Jim walked wearily through the hospital halls, following the directions the nurse behind the desk had given him. Finally the pharmacy came into view, and he rang the little bell for service.
"May I help you?" the pharmacist appeared from the other side of some shelves.
Jim showed his badge. "I'm Officer Reed. Are you the pharmacist I talked to recently about addiction to that prescription drug?" In his fatigue, the name of it slipped Jim's mind.
"Yes, I believe so." The pharmacist eyed him curiously. "You were trying to detox someone privately, I think."
"That's right." Jim didn't mind admitting it now.
"How's it going?"
"He's doing well. We had a nurse there with us to make sure he got whatever help he needed."
"That was wise."
Jim got the impression that the pharmacist suspected him of being the addicted party. Let him think whatever he wants. "I was wondering if you had an extra copy of that pamphlet you read from the one that describes the problems this drug has caused."
"Yes, I believe I have several." The pharmacist moved to one side of his desk and started rifling through a stack. "Yes, here they are. Did you need to keep it, or just look at it here?"
"I'd like to keep it, if you can spare it." Jim took the paper from the pharmacist and looked it over.
"Yeah, I guess I can." The curiosity and suspicion in the pharmacist's eyes began to bug Jim.
"Thanks. I owe you one." Jim turned to leave, but a word from the pharmacist stopped him.
Jim turned back to him.
"You understand that if any law enforcement people come here with the right papers and ask about Officer Reed, and what drug you wanted information on, I'll have no choice but to tell them."
"I understand that, and that's fine." Jim nodded and resumed his trek back through the halls, rubbing absently at his chest as he walked.
I want nothing more than a warm bed and a week of sleep.
Pete forced weary eyes open to look at nurse Benson. He grunted in response.
"I hate to bother you, but if you're going to be questioned tomorrow there's just some things I'd like to know first."
Pete grunted again, not feeling much like talking.
"Do you still feel any cravings at all?" As usual, Laura was as blunt as she needed to be.
Pete thought about her question, and the longer he thought, the more it felt like dawn breaking through the gloom. "No I don't!" He smiled up at her. "I really don't!" He could scarcely believe it himself. "I'm shaky and tired, but not once have I wished for a pill all day. Not once." Pete felt awestruck, as if he'd received his own personal miracle.
Laura smiled down at him. "That's really good news, Pete."
"Good doesn't begin to cover it." Pete replied. "It feels like like being let out of a torture chamber."
Laura smiled again, but Pete could see some reserve there. "Do you understand that some others might not find that easy to believe? You may meet with a lot of skepticism."
Pete's stomach sunk a notch. "Yeah, I expect it. If they didn't react that way, they wouldn't be doing their jobs."
"That can be the hardest thing for a recovering addict," she cautioned. "Being met with skepticism can throw even the most dedicated patients for a loop. Sometimes it drives them right back into drugs. They feel like if they're going to be in trouble like a drug user anyway, they might as well have the pleasure of the drugs to go along with it."
"But this drug gave me no pleasure, except the pleasure that came from relieving the cravings." Pete looked intently into her eyes. "Without the cravings, there's no pleasure to look forward to. I can't imagine ever being willing to take one of those pills again."
Laura nodded, but her expression looked a little sad. "I hope you're right, Pete. But in my line of work, I hear a lot of promises from people who mean well. Sadly, they often fall right back into it." She never wavered from her gaze at him. "I'm not telling you this to be a downer. I'm telling you this so that you won't be totally discouraged if it happens to you."
Pete nodded, but he couldn't imagine any good outcome from this conversation.
"My point is not to discourage you. My point is to let you know that if the cravings come back, you're not alone. It's not because you're bad, or weak, or whatever. It's a common problem. If you let yourself get swallowed up with shame again, you'll lose the fight. The important thing is never, never to isolate yourself from your friends. And always, always be honest with them about your feelings, your cravings, whatever. Let them help you. If you can do that, you can make it through this thing. Can you promise me you'll do that?"
Pete nodded again, this time able to appreciate her point. "I promise. But I don't believe it will happen to me." He noted Laura's expression and he hurried to clarify his meaning. "Not because I think I'm above that sort of thing, but because the cravings really are gone."
Laura patted his arm and stood up. "I hope so. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've spent too much time away from the Today House. I really need to get back."
"I'm sorry to have troubled you," Pete said softly.
Laura's expression softened. "No, I didn't mean it that way. I'm so glad I could help you. If you'd fallen into a lifestyle of drug abuse, it would have been a loss to everyone. You mean a lot to a lot of people. Even the citizens of LA who don't know you. You do more for them than they will ever realize." She picked up her purse and shouldered it. "But I really must get back. Duty calls."
"I certainly understand that," Pete said with a tired smile.
"If you need me, anytime, you know where to find me."
"Yes, I do."
"When Jean wakes up, please let her know that I've gone. Tell her the same thing I told you: if you need me, call me."
"I'll tell her. Thank you so much for everything." Pete felt bad that he was too exhausted to see her to the door.
"You just take care of yourself. That will be thanks enough." Pete could see her sincere concern for him, and he found it touching.
Laura opened the door and then turned back to Pete with an afterthought. "Give my best to Jim when he gets back from the pharmacy."
Pete nodded, and Laura stepped out into the night.
I wish she didn't have to go.
Mac stopped in front of the lieutenant's door, suppressing the irrational urge to straighten his uniform. It had been a long time since he'd felt nervous about entering Moore's office.
Let's just get this over with.
He knocked on the door jamb and Moore looked up. The lieutenant's face instantly became guarded. "Come in, Sergeant." Mac's discomfort went up a notch at being called by his rank rather than his name. He's not going to flex any further. This is 'by the book' time.
Mac walked over to stand beside a chair, not seating himself until his superior gestured that he should do so. For now, things would be completely formal. He would not presume upon his friendship with Moore like he did last night.
"Lieutenant " Mac hesitated a moment, " as you've guessed, there is something that I need to bring to your attention. But if I may I and the others involved feel that it would be best if you could come and conduct this meeting elsewhere."
Mac wasn't quite done with his sentence, but the lieutenant interrupted him. "Why?" It was a brusque question.
Mac forced himself to keep eye contact. "The person most involved in this situation isn't well enough to come here."
"Isn't well enough?" The lieutenant's brow furrowed, and he stared intently at Mac. The sergeant held his superior's gaze, though it caused him a great deal of discomfort.
"I have a lot of work to do around here today, MacDonald. This had better be important."
"Yes sir. It is extremely important."
"What time did you want me to come to this
"Whenever is most convenient for you." Mac relaxed marginally.
"There is no convenient time, MacDonald," the lieutenant barked. "I am very displeased with the way you're choosing to handle this. I don't like being kept in the dark."
Mac finally had to drop his eyes. What should I tell him? It didn't even occur to him to deliberately mislead the lieutenant. But he wasn't sure how much to tell him now. Somehow it seemed important that Pete be present for the whole discussion.
Maybe that's what I'll tell him. Mac realized he'd slumped a bit, and he straightened up.
"Lieutenant, this is a situation that will have a profound impact on a good officer's career. I don't mean to keep you in the dark, sir. But I feel he has the right to be present throughout this initial meeting. And as I said, he's not well enough to travel." For the first time since coming here, Mac felt comfortable with what he had to say.
The lieutenant also seemed a little more accepting. "Where will this meeting be?"
"At Jim Reed's house, if possible."
"Reed?" The lieutenant now looked both surprised and worried. Mac knew he had a lot of respect for Jim.
"That's right, sir."
The lieutenant seemed to think for a moment, his eyes never wavering from Mac. Finally he looked down at his appointment book. "I can carve out some time between one and two o'clock. But that's all I can give you today."
Mac stood. "Thank you sir. I we appreciate it very much."
Moore's eyes narrowed, and Mac once again saw just how much he was testing the limits of the lieutenant's trust. He hated it, so much so that he decided to risk breaking formality. He placed both hands on Moore's desk and looked the lieutenant squarely in the eye.
"Val, I'm asking you to trust me on this."
The two men sized each other up for a few moments, and Moore finally nodded his head. "Dismissed, sergeant."
Mac turned to go, feeling relieved. That could have gone a whole lot worse. As he walked down the hall he heard the lieutenant buzz his secretary. "Florence, get me Jim Reed's address."
Lieutenant Moore double-checked the address and signaled for a left-hand turn. What could this possibly be about? He wracked his brain, trying to think of anything that might have gone wrong with Jim. The young officer's career was going very well, and Moore fervently hoped that wasn't about to change.
He made a few more turns and pulled into the Reeds' driveway. I guess I'm about to find out. He got out, closing the car door with a thud. He saw a woman, presumably Reed's wife, standing in the doorway of the house. When he got closer he could see that it really was her.
Why isn't Jim well enough to travel? I didn't think his wound was that serious.
Mrs. Reed opened the door for him. "Come in, Lieutenant. May I take your jacket?"
"No, thank you." The lieutenant felt keenly aware that this meeting would affect him on a personal level. It was something big, and it involved some of his best officers. He wanted every layer of official clothing he could wear, a buffer of protection from whatever awaited him.
MacDonald and Reed approached to shake his hand, both of their faces serious and worried. Moore paid special attention to Jim's demeanor. Funny, he doesn't look that weak.
"Please, come into the dining room," Reed began. "We thought we'd meet around the table."
Why is Reed playing the spokesman here? Moore glanced sharply at Mac, wondering with a surge of worry if Mac might be the one in trouble.
They sat down, and no one spoke.
"Well?" Moore asked after a moment.
"I uh have something here that I'd like you to read. It'll give you a little background on our situation." Mac passed a pamphlet toward the lieutenant, who felt relieved at seeing his sergeant taking charge.
Moore took the pamphlet, noting its title with some surprise. He looked again at Reed and MacDonald. Someone's gotten hooked. Is it one of them, or are they covering for someone else?
He started scanning the article, drawing out the important details as quickly as he could.
Why all the secrecy? Mac's come to me about addicted cops before, and there's never been any of this cloak-and-dagger stuff.
"All right," he said at last, placing the pamphlet down on the table. "Out with it. Who's hooked?"
Both officers dropped their eyes, and then Jim stood with a regretful expression. He walked wordlessly to a door just inside a hallway and opened it. "Can you make it?" he asked whoever was inside.
"Yeah." The voice sounded hoarse and weak. Moore couldn't identify it. But it sent a knot of dread into his gut. Whoever he is, he's out of a job. Who am I about to lose?
Reed seemed to be helping someone. The light wasn't too good in the hallway. But a few moments later an ashen-faced, trembling man emerged, barely able to walk. It took a moment for his identity to register with Moore. When it did, the lieutenant leapt to his feet, his heart pounding with horror.
Pete hadn't looked directly at Lieutenant Moore yet. Walking still required a great deal of concentration, and it still caused him a lot of dizziness. But it was more than that which kept his eyes on his feet.
I don't want to see the look in his eyes.
Pete had never realized just how precious the respect of these men was to him. Not until he stood to lose it.
But I'll never regain it if I can't look him in the eye.
Pete felt some strength coming into his spine. I am back. And he needs to know it.
He forced himself to look up, to meet the distress in his superior's eyes.
Yes, that's right. I am Pete Malloy. Again. And I'm not going to hide anymore. Not from you, not from anybody.
Pete finally made it to his dining room chair and sank into it. For a moment he had to surrender to exhaustion and trembling, closing his eyes as he tried to recover. He felt painfully aware that no one else had sat down.
When he felt strong enough, Pete looked back up at the lieutenant. Moore's face looked devastated. Heartbroken, even. But instead of making Pete feel ashamed, the sight made him realize just how much he meant to his superior. It gave him courage.
"Malloy " Moore's voice sounded choked. "Tell me this is a nightmare. Tell me it's anyone but you."
"I'm sorry, lieutenant. I can't tell you that." Malloy felt frustrated that his voice sounded so weak. It made him more determined to keep eye contact.
Moore sank down into his chair like a man defeated. He shook his head, seeming beyond words. The other men sat down as well.
"I saw you just a couple of days ago," the lieutenant finally said. "You looked pretty much like your usual self. How could you have changed so much, so fast?"
"I've been going through detox," Pete said quietly. "I've got a few more days before I'm completely over it. But I'm past the worst."
The lieutenant sat back in his chair and turned his face toward the ceiling. No one spoke.
"How long have you known about this?" Moore turned to look at Mac for his answer.
"Less than 48 hours, sir. I helped him get through the worst of detox."
Mac cleared his throat. "I was just as upset as you are, lieutenant. That's why I wanted to give you that pamphlet first. So that you'd know what I didn't know. That Pete got hooked innocently. He took the medication according to instructions. He didn't abuse it, at least not until he was already hooked. He's not a criminal."
Moore looked down at his fingers as they drummed on the table. Finally he looked over at Pete.
"That makes it a lot more bearable on a personal level, Malloy. But you must understand that, professionally, there's nothing I can do for you. There's no way I can shelter you. Your career is over."
Pete nodded his head. He'd expected that, of course. But hearing the words straight from the lieutenant was like a blade through his gut. He swallowed hard.
"I know that, sir. I just I just needed you to know that I never I'm not a junky, sir. You read what that paper said about detoxification. I've been through the worst of it. The cravings are gone, and there's every reason to believe they'll stay gone."
"But from what Mac said, you did abuse it at some point." Moore looked back down at the table, clearly hating what he had to do.
"Somewhat. Yes. I won't make any excuses for that. I was hooked. It felt like life and death to me. I'll tell you what I did wrong, and you can decide where to go from there."
Pete sighed deeply. "I took the drugs exactly according to directions, even long after I was already hooked. After a while my prescription was discontinued and I was cleared for light duty. But I couldn't cope with the cravings, especially after Jim got shot. So I went to a different doctor, the one who initially treated me at the hospital, and I lied to him. He gave me a prescription, and I filled it. I took the medication on the job for several days, without telling anyone."
Pete sighed again, feeling as if he were reciting his own obituary. "That was the worst of the abuse; lying to get it and keeping it a secret. I still took it according to instructions, even though the cravings made me want it more often. I didn't want it to own me. I knew I was hooked, and I thought that was hopeless. But I wasn't about to let it get a tighter grip on me."
Pete found he no longer had the strength to keep his back straight. He leaned with one arm propped up on the table.
"I only took it outside of the prescribed periods twice. Then I got so scared of what was happening to me that I finally came clean. I told Jim, and he called the sergeant in on it. When we found out I could detox here, that's what we did. I wanted to do that before I spoke to you, because I wanted to be able to face you myself. And now I can face you, because the cravings are gone, and I know I'm myself again."
Pete shook his head. "I'm not trying to defend myself, or excuse myself. I know that I will lose my job for this. But for personal reasons only I hope that I haven't completely lost your respect. That's why I had to talk to you face-to-face."
Pete stopped, figuring it was better not to say too much. State the facts, but don't beg. Have respect for yourself, even if he doesn't have respect for you.
Moore looked as pained as Pete had ever seen him. He kept his eyes down, and he kept shaking his head. When he finally spoke, his heavy-hearted words cut Pete through.
"If you had come to us as soon as you realized you had a problem, I might might have been able to help you. But you didn't. You lied, you took advantage of our trust, you sneaked behind our backs " Moore sighed deeply. "Your job puts you in contact with pushers and hypes on an almost daily basis. The public and the department have to know that you can be trusted when drugs are involved. Given these events, that trust cannot be assured. Department policy is very firm."
The lieutenant stood up again, looking down at Pete with regret in his eyes.
"I need your firearm and your badge."
Jim sat beside his friend, biting his tongue to keep from speaking out. Mac had cautioned him to stay out of it unless asked a question. This issue was way above his head now. But when Moore demanded Pete's badge and gun, Jim could bear it no longer. He jumped to his feet, his chair squeaking backwards on the floor.
"Lieutenant " Jim sounded more heated than he intended to. But he didn't get a chance to finish his sentence.
Pete turned to him and waved him off, his posture one of tired resignation. "He's right, Jim. And you know it."
All three men at the table stared at Jim, waiting for him to respond. Their eyes wore undisguised pain and sympathy, but they also promised to give no ground. Jim felt his eyes prickling. He shook his head, struggling against the urge to pound something. He couldn't allow this outrage to happen to Pete. He couldn't! It was wrong! It was
"Go on Jim," Pete said softly. "Or would you rather I went and got them?"
Jim stared at his friend, his chest heaving and his fists clenched. He wanted to yell, to curse, to turn the table over, to shake some sense into everyone until they realized they couldn't do this. This is Pete we're talking about! Pete Malloy! The words lodged themselves in his throat as a painful lump.
"Reed." Mac's tone was gentle, sorrowful. Jim could hear the rest of the thought, the part that Mac didn't say. Don't make this worse than it already is.
The silent, expectant looks from his colleagues became unbearable to Jim. He dragged his eyes back to Pete, and saw his friend nod his head. Go on, partner. Pete didn't speak. He didn't need to.
It was the tears in his own eyes that finally forced Jim away from the table. He didn't want to break down in front of his superiors. He forced himself to walk through the living room without yelling or kicking anything, though it took all of his self-control. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Jean sitting on an easy chair. He didn't look at her, knowing that the pain on her face would shatter his fragile hold on his own emotions.
He walked into his bedroom, out of sight of the others, and allowed himself to pound his fists on the top of his dresser. He silently mouthed all of the angry words that he didn't dare say to his superiors. It took him several long moments to work enough of it out of his system that he could even consider performing this horrible duty.
His heart felt like lead as he reached out to unlock his gun box. Part of him couldn't even believe he was doing it. He opened the lid and looked in at Pete's gun, nestled there beside his own.
I'll never serve with him again.
Waves of grief swept over him. It's so wrong. It's so wrong!
He squeezed his eyes tightly shut until he forced the tears back.
Finally he reached and took out the gun, and picked up Pete's wallet from the dresser. He carefully locked the gun box again, always mindful of his son's safety.
I'll give them what they want, but I won't stop fighting. I will never stop fighting. Not until Pete's good name is restored, and he can wear his uniform with pride again.
His resolve strengthened him, and he felt greater control over himself as he walked back through the living room.
He still didn't dare look at Jean. He knew she'd understand why.
He arrived in the dining room and put the gun on the table in front of the lieutenant. Then he handed Pete his wallet. He would at least give his friend the dignity of giving the badge, rather than having it taken from him.
Pete's eyes showed an eloquent blend of grief and gratitude as he took the wallet from Jim's hand. He clearly understood the honor Jim did him with that simple gesture. Jim thought his own heart would break as he watched his friend remove the badge, look at it briefly, and then toss it onto the table next to the gun.
Moore and MacDonald both nodded their heads, acknowledging the awful transaction. No one spoke.
Finally Lieutenant Moore looked at his watch. He registered dull surprise. "I have to get back to work. I have a meeting." He reached slowly and picked up Pete's badge, regarding it for a moment before pocketing it with obvious regret. He tucked Pete's gun next to his own in the back of his belt, and took the pamphlet as well. Then he looked at Pete one last time.
"I'll have to take this to the big brass, all the way to the top. I'll put in every good word I can for you. I doubt I can save your job, but perhaps the damage won't be as great on a personal level. I'm sorry, Pete. That's the best I can do."
He turned to the other two men. "Mac, Reed, I want you to come to the station and fill out detailed reports about this situation. Write down everything you know, no matter how insignificant. I want the reports on my desk by tomorrow morning at the latest."
"Yessir," the two officers replied.
"When do you expect to be back to work?" Moore asked Jim.
"I have a doctor's appointment in about 45 minutes. I expect he'll clear me for light duty." I won't let him know how much I still hurt.
"If he does, I can put him on the desk starting tomorrow," Mac added.
"All right. I guess that's all. I need to go." The lieutenant nodded sadly to the men at the table and turned away. He spoke softly to Jean as he went by. "No, please don't get up. I'll let myself out." And then he was gone.
"Well, I guess that's that," said Pete, with an obvious attempt at lightening the mood. A moment later he buried his face in his hands. He made no sound other than ragged breathing, but Jim could see his shoulders shaking. The sight nearly tore Jim's heart out of his chest. He looked quickly at Mac, and saw a grief that at least matched his own.
Jim knew he couldn't do anything to help, other than putting a supportive hand on Pete's shoulder and just being there. It felt maddeningly inadequate.
After a few moments Mac stood and trailed over to Pete's side. He too laid a hand on Pete's shoulder for a brief time, and then he turned away. He stuffed his hands deeply into his pockets and went to stare out the window, obviously struggling for mastery of his own emotions. There was no sound in the house except for Pete's quiet grieving, and similar sounds of muted sobbing from Jean in the living room. After a few minutes Jim went over to offer her comfort, and to find whatever solace he could in her arms.
He couldn't find much.
"Thanks. Keep the change." Jim gave a ten-dollar bill to the delivery boy and took the pizzas from him. He'd ordered two, so that they could eat leftovers for a while and spare Jean the hassle of cooking. None of them had much of an appetite, anyway.
Jean trailed into the living room. She looked at the pizza boxes and then at Jim. "I don't think I can eat."
"You should have something," Jim replied, though he felt the same way she did. "If we don't eat, Pete might not want to, either. And he went hungry for far too long. As weak as he is, he can't afford to miss another meal."
Jean sighed and pushed her hair back. "Jimmy will eat plenty of it, I'm sure. He should be here in just a couple of minutes."
Jim just nodded and carried the food over to the table. Jean fished out some paper plates and the pizza cutter. "I hope you don't mind drinking out of a can. I don't want to have to wash dishes tonight."
"I don't blame you. Of course I don't mind."
"Why don't you go ahead and wake Pete up?'
Jim nodded. He walked into his bedroom and over to his partner, but found him already awake.
"Pizza's here." Jim told him. Pete nodded, seeming at least as subdued as Jim. He didn't make a move to get up.
"Have you heard anything from Mac?" Pete asked quietly.
"No. I didn't really expect to. He won't have anything to tell us for a while." Mac had gone back to work shortly after Moore did.
Pete still stayed put.
"You need to eat, partner. Get your strength back." Jim reached out a hand, offering to help his friend up if necessary. Pete looked at his hand for a moment, and then finally accepted the help up. He looked resigned, but not thoroughly despondent. At least that was something.
"You're holding up pretty well," Jim noted.
"It's shock," Pete replied. "I'm almost numb with it. It'll hit me harder later."
Jim felt a little surprised at that admission from Pete. If nothing else, this experience seemed to have freed Pete to share more of his heart. Jim felt a little grim satisfaction at that one, small silver lining. He followed Pete out into the living room, and then saw a motion near the front door.
"Hello!" Bud Bailey announced himself in his usual fashion before letting himself in. Jennifer hurried to him. "Pa pa!" Bud picked her up, but his eyes instantly fell on Jean. "Hey, what's wrong with my baby girl?" He walked quickly over to her and raised her to her feet for a hug. "What's the matter, baby?"
"Oh, nothing, Daddy. I'm just tired. Where's Jimmy?"
The little fellow burst in the door as if on cue, followed by his grandmother. "Uncle Pete!" Jimmy yelled, running up to his godfather.
"There he is," Bud said helpfully. "As energetic as ever. He's worn us out, but we enjoyed it, as always." Bud turned to the others. "Jim, Pete. How are you feeling?" He addressed the question to Malloy.
"Better, thank you." Pete managed a wan smile.
"You don't look so great," Bud commented.
"No, you don't," Candace chimed in, looking him over with every sign of preparing to fuss.
"I'm all right, Mrs. Bailey. Really." Pete smiled a little more convincingly.
"Do you wanna play ball then, Uncle Pete? Nana said I could ask you if you felt better."
The child's answer came simultaneously from each parent and grandparent. "No, Jimmy." He looked around at them as if bewildered by this chorus of unsolicited input. "I asked Uncle Pete," he clarified.
Pete's smile actually reached his eyes this time. "I'm afraid they're right, Jimmy. I'm not up to that yet. But I'll be happy to watch you play with your cars, like we did before you went to Nana and Papa's house."
"Is that pizza?" Jimmy seemed to have just noticed the boxes on the table. "Cool!" He started opening a box when the chorus of adult voices stopped him again. "Go wash your hands."
"Awww geeee," he griped, and slouched off down the hall to the bathroom.
"Pete, Jim, Jean what's going on here? You look like you've been to a funeral." Candace Bailey wore her most no-nonsense expression, one that wouldn't accept being toyed with.
She got no answer from the three of them. Instead, they all just exchanged uncomfortable looks. Jim wished he'd gone to pick up Jimmy instead of letting the Baileys drive him here.
"Mom," Jean began at last. "Jim was just recently shot, and he's still in pain. Now Pete's been very sick, and he's still just beginning to get over it. We've had a lot going on lately, and we're all tired."
"Well, what can we do for you? Can I make you some food?"
"Jim ordered a couple of pizzas. That should hold us over for a couple of meals. And you've already done too much, watching Jimmy for so long."
"Nonsense. That's not enough food for all of you, especially the way Jimmy's wolfing it down." Jim turned to see that Jimmy was, indeed, reaching for his second piece already.
"I'm going to bring you some chicken soup. It'll cure whatever ails you, Pete. And it'll put some life back into you two as well. No arguments. I'll be by with it tomorrow afternoon."
Jim smiled a little. "Thanks, Mom. It'll be great for Jean not to have to worry about cooking right now."
"Of course it will. I'll bring something for the next night, too."
"Thank you, Mom." This time it was Jean who expressed her gratitude. "I'm sure getting a good night's sleep will help us all, too."
"Yes, we'll go and let you guys get some sleep. Jimmy's had his bath and he's getting his tummy nice and full, so he should go to sleep soon. Are you sure you don't want us to keep him a little longer? Or maybe take Jennifer?"
Jim thought that might be a good idea, but Jean spoke up first. "No, Mom. I've missed him. I think we need him back here. And Jennifer seems to be fine."
"Okay, Dear. But if you think of anything else we can do for us, don't hesitate to call."
"Yes ma'am," Jim replied for them all.
"Jim, Jean, I'm so sorry to put you out for another night." Pete sighed.
"Nonsense. We're glad we can help." Jean smiled warmly despite her fatigue. Jim thought yet again how lucky he was to have her. She has such a good heart.
"C'mon, Pete. I'll help you get back to the bed." Jim stood and offered a hand to Pete.
"No, partner. I'll sleep on the couch tonight. You two should have your bed back. It is clean," he added sheepishly.
"Are you sure you could make it to the bathroom from here? It's further than you'd have to walk if you were in our room." Jim eyed Pete worriedly.
"If I need help, I promise I'll holler. It's not like I have any pride to protect anymore." Pete's rueful smile helped to soften his words.
"We'll leave our bedroom door open, to be sure we can hear you.," Jean told him. Jim nodded in agreement.
Pete seemed to accept that.
"Is there anything I can get you before you go to bed, Pete?" Jean asked.
"Just a big cup of water for the end table, if you don't mind."
"Sure, I'll get it." Jean bustled off to the kitchen.
Jim and Pete shared a long look.
"Do you know what's so strange?" Pete asked softly.
"Wondering what kind of job I should get to keep a roof over my head."
Jean returned with the water. She looked as if Pete's question had cut her to the core. Jim felt the same way.
Pete continued, almost talking to himself. "I'm a cop. It's so much a part of who I am I don't know I can't even imagine myself being anything else. But it's over." Pete looked up at Jim. "I guess maybe I'll get that hardware store in Fresno."
Jean looked confused, but Jim understood the reference. "Judy tried to talk him into that kind of job for a long time," Jim explained. Jean looked even sadder, and a moment later Jim realized why. He looked quickly back at Pete, and found him looking devastated.
Judy none of us has even thought of her, with all this DT stuff going on.
No one spoke.
"I I guess I should get some sleep now," Pete murmured at last.
"Here's your blanket," Jean said, her tone betraying her sorrow.
"Thanks." Pete laid down and allowed Jean to cover him up. Then Jean turned without a word and walked to the bedroom. Jim and Pete shared a brief sad look before Jim turned to follow his wife.
Pete watched as his friends walked to their room. They closed the door behind them while they got ready for bed, but Pete could still hear their voices.
Jean spoke first, her voice sounding frustrated and angry.
"Jim, I hate your job. It takes some of the finest young men in the world, men who want to do good, to make a difference. And it sends them out to be spat on and ridiculed and shot at, to have their hearts broken and their spirits wounded. And then, if it doesn't kill them outright, it chews them up and spits them out like yesterday's garbage. I hate your job! I hate it!"
Pete closed his eyes, hurting from his own pain and the pain he'd caused his friends. Hurting because he knew that Jean's angry words always tore Jim up inside. God, don't let this turn them against each other.
Even as he thought about Jim and Jean, it brought to mind another very important relationship. What have I done to Judy? How could I have treated her so badly?
Can things ever be repaired between us?
Jim's voice answered after a few moments. "That's not going to happen to Pete, Jean."
"What are you talking about?" Jean sounded even more upset. "What do you think just happened this afternoon? You can deny it all you want, but it's over for Pete. They're going to forget all about the years of dedication and sacrifice and honor that he's given them, and they're going to turn their backs on him. I shouldn't say they're going to, they already have!"
"I know what they've done!" Jim's anger came through clearly now, too. "And I know what I'm going to do. I'm not through yet. And I'm not going to quit until Pete's back beside me in Adam-12 where he belongs!"
"How are you going to do that?" Jean's tone made it clear that she had no hope.
"I I don't know yet. But I'm going to find out."
"Sure. Whatever you say." Jean sounded resigned, and not one bit more hopeful. "Let's just get some sleep."
If any more words passed between them, Pete didn't hear them. A few minutes later the door opened as promised, and the Reeds settled in to sleep.
Pete felt yet another tear escape him. Bless you Jim. But this time you're tilting at windmills.
It really is over for me.
Pete's recovery went amazingly quickly after the first 48 hours had passed. By the next day he was up and around fairly well, barely trembling, and trying to look like his world hadn't collapsed around him.
Jim went off to work feeling confident that Jean could take care of Pete by herself. He didn't need that much looking after. And he was already making noises about going back to his apartment.
Jim, on the other hand, felt like he could use some looking after. He felt hollowed out, devastated, and incredibly guilty about being allowed to put on his uniform when Pete could not.
He hated the "welcome back's" and cheerful smiles that greeted him at work. Most of all, he hated the questions. "Hey, where's Pete this morning? Isn't he going to be working the desk with you?" He hadn't really prepared himself for that question, and he didn't know how to answer it. He finally settled on, "Maybe Mac knows."
He dreaded hearing what Mac had to say at the morning briefing. Pete's about to be publicly humiliated. The thought of it made Jim want to vomit. He knew his upset had to be obvious to his colleagues. Right now they probably chalked it up to his injury. Soon they'd know better.
He sat through roll call next to Chip, who was riding with Carson now. The rookie looked vastly relieved to see Jim there. Jim didn't want to look him in the eye.
He practically worships Pete, without ever really knowing him. Now he's going to hear the worst about him. He'll never know the Pete that I knew. Pete's name will become a bad word around here. Future generations of rookies will all look down on him.
Rage began to boil again, under the surface. It's so unfair! It's so wrong!
He grunted as Chip's elbow jabbed him in the bicep. The rookie shot a meaningful look toward Mac, and Jim realized he'd totally tuned out the roll call.
"Here," he said. Mac looked at him with some irritation, but Jim knew him well enough to see the worry and compassion underneath. He also saw the sergeant's own pain.
I'd hate to be him right now. But then again, I guess the lieutenant will probably break the bad news. I wonder why he's not here?
Anticipation made Jim's skin crawl. He barely listened to the briefing. As the minutes ticked by and the inevitable announcement drew closer, Jim felt himself breaking into a sweat. He felt an irrational urge to flee, to run away from the death knell that would soon sound for his best friend. His heart pounded in his ears, and he really began to wonder if he would throw up.
How can Mac be so calm? The sergeant didn't look nearly as upset as Jim felt. I guess that's one reason he's got so many stripes on his arm.
Pete should have had that many stripes before long. He could have been a sergeant already, if he hadn't loved patrol work so much.
"Finally, there's one last thing," Mac began. Jim closed his eyes.
"Pete Malloy has had a medical setback. Don't worry, his life is not in any danger, but he will be on leave until further notice. That is all. Fall in for inspection."
Jim heard murmers rippling through the room, but he felt a shock of a totally different nature. He didn't tell them! What's going on here? He locked eyes with Mac, whose expression told him to let it lie for now. I'll have to wait and find out later.
Of course, it couldn't be that uncomplicated. People went to Mac with questions, of course, but just as many flocked to Jim. "What happened to Pete? What's going on?"
Jim felt nearly panicked. He had no earthly idea what to say, and he just stood there, stammering and probably looking stupid.
Mac's voice broke in, coming to Jim's rescue. "I said 'Fall in for inspection!' The last time I checked, Officer Reed was not in charge of conducting inspections! Get out there before I assign you all to desk duty!"
The men grumbled and muttered but headed out toward the covered walkway near the parking lot where inspections took place.
Jim stood rooted in place while the sea of blue walked past him. He simply didn't know what to do.
Mac was the last to go by. He caught Jim's eye and indicated with a jerk of his head that Jim should look behind him.
Jim turned and saw the lieutenant standing by a side door. His face looked very serious, no different from the last time Jim had seen him. Moore beckoned him to follow, and then turned and left. Jim followed along behind until they got to Moore's office.
"Close the door behind you, Jim." The lieutenant still didn't look back at him, but Jim couldn't help noticing the unusual use of his first name. He's going to talk to me as Pete's friend, not just as an officer.
Jim closed the door and approached the desk where Moore now sat. "What's going on, Lieutenant? Why didn't Mac tell them?"
"Don't get your hopes up, Jim. The meeting I went to after leaving your house was a regularly scheduled police commission meeting. Needless to say, I turned the meeting agenda upside-down."
Jim sat down. "How did they react?"
"About like I would have expected. I prepared them first with the information from the drug pamphlet, and I told them all about Pete's exemplary career. Of course, they all know about his actions on behalf of the governor and his medal of valor. But they seemed to all agree that, since officers have to be held up to a higher standard than the general public, he couldn't be entrusted with police work again. The risks are just too high."
"But, Lieutenant, this is Pete Malloy we're talking about. They don't know him. You do. You know you can trust him."
"I knew that before he ever lied to MacDonald, one of his very best friends. I knew it before he sneaked illicitly obtained medication on the job. I don't know it now."
Jim started a heated protest, but Moore raised a hand to cut him off. "The commission wasn't just worried about the public interest. They were also worried about Pete. It wouldn't be fair to expose him to the temptations that he'll face, dealing with pushers and hypes all the time. They all felt he had a better chance of staying straight in civilian life."
"That's garbage, and you know it! Drugs are every bit as available to Joe Average as they are to Joe Cop." Jim knew he was going out on a limb, taking that tone with the lieutenant. But right now he didn't care.
"And you know that I have to leave my personal feelings out of things like this. Admit it, Reed. If this weren't Pete, but just 'Joe Cop' as you call him, you wouldn't be going to bat like this. Your feelings are influencing your decisions here, Reed. I don't have that luxury."
Jim bit his lip, trying to bring his feelings under control. So far the lieutenant had tolerated his frankness, but he didn't want to push too hard. It would be all too easy to close doors that he needed to keep open.
"All right then, leave feelings out of it. Let's look at facts. Look at the facts about Pete Malloy. Feelings aside, he's a great cop and a great human being. The drug he was hooked on is not psychologically addictive, and the cravings are not expected to come back. That's what the pamphlet said. I didn't make that up from my own feelings. A great cop and a great human being is being crucified unnecessarily. He's over his addiction. He's ready to get back to giving exemplary service to this department and the people of Los Angeles. He deserves no less. I have to believe that you see it that way too."
Moore steepled his fingers and rested his forehead on them for a moment. The gesture spoke volumes to Jim, because Val Moore was not known for getting emotional on the job. Jim knew that he had been Pete's training officer, and that the two men had a lot of respect for each other. He even suspected that they might have considered themselves friends, though of course the lieutenant refrained from any behavior that might constitute favoritism toward any officer. But the level of pain he'd seen on Moore's face yesterday, and his obvious concern now, helped to blunt the edges of Jim's frustration toward him. He really cares about Pete. If I don't push too hard, maybe he'll act on that.
If I don't push hard enough, maybe he won't.
Jim kept quiet. Only a few moments passed before the lieutenant looked back up at him, but to Jim it felt like an eon of agony and uncertainty.
"There's going to be an emergency meeting at the Parker Center this afternoon. Everyone, right up to the Chief of Police, has cleared their agenda for the afternoon."
"I want to be there." Jim jumped to his feet with the emotion of the moment.
Moore shook his head. "Reed, I sympathize, believe me. Pete Pete is someone I helped to come up from a raw recruit. I've watched him turn into one of the best police officers I've ever known. And he is a fine human being on every level. We rode together for years, he and I, just like you and he do now."
Jim hung his head for a moment, feeling bad for ever having implied that Moore might not care enough. He and Pete probably had lots of heart-to-heart talks, lots of laughter, lots of pain together. Just like Pete and I have.
"But even so," the lieutenant continued, "if I weren't a lieutenant, I wouldn't be coming to the meeting. Not even MacDonald is invited. He's had his input, and you've had yours. You've both turned in excellent, detailed reports. I respect what you've had to say, and I'll bring up the points you made when I meet with the others. But this thing is way over your head now. I don't mean any disrespect by that, believe me. I have a great deal of respect for you, and I know everyone in the department feels the same way. But some decisions have to be made by officers with higher ranks. That's just the way it is. I'm sorry, Jim."
Jim fell silent again, desperately trying to find some words to wedge into the door of opportunity, before it could slam in his face.
"What if what if I haven't had a chance to say everything that I need to say?"
"What have you not said?" The lieutenant sat back, showing extraordinary patience with Jim's stubbornness.
Jim sat down again, but then he realized something was very wrong. I wish there were two of me!
"Uh, lieutenant, I want to talk to you, but what about the desk? I'm supposed to be there now." I don't want to leave now!
Moore nodded. "I told Crandall to stay over. I told him you'd be meeting with me at the beginning of watch."
"Thank you, sir." Jim felt amazed by the amount of leeway he was getting here. He cast around in his mind, searching for some convincing argument he hadn't yet given in Pete's defense.
"Well, sir " the truth was, Jim didn't have any new defense, any new ideas. He'd hoped for a chance to come up with one, but nothing occurred to him at the moment.
God give me something anything please!
"Sir, I would like to have some time, even just a few hours, to organize my thoughts on this. If you'll give me that time let me put things down on paper I can give you what I've written. If you think there's anything there worth presenting to the commission and the Chief, perhaps you'd consider sharing them yourself, or else letting me come and have my say. Pete deserves to have as much consideration as we can give him. I know you don't need me to tell you that, sir."
"Reed, you are certainly free to jot down any thoughts you might have for our consideration, as long as it doesn't interfere with the performance of your duties today. And " the lieutenant looked at his watch, " you need to get to those duties." He stood, and Jim took the hint, rising to his feet himself.
"Thank you, sir. I'll make sure I keep my mind on my job, and I'll write down whatever I can. It may have to be in a rough form, given the lack of time."
"Just get it to me by 2:00."
"Is that when the meeting is?"
"No, it's at 3:00. I want time to review what you've written, and of course I have other duties to attend to as well."
"Yes sir. I'll have it to you by 2:00. Thank you, sir." Jim accepted the lieutenant's hand and shook it.
"Dismissed," the lieutenant said formally, and Jim hurried off, arriving at the front desk a full twenty minutes late.
"Thanks, Crandall." He shook the other officer's hand before relieving him. "I appreciate the extra time."
"Yeah, sure, Reed. Any time." Crandall looked worried. "I heard a rumor that Pete went on indefinite leave today. Is it true?"
Jim sighed deeply. It wasn't exactly true. Pete had been forced out. Jim tried to think of a graceful way to sidestep the facts.
"That's what Mac said," he said finally.
"Why? I thought he was recovering so well!"
"Life is full of surprises." It sounded lame, but Jim couldn't think of anything else to say.
"Yeah, right." Crandall looked like he'd gotten the hint, and he didn't bug for any more information. But he looked profoundly dissatisfied. "See you tomorrow, Reed."
Jim nodded as Crandall left. Then he grabbed some notepaper and started to think. What can I say for Pete? His mind was maddeningly blank. Haven't I already said it all? As far as Jim was concerned, the name 'Pete Malloy' said it all. What more could they need to know? It was so blatantly obvious to him.
Jim sighed and stared at the blank paper. Maybe the lieutenant's right. I'm letting my feelings get in the way. What are the facts?
The door squeaked open, and Jim's first civilian of the morning approached. Jim felt a surge of resentment at the interruption, but quickly reminded himself that none of this was the civilian's fault. "Can I help you, sir?"
"What would you like for lunch, Pete?" Jean asked.
"Whatever you're fixing is fine. Don't go to any trouble." Pete looked up at her briefly before returning his attention to his newspaper. Jennifer played happily in the high chair across the table from him, and Pete had been giving her plenty of attention as well.
"I'm fixing peanut butter and jelly for Jimmy and Jennifer, and I have it on good authority that you're not crazy about that particular concoction. So what would you like?"
"Oh, if you're fixing sandwiches, just a cheese sandwich with some mayo would be fine for me. Thanks."
"Okay. I think I'll have one, too."
"I'm glad you're still here today, Uncle Pete." Jimmy looked up from his Saturday cartoons. "Do you wanna play 'Go Fish' after Bugs Bunny is over?"
"Sure, pal. I can do that." Pete smiled at Jimmy, but Jean could see that the smile didn't reach any higher than his mouth. He's so sweet to put up a good front for the kids. Jean tried to keep up appearances as well. But at some point he's going to find out that Uncle Pete's not a policeman any more.
How will we explain that to him?
Jean shook her head. Deal with one problem at a time.
"Pete, would you like a slice of tomato on your sandwich?"
Pete glanced back up at her, and she showed him that she'd already cut a slice for herself. "It wouldn't be any trouble."
"Okay, sure. That sounds good. Thanks, Jean."
Jean carried Pete's sandwich and drink over to him, and he pushed aside the paper to make room. For the first time, Jean realized what Pete was looking at.
The classifieds. He's looking for a job.
She stared at the paper, though she could no longer focus on it for the tears in her eyes. I need to be strong here. I've done too much crying already. I should be strong for Jimmy, and for Pete.
"The sandwich looks great, Jean." Pete's gentle voice called her back. She looked into his eyes, and saw his compassion for her feelings. Isn't that just like you, to think of me at a time like this.
This simple demonstration of Pete's goodness only added to the grief in Jean's heart. She put her hand on his shoulder and squeezed it a little, trying to force some strength back into her spirit. Don't let Pete see. He hurts enough as it is. Jean turned her face up toward the ceiling. She bit her lip until it hurt, and blinked back the tears as best she could. After a few moments she felt his hand gently rest on hers.
"I'll be okay, Jean." He whispered it quietly, but she could still hear the pain in his words. She nodded, but couldn't look at him. The sight of his face would have cost her what little control she had right now.
Jean patted his shoulder and turned back for the kitchen to collect herself. When she thought she could trust her voice she called her son. "Jimmy, come to the table." Her voice came out strained and tearful-sounding.
"Aww, Mom, Bugs Bunny isn't over yet!" Jimmy whined.
"Now, son!" She let a little more sharpness into her tone than she meant to. Jimmy scurried quickly to the table. Jean composed her face as best she could and carried the children's food to them. "I'm sorry I yelled at you, son." She saw out of the corner of her eye that Pete had folded up the paper, no doubt to protect her feelings.
"Excuse me, please." Jean hurried off to her room, closing the door behind her so she could give full rein to her grief.
That settles it. I need to go home. Pete looked sadly after Jean. I've caused them enough pain and trouble already.
"I don't know why Mommy's so grumpy," Jimmy complained. He sounded hurt.
"Sometimes people have bad days, Jimmy. That's when the people around them need to be especially kind." He rubbed the little boy's back for a moment, his mind already planning ahead for the day.
I'm wearing the last clean clothes that Jim brought me from my apartment. And I'm not about to let Jean do any more laundry for me. So I need to get out of here in time to get things to the cleaners. I wonder how much clean clothing I have at home? It felt like years since he'd been inside his apartment.
Even when I was there, I wasn't me.
Pete shuddered, scarcely able to believe the detour his life had taken.
He started gathering up the few things of his that lay around the house, and put them in his suitcase next to his dirty clothes.
"Uncle Pete, are you leaving? I thought we were gonna play 'Go Fish'." Jimmy ran up to him with an expression that was half-pleading, half-accusing.
"We will, Jimmy. I haven't forgotten."
"Well " Pete's eyes swept the room for any more of his things. " how about now?"
"Yeah!" Jimmy charged happily to the closet where the games were stored.
Pete sat down and spent a half-hour on the mind-numbingly boring game, knowing there was no other child on earth he'd do that for. I'm so glad I can do this with him. If I hadn't come clean Pete didn't even want to contemplate what he'd come so close to losing.
But it's still time to go.
"Okay, Jimmy. Thanks for playing. Uncle Pete needs to go home now, though. I have things I have to do." He rose to his feet.
Jimmy stayed seated and looked up at Pete with piercing clarity. "Are you going to stay away for a long time, like you did before?"
"No, son. I promise."
"Are you going to bring Aunt Judy with you when you come back?"
Pete inwardly cringed. "I don't know, son.
Jean came out of her room, looking more composed. She'd washed her face and put on more makeup, but nothing could mask the pain in her eyes.
"Pete," she began, "please don't leave on our account. You're no bother at all, believe me."
"That's sweet of you, Jean. But I really need to get back on my feet, and that means I need to get back home."
"Well, can you at least stay through dinner? My mom's going to be bringing that soup by soon. It'll be too much for just the three of us, I'm sure."
"It sounds tempting, but I want to get my clothes to the cleaners, and I need to go home and pay some bills." Pete stopped short of telling her the most important event that would happen today. Best to leave the Reeds out of it.
Jean accepted his explanation. "All right, whatever you think is best. But if you'd like to come back for dinner, you'll be more than welcome."
Pete reached out and took Jean's hands in his. "I can't thank you enough. Words are so so inadequate. If I didn't have friends like you and Jim and Mac I wouldn't know how to make it through. You guys are helping me to find the strength I need to start over. What can I possibly say or do in return for that?"
"Just make it," Jean said through misting eyes. "Don't let anything hold you back. Don't quit until you've found a life that makes you happy."
Why does it have to be so busy today? Jim stole an anxious glance at his watch while filling out a malicious mischief report. I have less than an hour to write something down for the lieutenant. For Pete. Why can't I come up with anything?
Jim had worked the desk quite a few times in his career, but never before had he seen it so busy. I wish I hadn't fought so hard to get cleared for duty. I could think about this much better at home.
Jim's chest muscles burned and ached. He hadn't really expected that. While tending Pete he'd found that he could tolerate light activities fairly well, and he'd only had bad flare-ups when lifting heavy weights, or moving in certain ways that he figured wouldn't be part of desk work.
Now he was learning that light efforts, repeated endlessly, soon added up to the same thing as heavy ones. I never would have imagined I used chest muscles to write.
"Yes, ma'am, our officers will be informed of all relevant details. They'll keep their eyes open." Jim managed to keep most of his mind on his work, while reserving a corner of it for more personal matters.
Of course, if I hadn't come in, I probably wouldn't have known about today's meeting until after the fact. No, I need to stay here, in the thick of things, if I'm going to have any chance to help.
"Thank you, officer." The civilian took her leave, and for once no one stepped up to take her place. Jim blew out his cheeks and leaned against the back of his chair for a few moments. At least they were kind enough to give me a chair. I couldn't have coped with a stool all day.
What can I say for Pete?
Jim thought back over the weeks since this whole mess began. The voice of guilt started whispering in his ear again. You knew something was wrong. Why didn't you do more to find out about it? You could have prevented it from getting as bad as it did. You knew!
Jim sat up straight, a tingle of excitement running up his spine. "That's it!'
"What?" His desk-mate George looked at him in surprise.
"What? Oh, nothing. Sorry. I was just thinking aloud."
Jim bent over his notepad and started writing furiously, heedless of the ache in his chest.
Pete pulled into his apartment complex with a huge sense of relief. Home! He grabbed the suitcase off the passenger's seat and let himself out of his car. Lifting the suitcase made him feel a little dizzy, and he wasn't looking forward to climbing the stairs. But he was home.
The climb definitely took some of the wind out of his sails, and he let the suitcase drop with a thunk when he reached his door. A moment of fumbling around with keys and he was finally inside. So much to do so much to take care of. Pete headed straight for the couch and laid down.
He promptly fell sound asleep.
"Lieutenant? Reed asked me to give you this, sir."
Moore looked up from his desk and gestured to the rookie to come in. "Thank you Richards." It was getting hard to keep track of all the rookies lately. Maybe I'm getting too old for this.
I started feeling too old when Pete Malloy walked out of Reed's bedroom.
He accepted the paper and dismissed the rookie with a nod. The youngster looked thoroughly intimidated, and he left quickly.
Moore unfolded the paper and looked it over. As the words sank in, he slowly rose to his feet. It didn't take long to read the barebones sketch of ideas. The lieutenant spent more time thinking deeply about them, fleshing them out, exploring their potential.
A tingle began to travel up his spine. This just might work. It just might.
A moment later he snatched up his phone. "Florence, get me Burt D'Andrea."
Jim fidgeted miserably. He knew the lieutenant would have to leave soon to make it to Parker in time for the meeting.
Why haven't I heard anything from him? Jim ached to know what his superior thought of his ideas.
The door swung open, signaling the end of another brief lull. Jim looked up, and saw someone he hadn't expected to see.
"Burt! What are you doing here?" The aged officer was semi-retired, only coming in when desperately needed to help at the front desk.
"I was told I was taking your place. Didn't the lieutenant tell you?"
"No no he didn't." Jim let the implications sink in. "I'd better go talk to him." Jim started down the hall, flinging a question over his shoulder at George. "Can you fill him in?"
"Yeah, no problem." George began briefing Burt on the important details of the day.
Jim fought the urge to run down the hall, settling instead for an almost-trot. He rounded the corner into Moore's office and nearly collided with him.
"Lieutenant I'm sorry sir. I just saw Burt, and he told me he was relieving me ?"
"He got here. Good. You're with me."
Moore started off at a fast walk toward the parking lot. "We don't have much time, and I don't want to be late."
"Am I going to the meeting with you, sir?" It seemed fairly obvious, but Jim didn't want to make any assumptions. It hardly seemed possible that he'd be invited.
"Yes." The lieutenant's answer was clipped.
Jim swallowed the rest of his questions until he and Moore had settled into the unmarked sedan that would take them to Parker.
"I'm going to present my idea?" Jim asked.
"No, I'm going to present it. But I want you there, in case the others have any questions for you." Moore glanced at Reed as he drove out of the parking lot. "Under most circumstances, a plan like yours wouldn't go over well, but you make some strong points. Like you said, we owe it to Pete to try."
"Is Pete going to be there?"
"Yes, I called him this morning. Perhaps he didn't tell your wife about it."
"If he did, she didn't call me about it." Jim's mind whirled with the possibilities.
If I'm this nervous, how must Pete feel?
Pete woke up with a start. How long have I been sleeping? A quick glance at the clock made him groan. I've slept too long! He quickly got up and inspected the contents of his closet. I can get by without going to the cleaner's for one more day. Good.
He used the toilet next, and was about to leave the bathroom when he remembered.
They're still here!
He shuddered and looked at the medicine chest as if it contained a poisonous serpent.
I don't feel any cravings, but what if what if my hands take on a life of their own, like they did before? What if I take one when I don't mean to?
Pete hesitated for long moments. He searched his mind and heart for any hidden temptations, but he could find nothing there. I really don't want them. In fact, I really want them out of my house!
Still he hesitated.
I'm going to have to trust myself some time. And I want to be able to tell everyone that I've destroyed them.
Pete moved slowly, cautiously, as if he had to guard himself against himself. He opened the cabinet and saw the bottle he'd once retrieved from the trash. Slowly he pulled it down from the shelf and opened it. He shook the pills into his hand and looked at them. Strange how they once held such power over me. He shuddered at the memory, and then dumped the handful of drugs into the toilet. He flushed and watched with satisfaction as his former nemeses swirled away from him.
I didn't feel a thing. I really am free.
If only my bosses would believe that.
Pete shook his head. There was no point even thinking like that. What was done, was done.
But maybe it wasn't too late to salvage another important part of his life, and of his heart. Pete walked over to the phone and put his hand on the receiver, but he didn't pick it up.
After all this time, and how badly I treated her, what will I say?
Pete couldn't come up with anything that sounded adequate, but he knew he couldn't put this off any longer. Being ignored was worse than being spoken to less than eloquently. He snatched up the receiver before he could change his mind, and dialed the number that had become so important to him over the years.
His heart sank as the third ring gave way to the fourth, but then it sank further when he heard her pick up.
"Hello?" The sound of her voice brought a lump into Pete's throat.
"He hello, Judy? It's Pete."
He heard only silence for an eternity.
"Pete what a surprise."
Pete closed his eyes. I guess I deserved that. "Thanks for not hanging up on me. I I owe you an apology, and an explanation, and and so much more. But I'd rather talk to you face-to-face, if you can stand to see me again." Pete couldn't believe how his heart pounded in his ears. I've lost so much. Don't let me lose her too.
Again she kept him waiting for a response, and he felt his hopes growing thinner.
"Yes, okay, Pete. There's something I need to talk to you about, too."
I don't like the sound of this.
"When when would you like to meet? And where? I'll go with whatever you choose if possible." Pete tried to keep his voice normal-sounding.
"It will have to be tonight, Pete. I've been trying to reach you for so long "
"Tonight? Tonight would be fine. Where would you like to meet? Your place? My place?"
"No, no. I'd rather meet someplace neutral." Judy sounded so emotionally distant that it broke Pete's heart. And a neutral place she's going to tell me it's over.
Pete closed his eyes again. I owe her the chance to tell me face-to-face.
Who am I kidding? I owe her the chance to slap me in the face.
"You name the place. I'll meet you there."
"Cassavetti's? Seven o'clock?"
"Sure. That'll be fine." Pete swallowed around the lump in his throat. "I'll see you there."
"Goodbye, Pete." Judy hung up. Pete sat down on the sofa and rubbed at his face. Cassavetti's. The place we went for our first date. The place where we'll meet for the last time.
Maybe not. I can't think that way. Maybe it's not too late. If I can explain it to her
Pete glanced at his watch and felt his heart skip a beat. I hardly have time to clean up. I need to hurry.
I'd hate to be late to the meeting where they crucify me.
If Pete felt glad of anything, it was that Jim wouldn't have to be there. He'd kept it secret from Jean, for fear that she'd tell her husband, and he'd do some hot-headed fool thing. He's such a crusader.
He's such a good friend.
Jim's heart raced faster with each step down the halls of the Parker Center. The lieutenant strode ahead of him. The two men hadn't spoken at all for most of the trip, and the silence had given Jim plenty of time to worry about everything. What if they didn't like his idea? What kinds of questions would they ask? What kinds of answers could he give? He'd wanted desperately to come to this meeting, but now he dreaded it.
Moore stopped suddenly and turned to Jim. "We're here. Are you ready?"
"As ready as I'll ever be."
Moore nodded and opened the door.
Jim's eyes swept the room as he entered. "I didn't know the governor was going to be here!" he half-whispered to the lieutenant.
"Neither did I."
Jim felt uncomfortable at the surprised looks that everyone gave him. Then his eyes fell on Pete, and he saw that even his friend looked dismayed. Jim felt a momentary fear that Pete would fight him, choosing to go down in flames rather than accept the terms that Jim proposed. He wanted to go talk to his partner, but the Chief pounded his gavel to call the meeting to order.
There weren't enough chairs there for Jim to sit at the table. He chose one along the wall, feeling horribly like an unwelcome party-crasher.
"Lieutenant Moore," the Chief began, his voice stern, "It was my understanding that this was a closed meeting."
"Yes, sir. For those of you who don't know, this is Officer James Reed, who is Officer Malloy's regular partner. I made the decision to bring Officer Reed at the last moment. I ask the room's permission to include him in some or all of this meeting, because he has brought some valuable ideas to my attention."
"This is highly irregular," the Chief growled.
"I'm not asking for him to address the room. I will present his ideas myself. And if you would like him to wait in the hall, I will have no objections. But I felt that his ideas might result in some questions on your part. I thought it would be wise, for the sake of time, to have him available for any questions you might want to ask."
He really went out on a limb here. Jim's appreciation of the lieutenant grew significantly.
The Chief conferred in hushed whispers with those on either side of him. A few commissioners passed notes up to him, which he read quickly.
"Officer Reed, you are requested to wait outside until and unless called for by this committee." The Chief looked at Jim over his half-glasses, and Jim stood obediently.
He nodded respectfully to the rest of the committee, and shot one desperate look at Pete and Lieutenant Moore. He hoped his inner seething didn't show on his face.
Pete looked appreciative of his efforts. If nothing else works out, at least he'll know I really tried.
Pete sighed. Poor Jim. He just can't accept it. Pete wasn't so sure he'd accepted it himself. Sometimes he could get it into his head that he had to find a new job, and soon, but then he'd just go blank. Nothing in the classifieds sounded even remotely right, and Pete realized he'd probably end up taking a job he hated, just to pay the rent. I could go back to school, but what would I study?
A sarcastic voice in the back of his head asked him mockingly, What do you want to be when you grow up?
Pete felt a headache coming on. Who's going to hire a washed-up, has-been cop at my age? What can I put on my resume'? What will I say when interviewers ask me why I left my last job?
He shook himself back to the present. The least he could do was be attentive to the meeting, even though the outcome was not in question. If they can see some dignity in me, maybe they'll think of me as something higher than pond scum. I'll have to try to be content with that. If I'm lucky.
The Chief of Police stood and began reciting the facts of Pete's situation. Pete tried to listen impartially. What would I decide, if I were on this committee, and someone else was in my place?
Pete's heart sank as he heard his problems and misdeeds and extenuating circumstances spelled out in the no-nonsense form of police reports. His gaze fell down toward the table. If I were on the committee, there's no doubt. The junky would be out.
The Chief finally finished his litany against Pete, and then balanced it with a fair summation of Pete's exemplary career before his addiction. Pete raised his eyes to scan the faces of the committee members, trying to keep his own expression neutral.
Their faces told him nothing. But none of them looked at him. He began to realize that he'd already become a non-person in their eyes. I'm just a problem for them to solve. They want me dealt with and swept under the rug as soon as possible.
Pete felt his merciful shock wearing off. Reality bore down on him with depressing weight. His mouth went dry, and his blood rushed in his ears.
Not now, Pete. Not here. Pull yourself together. Collapse after the meeting.
An image of Judy floated into his mind. I can't collapse after the meeting. I have to go let Judy tear out what's left of my heart first.
Then I can collapse.
Pete began to realize just how physically weak he still was. He could scarcely find any reserves of strength to pull from, to enable him to face what lay ahead.
He felt himself floundering and grabbed whatever lifeline he could find. He pushed aside all thoughts of the future, and focused instead on what he considered to be his duties at this moment. I have to look them in the eyes, and I have to listen, and I have to show some dignity.
Those three tasks alone were daunting enough. But somehow he kept his spine straight, and his face calm, and his eyes available to the eyes of others. Years of police experience had trained him to meet the need of the moment in overwhelming circumstances. It seemed ironic to him that he now used those police skills to survive the end of his life as a policeman.
Still, no one would meet his eyes.
The Chief finally finished rehashing the details that everyone already knew. "Now," he continued, "the purpose of this meeting is to bring before the committee any additional information or ideas which may assist in determining the course of action most consistent with the best interests of the people of Los Angeles and the LAPD. At this time, I would like to open the floor for discussion." The Chief sat down.
No one spoke for a moment, and then Lieutenant Moore rose to his feet. "If I may "
"Proceed," the Chief replied.
Moore cleared his throat. "It seems to me that this committee has been caught on the horns of a dilemma. The interests of the public are clear. The public has a right to know that its public servants are trustworthy, and this would certainly include the area of illicit drug use and addiction.
"However, it is also clear that this is not a simple case of an officer engaging in illicit behavior. We have seen medical reports confirming that this medication is highly addictive, and we have Officer Malloy's sworn statement that he became addicted while using the drug according to his physician's instructions. Based on the fact that Officer Malloy has been honest and forthcoming about his addiction, I have no reason to doubt his statement. We also have seen medical reports confirming the high probability of success with detoxification, and we have detailed, sworn statements from Officers Malloy and Reed, as well as Sergeant MacDonald, regarding the detoxification of Officer Malloy. We have Malloy's sworn statement that the cravings are gone, which is in accordance with the information we have received from the FDA regarding this medication. It would appear that Officer Malloy is not to blame for his addiction, has recovered from his addiction, and is not likely to return to addiction. Therefore, it no longer appears so obvious that returning Officer Malloy to duty would violate the rights or interests of the public."
"You're glossing over some important considerations here," a commissioner interrupted.
"The floor recognizes Commissioner Anderson," the Chief responded.
Anderson remained seated. "With all due respect to the lieutenant and the officers involved, a lot of your defense rests on our ability to believe this officer's statements about how he became addicted and how well he's recovered. I, for one, am not so ready to believe him. The officers who corroborate his story cannot be credible witnesses because one, they are relying to a large extent on Malloy's own assertions, and two, they are admittedly close friends of Malloy's. They are hardly unbiased, and neither are you, Lieutenant Moore." Anderson slapped his hand down on the table, looking very irritated. "I thought we went over all of this yesterday."
Moore raised a conciliatory hand. "That is another dilemma facing this committee. Those of us who know Officer Malloy trust him. We cannot, however, expect the others to share that trust. If in fact Officer Malloy is telling the truth, he deserves to be reinstated. If he's lying, he deserves to be forever barred from working in law enforcement. We have another impasse.
"It has seemed until this point that we must choose between possibly doing a disservice to the public, and possibly doing a disservice to a fine officer. Of course, I would side with the public in such an instance, and so would you. Rightly so. But I am asking you to consider that there may be a way to safeguard the rights and interests of all parties involved, and I would ask that you hear me out with open minds."
Moore paused for a drink of water. Pete knitted his eyebrows thoughtfully, trying to imagine what the lieutenant had up his sleeve.
"Yesterday the commission took up the question of allowing Officer Malloy to return to duty in some sort of probationary period. The idea was rejected in large part because the commission believed that Officer Malloy could too easily deceive his co-workers, as he did in the past. Also, the commission expressed skepticism about the objectivity of the co-workers who would supervise Malloy's probation.
"The commission also expressed concern that allowing Malloy to return to work without a public outcry would require us to cover-up the truth. The commission rightly rejects such a cover-up as being counter to public interest.
"Officer Reed's plan covers all of these concerns. He suggests a probationary period during which a provisional file will be drawn up on Officer Malloy. This provisional file will contain all information relevant to Malloy's current situation, as well as ongoing reports which pertain to same. This provisional file would be open at all times to all members of the commission, and to Malloy's superiors in the department. This file would not be revealed to the public unless the commission felt it was necessary to do so. A majority vote of the commission would rule, regardless of the opinions of the department. This would effectively protect the public's interest, while still giving Officer Malloy a chance to prove himself. Since the commission directly represents the public, and since the commission holds the power to reveal the provisional file at any time that the public would benefit from it, there would be no cover-up."
Pete leaned forward, listening intently. It sounds pretty unlikely. But it might work He took a quick survey of the faces around him. Most looked like they were at least trying to be open-minded, though a few, such as Anderson, looked very skeptical.
Even as Pete looked at him, Anderson grimaced and waved his hand around to break in.
"The floor recognizes Commissioner Anderson," the Chief stated.
"This all sounds nice, but the department will only put things in that file that they want the commission and the public to see, or potentially see."
Moore shook his head. "Let me finish, please." Anderson rolled his eyes but yielded the floor. His tightly folded arms made it clear that his mind was made up.
"The question that has been raised is a very legitimate one, and I appreciate Commissioner Anderson's comments." Moore kept his tone level. If he felt any irritation, he was far too professional to let it show. "I would like to point out some pertinent facts. First of all, Officer Malloy came forward of his own accord with information about his addiction. Secondly, Officer Reed called in Sergeant MacDonald as soon as he learned of the problem. And Sergeant MacDonald informed me promptly. The very next hour, I informed the commission. There was no cover-up on the department's part. There was not even an attempt to do so.
"In addition, Reed's plan calls for the commission to determine its own method of supervising Malloy, its own protocol to satisfy itself that it is kept fully informed. Such a protocol could be established at today's meeting, or at a later date if the commission so desires. In this plan, the commission would not be dependent upon the department for information."
Even Anderson seemed a little mollified by that idea. Pete began to feel just a tiny sliver of hope, but he clamped down on it. Don't set yourself up for a fall.
Moore looked around the room as if waiting for comments, but then resumed. "An important point that must be noted is that everyone who knew Malloy knew that something was wrong. You will see this in both Reed's and MacDonald's reports. Though no one had any idea what the problem was, everyone knew that he wasn't himself. Many officers expressed concern over the course of the weeks that this addiction occurred. Therefore, it is not correct to say that Malloy was able to deceive his co-workers into thinking that all was well with him. And there is every reason to believe that, if he experienced renewed problems with this medication, or developed problems with any drug, his co-workers would see the change in him. Please keep in mind, the entire span of Officer Malloy's addiction was weeks, not months or years.
"In short, with Reed's plan, all of the concerns that this committee has raised can be addressed, while still maintaining fairness to this highly-respected, decorated officer, who came into his current dilemma through no fault of his own."
Moore paused a moment, looking down at the table in front of him and seeming to collect his thoughts.
"If the committee would permit me to say just one brief thing on a personal level " Moore looked to the Chief for approval. The Chief nodded.
"I sincerely believe that it would not serve the public's best interest to deprive it of one of the finest officers it has ever been my privilege to know." The lieutenant seemed poised to say more, but then sat down with a simple "thank you."
Pete felt a lump forming in his throat. Jim's effort in coming up with his plan was admirable. But Moore's comments meant even more at the moment. To hear such words of respect from someone in the lieutenant's position felt like a balm on Pete's wounded soul. Maybe I'm really not pond scum after all.
"Questions? Comments?" The Chief re-opened the floor.
"I would like to direct a question to Officer Malloy, if I may." Pete looked at the questioner, a commissioner he recognized as Susan Lorenzo, only the second woman ever to serve on the police commission. "Yes, ma'am," he replied.
Lorenzo looked at Pete with serious, unflinching eyes. "Officer Malloy, what is your current status with regard to the medication in question?"
"I destroyed the remaining pills that I had as soon as I returned home." Pete felt profoundly grateful that he had done so.
"Returned home from where?"
"From going through detoxification at Reed's house."
"When was that?"
"I returned home this afternoon."
"Was it difficult to destroy them?"
"No, ma'am. I admit that I was afraid it might be. I was afraid because the pills once had such a hold on me. But when I destroyed them I felt only a deep sense of relief."
"Have you felt any cravings?"
"None whatsoever." Pete kept his eyes level with hers. Like most women, she seemed to want to gauge his heart through his eyes. Look all you want.
Lorenzo held his gaze for several long seconds, and then looked down to write some notes. Pete couldn't read anything in her face.
"I would like to address some questions to Officer Reed." This came from none other than the governor himself.
Moore nodded and rose to fetch Jim.
Jim fretted and fumed. There was no chair in the hallway, of course, so he had no choice but to stand or pace. He wasn't about to open that door to get himself a chair.
For a while he'd stood right at the door, trying his best to hear the goings-on inside. But the thick oak doors seemed to have been designed to prevent eavesdropping.
Jim had eyed the nearby coffee room several times, wondering if he dared to go get himself a cup. But he knew he was on thin ice just being at this meeting uninvited. He didn't want to be AWOL if anyone came to fetch him. He didn't want to do anything to bias the committee against him, or against Pete. And he certainly didn't want to make Lieutenant Moore sorry that he'd stuck his neck out for him.
So Jim paced.
What could be taking them so long? He checked his watch for the hundredth time. It seemed like hours since he'd been sent out of the room like an errant puppy. His exclusion rankled him, but the worry bothered him even more.
How do I know that my idea has even come up yet? How do I know if they were even willing to listen? How do I know if they're understanding it all? What if Moore's not presenting it clearly enough?
Did I forget any important points I should have brought up?
What could be taking them so long?
Waiting and not knowing had to be a hundred times worse anything. He stopped pacing for a short rest, leaning with his back against the wall.
They're not going to send for me. They probably won't even let me know what happened in there. This will be a waste of my time.
Not to mention a waste of Pete's future.
Jim jumped, startled, as the door opened beside him.
Lieutenant Moore looked out at him. His expression was inscrutable. "Reed " he beckoned with a jerk of his head, and then disappeared back inside. Jim quickly followed after him.
All eyes were upon him, just like before. He scanned the faces, searching for any hint of their general mood. Finally his eyes stopped on Pete, and his partner gave him a very small smile. But Jim couldn't begin to guess how well, or how badly, things were going.
There was no more room at the table than there had been before, of course. Jim settled into a semi-formal posture, standing close to the lieutenant's chair.
"No, Reed, sit here." The lieutenant indicated his own chair.
"No sir, that's all right." Jim felt he couldn't possibly accept the lieutenant's seat.
"No, it's your turn." The lieutenant walked back and sat down in one of the chairs against the wall. Jim hesitated another moment, and then accepted the lieutenant's seat, realizing the unspoken message that Moore's offer would have sent to the room. He's telling them to respect me.
"Officer Reed," began one man, "I'm Commissioner Anderson." The man leaned forward in his chair and cast a decidedly unfavorable glare in Jim's direction.
"How long have you known Officer Malloy, young man?"
Jim tried not to bristle at the put-down. "Almost seven years, sir."
"And do you consider him simply a co-worker, or is he also your friend?" Anderson's eyes narrowed, as if the word "friend" were somehow an accusation.
"Officer Malloy is a very close friend." Jim didn't let his eyes waver. Several commissioners jotted down notes. Jim knew it was risky to give such an answer, but he wanted the commission to know that he would be completely honest. So he didn't settle for just "friend."
"Uh-huh. I see. So, Officer Reed, why should this commission trust you to be an impartial observer of Officer Malloy's behavior, and why should we trust you to reveal facts about him which would ruin his career?"
"Because I have already done so, sir. And I would do so again." Bring the questions on. Jim liked the chance to have his say.
Anderson's eyes narrowed further. "Why?"
"Because the Pete Malloy I know is the man who taught me to play it by the book, to do what's right no matter what the cost. The Malloy I know has always set the standard for exemplary behavior ."
"Always?" Anderson's interruption sounded very challenging, even confrontational.
"As close to 'always' as any human being can be expected to do." Jim deliberately lowered his voice in contrast to the commissioner's. No one was going to bait him into demonstrating an unprofessional manner. "And the Malloy I know would expect nothing less of me than going by the book, even if it cost him his job. That's the kind of man he has always been, and that's the kind of man he still is."
"Officer Reed," the softer voice of Commissioner Lorenzo broke in, "were you Malloy's partner when he committed an act of excessive force a few years ago?"
"Yes, ma'am, I was." Jim's heart sank. Why is she bringing that up?
"How did you respond to the situation?"
"At the time when Officer Malloy lost control and used excessive force against the child molester, I immediately yelled at him to cool it. He regained control at once."
"I see. And how did you go about reporting this event to your superiors?"
"I didn't have to. Malloy came forward with it himself, there at the scene, when Sergeant MacDonald asked him about it."
"Did Malloy tell the whole truth at that time?"
"He was completely honest and forthcoming at all times during that incident."
"I see. And how did you write it up?"
"Just exactly as I saw it." The commission has seen those reports. Why rehash it now?
"How did it feel, writing your friend up that way?"
"I ached for him. I certainly understood how angry he was at the pedophile, whose innocent little victim Pete had just seen lying naked and beaten nearly to death. But I understood equally well that the department has to hold officers up to a higher standard than the public we serve. And I understood it was my solemn duty to be completely honest and forthcoming, just as Pete Officer Malloy was doing. I also admired Officer Malloy for the genuine sorrow he showed over his misconduct, and the way he handled his reporting and the discipline that followed."
Jim leaned forward and looked more intently at Lorenzo. "Anyone can make a mistake. The measure of a man is how he handles those mistakes, and their consequences."
"Thank you, Officer Reed." Lorenzo gave him an approving little smile, and her eyes softened. Jim suddenly realized why she'd brought all of that up. She was giving me a chance to remind the commission of how honorably we dealt with misconduct in the past.
Jim felt as if a weight lifted off of him. I have an ally.
"Officer Reed," Anderson began again, "when did you first mention your concerns about Officer Malloy to your superiors?"
Jim thought a moment. "I believe it was about a week after I noticed Pete Officer Malloy starting to isolate himself. I figured anyone could need some time to himself after a trauma like his. But after a week of that, when he still seemed different, I mentioned my concerns to Sergeant MacDonald."
"Was this before Officer Malloy returned to work?"
"Yes, sir, several weeks before."
"How did the sergeant respond?"
"He seemed concerned, told me to keep him informed."
"But he didn't follow up on it himself?"
"Not at that point, at least not that I know of. At that time, it seemed like a minor thing. And I believe he trusted me to keep him abreast of things."
"But he didn't follow up on those concerns, did he?" Anderson clearly had an axe to grind, and he was starting to get on Reed's nerves.
"If I may " Moore spoke up from the back of the room, and rose to his feet when the Chief acknowledged him. "Sergeant MacDonald did relay Reed's concerns to me at that time."
"Oh, so now it seems that Malloy's partner and two of his superiors knew he wasn't acting like himself, and no one did anything about it?" Anderson sneered at the lieutenant.
"Officer Malloy was still recovering from a traumatic event. He was still on leave. He was not quite himself, but that is normal for someone under such circumstances."
"Why was he allowed to return to desk duty in the first place?"
"Because he had received medical clearance. However, because of our concerns, Sergeant MacDonald kept a very close eye on him."
"So you did put him back on duty when you had doubts about him?" Anderson sounded almost triumphant.
"On desk duty only." Lieutenant Moore finally began to sound a little irritated.
"Still, I believe that this lapse proves that the department cannot be trusted to impartially monitor Officer Malloy!" Anderson spoke more loudly and slapped the table heatedly.
"Order!" The Chief slammed his gavel down on the table and glared disapprovingly at Anderson. "I will not allow these proceedings to deteriorate into a shouting match."
Anderson fell quiet, and Jim could see him grinding his teeth. It made him notice how tightly he was clenching his own jaw, and he forced himself to relax. Jim let himself steal a glance at Pete. He'd tried to avoid doing so, just to avoid any appearance of bias. But now he saw his partner and friend struggling to hide his own apprehension and lingering fatigue.
"Committee members," the lieutenant spoke up again, "I ask for a brief recess."
The Chief pounded his gavel. "A 20-minute recess is declared. Members are to refrain from discussing these proceedings during the break." The committee members rose and stretched and went their various ways. Jim and Pete walked together toward the restroom, offering each other the kind of wordless support that only good friends can share.
They walked next to the coffee room, and sat at the same table in complete silence, drinking their drinks and thinking their own private thoughts. Many of the committee members were there as well, and very few of them engaged in small talk. Most seemed to prefer not talking, rather than talking about nothing. All of them ignored Pete, except to cast the occasional uncomfortable glance in his direction.
Pete finally caught Jim's eye, and allowed his very expressive face to acknowledge the awkwardness of the moment. Jim had to smile back at him. He must feel like such a pariah.
As uncomfortable as Jim had been in the meeting, at least he'd been able to express himself at times. This enforced silence made him feel antsy. He stretched and rubbed at his face and then at the back of his neck, trying to relax his uptightness and revitalize his sinking spirits. The movements reminded him that his chest hadn't really finished healing yet, and he winced.
"Five minutes," someone called into the doorway. Committee members began to filter out of the room, and Pete rose as well. Jim could almost read his thoughts. He doesn't want us to be the last two in here. He doesn't want anyone to think we broke the gag order.
Jim stood, and Pete once again used his eloquent features to talk, this time giving Jim his heartfelt thanks. The two friends clapped each other on the shoulders, and made their way back into the room that had become their crucible.
Jim found that the lieutenant had already resumed his seat by the wall, and as soon as Moore saw him he directed Jim to take the chair at the table. Jim complied.
Once everyone was seated, the Chief rose and called the meeting to order. "As you will recall, this meeting left off at a point where the commission " he directed a sharp look at Anderson, " was expressing concern about the department's ability to police its own officers. I would like to move to direct the discussion toward that topic, and specifically toward how the commission might be able to conduct its own supervision of Officer Malloy. I must emphasize that this discussion will not imply endorsement of the plan, but is rather a time to test the viability of the plan by exploring different ways of implementing it. Do I have a second?"
"Second," replied Commissioner Lorenzo.
"Very well then."
"Excuse me " Anderson broke in, but his tone was much more respectful than it had previously been.
"The floor recognizes Commissioner Anderson."
"Does anyone else have any questions to direct to Officer Reed? It seems to me that Reed should not remain in this meeting if he is not to answer any more questions."
Reed's dislike of Anderson grew exponentially, but he saw heads nodding all around the room. Bureaucrats and their stinking closed meetings!
"Are there any more questions for Officer Reed?"
No one offered any.
"Officer Reed, you are requested to leave the meeting at this time; however, you are to remain available for further questions if they should arise."
Jim swallowed his anger as best he could. "I'll wait in the coffee room, if there are no objections."
"By all means."
Jim turned and walked out the twin doors. He waited until their heavy oaken thud told him they were securely closed before allowing himself to whisper a few choice and highly descriptive words about this turn of events.
Jim checked the clock in the coffee room and then looked around for a phone. Should I call Jean? He would have loved to have heard the support of her voice right about now, but he decided against it. Some bureaucrat would probably walk in and yell at me for discussing the details of their precious meeting.
He wasn't particularly thirsty, but he got a cup of coffee just to give his hands something to do. I wonder how long I'm going to be stuck here.
He finished his cup of coffee, debated with himself again about calling Jean, paced and fretted, and looked over a discarded copy of yesterday's sports pages. For once he found himself agreeing with his sister about the latter subject. "They're just games! Who cares?"
Suddenly Jim heard a group of people talking, and a moment later he recognized some of the voices. They're out already?
Jim leapt to his feet just as Moore and Malloy walked in. "Lieutenant, Pete, what's happened?"
Moore shook his head, still looking mildly annoyed. "The commissioners wanted to come up with their own proposal for supervising Malloy, though it isn't even certain that they'll agree to supervise him at all. There are some who definitely just want Pete out. But either way, they want to make their decisions completely independently of the department. So, we're out of here. They're going to call us back together and submit their decision within the next day or two."
"Then what?" Jim asked anxiously.
"If the department approves of their recommendations, then we'll put the whole plan together and submit it to Pete. If he agrees to it, he'll be back at work under its provisions. If he doesn't agree to it and he might not then he's off to civilian life."
"So, is the department officially behind my ideas?" At least that would be half the battle.
"Yes, I believe so. It's a good plan, Jim. You can feel proud of it." The lieutenant grabbed a cup and poured some coffee into it. "But if the commission won't go for it, then it's dead in the water."
Jim just nodded, hoping that more of the commissioners felt like Lorenzo than like Anderson.
Pete took a sip from his own coffee. "Jim, would you give Jean a message for me?"
Jim nodded. "Sure." The lieutenant seemed to sense the two friends' need to speak privately, and he excused himself to chat with the Chief.
"Tell her I'm sorry, but I won't be able to have dinner with you tonight. I uh I'm having dinner with Judy."
Jim almost grinned, but then he caught Pete's mood. "You don't look too enthusiastic about that."
"No, I don't think it's going to go well for me. Not that I can blame her."
"Has she said anything to give you that impression, or are you just assuming the worst?"
Pete grimaced. "Well, it wasn't so much what she said, as how she said it."
"I'm sure she is upset, but once you explain it all to her " Jim couldn't stand the thought of his friend suffering another loss right now.
"Maybe." Pete shrugged in his usual "no-point-in-worrying" kind of way. "I'll find out at 7:00."
"We'll be thinking of you," Jim promised.
"Thanks." Pete tossed his cup into the trash can. "I'd better get going. I have some errands to run before I meet Judy at the restaurant. But Jim " here Pete's face became very earnest. " I didn't expect to come out of this meeting today with any hope. I thought it was all over, and the meeting was just a formality. If it weren't for you, that's how it would have been."
"I just hope it's enough." Jim could hardly stand the thought that it might not be.
"Even if it isn't, I just want you to know " Jim could see Pete searching for a way to speak his mind without getting too emotional.
"I know, Pete. Don't give it another thought. You would have done the same for me."
Pete nodded, and after shaking hands with Jim and the other officers present, he left for his car. Jim started to leave too, when he remembered he'd ridden here with the lieutenant.
Great. Another wait.
"Officer Reed?" The voice behind Jim didn't sound familiar. Jim turned and found himself face-to-face with the governor.
"Governor Wilson! Sir! A pleasure to meet you, sir." Jim accepted the governor's offered handshake.
"No, Officer Reed, the pleasure is mine. Don't think I'm not aware of the role you also played in saving my life."
"No, sir. That was all Malloy. He sounded the alarm which got your motorcade stopped. Once I got there, you were in no danger at all."
"Mmm, maybe so, maybe so. But you helped to put those men behind bars, so that they can't take another shot at me." Jim started to demur, but the governor held up a hand. "It's not polite to disagree with the governor on this sort of thing, you know."
Jim smiled. "Yessir. Thank you, sir."
"I wanted to commend you on your bold and innovative plan. I had dreaded coming to this meeting, because I expected to see a good cop go down. I'd been briefed on everything, of course, and I believed in Malloy's innocence. But I really didn't think there was any way his career could be saved."
"It's still touch-and-go, sir. I know the commission isn't unanimous on wanting to give Malloy any kind of chance at all."
"I know. But your plan gives us some hope. Good work, Officer Reed."
"Thank you, sir."
Governor Wilson waved at the others in the room and started to leave, bodyguards in tow. But then he turned back to Jim and asked, "Do you get the evening paper, Reed?"
"Yes, sir, I do."
"Be sure you read it tonight. There will be a story there of interest to you."
"I will, sir." I wonder what that's all about.
The Chief of Police walked over to Jim. "I believe the Governor is quite impressed with your plan, Reed. As am I. Well done."
"Thank you, sir." Jim began to feel lame, saying the same phrase so many times.
Lieutenant Moore joined in, "I'd better get you back to the station, Reed, if you're going to get home in time for dinner. Wouldn't want your wife mad at me."
"No sir, you wouldn't want that!" The three men shared smiles, and Jim and Moore left together.
They walked in silence until they reached the privacy of their car. Jim wasn't sure if it was even acceptable to discuss things with the lieutenant, but after they'd driven a few blocks he couldn't stand it any more.
"What do you think? Does Pete have a chance?"
"Yes, he has a chance. I don't know if it's a big one, but at least it's a chance." Moore took advantage of a red light to turn to Jim. "It's going to be hard to wait, but that's just what we'll all have to do."
"Jim, I am so proud of you. I just can't begin to tell you how much." Jean cuddled up next to Jim on the couch after dinner.
"Don't be too proud yet. We don't know how it's going to turn out." Jim rubbed her shoulder gently.
"I'll be proud of you no matter how it turns out. We'll just have to wait and see whether I'll be proud and happy, or proud and sad."
Jim gave her a squeeze and a quick kiss. "The wait is going to kill me."
"No it won't. You'll make it." Jean returned his squeeze.
Jim sighed. "Today just about did me in. I can't imagine how Pete must feel."
"I hope Judy's not breaking his heart right now." Jean sounded suddenly subdued.
"Yeah, me too."
Pete had long ago decided against worrying about the future. It never did any good, and it always made people miserable, so why do it?
Tonight he kept making exceptions.
He sat in the waiting area of Cassavetti's, looking for any sign of Judy. He checked his watch and consoled himself that it was still five minutes before seven. Calm down, Pete.
"May I bring you anything while you wait, Signore?" A waiter with a badly faked Italian accent approached Pete. "Some Vino, perhaps?"
Pete was tempted for a moment, but he felt squeamish about using any substance to help himself cope any more. "No, thank you." The waiter left, and Pete hoped that would be the last he'd see of him. I want everything to be right tonight. The California kid with the fake accent will rub her the wrong way, I know it.
Pete stood to his feet as his eyes fell on Judy. She approached the front door, and he hurried to open it for her. She looked beautiful in her navy blue dress and white fur stole, but Pete couldn't really enjoy her beauty. Not when her eyes wore such discomfort and sadness.
"Judy it's good to see you."
Judy looked supremely uncomfortable. "You look nice," she finally said.
"Thanks. Shall we ?" he swept an arm to indicate that they should proceed. A different waiter approached to show them to their table. He was an older gentleman with a kindly face, who looked and sounded truly Italian. "Ah, Signore, this bellisima woman was worth the wait, was she not?" He winked at Pete.
"Always," Pete said softly.
Judy accepted his elbow when he offered it to her, but she seemed stiff. Nothing like the way she used to move easily on his arm. She gave him none of her usual twinkling smiles, nothing at all to raise any hope in his heart. In fact, after their initial greeting, she didn't even look at Pete at all.
"No wonder you asked for the most private table!" The waiter put the menus on the table and bowed. "I will be back the moment you are ready for me, Signore, Signorina." If the waiter noticed the tension between the couple, he certainly didn't show it.
Pete noted with satisfaction that there were no customers seated near their table. This wasn't one of Cassavetti's busy days of the week.
Pete pulled Judy's chair out for her and she sat down without looking at him. Pete seated himself across from her. Judy stared at her water glass. Pete gazed at her, hoping she would meet his eyes. Silence stretched out awkwardly.
Pete started with a subject close to both of their hearts. "How's David?" Judy's son had latched onto Pete like a second father after his own father died. Pete thought the world of him.
"David." Judy shook her head, clearly hurting over her son. "He told me that, in some ways, this was worse than when his dad died, because at least that wasn't meanness on his dad's part. He knew his father never would have intentionally abandoned him, or me, the way you did. He's very angry, Pete, and I don't blame him."
Judy's words became a crushing weight on Pete's chest. Can this possibly get any worse? "I need to speak to him personally, to explain "
"No, I don't think that would be wise." Judy cut him off.
"Why not?" Pete needed to make things right with that young man. I did to him what my father did to me! The realization grew on Pete like a rising panic. "I have to see him! I don't want to hurt him."
"It's too late for that." Judy's eyes were cold. "You've done more than hurt him. You've wounded him."
Pete collapsed against the back of his chair, his eyes closed, his soul in agony. I know just what that betrayal feels like. I did turn into my father. I did!
"That's why you need to let me go to him," Pete managed to choke out the words. "He needs to know that it wasn't like that!"
"Pete, look at me."
Pete looked at the intense green eyes that used to shine with love for him.
"David was furious with me for agreeing to meet with you tonight. He tried very hard to talk me out of it. And he made me promise, on my most solemn word, not to let you meet with him. He even said he didn't want me to tell him about our conversation tonight. He said he wasn't interested in your excuses."
Pete buried his face in his hands for a moment, trying to collect himself. How could I have been so awful? How could I have let this happen?
His police instincts began to kick in, strengthening him to deal with the emergency facing him. Feel later. Feel later.
"Judy, I deserve every bit of hatred that David feels for me. My concern is not for myself. My concern is for David. He doesn't deserve to feel betrayed. He needs to know what happened, not so that he can excuse me, but so that he can start to heal. Please, try to help him understand."
"How can I help him understand, when I don't understand? What magical explanation do you have that will make all of this just go away?"
"I can't make it go away. God knows I would give everything I have if I could. But " Pete searched for words, " but healing can't happen without the truth. He needs to know what happened."
"Why don't you tell me what happened?"
Pete ran his hand through his hair. "I hardly know where to begin."
Judy's eyes shone with angry, hurt tears. "Why don't you start with why I became dirt to you?"
Pete shook his head emphatically, his own eyes stinging with the hurt he'd caused her.
"You didn't. You were never lowered in my eyes. The problem was me. I was dirt, and I couldn't face you."
"Couldn't face me? Pete Malloy, the man who faces death without missing a stride, couldn't face me? I don't understand that. Was I somehow worse than death?"
"No. Something terrible had happened to me, something I didn't want you to know about, because well, because I wasn't willing to face it myself."
Judy turned her face away again. Pete had never seen such anger in her before.
"Judy, will you please let me tell you my story?" He spoke softly, gently pleading for generosity that he knew he didn't deserve. He longed to reach out for her hands, to hold them as he once did, to feel some connection with her. But he was afraid she would pull away, and that would have hurt him terribly.
"Go ahead," she replied in a tearful whisper. But her eyes flashed fire at him, and he knew that her pain had hardened into anger, and that anger had been smoldering for quite a while.
Pete took a deep breath and plunged into his story. He spoke softly still, not only to try to soften her heart, but also to keep his shame from reaching the ears of their distantly hovering waiter. Pete laid it all out for Judy, nothing hidden, nothing held back, no excuses made.
To his credit, the waiter stayed away. He must have been able to tell that this couple wasn't here for the food.
Judy did soften as she listened. Her tears fell silently at times. But Pete still didn't dare take her hand. He knew her wounds were far from healed.
Pete finally finished after filling her in on his uncertain future with the department. Then he fell silent, waiting almost breathlessly for some response from her.
He got only silence. Silence like death, like non-existence. He began to wish she would slap him, so at least he'd know that he had not fallen completely beneath her notice.
The waiter approached quietly. "A glass of wine for each of you, on the house." He put their glasses before them and retreated tactfully. Pete got over his hurt and surprise long enough to say "thank you" to the waiter's back.
Neither of them took a sip.
"Judy, please say something." Pete moved around to try to catch her eyes, and after a moment she lifted her gaze to his.
"Pete, I'm moving to San Diego."
"San Diego?" Pete's heart fell. Such a move would cut off all hope of reconciliation.
Judy continued. "My sister invited me to come work with her at her bookstore. It sounds very stable, very calm. Her husband is a banker, you know. Regular hours, a sane, normal life. She's never known tragedy, or even close brushes with it. I like the sound of that."
Judy paused, but Pete couldn't find a voice to reply. After a moment she continued. "My brother-in-law is arranging a very low-cost rental agreement with his cousin, who owns a nice apartment building near the beach. I won't have any trouble affording to live there."
Pete licked his lips to try to moisten them. "So suddenly?"
Judy's face became a study in irony. "Suddenly? Pete, this isn't sudden. I've been working on it for weeks. You've just been out of touch." Judy seemed less angry now. She sounded instead like a woman who had given up a hard struggle, and had resigned herself to walking away.
Pete finally reached out and touched her hand, but only briefly. "I hope now at least you understand why I was out of touch. I hope you know that it wouldn't happen again. It was a fluke, Judy. I know it must have been awful for you, but it was ."
Judy cut him off with a wave. "I know, I know." She sighed deeply. "It wasn't your fault. It never is. And until now, I thought I could live with it. I thought I could live with seeing you shot, with knowing that it could happen again at any time. I thought I could live with the crazy schedule, and the broken dates, and all of that. I thought I could live with it all, until this happened."
"We've been together an awfully long time to just end it like this."
"I know. That's how I felt when you ended it with no warning, and no explanation." Judy's eyes mirrored back for Pete all of the pain he'd put her through.
"I wasn't myself."
"I don't know who you are any more, Pete. The Pete Malloy I knew never would have gotten addicted to something."
"Judy, from what I've learned about this drug, you would have gotten addicted if a doctor gave it to you. It's not some weakness on my part. You know I'd never go that route on purpose."
Judy shook her head with an air of finality. "Pete you're a good man. I hope you're right, and that you never have a problem with drugs again. But it's always something with you. Always some tragedy or heartbreak to deal with. I'm sorry. I don't hate you, and I don't want you to think that I do. I wish you well. But I can't live this way any more."
"Can't we have more time?" Pete didn't have any intention of begging, but he certainly wasn't going to act as if he didn't care. As if losing her wouldn't hurt like a knife in his gut.
Judy looked briefly down at the table. "The moving men are coming tomorrow."
Pete let the words sink in, and he closed his eyes as his heart sank even lower. Neither of them spoke for a while. Their wine glasses still stood untouched on the table.
"There's no chance you'll reconsider?" Pete finally asked. He heard the huskiness in his voice and knew it was betraying his emotions.
Judy seemed to have heard it, too. Her eyes misted.
"When I made the decision to move, it was the first time I'd felt any peace for weeks on end. I know I can make a life for myself there. I know I'll be able to start over, and be happy. I just want a peaceful life."
By now Judy's voice was very gentle. "I I'm glad I got to say goodbye, Pete. I would have hated leaving without that, and without knowing why you'd changed so much. But this is 'goodbye'. I do wish you every happiness, Pete." She rose to her feet, and Pete stood as well. "I hope you understand that I have to do this."
Pete nodded and tried to swallow the lump in his throat. "I understand. I can't tell you how sorry I am that I made your life hard. And I won't try to stop you from doing whatever will make you happy." Pete reached out tentatively and took hold of her hand. "I wish with all my heart I could go back and change things."
Judy didn't reply. Instead she gave his hand a quick squeeze and released it. Her eyes looked regretful. She picked up her purse and shouldered it, and Pete knew this was the end.
He felt sick. "Please do try to help David understand."
"Goodbye, Pete." Judy said it without anger, but also without compromise. She turned away and started to leave.
"Judy " Pete called out to her quietly. She froze for a moment, and then turned slowly to face him.
"May I come and see you off tomorrow?"
Judy thought for a while, and then nodded her head. "Come around 9:00. David will be at school by then." Then she turned and walked away, without looking back. In no time, she was gone.
Pete felt his knees go rubbery, and he sat down. I've lost my job, and I've lost Judy, and I've devastated an innocent boy. A single one of those problems alone would have been terribly painful, but together they were overwhelming. His insides felt trembly, and he knew he'd depleted the meager reserves he'd managed to recover after detoxing.
Pete rested his elbows on the table and rubbed his hands over his forehead. He tried to remind himself of the things he'd always believed, about how he could make it on his own, and how he didn't need any one particular woman, and how worrying did no good, and how things always had a way of working out. But the emptiness inside of him yawned wide, opening up like the Grand Canyon, defying even the hope of being filled.
Pete couldn't even begin to imagine the future that awaited him now. Every time he tried, his mind simply went blank. He might as well have tried to imagine life on another planet. He'd lost everything that made sense, everything that had come to define who he was.
I don't know how to live this way, but I have to. Starting now.
"Signore?" the waiter's quiet voice at his shoulder made Pete jump.
"I'm sorry, Signore. I didn't mean to startle you. I just wondered if there was anything I could get for you. Mama always said food was medicine for a broken heart, and you look like you could use some medicine."
Pete wasn't sure at first how to take this guy, but he finally decided he was legit. A nice Italian guy trying to help out. Pete worked up a weak smile. "No no thanks. I appreciate the wine, though."
"Of course, of course. I am sorry things did not go well for you. Perhaps tomorrow things will be better."
Pete nodded with a smile he did not feel. "Perhaps." He rose to his feet and pulled on his blazer. "Good night."
"Good night, Signore." The waiter turned away, but Pete stopped him.
"Wait." Pete dug into his pocket and pulled out the cash he'd planned to spend on dinner. He handed the whole amount over to the waiter, who tried to wave him off.
"No, no, Signore, I cannot accept that. I didn't do anything for you. I just stood nearby."
"I know," Pete said quietly. "That's why the big tip. You gave us exactly what we needed. It was thoughtful of you." Pete put the money on his table and made his way out to the door, stopping once to acknowledge the profuse thanks his waiter gave him.
Pete began to have second thoughts. My gosh, I don't have a job any more. I shouldn't be handing out money like that. He simply could not get it through his head that his job was gone. Oh sure, there was some hope that Jim's plan would work, but Pete wasn't expecting it to.
Pete climbed into his car and sank back into his seat. Where am I going to go? Home? Somehow the thought did not appeal to him. I don't want to be alone. Never before in all his life had Pete felt such a need of friends.
Pete spotted a pay phone on the outside of the restaurant, and after a moment of thought he got out of his car, fishing for a dime in his pocket. He dialed, and waited, and was quickly rewarded with an answer.
"Jean, it's Pete. I uh " he sighed. I don't want to impose.
"Pete, I thought you were having dinner with Judy tonight." Jean's surprise came over the line clearly.
"Well, I was, but it didn't work out. I don't need any food, but I was wondering if if it wouldn't be too much trouble if if I came over for a short visit."
"Of course not, Pete. You know you're always welcome here. Please come. And as for food, once you smell Mom's chicken soup, you'll want some, I promise. I'll warm some back up for you."
"Thanks, Jean. I'll be there in about twenty minutes." Pete hung up, wondering if he'd ever regain the emotional control he once took for granted. Jean's simple kindness had left him choked up, and he felt a little annoyed with himself. I'm going to have a hard enough time finding work without being a crybaby on top of it all.
His irritation grew as he drove. I can't go around needing people like this. Why did I need to be with the Reeds? I should have given them the evening together. I'm being selfish and stupid. I should call them and cancel it. They must think I'm pitiful.
Pete seriously considered pulling over and finding himself a payphone, but somehow he just didn't, and soon he pulled into the Reeds' driveway. Jimmy came barreling toward him as soon as he got out of the car. "Uncle Pete, Uncle Pete, where's Aunt Judy?"
Pete felt as if his godson had put a knife in his soul and twisted it.
"Jimmy!" Jean remonstrated her son. She hurried to Pete and scooped the little fellow out of Pete's arms. "I told you not to ask him that," she whispered in Jimmy's ear as she hustled him away. Then she called over her shoulder, louder, "Come on in, Pete," just before she disappeared into the house.
Pete felt very old and tired. He tried to work up a good façade for the Reeds, but he knew he couldn't pull it off. So he settled for walking in with his back straight.
Jean bustled in from the kitchen. "Pete, you look tired. Come sit at the table, and I'll give you some soup and some buttered bread." She took his arm and gently steered him toward the dining room, looking worriedly into his face. Pete knew he should smile for her, but he just couldn't. Not this time.
He lowered himself into a chair and waited for Jean to bring him his soup, though he knew he couldn't eat. The least I could do is say something.
"Where'd Jimmy go?" he asked.
"Jim's getting him ready for bed. Jimmy wasn't happy about it, believe me. He wanted to stay up with Uncle Pete." Jean smiled kindly and put the food in front of Pete. "Jennifer's already down for the night."
"Thanks, Jean. I hope you won't be offended if I don't do it justice. I'm not very hungry tonight."
"Hey, partner." Jim's voice beckoned as he approached from the hallway. "Dig in. It's great soup." Pete could see the concern in Jim's eyes, and he knew sooner or later his friend would pry the whole story out of him. Suddenly the soup looked more appetizing, if only as a means of excusing him from conversation.
It actually was excellent soup, and Pete turned out to be more hungry than he thought he was. Jean hovered nearby, trying to look like she wasn't hovering. Jim sat down at the table with some bills and his checkbook, but he kept glancing at Pete, too.
Pete dragged out the meal as long as he could, but eventually he had to give up and push the bowl away. "That was great. Thanks, Jean."
Jean cleared away his dishes and then returned to sit at the table beside him. Jim put down his pen, and both Reeds looked expectantly at Pete.
"I don't suppose you'll let me leave without telling you about tonight." Pete said dryly.
"We'd rather not," Jim replied.
Pete spread his hands in a gesture of surrender and told his tale.
"I should have kept in touch with Judy more than I did. I can't believe I didn't even know she was thinking of moving." Jean sat on the side of the bed, and she brushed her hair hard, like she did when she was really upset. "Maybe I could have prevented this somehow."
"No, honey, you can't think like that." Jim finished pulling on his pajamas and moved over close to her. "I almost drove myself crazy with 'what-if's' and it didn't do anything but make me miserable. It's like Pete always tells me, we can't control everything, and we're not responsible for everything."
"I know that," she responded irritably, still tugging at her hair. "I'm not saying I'm responsible for everything. But I am responsible for what I could and should have done. And I should have kept in closer touch with Judy."
Jim gently removed the hairbrush from Jean's grip. "Why don't you put that down before you hurt yourself?" He tossed it onto the dresser. "Come here. We could both use a hug."
Jean snuggled in with him. "Poor Pete. Things keep going from 'it-couldn't-possibly-get-worse' to 'it-did-get-worse.' I wish there was something we could do to help him through this." Jean brightened a little. "But at least there's a chance he'll get his job back. That will help him so much. I'm sure the commission will see the wisdom of your plan. How could they not?"
Jim's heart sank a little. "I'm not so sure, Jean. You didn't see those commissioners. Some of them looked open, but most of them either I couldn't tell, or I could see they were dead set against it. And the commission operates on a one-vote majority. It would be all too easy for the plan to get booted."
Jim thought back to the events of the day, and suddenly remembered what the governor had told him. "Shoot!" He sat up in bed.
"What?" Jean looked at him with concern.
"The governor told me to look at the evening paper today. I just forgot. Let me go get it."
Jim found the paper and sat down on the couch. He pored through the headlines, trying to find what the governor was talking about. Housing costs are up, inflation is up, the President tripped over his feet (like I really care), tornados in Kansas kill seven
"Did you find anything?" Jean asked over his shoulder.
"No, not yet wait a minute!" He rose to his feet with excitement. "This is it!" He tipped the paper so that Jean could look at it with him.
FDA MIXUP CAUSES PROBLEMS FOR MANY
The FDA has admitted today that it bungled some paperwork, resulting in the approval of an unsafe and highly addictive pain killer.
The article went on to paint a very detailed picture of the destruction this drug had left in its wake, and made it quite clear that addiction was not the fault of the victim. Jim fairly crowed with excitement.
"This is it! The commission will have to let Pete get back to duty, because now the general public will know about this drug! This is terrific!" Jim checked his watch. "I guess it's too late to call Pete, but I'll call him first thing in the morning to make sure he sees this." Relief washed over Jim, and joy followed closely on its heels.
"Jim, this is fantastic! I'm so happy!" Jean beamed up at him, and he put down the paper to wrap her in a hug.
"There's only one bad thing about this," Jim said after a few moments.
Jim grinned. "Now I'm too excited to sleep!"
Pete drove the familiar route without any of the pleasant anticipation that usually accompanied the trip. The morning sun had risen high enough to be pleasant, the sky was blue, the air was pleasantly cool. None of that registered with Pete.
He checked his jacket pocket for the third or fourth time, just to make sure its contents were still there. I hope Judy will accept this. He also checked on the condition of the single red rose he'd bought her. It looked much better than Pete felt.
He turned at last onto her street, Maple Place. It occurred to him that this would be the last time he'd ever have a reason to drive onto Maple Place, except in the line of duty.
What he saw there drove his loss home with heart-sinking reality. The moving van looked almost full already. She'd told him to come at this time, and she must have known that the work would be almost done. She doesn't want to see me for long.
Pete had counseled himself against hoping, against wishing, even against praying that she would change her mind. But the wrenching he felt in his gut right now mocked his best efforts. I had still hoped. I had still hoped.
Pete pulled up to the curb just as the moving men carried out Judy's beloved grandfather clock. At least, that's what Pete figured had to be inside all of that protective wrapping. They glanced up at him as he got out of his car, but then paid him no attention at all. They're packing my heart up and moving it away, and they don't even know it.
He walked slowly up the driveway, hoping he didn't look as utterly dejected as he felt. I wonder if it was right for me to get her a rose. I hope she doesn't think I'm begging.
Judy's wooden front door stood open. Pete always used to take that as permission to walk right in. This time he knocked on the frame of the screen door and waited.
The moving men walked briskly back up the driveway. "Excuse us." They brushed past Pete and let themselves in, more at home here now than Pete was. He followed them in.
"Would you take the china cabinet next, please?" Judy's voice preceded her into the room. She strode in with a busy, purposeful air, but stopped still when she saw Pete. She clasped her hands together and looked uncomfortable.
"You didn't have to bring me a flower, Pete. All of my vases are packed."
Pete felt his shoulders droop a bit. Of course! How could I be such an idiot?
"But it was sweet of you anyway." Judy smiled a little and walked over to Pete, her hand extended to take the rose. "Thank you. I'll just wrap the stem in a wet paper towel. It will keep for a while that way." She bustled off to the kitchen with her flower.
Pete felt a little better, and he followed her there so they could have some privacy.
"May I take your jacket?" She asked as she wrapped her rose. "I might have a hanger somewhere no furniture left to drape it over ." She appeared somewhat at a loss.
"No, that's okay. I'm fine."
They fell awkwardly silent.
Pete suddenly remembered his jacket pocket, and reached inside it. "Here this is for David."
Judy eyed the envelope suspiciously, and seemed reluctant to accept it.
"You don't need to give it to him now. Keep it until you think he's ready. It's just it's just a letter about about what happened. I hope when the time is right, it might help him heal."
Judy accepted it willingly now. "Thank you, Pete." She turned away suddenly and dabbed at her eyes. Pete ached to pull her to him, to comfort her, to kiss her tears away. But she quickly walked away, carrying the letter somewhere, clearly wanting to keep her distance.
Pete leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes. His whole being rebelled against this awkwardness, this distance. I used to think we were in this for life. We never talked about marriage, but we talked about the long haul. She had finally come to peace with my job but then
"It was awfully nice of you to come and see me off, Pete." Judy's reappearance caught Pete off guard, and he quickly pulled himself together. Or hoped he did.
"Nothing could have kept me away." He tried to work up a smile, but he knew he failed miserably. They couldn't meet each other's eyes.
"Pete, I wish things could be different." For the first time all morning Judy's words came from her heart, and Pete quickly found her eyes.
"It's not too late. Even now those men can unpack that stuff here as easily as there." Pete hadn't intended to say that, but it slipped out.
Judy looked down, but not quickly enough to hide her tears from Pete. He couldn't keep himself from reaching out to her. He laid a hand on her shoulder, gently, and it took all of his self-control to keep from pulling her to him.
"Judy ." He was sure she had to feel it as strongly as he did; the need to hold and comfort each other and reaffirm their love.
Judy pulled away abruptly and hurried out of the kitchen.
Pete stared after her, feeling as if his soul had been left hanging. His emotions had kept building up to this moment, the moment when things would surely be resolved, when they would connect again. Instead she'd slammed the door on his heart, and he didn't know what to do with the need that remained.
"Miss Montgomery?" The moving man called from the living room. Pete pulled himself together and went out to meet him. Judy arrived a few moments later, trying very hard to look as if she hadn't been crying.
"That seems to be everything, unless you've got something else that we missed." The mover looked uncomfortable, clearly sensing the strain in the room.
"Yes, I've been through all of the rooms. There's nothing else." Judy didn't look at Pete.
"Then if you would just sign here, we'll be on our way." The mover handed Judy a clipboard, and she signed.
"Right, then. We'll get this stuff to your new apartment safe and sound." He gave an awkward nod to Judy and Pete, and then he walked out the door.
Pete could scarcely breathe. He'd ended quite a few relationships in his life, sometimes painfully. But never, ever had losing a woman hurt this bad.
"I need to go, Pete." Judy turned to him.
"Pete," she cut him off gently. "You promised me you wouldn't try to talk me out of what would make me happy."
"Yes, I did. And I won't. But are you sure this is what will make you happy?"
"Yes, Pete, I am." Despite her misty eyes, her face wore no doubts. "I know that it hurts terribly right now. I truly loved you, Pete, and I will always care about you. But I have to leave and build a new life for myself. That is what will make me happy."
Pete nodded, unable to speak.
Judy picked up her jacket, and Pete moved automatically to help her on with it. His hands lingered very briefly on her shoulders. This can't be the last time I'll touch her.
Judy shouldered her purse as she made one last sweeping look of the room. "This was a good home," she murmured softly.
Then she opened the front door and walked out, and Pete followed close behind her. She locked the door and put the key in a potted plant. "The landlady told me to leave it there," she explained, clearly knowing that Pete wouldn't approve.
Pete only nodded. He followed her wordlessly to her car, his mind growing blank rather than accepting the inevitable.
Judy unlocked her car door and opened it. Then she turned to Pete, and he saw no hesitation in her eyes. "This is goodbye, then," she said quietly.
Pete nodded, though the acknowledgment cost him some of his composure. He glanced away briefly until he regained it.
Judy sat down and pulled the door closed behind her.
Pete felt suddenly panicked. He hadn't said goodbye to her properly. Their goodbyes were always kisses, some more lingering than others. If he couldn't keep her, couldn't he at least have one last kiss, something to soften this terrible moment?
Judy, don't go
The engine started, and Pete stepped numbly back. Judy pulled out of the driveway, gave him one small wave, and drove away. In a few moments she'd rounded the corner out of sight, but Pete couldn't stop staring after her.
He stood on her front lawn until it became clear that she wasn't coming back. Then he sat on her front porch swing for a while, trying to connect with her through the ghost of many hours spent there.
After some time he remembered the other crisis looming in his life. I should get home. Mac may try to reach me.
He forced himself to leave without looking back.
Jim knocked at MacDonald's office door. As soon as Mac saw him he shook his head. "Nothing yet, Jim. I'll get word to you as soon as I know."
"I suppose the lieutenant made sure everyone saw that article today."
"Yeah, he did. It definitely puts things in a better light. And I'm going to make sure all of our officers get copies of this during roll call. When the time comes to tell them about Pete, they'll be able to understand."
"That sounds good. I can't imagine what's taking the commission so long. Surely there can't be any more debate about what's right."
Mac didn't seem quite as hopeful. "I don't know, Jim. Some of them still thought that trust would be an issue, what with Pete having to deal with pushers and hypes. I'm not going to breathe easy until the word comes down."
"I know what you mean." Jim made a rueful face. "See you at roll call."
Jim found a seat in the briefing room a few minutes later, and Mac showed up right afterward. The briefing went well, and Mac did a great job of summarizing the newspaper article that he'd distributed. The article raised some comments from the officers, but none that made Jim fear for Pete.
"Oh, great," groaned Woods. "Now the FDA is a pusher!"
"Uncle Sam wants YOU to get hooked," laughed Sanchez.
Jim couldn't join in the laughter, but he was glad to hear it.
"All right, Mr. Morgan, here's your receipt for the bail money. Would you please verify your property?" Jim spread the former contents of Mr. Morgan's pockets out on the table.
"Yeah, yeah, that's my stuff. Just let me get out of here," Morgan growled.
"I see $27.63 here. Is that what you had in your pocket before?"
"Yeah, I told you. It's all there. Can I go now?"
"Yes, sir. As soon as you sign this verification form, stating that all of your property was returned to you."
Morgan growled something unintelligible, snatched the pen out of Jim's hand, and scribbled something on the paper. He kept growling as he turned to leave.
"If you'll wait a moment, sir, I'll give you your copy." Jim started tearing off the duplicate.
"Throw the #%&* thing away. I don't want it." Morgan swung the door open angrily and disappeared. Jim wasn't sorry to see him go. Not that Morgan was worse than many people who came and went through those doors. But Jim was getting more and more worried as the hours ticked by and no word came from the commission. He was in no mood to deal with grouches.
Jim turned to see Mac standing behind him. One look at Mac's face made Jim's heart skip a beat. Surely they couldn't have turned down the plan. Not with everything they know!
"Report to my office, Reed. Slade, can you handle the desk by yourself for a few minutes?"
"Sure," George replied, looking a bit worried. He couldn't have known what it was about, but he clearly knew Mac was unhappy about something.
Jim followed Mac, keeping only one pace behind. Maybe this isn't about Pete. Maybe it's something different.
Any hopes that Jim had on that regard were dashed when he saw Pete sitting in Mac's office. Pete looked nervous, so Jim doubted that he knew any more than Jim knew.
He's more than just nervous. Something's really got him upset.
"Have a seat, Reed." Mac indicated a chair before taking his own seat. He folded his hands in front of him on the desk, an unconscious gesture that told Jim the news wasn't good. But the shrill ringing of the phone interrupted the meeting before it began.
Mac grimaced. "Excuse me."
Jim exchanged glances with Pete while the sergeant answered the phone. Jim didn't want to pry, but Pete looked so down that Jim just had to ask him.
"Did you see Judy off this morning?" He kept his voice very low, for Pete's ears only.
Pete only nodded, and the anguish that came over his face made Jim sorry he'd asked.
I can't believe she really left him. Jim felt the shock of it himself, and could only imagine how Pete must be suffering.
Mac hung up the phone, and Jim and Pete turned their full attention to him. The sergeant looked at both men intently, from one to the other, as if gauging their readiness.
"The commission voted, by a one vote margin, to disapprove Reed's plan. I'm sorry, Pete. There's nothing more we can do."
Pete looked completely shocked. Devastated. He rubbed his face with his hands, a gesture Jim clearly recognized as an attempt to hide and control his feelings.
For his part, Jim felt numb and tingly. Part of him wanted to yell and rant and rave and bash a few heads together. Part of him swirled downward in a spiral of grief. But those feelings remained under a protective shell of denial. Jim knew he couldn't have handled it any other way.
"There's more," Mac said softly. Pete gave him an incredulous look.
"In order to protect the public from any possible cover-up, the commission is insisting that a press conference be held today. If we don't do it, they will. That's why the lieutenant had me break the news to you, instead of doing it himself. He's preparing for the conference."
Jim's apprehension turned to near panic. Pete went as white as a sheet, and his eyes held that hollowed-out look that only comes from overwhelming hurt.
"Are we right in assuming that you'd rather have the department handle it?" Mac asked after a few moments.
Pete nodded without looking up at Mac. He looked like a man who'd just agreed to choose lethal injection over electrocution. Either way, he was dead.
Pete stared vacantly at Mac's desk. Mac rested his chin on his fists and looked miserable.
"You know, Pete, the department doesn't have to follow the commission's recommendations." Mac sounded as if he were throwing a lifeline to Pete, but he also sounded as if he didn't expect Pete to grab it.
Pete raised hollow eyes to Mac. His voice was husky. "The department promised it would. And even if they hadn't promised, you know it wouldn't be in the department's best interests to go against the commission in this case. It would stink like garbage to the public." Pete's eyes lowered again. "No, Mac. Don't fight it any more. For the good of the department I have to go."
Mac nodded, his face showing no surprise. He had clearly known how his friend would respond.
Jim wanted to explode. How can you be noble at a time like this? But he didn't voice the thought. He couldn't ask Pete to be less than what he was. Right now, his integrity was about all Pete had left, and soon a lot of people would question even that.
The rest of the day went by as a blur, not because it seemed fast, but because none of it mattered. Jim's adrenaline rushed with the knowledge of an emergency, but his body had to calmly deal with what felt like trivia. The conflicting currents swirled like a cyclone in Jim's gut. It was all he could do not to start breaking things.
Jim didn't call Jean about it. He couldn't have discussed it in front of anyone, and he couldn't find a private moment. Besides, some things were better faced together, not over the phone.
"What do you suppose this is all about?" The question made Jim look up to see Brinkman and Wells approaching the desk. "Oh, hi Reed, Slade," Brinkman continued.
"We'll find out soon enough," Wells replied. "But it had better be good. And it had better not make me late for dinner." Wells slapped his hand down on the desk. "Are you coming, Reed?"
"Yeah, I'm coming."
"What's with the long face, Reed my boy? Do you know something we don't know?" Wells was clearly trying to bait Jim.
"Maybe," Jim answered curtly.
"Well!" Wells adopted a swagger. "Someone has friends in high places!" He and Brinkman shared a laugh. Jim didn't know whether to punch Ed Wells or puke on his shoes, so he decided to do neither.
No, Ed, I've got a friend falling from high places.
Jim dreaded this meeting. He felt as if he were going to witness his best friend's execution. And nothing, nothing could have dragged him here except for the fact that Pete was going to need his support. If he can go through it, the least I can do is be there with him.
He made his way over to sit next to Pete, who had obviously reserved the spot for him. No other seats were available in the overcrowded briefing room, and officers stood in lines against the walls. A low murmur of complaint came from every corner.
Jim and Pete shared a long commiserating look.
Lieutenant Moore sat at the desk, shuffling papers that Jim doubted he needed to shuffle. More likely, he was as miserable as the rest of them, and he shared the added burden of having to officiate at this execution. Jim felt for him.
Lieutenant Moore checked his watch and then stood up. The room fell into respectful silence.
"I have asked the outgoing shift to stay for this briefing, because there is something you need to know about before we go public with a press conference."
Beside Jim, Pete's head dropped down, and Jim heard him sigh very shakily. He's barely holding it together. Jim felt an overwhelming need to go on a crusade, to throw a major fit and fight as hard as he had to. It felt like a betrayal, just sitting quietly next to Pete, knowing what was coming, and just letting it happen.
The lieutenant sighed. "You will all recall the newspaper article about the FDA foul-up. You recall that innocent people were becoming addicted to a prescription drug through no fault of their own, but that success with detoxification was very high." He looked around the room as if hoping for a response. Jim saw heads nodding.
"It is my sad duty to inform you that one of our own fell victim to this drug." Jim heard a few gasps and some curious chatter.
Moore continued. "He was innocent, and he has been successfully detoxified. He deserves no disapprobation from this department, and he will certainly get none from me."
Jim heard murmurs of what sounded like approval and agreement. He found that heartening, and a sidelong glance showed Pete looking a little better. But not much.
"However, as a department we have an obligation to protect the public, not only from crime, and not only from police misconduct. We are also obligated to protect the public from a loss of confidence in their public servants. The Police Commission and the department have debated this issue for days now. While the department stands behind the officer in question, we also must respect the role of the commission in representing the public interest to the department. And in this instance, the commission is adamant that the officer in question not be reinstated."
Murmurs of disapproval arose from the officers.
"The commission can't run this department," Wells called out.
Moore held up a hand and got silence. "No, the commission does not run this department. But in an area as sensitive as drug use, something that we arrest people for every day, it is imperative that the department not be seen as having a double-standard. Also, the commission expressed a lack of confidence that an officer, once having suffered addiction, could be trusted dealing with pushers and hypes on a daily basis. If the commission feels this way, it is a fair bet that much of the public would feel this way as well. That's why we have the commission, to help us keep our finger on the pulse of Los Angeles. We feel it would be foolhardy to overrule them in this case."
The murmurs of dissent grew. Moore silenced the crowd again.
"The officer in question has agreed to resign without any further fight, for the sake of the department."
All around Jim, heads shook and tongues clucked in disapproval. But no one even glanced at Pete. No one seemed to even consider that he might be the one. Jim dreaded the moment when they would find out.
"Therefore," Moore sighed deeply yet again, "with great sadness and reluctance, the department accepts the resignation of Officer Pete Malloy."
Pete closed his eyes, his whole body stiff as if to ward off the pain of this moment.
The shock in the room was palpable, first as a thick silence, then in the gasps and dismayed looks that Pete received, and finally as a growing backlash of anger.
"You can't be serious! You can't crucify Malloy for a thing like this!" Nearly every officer in the room had his own heated version of the same theme. It got so loud that Jim began to wonder if the department was about to have its first ever internal riot. For some reason Jim didn't join in. It just didn't feel right.
Pete looked as if the support of his friends amazed him, and touched him deeply. Jim offered him a little smile, and got one in return.
Several minutes passed before Moore and MacDonald could quiet the room down. "Gentlemen, I'm sorry," Moore continued when he could. "The issue is not here for debate. The decision has been made. The press conference will take place in one hour. You'll start hearing comments from the public almost immediately. The department's official stance on this is that the officer is of the highest caliber, and he willingly stepped aside in accordance with the wishes of the police commission, in order not to compromise the public trust in any way. The department will not tolerate any statements being made to the press or the public which conflict with this official stance. You will not bad mouth the commission to the citizens they represent. Is that clear?" Moore's voice took on its most authoritative tone.
The answers came as a disgusted grumble of grudging consent.
Jim felt something growing inside of him. Something he couldn't identify. He hardly knew what he was doing, but he rose to his feet. Moore looked at him in surprise. "Yes, Reed?"
"I just wanted to say, sir, that if Pete Malloy isn't a good enough officer for the people of Los Angeles, then neither am I." Jim couldn't quite believe what he was doing, but he pulled his badge out of his wallet and carried it up to the desk. Moore and MacDonald stared at him in shock, and behind him Pete hissed at him not to lose his mind. Jim unholstered his gun and placed it silently on the desk beside his badge. And he walked out.
By the time he got a few paces down the hall, he heard the room explode behind him. He couldn't make out what the yelling was about, and at the moment he didn't care. He stumbled half-blindly to the men's room and closed himself in.
What have I done?
Countless days' worth of suffering bore down on him. Days of worrying about Pete without knowing what was wrong. Days of physical and emotional pain in the aftermath of being shot. Days of worrying even more about Pete because of knowing what was wrong. Days of keeping secrets from almost everyone. Days of fighting against steep odds. Days of having hopes shattered and seeing a friend bite the dust. And now the future loomed as darkly as the past, for now he had no job, no way to support his family.
His turmoil became graphically physical, leaving him nauseated and trembling and fighting against tears.
I hope I don't throw up.
Pete appreciated the strong show of support from his friends, but at the same time, he wished they'd stop. He knew their outrage wouldn't help, wouldn't change anything. He hoped they wouldn't get carried away and get themselves into trouble.
Moore managed to take back control, and Pete admired the way he handled it. Tough, no-nonsense, do it by the book. That's Moore.
Then Jim stood up. "I just wanted to say, sir, that if Pete Malloy isn't a good enough officer for the people of Los Angeles, then neither am I." It took a moment for his meaning to register, for Pete to realize the awful reality unfolding before him. "Jim, NO! Don't lose your mind, get back here!" He hissed it loudly enough that he knew Jim heard him. But, stubborn as always, Jim ignored him, handed in his badge and gun, and walked out.
No, no, no, no .this can't happen. I can't be responsible for all of this. The guilt Pete had felt about Judy and David now expanded to encompass Jim. I've cost him the career he loves. He's thrown it away because of me. Pete tried to compose himself, nearly oblivious to the chaos that had erupted around him. But try as he might, Pete could not pull himself together, except under the banner of one must-win mission. I've got to stop this. I can't let him do this.
He forced himself to his feet and fought his way through the crowd. These men should be out on the streets by now. Who's protecting LA now?
It seemed that now the whole city had to pay the price for Pete's addiction. The accumulating guilt drove Pete nearly mad. Hands reached out to grab him, but he fought past them until he got through the doorway. He caught a glimpse of a reporter standing outside the door, eagerly scribbling, but he didn't give the man a second thought.
I've got to find Jim.
The restroom looked like a likely place. Pete went in, not even considering the fact that he might not have the physical or emotional reserves to handle whatever he would find.
Jim stood at the sink, gripping it until his knuckles turned white. His eyes were closed, and he was breathing hard, clearly trying to regain his equilibrium. His wet face and shirt told Pete that he'd splashed water on himself. Pete did that to himself sometimes, too, when he needed to shock himself back together.
"Jim." Pete said it quietly.
Jim didn't look at him. "Don't bother saying it. What's done is done."
"My job has to be lost. Yours doesn't." Pete tried to keep his tone from outright pleading.
"I'm not going to back out now. You don't make a statement like that and then turn tail and skulk back like a coward. If a good man like you has to go out and find a new job, then it's certainly not beneath me." Jim began to sound angry, which Pete decided was better than falling apart.
Pete could have fallen apart himself at the moment.
"Jim, you can't do this to me." If he couldn't appeal to Jim's self-preservation, then he'd appeal to his sympathy.
"To you?" Jim turned to face him, his tone irritable. "What are you talking about?"
"I already have to live with the fact that I made life miserable for the woman I loved, so much so that she left me. I have to live with the fact that I demolished the love and trust of boy that I cared about almost as if he were my own. I even have to live with the fact that the Central Division of Los Angeles is missing most of its police force right now, because they're nearly rioting in the briefing room on my behalf. I do NOT need to live with the fact that I've cost you your job, and might get your wife and kids thrown out in the street!" Pete's chest heaved with emotion, and he knew his face couldn't hide the depth of his feeling. "Please, Jim. Think of Jean, and Jimmy, and Jennifer. What will they do while you're getting trained for a new job?"
"Yeah, I've thought of that," Jim snapped. "I don't know I don't know what we'll do. I just know that I can't just sit back and let this happen to you."
"It has happened to me. It's too late to do anything about it now. And anyway, you haven't just sat back. You made a terrific effort for me, and I appreciate it. But don't do this. This is foolish. This can't help anyone, and it will definitely hurt you and your family. And that would hurt me, too. Don't lose your head over this, man. I'll find my way in life. I always do. Nothing keeps the Strawberry Fox down, remember?" Pete worked up a little smile for Jim, trying to make his words convincing.
Jim just shook his head, his jaw set stubbornly.
"Reed, Malloy." They turned to see Lieutenant Moore standing in the doorway. "Reed, I need you in my office, now." Pete's heart sank, because he knew that look on Moore's face. Jim was about to get his ears chewed on, and probably his whole head as well.
Jim flashed a quick look at Pete as he followed the lieutenant out. Jim's face showed his whole range of feeling, from sorrow to stubborn resolve. Pete called after him one last time. "Don't be a fool, Jim." Then the door closed, and Pete was alone in the bathroom.
This time it was his turn to lean on the sink. How many more people are going to be hurt by this? When is this going to end? Pete felt as if he'd accidentally slipped on some rocks, and now he had to stand and watch helplessly as it became a landslide, demolishing houses and people along the way.
And it's singling out the people I care about most.
Jim followed the lieutenant, his whole body tingling as fear and anger kept his adrenaline pumping.
They passed the briefing room, and Jim was relieved to see that it was empty. Hopefully everyone's out on the patrol by now. He fervently hoped that he hadn't started a stampede of resignations. They'll have my head for sure.
Despite his brave words to Pete, Jim felt terrified by what he'd done. And he felt very ashamed at having angered and disappointed Lieutenant Moore, after everything the lieutenant had done for him.
But he was much too proud to consider backing out.
They entered the lieutenant's office, and Jim assumed a rigid posture of attention in front of the desk, staring straight ahead.
Moore walked around to his side of the desk and eyed Jim for long, uncomfortable seconds. Finally the lieutenant sat down, but he did not invite Jim to do the same.
"I can't believe you pulled that stunt, Reed."
"With all due respect, sir, it wasn't a stunt. I meant it, sir."
"You could have come to me in private, instead of creating an uproar and throwing most of Central Division into chaos!"
"For that, I apologize. I I acted on impulse, without considering the possible consequences, sir."
"On impulse? I thought you said you meant it. Now you tell me it was just a spur-of-the-moment thing?" Moore's voice raised a little.
Jim clenched and unclenched his jaw. "It was a serious decision that I made quickly, sir."
"What other consequences have you failed to consider, Reed?"
Moore's questions hammered mercilessly on Jim's fears and his shame. He felt very much on the defensive, and it made him angry.
"Sir, I believe I am within my rights to resign from the force."
"Yes, you are." Moore's eyes seemed to drill holes in Jim's defenses. "But " the lieutenant slammed his hand on the desk with uncharacteristic anger. " I thought I could have expected better from you. You've played it by the book through all of this. You've been such a professional I was proud to call you a colleague. I was thinking what good sergeant material you made. And now you pull this stunt, throw the division into chaos, practically spit in the department's face "
"Sir, this is not a protest against the department. It is a simple statement of fact. Pete Malloy is ten times the cop I'll ever be, and if he's not a good enough officer for the people of Los Angeles, then neither am I."
"Oh, I see. You hoped that your little display would change the public's opinions? Tell me something, Reed. When your kids put on a display like that, does it make any difference to you?"
Jim bristled at having his actions compared to a childish tantrum. He clamped his jaw shut, afraid he'd blow his cool and say something he'd regret later.
No one spoke for almost a full minute. It was everything Jim could do not to squirm.
When the lieutenant spoke again, his tone was gentler. "Reed, I know the captain, and I know what he'd say to you. He would tell you to go home and sleep on it. Then come in tomorrow and meet with him, and write out your resignation in front of him. That's the way he does it."
Moore sighed. "I hope you'll change your mind. The department has lost one of its finest today. I don't want you to make it two."
At that, Jim dared to meet his superior's eyes.
"Dismissed," Moore said quietly.
Jim turned and walked out of the office, not relaxing the stiffness of his spine until he was halfway down the hall.
What have I done, and what am I going to do now?
He rounded the corner near the break room, and nearly ran into Pete. "Malloy! What are you still doing here?"
"Waiting for you."
Jim rubbed his forehead and squeezed the bridge of his nose. He didn't know how he even managed to stay on his feet. But Pete looked like he felt ten times worse. Jim felt guilty about it, but he really needed time alone with Jean right now.
"I uh I'd invite you over, but I have to talk to Jean about this."
"Yeah." Pete packed a lot of sympathy into that single syllable. "I wasn't hoping to come over. I just wondered how it went in there. I see your head is still attached to your shoulders. That's a good sign." Pete managed a wan smile.
"Moore was mad. Really mad. Not so much that I resigned, but how I did it. I should have handled it more privately, I guess. I didn't have to do it in a way that created such chaos." A worrisome thought reasserted itself, and Jim looked sharply at Pete. "Did anyone else resign?"
"No. I talked to Mac afterwards, and he said they were really afraid that would happen. He'd come down really hard, ordering the current watch out onto patrol immediately, and telling our shift to go home. But he was still surprised when he didn't get handed any more badges. He said the tension was pretty thick in there."
Jim felt about like dirt. "They didn't deserve that. I should have handled it better. Moore gave me so much leeway lately. He bent over backward for me, and for you. Now he says he feels like I spit in the department's face. I feel like such a heel." Jim suddenly realized that he might be sending the wrong message to Pete. "Don't get me wrong," he added hurriedly. "I don't feel bad about resigning. I think it was the right thing to do. I only feel bad about how I did it."
"I still don't think it was the right thing to do," Pete said softly. "It means the world to me that you want to stand by me, but please, don't think for a minute that I want you to resign, or that I'll look down on you if you change your mind. I meant what I said. I have enough to feel bad about, without having to feel bad about this."
"You don't have to feel bad about this. This was my decision." Jim shook his head ruefully. "Now I have to go home and tell Jean about it. I don't know whether she'll want to kiss me or kick me."
Pete smiled a little. "Probably both."
Jean fretted at the red traffic light. Jim's probably home right now, wondering where in the world I am. I can't believe I'm so late!
"Mommy, look, there's a police car! Is it Daddy's?"
Jean glanced at it. "Daddy's been working the desk today, Jimmy. Besides, his shift is over now. He's probably home waiting for us."
"I want to see Daddy driving his police car." Jimmy sounded terribly disappointed.
Jean managed a little chuckle as the light turned green. "Now, you know that Uncle Pete never lets Daddy drive." As soon as she said it, a lump grew in her throat. I hope Pete is in the clear now. The commission will do the right thing. I'm sure they will.
She turned the corner onto her street at last, and noticed immediately that Jim's Corvette wasn't there. Working late today? He probably tried to call me, and I wasn't home. I hope he isn't worried.
"Mommy, why isn't Daddy home?" Jimmy asked. "I want to tell him all about how you got TWO flat tires!" The little fellow seemed to view the whole event as an adventure.
"He must be working late. I'll call the station and see what's up. I hope he's not working a double." Jean said the last sentence quietly to herself as she pulled into the driveway and killed the engine.
She shoved aside the worry that he might be hurt.
Jimmy bolted from the car as soon as the engine stopped.
"Jimmy, help me carry these bags," Jean called after him. "I have to carry Jennifer in." The little girl had fallen asleep in the car, as usual.
Jimmy stopped in mid-run. "Aw, Mom, I'm going around back to play!"
"After you help me! That's part of being a gentleman!" Jean shouldered the sleeping toddler with one arm and scooped up a bag with the other.
Jimmy slouched back to his mother and grabbed a bag, but soon his natural good nature came back to the surface. "Daddy's a gentleman, isn't he?"
"Oh yes, he's a very good man, Jimmy."
"Uncle Pete is a gentleman too."
"Yes, he certainly is."
They put their bags down and Jean nestled Jennifer into her crib before dropping gratefully onto the couch.
Jimmy didn't share any of his mother's fatigue. "Can I go play now, pleeeeze?"
"Yes, go ahead. But stay in the yard. We're going to have dinner soon." She smiled after her son as he dashed out the sliding glass doors.
Jean looked at the time. "The news should be come on in a minute. I wish we had one of those fancy remote-control TVs." Jean spoke aloud without realizing it. After a moment she got up again and turned on the set. I hope Jim doesn't mind macaroni and cheese for dinner. I'm bushed.
The music for the newscast blared, and Jean suddenly remembered she was going to call the station. She dialed the first few numbers, but then stopped. The news was featuring something about the department. She placed the receiver back on the cradle.
"Once again, 11 News has the scoop on the other news stations. We will all broadcast an LAPD news conference in about half an hour. But only our station had a reporter inside the Central Division station, observing a very important meeting that created dissent and uproar among the officers present."
Dissent and uproar? Jean had a sinking feeling that she knew what must have caused that. Don't tell me the commission shot Pete down.
The anchor continued. "That reporter was our own Michael Monroe." The camera zoomed out to show the reporter sitting beside the anchorman. "Tell us what you saw, Mike."
"Well, Tim," the reporter began, "Before I give you the details of events at the LAPD, let me give you some background information." Monroe then gave a thorough report of the FDA foul-up and the nature of the addictions that had followed. Jean's heart hammered. Oh no, oh no.
Monroe continued, "Today at a department briefing meeting, Lieutenant Moore of the LAPD informed his officers that one of their own had become addicted in this manner."
Jean closed her eyes. How could they have let this joker in on the meeting?
Monroe detailed how the department had stated support for the unnamed officer, who was no longer addicted, but had deferred to the commission and accepted the resignation of that officer. Monroe then sidetracked a little to explain the role of the commission, before continuing with his story.
"Finally, Lieutenant Moore identified the officer in question, and that's when the uproar began." He turned to the anchor. "Tim, would you believe that the officer in question was none other than Peter Malloy, the very officer who received the Medal of Valor for saving the life of Governor Wilson?"
Jean groaned aloud. This can't be happening! They can't do this to Pete!
"As you can imagine, this caused quite a stir among the officers, all of whom feel a great deal of respect for Officer Malloy. The ranking officers present, Lieutenant Moore and a sergeant William MacDonald, had difficulty calming the officers down. And then came another surprise. Officer James Reed, the partner of Peter Malloy, stood up and said, and I quote, 'If Pete Malloy's not a good enough officer for the people of Los Angeles, then neither am I.' Reed then placed his badge and gun on the desk in front of his superiors and stormed out of the meeting. That's when the real chaos ensued."
"He WHAT??" Jean wished fervently that she could rewind the television like a cassette tape. Jim resigned? Jim RESIGNED?? She simply couldn't believe what she'd heard.
A pair of headlights shone in the front window and then turned off. Is that him? She hurried to the door and watched breathlessly as her husband came up the driveway. Jim looked as if he'd heard the worst news of his life.
Jean opened the door for him. "Honey, come in tell me what happened!"
Jim looked a little surprised. "What have you heard something?" He checked his watch, and Jean realized he was expecting the official news conference to break the story.
"I heard that the commission turned Pete down, and you resigned too. Is it true?"
"Where did you hear that?" Jim looked at her sharply.
"On the news. Is it true?" Jean knew how impatient she sounded, but she didn't care. That was exactly how she felt.
Jim ran a hand through his hair, and she saw his shoulders slump. "Yeah, it's true."
Jean stared at him, too shocked to speak.
"Wh what are you going to do now?" she finally asked. "Where will you work?" She bit back the next question that hammered in her heart. Are we going to lose our home?
"I don't know. I don't know." Jim sat down on the couch and pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes. "I don't know."
"Jim how could you do that? I'm all for standing by Pete, but you have a family to think about, Jim!"
"I know, I know!" Jim's voice grew heated.
The phone rang. Jean answered it and heard her mother's voice, asking frantically for confirmation of the news.
"Yes, Mom, it's true, but I don't know much more than that. Jim just got home. Please do me a favor and call everybody in our family. I don't want the phone ringing off the hook here. I'll call around when I find out more."
Jean hung up and sat down next to Jim. She felt worry gnawing at her insides, but she also recognized her husband's need for support right now.
"Jim you can't blame me for being shocked and and scared. You know I'll stand by you. I always will. But Jim " Jean couldn't finish her sentence.
Jim raised up his head and looked her in the eyes. "Jean, I don't know what I'm going to do. But I know what I won't do. I won't let my family starve. And I won't let us get kicked out on the street. I'll find whatever job or jobs I need to take care of us." Despite his confident-sounding words, Jim looked very much afraid.
Jean put a hand on his shoulder. "I could get a job too."
"No, baby, I don't want you to have to do that." Jim shook his head. He looked, if possible, even more upset. "I mean, I want you to get a job if you want one, but not because not because I couldn't provide for our family."
"It wouldn't have to be long term. But I'm sure I'm going to have to do something, at least for a while. We could work out an arrangement with our parents about watching the kids." Jean rubbed Jim's back supportively, but her insides felt tied in knots. I never wanted to work while the kids were little.
"Oh God, what have I done?" Jim spoke softly, and Jean wasn't even sure she was supposed to have heard him. She could almost feel his fear and shame growing by the minute. He's always been proud of supporting our family the way he does. This must really be hard for him.
It's going to be hard on all of us before long.
Neither of them spoke for a while.
Jim finally broke the silence. "How did it get on the news? The press conference hasn't started yet." He sounded totally defeated.
"There was a reporter at the briefing when it all happened."
"What? That's not possible. No reporter would have been allowed in oh, yeah." Jim shook his head. "The room was filled to overflowing, and the door was open. Some officers were listening from outside. The reporter must have been there, too."
Jim became increasingly upset. "That's just great. Now, instead of letting the department break the news right, some local yahoo reporter breaks it? He probably crucified Pete."
"No, actually he seemed to be sympathetic. He explained all about the situation."
"Hmph. A fair reporter? That'll be a first."
"It's starting." Jim nodded toward the TV at the beginning of the press conference. It started out just as Jim expected, presenting the situation fairly for Pete, and outlining the reasons for Pete's resignation. Everything went smoothly until it came time for the reporters to ask questions. A Channel 11 reporter asked about Jim's resignation, and Lieutenant Moore frowned. "Where did you get that information?" Instead of an answer, the lieutenant was bombarded with a mini-riot of questions. He finally gave up and left with a firm, "no comment."
"I think he handled that well," Jim said quietly. "He didn't leave any doubt about Pete's innocence."
"That's good." Jean spoke from under his arm, where she'd cuddled up as soon as the conference had started.
"The lieutenant's a good man," Jim said, almost to himself.
"Yes, he is."
"I wish I'd handled things differently."
"What do you mean?" Jean sat up so she could look him in the eye.
The phone rang, and Jim sighed and picked it up. "Reeds."
"Reed, this is Moore." The lieutenant's voice had sharp edges. "I got hit with surprise questions today at the press conference. It seems that Channel 11 knows about your resignation. I wondered how they got that information."
Jim understood the lieutenant's anger. Leaking information to the press was pretty low in everyone's eyes. Jim felt grateful that the lieutenant at least gave him enough of the benefit of the doubt to call and ask.
"Jean saw the 6:00 news report. Evidently Channel 11 had a reporter standing outside the briefing room when it all went down. I didn't notice him, but I left in kind of a hurry."
"I see." Moore fell silent, and Jim wondered what he was supposed to say next.
"Well, Reed " the lieutenant finally continued, " the next few days should be very interesting."
"Yessir. To put it mildly."
"I'm sorry to have bothered you." Moore's tone remained official.
"That's all right. I don't blame you for thinking that maybe I you know."
"I'm relieved that you didn't. I'll see you in the morning, Reed, with whatever decision you've made."
"Yes, sir. Good night, sir."
Pete sat in his armchair, alone in his quiet apartment. The phone had rung a few times, but Pete had ignored it. He didn't feel like talking to anyone.
He didn't feeling like watching TV. He didn't feel like reading the paper. He didn't feel like visiting with anyone. He didn't feel like driving around.
He didn't feel like anything.
Life was once something that Pete Malloy prized. Now it seemed to him like a predator, a ravenous lion that had mercilessly gutted him, leaving him hollow inside, but somehow still breathing.
He'd watched the press conference with only dull interest, and had snapped the set off as soon as it ended. It was hard to get enthusiastic about his own funeral.
He sat. He stared at the wall, but he didn't see it. The phone rang, several times, but he barely heard it. Problems nagged for solutions, but he didn't think about them. Time passed, but he didn't feel it.
Finally a sound cut through his fog, an insistent knocking sound. His eyes moved toward the door, and he began to wonder whether he should answer it.
"Pete, are you in there?" The voice was a woman's, and Pete's heart leaped. Judy?
He got up quickly and hurried to the door. She came back. I knew she would. For the first time in ages he could breathe.
He turned the knob and threw open the door, ready to draw Judy into a warm embrace.
It isn't Judy. His heart sank as quickly as it had revived, and he stared without comprehension at the woman.
"Pete, thank goodness. I've been calling, and I've been so worried." Her eyes looked him over critically. "Are you all right?"
Pete licked his dry lips and tried to put his brain into gear. "Yes, I'm all right. What what are you doing here?" Laura Benson was the last person he expected at his door.
"I told you, I was worried. I saw the news. I can only imagine how horrible this must be for you. I'm so angry I want to go knock some sense into some people in that stupid commission may I come in?"
The question caught Pete off guard, and then he felt ashamed at having left her on the doorstep.
"Of course, I'm sorry. I'm just " he didn't finish the thought. "Have a seat. Can I get you anything?" He spoke in polite rote.
"No, I'm fine. Pete, sit down and look at me."
Pete felt a little surprised, but he sat back on his armchair and faced her.
"No, I mean really look at me."
Pete wondered what she could mean by that, but he slowly realized that he wasn't yet fully "there." Most of him still languished in numb shock. He mentally shook himself and came to full attention, meeting her eyes openly.
"That's better." She never wavered in her gaze. "Pete, have you taken any pills?"
"What?" Pete felt a momentary surprise. The thought had never occurred to him. "Pills? No, I never even wanted one."
Laura looked into his eyes even more intently, and Pete felt profoundly uncomfortable. Not because he had anything to hide, but because she seemed able to look far deeper into his soul than any mere acquaintance should.
After a few moments Laura relaxed and settled back in her seat. Pete couldn't tell if she was satisfied with what she'd seen or not.
"Why didn't you answer the phone?" she asked him. Her question was pointed without being accusing.
"I I barely even noticed it." He decided there wasn't any point in trying to hide anything from Laura. She'd see through him eventually anyway. "I've been kind of in shock. Numb. I can't think. I can't feel, or I guess I don't want to. I'm kind of overwhelmed."
Laura nodded. "This must be quite a blow to you. I know you loved your job, and you were proud of it. And I know you did it well."
"Thanks." Pete managed a brief little smile. But then he thought of the part of the story that Laura didn't know, and the pain tore through him afresh.
"What is it? What's wrong?" Laura reached out and laid a hand on his arm. That simple touch meant more to Pete's bruised soul than she could possibly have imagined, and he had to swallow hard a couple of times to regain his voice.
"Judy my lady friend we'd dated for years. She left me. Moved away this morning. Her son hates me now. He used to look up to me like a father."
"Pete, I'm so sorry. I had no idea."
"Of course not. You couldn't have." Pete managed another little smile, actually feeling relieved at being able to offer someone a shred of comfort. All I've done lately is hurt people. Why? I've never wanted to hurt people.
His eyes stung, and he knew that Laura must be able to see how fragile his emotions were right now. But he felt no shame with her, not after everything she'd already helped him through. She's seen me a lot worse off than this.
"Pete, this is going to sound cold, but I don't mean it that way. I'm grateful to see how much you're hurting, and I'm glad you could share it with me. That, more than anything else, tells me that you haven't gone back to the pills. That you're not in denial, or hiding anything."
He shook his head. "No secrets."
"I'm so glad." She smiled warmly.
At that moment, Pete would have given ten years off of his life if she could have given him a hug. Not in a girlfriend kind of way, but just the warm closeness of someone who cared.
I'm so lonely.
Pete pulled himself off of that tack and felt another thought strike him. He looked back at Laura, who had waited patiently while Pete's mind wandered.
"How did you know where I live?"
"I just looked you up in the phone book. There aren't that many Pete Malloy's, though there are more than I expected. But you were the only one who lived in a likely part of town, based on which division you worked in."
Pete smiled ironically. "You'd make a good detective."
Another knock sounded at the door, and Pete recognized it. He'd heard it many times over the years.
"That's Jim. Excuse me."
Jim drove toward Pete's apartment with a sense of foreboding. His friend had looked completely despondent before at hearing that his job was really over. Jim dreaded seeing just how depressed Pete would be now, when the shock might have begun to wear off.
Jim had rehearsed a hundred different scenarios on his short drive. A hundred different reasons why Pete might not have answered the phone. Your probably being foolish. He's probably gone to bed, or gone out for a drive to clear his head.
Or he's still got pills
Jim kept a nervous eye out for patrol cars while he pressed the gas a little bit harder. It would be so embarrassing to get a ticket
Like I'm not in enough trouble already.
It felt strange thinking of his brothers in blue as the enemy. But right now Jim didn't care.
He felt his dread rise a notch when he pulled into Pete's apartment complex. Pete's car was there, in its usual spot. He's not out for a drive. He's been ignoring the phone.
He quickly locked his car door behind him and bounded up the stairs to the second floor. A few moments later he was knocking on Pete's door, trying to push his fears aside.
What will I do if he doesn't answer? I've got his key, but how would he feel if I let myself in without his permission? How would I
His worried thoughts were interrupted by perhaps the last thing he expected. Pete answered the door.
"Come on in," his partner said with a resigned air. "Join the crowd."
Crowd? Jim stepped in and stopped in his tracks. "Laura I'm sorry. I didn't know you'd be here."
"It seems I worried more people than just you. She tracked me down through the phone book. Sit down, Jim." Pete sank into his favorite chair, and Jim sat beside Laura on the couch.
"What's going on, Pete?" Jim looked worriedly at Laura, wondering what she knew that he didn't.
"I just needed some time to myself. So I ignored the phone and made everyone charge my living room. Will Mac be by next?" Pete's attempt at humor did little to reassure Jim.
"What did you think we'd think when you didn't answer?"
"Jim, I wasn't thinking. If Laura hadn't shown up, I still wouldn't be thinking. Thinking isn't very pleasant right now."
Jim looked Pete over narrowly, trying to figure him out. Trying to find any sign of lying, of evading, of covering up.
Laura spoke up for the first time. "I asked him, and he says he hasn't taken any pills. I think he was telling the truth."
Jim looked at her with some surprise. You came right out and asked him? His admiration for her went up another notch.
"Reed, look at me." Jim turned to his friend.
"I haven't taken any pills. I haven't even thought of taking pills. I haven't had any cravings, except the craving to have my old, normal, sane life back. There's no pill in the world that can give me that, and there's no pill in the world that can help me build a new life. I'm not going to take any pills, or any powders, or any needles, or anything else you're worried about. I don't even have any such things. Are we clear on that?"
Something in Pete's eyes shone true to Jim, and he felt himself relaxing. "Yeah, partner, we're clear."
The phone rang, and Pete rolled his eyes. He picked it up. "Malloy." He listened for a few moments, nodding his head resignedly. "Yeah, Mac, I know. I scared Jim and Laura so bad they're sitting here in my living room questioning me." The look he gave to them made Jim feel even better. Pete looked grateful. He listened for a few more moments, and then handed the phone to Jim. "Mac wants to talk to you."
"Reed," Jim said into the phone, already worried at what bad news the sergeant might have for him now.
"Reed, what's your impression of Malloy? Is he all right?"
"Yessir, I think so, I mean, as good as can be expected. Laura thinks so, too." Jim still wasn't sure, and he cast another worried glance at Pete.
"That's good to hear." Mac paused. "Reed, I hope you'll reconsider about resigning "
"I've burned too many bridges, Mac. But you didn't call here to talk to me."
"Yeah, right." Mac sounded very dissatisfied. "Bridges can be rebuilt, Jim."
Jim felt deeply grateful, but of course he couldn't back out. He didn't know what to say.
"You uh you want Pete back on the phone?"
"Yeah, thanks," Mac sighed.
Jim handed the phone back to Pete, wondering what those two would talk about.
I hope I'm right about him. Pete hardly looks like himself. How can I be sure that it's all just normal grief? How can I be sure he's not using again?
Jim's thoughts came back to the present when Pete spoke up again. "That's good to hear, Mac."
What? What's good to hear? Jim looked at Laura, and she shrugged at him. They both turned to stare at Pete as if they might be able to see the answers they needed.
"Thanks for telling me, Mac. That really means a lot." Pete listened again. "Well, sure, why not? I don't exactly have any plans. I'll see you tomorrow night." He said his goodbyes and put the phone back on the cradle.
"What was that about?" Jim and Laura asked together.
"He was worried, of course. He'd called once or twice himself. But he also wanted to tell me that the station has gotten a lot of calls, and most of the citizens have been supportive of me. Mac figured it would do me good to know that."
"Does it?" Laura asked quietly.
"Yeah, it does." Pete looked very open, even vulnerable, and Jim felt his lingering doubts fading.
"It all means a lot to me," Pete continued, "knowing how much my friends care about me. I've lost so much I just appreciate you guys for sticking by me." Pete looked down a moment, clearly reigning in his emotions.
"You're going to see Mac tomorrow night?" Laura asked.
"Yeah, he and Mary invited me over for dinner." A sudden flicker of pain crossed his face.
"What's wrong?" Laura asked. Jim couldn't believe she kept beating him to the punch.
"Sorry, I was just reminded of of my dinner with Judy the other night." Pete seemed to have lost whatever encouragement he'd gained from his friends.
Laura leaned forward and put her hand on Pete's arm. "Hang in there, Pete. It's got to get better. And please, remember what I told you before you met with the lieutenant." She stood, and the men stood as well.
"I will. Thank you. And judging by tonight, I'd say that my friends won't let me get away with isolating myself even if I want to." Pete seemed to feel suddenly awkward. "Thank you, Laura."
"You're welcome. I'd better be going now, and let you two friends catch up." The two men saw her to the door, and Pete watched her car until it was out of sight.
Jim stayed back, watching the interaction between Pete and Laura, and watching how Pete lingered at the door.
What's going on here?
Jim thought the corridor leading to the Captain's office had to be a mile long. Every few steps he had to meet the eyes of a former colleague. They all bustled about on their usual routines, but whenever their eyes fell on Jim, they would stop whatever they were doing. Some ducked aside, some allowed only awkward silences, and some tried light-heartedness, which was the worst of all. Jim hated every step he took, but he would hate arriving even more.
Finally the Captain's door appeared before him. It was closed, and he took a moment to compose himself before knocking on it.
"Come in." The authoritative voice made Jim's insides flutter a bit. He opened the door, maintaining the strictest control over his posture and attitude. After the awful way he'd announced his resignation, he was determined to be the model of decorum now.
"Reed." The captain took off his reading glasses and laid them on the desk. "I was really hoping not to see you this morning."
Jim didn't really know how to respond to that, so he stayed silent and stiffly attentive.
"Sit down, Jim."
Jim felt a little jolt of surprise. The captain had never called him by his first name before.
He's trying to play on my emotions.
Jim hated just how brittle his emotions felt right now.
"Jim, you're a fine officer. One of the finest to come down the pike in years. Perhaps the finest since Malloy himself. It would be a shame to end a good career like yours."
Jim felt stupidly at a loss for words. He finally just said, "Thank you, sir."
"I've been looking over your package this morning." The captain lifted a file off of his desk and tossed it a few inches closer to Jim's side of the desk. "Impressive. Very impressive. Definite sergeant potential in the future. The lieutenant thinks so as well."
"Thank you, sir." Where are the clever words that I had counted on saying?
"So tell me this, Reed. Why?" The captain's voice took on a slightly harder edge. It left Jim feeling a little more on the defensive.
"I believe I made it clear during the meeting yesterday, sir."
"Make it clear for me again." The captain leaned forward and looked at Jim so intently that the junior officer had to drop his gaze.
"Sir, I firmly believe that Pete Malloy is ten times the officer that I am. If he is not good enough for the people of Los Angeles, then neither am I."
The captain didn't respond. Jim got the feeling that the ball was still in his court, and he didn't know what else to say. The silence dragged out uncomfortably. Jim tried not to fidget. I am not going to let you play me like this!
"Reed," the captain broke in at last. "If things had worked out differently, and Pete had died falling through that window, would you still be doing this job?"
The question caught Jim completely off guard. "Well it's hard to say for sure, but I think I would, yes."
By now Jim was sweating hard. How is he doing this?
Jim searched for something intelligent to say. I can't tell him I love my job. I'd fall into his trap for sure.
Jim decided he needed to go on the offensive, and he quickly found the words. "I didn't resign over hypotheticals, sir. And hypotheticals won't change my decision." He could meet the captain's gaze now, and he was pretty sure he'd scored.
The captain kept looking at him, unwaveringly, and said nothing. The hair stood up on the back of Jim's neck. He felt like screaming, "What do you want from me?"
"Why would you still be doing this job if Pete had died instead of resigning?"
Jim's frustration mounted as he felt the captain pulling him into a trap that he couldn't even see.
"I don't know! I don't even know for sure if I would still be doing this job. Okay? Now, can we get back to the real issues?" Jim knew instantly that he'd blown it. He'd played right into the captain's hand. He felt grateful that the blinds were closed, so no one in the halls could see him crash and burn.
"What are the real issues, Reed?" Jim closed his eyes as the question came. He'd seen it coming as soon as he'd blown his cool. He hated being tripped up like that, and he let himself get good and angry.
"Reed?" the captain prompted, clearly pushing Jim to the wall.
"Injustice! That's what the issue is! All right? Did I say what you wanted to hear?" Jim knew his voice was a little too loud, and he hoped it hadn't carried to anyone's ears outside of the room.
"And if Pete had died, that wouldn't have been an injustice?" The captain stayed quite cool. Jim wanted to punch him.
"Of course it would!"
"Then what's the difference?"
"What?" Jim snapped.
"What's the difference between that hypothetical injustice and this real one?"
Jim cast about desperately for some way to get back on the offensive. "Oh, so you admit that this is an injustice?"
"Of course it is." The captain didn't seem at all reluctant to admit that, and Jim hated him for it. I can't score a point with you, can I? He jumped out of his seat and began to pace.
"What do you want from me, from the department, Reed?"
"What? Nothing? I don't want anything from you. I just want to turn in my resignation and get out of here."
"No you don't."
Jim couldn't believe how angry he was now. He mentally grabbed a hold of himself before he started swearing and pounding things. Or maybe I should. Then they'd be happy to get me out of here.
"Don't pretend you know what I want," Jim growled when he could trust himself to speak at all.
"Do you know what you want?" the captain asked coolly.
"I just told you!"
"And I don't believe you."
"Why not? You think your precious department is too good for me to want to leave it?" Jim winced inwardly at his own words. I've got to cool down. I've got to get control. What's happening to me?
The captain just sat and gazed at him.
"The question really is, what do you want from me? I came in here to resign, which I am within my rights to do, and you've given me the Spanish Inquisition! What's that about, Captain?"
"Reed, I've asked you why you want to resign. Does that seem like an unreasonable question from a man who hates to see a promising officer throw his career away?"
"It does when you won't believe my answer."
"I do believe your answer. I believe you're angry about the injustice done to Pete Malloy. For the record, so am I. But I'm not resigning. Neither are the other officers around here who are angry as hornets over this whole thing. What I don't understand is why you are resigning. I'm trying to understand that, Reed, and I need you to help me."
Jim sat down, feeling utterly defeated. The last thing he wanted to admit was that he'd hoped his resignation would change things for Pete. That would sound too much like the lieutenant's accusation, calling Jim the equivalent of a tantruming child. That's what the captain thinks, too. That's why he asked me what I want from the department.
Jim had to deflect the captain's questions, give himself a little time to think. So he tried to change the subject a bit, turning it down a path that made no sense to him earlier. "Why all the questions about 'what if Pete had died?'"
"If Pete had died, you would still have worked here because there wouldn't have been any way that quitting would have helped Pete. His death would have been a terrible injustice, but an irrevocable one. So you wouldn't have quit. Am I right?"
Jim sighed and closed his eyes again. In attempting to buy time he'd stuck his neck right in the noose.
"You're quitting because you hope that you'll be helping Pete. You hope that your protest will change things." The captain leaned forward again, piercing Jim with merciless honesty. "You aren't helping, and you're not changing anything for Pete. All you're doing is robbing this department of one of its finest, not to mention putting your family in a tight spot. That's why this whole thing doesn't make sense to me, Reed. Your decision doesn't make sense."
Jim had no fight left in him. But he knew the captain couldn't force him to stay.
I can resign without fighting. The realization put steel back into his spine.
"Captain, I don't need to defend my decision to you. This is not the Marine Corps, and I didn't enlist for any set period of time. You may not like why I'm resigning. You may not understand why I'm resigning. But understand this, captain. I am resigning."
The two men locked eyes for long moments, and finally the captain sighed and looked away.
"I am sorry to see this day come, Reed." But he pulled out a paper and handed it to Jim without further argument. "Fill this out. If you're sure about it, turn it in."
"I'm sure about it." Jim was already writing in his name. For a few moments the only sound in the room was the scratching of Jim's pen.
"There," he said at last, tossing the completed form onto the captain's side of the desk. He waited impatiently while the captain slowly read it over. His heart raced in his chest, partly because of his earlier anger, but more now because of the awful reality of his decision. It terrified him.
"All right, Reed. Everything's in order." The captain stood, and Jim did the same. Jim felt a little surprised when the captain extended his hand, but he accepted it.
"Jim, I hope you know that I meant everything I said to you. I have the utmost respect for you as an officer and as a human being. I had to push you, because I needed to be sure, and I wanted you to be sure, that this was really what you wanted. It seems that it is. Losing Pete was terrible. Losing you on top of it " The captain shook his head with what seemed to be genuine regret. Jim felt his anger dissolving.
"If you change your mind, you know where my office is."
"Yes sir, captain. Thank you, and and I apologize for losing my head back there."
"You've been through the fire, Jim. You needed to lose your head. This office is a fairly safe place to do it."
Jim raised his eyebrows, truly amazed.
The captain smiled. "You think that getting mad and blowing your top got you in hot water with me? You'd be amazed at how many good officers, how many men I deeply respect, have yelled at me across this desk. I'd rather have them get it out of their systems here than out on the streets, with the citizens they're supposed to serve. Or going home and taking it out on their wives."
Jim felt a whole new understanding and appreciation of his captain. Or rather, his former captain. A shiver went through him. I don't work here any more.
He got through his goodbye's as quickly as he respectfully could and practically bolted out the door. Once out in the hall, he leaned heavily against the window and closed his eyes. He blew his cheeks out with a noisy sigh and tried to stop his insides from quivering.
It took a long time, but finally he felt ready to face that mile-long hallway again. He opened his eyes and nearly jumped out of his skin. Sergeant MacDonald stood nearby, watching him. His face wore unmasked sorrow.
"You're really leaving us, aren't you." It was a statement more than a question.
Jim only nodded, feeling guilt crushing him now.
"I hate to see it. I really hate to see it." Mac approached Jim and offered his hand. "It has been a pleasure and an honor serving with you."
Jim shook his hand and added a smothering sorrow to his guilt. What have I done?
"The pleasure and the honor were mine." He hated how choked up his voice sounded.
Mac gave him a regretful little smile, and they let their handshake linger for a moment.
"Sergeant?" a voice called from down the hall. Mac released Jim's hand and turned toward it. "Yes?"
"Adam-24 just had a minor TA at the corner of Sepulveda and Colfax. No serious injuries, but they need a supervisor."
"I'll be there in ten minutes."
"Who's in 24?" Jim asked, concerned for his colleagues.
"What? Oh, that's Cooper and O'Donnell." Mac was already hurrying off to do his duty. All around him, the station bustled with people doing their duty.
Jim had no duty. And he felt very, very empty.
Lieutenant Val Moore hung up the phone and shook his head. He could scarcely believe the public response, even days after Pete's resignation became public knowledge.
Some movement caught his eye and he glanced up at his office doorway. Sergeant MacDonald greeted him with raised eyebrows. "More of the same?"
"Yeah," Moore replied, and beckoned Mac inside. "Close the door, would you please?"
Mac secured their privacy and sat down. "I've fielded a lot of calls, too."
"Mostly for Pete?"
"Yeah, mostly. That follow-up report on Channel 11 seems to have really stirred them up."
"I don't mind telling you, Mac, this puts me in an awkward position. I feel incredibly tempted to start going to bat for Pete myself, putting pressure on the Commission to change its mind. But I really think I ought to stay neutral." The lieutenant spread his hands in a gesture of uncertainty. "I'm really not sure what would be best."
Mac was one of a very few people that Moore would allow to see his uncertainties. He hoped his friend would help him clarify things for himself.
"Val, I think you do know what would be best, you just don't like it." Mac was just as pointed as Moore trusted him to be.
Moore sighed. "Yeah, you're right. And I sure don't like it." The phone rang again, and Moore picked it up with a meaningful look at MacDonald.
"Yes, Lieutenant, this is Michael Monroe with Channel 11 News. May I have a moment of your time?"
Moore quickly signaled to Mac not to leave yet. "Yes, Mister Monroe. What can I do for you?" He could see from Mac's expression that the sergeant recognized the name.
"I have invited Commissioner Anderson to sit down with us for a special televised public forum regarding the Malloy affair Thursday night at seven. I was hoping that you would consent to be there, too, to give the Department's side of things."
"I'm curious to know why you chose Anderson, out of all the commissioners." Moore really just wanted to buy time to think about his response.
"Because he has been the most vocal opponent of Malloy, and he seems to have been a leader in these proceedings. It really would be unfortunate if he got to air his side, and you didn't get equal time with yours."
"Mister Monroe, I will have to discuss this with my superiors and get back to you." Moore kept his voice at its most authoritative and official. "But there is one thing I can tell you. I will not consent to any sort of debate or argument with Commissioner Anderson. We are not opponents. We are on the same side, which is the side of the public welfare. If I appear at all, it will only be to engage in a civilized discussion of the situation. Is that clear?"
"Yes, yes, of course, Lieutenant. I understand perfectly." Moore rolled his eyes at the reporter's barely veiled disappointment. He'd love to get us fighting. Great ratings, no doubt.
"And I have serious doubts that my superiors will agree to such an interview, so I will have to get back with you."
"Of course, Lieutenant. I look forward to hearing from you."
Moore hung up and looked at Mac. "The situation just got stickier."
Pete dared another peek through the curtains. Nothing had changed, unfortunately. The media vultures were still circling. He hadn't been able to set foot outside of his apartment for days. Reporters also had his phone ringing off the hook, trying to get him to consent to an interview. No way. This thing is too delicate.
Pete had read the papers, of course, and he'd watched the news. He'd gotten the mail that Mrs. O'Brien had kindly fetched from the mailbox for him. Pete smiled at the thought. She could fend off reporters better than the best cop. Feisty little thing.
One thing was clear. Public sentiment was overwhelmingly in his favor. The fact seemed surprising to Pete. His "heroism" in saving the governor was constantly discussed, and his other meritorious actions were dug up from public records and broadcast in various forms of media. The FDA's bungling had become a public scandal, and Pete had become its unwitting poster boy. Unfortunately, he'd also become a poster boy for those who favored more lenient drug laws. He would rather not have had their support.
He didn't even begin to know how to respond to the job offers constantly phoned in from every imaginable kind of business. I should have gotten an unlisted number.
But even though he appreciated the public's kindness, he wished they'd turn the spotlight off of him. It wouldn't do any good, of course. People don't get to be cops because of popularity. But worse, all the attention was doing him harm. Right now there was no way he could go job hunting. He couldn't even go to his mailbox, or the grocery store, or the cleaners. His uncomfortable limbo might extend itself longer than his bank account could manage. But what on earth was he going to do?
The phone rang yet again, but this time it rang only twice and then stopped. Pete picked it up and called Jim, responding to their pre-arranged signal. He didn't even answer the phone any more, except for the two-ring signals from his partner.
"Hey, Reed, you called?"
"Yeah, I just heard from the lieutenant. He wants you to call him."
"Okay. Thanks." He hung up and started to dial. Now what? He hoped for the Reeds' sake that his siege would end soon. They must be pretty tired of playing phone operator for him. He knew they were getting plenty of nuisance calls themselves.
"Lieutenant, it's Malloy. You wanted me to call?"
"Yes, Pete. Just when I thought things couldn't get stickier, they have."
"What now?" Pete closed his eyes, dreading the news.
"The national media are sending someone to cover the forum. That made the Chief change his mind about sending me. I'm going after all."
"National news?" Pete's heart sank. The spotlight had just gotten blinding.
"I'm afraid so. The whole FDA thing is national news, and you're it's most celebrated victim."
Ugh. Pete sank down to sit on the couch, rubbing his forehead to clear his thoughts. "Can you possibly be prepared for the forum on such short notice? It's tonight!"
"Well, the way the Chief and the Captain and I see it, there's really nothing new that needs to be said. The facts have been stated and re-stated dozens of times. My role there will be to showcase the department's support of the public good. That will mean walking a tightrope, I'm afraid. Because I'm not about to let them vilify you, but I do have to be supportive of the commission and uphold its role. All of that while Monroe tries to bait us into a fight, and Anderson will probably take the hook every time. If I can pull this off, it will be a feat worthy of a Wallenda."
"Before this is over, you may want to run off and join the circus," Pete said wryly.
"If it was in town, I'd be tempted."
Pete popped the top off of a Coke and pulled his re-warmed dinner out of the oven. It smelled wonderful. Bless you, Jean. She'd smuggled food and sundries to him via Mrs. O'Brien, and her cooking was a lot better than his. But Pete still felt a pang of guilt eating it. Jim's out of a job. You shouldn't have to pay to feed me.
He checked his watch and debated with himself again. Do I really want to watch the forum? Why put myself through that? Whatever he decided, he'd have to decide it soon, because the forum would start in forty-five minutes.
The thought nearly cost him his appetite.
He ate and checked his watch. He cleaned up the dishes and checked his watch. He put the dishes away and checked his watch. Finally, with five minutes to go, he resigned himself to the inevitable. You know you're going to watch it, Malloy.
He turned on the set and sat down, sighing deeply. I can't believe I'm going to do this to myself.
He watched. He kept watching, even though everything happened exactly as Moore had predicted it would. Anderson blustered, Monroe tried to provoke a fight, and Moore played it cool. The only good thing was that the facts seemed to be coming out straight.
But this was, after all, a public forum, and the time came when Monroe had to open the floor. Pete's interest revived.
The first citizen to approach the mic was a man of about 40, Pete guessed. He put forth his question very bluntly. "Lieutenant, am I to understand that the only reason Malloy has lost his job is because the Commission has a problem with him?"
Moore cleared his throat. "The Commission's opinion is of great importance to the department because, as I stated earlier, it helps us to keep in touch with the citizens of Los Angeles. So we do not view the Commission's decision lightly."
"Well, that all sounds just fine." the citizen replied, "But what recourse do we citizens have when the Commission fails to represent us? Malloy is innocent, he's a hero, and we the citizens want Malloy back! So the Commission isn't representing us, is it?"
Moore seemed at a loss. Fortunately, the citizen's question provoked many murmurs of agreement, and people crowded the mic. Pete sat forward in his chair, mesmerized now.
"That's right!" said citizen number two with an angry jab of her finger. "The Commission is supposed to protect us from police tyranny, but who's going to protect us from Commission tyranny?"
Moore sat back in his seat and made no attempt to answer. If he had tried, he would not have been heard. The crowd was much too vocal now.
Pete could scarcely believe what he was witnessing. A new hope began to spark in his heart. Is it possible ? Could it really happen ?
Pete scanned Moore's face on the screen. Perhaps he was imagining it, but Moore seemed quietly pleased. Does he think there's hope?
The phone rang twice. Pete snatched it up before the second ring ended, catching Jim before he hung up.
"Pete, are you watching this?" Jim's voice sounded unabashedly excited.
"Well, what do you think? This is the best thing that could have happened!"
"I I don't want to get my hopes up, Jim." Pete's eyes remained glued to the screen. "But yeah, it looks hopeful."
"You bet it is. And with national coverage, the Commission is going to have to back down. This is great!"
The camera moved away from the latest citizen and focused on an agitated Anderson. The commissioner looked apoplectic. His face had gone a blotchy red, his arms were folded tightly across his chest, and his whole body leaned away from the audience.
Moore sat quietly placid.
"It looks hopeful," Pete repeated, almost to himself.
The next morning was heralded not by a rooster, but by phone calls that had become just as predictable. Pete groaned and pulled his pillow over his head, not wanting to awaken. He'd begun hearing phones ringing in his sleep, and he'd long since decided that there was no sound more irritating.
Somehow he managed to snatch some more sleep between phone calls. But after a while something began to tickle at the back of his mind, irritating him into awakening at last.
Oh, it was the signal. The two-ring signal. Pete had a feeling he'd gotten several of those calls before fully waking up. He quickly went out to the living room and called his friend.
"Pete, where have you been?" Jim sounded even more excited than he did last night.
"Sleeping. Or trying to. What's up?" Pete tried to sound nonchalant, but he was becoming dangerously hopeful. Careful, Pete. Don't set yourself up for a fall.
"The governor's going to hold a press conference in about ten minutes. All the stations are covering it. Turn it on!"
The governor? Pete set the phone down and hurried to the TV, then put the phone back to his ear. "Okay, I have Channel 11 on."
"Yeah, same here."
The local reporters were already chattering away, but Pete barely listened to them. He waited anxiously for some sign of the governor. But then his ears picked up some interesting words, something about "unprecedented national coverage." Pete listened intently. According to the local boys, the national networks had increased their coverage, and small stations from across California and as far away as Florida had converged on Los Angeles. And all of them wanted to be at the press conference.
Pete could scarcely breathe. All of this for me?
After an eternity of waiting and enduring the reporters' spotlight-basking, Pete finally heard the news he wanted to hear. The governor was approaching the podium.
Governor Wilson looked very pleased, even triumphant.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, I am proud today to be a Californian. Today the people of California are showing this country that we support our finest citizens, the honest officers who keep us safe and make our state a better place to live." He paused for effect. "As you know, police officers are not appointed by governors or any other politicians. They must earn their badges through rigorous training, and must keep them by undying devotion to excellence. Officer Malloy met and exceeded these standards throughout his career. He lost his badge through no fault of his own. If it were in my power to do so, I would reinstate him, not because he saved my life, but because he is innocent of wrongdoing, and because Los Angeles is better off for having him in uniform."
The camera closed in more tightly.
"Therefore, I have called this press conference today in order to make a symbolic gesture. I have no authority in the matter, as I've said before. But this was the best way I could think of to show my support for Malloy at this time."
Wilson held up a piece of paper. "This form is the official pardon form which I use to pardon prisoners. It seems to me that Malloy has been a prisoner to cruel fate. So at this time, I am going to issue an official, symbolic pardon to Peter J. Malloy. And with this other form " Wilson held up another paper, " I am officially pronouncing today Peter J. Malloy day in honor of this fine citizen. To observe this day, I am asking all citizens who support Mr. Malloy to drive with their headlights on, even in broad daylight."
A hail of flashbulbs burst from everywhere.
Governor Wilson signed his papers with a flourish, and then addressed the reporters again.
"As I have said, the pardon I have issued bears no official weight. But it is my sincere hope that it will somehow help Mr. Malloy in finding justice on this day in which we celebrate him. Thank you very much."
The governor held up his newly-signed papers in a perfect photo-op pose, smiling for myriads of popping bulbs. Finally after several long moments he waved and left the stage.
Pete felt as if every nerve in his body was tingling. This all felt too good to be true.
Will I maybe someday be a cop again?
On the other end of the phone line, Jim seemed to have read his mind. "You'll be wearing blue again by tomorrow partner, do you hear me?"
Pete couldn't find a voice to answer with.
Sergeant MacDonald wearily drove 1-L-20 down Mulholland. He'd worked a double yesterday and then some, trying to find a missing juvenile. Now it was almost 8:30 in the morning, and he'd worn himself out enough to give up for now. There were plenty of other officers combing the city.
Mac shook his head hard, trying to clear the cobwebs from his brain. I should have gone home an hour or two ago. He felt dangerously close to falling asleep at the wheel, and he still had reports to write.
Suddenly all around him cars began to turn their headlights on. Mac frowned. What's this all about? Everywhere he looked he saw headlights in broad daylight. If they'd all been going in the same direction he'd have thought it was a funeral procession. But this?
Then, just as mysteriously, motorists began tooting their horns at him, and waving, and even cheering. Mac began to wonder if he had fallen asleep. He'd had dreams that weren't as weird as this.
Wait 'til I tell the lieutenant about this!
Pete opened his apartment curtains. He couldn't see any major roads from his window, but the intense honking he heard drew him to look anyway.
There, on the street in front of the complex, about a dozen cars sat with their headlights on, tooting their horns. And there, to the North, more cars were arriving, headlights blazing, horns blowing. By now the headlights looked smeary, so Pete blinked hard and rubbed at his eyes.
I can't believe this.
Jim cheered like a fool. He crowed with delight. He blared his horn and flashed his headlights. He couldn't get to within blocks of Pete's apartment, but he didn't care. These people were here for Pete.
Jean laughed beside him and did her share of whooping. Her hand reached across the seat and clasped his, squeezing it hard. She looked happier than he'd seen her in so long, and he couldn't resist leaning over for a quick kiss.
"Hooray for Uncle Pete! Hooray for Uncle Pete!" Jimmy hadn't stopped yelling since he'd heard the news. He still had no clue about Pete's troubles, but he sure understood the idea of a celebration. "It's Uncle Pete Day!"
Jennifer chortled and clapped her hands and yelled about "Uh Pee!"
"Jean, is the stroller in the trunk?" Jim asked.
"Because I'm going to park here, and we're going to walk to Pete's apartment. Are you game?"
"You bet!" Jean positively glowed with excitement. "Let's go!"
Jim parallel parked and chuckled as Jean responded the same way she always did. "I can't believe you can do that."
They quickly loaded the stroller with their daughter and their little cooler of lunchmeat and bread. It proved to be difficult pushing the stroller across yards and medians and curbs, and the job ended up falling to Jim. Jean held Jimmy's hand, and the little fellow skipped merrily by her side.
Soon they found themselves pushing their way through a friendly demonstration in the parking lot of the Blue Dolphin Apartments. In typical California fashion, the citizens had turned the event into a tailgate party. Folks had picnic baskets and sodas and beers and music blaring loudly from car stereos. Several guys flung a Frisbee around. TV cameras rolled. Jim marveled that they'd been able to pull all of this together so fast.
"Excuse us, please, excuse us." Jim tried to make his way closer to the stairs.
A friendly-looking teenager hollered, "Hey, don't try it, mister. There's a crazy little old lady that'll bite your head off if you go up there."
Jim and Jean both laughed. "It's okay. We know her."
A voice called from further away, "Hey, wait a minute that's his partner isn't it? Whatsisname Reed?" Jim saw a reporter sprinting toward him.
"Hurry hon. C'mon, Jimmy. Let's get in to see Pete." He parked the stroller next to the stairs, scooped a child up in each arm, and hurried up the stairs. Jean came behind him with the food, cautioning him to be careful.
"Hey, Reed, can we talk to you a minute?" the reporter stopped at the bottom of the stairs, probably unwilling to dare Mrs. O'Brien's wrath. Sure enough, the spirited landlady appeared on the second-floor walkway, shaking her finger at the reporter while she beckoned the Reeds. "Don't you say a word to him, Jim, you hear me?"
Jean laughed, and Jim tried to look serious as he replied, "Yes, ma'am!"
Mrs. O'Brien stepped up to Pete's door in front of Jim and knocked in her own firm way. "Pete, it's me. Open up. You've got company." Jim had no doubt that Pete would obey.
Sure enough, the apartment door opened, and as soon as Pete's head appeared, a roar arose from the people below. Pete waved awkwardly, clearly embarrassed, and motioned to the Reeds to hurry inside. He closed the door behind them as quickly as he could.
Jim shook Pete's hand vigorously. "I'd have told you we were coming, but I couldn't get a clear line through to you."
Pete waved him off dismissively. "I took it off the hook. I couldn't stand it any more." He smiled and gave Jean a brotherly hug.
Jim couldn't keep the huge grin off of his face, and he didn't even try. "Do you hear it, man? They're out there cheering for you!"
Pete shook his head, clearly overwhelmed by the growing tide of support.
"Happy Uncle Pete Day!" Jimmy yelled, jumping up and down in front of Pete and raising his arms to be picked up. Pete obliged and gave the little boy a big hug. Jennifer fussed for her turn.
"Has the Commission folded yet?" Jim asked.
"Not that I know of. We don't really know that they will." Jim could tell that Pete was being emotionally cautious, trying to avoid a letdown. But even so, his face wore an excited glow, and he kept casting nervous glances at the TV.
"The Price is Right!" Jimmy yelled, squirming out of Pete's arms to sit in front of the TV. Pete took the opportunity to pick Jennifer up, placing a big kiss on her cheek and hugging her close. Jim could see on Pete's face that the children's love meant everything to him.
"We brought food," Jean chimed in. "I'll go put this in the fridge."
"You shouldn't have, guys. You've done too much already. And you're still out of a job!" Pete flinched and threw a worried look at Jimmy, but the little fellow seemed not to have heard. As far as Jimmy knew, Daddy was having a vacation.
"I don't think I will be for long, Pete. I think we'll both be back in Adam-12 in no time flat." Jim dropped easily onto the sofa. "I think that calls for a celebration. You got any brews?"
"Yeah, a few. Help yourself." Pete closed his eyes as Jennifer gave him another squeeze around the neck.
"Awww, put 'The Price is Right' back on!" Jimmy's complaint stopped Jim in his tracks. He spun around to see the familiar face of Michael Monroe. "We interrupt this program to tell you that the police commission and the police department have announced a very important press conference to begin in twenty minutes. Please stay tuned."
Downstairs in the parking lot, the blaring car radios played a similar announcement. A cheer arose from the crowd. Jennifer echoed the cheer from her perch in Pete's arms.
Monroe disappeared and Bob Barker returned, trying to talk to a nearly hysterical woman who kept jumping up and down with excitement over a set of canisters. Jim and Pete exchanged anxious glances. Jim thought Pete looked absolutely petrified.
"Did I hear something about a press conference?" Jean returned from the kitchen.
"Yeah, twenty minutes."
Jean chuckled. "Pete, you're a nervous wreck." She laid a supportive hand on his arm. "It's going to go well. Take my word for it."
"I don't know, Jean. Lately, life has been determined to clobber me."
Jennifer reached for her mother, and Jean took her from Pete. "Well then, life owes you one. And I have a feeling it's about to pay up."
"Hear, hear." Jim agreed, giving Jean a squeeze around the waist.
Pete looked more nervous than Jim had ever seen him. "Hey, relax partner. Jean's right. It'll turn out well."
Pete glanced at Jimmy and lowered his voice. "I never knew I could be so afraid of wanting something. It's just that if it doesn't happen " Pete didn't finish the thought.
Jean made a sympathetic little sound and patted Pete's arm.
Jim felt his heart swelling. He still couldn't quite believe how much Pete had changed. He was so much more open and vulnerable now, and Jim liked it. Not that Pete was weak; far from it. But he no longer seemed to hide behind a wall of proud independence like he used to. He needed us like he never needed anybody before. And we were there for him. Jim felt really good about that.
The three friends seated themselves and tried to pay attention to Bob Barker. Jim felt an ever-growing desire to yell some sense into the giddy-headed women who kept nearly fainting in Barker's arms. Don't you know there are more important things going on in the world? Jean patted his leg in an unspoken message, telling him to calm down.
A firm knock on the door made everyone flinch. Pete answered it.
"Pete," Mrs. O'Brien's familiar voice began, "that woman at the bottom of the stairs swears she's a friend of yours, and that she's the nurse who helped you through your troubles. I didn't let her come up here, but she insisted that you needed to come and tell me to let her in. If she's lying to me I'll get my Irish up for sure, and she'll be sorry!"
Jim had to smile at the absurdity of his tall, strong, highly-trained friend making use of such a diminutive bodyguard. But right now, she seemed to be just what he needed.
Pete disappeared onto the balcony for a moment, and Jim heard him say, "Yes, that's her. C'mon up, Laura."
Jim and Jean shared a wide-eyed look as they rose to their feet.
A few moments later Laura stepped through the door. She greeted Jim and Jean briefly before turning her full attention to Pete. "I hope you don't mind my dropping by, but with things the way they are " She gestured at the commotion outside of the apartment.
"Of course I don't mind. I'm glad you're here." Pete seemed very moved by Laura's presence, and Jim gave Jean another meaningful glance.
"Have a seat," Pete gestured toward the couch.
"Are you here for Uncle Pete day?" Jimmy asked. He had never seen Laura before, but her presence didn't seem to surprise him.
"Yes, yes I am." Laura smiled and walked over to Jimmy with an outstretched hand. "And what's your name, young man?"
"Jimmy Reed." The little fellow shook her hand as he'd been taught.
"I thought that was who you had to be. You look like your Daddy."
"I know," Jimmy replied.
"And here's pretty little Jennifer," Laura cooed to the littlest Reed. Jennifer looked a little shy and hid her face in her mother's shoulder.
"There's going to be a press conference in just a couple of minutes," Pete broke in. "Lieutenant Moore and the Police Commission."
"Oh boy. Do you think it's good news?" She reached out to briefly touch Pete's hand, and Jim felt Jean nudge him.
Pete just shrugged and shook his head, his eyes never leaving Laura's face. "We'll see."
Laura sat down and the other three resumed their seats as well. Jim couldn't help noticing just how often Pete and Laura stole little glances at each other. Jim almost wished he'd stayed home, so that those two could be alone together.
Bob Barker kept on playing. Only Jimmy and Jennifer seemed to be enjoying him.
Finally, finally, the reporters broke in. Jimmy protested loudly, but the adults all shushed him. Jennifer crawled down off of Jean's lap and toddled over to sit beside her brother.
The reporters had to have their time in the spotlight, of course. Jim fretted for the main event.
"Ladies and gentlemen, here comes Lieutenant Moore of the LAPD. The woman with him, I am told, is a Police Commissioner Lorenzo. We haven't met her before, and I find it interesting that there has been a change in spokesmen for the Police Commission. Does this signal a change in the Commission's stance? We'll find out in a moment."
The camera zoomed in on Moore and Lorenzo as they took their places at the podium. Jim could scarcely breathe. Lorenzo was on Pete's side before at least I think she was.
She seemed a little nervous, but Jim couldn't read her beyond that. Moore was professional and inscrutable.
Jean grasped Jim's hand, and Jim gave a quick squeeze.
Lieutenant Moore spoke first. "Ladies and gentlemen of the press, and citizens of Los Angeles, I would like to begin by saying that the Los Angeles Police Department deeply appreciates your recent show of support for Officer Peter Malloy. It has been heartening to see such an unprecedented public outpouring of goodwill toward one of our own."
Moore paused and looked around him. "As you know, police work is not a popularity contest, and no one gets to be an officer by being popular. The same applies to Officer Malloy. Technically, I shouldn't even be calling him 'Officer', since I have his resignation right here in my hand." Moore held up a paper and shook it a little.
Jim's heart nearly pounded out of his chest, and he felt Jean's hand squeeze his more tightly.
The lieutenant's face remained serious. "However, we believe in this instance that the public is right, and that Officer Malloy deserves to be reinstated. And with that, I'll turn the podium over to Commissioner Lorenzo."
Moore lowered the mic a bit to accommodate Lorenzo's shorter stature. The poor woman still looked nervous, but she also smiled. "Ladies and gentlemen, the commission has recently met to reconsider the matter of Officer Malloy."
Jean's hand squeezed Jim's so hard that it hurt.
"I'm not much of a public speaker," Lorenzo continued, "So Lieutenant Moore and I have agreed to make this statement in a brief and succinct manner. Lieutenant?"
Moore held up the paper that he had earlier identified as Pete's resignation. He seemed to be handing it to Lorenzo, but when she took hold of it, he didn't let go. The two looked at each other with what appeared to be an unspoken message, and then, with a big smile from each of them, they tore the paper in two.
Jean gasped, and then bedlam erupted in the room. Everyone leapt to their feet, cheering, hugging, thumping shoulders, and laughing. The women wiped tears from their eyes.
Jimmy and Jennifer stared at the adults like they were crazy. "What's going on?" Jimmy asked.
"Oh " Jean seemed to be searching for a suitable explanation. " We're just celebrating Uncle Pete day."
"Uh Pee!" Jennifer clapped.
"Listen to them!" Laura said, gesturing outside. Jim finally noticed the celebration that had erupted in the parking lot, and the crescendo of horn-honking from the street. A moment later a loud, urgent knock sounded at the door.
Pete opened it, and Mrs. O'Brien hurried into the room. "Pete, did you hear it? Did you hear it?"
Pete laughed. "I heard it, Mrs. O'Brien." Pete's smile shone brighter than Jim could ever remember seeing it. He soaked in the sight.
Mrs. O'Brien clasped her hands in front of her. "Isn't it wonderful? Oh, isn't it wonderful! God watches out for Irishmen, that what my poor husband used to say." She fluttered around a bit in a moment of uncharacteristic uncertainty. "Oh, fiddle," she said at last. "Why shouldn't I hug you?" And with that she wrapped Pete in a quick hug before pulling away to dab at her eyes. "Oh, stuff and nonsense," she blustered. "All of this standing around and blubbering isn't doing anybody any good. You should be in that car of yours right now, driving down to the station to make it official." She grabbed Pete's arm and began to push him toward the door. Jim laughed.
"Mrs. O'Brien " Pete protested, freeing himself from her grip and tucking her arm under his, " may I eat my lunch first?" His eyes sparkled with the old mischief that rarely failed to disarm women. Jim laughed again as it became clear that the landlady had met her match.
"Oh, all right, I suppose you can wait until after you eat. But not one minute longer, do you hear me?"
Pete couldn't remember ever feeling so good. He had friends by his side, the public on his side, his life back in order, his nightmare ended. Lunch was terrific, the mood was festive, the kids were adorable, and Laura was .
His eyes rested on her again, and he tried to sort out his feelings.
"Hey, Pete, is your phone still off the hook?" Jean's question pulled Pete's thoughts back to the present.
"Uh, yeah, it is." He waved at it dismissively. "I may leave it that way for a week."
Jean laughed. "Well, Mrs. O'Brien is right. You should go down to the station. Or else get some rest. Or something. Jim and I will be heading off now. Jennifer is due for a nap." Jean gave Pete a gentle hug. "I'm so happy, Pete."
"Me too. And none of this wouldn't have happened if that husband of yours wasn't so stubborn. Don't tell him I said so, but I'll never be able to repay him for this one."
Jean smiled sweetly. "Just be in that seat beside him in 1-Adam-12. That's all he wants."
Pete only nodded, suddenly feeling a lump in his throat. Jim approached, and Pete quickly fell back on humor to hide his feelings.
"Well, it looks like one of us will be back in Adam-12 soon. I'm not sure they'll want you back."
"Watch it, Malloy. I still know a few juicy secrets about you "
"What?" Jean asked teasingly.
"Oh, no." Pete laughed. "Take Jim home and put him down for a nap before he gets cranky."
The Reeds lingered over their goodbyes, but Jennifer's increasing fussiness finally sent them on their way. Mrs. O'Brien left on their heels, and she gave Pete a meaningful look as she passed him. "That's a nice young woman there, Pete." She jerked her head back toward Laura. "She must have some Irish in her."
Pete blushed, knowing that Laura must have overheard. Out of the corner of his eye he could see her dip her head a little.
We're about to be alone. The thought sent a shiver through him.
Mrs. O'Brien patted his arm, winked at him, and stepped out onto the balcony. Pete closed the door behind her, suddenly feeling goosepimply. He raised his eyes slowly toward Laura, and she smiled a little.
"You know, I do have some Irish on my mother's side," she said quietly. Pete laughed.
"I I guess I should go too. Let you get on with your day." Laura sounded reluctant.
"No, don't go." Pete answered quickly, hating the thought of her going. He could scarcely comprehend his feelings for her. Here he'd just lost Judy .
Maybe that's it. Maybe I'm just on the rebound. I'd better be careful.
"I I really would like it if if you could come with me to the station?"
She stepped closer, looking at him with the same piercing clarity that she'd always had.
She knows. She knows how I feel.
"All right. I'll get my purse."
Pete's heart soared. With her by his side, he could do anything. Though he wasn't exactly sure why he'd need her support to do something as happy as getting his job back.
They drove without talking much. Pete couldn't seem to think of anything to say, but somehow that seemed okay. He didn't need to perform for Laura, to do anything to impress her or prove himself to her. She'd already seen him at his worst and accepted him. What did he have to fear?
Maybe that's it. Pete stole a glance at Laura, and she smiled at him. I was comfortable with Judy because she never tried to get any deeper into my head or heart than I wanted her to. She was the first woman who didn't push for that kind of intimacy. So I felt safer with her than I ever had with any woman.
"What do you think you'll do when you get to the station?" Laura's question broke into Pete's thoughts.
Pete chuckled. "I don't know. I'll go to the Captain's office, of course, but I guess it'll be up to him how we proceed from there." He was kind of surprised that he hadn't given the question any real thought. His mind had been focused entirely on the woman beside him.
The station soon came into view, and Pete had trouble finding a parking spot. One glance at the rear entrance told him why. Reporters milled around everywhere. Pete groaned.
He finally found a spot and killed the engine, then looked at Laura with a sigh.
"At least they're on your side," she smiled, clearly reading his reluctance to face the press.
"You don't have to get out here if you don't want to. You could drive my car around the corner and walk back. Maybe they won't recognize you." Pete spoke regretfully, wishing he hadn't subjected her to such a choice.
"No, that's okay. I don't mind." She smiled calmly at him again.
Pete suddenly realized that he'd taken hold of her hand, and he quickly searched her eyes for any disapproval.
She squeezed his hand lightly. "We'd better get in there."
Pete nodded, letting go of her hand with some reluctance. He got out of his car, and almost instantly heard the reporters buzzing.
"There he is! That's him!" The crowd began moving toward him.
Pete quickened his step to beat them to the other side of the car. He opened the door only a little and peered inside. "Are you sure you want to do this?"
"Of course, Pete."
He opened the door the rest of the way and helped her out, profoundly grateful for her presence right now.
"Officer Malloy, have you come back to reclaim your job?"
"How does it feel to be back?"
"Would you identify the woman with you please?"
The reporters surrounded Pete and Laura, making it nearly impossible for them to walk. Pete waved off their questions as politely as he could, pushing his way through with endless repetitions of "Excuse us". Even if he'd wanted to answer them, he couldn't have. The questions came fast and hard from everyone at once.
"Let them through, let them through." An authoritative voice broke through the barrage of questions, and a few moments later the mob parted. Sergeant MacDonald extended a hand and gestured the couple toward the door, ushering them in and holding the reporters at bay. "The department will make an official statement as soon as possible," Pete heard him say.
Once inside the door, Pete found himself facing an onslaught of new reporters. But officers began to spot Pete too, and they quickly began to run interference for him. With their help he and Laura finally made it to the Captain's office. Pete opened the door and hurried Laura in, realizing only after he'd closed the door behind them that he'd never knocked.
"Oh, I'm sorry, sir. I was just the reporters "
"It's okay, Pete. Just this once." The captain smiled and extended a hand. "Welcome back, Pete. It's good to see you." The captain gave a curious glance toward Laura, and Pete hurried to introduce her. "This is Laura Benson. She's the nurse that helped me through detox."
"Nice to meet you," the captain shook her hand and then gestured toward the chair near his desk. Laura accepted it and Pete stood beside her.
"Am I right in assuming that you're here because we have some things that belong to you?" The captain grinned like a man who already knows the answer to his question, and likes it.
Pete smiled back. "Yessir, if you don't mind, I believe you have a badge and gun that belong to me."
"Well, Pete, I'm not gonna give 'em to you." The captain leaned back in his chair, his Texas drawl becoming slightly more pronounced.
Pete felt his heart turn over in his chest, and from the corner of his eye he saw Laura stiffen.
"Not just yet, that is," the captain continued. "No, I've talked it over with the Chief and the Commission, and they all agree that there needs to be some sort of public ceremony when we reinstate you. You'll get your things back then."
"Aw c'mon, Captain, we don't need all that, do we?" Pete protested. The last thing in the world he wanted was more of the spotlight.
"I know, I know. You've had your fill of publicity." The captain raised a placating hand. "But the chief and the commission and I agree that the public needs some sort of closure for this whole affair, and we all decided this was the best way."
Pete began to protest again, but the captain silenced him with a gesture. "Now, Pete, no more argument. The public stood up for you, and all we're asking is that you stand up in front of them. Is that too much to ask?"
Pete felt two pairs of eyes burning into him, and he felt a little ashamed. "No, sir. I suppose I do owe them that much."
"You owe them a lot more," the captain replied with some irony.
"So, the question is, when are we going to do this? I assume your schedule is pretty open right now, am I right?" The captain spoke more officially now, but his eyes still smiled.
"Yes sir, my schedule is open."
"That's what I figured. So it largely depends on the governor and the chief and the commissioners. Florence is working on getting all of that coordinated. I'll let you know as soon as I know." The captain rose to his feet. "You're sure you want that badge back, Malloy? You don't want to bag groceries down at the supermarket or anything like that?"
Pete chuckled. "Call me crazy, sir, but I'm even looking forward to the first time a citizen tells me off. Then I'll know that everything's back to normal."
The captain extended his hand again, and the men shared a warm handshake. "I'm glad to have you back, Malloy. The whole department is."
"Thank you, sir."
Pete and Laura ran the gauntlet of backslapping officers and hounding reporters all the way back to Pete's car. Pete noticed how closely Laura walked to him, sometimes her shoulder even touching his. He couldn't understand why, but she strengthened him so much just by being there.
They finally managed to worm their way into the car, and then managed to worm the car through the mass of reporters and onto the freedom of the street. Pete sighed heavily with relief, suddenly feeling exhausted by it all.
"Tired?" Laura asked softly.
"Yeah. Not so much physically, though. It's more. " Pete paused, unsure of how to describe it.
"Emotional?" she suggested.
He glanced at her appreciatively. "Yeah, that's it." He felt amazed that it was so easy to admit that to her.
Pete took advantage of a red light to look at her longer. "Thanks for being there for me. It really helped."
They lapsed back into a comfortable silence, giving Pete a chance to contemplate his feelings once more.
It's just so different with her. He felt a little guilty doing it, but he couldn't help comparing her with Judy. If Judy had been with me, I'd have been determined to act stronger. But with Laura, I was stronger. She gave me strength. I don't know how, but she did.
As he drove, new thoughts and ideas began to coalesce in his mind. Strength doesn't come from standing alone. It comes from standing with someone who knows you as you are and accepts you. Someone you don't have to hide from.
That's what Jim has been trying to tell me all these years.
Goosebumps ran up his arms again. I'm starting to think like Jim?? About women??
He shot a glance at her, and found her looking at him. Her expression seemed slightly amused.
Slow down, Pete. This must be rebound. That's got to be it. Just rebound.
"Penny for your thoughts." Laura's request made Pete afraid of her for the first time. He stayed quiet, pretending to focus on pulling into his parking spot at the apartment. He shifted into park and killed the engine, painfully aware of her eyes watching him expectantly.
"I'm not sure my thoughts are worth that much," he said after a moment, and instantly knew that his lie was obvious. Laura looked away, disappointment clear on her face.
Pete couldn't bear to see that.
"Would you come inside? Please?"
"All right." Now her eyes met his with less softness, as if she expected him to hedge more. And at that moment, Pete knew he would tell her anything she wanted to know, just to see that softness in her eyes again.
"I I can talk better in there." He hoped she'd sense his openness, and it seemed that she did. Relief flooded him.
They walked quietly up the stairs. Pete felt encouraged that she stood close as he unlocked the door.
They walked inside and he flipped on the light. Force of habit told him he ought to offer her something to drink, but he stopped himself. She wasn't in the mood for pleasantries.
He looked into her eyes again. She seemed a little guarded, but also willing to drop that guard if given a reason to.
How can I read her so well?
He gestured for her to sit on the couch, and he sat down beside her. They were silent for a moment while Pete searched for words.
"Laura, I I don't know what to think about my feelings right now. I have to be honest with you. I'm feeling things for you that I've never felt before, for anyone. But I'm not sure it's wise for me to trust to trust my heart right now. I've just split up with a lady that I'd been with for years. So maybe these feelings are coming from some kind of rebound. And I've just been through a really traumatic time, in which you helped me tremendously. So maybe my feelings are coming from gratitude."
Pete stopped talking to search her face, and found great encouragement there. After a moment he reached out and took her hand, tentatively at first, but then more warmly as she welcomed his touch.
"One thing I do know for sure," he continued earnestly. "You deserve more than to be just some kind of pick-me-up for a hurting guy. And while you deserve all my gratitude, that's not enough of a basis to start building a a romance."
He reached with his other hand to fully enfold hers. "So I want to take this slowly. Because because if this is really as special as I think it is I don't want to do anything to mess it up. I want us both to be sure."
He shrugged a little awkwardly after finishing, feeling frighteningly vulnerable after baring his soul to her. But he kept his eyes available, and she met them.
"Pete " Laura paused and glanced away for a moment. When she looked back at him, her eyes shone warmly, and Pete's heart skipped a beat. "Pete, you're someone very special. I knew that before all of this started. I knew it from the first time you showed up at the halfway house with a parolee who needed help. Back then I wished there was some way I could find out more about you, but I didn't know how."
She sighed. "When Jim came and told me what was going on with you, there was never any question in my mind about helping. But I wasn't sure what to do with my own feelings at that point. I didn't want to fall for someone with a drug problem. I'd always sworn that I'd never let myself get involved with someone that I'd met that way. But in this case it seemed different. I had every reason to believe that you were innocent of wrongdoing, and that you'd be fine after detox. So I couldn't help couldn't help seeing you through the same eyes as before, from when I'd admired you on the job."
She gently extracted her hand from his, but only so that she could take his hands in her own. Pete could scarcely breathe.
"So I've felt I've felt very drawn to you, Pete. But I'm also not sure what to do with those feelings. I don't want to fall for the old 'Florence Nightingale' syndrome do you know what that is?"
Pete nodded. "When a nurse falls for a patient just because he needs her. Or vice-versa."
Laura nodded. "That's right. You deserve better than that. So I want to take things slowly, too. I want to be sure of my own heart. I'm so glad you feel the same way."
Pete felt a burden lifting off of him. Why was I ever afraid to talk to her? Ironically, now that they'd agreed to take things slowly, he wanted to kiss her more than ever. He knew he didn't dare, but he felt the need to do something.
Finally he settled for leaning down to place a gentle kiss on her forehead. Her eyes shone brightly in response, and she reached up to touch his cheek ever so fleetingly.
"I think I'd better be going now," she said in almost a whisper.
Pete nodded wordlessly.
He saw her to the door, and then decided he'd walk her to her car. Once there, he opened her door for her, but they lingered together for long moments before she sat down.
"When can I see you again?" Pete asked, squatting down to bring them eye-to-eye.
"I never know my schedule. I never know when someone will walk in off the street or come in a patrol car. But please call me. Please."
"I will. Tomorrow. That's a promise."
They shared another breathless 'what-do-we-do-now" moment, and Pete couldn't keep from kissing her forehead once again. It took all of his self-control to pull away after that, but he managed.
He closed her car door reluctantly, and watched longingly as she drove away. His mind drifted back to the last time he'd watched a woman drive away from him like that.
Can it really all end so happily?
I hate this sort of thing.
Pete Malloy must have checked and re-checked himself in front of the mirror a hundred times, but he still felt that something had to be wrong with him, somewhere. He stood at full attention on the stage, listening as the Chief of Police droned on and on, recounting facts that Pete and everyone else knew too well.
I hope I don't look as miserable as I feel. Pete glanced down into the audience, his eyes quickly finding Jim's smiling face. You lucky dog. Jim's reinstatement had made the press, of course, but he hadn't been subjected to any public displays. Pete envied him.
Next to Jim sat Jean, and her eyes shone with so much affection that Pete couldn't help a little smile. He quickly stifled it, seeing that Mac was watching from right beside Jean. The sergeant would want everything kept formal, but Pete could see that Mac was enjoying this immensely. Mary looked happy, too.
Pete let his eyes wander to the right side of the table, the side where Laura sat. Her eyes instantly met his, and Pete smiled a little despite himself. But then he returned to the straight-ahead stare required of an officer at attention.
" so it is with great pleasure that I join with the Governor, the police commission, and the citizens of Los Angeles in formally reinstating Officer Malloy to his previous rank and status, and all of the privileges and responsibilities associated therewith, as symbolized by the return of this badge and sidearm."
The chief met Pete halfway, handing him the badge first. Pete accepted it with a sudden prickling of his eyes, pinning it onto his uniform more by feel than by his now blurred sight. A moment later he felt the cold metal of his revolver as the captain placed it in his hand. He had to resist the urge to heft it, to revel in its familiarity. Instead he holstered it with formal precision and accepted a handshake from the captain. The audience rose to its feet with thunderous applause, and the governor approached for a handshake of his own.
"Congratulations, Malloy," the governor said with a smile. Pete only nodded, not wanting to speak around the lump in his throat.
"Speech!" someone called from the audience, and immediately more voices took up the cry. "Speech! Speech!"
Pete shook his head and waved his unwillingness to speak, feeling nearly terrified at having to address so many strangers when his emotions were so raw.
"Go on, Malloy. They deserve to hear from you." The governor smiled encouragingly at Pete.
Disobeying the governor wasn't even an option in Pete's mind. He was too well trained to even consider it. But the podium looked suddenly bigger than life as he approached it, and he had to fight the urge to wipe his sweaty palms on his uniform pants.
What can I say?
He gripped the sides of the podium to strengthen himself as he faced the now expectant audience.
"Thank you." His voice sounded unnatural in his own ears, and it seemed to him that it boomed far too loudly through the speakers. But the audience only smiled.
"It wasn't too long ago that I thought my whole life was over." Pete relaxed a little as he scanned the sea of friendly faces. He turned towards the table where the MacDonalds and Reeds and Laura sat. His eyes locked with Laura's, and the rest of the room disappeared.
"But now I feel that my life has just begun, thanks to you."
Laura smiled sweetly and joined in the applause that swept the room. Pete pulled himself back to the present, nodded awkwardly to the audience, and retreated from the podium as the applause continued. He took up his position standing next to the commissioner, waiting to be dismissed.
The badge hung on his chest with a weight that felt at once both new and deliciously familiar. His revolver rested comfortably in that special space where his arm automatically made room for it.
Officer Malloy. Officer Peter J. Malloy.
Yes, I know who he is now. He's me.
And he's an okay guy to be.