by Stacy W.
"Over here," Jim Reed yelled to Mark Dell, his teammate on the red-and-yellow clad Northend High School Basketball team. Mark looked around, then quickly passed the ball in Jim's direction. The pass went awry, and Jim quickly hopped sideways to catch it. Unfortunately, he didn't look before he leapt and collided with one of Oceanside High's blue-jerseyed players. As Jim tried to stay on his feet, he tripped several more times before colliding with another blue-clad body and falling over, knocking the Oceanside person to the ground with him. Every bit of air vacated Jim's lungs as he hit the ground with a startled "oof."
As he pulled his wits back together, Jim slowly opened his eyes, expecting to see the furious face of Oceanside's star player staring back at him from the ground beside him. Instead, he found himself looking into the furious face of the prettiest girl he'd ever seen. Brown eyes flashed with anger above a perky nose, and lips that were starting to turn down into a frown, all framed by hair in an amazingly pretty shade of red. "Uh, hi there," he stammered, giving the Oceanside cheerleader his most charming smile, "I'm Jim Reed. What's your name?"
The girl didn't respond the way he expected. "GET AWAY FROM ME, YOU CLUMSY JERK!" she yelled, scooting away from him as he pulled himself to his feet.
"I'm sorry. Really. Can I help you up, miss?" He tried the smile his sister told him was "just adorable" on the girl again. This time it worked better. She continued to glare at him with those gorgeous eyes, but did allow him to help her up off the floor.
"My name's Jean Anne. Jean Anne Fuller. Just in case you care who you almost killed." The glare continued as she crossed her arms across her chest.
"Jean Anne Fuller." He continued to smile at her, and finally she gave him a small smile in return. For some reason, he couldn't seem to stop smiling, even when his teammates grabbed him and pulled him back into the game. He glanced back at her, saw her talking to the other cheerleaders and laughing. Jean Anne Fuller... Pretty name...
"You okay, Jim?" Mark was slapping him on the back while asking the question. "Hey, Jim? Reed, you okay?"….
"Reed, you okay in there, partner?"
Pete Malloy's voice broke into his memories, and Jim shook his head as he pulled himself back to the present. "Huh? Oh, yeah. I'm fine. Just thinkin'." He glanced down at the small box he held in his hands.
"Well, you'd better not think so hard next time. You might fall off the bench or make yourself late to roll call or something." Pete yanked open his locker and hung his freshly cleaned uniform inside.
Jim glanced down at his watch, then finally looked over at his partner. "Speaking of being late, you're cutting it kinda close today, aren't you? Five minutes to roll, and you're not even changed yet."
Pete sighed in disgust. "Court ran late this morning." He gestured to the box Jim held. "What do you have there?"
Jim looked up at him with that silly grin he wore whenever he was thinking or talking about his wife and son. "Nancy sent me a check last week. Some certificates or something Dad had invested in before he died matured last month. My sister the super accountant had forgotten about them, so it was a nice surprise for both of us. I, uh, used some of the money to buy this." Jim opened the box, revealing a diamond and emerald necklace, and handed it to Pete.
Pete took the box, admiring the jewelry, trying to figure out how much it had set Jim back. "Gee, thanks, partner, but it's really not my style," he joked.
Jim grabbed the box back, snapping it shut. "Pete. It's not for you; it's for Jean. Commemorating ten years together."
Pete held up a hand. "Whoa. I'd love to hear all about it, but I gotta get changed. Tell me the story when we get out on the streets, okay?"
Jim gave him that sappy smile again. "Sure thing. I'm gonna go get some coffee." He put the box in his locker, closed and locked the door, and headed for the break room.
Shaking his head, Pete turned his attention to getting into his uniform. He also started preparing the counter-arguments he was going to need to defend himself against the matrimony pitch Jim was sure to give him today. You would think I'd be used to it after almost five years. I should have my side of the debate down pat by now.
Thirty minutes later, the two officers were seated in their usual places in their patrol car, heading out for another shift of patrolling the streets of Los Angeles. Jim turned slightly in his seat to face Pete.
"So, like I was saying, I got this check from Nancy, and I had noticed the day before that it was coming up on our--that Jean's and mine--ten-year anniversary. So…"
"Hold on." Pete interrupted. "First, you'd better clear us with dispatch. This sounds like it could be a long story." Like you have any short stories. Pete paused for a minute as Jim grabbed the mic and cleared them. "And second, you and Jean haven't even been married for ten years. Six. Maybe seven."
"Coming up on eight in a few months," Jim corrected him, that grin growing even bigger. "And I didn't say our tenth wedding anniversary. It's the tenth anniversary of when we met."
"Yep. Hey, did I ever tell you about that?"
"How you met Jean? Yes. At a basketball game." Pete replied. "You were a senior, she was a junior."
"Hey, you remember! Yeah, my school was playing against her school at the district championships. She was a cheerleader."
"So how did a cheerleader like her end up with a gawky basketball player like you, instead of with her school's star quarterback?"
Jim's smile faded briefly. "Because the star quarterback was a real jerk."
"Um-hum." Pete agreed, sensing there was an entire story behind that one statement. "So?"
"So, how did Jean end up with you, anyway?"
Jim blushed slightly. "It's the stupidest thing you'll ever hear. I was playing in the game; Jean was cheering for her team. I jumped trying to catch a pass and fell right into her. Knocked her to the floor like a bowling pin." Jim grimaced in embarrassment.
Pete laughed at the image Jim's word's created. He could easily imagine his partner as a gangly teenager, but somehow he couldn't picture Jean being anything other than the beautiful, graceful woman he knew. "And she was so impressed with your natural grace that she agreed to go on a date with you?"
"No." Jim gave him an exasperated glare. "She was furious. You ever seen Jean when she's really angry?"
"No I haven't, and from what you say, I don't really want to."
"Well, I thought she looked just wonderful; that she was about the best-looking girl I'd ever seen."
"And you asked her out right then? When she was lying on the floor angry with you?" Pete shook his head. "Partner, you're either braver or dumber than I thought."
"No, I didn't ask her out then. I just stood there, smiling at her like some sort of half-wit. I… my sister found her phone number for me and I called her up, asked her out for ice cream, and the rest is history." Jim turned that smile on him again, probably remembering some of the highlights of that ten-year history.
The radio interrupted Jim's thoughts. "1-Adam-12, 1-Adam-12, a 415, barking dog, 1254 Maplemoor."
"Time to go to work, partner," Pete said as Jim acknowledged the call.
Jean Reed hung up the phone. James Wright. Connie Wright. Haven't seen them in years. Wonder how Connie's doing? She had just gotten off the phone with James Wright, who'd called her up out of the blue to say that Connie and he would be up from San Diego on business next week and wanting to see if the three of them could get together for lunch sometime, 'for old time's sake'.
Thinking of Connie brought back memories of the last time they'd spoken as the best friends they had once been. It was almost ten years ago, at the same basketball game where she'd first met Jim…
District Championship Basketball Game, March 1963
Along with the rest of the cheerleading squad, Jean Anne Fuller stood on the sidelines of the basketball court, jumping and yelling as the members of the Oceanside High School basketball team ran onto the court. She tried to catch the attention of one player as he ran by, six-foot, blonde-headed James Wright, the star of both the basketball and football teams. She had thought he had been paying more attention to her recently. Much to her delight, he smiled right at her and waved. It was enough to keep her heart fluttering for entire first half of the game. He likes me! I knew it! He'll ask me to the prom any time now. I just know he will…
Late in the second half of the game, Oceanside was losing, 80-56, thanks to the efforts of Northend's two star players. Oceanside's cheerleading coach had positioned her girls along the base of the stands to lead the crowd in encouraging the team to fight on to victory. They had just finished a cheer when Jean heard one of her friends yell out a warning, Look out! She spun around just in time to be knocked to the floor by a blur of red and yellow. The two of them crashed to the floor in an ungraceful pile of arms and legs. No! Not tonight! I must look so STUPID! James will think I'm such a fool!
Jean turned her head to glare at the person who had knocked her to the floor, only to find him smiling at her. For a minute, the boy just lay there grinning at her like the village idiot. "Uh, hi there," he finally stammered as he pushed himself off the floor onto his hands and knees, that ridiculous grin still plastered on his face. "I'm Jim Reed. What's your name?"
She continued to glare at him. What is wrong with him? He can't think I like him, can he? James is the only guy I'm interested in, not some clumsy oaf. Gosh, James must think I'm a bumbling fool… Embarrassment quickly turned to anger. "GET AWAY FROM ME, YOU CLUMSY JERK!" she yelled at him, scooting away from him and pushing herself up so she was sitting on the floor.
Jim Reed pulled himself the rest of the way to his feet. "I'm sorry. Really. Can I help you up, miss?" He extended a hand to her, still with that smile on his face.
Jean looked up at him, noticing he really wasn't that bad looking. Tall, thin, brown hair, blue-gray eyes, tanned… and an absolutely gorgeous smile. Despite his looks, she wasn't ready to forgive him. Not yet. She continued to glare at him, but did take his hand and allow him to help her up off the floor.
Back on her feet, she brushed off the back of her uniform, then turned back to Jim Reed. "My name's Jean Anne. Jean Anne Fuller. Just is case you care who you almost killed." The glare continued as she crossed her arms across her chest, although it was getting harder to maintain her anger.
"Jean Anne Fuller," he echoed to her, still smiling.
Jean raised her glare directly into his eyes. Big mistake. From that angle, he was gorgeous. Drop-dead gorgeous. Made James Wright look downright plain. She finally gave in and returned his smile with a small smile of her own. Jim Reed continued to smile at her even as his teammates grabbed him and pulled him back into the game and her teammates surrounded her, fussing with semi-concerned words about her condition and the rudeness and stupidity of all of Northend's team. She tried to pay attention, but she couldn't get Jim Reed's dazzling smile out of her head….
Connie Hanson had been the one who sat on the bench with her after the accident, trying to soothe the hurt feelings she should have had, assuring her that James Wright probably didn't even notice, that 'that Northend klutz' was a total jerk for even trying to play basketball when he couldn't yet manage standing on his own two feet. Connie's supposed concern that night had made her betrayal less than a week later that much harder to take.
Connie had bounced into English Lit and dropped into her seat next to Jean. She leaned over and grabbed Jean's arm. "James Wright just asked me to the prom! Can you believe it?" she giggled in Jean's ear.
Jean stared at her friend, suddenly feeling like someone had sucked all the air out of the room. "He did what?"
"He asked me to the prom!" she repeated. "Isn't that great? Jean, what's wrong? Oh, you thought he was going to ask you. Sorry. Guess he must have changed his mind." Connie patted Jean's arm condescendingly before turning her attention to getting her books ready for class, humming happily.
Jean also looked down at her books, trying to fight back the tears that were threatening to fall. Somehow, she made it through the class, although she had no idea what the teacher had said. As soon as the closing bell rang, she pushed her way past Connie and ran out of the school, out to her older sister's car in the parking lot. She managed to hide her tears long enough for her older sister Laura and Laura's best friend Ruthie to get to the car and start the drive home.
Then the tears and sniffling started. She hadn't wanted to break down in front of Laura and Ruthie--she knew they both thought of her as flighty at best. The words she heard more often were flaky, scatterbrained. The two older girls ignored her for a few minutes, then Laura finally asked what was wrong. Jean hadn't wanted to tell her sister--serious, studious Laura just wouldn't understand--but the whole story spilled out through her choking sobs. How James Wright had been seeking her out in the lunchroom, walking to classes with her, hinting he wanted to take her to the prom. The disaster at the basketball championship game, which Oceanside had lost. And finally how he'd asked her best friend Connie to the dance, and how Connie had accepted. Laura's only comment was a quiet, "What a jerk," to which Ruthie had added an irritated, "All boys are." As soon as Laura stopped the car in their driveway, Jean jumped from the back seat and ran sobbing into the house and down the hall to her bedroom, slamming the door behind her. Seconds later, the sound of muffled sobbing drifted out of the room.
Jean was still in her room an hour later when the phone rang. She heard someone answer it and a minute later, Laura knocked on her door.
"Jeannie-beanie, are you in there?" Laura asked. "Open up, sis."
Jean sniffed and wiped at her eyes before answering her sister's summons. "What?"
Laura looked angry. "That jerk James Wright's on the phone for you if you want to talk to him. He said something about that dance."
Anger suddenly sparked. "Yeah. I'll talk to him." She pushed past Laura, stalked to the living room and picked up the receiver lying beside the phone. "I am NOT going the dance with you, James Wright. Don't even bother asking me, after you asked Connie. How could you?" she yelled.
Silence greeted her outburst. "I… uh… I haven't asked anyone to the dance yet. And I'm not James Wright," the voice on the other end of the line stammered finally.
Jean's anger quickly faded to embarrassment. "Oh." After a long silence, she asked quietly, "Who is this?"
"James… Jim… Reed. We, ah, met at the basketball game last week."
"Oh." Jean whispered. "Oh. I'm sorry. My sister told me you someone else. This stupid, idiotic, two-timing jerk who acted like he was going to ask me to the prom, then asked out my FORMER best friend instead." Jean didn't know why she was telling all that to a perfect stranger.
"Want me to go beat him up for you?" Jim asked.
Jim snickered. "That's what I always say to Nancy--my big sister--when she has a problem with a guy treating her bad."
Jean smiled. "Oh." She tried to imagine James Wright offering to defend her honor that way, but couldn't. Maybe she'd misjudged Jim Reed earlier. "Thanks. That's very gallant of you, but I don't want you getting in trouble." She giggled. "Listen, I must have sounded horrible before. Can we start over?"
"Sure. Hi. This is Jim Reed. Can I speak to Jean Anne Fuller?"
"This is Jean."
"Hi, Jean. Maybe you remember me. We met at the basketball game last week…"
Jean's giggle interrupted him. "Sure I remember you."
"Well, uh, I was wondering if you would want to maybe go to my prom with me. It's in about a month, so you should have time to get a dress and a hat and all that stuff."
"I… I…" Jean stammered. He sure doesn't go for small talk, does he? "That's kind of sudden. Why don't we go out for ice cream or something first?"
"Oh." Jean could almost hear Jim deflating. Finally he continued, "Uh, okay. How about this Friday?"
Jean looked down at her calendar, where she'd written 'Prom Dress Shopping' in big letters on Friday evening. Guess she didn't have to worry about that right now. "Yeah, Friday looks good."
"Great!" Jim exclaimed. "I, uh, guess I'll pick you up around seven, okay?"
"That sounds good. That should give my family time to finish dinner."
"Okay! Well, I'll see you then. Bye." Jim hung up the phone, not even giving her enough time to return the goodbye.
She had barely hung up the phone when it rang again. "Hello, Fuller residence," she told the phone.
It was Jim Reed again. "Hi, Jean Anne. I, uh, forgot to ask where you live…"
Jean smiled to herself. She really did need to patch things up with Connie. If Connie hadn't stolen her intended prom date, she never would have gone on that first date with Jim. Or the second date. Or to his prom.
On the other hand, she would be perfectly happy if she never saw James Wright again in her life.
March 1973, several days later…
"Jim, what are we doing here?" Jean asked as Jim pulled his tiny silver-blue Corvette into a parking space in front of a junior high school gymnasium.
"You'll see," Jim said, smiling mysteriously. He got out of the car and quickly walked around it to open Jean's door for her. "C'mon. We're almost late already."
"Late to what?" Jean asked again as Jim helped her out of the car.
"Come on, I'll show you." Jim still refused to answer her question, but grabbed her hand and led her into the gym and to a seat at the top of the bleachers behind most of the crowd just as the basketball game between Fremont Junior High and Redland Junior/Senior High started.
A basketball game? I got a baby-sitter for a junior high basketball game? Jean wondered silently. "Jim, do we know anyone who's playing here?" she asked her husband.
Jim squeezed her hand and smiled. "Yeah. Ralph, our paperboy, plays for Fremont. But that's not why we came here tonight."
"Okay." Jean watched the game for a minute. "Then why are we here?"
"You remember what you were doing ten years ago tonight?" Jim wrapped his left arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer to him.
Ten years ago… Jean thought back. High school… Basketball… Of course! "Oh, Jim. You're a hopeless romantic," Jean informed her husband, giggling as she leaned toward him so he could kiss her.
"I've been in love with you from the moment I first saw you," Jim whispered to her.
Jean smiled. "You fell in love with me when I was sprawled on the ground after you knocked me over?"
Jim squeezed her shoulders. "I thought you were the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen." He pulled a small box out of his coat pocket with his right hand, opened it and handed it to her.
"Jim!" Jean exclaimed as she saw the necklace in the jewelry box. "It's beautiful!" The stones may have been small, but they were well arranged, and the setting was well made. "How…"
Jim laid a finger across her lips. "Shhh. Just think of it as a present from my Dad for takin' care of me for ten years. I'll tell you the whole story later."
Jean couldn't keep her eyes from filling with tears. "Jim…"
Jim leaned over slightly to kiss her again. "Now don't do that. Hey, you're supposed to be happy."
"I am." Jean brushed the tears off her face. "It's beautiful."
"Just like you," Jim told her with a quick hug. He took the box back from her. "Here, I want to see what it looks like on you." With Jean's help, Jim got the necklace out of its box and fastened the clasp behind his wife's neck. "You're still the most beautiful girl around," he whispered to her.
Jean leaned her head against Jim's shoulder. "I love you."
A few days later, Jean walked into the coffee shop where she had arranged to meet with Connie and James Wright. She'd been so nervous about this meeting she almost was sick to her stomach that morning. Her argument with her husband about the wisdom of meeting her old friend and her friend's husband probably hadn't helped matters. She nervously fingered the necklace Jim had given her last week while she glanced around the diner, finally spotting James Wright sitting alone at a table along the side wall. For a moment, she wondered if Jim had been right when he insisted this meeting was a mistake. No. I need to fix things with Connie. And I'm not the helpless teenager I was last time… Jean tried to push the memories of the past out of her thoughts as she saw James stand up and wave her over.
She forced a smile onto her face. "Hello, James," she said as she neared the table.
"Jeannie, honey. Why so formal?" James reached out and grabbed her hand, raised it to his lips and kissed the back of it.
Jean jerked her hand away. "It's Jean. Jean Reed. Where's Connie?" she asked as she sat down across the table from James.
James sighed somewhat theatrically. "She'll be here later." He tried to reach for her hands again, but Jean evaded his grasp by quickly picking up her menu.
"Jim--my husband--and I come here after church sometimes," Jean told him in a transparent attempt to remind James she was married. "The ham and Swiss sandwich is good."
Almost as soon as the waitress had taken their order, James turned his attention back to Jean. He made another grab for her hands, but Jean pulled away and started fidgeting with her necklace. James leaned back in his chair and smiled. "Enough talk about the food. Let's talk about us."
Jean scooted her chair back from the table. "Us? James, there is no 'us'! You're married. I'm happily married to Jim Reed. We have a son." She gathered up her purse. "I think I'd better leave."
"Jeannie," James pleaded, using the hated nickname again. "Jeannie, I'm sorry. Please, wait."
Jean hesitated for a moment.
"Jeannie, I'm sorry. I should have been honest with you from the start. The truth is, my marriage is falling apart. I know Connie wanted to tell you in person, since you two were best friends."
Jean reluctantly sat back down. "I'm sorry to hear that. When's Connie getting here?"
The waitress interrupted their conversation, bringing them the coffee they'd ordered.
James took a sip of his coffee. "Connie's pretty upset about the whole thing." He put the coffee cup down. "It's all her fault, really. She tricked me into marrying her. Told me she was pregnant when she really wasn't. In fact, she tricked me into asking her to the prom. I really wanted to ask you."
Jean nervously reached for her own coffee, and James took the opportunity to grab her hand, sloshing the hot coffee over both their hands. "Ow! James, let go!" Jean demanded.
James ignored her. "I always wondered what my life would've been like if I had taken you to that dance instead of Connie," he said, idly rubbing the back of her hand.
Jean tried again to pull her hand free of James' firm grasp. "Let me go," she hissed at him.
"It's not too late to find out, you know? I'll be in town a lot the next few months. I'm thinking of moving my company's headquarters up here." He looked up into her eyes, apparently ignoring the fury he must have been able to see there. "You could join me here. Or, if that's too much for right now, just meet me at my hotel here in town this evening. I'll be here for the rest of the week."
Jean kicked James in the shin. When he yelped in pain and surprise and loosened his grasp on her, she jerked her hand free and jumped to her feet. "No," she snapped. "I am not interested, and I do not want you to contact me again, ever." She spun around and stalked out of the café, unaware of the angry, possessive glare James Wright had fixed on her departing back.
"You just wait, Jeannie," he muttered to himself. "You just wait."
At another restaurant not too far away, Pete Malloy watched his partner silently stare into his coffee cup. Whatever had made Jim crabby all morning, something he clearly didn't want to talk about, was obviously still eating at him. "You can call off that stakeout you have going," Pete finally commented to break the silence.
Jim looked up at him. "Huh?"
"Your coffee. It's not going anywhere, so you can quit staring at it."
Jim just nodded as he stirred the coffee again.
Pete sighed. "You want to talk about whatever's bothering you today?"
Jim almost smiled. "Thought that was my line." He tried to leave it at that, but Pete gave him a look that all but ordered him to continue. "Okay. You remember the star quarterback that Jean didn't go out with?"
It took Pete a minute to connect the dots. "Yeah?"
"Well, he did marry Jean's old best friend from high school, and he owns some sporting goods business down in San Diego. They're going to be up here for a few days for some conference, and they wanted to get together with Jean for lunch today."
"And?" Pete prompted when Jim stopped. So far, that didn't sound like anything to be upset over.
"And I don't trust him. I told Jean I didn't think she should go, but she insisted it would be fine."
Pete nodded. "And you two had an argument about it this morning."
Jim nodded. "Yeah."
"And you're going to brood about it the rest of the day."
Jim did manage a small smile at that one. "Yeah."
"Keep it up, partner, and I won't come over for dinner tonight." Pete paused for a second. "That is, if you still want me to come, with Jean mad at you."
"No, it's okay. We'll both have cooled down by then. Besides, Jean would never forgive me if she cooks for you and then I don't bring you home." Jim turned a forced smile on Pete. "It'll be okay."
Several hours later, Pete followed his partner up the walkway from the garage to the front door of the Reed's comfortable home. "So, what's your wife cooking up for dinner tonight? No blind dates, I hope."
Jim snickered as he unlocked the door. "No blind dates, I promise. Ever since you and Judy cooled things down, Jean's just about given up on you. As far as food goes, I don't know yet either." He pushed the door open. "Jean, honey, we're home." He sniffed "Huh. Don't smell anything cooking," he commented to Pete before calling to his wife again. "Jean?"
"In here," Jean called from the living room.
Jim walked into the room with Pete following just a few steps behind. "Jean, did you forget Pete was coming over for dinner tonight?" He spotted his wife curled up on the sofa, her legs tucked beside her and a box of tissues in her lap. "Honey, are you okay?"
Jean sniffed, swiped at her nose with a tissue and sighed. "Yeah. I'm fine." She hesitated for a second. "I just feel so stupid. I shouldn't have gone to meet with the Wrights today. James hasn't changed at all."
Jim ran the last few steps to the sofa and knelt down beside his wife, the expression on his face shifting from mild concern to a much deeper concern and more than a little anger. "What did James do? Jean, did he hurt you? I swear, if he laid a hand on you again, I'll kill him."
Jean laughed humorlessly. "No, Jim, he didn't hurt me. He just asked me to leave you and move in with him. Connie wasn't even there today. He says they're splitting up."
"I told you meeting them was a mistake," Jim almost snapped at his wife as he stood up. "After that stunt Wright pulled the last time you were alone with him…" Jim's voice trailed off as he ran his hands through his hair.
Pete looked from his partner to his partner's wife. Jim paced the room while an obviously upset Jean sat on the couch, hugging her knees to her chest, tears silently tracking down her cheeks. Pete didn't really want to get involved in what was clearly a personal disagreement, but Jim was too worked up to notice the effect his anger was having on his wife, and Jean seemed to be more upset than an old boyfriend vying for her attention would warrant. "Hey Jim, calm down. Everyone's okay, right?"
Jim stopped pacing and looked over at Pete, then down at his wife, finally seeing how upset she was. He dropped onto the couch beside her and wrapped his arms around her. "God, honey, I'm so sorry. I'm sorry. It's just when I think what he tried to do…" Jim reached up and gently wiped the tears off her face. "I'm sorry."
Pete quietly cleared his throat. "Partner, I don't want to pry into things that are none of my business, but what did this Wright fellow do? If you're gonna go around killing people, I'd kinda like to know why," he joked lamely.
Jim glanced over at Jean, who nodded slightly, but didn't look up from staring at her hands clasped in her lap. Jim laid a hand over hers, then looked up at Pete. "James Wright's the jerk of a quarterback you were wondering why Jean didn't end up with. He had this party right after Jean's graduation…."
"… and some of those varsity guys are real big, real heavy. I thought I was never gonna breathe again after three of them tackled me." College freshman Jim Reed described another play from one of his college football games. "I mean, the one guy had shoulders out to here…" He waved his arms in demonstration, once again spilling his punch onto the ground. "Oops." The rate he was going, he was going to die of thirst before this party was over. That made drink number three, or maybe four, that he'd used to water the grass. His dad said he'd grow out of the clumsiness when his brain caught up with his body, but he was beginning to doubt that was ever going to happen anywhere except on the football field. Idly, he wondered where his girlfriend, Jean Anne Fuller, was. Most of the people at this party were her friends, recent graduates of Oceanside High School. She's probably busy chatting with her girlfriends.
"So, how does Oceanside's team look for next year?" he asked one of the boys hanging out with him. "Is Northend going to get to keep the conference championship trophy for another year?"
Another of the Oceanside graduates handed him another cup of punch, along with a punch in the arm. "Not a chance, Reed. We're bringing it home this year." Soon, the group was deep in conversation about the Northend Panthers' chances against Oceanside's Blue Warriors.
He almost missed it when Jean called to him from across the Wright's backyard. The weak-sounding "Jim!" came out sounding more like "Jaahhh-emm," and he wondered what was wrong. He excused himself and quickly walked across the yard to the patio, where Jean stood close to the host of the party, James Wright.
When Jim got to the patio, he saw James was holding Jean tightly by one arm while his other arm was wrapped around her body, holding her firmly against his side as he all but drug her toward the house. "Hey! What do you think you're doing?" Jim snapped at James.
As soon as Jean heard his voice, she wrenched herself free of James' grasp, ripping her shirt when James didn't let go and stumbling unsteadily toward Jim before falling into his arms. "I don' feel so good," she mumbled to Jim, then pointed at James. "James thinks I should go lie down in 'is room, but I wanna go home." Jean paused for a minute, unaware of the angry glares passing between Jim Reed and James Wright. "Jim, please take me home." Tears welled up in her eyes, and she lowered her head so neither James Wright nor Jim would see her crying.
Supporting his girlfriend with one arm, Jim tilted her chin up so he could look into her eyes, intending to make some comforting remark. "Jean, you're drunk!" he exclaimed as he got a whiff of her breath.
"Nuh-uh. Can't be. Jus' had lemonade," she mumbled.
Jim glared at James Wright as he propped Jean up against the porch railing. "What did you do to her?" he demanded, taking a step forward toward their host. "You… you got her drunk on purpose, you jerk." He advanced on James, fully intending to beat the hell out of him, host of the party or not.
"Jimmmm," Jean moaned from behind him, and he spun around just in time to catch her as she fell to her knees and threw up all over the Wright's patio.
Jim held her until she finally stopped retching, then fumbled in his pockets for a handkerchief. He gently wiped her face clean as best he could. "It's okay. You're gonna be okay," he whispered to her as she started sobbing quietly.
"Geez, what a mess. You'd better take her home." James Wright spoke up from behind them. "I'll get the maid to clean … that up."
Jim glared up at James. "You bet I'm taking her home. And you had better stay away from both of us from now on. We don't ever want to see you again." He turned back to his girlfriend. "Jean, honey, are you feeling any better?"
Jean shook her head, then grabbed at his arm as the world started spinning around again. "Not really," she whimpered. "I wanna go home." She started to try to get to her feet.
Jim fixed one last glare on James Wright before turning back to Jean. "It's okay, honey. Don't try to stand up. I can carry you to my car." Jim gathered Jean into his arms and walked out of the Wright's expensive home without a backward glance.
"So you can see why I didn't want Jean meeting with Wright. The last time they were even close to alone together, he tried to seduce her…." Sometime during his retelling of the story, Jim had stood up off the couch and resumed his pacing of the room.
Tried to rape her would be a more accurate description, Pete thought, but there was no point in saying that aloud. The incident of nine years earlier had obviously shaken both of them. They'd both been little more than kids then, probably unable to deal with the reality of what nearly happened that night. "Yeah, he sounds like a real prince of a guy."
"Well, I'm glad you both agree. I guess I was stupid then--stupid enough to accept lemonade from someone I thought was a friend--and I guess I'm even stupider now." Jean suddenly snapped at them. She drew her knees up and hugged them to her chest. "I just wanted to patch things up with Connie," she added quietly.
Jim sat down on the couch next to his wife and hugged her again. "No, honey. No. You're not the stupid one, I am. I should have been with you at that party, not talking football with James' friends. I should've actually drunk some of the punch those guys kept pushing at me, instead of dumping it on the ground. Maybe if I hadn't been such a klutz, I would've realized something was wrong. And I should've gone with you to meet with Connie and James today instead of just being so stubborn about what a bad idea it was." He clasped one of her hands in his, interlocking their fingers, then gently brushed a lock of hair out of her face with his other hand. "I just don't want you getting hurt. Promise me that you'll never see James Wright again unless I'm around, okay?"
Jean nodded and tried to smile. "Okay. But I don't ever want to see him again, with you or not."
"That's fine with me," Jim whispered, leaning forward to plant a kiss on the side of her face.
Jean snuggled closer to him and leaned her head on his shoulder. Jim could feel her shaking, so he hugged her closer to him, silently stroking her hair. "I'm sorry I drug up all that stuff," he whispered.
Pete looked around the room, trying to find something to occupy himself while the Jim comforted his wife. Much to his relief, the sound of the doorbell ringing broke the silence and Jean and Jim sprang apart like guilty teenagers.
"Wonder who that is?" Jim asked, mostly to fill the silence.
Jean sat up straighter. "Probably Wendy, bringing Jimmy back home. He was playing over at their house." She started to stand up.
Pete jumped to his feet. "Let me get it," he told the Reeds as he headed for the front door. He automatically stopped at the door and leaned over to look out the peephole. "Jim," he called. When Jim looked up at him, Pete gestured for his partner to join him at the door.
"What's up?" Jim asked when he arrived at Pete's side, with Jean following closely behind him.
"It's not your neighbor with Jimmy. What does this James Wright look like?"
Jim turned to look at Jean, who suddenly looked very pale. "Jean?"
"About Jim's height, but… but heavier. Blonde hair. Blue eyes," she stammered as Jim moved to stand beside her.
"That's him at the door," Pete said quietly.
Jim moved Pete out of his way and looked out the peephole. The expression on his face went from relative calm to furious in seconds, and he stood up and reached for the doorknob.
Pete grabbed Jim's wrist. "Jim, let me handle this." When Jim tried to fight him, Pete continued. "He's not worth risking your career over, is he?"
Pete held Jim back from the door until he finally nodded, then Pete stepped outside and pulled the door to behind him.
Jim was so engrossed in trying to hear Pete muffled conversation with James Wright that he didn't notice Jean had moved to stand beside him. "Jean?" he asked as he turned to face his wife. Jean stood with her hands balled into fists at her sides. Jim quickly pulled her against him. "Jean, it's okay. He's not gonna hurt you."
"I can't believe he came here," Jean hissed. "This is my house. I don't want him coming here. He's not allowed to be here." She tried to push her way around Jim. "All I wanted to do was make up with Connie."
"Jean, stop," Jim demanded, suddenly furious at Wright. "Stay put. I'll get rid of him." Jim turned and stormed out his front door where he found James Wright and Pete still standing on the porch. "Wright, get off my property and stay away from my wife," he nearly yelled at the man.
James Wright smiled at him. "Jim Reed. Well, you haven't changed a bit in ten years. Still the same charming personality."
Jim glared at Wright. "Get off of my porch. Stay away from my family," he repeated
James fumbled in an internal pocket of his suit coat, and Pete and Jim both instinctively reached for their off-duty weapons. James finally pulled a business card out of the pocket, and the two officers relaxed slightly. "Give this to Jeannie," he said as he handed the card to Jim. "Forgot to give her my address if she changes her mind. That's my business address on the front; my hotel room and telephone number here in Los Angeles are written on the back."
Jim stared at card, then at James Wright, astonishment at the man's audacity intensifying the anger. He looked down at the card in his hand again, then flicked it back at James Wright. "She's not interested."
"Yes she is. I could've had her. I should've taken her when I had the chance," Wright persisted.
Jim stepped across the porch, both hands balled into fists. He probably would have pummeled Wright on the spot, but Pete grabbed his arms and held him back. "He's not worth it," Pete said quietly.
Jim twisted out of Pete's grasp. "Wright, she is not interested in you," he said forcefully. "Now, do yourself a favor and leave us alone. If I even see you within a city block of my family, you'll regret it. You're not going to hurt her again, do you understand?" Jim took another few steps forward, enough that Wright had to step backwards off the porch.
For a minute, James stood on the front walk glaring up at Jim, and Jim wondered if he really was going to have to follow up on his threat. Finally, James turned to walk away with a silent shrug of his shoulders.
Jim and Pete stood on the porch until James Wright wandered across the lawn to a beige Cadillac parked against the curb. As the car drove away, Pete took note of the license plate. Adam-Xray-David, one-nine-three. Then he followed his partner into the house and securely closed and locked the door behind them. "Jim, I'm going to go call his plate in."
Jim only nodded as he held his wife. "Calm down, honey. He's gone and he's not gonna come back," Pete heard Jim whisper to Jean as he headed for the Reed's telephone.
The only thing running the plate proved was that James Wright owned the car. It didn't prove that he was making the prank phone calls Jean started to receive the next day--sometimes several times a day, mostly while Jim was at work. It didn't prove that the light color Cadillac Jean had caught glimpses of driving through the Reed's neighborhood belonged to Wright, or that the similar vehicle she saw several times while running errands was his.
Jim got more and more worried with each passing day, and finally he'd decided it was time to go talk with Mac about his options. After work that day, Jim had rushed through changing out of his uniform and rushed out of the locker room. Pete took his time getting back into his street clothes, then went in search of his partner and carpool rider.
The search didn't take too long. As Pete neared Mac's office door, Jim's angry voice carried out of the partially closed door to the sergeant's office. "No evidence? He calls at all hours of the day or night. Jean thinks she's seen him hanging around our neighborhood. What, does he have to kidnap her before you'll do anything?"
"Jim," Mac's quieter voice followed. "Calm down. You know the law. We have to have more than possible sightings to get a restraining order. And you said yourself he hasn't even made any real threats."
Pete quietly opened the door and let himself into the office. Mac and Jim both acknowledged his presence, but didn't ask him to leave.
"Not this time," Jim added bitterly.
Mac looked up. "This time? What do you mean?"
Jim lowered his voice to a quieter level. "He tried to assault her before. He might try it again."
"When? You want to tell me about it?" Mac asked.
Jim sighed, then reluctantly related the incident from the high-school party to Mac.
Mac shuffled papers on his desk uncomfortably as Jim finished the story. "Jim, I can see why you're concerned. And if it was up to me, I'd arrest the guy right now. But we can't. The rules just don't work that way. Any judge would say that the incident was too old--Wright could have changed in the nine years since then--and besides, there's no proof he actually meant to harm Jean. That's just your interpretation of events. He could've meant it as a harmless prank." Mac sighed quietly. "All I can do is ask Foothill to patrol you neighborhood more often. Maybe Wright will do something they can stop him for, or maybe their presence will scare him off."
"Right. Or maybe he'll hurt her, and then you can arrest him." Jim spun around on one heel and stalked out of the office
Pete watched Jim's departing form as he marched down the hallway toward the parking garage. "Mac, I'll go talk to him. He's just worried. He didn't really mean…"
"Pete. Don't apologize. I just wish there was more we could do."
A few minutes later, Pete walked out of the station to find Jim already leaning tensely against the banana-yellow car that was Pete's latest means of transportation. "Home, James?" Pete asked, hoping the tired old chauffeur joke would pull Jim out of his funk.
"Yeah." Jim replied. "Then I'm going out to the shooting range."
"What? Jim, we just qualified two weeks ago. Wouldn't you rather go home and spend time with your wife and son?"
Jim nodded. "Of course I'd rather do that, but I can't. I'm going home to pick up my other gun and Jean." He sighed in frustration. "If the police won't protect Jean, she's gonna learn how to protect herself."
"You sure that's a good idea, Jim?"
He nodded again. "I already taught her some of the basics, just so she'd feel comfortable having the gun around the house. I think it's time she got some real practice, though."
"Okay, partner." Pete agreed reluctantly. "If that's what you want to do, we should get going."
"We?" Jim questioned as he lowered himself into the car.
"I can't have you teaching her your bad habits, now can I? At least, not without me there to correct you."
"My bad habits?" Jim sputtered until he saw the teasing grin on Pete's face. He finally grinned himself. "We'll just have to see who's the better shot tonight, partner."
"You want to bet dinner on that?"
Jim made a point of checking his wallet. "Hope you have some cash with you, Pete, because you're going to need it."
"Hope you have some cash with you, Jim," Pete grinned as Jean, Jim and he left the shooting range. "And even though it's my privilege as the winner to choose dinner, in honor of Jean's achievement, I'm going to let Jean choose where we eat. Where do you want Jim to take us, Jean?"
Jean giggled as she wrapped an arm around her husband's back. "Someplace cheap. I know how much money this guy carries. How about pizza?"
"Sounds good to me. What about it, Jim?"
Jim shook his head. "I still don't believe it."
"Don't believe what? That your wife wants pizza?" Pete teased his partner.
"No." Jim sent a friendly glare in Pete's direction. "That my wife out-shot me tonight. That's what I don't believe. Pete, we're supposed to be highly-trained professionals, and…" Another giggle from Jean interrupted him, and he shook his head in disbelief. "I must've been having an off day," he grumbled.
Jean laughed. She could hardly believe it either. When Jim had arrived home several hours early and told her they were going to the shooting range, she'd balked at the idea. There was no way she could learn to fire a gun well enough to protect herself, she had told Jim. But Jim had insisted she at least give it a try, and much to all of their surprise, she had proved to be an excellent shot, surpassing her husband in accuracy, although not speed. "The rules didn't say anything about you having an off day. They just say the worst shot has to buy dinner, and that means you owe Pete and me dinner. Come on, big guy. Time to pay up."
"Okay, okay," Jim relented. "But it'll be different next time. Does the Leaning Tower sound good?" Jim asked as he led his wife toward Pete's car.
Several Days Later…
Jean picked up the last bag of groceries out of the trunk of her car, then reached for her purse. The heavier-than-normal weight of the purse was an unwelcome reminder of the threat Jim thought James Wright posed to her. Personally, she thought Jim was overreacting a little. Making her carry his off-duty weapon everywhere she went seemed a little extreme to her, especially now that it seemed James had backed off. The phone calls had tapered off to only one a day and she hadn't seen him hanging around for a few days. But if it made Jim feel better, she'd do it, at least for a few more days.
Jean glanced into the backyard where Jimmy sat playing in his sandbox, rolling some old Matchbox cars down a sand mountain, before she headed toward the house. As she stepped around the corner of the house, she gasped in surprise and dropped the grocery bag.
James Wright stood leaning against the house between her and the back door she'd left unlocked after her last trip from the car. "Hello, Jeannie," James almost purred.
"James, please leave now," Jean requested as politely as she could.
James only laughed. "Why? I just want to talk about you and me." He didn't move from his position, blocking her from getting in the house. If he took just a few steps sideways, he could block her from getting to Jimmy, also.
"I don't want to talk to you, so please leave," Jean repeated.
James laughed. "Your husband and his friend aren't here to protect you this time." He took a step toward her.
Jean stepped back and reached into her purse, trying to remember everything Jim had tried to teach her. Make sure the safety's off seemed to be the most important part of the lesson right now, followed by Use both hands for better aim. Jean pulled the small gun out of her purse and pointed it at James Wright. "Go away. Now," she told her former classmate, trying to keep her voice from shaking, trying to keep the gun steady. "Leave me alone."
The sight of the gun seemed to startle James. It was the first time Jean had ever seen him look that surprised. He laughed halfheartedly. "Jeannie. You're not really going to shoot that. I know you better than that." He moved another step toward her.
"No, you don't," Jean countered, keeping the gun aimed at James. "Leave now. Go the other way. Around the other end of the house."
James chuckled. "Okay, okay. So now's a bad time. You know where I am if you change your mind." He began backing off, then turned and walked away.
Jean followed him, keeping the gun aimed in his direction until she saw him get into the car he had parked in her neighbor's driveway, back it onto the road, and drive away. Stupid! If I'd just looked a little closer when I got home, I would have seen that car, she silently cursed at herself. She managed to keep her composure only until he drove out of site, then she collapsed to her knees, shaking too much to keep standing, overwhelmed by anger and fear--anger at James for threatening her and at husband for not protecting her; fear of what James could have done to her and of what she had almost done to him.
"Mommy?" Jimmy ran from the sandbox to his mother. "Mommy, what wrong?" Jimmy asked, clearly upset by his mother's uncharacteristic behavior.
Jean quickly shoved the gun into her purse, then hugged her son tightly. "Nothing, baby. Mommy just got a little scared. It's okay."
Jimmy frowned, trying to process that information. Then he squirmed out of her hug. "Come on, Mommy. We go get Spotty." He grabbed her arm and pulled her toward the house. "Come on."
"Jimmy, why do you want your old stuffed puppy? You haven't played with Spotty for months." Jean stood up and allowed Jimmy to lead her toward the house.
Jimmy beamed up at her. "Spotty helps me when I scared."
Jean stopped and knelt down beside her son, hugging him close again. "Jimmy, you are a special little boy. Come on, let's go get some of that ice cream we bought."
"'kay!" Jimmy skipped toward the kitchen, with Jean following close behind. They were halfway to the back door when Jean stopped and turned to face the alley behind the house. She frowned. She could have sworn she'd seen someone watching her from the alley. No. It's just your nerves. James Wright just has you worried. Forget about it, she told herself silently.
The woman ducked lower behind the rear fence as she saw Jean Reed turn to look across the backyard.. A minute later, she heard the door to the house open and close behind Jimmy Reed and his mother, and she cautiously began working her way back to her Mercedes parked in the alley a few houses down from the Reed's. This wasn't the first time her husband had cheated on her, but the events she had just seen had giver her an idea of how to end his humiliating behavior once and for all. James Wright was going to regret his behavior, and so would anyone she could hold responsible for it.
An hour later, Margie pulled her car to a stop on the street in front of the police station. "Jean, do you want me to go inside with you?" she asked her friend.
"No. I'm okay." Jean tried hard to smile reassuringly at her friend. "I need to see Jim alone. Can you stay out here with Jimmy?" Jean had finally called Margie when ice cream and Spotty the stuffed puppy did little to calm her shattered nerves. She needed to see Jim; needed Jim to hold her and tell her her world wasn't going crazy. She climbed out of the car and jogged up the stairs and through the front door of the station. Somehow, she kept her emotions under control while she asked the desk officer if her husband was in the station and while he went back to look for Jim.
A few minutes later, Jim stood in the doorway to the lobby. "Jean?"
As soon as she saw Jim looking so concerned, emotions she had fought so hard to control overwhelmed and she fell apart. She ran into Jim's arms, trying not to sob hysterically.
"Jean, what's wrong? Are you okay? Is Jimmy hurt? " Jim held her shoulders and tried to get her to look into his eyes. "Jean, answer me. What's wrong?"
Jean shook her head. "No. No. James… James Wright… showed up at home… wouldn't leave…" she sobbed out. "I had to… to… threaten him… get him to leave…"
"He didn't hurt you?" Jim demanded.
Jean shook her head. "Nooo… showed him… showed him the gun and he left." She was starting to sound calmer. "Jim, please come home. I don't want to be there alone. Please."
Jim rubbed her back. "I'll have to check with Mac, okay? You'll be okay here in the lobby for a little while?"
Jean nodded and wiped the tears off her face. "Sure, I'll be fine. I'm sorry for overreacting."
Jim hugged Jean quickly. "You're not overreacting. I'll be right back." Turning away from his wife, he reentered the 'officers only' area of the station to find Mac and Pete standing not too far away.
"Take off if you need to," Mac told him before he even got a chance to ask.
Jim nodded. "Thanks. Can you let Jean know while I get changed?" Jim voice was tight.
Mac nodded. "Sure. Go on and get out of here."
Jim nodded sharply, then strode off down the hall.
Mac and Pete watched his departing form. "Pete, you'd better go make sure he's okay. I'll go keep Jean company."
Pete watched Jim throw open the door to the locker room so hard it crashed into the doorstop with a thud that could be heard from their position at the other end of the hallway. "Right."
By the time Pete caught up with his partner, Jim was pacing the locker room in front of his locker, muttering to himself. Pete strained to hear what Jim was saying.
"I don't believe it. I don't believe it."
"Don't believe what, partner?" Pete asked.
Jim looked up at Pete with an expression of pure rage on his face. "James Wright. He's going to hurt Jean, and nobody will do a thing to protect her." Jim turned and viciously kicked his locker before jerking the door open. "Next time I see him, he's dead. He's not getting near Jean again." Jim yanked off his uniform shirt, sending a button flying across the room, then balled up the shirt and forcefully tossed it into the locker. "If he does, I'll do whatever… whatever I have to do to protect her, since it seems no one else will." Jim grabbed the knit shirt he'd worn to work that morning out of the locker and yanked it over his head before slamming his locker shut hard enough to shake every locker in the row and elicit protests from the few other officers present. "If he's stupid enough to get close to her again, he's going to pay the price."
"Calm down, Jim. You don't want to upset your wife, do you?" Pete knew Jean didn't need to see her husband like this.
Jim stood in front of his locker, gripping the top of the locker and leaning his head against the door. "Calm down. Calm down. Calm down," he repeated to himself, working on slowing his breathing down. A minute later, he released his grip on the locker. "Okay. I'm okay."
"Good. Because I want to go see my godson." Pete led Jim out of the locker room and back down to the lobby.
The officers who remained in the locker room stared at the closed door. "Dang. Sure am glad my name's not James Wright," Officer Linder commented, to the muttered agreements of the other two men.
Detective Grantley finally broke up the party. "Show's over. Back to work, men," he joked to the officers. The new detective frowned at the door. That Jim Reed sure seemed like the volatile type.
The next day, Jean got an unexpected visitor as Jim worked the P.M. Watch. She had just gotten Jimmy dried off after his bath when the doorbell rang. "Wonder who that could be?" she mumbled, mostly to herself.
"Don' know, Mommy," Jimmy told her, then squirmed out of her grasp and ran for the front door.
"Jimmy! Get back here, you little imp!" Jean called as she grabbed her son's terry cloth robe and headed down the hall after the naked boy. She caught him halfway down the hallway and quickly pulled the robe around him. "Kiddo, we can't answer the door naked, now can we?" she asked rhetorically as she secured the tie belt around his waist.
"Why not?" he argued, offering his small hand to his Mommy to walk with him to the front door.
"Because… you just can't, tiger. You have to wear clothes sometimes," Jean told her son, hoping that would be enough of an answer for right now. She looked out the peephole to see the last person she'd ever expected to see standing on her front porch--Connie Hanson Wright. Jean threw open the door. "Connie! How are you?"
"Hello, Jeannie." Connie extended a hand toward her former best friend.
Jean ignored the hand and instead pulled Connie into a quick hug. "Connie, it's so good to see you. Come in, please."
Jimmy pushed his way in front of his mother. "Hi," he said to Connie.
Connie looked down at the small boy. "Hi yourself." She looked up at Jean. "Good god, he's the spitting image of Jim Reed. What's his name?"
Jean patted her son on the head. "This is our son, Jimmy. Jimmy, this is Mrs. Connie. She's a friend of Mommy's."
"Hi, Mrs. Connie," Jimmy told Connie again.
"Connie, why don't you come on in. I need to get Jimmy into his pajamas, but that will just take a few minutes." Jean opened the door wider to allow Connie to enter. "If you want to hang around the living room for a few minutes, I'll be right back."
Getting Jimmy into his jammies took longer than Jean anticipated. Like his father, once Jimmy got started on a subject, it was hard to change his train of thought. The boy now wanted to know why he had to wear clothes to bed. Trying to convince Jimmy of the many benefits of jammies while wrestling the squirming child into said clothing drew the process out, but eventually, Jean did get her son dressed and tucked into his bed with his favorite stuffed bear.
She softly closed the door to his bedroom as she backed out of the room. "Oh," she yelped in surprise as she backed into someone in the hallway.
"Sorry, Jean. It's just me." Connie said. "I was just looking around your house. You've done a wonderful decorating job with what you had to work with."
Jean winced at that last remark. With what I had to work with? Just what does she mean by that? "Thanks. Let's go to the kitchen and get some tea, and talk for a bit. It's been years since I've seen you." Jean led Connie back down the hall.
After she'd gotten tea for the two of them, Jean led her friend into the living room and settled her on the sofa. Jean sat down in Jim's chair. "I'm sorry Jim's not here. He's working tonight."
"Oh, yes. With the L. A. Police, right?"
"Mm-hm." Jean sipped her tea. "So, how are you doing? I was so sorry to hear about your marriage."
Connie shrugged. "Things change. People change." She put her teacup down on the table. "That's partly why I came to see you tonight. I wanted to apologize for James' behavior. He's acting simply awful. Terrible."
And how is that a change? Jean thought angrily. "You know about what he's been doing? How…"
Connie held up a hand. "Years ago, when I first suspected he was cheating on me, I hired a private investigator to watch him. Now, I've learned what to watch for myself." She laughed bitterly. "Don't think you're the first skirt he's chased after."
"Connie, I'm so sorry." Jean leaned forward and laid her hand on top of Connie's. "You do know I haven't been returning his attention. In fact, I've told him to leave me alone many times."
Connie nodded. "I know." She looked over at her former friend. "You haven't changed a bit, have you? Sweet, loyal little Jeannie. That's probably good--at least good for your family."
The two women shared a few more minutes of stilted conversation. During a moment of uncomfortable silence, Jean excused herself to take the teacups to the kitchen. By the time she returned to the living room, Connie had stood up and gathered her purse and jacket.
"Jeannie, honey, I didn't realize how late it was. I have to leave. James has some social function for his sports business tonight, and I have to attend. Keeping up appearances for society, you know."
Jean nodded. Connie always had been concerned about 'appearances.' "Of course, Connie. If you're every in town again, be sure to come see me, okay?"
"Sure, Jeannie. Thanks for the tea." Connie opened the front door. "Look me up if you're ever in San Diego."
"I will," Jean told her. "Good-bye."
Connie waved over her shoulder as she hurried out to a shiny Mercedes parked in the driveway.
Jean slowly closed the door behind her old friend, thinking how right--and wrong--Connie had been. "People change," Connie had said. Jean knew she had changed and for the better, she thought: more grown up, less the flighty teenager she had been throughout high school. It seemed Connie had also changed, but for the worse, moving the self-absorbed teen she'd been into an equally self absorbed but bitter woman.
Jean almost wished Connie hadn't come to see her. It was sad and a little disturbing to see how her best friend through all of junior high and most of high school had changed. It didn't sound like Connie's life had been very happy in the ten years since their friendship had ended. That could have been me. If she hadn't 'stolen' James from me. If Jim hadn't literally swept me off my feet at that basketball game. If Jim had given up when I yelled at him when he called to ask me to the prom… Jean fingered the necklace Jim had given her just a few weeks earlier. "I really am blessed." She vowed to tell her husband that as soon as possible.
A few hours later when Jim finally walked through the door, Jean was there to meet him. Before he'd gotten out much more than, "Hi, honey," she was hugging him tightly, standing up on tiptoes so she could kiss him passionately on his lips.
Over a minute later, Jim finally broke the kiss. "What was that for?" he asked. Sometime in the past minute, he'd wrapped his arms around her.
Jean smiled up at him. "I just realized I hadn't told you how much I love you in almost twelve hours."
"Oh." Jim pulled her closer to him. "You wanna tell me that again?" he whispered huskily as he lowered his face toward hers, kissing his wife with a passion ten years had not cooled.
Jim awoke late the next morning. He blinked several times until his eyes adjusted to the bright sunlight streaming in the window, then turned his head to find his wife still asleep beside him. He rolled onto his side so he could watch her sleep.
Jean either sensed his stare, or else the slight motion of the bed woke her. Her eyes slowly drifted open.
"Hey, honey," Jim greeted her.
"Hey," she mumbled sleepily.
Jim reached over and gently traced the side of her face with his fingers. "I don't wanna leave you," he whispered, smiling down at her. "How about I just stay home today?"
Jean smiled up at him, then reached up and pressed a hand against the side of his face. "I'm always ready to spend more time with you, handsome," she mummered. "But don't you have to work?"
"I could play hooky," he suggested. "I'm sure Mac could find a reserve officer to fill in for me today. We could stay right here all day."
Jean rubbed at her eyes. "I don't think Jimmy would let us get away with that. If you're really serious, why don't we go to the beach? Jimmy's been wanting to go for a month now."
"We can go to the beach later," Jim whispered as he leaned over to kiss his wife.
What was developing into a romantic moment was interrupted by the sounds of their son pattering down the hallway and knocking on the bedroom door. "Mommy? Daddy? Are you still in there?"
Jean was suddenly wide awake, rolling out of bed and slipping into her nightgown. She tossed Jim's robe to him. "Put that on, quick!" she demanded quietly.
"What? Why?" Jim asked as he complied with his wife's order.
"Because Jimmy's just as stubborn as you are," she told him. "Last night, he gave me all kinds of trouble about wearing his pajamas. If he walks in and finds you not wearing anything, you can explain to him why he had to wear jammies last night when Mommy and Daddy didn't."
"Oh." Jim replied, turning slightly pink. "Oh, uh, no. I would rather wait on that little discussion."
Jimmy pushed the door open. "Good m'rning, Mommy. Good m'rning, Daddy." He ran to his mother. "Mommy, I'm hungry."
Jim stepped up behind his wife and hugged her. "I'm hungry, too."
"Okay, you two. Jim, why don't you get Jimmy dressed while I go shower." She poked him in the side. "Maybe you could even start cooking breakfast for me." Jean laughed at Jim's terrified look.
"Okay," he whispered to her before gently kissing her. He then leaned down and scooped his son off the floor. "Hey, Tiger, how would you like to go to the beach today?"
"Yeah! Wanna build a sand castle!" Jimmy clapped his hands with enthusiasm. "And jump in the water and get wet!"
"Want to dunk Mommy in the ocean, too?"
"I heard that, Jim!" Jean called as she headed for the bathroom.
Ten hours later, Jim sighed happily as he glanced around the car. In the rear-view mirror, he could see Jimmy sleeping soundly in his booster seat. Beside him in the front seat, Jean slept peacefully, a small smile on her lips. He reached for the radio and turned the volume on some Beach Boys song a bit quieter so it wouldn't disturb his sleeping family. The beach had been fun but exhausting. They were all covered with a film of salt water and sand and slightly sunburned, though nowhere near as bad as last winter, when he'd stupidly fallen asleep in the backyard, toasting himself to a crisp. Now that had been a sunburn. Lost in happy memories of the day's activities, he almost missed the turn to his street, and jerked the car around the corner faster than he meant to.
The jarring motion woke Jean. "Honey?" she asked, concerned.
Jim glanced over at her and smiled. "It's okay. I just took the turn a little too fast. We're almost home."
Jean shifted in her seat, yawning as she woke up. "This was a great idea. We needed a break from that bozo James Wright."
"Yeah." Jim agreed with her as he pulled the car into their driveway.
Jean yawned again as she got out of the car. "'scuse me. Going to the beach always makes me so sleepy."
Jim smiled at his wife. "Here, honey. Let me get Jimmy. Can you get the bags?" Jim unbuckled his son from his seat and picked up the sleeping boy.
"Yeah. It's only the one bag and the blanket." A moment later, they headed toward the door. Jean started digging around in her purse. "Shoot. Jim, give me your keys. I must have left mine in my other purse."
Jim hiked Jimmy up a little higher on his right hip and reached around his body with his left hand, trying to pull the keys out of his right pocket.
Jean giggled as Jim almost twisted himself in a circle. "Wait. Don't drop Jimmy or anything. I can get them from you." She pulled the keychain out of Jim's jeans pocket and unlocked the door. "Here we are. Home Sweet Home."
An hour later, they had finished bathing Jimmy and were getting him settled in his bed when the phone rang. Jim had just finishing tucking Jimmy's sheets around the sleeping child.
Jean stood up. "I'll get it," she told Jim as she headed for the telephone in the living room.
Jim gave his sleeping son one more goodnight kiss, then followed Jean to the living room. He heard her cheerful hello as she answered the telephone, then an irritated sigh, then her tense voice.
"James, I am not interested. I'm not going to leave Jim for you. I'm not interested in going anywhere with you."
Jim stepped to his wife's side and held out his hand for the phone, silently offering to take care of this for her. Jean laid the telephone receiver in his hand, and he lifted the phone to his ear.
"… know you want me." James Wright was saying. "I'm giving you this last chance to come with me on your own. I'll be at the Lenny's Diner at Olympic and Parthenon until midnight. You'd better show up, if you know what's good for you. You'll regret it if you don't." James hung up the phone.
Jim slowly hung up the phone on his end, trying to control his anger. "Jean, has he been threatening when he called before?"
Jean shook her head. "No," she whispered, obviously frightened. "Is that what he just did? Make threats? What kind?"
Sensing how frightened she was, Jim pulled his wife into a tight hug. "It's okay, honey. He didn't make any threats. Not really. Just made some vague references that could be interpreted that way. Said to meet him at Lenny's or you'd regret it."
"Oh." Jean buried her face against her husband's shoulder. "Jim, when is this going to end?"
Jim stroked his wife's hair, trying to reassure her, trying to get her trembling to stop. Concern for his wife quickly turned to anger, and he let her go. "Tonight. This stops tonight. Go get Jimmy, and meet me out at the car. We're gonna go have a public discussion with James Wright."
Fifteen minutes later, the Reed's sedan pulled up in front of the restaurant. Jean glanced around the parking lot. "I don't see him or his car. You sure this is the right place?"
Jim checked the street signs. "Yep." He also surveyed the area, a decaying commercial neighborhood; not the type of place he would have chosen for a romantic rendezvous. "Maybe he meant beside the restaurant, or behind it," he muttered. Jim suddenly had second thoughts about the wisdom of this meeting. I wish I hadn't brought Jean and Jimmy with me. I wish I'd called for some sort of backup. I wish James had never come back into our lives. He drove the car back onto Parthenon Drive, then turned into the alley behind Lenny's.
"There!" Jean called out. "That's his car up there." She pointed down the alley a little further. "But I don't see him around."
The headlights from their car illuminated a beige Cadillac sedan parked in the dark alleyway behind the restaurant. Jim looked at the scene, every instinct he had telling him something was not right. "Jean, stay here for a minute. I want to go take a look around." He shifted the car into park, but left the engine running. "Lock the doors after I get out, okay, honey?"
"Jim, what's wrong?" Jean glanced nervously out the window.
Jim blew out a worried sigh. "I don't know. Something just doesn't feel right. Just keep the car locked, okay?"
When Jean nodded, Jim cautiously opened the door, got out of the car, and closed the door behind him. He waited until he heard Jean lock the doors, then approached Wright's car, unconsciously reaching for the gun he'd left at home. "Wright?" he called out. No answer. As he rounded the back of the car, he saw why. James Wright lay on the ground beside the open door of his car. Even in the darkness, the dark stain spreading across the front of Wright's shirt was evident. "Damn," Jim muttered as he jogged the few feet to the man's side and knelt down beside the body. He reached for Wright's neck to feel for a pulse in the faint hope that the man was still alive. Just as he expected, he didn't find one. Jim sighed quietly. "Damn."
Almost immediately, the policeman part of his brain started lining up facts. Gunshot wound to the chest, very close range. Very recent, too, if he could judge by the lack of police on the scene. Gunshots were noisy enough that someone would have heard and called the police, and with a report of shots fired, any unit would be rolling code 3. The killing had to be recent; recent enough that the killer could still be nearby. That thought shook Jim out of his thoughts, and he jumped up and raced back to his car.
Jean unlocked his door when she saw her husband running toward their car. "Jim, what is it? What's wrong?" she asked as soon as he opened the door.
Jim dropped into the driver's seat, slamming the door closed behind him and locking it. "He's dead, Jean." Jim whispered. "James Wright is dead. Somebody… somebody shot him."
"No." Jean whispered, clasping a hand over her mouth, her eyes wide with horror. "No, Jim. Who?"
Jim sighed. "I don't know. God, baby, I'm so sorry. We never should have come here…" Jim's voice trailed off as a police car screeched into the parking lot, its headlights and red flashing lights illuminating their car. Jim raised a hand to shade his eyes, trying to determine if he knew the officers in the patrol car.
The officer driving the car opened his door and stepped out, and Jim realized he did know this officer. Jim opened his car door and climbed out, careful to keep his hands in full view. "Pete! Am I glad to see you, partner."
"Wish I could say the same," Pete replied as he and Al Porter neared the Reed's car. "What are you doing here?"
Jim pushed the car door shut behind him. "It's James Wright. He's over there, beside the car. Someone shot him. He's… he's dead."
"You sure, partner?" Pete asked. When Jim nodded wordlessly, Pete reached for his arm and led him toward James Wright's car. "Okay. Let's go check it out."
"Wait… I need to stay with Jean."
"Jim." Pete's voice held just a bit of the old training officer tone, letting Jim know he'd better obey, that Pete had moved from treating him as friend to witness and potential suspect. "Jim, Porter will watch out for Jean," he continued in a quieter voice.
"Okay." Jim reluctantly followed Pete to the crime scene. He pointed to the body lying on the ground beside the car. "There. That's just how I found him."
Pete squatted down next to James Wright's body and, just as Jim had done, felt for a pulse. Jim looked shaken enough he may have missed it. One look at the body and Pete was almost entirely sure he wasn't going to find anything, either. Given the location of the gunshot wound, it would be a miracle; a miracle they weren't going to get tonight. Pete sighed. A glint of metal caught his eye and he glanced under the car to the left of Wright's body. "Jim, did you touch anything around here? Drop anything?"
Jim shook his head. "No. I just checked to see if he was alive, then ran back to the car. You got here right after that."
"Um-hum." Pete mumbled. "Did you bring a gun with you tonight?"
Jim shook his head again. "No. I left it at home. Pete, I was just going to talk with him again, tell him to bug off. Now he's dead." Jim paused for a minute. "Why are you asking about the gun?"
"Jim, there's a gun on the ground over here that looks a lot like the one you carry off-duty."
"Well, I didn't put it there," Jim snapped at him, suddenly angry. "What are you trying to say here? I didn't have anything to do with… this." Jim gestured toward the dead body.
Pete stood up. "Jim, I'm not saying you did. Calm down, okay?" He pulled Jim away from the dead body and back to the patrol car. "Just stay here for a minute. I'm going to call for a homicide detective." As he reached into the car for the mic, he spared a glance at Jim's car. Al Porter stood beside Jean's door, talking to her, writing down notes, while maintaining a careful watch of the area in case the shooter was still in the area. Good, Porter. It seemed Porter had turned into a better reserve officer than he--or Wells--ever had expected.
Pete placed the call for detectives, and also asked that Mac and the lieutenant meet them at the scene. He then turned his attention back to his partner. Jim was now leaning against the side of the car, elbows resting on the roof, his head resting on his hands. "Jim, you okay?"
Jim turned around, then leaned back against the car, his hands clenched into fists. "Yeah, sure. I'm great," he snapped.
"Easy, Jim." Pete lightly rested a hand on Jim's shoulder. "Listen, you gotta calm yourself down before the detectives get here. They see you like this, they're gonna nail you as their prime suspect.
Jim laughed bitterly. "They're gonna do that anyway." Jim turned back around and started polishing an imaginary spot off the roof of the patrol car. "God, why did we even come out here?" he asked rhetorically.
"I don't know, Jim. Why don't you tell me about it?" Pete hoped talking would get Jim back in control before the detectives showed up.
Jim's first response was a sigh. "I thought with all this stuff James Wright was doing, that Jean and I needed a break. I called Mac, got the day off, and we went down to the beach. We'd just gotten back home and put Jimmy to bed when the phone rang. It was Wright. He told Jean to meet him out here, made some threats, I guess…"
"Threats?" Pete jumped in.
"'You'll be sorry if you don't come', that kind of thing." Jim rubbed at the invisible spot on the car roof again. "It scared Jean. I decided it was time to settle this thing, get James out of our lives, so I packed the three of us into the car…" Jim's voice trailed off. "Oh, god. Jimmy. He's gonna be so scared." He stood up and turned toward his car.
Pete grabbed Jim's arm and gently pushed him back against the car. "Jimmy is fine. He's in the car with Jean, and Al's watching out for both of them, okay?
Jim finally nodded and relaxed against the car. "Okay."
"Okay, so you drove out here. And…" Pete prompted his friend.
"And James Wright wasn't out in front of this place. We checked around back here, and found his car sitting there. The situation felt wrong, so I had Jean stay in the car while I checked it out. I found… him… and then I realized the killer could still be around and ran back to the car to check on Jean. I'd just got back in the car when you pulled up."
"You didn't touch anything over there?"
Jim shook his head. "Nuh-uh. Just checked to see if he had a pulse, that's all."
"And you didn't bring a gun? Not even your off-duty weapon?"
Jim shot an exasperated glare at Pete. "I already told you that," he snapped. "I've had Jean carrying that one, and I left my duty weapon at home." When Pete looked like he was going to interrupt, Jim raised a hand. "And don't lecture me about how I'm supposed to have it with me at all times. I deliberately left it at home just so something like this wouldn't happen. I was just going to talk with Wright, maybe make a threat or two of my own. I didn't want him dead, just out of our lives." Jim looked over at his partner. "You believe me, don't you, Pete?"
Pete reached up and clasped Jim's shoulder again. "Of course, partner." Silence fell between them as they awaited the arrival of the homicide detectives.
The lieutenant arrived on scene first. Pete left Jim leaning against the patrol car and walked over to his former training officer, Art Moore.
"Malloy," Moore greeted him. "What happened here?"
Pete explained the situation as he knew it to the Lieutenant.
Moore glanced over to Jim, then back to Pete. "You think he's giving it to you straight?"
Pete looked over at his partner. Jim was leaning restlessly against the car. "Lieutenant, you've seen Jim after he's had to kill a suspect. He takes it real hard. This situation's got him worked up, but not like that. He didn't do it."
Moore nodded. "I remember that shooting review. His first, wasn't it?"
Pete nodded. "Yes."
"Maybe he sees this situation differently, since he was defending his family," Moore persisted.
Pete shook his head. "No. I don't think so. I believe him when he says he didn't do it."
Moore slapped him on the back. "Good, Malloy. Keep that faith. I have a feeling Reed's gonna need that support before this is all over."
The next day, Pete arrived at the station and was surprised to see Jim's car already sitting in the parking lot. Jim didn't usually arrive until later. Pete wandered down the hall to the locker room, and was even more surprised when he didn't find Jim there. As soon as he had changed into his uniform, he did a quick search of the station, then headed for Mac's office.
"Malloy, come in," Mac greeted him. "Sit down."
Pete walked into the office, but didn't sit down. "Mac, have you seen Jim? I saw his car in the parking lot, but he's not around…"
Mac looked up at him. "Yes, he is. He's in with the detectives assigned to the case, Jerry Miller and Cal Grantley, being interviewed about the incident last night. Jean too."
Pete didn't like the grim expression on Mac's face. "Interviewed? As suspects?" he asked.
Mac sighed heavily. "Yes, as suspects."
"Mac!" Pete exclaimed. "You can't seriously believe Jim would kill someone, not unless he was in danger. And Jean! There's no way she did it."
"No, Pete, I don't think Jim or Jean would do it. But the evidence paints a different picture. You remember that gun you found, the one you said looked like Jim's?"
"Yeah," Pete nodded, a sinking feeling suddenly grabbing him.
"Well, it was his." Mac raised a hand as Pete began to protest. "The only fingerprints on it were his and Jean's. There were some smudges that could have been made by a gloved hand. But that doesn't mean anything--Jim could have worn gloves. And they were the only ones found at the scene last night."
"They were the only ones we saw." Pete protested. "The real killer could have left before we got there… before they got there."
"Malloy." Mac's voice held a note of warning. "Listen, I agree with you. It doesn't sound like something Jim would do, and I sure can't see Jean shooting anyone. But until this gets cleared up a little more, until we can take Jim off the suspect list, he's on administrative leave."
"Right, Mac. Gotta follow policy." Pete's unhappiness with the situation was evident.
"Pete, you know that's how we have to do this."
"Yeah, Mac, I know. I am still allowed to talk with him?" Pete couldn't keep the sarcasm and bitterness out of his voice.
"Pete." Mac's voice held that warning tone again, letting Pete know he was pushing things just a little too far. "Jim's out in the lobby. The detectives are talking to Jean right now." Mac gestured toward the door.
Pete nodded and exited his supervisor's office, already regretting his snappishness with Mac. This situation couldn't be easy for Mac, either. He headed for the station lobby, knowing Jim was probably there to avoid the inevitable questions from his brother officers.
Pete found his partner sitting on the hard bench in the lobby, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees and idly clicking his pen. "Hey, partner, how are you doing?" he greeted Jim.
Jim looked up at him. "Hi, Pete." He started clicking the pen again. "I, uh, guess you're riding alone today?"
"Probably." Pete glanced over at the desk officer, then back to Jim. "Hey, I have those tools you loaned me out in my car. Why don't I give 'em back to you now?" He gestured toward the back of the station at Jim's confused look.
"Uh, okay," Jim replied. He stood up and walked over to the desk. "Andrews, if my wife…"
"…you're in the parking lot. Got it," John Andrews, the desk officer, finished for him.
Jim silently followed Pete through the station and out to Pete's car. As soon as they reached the car, Jim slumped against the side of the vehicle with a loud sigh. "Pete, this… this is a nightmare." He stopped talking for a moment, staring silently at the mountains in the distance as if it were the last time he would see them. "They'll send us both to prison for life. Lock us up away from each other. Jimmy will grow up thinking his parents are murderers."
Pete sighed. It was just like Jim to have himself already tried, convicted and sentenced before he'd even been officially accused of anything. "Jim, it's not…"
Jim blinked a few times, trying to fight back tears, but continued to stare off into the distance. He interrupted his partner's reassurances. "Pete, you'll keep an eye on Jimmy for us, if this goes bad? Jean's parents will have custody, of course--Mom and Nancy are too far away, out in Florida, and the Fullers live right here in town, and besides, Jean's parents can give Jimmy both a mother and a father--but I'd like you to go see him, give his some idea that we …"
"Jim, stop. Look at me." It was Pete's turn to interrupt his partner, and he waited until he was sure he had Jim's attention. "It is not going to come to that. Miller and that new detective will find the real murderer and clear you and Jean both. Don't worry about Jimmy. You two are going to be there to take care of him."
Jim swallowed hard, then shook his head. "I don't know, Pete. The evidence is piling up against us. You know that gun you found?" Jim unknowingly repeated Pete's earlier discussion with Mac.
"It was mine. The serial number matches. They're doing ballistics tests today. If they come back a match, we'll probably both be arrested before nightfall."
"Jim…" Pete tried to think of something reassuring to say, but words were failing him.
Jim stood up and started pacing alongside Pete's car. "Pete, I swear I didn't do it. I didn't even take a gun with us last night." He sighed again. "But the problem is, I don't know how my gun got to a crime scene, and I don't have any proof I didn't take it there myself."
"When was the last time you saw it?" Pete knew Jim had probably gone over all this with the detectives, but maybe he could pick up on something they missed.
"Day before yesterday." Jim told him. "Then, as soon as we got home last night, I checked the closet where I keep that gun, and it was gone. Not just the gun, either. The whole box it was locked in, the ammunition. All of it. Gone."
"Sounds like somebody got into your house and did a little 'borrowing." Pete said. "If they still have the box, that would be a good way to catch the killer."
"Yeah, unless I disposed of the box to make it look like I was robbed. I'm sure that's what the detectives are thinking."
"If someone broke into your house, there would be…"
Jim shook his head. "No signs of forced entry. Miller and his new partner, Cal Grantley, already checked."
"Maybe they had a key?"
Jim shook his head again, then looked up, his expression showing a flicker of hope for the first time that day. "Yeah. Maybe they did. Jean's keys were missing yesterday when we got home from the beach. She though she left them in her other purse, but maybe she didn't!"
"You going to go talk to Jerry again?" Pete asked.
"Yup," Jim replied, striding toward the back door of the station. He quickened his pace when he saw his wife exit the building.
Jean was ghostly pale, hugging herself tightly to keep from trembling. Jim was at her side in seconds, pulling her against him in a tight hug. "Jean, honey, it's gonna be okay," he tried to reassure her.
"Jim, they think we did it. They think we killed… killed him." Jean fought to keep her voice from shaking.
"I know. That's what they think. But we didn't, and we just have to keep telling them that. Jerry's a good detective, and I'm sure Cal Grantley is too. They'll find out who really did do it." Jim hoped he sounded more confident than he felt. He released her from the hug, but kept his hands on her shoulders. "Jean, did you tell the detectives about you keys? The ones you can't find?"
Jean shook her head. "No. I'm sure they're just in my other purse. I'll find them soon."
"What if they're not? What if somebody stole them? With those keys, they could have gotten into the house any time yesterday and taken my gun." Jim countered. "C'mon. Let's go talk to the detectives again." Jim took his wife's hand and started leading her back into the station.
"Jim, wait." Jean protested. "We can't go back in there right now." She seemed to get a little paler. "They just got the … the autopsy report. They told us to wait around while they review it, in case they need to talk to us again." She collapsed against her husband as the reality of the situation finally sank in. "Jim, he's really dead."
Jim held his trembling wife tightly as she leaned against his chest, wishing he had more than empty words to comfort her with. Wishing he didn't feel almost as shook up as she did right now.
Detective Jerry Miller closed the folder containing the autopsy report of one James Wright, age 29, formerly of San Diego, and slammed it down on the desk. "I don't buy it, Cal. The Reeds are either the best actors we've ever seen, or we're missing something. I just don't think Jim or Jean Reed is good for this one." I just can't reconcile the Jim Reed I know, the good officer who was so upset over killing a sniper who was trying to kill him that it nearly tore him apart, with the cold-blooded killer the evidence in this case is pointing to.
Cal Grantley looked up from the notes he was making. New to the division, Cal was still somewhat unfamiliar with the characters of the patrol officers, including Jim Reed. "All the evidence points to them. His gun was found at the scene. Heck, he was found at the scene. No alibi for either of them--no one can confirm where they were before the murder, and like I said, they were at the scene afterwards. And they both have motive. Sounds like this James Wright was all but stalking the wife. And don't forget that little incident in the locker room a few days ago I told you about--Reed threatened to seriously harm the guy if he got anywhere near his wife again. And then… what did Mac say in his statement?" Cal shuffled through the papers on his desk. "Ah, here. 'Bad blood between Reed and James Wright', dating back to an incident during high school. Mac says Jim told him about a party years ago where Wright tried to rape the wife--well, the girlfriend, then. Maybe that incident got to Jean Reed and she just finally snapped. Maybe Jim Reed just finally snapped."
"Maybe," Jerry agreed noncommittally. "Listen, Reed adores his family; does everything he can to protect them," Jerry began.
"So that's why he killed Wright?" Cal asked.
"My point is," Jerry continued, "why would Reed take his wife and son along if he planned to commit murder? Why would he expose them to that danger?"
"Because they didn't plan to murder Wright. It just happened," Cal argued. "The evidence supports one or both of the Reeds being our suspect."
Jerry shook his head. "The entire case against them is circumstantial." He picked up the autopsy report they had just received and began flipping through it again, trying to pick up any information he may have missed the first time he read it.
"You can use circumstantial evidence to get a suspect to confess," Cal argued.
"Mmmhmm." Jerry responded absently as he continued to study the report.
Cal shook his head, convinced that in this case, Jerry was letting his personal regard for Jim Reed color his investigation. The phone on their desk rang, and Cal grabbed for it. "LAPD, Detective Grantley speaking… Hi, Detective… Yeah, that's right. James Wright, six feet, 200 pounds, blonde and blue… yeah… No, we hadn't… really?… Well, that's interesting…" Cal stopped talking as he scribbled some notes on a piece of scrap paper. "Okay, thanks for the tip. We'll keep you up to date on our investigation… Bye." He hung up the phone and leaned back in his chair with his hands clasped behind his head. "Well, Jerry, things just got a lot more interesting. That was Detective Adamson, from the San Diego Police. Seems James Wright isn't quite the choirboy his wife's making him out to be."
Jerry looked up from the report to focus a semi-irritated look on his partner. "Yeah, we already knew that."
"Betcha didn't know that our Mr. Wright was heavily into gambling--betting on sports teams, the races, most anything that moved, it seems like. The detectives down in San Diego have a file on him thick enough to use for a booster seat. In fact, they were about ready to arrest him if he hadn't gone and gotten himself killed."
"How inconsiderate of him," Jerry quipped.
"Yeah, that's what they said, too. They've also heard he's made some bad wagers recently. Owes some real baddies a stack of dough. Maybe the Reeds are as innocent as you think."
"Interesting. So, there's other people that might want him dead." Jerry put the report folder down on the desk. "I think we can prove at least one of the Reeds is innocent." He picked up a page from the autopsy report and read from it. "Primary cause of death was a .38 caliber gunshot wound to the lower right side of the chest, fired at point-blank range. Bullet penetrated right lung, heart, left lung, lodged near left shoulder blade. Second gunshot wound to left lung contributed." Jerry put the report down and stood up from his perch on the corner of the desk. "Cal, come here for a second. Let's walk this out."
"Okay." Cal got up and approached his partner in criminal-catching.
Jerry grabbed a pen off the desk. "Okay. You're James Wright. I'm the killer. I walk up to you," Jerry took a step toward Cal, "and stick a gun in your side." Jerry raised the pen and jabbed it at Cal's side.
"Wrong side, Jer. The report says the entry wound was on his right side."
Jerry looked down at the pen, then switched it to his left hand. "Leftie," he remarked, at the same time Cal said "Southpaw."
"And also, you're not close enough," Cal added. "From where you're standing, the bullet would go straight through and out my back."
"Right." Jerry stepped closer to his partner. Uncomfortably closer.
Cal resisted the urge to step back. "Cozy, isn't it?" he remarked.
Jerry snickered. "Yep." He looked down at the pen he held against Cal's side. "Angle's wrong. Reed and that Wright fellow were about the same height. Fired from this angle, the bullet would have gone straight through your lungs, not angled up to the shoulder blade. The killer was shorter--significantly shorter--than James Wright." Jerry took a big step backwards from his partner.
"Thanks, bud." Cal rubbed his side where the pen had poked him. "So, we're looking for a short, left-handed killer who was, uh, 'personally acquainted' with James Wright."
"Which means we can take Jim Reed off the suspect list. He's too tall, right-handed, and I can't see Wright letting him get close enough." Jerry thought for a moment. "But Jean… Cal, is she left- or right-handed?"
"Right, I think, but we'd better check. Want me to go find them and bring 'em back?"
"Why don't you do that."
Detective Grantley found the Reeds in the break room, pretending to drink cups of the station's coffee. Apparently, after roll call was over and the crowd of officers in the station had thinned to just a few, Jim had decided to quit hiding in the lobby.
Jim stood up as the detective entered the room. "Detective, Jean forgot to tell you something. Her keys…"
Grantley held up a hand. "Hold on. Let's go back to the office first, and you can tell us all about it, okay? Come with me." He watched as Jean Reed put down the Styrofoam coffee cup she'd been clutching in her hands, scooped up the sugar and creamer packets that littered the table--with her right hand, he noted--and put them in the trash can. Jim was at her side in seconds, wrapping an arm around her waist to guide her wherever Cal told them to go.
Grantley held the break room door open until the couple had passed through, then walked beside Jim down the hallway to the office used by the division's detectives. He opened the door and ushered them into the room. "After you." As the door closed, he called to his partner. "Hey, Jerry, Mrs. Reed has something to add to her statement. Maybe you could write it on the report and have her initial it?"
"Sure." Jerry responded. He pulled a chair out for her. "Jean, sit down here, please." As soon as Jean had sat down at Jerry and Cal's desk with Jim standing close behind her, Jerry asked, "So, Jean, what did you want to tell us?"
Jean glanced up at her husband. "Well… It's probably nothing, but I can't find my keys. They were missing when we got home from the beach last night. I probably just misplaced them, or lost them at the beach or something, but Jim thought I should tell you about it."
"Um-hum," Jerry mumbled as he scribbled notes on a piece of paper. "Tell me when you remember having them last. Be as exact as you can. It might be important."
Jean frowned. "Day before yesterday. I went to the grocery store that afternoon, and I had to have had them when I got home, because I got back into the house. I think it was around three o'clock."
"You don't remember seeing them after that? Think carefully."
Jean shook her head. "No. That's the last time I know for sure I had them. But they're probably in my other purse or a coat pocket or something like that."
"Um-hum" Jerry mumbled again, still scribbling down notes. "And do you know of anyone besides you, your husband and your son, who was in the house since then?"
"Connie Wright stopped by for a few minutes on her way to a charity event that evening, but she's the only one. I don't know why she'd want my keys."
"I don't know either, but that's something we'll need to investigate." Jerry finished writing a last few notes. "Tell you what, Jean. You and your husband go on home and search for those keys. Let us know right away if they turn up. Oh, and before you go, I'll need you to initial the additions I made to your statement." Jerry put the paper and his pen down on the table and pushed them across the table toward Jean.
Jean turned the report around so she could read Jerry's notes, then picked up his pen and scribed her initials next to his handwritten notes.
"Bingo!" Grantley whispered, and both Jean and Jim looked up at him in shock.
Jerry shot his partner an irritated look, then turned to the Reeds. "What my partner is trying to say in his own way is that you two just removed yourselves from the prime suspects list. You're right-handed, correct?"
Jean nodded. "Yes, but what does that have to do with anything?"
"We have some evidence from, ah, evidence that the killer is left-handed. And Jim, you'd already moved way down the suspect list. Our evidence also indicates the killer was shorter than you, no more than five-five or so," Jerry told the couple.
Both Jim and Jean visibly relaxed at that news, and Jim gently squeezed his wife's shoulders. "See, honey, I told you it would be okay," he whispered to his wife.
"Now, before you get too excited, you both are still suspects. Reed, that means you're still off-duty. If it helps any, you two are now at the bottom of the list, and we will be actively pursing some other leads we have."
Jim frowned at the news he wouldn't be returning to work, but nodded. "Yeah. That does help some. I guess I can live with a few more days of paid 'vacation.'"
Jean reached up and laid a hand on top of Jim's hand on her shoulder. She tilted her head back until she could see him. "I know I can live with having you around the house, honey," she whispered.
"Eww, Jer. They're getting mush everywhere. Get'em out of here," Cal joked.
Jerry smacked his partner upside the head with the folder he was holding, then turned to the Reeds. "You heard my unsentimental bachelor partner. Go on home. But stay in town just in case we need to talk with you again, okay?"
Jim helped Jean to her feet. "Sure. Thanks." Jim wrapped an arm around Jean's shoulders, and the couple nearly bolted from the room.
Cal watched the door swing shut behind the departing couple. "So, Jer, where do we go now with this investigation? The gambling connection or the grieving widow?"
"The gambling angle." Jerry said. "I just don't see Mrs. Wright killing her husband. She seems too broken up about it."
"Uh-huh. Too broken up is right," Cal argued. He raised his voice an octave and dabbed at his eyes with an imaginary tissue. "Oh, oh, poor little me. Without my two-or-three-or-more timing husband around, I just don't know how I'm going to spend his millions. Oh, I'm soooo upset. Oh--ouch!" Cal's voice dropped back into its normal range.
Jerry looked up from the papers he was studying to see his partner holding one hand over his right eye and cussing quietly. "What did you do, poke yourself in the eye?"
"Oh, yeah! Augh!"
"That'll teach you to mock crime victims--or suspects."
"So, you're starting to buy into my theory? That right there is worth a poke in the eye." Cal carefully removed his hand from the eye. "Think it still works," he said with a relieved sigh.
Jerry shook his head. "I'm not convinced she's guilty. I still think the gambling angle is the more likely lead. Maybe Wright refused to pay up on a debt. Maybe he threatened to turn in his bookie. Maybe…"
"Whole lotta 'maybes' you have going there." Cal interrupted his partner's hypothesizing.
"Maybe we should make a trip down to San Diego and talk with a few people in person. See whose theory pans out after that." Jerry added another maybe to the list.
"That we should. But it'll have to be tomorrow. We have interviews with Malloy and Porter this afternoon."
Later That Evening…
Pete brought his car to a stop in front of the Reed's house, wondering if he should go in; wondering if he would still be welcome if Jim and Jean knew what he had been forced to tell the detectives that afternoon. Everything he told them had been 'just the facts', but the facts in this case could very likely send his partner and his partner's wife straight to prison. Pete slowly got out of the car. He had to apologize.
He'd hardly finished locking the door when another car drifted to a stop behind his. Pete waited as Al Porter got out of his car and approached him.
"H-hello, Of… Pete," Al greeted him in his characteristic hesitant fashion.
"Hi, Al. You here to apologize to Jim, too?"
Al briefly glanced down. "Yes. I… I feel rotten about what we told Detective Miller this afternoon. But what else could we do? I only told him what we saw, but that could be enough to convict Reed of…of murder."
Pete sighed. At least you didn't have to tell them he'd threatened to kill Wright in your presence. "I know. We told them the facts, but in this case, the facts don't tell the whole story."
"They don't. They can't. Jim just wouldn't kill someone like that! Not without a good reason, not unless there was some problem." Al almost made it sound like a question.
Pete tried to push away the flash of anger at Porter. How could Porter even question Jim's innocence? Calm down, Pete. Porter is Jim's friend, but you spend more time with Jim, in more stressful situations. "No, he wouldn't," Pete replied as they neared the Reed's front door. He rang the doorbell, and when no one answered after a moment, he knocked on the door. "Jim? Jean?"
Jean pulled the door open seconds later. "Hello, Pete, Al. Come in. Jim's just finishing giving his son a bath. He'll be down here in a minute."
The two men entered the house just as commotion broke out in the rear of the house. First came Jim's voice, "Get back here, tiger! Hey!"
Jimmy's high-pitched giggle and the sound of little feet pounding down the hallway followed. A few seconds later, Jimmy burst into the living room, wearing nothing more than his birthday suit. "H,i Uncle Pete. Hi, Mr. Al," Jimmy cheerfully greeted the adults before turning to his mother. "See Mommy, you can answer the door without wearing clothes!"
Jim jogged into the room seconds later to find Pete and Al laughing and Jean burying her face in her hands in embarrassment. When she heard Jim approaching, Jean turned and grabbed Jimmy's robe out of his hands, then wrapped it around Jimmy and scooped him up. "Jimmy, we need to have a little talk. You know that's not what I meant." Jean glared briefly at her husband.
Jim shrugged his shoulders. "Sorry. He's slippery when he's wet."
Jean rolled her eyes. "Jim." She looked around the room, sensing Jim needed to talk to his friends alone. "I'm going to go get Jimmy into his PJ's, since it seems you can't do it." She turned and headed back to Jimmy's room to put her son to bed.
Jim smiled in her direction, then turned to his guests. "Kids. He's developed a problem with wearing clothes recently."
"Yeah, we noticed." Pete agreed.
Jim looked at his friends. "So, are you to here to arrest us?" He tried to smile at his pathetic attempt at humor.
Pete and Al also faked amusement. Al was the first to speak. "N-no. We, uh, we both felt a need to apologize to you for what we told Detective Miller and Detective Grantley this afternoon. We know you didn't do it, but the facts make it look real bad for you and Jean."
"Thanks. It really does mean a lot… you believing us. It seems like a lot of other guys don't. Guys I thought were my friends."
Pete reached out and lightly grabbed Jim's arm. "Jim, most of them do believe you. They just don't know how to react right now. If you'd been accused of being badge-heavy, they could be disgusted with you. If you'd shot Wright in self-defense, or defending your wife, you'd be a hero. But this… it's hard for them to know where to stand."
"It's not real easy for us, either." Jim didn't even try to keep the bitterness out of his voice.
"It'll get better. The detectives will find out what happened."
"Yeah," Jim agreed unenthusiastically. "This morning, they were beginning to believe us. Said they had some evidence that shifted suspicion off of us."
"Really? Hey, that's great news, right?"
"Yeah, I guess. They said this 'evidence'--I think it was the autopsy report--indicated the murderer was short and left-handed, so we're not longer at the top of the suspect list. But I'm still worried. That's why Jean's sister Laura and her husband are coming over in a few minutes. They're both lawyers."
Al and Pete exchanged a glance. "Lawyers? That seems like kind of a drastic step. You sure you need to do that?" Pete asked.
Jim nodded. "A good lawyer could mean the difference between life in prison, and just being fired from my job. Or Jean spending years in prison away from Jimmy."
"Jim, don't think like that. You've got to trust the detectives."
The sound of the doorbell ringing interrupted Pete's empty reassurances. Jim moved to open the door. "Laura, Tony, come in. Jean's just getting Jimmy ready for bed."
Pete watched as Jim led Jean's sister and her husband into the living room. Even though he'd met them several times, it still amazed him that the woman was Jean sister. She looked little like Jim's petite wife, standing just a few inches shorter than Jim, with blonde hair was cut in a shorter style that was probably considered professional. Laura's husband was about the same height as Jim, although he was heavier-set, with darker hair and brown eyes. Jim introduced them to Al as Laura and Tony Russini.
Laura soon excused herself. "I want to go see my nephew. Why don't you guys start talking things over? Jean and I will join you soon."
Jim pointed down the hallway. "He's in his room with Jean, getting ready for bed."
"We should be going, too." Pete said as Laura left the room.
Tony held up a hand. "You were the first officers on the scene?"
Al nodded, and Pete answered. "Yes, sir."
"If you could, I'd like you to stick around. I'd like to get your thoughts."
"Sure. I can stay." Pete said, but Al shook his head.
"I'm sorry, but I have to go. I'm supposed to meet my gi… someone in fifteen minutes, and I'm most likely going to be late already."
Pete barely kept his jaw from dropping to the floor. Al Porter has a girlfriend? He recovered from his amazement in time to say goodnight to Al, then turned to Jim. "Girlfriend?" he asked Jim quietly.
Jim shrugged. "Al was Jean's last project. She matched him up with a friend of Ruthie's."
Shaking his head in amazement, Pete followed Jim and Tony into the living room. For the next few minutes, Jim and Pete once again went over the events of just a few days before for Tony's benefit.
Tony listened quietly until the other men finished. "Jim, did you ever threaten to harm this James Wright? Is there anyone who would think you had a motive to kill him?"
Jim sighed. "Yeah. When Jean was so upset after that meeting with him a few weeks ago, I told her I'd kill James if he'd tried to hurt her again. Pete heard me. Then just a few days ago…"
"Whoa. Wait a minute. Hurt her again? What do you mean?"
Jim sighed again. "At a party, just after she'd graduated from high school, James got Jean drunk and tried to drag her off to his bedroom. I barely realized what was going on in time to stop him. I would've beat him to a pulp right then if Jean hadn't gotten sick and needed to go home."
"But you never tried to harm him after that."
"No. Funny thing was, we didn't see him around the rest of that summer. It's like he just disappeared."
"He did," Laura added from the doorway as she and Jean entered the room. "Daddy talked to Mr. Wright, and made sure he was sent out of town. Daddy was real angry."
"Yeah, I remember that. I thought your father was gonna beat me to a pulp." Jim almost laughed as he remembered the confrontation with Jean's father after he carried her from his car up to the front door of her house.
"Jim, you know Daddy would never have hurt you," Jean protested as she sat down on the sofa next to her husband.
Jim draped an arm around Jean's shoulders. "Hon, I brought you home passed-out drunk. He was ready to put me in the hospital with some serious injuries if I hadn't been able to convince him what really happened at that party." Jim shook his head. "I'm just glad he believed me."
Jean snuggled up to Jim. "Jim, Daddy was just trying to scare you. He wouldn't even hurt a fly."
"Not unless the fly tried to hurt one of his girls," Jim snorted.
"So, are you saying we should add him to the suspect list, also?" Tony joked in an effort to steer the conversation back to the subject at hand.
"Tony," Laura sighed, smiling at her husband's odd sense of humor. "Try to be serious, okay?"
"I'm trying, honey, I am," Tony told his wife before addressing his sister and brother-in-law. "Seriously, Jim, Jean, I really don't think you have anything to worry about. Jim, do you trust the detectives in your department to do a thorough investigation?"
Jim looked up at Tony. "Of course."
"Then I don't think you're going to need me. I'd be happy to represent you and Jean if that becomes necessary, but I'm sure your detectives will find out who really did this." Tony leaned back against the sofa. "Now, if we're done with the serious business, I think there's a game on the tube." Tony gestured toward the television with a smile.
A few hours later, Laura and Tony had returned to their house, and Jim had just returned to the kitchen after checking on his sleeping son. For a minute, he stood in the doorway watching his wife finish washing the last of the dishes, trying to gather his thoughts. Finally, he walked over to the kitchen table. "Jean, can you come sit down for a minute?" he asked, pulling a chair away from the table for her.
"Sure, hon. What's on you mind?" Jean asked as she sat down.
Jim sat down at the table also, tried to suppress a worried sigh, then laid a thick envelope on the table. When Jean reached toward the envelope, Jim grasped her hand in his. "I love you, honey. You… you and Jimmy… you're everything to me."
Jean raised a concerned look to his face. "Jim, what's wrong?"
Jim gently rubbed her hand. "We need to talk about Jimmy."
Jean reached for the envelope with the hand Jim wasn't holding. She'd seen Tony give it to Jim when they'd been saying their good-byes to Laura and Tony, and had wondered what was going on. "What does this have to do with our son?"
Jim took her other hand in his. "We need to talk about what's going to happen to him if we're not able to take care of him. Tony …."
"What are you talking about? Why wouldn't we be able to care for Jimmy?"
Jim sighed again. "Jean, think about it. If we're convicted of Wright's murder, we're going to jail. Not just for a few days, or months, but for a very long time. We need to make sure…"
"No." Jean glared at her husband. "That's not going to happen. You heard Tony…"
Jim shook his head. "That's one possibility. But it's also a possibility that we'll be found guilty. If we're both in prison, they'll make Jimmy a ward of the state unless we've made other plans."
"No." Jean pulled her hands free of Jim's and crossed her arms across her chest. "That is not going…"
"Jean!" Jim interrupted her. "It's a possibility we have to think about, and plan for. If we're both arrested, they'll put Jimmy in McLaren Hall. That's right," Jim continued when Jean continued to glare at him. "Think about it. The orphanage. I don't know what you want, but I don't want my son growing up in an orphanage."
Jean seemed to wilt under Jim's glare. "No," she finally whispered, then swiped at her eyes. "What do we need to do?"
Jim pulled the papers out of the envelope, slowly unfolded them, and pushed them in front of his wife. "Tony drew up some guardianship papers that give custody to your parents and name them as his guardians. We just need to sign the places he's marked." Jim slid a pen toward his wife.
Without a word, Jean picked up the pen and scribed her name beside her husband's signature. She slammed the pen down on the table. "If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go watch my baby sleep while I still can." Jean stood up and stalked out of the room, obviously trying to fight back tears.
Jim carefully picked up the pen and snapped the cap over the point, then folded up the freshly-signed guardianship papers and put them back in the envelope. Tomorrow, they would take the envelope to Tony Russini's office and give the papers to him. But that was tomorrow's plan. He signed as he placed the envelope back onto the table and stood up, heading for Jimmy's room. Tonight, Jean needed him to be there for her.
The next day…
Jerry Miller and Cal Grantley entered the expensive restaurant in downtown San Diego, looking for the man they were to interview. Cal was the first to spot him. Albert Hain was a short man who apparently thought dressing in dark pants and a dark suit coat made him appear taller. Cal wasn't sure what message the bright tie was supposed to send. Or what message Hain's two "associates" were supposed to send, but the last time he'd seen this many people dressed in black, he'd been at his Grandpop's funeral.
"So, detectives, what can I do for you?" Hain asked lazily as he reclined in the booth where he was sitting. "You want to throw some money into the stock market? Bonds? Commodities? Because, if you're not investors, I do have a very busy investment business I need to get back to running."
Cal rolled his eyes. "Mr. Hain, we're here to talk to you about James Wright, and his 'investments' in your other business. You know, the illegal gambling ring."
"What gambling? I'm an investment banker. And James Wright was one of my clients. I heard he died. Someone shot him, right? Up in Los Angeles, if I remember correctly."
"That's right. Where were you the night he was killed?" Jerry asked.
"In my office here in San Diego, attending to some, ah, private business."
"I assume you have some witnesses to back up that story?" Cal asked.
"Of course I do. My two associates will confirm I was here all night." Hain leaned back and clasped his hands behind his head. "Besides, why would I kill James Wright? He buys so much stuff for me. You saw the new Jaguar out front? The green one? It's mine, bought with his money. The yacht, the new motorcycle…. That man and his bad… investments fund my lifestyle. Why would I want him dead?"
"Maybe he quit paying up? Maybe he made some good investments and you were going to lose some of those expensive toys he bought," Jerry hypothesized.
Hain laughed. "James Wright make a good investment? Detective, if that's what you think, you're in the wrong line of work. Wright couldn't make a good, ah, investment to save his life, uh, so to speak. He would always make the worst possible choice, then push it all the way. Didn't know when to cut his losses or give up and run."
Jerry nodded. "Maybe he was going to turn you over to the local cops."
"Nah," Hain said. "Not James Wright. He hated cops. Seems some old girlfriend dumped him for a cop once. Up in L. A., I think. Besides, what would he turn me in for? I'm just an honest investment banker, trying to help people make more money." Hain paused and glared at Cal, who had been unable to conceal an incredulous snort. "Hey, detective, if you're looking for someone with a motive to kill Wright, you should check out his grieving widow."
"Yup. He was always cheating on her, and not just with one gal. He had two other girlfriends just this year. Funny thing--they were both redheads. Both pretty short, too."
"You wouldn't happen to know their names, would you?"
"Nope." Hain looked down at his watch. "Detectives, if you don't have any more questions for me, I have another appointment in a few minutes."
Jerry glanced over at Cal, who shook his head. "No, Mr. Hain. That's all for now." He handed Hain a business card. "Please call us if you think of anything that might help."
"Of course. Like I said, I'm just a helpful, law-abiding citizen." Hain rose and led his two associates out of the restaurant.
Cal and Jerry followed close behind, then watched as Hain drove away in an expensive new sports car. "Law-abiding citizen, my eye," Cal muttered.
"I agree with you. He's no investment banker. But I'm not convinced he's our murderer. Like he said, Wright's bought him a lot of nice stuff."
Cal made note of Hain's license plate number. "On to the next suspect?" he asked his partner.
Thirty minutes later, the two detectives arrived at the sprawling Wright residence in one of San Diego's newer and ritzier suburbs. A moment after they rang the doorbell, the Wright's housekeeper, a short Asian woman, ushered the men into the main room then scampered off to find Connie Wright.
After a few minutes, James Wright's grieving widow entered the room. "Is there something I can do for you, detectives?" she asked.
"Yes, ma'am. I'm Jerry Miller, and this is Cal Grantley," Jerry answered as he handed Mrs. Wright his card. "There's a few items we wanted to go over with you."
Connie Wright nodded before wandering across the room to a chair, sitting down and lighting a cigarette. "Of course. Anything to help you catch James' murderer." She wiped at her eyes with her free hand.
"Okay." Jerry followed Mrs. Wright over to the seating arrangement, and found a seat on the edge of the sofa. "Let's start with your whereabouts that night. You were at the hotel?"
Mrs. Wright nodded. "Yes. We were packing up our belongings, since James had wrapped up his business negotiations that afternoon, and we were returning to San Diego the next morning. I stepped out for a minute, checking on something at the front desk--I don't remember what now--and when I returned, James said Jean Reed had called again and was hassling him. He said he was going to meet her somewhere and straighten things out with her. That's the last time I saw him. The next thing I know, the police were at the door, telling me he was…." Connie covered her face with her hands.
Cal looked down at Jerry and rolled his eyes. "Oh, brother," he mouthed.
Jerry grabbed a tissue of the table at the end of the sofa and knelt down beside the woman. "Ma'am? Here's a tissue. Will you be okay?"
Connie took the tissue and dabbed at her eyes. "I'm okay."
"I'm sorry we have to do this. Can you tell me exactly what time you went down to the front desk?"
"I don't know. I think it was around nine o'clock. I didn't really pay attention. Who knew it would be important?" she almost cried.
"And that's the only time you left the room? You were in your hotel room the rest of the night?"
"Yes, Detective Miller. I finished the packing, the watched something on the television while I waited for James to get ba-aack." She wiped at her eyes again.
"Okay. And you say James told you Jean Reed called him. Not the other way around?"
Connie glared at him. "Of course Jeannie called him." She sniffled. "Jeannie never got over James dumping her for me back in high school. She never could accept that he didn't love her. We've tried over and over to cut off all contact with her, but she's persistent. She just kept writing and calling for all these years. And now… now she's killed him," Connie wailed. "When are you going to arrest her?"
"Mrs. Wright. Connie, please try to calm down, okay? You're not doing yourself any good like this," Jerry tried to comfort the sobbing woman. "We're not at a place where we can arrest anyone yet. We're still gathering evidence. That's why we're interviewing everyone involved again."
"Evidence? What kind of evidence do you need?" Connie's tears turned off as suddenly as they'd begun.
Jerry and Cal exchanged a glance. "Some proof of where people were that night," Cal began, "Verification of relationships between people. Motive. That kind of thing. Maybe there were other witnesses we haven't talked to yet. We're just gathering as much information about the events as we can."
Connie nodded slowly. "I see." She walked over to a window and started out it for a long moment before turning back to the detectives. "Would the letters Jeannie wrote to James be of any assistance? I know James kept all of them. He was vain that way. It flattered him how that little psychopath was still attracted to him."
"Yes, ma'am. If you have letters like that, we would like to see them," Cal told her.
Connie nodded. "I'll find them for you." She thought for a minute. "You should search Jeannie's house also. I think James wrote her back a couple of times, trying to get her to leave us alone. I'm sure she would have kept those letters."
"Mm-hm." Cal scribbled a few more notes in his notebook. "Well, thank you, Mrs. Wright. Please call us if you think of anything else." He handed her his card.
Connie reached up and pulled the card out of his fingers, unaware of the close observation of Detective Miller, who watched as she held the card in her left hand.
Later, as the two detectives fought rush-hour traffic on their way to get back to Los Angeles, Cal reviewed his notes from their many interviews that day. "Wonder if she's one of those multiple personality types?" he asked, then snickered.
"Who? Connie Wright?"
"Nope. Jean Reed. We're getting two different pictures here--the 'little psychopath' who could stalk her old boyfriend for ten years then kill him in cold blood, and the sweet angel who adores her husband and wouldn't hurt a fly, and doesn't hate anyone except maybe the recently-deceased James Wright, who she says was stalking her." Cal stopped to gasp for air.
"Run-on sentence there, Cal." Jerry smiled, then turned serious again. "How much of Connie Wright's story did you buy?"
Cal snorted. "I wouldn't pay a wooden nickel for that load. I don't know. Maybe she just can't admit what a world-class jerk her husband was."
"Um-hm. She fits the profile. You saw which hand she took your business card with. Her left."
"Yep," Cal agreed. "She's a leftie, on the short side, and definitely close to James Wright."
"And she lied to us," Jerry added.
Cal looked over at his partner. "You really don't like people who lie to you, do you?"
"Nope. Innocent people don't need to lie; only guilty people."
"How do you know Jean Reed isn't the one lying to us?" Cal asked.
Jerry glared at his partner, started to protest, then realized Cal had a point. "We don't. That's why we need to go back to the Wright's hotel; ask around there a little more. See whose story checks out and try to find some witnesses."
"You want to go by there on our way back to the station tonight?"
Jerry glanced down at his watch, then unconsciously pressed down harder on the car's accelerator. "Sorry. Can't tonight. I have to go to my daughter's ballet recital tonight, but we'll make time first thing tomorrow."
Two Days Later, 12:30 p.m.
"C'mon Jimmy, just one more bite." Jim poked the carrot stick toward his son's defiantly closed mouth. "See, Daddy likes his carrots." Jim took a bite of the raw veggies on his plate and forced a smile onto his face.
"Nmm-mmm." Jimmy shook his head, still keeping his lips tightly pressed together.
"Just one more bite, tiger, and Mommy says you can have a cookie." Jim tickled his son, and when Jimmy opened his mouth to giggle, Jim jabbed the carrot stick in.
Behind him, Jean laughed at his technique. "Sneaky, Jim. Real sneaky." She laughed again just as the phone rang. When Jim started to stand up, she waved him back toward his chair. "I can get it. You two just keep working on those vegetables." She left the room to answer the ringing phone. A moment later she returned to the kitchen. "Jim, it's Mac. He wants to talk to you."
Jim immediately noticed how pale she looked. He hugged her quickly as he headed for the living room phone. "It's gonna be okay. Don't worry," he whispered to his wife before reaching for the telephone to talk to his supervisor.
A few minutes later, he returned to the kitchen, where his wife was sharing a plate of cookies with their son. He sat down at the table, smiling uncontrollably.
"Well, what did he say?" Jean asked, unable to keep the trepidation out of her voice.
Jim reached for a cookie and Jean swatted at his hand.
"Hey, don't I get dessert? I ate my veggies without complaint."
"Not until you tell me what Mac said!"
Jim smiled at his wife. "He, uh, wanted to know if I could come in to work this afternoon." Jim grabbed a cookie off the plate while Jean stared at him in surprise.
"But I thought you were off-duty until … things… got resolved?"
Jim nodded, then swallowed the big bite of cookie he'd been chewing on. "Yup. Mac says Cal and Jerry did some more investigating, and just got an arrest warrant issued for somebody else. The captain says that's good enough for him to clear me to go back to work." Jim didn't even try to conceal the huge grin he knew was covering his face.
"So, we're not suspects anymore?" Jean couldn't believe the week-long nightmare could be over that quickly.
"Not really," Jim replied, taking her hands in his. "If Jerry and Cal are going for an arrest warrant, they're pretty sure they have evidence against someone. And before you ask, Mac didn't tell me who they're going after." Jim smiled at her. "So, are you going to be okay here all by yourself?"
Jean swatted at her husband's hands. "Of course, silly. I get along just fine without you around most every day."
"Oh." Jim tried to look crestfallen.
"Besides, I have to do some housecleaning today. You'd just be in the way." Jean had laid off some of the household chores in favor of spending time with her husband and son. Somehow, a spotless home hadn't seemed as important as making memories with her family, not when they were possibly facing an extended stay in prison.
Pete walked into the locker room. For once, he had a few minutes to spare. He was surprised to see his regular partner standing in front of his locker. "Jim? What are you doing here?" he asked.
Jim looked up from attaching his tie and smiled at his Pete. "What? You're not glad to see me? I thought after a few days of riding alone, you would be overjoyed that I'm back."
"Hmm," Pete grunted. "I'd just gotten used to working alone. Without a partner there chattering away about any subject at the drop of a hat, I'm learning to enjoy the quietness, the sound of wind rushing in through the open windows, the tires humming along the road…"
"Are you through yet?" Jim interrupted his partner with an exasperated glare. When Pete's only response was an amused smirk, Jim shook his head. "You know, I didn't have to come in today and put up with you. I could've stayed home today. I could be there right now, chasing Jimmy around the house with the vacuum cleaner, but no, I decide to…" Jim's voice trailed off as a snicker from Pete interrupted him, and he realized he had said too much.
Pete didn't say anything out loud, but the expression on his face asked the question for him. The vacuum cleaner?
"Aw, Pete, it's a lot of fun. Jimmy used to be scared whenever Jean would vacuum the carpet, so Jean and I started playing 'tag' with the vacuum cleaner so Jimmy could see it wouldn't hurt him. Eventually, Jimmy joined in, and now it's our special game."
"I'll have to take your word for it. My apartment has wood floors. No vacuuming needed." He snickered again at the mental image of Jim wearing an apron and pushing a vacuum.
Jim sighed and rolled his eyes at his partner, but refrained from commenting further.
Pete let Jim finish fixing his tie. "So, the detectives cleared you to go back on patrol?"
"Yep," Jim nodded. "They got an arrest warrant for someone else this morning. We're both out of the woods for now."
Pete smiled and slapped Jim on the back. "That's good news." He paused for a minute. "Guess this means I won't be breaking in a new partner."
Jim smiled back. "Nope." He grabbed his hat and briefcase and nearly bounded out of the room, heading toward roll call with more enthusiasm that anyone had a right to have.
Jerry Miller pulled his unmarked car to a stop on the street in front of Connie Wright's large house. A San Diego Police car stayed out of sight a few houses down the street; another SDPD officer rode in the car with Jerry and Cal. "Let's go," Jerry told his vehicle's passengers.
Cal made sure he had the arrest and search warrants in his hand, then reached for his door handle. "Sure am glad we're not outside Jim Reed's house right now."
"I bet Reed's even happier about it than you are," Jerry countered as the three officers disembarked from the car and headed up the front walkway.
The same housekeeper Jerry and Cal had met days before greeted them. When Cal asked to speak with Mrs. Wright, Mrs. Hong frowned. "She not here," she finally said slowly, carefully considering each word.
"Do you know where she went or when she'll be back?" Jerry asked.
"She take car, go to city. Not say when she come back." The housekeeper sighed. "I sorry. I not talk English good yet. I try go to class, but Mrs. Wright not like."
Jerry smiled at her encouragingly. "You're doing fine. May we come in and look around? We have a search warrant."
The housekeeper took the paper from him and studied it. "Mrs. Wright not like. But you say it okay by law?"
"Yes, ma'am. Legally, this search warrant gives us the right to come in and look around for evidence that a crime was committed," Jerry explained.
"Okay. But Mrs. Wright not be happy."
"Tell you what? If Mrs. Wright gets here, just let me know, and I'll take care of her for you, okay?" Jerry told her. When the housekeeper nodded, he continued. "Now, can you show me where her office is?"
The housekeeper led the police officers to an office that looked like it had been shared by the Wrights. The two detectives began searching through the papers on both desks, and in just a few minutes, they had uncovered more motive for Connie Wright to want her husband dead. It looked like he was deep in debt. Deeper than they had imagined. Unfortunately, they did not find any evidence that Connie Wright had been involved in her husband's death.
Eventually, the search moved to the Wright's bedroom suite. It was there that the detectives found the evidence they were seeking--the gun box Jim Reed had claimed was stolen from his house. Cal was the one to spot it wedged between two shoeboxes on the top shelf of the expansive closet. "Bingo!" he called out, carefully pulling the box down from its hiding place.
"Is that Reed's?" Jerry asked.
Cal turned the box over in his hands and found Jim Reed's social security number etched on the bottom of the box. "Yep. Let's see if the other stuff Reed said was missing is in here." He opened the box and found it only contained a stack of papers. "Huh. What's this?" he asked as he began shuffling through the stack.
Jerry joined his partner in examining the contents of the box. He picked up one piece of paper by the corner. "Looks like someone was practicing forging Jean Reed's signature. Doesn't make much sense, does it? The Wrights are wealthier than the Reeds could ever be. What could Mrs. Wright hope to gain?"
"An alibi?" Cal asked as he pulled a second piece of paper out of the bottom of the box. "Or her freedom. Listen to this." Cal read from the letter he was holding. My dearest Jim; I'm sorry, but I can't live with what we did. I know you hated James because I loved him and hated him even more because he rejected me, but killing him has only destroyed us both. I hope you can forgive me, but I can't forgive myself. Maybe someday we'll see each other again in Paradise. Love always, Jeannie. P.S. Jimmy is at St. Peter's Church. I only hope they can find a family better than us for him. "Sounds like a suicide note to me," Cal commented.
Jerry looked at the page of practice signatures he was holding, then grabbed the letter from Cal's hand. "Damn. Cal, go find out what time Mrs. Wright left this morning. If she's had time to get up to L A…."
"Right." Cal jogged out of the room in search of Mrs. Hong.
Jerry strode across the room to the telephone on the nightstand and dialed the Reed's home number, silently praying someone would answer. A woman who would kill her own husband probably wouldn't hesitate to kill anyone else, including her former best friend. The irritating buzz of a busy signal sounded in his ear, and he slammed the receiver down. "Damn," he muttered. After a minute, he picked up the phone again and tried the Reed's home again. This time, the phone rang, and rang, and rang.
Cal ran back into the room while Jerry was still listening to the ringing phone. "Over two hours ago," he barked. "She's had time to get there. Any luck?"
Jerry hung up the phone. "No answer at their house." Jerry was dialing another number before he'd even finished replying to Cal, and within seconds, the desk officer at Foothill Division had answered the phone. "This is Detective Miller. Give me Sergeant Norris."
It only took a moment for Jerry to be transferred to the sergeant's telephone. "This is Norris. How can I help you, Detective?"
"Sergeant, I need you to send a car out to Jim Reed's house. Here's his address." Jerry read the Reed's address off the notes in his book, then briefly explained the situation to Sergeant Norris.
"Great. Hang on," Norris told him before putting the phone down. A minute later, he returned to the phone. "Okay. Got two of my best men on their way--Burton and Stillman. Anyone else we should contact?"
"No. Just have them call Sgt. MacDonald at Central when they get there. Thanks, Tom."
"Don't mention it. I just hope they get there in time."
"You and me both," Jerry replied before ending the call. He immediately made another phone call, this one to Sergeant MacDonald. The desk quickly patched him through to Mac's office.
"LAPD, Sergeant MacDonald speaking."
"Mac, it's Jerry Miller. Is Reed working today?"
"Yes, he is. You cleared him to return to duty."
"Damn," Jerry swore quietly. "He's not at the station right now by any chance, is he?"
"I just saw him a minute ago. You need to talk to him?"
"I do." Jerry replied. "Mac, can you spare him for the rest of the day?"
"Maybe. Pete could work alone the rest of the shift, if he needs to. Why?"
Jerry sighed quietly. "We're down at Connie Wright's home in San Diego. It looks like she's planning on framing the Reeds for her husband's murder. We found a suicide note she's forged Jean's signature to. I have Foothill rolling a car out to their house right now in case she's going to try something."
"Hold on," Mac said, the Jerry heard him call out to Reed. The detective glanced at his watch, mentally calculating how close Connie Wright could be to L.A.. Too close…
Mac fixed a worried frown on his office window just as the subject of the conversation walked by. "Hold on," Mac told Jerry. "Reed!" he called out, waving his arm to summon the officer walking by into his office. As soon as Jim and Pete entered the room, Mac held the phone out to Jim. "It's Sergeant Miller."
Jim took the phone out of his hand. "Hello, Sergeant. …What? … But I just got off the phone with her less than ten minutes ago! … Yeah, okay." Jim slammed the phone down. Almost immediately, he picked it up again and quickly dialed a number. "Busy," he snapped and once again slammed the phone down onto its cradle. "Mac…"
During Jim's conversation with the detective, Mac had gathered his hat from the coatrack behind his office door. "Let's go, Reed. I'll drive you to your house," Mac interrupted. "Jerry did tell you Foothill has a car on the way?"
Jim nodded, and Mac gave him a gentle push toward the door and gestured for Pete to follow them. "Let's go. We can fill Pete in on the way."
"Love you too, hon," Jean Reed told her husband before hanging up the telephone. Seconds later, the doorbell rang. "Shoot. I'm never going to get the floor cleaned," she muttered as she walked to the front door. "At least I got the dusting done."
At the same instant she pulled the door open, the phone began ringing again. The sight of the person outside her door made her ignore the ringing. Connie Wright stood on the doorstep, hugging herself, tears running down her face. "Connie!" Jean cried. "Come in, please. Are you okay?"
"No-ooo-ooo," the other woman wailed as Jean pulled her into a hug. "I can't believe he's go-one."
"It's okay. Come on, let's go sit down, okay?" Jean led her former friend to the sofa in the living room and sat down beside her, wrapping an arm around her friend's shaking shoulders.
Soon, Connie's sobs trailed off. "I'm sorry, Jeannie. I come to visit and then take up your time bawling on your shoulder."
Jean hugged Connie again. "Connie, it's okay. You just lost your husband a few days ago. It's okay to cry."
Connie wiped at her eyes with a handkerchief. "Thanks. Listen, can you show me to your bathroom so I can clean up a little?"
"Sure. It's right down the hallway. Second door on your right." Jean pointed in the direction of the guest restroom.
For a few minutes, Jean sat in her living room, waiting for Connie to return and wondering what could be taking so long. Wonder if she's sick? Jean decided she better go find out. As she walked down the hallway, she noticed the door to the guest bathroom was standing open slightly, just like she'd left it. "Connie?" she called out quietly while pushing the door open the rest of the way. The bathroom was empty.
A small noise in the back of the house startled Jean, and she turned toward the source of the sound-Jim's and her bedroom. What could Connie be doing in there? She headed down the hall toward the bedroom.
When she entered her bedroom, Jean was shocked to find Connie bent over the nightstand beside her bed. "Connie! What are you doing?"
Connie turned to glare at her, all traces of grief gone from her face. "What does it look like I'm doing, Jeannie? I'm planting evidence that you were having an affair with my husband so the police will think you killed him."
Jean stared at her ex-friend. "You're doing what?"
Connie stared at the other woman with hatred in her eyes. "I believe it's called 'framing,'" she explained as she started walking across the room toward Jean.
Jean took a step backwards, suddenly wishing to be anywhere but in that room. "They'll never believe it. Jim knows I would never cheat on him. They won't believe you."
"Yes they will." Connie quickly stepped the rest of the way across the room and shoved Jean back against the wardrobe. While Jean struggled to regain her balance, Connie grabbed her left arm and sliced into her wrist with a knife Jean recognized as one of their kitchen knives.
Jean screamed and jerked her arm away from Connie, cradling her bleeding arm against her chest in her right arm. Connie grabbed her shoulder and spun her back against the wardrobe with enough force to knock the wind out of Jean's lungs. When Jean raised her uninjured arm to deflect any further attacks, Connie grabbed onto the arm and slashed that wrist open as well. Still holding tightly to Jean's arm, Connie dropped the knife on the floor and reached into her purse for a folded piece of paper. She dropped it on the floor beside the knife and laughed. "They always believe suicide notes."
Jean pulled her arm free of Connie's grasp and stared down at her wrists and the blood that was gushing out and dripping to the floor. "No… Connie, why?" she gasped, trying to ignore the high-pitched buzzing in her ears and the gray fog that was pushing into the edges of her vision. She'd never handled the sight of blood well. Never. Especially not when it was her own. She had to get to the telephone before she passed out completely. She lunged sideways, hoping to get out of the bedroom and down to the kitchen telephone.
Unfortunately, in her dizzy condition, she didn't move fast enough and Connie easily tripped her, sending her sprawling onto the floor.
"Why?" Connie snapped down at her. "Why? Because James always wanted you. Not me. It wasn't fair, and now you're both going to pay for it."
"I… didn't do anything… to encourage him," Jean gasped out as she rolled onto her side and curled herself into a ball. "I… have Jim…. Didn't want …"
Connie squatted down. "He wanted you. That's what matters," she sneered, then stood back up. For a moment, Connie just stood there before finally glancing down at her watch. "Oh, look at the time. I've got an appointment in ten minutes. Got to run." Connie snickered as she spun on her heel and strode out of the room.
For a minute, Jean stayed curled up on the floor, trying to fight unconsciousness. She had to get to a phone and call for help. She couldn't let Jim find her like this. She couldn't let Jimmy find her like this. That is, if Connie didn't have some other plan for her son. "No… Jimmy," she moaned.
Jean had no sooner had that thought before Connie burst back into the room. "Where is he?" she demanded.
"Who?" Jean asked, trying to hide the small smile. He got away. Good, Jimmy.
"You know who!" Connie made a move like she was going to kick Jean, but then apparently thought better of it. "Your bratty little son."
"Friend's house… playing," Jean said, hoping it was at least partly true, hoping Jimmy had heard what was happening and had enough sense to run for help.
Connie glared at her, then spun around and stomped out of the room. Soon after, Jean heard the sound of the front door slamming as Connie left her to bleed to death in her own home.
Foothill Division unit Adam-39 pulled to a stop in front of the Reed's house just in time to see a dark-haired woman stride from the house toward a new Mercedes parked at the curb. Officer Burton studied the woman, comparing the person he saw to the descriptions Sgt. Norris had provided to them. "That's not Jean Reed. That looks more like our suspect." He opened his door, shoved his hat onto his head, and called out to the woman. "Hello. Ma'am? Can we talk to you?"
In response, the woman jumped into her car and started the engine.
"Damn." Burton muttered. While his partner called in their location, Burton started walking toward the driver's side of the woman's car. He was between the cars when she put her Mercedes in reverse and hit the gas. Burton barely had time to throw himself onto the hood of the patrol car before the two cars hit, crunching the front end of the police car and the rear of the Mercedes. The Mercedes then accelerated away from the scene.
Officer Stillman stuck his head out the window. "You okay, Burton?"
Burton rolled himself off the car. "Yeah. Go get her!" he yelled. "I'm going to go check on Jean Reed."
Stillman quickly gave him a thumbs-up, flipped on the lights and sirens and took off after the fleeing woman. Burton ran up the front walk and pounded on the door. "Mrs. Reed? Police!" When he didn't get a response, he tried the doorknob. Finding the door unlocked, he entered the house. "Mrs. Reed?"
A barely audible moan from somewhere in the back of the house caught his attention, and he ran towards the sound. As soon as he entered the bedroom, he saw Jean curled up on the floor. He ran to her side and knelt down beside her. "Mrs. Reed?" He gently turned her onto her back.
Jean moaned and tried to move away from him, obviously frightened of the unknown person in her home.
Burton clasped her shoulders. "Lie still. It's okay. I'm Officer Thomas Burton, Foothill Division. You're safe." He quickly looked her over, shocked at the amount of blood that covered her. "Jean, are you hurt anywhere besides your wrists?" While he waited for her to reply, he pulled out his handkerchief and ripped it in half. He wrapped and tied the torn material tightly around one wrist, then the other, hoping to staunch the flow of blood from the wounds. From what he could see, she couldn't afford to lose much more.
"Nuh… no…. Jus'… there," Jean slurred, then squeezed her eyes shut and took several gasping breaths. "You… have to … find Jimmy."
Burton squeezed her shoulder again. "Your husband's on his way. I'm gonna go call you an ambulance, okay?"
"No… no," Jean nearly sobbed. "My son… find him… please."
Damn. A kid. Burton tried to smile reassuringly. "We'll find him. Just as soon as I get you some help coming." He released his grip on her wrists and quickly ran to the telephone. It only took half a minute for him to contact dispatch and request an ambulance be sent to the house. To his surprise, he was told there was already one on the way.
Burton had no sooner returned to Jean's side and resumed his tourniquet-like grip on her wrists than someone knocked on the front door he had left open and called out to Jean. Burton looked down at her. "You know him?" he whispered.
Jean nodded slightly. "Neighbor… Paul Lawson."
"Mr. Lawson," Burton called out. "Back here."
"Jean? Oh, my God, Jean!" Paul Lawson stopped abruptly in the bedroom doorway when he saw his neighbor lying on the floor. He knelt down beside her. "Jean, are you okay? Jimmy came running over to our house, crying about his mommy being hurt by some 'bad lady'."
"He's okay?" Jean asked.
The older man patted Jean's shoulder. "He's okay. A little scared, obviously, but unhurt. Maddie is taking care of him." Paul looked up at the officer. "She's going to be okay? Is there anything I can do to help?"
Burton nodded. "Yeah, I think she'll be fine. We've got an ambulance on the way for her right now, so if you could just keep an eye on the kid..."
Lawson nodded to Burton, then patted Jean's shoulder again. "Jean, sweetie, you just hang on. I've got to get back to my wife and Jimmy. Don't worry about him. We'll keep him as long as you need us to." He waited until Jean nodded at him, then reluctantly stood up and walked out of the room as quickly as he could.
While Jean watched Mr. Lawson leave, Burton released his grip on her wrists to check the bleeding. Damn. Blood still gushed from the wounds. He moved his grip to her elbows, hoping to clamp off the arteries at that point. "Jean?" he asked when he noticed her eyes drifting shut. "Hey, keep those eyes open for me, okay?" He gently nudged her with one knee.
Jean's eyes snapped open. "I'm gonna die, aren't I?" she asked him, almost sobbing.
"No. No way." Burton reassured her. "Hey, don't say things like that. We have an ambulance on the way, and your husband should be here any time now. Don't you want to see him?" And I sure hope they hurry up. My hands are starting to cramp up. A noise at the front of the house caused him to look up from his patient. "Hey, there's someone now," he commented, just a man's panicked voice called out, "Jean!"
"Jim…" Jean almost smiled.
"Back here," Burton yelled.
Jim ran into the room a few seconds later and fell to his knees by his wife's side. "Jean! Oh, god…" He looked up at Burton. "What…"
"Looks like someone slashed her wrists. Ambulance is rolling," Burton told Jim quietly. The officer who had followed Jim into the room knelt down beside Burton and took over his grip on Jean's arms. "Thanks," he muttered gratefully as he stood up, shaking his hands to relieve the cramping. He frowned as he looked down at the small group on the floor. He hoped his partner had caught the woman responsible for this crisis. And she'd better be glad I'm not the one arresting her, he thought angrily.
Jim watched Pete take over care of his wife from Burton, then he turned his attention back to Jean. He gently brushed her hair back from her face a few times, wiping away some of the tears running down her face. "Jean, I'm here." He opened his mouth as if to say something, then closed it again and scrunched up his face before taking a few deep breaths.
Watching his partner's actions, Pete could tell Jim was seconds away from breaking down completely. Pete looked up at Burton and Mac and motioned for them to leave the room.
Burton was the first to leave. "I'd better go check on my partner," he said before heading down the hall. Mac gave his officers one last concerned look before he also left, saying he needed to see where the ambulance was. Pete hoped Jim didn't mind him staying--Jean needed immediate first aid, and he didn't think Jim was up to handling that right now.
Jim once again brushed his hand through his wife's hair. "Oh, Jean, oh god…" He swallowed hard. "You're gonna be okay." He quickly swiped his free hand across his face while biting his lower lip, hoping neither Jean nor Pete had seen the tears that almost escaped.
"Hurts…" Jean moaned quietly.
Jim reached down and wiped the tears of her face. "I know, baby. Just hold on a little longer. The doctors will take care of you. You'll be okay."
"Not… gonna make it."
"Don't say that, honey. Don't even think that way," Jim begged. He laid his hands on both sides of her face and turned her head so she was looking at him. "You're gonna be fine. We'll have you at the hospital in no time."
Jean couldn't stop new tears from trickling out of her eyes and wetting Jim's fingers. "Don't feel good… so dizzy…" Jean tried to move her head some. "Connie… left note. I didn't write it. All lies… Don't wanna die…"
Jim made a strangled coughing sound, then gathered Jean in his arms and hugged her, forcing Pete to move to keep her arms as much above her heart as he could. "You're gonna be okay. You will. Please, hold on a little bit longer, baby." Still cradling his wife in his arms, Jim rocked her gently. He knew he should leave her lying flat on the ground, but he just couldn't. "Ssh," he whispered as Jean started sobbing quietly. "You're gonna be fine. Just close your eyes, and when you wake up, you'll be feeling a lot better."
"Jimmy…" Jean moaned quietly. "At Paul and Maggie's..."
"I'm sure they're taking good care of him. Don't worry. You're gonna be okay." Jim hugged her tighter. "You're gonna be okay. Don't worry about anything."
"Jim…" Jean tried to say something else, but couldn't get the thought together before she slipped into unconsciousness.
Noises from the front of the house caught Pete's attention, and he craned his neck to look down the hallway. "Ambulance's here," he told Jim quietly just seconds before the ambulance crew jogged into the room pulling a stretcher between them.
One of the attendants started to pick up Jean's legs while the other moved to take her out of Jim's arms. Jim gripped his wife tighter. "I can take care of her," he snapped at the attendant.
The attendant raised his hands in defeat. "Okay. Okay. I'll just direct. You," he continued, pointing to Pete, "you'll have to keep that grip on the arteries while you walk around the end of the gurney. Henderson, you get her legs," he added to his partner. "On three. One, two, three."
The three men carefully stood up and carried their burden to the stretcher. As soon as they had laid Jean down, Carter, the lead attendant, slipped an oxygen mask over Jean's face. "Sir, we need to get moving," he told Jim, pushing him away from the stretcher with more force than Pete thought was necessary. "Keep it up until we get her to the ambulance and get some tourniquets on her arms," he added to Pete as they started moving down the hallway.
Pete caught a brief glimpse of the stricken look on Jim's face before the ambulance attendants wheeled the stretcher out of the room, but he couldn't stop to check on his partner's condition. He jogged alongside the stretcher out to the ambulance, expecting to see Jim following behind them.
Carter and Henderson loaded the stretcher into the ambulance, and Henderson quickly took over Pete's position. Carter glanced back at the house as he closed the vehicle's doors. "Where's her husband?"
Pete also looked back. Where is he? "I'll go get him."
Carter shook his. "No, we… she can't wait. We have to go now."
"Go." Pete agreed, knowing Jim would want his wife taken care of above all other considerations. "I'll make sure he gets to the hospital. County General?"
"That's the one." Carter nodded before running to the driver's seat of the ambulance and departing for the hospital.
Pete jogged back to the Reed's bedroom where he'd last seen his partner. He found Jim sitting on the floor of the bedroom where he'd apparently stumbled and collapsed after the ambulance driver had pushed him out of the way, staring vacantly at the bloodstained carpet, as pale as the piece of paper he held in one had. "What do you have there, partner?"
Jim looked up at him, and Pete was shocked to see tears running down his friend's unusually pale face. "The suicide note Connie wrote," Jim managed to whisper before he lowered his head onto the arms he had crossed on top of his knees.
Pete squatted down beside his friend and pulled the piece of paper out of Jim's hand at about the same time that Jim started sobbing quietly. Pete quickly stood up and closed the door. No one else needed to witness Jim's breakdown. Knowing Jim, he'd be mortified enough that even Pete had witnessed it. He knelt down on one knee beside Jim and rested one had on Jim's shaking shoulders. There just weren't any words to say that would make things better right now.
After a few minutes, the sobs taped off to ragged breathing, but Jim didn't move. "She tried to kill my wife," Jim finally whispered.
"I know. But she didn't succeed. Jean's gonna be okay. You've got to focus on that right now."
Jim finally sat up straighter, resting his elbows on his knees and resting his head on his hands. "It would've been bad enough if it'd been an accident, but…" He fought back more sobs.
Pete nodded. The thought that Connie had deliberately tried to kill Jean; had made plans to hurt his partner's wife like that… it was enough to make Pete sick. "I know," was all he said.
Jim sat up against the wall. Unfortunately, that allowed him to see the bloodstained carpet. He squeezed his eyes shut. "Uh… gonna be sick," he muttered, rolling onto his hands and knees.
Pete grabbed Jim's arm and pulled him to his feet, then led him to the guest bathroom just in time. After Jim finished losing everything he'd eaten that day, Pete handed him the washcloth he'd wet. "You feel any better?"
Jim nodded slowly.
"Good." Pete squatted down beside him. "Let's go." When Jim only looked up at him vacantly, Pete added, "I'm not trying to make things worse, but if you're gonna be okay now, there's a couple of things you need to do for you wife. First, you need to pull yourself together enough that you can convince your son his Mommy's going to be okay. Then you need to get me your in-laws' phone number, so I can give them a call. And then we need to get you over to the hospital so you can help the doctors treat Jean." Pete hoped giving Jim orders like he had years earlier when he was Jim's training officer would snap him into 'policeman' mode and get him functioning again.
Jim nodded again, then swallowed hard a few times. "Yeah," he finally whispered.
Pete stood up, then helped Jim to his feet. Jim still looked shaky and pale as the sheets, but seemed to be forcing himself to function. Pete briefly laid a hand on Jim's back. "Try not to worry. We'll get through this."
Two Days Later
Pete selected a small bear from the hospital gift shop and headed for the bank of elevators that would take him to the fourth floor and Jean Reed's hospital room. When he'd talked to his partner that morning, Jim had told him Jean would probably be feeling up to visitors later in the day. He hoped lunchtime was later enough. Even if it wasn't, Pete felt a real need to see his partner. From the tense tone of Jim's voice and his hesitant, one-word responses to Pete's questions during their phone call earlier that morning, Pete had the impression that his partner wasn't telling him something. Maybe in person, he could get Jim to open up to him, instead of bottling up whatever was bothering him.
As Pete stepped out of the elevator, he saw Joe Fuller, Jean's father, standing at the nurse's station. He walked over to the older man. "Afternoon, Mr. Fuller. Is Jean feeling up to a quick visit?"
Jean's father turned to face him, then reached out to shake his hand. "Pete. Good to see you." Mr. Fuller gestured down the hall. "I think Jim would really appreciate a visit from you."
"How's Jean doing today?" Pete repeated his earlier question.
Mr. Fuller sighed. "Better now, but she was sick this morning. I don't know if she's up to seeing anyone right now. Pete…"
"Yes, Mr. Fuller?"
"Talk to Jim. He's blaming himself for this mess, and it's not his fault. None of us hold him responsible for what Connie did. I think he just needs to talk it out with someone. And try to get him to eat some lunch. I don't think he's eaten since last night, and that was only because Anne and I forced him to."
Pete sighed. "Now that doesn't sound like Jim at all. I'll talk to him."
"Good. I'll take you to them." Mr. Fuller led Pete down the hall to his daughter's room.
Pete waited outside the door as Mr. Fuller entered the room. A few minutes later, Jim emerged, looking like he should be the one in the hospital bed.
"Hi, Pete." Jim greeted him with a smile that was just a shadow of his normal expression.
Pete tried to smile with more sincerity. "Jim. How's Jean doing?"
Jim's expression dropped. "I don't know," he sighed. "She's just not bouncing back like the doctors expected her to."
Pete didn't really know what to say to that. Instead, he moved on to Jim's in-laws other concern. "Joe said you haven't been eating. Why don't we go down to the cafeteria and grab a sandwich, and you can tell me what's going on, okay?"
Jim nodded, and Pete led him to the elevators and to the cafeteria on the first floor of the hospital. They didn't have the best food, but he was on seven, and Jim really did need to eat. Pete bought sandwiches for himself and Jim, and then found a table for them in the crowded cafeteria.
"Connie Wright was denied bail this morning." Pete filled Jim in on the status of James' murderer and Jean's attacker. "She's staying in jail until trial. They already determined she's not insane."
Jim snorted. "That's a matter of opinion."
"It's a good thing. She'll probably be spending the rest of her life in prison."
"I don't care where she is, as long as she's out of our lives." Jim dropped his sandwich. "In fact, I wish she was dead, after what she did to Jean," Jim grumbled quietly.
"Jim," Pete said quietly, reproachfully. He knew Jim probably didn't mean what he'd just said. It's just the stress and anger over Jean being hurt. "How is Jean doing? Your father in law said she was still sick?"
Jim crumpled up his sandwich wrapper. "They don't know what's wrong. They keep giving her transfusions, but her blood counts aren't increasing like they should. She's still so tired… so pale." Jim stopped talking and quickly swiped a hand across his eyes.
Pete reached out and grabbed his shoulder lightly. "Isn't that to be expected? She did lose a lot of blood."
Jim nodded before leaning forward to rest his arms on the table. "The doctors seem to think she should be doing better. They mentioned it might be related to all the emotional stress, but…" Jim's voice trailed off and he took a couple of deep breaths, trying to stay calm. "And then yesterday, she was sick to her stomach. They said it was just aftereffects of the anesthesia, but she was so sick again this morning. The doctors came in and wanted to do all kinds of tests. Even took more blood from her. Said something about possible contamination or poison from the knife, or an infection of some kind." Jim stopped talking again, and stared at the table. "Pete, I can't lose her. I just can't," he finally whispered.
"You're not going to. The doctors will find out what's wrong, believe me."
Jim finally nodded. "I guess so."
"I know so," Pete replied with more confidence than he felt. "Now, do I get to give your wife her get-well present?" He stood up, hoping Jim would follow his example.
"Yeah." Jim stood, and the two officers headed for the elevators and Jean's room.
They had no sooner left the elevator on the fourth floor than the nurse greeted them. "Mr. Reed. Doctor Lentz needs to see you in your wife's room right away. He's got some test results back."
Jim paled and set off for the room at a quick jog. He slowed as he approached the door and entered at a much slower pace. Jean didn't need any excitement right now. "Jean, honey, I'm here."
Jean smiled weakly at him and patted the bed beside her. Jim hurried to her side and sat down on the edge of the bed, taking her hand in both of his.
Dr. Lentz moved to stand at Jean's other side. "I think we've found the cause of your problems, Jean." He smiled at his patient. "Mrs. Reed, have you gained any weight recently?"
Jean stared at him. "A couple of pounds, I guess. I need to get more exercise."
"That can't hurt, but that's not the problem." He extended a hand to her. "Congratulations. You're pregnant."
Jim and Jean both stared at him in shock, and he continued. "Now, I've called for an obstetrician to examine you and do some other tests, but I'd say you're about three months along."
"But… but I had…" Jean started stammering.
Dr. Lentz raised a hand. "It happens sometimes."
"Her injuries… the blood loss… will that have hurt the baby?" Jim asked.
"I don't think so. We're treating her, so it should be okay. We will want to increase the blood transfusions, and try to get some more vitamins in her. In fact, we think the pregnancy is why your wife is not recovering as fast as we expected. It would also explain the nausea. Plain, simple morning sickness."
Jim looked down at his wife. "That's great news, isn't it, hon? Jean?" he added as he noticed the tears trickling down her cheeks. "Uh, Doc, can we have a few minutes alone?"
Dr. Lentz nodded. "I'll be in the hallway if you need me." He quietly left the room.
Jim gently laid a hand against his wife's face and brushed at the tears. "Honey, what's wrong?"
Jean tried to turn away from him. "I don't want to have a baby."
"Why not? Jean, I thought we wanted at least two…"
Jean raised one arm off the bed and pointed to the bandages. "This."
Jim looked at her wrists, then back into her eyes. "The scars? Jean, the doctor said they'd be pretty minor, and they can do surgery to make them even less noticeable. And besides, a few little scars won't change the way I feel…"
"No." Jean shook her head in frustration. "Babies grow up. Grow up to be horrible, evil people like James and Connie." Jean whimpered, then turned on her side, away from Jim. "I don't want to take that chance," she almost sobbed.
"Jean." Jim lay down on the bed beside her and gently started stroking her hair. "Honey, that's not gonna happen. Our kids aren't going to turn out bad. There's just no way they could, not with you for their mother." He laid his hand on her abdomen near where he thought their new baby was. "This little one's gonna be a beautiful little girl. She's gonna have your red hair and big brown eyes." He rubbed Jean's stomach, trying to determine if he could feel the baby yet. "She'll be the kindest, sweetest girl ever, just like you."
Jean sniffed and rolled over onto her back. "You sound pretty sure it's going to be a girl."
Jim smiled at his wife. "Of course. Any girl as pretty as our daughter's gonna be needs a big brother to watch out for her, and we already have the big brother, right?"
Jean finally smiled herself, then elbowed him in the ribs. "Smartie."
Jim leaned over and kissed her lightly. "I love you. Always."
"I love you too," Jean whispered as Jim kissed her again. "Jim. My parents…"
"Hon, we're married. I'm allowed to kiss you now." Jim tried to plant another kiss on her lips, but Jean turned her head and he hit her cheek instead.
"Jim, my parents…" Jean repeated as Jim continued to kiss her face lightly.
"Jean…" Jim started to protest, then froze as he heard a man clearing his throat somewhere behind him. His eyes snapped open. "They're in the room, aren't they?" he whispered.
Jean giggled as a smile spread across her face. She nodded.
That was the most beautiful sound Jim had heard in days. "Oh, man," he whispered. He sat up on the edge of the bed as Jean's parents entered the room.
Anne Fuller immediately moved to the other side of Jean's bed and hugged her daughter. Joe extended a hand toward Jim. "The doctor says congratulations are in order, son."
"Our second grandchild," Joe mused as he reached down and clasped his daughter's shoulder. "Congratulations, honey."
Jim looked up to see Pete standing in the door pointing at his watch. He excused himself and jogged to the doorway.
"She's okay?" Pete asked as soon as the door had closed behind him.
Jim grinned at him. "I'm gonna need some vacation time in about six months."
Vacation time? Pete stared at his partner in confusion, trying to figure out what Jim was talking about.
Jim laughed quietly. "You don't get to be the godfather for this one. Laura and Tony already asked," he informed his partner.
Comprehension finally dawned. "She's… she's…?
"Yup," Jim confirmed. "Baby number two."
Pete slapped Jim on the back. "Congratulations, partner." He smiled, then shook his head. "Five years on the job, and still he doesn't obey orders."
Jim looked at his partner. "Huh?"
"Reed, didn't I tell you to raise a small family?"
Jim didn't answer. He gave Pete a friendly slap on the back, then turned around and reentered his wife's room, returning to the growing family that was the center of his life.
Many thanks to Karen for all your suggestions on how to make this story better!