Trouble in the Bank - Jim's Story

By K. F. Garrison

©September, 2004

I realized it was going to be a bad day when I woke up before the alarm went off. I never do that. Sleeping as late as I possibly can is a hobby of mine. Being a patrol officer for the LAPD, I keep a lot of weird hours, especially when I have to switch shifts, so sleeping time is something I prize. Working the day shift is always the hardest for me, because I have to be up by 5:15 a.m. if I want to make it to 7:00 a.m. roll call at the station. So I was more than a little irritated when my eyes suddenly popped open and I saw a blurry 4:35 on the bedside clock. I tried to go back to sleep, but then my police instincts kicked in and I wondered if I'd heard something in my sleep that my subconscious thought needed attention.

I lay very still, listening for any unusual sound from the house, but I heard only my wife's quiet breathing as she slept cuddled up beside me. Sometimes if my son makes a noise in his sleep, I'll wake up, too. He's only three, so I don't want him wandering around the house getting into trouble. But I couldn't hear any noise from his room, either. Then I figured anticipation of the day had just disturbed my sleep. You see, I had big plans for the day. Number one, it was payday, always a welcome event when you support a family on a cop's salary. But number two - and this was the big event of the day - I had plans to make the last payment on our family sedan and get the pink slip.

I had already called the bank the day before and gotten all the preliminary paperwork out of the way, so I could zip into the bank, deposit my paycheck and make the last payment during my lunch break. Then that pink slip would be mine. No more car payments. Well, at least for a little while - as long as I could keep that little Ford running with my limited mechanical skills. But that hundred-twenty-five bucks and change would come in handy every month. In fact, Jean and I had already discussed what we'd do with that money. We planned to increase the grocery budget because little Jimmy had started to develop quite an appetite, and put an extra few dollars on a credit card bill so we could pay that off faster, too. Then we'd make a few needed house repairs and put the rest in savings. But that would be two months away. I had special plans for that first month's one-hundred-twenty-five dollars - plans that Jean didn't know about yet.

I looked at my wife, who still slept soundly, and even half-asleep, I could appreciate her beauty. Her hair splayed out over her bare shoulder and fell onto the pillow, tempting me to run my hands through it like I love to do, but I didn't because I knew it would wake her. Instead, I just thought about how beautiful she looked and how lucky I was to be married to such a fantastic woman. And I thought about how special the night before had been, once that little imp Jimmy had gone to sleep and we'd had the evening to ourselves. We'd cuddled on the couch, talked some small talk, then put on quiet music, and danced in the living room. See, Jean loves to dance, and she's really good at it. I, on the other hand, have two left feet. So I'd much rather dance with her in the living room than out in public where others can see my clumsiness. Besides, after only a little bit of dancing in the living room, we moved the dance to the bedroom where it got a lot more fun.

And that made me think about the plans for that first month's car payment. I was planning to take Jean on a weekend getaway. I didn't know for sure where yet, but I wanted it to be somewhere romantic, where the air isn't brown with smog and there's an ocean view. Somewhere where we can just relax and enjoy each other's company. If anybody deserves a break like that, it's Jean. She puts up with a lot of bad stuff with my job; not only the weird hours, but the dangers, the emotional issues, the low pay. And she's so dedicated to taking care of Jimmy, and the house, and me - she's really a treasure. I'm a lucky man, and I wanted her to know how much I love and appreciate her, so I think a trip will be just the thing. I wanted to surprise her, too, so I'd planned to make all the arrangements for her parents to take care of Jimmy, make the reservations, and then spring it on her over dinner one night. I thought she'd like that.

Thinking about all of it got me pretty excited and wide-awake, so I decided to get up and get ready. I turned off the alarm and went about my morning routine as quietly as possible. Once showered, shaved, and dressed, I checked on Jimmy, then went into the kitchen to take another look at the checkbook, fill out the deposit slip and make sure I had the name of the loan officer at the bank that I'd talked to on the phone. I wrote out the check for the final payment, too, and just left it attached in the checkbook. I didn't want to risk it falling out somewhere. Then I put on a pot of coffee and tried to come up with a good plan for convincing my partner to give up a part of our forty-five minute lunch break for me to take care of my banking.

Not that I really needed a tricky plan to get Pete Malloy to agree. I knew he'd be just as excited as I was that I'm finally going to get that car paid off, mostly because he probably thinks I'll buy another one right away and he'll get to help me pick it out. Pete's crazy about cars, and he's always trying to get me to buy some great car so he can drive it without having to pay for it. I'm not saying that Pete's cheap, mind you, because he's not. Pete's a great guy. We've been partners for a little over three years now, and he's like a brother to me. We've been through a lot together out there on the streets of Los Angeles, and by now we know each other really well. That's why I knew that even though he really wouldn't care that I wanted to take a few minutes to conduct some business, he'd try to make me think he did. I expected him to growl a little, maybe complain that he wouldn't get to sit over a second cup of coffee, but if I offered to buy him lunch, I knew he'd cave pretty quick. Again, not that Pete's cheap or anything, but he watches his pennies almost as closely as I do.

And if that hadn't worked, I planned to resort to reminding him that as Jimmy's godfather, he should want me to pay of that car quick so I could buy more things for his godchild. I know that would've worked, because Pete's such a fool over Jimmy. All that boy has to do is grin at Pete and he turns into jelly. Just don't tell him I said so.

Finally the coffee finished dripping and just as I poured myself a cup, I heard Jean come shuffling down the hall.

"I smell coffee," she said sleepily, as she came into the kitchen.

"I made a pot. Want some?"

"Sure do. What are you doing up? I know the alarm didn't go off."

I leaned over and kissed Jean before I poured her a cup. She still looked gorgeous to me, even in her old pink bathrobe and tousled hair. "I woke up before it went off."

"That's a first," Jean said around a sip of hot joe.

"I guess I was just too excited thinking about paying off the car today," I said. "I was wide awake, so I thought I'd get up and get ready. I thought you might sleep a little longer." I reached out and circled Jean's waist with my free arm, pulled her to me and gave her a kiss on top of her head.

"I think the coffee smell got me up." Jean took another sip, then smiled up at me. "What do you want for breakfast? You've got plenty of time, so I could fix you something really good."

I thought a minute, and decided on eggs and bacon. I squeezed us some orange juice as she did the hard work, and I told her my plan for getting Pete to let me get to the bank. Jean laughed and said she thought it would work just fine, then told me that she wanted Pete to come over for dinner sometime in the next week. I told her to remind me to ask him in the next day or so. We ate our breakfast leisurely, just talking and enjoying the quietness of the morning. I didn't even want to read the paper, even though I knew it'd wind up on the bottom of the rabbit's cage before I got home that afternoon. I had hoped Jimmy would wake up before I left. A hug and kiss from my little buddy would have been a nice way to finish off the morning at home, but it was better for Jean if he slept so she could get dressed and get a head start on her day. So after we finished breakfast, I simply looked in on Jimmy, gave Jean a hearty kiss good-bye and drove to the station.

Pete and I didn't ride in together. We usually did, swapping up weeks driving, but since I hadn't been sure yesterday what my plans would be, I told him I needed to drive in myself. I caught up on the news on the way in, listening especially for any big crime that might have gone down during morning watch that might affect the way the day went. Fortunately, the biggest news of the night had nothing to do with crime but the economy. Inflation had gotten worse again, something that wasn't news to me. That was just one more reason I couldn't wait to pay off that car.

When I got to the station, I saw Pete's car already in the parking lot. I checked my watch to make sure I wasn't late, but I was only a few minutes behind my usual arrival time. I guess Pete couldn't sleep, either. He lives in an apartment and sometimes the neighbors can get a little loud. I just know that if I lived there, I'd be too scared of Pete's landlady, Mrs. O'Brien, to get loud. She's been known to use a fire hose on rowdy tenants. Lucky for Pete that he stayed on her good side.

I greeted a few fellow officers in the hallway of the station, and waved at our Watch Commander, Mac, as he stepped out of his glassed-in office, heading for the roll call room. He grinned his usual crooked grin and nodded in return. He had a load of files in his hands, so I figured roll call would be a lengthy affair this morning. Running the morning roll call and briefing is just one of those things Watch Commanders do, and Mac generally made it as painless as possible. I really like Mac; he's easy to talk to, once you get to know him. He used to intimidate me - but I think all rookies are intimidated by their sergeants. It's part of the ritual of getting broken into the ranks. Now, two years removed from my probation, I hardly thought of Mac as "Sergeant MacDonald" any more. He was just Mac.

Mac disappeared around the corner and I pushed the door open to the locker room. The usual contingent of officers milled around, some changing into uniforms, others changing out. I looked for Pete immediately, and saw that he'd almost finished dressing. That surprised me. I wondered what had bitten him to get him up even earlier than me. But I didn't want to get into that or Pete might worm my plans out of me prematurely. So I buried my curiosity.

"Hey, Pete."

Pete gave me one of those looks that told me he wondered why I hadn't made it to the station before he did. Anything that broke our usual routine always made Pete uncomfortable. And he proved it when he responded with a question rather than just a hello. "Everything okay, partner?"

Oh, man, if Pete was already starting with the questions, this was going to be a long watch. But I realized that he was probably wondering if Jimmy had gotten sick or something. "Yeah, no problem. You?"

"Sure. You know - another day, another dollar." Pete shook his head.

After hearing the report on inflation on the radio on the way in, I wasn't so sure that saying had gotten outdated. But it seemed that payday was on Pete's mind as well as mine. Heck, these days, I think money is on everybody's mind. But after today, well, I was definitely going to have a few more dollars in my pocket. I couldn't resist at least a little mysterious comment.

"That's what I'm counting on."


Roll call came and went, routine as usual. Everyone managed to get to work on time, nothing stood out on the daily crime report, and Mac even cracked a couple of jokes at the end. I managed to keep my mind on business, but occasionally I'd think forward to getting that pink slip in my hand. And yeah, even further forward to spending that romantic weekend away with Jean.

Mac conducted a quick inspection, then it was on to check out a shotgun for the watch, and then to the back lot to inspect the car before we rolled.

Pete always thought of Adam-12 as his exclusive property, at least when we were on patrol, but the truth was that the cruiser got driven by cops on other watches, too. And sometimes they didn't bring it back in the best of condition, if you know what I mean. It wasn't always their fault, but that's the way it happened sometimes. So we went through our routine, making sure our ride checked out in tip-top shape. Pete took this one-minute drill as seriously as anything he ever did. And it had paid off more than once.

Pete took up his regular spot behind the wheel, and I mine behind Adam-12. I opened the trunk and put the helmets in, my eyes automatically looking for flares. On a quick look, I didn't see any, but Pete started his routine, so I had to look up.

Pete flipped on the reds, and they flashed obediently.

"There you go. You're okay," I reported.

The brake lights flashed on.

"Got brakes."

The left turn signal popped on.

"It's okay."

And the right turn indicator followed suit.

"You got 'em." Everything checked out. Good. That was one less worry for the day. I looked in the trunk again and confirmed my earlier suspicion that we had no flares. Great.

"Hey, we're out of flares again," I said. In fact, morning watch seemed to be making a habit out of using up the flares and not replacing them.

"Flares?" Pete eased himself halfway out of the black and white. He didn't look happy. " I just put a box in there yesterday. Those guys must be smokin' em." Pete's scowl deepened.

"I'll go get some," I said, hoping to forestall a long gripe by my partner. Pete was usually a pretty easy-going guy, but if he thought somebody was shirking his responsibility, thereby making his job harder - well, let's just say I learned the hard way not to do that.

I went back into the station, leaving my partner to clean out any trash in the unit. I heard him say something to Jerry Woods as I went through the door. If I knew Pete, he was probably trying to collect money. Jerry made a habit of borrowing money. He always paid it back, but sometimes he needed a little reminder. And Pete always made sure he reminded.

I went to the supply window, and the sergeant on duty there teased me for having to make two trips in less than five minutes. He then added a remark about our apparent excessive use of road flares. I referred him to morning watch, signed out for the flares, and went on my way. Not even this little disruption in routine could ruin my mood today.

As I walked down the hallway with my newly-acquired flares, I decided to stop by Mac's office on the off chance that our paychecks had already arrived. Usually the checks came in closer to noon, but sometimes we got lucky. I managed to get the door open, and stuck my head in. "Are the checks here yet, Mac?"

Mac made a pretense of growling at me. "Aren't you supposed to be on patrol, Reed?"

"Aw, Mac, we've got…" I glanced at my watch, "one minute and 35 seconds." I flashed him a grin. "And besides, we were out of flares."

"How come you're only out of flares on payday?" Mac grumbled.

"Ask the morning watch," I said cheerfully. I'd caught sight of the large manila envelope that meant the angels from Payroll had already made a visit today.

"I'll do that." Mac still frowned, but it was all part of his sergeant's act. He made a show out of pawing through the manila envelope, but he pulled out first one, then a second. "Okay, Reed, one paycheck for you, and one for your partner."

"Thanks, Mac." I took the paychecks from him, glad I'd taken the time to check. This would buoy Pete's spirits, as well.

"You've now got less than one minute," Mac said, but the gleam in his eye belied any pretense of anger.

"Consider us gone," I said, then backed out of the office and made my way back to the parking lot.

Pete seemed to be finishing up - he was putting the final touches on shotgun maintenance, which meant the end of the routine. I headed to the trunk, stuck in the box of flares and slammed the lid shut.

"Checks came in. I picked yours up."

"Oh, good." Pete reached for it and I handed his check over. I took off my hat and tossed it in the car, intending to look my own check over, just in case some magical fairy had blessed it with an extra hundred bucks or so, but Pete's voice caused me to look up. "Wait a minute, this one's yours."

Pete held out the paycheck, giving me a slightly annoyed, slightly amused look.

"Oh." I said, and offered him an apologetic smile. I swapped the checks without further comment. I guess my mind was still on the bank and getting that pink slip.

"That was scary," Pete said, his look definitely lightening. I knew some funny remark was sure to follow. "I can't afford the cut in pay."

I smiled again, and just got in the car. At least he wasn't griping about the flares any more.


I couldn't believe how the morning went down. I had been hoping for a busy morning, to keep my mind off everything crowded in there. I wanted to hit Pete with the proposal for my banking at just the right time. If I brought it up too early he'd never let me hear the end of how his lunch hour was going to be cut short. Too late and Pete might balk. If he got too hungry, even a fifteen-minute delay in his lunch would make him grouchy. And given how the flare situation had gotten to him this morning, grouchiness seemed a real possibility. But the radio was dead. In three hours, we only had two calls. One call turned out to be a 488-petty theft. Couple of stupid kids on a dare, apparently. Then we had to take a 459 report for a lawn mower somebody boosted out of a lady's garage. That lady was so organized, she had all the information ready for us and it took all of ten minutes to write it up and get her to sign it. We didn't even have to go back to the station; I guess Pete was too embarrassed to go back there until we had something more exciting to file.

I kept thinking I'd spill the beans too soon if we didn't get busier. I didn't even want to talk much, because I'd probably start jabbering about the car, or the plans I had for the weekend getaway. Part of my mind had already started thinking about how great that would be, so I had to force myself back to thinking about the job. That meant watching the streets and taking in every little detail of what I saw.

I had to keep my eyes turned away from Pete as we patrolled. I could feel him look over at me occasionally, probably wondering why I wasn't saying much, but I know he enjoyed the quiet. That's the thing about Pete - sometimes he really enjoys silence. Sometimes I do, too, but usually only when I'm going to sleep. Finally, I decided I'd better say something or Pete might start asking me questions, thinking I might be brooding about something. Not that I make a habit of brooding, but Pete accuses me of that all the time.

"Kinda quiet today," I said, still looking out the window.

"Yeah, two calls in three hours is not exactly New Year's Eve," Pete said. I could tell by the tone of his voice that he didn't like it any more than I did. Pete doesn't say a lot, but he craves the action as much as I do. Maybe more.

There's nothing worse than eight hours of riding around staring at people with nothing to break up the routine. Jean gets mad when I say that; she says I should be grateful I'm not getting shot at. And I suppose she's right. There's a saying police officers have about the job - it's generally eight hours of boredom that can suddenly turn into eight minutes of terror. I didn't want the terror, but sometimes it just seems to find you. I was about to answer Pete when a license plate on a car parked on the side of the road caught my eye. I ran my finger down the hot sheet mounted on the dashboard, and confirmed that plate to be on the list.

"Pete, hold it. Back up. It's the blue one." I didn't have to explain; when Pete saw me scanning the hotsheet, he knew I had a probable find. I figure he was glad to be able to do something besides drive forward.

Unfortunately, once I got a better look at the tag, I could see I'd made an error. "Ohhh. Sorry. Get those o's and q's mixed up on those old plates." That disappointed me. I liked finding stolen cars. For one thing, it looked good on your report. It proved to your sergeant that you had your eyes open. And getting a stolen car back always made people happy. Cops rarely get a chance to make people happy, so I jump at any chance that comes my way.

Pete didn't say anything about my mistake. He just put the car back into drive and moved on. I'm sure he'd had his share of plate mixups. But the disappointment made me realize I couldn't stand the quiet any longer. Both Pete and I needed a break, and I figured Pete would think even the bank was more exciting than our current patrol. So I took the plunge.

"Listen, as long as the air's dead, you wanna take an early seven?" I hoped I sounded casual.

"Okay, you name it," Pete said.

So far, so good. Pete was even giving me choice of restaurants. That usually meant he was in an agreeable mood. Maybe the flares were long forgotten. I looked over at him and, still hoping to sound casual, I said, "How about Leland Way and Comstock?"

Pete's no dummy. He frowned, and I could just see those mental wheels turning. "Leland Way and Comstock? There's no place to eat there."

Like I said, Pete's no dummy.

"Yeah. It's my bank."

"Your bank?"

Uh, oh. Pete's voice got that "what are you trying to pull on me" tone, and I knew that I'd have to go to Plan A. "Yeah. Thought since it was payday, I'd go in and make a deposit." I kept my voice in my casual mode. I didn't want to antagonize Pete. But it sounded lame, even to me.

"On my lunch hour." Pete's voice got even more stubborn-sounding. All of a sudden, this didn't seem so easy. Okay, time to spill the beans.

"I also thought I'd go ahead and make the last payment on my car and pick up the pink slip." I gave Pete my best innocent look. The one that always works on Jean. Well, almost always. But Pete's not my lovely wife. He looked back at me, and luckily he didn't look mad. Just a little bemused, maybe.

"Hmm." Pete grunted. "How long is all this going to take?"

"Ten, fifteen minutes." I kept the innocent look on my face and shrugged a little. Come on, Pete, don't be difficult.

"Fifteen minutes?" Pete still didn't sound mad, just more amazed that I'd have the gall to ask him to give up fifteen minutes of his lunch. And he definitely didn't sound inclined to agree. Now I knew I needed to tell him that it would be an efficient transaction.

"Look, Pete, it would've taken longer but I called yesterday and they should have all the paperwork done by now." That sounded reasonable, at least to me. However, Pete didn't take it that way.

"You mean you knew yesterday you were going to pull this on me?"

Uh, oh, again. Now Pete was accusing me of "conspiracy to make life difficult for my partner." That was definitely a felony in Pete's book. No need to deny it now. "Yeah, kinda, why?" I wasn't sure I wanted to know why, but I had to ask.

"Well, fifteen minutes … I won't get a second cup of coffee." Pete looked over at me, clearly not convinced, but not really mad. I could tell he wanted to say yes, but he wanted an incentive. Time to offer free lunch. And somehow, I knew he'd bring up that second cup of coffee.

"Tell you what. You let me pick up my pink slip and I'll buy you lunch, okay?" There. That was a great offer. How could he say no?

"Okay." Pete smiled and almost laughed, and I began to feel like he'd been the one playing me all along. You think I'd have learned after over three years together that I never won when I went head-to-head with Pete. I can run faster, but he definitely thinks three moves ahead of me. Maybe when I have ten years on the force, I'll think faster, too.

But I did feel a little bit of satisfaction. I knew that offering to buy him lunch would make him cave quickly, and I didn't even have to resort to Plan B. I reached for the radio mic and keyed the talk button. "1-Adam-12, requesting code 7 at Leland Way and Comstock." Now, if the dispatcher would just agree…

"1-Adam-12, okay seven."

Whaddya know? We got seven on time for once. Pete and I shared a glance, and he headed in the direction of Leland Way and Comstock. The excitement washed over me once again. I was about to pay off my car. This was a momentous occasion. It gave me quite a sense of accomplishment.

It must have showed on my face, because when Pete stopped at the next traffic light, he turned to me with that quiet smile on his face that he always got when he was pleased about something. "Paying off that sedan, huh?" he asked.

"Sure am," I said. I couldn't keep a silly grin off my own face.

"That always feels good." The light changed and Pete moved the unit through the intersection.

"You'd better believe it."

"So, when are you going to trade it and get something new? I saw the sweetest Mustang convertible in the lot down at the corner of 5th and Magnolia last week."

I knew Pete would try to talk me into buying some fancy sports car. And it didn't surprise me a bit the car of choice was a Mustang.

"You should see it, Jim. It's silver. You like silver, I know. It's got a…"

"Pete," I interrupted with a small laugh, "I'm not going to buy a car any time soon. The sedan's running fine, and believe me, Jean and I can use the extra money each month. I figure I can get at least another two years out of it."

"Two years? If you wait too long, you'll get ripped off on your trade-in when the time comes."

"I won't wait too long," I said. Good old Pete - always looking out for me. "Besides, if I know you, you'll have me looking at every new car that comes down the pike."

Pete grinned. "You never know when the right deal will come along. I want my godson to have a good-looking ride, after all."

I laughed. "You'd better want your godson to get enough food to eat and clothes on his back. That boy's starting to eat us out of house and home."

"He comes by that honestly," Pete said. He got that light in his eye that talking about Jimmy always put there.

"That's what Jean says. But getting rid of that car note will ease the grocery bill crunch each month. And a lot of other things."

"Why, I thought you'd put it all in savings," Pete said, definitely teasing me.

"Some of it will go into savings. But I've got other responsibilities, too."

Pete sighed, rather theatrically, and I knew he had more to say. "There's that 'r' word again. If you hadn't gone and gotten yourself hitched at such a young age, you'd be able to have some fun with that money."

I looked over at Pete and just shook my head. We seemed to have this conversation at least once a week, in some form or another. When anything even remotely connected with marriage came up, Pete shied away from it like a fatal illness. "I have something fun planned for a little bit of that money."

"Something like painting the bathrooms?"

Once Pete got on the anti-marriage roll, he was hard to stop.

"No, something like a weekend getaway for Jean and me."

"Hey, great!" Pete said.

I could tell by the change in the tone of his voice that Pete approved. As much as Pete protested about the confines of marriage, he was a great supporter of my own marriage.

"You both deserve a break," Pete continued. "Where are you going?"

"I don't know yet. Someplace not too far away, but someplace nice and romantic. Some place we can be alone."

Pete held up his hand. "You can spare me all the gory details. I'm just glad you're going to do something fun."

I couldn't help but laugh at Pete. He really tickled me sometimes. "I'm glad you approve," I said.

"Anything that makes you easier to live with is fine by me."

Somehow, Pete always found a way to make me speechless. So I just shook my head again and grinned.

Traffic was kind, and we made it to the bank in less than five minutes. We lucked out and found an empty spot in front of the bank. I took that as a definite good sign. As Pete parallel parked the car I gathered my checkbook, made sure the paycheck and deposit slip were there, then put on my hat and opened the door.

"Ten minutes. I'll be timing you." Pete held up his wrist in a show of studying his watch. Pete loved to yank my chain whenever he got a chance. I admit, sometimes I'm an easy mark, but sometimes I think he overdoes it. But not even his teasing damped my excitement. I just grinned at him and got on out of the car.

"Come on, fifteen. Don't be a hard-nose."

Pete grinned back but said nothing, and I walked into the bank, thinking what a great day it had turned out to be. The California sun shone brightly, but the temperature felt good, even in my Class A uniform. As I opened the bank's glass door, I had a thought that it would have been a good day to lay out in the sun in the backyard with a glass of Jean's fresh-squeezed super-sweet lemonade. I hoped the weather would hold until my day off, and I would do just that.

Banks are always quiet, but today I thought the lobby seemed especially so. I didn't hear the friendly chatter of the tellers, any clicking of calculator keys or the ratcheting of their paper advancing. I couldn't even hear the sounds of customers asking questions. I thought that odd, but before I had time to even think about it I rounded the entryway corner and saw the reason for the unusual quiet. A man stood holding a gun on the handful of customers.

My first reaction was stunned shock - I had walked right in on a 211. In the fraction of a second it took for that to sink in, I had to decide what to do next. I knew I'd go for my gun, but I had my checkbook in my right hand, so I quickly swapped hands and started to draw my weapon. I had barely cocked my elbow to do just that when I heard a noise behind me and something hard and cold hit me in the back. Then, a rock-hard, gravelly voice that I'll remember until the day I die growled at me.

"Hold it right there, blue-boy."

Stupid, stupid, stupid! I hadn't even considered there'd be a second man. They'd apparently seen me coming and one hid from my view so he could come in behind me. Any thoughts of a quick, heroic intervention to end this 211 vanished completely. I wasn't about to argue with the shotgun I felt pressed into my back. I froze and put my arms out away from my sides, praying he didn't have a nervous trigger finger. I could see the original gunman standing nervously, guarding the customers, so I figured the guy with the shotgun must be the boss of the duo. When nothing happened after a couple of seconds, I took a breath and risked turning my head slightly, trying to catch a glimpse of the suspect. I also wanted to try to get him talking.

"You're making this thing a lot tougher on yourself."

"Let me do my own worrying. You alone?" Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him move, and just like that, he had my gun. There's something humiliating about having a suspect disarm you. Humiliating and terrifying. But the guttural voice kept me from dwelling on it for more than an instant when he growled, "Come on, where's your black and white?"

If he thought I'd rat out my partner outside, he was mistaken. Not only would I not risk this jerk taking a shot at an unsuspecting Pete, I figured Pete was my only hope of getting out of this mess in one piece. My mind raced, desperately searching for the right answer -- the one that might keep me alive. And then it hit me. If the guy didn't know where the black and white was, he didn't know I'd necessarily come from one. Foot patrol was common in the business districts, so that would be what I was. A foot beat officer. "I'm alone. I'm on foot beat." I hoped I sounded confident and bold.

"All right, drop your belt. I want you face down on the floor, hands out to your sides."

He bought it. And not only that, he gave me an opening. I figured he'd march me over with the other customers, but no. He was making a mistake here - letting me move. All I needed was a little distraction. I could pretend to drop the belt, but I could turn around and do the belting myself - a well placed right hook to the face and maybe this all would be over soon and Pete wouldn't even have to get involved.

Keep him distracted. Off-balance. Maybe he can't follow movement and words. I threw my checkbook to the floor and reached for the velcro fastening to my equipment belt. "Sounds like you've heard that before."

Maybe this guy wasn't as dumb as I'd hoped, because he didn't rise to my bait. "Just do like I tell you."

I felt a trickle of sweat slide down my neck, and my heart pounded even harder. It was now or never. I had to make a move now while I was dropping the belt, or I probably wouldn't get another chance. I sure wasn't going to stand around and do nothing. The way I figured it, I would rather go down fighting than just stand by and be executed, which, for all I knew might be this creep's next plan. I breathed a short prayer as the belt came completely undone. God help me.

I let go of the belt, then I turned as fast as I could and landed my best right cross on the guy's chin. He grunted and staggered, so I pushed my advantage. I took both hands and grabbed the barrel of the shotgun, pushing it away from me and using it for leverage to take the guy down. Only then did I realize that I might have bitten off more than I could chew. The guy's voice had pegged him as older, so I had mistakenly pictured him in my mind as slim or frail. That was a huge miscalculation on my part, my second mistake so far in this brief encounter. Big didn't even begin to describe this guy - big and muscular came closer. Instead of caving as I hoped he would, he fought back ferociously, and he had the weight and muscle to back it up. I found myself fully involved in a life-and death struggle.

I still had an advantage - I had landed on top of the guy, and big or not, I had my police training and my youth to counterbalance his size. I kept trying to wrest the shotgun out of his hands, but the guy was like a bulldog with a bone. We rolled over the cold tile floor once, twice, still struggling, neither of us relinquishing our grip on the weapon. But I knew I had to win this fight. If I didn't, I was a dead man. Again, I landed on top, and we were face-to-face as we scuffled. I stared into eyes hard as flint, full of hatred and fury. I'll never forget that face as long as I live. I kept pulling on the shotgun and he kept pulling back. I knew I'd never get it away as long as he had that adrenaline-fueled two-handed grip on the piece, so I gambled, tightening my left hand around the barrel, and readying my right hand for another blow to the man's chiseled jaw.

I had hardly drawn back to strike before I realized my third miscalculation. I'd been so involved in taking this big guy down that I'd completely forgotten about the other robber. I guess I thought he'd continue to stand there with his attention and his gun on the customers so that none of them might make a move on him, but the sound of running footsteps echoing on the bank's flooring told me that I'd been wrong. I should have known that none of the customers would make a move - after all, they were counting on me to save their skins. And I was failing them miserably.

In the two or three seconds that passed between the time I realized the second man was on his way over to help his partner and the time he got there, the only plan I could formulate to save my skin was to somehow roll the big guy over and get him in between myself and the second man. But just like my earlier plan, that didn't work either. I couldn't move that big guy one inch, let alone roll him over to use as a shield.

And just like that, my time was up. I braced myself for the sound of a gunshot and the searing pain of a bullet in my back, feeling like a damn fool for not being able to extricate myself from this mess. There was no time to think of my wife, my son, or anything else. There was just that split second of knowing that I was about to become a statistic. Another police officer killed in the line of duty. That was not how I had planned out this day!

The searing pain came then, but not from a bullet, and not in my back, but in my head. It felt like the roof had caved in on the back of my skull, or a bomb had gone off in my brain. I think I made some kind of noise, then the world around me went black.


Jackhammers. I couldn't figure out why someone was pounding the back of my head with a jackhammer. I pried open my eyes and saw terrazzo flooring inches from my nose and everything rushed back, even as a rough hand shook my shoulder. "Okay, blue boy, sleepy-time's over. Get up!"

Quite honestly, I expected to wake up looking St. Peter in the face at the Pearly Gates and hearing a Heavenly choir, not hearing the big guy's voice ringing in my ear. And while I admit I felt a huge relief at still being alive, I knew I was still in a king-sized jam. And my head hurt too much to even try and figure out a plan. I knew I'd just better try to do what he said. So, I tried to get up, but my brain and my body decided not to communicate with each other. I bit back a moan and just lay against the cool floor of the bank.

"I said get up!" The big guy screamed at me, and grabbed me up by the collar of my uniform shirt. He dragged me to a sitting position and put his face close to mine, while I struggled to ignore the pounding in my head and orient myself to my surroundings. "Listen to me, blue boy, you'd better get to your feet right now or I'll blow your head off right in front of all these good people. I'm half-tempted to do that anyway. We found your partner outside. I don't like being lied to!"

I was too busy trying not to throw up all over the guy to think of a suitable comeback. All I could do was blink away the blurry vision and try to sit up straight. This apparently irritated my captor even more because he took my right arm in a vice-grip and jerked me to my feet. My knees buckled, but the big guy's iron grip kept me from collapsing back to the floor in a heap. That's when I realized that my hands had been cuffed behind my back. That was another humiliation; first, disarmed and now restrained by my own set of handcuffs. All my years of training and experience hadn't done me a bit of good. At this point I felt less than useless and even more a fool than before.

And that made me mad.

"Come on, stand up straight, blue boy," the big guy sneered. "I don't think Number Two could hit you hard enough to put you out this long."

Somehow I managed to get my knees under me and stand up on my own power. My vision cleared enough so I could see, and the fog in my head lessened, even though the pain didn't.

"That's more like it." The big guy poked me in the stomach with the barrel of the shotgun. "Now get over there and don't give me any more trouble. I'd get a lot of pleasure out of air conditioning your gut."

I had no doubt of that. I turned around slowly as he prodded me toward the middle of the bank. I really didn't want to look at the bank employees and customers lying on the floor there. I had been their hope of escaping the clutches of these two felons, and I had let them down. As I walked toward the other captives, one gal, who I recognized as a teller there, looked up at me. I saw the recognition in her eyes, as well. After all, I was a regular customer here. I'd even been in a lot with Jean and Jimmy. I remembered this particular teller -- whose name I couldn't recall - giving Jimmy a grape sucker on our last visit. I wanted to apologize to her, to all of those poor men and women caught up in this unexpected situation. But I didn't dare say anything, in case it set the big guy off. I still had a duty to do, and that was to protect those civilians as best I could. I had to take the heat; I had to keep this nut's attention on me.

"Stand over there by that pole," the big guy barked. "Put your back up against it and don't move."

I gave the civilians a wide berth as I made my way to the pole. I didn't want him getting close to them. I sure didn't want any of them repeating my mistake and doing anything heroic and stupid. Not with the big guy waving that shotgun around. Despite my embarrassment, I did look a few of them in the eyes and I tried to convey everything I was thinking to them. Stay calm. Help's coming. Don't do anything stupid, just follow directions. It'll be all right. But I probably just looked punch-drunk.

I stood up against the pole and the big guy leveled both barrels at me. "Don't you move, blue boy. Number Two! Bring me that handcuff key!"

I thought I had imagined the big guy calling the little guy Number Two a minute ago. But apparently not. And that told me a lot about the both of them. This guy was obviously a career criminal, thinking himself sophisticated enough to develop a code to conceal their identities. Not that it would do him any good, since their faces were plainly visible. And my first instinct had been right; obviously the big guy was "Number One" and the boss of the operation. And the little guy apparently was content to be "Number Two."

Number Two scurried over to Number One, a bag full of cash in one hand and my handcuff key in the other. He held it at arm's length and Number One grabbed it up. The way the little guy recoiled, I could easily tell he was scared of the big fella. A dim spark of hope flickered to life inside me. That was information I could use to my advantage.

"Now get back over there and fill up that bag!" Number One ordered.

Number Two couldn't run fast enough. He was plenty scared, all right. Maybe I had finally caught a break.

The big guy poked the barrel of the shotgun into my gut and leveled that steel-cold gaze at me. I stared right back at him, and hoped my gaze held as much strength and toughness as I wanted it to. No way I would let this guy see anything but determination from me, even if my insides felt more than a little shaky.

"You listen to me, blue-boy, and you listen good. I'm gonna uncuff you so I can strap you to this pole. If you even twitch, if you even look at me in the wrong way, I'm gonna empty both barrels into you. And if for some reason you don't give a rip about your life, after I take care of you, I'm gonna take your own gun and put a bullet in that little lady's brain right there." Number One jerked his head in the general direction of the prone hostages. "You got that?"

I hardened my gaze to include utter contempt for this low-life standing in front of me. I've never understood how people can get so twisted that life means nothing to them and they're willing to steal it from anyone without so much as a blink. It really makes me mad, and by now, my insides had started to boil from anger as much as from fear. I really wanted another shot at this guy; I wanted to take him down in the worst way. But still, my primary duty remained to ensure the safety of the hostages. I had to swallow all the angry retorts that sprang into my mind and keep him placated until I could formulate a much better plan than what I'd had so far.

"I won't try anything," I said, and I meant it.

"That's more like it," Number One growled. He stepped around behind me and pushed me forward enough so he could reach the cuffs. I felt them loosen as he twisted the key, and I have to admit, I was tempted to break my promise. But I knew that for now, at least, discretion definitely was the better part of valor. So I backed up against the pole and put my arms behind it. Once again, the cold steel of my own handcuffs locked tightly around my wrists, rendering me essentially helpless and most frustratingly of all, useless. It made my head pound even harder, thinking about it.

I hoped that somehow, somebody had been able to trip the silent alarm. I wasn't sure just how long I'd been out, but I figured by now Pete would be getting antsy. I kept thinking, "Don't come in here, Pete, don't come in." But if I had to be honest, a part of me very much wanted to see him at the front doors.

Number One moved back in front of me. "Now just stand there like a good little blue-boy and none of these good people will get hurt."

"If you're smart, you'll just walk away right now," I said, keeping my voice pitched low, but firm. "Don't let it escalate any further."

The big guy shook his head and bared his teeth in what I guess he meant as a grin. "You crack me up, blue-boy. I've got this all planned out, right down to where I'm gonna spend the take. So you can save all your good advice for somebody who needs it."

Something about this guy just set my own teeth on edge. I couldn't resist a little dig at his plan. "Oh, yeah? So I suppose you planned on me walkin' in here in the middle of your well-planned heist?"

Number One's eyes hardened and narrowed at me. "Shut up," he spat, then looked over his shoulder. "Number Two! Hurry up with that bag!"

"All right!" The smaller man said. Even from the pole I could see the sweat rolling down Number Two's face. He made jerky, erratic movements as he stuffed money into the bag. Every one of those movements told me Number Two didn't have the enthusiasm for this bank heist that Number One did. A new plan started to form in my mind. If I could just get a chance to push the little guy a little bit - just a little bit - I felt sure I could talk him out of this insanity.

And then the sound of the first siren split the uneasy silence in the bank. I tell you, it was as sweet a sound as I'd ever heard. No longer did I feel quite so isolated, quite so like the Lone Ranger. Now the LAPD knew that a 211 was going down inside here and I'm sure they knew I was a hostage. Somehow, knowing that they knew bolstered my spirits a bit. I knew that Pete Malloy would personally do everything he could to make sure I got out of here in one piece.

But of course, the sound of the siren had the opposite effect on the two bank robbers. The big man's face hardened and his eyes got darker with anger. He turned that hate-filled look at me, and I tried my best not to look too smug as I stared back.

Number Two, on the other hand, panicked. He looked outside and yelled, "I told you we should have split!" He grabbed that money bag and literally leaped over the counter in his haste to get to get to the back door and look outside.

Apparently, Number Two didn't like what he saw, because his face got pale, and when he looked at his partner, his eyes were wide. He yelled, "Cleve, what are we going to do?"

I could hear the panic in Number Two's voice; not only that, but he'd slipped out of his code. Now I knew Number One's name - Cleve.

The sirens seemed to have unnerved Cleve just a little. For a moment, he lost that crazed look in his eyes. Just for the briefest of moments, he looked worried, but he still growled at the little guy. "Shut up and let me think."

Well, if Cleve needed quiet to think, that was the last thing I was gonna give him. It was time to speak up, keep him off-balance. Now that I had backup on the scene, maybe I could afford to push these guys a little bit. Number Two ran from the back doors over to his partner.

"I think your time's runnin' out," I said. I kept my voice low but firm. I wanted Number Two to know that there was no way out now. I felt sure I could break the little guy if I just got a chance.

"Shut your mouth, pig." Cleve actually wiped at his face. He wasn't quite as in control as he wanted to seem.

Number Two looked on the edge of a breakdown. He actually waved the pistol at Cleve as he confronted him. Maybe I'd get lucky and the darned thing would go off and take out the crazy Cleve. Number Two still sounded panicked as he said, "Look, I don't want to get myself killed. Now you said this couldn't miss!"

"We're not going to miss. Blue boy here'll get us out. You're going to tell your buddies to back off, give us room." The crazy look returned to Cleve's eyes as he gritted out his plan.

Cleve apparently lived in a dream world. If he thought for one moment I would help him, he was wrong. I had the LAPD on my side now. Help was right outside. Help from my colleagues, my friends - my partner. "Pass."

That answer didn't please Cleve. He lunged forward and grabbed me by the front of the shirt. I tried not to flinch as he jerked me slightly away from the pole. No matter what, I wasn't going to show this guy anything of what might be going on inside my head.

So I just lay out the truth for him. "Listen, no matter what happens in here that's not going to change what goes on outside."

"Don't give me that 'you're expendable' routine."

I grunted a little. I couldn't help but think about a couple of lectures I heard at the academy on being a hostage. Somehow all that book stuff paled when I was staring down both barrels of a shotgun with my hands cuffed behind my back. "It's true."

"Well, we'll find out. Wes, lock those people up in that storeroom."

Now I had two names. Wes and Cleve. Knowing the little guy's name was important. And even more importantly, Cleve seemed to have forgotten his code, too. He really was shook. Maybe they would crack more easily than I dared to hope.

Wes moved like he'd been shot out of a cannon. He ran over to the civilians, who admirably had remained still and quiet during all this activity. Wes waved his gun at them and showed a little spark as he yelled, "All right, on your feet. Let's go! Move it! Move!" He actually screamed.

The civilians scrambled to their feet and scurried to do what Wes instructed. He herded them toward a side room - an office, or storage closet - I really couldn't tell. One or two of them shot me a sympathetic, yet pleading look. I heard a few gasps and muffled sobs as they scurried across the lobby. I tried to look at them calmly and with confidence. After all, I can imagine seeing me cuffed to that pole and having heard the exchange between me and the bad guys, they weren't exactly confident they would get out of this alive. They didn't realize it, but getting taken into a separate room was actually the best thing for them. If they were out of the flow of the action, they had much less chance of getting hurt. And I felt a lot more freedom to act aggressively to try and end this ordeal.

Wes got the last of the civilians in the room and closed and locked the door. He stuffed the key in his pocket and took a quick look out the front doors before he quickly stepped over to the pole again.

"The room's perfect. They won't be hasslin' us for a while." Wes sounded breathless.

Cleve looked at me and narrowed his eyes. He hitched his left hand onto his belt and tried to look tough. It wasn't much of a stretch. "Okay. Make it easy on yourself, man. You're going to that door and talk to 'em."

Why not? It meant that, first of all, I'd get uncuffed again. Maybe something good would come of that. Secondly, I thought it was important that my buddies outside get a look at me. I mean, if I'd been in Pete's place, I'd have wanted to know I was still alive, you know? I had a quick flash of memory of Pete being held hostage in Duke's Longhorn Café my first year on the job. After I heard that shot come from the Cafe, all I wanted to know was that Pete was okay. Did he get hit? How bad was it? So, I agreed. But on my own terms. "Yeah, fine, but it's not going to do you any good."

Cleve's expression didn't change. "Don't make book on it."

Wes's expression, however, did change. He lost what little confidence he'd gained as he'd handled the civilian hostages, and now looked cornered. I knew I had to plant some more seeds of doubt. I looked at Wes, then back to Cleve.

"You want some good advice?"

"You're blowin' smoke, cop, I don't need it."

Wes objected. "No, Cleve, I want to hear what he has to say." He shrugged. " My neck's out, too."

Aha. Maybe I was getting to Wes. But apparently, Cleve remained unmoved.

"Relax, will ya? We got them where we want them. Don't let blue boy here snow ya. Uncuff him." He handed Cleve the handcuff keys and brandished the shotgun threateningly. He stood there, looking mean and carved of stone. He'd recovered his wits pretty quickly.

I dropped my head and shook it slightly, more a show for Wes than anything else. I was disappointed that I hadn't gotten to give my speech, but it appeared that I would have plenty of time for that. The disappointment got swallowed up by regret that I'd moved my head too much, because the headache flared up worse. I felt nauseous, and my vision blurred a little. I blinked back the blur and swallowed down the nausea. I couldn't afford to show any weakness or to give into the pounding in my head. I had to be able to think. My life depended on it.

Wes fumbled with the keys and suddenly I was free again. But any ideas of attacking Cleve or making a break for it faded when Cleve grabbed a hold of my arm and twisted it behind me.

"Don't even make a twitch, Blue Boy," he warned me. "Wes, get him cuffed again."

So I put my hands behind my back and let the little guy snap the cuffs back on me. I filed the humiliation away for future reference and just followed along quietly as Cleve grabbed my arm again and led me toward the front doors. Wes followed on our heels.

We neared the front entrance, and I took an unobtrusive deep breath. I needed to look calm and in control of myself when Cleve put me on display. I didn't want my buddies out there to have any doubts that I was handling the situation okay. I didn't want Pete, especially, to see any pain or doubt on my face. I remembered how sick it had made me to see Pete bleeding and in pain that day at Duke's. I didn't want to put him through that.

Just as we reached the edge of the lobby, Mac's voice cut through the silence, roaring through the PA system and startling all three of us.

"In the bank."

Cleve dragged me to a stop and stared at the door. Wes ground to a halt beside me.

"You're surrounded. There's no way out. Now throw out your guns and come out with your hands up. Repeat. Come on out. Throw out your weapons and you won't be hurt. There's no other way out."

Cleve let go of me and gripped the shotgun as if he were ready to use it. He'd completely turned his back on me, and for one wild fraction of a second I considered ramming him in the back and making a break for it. But hearing Mac's steady, rock-hard voice gave me a new level of determination and assurance. I knew he'd come up with a plan to get me out of here, and I was much better off biding my time and waiting.

I could hear Wes's ragged breathing, so I looked over at him. He wiped a bead of perspiration off his lip with his gun hand. He had turned two shades paler and looked ready to pass out. He certainly was spooked. Time to up the ante.

"You guys are bought and paid for," I said matter-of-factly. I believed that. Now I needed to make sure Cleve and Wes believed it.

Wes made up his mind. He waggled his gun at Cleve and took a step in his direction."Cleve, I've had it. I'm going to give it up."

Cleve apparently didn't like the attempted mutiny. He turned the shotgun on Wes and jammed it right into the little guy's midsection. "One more step--it'll be your last," he growled, looking dangerously angry. "I told you, I'm going to get us out. Take him back to the pole. Go on!"

I didn't take my eyes off Wes during this exchange. I put my sternest expression on him, hoping he'd have the backbone to stand up to his crazy partner. Instead, Wes caved. He stuck the barrel of the pistol in my chest and motioned me back to the pole.

So I went back. But I took every opportunity to pin that look on Wes - a look I hoped would completely unnerve him and make him do something to help himself. To help me.

But when Cleve joined us, leveling that shotgun at my midsection, I directed my attention to him. And despite my pounding head and racing heart, I put on my meanest, baddest tough-cop glare as Wes secured me to the pole. I hoped he could see the contempt I felt for him in my eyes.

If he did, he didn't show it. The big guy turned his back to us both and said, "Keep your eye on him and I'll take a look around." Then he simply walked away, back to the front glass doors.

I knew this was my best chance at getting Wes on my side. I waited until I was sure Cleve was out of earshot, then I turned and whispered to Wes.

"Why don't you give this thing up before it goes any further?"

"What are you talkin' about?"

I double-checked to make sure Cleve was still occupied at the doors, then turned back to Wes. "If he'd listened to you, you guys would be out of here already."

"Don't try to con me, cop."

I had to get through to this guy. I knew I couldn't crack Cleve, but Wes stood on the brink. I had to convince him he could make it out alive. "I'm not trying to con ya. I'm talkin' sense. Give up now -- all they've got you for is attempted bank robbery and assault on a policeman."

Wes grunted. "Huh! What's so great about that?"

Time to lay it on the line. "It's a lot better than kidnaping and murder."

"Listen, don't try and scare me with that stuff." The obvious fear inside him caused him to raise his voice.

I thought surely Cleve had heard that outburst, so I shushed Wes quickly. "I'm not trying to scare you." Well, actually I was. But he needed to know the truth. I knew that there had to be a half dozen units out there, maybe more. Maybe SWAT was on the way. I knew they were armed and only waiting for an excuse to use deadly force. Yeah, I was expendable, because those were the rules. But sooner or later, a perp will pay a high price for using the blue as a shield. I had to get that through to Wes. "You got an army of shotguns outside and you're going to buy it in the middle of the sidewalk, ninety feet from where's your standin' right now." While Wes squirmed uncomfortably, I checked to see that Cleve was still unaware of my conversation with his partner. When I saw the older man peeping furtively around the corner of the escrows department, jumping around like a jackrabbit trying to see what the cops were up to while trying to stay out of sight, it drove the fact home to me that Cleve was nuts. Absolutely nuts.

"You've hooked up with a guy that's not playin' with a full deck. What do you say?"

"All I want is out."

That was just the answer I wanted to hear. I could see the fear all over the little guy's face. So I told him, "Uncuff me and give me your gun. Stand back." Yeah, I'd take that crazy Cleve out if he so much as breathed wrong after I had the gun.

"Oh, I … I can't, man. He'll see me." Now Wes really looked scared. The fear seemed about to overwhelm him. Not that I blamed him, really. And as I thought about it, watching Cleve brandishing that shotgun, jumping around like a wild man by the front doors, playing whatever insane game was in his head, I realized Wes was right. It would take too long, and Cleve did have that shotgun. But if I could get the shotgun out of the equation, that would level the playing field somewhat.

"You're right. Okay, I tell you what. When he comes back here, I'll kick him. When he goes down, you grab his gun. Now what do you say? We'll all walk out of here alive." I admit, it wasn't much of a plan, but it was all I could think of to do at the moment. Even Wes seemed to agree.

"Okay, let's do it."

All right. Wes seemed on board. He hovered close to me, and, as if on cue, Cleve, walked over to us, a smirk on his face. Man, I couldn't wait to see that smirk wiped off.

Cleve began to brag as he got closer. "You ought to see them turkeys out there, all trying to hiding behind their cars."

Cleve had no idea how easy he was making it for me to kick him. I waited until I was sure he was in my range, then, using the pole for leverage, I lashed out as hard as I could and kicked him right in the midsection. As I hoped, the unexpected attack toppled the big guy like a chopped tree. The shotgun went right and he went left. All that was left now was for Wes to scoop up the shotgun and it would be over. We'd all walk out in one piece.

But Wes stood frozen by my side.

I couldn't believe it! Wes wasn't moving. I had to snap him out of his stupor. I screamed at him, knowing I sounded desperate. Because I was. Cleve wouldn't be down for long. In fact, he seemed to be recovering already. "Get the gun!" I pleaded with the little guy. "Get it! Get the gun!"

Wes still didn't make a move. And I knew my last chance at a quick resolution was over. Cleve rolled over and up, and brought out my own handgun and leveled it at me. A chill washed over me - was he about to kill me with my own gun?

"Freeze!" Cleve, looking more than ever like the crazed madman he was, pointed the gun at me. I thought surely I was done for. But surprisingly, the gun's aim shifted slightly from me to Wes. As did Cleve's anger. "Did you try to make a deal with him?" Cleve's voice shook with anger and he advanced toward his partner. Wes came completely unglued.

"No, wait, Cleve, honest! I didn't know he was gonna do that!" Wes' voice bordered on hysteria.

Even though I was furious with the little guy for letting me down, a part of me knew I'd been stupid to trust him in the first place. Now he begged for mercy from his wacko partner, and I wondered if I'd have to bargain for Wes' life, or if Cleve would give either of us the chance to do anything else. The irrational anger blazed from Cleve's eyes, and I swear I could see his finger moving on the trigger of my service revolver.

"I didn't know!" Wes repeated, and suddenly Cleve seemed to channel his anger back to me.

"You crum! That's the second time you tried to jump me!" Cleve drew his arm back, and I knew I was about to take a beating. I turned away from the crazed older man as best I could, hoping he wouldn't hit anything vital, but I couldn't help but cry out as he landed a hard blow on my upper back. I slid down the pole and tried to brace for another blow, when amazingly, Wes came to my defense. He grabbed Cleve's arm and positioned himself between me and the big guy.

"What's the matter with you? You crazy? Hey, you said yourself he's our ticket out of here! Cleve?" Wes tried to reason with his partner, and he lay his upper body partially over my back so that Cleve wasn't able to land another blow. For that I was grateful, because the first one still smarted, and all the activity made the pounding in my head ratchet up to a barely tolerable level.

Cleve growled at me, then, "I've only been out of the joint two weeks. You're not sending me back, cop, no way!"

Well, that explained a lot. As I suspected, this guy was no first-timer. He'd done time before. Odds were, it was for the same offense, or something similar. It also added another complication to the situation. I could see in his eyes - he wasn't about to go back to prison. At least, not without a fight.

"Cleve!" Wes yelled again, trying to get Cleve to calm down. I had to hand it to the little guy - even though he hadn't gone through with our attempted coup, now he was literally standing in the gap trying to save my life. If I got the chance, I'd thank him later.

"Yeah," Cleve nodded and seemed to reign in his anger. He straightened and stepped back slightly. "Take a few, blue boy."

Another crisis averted. I straightened up, trembling inside, but refusing to let Cleve see how shaken I was. I knew that I'd literally dodged a bullet. Next time, I probably wouldn't be as lucky. Before I could fully regain my own wits, Mac's voice, distorted by the bullhorn, filtered through the bank.

"All right in there. Time's running out. Come out with your hands up."

Both Cleve and Wes froze. Cleve turned toward the door, a sneer on his face. He seemed about ready to say something smart, but Mac's voice but him off.

"In the bank. We're going to call you on the phone. If you're smart, you'll talk."

Cleve turned back to look at me briefly, the sneer changed to a look of triumph. He then nodded at Wes. He sounded breathless, but satisfied. "What did I tell ya. We got 'em. They're ready to make a deal."

Cleve may have thought they were ready to deal, but I knew it meant one of two things: One, my buddies out there were clueless on what to do and they needed information and to buy some time; or two, they already had a plan in place and the phone call was a diversionary tactic. Either way, I felt better knowing something was happening.

Cleve moved closer to the phone on the nearby desk and stared at it, waiting for it to ring.

My mind whirled with possibilities. I wanted to be ready to move, or talk, or do whatever it was I needed to do to get myself out of this mess. So far, the decisions I'd made hadn't been either successful or particularly wise, so I decided for now to keep my mouth shut and my eyes averted from Cleve. I didn't want him getting any clues or information from anything I might unwittingly do. I only knew I had to be ready to act if I had the opportunity.

It seemed like a small eternity before the phone on the desk rang. Having been on the other end of a phone call to a criminal in a hostage situation, I knew my buddies simply were getting everything in order - making sure they are were on the same page and positioned for possible action. It didn't make it any easier to wait. So when the phone shrilled through the quiet bank, my heart sped up. All I could do was hope that this would make a difference.

Cleve casually lifted the phone to his ear as I looked on. "Yeah. What's on your mind?"

There was a pause as whoever was on the other end of the line gave Cleve an answer. Then Cleve said, "We're holding the aces."

Another pause. I hated being in on only one side of the phone conversation. I wondered who was on the other end of the line. Probably Mac, since he was the supervisor in charge. I knew Mac had been through this before. More times than I could count. So I knew he'd say the right thing.

Suddenly Cleve spoke, his voice amazingly calm and in control. "Sure he is. Now, look, chief, he's wearing the same blue suit as you. I don't mind one bit seeing it all bloody."

Apparently Mac had told Cleve I was expendable. Still, Cleve didn't seem to buy it. I looked at the big guy and raised my eyebrows just enough to let him know that trying to cut a deal with my life wouldn't give him an advantage.

"Nobody is," Cleve spat. Then, only a short pause and he said, "We already got that pitch."

One-sided conversations are certainly irritating. But it wasn't hard to follow the line of reasoning Mac was using on the other end of the line. Whatever the sarge was saying, Cleve didn't seem to like it.

"You can but I can't. Maybe what you're saying about Blue Boy is true but we got a lot more than him to bargain with. Nine or ten." Cleve started to lose his cool. His face contorted with anger and his gravelly voice rose in volume. "So for every five minutes you hang us up we knock one of 'em off. How does that grab ya? And Blue Boy gets it first!" Cleve looked at me and I could see the pure hatred in those eyes.

I held that gaze for a moment, matching the crazy man's intensity. But then I dropped my head, fearing I'd send him over the edge. I sure didn't want to encourage him to shoot me while he was on the phone with my Watch Commander. This time there was a longer pause before Cleve spoke again.

"You wanna say goodbye?"

My head snapped up, then. Would this nut actually let me talk to Mac? I held my breath.

"Sure. Here."

I couldn't believe it. I was actually going to get to talk to Mac. What a break. I had to make the most of this opportunity. Cleve shoved the handset up to my face. I took a quick breath and made myself sound as normal as I could. "This is Reed."

"Jim, you all right?"

Pete. I hadn't expected to hear my partner's voice coming from the other end of the line. When I heard that so-familiar voice that I had come to depend on for my very life, I felt my resolve to sound strong weaken. Pete's voice reminded me of so much; home and family and security - all those things I stood now to lose if things went wrong. A moment of irrational panic swept over me. All I wanted to say was get me the hell outta here, partner! But in the moment I opened my mouth to answer, the fear and anxiety in Pete's own voice registered with me. And I knew I had to stay in control and get him information. I had to help him to help me.

"Yeah. Don't take any chances with this pair."

There was a longer pause than I expected, and I figured Pete was having as much trouble dealing with this on the outside as I was on the inside. I remembered again how I'd felt outside Duke's Longhorn Café. But then, Pete's voice came through, strong and comforting, despite being full of the undercurrent of worry that I'd long learned to recognize. "Hang tight. We'll think of something."

Oh, great. They didn't have a plan yet. That deflated me a bit, but I didn't have time to worry about it. I had to feed Pete more information. "Okay, Boomer." I knew Pete would know I meant a shotgun was part of the equation.

Cleve took the phone away from me with a sneer, and growled into the handset, "The clock is running down, copper." Then Cleve hung up the phone.

"Now what?" Wes asked. He wrung his hands together, looking more like a nervous mother than a bank robber.

"Now we wait for 'em to call back," Cleve said, looking at me contemptuously. "They know I'll kill Blue Boy here. They ain't gonna let that happen."

I shook my head, again regretting the pain the motion shot through it. "You don't listen well, do you?"

Cleve got up into my face, the sneer deepening. "Listen, Blue Boy, I don't care what your chief said, I know how you pigs think. You're a club, a brotherhood…and they won't let one of their own bleed. I seen it too many times. Heard too many stories."

"In the joint?" I asked. Not that I cared, but I wanted to buy Pete and the others some time. They needed time to come up with a plan. If I could, I'd give it to them.

"Yeah, in the joint. And on the street." Cleve narrowed his eyes and leaned in even closer. "Your pig buddies are sweatin' it right now."

"Don't count on it."

"You'd better count on it, Blue Boy, if you want to live to see the sunrise tomorrow." Cleve backed off and went and sat down on the desk next to the phone, apparently expecting it to ring at any second with his ticket to freedom. I wanted to tell him that he was going to have a long wait, but I kept my mouth shut. Right now, Cleve seemed calm, and I wanted him to stay that way. Wes, on the other hand, I wanted to keep as nervous as possible.

My thoughts raced, and I struggled to get them under control. I didn't want to do anything stupid, especially since I'd already done several stupid things since this ordeal had started, but it went against my nature to just stand there doing nothing. I've always been a man of action - something I learned first from my Dad, then from the many coaches I had in my younger days. I was used to attacking a defensive line as a halfback in football, charging a rolling ball on the baseball diamond, and aggressively slicing to the basket on a basketball court. Standing back and waiting for things to happen to me rather than taking initiative to get things done had always irked me.

And brother, was I ever irked now. But a nagging little voice in my head that sounded suspiciously like Pete kept telling me to stay cool and hang loose. So I clamped down on my impatience, anger, and urge to act and stood there trying to look unconcerned and confident.

"In the bank. We're going to back off."

Mac's bullhorn-tinny voice, when it came, startled us all. And what he said especially startled me. They were going to back off? Not bloody likely. Whatever plan had been hatched, it had come quickly, and for some reason, they needed these two outside. Snipers, maybe?

"What did I tell you?" Cleve stood up, looking triumphant.

"You did it!" Wes's voice sounded awe-filled. I looked at him and saw that his whole demeanor had changed. In the fraction of a second, the little guy had gone from a nervous Nellie to almost confident.

As for me, I was cautiously optimistic. My whole body tingled with anticipation. Finally, something was happening, even though I didn't know exactly what. But I had confidence in my buddies out there. I knew Pete and Mac would do everything they could for me.

"So, what do we do?" Wes asked. "Just walk out?"

"We go out front and spell out what we want. Make sure those coppers don't try anything tricky. Then we'll go out back and get in the car, just like we planned."

"What about him?" Wes looked at me.

"He goes with us."

Wes looked at me again, then looked back to "Number One." "But Cleve, we could just leave him here cuffed to the pole. If they're gonna let us go…"

"Don't be stupid, Number Two," Cleve growled. "He's our insurance. As long as I've got a grip on ol' Blue Boy here, they won't risk shooting." Cleve turned those steely eyes on me. "Ain't that right, Blue Boy?"

Despite my efforts to stay quiet and not antagonize Cleve any more, I couldn't help but blurt out, "Don't fool yourself. They'll take you out if they get the chance whether I'm in the way or not."

"Well, we'll see just who gets taken out," Cleve snarled.

Cleve and I spent a long moment glaring at each other, then the big guy turned to Wes. "Uncuff him, Number Two."

"Right, Cleve," Wes dug in his pocket for the key to my cuffs and proceeded with the unlocking. I really did have to grit my teeth to keep from doing something stupid. The whole cheesy "code name" thing was only one of a long list of things about Cleve that was sticking in my craw. I knew their names already. I couldn't help wondering why he insisted on using the code. I guess it was his way of feeling in control.

"No heroics, Blue Boy," Cleve said, hefting the shotgun my way. He must have taken a look at my face and read the disgust there.

This time, I didn't say anything, but instead, stepped away from the pole and put my hands back behind my back so that Wes could reapply the handcuffs. I got my irritation under control and stayed calm. I sure didn't want to argue with both barrels of Cleve's shotgun.

"Okay, Blue Boy, let's walk." Cleve gripped me by the arm and propelled me toward the front door.

As we approached the door, I heard a muffled noise coming from the room where Wes had stuck the civilians, and I dug in my heels and stopped.

"Keep movin'," Cleve barked.

"What about them?" I jerked my head toward the locked door.

"What about 'em? Once we're outta here, your buddies can take care of 'em."

"You could at least leave the keys."

"Shut up, copper. I ain't got time for detours and I'm not inclined to make your pig buddies' job any easier. Come on."

Cleve jerked me forward to the door and stopped long enough so that Wes could unlock it. I hoped the noise from the closet didn't mean someone was in distress in there. But I'd done all I could do for the civilians, and I knew that as soon as Cleve and Wes were out of the way, Mac would send in officers to free them. Their ordeal, though frightening, would be over soon.

Now I had to focus on what was about to happen to me. I had no idea what plan Mac and the others had concocted, but I had to be ready to do anything. I wondered if they had snipers outside waiting to take these bozos out. Or if SWAT was on the roof, ready to jump down when we walked out the door. I mulled over a half-dozen more rescue scenarios in my head, wondering which, if any, they'd use to take out Cleve and Wes.

Wes pushed the door open, and Cleve, still with that iron grip on my arm, shoved me through and pushed me roughly to the side. He stuck the shotgun barrel into my side.

I had to squint against the glare of the bright mid-day sun after being inside the dark bank. The light hurt my eyes and made my headache worse. But I could see enough to make me feel a little safer - all the black and whites parked around an apparent makeshift command post, brother officers - friends - kneeling or standing behind cover, guns drawn, the presence of SWAT. I couldn't help but tense, waiting for something to happen. I wanted something to happen. But I concentrated on looking calm and collected, even though my heart pounded in anticipation. I wondered what they had planned. I hoped it was good, because no matter how many of my buddies were out there, ready to help me, I had a shotgun stuck into my side. There wasn't a guy out there fast enough to save me from a gut full of buckshot if Cleve pulled the trigger. It was weird, thinking about it. I was close enough to my buddies so that I could recognize them easily, but they might as well have been a million miles away.

Mac's voice again broke the tense silence. "Turn the officer loose and we'll give you a fifteen-minute start."

Good ol' Mac. I could barely see him kneeling in the driver's side of a black-and-white, but his face held that no-nonsense, rock-steady expression I'd become so accustomed to over the past three and a half years.

"No way we're turning him loose, coppers. Not 'til we're ready. Those are my terms. You got less than a minute to make up your minds. Then we'll see how anxious you are to watch your pig buddy die." Cleve barked his demands out into the warm afternoon.

I watched Mac closely to gauge his reaction. I saw him turn to the SWAT officer leaning in behind him, then turn back to and speak into the radio mic.

"All right. But if anything happens to Officer Reed, you're living on borrowed time."

"Oh, we got to like each other in there, didn't we, Blue Boy?" Cleve yanked on my arm and dug in the barrel of the shotgun a little deeper into my side. I tried to alter my expression just enough so that my buddies out there would know exactly how I felt about my captors.

Cleve went on, not seeing the disgust on my face. "I wouldn't hurt him for the world. Not unless you cross me. I don't want to see no helicopters, you understand? If I so much as hear one, even if it's from a radio station, he gets it."

"Get out of here while you still have a chance."

I could hear the anger in Mac's voice, though to anyone who didn't know him, that emotion probably didn't stand out. I know it wasn't easy for him to let these guys walk, no matter what their plan .

"We're going out the other door. Now play it cool, coppers. Come on!" Cleve jerked on my arm and half dragged me back through the doors. Wes brought up the rear, and I heard the door close behind us. Mac's voice filtered through, as Cleve propelled me through the empty bank lobby.

"Hold your fire. Let the suspects leave the bank."

We reached the back doors of the bank and had to stop so that Wes could unlock the doors. Surely whatever plan my pals had hatched would be implemented in the back parking lot. I hadn't seen Pete out front, though he'd been the first face I'd looked for. So that meant he had to be out back. Pete was a dead-eye shot, even with a handgun. When he had a rifle with a scope, he could blow the antennae off a fly at 200 yards. I just knew he'd be out here waiting to put a well-placed bullet into Cleve's chest or head. It might sound cruel to say it, but that would be a service not only to me, but to society, as well.

Wes pushed open the door, and as Cleve muscled me through it, I noticed that the little guy took the keys out of the lock and crammed them into his pants pocket. Apparently Wes was going to follow his crazy partner's instructions, even if it led them both straight to hell. If it did - well, I'd warned him. He had his chance to bail out earlier and he didn't take it. So he had to face the consequences just like Cleve.

We cleared the stone awning over the bank's back doors and walked out into the open. I kept waiting for that shot to ring out, or the shout that would precede an assault by SWAT or brother officers, but it never came. Instead, we walked, unhindered, toward an ugly dark green Buick, whose motor idled noisily. Maybe someone was hiding in the backseat, hoping for a more sure shot. My heart pounded against my chest so hard I just knew everyone out there could see it beating. Sweat broke out on my brow. I kept thinking, now, now…come on, do whatever you're gonna do NOW before I get in the car. I swallowed down panic and disappointment when nothing happened.

"You drive, Wes," Cleve ordered.

Wes rushed ahead and opened the back door, looking nervous. But no gunshot sounded and he didn't react to anyone who might have been hiding back there, so that shot down another theory of mine. Cleve maneuvered me around to the back door of the massive car, and I could see for myself that there was no one in the backseat. I really started to worry now.

Cleve let go of me, and Wes was the one left to settle me into the car. For a split second, I considered running for it right then and there. If I bolted for the plant-lined alleyway we'd just passed, I knew I'd be all right, because every cop out there had a bead on either Cleve or Wes. The felons would be hit - multiple times -- before either of them had a chance to shoot me. One thing I knew for sure -- I didn't want to get in that car. One of the things we get taught in academy, and we echo to citizens in car plan meetings and training sessions, is to avoid getting into a vehicle with an abductor. Chances are instead of a ride to freedom, it's a ride to "crime scene number two" where you'll wind up dead. But again, my faith in Pete, Mac, and the department kept me from doing that. I remembered the bad decisions I'd already made, and decided, once again, to wait on my buddies.

I let Wes push me into the backseat - he even put his hand on my head to keep me from whacking it on the side of the door - but my whole being rebelled at it. I felt trapped, alone, and more scared at this point than I had been through the whole ordeal. And I have to say I wasn't liking this plan too much right now.

The big guy ran around the back of the car and climbed into the backseat with me. He sat right next to me, shoulder to shoulder. I guess he wanted to intimidate me. All it did was infuriate me. I wanted to put my first right through that guy's face - wipe that smug look right off it.

Wes floored the accelerator and the car lurched noisily forward. He flew out of the parking lot like a bomb was about to go off, and turned onto Comstock, heading toward the freeway. He did slow down to a more reasonable speed once he got onto the street, probably because the traffic was heavy, as usual. I kept waiting for something - anything - to happen. But we drove on, unchallenged by anyone. I knew that Mac wouldn't risk a black and white on our tail, and probably not even an Air unit, after what Cleve had threatened, but surely there was a plainclothes detail tracking the car. I wanted to turn around and look out the back, but I hesitated. If Cleve suspected he was being followed, he'd probably turn both barrels of that big shotgun on me and take pleasure out of "air conditioning my gut," as he'd said earlier. So I sat tight. My heart felt like it was about to beat out of my chest, and my head pounded, but I forced myself not to move.

Cleve leaned in toward me just a fraction. "Know what we just done, copper? We pulled the law by the tail." Cleve practically crowed with triumph.

I didn't answer. Surely this guy didn't think that the LAPD was just going to let him drive off into the sunset. I knew they weren't going to let him drive off into the sunset. But at this point, how my buddies planned to keep him from doing just that remained a mystery. And I was starting to really sweat.

To keep from panicking, I forced myself to keep thinking like a cop, at least for the moment. One of the things Pete Malloy had drilled into my head from the beginning was the importance of knowing where you were at all times. Incidents didn't often go down conveniently located next to a street sign. Or when you were dodging bullets you didn't have time to look for numbers on buildings to report your location. So in the years I'd ridden with Pete, I developed the skill of doing three or four things at once, and one of them was checking every street sign and pulling the number off at least one building in every block so I'd know my location. It got easier the more familiar I got with our district, but every once in a while we'd go somewhere different. Right now, the skill helped calm me. We were going north on Manning, a road that I knew led to a multitude of outlets. I'd just have to wait and see what route Wes chose.

"Where we gonna dump him, Cleve?"

Wes's question drove home the point that this caper was about to end, one way or the other. I forced back adrenaline-fueled anxiety. I hoped Mac's plan was sound.

Cleve didn't hesitate. "They'll be lookin' for this car. When they find it, they'll find him."

I chanced a look over at the big guy. He stared straight ahead, still with that confident, gloating look on his face. I knew for sure, then, Cleve had no intentions of leaving me alive. As far as he was concerned, I was a dead man as soon as I stumbled into his botched bank robbery. He seemed to be the kind of guy who would take great pleasure in offing a cop. My fear jumped up a notch, just hearing the matter-of-fact way Cleve announced his plans for me. My imagination showed me a gruesome picture of what both barrels of that shotgun would do to my body. It also showed me a picture of a grieving Jean and Jimmy. The pain I imagined they would experience hurt me far more than thinking of any physical pain I might go through at the hands of Cleve.

I desperately prayed whatever plan my buddies had hatched to work and work fast.

Wes made a turn then, and my eyes flicked to the street sign. Chadwick. We turned east, away from the path to the freeway. It looked like we were heading out to one of the new developments on this side of the city. Probably Ridge Estates. I figured they hid a back up car there. That would be a good place to hide one. I knew this because Jean and I had driven out this direction wondering if we might invest in building a house in one of the new areas. Once we saw the price tag, though, we quickly gave up that idea. Jean had really been disappointed.

Jean. I hadn't really even thought about her and Jimmy since this mess started. I'd been too busy focusing on surviving from minute to minute. But now, with the end of it all seemingly in sight, I started to think about the aftermath, if things didn't work out to my advantage. That earlier mental image I had of Jean crying over my casket came back and haunted me.

"He sure slickered you cops."

Wes's voice brought me back to the present. If I wanted to make sure I got back to my wife and son, I needed to focus. So I concentrated on the new tone in "Number Two's" voice. Wes sounded almost as cocky as his demented partner. I guess getting out of the bank had bolstered his confidence. Somehow, though, his exuberance didn't sound as evil as Cleve's. It seemed more naïve. I wondered if he realized that no matter what happened to me, his future held either death or a long prison term. I doubt Wes had ever been in the joint, and probably had no concept of what lay ahead. I could almost feel sorry for him. Almost.

"You tell 'em, boy."

On the other hand, every word that came out of Cleve's mouth angered me. That anger cut through the worry, the fear, the anxiety that blanketed me now, and gave me a focus for clear thought. Cleve might have execution on his mind, but I had living on mine. As long as I could run, or kick, or talk, I would make Cleve work for his ultimate escape. I wouldn't go down without a fight.

"I gotta hand it to you, Cleve. You sure took care of business."

Again, Wes sounded confident, almost filled with awe at Cleve's apparent accomplishment. And that did it. I could stay silent no longer. Whether or not it wound up being just me, or me and all my buddies implementing a rescue, these felons would still have the LAPD to deal with. "You're not out of it yet," I said.

Cleve shot back, his voice full of venom, "Neither are you, pig."

We shared a brief, mutually malicious look, then I turned away again to study our route. We were definitely heading away from the city toward a less-developed area. I chanced a look behind me, as Cleve continued to stare ahead. Nothing. I saw nothing that would indicate an imminent rescue. I couldn't decide whether to be scared, worried, or angry.

I absolutely refused to believe that Mac would hang me out to dry. For one thing, Pete would have never stood still for it. But Mac wouldn't have had it in him to do, either. I knew that there had been a plan of some kind; but had something gone wrong? Had a tailing car been involved in a TA or simply lost us somehow? Had there been a communications snafu? What had gone wrong? Or had something gone wrong?

My mind raced. If nothing had gone wrong, then what was the plan? A trailing plainclothes car could be blocks out of sight, but close enough to effect a rescue once we stopped. Or at least that was the theory. Cleve could blow me away in a fraction of a second. Even if someone was sitting in the car with me, they couldn't save me if he pulled the trigger on that shotgun. And there was certainly nobody in the car that was on my side. Not unless they were hiding in the glove compartment.

My heart lurched, then, as my mind suddenly made the logical leap. A person couldn't fit inside a glove compartment, but they damn sure could fit inside a trunk. Could it be? Was that the plan? It would explain a lot. A sliver of hope blossomed through my gloomy thoughts, but then practicality took over. I knew for sure that the trunk lid had been shut. And if the trunk was shut, there wasn't any way anybody could pop out of there to save me. What, then? How the heck was I gonna get out of this mess?

Wes turned the car then, into the just-named Ridge Estates, as I figured. Fancy name, but as of yet, there were no fancy houses to go along with it. It was just so much dirt and scrubby brush, along with a few scraggly trees and some rocks. But the undeveloped roads led several hundred yards away from the main thoroughfare. It would be a perfect place to stash a getaway car - and to kill a cop. This was it. The end of the line, one way or the other.

As Wes slowly threaded the car through the only paved road that led into the development, my adrenaline really began to pump. My heart raced, my throat went dry, and the sweat rolled down my back. In the next sixty seconds, my fate would be decided. My mind became compartmentalized. Part of my mind started praying, really hard. I prayed for deliverance, for strength, for wisdom, for courage. Another part of my mind could only think of Jean and Jimmy. I could hear Jimmy's precious laughter in my head; almost feel Jean in my arms. That part was where the fear lurked. That was the part of my life that I did not want to lose; the part of my life that I didn't want to hurt in any way. That part of me wanted to live more than anything.

But the third part of my brain was the cop part. The part that watched, hyper alert, as Wes turned onto a dirt road and slowed the car even more. That part of my brain saw their back-up car-a station wagon-parked in a lonely spot and looked for a place to take cover if I had to run for it. That part of my brain wondered what Mac's plan had been. Had it fallen apart? Or was it on schedule? And would it work?

That part of my brain was ready for action, frustrated that I was in the dark about whatever rescue operation was underway. That part of my brain searched desperately for a way to save myself.

Wes maneuvered the car about ten yards away from their back-up vehicle and stopped. He killed the engine, and Cleve bailed out the back. Wes got out and opened my door.

The praying part of my brain started praying even harder.

Wes pointed the gun at me, looking at me like he wanted me to get out of the car. But I wasn't about to go anywhere fast. I wanted to give my rescuers time to catch up with us. That is if there were any rescuers. I tried to even my breathing, but the adrenaline was getting the best of me. Sweat soaked my uniform shirt, and I swear I could see my heart beating through the fabric.

Cleve made his way around the car and reached in for me. "End of the road, cop." Cleve grabbed me by the front of my shirt and hauled me to the door. "You're on your way to pig heaven. Out!"

Wes's face got that scared rabbit look again. "Why don't we just leave him and split, Cleve? You kill a cop and you never sleep."

Wes was right about that. If they did kill me, I knew of at least one cop who would dog them relentlessly until he had them both either dead or in prison. But I also knew Cleve was beyond reason.

Cleve jerked me upright and started pushing me toward the back-up car. I turned to see if anyone was following us into Ridge Estates. Nothing. No activity. Just desolation.

"I'll sleep just fine," Cleve said, confirming the fact that he would never listen to his partner. He had my death on his agenda. I looked over my shoulder again as we walked toward the second car. If somebody was in the trunk, now would be a good time for them to pop out of it. But again, nothing happened.

And now, besides being scared, I was pretty damn angry.

No, make that furious. Where were all my buddies? This wasn't much of a rescue. Unless something miraculous happened in the next few seconds, it was going to be up to me to save my own skin. And if my efforts fell short and I didn't make it, I decided then and there that I'd come back to haunt every last one of them. Pete included.

I tried to slow my steps, drag my feet, but Cleve pulled me forward. I looked back again for help that just didn't materialize. So I readied myself to make a move.

"Guess you were right, blue boy, you're on your way to pig heaven. Any last words?"

I was a split-second away from kicking Cleve in the shin and making a run for it when the miracle happened.


When I heard Pete's voice I didn't even hesitate. I threw myself forward, hoping I could break Cleve's grasp and get out of Pete's line of fire. I didn't need to be able to see to know that Pete had both barrels of a shotgun aimed right at my kidnappers and that within a fraction of a second buckshot would be flying.

I guess my prayers worked for something because I did break free of Cleve's grasp. I dove for the fender of the back-up car, hoping that it would provide cover for me, should I need it. I hit the ground hard enough to see stars. But even as I fell, I heard the shotgun go off, then Wes' discharged. I heard two bodies hit the ground, and I didn't hear anything else except some moaning coming from what sounded like Cleve.

I only lay there for a split-second, trying to gather my wits and catch my breath. I didn't hear Pete say anything else, and briefly I worried that Wes's bullet might have found a mark. But then I heard quick footsteps coming my way, and I realized Pete was okay. I struggled to sit up, which turned out to be harder than I realized. I heard Pete kick at something, and then I heard what was probably the shotgun slide across the dirt. Pete moved again, and finally I made it to a sitting position just in time to see him tuck my gun into his belt.

Pete was the most beautiful sight I'd seen for hours. Deep down inside, I had despaired of ever seeing him again, but there he was. Pete Malloy, in the flesh, proving once again he was the best friend a guy could ask for. A moment of guilt overtook me for ever doubting that Pete would abandon me, but the joy of seeing him again chased the guilt away.

I felt suddenly giddy; it was over, and I was alive. All the worry, tension, and anxiety suddenly vanished and I felt like I could fly my heart was so light. My compartmentalized brain started doing its thing again. All at once I started thanking God, and thinking of going home and gathering up my wife and son in a never ending hug, and still wondering if Pete had killed one or both of my captors. And somewhere in those profound thoughts a goofy voice said, "well, you were right about the trunk after all."

All my giddiness found its way to my face. I grinned at Pete, who had finally turned to look at me.

"Good to see you, partner," I said. I know it was inadequate. What I really wanted to do was grab him up in a bear hug and thank him for saving my life. But honestly, even as I said those words, the emotion threatened to overwhelm me, and I knew if I said much more I'd make a fool out of myself by either blubbering or hysterically laughing.

Pete didn't say anything either. He smiled tightly at me, and gave me just the barest of nods, then turned his attention back to Wes and Cleve. I knew my partner well enough to realize he was fighting his own emotions. And once he'd determined I was physically okay, Pete could most easily deal with the fragile moment by tending to business.

Pete went about securing the weapons. As he did so, I finally took in the full scene in front of me. Wes lay motionless, crumpled in a heap. I didn't see him breathing, so I assumed his wound had been fatal. A part of me hated it for the little guy; he'd so wanted to live. If he'd only listened to me, he could have. Cleve, though injured, remained partially upright, though it didn't seem he could move too well. The big guy clutched at his middle, and kept his head bowed as Pete moved between the two of them.

Apparently satisfied the felons wouldn't be going anywhere, Pete stepped back toward me a bit and gave me another quick look. I could tell that he wanted to take the time to free my hands and talk to me, but he had a bigger responsibility to making sure Cleve and Wes didn't make any unwelcome moves. I hoped that the backup would arrive soon, and take the pressure off Pete. Plus, my hands had just about gone numb from the handcuffs. Wes had put them on pretty tight.

Cleve stirred a bit and drew in a noisy breath, and Pete turned his full attention back toward the big man, bringing up his gun and assuming a more professional stance. I couldn't help but tense right along with him, wishing all the harder I didn't have on these handcuffs. I thought about trying to stand up, but I doubted my legs would have supported me. The adrenaline rush was wearing off and that annoying shaking aftereffect seemed to be settling in.

"Don't move, mister," Pete said. He sounded as mean and irritable as I'd ever heard him. Then he rattled off Cleve's Miranda rights. He didn't bother with the card. Who really needed that any more?

"Sure, chief," Cleve said, when Pete finished. "Like I care what any of you pigs gotta say." The wound hadn't altered "Number One's" voice and attitude.

"Too bad you both didn't give up when you had the chance."

You tell him, Pete. They had their chance. I tried to warn them both. Look whose gut is air-conditioned now.

I wondered how Cleve would react to Pete's statement. I figured he'd spout off again, maybe taking issue with Pete for shooting him, but surprisingly, Cleve looked away from Pete toward me. And if I thought some of the looks he'd given me in the bank had been mean, this one qualified as downright malevolent. That look both sent a chill down my spine and spiked my blood pressure. His next words just doubled the effect.

"What I shoulda done was beat your brains out like I started to…before that idiot Wes stopped me. It woulda been so much easier to take one of the other hostages and then leave you dyin' in a nice, big puddle of blood for your cop buddies to find."

I never had any doubts that Cleve was a certified psychopath, but you'd think a man who looked a couple of breaths away from the grave would try to make his parting words more conciliatory. I'd gotten used to his hateful rhetoric from spending time with him in the bank. But I could tell by a few subtle clues maybe only I could detect that it infuriated my partner.

Before anything else could be said, however, the sound of sirens finally split the air. Back up had finally caught up with us. Cleve looked back over to the street, and within seconds, multiple pairs of flashing reds came into view. Just a few seconds more, and the once desolate area got very crowded with three black and whites, the SWAT van, and an ambulance.

"I never forget, Blue Boy," Cleve growled at me. He bared his teeth in some kind of grimace. "You just remember that…"

Somehow, I didn't doubt that for a minute. I wanted to say something forceful back; to show him that he didn't scare me. I wanted, in the worst way, to get in the last word. But I think my mind had temporarily shut down. More of that adrenaline rush withdrawal.

"Looks like your escort's here," Pete spoke up quickly. He took a step back to let the cavalry come in and take over. Several of my buddies, who I didn't even try to identify, handcuffed him and oversaw getting him into the ambulance. No one bothered with Wes. A dead man couldn't go anywhere.

Pete set down the shotgun and glanced at me again. I think he expected me to say something, too, but I stayed quiet and tried not to let him see me shaking. He never seemed to get the shakes after a tense caper, but I always did. It irritated me that Pete always seemed so cool and together, even in life and death situations, and I always seemed to take forever to settle down.

"Pete?" Mac's voice, full of concern, sounded from the organized chaos of the scene. Of course, he couldn't see me down here on the ground.

"He's okay, Mac. Over here." Pete nodded toward me, and then seemed to relax. He took out his handcuff keys and knelt down beside me.

"Reed, are you all right?" Mac asked. He quickened his steps and I doubled my efforts not to shake. I offered Pete my hands best I could.

"Yeah, I'm okay, Mac," I said. Mac came into view then, and I flashed him a smile. "Pete was quite a sight, though."

Mac offered a smile in return. "I'll bet he was."

Suddenly, my hands were free, and I brought them around to the front, trying to rub feeling back into my wrists. They hurt like the dickens, but just being free of the darned things gave me a boost.

Pete stood up, then offered me assistance in getting to my own feet. I tried to look nonchalant as I accepted his help, but as I feared, my legs had little strength and I thought I might fall. I didn't want to clutch at Pete, so I just fell against the fender of the station wagon and let it support me. Pete hovered close by; I knew he could see through my tough act.

Mac might have seen through it, too, the way he looked me over. "Are you injured?"

"Not too bad, Mac. Just took a couple of thumps," I said, again trying to be casual. I stuck my hand back to check out where the majority of the pain in my head came from. Not surprisingly, I found a sizeable lump back there. Even my light touch set my head to pounding harder. But I grit my teeth and didn't let the pain show on my face.

"Huh-uh." Mac's lack of comment spoke volumes. But he respected my need to make light of it for now. He turned around and frowned at Wes's still body, then shook his head. "Well, it was a bad situation all the way around." He looked back at me with an almost fatherly look on his face. "But it could've been a whole lot worse."

All I could do was nod and swallow back emotion. Mac had no idea just how much worse.

"Pete, I'll take Reed by County General so they can check him out," Mac said, all business again. "I want you to take Martinez's unit back to the scene and help Woods and Brichton. I left them there to get the hostages released, and take statements. When the three of you are finished, they can go back to the station and start the official report and you can pick up your partner.  Provided the docs say it's okay. Have one of them bring back Martinez's unit. Later, you'll both need to finish your part of the reports. And don't forget...there's sure to be a shooting review as well."

I glanced over at Pete and stifled my disappointment. I'd wanted a chance to properly thank Pete for what he'd done for me, and thought I'd do it on the ride to the hospital. But Mac pulled rank. And if they scheduled the shooting review for this afternoon, there would be no telling when I'd get to talk to Pete.

For a minute, I thought Pete might argue with Mac and ask to drive me over to County, especially when he frowned a bit. Of course, facing a shooting review team puts a frown on most everybody's face. But Pete had to know this one would be no sweat. So I gave Pete another reason to get back to the bank quickly.

"Pete, I, umm, dropped my checkbook on the floor in the bank lobby. It had my paycheck in it. Can you check to see if it's there? And my hat and belt's back there, too. I'd appreciate it if you'd get all that for me."

Pete looked at me and his face relaxed. He quirked a corner of his mouth up in a familiar gesture. "The things I do for you," he said.

I wish I'd had something funny to say in return, but even those simple words, said in jest, caused my throat to tighten. So I managed to just say, "Thanks, Pete."

"Let's get you to County," Mac said, gesturing for me to join him. So I flashed Pete a small smile and pushed myself away from the fender of the station wagon, grateful I didn't stumble. But I stopped short as Wes's body came fully into my view. It's funny, the weird things you think of at stressful times. Right now, I thought of the keys that Wes had stuffed in his pants pocket and worried about the hostages that might still be locked up.

"Um, Wes, um, he," I pointed to Wes, "…should still have the keys to the storeroom on him, Pete. I think it's the right pants pocket."

"That'll help," Pete said. His voice held a lot of understanding. "Go on. I'll meet up with you."

"Yeah, okay." I was grateful for Pete's support. I was grateful to be alive. Why, then, did I feel guilty when I looked at Wes's lifeless body?

"Come on, Reed." Mac took my arm and gently pulled me around the rear end of the station wagon. I took another quick look back at Pete as I walked away, and he gave me a quick nod, as if to say, everything's okay, partner. I don't know why, but I needed to see that.

Luckily for me, Mac had parked his wagon pretty close. My legs still didn't seem to want to work too well, and the bright sunlight caused my head to hurt worse. I guess that's another thing all that adrenaline does for you; it makes you forget your aches and pains during the rush of excitement. That's great while your busy, but when the stuff's gone, well, the pain's still there.

Mac even opened the door for me and helped settle me in. Maybe he could feel all my shaking or something. I didn't fight him or say anything. I was too glad to sit down and relax. I never thought I'd ever think the inside of a black and white was comfortable. I closed my eyes to keep out the light, and leaned my pounding head back. I sat back up, though, when the bump on the back of my head hit the back of the seat.

"Reed, you okay?" Mac asked, again. He slammed his door shut and I tried not to wince at the noise.

"I'm fine, Mac, really. I'm a little tired, I guess."

Mac cranked the wagon and put it in gear. "I guess so. My guess is you've got quite a headache, too."

"Yeah," I said. No need to lie.

"Hang in there a little while longer, Jim. You'll feel better after they check you out and you get home." Mac called in a Code 6 for County General and then got the wagon heading toward the main road.

Home. I couldn't wait to get there. I couldn't wait to get my arms around my wife and kid. I'd planned out this day so carefully, and a chance encounter with a couple of creeps had not only ruined it, but almost stolen everything I prized away from me. I desperately needed the normalcy of my home after these harrowing hours. The only drawback to going home would be trying to explain it all to Jean. She worried a lot about me, even on normal days. Lately she seemed even more on edge about my work. I didn't know how she'd react to all this. And then a thought hit me, and I sat up straight.

"Mac, does Jean know what's happened?"

"As of five minutes ago she didn't," Mac said, and I relaxed some. "That's the last time I talked to the Lieutenant. Fortunately, we were able to keep the media at arm's length for the duration of the stand off. The Lieutenant was handling the press from the station. Apparently they ran a generic 'bank robbery with hostages' story on the noon news, but they gave no specifics. And Jean hadn't called the station, so I'd say she doesn't suspect anything."

"Good." Jean had probably been busy with Jimmy and her usual routine and hadn't seen anything to upset her. If I had any worries of my own about my job, it would be that Jean would see or hear something bad about me on the news. The media had gotten a lot more aggressive and more numerous in the four years I'd been on the job, and those kinds of nightmare horror stories had come true more than once.

"But the Lieutenant's promised them a press conference as soon as we get things wrapped up, and I'm sure that your name will be used. Do you want me to call Jean when we get to the hospital?"

"No, no don't do that. I'd just as soon talk to her myself. So she'll know I'm okay."

Mac nodded. "The Lieutenant asked me if he should call your wife, and I told him not to. I figured you'd rather do it yourself."

"Thanks, Mac. Jean…well, she worries."

"I understand."

"Good." I guess I blew out a hard breath, still trying to wind down and wondering what other important things I'd overlooked.

"Relax, Jim. It's over."

"Yeah. Yeah, I know."

"You did good. You handled yourself just fine."

Did I really? Mac hadn't been there. He didn't know. He didn't know how I blew it in the first minute; he didn't know I couldn't take Cleve out. He didn't know all the mistakes I made. But I sure knew, and I figured I'd relieve every one of them over several more times over the course of the next couple of days. If Pete were here, he'd lecture me on not playing the "if-only" game, but I knew that I had a lot of questions to answer for my own peace of mind.

"I'll write up my report after I finish at the hospital," I said.

"Don't sweat the report. We'll see what the docs say."

"I thought you might need to know how…" I paused, trying to find the right words. "…might need the details for the booking."

"We'll get the details soon enough. And as for booking - we'll see what the big guy's chances are."

"Were they bringing him to County?" I asked.

Mac nodded. "As soon as you're settled, I'll check in on him."

I made a derisive sound. "He'll make it," I said, and I believed it. "He's too mean to give up easily."

Mac shot me a sympathetic look. "He sure talked a mean game."

"Did you ever get a line on who he is?" I wondered about both of those guys' backgrounds.

"Not yet. That's another mystery I hope to clear up at the hospital. You don't happen to know a last name, do you?"

" 'Fraid not, Mac. He's gotta be a career criminal, though. He and his partner were calling each other by code names when it first went down."

"Code names, huh?"

"Yeah," I couldn't help but chuckle, but it wasn't a humorous one. "Number One and Number Two."

"That's imaginative," Mac said sarcastically.

"Cleve told me he'd been in the joint, too. But I don't know which one."

"That helps. Don't worry, we'll get a handle on his ID before too long."

"I'm not worried."

Mac smiled at me, then we both decided we'd talked enough. Instead, I just listened to the radio chatter, and tried to relax. My pounding head made that hard to do, and more than once I caught myself clenching my fists against some residual tension. But we reached County General quickly enough. Unfortunately, we got an unpleasant surprise when Mac drove around to the emergency entrance. A large contingent of both print and film media milled around the emergency parking area and the door to the ER. That was the last sight I wanted to see.

"I guess they didn't want to wait on the press conference," I said.

"Apparently not. I wish we'd make a law against police scanners," Mac growled.

"Mac, I don't want my face on live TV. If Jean…" I could envision that nightmare coming true for me. I wouldn't put my wife through that for anything.

"Relax. Stay put and I'll check it out." Mac parked the car. By the time he got his door opened, the wad of press representatives had converged on the wagon.

I kept my head down and didn't answer the questions being yelled at me through the window. Irritation swept over me and my head hurt worse. I knew these guys had a job to do, but it always seemed like the press got in your face at the worst of times.

"Fellas, fellas, back off, huh? I've got an officer here in need of medical attention, and you're in the way," Mac spoke firmly, but politely.

They started yelling questions at Mac, then, like what was my name, how bad was I hurt, and how had I been rescued, and were the suspects dead.

"Fellas, there's going to be a press conference downtown shortly. The officer's family hasn't been notified, and we aren't releasing any names until then. So how about backing off and letting us get inside?" Mac paused while the reporters continued to yammer, but he ignored them. "Are these cameras live?"

The reporters told him no, they weren't, so Mac stuck his head in the car. "The cameras aren't live. Let's get inside, but don't answer any questions. I'll do all the talking. Give me a second to get around to your side."

"All right."

"You up for this, or do you need a gurney?"

"Please, Mac," I said, and offered him a smile. What else was there to do under these circumstances?

Mac grinned back at me, then closed his door. He pushed his way through the mini-mob, and I opened my door and eased myself out.

Immediately I got three microphones shoved in my face, and men with big cameras and irritating lights moved in closer. The questions they shouted at me all blended into a painful cacophony that I completely ignored. Mac took me by the arm and helped me negotiate safely through the crowd, all the while saying, "Out of the way, please." "No questions." "Give us a break, fellas."

I was probably going to look like an utter idiot on the six o'clock news.

By the time we reached the relative quiet of the ER lobby, I was worn out, my stomach roiled, and my head felt like it would explode. But a nurse stood by with a wheelchair, flanked by my friend Enrique Martinez.

"Hey, Jim, good to see you up and around," Enrique said, offering me his hand, which I shook. "Got you a special ride to the treatment room with the prettiest nurse I could find." He patted the back of the wheelchair.

"Thanks, Enrique," I said. I still felt shaky, so they didn't have to force me to sit in it.

"I told those clowns from the press to beat it, Mac, but I couldn't evict them from the parking lot," Martinez said.

"It's okay, Martinez," Mac said, then turned to the nurse. "Where will I find him when if I need him?"

"I'm taking him to Treatment Two," the nurse said.

"Okay, Jim, behave yourself," Mac said with a smile.

"Mac, let me know about the press conference so I can call Jean if I need to," I said over my shoulder as the nurse wheeled me away.

"Okay, I will."

The nurse wheeled me away then, but I could hear Mac grilling Martinez about Cleve's condition and who was guarding him. I only heard enough of Enrique's answer to gather that a team of detectives had already taken over Cleve's interrogation, and that he was on his way to surgery. After that, the nurse started chattering at me, and I couldn't hear anything else.

"I hear you've had a busy afternoon, Officer Reed," she said.

"You might say that," I said. I hoped she didn't want me to tell her about it.

"Well, we'll take good care of you, don't worry. My name's Terri, by the way."

"Jim Reed," I said, automatically.

"I know," Terri said. She whipped the wheelchair around, making me even more nauseous, and backed us into the treatment room. "Your buddy out there told me. We've already pulled your chart. Apparently, you're a frequent flyer with us." She laughed at her joke. I didn't find it so funny, mainly because it happened to be true. I'd spent too much time in hospitals in the last four years.

"Do you need help getting up on the table?"

"No, I can manage." I pushed myself out of the chair and levered myself onto the table.

"Okay, take off your shirt, and I'll be right back."

I'd barely taken my shirt off before she did return - with a doctor and another nurse. That nurse looked almost as mean as Cleve had. Then the thing that always made me hate hospitals started. The poking, the prodding, the questions. They never ended. Where did I hurt exactly? What did I get hit with? Am I nauseous? Dizzy? Did I lose consciousness? Does this light hurt my eyes? Follow this finger only with your eyes…I have to admit, the irritation of an examination temporarily pushed the hostage incident pretty far out of my mind.

After a good half an hour of questions and poking, and a preliminary diagnosis of a concussion and bruised ribs, they put me back in the wheelchair for a ride down to x-ray. When we left the treatment room, I looked around for Mac, or Martinez, or anybody who could give me some information on the press conference. But I couldn't find anyone. I hoped that I'd be able to call Jean soon.

It turned out to be hurry up and wait down at the X-ray Department. Apparently, it had been a typical day in LA and County General had a lot of clients. Most of them seemed to be waiting on an x-ray. The sitting around gave me time to think. Too much time. My head still hurt pretty badly, so I had a hard time putting coherent thought together. But my mind whirled with brief images, snippets of conversations, pictures of what might have been, and the dread of what was yet to come.

I wondered what Pete might be doing at the bank. Had he found my checkbook and paycheck? I wondered if Jimmy had been good for Jean today. I wondered if Cleve would die on the operating table. I even wondered if I'd be reprimanded for failing to stop the bank robbery. I could almost hear Pete telling me to let it all go. Easier said than done, partner.

Between the waiting and then the procedure, I spent forty-five minutes in x-ray. While they shot those rays through me, another useless thought that popped into my head was the standing joke around the station that surfaced whenever someone had to have their head x-rayed - why bother? There's nothing up there, anyway. I knew that would be the first thing out of Ed Wells' mouth when he found out I'd been here.

After they finished the procedure, an orderly appeared to wheel me back to the treatment area. Terri the nurse came in the room almost as soon as I arrived and told me not to put my shirt on just yet. I asked her if she knew where Mac was, and she told me he was hanging out in the waiting area. She agreed to go get him for me if I promised to lay quietly on the exam table. So I swung myself up there and lay down until she left. But then I sat up again, because the room spun a little when I laid flat.

It didn't take Mac long to come in, and he started talking before I could open my mouth.

"I know you're worried about your wife," he said, obviously reading my mind. "Press conference got scheduled for 4:00, so you've got some time to play with. There's been nothing out there yet that should tip her off. But are you sure you don't want me to call her? Or I could send Pete after her and bring her here."

"No, Mac, no, don't bring her here. She'd either have to drag Jimmy with her or leave him with a neighbor, and I don't want her to have to worry about that. "I'll give her a call when they kick me loose here."

"How are you feeling?" Mac asked me. "You still look a little pale."

"My head hurts some. The doc says it's a concussion, but he wanted x-rays to rule out anything worse."

"That's wise. How many concussions does this make for you since I've known you?"

I shrugged, still not the wisest move for me to make. "Two or three. What about Cleve - the big guy? What's happening?"

"Grover Cleveland Washington," Mac said, with a flourish. "How about that for a presidential name?"

"You're kidding me."

"Nope. Just got out of San Quentin two weeks ago. Did 7 years of a 15-year stretch for armed robbery. Made parole somehow."

"Sounds like they let him out eight years too early."

"Tell me about it. And that wasn't his first stretch. He's got a package a mile thick, mostly violent crimes, mostly committed in the San Diego area."

"Guess he thought he'd take his act on the road," I said.

"Apparently so. Well, he's paying for it this time. He's in surgery now. They're trying to dig out all that buckshot Pete put in his belly."

"He gonna make it?"

"The docs seem to think so. They can patch him up so we can send him right back to San Quentin." Mac smiled grimly. "I plan to pile as many charges as I can on Mr. Washington so he won't see the light of day for the rest of his natural life."

I nodded, once. "Sounds good to me."

"By the way, Pete's on his way in. He can take you home."

I opened my mouth to ask about my report, but again, Mac read my mind.

"And don't even ask about the report. It can wait until tomorrow. If you've got a concussion, I want you home and resting, not hunched over the report desk hurting."

I wasn't about to argue. I wanted to get home. "Thanks, Mac."

"You bet. Anything I can do for you? Get for you?"

"I just want out of here."

"That's out of my hands, but I'm sure it won't be long. Are you okay if I get back to the station? I'm sure the Lieutenant can use my help and there's a lot of paperwork to do."

"Sure, Mac. I'm fine."

Mac leveled a finger at me. "You do what the doc tells you to do. Go home. Enjoy your family. Relax. Consider that an order."

"All right, Mac."

"Take it easy, and we'll talk tomorrow."


And with that, Mac left. The door had barely closed before Terri came back with a little white medicine cup and a cup of water. She offered me aspirin - that's the strongest they could give me with the concussion - and I swallowed them down with the water, hoping they'd kick in quickly. She told me the doctor would come back to talk to me as soon as the head films were ready.

I hoped that would be soon, too. I didn't want to be left alone for too long, or I'd start thinking too much again. But if Pete was on his way here, I'd at least have him to talk to soon. I had a lot I needed to say to him.

I got my wish. I hadn't been sitting there too long when the door opened and the doctor - a dark-haired guy named Morgenstern -- came in, Terri on his heels. I was glad it wasn't that other mean nurse.

Dr. Morgenstern held up a manila envelope and said, "Mr. Reed, let's step into this viewing area and take a peek at your x-rays."

"Okay." I slid off the table and followed the doc into a small area off the main treatment room, separated by a sliding door.

Terri flipped off the lights and the doc pushed my films into his backlighted viewer. He studied them briefly, then turned to me.

"Well, officer, looks like you'll live," he said. "You do have a concussion, but no skull fracture. And I don't see any cracked ribs, either."


"Indeed. I saw on your chart where this isn't your first concussion. That concerns me a bit, but it should mean you know complications to look for. The nurse will give you a care sheet and go over it with you. Will you have someone at home to look after you?"

"My wife," I said, inwardly hating that Jean would have to play nurse for me yet again.

"Good. You can sleep, but someone should rouse you every hour to make sure you're responsive."

I nodded. Jean and I had been down that road before.

"And I want to see you back here in 48 hours. Until then, you're off-duty. I'll write that up for your supervisor. After 48 hours, we'll see if you can go back to full or restricted duty." Dr. Morgenstern looked up at Terri. "Nurse, go get one of those concussion sheets and a pad so I can write out orders for Mr. Reed, please."

"Yes, Doctor." Terri left the room and closed the sliding door again.

Dr. Morgenstern flipped his light box off and the room lights back on. "Still have the headache?"


"Sorry I can't give you anything stronger than aspirin. But you can alternate aspirin and acetaminophen - Tylenol - every 2 hours to handle the discomfort if you need to. An ice pack on that lump back there will help, too. Do you have one at home?"

I almost laughed. Jean had a first-aid kit at home that probably rivaled a supply room here. But I held back. "Yes, we have one."

"Good. Get it iced down, take your aspirin, and rest, rest, rest. Eat lightly until the nausea is completely gone. You're probably going to bruise on your side where you got punched, but you'll just have to heal."

"I understand."

"Good. You ready to get out of here?"

"Past ready."

Dr. Morgenstern smiled. "You can get your shirt on, and I'll get the paperwork started. Remember, back in 48 hours. I'm on duty, so I'll be here."

I stuck out my hand to him. "Yes, sir, I'll be back. Thanks, doc."

"You're welcome, Officer Reed. Try to stay out of trouble from now on, all right?"

"I'll try."

I opened the door to the main treatment room so I could get my shirt, and when I walked through, I saw Pete standing there looking at me in concern. That was a pleasant surprise.

"How do ya feel?" Pete asked. I could see the worry in his eyes, though he was a pro at hiding his emotions.

I pointed to my head. "I've got a bit of a headache." Pete would eventually worm everything out of me anyway, so I might as well give him something to chew on. But instead of pursing the state of my health, he threw me a curve.

"I brought you a present." Pete handed me a thick manila envelope.

I frowned and opened the envelope. I figured it would be my checkbook. After all, I saw my hat and belt lying on the table next to my uniform shirt, so I assumed he'd found all my belongings and brought them to me. But a folded piece of paper in the envelope was what caught my eye - and brought a lump to my throat. Pete had brought me my pink slip.

I covered my emotions with a little laugh. "Hey, the pink slip! Thanks, Pete." I don't know how he managed it, but it was a nice thing to do, and it really meant a lot to me. But as usual, Pete made light of his good deed.

"I had to go back to the bank anyway to fill out the reports."

Good ol' Pete. I'd never had a better friend in my entire life. I'd thought it and said it many times before, but I never felt it more than now - Pete was more than a friend; he was a brother. I felt all choked up again. I searched for words as I tried not to get mushy. But how could I let all that Pete had done for me today go unacknowledged?

"Well, uh, I owe you lunch." How lame was that? The man saves my life, and all I can say is 'I owe you lunch?' "Matter of fact, I owe you a steak dinner." That wasn't much better. Again, I searched for words, and looked away from Pete to compose myself.

"Just do me one favor, will you? From now on, do your banking by mail."

Pete said it so deadpan that the humor caught me off guard. I looked up at him and saw the ghost of a smile creep across his face. But even that couldn't disguise the sheer relief in his eyes. Leave it to Pete to lighten an emotional moment.

So I obliged him. I gave a little laugh and a big smile, and put on my shirt without saying anything else maudlin.

Just as I got my shirttail tucked in, Terri came back in with a hand full of papers and saved either of us from having to pick up the conversation. I expected Pete to fall into his usual routine when a pretty lady came into view, and start to flirt. However, Pete barely acknowledged her presence. I admit, that surprised me, and I realized just how tough a day it had been for Pete, as well as for me. Not only did he have the uncertainty and stress of waiting outside, not knowing what was happening to me, he spent a good fifteen minutes cooped up in the hot, smelly trunk of a car and then shot it out with two bad boys. Now he faced a shooting review. No wonder he seemed off his style.

It brought home to me, all over again, just how much I owed him.

It also made me want to get out of this place even faster. I rushed through signing my discharge papers, assured Terri I knew all about how to care for a concussion, and I promised to come back in 48 hours to let the doc clear me for duty. Pete kept that concerned look on his face through Terri's entire spiel, and not once did his famous Strawberry Fox charm surface to flirt with the nurse. In fact, I'm sure he was relieved as I was when Terri said I could go. We let her out the door first, and headed for the parking lot.

"Do you want me to bring the car up to the door?" Pete asked me.

"Not unless you parked it in Pasadena," I said.

Pete frowned at me, apparently not appreciating my feeble attempt at humor. "You just look a little pale."

"I can make it to the car, Pete." I did stop, though, when we came close to the glass exit doors. "Are those reporters still out there?"

"I saw a few on my way in, but they ignored me. That might be a good reason for me to go get the unit and drive it up closer."

"All right," I gave in. I sure didn't want to fend off any reporters.

I hung back out of sight at the edge of the door while Pete went out for Adam-12. The bright sunlight hurt my eyes and I had to squint against it. I sure could have used my sunglasses.

It didn't take Pete long to drive the cruiser up to the door. He even turned the passenger side towards me so I could get from door to door without being bothered. Good thing, too, because even through my half-opened eyes, I saw at least four, maybe five reporters hanging around, obviously waiting for me. In fact, one of them recognized me as I opened the cruiser door and started yelling questions at me.

I ignored him, of course, and as soon as I shut the door, Pete got us out of there, PDQ.

As the hospital and the reporters shrank in the background and finally disappeared from sight, I relaxed a little more. After everything that had happened today, I was finally on my way home. It was over, and I'd made it through it. I'd get home to my family in one piece with only a headache and a couple of bruised ribs to show for the whole ordeal.

I still hadn't properly thanked the man responsible for that. Knowing I'd never get a better chance to do so, I opened my mouth to speak, but Pete beat me to it.

"How you doin', Jim?" Pete spared me a glance, then turned his attention back to the street.

Truthfully, I didn't know the answer to that question. On the one hand, I felt great, thrilled to be alive and going home. But on the other hand, I knew I had a lot of questions to answer, both for myself and my superiors, and emotional reactions to deal with from my family. Physically, my body had about given out, drained of its energy. But, on the whole, I felt grateful.

"I'm doing okay, Pete. Thanks to you. I don't even know how to…"

Pete put up a hand. "Not necessary, Jim."

"It is necessary, Pete. You took a hell of a risk, doing what you did. You saved my life. A steak dinner doesn't even begin to cover it."

"You would have done the same for me."

"Of course I would have. But it doesn't make what you did any less meaningful to me. Because of you, I get to go home to my family." An unexpected wave of emotion washed over me, and I could barely get the next words out. "And I had my doubts there for a while." I had to swallow and clear my throat to get myself back under control.

Pete didn't say anything for a long minute. When he spoke, he sounded almost heartbroken. "I'm sorry it took so long. I know you probably thought we'd abandoned you. But we just couldn't think of any other way to do it."

"I won't lie, Pete. I knew you wouldn't desert me, but I was starting to feel like something might've gone wrong with whatever plan you guys had."

"I wasn't sure it would work, myself."

"Whose idea was it to put you in the trunk?"

Another long pause. "Mine."

I should have known. Pete's a hell of a cop, and I've witnessed first-hand more than once how he can think his way out of just about any situation in a split second. I don't seem to have developed that skill yet. But I keep hoping.

"You're something else, partner. All I can say is thanks."

"Enough already," Pete made a dismissive motion with his right hand.

"I want you to know how grateful I am."

"I know, Jim. I know." Pete pinned me to the seat with a brief look. "So you don't have to keep saying it."

"Can I at least buy you the steak dinner?"

"I never turn down free food," Pete grinned.

I grinned back. Talking to Pete always made me feel better.

A traffic light caught us, and we sat there, not talking, both looking around at the cross-traffic, the pedestrians, and listening to the sounds of the streets. It could have been routine patrol, except that Pete drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. Pete never did that unless he had something on his mind.

"Are you worried about the shooting review?" I asked him.

Pete looked at me almost guiltily, as if I'd caught him doing something wrong. "No," he said hastily.

"When's it scheduled?"

The light turned and Pete moved the car forward with the traffic. "Pretty much as soon as I can get back to the station after I take you home."

That's what I'd figured, but it irritated me just the same. I knew the necessity of taking care of the review as soon as possible, so the details wouldn't get fuzzy and the legality of the shooting could be quickly determined, but just like dealing with the press, they always took place at bad times.

"After I talk to Jean, I'll go back with you for it."

"No you won't, either. You're going to do exactly what the doctor told you to do and get some rest."

"You shouldn't have to go through that by yourself."

"You weren't involved in the shooting. You didn't see anything, you didn't pull the trigger or even draw a gun."

"But I heard everything."

Pete almost sighed. "You can put everything in your report and they'll append it to the review records. It's all just a formality, anyway, and you know that."

"I know. But…"

"No buts. Don't worry about me. You're going exactly where you need to be…home." Pete paused for a moment, then added, "Your time to talk is coming soon enough."

True enough. Today I'd get a brief reprieve due to my injury, but come tomorrow there'd be questions to answer and reports to write. But I'd get no reprieve from talking to Jean. That would be harder than talking to the Lieutenant, because I was sure the Lieutenant wouldn't cry when I explained what happened. I could almost guarantee Jean would.

Another traffic signal stopped us. I didn't say anything in response to that, thinking through how I might approach things with my wife, so Pete's next question startled me a bit.

"Was it bad in there?"

I knew Pete Malloy well enough by now to know that hadn't been easy for him to ask. Pete generally shied away from deep conversation, especially if it might expose some vulnerability on his part. But he'd been on the outside of the whole hostage deal, unable to control anything going on inside the bank, and it had probably frustrated and worried him. Again, the way I felt when Pete had been held hostage in Duke's came to my mind. Pete probably thought he'd let me down in some way. Crazy, but that's the way it went with partners. Pete took taking care of me very seriously, so he needed to know that I was okay on the inside, as well as the outside. But he also needed my honesty.

"Some of the time," I said, trying to find that middle ground between honesty and alleviating Pete's concern. "It got tense."

Pete nodded, staring straight ahead. "I talked to the head teller - Nakilua's her name -- when I went back to the bank. She told me how you tried to take the big guy out when it first went down."

I made a derisive noise. "Fat lot of good that did. I wasn't much good to anyone in there."

Pete turned and gave me sharp look. "Two against one, Jim. Hardly fair odds. Besides, you did a lot of good, according to Miss Nakilua."

"I didn't keep them from being locked in a storeroom for hours. I underestimated my adversary. I thought I could take him out, but I couldn't. I didn't end the situation, I escalated it. So what good did I do?" Some of my own frustrations boiled out.

Pete's look never wavered. "You kept them alive, that's what. You took all the heat; kept those jerks distracted, and you manipulated the situation so that the hostages were taken out of harm's way. Being locked in a storeroom is a hell of a lot better than being held at gunpoint and lined up to be executed. They were grateful to you, Jim. They know you saved their lives."

My throat tightened up again. I don't know how Pete always managed to figure what bugged me deep down inside, but he did. I guess he knows me pretty well by now, and knew I'd be second-guessing myself and my actions. This had to be Pete's way of trying to help me deal with it all.

Once again, I found myself grateful to my partner. I looked at him and nodded. "Thanks for telling me that."

Pete nodded back and one corner of his mouth turned up in a half-smile. " I thought you'd want to know."

Traffic moved once again, and Pete continued, "If you want to talk about it, we can, whenever you're ready."

"Thanks, Pete." Seems like that was all I could say to him.

"There you go again."


Pete made the turn onto McKenzie Boulevard, which would take us straight to my street. I started silently rehearsing the way I'd break the news to Jean. No matter how I phrased it, "I got knocked out and held hostage by a couple of thugs" sounded bad. I looked at my watch. Three-fifty. We'd be cutting it close to make it to my house before the press conference, but it would bring me home fairly close to my usual time when I worked Day Watch. I could at least walk in the door without alarming Jean. Except that I'd be in uniform, and I almost never came home in uniform.

Again, Pete seemed to read my mind. "How do you think Jean'll take all this?"

I blew out my breath, hard. "How do you think? Not good."

"Mmmm." Pete grunted.

"Jean's been a lot more on edge about my job in the past few months," I continued. I figured Pete had picked up on that, since he'd been present when Jean had made some negative comments about police work. "I think it all goes back to our … encounter… with Steve and Norm last year."

I didn't like to even mention the names of Steve Deal and Norm Landon, two men who had gotten the drop on us, shot me in the leg and then taken us both hostage. That had led to a terror-filled night and a long recovery period for me, once we'd managed to escape to freedom. Pete and I had an agreement that we didn't talk about it, but Jean would get upset any time she happened to be reminded of that night.

"I can understand that," Pete said.

"I can, too," I said, rubbing my forehead with a hand. It seemed to be throbbing harder. "I just worry that one more bad thing might put her over the edge." I sure didn't want to think about the possibilities of Jean calling it quits because she couldn't take the strain of a police marriage any more. I'd rather face Grover Cleveland Washington and that shotgun again than face losing my wife.

"Jean's a strong gal, and she loves you," Pete said quietly. "It might be rough for a bit, but you'll get through it."

"I hope you're right, Pete."

"I'm right." Pete grinned. "I'm always right. Remember?"

"Oh, sorry. I forgot." I had to smile, despite the butterflies taking flight in my stomach.

"That's something too important to forget, partner."


My street came into view then, and I must have sighed or something, because Pete said, "Relax, Jim. It'll be fine."

"Yeah. Yeah, I know." I sure hoped so, anyway. Cleve might as well have sent me to "pig heaven" if this caused Jean to walk out on me. I could take a lot of things, but not losing my family.

Pete pulled into my driveway, but didn't kill the engine. "Can you make it in by yourself?"

"Of course I can. But aren't you coming in?"

"I figured you needed some time alone with Jean."

"Well, I do, but I thought maybe you'd distract Jimmy so we could talk."

"You know I'd love to spend some time with Jimmy. But are you sure I won't be in the way?"

"You'll be helping me out."

Pete still looked hesitant. "You know I don't like seeing Jean cry."

"Then take Jimmy outside. Come on, Pete, don't abandon me yet." I hated to ask my partner for yet one more favor, but a part of me thought Jean might not come completely unglued if Pete were here.

Pete sighed and with a dramatic roll of his eyes, shut off the engine. "Okay, okay."

"Thanks." I secured my hat, belt, the bank envelope and hospital papers and got out of the car. One of my neighbors was outside retrieving the mail and waved at me. I waved back.

Pete followed me up the steps to the front door, and then I realized I didn't have my house keys. Or my car keys. Or my car. In all the excitement, I'd forgotten I'd driven in this morning. "Pete, I'm an idiot. My car…my keys…they're in my locker."

Apparently that little detail had slipped Pete's mind as well, judging by the look on his face. "I'll bring your stuff later, after the review. And I'll drive your car here and have somebody follow to take me home."

"No, don't do that. Too much trouble. It'll be safe at the station. You can pick me up tomorrow and I'll get it." I reached out and tested the door handle. It opened easily, which upset me. I told Jean to always keep the doors locked, even in the daytime. "Jean needs to remember to lock the doors."

"Might be a good idea."

I walked through the door and into my home. I can't begin to describe the feelings that overwhelmed me as I looked around the living room. Everything was as I'd left it this morning, but it felt so much different. I could smell something savory cooking in the kitchen and I heard noises coming from Jimmy's room. All the normal comforts of home wrapped me in a welcome embrace; that meant more to me than I could have ever dreamed. I lay my hat, belt, and the papers down on the end table next to the couch, and took a deep breath. Something I didn't hear was the television playing from the den. That was a relief to me.

I took a deep breath and cleared my throat. "Honey, I'm home," I called, hoping I sounded strong and normal. Thank God I could say that one more time.

Jean's voice, muffled, but still the sweetest sound to my ears, came from the back of the house. "Hi, darling. I'm in Jimmy's room. I'll be right out."

I heard Jimmy shriek, "Daddy! Daddy!" and then he came tearing into the living room, launching himself at me, arms outstretched.

Concussion or not, I couldn't resist that. I scooped up my son and tossed him high in the air, pretty much a daily ritual with us, and something he loved. He squealed with delight and laughed when I caught him in my arms and hugged him to my chest tightly. He threw those chubby little arms around me and kissed me on the cheek. "I happy you home, Daddy," he said. He smelled of chocolate and playground dirt, and his face was lit up with the pure joy that only a child could pull off. And Pete wondered why I couldn't stop thanking him.

I hugged him close again, squeezing back tears of joy and gratitude. "Me, too, tiger. Me, too."

Jimmy squirmed out of my grasp then and turned his attentions to his Uncle Pete. "Hi, Uncle Pete! You eat wif us tonight?"

Pete picked up his godson and accepted a hug. "Probably not, sport. I have to go back to work."

"Do I hear Pete in here?" Jean asked, then walked into the room. Apparently she'd overheard. "Hi, Pete!. Why do you have to go back? And why are you in uniform? Jim, don't tell me you have to pull a double."

I didn't say anything, but just stared at my wife for several long seconds as she walked toward me. She'd been beautiful to me this morning, eyes full of sleep and hair tousled, but I don't think I've ever thought she looked better than she did right now. She was wearing a favorite outfit - a green sweater that hugged her curves beautifully and a little matching short skirt that she knew took my breath away. She had also fixed her hair just the way I liked it - smooth and loosely falling over her shoulders. She'd obviously planned for this to be a special evening for us. I couldn't speak. I wanted to grab her up in my arms and give her a neverending kiss.

My partner bailed me out once again.

"No, no doubles. Jim doesn't have to go back. Only I do."

Jean looked from Pete to me, and narrowed her eyes in confusion. "Jim, what's going on? You look…funny." She reached my side then, and stood on tip toes to kiss my cheek. The scent of her perfume clung to me and her touch brought a flood of emotions - and unwanted tears - to my eyes. I touched her gently on the cheek, then pulled her to me in a fierce hug, trying to get myself together.

"Jimmy, let's go play cars in your room," Pete said.

"Cool!" Jimmy clapped his hands and raced off to his room, Pete following behind him.

"Jim," Jean spoke into my chest where I still held her pinned. "What's the matter? Something's wrong. I can tell you're upset. Did you have trouble at the bank?"

Pete turned and looked at me, eyes wide, just before he disappeared into the hallway.

I'd never get a better opening, but I still couldn't speak. I just wanted to hold my wife and thank God and Pete over and over for letting this moment be possible.

"Did you not get the pink slip or something?" Jean gently pushed away from me and looked up into my eyes. She must have read something there, because her whole demeanor changed. "Something bad happened today. You're pale. Are you hurt? Jim, please say something!"

"I'm all right, honey," I finally managed to get out. "I love you."

"I love you, too, but what is it you're not telling me?" She looked at me closely, seeing right through me, as she usually did. "You've got tears in your eyes. Something's very wrong."

I circled her shoulders with an arm. "Come on, honey, and sit down with me on the couch."

"Oh, Jim," Jean said as we walked over and sat on the couch. "What is it?"

I kept my arm around her and held her close. I ever even started talking I could see the raw fear in her eyes, and I knew this wouldn't be easy. "Honey, something bad did happen today, but as you can see, I'm okay, really."

She shut her eyes and whispered, "Just tell me, Jim."

So I did. I held her close and told her as gently as I could, leaving out most all the sordid details of what took place between Cleve and me. That could wait for later, when she'd had time to work her way through the fear. Tears formed in her eyes when I got to the part where Wes beaned me on the head with the butt of the gun. To her credit, she didn't let them fall until I got to the part where they forced me into the car. I kissed those tears away before I continued with my story. Oddly enough, when I told her what Pete did to save my life, that's when she started crying hard.

Sometimes I don't think I'll ever figure women out.

Her crying sure didn't help me, as emotional as I had been over the past hour or so. I hated hurting Jean more than anything in the world, and I knew that's exactly what I was doing. Now I had to put my own feelings aside and help Jean cope. So I held her close, stroked her hair, kissed the top of her head, and rocked her a little. To be honest, that did me as much good as it did her. Her storm of tears didn't last long, and I gave her my handkerchief to blow her nose.

When she'd composed herself, I finished up the story by telling her again how heroic Pete had been, and explaining to her that he had to go back to the station for the shooting review. I told her about the press conference, and said we should make some phone calls to her parents and my sister, just in case they saw anything on the news. Jean nodded, and said she would take care of it.

Jean then asked me if they'd taken me to the hospital to have my head checked, so then I had to tell her about the concussion and the bruised ribs. That made her sigh and tear up again, so to cheer her up I added in the part about Pete bringing me the pink slip. Again, this is what caused tears to trickle down her face, and I wondered if she was more worried about me, or my partner.

The phone rang at that point and I told Jean to ignore it. But Pete must have picked it up in our bedroom, because over Jean's sniffling I could hear him talking quietly.

Jean got her tears under control, and I helped her wipe her face. I kissed her and we held each other quietly for a long moment. I could feel her trembling, but the longer we held each other, the calmer she became. Soon she sighed and broke our embrace, looked at me, and brushed my hair back from my forehead. I cherished that look; it wasn't a look of condemnation, but one of pure love and concern. I felt a little knot of anxiety begin to melt away.

"Does your head hurt very badly?" She asked me.

"Pretty bad," I admitted. I didn't want to lie.

"Where did he hit you?"

I took Jean's hand and placed it on the knot on the back of my head. "Don't press too hard," I warned.

Her eyes widened when she felt the knot, and I thought she might cry again, but I moved her hand and squeezed it to distract her. "I'm okay, hon. It's not that bad."

Jean then gently placed a kiss on my forehead. "Have you had aspirin?"

"They gave me some at the hospital. But that kiss helped more." I tried a weak smile on her and gave her my best "hurt puppy" look. "I could use some more of that therapy."

Jean gave me a wry look in return. "Why don't you go get comfortable, honey. Get out of your uniform and go lie down. You've got to be exhausted."

"I'm pretty beat, yeah."

"Well, you can go to bed and get some rest. I assume the standard concussion rules apply?"

That's my Jean. She really does bounce back when she knows something has to be done. Pete's right; she's a strong woman. I'm a lucky, lucky man.


"Go get in the bed," Jean said with a sigh. "I'll be in there in a minute. I just need a little time alone first."

"Okay, babe. I'm fine, so take your time." I kissed her one last time and got up and walked back toward our bedroom. Jean stayed on the couch, her hands clasped, staring at the floor. I prayed that she'd be able to get past this.

I stopped outside Jimmy's room and looked in. Pete sat on the floor, playing with Jimmy. They'd built some walls of blocks and Jimmy was happily crashing his cars into them and laughing as the blocks went everywhere. Jimmy saw me and said gleefully, "Daddy, look at the cwashing!"

"I see, buddy. You're making good crashes."

"You come cwash wif us, Daddy."

"Daddy needs to go change his clothes, buddy. I'll play later, okay?"

"Okay, Daddy."

Before I left, I asked, "Who was on the phone, Pete?"

"Mac. He was just checking on you. He told me to take my time getting back."

"Okay, good."

Pete held me with a look. "Everything okay?"

"I think so. At least for now." I would have said more, but I didn't want to say anything in front of Jimmy. If I couldn't shield Jean, I could at least shield my son.

Pete nodded, and started building another wall of blocks.

I walked on into our bedroom, and shut the door. I peeled off my uniform, and for the first time I noticed how it was damp with perspiration. I went ahead and put it in the hamper, after I'd removed the hardware. I didn't want to upset Jean any further by not picking up after myself, though I doubted she'd fuss at me today.

Then I pulled on a pair of comfortable sweats and lay down on the bed, not even bothering to pull down the covers. I let myself go limp, finally able to really relax for the first time in hours. I was home. Safe. My wife, though upset, hadn't threatened to leave me. At least, not yet. In fact, she'd taken the news a lot better than I'd thought. My son was oblivious to the fact that he almost lost his daddy today. And due to Pete's thoughtfulness, I even got the long-anticipated pink slip. For the moment, things were working out fine.

I'd started off this day lying in the bed, excited about paying off my car and dreaming of spending time with my wife. It looked like it would end pretty much the same way - except the excitement of being alive way overshadowed paying off the sedan.

I waited for Jean to join me, but drowsiness started creeping in and I knew I was about to fall asleep. Just as I'd decided to give in and sleep, Jimmy's excited voice caused me to snap fully awake.

"Daddy!! Mommy hugging Uncle Pete! Daddy!"

I started to laugh, then I heard Jimmy's little feet running down the hall, and he knocked on the door. "Daddy! Come wook!"

I got out of bed, still laughing, and opened the door. Jimmy grabbed my hand and started dragging me toward his bedroom. I could hear Jean saying in a husky whisper, "Thank you, Pete. Thank you so much," and I didn't have to see her to know she was crying again.

So this time, it was my turn to initiate a rescue. But I walked slowly, despite Jimmy's delighted excitement.

At last, Pete Malloy was getting the thanks he deserved.

Several years ago, when I got a personal computer and the land of cyberspace opened up to me, one of the first things I did was to seek out information on some of my favorite old TV shows. Amongst other shows, I wound up searching for fanfiction on Adam-12 (which was non-existent) and Emergency! (of which there was a lot!). I happened to read a wonderful set of "differing point-of-view" stories by the very talented Lisa O'Brien, based on the Emergency! episode "Nuisance". To say I was impressed is an understatement. I wound up emailing Lisa, and lo and behold, a friendship developed and suddenly I was writing Adam-12 fanfiction. I had always wanted to do a similar series of stories for Jim and Pete, but never had the courage. Then Susan suggested we try the same technique with Trouble In the Bank, and I jumped at the chance. So, thanks, Susan, for the invite! I hope all of you readers enjoy our efforts, and Lisa O., if you're still lurking out there, how about dropping me a line??

Thanks to all the readers out there who keep encouraging me to write. Of course, thanks to the creators, writers, producers, and actors who brought Adam-12 to life. I've already thanked Susan once for the invite to write this story, but more thanks are needed for her patience with me! And a special thanks to Cathy, editor extra ordinaire, but more importantly, friend extra ordinaire.

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