A Matter of Time, Part 4
Pete noted that Annie and Russell no longer occupied the couch and their blanket had been folded and neatly draped across the sofa's arm. Pete levered himself out of the recliner and stretched the tightness from his muscles. A recliner might be great for a short nap, but it was an uncomfortable place to spend a night. He folded his own blanket, lay it atop the one on the sofa arm, and walked over to the window. Still drizzling. Pete placed his hand against the window, but the water droplets dancing on the surface of the glass told him all he needed to know about the temperature outside. And still cold. Night shift's still here. I see McNelly's on the radio instead of Gidley. And here comes the paparazzi again. They never give up. He turned away from the window in frustration and headed for the source of the coffee smell.
Pete ran a bandaged hand through his hair, trying to tame the stray strands that he knew stood at attention atop his head. He figured he made a pretty frightening sight in his present condition. Need a shower before I take off for San Bernadino. At least the conga drums are gone from my head today. I won't keel over halfway through the search.
Pete's headache might have disappeared, but his heartache still burned brightly. He'd run out of words to pray, but he'd taken Dr. Warren's promise to heart -- when we can't find the words, He still knows the desires of our heart....God knows what you need. Pete stopped at the kitchen door and made a final pass through his hair with a hand. And what I need is my partner back...safe and well.
"Morning, Pete," Mrs. Smithson said when he entered the kitchen. She sounded tired.
"Morning," Pete said. Mrs. Smithson worked alone in the kitchen, preparing the coffee and warming what smelled like muffins. She picked up a mug from the dish drainer and poured him a cup. "Where is everyone?"
"Dan and Jimmy are still sleeping. Russell left about twenty minutes ago to go home and shower. He's going to go into work and tie up some loose ends. He said he'd try to be back by noon. Jane won't be here for another couple of hours." Mrs. Smithson handed Pete the coffee, and he took a long sip of the hot brew. "Annie's helping Jean get dressed."
"She still sick?"
"Yes, poor dear. I don't think she slept at all last night. I heard her moving around a lot." Mrs. Smithson opened the over door and took out a foil-wrapped pan.
Pete nodded. After Jean had come to check on him, he'd had trouble getting back to sleep. He thought he'd heard her crying a couple of times.
Mrs. Smithson offered him a warm muffin. He accepted it, though eating was the last thing he felt like doing. Pete knew he couldn't make it through what promised to be a long day without some energy, so he took a bite, feeling irrationally guilty for eating instead of searching for Jim.
"Pete," Mrs. Smithson turned a troubled gaze on him, "it's been nearly twenty-four hours. Before Russell left, he checked in with McNelly. They searched all night, but they didn't find anything. Not your car, not Jim, not those two criminals." She shook her head. "Is it unrealistic...I mean...if Jim was able, he'd have...." Mrs. Smithson turned away. "It's getting harder and harder to stay optimistic."
"It's too early to give up," Pete said firmly. "I know it looks really grim right now, but even at that, I won't -- no, I can't give up. And you shouldn't either."
"I keep praying the same thing over and over and I keep wondering how many times..."
A sudden, high-pitched wail interrupted Mrs. Smithson's sentence, followed by hysterical cries of "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!"
The sheer panic in Jimmy's voice caused Pete's insides to turn to ice. He slung his cup of coffee and half-eaten muffin onto the counter and ran from the room toward the boy's hysterical cries, Mrs. Smithson at his heels.
The non-stop cries came from the den, not from Jimmy's room, and Pete also heard droning voices behind the cries. The TV! He's seen something!
"Mommy! Mommy!" Jimmy shrieked, with gasping sobs in between the cries.
"Mommy's coming, baby!" Jean called from the hallway.
Pete reached the den three steps ahead of Jean. He found Jimmy standing in the den, clutching his little stuffed doggie, Boo, to his chest, staring at the television screen, still screaming and crying. Pete scooped him up with one arm, slapped the television off with the other, then turned and deposited him into his mother's arms, all in virtually one smooth motion.
"Mommy." Jimmy buried his face in his mother's shoulder and threw his arms around her neck.
"Baby, what's wrong, what's wrong?" Jean cooed as she hugged him and rubbed his back to calm him. "Ssssh, baby, tell mommy what's wrong."
"Mommy," Jimmy sobbed, his voice muffled by Jean's shirt. "Mommy, whewe's my daddy?"
Jean blanched and turned to Pete, a stricken, panicked expression on her face.
"Whewe's my daddy?" Jimmy repeated, his words barely intelligible.
"He must have seen a newscast," Pete whispered. Jean looked like her legs wouldn't hold her up much longer, so he guided her to the couch and helped her sit.
Jimmy's wails had alerted the entire house. Both the Smithsons and Annie had made it to the den, and started to gather around to comfort the little boy, but no one seemed to know exactly what to say.
"Daddy was...on the...on the TV," Jimmy wailed, his lips trembling. He took in tiny hiccups of air between his words."They said...said...bad men....hid him...mommy, go find...daddy...."
"Oh, baby, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." Jean rocked her son back and forth as her own tears started to flow again.
"I want...my daddy," Jimmy sobbed. "I want my daddy!"
"Hush, baby, hush, now," Jean soothed.
Jimmy's cries intensified. "Find...daddy. Bwing my daddy hewe, I want my daddy!"
Seeing Jimmy so upset practically tore Pete's heart from his chest. He could hardly keep from bawling himself, as the rest of the family struggled with the same problem. I'm gonna do something about this. He put his hand on Jimmy's back and leaned in close to his godson's face.
"Jimmy, your Uncle Pete's gonna go find your daddy," he declared, fighting back his raging emotions. "Don't you worry, now."
Jimmy raised his tear-stained face up from his mother's shoulder and looked at Pete. His blue eyes, so like his father's, bored straight through to Pete's soul. "You find...you find...my daddy!" he sobbed.
"I will, little buddy, I will. I promise." Are you crazy? You can't promise him that!
Jimmy threw his arms around Pete's neck. "Huwwy, Unca Pete. I want my daddy."
Pete gave his godson a kiss on the cheek and ruffled his hair. "I'll be back as soon as I can," he said. He then reluctantly pulled Jimmy's arms from around his neck and looked up at Dan Smithson. "I need a ride to my apartment," he said. "Can you do it?"
Mr. Smithson nodded. "Give me two minutes to get dressed."
Pete stood, but Jean grasped his hand. He looked down at her shocked expression, knowing that he'd promised his godson a miracle.
"Pete," she whispered, her voice a choked sob. "Pete..."
"Hang in there, Jean. Take care of my godson. My godchildren," he amended. He squeezed her hand, then dropped it and left the room, with Jimmy's plaintive cries of I want my daddy echoing in his ears.
After Dan Smithson dropped Pete off at his apartment, Pete showered, shaved, and dressed in record time. He had torn the bandages off his hands and didn't bother replacing them. He grabbed a pair of hiking boots out of his closet, and as he sat on the bed, cramming his feet into them and tying the laces, he made a quick call to Judy.
She answered on the second ring. "Any news?" she asked, after they exchanged greetings.
"Not as of forty-five minutes ago," Pete said. "I'm on my way to the San Bernadino command post to search."
Judy didn't say anything for a few moments, and Pete held his breath, fearing either an explosion of anger or a tearful breakdown. Neither happened, but he still couldn't shake the feeling that their relationship had changed. It's just the stress. When this is over, it'll be okay.
"Are you sure you're up to it?" Judy asked finally.
"I'm fine, Judy. And I just can't sit back any longer," Pete said. He put the finishing touches on his laces.
Judy sighed. "I'm surprised you waited this long, to be truthful."
"As long as we're being truthful, yesterday I wasn't able to go tromping about in the woods," Pete admitted. "But I promise, I'm much better today. Have you told David yet?"
"I was going to at breakfast. I'm afraid that he'll hear something at school," Judy said. "He's up -- if you'd talk with him first so he knows you're okay, I'm sure he'll take it better."
"Sure. Just hurry, okay? I need to get out there."
"Okay, hang on."
While Pete waited for David to get to the phone, he stretched the cord to its limit so he could load his off-duty gun, put it in his holster and gather up some extra ammo. You never know.
"Hey, Pete!" David greeted him after a brief pause.
"Hey, kiddo. How are you? How was the dentist yesterday?" Pete forced energy into his voice.
"Good. No cavities," David said proudly.
"Hey, that's great, David."
"Yeah, I don't like the drill. Are you coming over tonight, Pete? This is a day off for you, right?" David sounded hopeful.
"I don't know, David. I'm on a special assignment today. Your mom's gonna tell you about it in a minute. I just wanted to say hello, and tell you to have a good day at school. Behave yourself."
"I always behave, Pete," David said.
"See that you do, young man. Now, put your mom back on."
"Okay, bye, Pete!"
"'Bye, David," Pete said. He worried about how David would take the news and felt guilty that he hadn't taken the time to talk to the boy himself. David will understand. Right now, Jim and his family have to take precedence.
"Pete," Judy's voice came through the phone again. "You be careful, okay?"
"I will. Those guys are long gone. There's nothing to worry about, so don't, okay?" Pete looked at his watch. "I gotta go, Judy."
"Will you call me if something happens?" Judy paused. "One way or the other?"
"Yeah. You going to work?"
"I'm going to take David to school, then drop by Jean's, then I have to go in for a little while. Unless you think Jean needs me?" Judy asked.
"She's not doing real well. And neither is Jimmy," Pete said, then briefly explained what had happened with Jimmy seeing the TV report.
"Oh, Pete," Judy whispered. Pete could hear the emotions choking her voice. "That poor baby. Jean must be beside herself."
"Everybody in the house was crying when I left," Pete sighed. "That's why I just can't hang around there any longer. I've gotta do something." Pete said. The doorbell rang right after Pete's statement, and he frowned. Who on earth? "Look, Judy, I've gotta go. I'll catch up with you later."
"Okay. I love you. Be careful."
"I love you, too. And I will. Bye."
Pete hung up the phone and hurried to the door of his apartment. Please don't be Mrs. O'Brien...or worse, a reporter. He opened it and found Mac standing there, arms crossed over his chest, head cocked sideways, giving Pete a disapproving look.
"Mac, don't lecture me," Pete growled. "I'm going out there, and you're not gonna stop me. So don't even try."
"I'm not going to lecture you," Mac said calmly, "even though I probably should. I'm here to give you a ride."
"Oh," Pete said, more contritely. "Well, I'm ready. Let's go."
"Just a minute," Mac held up a hand and walked in. "I've got some news, too."
"What? Just forty-five minutes ago, McNelly said there'd been no developments."
"I just found out myself. I called over to Jim's to tell you but they said you were here, and getting ready
to search, so I just drove over." Mac looked grim.
"Well, what?" Pete demanded, feeling nerves already raw tingle from added anxiety.
"Take it easy, Pete. Nobody's found Jim, or even Ciroppolli and Graddock," Mac said calmly. "Or the black and white for that matter. But I got a call from Delacroix out at the command post. Federal marshals came in on the search for Ciroppolli and Graddock last night. And they think they've got another lead. About a half hour ago, a man walked into a Las Vegas police station saying he thought he spotted Graddock late yesterday, but didn't realize who he was until he saw the early news this morning. Seems that this man works in a pawn shop that has a less-than-stellar reputation. Anyway, he said that about six o'clock yesterday, a young man, who he's fairly sure was Graddock, came in to hock a watch. Said he was nervous, but you know the story, place like that, they don't ask questions."
"They never do. The watch, Mac," Pete urged impatiently.
Mac took a breath. "The man described it as a fairly new, good quality gold Bulova watch with an engraving on the back. 'Love, Jean,' and a date he couldn't remember."
Pete closed his eyes. "March 22nd....Jim's watch," he said, feeling sick. "Jean gave it to him on their anniversary a couple of years back."
"That's what she said," Mac confirmed.
"You told her?" Pete exclaimed hotly.
"Pete, I had to. I had to confirm the engraving for Las Vegas detectives. They're on their way to confiscate the watch."
Pete turned away from Mac and ran his hand through his hair. This bit of information sent dire thoughts scratching furiously through his head; thoughts he'd been fighting to bury since this whole nightmare began. God, no...don't let it mean anything.
"Pete," Mac suddenly stood right beside him and placed a hand on Pete's shoulder.
Pete moved away. The last thing he needed right now was more sympathy. He needed to take action. "Come on, Mac, let's go," he said. "I just need to get my pack from..."
"Pete," Mac repeated, more firmly this time. "We need to talk."
"We can talk on the way. Let's get moving. Jim's out there. We gotta go find him." Pete turned to head for his bedroom.
Mac reached out and snagged Pete's arm, turning him back so that they were facing each other again. "Before I take you out there, I need to know your head's on straight."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Pete fixed Mac with an angry look.
Mac softened his tone, but he held Pete's gaze without flinching. "That means, I need to know if you're prepared...if you can handle what we might find. Or if you've faced the fact that we might not...ever find him."
Pete shook off Mac's grip, but didn't look away from his long-time friend. "I can handle it," he snapped.
"All right," Mac said. "But I'm here if you need me."
Pete's throat was suddenly too tight. "Thanks, Mac. Let's just get out there, okay?"
After a tense, mostly silent drive through cold mist, Pete and Mac reached the San Bernadino Sheriff's sub-station at Powderly. There they found a scene of controlled chaos. Scores of people milled about, some in uniform, others in civilian garb. Several men walked in, looking dirty and exhausted from a long night of searching, while others seemed fresh and ready to get started.
Pete didn't quite know why, but the sight of so many people stunned him.
"I'm going to go check in with Delacroix and get the latest update," Mac said. "Hang loose; I'll be right back."
"Okay," Pete said, still observing the crowd. Somehow, seeing the grim faces of those connected with the search for his partner raised Pete's anxiety to a new level. He'd felt the urgency of the situation while he sat around with Jean and the family, recuperating, but now that he could actually see the activity and feel the tension in the air, it drove the sense of urgency home that much harder.
Pete tightened his grip on the strap of his backpack and felt the weight of it shift slightly. Pete had taken a few moments to pack warm items in the pack, like a blanket, change of clothing, and a stocking cap. He'd also thrown some snack items in there, because he felt certain Jim would be hungry. Jim gets cranky when he's hungry. Pete realized that the gesture was born purely of wishful thinking, but he chose not to think about that. Somehow, having the backpack made him feel better.
"Hey, Pete, good to see you up and around," Bob Brinkman's voice broke into his musings. Pete turned to see his colleague standing beside him, a hand offered in greeting. "How're you doin'?"
"Thanks, Bob," Pete took Brinkman's hand and shook it, trying not to squirm from the tenderness still in his hands. "I'm okay." He hoped he didn't sound as overwhelmed as he felt.
"Sure," Brinkman gave Pete a sympathetic look.
"Lots of people here," Pete said, hoping to keep the subject from straying to questions he didn't want to answer.
"Sure are," Brinkman agreed. "Looks kinda crazy, but they're pretty well organized. They've got food and drinks in the back, and there's a first-aid station manned by medics. They've even got a room set aside with cots if you need to take a break." He glanced at his watch. "They give mini-briefings every hour on the hour, too."
"What's the latest?" Pete asked.
Brinkman shrugged. "Nothing. No sign of Jim or the black and white. Last night the search concentrated on the area off County Road 17. That's the nearest one to the place where Ciroppolli and Graddock boosted the Chrysler, but so far, nothing. They said they're gonna bring in the dogs and backtrack, but I don't know when. CHP's put up a chopper, but with the weather conditions, it's not helping much." Brinkman paused, then cleared his throat. "I, uh, heard about Jim's watch, Pete."
"Yeah," Pete nodded. He really didn't want to talk about that.
"Maybe...it'll get those bastards caught soon," Brinkman said, his voice as angry as Pete had ever heard it. "There's not a man in this room that wouldn't pay to have five minutes alone with those guys," Brinkman continued in a growl when Pete gave him a surprised look.
Pete didn't know what to say. He'd been so wrapped up in grief, worry, and self-directed anger that he hadn't given revenge any consideration. And as he thought about it now, finding Jim still took precedence over finding the felons. All he wanted was the miracle he'd promised his godson. Maybe that's wrong of me. But it's all I can do right now.
"Look, I'm sorry," Brinkman apologized, as Pete stayed silent. "I know this is hard for you. But it's hard on all of us, too. It's how we all feel."
Pete found himself nodding again, still struggling to find words. "Thanks," was all he could manage.
"The rest of the gang's in the back, grabbing a bite to eat before we start out," Brinkman's voice suddenly sounded more like his usual affable self. "They'll be glad to see you. Why don't we go look 'em up?"
"Rest of the gang?" Pete questioned. All I want is for Mac to get back and tell me where to go to looking. He realized he probably sounded like a moron to Brink.
"Wells, Brady, Grant, Woods, and Snyder," Brinkman ticked off the names on a hand. "Plus just about everybody else not working Daywatch. Lots of the dicks, too." Brinkman shrugged. "Jim's got a lot of friends."
"Malloy!" Mac called from across the room, saving Pete from formulating a reply. The sergeant motioned for him to join him at a table with Sergeant Delacroix and two San Bernadino County deputies.
"Excuse me, Bob," Pete said.
"Sure, Pete. I'll go tell the others you're here." Brinkman peeled off in the opposite direction from Pete.
Pete joined Mac at the table where the three officers poured over a map of the area.
"Hello, Pete," Delacroix greeted him with a handshake. "How you feelin'?"
"Better than yesterday," Pete said. "Thanks."
"Pete Malloy, this is Lieutenant Bridger and Deputy Greene," Mac introduced the two officers. "They're coordinating the search effort here. And doing a damn fine job."
"Malloy," both men extended their hands and greeted Pete warmly, and Pete reciprocated.
"I'm really sorry about your partner," Greene went on to say. "I know it's difficult for you."
"Thanks," Pete said. "It's not easy, but thank you for...all this." Pete waved a hand to take in the activity.
"The least we can do," Lieutenant Bridger said quietly. "Something like this affects us all."
"It's too late to do anything for Craig," Greene spoke again. A sad look clouded the deputy's eyes. "But maybe we can do something for Reed."
"I appreciate it," Pete said, struggling to keep his voice even,"and so does his family."
"We're going to search a new area today," Lieutenant Bridger cleared his throat."We're fairly well satisfied we completely covered the area between County Road 17 and the trailer where Ciroppolli and Graddock stole the Chrysler. By the way, we got a hold of the owner and he confirmed for us that his car had been parked at the trailer. We've got a man prepping the K-9 unit for a backtrack sweep, just to be sure. But in the meantime, we're going to saturate this area here," Bridger swept an index finger over an area of the map circled in red.
"That's a big area," Pete commented.
"It is, I know. But given how we've come up empty in the previous target area, this now becomes the most likely place where those two dumped your cruiser. Given the timeline we've estimated based on the gas purchase and the sighting in Baker, we just don't see how they could have covered any more territory than this, even at an all-out sprint. This is the last likely area. There are two county roads that border this region -- 56 on the east and 24 on the west side." Bridger again pointed out the areas on the map. "There's some other, local roads -- little more than fishing trails or camp roads that spider and crisscross the area, which would be ideal for driving a conspicuous vehicle down and getting into the woods to hide it.
"There's a lot of abandoned structures scattered about, too. Old barns, deserted shacks, sheds, you name it. Lots of places to hide, or stash something.... Anyway, we're going to send out teams from the west and the east and have them move in toward the middle. Surely we'll turn something."
"What about air support?" Pete asked.
"The weather's hampering us there," Bridger admitted. "But we've got a bird up, doing what it can. Our best bet's gonna be on the ground until this fog and cloud cover clears. I'm going to put together six-man teams. One person in each team will carry a cc unit, a flare gun, and flares. You can spread out, but stay in shouting distance of each other. Anybody finds anything, sing out and the info can be relayed back here. We've got a man monitoring the frequencies and talking to the searchers constantly.
"We've got so many folks out I'm running out of numbers," Bridger smiled, "But I'm gonna assign your team the ID 'Blue.' Mac here's asked to go out instead of staying at the command post, and that's fine with me. Delacroix will stay on another shift. Mac requested Woods and Snyder from your watch join your team, and I'm assigning one of my deputies, Frank Arnett, and a local man, Coot Cochran, to you as well. Coot's a game warden and he knows the woods around here as well as anyone. He'll be a big help to you. Mac, you're in charge; you'll keep the cc unit and the ordinance."
"Sounds good," Mac nodded.
"Why don't you take the east road -- 56 -- and start your search here," Bridger indicated a point approximately in the middle of the vertical grid of the wooded area. "Spread out and head west. Meanwhile, I'll get other teams going as soon as possible, after the briefing. Mac says you're anxious to get started, so I decided to give you a private briefing."
"Thanks," Pete said. It seems that was about all he was able to say lately.
"Greene, why don't you round up Arnett and Coot, and have 'em meet Mac and Malloy at the rest station out back. I think that's where Woods and Snyder are."
"Okay," Greene nodded and left.
"Mac, go check out a cc unit with Ramierez over there. He'll give you the proper frequency to use. Oh, and don't forget the flare gun and flares, too." Bridger paused and gathered their attention with his gaze. "Good luck, gentlemen. I'm praying for the best possible outcome."
"We all are," Mac assured him.
"Officer Malloy? Officer Malloy?"
Pete stopped, interrupting his brisk walk to the break area to gather Woods and Snyder, then turned, looking for the owner of the young-sounding, hesitant voice that called from somewhere behind him. After a beat, he spotted a short, somewhat stocky young man, his unruly hair the color of glowing coals, motioning and moving toward him. The colorful hair framed a pale, full face dotted with freckles.
"Officer Malloy?" the young man asked breathlessly when he reached Pete.
"Yes," Pete said.
"Oh, good," the young man stuck out his hand and, when Pete took it, pumped it up and down vigorously. "I wanted to meet you, introduce myself. I'm Bruce Lightsey, Van Nuys Division. But my friends call me Red." The young man grinned and indicated his hair. "You can see why."
"Yeah," Pete smiled in spite of himself.
"I graduated academy with Jim," Red explained, his face sobering. "I've stayed in touch with him just a little; not nearly as much as I should have. But when we do manage to catch up with each other, he always talks about what a great guy you are. What a good TO you've been, and how much he's learned from you. I wanted to tell you that, and say that I'm glad you're gonna be okay."
"I appreciate that," Pete said, genuinely touched. "Thanks for coming out."
"I had to, Malloy." Red hung his head a little, then looked up at Pete. "Heck, I wouldn't even be a cop if it wasn't for Jim."
"Is that so?" Pete asked mildly.
"Yeah. A guy who looks like me," Red shrugged his shoulders and rolled his eyes, "well, high school was a nightmare. I was smart enough, but kinda clumsy and certainly no babe magnet. I'm not even sure why I first decided I wanted to be a cop -- I think somewhere in my head I thought it'd be a power trip or something. And I don't know why I'm boring you with my life history, except to say that when I was in academy, I had the wrong attitude and was in such bad physical shape I couldn't keep up with the PT, and Jim, well...he got me through." Red laughed ruefully. "You know, I hated his guts when I first met him. He was everything I wasn't -- tall, good-looking, athletic, self-confident, and so darned nice I thought it had to be an act. He saw I was struggling with PT and offered to work out with me, extra, you know? Instead of being grateful, it just infuriated me. I told him off. Got right in his face and told him exactly what I thought of him and what he could do with his offer. After the things I said -- in front of half the class -- anybody else would have busted me right in the face or at least told me to go to hell. But not Jim. He just said 'I'm sorry you feel that way' and walked off. I couldn't believe it."
Pete smiled. "I can," he said.
Lightsey returned the smile and nodded. "I'm sure you can," he agreed. "And the next day, he asked me again if I wanted his help. I agreed just to get him off my back, hoping it'd make him look like a jerk, 'cause I never believed he'd follow through. After all, he had a wife, and a second job -- hitting the books and all that. But he did. He showed up at my door at six a.m. the next day and we worked out. He nearly killed me," Red laughed again, this time loudly. "But you know, somewhere along the way during those weeks, hanging around him, working out together, something changed inside me. Looking back, I'm not sure exactly how or when it happened, but all I know is, he did a hell of a lot more for me than just help me survive Suicide Hill."
Pete nodded wordlessly. Hearing Lightsey talk about Jim like that caused him an embarrassing surge of emotions. The story that Lightsey related described Jim so perfectly, the thoughts of never getting Jim back carved a dark, hollow spot inside him that hurt so much he could scarcely breathe. Tears burned the back of his throat as he fought for equilibrium.
Lightsey seemed emotional, as well. Pete saw him swallow hard. "I just want the chance to tell him 'thanks' one more time," Red whispered.
Still not trusting himself to say much, Pete stuck out a hand to the younger man and they shook once more. "Me, too," was all Pete could choke out in response.
Jean dragged herself from the bathroom back to her bed, the acrid taste of the endless morning sickness thick in her throat, despite the sips of water she'd just taken. The sickness drained her physically, as her desperate fear for Jim drained her emotionally. She could barely put one foot in front of the other.
"Mommy.....mommy," Jimmy whined from the bed. He reached for her as she sat down heavily on the edge of the mattress, and somehow she found the strength to gather her distressed child into her arms.
"Mommy's here, sweetie," she whispered soothingly, rocking him gently back and forth. Since Jimmy had overheard the broadcast that morning, the boy refused to be anywhere but in her lap, allowing her out of his sight only when she had to be in the bathroom, sick. "Mommy's here."
"I want daddy," Jimmy repeated for what had to be the thousandth time that morning. The child's hysterical crying had finally subsided to quiet whimpers, but Jean knew that he couldn't understand or even begin to deal with his fear and the fear he apparently sensed from the grown-ups in the house.
"I know, baby, I know," Jean stroked Jimmy's hair and kissed him repeatedly. I want daddy, too. I want him back so much. Please, God, please.
"Why did the bad people hide daddy?" Jimmy asked with trembling lips. He'd repeated the question many times during the course of the morning.
"Baby, I don't know, sweetie." Why, indeed? Mac's phone call with news about Jim's watch had put a big hole in her determination to believe that Jim would come home to her, unharmed. Jim cherished that watch; she couldn't imagine him giving it up willingly.
She closed her eyes, pushing that frightening thought away, instead conjuring up the memory of the night she'd given it to him. Our anniversary....an unexpected double shift because of a riot at a rock concert....ruined plans. Instead of being home at 5 for a romantic dinner and an intimate evening, he dragged in at 1 am...dog tired, bruised, and scared I'd never speak to him again....and then he realized he'd left my present in his locker at work, so tired he'd forgotten it. I tried to be mad, but I was just so happy he was okay, I couldn't pull it off. I'll never forget that look on his face when he opened the box and saw that watch. We had our intimate evening after all...just a few hours late.
Jean smiled to herself at the warm memory of that night. She could still see his face, feel his gentle touch, and hear the love in his voice as they passionately celebrated their marriage, despite the delays, despite Jim's tiredness. It was worth the wait. Definitely. And who cares about dinner, anyway? She sighed, remembering the magic of the moment, and many other magic moments over the past seven years.
I refuse to believe it's over. I won't believe it. God, please bring him home to us! Please show those searchers where he is. Please, God, we need him. She pulled Jimmy closer to her and continued to console him -- and herself -- as she repeated her prayer over and over.
It could have been a scene out of any grade-B horror film, or the setting of a turn-of-the century gothic novel, where vampires, werewolves and other assorted monsters would spring from behind fog-shrouded trees to devour unsuspecting victims. The woods of the Angeles National Forest were neither of those things, but rather the setting for something far more frightening to Pete Malloy -- the harsh reality of a life-and-death search for his partner and friend.
Pete and the other volunteers walked in a spread-out phalanx through the forest, far enough apart so that they covered more ground, but close enough so that they could shout to one another if they found anything. Mac anchored the line on the left, and Coot Cochran on the right. A steady drizzle dogged them, and a persistent fog wove an eerie, surreal accompaniment to the dusky light in the woods. The temperature had not risen to fifty degrees, and their breath formed puffs of smoke in front of their faces as they trudged slowly through the soggy forest.
Pete found himself literally jumping at shadows. The fog limited his vision to only a few feet; in a forest filled with fallen trees, oddly-shaped brush, and even a few large rocks, Pete's heart would leap into his throat each time one of those features even remotely resembled a crumpled person. Even after he'd confirmed that the shape wasn't the body of his partner, Pete couldn't relax. His heart raced continually and his breathing got faster and faster as time passed. They'd been walking at a moderate pace for over an hour, and Pete's dread grew with each step he took.
Get a grip! Pete rubbed his chest, willing his racing heart to slow down. You don't need to have a heart attack out here. He shifted the backpack a little, redistributing its weight.
"Pete, you okay?" Mac called to him. The sergeant walked to Pete's left, spacing himself just a little closer to Pete than the others chose to walk to each other. Pete didn't miss the surreptitious looks Mac sent his way, or the fact that Mac paced him step-for-step, no matter what speed Pete walked.
"Yeah, Mac," Pete answered, trying to keep the breathlessness out of his voice.
"You need a rest?"
"No. I'm all right."
"Let me know if you need to stop," Mac yelled.
"Okay." Mac knows I'm lying. I wonder if he figured out I lied to him back at the apartment. I said I could handle it, but, God help me...this is hard.
"Hold up!" Snyder's voice filtered through the fog off to Pete's right.
"Mac," Pete called. He stopped in his tracks.
"I heard," Mac responded. He closed the gap between him and Pete as Snyder crashed through the underbrush at a slow jog.
"Cochran came up on an old building down on his end," Snyder reported, hooking his thumb back over his shoulder. "He and Arnett are checking it out. They said we should wait. Woods'll call out a relay if they find anything."
"Okay," Mac said, with a nod.
Pete couldn't bring himself to say anything. The nauseous anxiety that had been rolling around in his chest crept upward to his throat. Despite his desperation to find Jim, and find him fast, Pete could no longer deceive himself. He was scared. Not just scared, but terrified -- despite his talk with Jean, despite his protestations otherwise -- that Jim had been shot and left for dead, stuffed into some obscure place they might never find. And he couldn't get the vision of Treadwell in the trunk of the white Chevy out of his head. Out here in the damp, cold fog, Pete's doubts began to smother his hope. Pete took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
"Hang in there, Pete," Snyder gave him a sympathetic look.
"I'm hanging," Pete said. By my fingernails.
"It's negative!" Woods called out, after another moment, his voice faint. "Let's move!"
The smothering anxiety lessened only slightly. Pete's hands trembled in relief, so he pushed them into the pockets of his jacket so no one would notice.
"Let's get back at it, then," Mac said quietly. He moved back left, Snyder right, and they marched forward through the forest.
Mac watched Pete out of the corner of his eye as they began walking again. Pete's about had it. He's not handling this well at all. I knew letting him come was a bad idea.
A sudden chatter from the radio clipped to his waist made him stop walking and hurriedly turn up the volume, but it turned out to be nothing; only the leader of one of the teams on the west side of the search reporting that one of their members had sprained an ankle and was on his way back to the command post for treatment. Mac lowered the volume on the radio again, stifled his sigh of relief and picked up his pace to match Pete's.
Mac hadn't liked the look in Pete's eyes as they had waited for Coot Cochran's report on the abandoned shack. Though Pete had done his best to hide it, Mac could only describe his reaction as one of near-panic. Everyone involved with the search seemed tense; even those who didn't know Jim beyond the news reports. Mac knew that all of his men feared what they would find; a few had even dared voice those fears over the long hours of the search -- their way of coping with the unending stress. Mac had a hard time himself facing the likely possibility that the search wouldn't have the outcome they all prayed for. But Pete... Pete hasn't faced that possibility yet.
Mac chewed his bottom lip and averted his eyes as Pete looked his way, apparently sensing Mac's gaze. Pete Malloy, the senior man on the watch, the leader of Team-12, with the cool-as-ice, calm-in-the-face-of-calamity, wise-as-Solomon reputation in the division, was as close to coming completely unglued as Mac had ever seen him. The last time Mac had seen Pete this unstable was five years ago, when he'd lost his partner in a warehouse shootout. He almost didn't make it through that. The only reason he did was because Jim came along and gave Pete something to live for. If we lose Jim...I don't want to think about what might happen.
Ed Wells zipped his jacket up all the way to the neckline, then jammed his hands into the pockets He blew stray droplets of rain from his face and shook his head slightly to keep more of the cold liquid from sliding down from his cap to his forehead.
Reed, you owe me for this one, old buddy. You pick the damnedest times to go missing. Last time I went lookin' for you, it was the middle of the night and I lost too much sleep. Now it's the coldest day of the year so far, and raining to boot. And I bet I don't make it home in time for the Dodgers' game this afternoon.
Wells pulled his hand out of his pocket and stretched it out so he could read his watch. After eleven. First pitch is at 1:30. Nope, bet I don't make it. Reed, I'm gonna take this one outta your hide. He jammed his hand back into his pocket. You'd just better not do anything dumb like die on me before I can collect. You can't die, 'cause if you die, I won't be able to yell at you for makin' me march around out here in the woods in the cold and wet for hours. You can't die yet, 'cause then I won't have anybody to pick fights with in the coffee room. I have more fun fightin' with you than anybody else, 'cause you're still so gullible, even after five years on the beat.
Wells balled his hands into fists inside his pockets. He angrily kicked at a rock he'd stumbled over, hidden under dense foliage. Dumb rocks. Reed, I'm sending you the bill for my new shoes I'm gonna need after this. Don't try to weasel outta paying by dying on me. Nope, can't do that...wouldn't be the same around the station without...
Wells stopped short, his thoughts and movement cut off by a form that loomed in front of him. A form that, through the fog and mist, looked big enough to be a car. Oh, my God, is that...? Wells snapped out of his momentary shock and crashed through the trees to close the gap between himself and the dark, shrouded form. When Wells got close enough to see clearly, he stopped again, his heart pounding.
Right there in the middle of the woods sat Adam-12.
"Oh, God, there it is," Wells whispered out loud. His throat suddenly felt like the Sahara, and he couldn't force himself to walk up to the unit and look inside. He didn't want to be alone if.... Wells licked his lips and swallowed. Gotta tell the rest of the team...don't have the cc unit. "Hey!" he shouted, but his voice cracked. He cleared his throat. "Hey! Hey, I've found it! I've found the car! Get over here! Quick!"
Pete couldn't remember exactly when his head started pounding again, but he figured it had been shortly after Coot's first false alarm with the abandoned shack. Since that time, they'd come across two more likely hideouts that they'd had to search. Both times they'd come up empty. He'd put a bottle of aspirin in his backpack, along with the other items he'd crammed in, just in case, but he hadn't wanted to take the time to stop and swallow some down. His sense of urgency grew exponentially with each minute that passed; his despair deepened with each false alarm.
Pete could just make out when Mac's cc unit hissed with a communication, but he could never make out the content. But Mac hadn't called out to the Blue Team with any news, so Pete did his best to ignore the bursts of static and muted transmissions, even though his pulse would skyrocket each time. Keep going. Don't give up. Don't give up. Jim's counting on you. Jimmy and Jean are counting on you. Pete repeated the words like a mantra.
Pete heard Mac's radio burst to life again, could barely make out the faintest sound of voice, the words blurred together by the distance and punctuated with static. This transmission went on longer than the others. Pete heard Mac stop walking, and he felt the hair on the back of his neck start to tingle. He turned and looked at Mac, barely visible through the fog and mist. His sergeant had the cc unit up to his ear, listening, then he quickly turned and started jogging toward Pete. Something's happened.
Confirmation of Pete's suspicion quickly followed. Mac began to yell.
"Hold up! Hold up! Blue team, converge!"
Pete turned back to his right and relayed the message. "Hold up! Blue team, converge!" After a beat, he heard Snyder pass the message on and start heading his way.
Pete ran to meet Mac, fear clogging his throat. "Mac, what's happened?"
"They found the black and white," Mac told him, his own voice breathless.
"Oh, my God...Jim?" Pete could barely bring himself to ask.
"They're checking now," Mac said. He reached out and gripped Pete's shoulder, but said nothing else.
Please, God, don't let him be dead.
Wells continued to stare at the car as other members of his team followed his voice and gathered together.
Brinkman reached him first. "Ed, have you looked?"
"Not yet," Wells shook his head.
Tim Coleman, a fifteen-year veteran of the California Highway Patrol, reached him next. He had been appointed the leader of their team and carried the cc unit and flares. "I radioed into the CP that we'd found the car. Your man inside?" he asked.
"I haven't looked," Wells said, almost woodenly. He didn't want to embarrass himself and the LAPD in front of the Chippy by looking like a coward or getting emotional.
Grant and Brady, and the last member of their team, an off-duty San Bernadino County Sheriff's deputy named Jackson, joined them. As usual, Grant spoke first. "Is Jim...in there?" he asked.
"We don't know," Brinkman answered. They stared at the car, each man wanting to look, but not wanting to be the first to go.
Coleman looked at Wells and the others with understanding. "I'll do it," he offered. Without hesitation, he strode up to the cruiser, pushing aside branches that blocked his path, and peered inside. "Empty," he announced.
"Oh, man," Wells breathed shakily. He managed to walk up to the black and white then, and the others crowded around.
"Keys are still in the ignition," Brady observed. "I guess we should check the trunk."
"Yeah," Coleman reached out and opened the driver's side door. He took the keys from the ignition.
"There's no blood in the car that I can see," Wells said as he looked inside the unit. "Maybe that's something."
"Hey, fellas, look," Grant suddenly stiffened, then walked a few paces to his left. He bent over and retrieved an LAPD hat from the ground. He held it up.
"Reed's hat," Brinkman said quietly.
Grant nodded confirmation.
"I'll check the trunk," Coleman said. He jingled the keys in his hand , then stuck the proper one in the lock while the others watched.
Pete hardly knew what to pray for as he waited, along with the rest of Blue Team, for the results of the search of the black and white. As he'd told Jim's father-in-law last night, his strongest suspicion all along had been that Jim would be found in the trunk of their unit. Dead or alive, he'd not specified, but the vivid memory of finding a bloodied Treadway in Ciroppolli's and Graddock's first getaway vehicle pasted itself into his consciousness and refused to leave.
If the two felons had stuffed Jim in the trunk alive, he might still be that way, and finding him now would be a wonderful victory. But if the worst case scenario had taken place, Pete realized that within the next few seconds he might be hearing the words he most dreaded hearing -- I'm sorry, Pete, but Jim's dead.
No! Pete had to turn and walk away from the other members of the team. The pressure in his chest built to an almost unbearable level. Every muscle in his body tensed to the breaking point. God, I can't take much more of this. I need that miracle!
The other members of the team had the good sense to leave him alone as they sweated out the waiting, though Pete could feel their sympathetic looks bore through his back. No one spoke.
After what seemed an endless space of time, the cc unit crackled to life. Mac had turned up the volume loud enough so they could all hear the report.
"All teams, that's a negative on the LAPD unit. Officer Reed is not in the car, or the trunk. All teams check-in and stand-by for a redistribution of search parameters."
Pete felt his knees go weak as he heard the broadcast. He leaned heavily against a nearby tree to keep from falling over as his muscles released their pent-up tension. They'd gotten another reprieve.
"Pete?" Woods walked over to him, the relief on his face turning to concern. "Pete, you okay?"
Pete couldn't even shake his head to respond. Instead, he leaned it back against the tree and shut his eyes. The rain dropped down onto his face. The crispness of the liquid kept Pete from giving in to the sudden rush of lightheadedness.
Pete felt Woods' hand land on his shoulder. "Sit down a minute, Pete. You don't look so good."
Pete managed to shake his head. "Ground's wet," he whispered.
"Sit on your pack." Woods gently tugged at him enough to move him away from the tree.
Pete didn't protest as Woods took the pack from his back and placed it on the ground, then settled him on top of it.
Woods knelt beside him and Snyder did the same as he walked up to join them. "Take it easy, Pete," Woods said quietly.
Pete rubbed a hand over his face, wiping away the raindrops. He could hear Coot Cochran talking, and Mac relaying information into the cc unit. They might as well have been miles away. All Pete could think of was Jim, still out there in limbo."Where the hell is he, Jerry?" he asked.
"I wish I knew, Pete," Woods answered.
"Hang tough, Pete," Snyder urged. "We're gonna find him."
"But will it be in time?" Pete asked.
"Well, what are we just standin' around here for?" Ed Wells waved his arms in windmill fashion and scowled at Coleman. "We've found the car, we've eliminated about half the search area...let's go, man, let's go!"
"Take it easy, Wells," Coleman countered Ed's hyperactivity with cool calm. "We're doing what the CP commander says and waiting for the dogs. Now that we have a jumping off place, the dogs should take us right to him."
"He could be within shouting distance of here, and we could find him in ten minutes, instead of waiting a half an hour to get the dogs out here!" Ed continued to complain.
"Relax," Coleman said, still calm. "I can understand why you're anxious. But waiting for the dogs and the other teams to reach us will be much more efficient." Coleman stuck the cc unit back onto his belt clip and covered it with his jacket. "Besides," he continued, "if the dogs don't pick up a scent beyond the car, it'll save us a lot of time searching where Reed might not be."
"What does that mean?" Brinkman asked. His impatience apparently hadn't reached Ed's level yet, but he frowned at Coleman's statement.
"I mean, this still might not be the right place. They might have...left him...on one of the back roads before they reached Powderly."
"That's too many stops. Teams made a cursory search of those roads," Ed argued. He ticked off the reasons on his fingers. "If Ciroppolli and Graddock took Jim to some really out of the way place, then stopped and killed a deputy, then ditched the car, then walked to the trailer and stole a new car...they couldn't have done all that and made it to the gas station when they did."
"I agree with Ed," Grant spoke up. He'd been pacing around restlessly, hands in his pockets. "Jim's here. He's around here somewhere. And we gotta find him. It's damned cold and wet out here. If he's lying around helpless in this weather, hypothermia'll get him if nothing else."
"That's a real possibility," Coleman agreed. "But waiting for the dogs is still the best option."
"If it's all the same to you, I'm gonna poke around a bit," Ed growled. "See what I can see."
Coleman sighed resignedly, then shrugged. "Stay within shouting distance," he warned.
"Who's with me?" Ed asked.
Grant snorted. "Stop asking dumb questions, Ed, and get moving."
Pete looked up at Mac just as the sergeant gave the cc unit to Coot Cochran and headed his way, looking concerned. Pete had just barely managed to pull himself together and reach deep down for enough energy to face the next leg of the search.
Mac gave Woods and Snyder a look and they both moved away a space to give Pete and him some privacy. Mac knelt down beside Pete and looked him square in the eyes.
"Maybe you should go back to the command post," he suggested.
"I've come this far," Pete said with a shake of his head. "I'll make it."
"You don't have to prove anything to anybody," Mac said. "Nobody'll think anything about it if you go back and rest."
"I'm resting now. In fact, I've rested enough. Let's get going." Pete started to get up, but Mac pressed down on his shoulder to keep him seated.
"They're sending out the dogs to the unit," Mac explained. "It's gonna take about a half-an hour to get them out there."
"A half an hour! In this weather, that's an eternity! Why can't they just start looking?"
"It makes sense, Pete," Mac pointed out. "Think about it."
"Mac, we oughta be heading back, to join them there," Pete began, but Mac cut him off.
"Coot has a better idea. He says we're about a fifteen minute walk from an area that used to house a riding academy. There's an old barn there that's been abandoned for twenty years or so, and it's a popular place for poachers. Coot's really familiar with it. He thinks we're closer than the teams at the cruiser. The CP's okayed us to walk from this direction to that barn and check it out."
Pete thought about it briefly, and something inside of him told him that was the right thing to do. He didn't know whether to attribute it to cop instinct or divine guidance, but something like a determined peace settled over him. Pete shook off Mac's hand and stood. "Sounds good to me," he agreed, hefting his backpack off the ground. "Let's go."
Jean cradled Jimmy in her arms, his head on her shoulder, grateful that she'd finally been able to lull the exhausted child to sleep. She'd wanted more than anything during this nightmare to shield Jimmy from the harsh reality of the circumstances, fearing the boy would react just as he did -- with terrified hysteria. It would break Jim's heart to see Jimmy like this. And to know he was the cause.... Jim can't even stand it when Jimmy gets the sniffles.
Jean shifted her legs on the bed and moved Jimmy to her opposite shoulder. Taking care of Jimmy had forced her to lie still and had helped her morning sickness abate somewhat. It also served to occasionally get her mind off Jim's absence; but that respite never lasted more than a minute or two. The fear and loneliness stayed in her mind and her heart.
The door to the bedroom inched open, and her father stuck his head in. "Jean, honey," he whispered. "Jimmy asleep now?"
"Yes," Jean whispered back, and frowned as she saw the apprehensive look in her father's eyes. "What's wrong?"
Mr. Smithson came into the room and sat down on Jim's side of the bed. He reached out and smoothed his grandson's hair.
"Daddy, what is it?" Jean asked.
"Gidley just brought me a message relayed from the search," Mr. Smithson took a shaky breath. "They found the black and white."
Jean's eyes widened, and she sat up. Jimmy whimpered, and she rubbed his back to settle him down. "Where? What about Jim?"
Mr. Smithson shook his head. "Jim wasn't in the car. Or the trunk. They're calling in the search dogs, hoping to track him from there."
Jean's mind raced. She felt lightheaded and frightened. "Where did they find it?" she asked again.
"Deep in the woods off a San Bernadino County road. It was well hidden, and the fog is still thick, so it took them a while to find it. They said there was no blood in the car, or in the trunk. They did find Jim's hat about three feet away from the car." Mr. Smithson paused. "If Jim was in the car when they ditched it, the dogs will be able to track him. With any luck, we should know something soon."
Jean chewed on her lip, suddenly feeling a fresh surge of panic. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. All I've wanted since this started was for it to be over. But now that it might be...why am I so much more afraid? What if...no. God, help me have faith! Help me believe he's coming home.
Her father's hand on her shoulder caused her to open her eyes and look at him. "Jeannie, baby, no matter what happens....we all love you and are here for you. You and Jimmy...you'll never..."
"Daddy," Jean stopped her father, feeling with unshakeable certainty that she needed to say something positive out loud. "Nothing's going to happen except Jim's going to come home," she said firmly, though her racing heart accused her of disbelieving her own statement. "You'll see. You'll see."
Coot Cochran's estimate of the time needed to make it to the abandoned barn hadn't been off by much. It took the members of the Blue team just over eighteen minutes of walking before they reached a relatively clear area that had the look of a former road or large footpath. Cochran called a halt to their walk and yelled for them to join him at the right-hand point of the phalanx.
Pete hunched further into his jacket as he made his way to where Cochran stood. About ten minutes earlier, the cold rain had picked up in intensity, and the searchers had all slogged their way through wet, clinging underbrush and fought to keep their footing on the slippery ground. As the rain had intensified, so had Pete's sense of urgency. Despite his discomfort, he walked quickly; he couldn't seem to put his feet in front of him fast enough. A vision of Jim lying helpless under these miserable conditions drove him forward. It's hard enough staying warm while we're up and moving. If Jim can't move, this could be deadly. More than ever, Pete was grateful he'd taken the time to throw the blanket, hat, and other warm items into his backpack. A prickly feeling had started marching up and down his back: Jim's gonna need this.
"The barn's about 700 yards to our right," Cochran announced as the remaining men gathered around him. "The fog's so thick you can't see it yet, but it's there. If we follow this clearing, we'll come right to it. This used to be a road, once upon a time. Now, it's a trail of sorts, used by all types of ne'er-do-wells. I've busted quite a few of 'em myself."
"Lead the way," Mac motioned with his head, apparently unwilling to take his hands out of his jacket pocket.
"Anything new on the other end?" Woods asked.
"No, not really," Mac shrugged. "Last report said they were loading the search dogs now and expected to be at the black and white's location in fifteen minutes. That was about six minutes ago."
"No sense us wasting any more time," Cochran said. "Let's go." The game warden turned right and headed into the fog toward the barn.
The others turned and silently followed Cochran, but Pete moved up to walk beside him. Pete wanted to be right in the lead when they reached the old structure. Either gut instinct or desperate hope kept telling him Jim would be in that barn. He had to mentally talk to himself fiercely as he walked, just so that he would keep putting one foot in front of the other. Each step that brought him closer to the barn also brought him closer to what he thought would be a resolution of this nightmare. But would that resolution be the beginning of an even worse nightmare? God, help me face whatever we find. If he's dead, I don't think I can take it. How can I face my godson if I don't bring his daddy home alive? How can I face Jean? How can I face anything?
Beyond the fog and now driving rain, a large, dark form began to loom before them. Pete didn't think his already racing heart could beat any faster, but as he looked at that foreboding, misshapen darkness, it kicked into overdrive. Pete became almost breathless. His chest heaved as he tried to calm the fear that threatened to paralyze him. With all his heart he wanted to go in that barn and find Jim...and, at the same time, with all of his heart, he didn't want to.
Cochran suddenly reached out and snagged Pete's arm, drawing him to a stop. The others gathered around.
"You men want me to go in first?" Cochran asked calmly.
"No," Pete answered immediately. He locked eyes with Cochran, ready for a fight, but he saw only concern there.
"It might be wise, Pete," Mac said quietly.
"No," Pete repeated firmly. He shook off Cochran's arm and strode off toward the ramshackle building. If he didn't move now, he didn't know if he ever would. Looking at the rundown, broken condition of the barn, with its gaping holes and rotted boards, increased his feeling of foreboding, so Pete tunneled his vision on the remnants of a door and headed for it. He heard the others' footsteps quickly join him, and suddenly, Mac stood shoulder-to-shoulder with him on his left, and Woods and Snyder protectively flanked his right side. Whatever he faced in the next few moments, knowing that he wouldn't be alone gave Pete some small measure of comfort.
Pete reached the door. He couldn't see anything but empty space through the rotted, broken boards, so he took a deep breath, then placed his hand on the wet wood. He pushed it open to reveal a glimpse of a large open space, lined with what used to be stalls, though they were hardly recognizable as such now. Pete took a tentative step inside the structure, his gaze tracking every direction, looking for a form in the dim light. No one spoke. The rain cascading through the deteriorating roof made the only sound.
Pete saw nothing, so he took another step inside, the others crowding around him. He took another step, then another, until he cleared the barrier made by the stalls.
He saw a sagging loft, dripping water, ancient spider webs. He saw a muddy floor. He saw a broken harness strap.
He saw . . . his partner.
Lying in a heap on the cold, wet, ground. Handcuffed to a support pole. Practically naked, clothed only in sopping wet underwear. Barefoot.
Jim! Pete reeled as the horrifying sight of his partner in such a state staked itself in his mind. He dragged in a ragged breath; tried to say something. But all that came out was a strangled gasp. No...Jim...no...
Mac gripped Pete's arm, apparently seeing Jim at the same time Pete did.
"Oh, my God," Snyder broke the stunned silence first.
"God in Heaven," Woods said, almost at the same time.
Their shocked exclamations pierced the numbing fog that had settled over Pete. He jerked away from Mac and ran to Jim's side, sliding to his knees beside his partner. The others followed suit, rushing over, and taking up positions around their fallen colleague.
Everything started happening extremely fast.
"Jim! Jim!" Pete called to his partner, as his hand automatically went to the junction of the neck where he'd find a carotid pulse. After a few panic-filled seconds, Pete looked up, that panic etched on his face. "He's ice cold! And I can't find a pulse! Somebody get his hands uncuffed!"
Arnett pulled a small ring of keys out of his pocket. "I've got it," he said. The deputy hurried around to the back of the pole and unlocked the cuffs. When he finished removing them, Jim's arms fell limply to the ground.
"Good God, look at his wrists," Arnett breathed. He pointed out deep, bloody cuts on each wrist, where the tightly turned cuffs had dug into Jim' skin. "Looks like he tried to saw his way outta this place," Arnett said, his voice softening. "There's a groove back here on the pole."
Pete didn't even take the time to look. His fingers went back to Jim's neck, where he still felt no sign of life. Still panicked, Pete made a move to start chest compressions, but Cochran pulled his hands back.
"No, wait!" Cochran ordered sharply, cutting off Pete's heated objection. "He's obviously badly hypothermic. The heart rate's probably extremely low...look, his chest just rose! He's breathing!" Cochran put his hand on the carotid pulse.
"He's alive!" Mac exclaimed.
Pete rocked back on his heels and rubbed at his face with his hands. He wanted to sob with relief, but fear for Jim's survival kept him from relaxing too soon. Come on, Jim, come on, stay with us!
"There...just felt a heartbeat," Cochran said tersely.
"I don't see any large amounts of blood, or evidence of a wound," Arnett spoke up from where he'd been looking over Jim's body. "I don't think he's been shot."
"Just beaten, looks like," Woods observed, his voice tight with sorrow and anger. "Look at his face...and his ankle looks broken."
"There's another heartbeat," Cochran said. "It's just damned slow. He's severely hypothermic."
"Then let's warm him up!" Pete slung his backpack off his shoulders and opened it with shaking hands. He grabbed the blanket out of the pack.
"Shouldn't we rub his arms and legs?" Snyder asked, while Pete unfolded the blanket.
"No, that's exactly what you shouldn't do!" Cochran hissed and batted Snyder's hands away from Jim's legs. "Someone this severely hypothermic is very unstable. You have to treat him gently. If you shake him up, you're liable to send him into cardiac arrest."
"Good God," Snyder breathed.
"What he needs is body heat," Cochran went on, "and to be covered head to toe. I don't even dare cut these wet clothes off him. I'll wait until we get some medics out here."
"Damn!" Mac exclaimed, getting to his feet. He grabbed the cc unit off his belt. "I'm acting like a fool!" He pressed the speak button. "Blue team to Command Post! Blue Team to Command post! We've found him. Repeat, we've found Officer Reed. He's alive, but we need a medical team and air evac immediately!"
Pete shut the Command Post's response out of his head as he threw the blanket to Woods. Then he reached up and unzipped his wet jacket and shrugged out of it.
"What are you doin', Pete?" Snyder asked. He helped Woods lay the blanket over Jim's soaked, cold, body. Mac continued barking into the cc unit.
"Body heat," Pete said grimly. He scooted over to kneel behind Jim's head, but he looked up at Cochran. "Help me lift him so I can hold him next to me."
"Very slowly, very gently," Cochran said.
"All right," Pete nodded. He slowly and easily slid his arms underneath Jim's shoulders to lift him, then let Cochran help pull Jim's body up to him. Pete put his arms underneath Jim's, then wrapped them around Jim and lay his hands flat on his partner's chest. Cochran gently placed Jim's slack head on Pete's shoulder. Pete hugged him close, giving Jim as much body contact as he could manage, while the others spread the blanket so that Jim was completely covered.
"You got a hat of some kind in that pack?" Cochran asked, as he tucked in the blanket around Jim's neck.
"Wool cap," Pete whispered, his voice choking. He felt like he was hugging a block of ice instead of a living, breathing human. He's more dead than alive. Don't die on me, Jim! Don't you dare!
Snyder went to the backpack and retrieved the cap.
"Easy now," Cochran warned, as Snyder placed the wool cap on Jim's head.
"He's got a couple of big knots on the back of his head," Snyder almost whispered. He pulled his hand up and showed the men a small amount of blood that had stuck to his fingers.
"Probably how they had to take him down," Woods said.
Pete could easily imagine the kind of fight Jim Reed would put up to keep from being handcuffed to a pole in the middle of nowhere. He pushed the images out of his head. "We need to move him," Pete said, looking up at the gaping holes in the ceiling. "the rain's still coming in on him."
"We don't dare move him," Cochran shook his head. "Woods, why don't you get Malloy's jacket and hold it over them?"
"Good idea," Woods scrambled over and grabbed up Pete's discarded jacket. He took up a position behind Pete, and he and Snyder held it open so it sheltered Jim and Pete.
"That's better. Good enough for now," Pete nodded. He spoke into Jim's ear. "Come on, Jim, come on, now wake up. Talk to us."
"Coot, you need to talk to the command post," Mac walked over and held the cc unit out to the game warden. "They need a location and what you can tell them about his condition."
"All right," Cochran took the unit from Mac and walked away from the huddle of men, talking quietly into the pickup.
"How is he?" Mac asked, kneeling back down beside Pete.
"Still breathin'," Pete said. "Barely. He's all but frozen." He looked up at Mac as the anger flared inside. "Bastards took his clothes and left him here for dead."
"They even took his shoes," Woods said. "His feet are all cut up." He shook his head in disgust.
"Partner," Pete spoke into Jim's ear again, firmly but quietly. "Jim, can you hear me? Jim? Wake up. Come on, talk to me, Jim."
"Hey," Arnett called from across the barn. "Look here." The deputy knelt down and pointed at a pile of objects near one of the stall openings. "Looks like they left your man's brass. Here's his badge, nameplate, shooting brass." Arnett fished a pencil from his pocket and used it to flip Jim's wallet open. "And here's his wallet. Even left him his notebook, looks like."
"How considerate of 'em," Snyder growled.
"Mac," Pete said, "The media was all over the place at the command post. Somebody needs to call Jean."
"As soon as Coot finishes talking with the medics, I'll have them relay a message to the station. They'll call Gidley," Mac nodded. "Don't disturb that pile of Jim's things, or anything else, for that matter. This is still a crime scene; I'm sure the FBI will want to see it as it is."
"Right," Arnett backed away from the pile of Jim's belongings and moved to stand with the knot of men surrounding Jim and Pete.
"Jim, wake up, partner," Pete urged quietly again. "Come on, come back to us. Jean misses you, Jim. Come on, wake up. Jimmy drew you a picture, Jim. It's hanging on the 'fridge back home, but I'll have Jean bring it to the hospital to show you. It's a great picture, Jim, you don't wanna miss it. He even wrote 'to daddy' on it." Pete stopped his quiet commentary to clear his throat and keep control of the emotions that threatened to take over his calm. "Well....I helped him...just a little."
"Mac," Cochran called. "Medics want a pulse and respiration rate. Can you handle that?"
"Sure." Mac wiped moisture off his watch face, and reached for Jim's neck.
Pete watched Mac's face go from concerned to grim as the Watch Commander counted Jim's heart rate. "That can't be right," he said, with a shake of his head. "I get 27 beats a minute. Respiration, 10."
"Thanks," Cochran relayed the information back to the medics at the Command Post.
"Come on, Jim, come on," Mac whispered. "Don't give up. Stay with us."
"Wake up, partner," Pete urged. "Come on, open your eyes and talk to me. I won't even care if you complain about the cold."
"Maybe you should offer him food," Woods said with a light hint of humor. "That usually wakes him up."
"Or maybe we should get Wells in here to bully him awake," Synder added nervously.
"You hear that, partner?" Pete asked, appreciative of his buddies' efforts to buoy their spirits. "These guys are gettin' on your case. You gonna sit still for that? Come on, wake up and defend yourself."
Despite their efforts, Jim remained unconscious and unmoving.
"Here's the latest from the command post," Cochran walked back over to the huddle of men. "They've had a LA County Fire Department Paramedic team on stand-by. They're gonna meet up with a forestry service chopper -- they've got a Huey we can use for an air rescue."
"What's the ETA?" Pete asked.
"Twenty-to-thirty minutes," Cochran said.
That information brought a round of groans from the men.
"That long?" Mac frowned.
Cochran shrugged. "I know it's a long time, but look at it this way...inside an hour he'll in the hospital, getting treatment."
"Can he...last that long?" Woods asked.
"Sure," Cochran said confidently. "We're doing exactly what he needs now, keeping him warm and dry -- as dry as we can, anyway. He's a lot better off than he was ten minutes ago. Mac, I'm gonna need the flares. They're gonna radio when they get near, but I'm gonna have to signal them in. They'll have to make the decision on whether to land or drop men when they get here."
"Right." Mac stood and handed off the pack with the equipment to the game warden.
"Fellas, I know how you must be feeling right now," Cochran unzipped the pack and took out the flare gun. "But I've seen a lot of hikers out in these woods get lost and wind up in about the same shape he's in. And when we get to them in time, they always recover, and pretty damn fast, too. That's the thing about hypothermia; it's a protective reaction for the body. As soon as he's warm enough, he'll wake up. Try not to worry."
"What about building a fire?" Snyder asked. "That'd give him some more warmth."
Cochran shook his head. "External heat like a fire really don't help a person that severely hypothermic. Besides, I don't think there's anything around here dry enough to start one with. It's not worth the trouble. Malloy's doing what needs to be done."
"Okay," Snyder agreed, doubt in his voice.
"You heard the man, Jim," Pete said into Jim's ear when conversation stalled. "We'll stop worryin' if you'll just wake up." Come on, partner. Wake up.
"Daddy, something's happening out there," Annie said. She stood at the living room window watching the crowd of reporters and other media. They'd been held at bay by the uniformed officer stationed at the Reed home and, for the most part, they had been quiet. But as Annie watched, suddenly they seemed to leap to life, and swarmed toward the house.
"What?" Mr. Smithson lay the morning paper aside and got up from the couch.
"The reporters are trying to get to the house. They're all stirred up about something," Annie frowned.
Mr. Smithson joined his oldest daughter at the window. "So they are. What's Gidley doing?"
They both craned their necks to see if they could get a glimpse of the plainclothes liaison.
"He's talking on his radio," Annie said, her voice tight. "Daddy...something's happened."
"Maybe they found him," Mr. Smithson said quietly.
"Looks like we're about to find out. Here comes Gidley. Oh, God...please let it be good news. Please," Annie breathed. She reached out and grabbed her father's hand.
"Go get your mother," Mr. Smithson instructed.
"What about Jean?"
"If it's bad news, I want us to know it first." He squeezed Annie's hand. "Now go."
"Yes, sir," Annie hurried into the kitchen, while Mr. Smithson moved to the door and opened it to let Gidley in before he rang the bell.
"What's happened?" Mr. Smithson asked, steeling himself for the worst, though Gidley's face revealed nothing.
"They found him," Gidley said quietly. "And he's alive."
Mr. Smithson closed his eyes. "Thank you God, thank you God," he sighed, indulging in a moment of sheer relief. "What kind of shape is he in?"
"That I can't tell you," Gidley shook his head. "They did call for an emergency air evacuation and medics. They found him in an old barn a couple of miles from where they found the black-and-white. Details are really sketchy right now, but they wanted me to let you know. As soon as I know anything else, I'll come tell you."
"Thank you so much," Mr. Smithson said sincerely. "I'll tell Jean right away."
"I'll go back and sit on the radio and wait for the next update. And when it's time to go wherever you need to go, I'll take you, of course."
"Dan, what's happened?" Mrs. Smithson asked as she and Annie entered the living room.
"Sergeant Gidley?" Jean walked into the living room at the same time as her mother and sister, eyes wide with fear. She clutched her hands together and looked from Gidley's face to her father's anxiously.
Gidley tapped Mr. Smithson on the shoulder, then turned and left.
"Daddy, please!" Jean cried, stepping into the room, as the door closed behind Gidley.
"They found him, honey -- he's alive."
Jean took a deep, ragged breath, and covered her face with her hands. She swayed in place, but Annie reached her side and put her arms around her to steady her.
"Thank God," Mrs. Smithson whispered. "Thank God."
Jean moved her hands away from her face and grabbed onto Annie. "Is he hurt? Was he shot? Where is he now? When can I see him? Is he gonna be okay?"
"Honey, they don't know anything yet," Mr. Smithson answered her calmly. "Gidley said they found him in an old barn a couple of miles from where they found the car. They called for an air evacuation and medics. That's all I know."
"Medics?" Jean started to shake. "Oh, my God...then he is hurt." Tears pooled in her eyes and she swiped at them. "I've got to go to him. He...he'll need me."
"You'll see him, honey, just as soon as we know where to go," Mr. Smithson promised. He put his arms around both his daughters and hugged them close as Jean continued to cry. "Don't cry, honey, it's gonna be okay. It's almost over."
"It won't be over until I see him, and hold him..." Jean took a deep, shaking breath, "And I know he's gonna be okay." She straightened suddenly and finished wiping tears from under her eyes. A determined expression settled over her face. "Annie, help me get dressed. I can't let him see me looking like this. Daddy, come tell me as soon as you know anything." She grabbed Annie's arm and pulled her toward the bedroom. "Somebody needs to call Jane!" she called over her shoulder.
"I'll take care of it," Mr. Smithson promised.
"Oh, Dan, thank God they found him," Mrs. Smithson said, her own eyes teary. She leaned against her husband and he pulled her into an embrace. "Now, if he's just okay, our prayers have been answered. I don't think we could have taken much more of this waiting."
"No," Mr. Smithson agreed. And I'm afraid the waiting's not entirely over. But, by God, once it is -- once it is...I'm gonna do everything in my power to see it doesn't happen again.
Twenty minutes stretched into thirty, and thirty into thirty-five before the welcome thump-thump-thump of helicopter rotors broke the near-silence in the barn. It had been possibly the longest thirty-five minutes of Pete Malloy's life.
Pete had sat on the damp, cool floor of the barn, hugging Jim to his chest, trying to give him as much warmth as he could. He'd talked to his partner almost constantly, begging for a response -- any response.
But he got none.
Jim remained unconscious and unmoving, despite Pete's exhortations and the exhortations of his Team-12 colleagues.
There had been one encouraging sign during the interminable wait -- Jim's pulse rate had climbed slightly. The paramedics en route to their location had set up a relay between the Command Post and the chopper, and had radioed instructions for Jim's care to them. They had asked for pulse and respiration twice on their flight, and both times the rate had increased.
At one point, Cochran had gone out and shot off two flares, so that the chopper could zero in on their location, and Mac and Snyder had placed ground flares outlining the area identified as the safest place to land. The area was about one hundred yards from the barn, but the Huey was big and needed a generous landing spot. However, landing and deploying from a distance was far preferable to dropping in the paramedics and equipment and having to load Jim into the chopper on a stokes lifted with ropes and pulleys, so the extra distance to cover was a small price to pay.
"About time," Mac mumbled when the sound of the rotors grew louder. "Come on, Snyder, let's get out there and see if those paramedics need any help."
"Right, Mac," Snyder nodded. He followed MacDonald out the barn door.
"Hear that, Jim?" Pete asked, with forced cheer. "That's the calvary coming over the hill. They're gonna get you all fixed up and you'll be warm and dry in the hospital soon, and Jean'll be there to give you a big kiss and hold your hand. Come on, Jim, open your eyes and talk to me. You're gonna get a ride in a Huey...you sure don't wanna miss that, do you? Not the way you love being up there. Come on, Jim, you gotta wake up."
Woods, who still held Pete's jacket as a makeshift rain shield, chimed in, "Yeah, Jim, you'll really have one up on Wells, gettin' a ride in a Huey. You'd better wake up so you can get all the details to really rub it in good."
When Jim still did not respond, Pete bit back a sigh and tried to keep a clamp on his increasing sense of alarm. "That's okay, partner," he patted Jim's chest gently. "You wake up when you want -- as long as you wake up."
"He'll wake up, Pete," Woods said confidently. "He will."
Just seconds later, the door slammed open, and two paramedics entered on the run, both laden with equipment. Their LA County Fire Department issue blue jackets dripped rainwater, soaked just from their short dash from the chopper to the barn.
"Just stay where you are, please," the first paramedic said to Pete and Jerry as slid to his knees beside Jim and dropped his equipment, two big black boxes. He grabbed a stethoscope from his pocket and unfolded it. "How's he doin'?"
"About the same," Pete said. "He won't wake up."
"Don't let that scare you," the second paramedic spoke up. He'd dropped his equipment boxes and opened one of them, pulling out pieces of equipment. "If his body temperature's as low as we suspect, that's to be expected."
"My name's Mike Land, and this is my partner, Ted Olsen. We're gonna take good care of Jim." Mike put the earpieces of the stethoscope into his ears, grabbed a blood pressure cuff, and moved the blanket off Jim enough to free up an arm to wrap it around.
Olsen took out a small notebook and a pen. "We won't be able to establish a link with the hospital we work out of -- we're way out of range. But your man with the handie-talkie can relay information to your Command Post, and they're setting up a landline link with the hospital."
"BP 80 over 50, pulse 39, respirations 12," Land called out. He pulled the bp cuff from Jim's arm and slung it into the box.
Olsen wrote down the stats, and Land reached for an oddly shaped pair of scissors. "We need to get him outta these wet clothes and off the wet ground." Land looked toward the door. "Your men are bringing the other supplies....ah, here they are," he nodded, as the door opened and Mac, Snyder, Arnett, and Cochran rushed in, bearing supplies.
"The Command Post got that phone link set up?" Olsen asked Coot, who carried the cc unit.
"Just now," Coot handed him the radio.
"Great," Olsen grabbed the instrument and began relaying the vital signs.
Meanwhile, Land began giving orders for the rest of the equipment. "Okay, spread that waterproof blanket in the bottom of the stokes basket there. Yeah, that's the one. Leave an overlap so we can fold it over him when we move him to the chopper." He watched the men work, then said, "Okay, great...now, get that other blanket and spread it over that, and center it so we can wrap him in it. Keep it out of the rain!"
Mac, Snyder, and Arnett scrambled to prepare the wire basket for Jim, while Pete and Woods continued to shield Jim from the rain and cold best they could.
"Hey, Mike, Mercy said get him dry and get in the Ringer's IV ASAP, partner."
"Workin' on it," Land gritted. He looked over at the men working on the stokes basket. "You guys about done?"
"Basket's ready," Snyder announced.
"Who's got the smaller blanket?" Land asked. "Soon as I cut these clothes off him and make a quick exam, I'm gonna need that, so get it ready. Just keep it dry."
"I've got it," Arnett said, pulling the cover from a plastic blanket.
Pete watched the proceedings anxiously, wordlessly willing the paramedics to hurry. He knew these men were highly trained and competent, but he wanted Jim on that chopper and in the hospital, where better resources awaited.
Land picked up the scissors as Olsen talked once again to the Command Post. He lifted the blanket slightly and started cutting the wet t-shirt off Jim's body. He looked up at Pete, apparently sensing his concern. He nodded toward the bandage on Pete's forehead. "You must be his partner," Land stated.
"Yeah," Pete nodded.
"How's the head?" Land asked. He turned his attention back to Jim, made another two snips with the scissors.
"It's okay," Pete said quietly.
"That's good." Land paused and looked at Pete once again. "Don't worry. He'll be fine."
"I hope you're right," Pete moved his hands so that the paramedic could finish removing the soaked undershirt.
"Keep holding him," Land said. He made a few quick snips and removed the underwear.
"Mike, Mercy says start the IV and transport immediately. They said save any exam for the chopper," Olsen instructed. "When we get him in the chopper, start him on O2."
"Okay," Land tucked the blanket around Jim. "Let's get him in the stretcher before I set up the IV." He looked at Pete. "Can you handle lifting his upper body?"
"Sure," Pete said.
"Okay. Lift from the shoulders. I need two more men to help," Land said, and Mac and Snyder immediately came to Jim's side. He pointed to Mac. "You take his knees. We'll steady in the middle. Everybody get in position." The paramedic waited for everyone to signal readiness. When they did, Land looked at them all and gathered their attention. "Slow and easy. I'll call the move. We'll move up, then move him right over to the stokes. Keep the blanket around him best you can, but gentle is the key here, men. Got it? Okay. Up."
They all lifted Jim slowly, then, at Land's nod, they moved toward the dry stokes. Woods walked with them until they reached an area of the barn where the roof held firm and no rain fell, then he moved away, and shook the water out of Pete's jacket. The men lowered Jim gently into the stokes.
"All right, let's take off the wet blanket and get him wrapped in the dry one. You," he nodded to Pete, "take off the wet one and I'll wrap him in the dry one. Don't worry -- I'll salvage as much of his dignity as possible," he continued wryly.
Pete nodded, then gently untucked the damp blanket. When Land was ready, Pete pulled it off and the paramedic quickly and efficiently wrapped Jim in the drier one.
"Ted, I'm gonna start this IV now."
"Need any help?" Olsen asked.
"Nah," Land said, as he grabbed a bag of IV solution and a kit from his one of his boxes. "Get the logistics worked out."
Olsen watched Land kneel beside Jim and prepare his left arm for the IV before he turned to Pete and the others, who hovered anxiously, watching the proceedings.
"Where do you want him transported?" Olsen asked.
"Transported?" Pete repeated, distracted by Land prepping the IV.
"Don't you usually transport to your base hospital?" Mac asked.
"Usually," Olsen nodded, "but we can make an exception if Mercy is too far out. Don't you city guys usually go through County General? And there's always Rampart, or St. Francis..."
"Pete, what do you think?" Mac reached out and touched Pete's arm.
"What's closest?" Pete ran a hand through his damp hair and shivered. He felt like he'd just about reached the end of his emotional rope. Woods draped Pete's jacket around his shoulders, and he jumped at his colleague's touch. "Thanks," Pete said, shrugging into it.
"Our pilot said from here, there's not a minute's difference in transport times of any of those hospitals." Olsen told him.
"Make a decision, 'cause we're ready to go here," Land stood and tucked the IV bag under Jim's left shoulder.
"County, then. It's closer to Jim's house, so it'll be easier for his wife, and some of the doctors there know us pretty well," Pete said.
"County it is," Olsen nodded. "I'll notify the Command Post so they can tell Mercy -- they'll call ahead so County'll be ready for him."
"And have someone notify his wife to meet us there," Mac reminded. "What's the ETA?"
"Pilot said about seven minutes, once we're airborne."
"Good," Pete said, feeling just a margin of relief. Come on, Jim, just ten more minutes.
"You got room for the two of us in there?" Mac pointed to Pete.
"Plenty," Olsen assured him.
"All right, men, I need one at his head, one at his feet, and one on the opposite side. I'll take this side. Anyone left over, grab the equipment and let's get him loaded." Land reached over and pulled the waterproof tarp over Jim. "Same rules apply -- slow and steady -- don't jostle. We'll move quickly, but we're not gonna run. The tarp'll keep the rain off him. Load him gently."
Pete zipped up his jacket, then took the position at Jim's head, Mac took the side opposite the paramedic, and Woods took his place at Jim's feet. They gripped the wire stokes firmly.
"Oh, wait," Mac dug in his pocket and grabbed his keys. "Snyder!" He tossed the keys to him. "Drive my truck back into town, if you don't mind. You can take it to the hospital and park it in the lot. Just be sure to get my keys back to me."
"Right, Mac." Snyder caught the keys and stuck them in his jacket pocket.
"Okay, are we ready?" Land asked. "Up on my command. Up."
They lifted Jim easily, then leveled off to a comfortable height. Cochran moved to the door and braced it open.
"Let's go," Land ordered.
The stretcher-bearers moved quickly but carefully out the door, taking care to keep Jim level. A gust of wind blew the protective cover off Jim, but Pete and Land grabbed it and pulled it back over him. Wind-driven rain pelted the men, and they moved as fast as the mushy, slippery ground allowed. About halfway there, Olsen and the others carrying equipment passed them.
"We'll get this stuff loaded and ready," Olsen yelled as he passed.
"Okay," Land acknowledged.
Pete had to grab onto Jim's cover once again when they neared the chopper. The currents created by the rotors whipped the rain against them harder and the lightweight tarp danced up and down in concert. Pete tensed against the stinging rain and the sheer noise the chopper generated. If this noise doesn't wake him up, I don't know what will.
It seemed to Pete to take forever to reach the sliding doors of the Huey, but finally they did. Land directed them to turn the stokes basket so that Jim entered head first. Land let go of his side of the basket just long enough to leap into the chopper, then helped pull the stokes into position in the aisle. Land pulled the plastic cover from over Jim and folded it back out of the way. Olsen had securing straps ready, and the two paramedics bound the basket fast to supports of the seats.
Pete and Mac scrambled in after that, while the other men finished loading the equipment.
"Here's your backpack, Pete," Woods yelled over the din of the chopper blades, and slid Pete's backpack across the deck to Pete.
"Thanks, Jerry!" Pete yelled back. He pushed the pack underneath a seat.
"I notified the CP you were transporting to County General," Cochran shouted, giving the cc unit a shake. "They're going to notify Mrs. Reed and have someone drive her there!"
Pete nodded and gave Cochran a "thumbs up" signal. "Thanks for all your help!"
"We couldn't have found him without you!" Mac added.
"Get strapped in a seat, guys, we're ready to go!" Land instructed loudly.
"Glad to have helped!" Cochran exclaimed. "I hope everything turns out okay!"
"You betcha!" Mac shouted. He looked over at his men. "Secure the scene, and wait for the federal authorities. See you back in LA!"
"Right, Mac. We'll be there as fast as we can," Snyder yelled.
"Godspeed," Jerry waved, as Pete and Mac sat down and Olsen closed the door to the Huey.
Godspeed, indeed. Pete chose a seat across the aisle from where Jim had been secured and strapped himself in. He wanted to keep an eye on him, but didn't want to get in the paramedics' way. Mac stepped over him and settled himself in the seat next to the window.
Land and Olsen buckled themselves in across the aisle, and Olsen donned a headset. Once all had settled, Olsen spoke into the headset. Moments later, the Huey lifted from the ground.
The journey straight up was nearly as harrowing to Pete as the search had been. The inclement weather made for less-than-optimal flying conditions, and more than once during the lift the massive chopper shuddered and shimmied. Once they reached cruising height and the pilot moved forward, however, the flight smoothed out, and Pete relaxed.
Land unbuckled his belt and knelt down beside Jim. He leaned over and retrieved his blood pressure cuff.
Pete tapped the medic on the shoulder. "What's wrong?" he shouted.
"Nothing! County wants a new set of vitals."
"Oh," Pete nodded. He watched as Land gingerly pulled Jim's right arm from under the blanket and placed it atop his chest. Pete noticed that Jim's right hand was clenched into a tight fist. That's unusual for an unconscious person...usually they're limp. Is it because of the cold? Pete leaned over and looked at the hand more closely as Land took Jim's blood pressure. Something tickled the back of his mind, and police instinct planted a thought in his mind. Is he holding something?
Pete unbuckled his belt and slid to the deck next to Land just as the paramedic finished his reading. The medic looked at Pete questioningly.
"His hand," Pete shouted, and held up a fist.
"Oh, muscle spasms from the cold," Land shouted back. He pulled a pad from his pocket and started scribbling. He tore off the paper and handed it to Olsen, who relayed the information over his handset.
On impulse, Pete lay his hand over Jim's and squeezed it gently. Hang in there, Jim. We're almost there.
Land picked up Jim's arm to tuck it back under the blanket. When he did, Pete released his grip, but he noticed a tiny tip of shiny white sticking out from under Jim's curled fingers.
"Wait!" Pete tapped Land on the arm. "He's got something in his hand!" Pete pointed to the white paper.
Land frowned, then lay Jim's arm down and slowly began to unfurl the clenched fingers. From the look of concentration on the paramedic's face, Pete could tell that it took a great deal of force to open the hand. After long seconds of effort, Land straightened Jim's fingers, revealing the curled, crumpled picture of Jean and Jimmy.
Pete recognized the picture immediately as the one Jim carried around in his wallet. Oh, my God...how did he...? Pete reached for the picture, his hand trembling. He plucked the picture from Jim's hand and stared at it. The shiny surface bore the scars from where it had been clenched almost into a ball. A few flecks of mud streaked across the cherubic face of Pete's godson.
"His family?" Land asked loudly. He gently tucked Jim's arm back under the blanket.
"Yeah," Pete nodded. He rubbed a finger over the picture to remove the mud. This was all Jim had to hold to...this is probably what kept him alive. The thought rocked him down to his toes. Pete looked at Jim's bruised, swollen face, and remembered the cuts on his feet and the marks on his wrists that bore graphic testimony to brutal treatment by the two felons. Chained up and left half-naked to die like an animal...alone, in the cold, wet, dark. He must've struggled so hard to get out...home...to the people he loved most...how long did it take before the cold got him? What must have been going through his mind.... Pete rubbed his finger over the battered picture again. This was all he had.
Tears stung Pete's eyes; the picture blurred. Pent-up emotions leaked through the barriers Pete had erected in his fight to stay in control over the past thirty hours. Too-long repressed fear, grief, and anger boiled into an overwhelming emotional cocktail. He lowered his head and rubbed at his watering eyes with his free hand as he clutched the picture in the other one. Pete couldn't choke back a ragged sobbing breath, or stop the tears that trickled down his face.
A firm grip on his arm caused Pete to finally raise his head. He looked up into Mac's sympathetic gaze.
"It's okay, Pete," Mac said. "It's going to be okay."
Pete desperately wanted to believe that; but neither Mac's words, nor his own tears, did anything to ease the knot that still held fast in his gut.