Trouble in the Bank - Pete's Story
By S.J. Stiers
Somehow, that day, I made it to the station way before Jim. Not that running late has ever been a problem for me. But my junior partner started off his career being the eager beaver and has rarely broken that pattern in the years we've worked together.
So, keeping that fact in mind, I figured he'd either get there in a few minutes out of breath and complaining about traffic or worried and exhausted because Jimmy had gotten sick during the night. I'd rather listen to him grumble about irresponsible drivers or the epidemic proportions of street construction as opposed to anything being wrong on the home front. If it were the former, then he should've taken me up on my offer to drive us both in this morning. If it were the latter…well, I didn't want to think about that yet.
I was nearly in uniform when he walked in, business as usual. He didn't appear to be either rushed or upset.
"Everything okay, partner?" I watched for telltale signs as Jim opened his locker next to mine and took off his jacket.
"Yeah, no problem. You?"
"Sure. You know--another day, another dollar." I shook my head at our long-standing payday joke.
Jim stopped what he was doing, his arm caught halfway in the sleeve of his shirt. He surprised me with a big grin. "That's what I'm counting on."
He didn't expand on that comment so I thought it was part of the joke. I should have known better.
"There you go. You're okay."
I smashed down on the brake pedal and again waited to hear the answer that I usually got from the rear end of the black and white. If I didn't get the response I wanted, it would not be a great way to start off the day.
Good so far. My hand flipped the signal knob.
Automatically, I snapped it the other way.
"You got 'em."
It was a routine my partner and I went through, without fail, each and every workday. After this much time working together, it was a built-in habit. If either of us forgot even one step in the process, it'd be like working without getting dressed first. And that wasn't very likely to happen.
My partner's voice came back with something I didn't want to hear.
"Hey, we're out of flares again."
Again? I started to get out of the car but changed my mind at the last minute and stood with one leg still propped inside, all the better to gripe to myself. How hard was it to replace supplies once you've used them up? Especially when this was the second time. I didn't bother to hide my annoyance. What was it I'd been thinking about starting off the day?
"Flares? I just put a box in there yesterday. Those guys must be smokin' em."
"I'll go get some."
Jim didn't seem bugged in the least by the minor interruption, whereas I was more than a little irritated by the previous shift's oversight. My TO would've never let me get away with something like that. In our job, you never know what you're going to need or when you're going to need it. But you sure don't want to be caught without it--whatever it was. Granted, they might've had a tough day and gotten bogged down by reports or what have you, but twice in a row? I had my doubts.
I knew it'd probably take Jim a few minutes to make the round trip. In the meantime, that back seat looked like it could use a serious visit by a maid service. It also looked like I'd have to fill in since the LAPD hadn't managed to recruit Hazel yet. Picking up trash left by the last shift wasn't my idea of fun, but if Reed can blithely pick up their slack with good humor, then I guessed I could do the same. I didn't get too far, though. I saw Jerry Woods next to his unit and the distraction was too tempting to pass up.
"Hey, Jerry. Was that 211 silent at Marco's Drugs a good call?" I'd been wondering about that ever since I'd heard it go out on the radio the day before. This was the first chance I'd had to check on it.
"Which one?" Jerry stood, facing me with his arms crossed high on his chest. "I've had about three this month. Yesterday, the guy hit the button because a wino passed out."
"They oughta yank that thing outta there until the guy figures out what it's for." False alarms. Gotta love 'em. Even usually good-natured Woods was showing signs of annoyance. I bent over to pick up another bit of refuse. It turned out to be a paper food wrapper. Must be serving meals in the back seat now. But it reminded me that there was something else I wanted to ask Jerry before he got out of there.
"Incidentally…have you got that buck and a half you owe me?" I figured this was a good time to make sure that Woods remembered it as well. That was the day Jerry forgot to fill up his wallet with anything of value--like money.
"We're straight! I paid you that, didn't I?"
"It was seven, two days ago, at the burrito joint, remember?" Jerry loved to fill up on Mexican food as much as the rest of us. He could pack it away, too, and just like my partner, it never turned to fat. Lucky dogs, both of 'em. Jerry and I were around the same age, but he was still lean while I had to fight the battle. I could only hope that he'd find gray in his wavy brown hair before I found any in my own hair.
As he mulled over my reminder, his blue eyes skipped up a level as he gave the subject a few seconds of heavy duty thought. It wasn't a look that doubted my claim. It was the look of a man seriously considering how to rob Peter to pay Paul. Or, in this case, vice versa.
"Gee, Pete, you're right. I'm sorry. Ummm…"
I saw the writing on the wall. And so did Jerry's knowing partner, judging from the scowl on his face.
"Partner, loan me a buck and a half, will ya?"
I turned away and decided to keep busy to avoid getting caught in the middle. Checking the shotgun was the logical thing to do until their financial transaction was completed. And probably a lot safer, too. I was glad to hear the sound of loose change hit the roof of Adam-12.
"Want to meet at Harry's later for coffee?"
"Sure." I'd have to make sure Jerry found somebody else to buy that cup of java, though. I didn't want to turn into the station's savings and loan. Scraping up the dollar bill and assorted coins, I finished up with the shotgun as Woods and his cranky young partner drove off. My other half found his way back, complete with the box of flares and some slips of paper that I recognized…and welcomed.
"Checks came in. I picked yours up."
"Oh, good." I reached for mine and examined it like I always did. You could never tell. Even the ever-efficient girls in payroll could make a mistake once in a blue moon. But this time it was Jim's oversight. "Wait a minute, this one's yours."
My hand dropped back across the top of the car, holding the check out for trade. I couldn't resist giving Jim a look.
That got me a grunt and a somewhat apologetic smile. Not sure if he was sorry that he mixed up the checks or simply regretted that he couldn't keep mine. A few more years, partner, a few more years.
"That was scary. I can't afford the cut in pay," I told him, trying to look appropriately appalled for Jim's benefit. There had to be some sarcastic remark in my partner dying to come back at me. Instead he managed one of those tight-lipped smiles and didn't say a word as he got into the car. I thought for sure he'd come up with something once we were inside the black and white. But nothing. I took the wheel, got us onto the street and that was that. It looked like he was already on another track entirely.
Jim could be thinking about something completely unrelated to work and then instantly shift into gear to do his job. He was constantly mapping out stuff in his brain anyway. He probably kept everything in neat little boxes up there. If he could, he'd plan out everything. And I realized some time ago where he was coming from. Look at how he'd handled his personal life. Early on he had to learn game plans and strategy with the sports he played in school. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that he'd studied a lot and made good grades in his classes, too. I wasn't there to witness it but I bet he picked it all up like a natural. Not that he didn't work hard--he did. But you can tell the difference between someone doing the things that are right for them and someone who's butting their head against a wall. Jim instinctively knows what--and who--is right for him. Which brings me to Jean. That had to mean more plans. No sudden elopement for those two. Get married, save for a house, have a family. Not sure how he fit "be a cop" in there.
When Jean had the baby, though, he saw first-hand that even the best-laid plans tend to crumble when they crash into a brick wall. But the job hasn't changed him that much, not really. Luckily, along with everything else, he's also learned to think on his feet.
"Kinda quiet today," Jim said, breaking into my train of thought.
"Yeah, two calls in three hours is not exactly New Year's Eve." I remembered too well what that particular holiday usually stirred up for us. Images of out-of-control partygoers and indulgence of every imaginable type cut through my own boredom. The people at the center of it all called it fun. I called it a major headache.
"Pete, hold it," Jim twisted around in the seat, trying to get a look at some plates. "Back up."
I glanced in the rearview mirror and made certain it was clear before easing my foot on the brake. Shifting into reverse, I backed up and at the same time tried to see which vehicle caught my partner's attention in the first place.
"It's the blue one." Not surprisingly, Jim had read my mind.
I stopped the black and white once the dusty blue Chrysler came into view. A second later, I heard the disappointed grumble next to me. It sounded like Eagle Eye struck out this time.
"Sorry. Get those o's and q's mixed up on those old plates. Listen, as long as the air's dead, you wanna take an early seven?"
Normally I'd be tempted to make a crack about that 'early' part. It wasn't anywhere near lunchtime. But as far as my partner was concerned, there was no such thing as eating too soon--ever. This time I was in complete agreement. Those two calls we'd responded to earlier barely made a bump in our day. Maybe some food would provide a little diversion from the tedium.
"Okay, you name it." I felt charitable. Besides, I didn't care where we went as long as it had a decent menu.
"How about Leland Way and Comstock?"
"Leland Way and Comstock?" That sounded wrong. I wondered if he'd temporarily lost his mind. Or sense of direction. Those cross-streets were smack in the middle of the business district--very unappetizing. "There's no place to eat there."
"Yeah. It's my bank."
"Your bank?" Question answered. He had lost his mind.
"Yeah. Thought since it was payday, I'd go in and make a deposit."
"On my lunch hour." Yeah, I made an issue of it. If I was going to sacrifice for my partner, he better darn well acknowledge it.
"I also thought I'd go ahead and make the last payment on my car and pick up the pink slip."
"Hmm." So that was it. I mentally visualized the long line I always found myself in at my bank, usually delayed by someone else's unexpected problem or snag. Then there was taking care of personal business in uniform. It could have its rare benefits…or its drawbacks. "How long is all this going to take?"
"Ten, fifteen minutes."
"Fifteen minutes?" Not bad, considering, but even that was one-third of our precious time allotted for lunch. My partner was going to owe me big-time. And I think he was just beginning to realize that.
"Look, Pete, it would've taken longer but I called yesterday and they should have all the paperwork done by now."
"You mean you knew yesterday you were going to pull this on me?" I knew I sounded surprised. I'm sure it showed on my face. But I wasn't, not really. This was typical Jim Reed. I bet this had been on his mind all morning. In fact, it explained a lot.
"Yeah, kinda, why?"
"Well, fifteen minutes…I won't get a second cup of coffee." I didn't have to wait long for his compromise.
"Tell you what. You let me pick up my pink slip and I'll buy you lunch, okay?"
"Okay." Yeah, Jim wasn't the only one who could work a plan. Mine just sometimes had to be a little more spontaneous. Call it 'the way of the bachelor.' Or maybe someone who's been on the force a few more years.
"1-Adam-12, requesting code 7 at Leland Way and Comstock."
"1-Adam-12, okay seven."
"Paying off that sedan, huh?" I could tell by his face that he wasn't just pleased with himself but very pleased.
"That always feels good." I knew how hard it was to make a decent living on a cop's salary. Sometimes I didn't know how Jim and Jean made ends meet. Getting that old car paid off was a major accomplishment. Couldn't blame him for feeling a bit cocky about it. Now he could deal for something classier.
"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. You should see it, Jim. It's silver. You like silver, I know. It's got a…"
He didn't let me finish.
"Pete. 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?" Had I not taught my younger partner anything? "If you wait too long, you'll get ripped off on your trade-in when the time comes."
"I won't wait too long. Besides, if I know you, you'll have me looking at every new car that comes down the pike."
Okay, so he knew me pretty well. Slick cars were my vice. Boats almost joined the short list but I learned my lesson. Jim had his run with motorcycles but having a family tends to change some things. But just because you have a wife and child doesn't mean you have to settle for any old tub. "You never know when the right deal will come along. I want my godson to have a good-looking ride, after all."
I heard Jim laugh as I turned the corner. "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," I told him in no uncertain terms. No doubt about that.
"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." I knew better but I couldn't help myself.
"Some of it will go into savings. But I've got other responsibilities, too."
"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 have something fun planned for a little bit of that money."
"Something like painting the bathrooms?" I could never let him forget that one. Jim had tried to explain the fun factor but it still remained a mystery to me.
"No, something like a weekend getaway for Jean and me."
"Hey, great!" Now that was more like it. It was about time they thought about themselves. I may not be much on marriage as a way of life for me but it was different when it came to Jim and Jean. They made it work. Still, a little escape from real life would make it easier on both of them.
"You both deserve a break," I said, nodding. "Where are you going?"
"I don't know yet. Someplace not too far away, but nice and romantic. Some place we can be alone."
I stopped him with one hand. "You can spare me all the gory details. I'm just glad you're going to do something fun."
"I'm glad you approve."
"Anything that makes you easier to live with is fine by me."
Thankfully it only took a few minutes to get to the bank. I got lucky and parked pretty close to the main entrance. He looked eager to get out of the car but it couldn't hurt to remind him. "Ten minutes. I'll be timing you."
He flashed that Reed grin back at me as he plopped his hat on his head and started to slide out. "Come on, fifteen. Don't be a hard-nose."
I didn't press it. Why ruin his good mood? I settled back into the seat as he headed straight for the bank's front doors. It was a bright sunny day, a little hazy in the distance but not too bad considering L.A's normal smog content. No real problems unless I wanted to count those missing flares. And now that I knew the reason for my partner being preoccupied, I didn't have to worry that he was in some tight spot as far as his personal life was concerned.
I was also glad to see that he'd had the decency to choose a financial institution that was accented by beautiful scenery. And I didn't mean the native shrubs and trees planted next to the sidewalk. This was more in the way of native--period. I forgot about Jim and focused instead on the young lady in the crosswalk. Even with the sun in my eyes, I could see that she was shapely, with dark golden blonde hair that swung on her shoulders as she walked. The bell-bottom jeans looked really cute on her, too. And I'm almost positive that she returned the smile when she saw me watching her. With the utmost of honorable and sincere appreciation, I amended to myself. Unfortunately, admiring female pedestrians while in uniform is not a recommended method for meeting eligible women. Still, it would've been stupid to completely ignore the view. So far, Jim's detour hadn't been so bad.
After that pleasant moment, the monotony returned and stuck around like a bad blind date. The street was quiet, populated only by law-abiding drivers. At that point in the day I'd have been glad for a jaywalker. Especially if she looked like the gal that just crossed. The near silence of the radio was an uninspiring echo. I should've been thankful for that peace and quiet. But, instead, I felt an edginess tugging on me and wished Jim would hurry up and get back. It was probably nothing. Or maybe I did need to eat--which would be my partner's fault since he brought up the subject of lunch in the first place.
I tried to imagine him inside sharing his budgetary accomplishments to the girl behind the counter. I made up my mind that, when he did return, I would razz him about how long he made me wait and how he took advantage of my generous nature. I could hear him now. 'Generous? I'm the one buying lunch.' Yup, that's right, partner. And I'm not going to settle for a pit stop at the nearest hot dog stand either.
"All units in the vicinity of 1-Adam-36, a 211-silent at the bank…"
It could've been any bank, but my gut tightened, and as I listened to the rest of the call, I knew the sudden emptiness wasn't from hunger.
"…4200 Leland Way. 1-Adam-36, handle code 3."
I grabbed the mic to respond, my eyes barely flickering to the front of Jim's bank. I don't know why I looked. I already knew it was no mistake. Maybe I hoped the street numbers had magically changed since I'd pulled over and parked.
Forcing myself to breathe again was hard enough. Now if I could just respond to Dispatch.
"1-Adam-12, code 6 at 4200 Leland Way."
I swallowed hard and took possession of the shotgun. Just do your job. I kept repeating that to myself. It was better to fall back on instinct and training than to lose myself in the mounting fear that burned a crater through my insides. None of that fear would help Jim, no matter what was going on inside that building. I had to get out of the car and move fast.
Maybe the customers had no idea that the bank was being held up. A teller might've followed written instructions handed to her, scared but bright enough to hit that alarm without alerting the robber. Maybe Jim was sorting out his paperwork with a bank officer, both of them completely unaware. Maybe my partner's keen eye would miss the crooked transaction taking place a few feet away from him.
But I knew better. I knew Jim.
Again I forced myself to calm down. Assess the situation. I hadn't heard any gunfire, which had to be a good sign. But I also knew that there were a lot of ways for people to be hurt that didn't include getting shot. I took advantage of a narrow opening between a palm tree and the corner of the building and tried to keep out of sight, although it may have already been too late for that. While I was girl watching, they could've been staring right at me. But kicking myself would be a luxury for later. Right now I had a job to do. I leaned forward, hoping to get a lucky glimpse of anyone or anything, and made sure that I had a firm grip on that shotgun.
What I saw tore me in two different directions. Jim was walking, upright and apparently uninjured. But my relief was shattered at the sight of the handcuffs pinning his arms behind him, and the shotgun pointed at the back of his head. The man holding the shotgun was a white male, heavier than Jim by at least 40 pounds and taller by 4 inches. He'd have been hard to take down even under the best of circumstances, and any fool could see luck hadn't been on Jim's side from the moment he decided to do some banking on his lunch hour. Then again, Jim was still alive, so maybe I was selling Lady Luck short.
Secondary bits and pieces hit home as I ran back again to the black and white. There had been another man, shorter than the first, moving behind the counter. I couldn't be sure--he might've been an accomplice or a civilian hostage just doing what he was told. And then there was Jim's holster and belt. They were hard to miss, scattered on the floor along with his hat. The items lay a couple of yards apart and I didn't like thinking about the why's and how's.
There was no way to know if the first man was aware of my presence or if he even knew that an alarm had gone off. Was it one man, two, or was there a gang inside? I had to get the unit out of sight for two reasons. I didn't want escalate the situation by taking the chance that they might lose it if they did see another cop on the scene. But I also had to set up a command post and it couldn't very well be on the front steps of the bank.
I don't think I'd ever backed up a car as fast as I did then. In fact, I don't believe I even thought about it--I just did it. I was in a hurry to alert Dispatch, Adam-36 and Mac. The sooner I told them what was happening, the sooner we could get Jim out of there.
"1-Adam-12, a 211 in progress at 4200 Leland Way. Advise responding units my partner's inside being held hostage. Request One L-90 meet me on Tac 2." I heard myself talking and wondered how in the world I managed to sound like it was any other call.
"All units, there is a 211 in progress at the bank, 4200 Leland Way. One-Adam-12 reports his partner is being held hostage at the scene. 1-L-90, 1-L-90, meet 1-Adam-12 on Tac 2."
Dispatch remained professional, detached…exactly what I needed to do. It was necessary but damn difficult.
"1-L-90 to 1-Adam-12, go."
"Mac, they've got Jim inside." More words I hated saying. And Mac would know how much.
"Did you see how many?"
"I saw two. There may be more." Not enough information. For all we knew, there could be a gang of heavily armed men in there. We needed to know lot more before we could take any kind of action.
"Set up a perimeter and sit tight until I get there. My ETA is 3 minutes."
"1-Adam-12, roger." His instructions were completely expected but that didn't make following them any easier. Sit tight while who knows what was happening with Jim and the innocent civilians inside. Hurry, Mac, hurry.
I switched the radio back and issued my own set of directives, standard operating procedures designed to assist in resolving any number of situations. I kept telling myself that this came under that heading. I was just having a hard time accepting it.
"1-Adam-12, requesting all units responding to the 211 at 4200 Leland Way meet me on Tac 2. All other units, be advised that the command post is 1/2 block west of 4200 Leland Way."
I heard Adam-36 roll up on the street behind Adam-12. I grabbed the shotgun from the front seat, swung the car door open and got out again. You'd think I had somewhere to go or something to do. Instead all I did was stand there, waiting…just like Mac said. I heard footsteps and turned to see Jerry approaching. I looked at him briefly and turned back around. I didn't want to take my eyes off the bank for more than a second or two. Anything could go down.
"Mac wants us to sit tight. He's on his way." I wasn't surprised to see Jerry. I was well aware that this was 36's district.
"Right. What happened?"
I heard the worry in Jerry's voice and risked another glance in his direction. "Jim walked right into a 211."
My response was blunt but Jerry understood. All I saw in his face was genuine concern and a readiness to do what had to be done.
I returned to my sentry position again as Jerry took off for his. He made sure I heard him, though. "We'll take the back."
Three minutes was too long. Hell, one minute was too long.
The pedestrians that previously spotted the sidewalks and street corners must have found something else to do. A couple of police cars on the scene can cause people to either hang around like vultures or run like rabbits. I was glad they were gone. Their absence made it easier for me to study the building in detail, looking it over from one end to the other more than once. In the end I kept coming back to concentrate on those double glass doors Jim had unknowingly walked through only a short while ago. No movement that I could see--nobody making demands or waving a gun. I'd have to take that for what it was worth for now.
My mind flashed back to a day well over two years ago. Jim and I had been on our way to lunch then, too, with no idea of what lay ahead of us. But he was the one left waiting out on the street after two escaped cons shot me and held me hostage with others in Duke's Café. He was still pretty green when that happened. I wasn't thrilled about getting shot but it could've been worse--a lot worse. Mostly I was relieved that Jim hadn't walked in there with me. There's no telling what the sight of two cops might've triggered with those jailbirds. But Jim followed procedure like he was trained to do and that helped to save my life. It drove him nuts staying behind the lines, waiting for orders and feeling useless at the same time. Doing nothing is sometimes the best course of action. I'm no idiot. I knew it then and I knew it now. But I had slipped right into Jim's shoes. And I didn't like it one bit.
"1-Adam-36 to 1-Adam-12."
Jerry must've felt like taking over the mic on this one.
"1-Adam-12, go ahead."
"Pete, we've got the other exit covered. It's another set of double doors on the east side of the building. We've cleared the area and everything's quiet."
"The side? What about the back, Jerry?" I had visions of the bad guys slipping out some hidden exit. Too many James Bond movies.
"No, I know this bank, Pete. We've been here before. Trust me, front and side only."
Before I could respond, he gave me what I already knew.
"Don't worry, Pete. Anyone tries to leave this building, we're gonna know it."
An upper molar that had been giving me problems suddenly ached like crazy, probably because I'd been working my jaw like a press mill. I forgot about it as soon as the high-pitched wail of sirens broke through the deceptive stillness. More backup had arrived. After each unit radioed in on Tac 2, I instructed Xray-6 to maintain position on the east side while the other unit paralleled Adam-12 on the street.
I glanced over my shoulder and saw Mac's unit rolling up behind me. He swung his wagon into the side street next to a dentist's office where it would be out of sight but serve as a good command post location. Leaving Adam-23 to cover the front entrance, I ran to meet Mac as he vaulted out of his car.
"Any ideas, Pete?"
"Not yet." I led him to the edge of the brick office building for a better view and explained the layout. "The double doors in front and another pair like them in the parking lot are the only way out."
"Yeah." Again I felt momentarily buoyed by the knowledge that Jerry and his partner and the other
unit were on the other side of the bank. If nothing else, I had no doubts about what kind of help was on
"How many civilians inside?"
"I couldn't tell." Again Mac had questions and I had too few answers.
"I've ordered a S.W.A.T. team and tear gas. If we have to, we'll smoke them out. We'll do the best we can to protect Jim."
"I know that." And I did. No one looked after the men under his command like Mac. But the mention of S.W.A.T. and tear gas weighed like a cement block on my chest. Both Jim and I had experience with the special weapons unit and were more than a little familiar with their particular method of operations. S.W.A.T. is what happens when the situation is critical and there are no other choices. I didn't want to accept that it might come to that. I didn't want their skills to be necessary but the facts were there, rudely staring us all in the face.
Again I found myself waiting impatiently as Mac checked in with our available manpower and updated Dispatch. I finished setting up the mobile grid map in the back of Mac's unit like I'd done a hundred times before. Then I kept looking up and down the street. Even S.W.A.T. needed reasonable time to get there but every second seemed to crawl in slow motion. I looked down and realized that my grip on the shotgun was ridiculously tight. I eased up before my hands started to sweat. Too late. My stare returned to the front of the bank and my thoughts went back to the Duke's Café. The two guys that held us hostage were both dangerous criminals but I had considered one to be more desperate than the other. Oddly enough, he didn't plant that bullet in me but he was deadly. He wasn't going back to prison, no matter what. And he meant it. I could see it in at his eyes when he talked. To him, he was on the brink of a fate worse than death. Thank God the negotiator brought him back from the edge or I might not be here now.
I had no idea if we had access to a negotiator this time. Mac might have to fill in, which was fine because I'd seen him do it before and he was good. But I wondered about the men inside the bank. How desperate were they? Were they willing to talk and surrender before things went sour? Or would they be prepared to die before they'd ever give up to the Law? I knew that if they were willing to go that far, then they'd likely take as many of us down with them as they could…with Jim being the first one in their sights.
From the corner of my eye, I saw motion and realized that the special weapons van had arrived. Several men in dark fatigues poured out from the back, gathered for a few seconds and then took off in two different directions. I didn't have to ask where they were going. The officer in charge jogged up to our position and introduced himself. Gil Andrews. I'd met him once before, a few months earlier. He came across as composed but equipped and prepared for anything. That's the kind of men that S.W.A.T. required.
"Okay, Mac," Andrews spoke directly to Mac. "I have a full team standing by. We're ready whenever you need us."
Mac nodded at him. "I'll try to talk them out."
It looked like he was going to be the one negotiating after all. I took a couple of steps away from the unit and closer to the street so I could have a clearer view of Mac as he made his way toward Adam-12. He left the two of us standing there and an uncomfortable silence lodged in the space between Andrews and me, right on the tailgate of Mac's car. But instead of keeping a close watch on Mac, the face of that bank was all I could see.
"Sorry about your partner, Malloy. You two been together long?"
It shouldn't have, but Andrews' question caught me off guard. My throat caught. My voice almost failed me. I avoided looking at him. "Yeah, I broke him in."
"How do you think he's handling it?"
My eyes shot to his, straight on. "He's a damn good cop."
Something inside me had flared. I was on the defensive and I knew it. Rationally, I recognized that Andrews didn't mean anything personal. But inside, I couldn't stand the thought that a fellow officer might believe less than the truth about my partner.
Andrews took a couple of seconds. It seemed like he was weighing what I'd said about Jim. And then he spoke, with a lot more confidence than I felt. "We'll get him out."
He took off to join Mac and I stayed where I was, at least for the moment. I couldn't decide where I might do the most good. It seemed like nowhere.
"In the bank." Mac's voice boomed through the PA and kicked out into the air. There was no way the people inside the bank couldn't hear him. "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."
Nothing happened. No one on the street stirred. No one in the bank responded. Mac made another attempt.
"All right in there. Time's running out. Come out with your hands up."
This wasn't working and I'd had enough of standing on the sidelines. I wanted to be there when Mac decided the next move. Within seconds I stood behind Andrews, in position with the shotgun and waiting for that decision.
"Well, it looks like they're going to hang tough." Andrews sounded almost resigned as if it happened every day. I guessed it might for him.
"I just hope they don't panic and start shooting." I voiced my worries even though I knew it was a needless reminder to the two men beside me.
"Right," Mac nodded, glancing back and forth. "Listen, let's talk to them on the phone. Why don't you handle it, Pete? Maybe you can pick up something from Reed."
I was all for it. If I could just hear Jim's voice and know he was okay…it'd give me a place to start. That is, if I could convince his captors into letting him talk to me.
"In the bank," Mac was still on the PA, doing his best to get the guys inside to listen. "We're going to call you on the phone. If you're smart, you'll talk."
If those guys were really smart, they would've never tried to rob a bank in the first place.
Mac and I ran across the street to that dentist office. A short middle-aged man that I figured for the dentist stood inside the reception area. He must have been watching from the door because he looked like he expected us.
Mac wasted no time. "Can we use your phone?"
"Of course." The dentist turned to the receptionist's window, but kept on talking. "You're going to call the bank?"
The phone jangled as the man set it down on the countertop. "I have the number right here."
"Oh, good," Mac said.
"Here, why don't you use the speaker so you both can hear?" To his credit, the dentist got out of the way immediately. Cooperative and sharp. I hoped I could remember to thank him later, no matter how it all turned out.
"Fine. Okay, Pete, see what you can do." Mac stepped back as well and I handed him the shotgun. My palms were sweating again and it didn't have anything to do with the death-grip I'd maintained despite my best efforts. I knew what was involved with negotiating a hostage situation but this was different. Every number I dialed took forever to spin its rotation but the phone on the other end only rang once before being picked up.
"Yeah, what's on your mind?" It was a bear of a voice, callous and mocking and I hadn't even opened my mouth yet.
"We want to know what's on yours." I tried to project a sense of concern for their situation and that wasn't easy, except in how it related to my partner.
"We're holding the aces." The oily smugness seeped through the speaker phone. It had to be the big guy in charge, the one with the gun at Jim's head. He was probably still holding it there.
"If you mean that officer, he's a useless hostage."
"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."
"The officer's prepared to die." As terrified as I was for Jim, I wasn't lying. We all knew the risks with this job. But I wasn't prepared for him to die.
I couldn't help but wonder if this guy was talking about Jim…or himself.
"Ask him." I had to get him to realize that threatening a police officer's life wasn't going to get them what they really wanted. Then maybe, just maybe they'd be open to other suggestions--ones that were in our control, not theirs.
"We already got that pitch."
I bet he did. He sounded irritated with my partner. Under different circumstances, I might've smiled at that. But in this case, it could have serious impact on Jim's welfare. "We have all the men and guns we need. You're nailed. Time's on our side. We can wait."
"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. 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."
I took a deep breath. It might've been an extreme bluff but my gut feeling told me that the threat wasn't empty. This guy and his partner couldn't have been any more obvious in their contempt for the police. Waiting them out was not an option--not at this price. "Let me speak to the officer."
"You wanna say goodbye? Sure. Here." His tone turned nasty and amused, like he was really enjoying his little power trip. Nothing like holding a cop's life in your hand to turn a botched robbery into a real adrenaline rush.
"This is Reed."
Thank God. Jim was alive. He could have been answering the phone on desk duty except for a rush in his voice that wasn't like him. "Jim, you all right?"
"Yeah. Don't take any chances with this pair."
To anyone else, it probably didn't sound like much. But Jim was using the opportunity to give us valuable information and doing it right in front of the bank robbers.
"Hang tight," I told him. "We'll think of something." It wasn't much. A few words of vague assurance but Jim would know…he had know that I wasn't going to leave him at the mercy of those two men.
"The clock is running down, copper." The dial tone sealed the conversation, sounding harsh and too final.
Jim's voice was gone. He'd sounded drained there at the last and that bothered me. I didn't know what else might be going on. The longer he was in there, the slimmer his chances got. And he knew that as well as I did.
I shared with Mac what I knew. "Well, he said pair so there's two of them. And he called me Boomer so one of them's got a shotgun."
"Mac?" It was Jerry, somber but anxious as he came through the doors. "Found a car behind the bank with the motor running. It's a West L.A. stolen. It's gotta be theirs."
An idea crystallized in my mind. Mac might think it was crazy but I could see it clear as day. "Mac."
"Why don't you give 'em their car? I'll get in the trunk with a shotgun and a cc unit. You leave Tac 2 open and I'll keep you posted on their location."
"They'll hear you."
"No, they won't. I'll talk low and you roger by clicking your mic button twice." I felt certain that it would work if I could just get Mac to okay it.
I saw him hesitate and I understood his reasons. But this had to work.
"Pete, you're asking me to put two officers in jeopardy instead of just one. They could end up nailing both of you."
"Mac, what other chance does Jim have? Or the civilians?"
"Okay. Let's try it."
I'm not sure if he honestly thought it was a good idea or if he felt it was the only route left. At that point, it didn't matter as long as he let me have a go at it.
I followed Jerry outside, leaving Mac to inform Andrews and the other units of the plan. For this to work, everybody would have to play along and give us room. If the suspects inside figured out what we were doing, Jim wouldn't get this last chance.
We stopped at Mac's car where I grabbed a cc unit from the back. From there we traced a narrow sidewalk that ran all the way from the rear of the dentist office to the far end of the bank. Just like Jerry said--no exits. Then I saw the bank robbers' car past the edging of some bushes and I glanced over my shoulder twice, worried that they'd come bustin' out of there, see us and make an example of Jim in one quick burst of gunfire. When we reached the car I saw Xray-6 in its secured position on the other side of the lot. Martinez kept out of sight nearby--I almost didn't see him.
Jerry fished the keys out of his pocket and unlocked the trunk. He took the shotgun from me and held onto it while I climbed inside. It was a good size car with a trunk that was more or less empty. I hadn't even considered the possibility that it might be full of stuff.
I got situated as best as I could and Jerry handed the shotgun back to me. He also gave me his set of handcuffs, which I set down next to me. Good old Jerry--neither one of us had said a thing but it hadn't mattered. As he ran back to the front of the car, I couldn't move fast enough to suit me. I started to pull the trunk lid down but knew I'd need a way of keeping it shut and fastened without actually locking myself inside. I had to see where we were going so I could keep Mac informed. And I had to be able to get out fast when the time was right. We couldn't afford to have anything go wrong. I hooked Jerry's cuffs to a metal loop right under the lid and looked around for something to slip over the catch, anything to muffle the sound of metal against metal. I found an old rag near my feet that did the trick. Maybe now I'd be set.
With the spare tire stowed behind me and bumping up against the back seat, I was able to fit into the space. Still, it was cramped and my movements were restricted a little more than I'd expected. But I'd have to make do.
The engine started and a dull vibration shimmied down my right side, my arm and my leg. Jerry had returned the keys to the getaway car, leaving it running--exactly as it had been before we'd gotten there. We couldn't afford for them to think anyone had tampered with their car. It would blow the plan sky-high.
Pulling down on the cuffs, I lowered the trunk lid and it felt like I'd shut myself into a coffin. My hand fumbled around before finally covering the cc unit. I pressed the button.
"Mac, I'm all set." I kept my voice as low as possible and prayed that it got through.
It worked. Mac heard me. Now if I could keep the passengers from doing the same…
Even with the building structure and the body of a car in between Mac and me I could make out his muted voice coming from the PA system again. It was impossible to hear exactly what was being said but I didn't have to be a genius to figure that one out. It was time for serious talk, with specific demands to follow. And Mac would appear to give in, provided there was communication from inside the bank.
There was Mac's voice again!
The muscles in my right arm tensed up, sending little sparks of numbness all the way through to my hand. The last thing I needed was a dead trigger finger so I changed the position of my arm as much as I could manage in the small space.
There was a steady rumbling from the car's exhaust and my hiding place suddenly reeked of gasoline and oil. It made me wonder if the car was in good working order or if I was going to end up passing out from the fumes. Maybe we'd get lucky and it'd break down unexpectedly in the center of mid-day traffic, forcing them to abandon my partner and get the hell out of Dodge. Or a tire could blow out and when one of them came back to get the spare, he'd find me instead--greeting him with a shotgun. He'd call for his unsuspecting partner and they'd both have no choice but to give up.
A cop can't waste time on luck, though. I had to think ahead to the worst possible scenario--otherwise I wouldn't be ready and I wouldn't be there for Jim when he needed me.
The car shook--a door being opened followed by a shift in weight. The bulk of the car sunk slightly and the door shut with a thud. Immediately, the car sagged down further toward the ground and car doors pounded twice more against its frame. My own body tensed. At least I knew now that the lives of those people in the bank were no longer in jeopardy. Unless something had changed, that meant my partner was the one and only hostage.
The driver hit the accelerator hard and fast, turning sharp enough to throw me off balance. Even though I had a firm grasp on the handcuffs and my feet were braced against the wheel well, I rolled forward with the momentum, pinning the shotgun beneath my ribs. My other hand, the one holding the radio, struck the back brake light and nearly dropped that critical tool. I prayed that the men in the car hadn't noticed anything, like perhaps a body moving about in a trunk that was supposed to be carrying next to nothing.
The fact that the car didn't come to a swift and violent stop told me that the bank robbers were none the wiser. The getaway car had apparently left the bank's parking lot, straightened out and merged into the steady stream of L.A traffic. And through the slim opening left between the trunk lid and the edge of the trunk itself, I was able to see known territory. Unfortunately, the unsecured spare tire had also slid forward an inch or two to jam against my back, giving me even less room to maneuver. I couldn't let go of the trunk lid and I couldn't afford to lose contact with Mac but I needed to be sure that the shotgun was within my reach. I also better be damn sure I could get out of this sweatbox fast enough to do Jim and me some good. It was going to be very tricky.
The driver hung a left and I had a quick glimpse of a street at the corner.
"North on Manning. Mac, give 'em enough room." Did he hear me? I hoped I hadn't damaged the unit when I bumped it.
Mac was still with me. I kept my eyes glued to the scenery, knowing full well that if I missed a street sign or got disoriented, our backup could never be able to shadow us. Sure, they'd eventually find us but by then it would be too late. Thankfully, the driver wasn't taking any chances by exceeding the speed limit or taking a lot of dizzying side streets. He seemed to know exactly where they were going. That gave me a better chance to keep Mac informed of our position.
They kept the car going on Manning for quite a while. I wondered how long it would take to get to their destination.
I hadn't given much thought to the temperature outside since it was pretty much like any other spring day in southern California. Confinement inside a car trunk was a different story. I could've done without the tee shirt and long-sleeve uniform. My armpits were soaked and I felt more sweat making my collar stick to my neck. It wasn't hard to imagine how Jim probably felt. He'd be putting on a cool front but dealing with a different kind of heat--namely a gun in his side and not a sign of help anywhere. No matter how much faith he had, he still had to be scared. I knew I was.
Another turn. I kept my eyes peeled.
"Turning east on Chadwick."
Chadwick was a street that could take a person straight into L.A…or straight out of it. I had no doubt which way we were headed. The buildings on either side gradually thinned out until they became the exception rather than the rule. I felt more and more uncomfortable, not in the physical sense, although that was also a factor. But this trip was lasting much longer than I anticipated.
"Turning north into Ridge Estates." Things changed. End of the road. The smooth pavement ended and I braced myself again as the car swayed and bounced over ground riddled with deep ruts.
I remembered this area. Acres and acres of bleak, windswept terrain lay deserted and dormant, yet amazingly still within the Los Angeles city limits. For all I know, it might've been home to an orchard or vineyard once upon a time. But right now, it was a remote wasteland where a person could scream at the top of their lungs and never be heard.
The car turned slightly and stopped. The engine stilled. I saw swirling clouds of fine brown dust gather near the rear end of the car. Some of it sifted through the gap at the back.
"Mac, they've reached their backup car. They're gonna switch. I gotta make my move." The cc unit tumbled from my fingers as I squirmed into a semi-kneeling position. My right hand cradled the underside of the shotgun and I worked to ease the handcuffs free to release the trunk lid.
A car door slammed hard, jarring the entire vehicle. I strained to listen through the commotion outside, waiting for just the right moment.
"End of the road, cop. You're on your way to pig heaven. Out!"
I recognized the callous roar of the big man. I wanted to make my move right then but they were only inches away--too close, too risky.
"Why don't we just leave him and split, Cleve? You kill a cop and you never sleep."
The little guy. If only Cleve would take his advice.
"I'll sleep just fine. Guess you were right, Blue Boy, you're on your way to pig heaven. Any last words…?"
The booming voice trailed off. They were headed away from the car…and taking Jim with them. There was no mistaking what they had in store for him.
I let go of the cuffs and pushed up hard against the inside of the lid with my back. It flew up, giving me room to get to my knees and take quick aim at the retreating figures of the bank robbers.
"Jim!" It was the only warning I could give him--I made it a loud one.
Both criminals spun around in surprise, their guns drawn but too slow in their search for a target. In that split-second, I saw Jim jerk away and dive for cover behind another car and I knew I could safely pull the trigger. And I did.
The big man--Cleve--went down first, clutching his side as his legs twisted and collapsed beneath him. The long gun he'd been carrying flipped into the air in my direction. The squat little man next to him waved a pistol toward me and I pulled off the second shot, catching him square in the middle. He dropped his weapon as he fell back, smacking into the tree behind him without uttering a sound before falling facedown in the dry grass.
Woods' handcuffs dangled above me as I climbed out of the car trunk, never taking my eyes or the barrel of my shotgun away from either one of them. I walked cautiously toward the two figures and kicked the big man's gun to the side, making sure it was out of his reach. Cleve was still alive but he was bent into a pretzel and groaning in agony. A backup pistol lay in the dirt close by but he must've been in too much pain to make a try for it.
My eyes flickered to the smaller man, mute and crumpled like a discarded puppet. I saw very little blood beneath him but my instincts told me he was a goner.
Bending down to retrieve the pistol, I saw that it was Jim's gun. I'd heard at least one shot ring out besides mine. What if that shot had gone wild? What if Jim hadn't gotten clear? It had happened so quickly…what if…?
A movement to my left and a familiar voice squashed the leftover fear. "Good to see you, partner."
It was good to see him, too--especially in one piece. I knew the smile on my face was weak but it was all I could muster for the moment. Relief sapped me where I stood, and, if the truth had been told, I was trying not to think about how close it'd been. But Jim let me know with one quick grin that he was okay. It wasn't quite the same one I was used to seeing, but, under the circumstances, it was more than I had a right to expect.
But I couldn't take time yet to think about that just yet. The shorter man's gun was discarded a few inches away from his hand. I stepped past the big man with care and picked it up, placing it snugly in the back of my belt before I moved back to where I was standing. I didn't like that Jim had to wait, handcuffed and sitting on the ground, but it was safer for both of us to wait for backup.
I turned my attention back to the surviving prisoner. Even wounded he could still pose a danger. His left arm rimmed his stomach as he used the right one to stay propped up. I saw the way he held his left hand over the bullet hole I'd put in him. He kept pressure on it and, even though some blood leaked through his fingers, I had a sneaking suspicion he wasn't critically injured. Cleve got off a lot easier than his partner.
Almost on cue, Cleve's head raised up and his eyes bored a hole of their own into mine. For the first time, I saw the man Jim had been forced to deal with all this time. The expression on that face was hard, twisted and poisoned by a lifetime of cold-blooded brutality. The hate in his eyes hadn't developed overnight.
"Don't move, mister," I told him, making sure that he saw my gun leveled at him. I recited the Miranda to him and asked if he understood.
"Sure, chief," Cleve answered, sneering at me. "Like I care what any of you pigs gotta say."
"Too bad you both didn't give up when you had the chance." I meant it even though I knew Cleve wouldn't buy it.
The big man shifted his gaze away from me and drilled my partner with a cold, measured hatred that I'd seen only a few times in all my years on the job. It wasn't a pretty sight and it had to look even worse from where Jim was.
"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."
A nasty smile curled through the man's grimace of pain. I wished he'd shut up and use his right to remain silent.
The howls of sirens cut him off and I saw his eyes dart behind me, looking more than a little uptight at the arrival of other police units. I, on the other hand, thought they made quite a picture. I didn't care if the worst of it was over--we still needed them. The S.W.A.T van and at least three black and whites stirred up the dirt again, followed by an ambulance.
"I never forget, Blue Boy," Cleve snarled, his teeth gritting, whether from his own rage or his injury, I don't know. "You just remember that…"
"Looks like your escort's here," I told him, backing up a step as Martinez, Andrews and several uniforms ran up to us. It was a good way to shut him up. Cleve was secured with no problems under several pairs of wary eyes and Martinez appeared to be sticking with him in the ambulance. I set the shotgun aside for the moment, glad to have it out of my hands.
Jim hadn't said anything more.
"Pete?" Mac came up behind me so I knew he hadn't yet seen Jim in between the abandoned car and overgrown bushes.
"He's okay, Mac. Over here." I retrieved my handcuff keys and stepped over to where Jim still sat, slightly hunched over. Mac took over my spot.
"Reed? Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I'm okay, Mac," Jim replied, peering up at Mac. "Pete was a quite sight, though."
"I just bet he was." Mac raised an eyebrow and crooked a smile at me.
I squatted in back of Jim and he twisted around trying to raise his arms behind him.
I unlocked the handcuffs and removed them, noticing they were abnormally tight. Cleve probably thought that was fitting in his own sick way.
Jim eased each arm out to his sides slowly and a little painfully, I thought. He chafed his wrists, trying to work some circulation back into them.
I stood up, braced my hand under his elbow and pulled him up. He unfolded slowly, wobbled a bit and ended up leaning against the rear end of the old wreck. That's what made me decide to wait.
"Are you injured?" Mac asked, looking at him closely.
"Not too bad, Mac. Just took a couple of thumps," Jim said, one hand gingerly touching the back of his head.
Funny how a guy can make something sound like nothing. If I didn't know better, it might seem like Jim had traded a few light punches with another kid on the schoolyard.
"Huh-uh." That was all Mac said. He knew better, too. Turning around, he frowned at the lifeless body near the tree.
"Well, it was a bad situation all the way around," he said, shaking his head. His gaze returned to Jim and he added, meaningfully, "But it could've been a whole lot worse."
Jim nodded slightly.
"Pete, I'll take Reed by County General so they can check him out. 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 then 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, that is. Have one of them bring back Martinez's unit. Later, you'll both need to finish your part of the reports. And there's sure to be a shooting review as well."
That was Mac. Standard procedure. It could save your sanity in some circumstances. But he also knew when to fit in some flexibility and that was a lifesaver, too. Right that minute, though, I really wasn't in the mood to cut Jim loose and traipse back to that bank like it was any other call.
"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 it for me."
I really didn't mind picking up after my partner this time and I suspected that he knew that, too. "The things I do for you."
"Let's get you to County." Mac issued the reminder gently but it looked like he wanted to say, 'Come on, already.' I couldn't blame him. It felt like Jim and I were both delaying the inevitable and I couldn't figure out why. I did want him to get to the hospital.
Jim finally took a step but stopped and shifted uncomfortably. "And, uh, he…" Jim motioned to the dead man. "He should still have the keys to the storeroom on him, Pete. I think it's the right pants pocket."
"That'll help." Finally, I added, "Go on. I'll meet up with you."
I watched Jim as he hesitated, his gaze lingering on the still figure. A wasted life was still a wasted life, no matter whose it was. Jim was probably trying to figure out what he could've done differently. I was sure he did everything he could. I was sure of that because I'm the one who pulled the trigger.
"Come on, Reed." Mac took a firm grasp of my partner's arm and prompted him around the bumper of the back-up car. Jim glanced over his shoulder at me as they headed toward the gathering of black and whites.
I gave my partner what I hoped was a reassuring nod. It wasn't easy to hang back after everything that had just happened. But Jim was in good hands and that was the important thing. I stepped closer to Wes' body as one of the attendants came back with a sheet to cover it. Another officer I didn't recognize accompanied him.
"They sent for the coroner's wagon," he said, picking a position next to the tree.
"Right." I bent over to check the pockets and found a ring with a half a dozen keys or so. I grabbed it, got back up and walked toward Xray-6. Those keys were in already in the ignition; I took it as an additional hint for me to leave this place. Circling the other vehicles, I slowed as I saw Andrews as he and his men prepare to move out.
"Malloy." Andrews gave me a two-finger wave as I drove up to the van.
"Appreciate your help," I told him, truthfully.
"What help? We knew you had everything under control."
A big smile ushered the statement and I returned it with a shake of my head.
"Just glad everything worked out all right for your partner and those other hostages."
Andrews grabbed one of the handholds and swung up and into the back interior, pulling the doors closed behind him. The dark-colored vehicle started up and bounced across the uneven ground. I followed it to the main highway and split off for the quickest route back to the bank. I concentrated on flow of cars around me and listened to the sporadic bursts of activity on the radio. It kept me from replaying the last few hours over and over in my head.
I made it back to 4200 Leland Way pretty quickly and positioned Xray-6 in front of Adam-12, not too far from the spot where I'd parked it earlier. Aside from the two patrol cars on the street and the 'Bank Closed' sign, you'd never know that anything unusual had just occurred at the location. Inside, I found Woods hanging up a phone and Brichton kneeling next to a closed door trying to jimmy the door's lock with a mystery tool. I held up the metal ring of keys and rattled them for both men to see. Jerry's eyes immediately rolled upwards and he mouthed 'Thank you' to the heavens above. I had a few of those to say as well.
"Brichton! Brichton!" Jerry yelled at his partner, who was still twisting some small utensil around in the door lock. "Knock it off before you do some real damage! The keys are here!"
To me he said, "The bank manager's at a meeting in Anaheim and forgot to leave the other set of keys. My partner, the safecracker, thinks he can open it. Me--I was about to call a locksmith before he really fixed it."
His partner ceased his breaking and entering efforts and stood up, looking at me expectantly. I tossed the key ring to him and he caught it in one hand.
"Pete, I heard the good news," Jerry said, smiling at me. "Jim's really okay and you caught the bad guys?"
Jim's hat, belt and notebook sat on the desk next to Jerry.
"Yes to both questions. Mac took Jim to County General just to be sure. I'll go pick him up as soon as we're done here."
"Boy, I'm sure glad to hear that." Jerry watched Brichton test each one of the various keys. "That was some wild plan you came up with, Pete, you know that?"
"That very thought came to me somewhere between Manning and Pine," I told him. I needed a dose of humor at that point.
"I wasn't sure Mac was going to let you do it. But you pulled it off," Jerry said, resting a hand on my shoulder. "Anyway, it all worked out." Just as quickly, he folded his arms across his chest and screwed up his face as he stared at his partner. "What is he doing?"
"Got it!" Brichton shouted, jerking the door open like a floodgate.
Several men and women poured out of the room, most of them chattering excitedly, obviously overjoyed at being released from their temporary confinement. I couldn't blame them. They'd been held hostage, struck deaf and blind to the world outside with no way of knowing what was in store for them. One woman threw her arms around Brichton's neck and I could tell that he was having a difficult time getting her to let go of him.
It was almost funny. But I was too tired to laugh. Woods must've seen it in my face.
"Pete, I know you want to get to the hospital. We'll get finished with this as fast as we can, okay?"
"It's gotta be done, Jerry. Let's just be sure we don't miss anything or Mac will make us turn around and come right back."
"Ain't that the truth? Oh, and don't forget Jim's things," he said, crooking a thumb to Jim's belongings on the desk.
"I won't." I walked over and retrieved only the checkbook for the time being. The envelope with Jim's last car payment was still tucked inside so I stuck it in my pocket. I don't know if the bank robbers had even bothered to look at it. If they had, I guess they figured it was chicken feed compared to what they were stealing from the bank.
After calming everyone down, we each took several people aside and proceeded with interviews. You never know what you're going to hear after a civilian faces an unexpected life and death situation. Sometimes the fear and confusion simply takes over and blanks everything else out. It's no one's fault; it's just human nature. You feel fortunate if you can gather a few intelligible facts. If luck is on your side, there's at least one person who managed to keep their wits about them and is able to recount reliable information. Luck was definitely on my side today--mine and Jim's.
I'd finished taking statements from two customers who told me they couldn't remember much because they were afraid for their lives the entire time. But they'd talked--a lot. They just hadn't said much that was useful. It was different with the next person, an employee of the bank. After introducing ourselves, Kim Nakilua sat across from me, composed, with her hands clasped together in her lap. It didn't come across as a sign of shyness or nervousness. Good manners came to mind. She also had deep brown eyes that pulled at me with a gentle but questioning intensity.
She couldn't have been more than twenty-five, petite with long dark hair. Pretty, too. I admit I was surprised that she was the head teller. It seemed like a lot of responsibility for such a young girl. But I found out that she was more than capable.
"Yes, Miss Nakilua?"
"I'm ready to help you in any way I can but, first, I'd like to ask about the policeman who was here with us in the bank. Is he all right?"
I smiled. As far as I know, no one else had asked about Jim's welfare. That wouldn't be anything new. But Miss Nakilua's concern was an uncommon thing.
"Yes, Officer Reed is fine. Thank you for asking."
"Good, I'm so glad." Her smile made a decisive difference in the surroundings. Being in this bank had felt unusually sterile and cold until then. "You know, he's responsible for our safety in more ways than one."
"What do you mean?" Her remark threw me somewhat.
"Well, those two men walked in here out of the blue and, just like that, the big one pulled out that shotgun and pointed it at everyone. The other man kept jabbing at people with his pistol. It was terrifying."
"That's understandable." I started taking notes.
"We're trained to cooperate and not argue or do anything to put our customers or ourselves in danger. We're also trained to hit the silent alarm as soon as we see a sign of trouble."
Jerry's series of false alarms tripped through my head as I continued to listen.
"But I wasn't fast enough and I thought I'd messed up. Sharon, she's one of the junior tellers, couldn't even move. I didn't know how we were going to get out of this. Then Officer Reed walked in. His being there, like that…distracted them."
I was sure it did. "Go on."
"The big man took the officer's gun and then Officer Reed jumped him and they fought. I was still behind the counter so, during all the commotion, I was able to press the alarm button without them seeing me do it. Then one of the customers started to run for the door but they stopped him before he could get too far. That was after…"
I paused and looked at her, waiting for the rest of the sentence.
"The other man, the one with the glasses, ran over and hit your officer over the head--hard enough to knock him out for a few minutes, at least. Officer Reed almost had that big guy, too. If only… He was so still that I thought they might've killed him. But they put handcuffs on him and I didn't think they'd take the trouble to do that if he was dead."
I nodded and pushed away the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Jim was fine and I had to remember that.
"And then what happened?"
"Well, thank goodness he was okay. At least he seemed to be. They made him walk over there." Kim pointed to one of the round white columns in the reception area of the lobby. "Then they pulled the handcuffs around it so he couldn't go anywhere."
That had to be when I saw Jim being led across the floor.
"And where were you and the others when this was going on?"
"They made us get on the floor. That big man…I think his name was Cleve?"
She waited for confirmation and I nodded again.
"He…Cleve…demanded the keys and I was the one who had them. They told everyone to get down on the floor and that's when the man with the glasses collected all the money in the drawers. I thought he was going to drop most of it."
"Because whenever he wasn't yelling, he was a nervous wreck. As strange as it seems, sometimes I thought he was more scared than we were. Both of the bank robbers were arguing about what to do next and that police officer was so calm, trying to get them to give up. I couldn't believe it. There they were, yelling at him, yelling at each other. What a pair. I was sure the big man…that Cleve, was going to hit him again but Officer Reed just stared him down and never lost his cool. I don't know how he did it."
"You saw and heard all this while you were on the floor, Miss Nakilua?" She had to be one of the most observant witnesses I'd come across in a long time. It's one thing to actually register what's going on while it's happening, it's another thing to be able to remember it correctly afterwards.
"Yes, sir," she answered, and her eyes became a little moist. "I was scared. Those men…they were horrible men. The rest of us were all together--the employees and the customers. But Officer Reed, well, he was with them. So, I thought, if he happened to look down and see me looking back at him, maybe he'd know he wasn't completely alone. I knew what he was doing."
"And what was that?"
"Drawing their attention away from us, Officer Malloy. Protecting us however he could."
At the onset, I knew she was smart. I just hadn't realized that she was wise beyond her years.
"He'll appreciate your concern, I can guarantee that." I know I did.
"Then you'll see him?"
"He's my partner so, yes, I'll be seeing him in a little while."
"Your partner? Oh… Then may I ask another question?"
"Sure." Kim Nakilua was definitely not a disinterested bystander at the scene.
"Why was he here? At the bank, I mean."
"Oh," I smiled and patted the envelope in my pocket. "He intended to make the last payment on his car and pick up the pink slip. Guess he didn't get that far."
She smiled back at me and held out a delicate, manicured hand. "I'd be pleased to take care of that, Officer Malloy. After everything that's happened, I think it's the least we can do."
"Well, all right," I told her, gladly giving up the documents. "Here's his paycheck and the deposit slip, all ready to go. Thank you, Miss Nakilua. I can guarantee you--this will make my partner very happy."
It only took her a few moments, just like Jim had predicted. Taking possession of his pink slip made me feel better. I thanked her again, and then told Jerry I'd be right back.
"Sure, Pete. No problem." Like I said before, good old Jerry.
I stopped at the desk where Jim's hat and gun belt still rested and picked them up as well. It was like taking baby steps back to normal, the way things should be. A few more minutes were used to pay a visit to the dentist office next door and acknowledge the actions of another good citizen. Once I took care of that, I left and saw Jerry and Brichton coming out of the front doors of the bank.
"Pete, we're all done here. Brichton's going to take Martinez's unit and we'll get on back to the station and start the report, okay?"
"Thanks. Good job today, you guys." I saw Brichton give me a thumbs-up as he got behind the wheel of Martinez's unit. Woods stayed behind with me.
"I'll be honest--for a while, I was worried."
"You weren't the only one."
Jerry nodded. "Just make sure that partner of yours is okay, Pete."
"I'll make sure."
"Pete," Jerry paused, taking a second to look me in the eyes. "That goes for both of you."
A waver of a smile made it to my face. "I know. Thanks, Jerry."
"See you later then." He tagged back on to the sidewalk and headed to the parking lot where his unit had remained all this time.
That left me standing there next to 1-Adam-12 in a street that had finally started to fill with a few cars again. It almost looked normal.
I dug for the keys and slid back behind the wheel once more. The car was warm inside. The sun was behind me now, like a lot of things. It seemed like a lot longer than a few hours since I'd watched that pretty girl cross the street. I had a feeling she'd had a much better day than the rest of us.
Jim's hat and belt took a place on the seat beside me--temporarily. I knew it wouldn't be too long before Jim was back in the seat where he belonged. But, in the meantime, I felt like even Adam-12 knew that it was short one man.
I headed to County General, taking a route that would cut off two or three minutes. My mind wanted to drift and second guess. That was usually Jim's deal--at times, he could be the king of the what-if's. It's okay if you're formulating a plan of action. It's still acceptable if you're honestly trying to learn from a mistake. But it's totally pointless if you're allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by the endless possibilities. I'd gotten onto my partner plenty of times for doing that very thing. I didn't want to be king of the hypocrites so I chose to concentrate on the flow of traffic, which was mounting, and keep an ear out for any interesting calls.
The very next one I caught was a 211 silent at Marco's Drug. Poor Woods and Brichton--they only thought they were on their way back to the station. I didn't know whether to be concerned or feel sorry for them. Another false alarm at that location would've been a hassle but we'd all had our fill of the real thing for now. By the time I reached the hospital parking lot, there still hadn't been a request for backup on Woods' 211 call and I figured it really was bogus.
I managed to find a good parking space in County's visitors' lot. Two in one day--I must've been eating right. Then I realized that Jim and I never got around to that lunch. My stomach chose that moment to grumble and confirm the fact. I walked inside and approached the desk in the ER. A young woman in a white uniform was occupied on the telephone while a white-capped, much older woman stood nearby.
"Excuse me," I cleared my throat, open to answers from either party.
"Can I help you?" The stocky built nurse with a serious expression chiseled on her face over at me. She could've given Mt. Rushmore a run for its money. A plastic nameplate on the front of her uniform identified her as P. Ingersol, R.N.
"I'm looking for a police officer that was brought in with possible injuries…Jim Reed?"
"You'll have to wait."
No offense but that answer didn't cut it. "Can you at least tell me if he's all right?"
"No, I cannot, Officer," she said, not one feature changing as she spoke. "He's still with the doctor. You can wait right over there."
I kept my sigh to myself and followed the direction of her index finger. The nearest chair was a gold vinyl number with chrome legs and armrests. It looked new but already wore the scars and markings of too many worried souls. I sat down and refused to think about being there long enough to get comfortable. Instead I pulled out the envelope, the one with Jim's papers in it, and held onto it.
Being in a hospital waiting area reminds you of all the people inside, sick, injured, perhaps dying. You see all the fear and anxiety written on the faces of those around you and it can become contagious, sneaking up and soaking into you before you even realize it. For some reason it goes right over your head that there are also plenty of people being treated, cured and sent home with healthier bodies than when they entered. I don't know how nurses and doctors deal with it every day but, then again, I've heard they wonder the same thing about the police.
I tapped the envelope against my knee and felt the unease that I thought I'd put behind me once we got Jim back. A memory unraveled, stirring up misgivings that I thought I'd forgotten a long time ago. Long before I met Jim, there was this kid. A college boy, athletic looking…he worked at his uncle's small grocery store part-time and he was behind the counter when a couple of low-life punks came in to rob the place. This kid hesitated. Maybe out of fear, maybe because his girlfriend was there and he didn't want to look weak in front of her. I don't know. But one of the robbers clobbered him with a bottle of something and took off with all the money in the cash register. I can't remember now but it couldn't have been much. Knocked him out, the girlfriend said. By the time we got there, the kid was sitting up and ready to give us a detailed statement. Wouldn't go to the hospital in the ambulance no matter how much his girlfriend begged him. Told us that it was no big deal. In fact, his very words were, "If a man can't take a good thump to the head, then he's not much of a man." I still remember that. It sounded like something taught to him since birth. But, to be honest, he looked like any other guy who'd had his bell rung once or twice.
Just like Jim.
The next day Lieutenant Moore caught me before roll call and gave me the news. The kid had died. He'd collapsed at his folks' home the night before and they'd rushed him to the hospital. But it was too late. Blood clot to the brain. Nobody had a clue. And I kept thinking, if only I'd tried harder to get him to go with the ambulance. Maybe if I'd had him call his parents from the store. He was a legal adult, though, and I didn't push it. If he'd been bleeding or was still unconscious, I'm sure it would've been different. But the guilt began to build up in me like a dam. The Lieutenant cornered me after my shift one day, maybe a week or so later, and proceeded to explain why I couldn't play the what-if game and, that if I persisted, I wouldn't be fit for the job. He was right. I probably gave Jim a similar version of that speech at some point, I'm sure.
But shaking those feelings was something else. I knew how fast life could turn on a dime, usually with very little warning. Had I taken anything for granted? Just getting Jim out of that jam alive had been the number one goal. I think I assumed that being safe and sound would logically follow. There hadn't been much time to pray back there. I needed to take care of that.
My head snapped up so fast I swore I felt my spine crack. The nurse was back. I couldn't tell a thing by the look on her face--it was a sobering portrait of granite. She pointed that index finger again but, this time, it swung in the opposite direction and down the main hall. It was a long corridor filled with more doors, more halls and a flurry of people negotiating their way in both directions.
I stood up just as quickly and opened my mouth to ask for more information. She beat me to it …somewhat.
"Treatment Room 2." That's all she said.
"Thanks." I nodded to her and didn't waste another minute. I'd find the darn room on my own. The second door on the right boasted a bold, black numeral two beside it so I felt pretty certain when I entered the small partitioned room. I set Jim's stuff down on the exam table, except for his papers.
Seeing Jim open and walk through a sliding door told me he'd gotten a clean bill of health and I knew I could put that old, sad memory back to rest.
"How do ya feel?"
"I got a bit of a headache."
I bet it was a whopper, too. But, truthfully, he looked good. Or, more to the point, he looked like he was going to live. Unexpected optimism swept over me like a blast of cold air. Jim's prize envelope burned a hole in my hand. I knew it would give me a lot of pleasure to hand it over to him.
"I brought you a present." He honestly had no idea. I could tell by his face. First he looked puzzled. Then surprised and touched. That nurse could take a few lessons from my partner.
"Hey, the pink slip," Jim grinned. "Thanks, Pete."
I tried to shrug it off but didn't quite succeed. "I had to go back to the bank anyway to fill out the reports."
"Well, uh, I owe you lunch. Matter of fact, I owe you a steak dinner."
Uh-oh, I could tell where this was going and I, for one, was not ready to go down that road yet. I wanted to bask a while in the happy ending to this day. So I opted for a joke instead. "Just do me one favor, will you? From now on, do your banking by mail."
One thing was for sure. He'd certainly earned that car--the hard way.
I waited for him to finish getting his shirt on but, before he was done, a different nurse came in. Looked like she had papers for him, too. Forms--lots of forms. And instructions to boot.
I listened to everything she told him. Figured it wouldn't hurt for someone else to know, just in case. Some of the stuff she talked about sounded familiar. It didn't help that Jim kept reassuring that nurse more than once that he knew all about taking care of a concussion. And from the look on her face, it made me wonder if it'd been a point of contention. If he had a concussion, then why weren't they keeping him, at least overnight? I thought it was always best to be sure about these kinds of things.
But I wasn't a doctor or a nurse. And the decision wasn't mine to make--thank goodness. These people were professionals; they knew what they were doing. The nurse pulled a bit of soft blackmail on my partner and got him to commit to another visit in 48 hours. It'd be required before he could return to duty anyway so I wasn't too concerned about him being a no-show. No sense in taking chances, though. I'd make sure he didn't conveniently forget.
Jim made all the mandatory signatures and took the papers from her quickly. Obviously, the hospital was not his favorite place. Or mine either, come to think of it.
When the nurse gave him the okay to leave, I think we both wanted to bolt from the place. But we waited until she left the treatment room before we made our escape into the hallway and toward the main entrance.
I stopped when we reached the front desk and looked at Jim. He sounded and looked dog-tired to me. And there was no mistake about it--he was in some pain. He'd just been doing a good job of hiding it. The walk to the parking lot might be too much for him. "Do you want me to bring the car up to the door?"
"Not unless you parked it in Pasadena."
I wasn't going for it. "You just look a little pale."
"I can make it to the car, Pete. Are those reporters still out there?"
"I saw a few on my way in, but they ignored me." Reporters. I grabbed the opportunity to convince him to wait there. "That might be a good reason for me to go get the unit and drive it up closer."
Good choice, partner. But since I didn't know how long his patience would last, I took the fast track to the lot and made it back in record time. I pulled up as close to the door as I could get so Jim had a straight shot from the door. I resisted getting out again. Besides, Jim's readiness to get home was as obvious as ever. The reporters I saw out of the corner of my eye were certainly a factor, too. I worried for a minute that they'd catch up to him, maybe keep him from making it to the car by getting in his face. But he did okay. He was in the car in seconds flat and then we were out of there.
"How you doin', Jim?" I tried to look casual when I glanced at him.
"I'm doing okay, Pete. Thanks to you. I don't even know how to…"
"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." Sometimes I have to spell things out for my partner.
"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."
I suspected that Jim came close to losing right about then--I could tell by the break in his voice. That told me a lot. It told me that what he'd experienced in the bank and later, out in that field, had shaken him to the core. He'd already been through some heavy stuff during his time on the force. And he was still young. This would just add to the weight he'd have to carry around with him for the rest of his life and that bothered me a lot. I should've gone in with him instead of ragging on him. I should've figured out a way to get him out of there earlier instead of giving those thugs plenty of time to terrorize him. As irrational as I knew it was, a very thick layer of guilt clung to me. "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 was a little worried. 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." There, I admitted it. Jim might as well know.
"Whose idea was it to put you in the trunk?"
He might as well know it all. "Mine."
"You're something else, partner. All I can say is thanks."
It figured. Jim refused to acknowledge any uncertainty about my spur of the moment plan. Instead he made me sound like a guy who had all the answers. I wish! "Enough already."
"I want you to know how grateful I am."
"I know, Jim. I know. So you don't have to keep saying it." I hoped the look I gave him accomplished its purpose. I couldn't take any more expression of thanks. It made me uncomfortable, especially since I felt like what happened at the end was the direct result of good teamwork rather than some heroic mission of mine. Jim hadn't been able to look at it clearly yet but, when he did, he'd see that his actions inside the bank weren't in vain. Instead, he really did aid in the rescue of the hostages--but not in the way he intended.
"Can I at least buy you the steak dinner?"
Okay, so that particular expression of thanks was a no-brainer. "I never turn down free food."
Jim grinned at my answer and, for a few seconds, it felt like any other day.
I slowed down and stopped to wait at a red light that had just changed. The realization that we'd be off shift by this time, if the day had gone as planned, interrupted that sense of normalcy. I'd take Jim home and then get back to the station to finish the report and take care of the shooting review. Not exactly what I'd call an ordinary day.
"Are you worried about the shooting review?"
Jim's question startled me. I must've been lost in thought. I didn't want him to worry about anything else, though--he'd gone through enough today. "No."
"When's it scheduled?"
Figures. He wouldn't let go of it. I took my foot off the brake and eased forward with the green light. "Pretty much as soon as I can get back to the station after I take you home."
"After I talk to Jean, I'll go back with you for it."
That was the last thing I wanted. Taking off with Jim again right after he tells Jean the whole story. No way was that going to happen. "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." Stubborn. He knew there was no reason for him to be there.
"But I heard everything."
"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--home." He needed a reminder about priorities. Personally, I'd rather take care of the reports and the review than have to face Jean. "Your time to talk is coming soon enough."
I stopped at yet another red light. And the question that had been burning in my mind finally came out of my mouth. I needed to know. And Jim was the only one who could tell me. "Was it bad in there?"
"Some of the time," he said. "It got tense."
Tense. Yeah, I bet. I couldn't take my eyes off the steady beacon of red in front of me. "I talked to the head teller when I went back to the bank. She told me how you tried to take the big guy out when it first went down."
"Fat lot of good that did. I wasn't much good to anyone in there."
Jim really believed that! Sometimes my partner's stubbornness worked against him. The look I directed his way got his attention. "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?"
Jim never liked giving anything less than his best. Whenever he failed to meet the goals he set, which were higher than anyone else I knew, he could be pretty hard on himself. It'd been especially difficult during his training and probation period. But, with a little maturity and experience, that changed. Now he was looking back and coming up with the wrong conclusions, all because he hadn't figured out a way to resolve the entire situation in one single move. I might sound like his training officer but I hoped he knew I told him this because I was his friend. "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."
He was quiet again and I knew that he was considering my words.
"Thanks for telling me that," he said, breaking the brief silence.
He looked relieved. I guess I got through to him. " I thought you'd want to know."
I eased down on the gas as the light turned green. "If you want to talk about it, we can, whenever you're ready."
"There you go again." I had to get him to stop.
We were a couple of streets away and a few minutes from Jim's house. One quick glance told me that he had just added a case of the nervous jitters to the layers of emotional havoc in his head. I didn't have to be a genius to know the cause. After everything he'd been through in the last few hours, the thought of confronting his wife with this had him in knots. "How do you think Jean'll take all this?"
"How do you think? Not good."
"Mmmm." I didn't want to agree or disagree on that.
"Jean's been a lot more on edge about my job in the past few months. I think it all goes back to our … encounter… with Steve and Norm last year."
"I can understand that." All too well. But I didn't like remembering it for a lot of reasons. And I'd never seen Jean quite like that either…but then, her husband had never been shot and kidnapped before either. I have to admit, I was a little worried about the two of them. Not that their marriage wouldn't survive but that things would never be the same. It took a little while for Jean to relax and not worry every single day Jim was out doing his job. So yeah, I understood his reluctance in telling her about all this.
"I can, too. I just worry that one more bad thing might put her over the edge."
"Jean's a strong gal, and she loves you. It might be rough for a bit, but you'll get through it." No matter what, I believed that. And Jim did, too…today was just a day for me to state the obvious.
"I hope you're right, Pete."
A line like that always brightened my mood. Jim could be very accommodating at times. "I'm right. I'm always right. Remember?"
"Oh, sorry. I forgot."
I saw a bit of a smile break through the strained look on his face.
"That's something too important to forget, partner."
We were almost there. Jim made some kind of noise when I turned onto his street. I knew he wanted to get home. He just wanted the hard part to be over. "Relax, Jim. It'll be fine."
"Yeah. Yeah, I know," Jim said. He didn't sound too convinced.
I pulled the car up to the house, shifted into park and waited. Okay, so I wasn't exactly eager to face Jean either. "Can you make it in by yourself?"
"Of course I can. But aren't you coming in?"
I wasn't even sure about me being around while the two of them talked. Awkward and uncomfortable came to mind. "I figured you needed some time alone with Jean."
"Well, I do, but I thought maybe you'd distract Jimmy so we could talk."
Jim must've been desperate. He was using my godson to get me in there with him. "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."
I figured it was time to be totally honest and admit the real reason for my own reticence. "You know I don't like seeing Jean cry."
Jim was ready with an answer to that. "Then take Jimmy outside. Come on, Pete, don't abandon me yet."
Misery really does love company. I caved. I turned off the key to the ignition and sighed really loud so he'd know. "Okay, okay."
We both got out of the car at the same time but Jim waited until I came around the front bumper before he started moving again. I trailed right behind him but didn't get far because he froze in his tracks right at the front door of his house.
"Pete, I'm an idiot. My car…my keys…they're in my locker."
I should've remembered that. But it wasn't something worth adding to his list of concerns. "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."
He seemed to mentally shrug it off so I didn't say anything more about it. I watched him move forward again and touch the door. Turned out that he didn't need his keys--it opened easily. That surprised me and I could tell that it didn't make Jim too happy either. Couldn't blame him for that--two people he held dear were vulnerable behind that unsecured door.
"Jean needs to remember to lock the doors," Jim said, pausing again before he went inside.
"Might be a good idea." I followed him in but chose to remain near the entryway. If I thought it was nice being in the house, Jim probably thought it was heaven.
"Honey, I'm home."
Anyone would've thought Jim was just another husband returning from a hard day at work. He had that market cornered a hundred times over, that's for sure.
Right on cue, Jean answered him. "Hi, darling. I'm in Jimmy's room."
Jean could manage to fit the sound of happy into just a few words and she didn't even have to be in the same room. And she wasn't the only one.
A small ball of energy shot into the room and made a beeline for Jim. Jimmy was definitely his daddy's boy. Rough and tumble and ready to play all day and night if you'd let him…until he fell asleep from utter exhaustion. I watched as Jim collected enough energy to pick up his child and swing him up in the air, which, of course, resulted in one very happy little boy. The similarities between father and son struck me out of the blue and almost made me laugh.
"I happy you home, Daddy."
Out of the mouths of babes. Jimmy was the best medicine for Jim, along with Jean, of course. I thought, for a minute, though, that Jim was going to have a hard time letting loose of his son.
"Me, too, tiger. Me, too."
Maybe it was a good thing Jimmy finally realized that his godfather was in the room. That little face did a lot for me, too. I picked him up from Jim since he started squirming around.
"Hi, Uncle Pete! You eat wif us tonight?"
"Probably not, sport. I have to go back to work," I told him. He kept fidgeting in my arms and wouldn't settle down so I plopped him back down on his feet.
"Do I hear Pete in here?" That was Jean's voice. And then she came into the living room looking as pretty as always. She smiled when she saw me.
"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."
Jim seemed to be struck deaf and dumb because he didn't answer any of her questions. I had a feeling it wasn't because he was still anxious about telling her. From the look on his face, he had been hit hard again but, this time, with the flesh and blood reminders of the wonderful life he still had. I don't think he wanted to let that moment disappear. But Jean was going to really get scared if one of us didn't say something.
"No, no doubles. Jim doesn't have to go back. Only I do." I tried to sound like it was nothing but Jean already knew better. Her eyes switched back and forth between me and Jim and I didn't miss the rising concern in them.
"Jim, what's going on? You look…funny." Jean moved closer to Jim and I politely turned my head when I realized that she intended to give him a kiss. When the two of them pulled close together without a word, my throat tightened and I looked down at my godson, who was watching everything.
I gave my godson a big smile and all of my attention. "Jimmy, let's go play cars in your room."
Oh, yeah, much easier than what Jim had to do next. I glanced at him before I left, in time to hear Jean's next series of questions
"Jim. What's the matter? Something's wrong. Did you have trouble at the bank?"
I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. And neither could Jim, from the way he looked at me. I couldn't ask for a better time for me to make my exit.
I followed Jimmy down the hall and into his bedroom. He stopped once to turn around and make sure I was there, and then marched over to the toy box that Jim had made for him. The lid was already propped open and several small racecars were parked on the floor next to it. Settling down on the edge of his bed, I watched Jimmy bend over the edge of the box and dig around in there for who knows what. If that wooden container had been bigger, I would've worried that he'd fall in on top of everything. But Jim was smart--he knew exactly what size to make it. He probably had another larger one all drawn out for when 'little britches' needed more room for his stuff.
"Uncle Pete! Look!" Jimmy almost jumped as he spun around for me. Each little fist wrapped around a solid wooden block. "Here, you take 'um."
"Okay, whatever you say, kiddo."
I spent maybe the next ten minutes waiting for Jimmy's two-block handoffs as he painstakingly located about thirty of them in various corners of that toy box. Sure, it would've been faster for me to go over there and do it for him but where was the fun in that? He looked like he was on a mission that he took very seriously and I got to be the recipient of his prized possessions. When he decided that we'd collected enough blocks, he stopped and pointed to some invisible spot on the floor.
"You bid, Uncle Pete."
I thought about the statement for a few seconds, trying to figure out if I was supposed to recognize that word or not. Jimmy helped me out before I embarrassed myself and ask him to repeat it.
"Bid it this big, okay?" On tiptoe, he stuck one hand as high in the air as he could reach.
That I could understand. "Ohhh, yeah…good idea," I told him, giving him a thumbs up sign. But I didn't get very far with our construction project because I heard the phone ring
"Jimmy, keep building. I'll be right back, I promise."
"Okay!" Jimmy nodded his consent and I made a quick dash around the corner.
One extension was in the master bedroom and the main phone was in the kitchen, just down the hall. I knew I could catch it if I moved quick enough. Jim and Jean didn't need any interruptions so I figured I'd intercept whoever it was and take care of it the best I could. When I picked up the receiver, I realized that the events of the day had been kept at bay the last few minutes. I hadn't thought about any of it during the time I'd spent with my godson. Amazing.
"Reed residence," I said, keeping my voice low but hopefully, loud enough to be heard over the phone line.
"Pete? That you?"
It was Mac.
"Yeah, Mac. Everything okay?"
"It is if you tell me Reed's doing all right."
"He's doing pretty good. Just needs to follow doctor's orders and take it easy for a while."
"Then tell him those are direct orders from his commanding officer as well."
I couldn't help but smile. "I'll do that. And I'll get back to the station as soon as I can."
"Don't worry about it, Pete. Take your time."
"You sure?" I knew the reports were waiting. And then there was the shooting review. But I didn't want to leave, not yet.
"Are you questioning my recommendation, Malloy?"
The ribbing tone dared me but I knew better. "Wouldn't dream of it, Mac."
"That's more like it," Mac said. "I'll see you later, Pete."
"I'll tell Jim you called. Bye, Mac."
I hung up the phone, leaned against the wall and waited a few seconds. I heard Jim and Jean's muffled conversation in the living room so I made my way back to Jimmy's bedroom again. He'd done a very good job of stacking his red and blue blocks up to two levels. The third row gave him trouble and I saw some serious frustration starting to set in his expression.
"Hey, need some help?" I squatted down on my haunches and instantly regretted it. Both of my knees cracked, my right leg gave out and, before I knew it, I was mostly sitting there on my butt. I knew I wasn't hurt. It was probably muscle fatigue from too much tension. And maybe a little from joyriding in a car trunk.
Jimmy looked at me and, I swear, I've seen Jim give me that same look. I can't explain it but I knew it was the same one.
"I hewp you, Uncle Pete?"
That's when I laughed. That felt really good. I guess Jimmy could tell that everything was all right then because he picked up two more blocks and dropped them in my hands.
"Bid it big!"
So I did. I piled up every single one of those blocks and built a massive wall suitable for professional car crashing…or the amateur toddler ranks. Jimmy was very pleased with my efforts. I could tell. Mainly because as soon as he plowed one or two cars through each of my masterpieces, he insisted that I do it again. And again. And again.
I think we were picking up the pieces of crash test number twenty-three when Jimmy looked behind me and I knew we had company.
"Daddy, look at the cwashing!"
I twisted around to see Jim in the doorway. He still looked worn out but there seemed to be a little weight missing from his shoulders.
"I see, buddy," Jim said, smiling at his son. "You're making good crashes."
"You come cwash wif us, Daddy."
"Daddy needs to go change his clothes, buddy. I'll play later, okay?"
The smile faded as he shifted his gaze to me. "Who was on the phone, Pete?"
"Mac. He was just checking on you. He told me to take my time getting back."
"Okay, good," Jim barely nodded.
I didn't want to interfere in family matters but I didn't think Jim would mind me asking. "Everything okay?"
"I think so. At least for now."
I nodded to let him know I understood, and then I saw him look at his little boy again so I didn't press anything. As long as things were all right for now. They'd have time to work it all out later.
Jimmy tugged on my sleeve. I got the message and I started lining up those all-important blocks while Jim's footsteps disappeared down the hall. He was probably on his way to change clothes, just like he told Jimmy. Jim always wore his uniform with pride but now it was another physical reminder of the day's events--something he didn't need at the moment. What he did need was the safe and easy comfort of his home and family. Everything else could wait.
From the doorway, Jean spoke so softly that it had the unexpected effect of startling me. "Jean…hi," I said as I got awkwardly to my feet. That right leg was still a bit hinky, making me limp as I tried to work out the knots.
"Are you okay?"
Jean stepped in to Jimmy's room, already eyeing me and my gimpy leg with motherly concern. It was sweet and so like Jean but totally unnecessary. Besides, she had her hands full with both of her Jim's.
"I'm fine, Jean," I said, as casually as I could. "Just stretching the kinks out of my legs, that's all."
She didn't say anything but I had a feeling she didn't believe me. I didn't want to upset her and she'd had to face enough seriousness for one day. Jimmy had helped me with a good dose of humor. And my skills in that area usually surpassed those of my partner, who would never find work as a comedian.
"You know what it is, Jean…" I started to say.
Jean's eyebrows lifted.
"Your son works me too hard. I need a raise." I pointed to the huge mess of multi-colored blocks and toy cars that occupied several square feet of space in the corner of the bedroom.
She smiled at first, and then nodded. "Yes. Yes, you do, Pete."
That's when her eyes went liquid brown and she held out her hands to me. The smile crumpled a bit as she closed the space between us and I knew that she needed a good hug along with that bad joke. That wasn't a problem. At least that I could manage. It felt like something a big brother would do.
"Daddy!! Mommy hugging Uncle Pete! Daddy!"
Jimmy's shouts and his little form scooted by us like a miniature train on his way out of the room. Jean seemed oblivious to his noisy departure and took a step back. She looked at me with such deep gratitude that I didn't know what to say. But at least she wasn't crying.
"Thank you, Pete. Thank you so much."
That's when her eyes filled up and the tears spilled out. The next thing I knew, her arms were wrapped around me for another much-needed hug. Still something I could handle.
But not the crying…please, no crying.
Then I realized it was too late.
And somewhere down the hall, I knew I heard my partner laugh.
So--maybe it was worth it.
These versions of "Trouble in the Bank" are to be considered as companion pieces and I am so grateful that Karen agreed to jump on board! A huge thank you to both of my gurus: Karen, for your patience and valued assistance as we batted this one around, and Cathy, for your excellent editing skills and support! I also want to acknowledge Lisa O'Brien for her excellent series on Emergency!'s "The Nuisance" which truly inspired our efforts with one of our favorite A12 episodes. We hope that we did it justice and that the readers find it enjoyable and believable. As always, continued thanks to all the actors, writers and crew involved in the making of Adam-12. It was and still is a terrific show with great characters that we all obviously love.