The Untouchables (Pt.2)
Ty lay curled up against the passenger door of the Mustang, a down sleeping bag bundled around her and a styrofoam cup full of coffee cradled between her hands. She could hear Penhall snoring in the back seat and Hanson muttering in his sleep beside her, but those small sounds did little to hold back the cold, lonely silence. She glanced at her watch and sighed. Nine o'clock. They had been here for close to eighteen hours, and still no sign of the truck.
A gust of frigid air blew in through the small crack at the top of the window, making Ty shiver, even in her protective layers. They could not disturb the coating of snow and ice on the car without calling attention to themselves, so the windows were now completely opaque. The only way to monitor activity on the lot was to crack the window and listen. Each time she heard the roar of a truck's engine, she poked the binoculars up to the crack and hunted for the vehicle. And each time, it was a false alarm.
Another engine rumbled from the far end of the street. Ty set down her coffee and twisted around in the seat. The ice had blocked her peep-hole, so she knocked it away with a blow from the barrel of her pistol, then she peered out.
She spotted it easily, coming up the street at an unusually fast clip. It was a small, anonymous truck, with nothing painted on its dirty, white panels except the necessary license and merchant numbers. As it rolled under a street light, she saw black scorch marks and a scattering of strange dents on its sides. It pulled up abruptly at the closed gate to Gross's lot and honked.
Ty grabbed Tom's arm and gave him a rough shake. "Wake up, Hanson! Wake up!"
"What is it?"
She silently handed him the binoculars and leaned back, allowing him to sprawl across her lap to reach the window. He gazed through the binoculars for a moment, his entire body rigid with strain, then he lurched back in his own seat.
"It's them!" He snatched his flashlight from the dashboard, looped the binoculars around his neck, and reached for the door handle. "I'll try to get a look in the truck and..."
"Wait!" Penhall hissed from the back seat, "I'm going with you!"
"Stay here. I'll signal you like this," he switched the flashlight on and off quickly, twice, to demonstrate, "if I need you."
But Penhall was ignoring him, trying to climb over the seats with no place for him to fit in front. "If you think I'm just gonna sit in this car, twiddling my thumbs, while those bastards are doing who knows what to Iok..."
"Doug! We don't have time for this! Just...do what I tell you!"
Penhall dropped back into his own seat, as if his partner had just slapped him across the face.
In the sudden silence, Hanson opened the door and stepped out. Leaning back inside, he whispered to Ty, "Please, just stay in the car unless you see my signal," then he turned and disappeared into the frozen night.
Ty locked the door and returned to her post at the passenger window. After a long moment, during which she listened to Penhall's rapid breathing, she shot him a sideways glance and murmured, "It's almost over."
He hesitated, then said in a small, pleading voice that did not sound like his own, "It's been four days. Could he still be alive, after that long?"
Ty shook her head reluctantly, feeling a dull anger that he had forced her to admit the truth and make it real. "Not without water."
"Maybe... maybe he just fell asleep in the cold and didn't feel it. That would be an easy way to go, wouldn't it?"
At the ragged pain in his words, she clenched her teeth and screwed her eyes shut against sudden tears. "Please shut up, Penhall. Please."
"Sorry," he mumbled.
Their brief moment of mutual understanding passed, and the waiting silence closed over them again.
Tom flitted across the street, nearly invisible in his dark coat. He reached the fence at the front of the construction lot and scaled it quickly. The truck had lumbered through the gate, into Gross's yard, and the gate had clanged shut behind it by the time he started climbing. He could still hear its gears grinding, as he dropped into the snowdrift behind the fence.
He sprinted along the muddy path that ran between two rows of equipment, using the lights posted along Gross's side of the fence to guide him. The crane loomed up on his right. He headed for it at a full run and took a flying leap at one of its huge treads. His boots slipped on icy metal, but his fingers found a deep crevice in the tread surface and kept him from tumbling backward to the ground. He tightened his arms, dragged himself safely onto the flat surface, and stood up.
From here, he could see much of Gross's lot, including the small truck, now parked haphazardly in front of the main warehouse - not thirty feet away. Tom watched a tall figure stride away from the vehicle, into the open warehouse bay. He couldn't swear that it was Jake from this angle, but it had a familiar bearing. Scrambling onto the crane's cab, he hooked an arm around a thick cable for balance, leaned out toward the fence, and clamped the binoculars to his eyes.
The truck was parked with its nose pointed toward him, so he could not see into the trailer, but he heard the crash of the tailgate rolling up. A moment later, booted feet clumped up the tailgate and into the truck. Voices rose - surprised, worried voices. Then a man appeared around the back of the truck, running full tilt toward the warehouse.
Tom held his breath and fought the urge to leap over the fence, gun blazing, to rescue his friend. He would do none of them any good if he got killed on a fool's errand, but the thought of sitting here, waiting, was almost unbearable. Then he reminded himself that this was exactly why he had refused to bring Penhall along. Doug could not be trusted to control himself and wait. It was up to him, Tom Hanson, to keep a cool head and do this the right way.
The running man reappeared, with two more men in tow. Tom recognized one of them as Jake. The other was a short, burly man in a loud suit, with a head like a bowling ball, who seemed to roll rather than run across the snow-slick pavement. Tom lifted the binoculars again and strained outward, all his senses tuned to the knot of men behind the truck. If there was one thing he'd learned from Harry, it was that you could learn as much by listening as by looking if you just made yourself concentrate. Now was the time to put his lessons to the test.
The new arrivals reached the truck, and the one of them shone a flashlight into the trailer.
The fat man pulled a cigar from between his teeth and swore viciously. "What the fuck is all this?! Blood?!"
"That's what I was trying to tell you, Mr. Gross," Jake said. "There was an injured man in the back of the truck."
"Was? Who was it, and where'd he go?"
"It was..." Even from this distance, Tom could hear the reluctance in Jake's voice. The man did not want to answer that question. "It was just a bum. He's been hanging around the yard a lot, and I guess... I guess he was near the truck when the bomb blew." He was lying. Tom, who had watched Jake around Keeler's lot for weeks and knew him pretty well by now, didn't doubt it for a second. "I didn't know he was in there, 'til we were on the road."
Gross swore, long and colorfully, then demanded, "You better be tellin' me you plugged this guy and dropped the body in a hole somewhere."
"Uhh... not exactly. He kind of... got away." Tom almost fell off his perch, in his eagerness to hear Jake's next words. "I had 'im up in the cab with me, so he wouldn't freeze and..."
"I don't believe this shit! What's Keeler think he's doin' out there?! Runnin' a halfway house?!"
"Look, Mr. Gross, this is all my fault. I know that. But I swear this kid is harmless. He just wanted someplace warm to sleep, and he got caught by the blast. I swear to God, if I thought he was trouble, I'd have plugged him the second I found him."
"Instead, you let 'im get away!"
Jake shrugged uncomfortably. "We were downtown, stuck in a traffic jam with, like, six thousand people watching. I would've had the entire Chicago PD down on me in a second, and they would've found the shipment."
Gross swore again and began pulling at his lower lip. After a moment's ponderous thought, he jabbed a finger and Jake and growled, "Okay, you made this mess, boy, you clean it up. You're gonna find that bastard and kill him... before he tells anyone what he saw in those crates!"
"Awww, Mr. Gross, he didn't see nothin'. He's just a half-crazy blind kid. Doesn't even speak English."
"I said, kill him!" Whirling on one of his own men, Gross snarled, "Get this truck emptied, then scrub it down. I don't want a single bloodstain left in it! And wash the crap off the outside, while you're at it. Looks like it was in a goddamned explosion!" He headed back for the office at a rolling trot, dragging Jake with him. "I'll send some of my boys with you, just to make sure you're doin' your job. And if you say another word about how harmless this kid is, I'll put a bullet in your brain myself, you fucking moron! How bad was the kid hurt?"
"You saw all the blood. He can't have gone very far."
"Good. I've got a map in my office..."
Tom waited until Jake and Mr. Gross had disappeared into the warehouse again, their voices fading, then he climbed down from the cab and dropped softly into the snow. His feet carried him swiftly back to the fence, while his brain turned over the implications of what he had heard.
Harry had escaped. He was alive, or had been as recently as this evening, and he had escaped somewhere in the downtown area. Jake had rescued him from the trailer, saved his life, and lied to Gross in a futile attempt to protect him, but now that same Jake had been given a point-blank order to kill him. So the big question was, would Jake do it? Would he do his best to find and eliminate Harry, or would he try to lead Gross's men astray?
Tom couldn't make up his mind about this, even after he'd piled into the car and recounted everything he'd heard to Doug and Ty. They reacted with a relief bordering on hysteria to the news that Harry had escaped, and for a moment, Tom thought Doug would burst into tears. But Doug got his emotions back under control before Ty noticed his lapse and voiced the doubt that was plaguing all three of them.
"Jake got Ioki here alive, but just how far would he go to help him? Sure, it's easy enough to tell a few lies, especially if you're living on borrowed time anyway, but disobey a direct order from your boss? That kind of thing will get you lots worse than dead."
"We have to follow him," Tom said. "It's the only way to find out."
"And if he doesn't lead us to Iok?"
"Then we're screwed."
"And Iok is dead. Not good enough, man. There has to be something else we can do."
"How badly was he injured?" Ty asked.
Tom winced, and his mouth tightened into a grim line. "Apparently, he... bled all over the truck."
"Then we check all the local hospitals."
Doug gave a snort of disgust, and Tom shook his head. "This is Harry we're talking about. A hospital is the last place he'd go."
"If he knew it was his only chance of surviving? Or of finding us?"
Doug gave another snort. "He doesn't know we're lookin' for him - only that Gross is, which is another good reason for him to stay away from public places."
Ty raised a skeptical eyebrow at him. "I thought this was Harry we were talking about," she retorted. Then she added more gently, "The one thing he knows for certain is that Big Brother Dougie is tearing the city apart to find him."
"Right. You're right." Penhall gazed consideringly at her, a frown gathering on his brow that had nothing to do with his habitual antagonism toward the doctor. "But he'd have to be pretty damned desperate to set foot in a hospital."
The other two made no answer to this, and Penhall felt the knot of fear in his stomach tighten painfully. "Okay, so we have to look, even if it's a long shot."
"Which means, we have to split up," Tom murmured, in his soft but authoritative way. "Doug, you stick with Jake. Ty and I will hit the local hospitals, after I talk to the cops."
"The cops? What good are they gonna be?" Penhall demanded.
A cool glance from Hanson cut him off. Tom had made a decision and taken control of the situation, making any further discussion a waste of time. "We'll file a Missing Persons report on Ioki, just in case, and tell them what we know about Gross." He tossed the car keys to Penhall. "You'll need these. We can take a cab."
"How are we gonna keep in touch?"
"I think I can solve that problem," Ty interjected, smiling slightly. "I am a doctor, you know. I never go anywhere without my cellular phone and beeper." She fished a smallish phone out of her medical bag and handed it to Penhall, along with a business card. "There's the beeper number. Call it, if you need us, and enter a 911 code. We'll find a phone and call you back."
"Cool." Penhall turned on the phone and listened to the resulting dial tone. A smile lightened the dour shadows in his face, briefly. "We're in business."
*** *** ***
Dawn came, but the thin, clouded sunlight did nothing to lift the winter chill from the city. Muffled figures hurried down the sidewalks, stepping distastefully around the humped shapes of sleeping vagrants. The winos wrapped in newspapers and teenagers crouching behind overflowing dumpsters seemed, at first glance, inured to the bone-biting cold, but within their frayed collars, their teeth chattered uncontrollably, and the hands they stuffed in pockets were mottled blue and white.
Yet another in an endless stream of subway trains roared under the street, and a brief trickle of heat found its way up through the grating in the sidewalk. Ioki slept, curled up on the grating, unaware of the cold or the rumble of the trains below. A few of the local regulars shuffled by and glanced curiously at him, wondering what the strange person was doing on their street, but none of them disturbed him. Even those that might have resented his usurpation of the warmest spot on the sidewalk didn't bother to evict him. Their cynical, experienced eyes told them that this one was due for a ride in the city meat wagon very soon, and the street code entitled him to wait it out where he chose. Hopefully, when their times came, someone else would grant them the luxury of a subway grating to die on.
By nine o'clock, most of the vagrants had wandered on to their usual daylight cruising grounds. A few showed up from other streets and neighborhoods to hang out on a likely corner and wait for a generous passer-by, but the street was nearly deserted. Only one small indigent still lingered by the wall of a condemned building, staring with brooding intensity at the man sleeping on the grating. It was a tiny waif, thin hands gripping its arms, lost in a worn tweed jacket several times too big for its frame. Dark hair, matted and filthy, straggled from beneath a wool cap, while hollow brown eyes peered from under the brim. Several pairs of dirty socks kept its ankles warm and filled its over-sized shoes. It wore blue jeans with gaping holes in the knees that it had rolled up around its ankles to keep the cuffs from dragging on the pavement. The pathetic little figure looked like something out of a bad Hollywood movie.
After several minutes of just standing and glaring, the waif slid cautiously along the wall toward the grating. It covered the last few feet on its hands and knees, crab-like. Finally, it knelt beside Ioki and bent over him.
One hand shot out and touched his shoulder, jerking back again instantly. The hand was fleshless and small, the hand of a child no older than six. After a long wait to be sure the sleeping figure wasn't setting some nefarious trap, the waif screwed up its courage and grabbed Ioki's coat sleeve. It shook him slightly.
"Wake up." No response. "Wake up. Can't sleep here." The child pulled off its cap and turned to scan the street, as if expecting to see someone in particular ambling down the sidewalk. The sunlight striking its face revealed it as an extremely young girl. Her enormous eyes stood out like caverns of hunger and mistrust in her pinched, pale face. When she couldn't find the person she was looking for, she turned back to Ioki and shook him with real determination. "Wake up!"
This time, he stirred slightly and mumbled something the child couldn't understand. Used to dealing with drunks and half-mad vagrants, she was not daunted. She pushed against his shoulder until he rolled onto his back, then she grabbed the front of his coat and demanded,
"You wake up!"
"Gotta go. Ain't your spot. It's Willie's spot. Go away."
She finally got the desired response when Ioki opened his eyes and asked, "What?"
He frowned slightly and tried to concentrate on the unfamiliar voice, but an odd murkiness clogged his thoughts and he couldn't seem to sort anything out. Not bothering to identify the strange voice, he asked the first question that came to mind. "Where am I?"
"On Willie's grate."
That wasn't terribly helpful. "Who's Willie?"
"You gotta go. Willie's comin' and this is his grate. Always been his grate. He's my friend so I watch his grate. Get off."
Ioki suddenly started to laugh as the full absurdity of the situation struck him. His head felt disconnected from his body, light enough to float away, and though reason told him the air was freezing cold, he was uncomfortably warm in his heavy coat. The pain in his leg seemed to be coming from a long, long way off. Once he started laughing, he found he couldn't stop, though the voice beside him didn't sound amused.
"Laughin'. Go away."
"I wish I could."
"I don't think so."
"Huh. Crazy, then."
"You talk funny." Harry chuckled softly, which seemed to irritate the child further. "Not that kinda funny! Stop it!" She balled her tiny hands into fists and shouted, "When Willie gets here, you'll be plenty sorry!"
Harry gave another soft, humorless laugh and murmured, "I'm already sorry."
She snorted with disgust, a strange sound coming from so young a mouth. "Too drunk to walk."
"I told you, I'm not drunk."
"You act drunk. Stoned, maybe?"
"Junkie. Willie hates junkies. Me, too."
Ioki sighed and turned his head away from the odd, cynical, suspicious little voice. "Please leave me alone. I'm tired."
The girl sat down on the sidewalk and tucked her feet up under her coat, her expression gone suddenly thoughtful. "You ain't drunk and you ain't stoned, so what's up? How come you don't go?"
"Because I have a big hole in my head and a bigger hole in my leg and I feel lousy! Now shut up and go away."
Somehow, Ioki's burst of rudeness seemed to reassure the girl. For the first time, she smiled. "Mugged?"
"Ya got blood all over. Looks like you was mugged to me."
"Do you really want to know?"
"I was hit by a bomb."
"Bomb? Like in pictures? Big noises and fire and everything?"
"Does it hurt?"
"Is it like being mugged? Or beat up by the junkies? I been beat up by the junkies and once by a gang. That hurt. Is it like that?"
Ioki put one hand to his head, trying to steady his thoughts and quiet the pounding in his skull. Each word cost him more and more of an effort to get out, and the searing heat from his leg seemed to be charring him from the inside. He struggled to answer the child's inane questions sensibly.
"Sort of...sort of like that."
The little girl tentatively reached over and lifted the long skirt of his coat to expose his blood-soaked pant leg and the bandage wrapped inexpertly around the wound. She looked calmly at the gruesome sight for a moment, then carefully covered it again. "The bomb did that?"
"What'sa matter? You look sick."
"I feel sick."
"Lots of blood."
"You gonna bleed some more?"
"You gonna die?"
"What's your name?"
"That's a weird name."
"You mad at me? You sound funny, and you ain't talking anymore. I thought maybe...maybe you wanted to be my friend...but you won't talk no more. You don't wanna be my friend."
"If you was to be my friend, I could....I could maybe help you."
"That's nice, but..."
"See, I got a house." She waited for some response to this revelation, but Ioki couldn't muster the energy to comment appropriately. She sounded miffed when she continued, "Most 'round here don't have no place, but I got a house all my own! No one knows where it is, 'cept Willie. He helped get things for me. I thought maybe, if you was my friend, I could show you where it is and you could visit me there, but you ain't my friend."
"To be friends, you gotta know things, secrets, that nobody else knows. Like me 'n' Willie. You don't know nothin' about me. You told me about the bomb, and you told me your name and I thought maybe you wanted to be friends."
"What's your name?"
A sudden, radiant smile lit the tiny face, bright with childish glee. "On the street, I'm Grub. That ain't my real name, but I could tell you my real name if you asked me."
"Please, tell me."
"Grace. I like that. Are we friends, now?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"Then you can call me Harry."
Grace giggled, the first naturally childlike sound she had made. "I got two friends! Wait'll I tell Willie!" She got up and capered around the sidewalk, laughing delightedly, but when she came back to stand beside Ioki, she sobered instantly. "Harry, you look real sick. I wanna help."
"I wish you could."
She sat down next to him and slid her hand into his. "I'll stay and talk to you. You're hot. How come when it's cold out here you're so hot?"
"Y'know, once I got real sick and my skin felt all hot and I thought I was burned up. Willie made me stay in bed and get warm even though I said I was too hot already. He said when I got warm it'd make me better."
"He takes good care of you."
"Maybe you should stay in bed and get warm."
"Listen, Grace. This is different. You saw the big cut on my leg?"
"It's all dirty, and there's stuff in there that's making me sick. Until somebody cleans it out and stops it from bleeding, I'm not going to get better."
"If somebody doesn't take the sick stuff out of your leg, will you die?"
"Can I take it out?"
"No. A doctor has to do it."
"I could take you to a doctor."
"Some men are looking for me. They know I was hurt and they'll look for me at the hospital."
"Are they bad men?"
"Very. If they find me, they'll kill me. And maybe you, too, which would make me sad."
"So how're you gonna get better?"
He thought about that for a long minute, then said, "My friends will come, sooner or later. Hopefully sooner."
"You have friends?"
"Tell me about them."
"I'm your friend too!"
"Yes, you are."
"I don't want you to die after we just got to be friends. You gotta get up and come with me home. I can hide you till your friends come. It's warmer at home!"
"I can't. I'm sorry."
She bounded to her feet and stood wringing her hands, her face contorted with distress. Then suddenly, she came to a decision. "I'm gonna get Willie. He'll know what to do."
"No, don't tell anyone..."
"Be right back, Harry. Don't worry! Willie'll fix it!"
But she was gone, her footsteps rapidly fading, and Harry let his eyes fall closed with a defeated sigh.
He did not realize that he had fallen asleep again, until the sound of voices coaxed him back to consciousness. They were right beside him, talking in lowered tones, and it took him a moment to recognize Grace's childish voice through the hot soup in his head. The other one was lower, older, and rather gruff.
"C'mon, Grub," it said, "let's go to the diner and get some breakfast."
"You gotta do something. I told Harry you'd fix it."
"This one's way past fixing. 'Sides, you know better'n to talk to junkies. Now, c'mon. I'm hungry."
"He ain't no junkie, he's my friend."
Willie's voice hardened. "You trying to get yourself hurt, kid?"
"It's true! He is! He ain't drunk or stoned or crazy. Just real sick. An' he said he would've got off your grate, 'cept he can't. I was looking out for you, Willie," she added pugnaciously, "like I always do."
Willie grunted, and Harry heard a sound like roller skate wheels on the pavement. Then something icy cold touched his face, and he flinched away, his eyes snapping open to stare at the space where Willie ought to be. Willie gave another grunt, this one startled.
After a moment of tense silence, Willie growled, "He's a gook. I don't help gooks."
"I didn't ask for you help," Harry said, with the most dignity he could muster under the circumstances.
"What's a gook?" Grace asked, innocently.
"Nothing. Never mind." Harry heard the strange wheel-sound again and more of Willie's grunts, and he felt a hand twitch his coat open. Another silence, then, "That looks bad."
Harry made no comment. He was beginning to get a mental picture of Willie, and he couldn't exactly blame the man for his nasty attitude. The wheel-sound, the icy callused roughness of his hands, the grunting noise he made when he moved - they all pointed to the same thing. Willie moved around on something with wheels, something that sat low to the ground and let him use his hands to push himself, which meant that he either couldn't use his legs or he didn't have any at all. And it didn't take a degree in rocket science to figure out how that had happened.
The hands touched the bandage on his leg, and Harry gave an involuntary hiss of pain. Willie started unwinding the bandage, ignoring what the process did to Harry. But Grace noticed, and she didn't like it.
She sidled up to Willie and demanded, "Whatcha doin'?"
"Just taking a look."
"You're s'posed to fix it, not make it worse!"
"Be done in a minute."
Accustomed to trusting her mentor, she stifled her protests and plunked down on the sidewalk to watch. When Willie finally peeled the last shred of saturated fabric away from the wound, she let out a childish "eewwwww" of disgust. Willie grunted.
After inspecting the inflamed mess for a moment, Willie glanced up at Harry and, for the first time, spoke directly to him. "You know how bad this is?"
"No matter what Grub says, I can't fix this."
"If I was to... do like she asks," Willie continued, "if I was, it wouldn't make much difference."
"It's okay," Harry answered, softly, "don't worry about it. It's not your problem."
"She's made it my problem. Damn fool kid," he added, with gruff affection.
Grace stayed out of the conversation, seeming to understand that this was an exchange between adults and not meant for her, but she slid a cold hand into Harry's and held on very tightly.
"She's only trying to help," Harry said, mostly to reassure the anxious child.
"Damn fool kid," Willie repeated, absently. Then he lapsed into thoughtful silence. After a long, long moment, during which Harry drifted out of mental focus and Grace squirmed with impatience, he cleared his throat and said, "We can get you off the street, anyway. Grub tell you about her place?"
"It's not far. Block and a half from here."
"Can't what? Walk?" Willie gave a disgusted snort. "Trust me. You wanna get home bad enough, you'll walk."
Harry turned that thought over in his mind, very carefully. The last thing in this world that he wanted to do was to stand up - just thinking about it made him feel nauseous - but if he stayed here, he would die. Soon. And Harry had no intention of taking death lying down. It wasn't in his nature to give up that easily.
Turning his blank gaze on Willie, he said, "Okay. But I need someone bigger than Grace to lean on."
Just how Willie got him on his feet and moving, Harry didn't know. He was only half-conscious through most of it and fighting so hard to keep from throwing up or fainting that he couldn't focus on anything else. But somehow, miraculously, he found himself limping down the street with one hand on Grace's small head and the other on Willie's shoulder. The pain from his leg was like hot lead in his veins, running viciously through him, searing him from the inside out. He tried not to think about it, or what this stroll was doing to his leg, but when he stopped focusing on that pain, he remembered the one in his head and promptly started feeling dizzy.
In a desperate attempt to distract himself, he began talking to Willie. It took him several painful breaths to get out each phrase, and his choice of subject matter left something to be desired, but it was foremost in his mind at the time and he couldn't spare the energy to come up with anything more tactful.
"When did you serve in Vietnam?" he asked, out of the blue.
Willie grunted, as usual, and said, "'65 and '66. Why? Were you one of the little bastards who shot my legs off?"
"I was five," Harry gasped.
"Huh. Bet you were smuggling hand grenades in your lunchbox."
"Comic books. And Twinkies."
"Only Twinkies I ever saw in 'Nam were the ones at the PX."
"Yeah." Harry took another agonizing step and added, breathlessly, "My best friend loved Twinkies. He was always scamming them from the Marines in Saigon. Gave half to me. ...never eat them now."
Willie let him ramble on in this way, throwing in the occasional remark or carefully chosen taunt to keep him talking, until they had covered the seemingly endless distance to Grace's home. Right about the time that Harry had decided he'd rather die on the street than take another step, Willie rolled to a halt and gripped his arm to steady him.
"Go on down the ramp. Watch your head. Roof ain't high enough for a grown man to stand up in there."
When Harry reached a hand out, his fingers brushed cold, rough stone. A brick wall, by the feel of it. He limped a little closer, then ran his hands down the icy surface until he found the upper lip of an opening at waist height. It was plenty wide enough for him, but he would have to crouch to fit through it. Pulling in a deep, calming breath, he gripped the edge in both hands and ordered his knees to bend. The flare of agony in his leg wrenched a gasp from him, and he fell heavily against the wall. His weight shifted onto his injured leg, it collapsed beneath him, and he pitched forward to land in a limp heap at the bottom of the wooden ramp, unconscious.
Back up in the alley, Willie watched Harry tumble into the dark hole impassively. After a moment of silence, he gave a grunt and said, "Well, he's inside anyway."
*** *** ***
Tom stepped out of the Police station and started down a long flight of stone steps.
"Are all cops that helpful?" Ty asked, sourly, as she trudged down the steps behind him.
"You've got to admit, our story sounds pretty ridiculous," Tom countered.
He reached the sidewalk and paused to gaze up at the dawn sky, as though it could hand him inspiration in his time of need. They had spent most of the night in the Police station, filling out reports and trying to convince the local authorities that they were not certifiable. In telling his saga to the desk sergeant, Tom had begun to doubt his own sanity. It did sound ridiculous, especially with the sergeant's steady, skeptical, completely sane eyes on him.
At least they had gotten the reluctant wheels of Justice moving in Keeler's direction - he hoped. Chances were, by the time the cops arrived at the shipping yard, the truck would be gone, but that wasn't Tom's problem anymore. He had fulfilled his obligation by informing the authorities of what he had seen. Let them take it from there.
Turning to smile wanly at his companion, he said, "Ready to waste some more time? Or can we eat breakfast, first?"
"We'll pick up junk food at our first stop." Pulling a city map from her pocket, she crossed to the nearest parked car and spread it out on the hood. She tapped a red X, drawn in magic marker, on the paper. "Here's the shipping yard, and here's the precinct station. Now, we need a list of hospitals in the metropolitan area."
Tom looked up and around, then headed for the nearest pay phone at a trot. A minute later, he returned with a page torn from the city services section of the phone book. "There are a lot of them."
"Then we better get moving. We've got a lot of ground to cover."
* * *
Doug lowered his binoculars and stared, thoughtfully, at the distant figures of the two goons. Jake was hunkered down next to a wino, holding a twenty-dollar bill where the old man could see it, and asking him questions. The other one - a big, ugly dude with a permanent scowl on his face and a black suitcase in one hand - stood behind Jake, glaring around indiscriminately.
Doug had been following the pair since first light, and he had no doubt that they would eventually lead him to Ioki. Their first stop, after leaving the shipping yard, had been a major intersection on the main drag through downtown. There, Jake had pointed out to his companion a rather large red stain frozen into the snowdrift at the curb. Doug had examined it himself, when he could safely approach the corner, and he had instantly recognized it as old blood - spilled on the wet snow, then sealed under a layer of fresh ice during the night. That was enough to convince him that Jake had taken his orders to heart and intended to lead Gross's gunman to Ioki.
Since leaving that intersection, they had wandered very slowly through a network of decaying streets, following a cold trail. Jake's good-natured face and open wallet turned up any number of vagrants, loiterers and shop owners who remembered seeing a strange young man wandering around the previous evening. They didn't all agree on where he'd gone, but the two goons were inexorably closing the gap, or so it seemed to Doug.
The wino listened for a moment, then shook his head regretfully. Jake gave him a couple of dollars anyway, stood up, and drew the other goon to one side. After a brief conversation, they headed back the way they'd come, having obviously decided that they'd missed a turn somewhere.
Doug watched them turn into an alley, and he edged a little farther along the opposite side of the street to improve his sight lines. They were talking to a skinny teenager in a knit cap, who looked like he hadn't eaten in a week. Doug scrunched himself back into a sunken doorway and blew on his hands, waiting.
Not for the first time, he wondered if he ought to call Hanson and fill him in. From the moment he'd seen that stain on the snow, he'd felt the urge to make the call, but he hesitated. After all, he had no idea where Ioki was, and no real proof that Jake would ever find him. There was still a better than even chance that Hanson would locate him first - if Ioki had gone looking for medical aid. And a premature phone call might bring Hanson running before he had finished his own search or Doug had anything concrete to show him.
Jake and the gunman came out of the alley and began striding up the street to the north like they had a purpose. Doug waited 'til they had passed his hiding place, then he slipped out and began shadowing them again, all thoughts of calling Hanson temporarily forgotten.
*** *** ***
Harry shifted his head, trying to find a place to prop it that didn't hurt so much, but every spot was the same - cold, rough and brutally hard against his battered skull. The air felt too thick to breathe, and he could not lift his arms against the drag of exhaustion, illness and pain that pinned them to the ground. Every beat of his heart thudded like a bass drum in his head and sent vicious heat coursing through him.
He tried again, turning his head and struggling to disentangle his arms from the smothering weight that confined them. It was so hot! So incredibly, unbearably hot, and he couldn't breathe! Suddenly, voices materialized above him. He had trouble understanding them, but they seemed to be discussing him. After a low, urgent exchange, one of them folded the heavy blanket back from his arms to let him move.
A tiny, frigid hand slid into his, and a childish voice said, "You feeling better now, Harry?"
He tried to answer her, but he couldn't get enough air to produce more than a soft, wordless groan.
"Willie said you weren't gonna wake up," the voice went on, "but he was wrong. You must be better, if you're awake."
"He's not better," the other voice snapped, "and it don't make no difference if he's awake. You still gotta go."
"No. No hospital. Harry said so."
Hospital... He knew that word. He knew someone there who could help... someone he trusted... if he could only find her. Summoning all of his strength, he opened his eyes and turned toward the young voice. "Ty," he murmured.
"Harry?" The voice moved closer, as though the child were bending anxiously over him. "Did you say something?"
"Find Ty... hospital..."
"Willie said to go there, but I remember you said no. I'm your friend, right? I look out for you, like I do for Willie, and I told him you said no hospital."
Harry concentrated as hard as he could on forming his words clearly, willing her to listen. "Ty is at the hospital... find Ty..."
"Get outta the way, Grub," the older voice growled. Then something extremely cold and wet fell across Harry's forehead, making him gasp with the shock and bringing his thoughts into sudden, painful focus. "That better?" Willie asked. "You're burning up. Your leg is turning septic, and if that don't kill you, this fever will. Does it hurt to breathe?"
"No, it's just... hard. The air is heavy."
"Huh. Nothing wrong with the air. Now, listen up. I know what you told Grub about those bad dudes looking for you, and I know you don't wanna go to the hospital, but you ain't got no choice."
"Grub has to go get help. Now. But she won't go unless you say it's okay."
"D'you want me to go, Harry?" the child asked, plaintively. "I dunno what to do."
"Please find her," he whispered. "Ty. She's my friend. She'll help."
"At the hospital?"
After a doubtful silence, Grace answered, "I guess..."
Willie gave a grunt of approval. Then he drew Grace away, making an odd shuffling noise as he went, talking in an undertone that Harry had to strain to catch. "You remember Dr. Bob, right? The doc who helped us when you got beat up? He's the one you want. Find him and tell him he's gotta come get this kid, before he dies on us."
"But Harry said..."
"He's delirious. Doesn't know what the hell he's saying. You don't talk to anyone except Dr. Bob, unless you wanna get grabbed by some Social Worker. He's the only one you can trust, Grub, remember that!"
"Now run, kid."
Footsteps pounded on hollow wood, then faded away. Willie came shuffling and grunting back over to where Harry lay. Something about the sound he made as moved bothered Harry, but in his muddled state, he couldn't figure out exactly what it was. Willie settled down beside him and picked up the cold rag to wipe at the dirt and blood on his face.
"No wheels," Harry murmured in sudden realization.
"You don't have wheels."
Willie grunted. "Can't use 'em down here."
Harry frowned up at the gruff voice. "Down... where?"
"Nate's coal cellar."
That didn't help much. Was he supposed to know Nate? Luckily, since he couldn't formulate a decent question, Willie seemed to pick up on his confusion and went on, unprompted, to explain.
"Nate's an old Army buddy of mine; a real good guy. He owns the restaurant upstairs, and he let's Grub live down here, as a favor to me. He built the ramp, put a tap in the hot water pipe, and ran an extension cord down for lights. He even feeds the kid on bad days. A real good guy. 'Course, you might not think so, if you met 'im. It's a damn good thing you aren't gonna meet 'im."
"Nate don't like... people like you."
"He did two tours in 'Nam, and he's got his reasons. I ain't saying he's right; I ain't saying he's wrong. I'm just saying that he better not find out I brought you here."
"Why did you?" Harry asked, very softly.
"'Cause I can't say no to the brat." Willie suddenly paused in his work and slid one hand carefully behind Harry's head. When he pulled the hand away, he gave a grunt of surprise. "Huh. Got a crater in the back of your head."
Harry sighed and closed his eyes, feeling much too tired and sick to respond. He wished the gruff old soldier would resume his disapproving silence and leave him in peace. But Willie seemed to have overcome the worst of his dislike for Harry and wanted to chat.
"That's a bad place to get banged up, kid. It'll do nasty stuff to your brain."
"Doesn't matter," Harry murmured, without opening his eyes.
"So, were you telling Grub the truth about those dudes looking for you?" Willie went on, doggedly.
"What do they want?"
"To kill me."
Willie broke off his interrogation while he heaved himself over a few feet to examine the gash in Harry's leg. When he spoke again, his voice sounded a bit distracted, as if he were concentrating on the wound and not the conversation. "Why'd they wanna do that?"
Harry gasped and stiffened, as Willie peeled up the sodden bandage. "What... what are you doing?"
"Never mind. Just keep talking. Why are the bad guys trying to kill you?"
"...long story. Please... stop that!"
"Sorry, kid, but you gotta let me work on this leg."
"There's noth..." A sudden flare of pain in his leg tore a wordless cry from Harry. He tried to throw off the confining blanket and twist away from the hands that were torturing him, but the hands were much stronger than he was. They clamped down on his leg, pinning him to the floor, while Willie's harsh voice battered at him.
"Hold still, kid. You gotta hold still!"
He made another futile attempt to break away, but he did not have the strength to fight the hands.
"One more second. Just hold still for one more second..."
Another jolt of agony hit him, making his entire body jump with the shock and choking off his protest on a strangled sob.
"Got it!" Willie muttered, triumphantly.
Harry struggled to breathe, to stay conscious, to still the tremor in his hand as he lifted it to cover his eyes, but he didn't seem to own his body anymore. Nothing worked. He could not breathe without sobbing or stop his hand from shaking. And the darkness swirled through his head, dragging him back into the black pit full of fever dreams. The pain was a solid thing, made of claws and fangs, eating him alive.
Then a cold, wet cloth fell across his forehead, and Willie's gruff but surprisingly gentle voice reached him. "I know that hurt. I'm sorry."
Harry didn't answer. He still couldn't catch his breath or trust his voice.
"But I got the metal out." At that, Harry dropped his hand and turned a questioning gaze on the other man. "Yeah, you had a regular piece of shrapnel in there. Damned thing was giving you blood poisoning."
Willie began clunking and shuffling about, doing something that Harry couldn't follow. A moment later, he gave a hiss of pain, as Willie laid a hot compress over the open, oozing gash.
"Odds are you're still gonna die on me," Willie informed him matter-of-factly, "but this should make you feel better." He must have seen the skepticism in Harry's face, because he chuckled and said, "Trust me, kid. After two tours of duty in your shit-hole of a country, I know how to handle a dirty wound."
Harry let his breath out on a long sigh and covered his eyes with his hand again, to shield himself from Willie's gaze.
As Willie straightened the blanket and pulled it up to Harry's shoulders, he said, "I'm all done. The rest is up to the docs. Y'know, kid, you're pretty tough. Hard to kill, anyway."
"Terminally lucky..." Harry whispered.
"Huh. Well, I figure I better give that luck of yours a boost. I'm gonna head back to the grate where we found you, see if anyone's nosing around, maybe cover our tracks so they can't follow 'em here. You get some sleep."
Harry nodded slightly and listened as Willie heaved himself across the room toward the ramp. "Stay here an' keep quiet!" he called, on his way up the ramp.
Harry waited until he was sure that he was alone, and the sound of Willie's wheeled cart had faded away, then he lowered his hand and stared blankly at the ceiling above him. The emotions that he had fought so hard to conceal from his reluctant rescuer flooded through him, turning his face into a mask of pain, fear and despair. He felt empty and exhausted - used up, burnt out, ready to shatter at a touch - and terrifyingly alone.
He felt a treacherous sob rise in his throat and clenched his teeth against it. Shutting his eyes very tightly, he pulled the wet rag on his forehead down to cover them and clamped his hand over it, pressing on it until water drops slid down his face like icy tears.
* * *
In the crowded ER, the tiny child could pass for invisible. With the way she shrank into the corner, pulling her hat over her eyes and her coat around her thin frame, she obviously did not want to draw attention to herself, and it had taken Hanson several minutes to realize that she was there. But once he'd spotted her, he could not ignore her. She had a strange intensity about her, a kind of hunger in her enormous brown eyes that had nothing to do with food. Those eyes were riveted to the scene by the Nurses' station, where Hanson and Dr. Martin stood in conversation with the ER doctor.
Hanson listened to the exchange between the two doctors, but his gaze never left the child.
"His name is Harry Ioki," Ty said, handing the other doctor a small photograph. "He was caught in an explosion four days ago. We know he has severe blast injuries of some kind, and by now, he's probably developed complications. Infection. Hypothermia. Pneumonia. Frostbite, maybe, with the weather like this."
"Hmm. If he spent last night outside..."
The child had left her sheltered corner and was sidling up to them. Her eyes remained fixed on the picture, though she could only see the back of it, and her hands twisted the fabric of her coat in an unconscious gesture of nervousness. When she was close enough to the doctor to touch him, she halted.
"Ty." Tom spoke very softly, not wanting to startle the child, but he saw her jump at the sound of his voice. Her eyes flew from the picture to Ty's face and got impossibly bigger.
Ty glanced over at him.
"We have company," he murmured, nodding toward the girl.
The doctor turned to see what had distracted them, and his jaw dropped in surprise. "Grub! What are you doing here?"
Grub poked a finger at the picture in his hands and demanded, "Lemme see that."
"This is nothing for you to be worried about, Grub. If you need me, just sit down, and I'll be right with..."
"Please, Dr. Bob. Lemme see."
"Let her have it," Hanson insisted. He didn't know exactly why he said it, but something about her intent expression told him that this was more than childish curiosity. She had a definite reason for wanting to see the picture, and he wanted to know what that reason might be.
The doctor frowned, shrugged, and handed her the photo.
Grub stared down at it, her face white and blank, then she looked up at the woman standing over her. "Are you Ty?"
Ty nodded and smiled. "Yes, that's my name. Ty Martin."
"You a doctor?"
"Yes." The girl fell silent, chewing on her lower lip, so Ty prompted, "Do you need a doctor, Grub?"
"He said you'd be here. Willie said not to listen, that he was talking crazy, but he was right. Only... Willie'll be mad. I'm not s'posed to talk to anyone 'cept Dr. Bob."
Tom crouched in front of her and gave her his most earnest, beguiling smile. "It's okay to talk to us, I promise. You can trust us, Grub." She began gnawing her lip again, her gaze dropping to the picture she still held - a picture of Tom and Harry standing together, smiling. "Grub? Who told you we'd be here?"
"He didn't say you. He said Ty."
"Who did? Please... Please, Grub, it's very important!"
Shoving the picture at him, she asked, plaintively, "Is that you? Really and truly?"
"It's really and truly me. Me and one of my best friends in the whole world."
"So, you're not... not one of the bad men who wants to..."
"No!" Tom clenched his teeth for a moment, fighting to control his sudden surge of adrenaline, then he murmured, "You know where he is, don't you, Grub?"
"Yeah. I know."
"Will you take us there?"
She looked from Hanson to Dr. Martin and back again, then down at the picture in Tom's hands, her face contorted into a grimace of distress and uncertainty. When her lower lip began to tremble, Hanson reached out to clasp her arms in gentle, insistent fingers. He stared straight into her wounded eyes, letting her see the anxiety and threatened tears in his own.
She hesitated for another fraction of a second, then nodded once and pulled away from Hanson to head for the exit. Ty made a sound somewhere between a gasp and a sob and took off after her. Hanson had to scramble to regain his feet and catch up with them. As he sprinted toward the door, he shouted back to Dr. Bob,
"We'll call for an ambulance when we know where we're going!"
* * *
Willie stared out from the shelter of a trash dumpster at the group collected around his grate. He recognized old Foster, the bum who hung out at the next corner up, and the kid they called The Needle as regulars in this neighborhood. But the two huge, muscle-bound bruisers with them did not belong here and could only mean trouble. Foster was cackling at them, the way he always did when he was properly boozed-up. One of the strangers handed him a couple of bills, and Foster waved an arm in Willie's direction.
The other stranger seemed mighty interested in the grate itself. He poked at the last few lumps of dirty snow, bent down to examine the pavement, and peered at the clear wheel-marks left by Willie's cart in the slush. Suddenly, he came to some kind of decision. Calling a few words over his shoulder to his companion, he set down the large, black case he carried and flipped it open.
Willie watched only long enough to see the man pull a rifle stock and barrel out of the case, then he turned himself around and headed for home as fast as his arms could push him. He did not try to cover his tracks or confuse the trail. Any one of a dozen people who lived on these streets could tell those men where Grub lived, including the two men they had already bribed for information. He could not stop them from finding the cellar. And when they found the cellar, they'd find Harry, unless Willie managed to get him out before they arrived.
He had no very clear idea of how he was going to accomplish this feat, but he had to try. For Grub's sake. And for his own, he admitted silently, as he dug his fists into the freezing pavement with all his weight and strength. Willie could not explain how Harry had gone from being a filthy little gook, that he'd just as soon spit on as look at, to someone he wanted to protect, but it had happened. Now it was up to him to get Harry away, before that giant with the rifle put a bullet in him. Somehow. If Harry wasn't dead, already.
He skidded to a stop in the blind alley formed by the back of Nate's restaurant and two crumbling stone buildings. Hurling himself off the cart and toward the ramp, he shouted at full volume,
"Harry! Wake up!! We have to get outta here!!" He half slid down the ramp and fetched up painfully at the bottom. "Come on, kid, move it! Wake up!!"
He bent anxiously over his patient and was relieved to see that he was still breathing. But when Harry dragged his eyes open, in response to his shouted orders, Willie could see that he was totally disoriented, probably delirious, and in no condition to understand what was going on.
"You gotta get up. Right now," Willie snapped.
"There's no Ty here, just me, and I'm in charge! So, get up!"
Harry obediently tried to shift his elbows under him, but he couldn't support his own weight without Willie's help. Finally, he sat up straight, breathing hard, his face an odd combination of ghastly white and flushed with fever. He turned dazed, glassy eyes on Willie and waited numbly for more instructions.
"Slide on over to the ramp. I'll give you a hand. Come on, kid, you gotta hurry. Those bad dudes of yours'll be here any time."
"Never mind, just move!"
Still obedient to Willie's orders, even if he did not understand them, Harry began using his hands and his left heel to push himself toward the sound of Willie's voice, sliding on his backside and dragging his useless right leg after him. Willie waited at the foot of the ramp and urged him repeatedly to hurry.
"Come on, kid, come on! I know it hurts, but you gotta move!"
Harry turned blank eyes on him, his expression calm, if a bit confused, then looked away and resumed his slow progress. Willie swore under his breath. Did the kid even know what he was doing to himself? Was he so far gone, his brain so cooked by fever, that he didn't even feel the pain of dragging that god-awful mess of a leg over rough stone? Willie winced at that thought, though he was grateful for this little piece of luck. If Harry were in his right mind, he probably wouldn't be able to sit up, much less walk... and he was going to have to walk, once they got outside.
Harry reached the bottom of the ramp and stopped to catch his breath.
"Follow me," Willie growled, "up and out. Come on. You can do it."
It took both of them to get Harry up the ramp. Willie went ahead of him, heaving himself up a few feet at a time, then dragging Harry after him. Harry tried his best to do his share, but he could not seem to get enough oxygen to keep him going. The harder he exerted himself, the more labored his breathing became, until his lips took on a bluish tint and his whole body shuddered with the effort of pulling air into his lungs.
Willie reached the top and pulled Harry through the arch, into the weak sunshine. Harry toppled backwards off the ramp, falling the eight inches from the lip of the cellar opening to the ground and collapsing in a limp heap. Willie scrambled onto his cart and rolled over to him.
"On your feet, kid!"
Harry half rolled onto his back, so he could look up at Willie, and the old soldier felt a painful knot of empathy tighten in his chest. He knew exactly how Harry felt - exactly how much it hurt - and he wished he didn't have to do to this sick kid what his sergeant had done to him, all those years ago. But the sergeant had saved his life, and Willie fully intended to save Harry's, or at least to give him a fighting chance.
"I said, on your feet!" he snarled, in his best Drill Instructor voice. "Move your sorry ass! Move it! Move it!"
Once again, Harry responded to his commanding tone and pushed himself away from the pavement. Willie kept up his harangue, while he grabbed Harry's arm and helped him to stagger upright. Again, Willie had reason to be grateful that the pain from his abused body could not get through the fog of fever in Harry's brain. Willie's voice seemed to reach him, but nothing else.
Harry managed to get his feet under him and pull himself up by leaning on Willie's shoulder and the wall of the building, all to the accompaniment of Willie shouting insults and orders in a harsh, almost frantic way. As he straightened his shoulders, a wave of vertigo made him sag against the wall. He propped his forehead against the cold bricks and closed his eyes.
"We have to go, kid."
"The hospital, or at least to a busy street, where there are plenty of witnesses. There's no point in hiding, now." Willie hesitated, his face contorted with distress, then he urged, "You have to walk, Harry."
In answer, Harry pushed himself away from the wall and took a careful step. Then another.
Willie rolled along beside him, clutching his forearm tightly for support and cursing silently at their agonizingly slow pace. Any minute now... any second... a bullet out of nowhere...
Suddenly, running feet sounded against the pavement, and a woman's voice shouted, "Harry! Harry, wait!"
Harry abruptly halted and lifted his head. "Ty?"
Willie gaped at the woman tearing down the street toward them. Could it be? Was there really such a person as Ty, and had Grub, by some miracle, actually found her? He saw a young man on the woman's heels and Grub running for all she was worth to keep up with them. Grub spotted him, and called, shrilly,
"I did it, Willie! I found 'er!"
Ty rounded the corner into the alley, without slowing her headlong pace. "Harry!"
Willie got a good look at her face and realized, with a start, that she was crying. He quickly disengaged Harry's hand from his shoulder and rolled back a few feet to get out of her way, since it didn't look as though she planned to stop until she ran smack into Harry. She was two-thirds of the way across the alley, when they all heard another, totally unexpected sound.
It came from roof of the building opposite the restaurant, a man's voice, edged with panic, screaming at full volume, "Harry, look out!"
The crack of a rifle firing drowned out his last word. Ty lurched sideways, turning to face the muzzle flash, and the force of the shell striking her hurled her backward into Harry. He instinctively closed his arms around the body that slammed into his, even as her momentum knocked him off his feet and brought them both down in an inert heap on top of Willie.
Another shot rang out, and another, but the bloodstained pile of bodies did not move.
Penhall vaulted over the last two rungs of the fire escape ladder and the edge of the roof, landing heavily. He did not wait to find his footing, but launched himself toward the sound of gunfire and shouting without missing a beat. Skidding around a chimney pot, he saw the two men struggling at the far edge of the roof. The goon with the gun was still firing, into the air, while Jake tried to tear the weapon from his hands.
Penhall drew his own weapon and sprinted over to them, calling, "Freeze, you assholes! Freeze!"
The gunman did not seem inclined to cooperate, but as Jake finally managed to wrest his rifle from him at that moment, he did not have much choice. He backpedaled, cursing steadily, his eyes burning holes in Jake with their fury. As Doug pounded up to them, Jake took a step away from his glaring companion and deliberately tossed the rifle over the edge of the roof. Then he turned to face Penhall and raised his hands above his head, palms out.
"Don't shoot, man! I'm unarmed!"
Throwing Jake a suspicious glance, Penhall moved past the two goons and peered into the alley below. His eyes turned bleak, and his mouth tightened.
Beside him, Jake muttered, "I tried to stop him."
Penhall stared down at the still body of the doctor, sprawled on top of Harry and the legless vagrant, a crimson stain growing on the front of her shirt. Hanson and a scrawny figure in multiple layers of grungy clothing knelt beside them, and even from here, Penhall could sense their helplessness. Something about the angle of Hanson's shoulders and the way his head fell forward started an unbearable pain in Doug's chest. With shaking hands, he pulled the cell phone from his pocket and dialed 911.
*** *** ***
Harry awoke to the soft murmur of voices somewhere close. He knew immediately that he was in a hospital. The thin, slightly crunchy pillow and stiff sheets gave it away, even without the gentle hum of machinery or the faint smell of antiseptic. He tried to lift his arm and found himself festooned with tubes. The dull ache in his hand told him that he had an IV needle stuck there, and if he moved much, he'd dislodge it. It didn't matter, anyway. He didn't have the energy to move, or even to speak. At least he could rest here. Finally, truly rest.
He could hear the voices clearly. One of them was definitely Hanson, and the other must be a doctor, to judge by his measured, decisive tone. Hanson sounded scared.
"Last time he woke up, all he did was ask for Ty, over and over again. I couldn't calm him down or get anything else out of him. I'm not sure he even knew I was there."
"His fever broke last night," the doctor said. "He should be much more coherent when he comes around again."
"Then the antibiotics are working?"
"I think we hit the right combination."
"It doesn't seem like he's getting any better."
At that, Harry decided that he couldn't listen to the fear in Tom's voice any longer. Summoning what shreds of strength he still possessed, he opened his eyes and whispered, "Hanson?"
The name barely made it past his own lips, but the two men must have heard him. They broke off their conversation, and familiar footsteps hurried over to the bed. The bed shook slightly, when Tom gripped the rail, and he made an odd little choking sound in his throat. Then he said, softly, "Hey, Iok."
"Hey." Harry paused to catch his breath and asked, "You been here... all night?"
"All night?" Hanson chuckled. "I guess you could say that."
Harry frowned up at him, confused. "What's funny?"
"Nothing." Tom's hand brushed the side of his face, its touch cold enough to make him flinch, then clasped his arm above the tangle of IV tubes. "I'm just relieved to hear you saying dumb things again. But don't try to talk, okay?"
"Hurts... to breathe."
"I know. It makes my lungs ache, just listening to you."
"Would you... do me a... favor?"
"Please, Iokage, stop talking. If you promise to shut up, I'll tell you all about the last three days."
"You've been here in the ICU, running a killer fever, clean out of your head, for more than three days. You're still hot enough to fry an egg on, but the doctor says you're on the mend. At least you're not raving anymore." When Harry closed his eyes and turned his head slightly away, his exhaustion and illness showing plainly in his face, Tom's hand tightened around his arm and he said, softly, "You have pneumonia, Harry. That's why you can't breathe."
"Thought it was... an elephant... on my chest."
Hanson laughed. "Was that the favor? You wanted me to get rid of the elephant?" Ioki nodded, bringing another laugh from Hanson, this one tinged with sadness.
"My leg..." Ioki whispered.
"It's still there, if that's what you're worried about. You came very close to losing it - very close - but you can chalk another one up to your insane luck."
"Not luck. Willie."
"Saved... my life."
"He wasn't the only one. Willie, Grub, Jake, even Dr. Bob down in the ER. They all went the extra mile to get you out of this one alive. You sure do have a knack for adopting strays, Iokage."
"Other way around. They... adopted me." He fell silent for a long moment, breathing as evenly as he could manage and marshalling his strength to face the fear growing steadily inside him. Finally, he whispered, "Tom, I'm... remembering something."
"Ty. I heard her voice..."
"Yes, she was there."
Tom hesitated, then answered, "She was shot."
The blood drained from Harry's face, and his eyes flew open in horror. After a moment of stunned immobility, he reached for his friend, oblivious to the tangle of tubes and wires he disarranged in the process. Tom knew that he needed something solid to hold onto, as an anchor in the sudden flood of pain and panic that hit him, and he caught Harry's hand tightly in both of his own.
"She's all right," he insisted, throwing every ounce of certainty he possessed into his voice to reach Harry and hold back the threatening darkness. "She's right here, in the hospital, recovering from surgery. It's okay, Harry, she's going to be fine!"
"Don't, Iokage. Don't try to remember it. Just listen to me and believe me. Ty was shot, but they got the bullet out and stitched her up. She's been awake, off and on, for the last day or so. I talked to her, myself. I swear... I swear, she's going to be fine!"
Harry gave a small sob and collapsed limply into his pillow. He did not let go of Tom's hand, but he relaxed his death grip a little.
"I admit, when I saw all the blood, I thought we'd lost her," Tom went on. "I thought we'd lost both of you. But I was wrong, thank God."
"Right down the hall."
"I want... to see her."
"As soon as you're well enough."
Tom felt his throat tighten at the pleading in that single word. "I promise. The minute the doctor says it's okay."
Harry's eyes fell closed, and his voice dropped to a soundless whisper. "You should... be with her. Don't... don't let her be... alone."
"She's not alone. Penhall is with her." Harry opened his eyes and shot his friend an appalled look that, in spite of the seriousness of the moment, made him laugh. "Don't worry, he's on his best behavior! He gave me his word - no nasty cracks or baiting. He even swore he wouldn't call her a Quack."
"He b... better not."
The laughter drained from Tom's voice, and his grip on Harry's hand tightened. "She took a bullet meant for you, Iokage. Penhall's not going to forget that anytime soon."
* * *
When Ty opened her eyes, she found Doug Penhall seated beside her bed. This startled her, to say the least. She had been drifting in and out of sleep for some time, and at each waking, had found someone in the room to greet her - Hanson, the doctor, the duty nurse - but the very last person she expected to see was Doug. As her eyes fluttered open and tracked over to his face, he gave her a slight smile, but Ty was too stunned to respond.
She simply stared at him, bereft of words.
His smile twisted awkwardly. "I won't bite."
"Doug..." A cold thrill of fear ran through her at the realization that something must be very wrong to bring Doug Penhall to her side.
"Take it easy, Doc. Everything's cool."
Penhall didn't seem troubled by her evident desire to see his partner - as opposed to him. "Talking to Iok. He'll check in with you later."
"Better. His fever's down. That's why Hanson wanted to be there when he woke up."
Ty nodded slightly and let her eyes fall closed. She wanted to sleep again, to sink into the warm blanket of pain medication that shrouded her brain and forget that her body even existed. But Doug still sat beside her, his eyes dwelling uncomfortably on her face, and even with her own eyes closed she could feel him there.
After several minutes of silence, he stirred slightly and asked, in a voice rough with concern, "Why'd you do it, Doc?"
She cracked open one eye to look at him. "Do what?"
"Step in front of that bullet? Did you... did you know what you were doing, or was it an accident?"
Ty opened both eyes and turned to meet his troubled gaze squarely. "I don't know," she murmured. "That's the truth. I wish I could tell you I did it to save Harry, but... I don't know. It just sort of happened."
To her surprise, a smile lifted one corner of Doug's mouth, and he nodded understanding. "That's how it usually works."
He pushed back his chair with a relieved, decisive gesture, but Ty held out a hand to stop him. "Doug, please don't tell Harry that I... that I did anything heroic. I didn't. And I don't want him thinking that I made some kind of noble gesture, or anything stupid like that."
"I don't tell Iok anything, these days. He figures things out for himself." Throwing her a farewell grin and wave, he said, "You can argue with him about it, when you see him!" Then he sauntered out of the room.
The next time she opened her eyes, it was Harry sitting beside her. He looked awful - pale, drawn and exhausted, with deep shadows circling his eyes and a tightness about his mouth that told her he was in a fair amount of pain - but she only registered that in passing. All that really mattered was that he was here, alive, waiting for her. Gratitude and relief welled up in her, making her eyes sting with tears. She blinked them away, so she could see him better, and lifted one hand to touch the arm he had propped on the bed rail.
At her movement, his blank eyes turned to find her, and a welcoming smile lightened his face. "Hi."
Her hand rested lightly on his arm, and he reached over with his free hand to clasp it. Then, to Ty's utter amazement, he pushed himself carefully out of his wheelchair, holding onto the rail for balance, and bent over to kiss her. When he straightened up again, she couldn't resist saying, with a laugh trembling in her voice,
"Better be careful. Someone might see us."
In answer, he kissed her again and murmured, "I don't care."
Now Ty knew something was up. She and Harry had been involved for more than a year, and in that entire time, he had never once touched her in public, except in the most brotherly way, and had never admitted by so much as a word or a glance that he felt anything for her at all. His deep-rooted protective instincts would not allow him to betray, even to his best friends who knew all about it anyway, that he had let someone get that close to him. It made him vulnerable, and it frightened him enough that he had to pretend it hadn't happened outside the private bubble of their time alone together.
His completely uncharacteristic display of affection startled her, and his impossible words robbed her of breath. She could only stare at him, speechless, as he settled back into his wheelchair and eased his bandaged leg into position on the supporting pads. When he'd finished, he reached over the rail to find her hand again. She slipped it into his and watched, bemused, as he lifted it to rest against his face.
"What's going on, Harry? What happened?"
"I missed you," he said, simply.
With a small sob, Ty closed her eyes and let the tears slide down her cheeks. She felt Harry press his lips to the back of her hand, and the tears quickened.
Harry dropped another kiss on her hand, then said, "Tom and I agreed, no more mobsters. We don't need to wipe out Organized Crime. We don't even need to put Keeler and Gross in jail, though Jake may do that for us."
"But you love your job."
"I'll still love it. I just won't let it kill me - or you." His fingers tightened around hers. "I'm never going to be that far away from you again, Ty."
Doug guided Harry through the garden with an arm draped around his shoulders, gesturing widely with his champagne glass and talking with the barely slurred speech of a man who is just beginning to feel the effects of his drinking. Luckily, his feet worked better than his tongue, at this point, and he managed to keep them on the flagged path. Both men wore dark, formal suits, silk ties, and flowers in their lapels, but where Harry looked relaxed and comfortable in his finery, Doug looked distinctly ill at ease. He kept hooking a finger in his cravat and tugging on it, in an attempt to loosen the knot.
Taking another long swallow from his glass, Doug caught Harry's neck in the crook of his elbow and tightened his hold 'til Harry lost his balance and fell against him.
"My roomie," he mumbled, sentimentally. "My baby brother."
"You're drunk, Doug."
"Yes. Yes, I am. And it's a beautiful thing."
"Let's sit down, before you fall down...or knock me into a flowerbed."
"Would I do that to you? My baby brother?"
"You know that I'm older than you, right? That makes you my baby brother."
"Nope, doesn't matter. Age has got nothing to do with it. You're my baby brother, 'cause I look after you...keep you outta trouble. And I've always done that, haven't I? Least, as much as I could, with that suicidal streak you got in ya?"
"Yes, you've always looked after me, even when you didn't have to."
Tears welled in the other man's eyes. "That's 'cause I love you, Iok."
"I love you, too. You're the best brother a guy could ask for."
"But you're still leaving," Doug mumbled pathetically.
"I'm sorry you see it like that."
"Noooo... Man, oh man, I'm sorry! Forget I said that, okay?"
"C'mon, Doug, sit down. There's got to be someplace we can sit out here..."
"Yeah. Right here." Doug led him over to a low, stone wall that ringed the nearest flowerbed. Both men sat down, and Doug balanced his glass on the stone ledge to his right. Then he buried his face in his hands and groaned, "I'm being a jerk, Harry, and you don't have to listen to my crap. You don't."
"It isn't. You should be happy, today, not worrying about me."
"I am happy."
"Yeah." The tears spilled over to run down his cheeks, and he fixed a wide, inebriated grin on his friend. "I know, pal. And I know it's gonna be like this for long time."
"But you're not happy, are you?"
"Ahh... I'll get over it. It's just kinda weird, y'know? My baby brother a married man. Wow." He fingered the gold ring around his own finger, while the smile on his face slipped awry. "This is the first wedding I've been to, since me and Marta. Brings up a lot of memories and makes me wonder..."
"Mm. What if they hadn't sent her back? What if I'd gone looking for her sooner? What if... what if we'd met in another time or place?"
"What if you'd had a chance to be happy?"
Doug nodded, his eyes turned to the ring that embodied all his lost hopes.
"You've got Clavo," Harry reminded him, softly.
"I love that little guy. I brought him here, because his mother wanted him safe and I wanted to help out Marta's family, but now, I don't know how I'd get by without 'im. And with you gone..."
"Doug, why don't you and Clavo come to the new house with us?"
Doug's eyes came up with a start, and for a tiny moment, hope gleamed in their depths. Then the light died and he shook his head. "That's not a good idea."
Harry smiled. "That's the same thing I said to Ty, a couple of hundred times, about us. And look how wrong I was!"
Doug allowed himself a small chuckle, but the sadness in his face did not ease. "You guys don't need us hanging around."
"I mean it. My family is always welcome in my house."
"Thanks, Harry. Really. But no." After a moment of quiet, he asked with forced cheerfulness, "So, how big is your family gonna get? Is Clavo gonna have a house full of cousins to play with?"
Harry's smile faded, and his voice sounded strained when he answered, "I don't know."
"What's up, man? Did I say something wrong?"
"No. I was just hoping nobody would ask me that, for a while."
"Hey, this is your Big Brother Dougie. You can tell me anything, even to mind my own damned business."
"Not that you'll listen..."
"Not that I'll listen. But you can tell me, anyway. So, is it Ty? Does she wanna stick to doctoring and pass on mothering?"
"It's not Ty."
"You don't want kids?" Harry shook his head, bringing a worried frown to Doug's face. "What gives? You're not still afraid that you can't look after kids, just 'cause you can't see, are you? I thought having Clavo around cured you of that."
"It did. But it reminded me of a lot of other stuff... stuff I can't cure and I can't... live with."
"Think about it, Doug. We all go on with our lives, like nothing can ever really change them. Like just because we live in a nice home, and we feel safe, that we'll be safe forever. But it isn't like that. It can change for anyone, at any time, and sometimes the safest places are the worst places to be. Look at what happened to me in a police station."
"And what about Clavo? A five-year-old kid who has to leave his home and his mother, run away to a strange country and live with someone he barely knows, because things happen that have nothing to do with him. Things nobody can fix to make it safe for him again."
"Your kids would be safe with you, Iok."
"How do you know that? Was I safe with my parents? Was Clavo safe with his? Were you safe?! Y'know, it doesn't have to be a war that takes away a little boy's home and leaves him alone! It can be anything. I could walk out the door and never come back, and where would that leave my family?"
Doug projected every ounce of calm certainty he could muster into his voice, overcoming distress and sympathetic pain and alcohol fumes to say, with utter conviction, "The better and happier for having had you around as long as they did. Harry, no one's guaranteed a lifetime of security. Hell, no one's guaranteed a lifetime, period. But that's the risk we take, just by being alive."
"My brain knows you're right, but inside..." He stared blankly off into the distance, his features hard with the struggle to contain his emotions. "When I was a child, I thought I lived in the best place in the world. Sure, there was this war going on, but it wasn't about me. It didn't really touch me. And I just figured that my parents would keep me safe from it. Nothing could get past them, right? So the war went on, and more people died, and I started to understand what was happening. I started to get scared. But I still trusted them to keep me safe."
He took a shaking breath, and tears crept into his voice. "My child would trust me to do that. He'd expect me to keep all the terrible things away from him, and when I couldn't, it would kill me."
"Your children would not grow up in a war zone."
"You can't promise me that. Nobody can. And I mean it, Doug, it would kill me."
"Yeah." Doug looked at him with glistening eyes, then he hooked his elbow around Harry's neck again and pulled him close in a one-armed hug. "Yeah, I know. Hey, who needs kids, anyway, huh? You got a fabulous babe of a wife and a cool job. And when you really want to listen to somebody whine, you got Hanson!"
"Y'know something, Iok? You're just about the luckiest guy I know."
Harry chuckled. "That's me. Terminally lucky."
Heaving himself to his feet, Doug offered a hand to his friend and said, "Let's go back to the party. I haven't kissed the bride, yet, and I've been saving up a big, wet one for her."
Harry laughed again, as he got to his feet. "Be careful. She'll break your kneecaps."
"Nah, she's secretly got the hots for me. She actually staged this whole wedding thing, so I'd have to kiss her."
"Really? I thought it was Tom she wanted."
"You're just saying that, because Tom is so totally gorgeous that he makes the rest of us look like chopped liver, and because he could charm the pants off of any girl in the Western hemisphere. But it's all an act. She only pretends to like Tom and hate me, so nobody will get suspicious."
"Do ya? Well, then, you're one up on me," Doug admitted.
"That's nothing new."
"Oh, very funny, very funny. I oughta show you good and steal that fabulous babe right out from under your nose."
"Go right ahead and try."
The teasing note abruptly left Doug's voice, and he put an affectionate hand on his Harry's shoulder. "Hey, you know I was only kidding, right?"
"Of course I do."
"Good." Doug tousled his hair, earning a laughing protest from him, then abruptly pulled him into a crushing bear hug. "Good, 'cause I'd seriously hurt anyone who tried to mess with my baby brother. Or his wife."
Setting his smaller friend back on his feet, Doug once again draped an arm across his shoulders and started up the path. "Come on. We got some serious partying to do."
Harry fell into step beside him, and the two men walked off into the shrubbery in companionable silence.
|Return to Jump Street Archive|