"All right! Quittin' time!" Hoffs spun her chair around and jumped to her feet, a wide smile of triumph lighting her face. "And we are done, Partner! Case closed!"
Ioki returned her beaming smile. When he held up his hand, she gave him an enthusiastic high five. "Nice work, Judy."
"We both did nice work, if I do say so myself. Ready for a well-deserved day off?"
"I guess so."
"Don't sound so pleased about it. Somebody might think you were gonna have fun!" Judy teased, digging an elbow into his ribs. Harry just smiled half-heartedly and shrugged. "What are you going to do?" she asked, suddenly curious.
He shrugged again and began shuffling through the stack of mail on his desk. "Nothing much."
"Harry, my friend, your life is just too exciting for me to stand."
"Come on. I'll walk you to your car." Ioki dumped his unwanted mail into the trash, pocketed the one surviving envelope, and fell into step beside his partner.
"I'm a cop," she reminded him, as they headed down the stairs. "No one's going to mess with me."
"Yeah, well, two cops are better than one."
Judy's lighthearted laugh floated back up to the few officers still bent over their desks. Outside, Harry escorted his partner to her car and waited until she'd locked herself inside the vehicle. Then he walked quickly to his own car and slid behind the wheel.
It was late the paperwork on this last case had seemed to multiply when they weren't looking and full dark. The city was quiet at this hour, with very few stores open and almost no foot traffic. Ioki drove through the lonely streets with a mechanical precision that betrayed just how far away his thoughts had wandered. He did not look happy about his day's vacation, though he had certainly earned it. Almost a month of solid undercover work, no weekends, no nights to call his own. And the final collar one of the most brutal, potentially lethal showdowns he had ever experienced. He and Judy were damned lucky to be alive, and even luckier to have slammed the cell door on a lowlife sleaze with a taste for underage girls. He ought to be celebrating, or at least looking forward to some free time, but instead he felt depressed and more than a little disappointed to be going home.
All too soon, he saw his apartment building looming ahead of him. For a brief moment, he considered driving past it and finding himself a quiet bar to sit in. Maybe have a beer and watch a football game. Play some pool. Be outside himself for a while. But the impulse passed, and he turned into the narrow alley that cut behind the building to the parking garage. As usual, the electronic gate was broken and standing wide open. So much for security.
He pulled into his parking space and cut the engine. With tired steps, he made his way to the elevator. It carried him inexorably closer to his home that wasn't a home, to the place he didn't want to be but had no excuse to leave. As he reached for his keys, his fingers brushed the envelope in his jacket pocket, and he wondered why he'd bothered to bring it with him. He already knew what it contained half a dozen just like it lay, tied into a neat bundle, in the drawer of his night stand and he had no need to open this one. But the perfect, precise habits that governed his life dictated that he bring the letter home, add it to the growing pile, and lock it safely away with its fellows, and H. T. Ioki was first, last and always a creature of habit.
He couldn't quite suppress a small sigh of defeat, as he turned the key and pushed the door open. Home sweet home. He stepped through the door.
*** *** ***
Hoffs came whistling and smiling into the chapel. A much-needed day of rest and fun had given her a whole new outlook on life or at least on her job. She spied Doug Penhall over by the coffee machine and paused to call a cheerful 'good morning' on her way to her desk. Hanson also glanced up at the sound of her voice and offered her his usual shy, one-sided smile.
"Hey, Tom. You two are in early."
"Fuller's on us about the Coleridge High case. We're due in court tomorrow."
She rolled her eyes expressively. "Good luck, boys. You're gonna need it!"
"Thanks," Tom answered, dryly.
"Better run while you can, Jude," Penhall suggested. "Fuller's havin' a real bad day. The Brass called him in first thing this morning, before he even got a cup of coffee. He's one unhappy Cap'n."
"I'll just make myself invisible. I'm sure I can find a file to hide behind." She glanced around in mild surprise. "You guys seen Harry?"
"Nope. Mr. Ioki is late."
Tom shook his head. "Harry's never late."
Doug grinned suggestively and nudged Judy with one elbow. "Prob'ly had too much of a good time, huh?"
Tom frowned slightly at that. "Fuller must've sent him somewhere."
"That's it," Judy agreed. "If I know Harry, he was here before sun-up."
With the threat of Fuller's displeasure hanging over them all, the young officers went quickly and quietly to work, without indulging in any more speculation.
Hanson and Penhall were deep in the records of a troublesome and complicated case, trying to iron out their testimony, when Fuller stomped up the stairs, muttering to himself. They glanced up from the heap of papers on Hanson's desk to meet the captain's frustrated glare. He gave them a long, measuring look, as if searching for something to growl about, then grunted and turned away. He didn't even bother to glare at Hoffs. She was always busy, doing whatever she was supposed to be doing. Then his eyes touched the empty desk near the stairs.
"Hoffs! Where's your partner?"
Judy looked guiltily from Harry's desk to the captain's stormy face and shrugged. "I haven't seen him today, Captain."
Fuller opened his mouth to bark a retort, when the ring of his phone cut him off and sent him into his office. A moment later, the door slammed, and they could all hear him shouting into the phone. The cops all glanced at each other, eyebrows raised, wondering what was eating their commanding officer.
Finally, Hanson broke the listening silence by saying, "We'd better get back to this, before he comes out here and tears us another one."
"Yeah." Doug dropped back into his chair and began rifling through the random pile of papers in front of him. "How come you don't keep your files neater? I can't find anything in this mess."
Tom heaved a long-suffering sigh and muttered under his breath, as he bent over his very orderly collection of documents.
Time slid by rapidly, as everyone tried to be as efficient and unassuming as possible. Fuller reappeared eventually, frustration written plain on his face. He called Hanson and Penhall into his office and grilled them on their progress. Then he locked himself up with a suit from downtown, whom Booker pegged as IAD. Nerves began to stretch ever more tightly.
It was lunchtime when the captain came out of his office again, this time looking more somber than angry. He cast another look around the room at his team and sighed tiredly. Then he saw the empty desk again.
"Where did you say Harry was?"
"Captain?" Hoffs glanced up, startled.
"I don't know. We haven't seen him."
"He isn't here yet?" Fuller looked at her in genuine disbelief. "Judy, it's almost noon! Harry's never late!"
"But...Captain, didn't you give him a new assignment this morning?"
"I haven't seen him since Monday evening, when you two turned in your report on Loftgren."
"Neither have I." She looked around the circle of suddenly curious faces and got negative signs from everyone. Snatching up the phone, she dialed a familiar number. "I'll find out what's going on."
When Harry's answering machine picked up, she cradled the receiver without leaving a message. "That's odd."
Fuller grunted in disapproval. "Find him. And when you do, I want to talk to him." With that, he stalked back into his office.
Hoffs turned to Booker, who now perched on the corner of her desk. "Dennis, are you working on something that can't wait?"
"You want some help tracking down Harry?"
"No problem. Let's start with his desk. See if we can find any useful phone numbers."
A careful search of Ioki's desk revealed nothing. He had no phone numbers in his Rolodex, other than those of his teammates and a few undercover contacts. The one business card tucked under the corner of his phone was for a martial arts school. Booker called the number and learned that Harry went there regularly to work out, but he hadn't been around in more than a week. The instructor knew him by sight but rarely spoke to him and had never seen him talking to anyone at the school.
While they worked, Judy repeatedly called Ioki's home number, getting only the answering machine. She left a message, with little hope that her partner would receive or respond to it. It didn't take the two experienced investigators long to determine that they would learn nothing from Harry's personal effects. The man left no traces of himself, even here, where he spent so much of his life.
Booker watched Hoffs dial the phone, again, and reached out to cut the line. "Give your fingers a rest. He isn't gonna answer."
"So, now what?"
"We do some police work. Start at his place, and go from there. I'll tell Fuller."
* * *
Booker followed Hoffs' directions and turned into the alley. Just as she'd promised, the security gate was standing open, giving them access to the underground garage. He pulled up by the elevator in the fire lane and hopped out of the car.
"Nice place, for a cop."
"Harry lives well. In a way."
They stepped into the elevator, and Dennis turned curious eyes on her. "What d'you mean?"
"I mean, he saves his money very carefully, and buys himself nice things. But it's like he doesn't really live in his own life, if you see what I mean."
"Not really. Here we go...which way?"
They stopped in front of Harry's door, and Booker knocked loudly. They got no answer, so he knocked again, this time pounding steadily till Judy caught his arm to stop him. She checked the door and found it locked.
"He isn't home. Now what?"
"We could break the door down."
"Just because he doesn't answer his phone? I don't think that qualifies as Probable Cause."
"How about the neighbors?"
"Harry doesn't know any of his neighbors. Dennis, this is really weird. Do you realize that Harry our Harry, who we work with every day is like the Invisible Man? The minute he leaves the Chapel, he disappears."
"Don't get crazy on me, Jude. Let's get back to the Chapel and see if Hanson or Penhall has any bright ideas."
She obediently started down the corridor, but her face was unusually somber. "I'm really starting to worry."
Booker laughed with supreme unconcern. "Don't bother. Harry's gonna turn up, probably with a hangover, and give us shit for butting into his life like this."
Judy didn't answer. She maintained her silence until they were back in the car and pulling out of the garage. Suddenly, she caught Booker's arm and called, sharply,
"That car over there...that's Harry's car!"
Booker pulled even with the black Mustang convertible and stared thoughtfully at it. "What d'you think, Jude? Do we search it?"
She hesitated only for a moment. "Yes."
Their thorough search of the car turned up nothing out of the ordinary, which only seemed to feed Judy's growing concern. She slammed the trunk and turned wide, frightened eyes on Booker.
"Where is he? Where would he go, without his car? Dennis...!"
"The hell with Probable Cause. Come on."
Booker grabbed her hand and pulled her toward the elevator at a run. They arrived at Ioki's door again, out of breath and sweating, but not from their brief exertion. Exchanging one grim glance, they both pulled their weapons. Booker pounded on the door and shouted,
"Police! Open up!"
When he got no answer, he stepped back and leveled his handgun at the door. One shot splintered the wood and snapped the lock. Together, they moved cautiously into the apartment.
Everything looked exactly as Judy remembered it. Neat, precise, starkly modern with no personal touches to liven the decor. Nothing was out of place.
"Harry? Are you in here?" she called, nervously.
"You take the kitchen and living room. I'll take the back half."
They split up and began combing the apartment for some hint as to Ioki's whereabouts. Judy found herself opening every cabinet, closet and drawer, looking in places that couldn't possibly provide answers. When she had satisfied herself that there was no trace of Harry to be found, she followed Booker into the bedroom and watched him go through the dresser drawers.
"Nah. Take a look in the bathroom."
Judy headed for the other room, but was pulled up short when she heard Booker mutter, "That's odd..."
Turning swiftly, she joined him at the closet door. "What's wrong?"
"Those doors don't have locks. They fold in sections, like window shades. It must be jammed with something."
Booker studied the door for a moment, then gripped the knob in both hands. "Stand back."
Hoffs took a step back and instinctively lowered her weapon to orient on the door, as Booker threw his weight against it. The door creaked in protest, then slammed open so suddenly that Booker lost his balance and almost pitched onto the floor. Judy let out an agonized cry and dropped her gun, while Booker fought to keep his feet under him. He turned to follow her line of sight and felt his stomach contract in horror. Sitting on the floor of the closet, his knees drawn up close to his chest, his body wrapped in a blood-soaked blanket and his head propped brokenly against the wall, was Harry Ioki.
*** *** ***
"Harry?" Judy perched carefully on the edge of the mattress and clasped her partner's still hand in both of her own. "Can you hear me? It's Judy."
Only beeping monitors and the odd, wheezing sound of the respirator answered her. She tightened her hold on his cold fingers, her right hand now stroking gently up and down his forearm, more to comfort herself with the contact than out of any hope that he could feel it.
She didn't know what to say or do, at this point, and even her helplessness was hauntingly familiar. Like an old lover she had dreaded to meet again. It frightened her how quickly she slipped back into the rituals and emotions of another time, as if they were somehow comforting to her.
A light touch on her shoulder made her jump in alarm. She turned to find Captain Fuller standing behind her, his normally serious face now lined with worry and something Judy could only read as pain. He squeezed her shoulder for a moment, then gestured with his head toward the exit. Hoffs obediently stood up to follow him out of the ICU, but she found that she couldn't walk away from the bed.
"Come on, Jude," Fuller murmured softly. "The nurse'll be here to look after him."
Hoffs opened her mouth to remind him that a nurse was no substitute for family and choked on her own words. Family? What gave her the right to call herself family? She was the one who'd left her partner shut in a closet, bleeding to death, for nearly two days.
"Come on," the captain repeated, his hand urging her gently out of the room. He seemed to know, just from the stunned, wounded look on her face, where her thoughts were drifting, because he bent close and whispered, "We'll make this quick, so you can go back and sit with him."
As they stepped into the small waiting room, Judy glanced around the circle of drawn faces confronting her and felt her eyes burn with threatened tears. Hanson, Penhall, Blowfish...was this really all? How many years had Harry lived in this country, in this city, without making one friend or forming one permanent connection beyond this small group of Jump Street officers? All her earlier thoughts about Harry disappearing when he left the Chapel, about how he barely seemed to occupy his own life, came back to her now with the force of a body blow. She couldn't quite control a grunt of pain.
Tom rose quickly and came toward her, his eyes soft with understanding. "How're you holding up?"
She ruthlessly swallowed her tears and asked, somewhat harshly, "Where's Booker?"
"I sent him back to the apartment, with the forensics team," Fuller answered. "I wanted one of our people there, to keep an eye on things."
Judy nodded dully and made her way over to the nearest chair. As she collapsed nervelessly onto the cushions, she heard Penhall ask, "Is Harry awake?"
Fuller shook his head.
"What is this," Penhall muttered, almost savagely, "an annual event?"
"Doug." Penhall glanced up to meet Hanson's warning gaze. "Shut up, okay?"
"Captain, please!" The sharp note in Hoffs' voice brought instant silence and turned all eyes on her. "Please...can we just get this done?"
"Absolutely." Fuller crouched in front of her, while the others moved closer, both to offer mute support and to hear what she had to say. "I'm sorry to do this to you, Judy, but I need a report. Now, while it's fresh." She nodded again. "Booker said he was in the closet."
"Yes. He must have been stabbed somewhere else. There wasn't enough room to do it in the closet and..." She broke off and swallowed the sickness in her throat.
"Take it easy."
"I'm sorry, Captain." She covered her eyes with one shaking hand, as a vivid mental image of Harry, sitting on the floor in a tangle of stained cloth and a pool of his own blood, flashed behind her eyelids. "We had no idea that he was even in the apartment! We were looking for clues to where he'd gone, and Booker thought it was strange that he couldn't get the closet door open. I don't even know what we expected to find in there. When I think that we almost left without going inside..."
"Hey." Tom touched her arm reassuringly. "Don't beat yourself up about what didn't happen."
"Judy." She dragged her eyes up to meet Fuller's and flinched at the stark intensity of his gaze. "What can you tell us about the crime scene?"
"Crime scene?" A sound somewhere between and laugh and a sob was wrenched out of her.
"Hold it together, Jude." Penhall's soft voice chided.
"I will. I am. The apartment was clean. Not a drop of blood visible or a single piece of furniture out of place. No sign of a struggle. Nothing. Same with the hallway, the elevator, his car."
"You searched his car?"
She nodded. "That's what convinced us to go back upstairs. I saw it in the garage...just parked there... We searched it pretty thoroughly and didn't find a thing."
"Did you see Harry get into his car, when you left the Chapel Monday night?"
"Yes. He pulled out of the parking lot right behind me."
"So, he drove home and parked the car. Then what? Are you sure he couldn't have been stabbed in the closet? Maybe, if he were unconscious first?"
"No way, Captain. It's just a normal, shallow closet. Not even enough room for him to stretch out his legs. And..."
When she hesitated, Fuller urged, "Go on."
"The knife wound is in his back?" Fuller nodded. "He was sitting with his back to the wall, wrapped in a blanket. I remember..." She pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes for a moment, as if trying to banish the picture from her mind. "Nngh!"
"Shhh." Tom rubbed her back with one gentle, comforting hand.
Judy ruthlessly controlled herself and continued, "The blanket was soaked with blood. And there were bloody clothes on the floor, like Harry had pulled them off the hangers to use as bandages. He must have been awake...he..." She broke off and clenched her teeth in helpless fury. "I can't describe it so you'll understand. But I know, from seeing him in that closet, that he was already wounded...bleeding...before they put him in there!"
Fuller accepted her certainty with a simple nod, but he was obviously troubled. "Then, where did it happen?"
"Maybe somewhere else, entirely," Hanson suggested. "He may have left the apartment without taking his car."
"Possible. But he got back into the apartment, somehow. And with a wound like that, and the amount of blood he was losing, no way could someone carry him through the apartment and stash him in the closet, without leaving traces."
"So, they cleaned it up."
"Well, we'll find out soon enough. Forensics will hit the place with Luminol and tell us if it happened there." He shot a frowning look at Hoffs and added, "I'll check in with Booker. The sooner we get some answers, the sooner we can get moving on this, and I think we all need to be doing something."
As he headed for the nurses' station and the nearest phone, Hoffs pushed herself tiredly to her feet. "I'm going to sit with Harry."
Hanson caught her arm, stopping her move toward the door. "Jude, don't you think you'd better go home? Get some sleep?"
"I can't. Harry...Harry really hates hospitals. I can't leave him here alone."
"Okay. How about if I stay with him tonight?"
"Would you do that?"
"Hey," Doug assured her, his voice uncharacteristically gentle, "we're his family, right? It's up to us to get him through this."
Listening to Doug's words, Judy thought again about her partner's isolated existence and felt the pain well up in her, hot and fresh. In some ways, the most horrible part of this entire thing was the realization that they were, in fact, the only friends or family that Ioki had. There was no one to call. No one to care that history was repeating itself. Just no one.
"Well?" Doug insisted. "Am I right?"
Judy's face crumpled into tears. "Oh, Doug, I wish you were wrong!"
*** *** ***
Booker shuffled through the drift of papers for the tenth time, struggling to make himself concentrate. As many times as he'd read these reports, he still couldn't recall even one pertinent piece of information. His brain leaked like a sieve today. Throwing the file down in disgust, he propped his head in his hands and closed his eyes.
That didn't help any. Now, instead of incomprehensible lines of type, he saw a starkly precise room, decorated in shades of gray and black. He saw a door flying open as if under its own power. He saw a familiar, dark head resting against the jamb, a hand falling limply to the floor, lying palm up, the fingers slick with blood...
With a muttered curse, Booker jerked upright in his chair and shoved himself back from the desk. His dark eyes flicked once around the room, noticing the furtive way the other officers glanced in his direction then away again. Only Hanson and Penhall stared openly at him. Booker looked quickly away, too tired and depressed to go a round with Hanson. He just knew, behind that choir boy exterior, the other officer was preparing some salvo to fire at him.
When Hanson pushed back his chair and wandered over to his desk, Booker had to smother a sigh. 'Here it comes,' he thought.
"Yeah." He tried to put his usual dry indifference into his voice.
Startled, Booker glanced up into Hanson's eyes and was surprised to find no hostility or distrust lurking there. He swallowed audibly, then murmured, "Yeah, I'm...great."
"You need any help? With the forensics reports, or anything?"
"Uh..." Booker looked helplessly at the pile of papers. "This is just...That's not what I'm working on."
"Hey, Dennis." Penhall now lurked just behind his partner, his pleasant face unusually somber. "When did you get outta here, last night?"
"I don't know. Late."
Tom sat down on the corner of the desk and took a good, hard look at Booker. Neither man spoke for a long moment, then Tom murmured, "I heard you were there when they sprayed the place down."
Something that might, in another person, have been a shudder of revulsion passed through Booker's body. "Yeah."
In answer, Dennis pushed aside the scattered papers to expose a file folder that lay on the desktop. He pulled a large, color photograph from the top of the stack inside and handed it to Tom, without lifting his eyes from the blotter. Tom held the picture by its edges and angled it so Penhall could see it.
"Oh, man!" Doug turned quickly away, his shoulders hunched defensively.
"They...hmm." Tom paused to collect himself, then tried again. "They figure it happened right inside the door?"
Booker nodded. "The hallway was clean. They picked up that mess, in the entryway, and drips leading into the bedroom. Whoever did it knew they'd have plenty of time. They stuck around to clean the place up real nice. Mop the floor. Wipe down the walls."
"Sorry. I spent twelve hours in the apartment and the rest of the night trying not to dream about it. I ran out of tact a lifetime ago."
"Can I see the forensics file?" Tom asked.
"You don't want to."
"Yeah, I do." He cracked a wry smile. "Don't worry, I'm not gonna do something stupid. I learned my lesson the last time."
"Awww..." Doug swung around to fix pleading eyes on his partner. "Will you please shut up about that? That's the last thing I need to be remembering, right now!"
"Take it easy, Doug. Nobody's gonna..."
Dennis got abruptly to his feet, cutting off Hanson's reassurances. With a brusque, almost angry gesture, he tossed the thick file onto the desktop. "There's your report," he ground out. "Enjoy it." Then he headed for the exit.
"Hey, Dennis, where are you going?"
"Out." Just as he disappeared down the stairway, he called back, "Don't show Penhall the pictures!"
Tom watched his retreat, then lifted and opened the forensics file. Right on top was an 8x10 glossy of the closet, awash with blood, the sodden blanket spilling grotesquely into the room. Tom stared, appalled, at the horrifying image, then quickly flipped the folder closed again. Dennis was right. Penhall most definitely should not see this.
* * *
Booker moved up to the open door and gazed into the room. So familiar...it was all so hideously familiar, right down to the hypnotic beep of the monitors. He ducked his head to avoid the sight of Ioki lying motionless in the bed and Hoffs slumped disconsolately in the chair beside him. He felt the overwhelming urge to turn and leave, before either of them knew he'd come. This had been a terrible mistake.
Hoffs lifted her head, drawn by some dim awareness that she was not alone, and fixed pain-dulled eyes on him.
He offered her a bleak smile. "Hey."
"Any change?" He caught himself choking on the words they had repeated so many times before, like a ritual greeting. Judy just shook her head and looked away, her face tightening with the ache of memory. "Jude, I'd like to talk to Harry." The words were out of his mouth almost before he realized it.
Judy looked faintly surprised. "Sure. I'll go down to the cafeteria and get some coffee." She rose to her feet and moved slowly to the door. "Dennis..."
"Don't leave till I get back, okay?" She paused in the doorway and turned her raw gaze on him. "It's important."
"I won't." At her dubious look, he reached up to clasp her arm in gentle fingers. "I promise."
With a jerky nod, she turned to leave. "I'll be back soon."
"Take your time. Go back to the Chapel, or home, if you want to. Harry and I have some business to take care of."
Judy frowned slightly at that but did not ask what he meant. As she trudged wearily down the hallway, Dennis crossed the room and sat down in the chair she had vacated.
For a long stretch of time, he could do nothing more than stare down at his hands, his head sunk between his shoulders and an unconscious pain masking his face. His own agonizing memories the ones he'd seen reflected in Judy's face kept his tongue still and his eyes averted from the lifeless figure in the bed. But finally, he forced himself to look up, to confront the ugly facts that he had tried so hard to deny for the last twenty-four hours.
"Why is this happening?" he asked, in a nearly soundless whisper. "Wasn't once enough? Or is it some kind of twisted karma...we didn't do it right the first time, so we have to go back and try again? Lay a little Eastern philosophy on me, Harry. Explain to me what we're doing back here."
He stared unwaveringly at the sleeping face of his friend, his normally distant eyes now softened with pain and bright with unshed tears. Harry couldn't hear him he knew that and the respirator tube in his throat would have prevented him from answering, even if he could hear. But Dennis didn't need an answer. He needed to talk.
"Man, I hate seeing you in this place! It makes me...it makes me hurt. And it makes me feel guilty, because part of me is... glad."
Dennis stared hard at his clenched fists, trying to discourage his tears. "I know that sounds sick! It is sick! But I can't help it! I have to make you understand, Harry. I have to explain and apologize. And maybe get something right, for a change.
"See, when you were in that coma, after Tower had you hit, I used to come and visit you all the time. Every day. I'd sit there, hour after hour, sometimes all night, talking to you and asking you stuff and thinking. I swear, I couldn't have solved Tower's murder without your help. And I couldn't have gotten through all the crap with Farrell and Penhall and Fuller, without you. You didn't even know it, but you were my best friend.
"Then I screwed up. We all screwed up. I just did it worse than the others, 'cause I had more to lose. Or to gain."
He dropped his head in his hands and scrubbed shaking fingers through his hair. "Damn! I'm not doing this very well, am I? Guess I'll just say it straight out. I'm sorry. I let you down, when you needed me the most, and I pretended that our friendship had never really happened. I was there all those hours, all those days and weeks, when you couldn't hear me. But when you finally woke up..."
He fell silent, staring sadly at Harry's pale, lifeless face. When he spoke again, his voice was rough with emotion. "I wasn't there when you woke up, and I wasn't there when you came back to the Chapel. None of us were. We let you do it alone, even when we knew you were self-destructing. What happened with the drugs was our fault, as much as yours. But you showed us. You came back from that, too. Alone.
"And you want to know the sickest part? The whole time you were dealing with all that stuff, I was sulking because I'd lost my best friend. You woke up from a coma, and I lost my best friend! Well goddamnit, Harry Ioki, I want my friend back! And this time, I want him conscious!"
Dennis leaned forward in his chair, his elbows propped on his knees, and continued in a low, urgent tone, "We all learned our lesson, the last time. We won't let you wake up alone. I can't promise that I'll be sitting here, when you do come out of it, but someone will. You have my word on that. And Harry...this time, I want to do it right. I w..."
He broke off, breathing a tired sigh, and a wry, wistful smile touched his lips. "Like anything I say now counts, huh? How come the only time we can hold a decent conversation is when you're comatose?"
Pushing himself to his feet, he took a quick turn around the tiny room. He paused at the bank of monitors to stare at the various moving needles and blinking lights. "Look at all this shit, man. I'll bet I could find out which Hollywood Babe you're dreaming about right now, if I knew where to look. Whaddya think, Harry? Are they reading your mind, along with everything else?"
As he spoke, he turned to shoot an ironic look over his shoulder. The next instant, he was spinning around, wearing an expression of ludicrous surprise.
He crossed the room in two strides and bent anxiously over the bed. Dark, dazed eyes looked up at him in confusion, struggling to hold him in focus, and he felt his surge of relief turn suddenly cold. Harry could not make any sound, or even change the rhythm of his breathing, but the pain etched in his face and spilling like tears from his eyes was more eloquent than a heartfelt scream.
It took every ounce of strength Dennis possessed to meet that wounded gaze and smile. "Hey. Welcome back."
Harry just stared vacantly at him, a confused frown pulling his eyebrows together. He lifted one hand to brush the respirator tube with his fingertips, and the frown deepened. Dennis caught his hand, pulling it away from the tube, and chided,
"Better not mess with that. It's doing your breathing for you, right now." After a moment's hesitation, he asked, softly, "Does it hurt?"
In answer, Harry nodded slightly and shut his eyes. Tears began to slide from beneath his lashes.
"I'm sorry. I... It's gonna be okay, Harry, I promise." He sat down on the edge of the mattress and clasped Harry's hand tightly in both of his own. "Just hang onto me. That's what I'm here for." As Harry's fingers fastened around his in a death grip, he murmured, "I told you you wouldn't have to do this alone."
*** *** ***
Tom sat at his desk, slumped back in his chair, with his fingers laced together across his midriff. A thoughtful frown tugged at the corners of his mouth, while his eyes dwelled on the smallish cardboard box that stood in the exact center of his blotter. The box contained a random collection of items, each one in a separate plastic bag and each bag labeled with a neat string of numbers and a name, written in black magic marker. The same name and number adorned the outside of the box, and the tab of the thick file folder lying beside it. A name and a case number. That's what his friend had been reduced to in the grand scheme of things. A name and a case number. A little box of junk, and a manila folder full of gruesome pictures. It all looked so tidy, so final, sitting there on his desk as if it had no connection to a living person.
The object on the top of the pile was a gun he recognized it by its contours the sleek, compact automatic that he had seen in Ioki's hand or tucked into his shoulder holster countless times over the years. On an impulse, he picked it up, broke the seal on the plastic bag, and dumped the gun out on his desk. Then he tossed the numbered bag into the trash.
He was not destroying evidence by opening the bag. The lab reports verified that the weapon had not been fired and had been wiped clean of prints. Obviously, the attacker had handled it, then cleaned it before returning it to the holster, but it held no useful secrets now.
Tom picked it up, his hand settling naturally around the grip, and he felt a tingle across his palm. The last person to hold this gun had tried to kill a cop. For a brief moment, Hanson imagined that he could feel the hostility saturating the metal, radiating outward to burn his fingers as he touched it. With a slight shudder, he pushed the gun away from him. This was neither the time nor the place to indulge in his dark fancies, he told himself firmly. He'd only get into trouble that way.
The next bag held a key ring, and the next a silver and turquoise earring. Hanson opened each bag carefully, extracting its contents and laying them out on the desk blotter. He knew every one of these objects, almost as well as he knew the contents of his own pockets, and this ritual made him feel closer to his injured friend. It comforted him, but it also, perversely, chilled him. Hoffs' mood was contagious, and he couldn't help wondering how many of them would end this way...as a little pile of debris on a colleague's desk.
Then he found something he didn't recognize, stuck between Ioki's badge and the side of the box. It was an envelope one of those small, crisp, parchment-colored envelopes that came with nice sets of stationery. What he could see of the address was written in black India ink by a firm, bold hand, but most of the address, along with the postmark and stamp, was obliterated by bloodstains.
With a silent apology to his friend for invading his privacy, Tom opened the envelope and extracted a single piece of paper. He couldn't resist taking a sniff at the folded sheet, just to satisfy his curiosity. The only kind of letters Tom had ever received in envelopes like this were from doting girlfriends, the kind who drenched their paper with violet-scented perfume. This one smelled of stale blood.
When he unfolded the note, he quickly discovered that he needn't have worried about overstepping his bounds. It was written in Vietnamese characters neat and graceful, but utterly incomprehensible. Tom chuckled to himself, as he slid the paper back into its envelope. So much for invading Harry's privacy! He couldn't help wondering who was writing to Ioki in Vietnamese, but without a return address or a legible postmark, he had no way of solving that mystery. Most likely his grandmother, Tom figured, tossing the envelope onto the growing pile of Ioki's belongings.
Tom sat back, when he had emptied the last bag, to survey his collection. It wasn't much, when you looked at it like this. Not much with which to define a man's life...or to catch a killer.
"I'm sorry, Harry," he mumbled to the pile of mute objects. "If the answer's in here, I can't see it."
"Talkin' to yourself, now, Tom?"
Hanson glanced up, startled, to find his partner standing beside the desk, a wistful smile tilting his lips. Tom blushed and gestured to the stuff on his desk. "Not to myself. To Harry."
With one of his odd flashes of sensitivity that seemed so out of place in the rest of his personality, Doug nodded understanding. "He givin' you any help?"
Penhall seated himself on the corner of the desk and reached over to pick up the wide, leather wristband that Ioki always wore. It, like nearly everything else in the pile, was stiff and discolored with blood. "Y'know, Booker once told me somethin' weird. He said that Ioki solved Tower's murder. You believe that?" He looked a question at Hanson, but the other man only shrugged. "It sounded more like the kinda thing you'd say than Booker. One of your spaced-out ideas. Maybe you guys are more alike than you wanna admit."
"I'm having a bad enough day, without you starting in on me."
"It was just an observation."
"Well, quit observing, and let's go do something useful."
Tom jumped up and grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair, his movements full of a new energy and decision. "Let's check out Ioki's apartment."
"Okay." Penhall got to his feet and fell into step at Hanson's side. "I'm with you, Partner, but what exactly are we looking for? Every cop on the force has been over that place by now."
"Yeah, but we have something the rest of them don't have. We know Harry."
"Can't argue with you there."
*** *** ***
Hoffs came through the door at full speed, a 200-watt smile on her face, but she pulled up short at a warning glance from Booker. Some of the eagerness drained out of her eyes, as she moved across the room to stand beside the bed.
"What's the matter?" she asked, in a worried whisper.
"Nothing. Just keep it down."
Her dark eyes flicked from Booker to the still figure in the bed. She leaned over the chrome rail to gaze sadly at her partner's sleeping face, and the last traces of her smile faded. "I thought he woke up."
"He did," Booker assured her. "He's just kinda out of it."
"Take it easy, Jude. Everything's cool. The doctor said he's doing great, and it's normal for him to spend most of his time asleep. He's not exactly firing on all cylinders, y'know."
"I know. He just looks so..." She broke off to swallow the tightness in her throat, then asked, softly, "Did you get a chance to talk to him?"
"Did he seem okay to you?"
Dennis frowned at her, catching the tension in her voice and the fear in her eyes. "What's got you spooked?"
"Everything." She reached down to clasp Ioki's hand, where it lay on the blanket, and her eyes scanned the room through a sheen of tears. "All of this...the hospital. What happened the last time. Just...everything."
Dennis put a comforting arm around her shoulders. "Harry's fine. Or he will be, when he's had a chance to bounce back." At her dubious look, he continued in his most reassuring tone, "I've been right here, in this room, the whole time. Trust me, Judy, he's not freaking out about being in the hospital. The truth is, he's too tired to freak out about anything, right now."
"I wish I'd been here."
"It's probably just as well you weren't."
She glanced up at him, sharply, and saw his face tighten in remembered pain. After a moment, she murmured, "I'm glad you were."
Dennis dropped his arm from her shoulders and folded himself into the lone chair. His face had assumed its usual look of amused boredom, but he didn't fool Judy for a moment.
"If you ask me," he remarked, dryly, "Ioki's got the easy job. He gets to sleep all day, while we have to find the maniac with the carving knife."
"And you're working so hard at it," Hoffs pointed out, obligingly. She knew that playing the cynic was Booker's defense mechanism, so it didn't bother her the way it used to, before she learned to see past it. "Working up a real sweat."
"Mental effort, Darlin'. That's my area of expertise. We have Hanson and Penhall for the grunt work."
Hoffs shook her head. "You guys. When are you going to hang up your swords and start acting like teammates?"
"The key to successful teamwork is the effective division of manpower. Hanson broods, Penhall lifts heavy furniture, and I think."
"And what do I do?"
He fired a mocking smile at her and purred, "Rule the world, if that's what you want."
She shook her head, a reluctant grin playing about her lips. "All I want is to catch the guy with the carving knife."
"We will." His eyes closed, but not before Judy caught the gleam in their brown depths. "Bet on it."
Judy just smiled again and turned back to the bed to watch Harry sleep. She was still standing by the rail, with Dennis slouched bonelessly in the chair, ten minutes later when Ioki stirred. At the first sound from the bed, Dennis' head snapped up and his air of lassitude vanished. He made a move as if to stand, but then he seemed to remember Judy's presence, and he subsided again.
At the sound of Judy's soft, smiling voice, Ioki reluctantly opened his eyes and stared vacantly up at her for several slow heartbeats. Recognition crept into his eyes, and he took an infinitely cautious breath to whisper, soundlessly, "Judy."
"Hi. It sure is good to see you looking more like your old self, without all those tubes and things. How're you feeling?"
Her free hand dropped to brush a few errant strands of hair out of his eyes, then she rested her palm lightly against his face for a moment and said, affectionately, "You're such a liar! I brought you some flowers to cheer this room up a little, but the nurse wouldn't let me bring them into ICU. You know how these nurses are..."
His voiceless whisper cut off her monologue instantly. "Yeah?"
He took another, careful breath and winced at the stab of pain in chest. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong, now that you're awake."
"No...I mean... Why am...am I here?" When she just blinked at him in surprise, he added helpfully, "In the hospital."
"You don't remember?"
Ioki had used up all his oxygen and most of his stamina getting out one, fragmentary sentence, so he answered her only with a slight shake of his head.
Hoffs glanced at Booker, hoping for some clue how to handle this, but he looked as nonplused as she was. "Umm... Maybe you better get some more sleep, and we'll talk about it later," she said, uneasily.
Ioki's fingers tightened around her hand, and the pain in his face hardened into determination. "Please."
"Okay." She felt, more than saw, Booker rise to his feet and move to stand behind her shoulder. He didn't say anything, but his presence steadied her. "There's not much to tell, because we don't really know what happened. Dennis and I found you in your apartment. In the bedroom closet."
"You don't remember the closet, either?"
"Just tell him, Jude."
She fired a frustrated glance over her shoulder at Booker, then took a deep breath to muster her courage. "Somebody tried to kill you, Harry."
The news appeared to confuse him, more than upset him. He frowned up at his partner, as though trying very hard to process her words without success. After a long moment, he asked, simply, "Who?"
Dennis broke out in a wry smile. "We were kinda hoping you could tell us that."
Harry's frown deepened. "Me?"
"You were there, pal, not us."
"In your apartment..." It dawned on Booker that their conversation had devolved into nonsense. Ioki's face was drawn and ashen, his eyes glazed with pain and heavy with exhaustion. It took what little strength he had left to draw air into his battered lungs, leaving him none with which to concentrate on even the simplest words.
Switching immediately from his bantering manner to a soft, uncomplicated, gentle tone that made Hoffs stare at him in disbelief, Booker said, "Forget about it, Harry. Get some rest, and let us worry about the police work for now."
"But I d..."
"Go to sleep, Harry. That's an order," Hoffs said, with mock severity. "I still outrank you, Partner."
This time, Ioki did not argue. He obediently shut his eyes and seemed to deflate into the pillow. Only his clasp on her hand told Hoffs that he had not fallen asleep the instant his eyes closed. She waited, patiently, till she felt his fingers go slack, then she slipped her hand out of his and drew away from the bed. Booker followed her over to the door, a frown almost identical to hers on his face.
"So much for doing this the easy way," Hoffs muttered.
Booker stared back at the bed, his eyes dark and troubled. "I'm not worried about the case. We'll solve it the way we solve all the others. I'm worried that he doesn't remember anything at all about the attack."
"It's pretty common, I think, to get holes in your memory surrounding a trauma like that."
"If you get hit on the head, or something like that. But Harry was awake through the whole thing. He should remember it!"
She shot him a grim look from beneath her lashes and said, quietly, "Maybe it's better that he doesn't."
"Maybe." He did not sound convinced.
"Either way, we have to find the bastard who did this. And if Harry isn't gonna help us, you may have to put in some of that mental effort of yours." She gave him a wry smile, as she headed out of the room.
"Where are you going?"
"To call Fuller. I'm willing to bet a week's pay you haven't told him that Harry's awake." At Booker's shamefaced look, she just shook her head and groaned, "Some things never change."
*** *** ***
A network of bright, yellow tape criss-crossed the doorway, but the two young men paid scant attention to it. Penhall jerked the two center strips of tape loose from the doorjamb, with one smooth gesture. The door swung open at a touch.
"After you, Tom."
Hanson slipped through the widened gap between tape strips and into the apartment. Penhall came right behind him, muttering that Tom might at least have turned on the lights. But when he reached for the light switch himself, he heard Hanson call, softly, "No! Don't."
Turning to find his partner in the shadows, his question died on his lips, unasked. He staggered back from the door, his wide eyes scanning the entryway with fascinated horror, while he reached for Hanson's arm and reassurance. Hanson caught his elbow to steady him, then both men stood in awed silence.
The entire room seemed to glow with an unearthly, blue light, radiating from the luminescent smears that covered the walls, floor, and even the ceiling. It painted the faces of the officers, turning them into ghostly shadows of the flesh and blood men who had stepped through the door only moments before, and it trailed beneath their feet in a wide swath, leading into the other room. Neither man could find the words to break the spell of that sickening glow, until Penhall finally muttered,
"Turn on the damned lights."
Hanson trod carefully over to the light switch, his feet showing stark black against the sheen on the floor. As he flipped the switch and the lights came on, the otherworldly horror show became a plain, unthreatening, familiar room a good deal messier than they were used to seeing it, but still comforting in its familiarity. Hanson heard Penhall's sigh of relief, and he echoed that sentiment with a sigh of his own.
Penhall quickly went around the large room, turning on all the lamps and ceiling fixtures. When a reassuringly warm light filled the space, the cops paused to survey the damage.
"Boy, Harry's gonna be pissed when he sees this," was Doug's observation.
Tom couldn't argue with that. No one had bothered to clean up, and between Hoffs and Booker tearing the place apart to find Ioki, then the medical and police investigation teams trooping through, and finally Forensics laying down a coat of dust in its eternal quest for fingerprints, Ioki's terminally neat apartment was in a complete shambles. They couldn't see the bedroom closet from here, but Hanson had a nauseating suspicion that no one had bothered with that mess, either.
"Let's hope he's too happy to be alive to notice."
Penhall ran his eyes over the chaos that surrounded them and shook his head. "He's never that happy. I say we get 'im drunk, before we bring 'im home."
Hanson began moving slowly through the room, his searching gaze fixed on each successive pile of clothing or scattered object. "That's one solution. Another one desperate, I know is that we clean the place up."
"Bite your tongue!" Penhall followed his partner's example for a moment, then paused to ask, "What are we lookin' for, again?"
"Anything out of place."
"Huh. Everything's out of place."
"For starters, look for something that doesn't belong to Ioki. Or maybe something that he shouldn't have here, at home, if he has it at all."
"Like a cannon?"
"That'd be a big, red flag." Hanson glanced up, a smile glimmering in his eyes. "I don't s'pose you found one."
"Nope. Just a tennis shoe without a match." Penhall held up the shoe in question.
Hanson stooped to retrieve an object from a heap near his foot. "I've got the other one. Keep looking."
They both kept looking, combing the living room and kitchen without finding anything interesting. They put off going into the bedroom, as long as possible, and once they did, they kept their eyes averted from the closet. Thankfully, someone had bundled up all the bloodied fabric and stuffed it inside, then shut the door. But the bloodstains on the floor still marked the spot where Ioki's body had fallen after Booker pried the door open. By tacit agreement, the young men left the closet untouched. If they found nothing in the rest of the apartment, they would look there last.
Hanson began searching the bathroom, while Penhall started on the dresser and bedside tables. Penhall's job was made easier by the fact that the detectives had already broken the locks on everything, so the drawers came open without a fight. He worked in silence, until he reached the small cabinet to the left of the bed. When he opened the drawer, he found the contents largely undisturbed, and something right at the front of the drawer caught his eye.
"Lookie, here," he exclaimed, bringing Hanson quickly out of the bathroom to investigate. "A whole bundle of letters, tied up in a pretty, white ribbon. I'd say Mr. Ioki is keeping secrets from us."
"Harry's always keeping secrets."
Hanson took the neat package of letters from his partner's hand and turned them over, thoughtfully, between his fingers. They looked remarkably familiar small, parchment-colored envelopes, addressed in bold black ink but it wasn't their resemblance to the one Ioki had carried in his pocket that started Hanson's spine tingling. It was something else...something more elusive.
"A white ribbon. White."
"White satin," Penhall stressed, a leer on his face. "I didn't know Harry was such a romantic."
Hanson brushed away that comment with an impatient gesture. "Do you remember Jenko's funeral?"
"Harry wore a white suit."
Penhall's eyes widened. "That's a Japanese thing, isn't it?"
"White. The color of death."
"In Japan," Doug stressed. "Harry ain't Japanese."
Their eyes locked, and they stared silently at each other for a long, tense moment. Then Penhall gave a low whistle and murmured, "Not anymore."
"I don't know if the Vietnamese custom is the same, but after four years of pretending to be Japanese, some of the details must've stuck with him." Hanson held up the package to emphasize his words. "Harry had one exactly like these in his pocket, when he was stabbed. I'd bet he was bringing it home to add to the pile."
"Did you read it?"
"It's written in Vietnamese."
Hanson promptly pulled the top letter out of the bundle and opened it. "Yes." He checked three more, with the same results. "They all are."
Tom handed him one of the open letters and waited, curiously, for his reaction. Penhall studied the envelope and letter together, then the envelope alone, a frown of concentration on his face.
"Local postmark," he commented, "and a regular, first class stamp. So, who's sending Iok letters in Vietnamese?"
"I thought maybe it was his grandmother, but..."
"But he wouldn't be tying up his grandmother's letters in a white ribbon, and they wouldn't have a local postmark."
"How d'you figure?"
"Doesn't he get the letters from that newspaper guy? Mr. Van Luy?"
Doug cocked a knowing eyebrow at his partner and nodded understanding. "And he's local. Van Luy gets the letters from Vietnam, pops 'em in an envelope, and mails 'em to Harry from the corner post office. Yeah."
"So, why the white ribbon?"
Tom chewed thoughtfully on his lip for a moment, then shrugged. "Maybe we're wrong about the ribbon. Maybe he just grabbed the first thing he could find to tie them up with."
They both fell silent, pondering that idea, while Hanson tapped the package of letters against his fingertips and Penhall turned the loose envelope over and over in his hands. Almost at the same instant, they came to the same conclusion. Their nervous movements ceased, and their eyes met.
"Let's go talk to Mr. Van Luy," Hanson said.
"Just what I was thinkin'."
* * *
The newspaper office still bustled with activity, even at this late hour of the afternoon. Hanson and Penhall followed the young man into the cramped, noisy space, trying hard to stay close on his heels and safely out of the way. The young man led them into the center of the room, to a table where a distinguished Vietnamese gentleman in a crisp, white shirt and dark tie bent over the scattered bits and pieces of an unfinished page layout. The gentleman glanced up, as their guide whispered something in his ear. His dark eyes swept the two officers, without expression, then flicked back to the youngster.
"Thank you, Ngao."
The man bobbed his head in a quick bow, then hurried back to the outer office, leaving Penhall and Hanson hovering near the table.
"What can I do for you, officers?" Mr. Van Luy asked, politely.
"Is there someplace a little more quiet, where we can talk?" Hanson half shouted over the din.
"That depends. What do we have to talk about?"
"We need your help, Sir."
Van Luy gazed enigmatically at the young officer for a moment, then nodded briefly. He led them back through the main room to the outer office, and from there, through a door into his private office. When he shut the door behind them, blessed quiet descended on the room. He moved around behind his impressive desk and motioned for them to take the chairs on the near side.
"Is this what you had in mind?"
"Yes, Sir. Thank you." Tom opened his badge and offered it to the older man. "I'm Officer Tom Hanson. This is Officer Doug Penhall. Are you the Mr. Van Luy who publishes this newspaper?"
"I am. Is there a problem, Officer Hanson?"
"No, Sir." For reasons he could only half explain, this man's reserve and formal courtesy brought out the Rookie in Hanson. He had to stop himself from saluting. "We're friends of H.T. Ioki."
"You mean, Vinh Van Tran," Van Luy interjected, a microscopic smile softening his face. "Or Harry Van Tran, as he was calling himself when I met him."
"All of the above."
"And what do friends of Officer Ioki," he put a slight, distasteful stress on the title, "want with me?"
"We know you send Harry letters from his grandmother," Penhall broke in.
"When did you send the last one?"
"Two, maybe three months ago. Why do you ask?"
Hanson took one of the parchment envelopes from his inner pocket and handed it across the desk to Van Luy. "Is this one of them?"
Van Luy glanced once at the envelope and shook his head. When he started to hand it back to Hanson, the officer refused to take it.
"I cannot do that, Officer. This is not a letter that I sent to your friend. It would not be right for me to read it."
"Please, Mr. Van Luy. This letter could be material evidence in a case, and I need to have it translated immediately."
"The attempted murder of H.T. Ioki."
Van Luy fixed him with a level stare, a tiny frown marring the perfect impassivity of his face. After a long moment, he dropped his eyes to the envelope and carefully opened it. "Is Harry all right?" he asked, as he unfolded the paper.
"We don't know, yet. What...what does it say?"
Van Luy's eyes scanned the page in silence. Then he looked up at the two officers and stated, softly, "This is a death threat. The actual wording is unimportant it is largely drawn from folklore and myths, and would mean nothing to you but the intention is clear."
"Who sent it?" Penhall ground out. "Is it signed?"
"Yes. It is signed, 'The Dragon'."
* * *
"The Dragon?" Fuller glanced from one officer to the other, his eyebrows scaling up his forehead. "Did you say, 'The Dragon'?"
"Yeah," Penhall said. "We had him read all of the letters we found at Ioki's place, and they were all the same. All signed 'The Dragon'."
"Hmm. And you said Van Luy was going to transcribe them for us? Including the one Harry had in his pocket?"
Hanson nodded. "I messengered it over to him. He should have the written translations by tomorrow, and he said he'd try to give us some of the background for the references. It's all from poems and myths and stuff."
"Fair enough, but I doubt that the mythical references are going to help us much. I think the key is in that signature."
"The Dragon? Isn't that from the tattoo those gang kids wore? The ones Harry busted a year or so ago?" Hanson asked.
"The Pai-Gow Boys. They wore a tattoo of a dragon and an angel, intertwined."
"That's right!" Penhall glared at his colleagues, a combative, vengeful light in his eyes. "Those little bastards must've tried to take out Harry as pay-back for the bust!"
"That's as good a theory as any," Fuller said, "but it's still just a theory."
"I say we go find us a couple of those punks and squeeze a confession out of 'em!"
"And I say we keep our noses clean, so that when we do make a bust, we can make it stick. Don't you start squeezing anything out of anyone, Penhall! Understood?"
"Yessir, Cap'n," Penhall muttered.
"Now. The dragon and angel figures are common in Vietnamese tradition. They are not exclusive to the Pai-Gow Boys! And since the threats were delivered in Vietnamese, signed by The Dragon, we have to assume that any Vietnamese native could have written them. Or anyone posing as a Vietnamese native, with a reasonable command of the language and mythology."
"What is it, Hanson?"
"You don't really believe that, do you?"
Fuller sighed, and his authoritative mask slipped a bit. "No. I think it's too much of a coincidence that Harry brought down the most powerful Vietnamese gang in this city, and now someone who calls himself The Dragon has tried to kill him. I think it has to be the Pai-Gow Boys, or at least, that's where we have to start."
"Wait for Van Luy to send us those translations. Do a routine check on all known members of the gang. And talk to Harry." He waited for their double take, then added, with a grin, "Harry's awake."
"What?!" Penhall shrieked.
"Why didn't you tell us?!" Hanson demanded.
"Because we didn't know where to find you. And because nobody told me until four hours after the fact," he added, dryly.
Hanson and Penhall exchanged a wild look, then in the same instant, scrambled for the exit.
"Hold it!" Fuller thundered, bringing them to an abrupt halt. "Where do you think you're going?"
"The hospital!" they shouted, in unison.
"No, you're not. Get back over here."
"Over here, now!" The two officers obeyed with ill grace. "Now, listen up. Harry is awake, but he's still in ICU and in rough shape. The doctor thinks they'll be able to move him to a regular room sometime tomorrow - if he gets plenty of rest tonight but that means we leave him alone and don't descend on him in a mob. Hoffs and Booker will stay at the hospital, and the rest of us will wait till tomorrow. Got it?"
"Why do Hoffs and Booker get to visit, and we don't?" Tom asked.
"Because I said so!" Fuller's face softened at the sight of the younger man's distress. "And because we don't want to do anything to set Harry back. Let's just leave things as they are, Tom. No crowds, no fuss, no changing of the guard. You'll get your turn tomorrow, and both you and Harry will be better for the break." He waited for Hanson's nod of agreement, then added, "And hopefully, by tomorrow, Harry'll remember what happened."
Doug's eyes flew open wide in surprise. "He doesn't remember?"
"No. That's another reason why we want to be extra careful not to upset him or tire him out. We need him to remember, and he needs a chance to regroup, if he's going to do that."
"D'you think, by tomorrow...?"
Fuller shook his head. "There's no way to know. The best we can do is wait and ask him."