by CE Fox
Jim Reed rested the tip of the bat against his toe, put a fist on one hip and narrowed his eyes at Ed. "Go ahead. Milk it."
Ed adjusted his dark blue umpire hat a little lower on his forehead. "Arguing strikes gets you thrown out of the game, Reed."
"Ed, you can't throw me out of a practice game. Besides, am I arguing? Do you hear one word coming out of my mouth about that call?"
Ed folded his arms. "Get back to the dugout, Reed."
Jim shouldered the bat, gave Ed one last baleful glance, then walked slowly back to the weathered, splintery bench that sat along the third base line, unprotected under the glaring late afternoon August sun. "Dugout," he muttered as he sat down next to Pete Malloy. "He's got delusions of the big leagues."
"And you've got a chip on your shoulder."
"It's not a chip, Pete. It's a bat." Jim dropped the wooden bat on the ground next to the rest of the bats. He chewed violently on the toothpick in the corner of his mouth. "That pitch was outside by a good three inches. I can't believe he called it a strike."
"I still can't believe you talked me into being on the team," Pete grumbled.
"We need you, Pete. You have a good arm." Jim lifted his baseball hat and used his tee-shirt sleeve to wipe sweat off his forehead. "Ed probably can't see the strike zone because he's so short. Can't see over Brinkman's head to know where the ball's at."
"Would you lighten up? It's just an inter-squad practice game. Save your competitive ire for the real thing on Saturday."
"I want to know whose bright idea it was to have Ed ump this thing."
"Ed's. Who else?"
Jim grunted an inarticulate agreement, but kept his eyes on Steve Trevino, the rookie officer pitching this inning for the red squad. He zinged a fastball toward home plate, where Jerry Miller waited with waving bat. Jerry checked his swing, but Ed yelled out strike once again. Jim thought the pitch looked inside. He yanked the toothpick out of his mouth and threw it to the ground. "He's not doing Trevino any favors, giving him a strike zone as wide as a black and white."
"I don't think we have anything to worry about. Looks like Trevino knows his way around a strike zone without any help from Ed Wells."
"He told me he was offered a minor league contract when he was at Juco. Picked the Academy instead."
"He's got a good curve."
Jim snorted. "Good? That thing's wicked. I swear his second strike on me dropped six inches. I thought I had it nailed and suddenly I'm swatting at mosquitoes. I never was any good at hitting the curve."
"Careful how loud you say that, partner. The fire department spies are everywhere."
Jim laughed. LAPD Central Division would be battling the LA Fire Department in a charity baseball game on Saturday, the proceeds to be split between a burn unit at a local hospital and a charity that helped abused children. Last year, the fire department had won, so the pride of Central Division was at stake and seemed to be resting on Steve Trevino's golden left arm. "The fire department already knows about me. I struck out twice on curve balls last year."
"Same guy pitching for them this year?"
"Haven't heard, but probably."
Miller fanned when the bottom dropped out of Trevino's pitch. The ball crossed the plate about three inches from the ground. Jim winced. "Ouch."
Miller trudged back to the bench and sat down in defeat. "I'm glad he's pitching on our side, that's all I have to say."
"You know, if you guys could solve Trevino here in practice, you'll have it made Saturday. He's better than that fire department pitcher," Pete said.
Jim handed him the bat. "What do you mean, 'you guys'? You seem to keep forgetting that you'll be batting seventh in the lineup, hotshot. You want us to solve Trevino, go show us the way."
"With pleasure." Pete grabbed the bat and swaggered to the plate. As he planted his back foot, he held the bat at arm's length, pointing it at Trevino with a broad smile. Trevino ignored him as he stared in at Brink for the sign. Jerry Woods, playing first base, yelled, "No hotdogging, Malloy! Whiff him, Steve!"
Trevino brought his glove and ball to his chest, raised his knee and unleashed a fastball toward the plate. Pete swung a half-beat too late and sent a line drive foul over the heads of the blue squad. Jim, Jerry and the rest of the blue squad tumbled off the bench as they ducked the frozen rope. "Easy, Pete! We're on your side, remember?" Jim shouted.
Pete stepped out of the box and grinned. "Just keeping you on your toes."
Jim rolled his eyes as he sat back down. Pete stepped back into the batter's box without repeating his earlier antics. Trevino cocked and fired, this time another curve ball. Pete's eyes lit up when it didn't break. He swung and sent the hanging curve into the gap in right field. He made it into second standing up.
"Lucky shot," Trevino called from the mound.
"Luck nothing. That curve made Olive Oyl look like Marilyn Monroe," Pete retorted. He adjusted his hat and took a modest lead off second..
Trevino simply raised the corner of his upper lip and turned his back on Pete. He didn't bother checking the runner before serving up a heater that split the strike zone right down the middle. Another scorched the strike zone on the inside corner, then he dropped the bottom out of a perfect breaking ball that left the beleaguered batter swinging at air molecules. He turned and tipped his cap to Pete, who'd been left stranded in scoring position. "Have a nice day, officer."
"If we win this thing, I don't know if we'll be able to live with Trevino," Pete grumbled the next day as he and Jim started Daywatch.
"Aw, come on. He's just confident, that's all."
"It's a fine line between confident and cocky."
"Come on, Pete. He knows his stuff. And remember, he is on our side."
"Yeah, you're right," Pete said grudgingly. "Still, that 'have a nice day' crack was over the top."
"Yeah, kid like him needs to learn he has to respect his elders," Jim said with a sly smile.
"Any more smart remarks from you and I'm taking you back to the station."
Jim laughed. "Why don't we do a run through the park, make sure those hypes are still gone."
"If that'll shut you up, I'm all for it."
They didn't make it into the park.
"Officers! Officers!" A heavy-set woman in a flowered dress waved frantically at them from where she stood between two parked cars in the parking lot of a small grocery store across the street from the park entrance.
"Isn't that the cantaloupe lady? What was her name, Sandra Quillen?" Jim asked, a grin spreading across his face.
Pete sighed. "Sandra Quillen, the fruit mauler at Maxwell's Grocery."
"Better get your spare change handy, oh Great Fruit God. Mary Maxwell can't be far away."
"We're six blocks from there. If she's got a problem, at least it isn't with Mrs. Maxwell." Pete pulled the car into the lot and stopped. The woman charged over. "Officers, I want to report a crime."
"What is it this time, Mrs. Quillen?" Pete asked. He inspected her hands for rotten fruit, but she didn't have any.
She leaned down to look more closely at him. "Oh, it's you again. Well, I want to report vandalism, Officer."
Pete looked at the store building, but didn't see any obvious signs of graffiti or other damage. "I don't see--"
"Not there, Officer. There!" She pointed dramatically toward a car.
"Is that your car?"
"Yes, it's mine and it's been vandalized."
Again, there was no obvious signs of damage. Shooting a wry look toward Jim, Pete set the parking brake, turned off the engine, and they both got out. Jim walked slowly all the way around the woman's car, stopping when he looked at the hood. "Pete."
Marked into the dust on the hood of the dark blue sedan were the words, "Cantaloupes Beware." Pete pursed his lips and bit the inside of his cheeks to keep from smiling.
"Ma'am, this isn't really vandalism," Jim said, not bothering to hide his amusement. "It's inappropriate and probably a little rude, but when you wash the car, it'll come right off."
She glared at Jim, then turned to Pete. "Officer, it's harassment, and I want that Maxwell woman arrested."
Pete found control finally. "Mrs. Quillen, do you have any proof that she did this?"
"You bet your sweet bippy, I do. I saw her with my own two eyes. That horrible woman knows she can't pawn off any more rotten fruit on me, so she does this. I saw her do it while I was in the checkout lane inside. And have you talked to your friends in the Food Administration about her yet?"
"No, ma'am," Pete said, squirming slightly. He glanced beyond her left shoulder at Jim, but his partner was no help. Obviously feeling his assistance wasn't necessary, Jim had moved back to the unit, where he leaned against the car with elaborate casualness. He dug into his pocket and pulled out a nickel, lightly tossing it in his hand, a slight smile playing across his lips. Pete glared at him, but it just made Jim's eyes dance all the more.
"Officer, what are you going to do about this?" Mrs. Quillen demanded.
"Ma'am, my partner's right. There's really no crime here. Just take your car, get it washed, and like I told you before, steer clear of Maxwell's."
"But have steered clear, and look what she did anyway!"
"Mrs. Quillen, there's no real crime here. There's nothing we can do about this other than to suggest that you keep your distance from her as much as possible. There's another grocer two blocks north. I suggest you try shopping there." He nodded at her, then moved around her to get to the black and white.
"The least you could do is go give that Maxwell woman a warning!"
"Ma'am, the best thing you can do is let it drop before it escalates into something that you and I will both regret. Get your car washed and be grateful she didn't scrape it into your paint job with a key."
She huffed and stomped her foot, but retreated to her car. Pete sighed as he slid behind his own steering wheel. Jim sat quietly, his face a mask of innocence. "All right, partner. Get it out of your system before you explode," Pete growled.
Jim waited a long moment, savoring the anticipation. He finally looked over. "I'm just amazed you didn't offer to pay for the car wash."
"Seven thousand guys in the department and I get the king of bad comedy."
Three blocks later, Jim broke out in another high-pitch snicker. "I'm sorry, Pete, but it's funny."
"I know something even funnier," Pete snapped. "A partner who gets dumped out of his black and white in the middle of the Golden State Freeway during rush hour. And the department finding it justifiable."
"Lighten up, Pete," Jim chided. "Tell you what, I'll make it up to you by buying lunch."
"That sounds more like it."
"I thought we'd go for cantaloupe," Jim dead-panned, then collapsed into more noisy peals of laughter.
"You better be glad I'm too busy driving to reach over and pop you one."
Jim brought himself under control. "Aw, come on, Pete. You know you'd never hit me."
"Don't push your luck. Are you gonna put in for seven or do I have to starve to death on top of listening to your cackling hyena imitation?"
Jim grabbed the mic and brought it to his lips with a flourish. "1-Adam-12, requesting code 7 at Main and Delaware."
"1-Adam-12, continue patrol and handle this call. Shoplift suspect there now, Sumner's Department Store, 9901 Montclair. Handle code 2."
Jim acknowledged and looked at Pete. "Sorry. I tried."
"I should have traded you in when I had the chance."
An hour later, Pete pulled the black and white out of the station lot into traffic. "How's the finger?"
"Sore. I can't believe that little punk bit me." Jim examined his right index finger, but there weren't any teeth marks. He flexed it a couple of times.
"Maybe next time you'll think twice before you go fishing in a suspect's mouth for contraband."
"Pete, I saw him stick that ring in his mouth. What else was I supposed to do? Let him swallow it?"
"That too would have passed."
Jim grimaced. "I hope he doesn't have any diseases."
Pete glanced over. "You want to go get checked out?"
"Nah, guess not. There's no blood."
"No thanks to a fifteen-year-old shoplifter. That's your throwing hand, isn't it?"
"Don't worry, I'll be fine for the big game, coach."
"You better be. We don't have another center fielder."
Jim studied him. "Don't tell me you're actually getting all worked up about this game?"
Pete shifted in his seat before answering. "No, not exactly. It's just a game. But still, I'd rather the department didn't fall flat on its face in front of thousands of Dodger fans."
"Not to mention the Dodgers and the Cardinals themselves. You're nervous, admit it."
"Me? No, not at all." But his eyes said otherwise.
Jim laughed. "Pete, it's just a charity baseball game. Sure, it's at Dodger Stadium before the Dodgers-Cards game, but nobody'll be expecting a bunch of cops and firemen to be big leaguers. Besides, we're playing an hour before batting practice, a good two hours before the game. There won't be anybody in the stands but our families, most likely."
"Uh huh. And where did you gain this sudden enlightened perspective on this game? Last practice you were wound tighter than a drum."
"It's a simple matter of comparison," Jim said with the air of a man who has solved the mystery of the universe.
"You don't say."
"Sure." Jim shifted around in his seat, the better to deliver his lecture. "We're playing a team that's evenly matched with us. We'll look just as good if not better than the fire department. If we were playing the Dodgers, sure, I'd be a lot more nervous because then we'd look like a bunch of chumps. But we won't look like chumps, because we're not playing out of our league."
"You've got this all figured out, don't you?"
Jim straightened forward. "Yep. We're in a good spot, all the way around. We just have to make sure no one comes down with any injuries and we've got it made."
"Good, then. Just keep your fingers out of suspects' mouths for the next two days, would you?"
Jim swung smoothly and the bat made contact with Trevino's hanging slider with that satisfying thwack that let him know he'd gotten all of it. He raced toward first, rounded the bag, then slowed his pace to a more dignified run as he saw the ball drop beyond the right field fence. A home run away--usually he pulled the ball when he dumped one over the fence. Not that he minded. A homer was a homer.
He grinned at the good-natured razzing of the red squad fielders as he rounded the bases, then stepped firmly on home plate and jogged back to the bench, where he got the glad hand from the blue squad. "Nice job, partner," Pete said, slapping him on the shoulder as he sat down. "Just be sure to do that a few times tomorrow and we'll have it made."
"I'll see what I can do," Jim grinned. He glanced at his watch. "Oh hey, we better scoot. PM Watch starts in about an hour and a half."
"I was just thinking the same thing," Pete said as he gathered up his glove and jacket. He looked over toward Ed Wells behind home plate. "Wells, we're outta here. Gotta get to work."
Ed nodded. "Just don't break anything tonight, all right? You especially, Reed."
Pete stared at Jim. "I think I've just been insulted."
"Tell you what, Pete, to make it up to you, I'll buy you a cantaloupe." Jim winked, then headed for his car.
"So far, a nice, quiet safe shift. No crazy women with cantaloupes, no finger-biting juvenile delinquents," Jim said with satisfaction as he closed his notebook. He tucked it away on the seat between them and looked at the light evening traffic. "Especially quiet for a Friday night."
"Don't jinx us."
Jim smiled. "Come on, Pete. Don't be superstitious."
"Who's superstitious? It's a known principle of law enforcement. Just like it's a known law that you don't say the words 'no hitter' during a no-hitter and you don't step on the chalk lines when you run onto the field."
"That's silly, too."
"Just the same, don't say anything else."
"1-Adam-12, call the watch commander."
"--won't," Jim finished on a sigh. He yanked the mic off the clip. "1-Adam-12, roger. Wonder what Mac wants?"
"I know a way to find out," Pete said as he pulled up beside one of the police call boxes. "Since you jinxed us, you call."
Jim opened his door. "I did not jinx us, partner."
Two minutes later he was back, a look of consternation on his face.
"What?" Pete asked.
"Somebody thought they saw a drunk disappear into the railroad tunnel over by Chadwick. Mac wants us to check it out."
"Before or after the trains roar through?"
"He says railroad dispatch stopped all the trains."
"Considerate of them," Pete muttered as he pulled the black and white in a u-turn. "Well, this should be an easy one, at least."
Jim didn't answer.
"I don't know, Pete, I don't like it." Jim uncharacteristically hesitated in front of the rail tunnel entrance. He jiggled the flashlight in his hand. Pete could almost reach out and swat at the wave of Jim's apprehension.
"Jim, you said Mac called railroad dispatch. All the trains have been stopped."
"Yeah, I know." Jim clicked the flashlight beam on, then off, then on again. "Okay." He started forward.
"Wait a minute," Pete said, grabbing Jim's sleeve. "What gives? Why the sudden nervous Nelly act?"
Jim blushed, glanced down at his feet. "Nothing, Pete. Really."
"Jim, I know you. Your gut feelings usually pan out."
Jim rolled his eyes and shifted the flashlight to his other hand, then back again. "Pete, not this time, okay? Just ignore me."
Pete crossed his arms and stared until Jim threw his hands up.
"Okay, okay. So I have this kind of phobia about railroad tunnels, all right? You satisfied? Now do you mind if we go in and get that drunk out of there?" He turned and marched toward the tunnel entrance
Pete stood for a moment, dumbfounded. He didn't think Jim was afraid of anything, except snakes, the odd circus gorilla escapee and spiders. "Jim!" he called.
Jim stopped, but he didn't turn around.
Pete spoke to his partner's angry, stiff back. "Look, Jim, if you'd rather, we'll call for back up."
Jim turned around slowly. "Are you out to ruin me? No way is this going beyond you and me, got it?"
Pete tried to hide his smile, but from the sour look on Jim's face he knew he'd failed. "Got it, as long as you can do your duty."
"I can do my duty." He gave Pete a disgusted look and turned back around. "Come on. Let's get this done."
Pete followed behind, noticing that Jim's steps slowed slightly just outside the entrance, but Jim squared his shoulders and plunged in.
Slanting evening sunlight followed them in for about twenty feet, then the tunnel made a slight turn to the left and after another fifteen feet, the only appreciable light came from the feeble beam of Jim's flashlight. Pete pulled his own out, but the additional beam didn't seem to help much. "Can't imagine why a drunk would want to hide in this gloom."
Jim didn't say anything. He flicked his beam back and forth along the tracks, looking for a pile of rags that would signify their quarry. "Puts a whole new spin on the term 'blind drunk', doesn't it?"
"Leave it to you to make bad jokes at a time like this."
"That almost sounds like you think there are times I make good jokes."
Pete gave him a sardonic look that was wasted in the darkness. "Just look for the drunk."
"Anybody in here? Police! Speak up!" Jim called. His voice echoed down the tunnel. No one answered.
Pete nearly tripped when his toe caught the edge of a railroad tie. He caught himself, but dropped the flashlight. The light extinguished with a crackling pop. "Terrific," Pete muttered. Jim turned his light toward Pete, and Pete bent down and retrieved the broken flashlight. "Hang tight to yours, partner."
"Just stick close, okay?"
Pete let the blackness hide his smile. Despite the earlier banter, Jim sounded as spooked as Pete had ever heard him.
After another thirty or forty feet, Jim said, "How far down could he have gone?"
"Take it easy, partner."
Jim didn't say anything else, but his breathing was a little ragged. He coughed, then cleared his throat. Pete heard him take a couple deep breaths, then he moved forward, picking up the pace a little more. It was hard to tell in the dark, but Pete estimated they'd gone nearly a quarter of a mile into the tunnel with no sign of any drunk. "I bet it's a false alarm," he said. He grunted as he nearly turned his ankle on another broken tie.
"Could be," Jim agreed. He turned around and aimed the flashlight behind them, then back. The light flickered slightly, then yellowed. "Oh, no." Jim pounded the side of the flashlight. If anything, the beam grew weaker. "You still have yours? We can switch batteries."
"Just don't drop yours, all right?"
"Not a chance," Jim said, a little shakily. He focused the light on Pete's flashlight as Pete unscrewed the end and slid out the batteries.
"Okay," Pete said, returning the flashlight to his pocket.
Jim turned off his light and the darkness threatened to swallow them alive. Pete heard Jim unscrew his flashlight, then heard the soft thump of the batteries hitting the ground. One of them landed on his foot. Jim's hand bumped into his chest. Pete reached up with his free hand and guided the battery into Jim's hand. He listened to the small clicking noises of Jim sliding the batteries home and tried not to imagine the distant roar of oncoming trains.
"Okay, here we go," Jim said. With a click, the darkness retreated.
Pete couldn't hold back a sigh of relief.
"Scared of the dark, partner?" Jim asked.
"No, but I'm beginning to heartily dislike railroad tunnels."
Jim's quiet, "Uh huh" was heavy with I-told-you-so sarcasm.
"Okay, so I'm sorry I laughed at you. Would you just move it?"
"Now who's all jumpy?"
Pete reached out and snatched the flashlight out of Jim's hand. "Come on, let's move." He stepped out quickly, determined to get to the other end of the tunnel and daylight. He heard Jim laugh softly behind him, but he ignored him.
A few minutes of walking and calling out later, Jim said, "Pete, how long did the map say this thing was, anyway?"
"A mile and an eighth."
"You need to shine the light more on the other side," Jim pointed out.
"I figure we can walk back on that side. I'm afraid if I move the light over there we'll lose our footing."
"Yeah, guess so."
Silence for another two minutes, then Jim's voice came, very small. "Pete."
Pete turned around and shone the light in Jim's face. Or would have if Jim had still been standing. He moved the beam downward and found his partner squatting down with a hand on the rail. "What?"
"I told you Mac said they stopped the trains, didn't I?"
A very hollow space bloomed in Pete's stomach. "Yes," he said slowly, then bent down and touched the rail. It was vibrating.
"Pete," Jim said again, this time his voice touched with just a trace of panic. "There's not enough room between the track and the walls-"
"I know, partner. Let's get going."
"We must be past the half-way mark. Let's keep going the way we've been."
"What if that's the direction the train's coming from?"
"Don't think about it."
"This is exactly why I don't like train tunnels," Jim muttered. He was practically treading on Pete's heels. Pete felt Jim's hand on the small of his back.
"Don't push me," Pete warned.
"I won't as long as you go faster."
"If I go any faster I'll fall and break my neck."
Jim fell back a bit.
Silence except for their harsh breathing and the crunch of gravel beneath their feet. Pete tried to control the hammering of his heart, but truth be told, he was terrified. His ears strained, waiting to hear the first low rumble of tons of diesel engine bearing down on them. "I don't hear anything, do you?" he finally asked.
Another minute passed without any break in the darkness or any indication the end was in sight. Pete nearly fell over when Jim suddenly grabbed his arm. Jim's fingers sank hard into Pete's bicep.
"Listen," he said tersely.
Pete felt it more than heard it. A low vibration that pressed against his ears and breastbone. "Jim, we have to find an alcove, a ledge, anything." He flicked the light along both sides of the track. Nothing. "Come on."
They were running now, Pete's feet stumbling and tripping over the uneven ground. He didn't dare shine the light downward, though. He might miss seeing the niche in the wall that would be the difference between life and death. He cursed his earlier clumsiness in allowing the flashlight to break. He risked a glance over his shoulder. Jim was still behind him.
The rumble was an audible, distant roar now, coming from behind them. He thought he heard Jim cry out, but the train's whistle suddenly shrieked through the tunnel like the demons of hell itself.
Pete stumbled, lunging to the side to catch himself against the stone wall of the tunnel. His outstretched hand encountered empty air and he fell sideways to the ground, the flashlight rolling a few feet away.
An alcove. Safety. Even as he scrambled to retrieve the flashlight, he shouted. "Jim! Come on!"
The train's rumbling roar was inexorably increasing. And there was no sign of Jim. "Jim!" Pete yelled, then finally grasped the flashlight. He lunged to his feet and ran back out into the tunnel, which was now flashing faintly with the sweeping arcs of light from the engine's headlamp. He saw Jim, ten feet away from the alcove, on the ground, feebly trying to push himself to his hands and knees.
Pete ran to him. Bent down. Hooked his arms under Jim's. "Jim, come on," he hissed through gritted teeth.
"Sorry . . . I-I fell . . ."
"Don't worry about it, just get on your feet. There's an alcove, just ahead."
Jim started to stand, then let out another cry. "My foot. It's caught!"
The entire tunnel was shaking with the oncoming juggernaut. Pete shoved the flashlight into Jim's hands. "Shine it toward your feet!" he screamed over the roar. In the faint light, he saw that Jim's shoe had somehow wedged itself in a space between the rail and the railroad bed. He reached down and gave it a vicious tug and it popped free. "Get up!" Pete yelled and yanked Jim to his feet, propelling him toward the alcove. The faint, flashing glow of the oncoming train was now a blinding swath of strobing light.
Jim fell in a headfirst diving slide into the small space, leaving Pete little choice but to throw himself on top of him. Pete counted eight before the train barreled by a scant foot away from them. The buffeting wind, the screeching of the brakes on the boxcars, the pulsating roar of the engine . . . it was overwhelming. Pete felt bludgeoned. Debris stung the skin on his arms and cheeks. He held tight to Jim, burying his face in Jim's back until finally the tumult faded. The quiet that descended on them was almost worse--Pete was half-afraid he'd gone deaf. He felt Jim trembling underneath him. He rolled off.
"Jim, you okay?" He was relieved to hear his own shaky voice.
Jim didn't answer right away.
Jim slowly stirred under his hand, but the only sound Pete heard was an incoherent groan.
Keeping one hand on Jim, Pete cast about for the dropped flashlight. He finally found it and clicked it on. "Jim."
Jim rolled over on his side and let out another groan. Pete moved the light up to his partner's face. There was a scrape on his cheek and other on his chin and a bump on his forehead. His eyes were open, but he put his hand up to shield them from the glare. "Pete?"
"You okay, partner?"
"Did we get hit?" he asked fuzzily.
"No, partner. By the grace of God and the skin of our teeth, we're safe."
Jim pushed himself up to a semi-sitting position, then groaned again. "I'm gonna be sick."
Pete jumped out of the way, but Jim managed to control it. "Can you walk?"
"Yeah." Typical Jim response, but when he tried to get up he gasped. "I must have twisted my ankle."
Pete moved the light toward Jim's feet. "Which one?"
Pete pulled at Jim's pant leg. "Looks a little swollen, all right." He sat back on his haunches and looked at Jim. "I'm not exactly sure what we should do."
"You have to hurry out of here and get to the car," Jim decided for him. "If another train comes, I can't move fast enough to get out of the way."
"But there's just the one flashlight."
Jim's grin momentarily lightened his face. "I'm not afraid of the dark. Just trains."
"If you're sure?"
"Go. I'll be fine."
Pete hesitated again, then nodded and turned to leave.
He stopped and aimed the flashlight back toward Jim. Jim had an embarrassed half-smile on his face.
"Thanks for . . . you know."
Pete returned the smile, then headed back down the tunnel.
Jim's bravado lasted about as long as it took for Pete's flashlight to completely fade away. Aside from the fact that he was still shaking like a leaf from the near miss, the absolute darkness was giving him a full-blown case of the willies. He kept hearing things moving. Probably rats. Or snakes. Or giant, officer-eating spiders . . .
"Get a grip," he muttered under his breath. But all the same, he pulled his baton out of its holder and held it at the ready, even though he couldn't see where to swing it. "Probably whack myself and break my other leg."
Almost as if on cue, something brushed against his left leg. He yelped and jerked his leg toward his chest and flailed away with the baton. It hit something soft that let out a high-pitched squeak. He raised the baton and swung it down a second time, but whatever it was had moved. He carefully pulled his right leg up and hugged his knees. His ankle throbbed. He thought about trying to stand and then feel his way out of the tunnel. Then he realized, with little comfort, that a few rats were nothing compared to another train. He lowered his forehead onto his knees.
"For God's sake, Pete, hurry."
"Mac, are you sure the trains are stopped?" Pete demanded, then released the transmit button.
"They assure me that freight train was a fluke, had a bad radio and didn't get the message. The tracks are clear now and will remain so until we get Reed out of there. I've got units set up three miles away in both directions--if a train comes, they'll signal it to stop. The railroad people assure me three miles is sufficient stopping distance at the lower speeds they have to use in the city limits. Hang tight. Be there in five minutes."
"Roger, Mac. KMA." Pete tossed the microphone back onto the seat of the patrol car and tried to quell his anger. Now that he was getting over the fear, he found himself wanting to pound the dispatchers at the rail yards senseless. Eight seconds. Eight lousy seconds had been all that stood between Jim and eternity.
Adam-34 pulled up with a spray of gravel and a cloud of dust. Jerry Woods hopped out of the passenger seat. "Pete, what happened?"
Pete told him, in as few words possible. "Now that you're here, we can go back in there and get him out."
Jerry told his partner to stay put, then followed Pete into the tunnel. With two flashlights to guide them, they made faster progress. Pete called out when he thought they were in Jim's hearing distance. "Jim!"
"That's good to hear," Jerry said.
Pete jogged the final twenty yards. When he reached the alcove, Jim threw his arm over his eyes against the light. "You mind lowering that thing? I'm trying to take a nap here."
Pete smiled and moved the light away from Jim's face. The beam caught a dead rat not far from where Jim was sitting. "Bedtime snack?"
Jim shoved his baton back in its ring. "Just entertaining myself waiting for you guys to arrive."
"I hear they're good barbequed," Jerry said.
"Be my guest," Jim told him as he pushed himself to standing.
"How's the ankle?" Pete asked.
"Uh, I think I might have to be put on the 15-day disabled list."
"Oh no. The game tomorrow!" Jerry groaned.
"Maybe it's not that bad," Jim relented. But when he took a step, his leg buckled.
Pete threw Jim's arm across his shoulders, then Jerry did the same. But before they moved out, Jim stopped. "Are you sure there's no more trains coming?"
"Mac assures me there isn't. Said they told him that last one was a fluke."
"That's what they said."
Jim didn't comment any further. He just made a motion forward. They moved as fast as Jim could hobble, and finally made it out of the tunnel into the light of day. "Daylight never looked so good," Jim sighed as he eased himself onto the front seat of the black and white.
"How's your head?" Pete asked.
Jim touched his forehead and winced when he encountered a large goose egg. "Sore," he said, then added, "and no jokes about me being a sorehead."
Jerry knelt down and looked sorrowfully at Jim's rapidly swelling ankle. "Man, no way you're going to be able to play tomorrow."
Jim tentatively flexed it, winced, then sighed as he looked up at Pete. "You didn't say anything about keeping my leg away from oncoming trains."
"So what are we going to do for a center fielder?" Jerry Miller sighed as the team sat in a glum huddle in the locker room at the Police Academy two hours before they were due to play at Dodger Stadium. Miller sat looking at a sheet of paper with the names and positions of all the players roughly pencilled onto a baseball diamond.
"How about getting Mike Richmond, over in Hollywood Division?" Woods offered.
"He's in Bermuda. On vacation," Steve Trevino said. "But it wouldn't matter if he was around--this is a battle between Central's Day Watch and Station 17's B and C shifts. We're not supposed to use anybody outside the division."
"He's right, Jerry," Pete agreed. "In fact, we were the ones that insisted on that after they brought in a ringer last year who was a former major leaguer."
"Blasted rules," Miller muttered. He looked at Pete. "Man, that puts us down from eleven to just ten guys. You're sure Jim's ankle won't hold up?"
"The doc said it was just a bad sprain, sent him home with orders to keep it iced and elevated, rest it for about a week. Last night he couldn't put any weight on it. I don't see him making a miraculous recovery over night." He didn't add that he figured Jim might try just such a stunt anyway.
"What about putting Ed Wells at short, moving Sanchez to third and putting Brinkman in center?" Trevino said.
Brinkman perked up. "I could play center field, Jerry. No problem."
"Ed, how do you feel about shortstop?" Miller asked.
Ed was leaning against a locker, his arms folded, hands tucked under them. "Sure, why not."
Miller scratched out three names and re-wrote them in the new positions. "Well, it isn't perfect, but we can at least field a team."
"What are you doing? And what's with the uniform?" Pete Malloy asked as he stood in the tunnel leading from the clubhouse to the Dodgers dugout.
Jim stopped, leaning on his crutches. "I'm heading for the bench, and even if I'm injured, I'd like to feel like a part of the team. If that's okay with you?"
"I saw you putting weight on that ankle."
"I'm just testing it."
"And it hurts. Calm down."
"What's that on it?"
"The Dodgers' trainer wrapped it for me."
Pete narrowed his eyes. "Why?"
Jim shrugged. "No reason."
"No reason." Jim crutched past Pete, but his partner wasn't finished.
"You're not playing, so just can the innocent act."
Jim, his back to Pete, grinned slightly, then kept moving. "You know who I ran into back there?" he called over his shoulder.
"Changing the subject won't change my mind," Pete grumbled, but he rose to the bait. "Who?"
"No kidding? He's here?"
Jim pulled at a bulge in his left back pocket. "He signed my baseball. And look who else did."
"Stan . . . wow, Stan Musial? You're kidding! Stan the Man is here?" Pete immediately started looking around, as though the St. Louis Cardinal Hall of Famer was lurking in the shadows of the dugout.
"Yep. He's here for tomorrow's old timers' game. But keep looking at the signatures." Jim couldn't keep a huge grin off his face.
"Steve Garvey . . . Ron Cey . . . Lou Brock . . . Ken Reitz," he read off. "Reitz? Who's that?"
"It's pronounced 'Reetz'. He's the Cardinals' third baseman."
Pete squinted and continued, "Cool Papa Bell . . . Mickey-oh, you gotta be kidding! He's here?"
"Hard to believe, but yeah."
"And we're playing in front of him. Terrific." Pete gingerly handed the ball back. "Partner, you better put this thing under glass."
"It's going in a special case. Jimmy'll love it when he's a little older. He already loves baseball."
"That's my godson." Pete slapped Jim on the back, then they both settled down on the bench.
Jim arranged his crutches so they wouldn't trip anyone. "Man, Dodger Stadium, in the dugout. Never in my wildest dreams." The starry-eyed smile was still plastered across his face.
"You gotta hand it to the fire department for arranging this year's competition to be held here. I never would have thought to try."
Ed Wells walked through, a dazed look on his face. "Guess who I just saw?"
"Was his first name Mickey?" Pete guessed.
"In the flesh. Look, he signed my bat." Ed held out the lumber for inspection.
Jim showed Ed his baseball. Ed stared at it, for a change completely speechless. "Man," he finally said. "I can't believe this."
Pete laughed. "You two better get over being star-struck and get your minds on the game."
"I can be star-struck," Jim countered. "I'm not playing, remember?"
"Okay, Ed. That leaves you. Get focused."
Steve Trevino floated by, a faraway look in his eyes and a half-smile on his lips as he carried his ball glove like it was the holy grail. Pete spied the name "Drysdale" written on the back of it and sighed. "We're doomed."
"He's gonna try for second," Jim muttered, although there wasn't anybody around to hear him vent his frustrations. It was the top of the ninth inning. Fire Department 3, LAPD 1. Just like last year, they couldn't seem to break the LAFD's pitcher. They hadn't had a base runner since the early innings, when Pete belted a triple that drove home Sanchez but got left stranded when Brinkman popped out to short. And now it looked like their pitcher Trevino was losing steam. He'd walked the lead-off man and had fallen behind 3-1 in the count to the next batter. "Come on, Steve, check the runner!" Jim urged quietly.
Trevino finally glanced toward first, saw the runner's huge lead, then fired toward Pete. Pete had to leap, but he caught the throw. The runner slid in just under Pete's belated tag. Pete tossed the ball back to the mound and Jim chewed on his thumbnail. At this rate, all his fingernails would be gone by the end of the game.
Trevino checked the sign from the catcher, eyeballed the runner briefly, then hurled a pitch toward home. It was a breaking ball, but instead of breaking, it floated over the plate like a hot air balloon with "Hit Me" emblazoned across it. And the batter did, a single into right. The runner raced all the way to third.
Jim sagged back, bumping his shoulder on a big box of sunflower seeds. He managed to catch it before it toppled off the shelf above the bench. That was all he needed, to wipe out the Dodgers' supply of sunflower seeds. He picked up his scorecard and added the depressing information to it. He was getting tired of drawing lines and 1b's and 3b's and h's and completed diamonds in the fire department side and nothing but K's and other assorted outs on the LAPD side.
The next batter was the clean-up hitter. Jim leaned forward and tried his best to stare the evil eye through the man's broad back as he lined up to hit left handed against Trevino. Last time up, the man had powered a triple over Brinkman's head that went all the way to the wall and took a crazy carom away from Brink. By the time he chased it down, the batter was standing up at third base, having driven in the two base runners ahead of him.
Trevino took the sign, checked the runners, then hurled. Low and outside, but he managed to bait the fireman into swinging and missing. Strike one for the good guys, Jim thought, feeling a ray of hope.
The next pitch brushed the batter back.
One ball and one strike.
Another check of the runners. Trevino faked a throw to first, then wheeled around, but the runner on third didn't fall for it. Trevino returned his foot to the rubber and took the sign. He didn't check the runners this time and side armed a wicked slider that just caught the inside corner.
One and two.
Jim readjusted his pessimistic thinking. Strike out this Jones character, then get the next guy, who hadn't hit anything out of the infield all night, to ground into a double play. They might escape from this inning without any damage after all.
Another pitch, and Jones got jammed and popped it up. Sanchez caught it easily and the runners held on the infield fly rule.
Jim started to breathe again. "Come on, baby, let's get a double play and end this thing!" he yelled. Pete gave Jim an amused glance. Jim grinned and shrugged. Trevino took off his hat, stomped around behind the mound, put his hat back on and marched atop the mound to glare in for the sign.
The runner took off on the first pitch . . . and the ground ball Jim had prayed for rolled beautifully toward Ed Wells at short. Ed scooped it up, and since he was only a few feet from the base, allowed his momentum to carry him to the bag. He floated over the base and threw to Pete just as the runner plowed into him. It was going to be close. Jim leaped to his feet, following the arc of the ball all the way into Pete's glove.
"Safe!" the first base umpire shouted, and there was a softer echo of the same from the second base umpire, as well as the home plate umpire as run number four crossed the plate.
"Safe at second? You gotta be kidding!" Jim yelled as he threw his hat to the ground. Instead of a double play to end the inning, there was still only one out, and now the hole was 4-1. Jim fumed as he glared at the second base umpire, but then he belatedly noticed there was a bigger problem than a bad call. Ed was still down, as was the base runner. Both teams were huddled around the men, and Jim hobbled up the steps to stand on the edge of the field for a better look. Ed was moving around a little, and for a minute, Jim thought he was just shaken up, but then he saw the look on Pete's face and his stomach fell. He glanced into the stands behind the dugout and caught his wife Jean's worried glance. Fortunately, Ed's wife Betty hadn't come to the game, but Jim knew Jean would worry enough for them both. He gave Jean what he hoped was a reassuring smile, but she just shook her head.
Jerry Miller jogged over from the huddle. "They managed to crack heads in that collision," he said.
"Are they all right?"
"The runner seems to be just shaken up, but Ed was out cold for almost a minute."
Jim bit his lip as he stood beside Jerry and watched as the firefighters, several of whom he knew were also paramedics, worked on Ed. Eventually, a couple of ambulance attendants emerged from the visiting team dugout and carted a gurney across the infield. By the time they reached second base, Ed was sitting up and fuming so loud that Jim could hear him all the way to the dugout. "If he's yelling that loud, he can't be too bad off."
Miller grinned. "Doesn't look like it." Then his smile faded. "Guess this finishes us off, though."
Jim stared at Miller askance. "What?"
"We're down to just eight men."
The realization hit Jim hard. He stared at the players huddled on the field. "But we can't just quit!"
"What other choice is there?"
Jim took a few steps. It hurt, but the wrap supported his ankle well enough for him to manage. "Put me in."
Pete joined them just in time to hear Jim's words. "No way. It's just a charity ball game. Not the seventh game of the World Series."
But Jim wouldn't be deterred. "Put me at first and just make sure that Trevino strikes out the next couple batters. Ed was the last batter up last inning, so I'll take his spot in the lineup, too. As long as you guys score your runs before my turn at bat rolls around, no problem."
Pete stared at Jim like he was about to argue, but he changed his mind and looked at Miller. "Anything in the rules against that?"
Miller scratched his head. "Let me run it by the fire department guys." He jogged off to consult with them, and Jim returned to the bench and picked up his glove.
"See, good thing I suited up."
Pete folded his arms. "You're not in yet, Casey."
Then Jim heard his wife call out from the stands, "Pete, tell me Jim's not thinking what I think he's thinking."
"Sorry, Jean, that's what he's thinking."
"Tell him he's an idiot, would you?"
"I heard that!" Jim yelled.
He heard a giggle, which reassured him that he wouldn't have to spend the night on the couch for this stunt. Pete just shook his head.
Miller jogged over. "All right, Jim, you're in. Pete, you go to third. Sanchez to short. And Reed, no fancy stuff. Just stand there and if there's a play, stay by the bag and let them throw it to you. Don't go running or lunging for anything. Wild throws will be our problem, not yours, got it?"
"Yes, mother," Jim said. "Just tell Trevino to keep the ball out of reach." He walked slowly to first, trying his best not to limp, but a few of the fire department guys snickered anyway. He glared at them as he took his place.
The man who'd been called safe at first looked down at Jim's ankle. "Bad wheel, huh?"
"Hurt a lot?"
Jim looked at him. "Rice?"
"R-I-C-E. Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. Best thing for a sprain." He walked off, taking a shallow lead. He glanced back and smirked. "Sure beats standing at first base on a losing baseball team."
Jim narrowed his eyes and started to form a retort, but he couldn't think of one, so he ignored him and tucked his sore right ankle snug against the bag and waited for events to unfold.
The first thing to happen was a double steal, the runners on first and second making it safely to second and third, despite a pretty good throw by the catcher Olivares to second. Although he hated the idea of both runners in scoring position, Jim was secretly a little relieved that he didn't have to worry about holding the runner any more. And that he didn't have to put up with any more of his jibes.
Another pitch to the batter and to Jim's dismay, the ground ball headed toward the gap between Jim and the second baseman. Jim set his jaw, and throwing Miller's admonitions to the wind, lunged for it. His ankle protested mightily, but he managed to snag it. Still on his knees, he feinted toward home, but the runner at third held back. Jim shoveled the ball to Trevino just in time to nip the runner at first. Two outs, still second and third. Trevino helped him to his feet. "You okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," Jim assured him and very carefully avoided looking toward second base, where he was certain Pete was looking his way with censure in his eyes, or toward the stands, where he could feel his wife glaring at him with the same reproach. Jim made a production of pounding his glove. Not that his glove needed breaking in, but it was either pound something or burst into tears from the pain arcing through his ankle. Maybe forfeiture wasn't such a bad thing after all.
The next batter stepped to the plate and Jim took a deep breath and banished thoughts of quitting. He glanced at the infielders, just to see how they were playing the hitter. He caught Pete's eye. Pete somehow managed to transmit with one look that he thought Jim was an idiot, and that he would be lecturing Jim long and hard all the way to the mental hospital where he was sure to commit Jim as soon as they got out of this inning.
Jim turned his back on him. Dang that ESP thing the two of them seemed to have sometimes.
More glove pounding, and then to Jim's relief, the hitter sliced a line drive right at Sanchez, who caught it easily for the third out. Jim turned and walked back to the dugout with as much dignity as a man with a bad limp can muster. Trevino slapped his shoulder, Sanchez gave him a thumbs up, but Pete simply walked past him without a word. But he did help Jim climb down the dugout steps.
"Hey, don't get surly with me," Jim protested. "I saved a run."
"And probably set your ankle back six weeks."
"Nah," Jim said, although he didn't feel nearly as confident as he sounded. "Who's up?"
"Miller, then Sanchez and me. Anybody gets on, Brink."
"Just make sure Miller and Sanchez get on, then you can pound one out of here and we can all go home."
"You heard the man," Pete called to Miller. Miller just smiled and made his way to home plate. Four pitches later, he pulled a 2-2 fastball just over the third baseman's head for a double.
"That's the way to do it!" Jim yelled as he clapped. "Come on, Sanchez, get him home!"
Pete raised his eyebrows. "What, are you the head cheerleader now?"
Jim grinned. "Somebody's gotta do it."
Sanchez drew a walk. Two on, no outs. Jim was beside himself. He slapped Pete's shoulder. "Get up there and show 'em how it's done!"
Pete gave him another wry look, then picked up his bat and walked slowly to the plate. He kicked dirt around and then twisted his back foot into place and swung the bat several times. He sent the first pitch screaming into the stands along the first baseline. Strike one.
The pitcher, liking what he'd seen, tried the same pitch again. Foolish mistake. Pete got all of it this time and ripped it into right field. Miller turned on the afterburners and came around to score. Sanchez ended up on third.
First and third, still no one out. Score now 4-2.
Jim looked down at the lineup card and did some fast figuring. As long as Brink kept the rally going, they could easily score three more runs without Jim having to come to bat. But if Brink or anyone after him made an out, Jim might have to hit. Or he might even find himself the last hope. He swallowed. His ankle seemed to throb even harder at the thought.
The first ball to Brink sailed high, almost getting away from the catcher. Their pitcher was definitely losing his stuff. Jim eased forward on the bench.
The next pitch caught the inside corner. Strike one.
Brink waited until the pitcher had the sign, then stepped out, earning a couple of jeers from the firefighters still in the dugout. Brink stepped back in.
Another strike, right down the middle.
"Come on, come on," Jim breathed.
Brinkman struck out.
Jim threw himself back against the bench. Butterflies started whirling through his stomach like a mad hurricane. "I don't want to bat, I do not want to bat," he whispered to himself.
"What are you talking about?" Woods suddenly demanded. Jim hadn't noticed him sitting so close beside him.
"Nothing," Jim said, blushing. "Just make sure you drive in the winning run, all right?"
Jerry settled back against the bench. "Nah, there's three other guys before me. They'll get it done."
"I hope so."
Jerry grinned and took off his LAPD baseball cap. He turned it inside out and replaced it on his head. "Rally cap time."
Jim hesitated. Giving an opposing batter the evil eye was one thing, but he'd always thought rally caps were taking superstitions too far. But as he thought about it, he decided he needed all the help he could get to ensure that he wouldn't have to bat. He turned his hat inside out and put it on.
Olivares was next up. He took three straight balls, fouled off what would have been ball four, then took a pitch in the dirt and jogged to first base. Two on, one out. Jim's chances of staying on the bench were looking better. He tugged his rally cap a little more snugly on his head.
Schneider picked up a bat and headed for the plate. Jim's knuckles were white as he grasped the wooden bench on either side of his legs. He sent a steady stream of mental messages: come on, Schneider, get a hit get a hit get a hit get a hit get a . . .
Schneider sent an 0-2 fastball up the middle, nearly taking out the pitcher. It sliced into center field and Malloy motored home standing up. 4-3, with Trevino and Woods still coming to bat. Jim joined the wild cheers and dared to breathe again.
Pete accepted the glad hands as he returned to the dugout. He sat down next to Jim, then did a double take when he saw Jim's hat. "What do you call that?"
Jim glanced briefly at the brim. "Rally cap, and it's working so don't say a word."
Pete's eyebrows climbed toward his hairline, but he kept his mouth shut. Trevino set himself at home plate. He'd already gotten two singles today, but despite the good chances, Jim went back to his white knuckle grip on the bench and his mental urgings. Get a hit get a hit get a hit get a hit . . .
"Auugh," Jim groaned, dropping his head. Still 4-3, but now there were two outs. If Woods got on base but didn't manage to drive in both Schneider and Olivares lurking off first and third, Jim was doomed. He almost hoped Woods would go ahead and end it all by striking out. At least then Woods would be the bad guy and not Jim.
Get a hit get a hit get a hit get a hit . . . oh god, he got a hit.
Jim stared in stunned silence as Woods dropped a blooper into shallow right. It was enough to get Olivares home, but not enough to get Schneider around third. As it was, Schneider barely made it in under the tag. Woods managed to take second on the fielder's choice.
Two on, at second and third, two out.
Jim felt sick to his stomach. If he failed to drive Schneider home and it went to extra innings, he was doomed. He couldn't stand the thought of trying to play another inning in the field. He could barely stomach the thought of batting. He stared at Pete. "What do I do? I don't know if I can swing hard enough to hit anything."
"Get up there and pray for four balls?"
"Thanks a lot," Jim sighed.
"Jim," Pete said as Jim started for the bat rack.
"Your hat?" Pete pointed.
Jim hastily turned his hat right side out and resumed his slow walk to the bat rack. He hadn't so much as picked up a bat all day. He climbed slowly out of the dugout to the on-deck circle, and slid the weight rings onto the bat. He set himself up for an experimental swing. The ankle twinged and ached, but not unbearably. With a glimmer of hope, he pounded the knob of the bat against the ground to shake the weights off, then walked slowly to the batter's box. He glanced up at the stands and for the first time noticed that fans had started filing in. The butterflies in his stomach went into high gear. He heard shouted encouragement from his teammates, but their actual words were lost in the buzzing ring in his ears. He hadn't felt this nervous since his first time in front of his freshman speech class. On that day, he'd thrown up in the bathroom before class and nearly passed out during his speech because he had his knees locked. He took a deep breath, made sure his knees were loose, then set himself.
He let the first pitch go, but it was a strike, a curve barely catching the outside corner. So much for four straight balls. He glanced at the dugout. Pete and Miller both made swinging motions. Easy for them to say.
He braced for the next pitch. The pitcher obviously had kept up with the scouting reports: another curve. Jim swung at it and missed.
The pitcher didn't bother looking in for the sign. Confident that another 0-2 curve would put the nail in the LAPD coffin, he lobbed a huge lollipop curve that seemed to float toward the plate in slow motion. Jim saw Woods take off from first, Schneider more slowly from third. The urge to swing was thick enough to taste, but he forced himself to wait. His arms tensed, wanting to unleash, but it was too soon. Wait . . . wait . . . wait . . . NOW! He felt the bat jar as it hit the ball with a splintering crack. The bat shattered, the big end flying into the infield as the ball sliced into shallow right field. Jim started toward first, knowing it was a better than even chance that he'd get thrown out and then it wouldn't matter if the lead run crossed the plate. His ankle creaked and groaned and sent up all sorts of warning flares.
The right fielder reached the ball.
Jim was only halfway to first.
He wouldn't make it . . .
The fielder stooped for the ball, gloved it . . .
Jim surged forward, reborn hope driving all the pain from his ankle out of his mind.
The throw came in. Jim was still five steps away. In desperation, he threw himself forward and down in a head-first dive, his outstretched arm reaching for the bag.
He touched the base, then heard the plop as the ball hit the first baseman's glove. His momentum plowed him into the first basemen in a jarring collision that sent them both in a limb-tangled sprawl across the bag.
Jim waited . . . prayed . . . craned his neck to try to see the umpire . . .
Jim shut his eyes and let his head drop. Safe. They'd won. His ankle felt like it was broken in at least sixty places, but they'd won. Even if it hurt like the devil, he could prop his leg up on the trophy and feel proud.
As the fireman pulled himself off Jim with several good-natured mutters of disgust about insane cops, Jim heard feet pounding toward him. Pete was the first to reach him. "Hey, partner, you did it!" he yelled, thumping Jim on the back.
Jim pushed himself up to his hands and knees and tried to smile. The euphoria of winning was wearing off far too quickly. "Yeah," he managed, "how about that." He wanted to jump to his feet and join in the wild celebration, but a far more urgent matter occupied all his attention, and it mostly involved whether or not they'd have to amputate his right foot at the ankle. He needed help. He needed a hospital. He needed a doctor. He needed drugs. "Pete," he said slowly so he wouldn't have to unclench his teeth.
Pete was still grinning and slapping him on the back, oblivious to everything but the fact that they'd finally beaten Station 17. "What, partner?"
"Is Ed done with the ambulance?"
Jim settled his crutches against the radio desk and lowered himself on the stool. Nothing broken in the ankle department, but the doc estimated that yesterday's antics on the ballfield cost Jim two additional weeks of healing. But it had been worth it. Boy, had it been worth it. He pulled another stool over so he could keep his foot elevated, singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" softly under his breath.
He'd barely bought his peanuts and crackerjacks before Mac's voice boomed from the doorway. "Reed, put a sock in the musical number. This is a police station, not Ebbets Field. In fact, if I hear one thing from you relating to baseball today, I'm going to permanently reassign you to work desk with Wells for the rest of both of your careers."
Jim started to smile, saw the look of no quarter in Mac's eyes, and swallowed the rest of the song unsung. "Right, Mac."
Mac glared at him, muttered something about idiot officers killing themselves off-duty and totally destroying his work schedules and started to walk away, but he had to stop short or risk barreling into a just-arrived Pete Malloy.
Pete looked Mac up and down, then poked the stripes on his sleeve. "It feels like Mac, and smells like Mac, but surely our loveable Sergeant wouldn't look like such a grouch first thing in the morning."
"And that goes double for you!" Mac snapped, sidestepped and walked away.
Pete turned disbelieving eyes on his partner. "Now what was that all about?"
"He hates baseball."
Pete looked back over his shoulder at the empty hallway. "Yeah, losing two officers in one off-duty ball game probably is a little hard to swallow."
"Well, he didn't lose me in a ball game. He lost me in a train tunnel. On-duty. But would he let me point that out to him? Noooo. All he's done this morning is chew my butt off. It's a miracle I can sit on this stool."
Pete assumed a mock pout. "Poor baby. That's no way to treat the hero of Central Division."
"You got that right."
"Yeah, well, pardon me if I don't genuflect at your feet."
"Aw, come on, Pete. Just once, please?"
"Not in this lifetime. Look, I gotta hit the streets. Mac's got me with Woods today. You want us to swing by and get you for seven?"
"If you're around, sure. Otherwise, I'll eat the lunch Jean fixed me."
Pete grinned. "Ah, and she fixed you a feast fit for a conquering hero, I'm sure."
"Uh, no, not exactly. She slapped together a peanut butter and banana sandwich with a side order of lecture number nine on how grown men shouldn't kill themselves for a silly ball game."
Pete laughed and slapped Jim's shoulder. "Welcome back to reality, Mr. DiMaggio."
"Gee, thanks," Jim said sourly. Pete left, and in the silence of the empty foyer, Jim heard the echo of the first base umpire's voice calling out that wonderful word, "Safe!"
Jim smiled and after a furtive check to see if Mac was still lurking around, picked up a pencil and swung for imaginary fences. "Take me out to the ball game . . ."