Pete's hand reached out shakily, as if wanting a glass. Jean glanced at the nurse and got her approval.
"Here you go, Pete. No, let me hold the cup." She gently pushed his hand out of her way and brought the cup to his lips again. Pete swallowed eagerly, and his hand moved to hold the cup again. Jean let him help this time, but didn't release her own hold on the drink.
Pete finished all of the water and sank back onto the bed with a groan. His body twitched and trembled, but Jim felt certain that his condition was improving.
"He's not sweating as much," Jean commented softly.
"Yeah, you're right. And he doesn't seem as … miserable now." Jim looked to Laura, and saw some relaxing of her concern. "Can we keep him here?"
Laura looked thoughtful for a few moments, then nodded. "I guess so. If we can keep him hydrated."
Pete woke up. He looked around through half-closed eyes, trying to figure out where he was. He had a feeling he'd woken up here not long ago, maybe even several times. Somewhere through his mental fog he knew why he was here. But not right now.
"Pete?" A familiar-sounding voice made him jerk, as if it had touched a raw nerve. Pete's whole body felt like a raw nerve, overstimulated and exhausted. He turned slowly toward the voice.
"Pete!" The voice sounded almost … commanding. That's a voice I'm supposed to obey. A sense of urgency assaulted his already overwrought nerves, and he felt himself start to thrash around. His body seemed to have a mind of its own.
"Whoa, Pete, calm down." The voice was softer now. "I didn't mean to startle you." Strong hands gripped Pete's shoulders, and he allowed that sensation to anchor him. He felt his body slowly relaxing.
"It's me … it's Mac." The voice sounded reassuring now. "Do you know where you are?"
Pete tried to speak, but his mouth felt like sandpaper. He tried licking his lips, but his tongue nearly stuck to whatever it touched.
"Do you need more water?" the voice asked.
Pete could do nothing more than grunt, but the voice … Mac, was it? … seemed to understand him. A strong hand held Pete's head up, and then beautiful, refreshing water flowed into his mouth. Pete drank desperately, stopping only when the cup was empty.
"There you go, my friend." The man put Pete's head down again. "Can you open your eyes now?"
Pete felt a dull sense of surprise. Open my eyes? Oh … yeah … of course. His eyelids felt like lead, but after a moment he forced them open.
"Hey, that's more like it." The voice came from his right, and Pete's eyes flitted in that direction. A face swam into view, but it seemed distorted. Pete blinked several times and squinted, trying to make sense of what he saw.
I should know what that is. I mean, who it is.
"That's right, Pete. It's good to see you again. How are you feeling?" The face turned away, and the voice called out more loudly, "Jim … Jean!"
Jim and Jean. Those names registered, and Pete felt suddenly more lucid. Of course, and Mac, too. How could I have forgotten?
Pete licked lips that had somehow gone dry again. "Mac?" Hearing his own voice seemed to anchor Pete, and he began to feel connected to himself and his surroundings.
"What's wrong?" Another voice came from a different direction. Pete flinched hard, but he knew that voice. That's Jim.
"Our friend is awake," Mac replied.
"I see that." The voice was closer now, in the same room.
Pete felt his lips curl up in a little bit of a smile. He recognized the joy in his partner's voice. After a moment Pete's eyes found Jim. There he is.
"Pete? Hey there." Pete turned to see Jean standing on the far side of the bed. She too seemed very relieved. Pete smiled back at her, and after a moment he reached out a shaky hand. He'd misjudged the distance, though. She had to move closer to reach him, and he felt gratified that she made the effort.
He felt someone grab his wrist, and he turned to see a woman standing there. She was …what is she doing? She stared at her wristwatch as she held his wrist tightly, and he felt that he should understand what she was up to.
Am I … is this a hospital?
"Water," he murmured. Mac quickly fetched him more, and he gulped it down.
"Wha … what happened?" Pete asked with some effort. His friends instantly exchanged uncomfortable glances, and it sent a knot of worry into Pete's gut.
What am I doing here? Why do I feel so weak? I should know.
"You've been … sick." Jim said. Pete recognized the caution in his friend's voice. "Do you remember?"
Pete shook his head and turned back to Mac. The sudden movement of his head made him dizzy. He groaned and closed his eyes.
"Rest now, Pete. We'll talk more later."
Yeah, rest. Pete felt sleep stealing over him, and he sank gratefully into it.
Wha …what? What are you doing to me? Pete began to bat at whatever was messing with him. Ugh, I feel so awful.
"Whoa, easy there. I'm trying to help you out."
Pete's mind cleared rapidly, at least enough to make him painfully aware of what was going on. Omigosh … tell me that's not Jean …
He was afraid to open his eyes, in case it was his best friend's wife. I'd never be able to look her in the eye again.
"Stop! I can do that myself!" Pete tried to yell, because he felt like yelling, but his voice came out as a hoarse rasp. He pushed the woman away without looking at her, and reached down for some sheets. The sudden movement had anything but the desired effect, leaving him dizzily nauseated. He fell back onto the pillow. No, I can't do that by myself.
"Well, if you're embarrassed, that's a good sign. Welcome back, Officer Malloy."
Pete felt a surge of relief that it wasn't Jean's voice. But only slight relief. He conquered his embarrassment enough to look at her at last. She looked familiar, but he couldn't figure out why. Who would be here, cleaning me up in the Reed's bedroom?
Who would they have trusted with my secret? The thought made his mouth go even drier than it already was.
"Who … who …?" He still found it very difficult to speak.
The woman smiled. "I'm nurse Benson, from the Today House. Remember me?" She mercifully finished her ministrations and covered Pete with a clean sheet.
"Oh … oh yeah. Oh yeah." He nodded, feeling a growing sense of relief. Jim couldn't have chosen better. She'll keep my secret.
But as his embarrassment eased, his sense of shame suddenly increased a thousandfold. Jim, Jean, Mac… they all know. They all know what I've done. So does this nurse. Soon my superiors will, too. If they don't know already.
My life is over.
And I peed on the Reed's bed.
Suddenly Pete felt nothing but abject shame. He was mortified. He wanted to die.
"I'd better call your friends. They'll be thrilled to know you're awake." The nurse smiled kindly at him.
Pete moaned. "Please … don't. I … I don't want to see anyone right now." He felt trembly inside, and he wanted to be sick.
"Hey, Pete." The nurse's tone became very gentle and yet very serious. Pete felt himself drawn to look at her despite himself. "I know this must be very hard for you," she continued. "But I've spent hours and hours here with you and your friends. Believe me, you have some of the finest friends in the world. They really love you. They really care about you."
Pete looked away again. I don't deserve that kind of friendship. Somehow, the thought that Jean had probably had to wash his bedsheets over and over again … how can I ever face her again? Oddly, this most human of indiscretions troubled him far more than his drug use had.
"Pete," the voice called him back. "Believe me. No one here blames you for anything that has happened. We all know about that medication, and how addictive it is. We know that none of this was your fault." Her eyes took on a piercing quality, designed to drive her words home. "None of it … not even the sheets."
Pete closed his eyes, knowing she'd read his deepest thoughts, hardly able to believe she'd put them into words. But there was something incredibly reassuring in having someone gently soothing his deepest wounds. After a few moments he found he could look at her again.
"Thanks, Nurse." he whispered. "Can I have some more water, please?"
"Sure. But, call me Laura." The nurse reached for a pitcher of water on the nightstand, and poured some into a glass. Pete accepted the drink gratefully from her hand. He still trembled too much to hold it himself. He drained it down and sank wearily back onto the pillow.
"Now," Laura continued, "may I call your friends?"
Pete looked into her eyes again, searching for enough reassurance to soothe his fears on that account.
"It'll be okay," she said softly, once again seeming to know his thoughts.
He nodded, and the nurse smiled kindly at him.
I don't want to do this. I can't face them. Pete closed his eyes as the nurse walked out of the room. His stomach felt as if a whole swarm of butterflies had taken up residence there. He rolled onto his side with a groan and closed his eyes. Maybe I could pretend to be asleep again.
"Hey, partner." Jim's voice carried such warmth with it that Pete opened his eyes despite himself.
"How're you feeling?" Jim continued, squatting down to eye level with Pete. His smile seemed to drive daggers into Pete's conscience.
Pete turned his eyes away, searching for something, anything to say. But no words seemed adequate, and he doubted if he could have spoken around the lump in his throat anyway. Shame misted in his eyes.
"Hey, Pete." Jim laid a hand on Pete's shoulder. "It's okay, partner. You've been through the fire, and everybody is proud of you for fighting this thing. We're all behind you. Don't feel bad."
Pete closed his eyes. Every nerve in his body was vibrating, he felt weaker than water, he was emotionally wrung out and professionally ruined. And he was so, so very ashamed.
What's not to feel bad about?
Pete just shook his head, his misery too deep for words. "Go away," he finally whispered.
"Go away?" Jim asked.
"Yeah. Go away."
"Why, Pete?" The question didn't sound hurt or pleading. It was a matter-of-fact statement that Pete needed to come forward with his feelings.
"I can't stand anyone seeing me like this." Pete finally replied.
"I hate to tell you, partner, but you look better now than you have for over 24 hours. We've stood by you through the worst. We're not about to walk out on you now."
Even with his eyes closed, Pete could see his friend's smile. He heard it in his voice. And he appreciated it. But he couldn't accept it.
"If you've seen me worse than this, then I really don't want to face you." Pete wondered idly why his voice was so hoarse. It was as if he'd yelled his way through a football game.
"Pete," Jim's gentle tone didn't yield an inch. "You're not chasing us off. You're not going into hiding. Not now. You've gotten through the worst of it. It all gets better from here. And you have nothing to be ashamed of. We've already been through that, remember?"
"How would you like it if you'd peed on my sheets?"
"Oh good grief, Pete! If I was in your condition, I'd pee the sheets too! You'll have to try harder than that to get rid of us."
Something about Jim's words and his tone struck Pete just slightly funny. He almost smiled.
"I saw that." Jim's smiling voice took on a note of triumph.
Pete opened one eye, and he couldn't quite keep from smiling. "You did not!"
Jim guffawed, a sound that went over Pete's raw nerves like a balm and melted his shaky defenses like warm butter. He reached up for his friend's shoulder and squeezed it hard, trying to gain control of his emotions. But his frayed nerves had no reserves, and the tears slipped out anyway. Jim returned the brotherly shoulder clasp, offering silent support.
Jim stayed quiet, giving his friend all the space he needed to wrestle with his emotions. After a few moments he sensed his wife's presence, and looked up at her. She stayed in the doorway, not wanting to intrude, but her eyes shone with every feeling that Jim's own heart felt. He gave her a little smile, and she returned it.
"Water." Pete's raspy request broke in, and Jim quickly retrieved the glass for him. He helped Pete to raise up a bit, and watched as he drank. He's still so shaky.
Pete finished the drink and then struggled as if wanting to get up. "Whoa, partner. Where do you think you're going?" Jim gently resisted Pete's effort, and found his friend too weak to offer any real resistance. Good thing. It would really hurt my chest to have to fight with him.
"I need to go to the bathroom," Pete explained as he sank back onto the pillow. "But I don't know if I can walk, even with help." Jim noticed that Pete had gone several shades paler with his effort.
"Shall I get Mac?" Jean asked from the doorway. At the sound of her voice, Pete jumped and turned toward her. He looked horrified to see her there.
"Yeah, get him." Jim turned his attention back to Pete. "Between the three of us, you'll make it."
"Three?" Pete looked nearly panicked, and Jim suddenly realized what he was afraid of. He laughed.
"I meant Mac, me, and YOU."
"Oh, good." Pete managed a weak smile.
"Don't worry, partner," Jim said with a grin. "We've preserved your dignity."
"Hah. I don't have any of that left." Pete's demeanor no longer held any trace of humor.
"Hey!" Jim made his tone emphatic. "None of that. You've just won the toughest battle of your life. That's something to be proud of."
"I don't feel like I've won. I feel like death warmed over."
"You felt a lot worse not too long ago."
Pete shivered, as if remembering something awful. He nodded somberly. "Yeah."
Mac arrived a moment later, and the three of them managed somehow to make the trek to the bathroom. Funny, I never realized how far this bathroom was from the bed. Jim broke into a sweat, frustrated by his weak arms. He knew Mac was doing the vast majority of the work.
By the time they finished getting Pete back to bed, Jim's chest felt like fire. He sank into the dining room chair that he'd placed beside the bed, hoping his partner wouldn't notice his distress.
He didn't even realize he'd closed his eyes until Jean tapped him lightly on the shoulder. She wordlessly handed him a glass of water and his pain medicine, her eyes shining with worry. Jim accepted the medicine and downed it gratefully. Jean bent down to whisper in his ear. "Don't do too much. Laura is here to help, remember?"
Jim nodded, and winced when even that small movement made his pain flare up. Even swallowing hurt. I had no idea chest muscles were involved in so many things.
"C'mon Jim." Mac appeared at his elbow, his voice gentle but authoritative. "Time for you to get some rest, too."
Jim nodded and forced himself to his feet. Mac walked beside him to the couch, with Jean following close behind. Jim laid down with a feeling of relief, and soon the medication kicked in, allowing his tired body to sleep.
Jean waited patiently while Laura checked Pete over. She noticed that Pete avoided looking her way, and she had a feeling she knew why. I've got to spend some time with him, let him know that it's all right.
"Pete," Laura asked, "Do you feel like you could stand something light to eat? It would help you get some strength back, but don't do it if you feel too nauseated."
Pete only nodded.
"What shall I get for him?" Jean asked.
"Well…" Laura thought for a moment. "How about some Saltines … the unsalted kind? Do you have any of those?"
"Yeah, sure. I'll be right back." Jean fetched the crackers and a plate and came back to her room. She caught Laura's eyes and used body language to ask for some time alone with Pete. The nurse smiled and nodded before heading out the door.
"Here you go, Pete." Jean sat down and put the plate on the nightstand. "Let's prop you up with some pillows." She helped get Pete positioned, and he still never looked at her for more than brief glances. She could see the shame in his face.
"Take it slowly," she advised as she gave him a cracker. She watched as he ate it, noticing how he seemed more eager to eat as he went along. It must be helping him feel better.
"How's your stomach?" she asked.
"Okay." Pete gave her another brief glance. "Thanks."
"Do you want to try another one?"
"Please." Pete accepted the second cracker and ate it in two bites. "That's good," he sighed, and then closed his eyes and laid his head back. Jean thought she could see a little more color in his face.
"It's good to see you eating." Jean smiled.
Pete managed a miserable little smile.
"Pete," Jean said softly. She laid a hand on his arm, and he flinched a little. She did not withdraw her hand. "You don't know how glad I am … how glad we are that you let us help you through this."
Pete shook his head slightly. "You shouldn't have had to. I know … I know … what you had to do for me."
Jean patted his arm. "What's a little laundry between friends? I was glad to do it."
"I don't deserve friends like you." Pete kept his eyes closed.
"Why not? Why shouldn't your friends be as good as you are?"
Pete opened his eyes, and they looked very moist to Jean. "How can you still think of me as good?" His voice was a low whisper.
"Oh, Pete." Jean put a supportive hand on his shoulder. "Don't you know that we all love you? That there isn't anything we wouldn't do for you? Well, there's a reason for that. It's because of the man you have always been, the man you still are."
Jean stopped speaking until Pete turned his eyes toward her.
"Pete, what have we done for you that you haven't done for others? You've taken care of Jim through some awful times, times when I'm sure things were … distasteful to deal with. You've been there for me whenever I needed you, for whatever I needed. You used to change Jimmy's diapers sometimes, and I know those could be distasteful." Jean's heart soared to see Pete smile at that. "You've dealt with every imaginable kind of problem, even to help total strangers."
She let go of his shoulder and took his hand again. "Why shouldn't we do the same for you?"
Pete shook his head again. "It's just that I've never … I've never been through anything so shameful that other people knew about. I've never been so indebted to anyone, or felt so totally unworthy. I …don't know how to accept it." Pete's eyes looked into hers without any more reservations.
"Accept it the same way you give it. With an open heart."
Pete seemed to think about that for a few moments, his eyes very bright and full. Then he nodded and reached a trembling hand toward Jean. She bent forward and gave him a heartfelt hug. "It's so good to have you back, Pete." She sat up straight again and patted his arm. "You really are family, you know."
"Hey, whatcha doin' huggin' my wife?" Jim's voice came from the doorway, where he stood grinning at them widely. His tone sounded just like the friendly ribbing he usually gave Pete. It sounded like old times.
Pete looked at Jim for a few moments, and then some of the old sparkle started to come back into his eyes. "What are you doing up? I thought the sergeant ordered you to rest."
"Yeah, well how can I rest when someone's hugging my wife?" Jim walked over to the bedside, still smiling. "I got a little sleep, don't worry." He sat down on the bed next to Pete and shook his hand. "You're looking a lot better."
"Here, Pete, have another cracker," Jean added, handing him a saltine as she spoke.
Mac walked into the room. "You are looking better. I think you're gonna make it through this thing." His face wore an expression of barely masked relief mingled with the burden of responsibility. "I think I need to get back to Mary, unless there's anything else you need." His eyes swept the room, then settled back on Pete. His face took on some regret. "I can't keep this from the brass much longer."
"I know," Pete whispered, sorrow covering his features. "Do what you have to do, my friend." The two men slowly shook hands, and Jean could see the years of friendship and understanding that flowed between them. She had to admire Mac's strength, and she could only imagine how heavily his duties weighed on him right now. He won't shirk on those duties either. Pete knows that, and he accepts it. And neither of them will let it break the bond between them. She felt her own eyes stinging. I am privileged to know such men. She looked quickly at her husband, and saw the same combination of strength and sorrow on his face. And I'm so privileged to be married to such a man!
Mac broke the handshake and turned to Jean. "If you need anything, you know where to reach me."
"Thank you for everything, Mac." Jean ignored his outstretched hand and hugged him briefly instead. Mac nodded, shook hands with Jim, and took his leave.
"All right everybody, get out and let Pete rest." The nurse bustled into the room, breaking the mood and asserting her authority. "And you should be lying down too," she added, pointing to Jim. "You only slept for fifteen minutes."
"Yes, ma'am." Jim turned to Pete. "Rest well."
"You too." Pete seemed slightly stronger than before as he endured the rearranging of his pillows and laid down again.
Jean joined her husband and put her arm around his waist as they left the room. "Laura's right, you know." She spoke softly and closed the door behind them. "You were trying to hide it, but I can see that you're still in pain."
Jim nodded. "It's not too bad now."
"But you're still going to lie down." Jean did not make it a request.
"Yes, ma'am." Jim grinned. "Sergeant Reed."
"That's right, and don't you forget it!" She shared a smile with him and then helped him settle back onto the couch. She covered him with a blanket and hovered nearby until she was sure he was asleep. Then she went to the den to phone her parents and check on her son.
"How am I going to take care of all the men in my life?" she sighed.
Pete woke up to see the sun's rays slanting in from the west. Must've slept for hours. He glanced around the bedroom and found that he was alone.
That smells like pot roast. Pete's mouth watered as the aroma teased his nostrils.
After a few moments he decided to try to sit up. The effort made him so dizzy that he had to give up for a few minutes. When he felt ready to try again, he rolled onto his side and put his legs over the side of the bed. Then he slowly raised himself up, sideways, until he was sitting. His world spun, and he closed his eyes against a wave of nausea, but he stayed up.
Good. When he could bear to open his eyes again, he looked toward the bathroom, gauging the distance. Can I make it on my own? Pete steeled himself. I can do it. I will do it. "C'mon, Pete," he encouraged himself aloud. He leaned forward and grabbed onto Jim's dresser, pausing as another wave of dizziness swept over him. It'll pass. I'm going to do this. Nothing's going to stop me.
"Honey, wake up. Dinner's almost ready." Jim opened his eyes to his wife's gentle prodding. She gave him a tired smile and headed back to her work.
"Mmmm, smells great," he murmured sleepily toward her retreating back. He started to stretch, but thought better of it when he remembered how badly his last stretch had hurt. "How long?"
"About ten minutes," Jean called back from the kitchen.
Jim sat up and rubbed his chest with a groan. Then he caught sight of his daughter and made himself smile for her.
"Daddee." She toddled over to Jim and cuddled up with him. Jennifer could be a fireball when she wanted to, but when she felt like snuggling she was like warm butter. She just seemed to melt, and Jim's heart always melted with her.
"You never did tell me what happened to your chest." The unexpected voice startled him. He'd forgotten all about Laura, and he hadn't seen her in the dimly-lit room.
"I got shot," Jim replied flatly.
"In the chest?!" Laura's eyes opened wide. "When did this happen?"
"Last week. But it wasn't serious. Just a flesh wound." Jim stopped suddenly. "What's the date today?"
"The twelfth. Why?"
Jim grimaced with annoyance. "I was supposed to go in and have my sutures looked at. With all of this going on, I completely forgot."
Laura stood and walked over to him. "Let's turn on some lights and have a look at those."
Jim started to protest, but then reminded himself that she was a nurse. But still… "It's only ten minutes until dinner. Should we wait 'til afterwards?"
"It'll only take a couple of minutes," she assured him. Then she called toward the kitchen, "Hey Jean, do you mind if I check your husband's sutures before dinner?"
"Why, is something wrong?" Jean hurried out with a worried expression.
"No," Jim quickly reassured her. "I just forgot my appointment, and they're due to be checked."
"Oh, okay. Do whatever you need to do." Jean went back to the kitchen. Jim heard the sounds of pot lids and plates rattling, and other indications that dinner was soon. He pulled off his shirt, wincing at the pain that caused him.
"Are you taking antibiotics?" the nurse asked in an official-sounding voice. She began unwinding Jim's bandage as she spoke.
"Yeah, three times a day."
"Missed any doses?"
"Nope, I don't think so." Jim flinched as the last of the bandage came away. Jennifer said, "boo-boo" and pointed at him.
Laura gave a long, slow whistle.
"What?" Jim asked.
"Well, two things, really." Laura adjusted the lamp shade for better lighting. "One, you're an incredibly lucky man, and two…" here she paused and stared at Jim's chest for a while. He began to feel uncomfortable.
"Two?" he prompted.
"Two … this is an incredible suturing job. Whoever did this was an artist. I've never seen anything like it."
Jim chuckled a little. To each his own. That's not exactly my taste in art. "I'm glad you approve."
Laura straightened up. "Your sutures look clean, and there's no sign of infection. There's no seepage, no redness, nothing. I'd say you can go without the bandages from now on."
"Oh, good. They were getting to be a bother." Jim pulled his shirt back on, allowing the nurse to help him through the painful spots. "Thanks."
"Soup's on," Jean said, carrying the last of the plates to the table. "Glad you're doing well, hon. Thanks, Laura." Jennifer popped her thumb out of her mouth long enough to say something unintelligible.
Jim stood and took a step toward the table, when an unexpected sound caught his ear. He turned toward it, and stared in amazement at what he saw.
Pete stood in the entrance to the hall, wearing Jim's bathrobe, looking like he would collapse at any moment. But something about his expression reassured Jim.
"Uh Peee!" Jennifer started to run toward her godfather, but Jim snagged her and held her back. In Pete's condition, she would have knocked him flat.
"Pete, my gosh, what are you doing up? You're about to fall over!" Jean and Laura both rushed toward him, fussing at him.
Pete looked at the women with just a hint of the old spark in his eyes. He let them help him walk into the living room. "I just walked myself into the bathroom, so I figured I'd walk myself out here and find out what smells so good."
"Sit down here, Pete." Laura guided him onto the sofa.
"Honestly, what am I going to do with you?" Jean scolded.
"Feed me?" Pete pleaded. He ruffled Jennifer's hair and smiled weakly at her. She smiled back and snuggled closer to him.
"Are you sure you feel up to it?" Laura asked.
"I'm sure I'll dry up and blow away if I don't." Pete still trembled visibly, but he sounded more like himself than he had in so long. Jim drank it all in, feeling joy and relief invigorating him.
Jean and Jim both looked to Laura, and she shrugged in response. "Might as well give it a try. But not too much, and not too fast."
Everyone helped or hovered nearby as Pete made his way, painstakingly, toward the table. By the time he sank into his chair, Pete looked about all in.
"Are you sure you're up to this?" Laura asked, sounding worried.
"Believe me, it'll be easier for me to sit here and eat than to make it back to the sofa." Pete spoke in an exhausted whisper.
"Here, Pete. Have some buttered bread." Jean put some in front of him. "And here's a little bit of meat. And a little piece of potato."
"That's plenty," warned the nurse.
"I just might argue with you about that," Pete retorted tiredly. He picked up his fork and shakily stabbed at the potato. Jean had cut it small, so he had a little trouble aiming at it. Finally he had it on his fork, but he stopped with it halfway to his mouth.
"Do you mind?" he asked.
"Oh. Sorry." Jim and the others quit hovering and staring, and started serving themselves instead. But Jim couldn't resist monitoring his friend out of the corner of his eye.
Pete may be weak and tired, but at least he's finally himself! Jim felt his happiness growing by the minute.
The meal went off without a hitch. Pete asked for seconds and thirds, though each serving was very small. Laura made him wait between each helping, and she watched him like a hawk. But Jim wasn't so worried. He's gonna be fine. Pete's color had improved remarkably since getting some food, and Jim thought he trembled less.
The friends sat around the table, eating and chatting more easily than Jim could remember since … well, since before Pete got injured. It felt like medicine to Jim, and he felt sure it was helping everyone else, too. Even Jennifer seemed extra bubbly, and she kept them all amused.
Pete didn't join in the talk much. Jim figured he was too tired for that. But after isolating himself for so long, Pete must have relished the conversation. His face looked relaxed despite his obvious fatigue.
Pete even indulged in a little bit of ice cream at the end. Jim wolfed down his usual hearty-sized serving, watching Pete openly now and enjoying what he saw. Jean also beamed through her fatigue, and even Laura looked less anxious.
Finally Pete put down his spoon with an air of finality, and he leaned against the back of his chair. "This was wonderful. Thank you, everyone, so much." Jim thought he saw Pete's eyes mist over as he continued, "If it weren't for you … I wouldn't have made it. I was on the brink of something far worse than death." Pete dipped his head and cleared his throat, obviously struggling for control. After a moment he spoke again, looking at each of them in turn. "I owe my life to you all."
Jim felt a lump in his throat, and he saw Jean brush a tear off her cheek. Jim cleared his throat. "We're glad to have you back, partner."
The phone rang. Jim and Jean looked at each other, and then Jim reached to answer it. "Reeds." Jennifer echoed him through her ice cream-covered face. "Weez."
Mac's voice greeted him. "Hi Jim. How's our patient?"
"Doing very well. He's gotten up and walked with some help, and he's just finished dinner at the table. He's looking a lot better now."
"That's good news." Mac sounded only marginally relieved, and Jim went on alert. Something's wrong.
"I uh … I just got off the phone with Lieutenant Moore," Mac began. "He had some very pointed questions for me. It seems he'd tried to call me in to work, and he hadn't been able to reach me. Mary had told him it was a family emergency and that I couldn't be disturbed. Val wasn't too happy about that, especially when he couldn't get her to tell him anything more. He's too good a cop to not know when something's fishy."
Jim's heart sank. He knew this had to happen, but he wasn't looking forward to it. His bright mood from dinner now grew dull and tarnished.
"What did you tell him?" Jim asked. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Pete listening intently.
"I stalled him, but not for long. I told him that he was right, that something was up. I asked him to trust me that I would talk to him about it as soon as possible. He wasn't pleased. Frankly, I got the impression I was putting a strain on his trust. He can tell this is something big, and he doesn't like his subordinate officers keeping secrets from him."
"Thanks for going out on a limb, Mac. How can we help?" Jim saw concern filling everyone's features.
"I need to know when Pete will be able to talk with the Lieutenant. If he doesn't think he can hack it by tomorrow, I'll have to do it without him."
Jim thought long and hard. "Can I ask Pete and call you back later tonight?" he finally asked.
"All right. But be sure you call."
"I will." Jim ended the call and turned to the others. His focus narrowed to Pete. "When will you be up to talking to the lieutenant? It has to be done tomorrow, even if Mac has to do it alone. The lieutenant knows something is up."
Pete closed his eyes and sighed deeply.
"Jim, this isn't right," Jean protested. "He's still just barely beginning to recover!"
"I don't recommend it either," the nurse added.
Pete raised a tired hand to wave them off. "I can do it … if the lieutenant can come here. But I don't think I'm strong enough to manage it if I have to travel to get to him." Pete looked as if the prospect had depleted all of his new-found strength. A moment later he slumped forward to rest his head on his arms, which he had folded on the table.
"Come on, Pete." Laura cast a reproachful look at Jim. "Let's get you back to bed." Jim and Jean moved to help, and they supported him as far as the couch.
"Let me sit down here," Pete whispered.
Laura shook her head. "No, but you can lie down here." The three of them helped Pete lie down, and Jean covered him with a blanket.
"It's probably too much … to ask the lieutenant to come here," Pete whispered without opening his eyes. "Tell Mac to do whatever he has to do."