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The Hunter from the Field

June 1993

 

 

 

He’d been through it all before. The hunt, the capture, the wrap-up—each stage requiring its own level of concentration and focus and when it was all over and he’d delivered his man and signed every document, exhaustion would hit with the force of a Mack truck.

He’d go home, have a drink, glance without interest at the pile of mail, then sleep for twelve hours. After that, he’d catch up on things like bills and groceries, and soon, generally within a few days, the newly-minted memories would be filed away. And since he wasn’t one for looking back, he’d move onto the next job with rarely a thought about the recent past.

And all that would have happened with the Kimble case, if it hadn’t been for Renfro and his insatiable curiosity.

***

“Cosmo—”

“Stop saying my name,” Renfro muttered again as they scuttled along the shoreline towards the dock. “You’ll wear it out. And don’t blame this on Newman. It wasn’t his fault.”

They made it to the safety of boathouse and Sam took a quick look around the corner of the building. “Then whose fault is it, ’cause I have to blame someone.” He glanced to the east. Poole, Henry and Biggs were almost in position, hidden by a raggedy row of bushes and trees that separated the cabin from the forest.

“Why you gotta blame someone?” Renfro shot back. “You could just say Marshal Newman was performing his duty—”

“Delivering a subpoena was not ‘performing his duty,’ and you know it.”

The cabin—one of those old-fashioned types built like a Swiss chalet—sat at the top of a small rise. It had seen better days—even from a distance of a rough one hundred feet, he could see that the blue paint was chipping and a few of the uprights on the porch’s balustrade were missing.

The Chrysler parked near Newman’s jeep, however, was brand new, purchased in the last thirty days—the temporary license was still taped in the rear windshield.

But there was no one in sight. The place was deadly quiet and if it weren’t for the cars, he’d think they had the wrong address.

He squeezed his shoulder mic. “Poole? Are you guys ready?”

“We’re ready, Sam,” she answered softly, her voice stressed from the climb.

“Poole, when we get back home, I’m gonna take you shopping for some decent shoes.”

“When we get back home, I’m going on vacation,” was her pithy response and he grinned.

“Let’s go get our boy, then.” He nodded to Renfro and they began to creep towards the house, using the bushes for cover. They made it within spitting distance of the porch before he saw movement—just a fluttering of the tattered grey-white curtain and he froze. “Poole?”

“We’re in position,” she muttered.

“Good.”

It was all in quicktime after that. The rush up the porch, through the front door with a bang, taking out a bad guy that charged from the left while Biggs got the one on the right.

And that was all it was, thanks to Newman. He’d been preparing for their arrival and when they breached, he managed to jump the third man. Sam found them in the mudroom with Poole—she was tossing her cuffs to Newman so he could handcuff Kandinsky, face down on the floor.

“Newman,” Sam said quietly.

Newman looked over his shoulder as he snapped the cuffs. “Sam.”

He thought about the things he could say, how pissed he was that he’d had to cut his unwanted vacation short. How he hated Sangamon County in general, and Sangamon County in June, specifically. How no one should go into a situation alone, especially Newman. But he was happy that the retrieval was relatively a simple one and no one got hurt, so he just nodded and said flatly, “We’ll have a conversation back at the office. Cosmo?” he yelled, turning to the door. “Let’s finish this up!”

When they got outside, the staties were pulling up into the yard, late as always.

***

He tossed his pen on the desk and leaned back, rubbing his eyes. He was tired. Thirty-six hours tired and if it weren’t for the report he needed to file, he’d be home like the rest of his team.

Well, not all of them, he realized as Renfro strolled around the corner of the filing cabinets. He was carrying two shot glasses and a bottle of whiskey. “Aren’t you supposed to be on your way to Bermuda?”

“I told you, I’m not leaving until tomorrow,” Renfro said with a mournful sigh as he placed the glasses on Sam’s desk and screwed off the bottle’s cap. “You never listen to me.”

He snorted. “I would if you ever said anything interesting. You better not get a drop of alcohol on my desk.”

Renfro rolled his eyes, but nudged a glass towards him anyway. “I never do, do I?” He sat down with another sigh. “I’m glad I’m not leaving until tomorrow. I’m beat.”

Sam took a sip—the whiskey burned pleasantly. He rubbed his eyes again.

“Your eyes still bothering you? I thought you were going to get those new glasses?”

“Cosmo…”

“Because I don’t want to be following you around if you can’t read a map, Sammy.”

“Cosmo,” he said again, his impatience fading away. He’d promised Renfro he’d go to his optometrist the month before but with one thing and the other… “I’m fine. I’ll go next week.”

“Sure you will.” Renfro nodded. “Just like Poole will finally get some good work shoes.”

“She will if I have to drag her out myself.”

“Which you already threatened to do. More than a few times,” Renfro reminded him. “And you never have.”

“Yeah,” he said absently; he took another sip. The burn had settled to a pleasant glow and eased the tension in his neck. He might actually sleep tonight.

Renfro leaned back in his chair. “Speaking of doctors—”

“Which we weren’t.”

“Yeah, well, I heard something on the news that you might be interested in.”

“What is that?” In the yellow light of the desk lamp, the scar on Renfro’s temple looked ugly and he wondered if it still hurt.

“Dr. Kimble is back in town and has set up shop again.”

He didn’t blink, didn’t pause. “And?”

“He’s got a place on East 54th and Cornell. Guess he didn’t want to move back into his old house. Big surprise, huh?”

“The news tell you all that?”

“Nah.” Renfro shook his head. “I did a little digging.”

Renfro’s blithe response did something to Sam’s gut and he doubted it had anything to due with the pleasant glow. “What is all that to me?”

Renfro shrugged. “I figured you might want to know, considering…” He shrugged again as he trailed off.

Considering.

Considering that particular hunt had been particularly frustrating, requiring all of his resources and concentration. Considering the man he’d hunted had outfoxed him from one turn to the next. He shook his head slowly. “Well, you’re wrong. I don’t care what Dr. Kimble is up to, now that he’s a free man.”

“So you don’t care that he’s living in Hyde Park and back at Chicago Memorial?”

“What did I just say?”

Renfro studied him for a moment. Then he said mildly, “Okay.”

He looked at Renfro from under his brow. “I mean it. Once I’ve got my man and delivered him into the custody of the state, he is no longer my business.”

“Yeah, I get it, you mean it.”

Renfro’s tone was still full of skepticism, so Sam did the one thing that would throw him off track or at least get him to shut up. “As long as you’re here, why don’t you help me with Mr. Kandinsky’s paperwork.”

As expected, Renfro shot up like his pants were on fire, already shaking his head. “Oh, no, you don’t. I’m on vacation, remember?”

“That’s not what you said ten minutes ago.”

“Yeah, well, ten minutes ago I was feeling sorry for you.”

“More fool you.” But he smiled as he said it and Renfro smiled back.

“Have a good vacation, Sammy. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

And with that, he was gone, grabbing his suit coat as he hurried away.

“‘Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,’” Sam muttered, reaching for the bottle. What a stupid expression. There were a lot of things that Renfro had done that he’d never do. Case in point, date a woman so clearly on the make for husband number three and her only criteria being a steady paycheck.

But—he pushed his chair back and swiveled to look out on the night. That wasn’t really fair. Renfro had been alone for a while now and some men weren’t built for solitude.

Biggs was married, Henry was married, Poole was married, and Newman was dating a girl in records. Which left Sam the only one of his team that was happily alone.

Even though ‘happy’ was sort of overstating the case.

He grunted, turned away from the window and went back to work.

***

He left the building at nine. It was Wednesday and the traffic on State was light. He rolled down his window and rested his elbow on the doorframe, enjoying the cool breeze. It had been unseasonably hot again and he thought of Montana and the time-share waiting for him. He still had his gear in the trunk—he could be at the airport in an hour and back in Billings by morning. Two days on the mountain were better than none and he should just do it.

But when Congress Parkway came in sight, he kept going and it wasn’t until he was almost to Pershing that he realized where he was heading. He grimaced and hung the next right.

He’d go home and get some sleep since he was obviously wasn’t thinking right. And tomorrow he’d call his travel agent and book the next flight to Montana.

__________________

He ended up not returning to Montana. He woke the next morning with the urge to work and spent the next few days at his desk at home. It was good. He caught up on his never-ending pile of paperwork and managed to organize his stacks of books and folders just in time for the cleaning woman. It was a new one this time, named Sylvia. She had a Mediterranean look about her and he wanted to ask her if she knew any Italian but didn’t because when it came down to it, he didn’t care. He just smiled and made himself scarce while she scrubbed and vacuumed.

On Friday night, bored and restless, he wandered from room to room, window to window, not thinking of much of anything. He’d picked up the remote at one point and was actually pondering late night television when a call came in. He grabbed it and almost snapped, “Gerard.”

“Sam?”

It was Lamb, sounding peeved, which was business as usual. “Yes, sir?”

“I’m glad you’re home. I need you to get a team together. Kandinsky had a heart attack on his way to County and the CPD is asking for an escort back in case it’s a trick.”

“Where is he now?”

“Cook County Hospital, under observation.”

“When do you want me down there?”

“You don’t need to go yourself—this will be a piece of cake. Let Cosmo and Biggs handle it.”

“No, I’ll take Newman. He’s not doing anything.” A lie—Newman had mentioned plans for a Friday night movie and dinner with his new girlfriend.

“Okay,” Lamb said slowly.

No doubt he wanted to tell Sam the same thing he told him weeks ago—that he needed a real vacation, not just a few days off. That he was getting burned out and he was no good to anyone when he was that tired.

But Lamb just finished with, “Call me when the transfer is complete,” and then hung up.

He shook his head, both at Lamb’s inability to truly lead and his own inability to rest because his lethargy was gone as if it had never existed. He went to the bedroom to change his clothes, whistling under his breath.

***

Newman was waiting for him outside the hospital, pacing back and forth before the glass doors. “Sam—”

He held up his hand. “I know, I know. You had a hot date. This was your big night. Elaine’s pissed at you.”

Newman grinned. “It’s Elise, and I was going to say that she had to work, too. Her supervisor had an emergency.”

He led the way into the hospital. “Walters got a cold?” The fluorescents were sickly bright and he squinted, following the dull purple line on the floor that led to the emergency room.

“No, she went into labor.”

“Huh.” He hadn’t noticed that Walters was pregnant. Which meant she hid it well or Lamb was right—he needed a real vacation. “We’ll get her some flowers.” There was a guard standing to the side of the double doors marked with a big ‘ER.’

“Already did it.”

“Good man.” He clapped Newman on the shoulder, then got out his badge. He held it up to the guard. “U.S. Marshall Samuel Gerard, here for prisoner George Kandinsky.”

The guard nodded. “They’re waiting for you down at 102.” He jerked his thumb towards the doors.

“Thank you.”

Newman watched the exchange and waited until they were halfway down the hall before asking, “Do you think he’s faking it?”

“The guard? I doubt it. He looked like a guard to me.”

Newman sighed. “Kandinsky, Sam. Do you think Kandinsky is faking it?”

Sam grinned. “If he is, he’s going to wish he had a real heart attack by the time I get through with him.”

“The wrath of Gerard,” Newman muttered under his breath.

“You got that right.”

102 was easy to spot—it was the only room flanked by two CPD and one guard from the prison. One of the CPDs was familiar; Sam thought he recognized him from the Ramirez case, two years ago.

Sure enough, when Sam and Newman got closer, the officer straightened up, smiling nervously. “Deputy,” he said.

“Evans,” Sam said because he just remembered. Evans had screwed up by letting Ramirez get the jump on him. Sam had let him know just how much he’d fucked up, but he hadn’t been that much of a bastard, had he? Apparently he had because Evans was almost cowering. “How’ve you been?”

“Fine. Thank you.”

Newman shifted from side to side and Sam didn’t have to look to know he was trying to hide a smile. “Good to hear it.” He gestured to the room. “What have we got here?”

“Oh,” Evans stepped back. “Prisoner transfer. He had a heart attack.”

“Real or imagined?”

“Real,” the prison guard, one P. Walters by his nametag, spoke up. “The doc’s in there with him now.” He nodded to the door. “You want to speak to him?”

Sam smiled nicely. Walters seemed less than pleased at their presence. “Please.”

Walters nodded again, making no move to open the door. Sam sighed and edged between the men and pushed the door open.

And stopped in his tracks.

The doctor had his back to the door and was reading a chart. He was maybe six-one or two, with medium brown hair that needed a trim. Under his white coat, he was wearing a plaid shirt.

“Doctor?” Sam said softly.

The doctor turned, and no, it wasn’t Richard. It wasn’t anything like and Sam sighed.

The doctor raised an eyebrow. “Yes?”

He held his badge up again. “U.S. Marshall, Sam Gerard.” He had to clear his throat. “I’ll be handling the transfer to the prison.” He peered around the doctor. Kandinsky was sleeping. “How is he?”

The doctor looked at him over his glasses. “Out, for now.”

“Can he be transported?”

“Soon. We’ve done our tests.”

“And?”

“His heart is fine. He had a panic attack.”

“Huh.”

The doctor smiled, not in a friendly way. “I guess he didn’t want to go to prison.”

Sam’s smile was just as fake. “They never do.”

***

It took them the rest of the night to deliver Kandinsky to the place he so obviously didn’t want to go. By the time Sam said goodbye to Newman and got back in his car, the horizon had turned a pale gold and his stomach was growling. He sat there, not really seeing anything as he tried to decide if he was more tired than hungry.

He got out his phone to call Renfro but tossed it on the seat without dialing. He wasn’t in the mood for company—he wanted food and sleep, in that order. Decision made, he put the car in gear and stepped on it.

And shit, was his mind one track or what? Because he’d been driving for five minutes before he realized he was on Garfield, heading east. He slowed down and then said a mental ‘screw it’. Sometimes instincts were dead-on and if his subconscious was telling him to check out Hyde Park, well, he’d do it and be done with it.

***

He got to 53rd just as the sun rose over the lake.

He’d been to the area, of course, but not for a few years and it was nicer than he remembered. Not on the order of Near North, though—it was hard to imagine a person going from that to this.

The apartment building on the corner of Cornell had been recently renovated. The old-fashioned facade had been updated to red brick and glass, giving it a sleek, modern feel. He pulled to the curb and looked up. Was this Richard’s new home? Renfro had said 54th and Cornell, but maybe that was just general and not specific. Still, compared to the other buildings in the area, it seemed the kind of place that Richard might choose and was he in there now, sleeping the sleep of the just?

Probably. Hopefully.

A woman exited the building, head down. She was wearing running clothes and adjusting her portable radio. He couldn’t see her face, but she had a good body. Had Richard noticed her? She glanced up just then and, yeah, any man would give her more than a second glance—she was beautiful.

Sam frowned and pulled away from the curb.

He ended back at his place, food forgotten. He ignored the liquor cabinet and his relative hunger and went straight to bed.

***

The next few weeks passed slowly. They were called in to protect a judge that had received a death threat. They had another prisoner transfer, this time from the courthouse all the way up to Menard. Each went without incident and he should have been pleased, but he wasn’t.

He was in a ‘mood,’ as Renfro called it one afternoon when Sam had barked at Newman for the third time in a row—not quite unhappy, but definitely not happy. He tried a few things—he went to a ball game with Biggs that ended up being a shutout. He and Renfro grabbed a bite after work one day but all they talked about was the job. He even went to a movie, an improbable thriller about a lawyer that had looked good in the trailers, but so full of legal holes, he left a third of the way through.

It didn’t help that he couldn’t seem to stay away from Hyde Park. He told himself it wasn’t stalking, that it was a free country and he was just exercising his rights as a citizen. And then he told himself he was a damn liar because Hyde Park wasn’t anywhere near his usual route and if it was no big deal, why was he being so secretive?

The only saving grace—and he assured himself that it was a saving grace—was that he didn’t use Federal resources to check up on Richard. He was tempted, for about five minutes, then managed to put temptation from him by imagining what would happen if Lamb found out.

He was at work, arguing with Renfro and Henry as to who was the best all-time ball player when they got the call to head to Cook County Hospital for guard duty.

It was a witness for the state, taken ill while in protective custody and this time it wasn’t a panic attack. When Sam and Renfro arrived at the hospital at noon, they were shown to the cardiac wing where the witness, one Freddy Graham, was being prepped for surgery.

“And when will they be done?” He looked down at the nurse’s nametag again. “Ms. Alvarez?”

“I already told you, Deputy,” the nurse said with barely concealed impatience. “The surgery is supposed to take three hours.”

“Something we should have been informed—”

“Sam,” Renfro interrupted him. “This isn’t her fault; why’re you blaming her?” He kicked Sam’s shoe for emphasis.

He turned to Renfro. “I’m not blaming her. I’m just saying that we should have been notified that Graham will be in no condition—”

Renfro rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Come on.” He jerked his head. “Let’s go wait somewhere.”

“The waiting room is down the hall,” the nurse said coaxingly, like she was holding a carrot out to a mule. “There’s coffee?”

“Thanks.” Renfro tugged on Sam’s arm. “I’ll buy you a cup. Or six,” he added, sotto voce.

The nurse glanced at Renfro and grinned briefly. “That’s a good idea. You can wait with the other officers.”

Sam turned to ask, ‘What other officers?’ but Renfro grabbed his arm and dragged him away. “Cosmo—”

“You’re being mean, Sammy.”

“No, I was doing my job.”

Renfro let go. “It’s sorta the same thing.”

He had to smile because, yeah, it was sort of the same thing. He had to be mean to do his job—it’s how he got the truth out of people who didn’t want to give it. “Yeah, it is.”

He was still smiling when they got to the waiting room. It was like every waiting room he’d been in—kind of ugly, more than a little depressing, furnished with miss-matched chairs and sofas, and a table with a coffee maker and styrofoam cups. It was also crowded—every seat was taken.

He looked around, “Cosmo, I don’t think—”

“Hey, isn’t that…?” Renfro trailed off and nodded to a group of men standing in the corner.

He didn’t know the two cops and couldn’t make out the doctor, but he recognized Detectives Kelly and Rosetti right away. As usual, Kelly was scowling, his small eyes narrowing as he jabbed his finger at the doctor.

“Isn’t that—?” Renfro said again and Sam nodded because, yes, this time it really was—

“Come on.” He threaded his way around a couch and then a chair, hurrying because Kelly took a step towards the doctor as if he were going to hit him. Sam stopped right behind Richard Kimble and said jovially, “Well, this is a nice surprise.” Richard started but Sam kept his eyes on Kelly, adding, “I didn’t know it was reunion time already. You should have called.” He bared his teeth.

Kelly’s scowl changed to a glare, but he retreated, his body language going from threatening to neutral.

“I was just telling the detectives,” Richard said quietly, “that Graham’s condition is more complicated than we first thought and if they want him to live to give his testimony, he needs this surgery.”

Sam cocked his head. “Sounds simple to me. What’s the problem, gentlemen?”

“The problem is,” Kelly said, “I don’t want our star witness under this quack’s knife. We all know what he is. Once a con, always a con.”

Sam gave it a moment, mostly to quiet the anger that bloomed the instant Kelly started talking, then he said, “Yeah, we know what the problem is and I suggest you back off.” He lowered his voice to a murmur. “And get over it.” Beside him, Renfro shifted from side to side. “Am I getting through?”

Rosetti spoke for the first time, “Yeah, we get it.” He tapped Kelly’s shoulder. “Come on. They can handle it from here.”

Sam waited, on edge, but Kelly just gave Richard another angry glance, then shoved by Sam. Rosetti followed.

Sam watched Kelly tromp away. “I bet he had every kid on his playground running for cover.” He took a breath and turned to the cops. “Officers, there’s no sense in all of us waiting around.”

Renfro frowned, giving him a look he was more than familiar with, the one that said, ‘What’s going on, Sam?’

The cops were young, probably not yet thirty. They glanced at each other and then the one on the left shrugged and gestured to the door. “The detectives told us we needed to wait until Graham was out of surgery.”

“Don’t worry,” Renfro soothed, still glancing sideways at Sam. “We’ve done this before.”

“That’s right,” Sam added. “Well make sure he’s safe.” He glanced out of the corner of his eye. Richard hadn’t moved and if Sam hadn’t seen the pulse beating hard in his throat, he’d think he was a statue. He nodded again, this time hard and dismissive, and the cops reluctantly left.

“Sheesh,” Renfro muttered. “If it’s not one thing it’s another. You okay, doc?”

Richard cleared his throat. “Yes, thank you. I need to…” He finally moved. He nodded, turned to the door and took a step. And then he stopped and turned, facing Sam.

It was the first time he’d seen Richard since he’d testified in Bennett’s chambers, back in March. The dye was gone from his hair, his clothes were neat and clean and the bruises and cuts on his face were healed. But there was something in the way he stood, in the way he looked off to the side and it came to Sam what it was.

Because he’d seen it before, that hesitant look. Not quite shifty-eyed but almost. As if the person in question wasn’t quite sure if they were safe or if they should run. So much for sleeping the sleep of the just—he would bet that Richard woke up each night gasping from a nightmare, covered in sweat.

‘Once a con, always a con.’

If Kelly were still around, he’d deck him and deal with the fallout.

“Sam?” Renfro muttered.

He realized he’d been staring and he shot Renfro a quick glance. “Yeah, okay.” He nodded to Richard. “Once we know Graham made it, we’ll post a guard on his room.” He wanted to say more, wanted to ask Richard how things were going, but there were too many people around and Renfro was watching him with that puzzled frown.

Richard met Sam’s gaze, like a brief touch, then nodded and left.

“You okay?” Renfro asked, again quietly.

“Yeah.” He smiled. “I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be?”

***

The surgery didn’t go well. At two, a nurse came out and said that the surgical team had discovered more problems and that it would be a few more hours. At five, Sam sent Renfro home—there was no point in both of them losing a whole day.

By six, the waiting room had emptied which was good because now he could stretch out if he wanted. At seven—crabby because even with his choice of sofas, he was unable relax—he couldn’t stand it anymore and had gotten up to go grab something from the vending machine when a soft noise made him turn. Richard was standing in the door to surgery, wiping his hands on a towel. He was still wearing his scrubs and there was a smear of blood on his pants.

“How did it go?” Sam asked.

“Fine. He’s going to be fine,” Richard answered, not meeting Sam’s gaze. He pulled off his surgical cap and rubbed his hair. “He had a myocardial infarction while we were in there.” He shrugged and balled up the towel and cap. “It happens.”

It felt odd, the two of them standing there with no one around. They could say anything to each other and no one would be the wiser.

Sam cleared his throat, but before he could speak, Richard waved the towel and cap and muttered, “Well…”

“You need to get back in there?”

“No, he’s stable. He’ll be in recovery for a while.”

“I need to post that guard.” He said it mostly to keep the conversation going because Richard had that hesitant expression again. In a second he’d give some logical reason why he had to go and suddenly, Sam didn’t want him to leave.

“He’ll be in 307. That’s far enough from the other rooms so the other patients won’t wonder…” He trailed off again, then took a step back.

Sam’s first instinct was to follow, but made his feet stay. “Richard—”

“Yes?”

“I know it’s late, but are you hungry?”

Richard finally, truly looked at him.

Sam held out his hand, palm up in the age-old gesture of peace. “Because I’m starving and I was thinking of getting dinner.”

“I’m tired.”

“But you need to eat. Right?”

Richard wavered, his gaze still flinty and judging and Sam prepared for the ‘no, thanks,’ when he suddenly said, “I have to clean up first.”

He smiled. “That’s okay. I need to get my boys here. I can be ready in thirty minutes.”

Richard nodded, then murmured, “Thirty minutes. I’ll meet you downstairs.”

***

Lamb bitched, but in the end, he sent Martinez and Peterson over and Sam was ready, twenty-five minutes later.

***

They ended up at a dive, two blocks away. Richard had eaten there a few times and said the food wasn’t great but it wouldn’t give them food poisoning. Sam didn’t care and said so.

When they entered the bar, the hostess greeted Richard with a big smile. Sam wondered if Richard had lied about how many times he’d eaten there or if she had a thing for him.

It turned out to be the latter. As she guided them to a booth in the back, she let drop that her shift was ending in an hour and gave Richard a suggestive smile. Richard smiled impassively in return, and, just as impassively, said he hoped she had a nice night. She took it with good grace and gave them two menus, then said the waiter would be by to get their drink order.

Sam said nothing about the exchange. He opened his menu, zeroed in on his choice and closed it again. “I’ve never eaten with a vascular surgeon before. How much grief am I gonna get if I order the steak?”

Richard glanced up. “How much red meat have you eaten this week?”

He frowned, thinking about it. “Two, no, three times. Is that too much?”

“If you haven’t exercised, it is.” Richard looked back down. “So you haven’t been chasing anyone lately?”

There wasn’t a smile on Richard’s face but there was in his voice and Sam grinned. “Not lately. The last time anyone gave me a run for my money was a few months ago.”

“Hmm.”

“Yeah.” He pushed the menu to the side. “That was a fun one.”

Richard still didn’t smile, but his cheeks twitched and Sam thought that would be his goal for the night—to get Richard to smile. But a real one, not the fake one he’d given the hostess.

“What are you drinking?”

Richard glanced up.

Sam nodded to a girl with pad and pen in hand, heading their way. “I’m going to have a Coors.”

“That sounds good.”

He ordered for them both, then added, “And I’ll take the steak, bloody.”

The waitress wrote it down. “Fries, coleslaw or side salad?”

“Salad,” he said succinctly, because Richard was watching from the corner of his eye. And yeah, that was one step closer to a smile.

The waitress turned to Richard. He closed the menu and said, “The same, please, except make my steak medium.”

When the waitress left, Sam raised his eyebrow. “So much for getting grief.”

Richard shrugged. “I haven’t had red meat in two weeks. I’m due.” He almost smiled again and there was a moment while Sam waited with a weird eagerness, but it was broken by the waitress, back with their beer.

He picked up his glass and drank. It tasted good and it quieted the ridiculous anticipation. He took another sip, then sighed and leaned back.

“Tired?” Richard murmured.

“I should be asking you that. You’re the one that did all the work.”

Richard shrugged. “It wasn’t bad. I’ve done a couple hundred.”

“It must be difficult.”

“It is, but there’s a new technique, endovascular aneurysm repair, that’s going to let me go through the femoral arteries.” Richard leaned forward, hands cupped like he was holding a ball. “See, it’s relatively simple. You make small incisions in the arteries and insert a sheath and then a guide wire. Once those are in place, you introduce a—” He broke off and sat back with a little laugh. “Sorry. I’m probably boring you.”

Sam shook his head. Richard’s expression had gone from bland to animated, so no, boredom was the last thing he was feeling. “It sounds exciting.”

“It is and much less invasive. And the patient has a hell of a lot better chance of making past the thirty day mark.” Richard shook his head grimly.

“Thirty days. Is that your measurement of success?”

“Generally. Anyway,” Richard sighed and picked up his beer. “It’s good to be back at work again.” He took a sip. Then placed the glass down, very precisely, as if it was important he get it just right. “Did you know?” he asked, eyes fixed on the glass. “That I’d come back?”

“I didn’t know you were at Cook County. I thought you were at Chicago Memorial.”

“I am, but they just lost their chief cardiologist and I thought I’d fill in for a while.”

Sam frowned, wanting to ask if guilt was the motivating factor, but Richard looked up, his eyes narrowing. “Are you checking up on me?”

Sam shook his head. “No, Richard, we are not checking up on you. But you’re famous; people are going to talk.”

‘Famous’” Richard said bitterly as he went back to staring at his beer. “I’ve had my fill of fame.”

“Have you had trouble? Has Kelly been hassling you?” Because if he has…

Richard shook his head. “No. He made some comments when he was called to testify, but other than that…” Richard shook his head again.

Sam had never been on the wrong side of the law, but he knew people. Once a con always a con, at least in the general public’s eye—Kelly had been right about that. “It’s a real bitch, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it’s a real bitch.”

“Where are you living now?” He said it mostly to change the subject, but also as a kind of unspoken apology for his stalking. Even though it wasn’t really stalking.

“I have a new place in Hyde Park. I couldn’t move back to—” He shrugged. “You know.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Besides,” Richard added, as if to some other comment that Sam hadn’t made. “It’s closer to the hospital. I can walk if I want.”

Sam nodded. “I live on the other side of the river. I keep telling myself I need to move because the commute is a pain in the ass, but…” He shrugged and smiled and hallelujah, Richard finally smiled in return.

“It’s easy to get in a rut, isn’t it?”

“It sure is.”

Richard started to say something else, but just then, their food arrived. He gave Sam a half smile, as if saying, ‘later,’ then picked up his fork and knife and began to eat.

***

The food was uninspired, but Sam hadn’t expected anything else and he finished it all without complaint.

Richard didn’t talk while he ate. Sam wasn’t sure if it was good manners or just exhaustion. Halfway into the meal, a kid came by with an apologetic, ‘Excuse me,’ and lit the candle in the middle of the table. The restaurant probably thought it cozy, but the light danced and wavered, sending up an unkind yellow glow, making the shadows on Richard’s face deepen, turning his eyes a muddy, eerie green.

He should make some excuse and leave—it couldn’t be easy, sitting across from the man who had chased you for two months straight. But he didn’t move and when Richard wiped his mouth on his napkin, he said, “So Graham’s going to make it?”

“That’s not what you want to ask me.” Richard raised his empty glass and signaled the waitress.

Sam pushed his glass to the edge of the table, his own mute hint. “It’s not?”

“No.” Richard gave Sam an odd sideways glance and shook his head. “You want to ask me how I eluded you for so long.”

He stilled. “Okay,” he said after a moment. “How did you elude me for so long?”

Richard leaned back to give the waitress some room. She sat down the beer down and removed the glasses and plates.

Sam gave it another minute until they were alone, then he murmured, “Come on, tell me. How did you do it?”

***

By the time Richard was done speaking, Sam’s beer was gone and he was getting thirsty for another. It was quite a story, told in a deadpan manner that didn’t fool him.

When Richard stopped talking, he leaned forward. “You really stitched yourself up?”

“I am a doctor.”

“Yeah, but still—” He shook his head.

Richard grinned, a little ruefully. “In retrospect, I’m not sure I could do it again. It was pretty painful. ”

“Adrenaline. It makes men do crazy things.”

“Like trying to stay alive?”

The challenge in Richard’s voice was clear and he nodded concession. Then said what he’d been thinking the whole time, “He told me you were smart.”

Richard frowned. “Who told you I was smart?”

“Dr. Nichols. Dr. Nicols told me I wouldn’t get you. That you were too smart. That you were smarter than all of us.”

And, hell, that was the wrong thing to say because Richard’s expression tightened and he sat back, out of the light.

Sam shook his head. “I know he was your—”

“How many of your friends have tried to kill you?”

Fair enough. “Yeah, okay, he was a son of a bitch. You should be glad he’s in jail.”

But that was also the wrong thing to say. Richard laughed, an unhappy, acidic sound. “I should be, but you know what I keep wondering? Why me? Why Helen? I wasn’t the only one that knew RDU90 was a failure. Why not them?”

“I just told you the reason,” Sam said softly. “Because you’re smart and he knew you’d put two and two together. He had to get rid of you, and he used the state judicial system to do it.”

Richard thought about that for a moment. Then he sagged and muttered, “You know what the worst thing is? Even though he was the cause of Helen’s death, even though he tried to kill me, I still miss him.”

And that was the hell of it—feelings didn’t disappear because one wanted them gone. “You were friends for a long time.”

“Yes.”

“And that kind of thing just doesn’t go away.”

“No.”

“Then give it time.” Sam cocked his head. “What about Sykes? Do you miss him?”

Richard glared at him. And then smiled broadly. “Not at all. I’m glad the bastard is in jail.”

“Where he’ll be for the rest of his life if I have anything to say about it.” He held up his glass in a salute and after a second, Richard did the same.

“Well,” Sam said with a sigh. “Not to break the moment, but I need to visit the little boy’s room.”

Richard jerked his head. “It’s back there.”

Sam rose, about to say, ‘Don’t go anywhere,’ but it was too close to the mark and he just smiled.

He did his business and when he returned, he noticed two things: one, the bar was almost empty which meant he’d been too engrossed by Richard’s story to pay attention to his surroundings, something he rarely did, and two, Richard was gone.

Son of a bitch.

He patted his pocket and then reminded himself that Richard wasn’t a fugitive anymore and there was no reason to whip out his badge and question the crowd. He looked around for the waitress because maybe Richard had skipped out on the check, too.

“Hey.”

He turned around. Richard was behind him, putting his wallet away. Sam nodded, but Richard shook his head.

“You thought I ran, didn’t you?”

The lie died on his lips, because what was the point? “Yes, I did.” And then he added, “I’m sorry,” just to make that look on Richard’s face go away.

After a moment, Richard murmured, “Once a cop, always a cop.”

Sam smiled. “Paranoia goes with the territory.”

“I’ll remember that.” And then he nodded to the bar. “I already paid.”

“Thanks.”

“You can get the next one.”

It was probably just one of those things that people said, but maybe not. “Will there be a next time?” He turned to the door.

“I don’t know.”

He had nothing to say to that non-answer, so he just opened the door, letting Richard go first.

The night was a pleasantly cool contrast from the bar and he looked up.  “I might go to Montana this weekend. Hope the weather is as nice as it is here.”

“Because it could still snow?”

He glanced over. “You’ve been there?”

Richard shrugged. “My family has a cabin in Bitteroot. I haven’t been there in a long time.”

Yeah, having your wife murdered, then tried and convicted for that murder would tend to put a crimp in a man’s social slash vacation plans. “That’s pretty country; you should go.”

“I will, once I settle in.”

Another non-answer and they didn’t speak again until they got to the hospital. Sam stuck his hands in his pockets. “Are you going home?”

“No. I want to check on Mr. Graham and see how he’s doing.”

“Then, I’ll see you when I see you.”

“Not if I see you first.” Richard grinned, making a joke out of what once was not a joke.

Sam smiled, waved goodbye and headed towards the garage.

***

He was on 60th, idly humming under his breath with the song on the radio, when he realized that even though he’d just spent two hours eating dinner with Richard, he knew only a little more than he had the day before. Other than the fact that he owned property in Montana, of course.

He pondered that, wondering if it had been chance, or if Richard had deliberately kept the conversation to the aspects of his life that Sam already knew.

It didn’t make him happy, the thought, and when he got home, he tossed his keys on the side table, put his weapon away and went to get a drink.

He parked himself on the sofa and flipped through the channels until he fell asleep, still holding the glass.

________________

“And that’s all you did? Go out for a steak and a beer?”

“What did you expect?”

“I don’t know.” Renfro finished the last of his hotdog, then wiped his mouth with a napkin. “Interrogate him. Maybe find out how he did it?”

When Renfro asked if he’d talked to Richard after the surgery, Sam had told him the truth. When Renfro had asked what they’d talked about, Sam had lied. He knew why, knew that telling Renfro would be like breaking a confidence. Among other things. “I should never have told you about it.” He glanced at his half-eaten hot dog, then threw it away. He’d lost his appetite and it wasn’t—he insisted mentally—because he’d had red meat for the fourth time that week.

Renfro frowned. “Why?”

“Because you’re making a big deal out of it; it wasn’t a big deal.”

“You had dinner with the most famous murderer since Gacy and you say it’s not a big deal?”

“He didn’t murder his wife.”

Renfro ignored that. “Are you seeing him again?”

“You make it sound like we went on a date.”

Renfro smirked. “He’s a doctor—you could do worse.” His smile dropped. “You know what I mean.”

Sam frowned away the first part of Renfro’s comment, then stood up and brushed the crumbs from his hands. “I know we’re going to be late for the meeting with Lamb if we don’t haul ass.” He began walking fast, almost hoping Renfro wouldn’t try to catch up. But no luck—as soon as they crossed the street, Renfro called out, “So how was he?”

“Lamb? I don’t know. I haven’t seen him today.”

Renfro sighed. “Sam.”

“Yeah, all right.” He shrugged and slowed down. “He was fine.”

“Seriously?”

He walked between the concrete barricades that bordered the Federal building and nodded. “Seriously.”

‘Fine,’” Renfro mimicked. “If had been me, I’d still be a wreck.”

Sam pushed through the revolving door, then took off his sunglasses. He waited until Renfro was clear of the door, then said loudly, “Well, we all don’t have your delicate constitution, Cosmo.”

Renfro was still sputtering by the time they got to the elevators.

***

Seven days later, Sam returned to the hospital to retrieve Graham. He took Poole with him this time, not wanting to give Cosmo any more opportunity to ask awkward questions. When they got to Graham’s floor, he glanced around, but saw no one familiar. He ignored the impulse to ask if Dr. Kimble was available—Poole wasn’t as big a gossip as Renfro, but she was just as curious.

The rest of the detail was easy—they delivered Graham and his state-assigned nurse to the safe house with no problem and then returned to the office where he spent the rest of the day in a meeting with Lamb and the Huntsville Correctional Authority committee.

The committee had called Lamb the week before, asking for the Marshal Service’s advice on the new prison. Lamb had received the plans a few days later and he and Sam had been reviewing them.

It wasn’t hard work, relatively speaking, but it required his full attention, and he lived the next two days with his head down, carefully assessing the blueprints, specs and notes. When he came up for air, he was surprised to find that it was already Friday evening and everyone but Lamb had left.

He rubbed his eyes, then got up and stretched. He couldn’t keep doing this—his back and neck felt like someone had taken the muscles out and replaced them with steel plates. He needed to remember to get up once and a while and move. He needed to remember that he wasn’t get any younger. And—he looked at his watch—he needed to remember to eat.

He tapped the dial and then, without really thinking about it, he sat down again and got out his phone book. It didn’t take long to find the number, but it took a while for no one to answer and after twelve rings, he hung up, then tried again. This time it took six.

“Chicago Memorial.”

“Dr. Kimble, please.”

“I’m not sure he’s here. He might be at Cook County. Can you hold?”

Without waiting for his answer, the woman put him on hold and he sat there, receiver pressed to ear. He was getting ready to hang up when the line clicked and then clicked again. He heard background noises of loud voices and a door being slammed and then the muffled sound of the phone being picked up.

“Yes?”

He swiveled around to face the window. “Richard?”

“Yes, who— Oh. Hello.”

That was less than welcoming, but what did he expect? “Is this a bad time?”

“Kind of. We just got a couple shootings and I’m helping out.”

He frowned. “That doesn’t sound good.”

“No.”

“I know it’s late, but…” He swiveled back around and straightened a folder. “I just realized what time it was.”

“And you just realized you’re hungry?”

He could hear the smile in Richard’s voice and just like that, he was back to smiling. “Something like that.” Richard hesitated and Sam began to tap a rhythm on his desk.

“I’ll probably be a couple hours. Maybe longer.”

“Do you still have my business card with my office number? The one I gave you at Judge Bennett’s?”

“I do.”

“Then call when you’re done. I’ll still be working.”

Another pause, this one shorter. “Okay.”

“See you.” He hung up before he could say anything stupid because his palms were damp and heart was beating too fast. He cleared his throat, wiped his hands on his jeans, and got back to work.

***

It was eleven-ten.

He knew this because he’d stopped working around ten-thirty and was now mostly paying attention to his watch and not the blueprint of the prison hospital he was supposed to be reviewing.

He’d give it another thirty minutes. Enough was enough and he didn’t wait on any man.

At least, not this long.

He was still staring blankly at the schematic when the phone rang. Finally. “Gerard.”

“You’re still there.”

He wanted to ask, ‘Where else would I be?’ but he could’ve gone home a long time ago and it wasn’t Richard’s fault—he’d said he didn’t know how long he’d be. “I am.”

“I’m more tired than hungry.” Pause. “But I don’t have anything to eat at home.”

“Give me a half an hour—I’ll pick you up.”

“I’ll be down at the emergency entrance. You might need to wait—I have to check on a patient.”

“Got it. Waiting. See you soon.”

“Yes.”

So, not the friendliest of exchanges, but they were both tired. He got up, turned off his lamp and grabbed his jacket.

When he pulled out of the parking garage, he debated whether to take the expressway or State Street and decided on the latter. When he made it in twenty minutes instead of the expect thirty, he told himself that wasn’t a sign or portent because he believed in neither.

And it wasn’t a sign that Richard was already there, talking to an EMT. When Sam pulled up to the curb, Richard shook the EMT’s hand, then came over and got in.

“Hey.”

Sam put the car in gear. “Hello.”

“Where are we going?”

“A place I know on Printer’s Row.”

Richard peered out the window. “Isn’t that near your office?”

“Close.”

“I could have met you there.”

Richard smelled of shampoo and toothpaste and Sam pushed away the image of Richard, naked in a shower. “It’s okay. I needed to wake up.”

“Okay.”

They didn’t speak until they turned onto Polk and then Richard murmured, “Hackney’s?”

“You know it?”

Richard nodded. “I haven’t been here in a long time. Is the food still good?”

“It is.” Unlike the parking—even this late at night, the spots were taken and he had to drive to the next block.

“Helen loves places like this.” Richard took a breath and then shook his head. “‘Loved,’ I mean. Helen loved places like this.”

Sam paused as he was reaching for the keys. “Do you want to go somewhere else?”

“No.”

“Do you want me to take you back to the hospital?”

“No, it’s okay.” Richard shrugged. “It’s been almost a year and a half. I need to…” He shrugged again.

Sam turned off the engine. “Richard, time has nothing to do with grief. You know that, right?”

Richard laughed, not happily. “I’m figuring that out.”

Sam gave it a moment, gave Richard time to pull himself together. Then he pocketed his keys and opened the door. “Come on.”

The restaurant was as packed as the parking. They had their choice of a tight corner by the front windows or a table by the kitchen. Sam hesitated then picked the corner—at least there they’d have a little more privacy. He gestured to the table. “Go sit down. I’ll get us something to drink.”

Richard nodded and Sam worked his way to the bar. He squeezed between a guy wearing a Cubs cap and a guy in a leather jacket who had to be a plain-clothes detective. When the bartender looked his way, Sam pointed to the Heineken tap and held up two fingers.

As he waited, the guy in the jacket glanced up at him. And yeah, he was recognized as well—they shared a barely perceptible nod. Normally, he would strike up a conversation because he liked to know who was in the vicinity, but not tonight. Tonight he was off the clock—he paid for his beer and slipped back out.

When he got to the table, he found that Richard had chosen the seat that faced the restaurant so his back was to the window and a potted plant. He wondered if Richard knew why he’d done that, but he didn’t ask; he sat down and slid a glass across the table. “Did the waitress come by?”

“Yes. To tell me she was going to be back in a few minutes.”

Sam smiled wryly. “Figures.” He took a sip. “I always get the whitefish.”

“Is that a subtle way of telling me that you you’re changing your diet?”

“No, it’s to inform you that I always get the whitefish.” But Richard was smiling behind his glass and Sam laughed. “Yes, okay. I am more aware of what I’ve been eating.” He looked around for the waitress. All he could see were a bunch of people eating and laughing.

“That’s good. Law enforcement personnel have some of the worst diets.” Richard grinned. “Followed by health care workers, of course.”

“All that stress.”

Richard nodded. “And crazy hours.”

“So how was it tonight?”

“I lost him.”

He sat back. Richard’s tone was neutral to the point of being bland.  “I’m sorry.”

Richard shrugged. “It happens.”

“But not to you, right?” Richard was holding the glass, his fingers tight. “Right?” Sam said again, this time softer.

“No. Not to me.”

Sam hesitated. In his line of work, when they lost someone, it was generally because they lost someone. And they had to keep looking and hunting, all the while worrying that the bad guy would hurt innocent civilians or get away. Deaths in the line of fire weren’t uncommon, but they were probably a lot less common than those that happened on an operating table.

“Hmm,” Richard murmured.

“What is it?”

“I was just thinking how different our jobs are.”

“But in the end we want the same thing, right?”

“What do you mean?”

“We both want to save people.”

“Your way of saving them is a lot different from mine.”

Sam thought about that. “I suppose.” It stung a little—he’d gone into law enforcement to help people, but not everyone would see it that way.

Richard watched him for a moment, then said slowly, as if confessing a dark secret, “My wife’s sister works in your building.”

It was an awkward change of subject and it took Sam a second to realize it was a peace offering. It wasn’t necessary, but the fact that Richard tried…? “She does? Where?”

“Human resources. She’s in charge of the charity funds. Her name is Roberta.”

He cocked his head and searched his memory; he had a vague recollection of a tall woman, a little gangly and almost homely except when she smiled. “Robbie? Robbie Stephens?”

Richard nodded. “Stephens was Helen’s maiden name.”

“Why haven’t I heard about her before?” He tightened his lips. “She could have helped us with your case.”

“She just started there in the spring.” Richard took a sip of beer. “Besides, she’s sort of the black sheep of the family.”

“Because she works for the Feds?”

“Because she visited me when I was in prison. Helen’s family—” He shook his head. “Not that I blame them. The whole city thought I was guilty, why not them?”

“But not your friends.”

Richard looked up. “What do you mean?”

“Your friends,” he said, happy to pass on this bit of good news. “None of them believed you murdered your wife. Did you know?”

“I knew Kathy Wahlund didn’t believe it, but the others…? All of them?”

“Yes, everyone. They were adamant about it.”

Richard blinked. “Huh.”

He grinned and glanced around for their waitress again—there was a girl with a tray on the far side of the room but other than that… He turned back to Richard. “Dr. Michaels told me to get lost. Dr. Gewertz, after telling me what your specialty was, told me that we were nuts to think you could kill anyone.”

“He did not.”

“Well, no,” Sam conceded with a grin. “Not those exact words, but he was pissed that we’d even question your character.”

Richard leaned forward, his expression hardening. “If they were such good friends, how come they didn’t speak up when I was in jail?”

“They did. According to the CPD’s notes, they said basically the same thing. The cops just didn’t believe them.”

The anger left Richard’s face. “I didn’t know.”

“So, you see? Not the whole city.” He wanted to say more, but a waitress flitted by and he leaned sideways and called out, “Miss?”

She was carrying a full tray of drinks but came over anyway. He smiled his most charming smile. “I don’t know about my friend, here, but I’d like to order sometime tonight.”

“Sorry, sir. It’s busy.”

She didn’t sound sorry and he gave her another smile, this one just barely hiding his irritation. “Yes it is. We’d like the whitefish.”

She looked around, as if searching for someplace to put the tray, but gave up. “Salad or chips?”

“Salad with the house dressing. And bring some bread. Please.”

She nodded. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

He waited until she was a few feet away before muttering, “I hope it’s not the same minute you took to get our order.” He glanced over at Richard—he was giving him a strange half smile. “What?”

“You. Are you always so dictatorial?”

“When I can get away with it.”

“And do you always get what you want?”

“Always. Sometimes it takes a while.”

A reminder of their shared past and Richard’s smile changed to a grin. “So, in the half an hour we’ve got before our bread comes, tell me about yourself. Where did you go to school?”

***

It actually took just a few minutes for the waitress to return with a basket of bread and while they ate, he told Richard a little about his background. Boston, Harvard, the Academy and then the move to Illinois when he was offered a job he couldn’t refuse.

“And you always wanted to work in law enforcement?” Richard asked.

“No.” He shook his head. “Not always. When I was young I wanted to play quarterback for the Patriots.”

Richard grinned. “I wanted to play ball for the Cubs.”

“Guess we both lucked out.”

Richard glanced sideways, a strange, hesitant moment and Sam wondered what was coming next.

“And you never married?”

Not what he was expecting, but that was okay. “No. I never met a woman who could stand what I did for longer than a few months.” He flashed a smile—there was a lot more to it than that, but hell if he’d get into that now. “No, seriously. This job takes a lot of energy and I’ve seen too many marriages end in divorce to want to take that step.” Another lie but Richard just nodded as if he understood.

“The divorce rate for doctors is also pretty high.”

“But not for you, right?” The same words as before, said quietly, deliberately, because broaching this subject was like tiptoeing into a house full of bad guys and it could backfire on him if he weren’t careful.

Richard stared at him for the longest time then muttered, “No,” he finally said, “Not for me.”

The basket was empty—he pushed it aside and said gently, “Tell me about her. Tell me about Helen.” He waited for Richard to change the subject, but after a moment, he began to speak.

***

Their food arrived just as Richard was describing how he and his wife had met—a blind lunch date that had ended with an invitation to a dinner and movie, conveyed by her.

Sam nodded to the server even as he asked, “So she made the first move?”

Richard raised an eyebrow. “In everything. But I’m not complaining; I loved that about her.” His smile faltered, but didn’t quite disappear. He tugged his plate closer and bent his head. “This smells good.”

Sam nodded again. “It does. What happened next?”

Richard picked up his knife and fork and started talking again.

Sam was never able to remember whether the fish tasted as good as it smelled or how the rest of the meal was. What he remembered was Richard’s smile—a real, honest, no-holds-barred-smile when he told him how much he’d loved his wife, how much she’d made him laugh.

“But, she wasn’t perfect,” Richard said ruefully. “She had her bad points.”

“Such as?”

“She had a temper. I’ll never forget one time.” Richard sat his fork down and clasped his hands together. “We were at dinner with a board member and he started going on about the lower class and how they couldn’t help being lower class, that it was in their genetic make-up and all their actions from the time they were born were a result of bad breeding, not environment.” Richard grinned. “Helen hadn’t said much the whole time but when he finally shut up, she said very sweetly, ‘So, a person’s actions are a result of their genes?’ He answered, yes, and she said, ‘Then if I pick up this fork…’ She picked up the fork. ‘And stab you in the back of the hand with it, can I blame Mom and Dad?’”

Richard actually laughed out loud. “The look on his face was priceless.”

“What did he do?” Sam asked.

“He turned red and began to sputter.”

“What did you do?’

“Change the subject.”

“Any fallout?”

Richard shrugged. “Not that I ever heard. He was on his way out, anyway, and no one liked him.”

Sam was quiet a moment, then murmured. “That doesn’t sound like a bad point.”

Richard looked up. “Hmm?”

“You said your wife’s temper was one of her bad points. It doesn’t sound like a bad point to me, speaking the truth. Standing up for people that aren’t around to stand up for themselves.”

“No, I guess not.” Richard studied him and then said absently as if he were in a trance, “She would have liked you.”

Sam smiled. “She would have?”

“Yeah, you two are a lot alike.”

“Good looking with a winning personality?”

He thought Richard would freeze up over the use of the present tense, but he just smiled and said dryly, “No, hard-headed and stubborn.”

“I’ll take that in the spirit it was given.” He leaned back in his seat and folded his napkin. “Do you want coffee?”

“Hmm?” Richard looked around. “I guess we cleared the place out.”

Sam followed his glance. The restaurant had emptied of all but a few at the bar—this was the second time this had happened to him and it didn’t take a genius to figure out why. “I think it’s too late for coffee.”

Richard straightened up with a sigh and reached for his wallet.

Sam shook his head. “I’m paying, remember?” He craned his head. Their waitress was sitting at a table, talking to one of the customers. She saw him and stood up.

“That got her attention,” Richard murmured.

The waitress brought the check and handed it over with a tired smile. “How was it?”

“Good,” Sam said, still smiling at Richard’s comment.

She turned away. “I’ll be back to get that in a minute.”

He peered at the bill. “Of course you will.”

Richard snorted, then said, “They’re in your pocket.”

“What is in my pocket?”

“Your glasses.”

He looked up. And smiled.

Richard nodded. “Helen had to get reading glasses and she kept forgetting she had them. How long have you had yours?”

“About seven months now, but I think I need a new prescription. Cosmo has been bugging me about it.”

“Cosmo. He’s the one that was with you at the hotel?”

It was the first time Richard had spoken of that night and Sam nodded.

“That was a bad cut. How is he?”

“Fine.”

“No headaches or dizzy spells?”

Sam smiled. “Not that I know of, and I’d know it if there was something wrong. Cosmo isn’t one to hide his feelings.”

Richard smiled. “You’re friends.”

“Yes, we are.”

Richard’s smile dimmed. “That’s good.”

Sam pretended to peer at the receipt. This was also dangerous ground and he’d have to tread just as lightly. “Richard?”

“Yes?”

“Can I give you a piece of advice?”

“If I say no, will that stop you?”

He grinned. “Of course not.” He forgot about the bill and rested both arms on the table. “I’ve seen this before, the results of trauma, and the worse thing you can do is isolate yourself.”

“You’re a shrink, now?” But before Sam could reply, Richard muttered, “I’m not isolating myself.”

“Then why are you working more at Cook County than Chicago Memorial? How did you not know that your colleagues didn’t believe that you were guilty?” Richard said nothing and Sam tried again. “Have you seen your friend, Dr. Wahlund?”

Richard shook his head. “She’s come by my office a few times, but I—” He shook his head again.

“Helen’s sister, Robbie—have you talked to her?”

“No.”

“Have you seen a psychiatrist?”

“No.”

“Have you sold your house?”

Richard’s face darkened. “No.”

“You belonged to the country club, right? Have you been once since you were released?”

“No.”

“Do you do anything but work?”

Richard just shook his head.

“Richard—” He sighed, pausing to find the right words. “I haven’t been where you’re at, but I know your wife would hate what you’ve done to yourself.”

“What have I done to myself?” Richard asked, his voice barely louder than a whisper.

“You’ve dug yourself a hole so deep you can’t see the light of day.”

Richard’s throat worked, as if he were choking.

“I know it’s not my place, but like I said, I’ve seen it before.” He picked up the register receipt, held it to the light, then signed it. “One thing I can’t complain about—you’re a cheap date.”

Richard didn’t smile at the stupid joke and when Sam stood, he followed silently.

The ride back to the hospital was quick and quiet. Sam glanced at Richard several times, but didn’t speak, killing any attempt at conversation before it reached his lips. When they got to the hospital, he pulled around to the garage. “Is this okay?”

“Yes.”

“Because I can take you right to your car.”

“No, I’m over there.” Richard pointed to a black car just visible above the low brick wall. He opened the door but before he could get out, Sam touched his arm.

“Hey?”

Richard paused. “Yes?”

“I’m sorry about what I said. It wasn’t any of my business.”

Richard hesitated, then turned. “Can I ask you something?”

“Yes.”

“Why are you doing this?”

Sam frowned. “Why am I doing what?”

“All this—” Richard gestured sharply. “The calling up and going to dinner. Is there something you want from me?”

He’d stilled, as surprised as if Richard had pulled a gun on him. “No,” he said softly. “I already told you. Any interest I have in you as a fugitive was settled months ago.”

Richard gripped the door handle tight. “Then why?”

“Because, I like you.” They stared at each other, the two feet of dead space somehow alive with all he couldn’t say. “You’re a good man and I like you.”

“And that’s all?”

“Yes, that’s all,” he lied smoothly.

“Okay.” Richard nodded. “Okay.” He got out and then closed the door. But he didn’t walk away—he bent and rested his hands on the doorframe. “Sam?”

“Yes?”

“You were right.” He shrugged. “About the isolation. I know I need to do something about it, but…”

Sam cleared his throat. “I’d start with the therapist if I were you.”

“Yeah. Okay.” Richard let go of the door and backed away. “Thanks for dinner.”

“You’re welcome.”

“See you soon.”

“Yes.”

Richard turned away and walked up the parking lot ramp.

Sam watched him go, stunned immobile by shock and surprise. Shock, at the way it had sounded, his name on Richard’s lips. Surprise, because he hadn’t lied to himself about his motivations and he’d hunted Richard as he had back in the spring, only with a different goal in mind. But it was strange, having it out in the open as it were and the last few weeks came back to him, the clarity of distance refracting each meeting, making them seem more important than they possible could be.

He took a deep breath, then another.

He was still sitting there when a loud honk startled him into action—he twisted to look over his shoulder. Richard was driving down the ramp; he slowed but before he could turn the corner to where Sam was parked, Sam waved and drove quickly away.

He needed time to think. And time to plan.

***

He meant to give it three days, but Richard beat him to it. When he got home from the grocery store the next morning, there was a message from Richard on the machine. He said he knew it was late, but he’d gotten tickets to the Cubs versus Cardinals game and would Sam like to go? Yes, Sam most definitely would—he called, got Richard’s voice mail in return and said yes.

They went to the ball game and stopped for a beer afterwards. It was relaxing and fun but Sam spent the hours reminding himself that it was important to take his time. That attraction wasn’t necessarily a two way street even though…

Even though he felt it, sometimes, the way Richard looked at him when he thought his attention was elsewhere. Or the way Richard had walked too close when they were leaving the field, the crowd surging around them.

All physical reactions that had alternate explanations, of course, and he shouldn’t read too much into them.

That didn’t stop him from calling Richard up the following Friday to ask him if had time for a quick dinner and it didn’t stop him from accepting Richard’s invitation, the Friday after that.

It became a thing, their Friday dinners. Well, not a thing because you couldn’t have a thing based on such a small number, but he began to look forward to them, looked forward to hearing or saying, ‘I know it’s late, but…’

And so summer turned into late summer and he felt—for the first time in a long time— mostly happy.

***

He peeled off his vest and threw it in the trunk. “Henry?”

“Yeah?”

“How’s that arm?”

“Fine.”

“Henry?”

“Yeah?”

He turned. Henry was trying to see his bicep even as Biggs was trying to get his vest off. “When we get shot, we are not fine. When we get shot we go to the hospital. Am I clear?”

Henry rolled his eyes and gave Biggs a look that Sam didn’t miss. But he and Sam had been down this road before, and he intoned, “Yes, Sam.”

“Good.”

He closed the trunk with a sigh. All in all, not a bad morning. Got the bad guy in two days with no loss of life or wasted Federal money. It would have been perfect, however, if their bad man hadn’t had an equally bad father with a loaded gun. He’d surprised them all and taken a potshot at Henry before Renfro laid him out with a bullet to the gut.

Biggs had Henry’s vest off now and Henry dropped to sit on the rim of the trunk. He was holding his arm, trying to keep it still.

“Newman!” Sam shouted.

“Yo!”

“Where is that ambulance?”

Newman waved the two-way, like that meant something. “I called them twice. They should be—“

Sam held up his hand as an ambulance took the last dusty corner and stopped in the yard. “Never mind.” An EMT jumped out and trotting over, kit in hand. “Henry?”

“Yeah?”

“Take the week off.”

Henry opened his mouth but again, he didn’t argue, he just nodded.

Sam looked around. What with one thing and another, he hadn’t taken in the details of the landscape and he realized it was pretty. Close enough to the city that they weren’t in the out-and-out country, but far enough that city was just a grey smudge on the horizon. The Eagle Ridge golf course was somewhere around here. He hadn’t been golfing in months and he wondered if Richard played. Probably—a doctor who didn’t play golf was like a fish that didn’t swim.

So, maybe a trip to the country for a round of golf or two? They could make a weekend of it. He could even take a vacation day and head out on Friday. If Richard was free, of course.

He was still smiling when Newman yelled, “Sam!”

“What?”

“Call for you!”

He sighed again and trudged over to the car. Newman whispered, “Lamb,” then gave him the mic. He sat down, half in, half out of the car. “This is Gerard.”

“Sam?”

“Yes, sir.”

“How did it go?”

“We’ve got him. And his dad.”

“His father? Was he on our list?”

“No, but he is now. He pointed a gun at one of my kids.”

“Who?”

“Henry. He got banged up a bit but he’s fine. And, before you ask, yes, he’s going to the hospital and yes, he’s taking the week off.”

“Good, good. But that’s not what I’m calling about.”

Great. There went his round of golf in the country. “Yes, sir?”

“When you get in, come see me. We’ve got a new assignment. Don’t make plans for the weekend.”

He opened his mouth to ask what it was, but he really didn’t want to know so he just barked, “Will do.” He released the mic and muttered, “Shit,” then got up to go see how Henry was doing.

***

Lamb didn’t bother with hellos. “Remember Judge Wilson?”

The question took him by surprise. “I should. We handled her security on the Nelson case.”

“Apparently not good enough. She just received another death threat.”

He sat down and crossed his legs, taking his time. “You are not trying to blame that on me or my team, are you, sir?” They stared at each other until Lamb grumbled and tossed his pen on the desk.

“No, I’m not blaming you or your team. You did your job. Unfortunately, someone isn’t happy that the judge is still alive.”

“Let the FBI handle it. It’s their job.”

“They are, but they’ve asked for our help and the help of the CPD. The judge has a function tomorrow night and they want additional personnel.”

“Where?”

“The Four Seasons.”

He shook his head. “That place is as holey as a block of Swiss cheese. She needs to cancel her appearance.”

“She won’t.”

“Tell her she’s putting the general public in danger and it’s her duty to cancel.”

“She knows that and she won’t.”

“Tell her—”

“Sam,” Lamb interrupted harshly. “She doesn’t believe the threat is real and she doesn’t want to alter her routine.” He sighed. “In a way, I understand her—you let one asshole run your life and you let them all run your life.”

“The alternative being that she’s taking a chance that the asshole isn’t serious.”

“I know.” Lamb picked up his pen again. “She promised she’d only stay an hour at the event and then she’d leave. We’ll keep her away from the doors and windows. The hotel staff has been vetted and a metal detector is being installed.”

“All of which is pointless if someone really wants to get at her.”

“I know,” Lamb said again. “Who do you want to bring with you?”

“I take it money is no object?”

“None.”

He didn’t even have to think about it. “Renfro, Poole, Henry, Biggs, Newman and that new contract guy.”

“O’Rourke?”

“Yeah, he’s big and scary looking. We’ll post him outside the main doors. Maybe our bad guy will take one look and back off.”

“Will Henry be up to it?”

“I’m not even going to try to keep him away. He’ll just disobey me.”

Lamb nodded. “Okay.”

“Do I have to wear a monkey suit?”

“A nice jacket and tie are fine. No jeans.”

“When are we meeting?”

“They’re on their way now. They’ll be here in about forty-five minutes.”

He tightened his lips. “Thanks for the warning.”

“I just found out about myself; don’t blame me.”

He shook his head again. “This is a mistake, sir.”

“I know and you can complain until the cows come home, but we still have to do it.”

“The cows are a long way from home on this one.” He sighed and rose. “Let me get my team together.”

“We’re meeting in the south conference room.”

He nodded and turned to the door.

“And, Sam?” Lamb called after him.

“Yes?”

“After this duty is over, I want you to take a vacation. A real one.”

He said smartly, keeping every ounce of sarcasm from his voice, “Yes, sir.”

***

When he got back to his so-called office, only Poole was at her desk. “Where is everyone?”

She was typing up her incident report and didn’t look up when she answered, “Downstairs, getting something to eat.”

“Well, get them back here.” His phone started ringing. “We’ve got a thing.”

“What kind of thing?”

“A thing thing. Just go get them.”

She got up, muttered, “Someone’s in a mood,” and stomped off.

He always loved it when Poole tried to stomp—she was as terrifying as a kitten wearing boots. He picked up his phone, then shouted at her retreating back, “And get me a cup of coffee and a donut!” He sat down and lowered his voice as he pulled the beginnings of his incident report closer. “Gerard.”

“Caffeine and saturated fats at seven in the evening? So much for awareness.”

It took him a split second to recognize the voice. He glanced around the room; it was a good thing that the team had decided to play hooky, after all. “I’m trying.”

“Just make it one donut, okay?”

He could hear Richard’s smile even though he couldn’t see it. “Yeah, okay.”

Richard cleared his throat. “I know it’s late, but I was wondering…”

Like Pavlov’s fucking dog, Sam’s pulse began to thud. “I’d like to, but I can’t.” The elevator dinged and his team poured out, one by one. He pushed away from the desk and turned his chair around, as casually as possible. “I’ve got this thing.”

“What thing?”

Richard was teasing and hell, that shouldn’t be so sexy, right? “A meeting I can’t get out of and it’ll probably take hours.”

“What about Saturday? I’ve got a thing of my own, but I’ll be free after nine.”

He hesitated. Renfro was walking towards him, donuts in hand. “That’s a possibility.”

“Call me. You have my beeper, right?”

“I do.” Memorized five minutes after Richard had given it to him.

“Are you okay? You sound tired.”

“Yeah, we had a—”

“Thing?” Richard interrupted with a breath of a laugh.

He looked up. Renfro was three feet away. “Yes, a ‘thing’ and now I’ve got to go.”

“Okay. Take care of yourself.”

“You too.” He hung up and reached for the donut.

Renfro raised it up. “Oh, no you don’t. Who was on the phone?”

“No one.”

“Then why are you smiling?”

“I’m not smiling. I’m snarling. Give me that donut.”

“Not until you tell me who was on the phone.”

“Cosmo.”

“Sam.”

He sighed. “It was no one, just a friend from school.”

“A boy friend or a girl friend.” When Sam gave him a look, he grinned. “You know what I mean.”

“Yes, I know what you mean and I also know that I’m going to shoot you if you don’t give me that donut.” He gestured imperiously and Renfro finally gave in.

“Here you go.”

“Thank you.”

Renfro perched on the edge of Sam’s desk. “So what are we meeting about?”

He sat the donut down. “Does it look like I know? Go ask Poole.”

“Why?”

“Because she knows.” He made a shooing motion. “Go so I can get some work done.” Renfro stood up.

He waited until Renfro had walked away before he picked the donut up. He hesitated, made to take a bite, then stopped. With a roll of the eyes directed at himself, he tore it in half and threw the small part away.

___________________

 

“I got a bad feeling about this, Sammy,” Renfro muttered.

Sam gazed down at the lobby and its growing mass of guests. “I heard you the first two times, Cosmo.”

“And Poole has a bad feeling, too; you know what that means.”

“It means that the both of you need to stop gossiping.”

It was a half-hearted insult and Renfro didn’t bother replying. He was right, though—this was a bad idea. There was no way to secure the judge, not in this crowd. They could barely see each other and thanks to the din as people chatted, they could barely hear each other. Sam had to retreat to the second floor gallery just so he could get a better handle on his people and the scene.

The crowd was growing out of control and so was the law enforcement presence. Not only had he his own men, Agent Hayward’s, and the CPD to contend with, Detectives Kelly and Rosetti had also decided to crash the party. Either that or they were part of Chicagoland’s social set.

Hayward was down on the ground floor, near Judge Wilson. A few steps beyond stood Biggs and Newman. Poole was stationed at the far end by the service entrance with another FBI agent. Henry was at the metal detector with a third agent, examining I.D.s and invitations to make sure they matched. And out by the front entrance, towering over the guests by at least five inches, was O’Rourke.

But, even with all that it wasn’t nearly enough—guests outnumbered security by at least twenty to one. It didn’t help that the men were all wearing tuxes—it would be easy for their guy to slip in and make a move.

“Sam?”

He answered his walkie with a soft, “What is it, Biggs?”

“We can’t see anything from here. When are they moving into the dining room?”

“Ten minutes ago.”

“Great.”

“We’re almost there. Just hang tight.” He leaned over the railing. Movement on the north side of the room drew his attention—it was a waiter, pushing through the crowd, making for Hayward. Sam snapped his fingers at Renfro and pointed towards the waiter. Renfro got on his two-way and began speaking quietly, while Sam said, “Biggs? We might have a situation heading your way.”

“I see him.”

“Good.”

Biggs disconnected and Sam watched the waiter’s progress, listening in on Renfro’s half-sided conversation and by all accounts, it wasn’t good news. Sure enough, when Renfro said, “Thanks,” and turned to Sam, he announced sarcastically, “We have a situation.”

“Like I didn’t know that? What is it?” Biggs had intercepted the waiter and was leading him away from the judge’s group.

“One of the waiters didn’t show up and they’re all freaking out down there because they think his replacement is our guy.”

Sam headed towards the stairs, almost running down the long gallery. “How do they know about the threat?” And before Renfro could answer, “Forget that. Take Poole and get to the kitchen; find out what’s going on.” He thumbed his walkie again, then said, “Henry? There might be a breach. I don’t want anymore people in this lobby.”

“Got it, Sam,” Henry muttered. “Do you want me to lock the doors?”

“And trap us like a bunch of rats? No, I do not. Just don’t let anyone else in.” He wrenched the gallery door open changed channels. “Agent Hayward? We have a problem.”

The walkie squealed and Hayward came on. “I heard. We’re securing the judge in the ballroom.”

“I’ll be there in a second.” He looked over his shoulder, shouting to make himself heard over the clatter of their footsteps, “Cosmo? No one leaves that kitchen, you got me?” They were almost to the first floor and he took the last three steps in a leap.

“What are you gonna do?” Renfro called out.

“Get to the judge!”

They split up as soon as they were through the door and Sam surveyed the room as he plunged into the crowd. Henry and the agent were keeping people from passing through the metal detector. Hayward, Newman and two cops had formed a tight circle around the judge and were moving her into the ballroom. Poole was standing on tiptoe, trying to see over the crowd. He gestured towards the kitchen; she nodded and took off.

And that was all he had time for because unlike the Red Sea, the crowd refused to part. The guests were too busy meeting and greeting and it was all he could do not to pull his weapon and fire it into the air.

“Sam?”

He didn’t stop at first and then he did. And turned.

Seven feet away, wearing what had to be a very expensive tux, stood Richard. And it was odd, but the world shifted a bit, a quick side-to-side motion and it took Sam a minute to realize: Richard, here, at the fundraiser. Where a gunman might be on the loose.

With two quick strides, he was by Richard’s side. “I need you to leave.”

Richard half frowned, half smiled. “What are—”

He grabbed Richard’s arm and squeezed. “Now, Richard.” He didn’t wait for an answer but turned back to the crowd and began making his way through again.

Sacrificing politeness for expediency, he reached the ballroom a few seconds later. Newman was guarding the entrance to the ballroom; he gave Sam a worried look then opened the door.

After the hubbub outside, it felt as if he’d stepped into a bubble of no sensation—no noise, no movement. The big room was empty of everyone but Hayward, the two cops and the judge, tucked into a corner by the bar. He nodded to Hayward, then called Renfro as he made his way past a long cloth-covered table. “Cosmo? What’s going on?”

“I don’t know, Sam. Someone hit the guy and he’s out like a light. His name is Jacob Williams; he doesn’t look like a killer to me.”

“I don’t care what he looks like,” he barked. “Did you find a weapon?”

“We found nothing, Sam. He’s clean.”

He’d reached the bar and turned away before answering, “Shit.”

“Yeah.”

“You let me know the minute he comes to, right?”

“Yeah, I—

Later, when he’d had time to review his actions, he realized he’d ducked instinctively when he heard a soft ‘pop’ and then another two.

“Sam?” Renfro shouted.

He was already running, twisting to point at Hayward and the cops, ‘Stay’ even as he was calling out to Renfro, “I heard it. Are you okay?” The shouts and screams were so loud, he heard them through the closed door.

“It wasn’t in here. Are you okay?”

“We’re fine.” He opened the ballroom door a crack and peered into the lobby. Newman was still guarding the door, but he’d moved to the left, finding partial cover behind a bronze sculpture. Rosetti was over by the receptionist’s desk and Kelly was nowhere to be seen. The crowd had scattered, clearing the lobby, making for the entrance at the same time. Henry was yelling, trying to get them to calm down, but they were too panicked to listen.

Except for the woman standing in the rough center of the lobby. She wasn’t running or screaming—she was just standing there staring at him.

“Sam?” Newman said.

“Yeah, I see her.”

So their guy wasn’t a guy. She was pretty, maybe mid-forties, dark skin and he guessed Latino or something like. She was dressed for the event—her hair was piled high and her black dress shimmered under the lights—he didn’t know dresses, but it looked expensive. The only item out of place was the .22 loosely pointed at the ballroom doors.

He slipped out of the room, weapon squarely pointed. “Miss?”

“Mrs.”

“Okay, ‘Mrs.’” He smiled, using humor in an attempt to ease her down. “You know this isn’t going to end well. You’re surrounded and the judge is safe.” He glanced quickly around—as far as he could see, there were no bodies on the ground.

“I know.”

Her arm was shaking and he would guess—if anyone happened to ask—that she’d never held a weapon before, even one as light as the revolver. “And let’s face it, you can’t run in those shoes.” The crowd had stopped pushing and shoving was watching avidly, like spectators at a tennis match; he wanted to snarl at them as much as the shooter.

“I know.”

A door opened behind her and Renfro and Poole crept into the room. “Then why don’t you put the weapon down?”

“I can’t.”

Renfro moved right, Poole moved left, both inching forward. They might have stood a chance—he might have stood a chance—if it hadn’t been for Newman. He moved and the woman reacted. With no shift in body language, she brought the gun up with both hands, pointed it at Newman and pulled the trigger.

Sam was caught off guard and he felt it in the seconds it took to aim and not shoot because the crowd was on the move again and there were people everywhere. He took a step, trying to alter the angle even though it was a stupid thing to do, shouting over the screams of the crowd, “Put the gun down!”

She didn’t move and he took another step. “I said put it down!”

But still she didn’t move and he knew what was going through her mind as if she was reciting the words out loud. She was prepping for that final illogical course of action, the one that would help her take the last step, but this time he was ready. When she adjusted her stance and turned the barrel towards her own head, he lunged, practically leaping the short distance. He got to her just as Renfro and Poole converged and they took her down in a heap of bodies.

He found the gun and thrust it across the floor. “Poole?”

Poole was underneath, but her voice was calm when she answered, “I’m fine, Sam.”

“Call an ambulance for Newman. Cosmo?”

Renfro answered, “I’m fine,” just as Poole said, “I called them after the first shots were fired.”

“Then let’s get her up.”

He pushed to his feet while Renfro and Poole got the shooter up.

She was pale, shaking like a leaf, and he told himself that pity in this situation was the wrong reaction even though he could relate—he was shaking, almost dizzy with it.

“Sam?” Renfro said quietly.

“Cosmo, cuff her.” He turned to the corner of the room where Newman was propped up, surrounded by a small crowd.

Renfro came running after. “Sam!”

“What?”

Renfro grabbed his arm. “You’ve been shot! You’ve been—” He pulled Sam around and pointed to his chest.

He looked down and huh, Renfro was right. There, high on his left pectoral was a red stain that was spreading. “Shit. I didn’t even feel it.”

Renfro tugged just as someone else came up behind him and grabbed him around the waist, murmuring, “Come on, Sam, come sit down.”

He dug in his heels. “It was just a .22.”

“Yeah, we all know how tough you are, Sam,” Renfro answered, glancing back at whoever was pushing Sam towards the ballroom.

“Goddamnit,” he muttered. “There goes my record.”

“What record?” the person behind him asked quietly.

“Our fearless leader holds—or held—the departmental record for least bullet wounds,” Renfro said over Sam’s shoulder. “I hold the record for least knife wounds.”

“Huh,” the person said as he pushed Sam into the ballroom. “I guess that’s something to be proud of.”

He wanted to explain why it was special, but he was pushed into a chair, and yeah, it felt good to sit down. The stain was now a patch and the dizziness was only getting worse. He better not goddamn faint.

“You won’t,” the voice answered his apparently spoken remark. “It’s bad, but not that bad.” The voice faded, saying, “I need the first-aid kit and we need to get his vest off.”

Sam raised his head to ask whose vest they were removing and hell, there was Richard, crouching before him. “I thought I told you to leave.”

Richard unfastened a buckle on Sam’s vest. “You tell me a lot of things, Sam. I don’t listen to all of them.”

“Yeah, well…” He smiled and glanced up. Renfro was standing a foot away, staring down at the two of them, his mouth open.

“What’s her name?” Sam growled.

Renfro frowned. “Who?”

He sighed with frustration. “The shooter’s.”

Renfro spread his hands. “How would I know?”

‘You would know if you were doing your job and not standing there staring,’ was his first thought, but Richard tugged on the wrong part of the vest and his vision went dark with pain. “Cosmo? Can we get a little help here?”

Renfro jerked alive and came forward. “Yeah, sorry.”

With a lot of care on Richard’s part and grunting on Sam’s, they got the vest off. The shoulder hurt worse without the weight, which was so unfair. He squinted up at Renfro. “How’s the judge?”

“She’s fine. Hayward got her away the minute we took out the shooter.”

“Okay, go help Poole.” Renfro took a breath and Sam growled, “You know how much I like repeating myself, Cosmo.”

Renfro left, muttering something about, ‘I’ll show you repeating,’ and, ‘What the hell?’

Sam glanced back down. Richard had loosened his tie and pushed aside his jacket and shirt. “So it’s not bad?”

“I need to remove the bullet, but no, it’s not too bad.” Richard did something that hurt, and murmured, “I’m glad you were wearing a vest.”

“Me too.”

“Are you hurt anywhere else?”

“Only my pride.”

“Screw pride,” Richard muttered.

Sam laughed. And then winced. “Damn, that hurts.”

“It should.”

“How’s Newman?”

“He’ll be fine. He might be off his feet for a while—he was shot almost in the same place as you.”

He was starting to fade out again but there was something important he needed to ask. “What about bystanders?”

“No one else was wounded.” Richard stopped poking at him. “At least, none that I could see.”

“Good. I mean—” He waved vaguely and Richard nodded.

“It’s okay. I know what you mean. There…” Richard stood up. “That will last until we get to the hospital.”

He craned his head—Richard had taped a wad of gauze to his chest. It wasn’t pretty but at least he wasn’t leaking blood. “I need to interview the shooter.” He stood up, and wobbled.

Richard grabbed his arm. “No, you don’t. Your people can handle it.”

He tried to pull away. “I need to interview her and find out if there is any other threat we don’t know about.”

“Sam?”

He closed his eyes briefly. “Yeah, okay. Let’s go.”

***

They forced him to ride in an ambulance. Or rather, Richard shoved him in and made him lie down on a stretcher while the team watched. As the EMT was shutting the door, Renfro was giving him the googly eyes again and that was not a good thing. “I’m going to have to do something about that,” he murmured thoughtfully.

“What are you going to have do something about?”

Richard was poking at the wound again. “Cosmo.”

Richard glanced up. “I take it you didn’t tell him about me.”

“What’s there to tell?”

“There must be something if you didn’t tell him that we’ve had dinner together. Four times so far.” Richard reached across Sam for a white package.

“Five, but who’s counting?”

He waited for Richard to say, ‘We both are,’ but he just repeated, “Why didn’t you tell him?”

“Because it’s none of his business. He’s too curious.” He took a breath, forcing the irritation from his voice. “He’ll think it means something.”

Richard stopped doing whatever it was that he was doing and looked down at Sam. “Because you don’t keep in touch with ex-cons?”

“Something like that.”

“So…” Richard leaned closer. “Does it mean something?”

But he couldn’t answer—in the blue light of the ambulance, Richard looked sick and gaunt, like he had that day in the tunnel. “I can’t believe you did that,” he mumbled.

Richard frowned. “Did what?”

“Jumped off that dam. I can’t believe you did that.”

Richard’s eyes widened and he swallowed. It looked like it hurt. “I had to.”

“I know.”

“I had to get away so I could find my wife’s killer.”

“I know. It’s just…” He paused, trying to find the words that would ease the knot in his throat. “I wished I had known. I wish I had been able to help you.”

“You did, in the end.”

“Yeah.” He closed his eyes.

“Sam.” Richard took his hand and gripped it, hard enough to make Sam open his eyes. “Not at first,” he whispered, bending closer. “But somehow I knew I could trust you. That’s why I called you and not the cops, that day at Sykes’ apartment—because I knew you’d do your job. And then at the hotel, when you had to cuff me, I didn’t care because I knew you wouldn’t let them take me.”

“No,” Sam said slowly. “They wouldn’t have dared.” Richard’s hand was cool in his or maybe it was the other way around—maybe his hand was cool and Richard’s was warm. “What did you give me?”

Richard released him. “A mild sedative.”

He wanted to protest but for some reason, he couldn’t gather the strength to care. “I have to go on vacation.”

“You do?”

“Yeah. My boss is sending me away in disgrace.”

“Maybe he thinks you could use a break.”

“Maybe.” The ambulance slowed down and then stopped. “We here?”

“We’re here.”

“That was fast.”

“It took five minutes.”

“Felt like five seconds. You’re going to stitch me up?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Don’t let anyone else touch me.”

“I won’t.”

He lost track of time after than, mostly aware of Richard’s voice, smoothly authoritative, directing someone this way and someone that way. Then, there was another sting, sharp and cold and he slid under, not bothering to hold on.

***

He woke. And squinted. “Turn off that light.”

A figure bent over him and a woman answered, “I’m sorry?”

“Can you turn off the light?”

“The light is off, but I’ll close the drapes.”

There was a soft rattle and he was enveloped in comforting darkness. He opened his eyes and that was so much better—he could he actually see. “Why am I in the hospital?” He touched his shoulder—it was bandaged tightly and his arm was in a sling. He tried to sit up.

The nurse hurried over and pushed him back down. “You’re in a hospital because you were shot.”

She was black, late thirties, thin, and looked like she could take him in two seconds; he stopped struggling. “I know I was shot. Why am I in the hospital?”

“The bullet was lodged deep and it nicked the—”

He pushed her hands away and swung his legs over the side of the bed. The room tilted, but only for a second. “I don’t care what it nicked. Where are my clothes?” His foot was wrapped around a length of plastic tubing and he tried to shake it off.

“In the closet, but you can’t get up. You need to rest until the doctor takes a look at—

“Nurse, if you think I’m going to hang out here when I’ve got a case to finish up, you’re crazy.”

“He said you were stubborn.”

The tube was winning so he stopped fighting it. “Who said I was stubborn? Richard?”

“If you mean Dr. Kimble, no. I was talking about your friend, Deputy Renfro.”

“Cosmo’s here?”

“Is his name is Cosmo?” She grinned. “That’s so cute.”

“It’s adorable. Where is he?” He’d save the ‘cute’ comment for ammunition later, when Renfro pissed him off as he surely would.

“Sleeping in the waiting room.”

“Well, get him. We need to go.”

“Agent—”

“Marshal,” he interrupted. “Deputy Marshal Sam Gerard.”

‘Marshal,’” she mimicked sarcastically. “I’m not your employee. If you’re so set on ignoring doctor’s orders, I’m not going to stop you.” She strolled to the doorway. “But you’re going to have to get your friend yourself.” She closed the door, not quite slamming it.

He shouted, “Thank you!” then smiled. He liked her.

***

Apparently, he’d hurt his knee when he’d tackled the shooter. As he was crouching to get his shoes, his knee twinged and then throbbed. Great.

The knee and the shoulder made dressing fun and by the time he found Renfro, he was in a foul mood. He stood there a moment by the sofa, watching him sleep, then snapped, “Renfro!”

Renfro shot up, arms flailing. “Wha—”

“Where’s Newman?”

“Sheesh, Sam. Give me some warning next time.” Renfro sat up and rubbed his eyes. “He’s home. At least, he should be. His girlfriend came to pick him up.”

“Good.”

“You guys were shot in the same place.” Renfro stood. “Did you know that?” He smoothed his hair.

“I heard.” He started to pull his jacket on, then remembered the sling too late—a bright streak of pain shot down his arm and across his chest. He turned to the door, then growled over his shoulder, “Any day, now.”

Renfro rolled his eyes which Sam dutiful ignored.

“Have you talked to Poole?”

“Yeah. Aren’t you supposed to sign out with someone?”

“I already did.” He ignored Renfro’s expression and added, “What happened to the woman? Did we get her story?”

“Yeah, we got her story and then some. Her name is Lena Wiseman and she works at Macy’s in the makeup department. Are you limping?”

“No.” They reached the elevators and he gestured impatiently for Renfro to push the call button. “Did she act alone?”

“Yeah, we think so. We’re still checking that out.”

“Was anybody hurt?”

“No. Newman said that when you hustled the judge into the ballroom, Wiseman shot into the air. That was what scared everyone.”

“She was angry.”

“Yeah,” Renfro chuckled mordantly. “You took her target away. I’d say she was pretty freaking angry.”

“What was her motive?” The elevator doors opened and they stepped in.

“She’s married to the guy that Judge Wilson put away a few weeks ago.”

He glanced sharply at Renfro. “Wiseman?”

“Yeah, that’s her maiden name. She changed it legally after the trial. Probably so she could get on the guest list.”

“And how’d she do that?”

“She donated a boatload of cash to some children’s foundation.”

It made sense; the arrest had taken place late last year—she’d have plenty of time to plan. “What else?”

“Well, she says her husband was framed. Says he worked for this pharmaceutical company and they set him up to take the fall for a massive contamination that killed a couple people and made a lot more sick.”

He sighed. “The company isn’t Devlin MacGregor, is it?”

“No, but wouldn’t that be a trip if it was?”

“No, it would not. What did Hayward say?”

“I don’t know, but Poole said Hayward’s gonna call a friend at the DEA.”

The doors opened and he stepped through. The fumes of the parking garage hit and he thought he might be sick. “Where’s your car?”

Renfro nodded. “Over here. I wanted to park upstairs, but there wasn’t any room. I had to drive around and around; it’s like a freaking maze.”

He ignored Renfro’s muttering. He figured he had twenty or thirty minutes before he passed out and he wanted to do that in his own place, on his own couch. “Why the DEA?”

“Because the drugs were shipped down to Mexico and it was a bunch of Mexicans that got sick.”

What a mess. “Where is she?”

Renfro unlocked the car and opened the door for Sam. “Hayward took her into custody.”

“Good.” He slid in, unable to help the soft grunt.

“Sam?” Renfro asked, still holding the car door.

“I’m fine, Cosmo. Just get me home.”

“Yeah, okay.”

***

The ride home was mercifully quick. Several times he started to bring up the subject of Richard and several times he didn’t. He should just get it over with because Renfro was unusually quiet which meant he was thinking hard about something. Which meant he was trying hard to find a way to ask Sam about that something.

And it didn’t take a brain surgeon to guess what that something was.

But all Renfro said as he swung into a free space in front of Sam’s place was, “Do you need help?”

He opened the door. “What do you think?”

“That’s what I thought. Have a good weekend.”

“Will do.” He pulled himself out, smothering a groan as he stood up.

“I’ll call tomorrow to make sure you’re not dead.”

“I’ll make sure not to answer.”

Renfro snorted and drove away.

***

The phone was ringing just as he unlocked his door but he didn’t hurry to answer it. He was hoping whoever was calling would leave a message, but they hung up right before the machine clicked on. And then called back a few seconds later.

He sighed, tossed his jacket on the sofa and picked up the phone. “Gerard.”

“Are you okay?”

It was Lamb. “Yes, sir, I’m fine.”

“Why did you leave the hospital?”

“Because I don’t need to be there.” He made a fist—it hurt, a lot. “I’m fine,” he repeated. He went to the window.

“That’s not what Renfro said.”

“Cosmo has a wild imagination.”

“So you understood me when I said you’re taking a vacation?”

“Yes, sir, I did.”

“I mean it, Sam. I don’t want you sneaking in here. You’re going to take two weeks off on the government’s dime and then another week for your vacation.”

“What about my incident report?”

“Write it up today and hand it in when you get back.”

It was an unusual breach of protocol but he suddenly didn’t care. “Okay.”

“Are you going back to Montana?”

He stared out the window. The sun was well up now, making the view almost pretty. “No, I’ll stay here.”

“Have a good couple of weeks.”

He started to say, ‘You, too,’ but Lamb had already disconnected. He snorted and put the phone down.

And then he turned to look at the apartment. The place was neat and clean, as always, but the thought of being cooped up inside for longer than a day made him feel as if he were choking. He was never any good at sitting still, never mind sitting still inside a nine hundred square foot apartment.

He could, of course, go fishing. There were a couple places upstate that he’d been meaning to try. It wouldn’t be that bad. He’d take his time and if his shoulder got too bad, he’d find a place to rest until he could go on.

He was still standing there, trying to get up the energy to either lie down or get his duffle bag from the closet when the phone rang. This time it was Renfro.

“Are you dead?”

“Yes. I’m speaking to you from beyond the grave.” He wanted to make a moaning noise, but was too tired. “What do you want?”

“That’s a nice way to talk to a friend.”

“Cosmo, you just dropped me off twenty minutes ago. How much dying do you think I can get up to in that short a time?”

“I just wanted to tell you that Hayward confirmed that Wiseman acted alone.”

Renfro’s tone had gone from friendly to offended and Sam sighed. “Is he sure?”

“Yeah. He pulled her phone records; the only numbers she’s been calling are the prison and her work.”

“Okay. Well…” But he didn’t have a ‘well’ and he sat down on the sofa and rubbed his forehead.

“You take it easy, Sammy,” Renfro said. “I’ll see you on Monday.”

“No, you won’t. Lamb called; I’m on leave and then I’m on vacation. Three weeks.”

“Good. Are you going anywhere?”

“No. Well,” he amended, because that sounded unbearably pathetic. “Maybe fishing.”

“Catch a few for me.”

“Will do.” He lay on his back, one foot on the floor.

“Bye, Sam.”

“Goodbye, Cosmo.”

He hung up and was in the middle of closing his eyes when the phone rang again. “Goddamnit,” he snarled softly, then louder when he answered again. “Renfro, how can I die in peace if you keep calling?”

There was a pause and then Richard said, “It’s not Renfro.”

Sam froze, then muttered, “Hey.”

“Are you dying?”

“Not even close.”

There was another pause, this time shorter. “You left before I could release you.”

“I told you, I’m fine.”

“Yeah, well don’t do that again. I had some pain meds for you.”

“I’ll take aspirin.”

“No, you’ll take these.”

He frowned. “Where are you?”

“In front of your apartment.”

He rolled to his feet, swore under his breath at the jolt of pain, and went to the window. Sure enough, down below, parked across the street was a sleek black car. “You make house calls?”

“For a select few.”

He leaned his head against the glass. He could lie, but Richard was stubborn—he’d just keep coming. Besides, he wanted to see him, if only for a few minutes. “Apartment two-ten.”

“Thanks.”

He hung up and limped to the bedroom. He gave himself a once-over, deciding that even though he looked like shit, there was no time to wash up. Still, he went to the bathroom and brushed his teeth.

He wasn’t nervous, he assured himself as he rinsed and spit. He rarely had people over, that’s all. The last time had been the guys and that had been to watch the Bears get trashed by the Packers. So, yeah, he wasn’t nervous.

And then he grimaced at himself in the mirror because, damn, he was nervous as hell and—

The doorbell rang. He ran his hand over his hair one more time, then went to answer it.

Richard was holding a bag and two carefully balanced coffees. He held the bag up—it had the familiar golden arches. “I wasn’t sure if you’d eaten and I figured your refrigerator would be in the same state as mine.”

Sam raised an eyebrow and took a coffee. “Fat and cholesterol? You trying to kill me?”

“Yes.” Richard grinned. “Very slowly. The coffee’s decaffeinated, by the way.”

Sam made a face, but took the bag and gestured for Richard to come in.

Richard looked around and then went to the windows. “This is nice.”

“I’m not here much.”

“Yeah, but this is a great view.” He waved to the park across the street. “Have you been here long?”

“For about eight years. I’m thinking of moving.” He wasn’t sure why he said that—he hadn’t really thought about anything other than work for so long. And then he remembered he’d told Richard that very thing, months ago at that first meal together. “I’m repeating myself, aren’t I?”

Richard turned from the windows. “You’re tired.”

“Yeah.” It was just that it was weird having Richard here, in his apartment with the bedroom a few feet away.

“Then eat that.” Richard nodded to the bag. “And take the Vicodin.”

He didn’t bother arguing. He sat at the dining table and pushed a chair back for Richard.

“Thanks.” Richard took a seat and then a sip of coffee.

Sam opened the bag and peered inside. It was an egg sandwich, wrapped in foil. He’d never been fond of MacDonald’s but he unwrapped it and took a bite. And another, only then realizing how hungry he was. He finished it and looked for more.

“I should have bought another,” Richard said.

“No,” he mumbled. “I’ve got some fruit somewhere.”

Richard made to get up. “Where is it?”

He smiled wryly. “At the grocery store.”

Richard gave him a look, then went to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator.

“What are you looking for?” Asked idly because he was forcing himself not to look at Richard’s ass and not doing a good job of it.

“Water.”

“It’s in the crisper.”

Richard bent, then straightened up, water bottle in hand. “Don’t vegetables go in the crisper?”

“What’s in yours?”

Richard grinned and murmured, “Touché.” He came back, gave Sam the water and sat down again. “Take the Vicodin.”

It should be irritating, that Richard felt comfortable enough to boss him around, but it didn’t—it felt good in a really disturbing way. “How many?”

Richard leaned forward, screwed the lid off the bottle. “One, for now.” He shook out a pill and gave it to Sam.

He swallowed it down and wiped his mouth. “I haven’t taken Vicodin in a long time. It makes me loopy.”

“As long as it eases the pain.”

“Tell me that when I start singing Neal Diamond.”

Richard gave Sam a startled grin. “Neal Diamond?”

He shrugged, unaccountably embarrassed. “It was the first musician I could think of.”

“So if I go to that sideboard…” Richard nodded to the entertainment center, such as it was. “And looked, will I find any Neal Diamond records?”

“Just one,” he admitted with a smile. For some reason, Vicodin affected him like Everclear affected a teetotaler—he was already starting to feel loose and good. He sighed and repeated, “Just one.”

“So, you’re an easy listening kind of man?”

“Hardly. I’m more of a country-western kind of guy. What about you?”

“Jazz.”

He nodded. “Jazz is good. Especially the classics like B.B. King and Billie Holiday.”

“What about Charlie Parker?”

“The best.” He nodded again, then kept nodding because he couldn’t seem to stop.

“Sam?” Richard murmured.

“Yeah?” His eyelids were getting heavy and it was a struggle, keeping awake.

“You need to go to bed.”

“I will.”

“Now.”

He frowned and then laughed because it was sort of funny.

Richard murmured in his ear. “What’s sort of funny?”

“I don’t think I can stand up. It’s just funny.”

“You are standing up,” Richard answered softly and sure enough, Sam was on his feet, guided by Richard towards the bedroom.

“Loopy. I told you.”

“Next time we’ll try something that doesn’t have such a punch.”

“Next time.” He remembered those words, but they’d been used in a different context and he couldn’t remember what or why, only that they’d made him happy. “Will there be a next time?”

“With your job, I’d say so.”

He was pushed, then guided, and he sat on something soft. “That’s not good.”

“It’s the way it is.”

“‘The way it is,’” he repeated, thinking he could say it all night. “The way it is.

“Hm-mm.”

He was pushed again and then lowered. He was on his bed; it felt softer than usual and he hummed deep in his throat. “The way it is isn’t always good.”

“I suppose not.”

“You know all about that, don’t you.”

It wasn’t quite a question, but Richard answered anyway. “I do.”

One shoe was removed. “I’m sorry.” And then the other.

“For what?”

“For your wife,” he murmured as his eyes closed. “I don’t think I ever said, but I am.” He raised his arm and let it fall to the bed, enjoying the heavy feel of it as it hit the comforter. He did it again.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

There was a pause and he thought Richard had gone, but when he opened his eyes, Richard was sitting on the side of the bed, staring at him. “What?”

“I still love her.”

“Okay.”

“I just wanted you to know that.”

“Okay.”

“It’s important that you know that.”

He nodded, the word, ‘okay,’ on his lips but even as he opened his mouth, he gave up the fight and closed his eyes again and fell, fell, fell…

***

When he woke up, it was night, he had an awful taste in his mouth and he was alone. He turned on his good side and tucked a pillow under the sling and went to sleep again.

***

He woke and fell back asleep several times after that, never really sure of the time until a shrill screech startled him awake. He fumbled for the phone, groaned, dropped it and had to fish it up. “Yeah?”

It was Renfro, saying something about shoulder and rest and it took Sam more than a moment to sort the words out. “Cosmo?”

“Yeah, Sam?”

“Did you wake me out of a deep, restful sleep to ask if I’ve been sleeping?”

Renfro didn’t say anything for a second, then he muttered, “Go back to sleep, Sammy. I’ll talk to you in a few weeks.”

Renfro hung up and Sam lay there, listening to the dial tone, wondering if he was awake enough to get out of bed.

No, he wasn’t. He put the phone back where it was supposed to be and closed his eyes.

***

When he finally woke, for real and good, he was shocked to find that it was Monday. At least, when he stumbled to the living room and turned on the TV, Good Morning America said it was and why would they lie?

He’d slept almost thirty hours, something he hadn’t done since college. Well, he thought, still staring at Joan Lunden, it was the best way to start a vacation, being rested.

He turned off the TV and went to the bathroom. He probably wasn’t supposed to do this, but he wanted to see, so he carefully peeled back a corner of the bandage. It didn’t look bad, just a one-inch row of red skin and black stiches. It hurt, though and he hesitated before figuring, what the hell. He went to the kitchen, downed another Vicodin and opened the refrigerator door.

He was standing there, looking at a limp head of lettuce and a loaf of bread when the phone rang. It was too far away, he decided, and he just listened to the message.

“Sam? It’s Richard. I’m starting to get worried. If I don’t hear from you by noon, I’m calling Marshal Renfro. I hope you’re not at work.” There was a soft click and the machine turned off.

Sam went to the sofa and set down, then dragged the machine closer. The red LED glowed ‘10.’ Huh—he’d been more out of it than he’d thought. He pushed play.

The first was from Poole, the second was a hang-up and the third was from Richard.

‘Hi, I’m just leaving your place. You’re sleeping pretty soundly which is good. I’m going to check in with you later on in the day. Don’t be a hero—take another Vicodin if you need it. While you’re at it, ice that knee—it looks like you banged it up.”

Sam rubbed his knee. He didn’t remember Richard examining it. “‘Don’t be a hero,’” he mocked without any real heat.

The next three messages were from Renfro, the seventh from Lamb. Sam listened to them impatiently—if he was going on vacation, he wanted to be on vacation and that meant no calls from work or his boss.

The next three messages were from Richard, each hoping he was resting and not overdoing it, each urging him to take the Vicodin if he needed it.

He waited for the last message to finish, then picked up the phone. The phone rang six times before he remembered that it was Monday and Richard was probably at work.

And he was. According to the very soft-spoken receptionist at Chicago Memorial, Dr. Kimble was in the middle of surgery and unavailable until at least eleven. She asked Sam if he wanted to talk to another doctor or leave a message with the service; he hesitated, then said no to both.

Fifteen minutes later, he called again, asked the receptionist to have Dr. Kimble call when he was free and quickly hung up.

He rubbed his knee again, then stretched out on the sofa and slept until two.

***

The first thing he did when he woke was to check the answering machine—there were no messages. He rolled to his feet with a growl that bled into a groan, limped to the kitchen, got a bottle of water, and went to bed.

***

The next few days were torture. Not because of the shoulder or the knee—by Wednesday, the pain and stiffness were minimal in both and he managed on small doses of Tylenol.

It was the sitting around—he hated it as much as he hated feeling weak. He lasted an entire day before he got bored enough to go through the mail. It was more difficult than he’d thought it would be and by the time he was done, he’d thrown three-quarters of it away and his shoulder was hurting. The next day, he decided would be the relatively easy task of going to the grocery store.

Normally, he bought his groceries at places within walking distance, and he was always in and out in ten minutes. But for some reason, he felt the need to stock up so he got in the car and went to the big new store that had just opened up west of him. He took his time, strolling up and down every aisle, grabbing things he probably would never use. He returned home two hours after he’d left, tired and sore, the trunk and back seat full of plastic bags.

If buying the groceries was exhausting, getting them upstairs was worse. He made three trips before giving up and leaving the non-perishables in the trunk. When all the food was put away, he made a beeline for the sofa and the answering machine. And yes, finally, the light was flashing.

‘Sam? It’s Richard. I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you. I got a bad one and it put me behind. It’s Thursday and I’ve—’ He broke off and there was a sound, like a door slamming. ‘Sorry. I forgot to close the door. But I wanted to tell you I’m taking some time off. The shooting on Friday was—’ Richard stopped and cleared his throat, then said, ‘I’ve been thinking about what you said and I think you’re right. I came back too soon. I’ve been—’

He broke off again but Sam could hear him breathing. When he started up again, his voice had lowered to a rough whisper. ‘I need some time off from it all. I told the hospital that I’m taking the rest of the month off. They weren’t happy, but… Anyway, I’m going and I wanted you to know. I’ll be in touch. I’m—’

But whatever Richard was, was lost as the recorder decided it had enough and a metallic voice told Sam that, ‘You have reached your time limit.’

He rubbed his eyes, then pushed play again, Sam? It’s Richard…’

He listened to it two more times. He couldn’t decide if Richard was blowing him off or just stating the why and the how. But whatever, however, whyever, he was running again.

Sam sat there, a long moment of just staring at the machine. Then he straightened and picked up the phone. He dialed quickly, waited until it was answered and began speaking.

***

When he pulled up in front of Richard’s old house, he was twenty minutes late.

Renfro was leaning against his car and when he saw Sam, he threw his hands up. “Five o’clock, you said. I’ve been here for a half an hour.”

He climbed out of the car. “Yeah, I know.” He was damned if he told Renfro he was late because he’d spent too long at Richard’s new place, ringing the door bell and knocking, trying to decide whether or not to break in. He’d been interrupted by Richard’s neighbor, the pretty woman he’d noticed months ago. She’d asked if he was looking for Dr. Kimble; he’d said no and left, more angry than when he’d arrived.

“Why am I doing this again?” Renfro said, following Sam up to the door.

He held his hand out, ignoring the question. “Key and code?”

Renfro gave him a small plastic-wrapped package with a copy of the request from Records. “We could get in a lot of trouble for this.”

He unwrapped the package—it held a key and a small slip of paper. “No, I could get in a lot of trouble for this.” He peered at the code, then unlocked the door, stepped inside and quickly typed in the alarm code. The light flashed green; beside him, Renfro sighed. “You were never here, got that?”

“Yeah, tell that to Detective Kelly.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” The house looked the same as the last time he visited—most everything was in place, but the crime scene boys had done a number on the carpeting and furniture. He tipped his head to scan the second floor.

“He’s got a flag on Kimble’s file. When I went down to get the stuff, they called him.” Renfro jerked his thumb. “He left about five minutes ago.”

Sam shook his head. “That man needs a hobby.” He went to the stairs and started to climb.

“No, he needs to get it through his thick head that the case is over and Kimble is innocent.” Renfro hesitated, then asked, “He is innocent, isn’t he?”

“Why are you asking me?”

“Because you’re here, aren’t you?”

The second floor was as blandly innocent as the first and he went to the balustrade and looked down. “Dr. Kimble didn’t kill his wife.”

“Then why are you here?” When Sam didn’t answer, Renfro came nearer and asked quietly, “Sam? What’s going on with you and Kimble?”

Sam gripped the railing, hard enough to make his shoulder hurt. The concern he’d been living with since he’d gotten Richard’s call had turned to worry, but it had been stupid, bringing Renfro into it, even though there had been no other way to get the key…

“Sammy.”

He turned. Renfro was staring at him, head cocked and by the set in his shoulders and the look in his eye, this time he wouldn’t be fobbed off or ignored. And they had been friends for too long—Renfro would never trust him again if he lied.

“Yeah, all right,” Sam said. “We had dinner a couple times.”

“How many is a couple?”

“Five.”

“Why?”

The same thing Richard had asked and a million times harder to answer. “Because I like him, Cosmo. He’s a friend.” A bitter concession that made him want to growl. “It’s complicated.” Another big fat lie, of course. Lust was the most uncomplicated thing in the world, but all the emotions that surrounded and hid behind lust? They were the complication.

“And all this is?” Renfro gestured, taking in the house and Sam.

“All this is me trying to find him.”

“He took off?”

“Yeah.”

“Where to?”

“I have no idea.”

Renfro opened his mouth and closed it again. Then opened it again. “What do you want me to do?”

He shook his head, suddenly exhausted. “There’s nothing to do. If he comes back, he comes back.”

“Do you want me to put a unit on his house?”

He pushed away from the railing. “No. Leave him alone.” He glanced at Renfro. “I mean it.”

Renfro muttered something under his breath but didn’t say anything else until they were standing by their cars. “If Kelly asks, what do you want me to say to him?”

He opened the car door and rested his arm on the hood. Renfro could have pushed it, demanded that Sam tell him everything even though there was nothing really to tell. But he’d left it alone and Sam appreciated that kind of leeway. Still, it was important to get one thing clear. “Tell him it’s none of his fucking business and when I get back, I’m going to put in a formal complaint that he’s harassing Richard.”

He ignored Renfro’s open-mouthed shock and got in the car.

***

His bad mood worsened the closer he got to his place; by the time he’d parked, he was almost snarling. He took the stairs two at a time, thinking that Richard didn’t owe him anything and it wasn’t his fault that Sam had wanted more. It was just one of those things and he needed to calm the hell down.

Good advice that he didn’t heed—he shoved his door open and closed it so hard his picture frames rattled. A lucky thing, it turned out, otherwise he might have missed the business card that had fluttered to the floor when he slammed the door shut.

He picked it up. It was Richard’s business card and on the back was a brief note, written in a tiny black scrawl: ‘I called but couldn’t leave a message. Your machine is full. My flight takes off in an hour and Ineed to go but in case you were serious about the vacation, come find me. 46d1m17s’

And that was all. Cryptic and useless except, of course, for the fact that Richard hadn’t taken off without a word. He’d actually gone out of his way to let Sam know that he was okay. Not a huge thing but a huge thing all the same.

He glanced down at the note again as he went to the kitchen to get a couple Tylenol.

The question of the hour was, where would Richard go? ‘My flight’ could mean a trip of thirty minutes or a couple hours. He had no other residences that Sam knew of, and he’d never mentioned anything about a house in the suburbs.

Sam wandered over to the window and downed the pills and a mouthful of water. Heavy clouds had rolled over the city and it was gloomy and dark, almost as if it were going to—

He breathed in at the wrong moment and choked on the water. “Shit,” he wheezed, wiping his mouth and shirt. Because, yeah, shit.

If he’d been thinking clearly instead of reacting he would have recognized the code that wasn’t a code at the end of Richard’s note. Anyone in the Marshal’s Service would realize what it meant the minute they saw it.

He hurried to the bookcase and got the atlas down, all the while remembering, ‘My family has a cabin in the Bitteroot. I haven’t been there in a long time.’

It was easy to find—46 degrees, 1 minute, 17 seconds, just outside of Darby County about twenty miles south of Missoula. He tapped the page, then closed the book, picked up the phone and dialed. When an operator answered cheerfully, “American Express Travel. How may I help you?” he answered just as cheerful, “I need to book the soonest flight to Montana.”

________________

 

“But make sure you turn southwest on West Fork or you’ll end up in Idaho.”

Sam grinned and put his wallet away. “I sure wouldn’t want that.”

Jerry shook his head. “No, you do not. And be careful when you get on Coal Creek—the road isn’t pretty. You don’t want a busted axle, not out there.”

“I’ll take my time.” He held out his hand. “Thanks, Jerry.”

Jerry wiped his palms on a rag before shaking Sam’s hand. “These rentals—I fix more of them than I do my regular’s cars.” He grinned.

Sam didn’t say that visitors probably outnumbered residents by ten to one so that wouldn’t be hard—it would be rude after all the work Jerry had done to fix the water pump. He put his sunglasses on. “Maybe I’ll see you when I head on home.”

“And when will that be?”

He had an open-ended ticket, purchased as a safety net in case Richard wasn’t as happy to see him as he was to be here. “I’m not sure. Maybe in a week or so.”

Jerry nodded thoughtfully. “Chicago’s a pretty city.”

“It is.”

Jerry stuffed the rag in his pocket. “Too many people, though.”

“Yeah, it’s good to get away. Thanks again, sir.” Sam got in the car and started her up, making a show of listening to the engine. “Sounds good,” he called out.

“Purrs like a kitten,” Jerry agreed as he stepped back a few paces. “Say hi to your friend for me.”

“Will do.”

He pulled away slowly, waving to Darla as he passed by.

She was still wearing her Hi, I’m Darla uniform even though she’d closed the diner an hour ago. She was the owner of the Windy Creek Restaurant and Curio Shop. He’d spent the afternoon at her counter, waiting on Jerry and the part he was ‘sure he had laying around here somewhere.’

There’d only been a handful of customers at the diner and Darla had parked herself in front of Sam and given him the scoop on all the residents and long-term visitors. He questioned her about Richard cautiously, not wanting to give anything away but she didn’t have much to say—mostly she wanted to talk about Jerry and his careless, hapless ways.

It wasn’t until Sam had been sitting there for three hours that he realized that she and Jerry were married and he’d thought about that for a while. Familiarity bred contempt, or so they said and maybe they were right. Jerry had stepped into the diner at six-fifteen to tell Sam the car was fixed and within minutes, he and Darla were sniping at each other. It was disturbing, but also funny—they both had to be in their seventies but they went at it like they were in their twenties.

But seventy or not, Jerry seemed to know his business—when Sam stepped on the gas at the entrance to 93, the Ford responded smoothly.

So, eighteen miles south on Painted Rocks Lake road, then west on Coal Creek. Jerry had estimated it would take thirty minutes to get to West Fork and then another thirty to get to Coal Creek. Sam subtracted ten minutes each leg for seventy-year old driving which meant he would make it before the sun went down.

He smiled, touched the detailed map on the seat beside him, then gave the Ford more gas.

***

He didn’t make it before the sun went down.

Try as he might, he reached Coal Creek Road just as the last rays were skating across the green valley that separated one mountain from the other. It was too bad—what he could see was beautiful—he’d come back down in the morning, just to check it out.

That was, if he was still here in the morning. If Richard was where he’d said he’d be, and if he let Sam stay the night.

He didn’t let himself think on what, ‘staying the night,’ might lead to—he needed to stay focused because the road was as bad as Jerry had said. It hadn’t been graded in a while and was riddled with half-submerged rocks and even some boulders.

He grimaced when he took a steep turn a bit too fast and the rear tires skittered. A rock pinged the undercarriage and he’d just have to hope it hadn’t gotten anything crucial like the oil pan. He could walk the rest of the way, but wouldn’t that look great, showing up with his duffle bag over his shoulder like a hobo?

He was still frowning when he crested the hill. And then he smiled.

Even though the sun was completely behind the mountain, he could still make out the details and hell, whoever had chosen the property had done a good job. The cabin sat alone in a shallow valley between two low hills. Nearby, a stream pooled here and there to form a series of ponds, bordered by willows and grass. Beyond the cabin stood a line of pines, the beginnings of the forest that marched up the hills.

The cabin wasn’t huge by modern standards—just a single story, maybe a thousand square feet at the most. But it was charming, a classic log cabin style, topped with a green tin roof. A covered porch ran along the front; on one side of the porch rested a stack of firewood, on the opposite side sat two rocking chairs. It would be the perfect place to watch the sun set and rise.

He smiled again and started down the short hill.

He’d pictured it, on the drive to the airport, while he was in the air, and even at the car rental place—he’d pull up to the cabin and Richard would be waiting at the door. Depending on his mood at the time—because he’d gone from a weird elation to a what the hell am I doing?—he then went on to picture Richard either with a rifle in his hands or a big smile on his face.

There was nothing of that when he drove up the dirt road because Richard wasn’t waiting nor did he come to the door. Not even when Sam stopped next to a Ranger with a Hertz sticker on it.

Telling himself he wasn’t disappointed, he got out of the car. The place was so still and quiet and he took a deep breath, breathing in the scent of pine and clean air. He hesitated, then shut the door and went up to the house.

He didn’t go very far—he just opened the screen door and leaned in—the living room and bedroom were on the right, the kitchen was on the left. He opened his mouth, then changed his mind—the house was clearly Richard-less. He turned and went back to the steps. And then stopped.

Richard was standing by a clump of willows, a stack of kindling in his arms.

“Hi,” Sam said inanely. He thought he’d be prepared because he’d seen Richard just a few days ago, but apparently he wasn’t—his heart was in his throat and his mouth had gone dry. It had been a very long time since he’d been this nervous at merely the sight of someone.

Richard nodded. “I heard the car.”

“Yeah.” Sam waved his hand. “I spent the day in Hamilton, getting it fixed.”

“What happened?”

“Water pump.” If tension was a measurable thing, he figured the scale would fall somewhere around the ten or fifteen pound mark.

“That was lucky.”

“Yeah.” And then, because it looked like they’d stand this way all night if someone didn’t do something, he added, pointing to the kindling, “You need any help?”

It broke the stalemate and Richard shook his head and came forward. “No, thanks. I just wanted to keep busy.”

Sam stepped back, making room so he could follow as Richard went into the house and dumped the kindling into a box by the fireplace. He was wearing jeans and an old white t-shirt, and as he moved, Sam could see the muscles in his back shift and slide. He made himself look away.

“Did you have any trouble finding the place?” Richard asked as he brushed his hands off and went to the kitchen to turn on the overhead light.

“No.”

Richard turned. “Really? Most people get lost.”

“Most people aren’t me,” Sam said in his most deadpan manner.

Richard laughed out loud and suddenly it was okay, the tension not gone, but muted. “Sit down. Do you want some coffee?”

“Thanks, and no; water would be great, though.”

Richard got a bottle of water out of the refrigerator, saying apologetically, “The tank is almost out. I’m saving the rest for the john and the dishes.”

“Do you need any help with it?”

Richard shook his head. “Tomorrow, maybe. How’s the shoulder?”

“Fine.”

Richard gave him a look as if saying, ‘Sure it, is.’ “Did you get the stitches out?”

“Yep. On Tuesday. It’s all nice and pretty.”

“Are you hungry?”

“Starving,” Sam said with a smile. “I had lunch at the Windy Creek diner, but…” He smiled again.

“But you could use something that wasn’t fried in a pound of grease?” Richard grinned back at him. “I ate there yesterday. How does trout sound?”

“Good.”

Richard opened the refrigerator and pulled out a package. “I caught this yesterday. I was saving it in case…” He shrugged. “I’m glad you’re here. I wasn’t sure, you’d make it.” He sat the package on the counter and reached for a cutting board.

“Yeah, it took me a while to understand the note.”

“Really? I was sure you’d get it right away.” And then Richard stopped what he was doing and looked over his shoulder. “‘Windy Creek’?” He grinned. “It’s not ‘windy,’ like ‘the wind’—it’s ‘windy’ like when you wind a clock.”

Sam paused in the middle of a sip of water. “Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure. I called to ask their hours. It’s Windy Creek.”

“But ‘windy’ isn’t a word.”

Richard went back to the fish. “It is to them.”

Sam could see that Richard was still grinning even though his back was turned. “Well, they need to stop it,” he growled, mostly to make Richard keep smiling.

“We’ll go into town tomorrow and you can tell them that they’re pronouncing it wrong.”

“I will do that,” he muttered, stuck on the fact that for there to be a tomorrow, there needed to be a tonight. He cleared his throat. “Do you need any help?”

“Sure. Can you make a salad?”

“Of course.”

“The stuff is in the refrigerator.”

‘The stuff’ consisted of a small head of lettuce, a tomato and a cucumber. “I hope you’re not expecting anything fancy.”

Richard flipped the cutting board to the clean side and slid it across the countertop. “I’ll be happy if you just cut it all up into bite-size pieces. I hate making salads.”

He looked around for a knife and found one in the drainer. He tested the blade—it was dull, but it would work. “Why? They’re the easiest part of the meal.”

Richard nodded. He was cleaning the fish, delicately easing off the scales in neat, even strokes. “I know. I think it’s because by the time I’m ready to make the salad, I’m hungry. Helen and I had a deal—if I was home in time, she’d make the salad and I’d do the rest.”

He finished with the lettuce and went on to the tomato—as expected, the blade just mashed the edges. “Who did the dishes?”

“We traded off. Well,” Richard added with a shrug, “In the end, I was working so much I missed a lot of meals so there were no dishes to do.”

“I bet that didn’t go over well.”

“It didn’t.”

“Were you thinking of retiring?”

“She suggested it a few times, but I don’t know…” Richard tossed the knife in the sink and washed his hands. “I like what I do. I’m good at it and I wasn’t ready to give it up.”

Sam finished smashing the tomatoes and started slicing the cucumber. “That’s one of the benefits of being single. Especially in my line of work.” The cucumber was easier going and he fell into a smooth rhythm.

“But don’t you have to worry about that sometimes? Making sure you have time for someone?”

He smiled down at the cucumber. “Is this your way of asking me if I’m dating anyone?”

Richard didn’t say anything for a moment and then he muttered, “Are you?”

The tension was back, thick and powerful, but somehow wonderful at the same time. It was similar to how he felt at the start of the hunt—every nerve alive and on edge, his entire focus on the now. “I would have told you if I was.” There was more he could say such as, ‘When would I have time to date,’ and ‘I’m not interested in anyone but you,’ but the one was too pathetic and the other, too soon. He finished the cucumber. “Do you have a bowl?”

“It’s down there.” Richard pointed to a lower cupboard. “Use the metal one. The plastic one is cracked.”

He got out the bowl and dumped everything in it, then shook it a bit.

“Here…” Richard got a fork out of the drawer and handed it to him, saying dryly, “That’s a better way to toss it.”

“I’ll have you know that I shake all of my salads.”

“Uh-huh.”

He smiled and tossed the salad, a little more vigorously than necessary, then set the bowl on the table. “What’s next?”

***

They ate on the porch, sitting side by side facing the river. Richard had turned on the light, but the range was weak and Sam couldn’t see anything other than a shine of the moon’s reflection on the river.

They didn’t speak much. Richard quietly asked Sam if he wanted another beer and did the fish taste okay? Sam answered just as quietly, saying ‘no,’ and ‘it’s great.’

When they were finished, Richard got up and reached for Sam’s plate. “Do you want more?”

“No. Need any help?” Sam gestured to the cabin.

“No, I’ll be right back. What about coffee?”

“No, thank you.”

“Are you cold? I can get you a jacket.”

He cocked his head because, yeah, now that he thought about it… “My vest is in my bag.”

“I’ll get it.”

“Thanks.” He watched Richard go, then stood up. He should have gone for a walk while he’d had the time. It would have been nice to stretch his legs and work off some of the energy that was slowly building in his chest and belly.

He stepped off the porch and went to stand by the cars. The moon was just clearing the treeline and he could see a little more than black. It was fat, almost full—in a few hours it would be high enough to shed some light; maybe he could go for a walk, then.

An arc of light cut the dark and he turned. Richard was standing on the porch with a mug and the vest. Before Sam could move, he said, “Wait, stay there.” He leaned inside and turned off the lights.

It was pitch dark and then not, as his eyes adjusted. The black shapes took on the forms of willows and pine trees and boulders.

Richard came up behind him, his boots hardly making a sound in the packed earth. “Here.”

Sam took the vest and pulled it on. “Thanks.”

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

It would be more beautiful if he could see something, but he just murmured, “It is.”

“No, I mean up. Look up.”

He looked up. “Oh,” he said before he could stop himself. The sky was heavy with stars, scattered about in a random pattern, so bright and sharp it was if they were a few yards away instead of millions of light years. He sighed happily.

“Beautiful, huh?” Richard asked again.

“It is,” he said again, this time truly meaning it. “It’s been a while since I’ve had time to look at the stars.”

“Hmm,” Richard said. “I would think you’d see them all the time, in your line of work.”

Sam smiled ruefully. “It’s not as exciting as that. Most of the time we operate within the city. And if we are hunting someone down, I don’t spend a lot of time looking up, if you know what I mean.”

Instead of answering, Richard pointed at the sky. “There’s a satellite. See?”

Sam squinted. “I don’t— Oh, yeah, I got it.” He tracked the bright object across the sky until it disappeared behind the flat black of a mountain.

“Sam?”

“Yeah?” he asked absently, head still tipped up.

“Here.”

He glanced sideways. Richard was holding a slip of paper out.

He took it and bent his head, trying to see what it was, realizing after a moment it was the copy of the request for Richard’s house key and alarm code from Records. He must have stuffed it in his bag without realizing, confirmed by Richard a half a second later.

“It was in your bag.”

He looked up; his neck creaky and stiff. “Okay.” He tucked the paper in his pocket.

Richard’s throat worked. “Are you spying on me?”

Back to that again and any peace he might have felt was gone in an instant. “How many times do I have to repeat myself?”

“At least once more, I think.”

Richard’s voice was thin with anger and he said quietly, “No, I am not spying on you.” He took a breath, adding softly, “Well, not really. I was worried about you so I went to check out your old house.”

But instead of pressing the point, Richard shook his head, a small, violent movement. “It’s never going to be over, is it?”

He didn’t bothering asking ‘what?’ because he knew. “No, it might never be over. A part of you might always be on the run.”

“And that’s all you have to say?” Richard laughed bitterly. “Deal with it? Get over it?”

Sam hesitated, then spoke in a flat, even tone. “I’d been in the service for a week when my boss was tasked with guard duty on a judge that had been receiving death threats. Now, death threats directed at judges weren’t unusual, even in those days.” He smiled without humor. “So we go out to the judge’s house and my boss tells me to stay in the car and keep an eye out while he gets the judge. I’m sitting there, happy as a lark, listening to the radio and thinking what a big man I am, guarding a judge and all, when a car pulls up beside me. I was too busy looking up at the brownstone to notice it but the next thing I know, a black object sails through the air and hits my boss. It explodes, the door explodes, even the fucking marble lions explode.”

He swallowed and turned to look at the river. The moon had cleared the trees and it shone down, making everything a ghostly grey. “So I jump out of the car and run up the steps but it was too late. My boss is folded against the door like a doll, a crater the size of my head in his back.” He shook his head. “He was still holding his badge.”

He turned towards Richard. Who was gazing at him, eyes wide. “I will never forget that moment. I will never forget that if I had been doing my job, my boss—a good man who had a wife and a little girl—would have gone on being my boss.”

Richard didn’t say anything for the longest time. And then he murmured, “It changed you.”

“Forever. The kid I was died on those steps along with my boss.”

“Did you catch him? The man who threw the bomb?”

“It was a ‘them’ and yes, my team caught them a few days later. They were about my age and so damn scared, they’d confused my boss with the judge.”

“I’m sorry.”

He shrugged, angry for some reason. “It was a long time ago.”

“I guess the important thing is, you learned from it.”

“Yes.”

Richard took a sip of coffee, then said, “I could use a walk. Do you…?” He gestured to the path.

“Sure,” he answered vaguely, caught by the word, ‘important.’ Richard had said something to him before, something about— “On the night I got shot?”

Richard walked towards the stream, vapor from his coffee trailing after. “What about it?”

“You said something to me about importance.” And yes, he remembered. He stopped in his tracks.

Richard stopped as well. In the dark grey night, his face was like a mask. “You remember that?”

He nodded. “Just now. You said you loved your wife. That it was important that I knew it.” There was a beat, slow and thick, and in the distance, sounding far away, an animal howled. He shivered and took a step towards Richard.

“I wanted to make sure that you knew—” But Richard’s voice stuck in his throat, like he couldn’t make the words come.

He took another step. “You wanted to make sure I knew that you still loved her, because there’s something between us.”

Richard didn’t move.

“You wanted me to know because you felt like you were betraying her.”

Richard still didn’t move, so no, that wasn’t it.

“Because you feel like you are betraying her.”

A hit—Richard’s throat worked and he nodded. “Yes.”

“Well,” Sam said, scrambling, feeling his way because he’d been here before, face to face with an adversary, one poised on the thin edge of resolve, the other ready to jump—stay or go, stay or run… “I can’t help you with that, Richard.”

Richard shook his head. “I’m not asking you to.” He stared at Sam for a long moment, then took a deep breath. He nodded to the house. “Come on,” he said. “It’s cold out here.”

‘No, it’s not,’ Sam wanted to say, but, thankfully, surprisingly, Richard had jumped and all Sam could do was jump with him. He followed Richard, dogging his heels, up to the porch and into the house, on auto-pilot, keeping anticipation at bay because—

Richard stopped suddenly, heels still on the threshold, and Sam wasn’t ready—he ran into Richard, catching his hip and side to steady himself.

He’d had a plan, of course. Formulated months before when he’d realized that bedding Richard was in the realm of possibility. He’d go slow and take his time, working up to it, gauging each action, each response. But the minute he touched Richard and felt him take a quick breath, he forgot all plans, all caution. He slipped his hand around Richard’s waist and pulled.

Richard resisted at first and then he didn’t, pressing back as Sam pulled and they stayed there, barely breathing. And then Sam bent close and kissed the back of Richard’s neck. Richard dropped the coffee, then twisted, pressing his mouth to Sam’s.

It was a clumsy kiss, not sexy at all, just the mere force of mouth on mouth and Sam had a moment of, ‘Oh, shit,’ but Richard angled his head and…

He tasted of coffee and smelled of pine, a seductive combination that Sam wasn’t unprepared for. He closed his eyes and opened his mouth.

Like so many other Richard experiences of the past few months, it had been a while and even as Richard bit Sam’s bottom lip and a streak of fire raced up his spine, he cautioned himself not to make too much of it. That the kiss couldn’t be as good as it felt, and he couldn’t really feel the world tilt because that’s not how he was and it was impossible anyway.

A complete lie made transparent when Richard mumbled into his mouth, “Bed,” and pulled. Sam followed, fists still wrapped around Richard’s waist, feeling drunk and off kilter. Across the creaky wooden floor and into the bedroom until he jammed up against the hard, unyielding bedframe. There was another moment of awkwardness and then they were falling together. Sam landed on his bad shoulder and couldn’t help his groan. Richard rolled away.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

Richard leaned over Sam, stretching to get the lamp. “You always say that.” He tugged on Sam’s vest. “Let me see.”

“I’m fine.”

“Sam.”

Sam sighed but gave in. He lay there, making Richard do all the work as he pulled off his shirt and undershirt. “I really am okay,” he whispered, not too strenuously because it was a kind of a kick, being so passive.

Richard ignored him, peering down to examine the new scar. He raised Sam’s arm and carefully rotated it up and then to the side. “How does that feel?”

“Doesn’t hurt.”

“And this?” Richard gently prodded the hollow under Sam’s clavicle with his fingertips.

“If I say fine again, will you kick me out of bed?”

Richard cracked a smile, gave Sam’s arm one last gentle tug and let go. “It’s healing well.”

“You did a good job,” he answered absently. Richard was over him, knees straddling his thigh. “Are you this nice to all of your patients?”

Richard grinned. “Only a select few.”

“Well,” He reached up and stroked Richard’s forearms. “That ‘select few’ is now a select one, okay?” He tried to use his best snarl, but Richard just laughed.

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Where were we?”

Richard’s smile faded. He leaned over Sam, on all fours now, within kissing distance. “Here,” he whispered. “We were here.”

This time the kiss was undeniably perfect as Richard opened Sam’s mouth with his own. As Sam moaned and tugged him down so they were chest to chest, hip to hip.

Richard was solid and sleek, the muscles of his back and arms gliding and bunching as Sam removed his shirt and jeans and then his own. When they were naked, Richard leaned back and looked at Sam for a long moment. Sam wondered what he was seeing—a beat-up marshal with too many years under the belt or just another body made of flesh and bone?

But Richard surprised him once again. He stopped his staring and placed his palm in the middle of Sam’s chest, murmuring, “I’m glad you found me.”

Sam swallowed, not sure if Richard was referencing the present or past, but it didn’t matter—he wouldn’t let it matter. He pulled Richard down and spread his thighs, making a place for him.

***

Sam didn’t pass out or fall asleep after he came. He lay on his back, eyes closed, trying to feel what he was feeling. Good, mostly, but strange, like he was in his body and also not in his body, and so awake, he felt like he’d never sleep again.

Richard, though, had turned to the wall and fallen asleep the minute he slid off Sam.

And that wasn’t weird, Sam told himself. If there was any bad blood still between them, it wouldn’t be washed away by sex, no matter how good; he knew that going in. It meant nothing that Richard lay there, encased in solitude like he was a ten miles away instead of ten inches. Still, Sam couldn’t help reaching out with a slow hand and touching the scar on the back of Richard’s hip. Richard murmured something too low to hear but the sound loosened something deep inside and Sam sighed, brought his hand back to where it belonged and fell asleep.

***

The mattress dipped and squeaked and he was awake in a flash. “What is it?” He reached out, feeling for the nightstand, his hand meeting air before he remembered where he was. He said it again, this time less urgent, “What is it?”

With a click, the room brightened. He squinted up. Richard was sitting on the side of the bed, dressed in jeans and no shirt, looking down with that familiar half smile.

“Do you always wake up like that?”

He slumped back. “How should I know?”

“I’ll have to watch out, then.”

Sam wanted to make some smartass remark, but the thought of Richard waking him up on a regular basis wasn’t anything to complain about. He rubbed his eyes and tried not to smile.

“I want to show you something.”

“Didn’t you do that already?” Richard gave him a look, eyebrow raised, and Sam relented. “I take it this is something I have to get up for?”

“It’ll be worth it, I promise.” Richard rose, picked up Sam’s jeans and shorts and tossed them to him. “Don’t worry about your boots and don’t turned on the main light.” He left, closing the door after.

Sam ignored the shorts and tugged on his jeans. When he got to the main room, he found that the drapes were all open and the moonlight was streaming in. Richard was in the kitchen, standing in a bright, elongated rectangle of light, looking out the window. Sam went to stand next to him.

“Look,” Richard said, pointing. “I was hoping she’d make an appearance.”

He leaned forward. They were facing the north side of the property and he could only see bare dirt, a few bushes, and beyond that, the forest. He frowned and opened his mouth to ask what the hell he was supposed to be seeing when he saw it. Just a vague shadow at first, a lumbering patch of dark moving among dark, unrecognizable until it moved into the moonlight. “Oh,” he said, leaning closer.

It was a bear, a very big bear. It measured maybe five feet at the shoulder and had long, long claws. “How do you know it’s a she?” he murmured, mostly to say something because a shiver had raised the hair on the back of his neck. Only a relatively few inches of wood and insulation separated them from the bear and it was thrilling, transfixing.

“Look over to the right.” Richard touched Sam again, this time on the small of his back.

“Oh,” he said again, this time a little helplessly. Two cubs wandered out of the forest, hurrying to catch up with their mother. They weren’t searching for food like the sow—they were playing, tumbling over fallen logs and each other. At one point the smaller one bit the larger and he let out a yip. The sow stopped her foraging and raised her big head. She gazed at them, as if saying, ‘Are you all right?,’ then went back to work.

“Amazing, aren’t they?” Richard murmured.

Completely, totally. “How many times have you seen her?”

“Just twice.”

“I hope you’re keeping your distance.”

“I am. She knows I’m here—she never gets any closer than where she is now.”

“Is she tagged?”

“Not that I can tell. A forest ranger came by and said she’s been in the area and to stay out of her range if I went hiking.”

“That would be hard, considering her range is the entire forest.” He tried for sarcasm, but Richard just snorted.

“I haven’t felt much like hiking.”

“Why not?” he asked absently, still watching the cubs play. They’d wandered closer to the cabin and he could easily make out their sharp white teeth and baby claws. “The trails look pretty good out here.”

“I was waiting for you.”

Said so quietly, so matter-of-factly that it took Sam a moment to comprehend the meaning. He straightened up and turned. “Richard.”

“I knew you’d come. I just didn’t know when; I didn’t want to miss you.”

He still wasn’t used to that, Richard’s blend of forthright, vulnerable honesty but maybe he should be—it wasn’t the first time he run up against it. That night at the hotel, as he’d escorted Richard out of the Hilton, he’d scanned the crowd, waiting for the Chicago PD to make a stupid move. Richard had been calm, almost docile, keeping by Sam’s side as they walked out of the laundry room and through the lobby to the waiting reporters. Sam hadn’t questioned it—somehow in the space of ten minutes, Richard had become his and it had felt perfectly normal. But now he wondered at it, that Richard was so willing to show his cards in such a manner when most men would duck for cover and run.

He swallowed away the raw emotion and reached out and took Richard’s arm. With a last look at the bears, he led Richard back to the bedroom.

He didn’t turn the lamp on, instead using moonlight and memory to guide Richard to the bed and down. He stripped off his jeans, then Richard’s, and slipped on top.

This time—the wild night sunk deep in his bones—he made love with a certain consciousness, already knowing where to touch, to kiss, roaming Richard’s body like a hunter, following this trail of muscle to that path of flesh. He didn’t have any set desire but when Richard rolled to his side and then belly, Sam slid on top as if he’d known this was coming because this was his place, his man. He swallowed away the not-entirely-pleasant emotion, kissed the sharp jut of Richard’s shoulder and began to move.

And it was another moment of discovery—learned in a split second as he found his rhythm and began to thrust between Richard’s thighs—this sense of familiarity, everything known and accepted. As if they’d had sex like this many times before and there was no need for words, questions, answers. “Richard.”

Richard pushed back and grabbed Sam’s hand, dragging it down to his dick. “Sam?” Richard squeezed. “Sam—”

He answered by biting the back of Richard’s neck, stifling the fervent, ‘I want to fuck you,’ because it was too soon and it didn’t matter anyway. Not now at least, and his vision went white as the fantasy of how it would be, fucking Richard, took hold.

________________

The weeks passed in a flash. Eighteen days of sex and fishing and working on the cabin because Richard was trying to modernize it. Sam thought some of the ideas were sensible and some far too grand but what did he know? He liked to work with his hands, but had no experience in home repair and was content to follow Richard’s lead.

Contrary to what he’d said that first day, when Richard went to town for supplies, he stayed behind, saying that his shoulder hurt or he was too tired. Richard would give him a look but said nothing and it was nice, lying on the sofa with a book or the local paper, dozing off between chapters or articles. When Richard got back, he’d wake but wouldn’t bother getting up; he’d just pat the cushions and smile.

The sex was good, great even. It had been a long time since he’d had so much in such a short period. In the bedroom, in the living room, and once—because they couldn’t wait—late in the evening out on the porch. They hid in the shadows, pressed against each other, quick and dirty but somehow more tender for all that.

They talked, mostly about impersonal stuff like work and politics. Richard never brought up the subject of his wife or explained why he’d left Chicago so suddenly. Sam wasn’t sure if it was because Richard didn’t want to break the peace or if both subjects were simply off limits, but he watched for signs of trauma or regret and found none.

Richard never asked how long he was staying—he just seemed to take each day as it came. At first it bothered Sam, the void of explanations and schedules, and then he forgot about all that as the days started to run together.

They never saw the bear and her cubs again. Sam looked for her and found tracks about a half-mile up the river. He figured it was a good thing, her being gone—humans and wildlife didn’t always mix. The last thing he wanted was to shoot such a beautiful animal just to keep Richard safe.

As the final week approached, he grew quiet and reflective, for the first time wondering how hard it was going to be, getting in the car and driving back up the hill, effectively leaving the man he’d become so he could go back to being the man he’d been. He wanted to think it wouldn’t be an issue but he could feel the impending pain, like a tooth in the first stages of decay. He did his best to ignore the ache, but found it only made it worse.

________________

They had a system, almost three weeks old: Richard would get at the crack of dawn and make coffee while Sam would sleep in as long as possible.

This day, his last day, didn’t change that. He lay there, face buried in the pillow, listening while Richard dressed and then tiptoed out of the room. As soon as he was alone, however, he broke pattern and rolled to his back and opened his eyes.

They’d repaired and refinished the ceilings the day before and the house still smelled of varnish. It looked good, though, the ceiling above him, smooth and pale gold. The varnish had been expensive, guaranteed to last fifteen years.

He wondered if he’d be around to see if the manufacturer’s claims were honest. Probably not. Fifteen years was a long time. In fifteen years, he’d probably be retired and living off his pension somewhere in Florida or Phoenix or wherever ex-marshals went to die. In fifteen years, Richard probably would be long since married again and spending all his days on a golf course.

Sam rolled his eyes and sat up—soon he’d be weeping and wailing and he’d never been one for self-pity even though he had an inkling that weeping would feel pretty good in about ten hours. He got up, dressed, and went to find Richard.

He was out on the porch, sitting in one of the chairs, drinking coffee. He looked up when Sam came out.

“Morning,” Sam said evenly.

“Morning,” Richard answered. “There’s a some for you.” He nodded to the cup on the railing. “It might be cold.”

“That’s okay.” He grabbed it, sat down and took a sip. “Perfect.”

Richard smiled. “You always say that.”

“That’s because you make a good cup of coffee.”

Richard settled back; his chair rocked and creaked. “Helen hated my coffee.”

Sam paused, then took another sip. “She did?”

“Hm-mm. She said I made it too strong.”

“Which meant you thought she made it too weak?”

Richard smiled again. “Something like that.” He rocked again, then murmured casually, “I don’t dream about her anymore.”

Sam looked over. Richard was gazing out at the stream, eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”

“I used to dream about her all the time.” Richard swallowed around the words and closed his eyes briefly. “But now, I don’t dream about her at all.”

Sam gave it a moment, then said, “You know why, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“So is it a good thing or a bad thing?”

But Richard didn’t answer; he just rocked again and said, “You’re leaving today, aren’t you?”

It was his turn to gaze at the stream. “Yes.” There was a bird, maybe a jay, hoping around in a pine.

“Have you packed?”

“No. I thought I’d wait.” He could count on one hand the times he’d waited for anything or anyone. “It won’t take long—I didn’t bring much.”

Richard nodded and looked down at his coffee. “I have something for you, but first I want to tell you something.”

“Okay.”

“I’ve been sitting out here, trying to figure out how to explain… We should have talked before, but I didn’t want to—” Richard waved his hand and Sam nodded.

“I know.” A cold lump settled in his gut.

“It’s about what happened after the shooting.”

The jay ruffled its feathers, then squawked once and flew away. Sam was never a coward but suddenly he wished he could fly away with it; be away from this mess and back to where he belonged. “Yes?”

“Hm-mm.” Richard shifted his mug from one hand to the other. “That night at the fundraiser when you told me to leave, I waited because I wanted to see what was going on. I thought something might happen, but never that.” He shook his head sharply. “And when you were shot, I knew it wasn’t a serious wound, but I—” Richard peered into the mug it like he was reading tealeaves. “You said you were changed by your boss’s murder. Well, I was changed by Helen’s death, I just didn’t realize how much.” He looked up. “I’m not talking about the sex.”

Sam cleared his throat. He had no idea where Richard was going with this, what he meant, but all he could say was, “I know.”

“See, I thought I could just go back to my old life and start again. Same hospital, same clubs, same friends.” Richard smiled bitterly. “But I can’t. I’m not the man I used to be.” His smile died. “When I realized that, the day after you were shot, I freaked out.”

Oh. “You did?”

“And I ran.”

Sam nodded. The cold was melting under a glimmer of where the conversation was heading.

Richard sat back, the creak of the chair sounding startling loud. “Helen and I had a lot of good years and I’ll never regret them, but I was careless and some of the things we’d planned…” He shook his head. “I’m not going to be careless again. I like you. I like you and I want to see where this thing with you leads.”

Sam nodded. “Okay.”

“And I needed to know if you trust me.”

He nodded again. “Because all of this was a test to see how I’d react?

Richard swallowed. “I didn’t realize it at first, but yeah, that was part of it.”

He remembered driving up, no one at the house and then Richard behind him in the bushes, kindling in his arms. “Did you have a getaway bag in the jeep?”

Richard smiled thinly. “No. It wasn’t until I saw you that I realized that I’d half expected Detective Kelly and a couple cops.”

“Don’t worry about Kelly. I’m going to take care of him when I get back.”

“Do I want to know what that means?”

“No.”

Richard sat his mug down. “Are you angry?”

“About you running? No.” I should be, but I’m not because I’ve been waiting for this to happen and I think, so have you. “It might take you some time to trust people again completely, but you can, Richard—you can trust me.”

“Yeah, I know it.” Richard drew a deep breath and smiled, this time clearly. “I know it, Sam.”

They were silent for a while. Sam took a sip of his cold coffee. He felt lightheaded, as if a threatening storm had gathered overhead only to find that it had faded to a spring squall.

“I’ve got something for you.”

“Oh, yeah.” He’d forgotten all about that. “What is it?”

Richard nodded at the table. Next to his mug lay a small silver key.

Sam picked it up, heart in throat. “A present?” he managed to say. “I didn’t get you anything.”

Richard smiled, a little ruefully. “Next time.”

The key rolled to rest in his palm. “I take it it’s not the key to your locker at your gym?”

“No.”

“Or your office at the hospital?”

“No.”

“There’s only one other place, isn’t there?”

“It’s my extra. I figured since I never use it…” Richard shrugged. “I know it’s a little early—is it a problem?”

“No,” he muttered. If Richard had the guts to take the step, so could he. “I’d give you mine, but I don’t have a spare. I’ll have one made when I get home.”

Richard clasped his hands together. “In the past few weeks, I realized I’d been holding you at arm’s length and I don’t want to do that anymore.”

He nodded.

“I’ve got something else for you.”

This time he had no heart to make a stupid joke. He curled his fingers around the key so tight the uneven edges cut into his palm. “What is it?”

Richard pulled a piece of paper from his back pocket and gave it to him. “Here.”

He unfolded it and huh, it was a receipt for the Hamilton Airport, dated two days before. “I thought you were gone a long time for a simple grocery run.” He looked up, warmth replacing whatever cold was left in his belly. “You’re coming back with me?”

“Yeah.”

“Why?”

“It’s time.”

‘It’s time to stop running!’ echoed in his memory and he wondered if Richard heard the words, too. “Okay.”

“Don’t go crazy with happiness.”

“Oh…” He smiled at everywhere but Richard. “I’m happy. Believe me, I’m happy.”

“So,” Richard said, drawing out the syllable.

“So?” Sam said, just as slowly.

“Our flight leaves in six hours.”

He gave the receipt back to Richard, an absent-minded gesture because he recognized the gleam in Richard’s eye. “It does.”

“The drive will take about an hour.”

“Yes.”

“I’ve got to close the house up. That will take another hour.”

“I’ll help.”

“And I need to return the rental.”

Sam nodded. “Me, too.” There was a space of maybe three feet of air between them and he thought once again of the dam and the tunnel and Richard, backlit against that ugly grey day, desperate and wet. So different from now. It had taken a lot of courage to do what Richard had done; most men weren’t capable of that kind of leap of faith, most men wouldn’t have even tried.

“Do you know,” he said as he stuffed the key into his pocket and ordered his dick and heart to behave. “Jerry told me that one can shave off fifteen minutes if one uses a back route to get to 93.”

“One can?”

“And the flight won’t leave without us; we’ll probably be the only passengers.”

“Probably.”

He ignored Richard’s gentle sarcasm. “Which means we have at least three hours before we have to start packing.”

“At least.” Richard got up as well. “What will we do with the time?”

Sam wanted to roll his eyes but the mounting happiness was too strong, so he just grinned and walked towards the door. When he got to the threshold, he stopped, one hand resting on the doorjamb.

Once, at the tender age of nine or so, he’d read a story in a school library book about Orpheus. How Orpheus’s wife, Eurydice, had died unexpectedly and in his grief, Orpheus traveled to the underworld to get her back. Orpheus convinced Hades and Persephone to let his wife go but was warned that he had to lead Eurydice out of the underworld without once looking to see if she followed, a test of faith, as it were. Orpheus agreed and began the journey, Eurydice following. At first everything was fine, but as they got closer to the surface Orpheus grew anxious. Just as they reached the light of the living world, his anxiety got to be too much and he turned. Just like that, Eurydice vanished, gone back to the underworld forever.

Sam had worried on the story, reading it over and over, imagining himself as Orpheus out to rescue Eurydice. Only—he had assured himself, imagining the dark of Hell with the dead all around—he’d never turn back. Even if it meant his own death, he’d never leave Eurydice down there all by herself.

He smiled, feeling a strange bitter sweetness. He’d been so idealistic, back then. Believing the best about everyone, full of faith and hope. Life and the job had taken a lot of it from him, eroding it day by day, exposing the hard shell of cynicism and distrust.

But not—he thought as he felt Richard step close and place a hand on his hip—not all, not ever all.

He smiled again and stepped through the threshold, knowing Richard was following.

 

 

 

fin.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Story notes:

Sam Gerard/Richard Kimble
The Fugitive
30,100+ words
Most characters belong to people and organizations that are not me
Note: This story is based on the first movie and none of the second.