"Good morning, Captain!"
Fuller glanced over at Harry Ioki's cheerful countenance and reflected, privately, that he should have stayed in bed for another hour. It was way too early in the morning for this. He didn't even try to muster a smile, as he answered, "Morning, Harry."
He moved out of the stairwell with a tired step, pulled the folded newspaper from under his arm, and dropped it on Ioki's desk. "From the sound of it, you haven't read the paper yet."
"Nope. What's up?"
"Take a look at page three, down at the bottom." With that, Fuller turned his back and headed for his office.
Harry flipped open the paper and thumbed the pages. The captain's less than sunny demeanor had drawn the attention of the other officers in the room and brought Penhall, Hanson and Hoffs over to Ioki's desk to investigate. Penhall crowded around behind his chair and managed to jog his elbow, slopping coffee across the newspaper.
"Ooops. Sorry, man."
Ioki scooted his chair out of the way of the dripping coffee, but he was too intent on reading the now-sodden paper to stop and clean it up. His eyes scanned the page, until he saw a headline that read: Contractor's Convict Son Suicides.
"What? What is it?" Doug demanded.
"Will you shut up and let the man read?" Hoffs interjected, but the effect of her words was ruined a bit when she immediately urged Harry, "Tell us what it says!"
"Tony Wellman. He killed himself."
"Who? Tony who?"
Harry ignored Doug, his eyes moving automatically to his partner. "He hung himself last night, in his cell."
"Oh, God!" Judy stared back at him in shock. "Oh, Harry, that's awful! His father..."
Ioki shuddered eloquently.
"Is this Abe Wellman's kid?" Hanson asked. "The one who was convicted on the Accessory charge?"
"Yeah. He and his friend were both tried as adults and sent to the State Pen." Ioki stared numbly down at the newspaper. "Seventeen. He was only seventeen. They should never have sent him there."
Hanson reached out to scoop up the soggy newspaper. "No, but it wasn't your fault. And neither is this. The kid helped plan and execute a murder. He wasn't the victim."
Tom wadded up the paper and stuffed it into the trash, then snagged a roll of paper towels from beside the coffee machine. As he approached the desk again, he stated, flatly, "No, he wasn't. He was a smart kid from a wealthy family, who should have known better than to get mixed up in something like that. Come on, Harry. Quit stressing about this, and let's review our covers for the Westside case."
"Yeah." Harry mopped up the rest of the coffee, grimacing at the mess, and pushed back his chair with a decisive gesture. "Back to work."
An hour later, Ioki sat at his desk again, reading through a pile of interviews. When the phone rang, he snagged it immediately, and spoke without taking his eyes from the sheet of paper in his hands.
"Hello, Officer Ioki." The slow, almost hesitant voice sounded rough with emotion. "This is Abe Wellman."
Harry dropped the file and jerked upright in his chair. "Sir! I didn't exp...uh...What can I do for you?"
"You read the paper today?"
"So you know about Tony. About my son."
"Yes, sir. I'm very sorry. Is there anything I can do?"
"That's why I called. I know you probably don't want to think about Tony right now, but I...well, I need to talk to someone who understood what...what he was going through. The trial, and the prison. And the killing. I hate to impose on you, and I understand that you're busy. Police work, and all. But is there any chance that we could meet and talk? Just for a little while? In a way, you're the last person to see him alive."
"Of course. Where would you like to meet?"
"I'm in a little sidewalk café, down by the park."
"I'll be right there."
"Thank you, Officer. You can't know what this means to me."
Ioki hung up the phone and reached for his jacket. "Judy?" Hoffs glanced up from her desk. "I've gotta go out for a while. I'll check in."
"Where are you going?"
"Just to meet a...meet someone."
Judy gave him an odd look, but years of working with Harry had taught her not to waste her time with curiosity. Her partner had privacy down to an art form. "Okay. What do I tell Fuller?"
"Tell him I'm wrapping up a case."
*** *** ***
The constant ringing of Harry's phone was beginning to get on Judy's nerves. She had a pile of work to do, and no time to play receptionist, but no one else seemed inclined to answer it. With a sigh, she punched the appropriate line and lifted the receiver.
"Would that be Officer Hoffs?" a strange, gravelly voice asked.
"No, it would be Detective Hoffs," Judy answered, with some annoyance. "Can I help you?"
"Are you acquainted with Officer Harry Ioki?"
"Officer Ioki isn't here at the moment."
"Then you do know him?"
"Of course I do." Her mild annoyance was quickly turning to outright disgust. "Who is this?"
"Are you friends, Detective Hoffs?"
Judy shot a look at Hanson and made a frantic gesture to get his attention. "I'm not going to answer any more questions, until you tell me who you are!" As she spoke, she motioned for Hanson to lift the receiver on his phone.
"I asked you if you and Officer Ioki are friends."
Hanson's eyebrows shot up at the decidedly menacing note in the voice.
"Yes," Judy answered, her eyes on Hanson as he whispered urgently to Penhall. "We're partners."
"Then I have the right person."
"Officer Ioki left some personal effects for you to pick up. It's a rather public place, and I don't think you want just anyone finding them."
Judy struggled to control the tremor in her voice. "Personal effects? What are you talking about?"
"Go to the statue in Memorial Park. Now." The line went dead.
"Captain!" Judy dropped the phone and lurched to her feet. "Captain!" Her panicked shout brought instant silence in the room, as every person turned to look at her. "Captain Fuller!"
Fuller appeared in his doorway, a disapproving frown on his face. "If you want to talk to me, Hoffs, come into my office."
"Captain, Harry's in trouble!"
"What do you mean, trouble?"
"I don't know! I don't know!! " she fairly howled. "Some psycho just called me! He said to go to Memorial Park to pick up Harry's 'personal effects'!"
"Calm down." Fuller glanced over at Hanson, hoping for something a little more coherent from him, but Tom looked every bit as alarmed as Judy. That convinced him, better than any words, that they had genuine trouble on their hands. Snatching his jacket from the rack just inside the door, he snapped, "Meet me in the parking lot. Penhall, you're with me!"
*** *** ***
Harry awoke to darkness and a dull pain at the base of his skull. In the muddled state between sleeping and waking, his only thought was that he needed an aspirin and a drink of water, so he reached instinctively for the lamp to the right of his bed. His hand brushed a rough, cold, slightly damp surface, and surprise snapped him fully awake. Memory came limping back to him, helped along by the relentless pounding in his head, and he stared at the featureless darkness with growing alarm. When he turned his head, a stab of pain warned him that he had better proceed cautiously.
'Great. Sandbagged again,' he thought, as he lifted one hand to touch the swelling bruise on his scalp. He wouldn't be able to move his head properly for days, but at least he had no bullet holes to contend with. Yet.
"Be grateful for small favors," Grandma Bessie had often told him, in her soft, mid-western twang. Lying on the rough, wooden floor, gazing into the nothingness of total darkness, and listening to the distant slap of water moving sluggishly against pilings, Harry couldn't help but smile at the memory of his long-dead adoptive grandmother, however ill-timed it might be. 'I'm grateful, Grandma Bessie,' he assured her, silently. 'Believe me, I'm grateful.'
After a few minutes of trying to conjure the old woman's face in front of him, to ward off the oppressive blackness, he sighed and pushed himself up on his elbows. Sitting up took a little time and a lot of determination, since any movement started his head spinning and his stomach churning. But eventually, he achieved something close to verticality and leaned his aching head against the wall.
A short rest, to let his much-abused brain settle, and he began the ticklish process of getting to his feet. By the time he accomplished this, he had found something else to be grateful for - that he had missed lunch today. It was odd how a completely dark room, with no visible features to it at all, could spin so sickeningly.
Once on his feet, Harry found that the room steadied down considerably. As long as he stepped carefully and didn't jar his battered skull, he could move around with little discomfort. Keeping one hand on the nearest wall, for balance and guidance, he began exploring his cell. It proved to be a small, bare room - no more than four paces by five - with a steel door in one wall. It contained absolutely nothing but one very dirty, sore and frustrated cop.
When he had investigated every corner of his tiny prison and satisfied himself that the darkness hid nothing that could either hurt or help him, Harry made his way back to the still-warm spot left by his unconscious body on the floor. In the damp chill of the room, even this minimal heat source was welcome. He sat down to think, propping his head in his hands and closing his eyes against the darkness.
The sound of moving water reached him again, along with the reek of decaying fish and diesel fuel that clung to the waterfront. He had known, almost from the instant he opened his eyes, that he must be somewhere on the river, probably in a warehouse on one of the commercial shipping docks. Unfortunately, that didn't narrow it down much. The city had more than five miles of commercial frontage on the river.
He struggled to think coherently around the cold and the darkness and the ache in his head. There had to be some way out of this, some way to reach Captain Fuller, but he couldn't seem to focus clearly enough to find it. With a defeated sigh, he pulled his knees up close to his chest and wrapped his arms around his shins in an attempt to conserve warmth. Somewhere between the Chapel and this dank hole, he'd lost his nice, warm leather jacket.
'I really love that jacket,' he thought, mournfully. 'I wonder what happened to it?'
*** *** ***
The memorial statue stood on a raised, marble pedestal in the center of a forty-foot circle of decorative paving. The mounted figure wore full cavalry regalia and brandished a sword at some unseen enemy. He was a familiar and beloved, if somewhat laughable sight, and local humorists had been known to deck him out in a variety of irreverent costumes. Today, he wore a black leather jacket draped jauntily over his uniform and a shoulder holster dangling from his sword.
The four Jump Street officers stood at the edge of the circle, staring up at the statue's anachronistic clothing, their faces tight with anger. Judy forced herself to speak, to break the oppressive silence, even if she was merely stating the obvious.
"That's Harry's jacket."
"Old Marble Butt has never looked so good," Doug muttered.
"At least the gun is still there," Fuller pointed out. "That saves us one ugly job. Okay, guys, you know the drill. Let's move."
Standing at the edge of the brick circle, Fuller tilted back his head to watch Penhall and Hanson scale the statue. Doug climbed up on the horse's rump, straddling it just behind the marble figure, and shot a loopy grin at the captain. Fuller just shook his head and looked away. Beside him, Hoffs gave a snort of disgust.
"Does he ever stop?"
"He wouldn't be Penhall, if he did." Fuller gazed down at her thoughtfully and murmured, "How are you holding up?"
She watched Doug slip a plastic bag over his hand, to form a makeshift glove, and lift the jacket from the statue's shoulders. "I don't know, Captain." After a moment's hesitation, she added, softly, "I'm scared."
"Harry's gonna be all right. We'll find him."
"You tell me, Detective. Where do we go from here?"
"Uhmmm..." Judy closed her eyes and took a calming breath, forcing her mind to focus on her training, rather than on her fear. "Check the jacket and gun for fingerprints or other physical evidence. Look for witnesses. Try to trace Harry's movements from the time he left the Chapel."
"Why did he leave the Chapel?"
She looked up at the captain, startled. "I don't know. He said he was going out to meet someone."
"He didn't tell you who?"
Judy shook her head. "But that's Harry. He never tells us anything he doesn't have to."
"Hm." Fuller just frowned at that and kept his observations to himself. "What exactly did he say?"
"That he was going to meet someone, and to tell you he was..." She broke off with a gasp. "That's it! That's what he said! He was going to wrap up a case!" Turning a gaze suddenly alight with eagerness on him, she added, "If this is related to a case..."
"Then we may be able to learn something from his files. It's a place to start, anyway."
"Hey, Coach!" The shout drew Fuller's attention to the two men on the statue. Hanson lifted one plastic-wrapped hand to show the gun he held. "Fully loaded, and no sign it's been fired!"
"Good. Bag it." He turned back to Hoffs. "I'll put Hanson on finding Harry's car and Penhall on tracking down witnesses. You'll come back to the Chapel with me and get busy on those files."
"This is gonna take a lot of leg work, Captain. How much time do you figure we have?"
"We won't know till we run out." The younger officer winced, and he sighed in understanding. "It helps if you don't think about it. Stay focussed on the job and keep your eyes off the clock."
"I don't know if I can."
"You can." At her doubtful look, he quirked a half smile and assured her, "You're a damned fine cop, Hoffs, and if I were in Harry's shoes, I'd want you looking for me."
Hanson and Penhall jumped to the ground and headed toward them, carrying the gun, holster and jacket in large plastic bags.
Judy fixed worried eyes on the familiar objects and whispered, "What if we're already out of time?"
*** *** ***
The grate of metal on metal jarred Ioki out of a light doze and brought him quickly to his feet. He had taken only one step toward the sound, when a small section in the upper half of the door swung open, and a sudden, blinding flare of light struck him full in the face. He gave a gasp of surprise and staggered back against the wall, his hands coming up instinctively to protect his eyes.
"Hello, Officer Ioki."
Harry cautiously peered through the screen of his own fingers and tried to focus on the source of the voice. As his eyes gradually adjusted and the glare died down to more bearable proportions, he made out a man's head and shoulders framed in the opening. The light came from a Coleman lantern that he held up by his shoulder. In his other hand, he held a gun.
"Mr. Wellman?" Ignoring the weapon, Ioki covered the distance to the door in two strides. He braced his palms flat against the cold metal and struggled to keep his voice level, as he confronted the man who had ambushed and abducted him. "Mr. Wellman! Let me out of here!"
Wellman just stared emptily at him, his pleasant, middle-aged face set in uncharacteristically grim lines.
"This is crazy! Do you know what you've done?" Ioki slammed one hand against the door and shouted, his control quickly evaporating, "Let me out of here!"
"I'm sorry. I can't do that." There was no apology in Wellman's arctic tone.
Harry gave a grimace of fury but managed to hold his temper in check. He would do himself no favors if he goaded Wellman into putting a bullet through him. After a moment, he asked, with a fair assumption of calm, "Where am I?"
"In an abandoned warehouse that I never got around to tearing down, but that hardly matters. You're in prison. That's all you need to know."
"Look, Mr. Wellman, as long as my captain hasn't found us yet, no one has to know what happened. There's still time to stop this, before it goes too far!"
Wellman shrugged. "Let the entire police force camp out on my doorstep. It won't help you."
"Do you know what they'll do to you for killing a cop?"
"Do you think I care?" The question dripped bitterness and defeat. "They've done their worst. My life is over. All that matters now is that I set a few things right, before I go."
"Will killing me make it right?"
"I'm not going to kill you, Officer Ioki. That wouldn't be justice. Oh, the police and the courts will say that I did, and they'll try to punish me for it, but I'll know the truth. And you'll know. And Tony."
"I don't understand."
"It's very simple. My Tony was sent to prison, because he helped another boy commit and conceal a murder. I know he did those things. I know he was guilty."
"That doesn't mean the sentence was fair."
Wellman looked mildly surprised. "You don't think so? Ironic, since you now face the same sentence."
"You helped them kill my Tony. You sent him to that place, and you gave it another name so no one would recognize it as murder, but that's what it was. I'm a fair man, Officer Ioki. I don't believe that you should pay any lesser or greater price for your crime than my son did, so I give you the same sentence, the same chance, and the same options."
Harry's eyes widened in shock, as the full import of Wellman's words hit him, and he couldn't quite control the tremor in his voice when he answered, "You can't keep me here for long."
"How long does it take to pull a trigger?" Dark, heavy lidded eyes fixed on Ioki, and their touch sent a cold shiver through him. "I've made it much easier for you than it was for my Tony."
Wellman stepped back from the door and flicked open the magazine of the revolver he held. Turning it slightly, so that the light from the lantern fell on it, he showed it to his prisoner. "One bullet. That's all there is, so I suggest you don't waste it."
"If you want me dead," Harry insisted, "you'll have to kill me. I won't shoot myself."
"Your only other option is to die slowly, of dehydration, while your friends comb the city for some trace of you." When the young man just stared at him, his mouth pressed into a determined line, Wellman continued, "You have no food or water. How long can you live without them? How long will it take your colleagues to find you? A week? A month? Only an Act of God would allow them to find you in time, and only a fool believes that God fights on his side."
Harry swallowed with difficulty and whispered, "It doesn't matter. I can't."
"The more fool you." With a flick of his wrist, he snapped the magazine back into place, then he approached the door again and thrust the lantern through the small opening.
"Take it." When Ioki made no move to accept it, he urged, "Go on, Officer, take it. There's enough fuel in it to last a few more hours. Enough time to...examine your options."
The officer obediently took the lantern out of his hand and set it on the floor.
"Good. And now the gun."
This time, Ioki did not hesitate. However appalling and unthinkable he found Mr. Wellman's plans for him, he would feel much more comfortable with that gun on his side of the door, aimed at something besides his chest. He promptly held out his hand. Wellman set the gun on his open palm but paused with his own fingers still clutching it.
"Waste your one shot on me, and we'll both die. I'm ready." The gaze he fixed on his prisoner held a distinct challenge. After a tense, silent moment, he released the gun and ducked swiftly to the side, putting the solid steel of the door between him and the weapon. Ioki made no move to threaten his jailer. He merely stood staring at the object in his hand until he heard the creak of the door panel closing. His eyes came up with a start, panic filling his face.
"Wait! Mr. Wellman..."
"Good bye, Officer Ioki."
The panel rasped shut, just as Harry threw himself against it. The hard steel of the pistol struck the unyielding panel, the crack of the impact ringing through the cell. "Mr. Wellman! Open the door!" Bolts slammed into place. "No!! Don't do this! Open the door!!" Dead silence answered him.
*** *** ***
Hanson stood in the phone booth, his eyes on the black Mustang convertible parked some twenty yards away. He silently counted the rings on the other end, trying to control his impatience. Finally, the line clicked open.
"It's me, Coach. I found the car."
"Parked in front of the Landmark Cafe."
"That designer coffee bar in the park?"
"That's the one."
"I'll have a forensics team there in ten minutes. You see what you can find out in the restaurant."
"On my way." Hanson paused for a moment, then added, "I never thought I'd say this, but I'm sorry Ioki ever got rid of the Deuce. That thing was such an eyesore, it was guaranteed to attract attention."
Fuller gave a little grunt of laughter. "You'll change your tune the next time he offers you a ride."
"Yeah. Any word from Doug?"
"None. Get busy, and keep me posted."
Hanson hung up the phone and turned his steps toward the cafe. He moved casually up to the door, his eyes sweeping the scattering of tables that stood on the open patio. A couple of waiters worked the outside tables, another pair covered the inside, and a young man with chiseled cheekbones and a trendy haircut that made Tom feel old and frumpy lounged in the doorway to greet customers. Hanson watched the ebb and flow of people for a few minutes, trying to look unobtrusive, until he decided that the mannequin at the front door must be in charge of the shift.
Waiting for a moment when the young man was alone, he slipped his ID from his pocket and approached the door.
"Excuse me." He flashed his badge at the waiter. "I'm Officer Tom Hanson, Metro Police. I need to ask you a few questions."
The man looked from the badge to the youthful face above it and raised one supercilious eyebrow. "What can I do for you, Officer?" He made the title sound more than a little unsavory.
"Have you noticed that car parked right outside?"
"The 'Stang? It's been there all day."
"Did you see it pull up?"
"No. It's been there since before the lunch rush."
"Have you seen anyone get in or out of it? Seen anyone hanging around it?"
"No, but I haven't been looking. If you'll excuse me, Officer, I have..."
"Just a minute."
Hanson pulled his wallet from his back pocket and sorted through the contents until he came across a small, dog-eared photograph. He looked at it for a moment, remembering the Christmas party at the Chapel when Fuller had snapped this picture of his elite team, and a slight smile lifted the corners of his mouth. He, Penhall, Ioki, and Hoffs stood crowded together, all wearing happy grins and festoons of red tinsel. Doug had a Santa hat tilted over one eye. Ioki wore a small tree ornament as an earring. Hoffs was flaunting her red spandex pants for the camera. Those were the days when they all smiled more often. With a tiny, inward sigh, Tom handed the picture to the young man and pointed to Ioki.
"Have you seen this man around here today?"
The waiter accepted the picture and turned it into the light. He opened his mouth to make a snide crack, then suddenly frowned in concentration. "Maybe I have, but the guy I saw had long hair. Down to his shoulders."
"What can you tell me about him?"
"He came in around eleven, I think. Kind of short. Dressed sharp. Had on a black leather jacket with a lot of silver trim on it."
Tom tried to keep the eagerness out of his face, as he asked, "Did he talk to anyone, while he was here?"
"I don't know. We'll have to ask Aaron."
It took them a few minutes to corner the waiter in question and get his attention. Aaron proved to be even younger, trendier, and more self-satisfied than his boss, and he viewed Hanson with patent suspicion. When Tom asked him about his customer, all he got for his trouble was a hostile glare.
"Who wants to know, man?"
"Me." Hanson flashed his badge again. "I'm a cop. And you are a potential witness to a kidnapping, so I suggest you give the tough-guy routine a rest and tell me what you remember."
"You were working table six this morning, weren't you?" the other waiter asked.
"So, I seated a guy there - little oriental dude with long hair."
Hanson once more produced the picture. "Was this your customer?"
"Huh. Hey, that's you!" Aaron pointed at Hanson's picture and grinned baitingly at the police officer. "This guy a cop, too? And how about the babe in spandex!" He turned the picture so his colleague could see it. "She a cop? Come and arrest me, gorgeous!" The other man whistled appreciatively.
"Gentlemen? Can we stay focused, here?" They both turned inquiring eyes on Hanson. "Thank you. I'll ask you one more time, Aaron, then I'll get irritated. Did you see this man in your restaurant today?"
"Could be. He's a cop, huh? Didn't act like a cop. Didn't order donuts or ask me any stupid questions..." Tom's quelling glare cut him off.
"What can you tell me about him?"
Aaron shrugged. "He met some old guy for coffee. They sat around for half an hour, paid their tab and left. No big deal."
"Can you describe the 'old guy'?"
"Just an old guy! Looked like Albert Einstein."
Tom's eyebrows shot up. "Einstein? You mean the physicist, Albert Einstein?"
"Yeah. Dude with all the hair and the big moustache." He broke off and thought for a moment, then added, "Except this guy didn't have much hair - mostly bald - and no moustache. But he had eyes like Einstein. Or Yoda."
Fuller hung up the phone and strode out of his office. "Hoffs! I just got a call from Hanson!" Judy glanced up from the pile of folders in front of her, a question in her eyes. "We've got a description of the guy Harry met for coffee after he left here."
The captain reached Ioki's desk and perched on the edge of it to converse more privately with the young detective. "If the witness's timing is accurate, he must have gone straight to the cafe from here. He stayed for about half an hour, then left. With this other man. No one saw him approach his own car, which was right outside the restaurant, and no one noticed what direction they went when they left."
"What does this guy look like?"
"Details are sketchy, but here's what we've got. Mid to late fifties, balding, clean-shaven, under six feet and heavy-set. He's described as having eyes like Albert Einstein or Yoda." Fuller pulled a grimace at that, but when he glanced from his notes to Hoffs, he saw that she was staring intently at the desk top, a look of fierce concentration on her face. "What? You know this guy?"
"Einstein eyes. Captain, that's Abe Wellman!"
"Absolutely! I remember joking with Harry about it during the trial! It's him!"
Fuller began to glower ferociously. "It fits. Wellman's kid suicides, and he goes after the police officer who put him in prison. To do...what? Get even? Kill a cop?"
Judy just shook her head, her eyes filling with tears.
Fuller began mentally ticking off his next moves. "I'll have Wellman's house and office staked-out. And I'll call downtown for all the information we have on him and his business. He's a wealthy man. Owns property all over town. Maybe he owns a building or two where he could stash a person he didn't want us to find. We need recent pictures of both Wellman and Ioki." Hoffs' silence struck him, and he turned worried eyes on her. "We're getting closer, Judy. This is a big step."
She shook her head again and swallowed the lump in her throat to whisper, "I can't believe he didn't tell me where he was going. I asked him, but he just brushed me off. Why didn't he tell me?"
"I've been wondering that, myself. Jude, do you... do you two get along?"
She looked genuine affronted at his question. "How could you ask that? How could anyone not get along with Harry? Except when he was..." She broke off in guilty confusion, and Fuller obligingly finished the sentence for her.
"When he was hooked on pain medication and not acting like himself."
"You knew about that?"
"After the fact."
"Me, too. I didn't know what was wrong, just that he wasn't feeling well and was acting strange, till he'd snapped out of it. Then he told me."
"Did he tell anyone what he was going through, when it was happening?"
"Hm." That was obviously not the answer the captain had expected. "Was it Doug who helped him get clean?"
"I don't think so. I think he did it by himself - like he does everything by himself." She lashed out in a sudden burst of fury, knocking over a stack of files and sending papers skittering across the floor. "Damn it! He's not supposed to be doing this stuff alone! How could he go see Wellman, without telling me?! Without telling someone?! He knew it could be a trap, and he walked into it alone! I'm his partner, and I'm supposed to be there to back him up!" Another swipe sent a fresh drift of paperwork onto the floor. "It'll serve him right if Wellman does fill him full of lead and dump him in a hole, the stupid, stubborn, selfish little son of a bitch!!"
With that, she crumpled into her chair, buried her face in her hands, and began to sob, oblivious to the roomful of eyes staring at her. Fuller sat quietly on the desk, waiting for the storm to blow itself out and wishing he had some way to dull the pain. For all of them.
*** *** ***
He didn't usually mind being alone. After all, he'd spent most of his adult life alone, in one way or another, and while he couldn't exactly say he enjoyed it, at least he had reached a certain truce with himself that allowed him to live with it. But this was different - very different. As he glanced around the tiny room, so ugly and forlorn in the glow of the lantern, he felt loneliness and despair settle on him like thick shroud, chill, heavy and inescapable.
'Why,' he asked himself, 'am I afraid of this room? Is it because I'm going to die here?' He toyed with that idea for a few minutes, turning it over and examining it from several angles. Was he afraid to die alone? Would it be easier, if he had someone here to watch him go? No, that wasn't it. He had been dead - or as close to dead as makes no difference - and knew that it mattered very little whether you were alone or not, in the end. It wasn't dying alone that frightened him, it was living alone. No, that wasn't quite right, either. It was coming back to life, coming out of the darkest places in yourself and finding that you had come back to nothing. That was it - that moment of realization, when you know that your life, or your death, or your rebirth are events that mean nothing to anyone but yourself and must be endured alone.
Harry shivered, more from the icy touch of fear than from the very real cold of his cell. 'Better not go there,' he thought and jumped to his feet. The cell offered him few distractions, but he had to find something to keep his mind from drifting places he couldn't stand to be right now. He lifted the lantern and played its light over the walls.
His first exploration of the room, done in total darkness, had proven to be as thorough as any he could make in broad daylight. The eight-by-ten foot space had once served as a storage room, so it had no windows. The light fixture in the ceiling had no bulb in it, and the wiring conduit that fed power to it came into the room through a hole above the door, so the switch had to be outside somewhere. Water oozed from the pores of the cinderblock walls, leaving mildew trails on the rough surface. The planks of the floor had swollen and splintered in the damp, and they smelled faintly rotten.
Considering the age and condition of the building, he might have expected to find bits and pieces of trash or discarded packing lying around. Maybe the remains of shipments stored here a decade or more ago. Maybe hunks of the crumbling ceiling or gnawed pieces of wiring. The bareness of the room told him that Wellman had prepared this cell carefully. He had left nothing for his prisoner to find - not even the most worthless refuse.
With a defeated sigh, he lowered the lantern and let the shadows claim the walls again. This place depressed him unutterably and made him wish all the harder for the sound of Judy's voice badgering him: "You know you'll regret it, if you don't go for it, Harry!" "Stop blaming yourself! I told you it wasn't your fault!" "If you would just listen to me, Harry..."
"Yes, Jude" he informed the silent, dripping walls, "you're always right, and I'm usually wrong. I know you'd have found some way out of here by now, but I'm still glad you didn't come. When you see this place, you'll be glad, too."
He slumped back down onto the floor, his back to the door, and propped his chin in his hands. As much as he hated the sight of his cell, he knew he'd be sorry when the lantern died and left him in darkness again. His eyes drifted from point to point, musing idly on the strange shadows cast by the lantern. Then his eyes fell on something he hadn't noticed before - a rusted metal ring lying on the floor. Curious, he pushed himself away from the wall and crawled over to it, bringing the lantern with him.
On closer examination, he discovered that the ring looped through a heavy U-bolt, which was sunk in the floor. He hooked a finger through the ring and gave an experimental tug. Nothing. He looked carefully at the boards around it, hoping to find some clue to its purpose. Not that it mattered, but any activity, however pointless, was preferable to sitting in one place and slowly freezing to death.
In the harsh light of the lantern, he almost immediately spotted the crack - a thin, straight cut in the floorboards that ran perpendicular to the planks. Glancing from the ring to the crack, he could come up with only one explanation for what he saw. A trapdoor.
Without pausing to wonder what new kind of trouble he might be stumbling into, Harry jumped to his feet and bent over to grasp the ring in both hands. A trapdoor had to lead somewhere, and at that moment, it didn't matter a damn where. He just had to get out of this room. He positioned his feet carefully, so that he stood well clear of the crack, bent his knees for better leverage, and pulled with all his strength.
For an agonizing moment, nothing happened. Then slowly, to the accompaniment of grating and groaning from the ancient, reluctant hinges, a large section of the floor began to inch upward. His head swam and his vision fogged, as his drained and exhausted body protested this new abuse, but he refused to let up. He had to open the trapdoor and find a way out of this room, or die trying. The alternative was to die without trying - to die Abe Wellman's way - and that he simply could not accept.
He gave another heave on the ring, and the door lifted another quarter inch. One more pull at full strength, and the trap would clear the floor.
Suddenly, the ring lurched upward. He gave a cry of protest, as the U-bolt tore free of the rotten plank and the ring came loose in his hands. He reacted instinctively, jamming the pointed toe of his cowboy boot against the exposed end of the trapdoor and sinking his fingernails into the soft wood. He felt splinters gouge under his nails and peel the skin from his fingertips, as his hands bore the full weight of the thick planking, but the door did not fall.
Clenching his teeth against the pain of raw wood tearing into his hands, he braced his feet once more and ordered his legs to straighten. Miraculously, his body responded and the trapdoor moved. He could barely see through the dancing blotches that filled his field of vision, but he knew from the change in the feel and smell of the air when he opened a crack in the floor.
He slid the steel-shod toe of one boot into the opening and carefully rested the trap on it, then he pried his fingers free of the wood. Blood slicked his hands, making his grip uncertain, but hope gave him a new store of strength and a new confidence. The sound of moving water and the chill, rank air flowing out of the trap told him that he had reached the river - and freedom.
He hooked his fingers under the door and lifted it just enough to ease his toe out of the way. "Okay, Harry," he muttered, "you want that jumbo pizza with mushrooms and olives, you have to get the damned door open."
Five minutes later, he sat on the floor beside the open trapdoor, staring down into a square of inky blackness, clutching his torn and aching hands to his chest and gasping for breath. As he contemplated the bulky door and the feat he had accomplished in getting it open, he wondered if maybe Penhall was on the right track. He could hear Doug's laughing voice asking him, "Is there anything you won't do for pizza, Ioki?"
"I guess not," he muttered to his absent friend. "Tonight, I'll even let you buy."
When his breathing had returned to something like normal and his arms had stopped shaking, Harry decided that it was time to get moving. He picked up the lantern and peered through the trapdoor. From this vantage point, he could see nothing. The darkness seemed solid, and more than a little hostile. He lay down on his stomach and wriggled forward till most of his torso dropped through the opening. With the lantern dangling from one hand, he leaned as far down as he could without overbalancing, and shone the light around.
He found himself hanging more than forty feet above the surface of the water, surrounded by a looming forest of pilings. From the total darkness that shrouded the pier and the water, he assumed that it must be deep night, and that he must have come out under the middle of the huge dock. No light, not even a glimmer of starlight on moving water, reached him. The lantern's beams illuminated the massed supports of the pier and a scattering of rotted pilings that thrust up from the water like weird stalagmites. He could not see below the water's oily surface, but he got brief, ominous glimpses of irregular objects lurking in the shadowed depths.
The longer he lay there, looking into this stygian hell straight out of a child's nightmare, the more convinced he became that his escape route was really just another means of suicide. The smell alone was enough to drop a water buffalo, and there must be a dozen sharp objects down there for him to impale himself on. At least he now understood what purpose the trapdoor had served - built-in garbage dump.
He squirmed back from the opening, till his shoulders were once more on solid ground, then he rolled over to lie staring at the ceiling. He had prayed for another option, another way out of this room besides a bullet to the brain. Well, he had one, but the thought of taking it sent a shudder of horror through him. No, he could not face jumping into that stinking, black hole. Not until it was clear that he had no other choice, and certainly not in the pitch darkness.
'Wait for morning,' he told himself. 'Wait till there's a bit of light on the subject, then decide.'
With an exhausted sigh, he climbed to his feet and moved back over to his usual spot near the wall. He knew that this particular rectangle of floor offered no more warmth or safety than any other, but it felt oddly comforting to him in his current, shell-shocked state. He sank down on the rough boards and curled up with his back to the wall and his eyes on the fading lantern.
How many hours till morning? He had no clue, and at the moment, he didn't care. Hunger, thirst, cold and disappointment combined to sap his last shred of strength. He felt only exhaustion and defeat, with no energy left even to hope that the morning would bring new possibilities.
He closed his eyes and repeated to himself, 'Wait till morning.' He could do that. He could survive that long. But then what? 'Just wait. There's nothing else to do. No other option. Just wait.'
*** *** ***
The Chapel seemed huge and full of echoes at this hour of the night. The three young officers at the table had the place to themselves, though the light leaking from under Fuller's door betrayed the fact that the Captain had not yet gone home, either. A litter of coffee cups, pizza boxes, file folders and scattered papers covered the table top, silent testimony to how long the three cops had sat there, going over and over their meager store of information, looking for something they had missed in the last twelve readings.
Penhall dropped the piece of paper in his hands and rubbed his eyes furiously. "Man, this Wellman owns half the city!"
As Doug pushed back his chair and headed for the coffee machine, Tom asked, "How many locations do we have, so far?"
"I got three, if you count the high rise on Market that's been put on hold till after the City Council hearings."
"They had the hearings last week," Judy said. "I heard about it on the news."
"So, have they started construction again?"
"I think they pulled the permit."
Penhall collapsed back into his chair, downed a mouthful of coffee and sighed. "Half-finished building, no construction crews around - definitely one for the list."
Hanson stretched his neck till the vertebra popped, making Hoffs grimace. "I've got two definites and two maybes. And about a dozen vague possibilities. How about you, Judy?"
"I've got no time for this!" She threw down a sheaf of papers with an angry gesture. "I can't believe we're sitting here, reading a bunch of old files, while that bastard is..."
"Hey, hey, take it easy." Tom caught her gaze, his soft, understanding eyes holding her still and calming her sudden outburst. "You've got to keep it together, Jude."
"I will. I am." She closed her eyes and buried her face in her hands. "I'm sorry, guys. I just feel so awful about this whole thing."
"Why?" Doug teased, gently, "'cause the last time you talked to Harry you told him his earring was ugly?"
"No, because I let him walk out of here without finding out where he was going." She dropped her hands and glared at Penhall. "Because my own partner didn't see fit to tell me that he had a meeting with a grief-crazed psycho! Because I'm sitting here wondering if Harry is alive or dead, and I hate it! I hate feeling helpless and angry and guilty and afraid! I hate this!!"
Doug blinked at her in surprise, then asked, "Who are you angry at? Ioki or yourself?"
"You didn't do anything wrong, Jude."
"I let him go, when I knew he was in some kind of trouble."
"What, now you're psychic?"
"He had that look on his face."
Doug snorted in disbelief. "What 'look'?"
"I know the one," Hanson murmured. "It's that innocent, 'who me, have a problem?' look he gets when he's hiding something."
"Has everybody gone crazy, here, but me?"
"It's strange," Tom mused, ignoring Doug's interruption, "how little we really know about Harry, even after he told us everything. You'd think he would relax, once the truth about his past was out and he didn't have to lie anymore, and let us...I don't know...get closer to him. But instead, he's just pulled farther away."
Judy nodded in understanding. "Yeah. It's like he has to hide from us, whenever he has any kind of problem. We're the closest thing to family that he's got, and he won't let us help, even with the simplest things like handling Tony Wellman's suicide. Most of the time, we don't have a clue what's going on in his head."
"Now, wait a minute!" Doug brought his coffee cup down on the table with a bang. "Quit talking about Harry like that! He's not some deep, dark mystery; he's just Harry. I know plenty about him!"
"Really?" Tom asked. "Like what?"
"Like...like he's even more of a neat-freak than you are," Doug stated, triumphantly. "Like he hates the Chicago Bears and loves pizza with mushrooms and olives. And he got seriously depressed when he had to junk his old car. Man, he really loved that car!"
Tom grinned, in spite of himself, and prompted, "What else?"
"He can't run in high heels, but even wearing a tight mini skirt, he can take out a guy a foot taller than he is."
Judy chuckled. "That's one I didn't know."
"See? I can be observant, too."
"Any more revelations?"
"He's afraid of guns."
The laughter died from the others' faces. "That's one I didn't know," Tom murmured.
Penhall shrugged philosophically. "Wouldn't you be?"
"Yeah, I guess I would. What else?"
"He hates going home." Tom and Judy gazed at him, wordlessly demanding that he explain. "He likes his apartment - likes to keep it just so - but he doesn't like being there. He'd rather be here, working, with us."
Penhall paused, his eyes fixed on the nearest pizza box and his face gone suddenly sad. The others did not interrupt him, just waited for him to go on.
"Did you know," he asked softly, "that he almost quit the force last year?"
"What?! That's impossible!" Judy protested.
"He had the letter typed up and signed and was one step away from handing it to Fuller."
"That doesn't make any sense. Harry loves being a cop! He would never quit!"
"Why'd he do it, Doug?"
"Because he couldn't face you guys, especially Fuller, and tell you that he was strung out on pain pills. He thought he'd trashed his career, that he'd lost control of his life and he didn't have what it takes to be a cop anymore. And mostly, he thought you wouldn't understand."
"Oh, my God." Hoffs ducked her head to hide her reaction from her teammates, but not before they saw the hurt flood her face.
Tom cleared his throat tentatively, then said, "Doug, don't take this the wrong way, please, but why did Harry trust you with this, and not us?"
Penhall grinned and shrugged. "Maybe I've got a trustworthy face."
"I'm serious. He and Judy have been partners for years. And we've...well, we've been through a lot together. I thought we were good friends."
"You are, but that doesn't mean he has to tell you everything." He saw the reproach in Tom's eyes and dropped his bantering tone. "Okay, seriously. Maybe he talks to me, because I don't try to fix everything, like Big Sister Judy. Or because I don't have so much of my own crap to deal with that I can't hear what's going on with my friends, like you. I don't tell him what he's doing wrong or turn everything he says into a comment on my own problems. I just talk to him, and he talks to me. Simple. We're buddies."
Dead silence met his pronouncement, and he smiled humorlessly. "I didn't think you were gonna like that, but you asked."
"Are we really that bad?" Judy whispered.
"Sometimes. Listen, Jude, I'm not saying that I'm a better friend than you and Tom, or a better person. I'm just telling you what I see. Ever since the shooting, Harry's been weird..."
"That's the understatement of the year," Hanson muttered.
"Yeah, and you haven't exactly been Mr. Congeniality, yourself."
"You try doing a little time in prison, Doug, and see how happy it makes you!"
Laughter bubbled up in Penhall's eyes. He shot a speaking glance at Hoffs, who bit her lip to keep from smiling. "That's my Tommy!"
Hanson looked from Hoffs to Penhall, a frown gathering on his face, and demanded, "What? What did I say?" When they both started to chuckle, a deep flush crept into his cheeks, and he ducked his head in embarrassment. "Okay, point taken. I've been a little obsessive, lately."
"No one holds that against you, Tom." Judy reached across the table to lay a hand on his arm. "This last year has been difficult for all of us, but for you most of all. We understand."
"Does Harry?" Tom asked.
Doug thought about that for a long moment, then answered, "Yeah. But he's not in any shape to deal with your ghosts, right now. He's got enough of his own."
*** *** ***
The warm, welcoming voice prompted Harry to open his eyes. The lantern had died hours ago, so he shouldn't be able to see anything in the total darkness, but there it was anyway. A woman's form standing beside him, a familiar face smiling down at him. Was he going crazy? Did it matter? He felt strangely disconnected from his own body - warm, content, a little light-headed - and found that he couldn't muster the energy to worry about little details like his sanity.
"Grandma Bessie!" Childlike wonder and delight softened his face, and he smiled sweetly up at her. "It's you!"
Her hazel eyes twinkled with a light of their own. "Were you expecting someone else?"
Harry's laughter had a slightly hysterical edge to it. "Maybe a man in a long, black robe?"
"Don't be morbid, dear."
He gave her another wide smile, but an echo of sadness crept into his eyes. "I'm so glad you're here. I thought it would be okay to do this alone, but it's harder than I thought."
"Do what, dear?"
"Oh." She blinked in mild surprise. "You've made up your mind, then?"
"What to do with your one shot."
His eyes widened in horror. "I can't shoot myself!"
"Certainly you can. There's the gun, right there by the door. You didn't lose the bullet, did you?"
"Stop it! Stop talking that way!"
Her forehead wrinkled in a slight frown. "I'm only saying what you're thinking, dear."
"No." Harry retreated slightly against the wall, his arms wrapped protectively around his ribcage and his eyes now dwelling on the apparition with deep suspicion. "I'm not thinking that! I'm not! How can you know what I'm thinking?"
"Because I came out of your head."
"What do you mean?"
"Now Vinh, you know perfectly well that I'm not a real angel. I'm just an hallucination."
"I made you up?" She nodded, her eyes sparkling merrily. "Then, you didn't come here because I'm dying?"
A small frown of concentration drew Harry's eyebrows together. "If I made you up, does that mean I can do it again? I can talk to you whenever I want?"
"Certainly. But if you make a practice of talking to dead people, your friends might start to worry about you. Speaking of your friends..."
"Let's not, okay?"
"Don't interrupt, Vinh. It's rude."
"Sorry," he muttered.
"And don't mumble. If you want to speak English well, you have to enunciate clearly."
"I speak English just fine."
"Yes you do, my dear. You've grown up into a fine young man. A police officer, yet! I'm very proud of you, even if you aren't my Vinh any more."
Her face grew suddenly serious. "I'm only saying what you are already thinking, so that innocent look doesn't fool me. You stopped being Vinh Van Tran the day you became H.T. Ioki."
"No, I didn't. I changed my name, because I had to, but I never changed who I was. Who I am."
"You know better than that, Vinh."
A flash of anger darkened Harry's eyes, and he snapped, "If I'm not Vinh Van Tran anymore, why do you call me that?"
"Because I'm only a figment of your imagination, and you never heard your Grandma Bessie call you anything else. If you can imagine me calling you Harry, I will."
He thought about that for a moment, then whispered, "No, I can't."
"Besides, what I call you isn't the point. It's who you are inside that determines whether you're Harry or Vinh, and you haven't allowed yourself to be Vinh in many years."
"That can't be true. How could I change who I am, just by changing my name?"
"But you didn't just change your name, my dear. You changed everything about yourself - and I don't mean what country you come from or who your parents were. Tell me something. Who is H.T. Ioki?"
"He's a dead baby, who never got a chance to be anyone."
She smiled indulgently and chided, "Who is the H.T. Ioki that goes to work every morning at the Jump Street Chapel?"
Harry fell quiet for a moment, lying curled up on his faintly warm spot on the floor and staring blankly at the dark lantern. "He's a cop."
The old lady waited for more, but when he offered no other comment, she asked, "Is that all he is?"
"Yes. That's...that's all he ever wanted to be. That's why he was created. Nothing else mattered, so..."
"So Vinh ceased to exist in order for Harry to become a police officer?"
"Is he a good cop?"
"I think so. Hope so."
"What is he like?"
"I don't know...dedicated, reliable...he's just...Harry."
"I see. And every morning, when his friends come into the Chapel, they see the same Harry, working hard, laughing at Doug's jokes and listening to Tom's complaints, putting up with Judy's well-meant bullying. Did I leave anything out?"
Harry just gazed up at her with faintly reproachful eyes.
"He's an admirable person, your Harry. But what happens when he can't smile and joke and do his work perfectly? When he has to shoot someone he loves like a brother? Or when he has to fight to keep the job that is his entire life? Or when he wakes up, alone and terrified, in a strange hospital room? What does he do, then?"
After a tense, silent moment, Harry whispered, "I don't know."
"Yes, you do. That's why I'm here tonight, and why I'm calling you by a name you never use. What does he do?"
"Nothing. Those things don't happen to him."
"No, it's poor Vinh who lives with all the troubles in your life. He takes them somewhere nice and safe, where no one can see them, and let's Harry go on being the perfect cop and the perfect friend."
"You make me sound crazy. Am I?"
"No, dear, not even close. You're just working very hard to be the person you feel you have to be, and you're not giving yourself a chance to be...well, yourself. Tell me, something, Vinh."
A ghost of a smile drifted across his face. "You already know everything."
She chuckled. "Humor me. Tell me why, when your friends know the truth about you, you still don't ever let them see Vinh."
"Because he isn't...he isn't the person they know."
"You don't think they'd accept him as readily as they accept Harry?"
"They might, but..."
"But if they didn't, I'd have to start all over again. I'd lose my friends. My family. You don't understand, Grandma Bessie. That job and those people are all I have. I can't lose them. I can't start over with nothing again."
"They mean that much to you?" He nodded wordlessly. "Yet you keep them at a distance and refuse to let them help you with even the smallest problem."
"I don't want to worry them or..."
"Or what? Frighten them away?" When he said nothing, she stated, flatly, "You don't trust them."
After a long moment, he forced out a single word answer. "No."
"I can't explain it. You wouldn't understand."
"Don't be silly, Vinh. I already understand."
"Then don't make me say it!"
"Very well. If you'd rather lie here, alone, in the dark, wishing you had the courage to pull that trigger, then I'll go."
"You listen to me, Vinh Van Tran. I didn't take you in, raise you and love you like one of my own children, so you could shoot yourself in the foot - or in the head - this way! If you can't let yourself be happy, you might just as well die in this miserable place, and be done with it!"
"I don't want to die."
"Of course you don't. No sane young person does, and you've already had more than your share of brushes with death. Now, it's time to tell yourself the truth. Say it, and let it go, then Harry - or Vinh or whoever you want to be - can be happy. Why don't you trust your friends anymore?"
"Because they weren't there!" The words came out as a raw, desperate cry of pain.
Grandma Bessie gazed down at him, watching the tears slide reluctantly from the corners of his eyes, and said in her softest, gentlest voice, "You don't blame them for not being there when you woke up, do you?"
"No. That was just a coincidence."
"Then, when weren't they there for you?"
"Afterwards. After they s..."
"Go on. Tell me what happened."
"Yes, you can. Tell me."
"They came to the hospital," he murmured, in a small, lost voice. "The next day, they all came. I don't remember very much about the visit. I don't know what they said or did. I only remember them running into the room, smiling and happy, and then they...they froze. Their faces went blank and their voices went funny. It was horrible. It's the only thing I remember from the whole first week after I woke up - my friends standing there looking like...like they wished they could turn around and run."
"They were frightened, Vinh. It hurt them to see you like that."
"I know. I don't blame them. But when they...they went strange like that, I couldn't stand it. It was like they left me, even though they were still in the room. And it only got worse, every time they came to see me. Most of the time, they couldn't even look me in the face. I thought it would get better when I came back to work, but... Don't you see, Grandma Bessie? I don't have to worry about what will happen if they meet Vinh. I know! I've seen it! And I can't bear to see it again, I can't!"
"And you're sure they'll react the same way, if you ever really need them again?"
"I'm not sure of anything. I'm just afraid."
The old woman smiled in sad understanding. "There now, doesn't it feel better to say it out loud?"
She chuckled. "And I always thought you were such a truthful child."
Harry smiled, in spite of himself. After a moment, he murmured shyly, "I don't know if I ever told you this, Grandma Bessie, but I love you."
"Hush! You shouldn't say things like that to an hallucination. What will people think?"
"Are you really just a hallucination? Did I really make you up?"
"Then I guess I am crazy."
"No, you're just tired and scared, and you needed someone to talk to. What else is a grandma for?"
"You're not coming back, are you?"
"Not till the next time you're locked up in a nasty, old warehouse and trying to make sense out of your life. And hopefully, by that time, you won't need a dead lady to keep you company." The plump, motherly form began to waver, the colors of her dress fading and her skin turning slightly transparent. "If you do love your old grandma, and want to make her happy, think about what you're doing to yourself by living in fear instead of hope. Think about all the good things you've found, instead of the things you've lost. And try to believe that it's only your fear that's keeping you from being close to the people you love. Not your friends or your job or the circumstances of your life. Just you."
Watching her fizzle and smoke, like a ghost from a bad horror movie, Harry asked, "Where are you going?"
"Home to get some sleep. This psychoanalysis business is tiring."
"Now, now, Vinh. What have I been telling you all along? I was never really here. Or maybe it's that I was never anywhere else...I can't keep these things straight. Good bye, dear! Get some sleep, and things will look better in the morning!"
"No, wait! Please!"
Grandma Bessie favored him with one more loving smile, then vanished in a final wisp of smoke. Harry stared at the blank, black space where she had been and couldn't help wondering if his own imagination had cooked up that melodramatic exit. If so, he'd been watching too many B-grade movies lately. When he was sure that she would not return, he lay back on the floor and closed his eyes against the slow tears that still dripped down his face.
*** *** ***
Fuller strode out of his office and over to the table around which his elite team of officers was still collected. His arrival startled Hoffs out of a light doze and brought a welcoming, if tired grin from Penhall. Three pairs of eyes blinked at him sleepily, like cats, squinting against the watery morning light.
"You all look like hell," he said, bluntly.
"No offence, Cap'n," Penhall mumbled around a mouthful of cold pizza, "but you look none too pretty, yourself."
Hanson locked his hands together behind his head and leaned back to get a better view of his commander without lifting his heavy eyelids another notch. "Anybody awake downtown, yet?"
"Yes. Briody got through to the judge. No search warrant."
Judy gave a disgusted sigh and dropped her head back onto her crossed arms. "Oh, that's just great."
"We knew it was a long shot, Jude. You get me some physical evidence that ties Wellman to Harry's disappearance, and I'll get you that warrant. In the meantime, all we've got is a hunch and a waiter who saw them having coffee together. We can't arrest the man for that."
"We all know Wellman is responsible," Hoffs insisted.
"Fine. We know it. Now we have to prove it."
"I could go back to the park today, around noon," Doug offered. "A lot of those joggers and dog-walkers keep a pretty strict schedule. Maybe one of 'em who's there everyday, at the same time, saw Wellman up on that statue yesterday."
"That would get us our warrant."
"And if we can't find a witness?" Judy demanded.
"We still have Wellman. Briody's assigned enough men to the case to stake out Wellman's home, office, and five other buildings. I need you to go back through this list and pick the five most likely locations for Wellman to stash a prisoner...or a body."
"But we can't go inside any of them, right?"
"Right. We watch, we listen, and we wait for Wellman to make a move. If we hear so much as a rat squeak in one of those buildings, we go in."
"Without a warrant?" Tom murmured.
"We call it Probable Cause, and we go in," Fuller repeated, firmly. "Briody will back us up, and if we find Harry in the process, who the hell cares what some judge calls it?"
The others all nodded agreement, though Hoffs still wore a look of sullen discontent. "Wellman isn't going to lead us anywhere," she muttered, her eyes sliding away from the worried gazes fixed on her. "If Harry's dead, he's already dumped his body somewhere. If he's alive, Wellman won't go within ten miles of him."
Fuller sighed and stood up. "I don't often say this, but I hope you're wrong, Detective. It's our only option." Heading for his office, he called back over his shoulder, "Have that revised list on my desk inside an hour."
The three officers watched his retreating back till the door shut behind him, then they turned back to the drift of papers on the table with obvious reluctance.
"Cut it down to five?" Penhall grumped. "How're we gonna cut it down to five, when it took us all night to pick these eight?"
Judy opened her mouth to speak, but Tom jumped in, cutting her off, "Not a word about wasting our time! Not one word!"
She closed her mouth with a snap and stared disconsolately at the table, tears gathering in her eyes.
Penhall watched her for a moment, then said cajolingly, "C'mon, Jude, he was only teasing. Will it make you feel better to tell us what we're doing wrong?"
Hoffs gave a mournful sniff and said, to the table top, "I swear, if we find Harry in one piece, if he just comes home safely, I'll never boss him around or nag him or tell him 'I told you so' again! I swear to God, I won't!"
Doug leaned across the table to give her a hug. His voice was warm and affectionate, but shaking with laughter, as he murmured, "Yeah, right. Tell us another one, Big Sis."
*** *** ***
Harry slept fitfully, drifting in and out of consciousness, the darkness of his dreams blending with the darkness of his prison, while outside, a pale, cold morning slipped by without him. He did not see the subtle lightening of the open square in the floor, and the increasing bustle of activity around the waterfront did not reach this isolated, abandoned warehouse. At the deep boom of a ship's horn on the river, he stirred and mumbled something in his sleep, then quickly fell still again.
The sun crossed its zenith and dropped toward the horizon. Its rays reached farther and farther under the dock as it sank, throwing heavy shadows and bars of light across the water. The wail of a siren, far off in the distance, carried faintly through the open trapdoor and broke the sleeping silence of the room.
Harry jerked abruptly awake and sat up with a start. For a terrifying moment, he could not remember where he was or why the darkness felt so threatening. Then memory came flooding back to him, and he let his head sink into his hands, uttering a groan of despair. He could still hear the siren, like a fading beacon, growing fainter and fainter till it was lost beneath the soft lap of water against the pilings. He strained to catch the distant wail again, as if the familiar sound were a lifeline that could guide him out of this dank prison and back into the open air, but it was gone.
He lay down again and curled up tightly in a vain attempt to catch some warmth from his own body. His head ached relentlessly, and every muscle in his neck, back and shoulders had stiffened till he could barely move. Hunger and thirst had retreated to a dull pain at the back of his mind, barely acknowledged, though he knew that they, and not cold or fear, would ultimately claim him. He lifted a hand to shove his hair back out of his eyes and was startled by a fierce throb of agony in his fingers.
Frowning at the patch of darkness where he knew his hands should be, he ran through the events of the last day and night, trying to remember how he had managed to flay the skin from his hands. Then it came to him - the trapdoor. He felt a reluctant stir of curiosity. Moving slowly, so as not to aggravate the blinding pain in his head, he pushed himself up on one elbow and turned to find the open trap. It showed as a faint gray square in the otherwise total blackness.
Harry just stared at it for what felt like an eternity, not really registering what he saw, while a scattering of words limped through his mind: Morning...light on the subject...things will look better in the morning... With a heartfelt groan, he got to his hands and knees and crawled over to the hole.
What had looked eerie and threatening in darkness looked shabby, tired and sad in the dying afternoon light. Rotten wood, floating garbage, and barnacle-encrusted stumps filled the water between the pilings. At some point in the dock's long history, unwanted machinery and car parts had been dumped through the trapdoor, creating a submerged junkyard of jagged, rusted metal directly below. No more than a few inches of water covered the highest point in the pile. And the smell...the smell made him wonder if another prisoner had gambled on this escape route and lost, not so long ago.
Grandma Bessie had told him that things would look better in the morning. Well, obviously she had not gotten a good look under the dock. 'So much for guardian angels,' Harry thought, as he rolled away from the hole and turned his gaze on the invisible ceiling. He wanted very much to cry, but he didn't think he had any tears left in him. He'd used up the last of them during the night, on things that mattered, so he had none to spare now for the demise of one more desperate hope.
His mind was starting to drift again, luring him back into that half-dreaming state, when another noise penetrated his prison, coming not from the open trap but from the very walls of the building. Harry sat up, his heart pounding and his ears straining to catch the sound again, while his fogged brain scrambled to identify it. Then he heard, very distinctly, the sound of a door slamming, and his heart stopped.
*** *** ***
"Hoffs! Penhall! In my office!"
Both officers jumped to their feet at the peremptory summons. They hurried into Fuller's office to find him prowling the small space like a caged animal. His eyes scanned their faces, fired with an enigmatic light.
"What's up, Captain?"
"Is there some news about Harry?"
"Locker room," Penhall answered.
Penhall charged out of the room and could shortly be heard bellowing for Hanson at the top of his lungs. In record time, both men came panting into the office, and Hanson shut the door.
"What's up, Coach?"
"Wellman's on the move. He shook his tail."
Three pairs of eyes blinked at him total disbelief, then Hoffs murmured, "We lost him?"
Fuller waved away her concern with a brusque gesture. "That's not the point. We can pick him up easily enough - I've already put out an All Points on him."
"He knows we're tailing him," Tom blurted out, "and he doesn't want us to know where he's going!"
Fuller cocked an eyebrow at him, his humorless smile telling them that Tom had pegged it.
"What are we waitin' for?" Penhall demanded, one hand moving suggestively to the weapon in his shoulder holster.
"A call from downtown." Fuller strode over to the map that hung behind his desk and pointed to the red tack that marked the location of Wellman's house. "He left home ten minutes ago, headed west. He lost us here, in the middle of the Piedmont."
Hoffs frowned at that. "What was Abe Wellman doing in the Piedmont?"
"Trying to confuse us." His forefinger moved to indicate two blue tacks to the west of the notorious Piedmont area. "He could be making for this industrial district, but my guess is that he's got someplace else entirely in mind."
All four cops drew close to the map and studied the scattering of blue tacks in silence. Besides the two in the industrial park, there were two more east of Wellman's home and one on the waterfront to the south. They each tried to climb into Abe Wellman's head, to drive the darkening streets with him, to divine which of those innocent blue pins marked his destination - and the location of their missing friend. None of them allowed their imaginations to dwell on the unbearable possibility that those pins meant nothing and Wellman had another, completely unsuspected motive for slipping his leash.
The ringing phone sounded jarringly loud in their ears. Fuller snatched it up before the first ring had died and snapped, "Fuller."
The ensuing pause felt endless.
"All right, we're rolling. Tell all units to hang back. We can't afford to spook him now. And alert Matheson to keep his eyes open. He's to notify me, if he sees anything - and I mean anything - out of place at that warehouse, but he's not to move in till I get there. Understood? Right. You can reach me on my mobile phone."
He cradled the receiver and headed for the door in one, swift movement. "Wellman's been picked up heading for the waterfront."
The younger officers watched soberly, as Fuller donned his shoulder holster and popped the magazine out of his automatic. With a satisfied grunt, he snapped the magazine back into place, holstered the weapon, and shrugged into his overcoat. "We'll take my car."
The others trailed him out of the office and moved swiftly to retrieve their coats, guns and badges. No one in the Chapel missed the significance of their mass exit, or of the tense, eager expressions they wore, and an expectant hush fell over the room till the door banged shut behind them.
*** *** ***
His heart started again with a lurch. He scrambled to his feet and stood, paralyzed, staring at the door that separated him from his jailer, while his mind reeled in surprise and panic. Wellman was back. He knew it as certainly as he knew that the gun still lay on the floor, in the darkness, waiting for him. Any second now, Wellman would open the panel in the door, see his prisoner still very much alive and the trap standing open, and fire the killing shot himself.
Harry turned instinctively to look at the square of light that marked the trapdoor. 'Please, please don't let it be as bad as I remember it!' he prayed frantically, to no one in particular, as his feet carried him inexorably back to the trap. He knelt beside the opening and gazed down at the murky water below.
A shudder of disgust and fear went through him, but he clenched his teeth and refused to back away from the dismal view. It was every bit as bad as he remembered, but he was used to having his prayers go unanswered. He didn't even know where he was trying to send the damned things, anymore - to Bessie Mason's Methodist god? To the Buddhist temples of his youth or the family shrine of his ancestors? It didn't matter. No one was listening.
"Just do it, Harry," he told himself, firmly. "It's this or a bullet. Can you willingly step in front of another bullet?"
In answer, he sat down and swung his feet into the opening. He had to move quickly, before Wellman came or a more rational corner of his mind countermanded this suicidal decision. With swift, sure movements at complete odds with his racing pulse and ragged breathing, he rolled onto his stomach, took a careful hold on the rough lip of the trap, and pushed himself away from the edge.
For a dizzying moment, he hung at the full stretch of his arms, nearly forty feet above the water, and one thought rang, crystal clear, in his head: 'Oh, God, this was a bad idea!' Then he felt his hands begin to slip, and he knew that he'd gone way past the point of no return. Shutting his eyes against the terrifying sight of the rusted, jagged scrap pile beneath his feet, he started himself swinging. Once, twice, he swung through an increasing arc, and each time, he felt his fingers slip a little more. One more swing, and the forward arc would carry him clear of the metal heap. He swung backward, then began the forward motion, just as his grip faltered and his right hand slipped off the edge of the trap.
He gave a frightened gasp as he fell, turning awkwardly in the air. He managed to get his feet under him just before he hit the water, but he knew without looking that he had not cleared the scrap pile. All he could do was hold his breath and send up another useless prayer, as he plunged into the freezing water.
The cold shock drove the air from his lungs and made every nerve in his body go numb. His right foot struck metal, the hard leather sole of his boot skidding down the algae-coated surface. He bent his knee and rolled with the impact, hoping that the blow would deflect him into clear water, rather than into worse trouble. His descent slowed, and something caught at his leg. He kicked away from the snag, making for the surface, but felt an unexpected amount of resistance. Bracing his left boot heel against the unseen object, he pushed with all his strength and felt a painless tearing sensation as his right leg came free. With his nerves deadened by cold and adrenaline, he couldn't tell whether it was his clothing or his skin tearing, and he didn't care.
Two seconds later, his head broke the surface and he found himself treading water under the dock. He did not waste time with self-congratulations. Turning into the dazzle of the setting sun, he ordered his exhausted arms to move and swam toward the light and open water.
Judy stood listening to the low-voiced exchange between Fuller and Matheson, the officer assigned to watch the warehouse, a scowl of impatience darkening her face. The sun was riding low, and a cold wind off the river made her shiver. Huddling deeper into her coat, she edged closer to Doug's reassuring warmth. He draped a companionable arm across her shoulders.
"Enough with the talk," he muttered. "Let's just kick the damned door down."
"You know Fuller - by the book and terminally cautious."
"I ran out of cautious twelve hours ago."
Before Hoffs could answer him, the crack of a gunshot split the air.
Harry climbed the iron ladder slowly, his body aching with cold and exhaustion and his limbs as heavy as lead. With the adrenaline gone from his system, it took every ounce of determination he possessed just to move, much less to haul himself up that endless ladder. When he finally reached the top, he fell rather than stepped onto the pier. The rough wood felt blessedly solid and welcoming under his cheek, and he just lay there for a minute, saying a quiet 'thank you' to anybody who might be listening.
The single pistol shot brought his head up with a start. He pushed himself to his hands and knees and turned wide eyes on the warehouse. The looming building, with its boarded-up windows and peeling walls, gave away no secrets, but somewhere down in his soul, Harry knew what that pistol report meant. Wellman had found him gone.
He bowed his head for a moment, wondering why the suicide of a man who had tried to kill him brought stinging tears to his eyes. It didn't make any sense. But then, nothing that had happened to him in the last twenty-four hours made any sense, so what was one more piece of insanity on top of all the rest? What mattered now was that he find his way back to the real world, the sane and smiling world, before he froze solid on this god-forsaken dock.
The sound of voices reached him - tense, angry voices. Familiar voices. Harry squinted against the last rays of the sun and made out a small group of figures at the landward end of the dock. Staggering to his feet, he started toward them.
All of the officers immediately dropped to a crouch behind Fuller's car, their weapons materializing in their hands and their eyes quartering the pier for trouble. When no second shot sounded, Fuller slowly straightened up. A frown sat heavily on his features.
"That came from the warehouse," he murmured to Hanson, who stood at his shoulder.
"And it wasn't fired at us."
They exchanged a troubled look, then turned in unison when they heard Hoffs gasp, "We're too late! Oh, God, we're too late!"
Penhall's arm went around her shoulders again, and his voice sounded reassuringly in her ear, but she could feel him shaking even through their heavy coats. She turned her head away, blinking back unruly tears, and gazed emptily down the length of the deserted dock. Behind her, Fuller, Hanson and Matheson began discussing their next move in voices made sharp by tension, but she ignored them. None of it mattered, now.
In the next instant, she was tearing free of Doug's clasp and running full tilt down the pier. Doug's shout of protest turned into a triumphant whoop, then his heavier steps were pounding on the wooden planking behind her. She did not slow her headlong dash as she reached the solitary, blessedly familiar figure, but catapulted into her partner going mach three and flung her arms around him in a crushing hug.
His voice sounded ragged and tired in her ears, but it started her laughing and crying all at once, as relief flooded her and she finally began to believe that he was real. She tightened her hold on him, oblivious to the chill, rank water that soaked her clothing, and sobbed, "I'm so glad to see you!"
"That goes for me, too," Doug interjected.
Harry looked over Hoffs' shoulder at Penhall, met his strangely bright eyes, and mustered a wan smile. "What're you guys doing here?"
"Lookin' for you, pal."
Harry shook his head and remarked, "I'm not even gonna ask how you knew I was here. I'm just glad I don't have to walk home."
Judy let go of him long enough to grab his shoulders and give him a rough shake. "Don't joke about it, Harry! If you ever frighten me like that again, I'll..." A chuckle from behind her announced Hanson's arrival and reminded her of the promise she had made just this morning. Swallowing her furious words, she wrapped her arms around Harry's neck again and buried her face in his soggy shoulder.
"You're getting all wet, Jude," Harry murmured, though he made no attempt to detach her.
She looked up at him in surprise and remarked, as though she had just noticed it, "You're soaked!"
"Smells like you've been swimming in a cesspool," Hanson added, helpfully.
Ioki wrinkled his nose in disgust. "Just the river. Same difference."
"It's good to see you in one piece, Harry," Fuller said. "We heard the shot and thought we'd come a few minutes too late." Harry flinched and seemed to draw in on himself, all at once. Fuller noted his reaction with some concern. "What was it? Do you know?" he asked, softly.
"Wellman. I...I guess he thought it was his only option."
Fuller frowned in confusion. "What do you mean?"
Ioki shot him a slightly pleading look and asked, "Can we discuss this someplace warmer, Captain?"
Fuller immediately shrugged off his heavy overcoat and handed it to Ioki. "Put this on, before you freeze to death."
Harry gratefully accepted the coat and wrapped himself up in its oversized folds, not even bothering to warn his commander about what the rancid river water would do to the expensive wool.
Penhall watched him shove his hands into the pockets and grinned at the ludicrous picture he presented. "Careful there, Iok. You're gonna trip on your skirt." When Harry barely cracked a smile at his sally, he sobered instantly and asked, "You really okay, man?"
Harry nodded. "I could use a drink of water. And a shower."
Fuller draped an arm around Harry's shoulders and began piloting him down the pier toward the car. "I'll radio downtown for some back-up. Matheson can hold down the fort here, till they arrive, and we will take you to the hospital."
Ioki groaned in protest. "Not the hospital, Captain! I'm fine, honest!"
"You're going to need a tetanus shot, and probably some stitches in that leg."
Harry glanced down at his right leg and saw, with some surprise, that blood oozed sluggishly from a six-inch gash on the outside of his thigh. "How did I do that?"
Fuller gave a short bark of laughter. "Maybe a quick visit to the emergency room will jog your memory."
"Aww, Captain, I h..."
"...hate hospitals!" four voices chorused in perfect unison.
At the sound of his colleagues' laughter, Ioki's face relaxed and an answering gleam of humor crept into his eyes. "Okay," he grumped, with a mock-sullen pout, "but I'm not spending the night there."
"That will be up to the doctor," Fuller insisted. "And no arguments from you, Officer Ioki."
"If I were a foot taller, you couldn't push me around like this. Sir."
"If you were a foot taller, you wouldn't be dragging my best winter coat on this filthy pier." Fuller halted beside the car and reached to open the door, a lurking smile lifting the corners of his usually stern mouth. As Harry stepped up to the vehicle, Fuller caught his eye and broke into a full grin. "In case I forgot to say it before, it's good to have you back, Harry. We missed you."
*** *** ***
Captain Fuller paused in the open doorway to his office to observe the bizarre scene inside. The four younger officers lay draped all over his furniture and floor in postures of total exhaustion and relaxation. Hanson had commandeered the chair behind his desk. His crossed ankles were propped on the blotter and a cup of coffee sat on his lap, cradled between slack hands. Ioki lay curled up on one end of the leather sofa, under a blanket that someone had unearthed from a locker or cupboard. At the other end, Hoffs sat slumped against the padded arm, Ioki's feet in her lap and Penhall's head propped lazily against her knee. Penhall sat on the floor under another blanket and occasionally sipped from his favorite garish and badly stained coffee mug.
Good sense dictated that these physically and emotionally battered officers go home to rest, but the calm radiating from them told Fuller why they had chosen to come here, instead. He had tried to convince Harry to go back to his apartment, after the ER doctor had finally signed him out, but he had refused. And oddly enough, the other three had backed him up. They all wanted to spend their first hours back together as a team in the place that felt most like home to them. So, here they were, making themselves comfortable in his office, murmuring in contented tones to each other as they drifted closer and closer to sleep.
Fuller could not quite control his satisfied smile, as he realized that he was glad they were here and glad that he could be here with them. He strolled into the room and perched casually on the edge of the desk. Judy slitted open her eyes but did not raise her head from the back of the couch.
"Hey, Captain. What's the word from downtown?"
"They recovered Wellman's body."
Harry sat up and shoved back the blanket. He wore a pair of oversized surgical scrubs borrowed from the hospital, and a network of gauze and adhesive tape covered both his hands. Once again, mention of Wellman had brought that tight, withdrawn expression to his face that his friends knew so well. None of them missed the signs of his emotional retreat, and every one of them wished they knew how to stop it.
"Did he shoot himself?" Harry asked, in a nearly soundless whisper.
"Yes. Single shot to the head. They found him in a storeroom off the main warehouse. He was lying next to a trapdoor that opened on the river, and he had nothing with him but an empty pistol and a dead lantern." Fuller paused, waiting for Harry to say something, but the young man just stared silently at the floor. "Do you want to tell us what happened, Harry?"
"A full report?"
"No." Fuller's voice sounded oddly gentle. "There's plenty of time for that tomorrow. Just whatever you want to tell us."
The chill silence settled around them again, while Harry continued to stare at the floor. Suddenly, he took a deep breath and lifted his head. As he let the air out of his lungs, the shadows that clung to him fled and his distant gaze came back into focus - into the present and the room where his friends waited expectantly. He looked over at Doug and favored him with his habitual, one-sided smile.
"Buy me a pizza, and I'll tell you all about it."