I was told by several people that I needed to write this sequel. As I was discussing it via email, I had a sudden musebash. This is the result. Blame Wolfpup and Lora (again). :) They weren't the only ones, but were primary to the musebash.
All the usual disclaimers apply. I own no one, I receive no monetary remuneration. My pay is what people (you. Yes, you. Yes. I mean it, you. Uh huh, you.) email me. Oh, one request. Make sure you send a good return address. I've been unable to reply to a few emails, because the server didn't recognize the address. I really do answer all my mail. Sometimes it takes longer to do that than it does to write a story, but that's OK. I really don't mind. After all, you are the reason I'm doing this. Well, the nice things you say are the reason I do this.
comments ] [ Add your comments
"We'll see you on Tuesday, Simon. Have a nice weekend." Jim Ellison called out to his Captain, smiling.
"Where are you off to for this lovely three day weekend?" Simon responded with a smile. As if he didn't know.
"Camping. There's this spot we heard about. Supposed to have some real good salmon." Grinning in anticipation.
"I have this recipe..." Jim's partner, Blair Sandburg began.
"That you can't wait to try." Simon and Jim chorused, laughing. Blair's oh so expressive face showed a moment of annoyance, before bursting into laughter himself.
"Uh, yeah." Smiling.
"Go on, you two. Get going. I'm sure you want to be gone before the traffic gets too bad. Take care. Try to avoid any psychos, for a change." Still smiling.
"And poachers, and drug dealers, and..." Blair added.
"C'mon, Chief. This one is going to be good. You'll see."
"That's what you say every time, Jim." Simon added, chuckling. "Now, get going. I don't want to see you for the dust." Making shooing motions at his friends. "If you get some extra, I could go for some salmon steaks." He hinted.
"You got it, Sir." Jim replied, pushing his younger partner toward the door.
The call came in late Friday. The first patrol car on the scene looked at the carnage. It wasn't hard to figure out what had happened. There had been two gangs, from the obvious evidence, it was a big drug deal gone bad. There was no telling who had started shooting. There was only one survivor, and they were trying desperately to control the bleeding and keep him alive until the paramedics arrived. The second unit on the scene made the call.
"I'm sorry, Captain. This is Roberts. It's Ellison, Sir." Nervous, "He's supposed to be out of town, camping." Puzzled.
"Well, we got a call for what the 911 operator called a 'war'. When we got here, there were a lot of dead bodies, looks like a pretty big drug deal gone bad. Ellison's the only one still alive, and they're trying to keep him that way. It doesn't look good, Sir. There's no sign of the truck or Sandburg, Sir." Hating to be the one who lost the toss for who got to make this call.
"Are the paramedics there, yet?" Agitated. Jim at a drug deal, without his partner to back him up? Where could his truck be? What could have happened? "Yes, Sir. They're getting ready to transport him. They're forcing plasma into him, I... it doesn't look very good, Sir. He took two to the stomach, and one to the chest. He's really torn up, Sir."
Damn. It was supposed to be a pleasant mini-vacation for his men. Not this. Not now. Not ever. "I'll meet them at the hospital."
"Oh, and Roberts?"
"You're welcome, Sir."
He flatlined twice on the way in, and three more times in the OR. Finally, after six hours of emergency surgery, he was in recovery. He'd be in ICU for several days, at least. If he survived. None of the blood in his body was his own, and they were still pushing blood and plasma into him. The prognosis was very iffy.
"Where's Blair?" The doctor asked in surprise, seeing Simon there by himself.
"We don't know. How is he?"
"70/30" The doctor replied, indicating the odds of his survival. A seventy percent chance of dying. Simon closed his eyes in grief.
"Look, he's stable, for the moment. Do you want to see him?" The doctor offered, gently.
Jim had the grey appearance of a corpse. Simon thought. He was on a respirator, and there were so many tubes and wires going to his friend's body that it was difficult to see the man, himself. He gently reached out and stroked the hair back on Jim's temple, one of the few spots without a wire attached.
"Jim? I need you to survive. I need you to tell me what happened? Where is Blair, or your truck, for that matter. Please, God. Let him live." He didn't notice the tears trickling down his cheeks.
The Doctor had to lead him out. He would only be allowed ten minutes out of every hour. The night passed, as did the day and another night. Simon sat, unmoving for the most part. Waiting. Worrying. Grieving. By Sunday morning, he had been joined by Joel and Mable Taggart, who had called him on his cell phone to ask an unrelated question. Hearing the news, they had immediately come down to the hospital to join in the vigil. Mable took it upon herself to call the other two members of Major Crime, Henri Brown and Brian Rafe, who also joined the vigil. They took turns calling the station and asking about the APB on Jim's truck and Blair Sandburg. By late Sunday night, Simon had tired of the company and the lack of answers. He sent his people home. Telling Rafe and Brown that they would have to cover for Jim and Blair. Joel finally agreed to go home, as well. Particularly when Simon threatened to bring Finkleman back.
"Call us when he wakes up, Simon. No matter what time it is." Joel said softly, gripping his friend's shoulder.
"You'd better, Simon Banks." Mable agreed. "I'll come back later." She promised. Knowing the man would not leave until he had some kind of answer. She grasped his hand, pulling his attention from whatever frightening place it was hiding. "You take care of yourself. You won't do anybody any good if you end up a patient, too." She warned him.
"I will. Now, go on you two. Go home. I'll call you as soon as I have any news." He promised.
"I'll hold you to that." Mable replied, turning her chair away from her husband's supervisor. Joel squeezed Simon's slumped shoulder once more as he turned to leave.
Ten minutes every hour. It was time for his three o'clock visit. He started talking, as usual. He was gently holding the hand with no IV needles in it. Feeling how cold his friend's body still was. Wondering if he would ever awaken.
"Jim? We can't find Sandburg or the truck. I sure wish you would wake up and tell me what happened." He was startled when the hand he was holding tightened in his grasp, just for a moment. He peered in startled surprise into the confused, frightened blue eyes of his friend and colleague.
He was too weak to struggle. Everything felt strange. Like his body wasn't attached to his brain. The tube from the respirator down his throat burned, as did any part of his body he could feel. He didn't notice the tears of pain running down his cheeks. He did manage to remember what had happened, and realized that he was in a hospital. His eyes met the concerned gaze of the stranger standing before him.
"Hang on, Jim. Let me get the doctor. Don't try and move. Understood?"
He wasn't able to acknowledge except by blinking. When the stranger had left, he began the faint visible tremors of shock. Closing his eyes against the too-bright lights and the noises of the machines.
The voices of the large black man speaking excitedly to the doctor brought him back from the brink of the darkness. He forced his eyes open, afraid. He was greeted by the pleased smiles of the two total strangers.
"Mr. Ellison, I want you to relax as much as you can, so I can remove the respirator tube." The doctor spoke softly. He tried, he really did, but the scraping of the tube coming back up his esophagus initiated his gag reflex, which cut off his air supply, which caused him to panic. His weakened body struggled futilely. Unable to breathe, he collapsed into the blessed darkness.
"He woke up. He's off the respirator." Simon announced to the sleepy sounding Joel. "He passed out when they removed the tube. But he's still breathing on his own. Thank God."
"That sounds like a plan."
"Thanking God. Sounds like a plan." Joel replied, calmly. Simon heard Mable's "Amen to that." in the background.
"Yeah, I guess you're right. Anyway, he can't talk, yet. He's scared, Joel. I don't know why, but he's afraid."
"Maybe from what happened?" Joel asked. "I mean, he was badly injured and from what I've heard, it's a miracle he's even alive, let alone conscious again, yet. Without Blair there to reassure him; yeah, I can see how he'd be scared. Let's face it, Simon, none of us is the Guide. We really need to find the kid. There still isn't any word on the APB. It's got me worried."
"Me, too. I can't figure out what could have happened. The facts just don't make sense. Maybe he'll be able to talk in a few hours, and we can get some answers to all this."
"I hope so. I'm going in to the station. I'll see what's going on and give you a call. Mable says she'll be there around ten, or so. I'll give you a call before I stop by, and immediately if we hear anything."
"Thanks, Joel. Let the others know, will you?"
"Of course. Try to get some rest, Simon. Otherwise, I'll be forced to drag your butt back here for Mable to take care of." The threat was gently delivered, but serious, none the less.
"Yes, dad." The smile apparent in the voice.
"I'll see you later." Joel growled, before breaking into a laugh.
He kept drifting in and out of consciousness, never able to remain awake for more than a very few minutes at a time. Somehow, it always seemed to coincide with Simon's ten minute visits. He wasn't allowed anything to eat or drink, due to the damage the two bullets had done to his stomach and intestinal tract. It would be several days before he would be allowed anything but ice chips. He was grateful for that much. He recognized his defense/healing mechanism. He basically shut down, just coming up for air once in a while, checking out the pain levels, before resubmerging himself in the darkness. His throat was raw and sore from the respirator tube, and he couldn't speak, yet. For some reason, the large black man had taken it upon himself to be there for him. And, who was Jim? Once again, the stranger was there, talking to him, asking about what happened. Well, that he could remember, vividly. There were other visitors. All concerned about him. He didn't know a one of them, but they all seemed to think he was this Jim person. Whoever he was. He didn't know them, but was grateful for their calm, supportive presence.
Tuesday morning. Simon was still at the hospital. Joel had brought him a bag with clean clothes, so he could at least maintain.
When Joel got to the station he did a double-take at the blue and white Ford pickup in its usual slot. Right next to his spot. He nearly ran to the elevator, waiting impatiently for the machine, then even more impatiently until the device reached the seventh floor, where again, he nearly ran. There, sitting calmly, like he hadn't a care in the world, sat the man they had been desperately searching for, for more than three days. He was a little out of breath when he stopped beside Jim's desk, his entire demeanor indicating his agitation.
"Where the hell have you been? Do you have any idea how worried we've been? We've had an APB out on you and the truck since late Friday. What happened?" Stopping, only because he needed to breathe.
Blair stared at him in confused astonishment. "Joel? What are you talking about? We went camping. Everybody knew about it. What...?" He stopped as Rafe and Brown rushed up, asking the same questions Joel had. He sat there, shaking his head in bemused wonder. "C'mon, guys. This isn't funny. What's going on?"
"What do you mean, funny? We're deadly serious..."
"What's going on here?"
The voice caused the three agitated detectives to pale, considerably. Joel and Henri Brown turning a strange mottled pasty greyish colour, while Brian Rafe actually was the colour of a snowbank. They slowly turned to stare in mortal shock at the figure standing behind them, holding two cups of coffee.
"Jim?" Joel recovered first. But only enough to whisper. Clearing his throat, he tried again. "Jim?" he reached out to touch the apparition, startled to discover it to be real, and warm. "Oh, Sweet Lord. If you're here, and OK, then who's in the hospital? Man, Jim. He looks just like you. We all thought, I mean, even the hospital thought...I. I need to sit down." He pulled a chair over and sat heavily. Still goggling at the pair before him.
"Uh...looks just like Jim?" Blair looked up at his partner. "Jim, you don't suppose..."
"I can't imagine who else, Chief." He turned to the others, "Didn't he have any ID on him?"
"Uh, no." Rafe replied. He'd been working on the case since Saturday, after they had learned about it. He went to his desk and picked up a file, returning with it and opening it to read what had been discovered thus far. The more than two dozen dead drug dealers, many of whom had been shot with weapons not at the scene, indicating that there had been a third group involved. The man they thought had been Jim had been shot with one of the missing weapons. Jim and Blair exchanged concerned glances. It hadn't been that many weeks since they had met the man that they suspected was the survivor of the shootout.
"Has he regained consciousness?" Jim asked.
"He's more out than in, but he's awake, only a few minutes at a time. He can't talk yet. He's still in ICU, but at least he's off the respirator, now." Joel informed them.
Blair flinched. "Ow. Just how bad is he hurt?"
"They're still only giving him a 50/50 chance to even survive. He flatlined twice in the ambulance and three more times on the table. Six hours patching him up. Two slugs in the guts, one through a lung. He basically bled to death. He doesn't have a single drop of his own blood left. Everyone thought it was you." He stopped, as everyone realized the heroic measures had been because of who everyone had thought the patient was. Would they have tried so hard if it hadn't appeared to be Jim Ellison? There was no way to ever know.
"Jim?" Blair asked. "We need to go to the hospital..."
"Oh, hell. I've got to call Simon." Joel interrupted. "He's been there since Friday, thinking it was you." Reaching for the phone on Jim's desk.
Blair paled. His hurt, frightened gaze going up to his Blessed Protector. "His name's Mack. Mack Wolfe. Honolulu PD." He whispered, realizing that the others didn't really care, since it wasn't their friend and colleague. No one acknowledged his words.
"Simon? It's Joel. I'm not quite sure how to tell you this, but..."
"You found Sandburg." His voice flat, emotionless, expecting the worst.
"In a manner of speaking. I came in this morning and he was calmly sitting at Jim's desk, the truck in its usual spot."
"Is he all right?" Perking up, just a bit.
"Yeah. He's fine." He paused, but not knowing how else to say it, just said it out straight. "So's Jim. They're both right here."
A very long, pregnant, Silence.
Jim took the phone from Joel's unprotesting grasp. "We're here, Simon. We're fine. I...look, we'll be right down, OK?"
"Sure." Still a whisper.
Hanging up, Jim looked at his colleagues. "Look, guys. I think I know who it is. He's a cop from Honolulu. Let us talk to him. We'll find out what happened, OK?"
The three just stared at them, dumbly, still trying to process the idea that the man they had been so worried about hadn't been their friend.
Joel finally responded. "OK. You want me to go with you?"
"Only if you want to. If it is Mack, he's one of the good guys, and I want to find out what happened. You said that there was a third group. Any idea on what kind of weapons? Could they have been cops? You know, DEA, some other group of Feds?"
"I was working on that. There was a contingent of DEA here. I talked to them, but they acted like they were just passing through. I had a feeling, though, that they might be shining me on. It's all here." Rafe offered the folder to Jim, who accepted it.
"Thanks, Brian. Look, guys, can I get you to check out those DEA guys? See if they're still in town? Do a background check on them?" At their nods, he smiled. "Thanks, guys. I'm sorry we worried you so much. I assure you, it wasn't planned." Turning to his strangely silent partner, he asked, "You ready to go, Chief?"
Sullenly, "Yeah. I'm ready." Jim stopped moving, looking in concern at his friend.
Blair cast an unhappy glance at the other cops. Shrugging he replied, "Nothing. Let's go." Turning to leave, he was stopped by Jim's hand on his shoulder.
"Huh uh, Chief. Tell me." His voice and body language indicating that they weren't going anywhere until he got an answer.
"OK. You want to know what's wrong?" He turned to glare at the other three members of the squad. "The minute they found out that it isn't you in the hospital, they suddenly couldn't care less about him. That's what's wrong. Sure, I'd be relieved that it isn't you, too. But I'd still give a damn about the poor guy in that hospital bed. OK? Now, let's go." He pulled away from Jim's suddenly lax restraining hand and stormed out the door, leaving the four police officers in dumbfounded silence.
"Ouch." Rafe murmured.
"Big time." Concurred Brown.
"We deserved it." Joel added.
"I'll apologize to him." Jim declared.
"No. We have to do that ourselves." Joel disagreed. "He's right. You think you know him?" Back to the other possibilities.
"Yeah. I can't imagine having more than one double out there. We were able to fool Cassie, but not Blair. We had a good time. He's a good man." He looked at his friends. "Blair is right. We do tend to discount anyone who isn't in the group. I'd better go, before he kicks a dent in the truck." He left them there, subdued and thinking about their recent actions. Joel remembered to call and cancel the APB on the truck, before their friends could be stopped.
He was drowning, deep under the sea, his lungs bursting with the need to breathe, he could see the sun through the water as he struggled to reach the surface.
His gasp drew everyone's attention. The hurt blue eyes opened to look up into a mirror. His brows lowered in confusion, knowing that it couldn't really be a mirror, then he saw the other man, and smiled. He opened his mouth to try and speak.
"Jm, Blr," His hoarse whisper caused his listeners to flinch in sympathy for the obvious pain the actions caused. "Where 'm I?" His throat desperately sore.
"You're in Cascade. Welcome to Washington." Blair spoke softly, soothingly. "We've only got a few minutes, here." He spooned ice chips into the injured man's mouth. And got a grateful smile as reward. He returned the smile. "They thought you were Jim." He informed the patient, who nodded.
"W'ndrd." He whispered. Still sucking on his ice chips. Struggling to make any sound at all through his raw, grated vocal cords. "How bad?" He asked. Looking trustingly into the smaller man's eyes.
"Pretty bad, man. You took two to the gut, one through a lung. You're gonna be here for a while." He reached out to stroke a cold cheek. "Are you cold?" Wondering.
"C'n't tll." He was having trouble staying awake. He frowned, concentrating. Trying desperately to stay with them. There was something he had to tell them, he was losing and knew it.
"Shhh." Blair soothed, stroking his cheek. "It's OK. We'll be here when you wake up again. OK? Mack?"
"'K." Losing the battle and slipping back beneath the waves.
Blair looked up at Jim. "He remembers what happened. He just can't talk, yet." He declared.
Jim nodded. "Yeah. I'd have to agree." He looked at the still shell-shocked Simon. "Sorry, Sir. We had no way of knowing what had happened. We were even out of cell range. It never occurred to us to even check in."
"That's OK, Jim. I can't believe how alike the two of you look." Shaking his head in wonder. "Do you have any way to check on why he was here?"
"Yes, Sir. There's a forensics specialist there, the ME, actually, that we met in LA as well. Let me find out the number and I'll give her a call."
"I have the number here, Jim." Blair interjected softly, holding out a card.
"Thanks, Chief." Taking the business card and his cell phone over to a corner to make the call.
"You OK, Sandburg?" Simon asked.
"You don't sound fine."
"I'm just fine. No problems. Nothing to worry about. OK?" Staring at the unconscious detective.
"No. You're not OK. You're miserable, and cranky. Want to tell me why?"
"Attitude, man." Turning away and looking out the window.
"Everyone's attitude. Once they found out that Jim was OK, everyone seems to have forgotten that Mack is not OK. He's badly hurt. Hell, they still only give him a 50/50 chance of even living. And if he does, will he be able to stay a cop? Will he be able to live an even remotely normal life? Will he ever be able to go out and surf again? And nobody gives a damn." In his agitation, Blair's voice rose, nearly to an hysterical pitch and intensity.
"Now, hold it right there!" Simon bellowed. "Nobody is just passing this off. There's been a pretty serious crime, here, and..."
"No. Simon. You're wrong. Once the guys realized that it wasn't Jim in this bed, they lost interest in whether or not Mack survives. I understand that it's normal, but I don't have to like it. Mack's a friend. I realize that he isn't anyone else's friend, except Jim's. I understand that everyone's glad that it isn't Jim. But....it shouldn't matter who it is. It. Should. Not. Matter. But it does. If he hadn't been mistaken for Jim, would they have tried so hard to keep him alive? I know, I know, we have no way of knowing that. But I have a theory. If you had known that Jim was safe, you wouldn't have cared if this man died. It isn't as though he's one of ours. Even if he does look like one of us. You can't convince me that it isn't true. Because you can't prove it. No matter how hard you try." His eyes sparkled with unshed tears. "I'm sorry, Simon. But we both know that I'm right. I wish I weren't."
Simon sighed, bowing his head. "So do I, Blair. I wish I could say different, but it wouldn't be true. When I heard Jim on the phone, all I could think about was how glad I was that this wasn't my friend." He raised his head and looked closely at the younger man. "I am truly sorry. But I can't change my feelings. I'm glad it isn't Jim. I will see to it that we do the best job possible to find out what happened. To bring whoever did this to justice. I promise, Blair. I know it doesn't make up for things, but it's the best I can do." He grasped the smaller man by the shoulder, trying to emphasize that he meant it.
Blair sighed and nodded. "I can accept that, Simon." He turned to his partner, who was still on the telephone to Hawaii.
"Thanks, Holli. Give me a call when you know for sure. We can use all the help we can get at this point. So can Mack, even if it's just a friendly face." He listened again, nodding. "OK, thanks. Uh huh. Yeah. See you then. 'Bye." He disconnected the call and looked at his companions. "It seems that Mack had a case a couple of years ago, involving some counterfeiters and the FBI. The agent in charge had set Mack up once back in the military. He did it again to some of their guys. The guy was pretty slick, only he blew it. The counterfeiters were using some protein poison. Absorbs through the skin, half a drop is deadly. One of the bad guys accidentally splashed it on himself and died. Mack told the bozo who set up their guys and gotten some of them killed and one of Mack's friends badly injured, not to touch the bottle. Holli was there. The jerk died. Apparently, this may be payback for that." He looked at his Captain. "I need those DEA guys brought in."
"I'll see what I can do." He looked at Blair. "Do you want to stay with Mack?" Suspecting that he already knew the answer.
"Yes. He shouldn't be alone when he wakes up." He turned his gaze to his partner. "We'll be fine. Somehow, I think it was a good thing that he was mistaken for you, Jim. Otherwise, they'd have probably come and finished the job."
Jim and Simon exchanged surprised expressions. "Good point, Sandburg. Why don't we leave it that way for now? Just to be on the safe side." He looked at Jim, "You be careful. I don't want you going alone. Anywhere. Understand?"
"Yes, Sir." Jim smiled. "By the way, Holli, sorry, Sir. Dr. Dawn Holliday is going to be coming in this evening. I have the flight number and time. I planned to meet the plane, but maybe that isn't a good idea. So if you could get someone to meet her flight and bring her here, I'd appreciate it."
"Sounds like a plan. I'll pick her up, myself."
Most of the DEA agents had already left. But there were three still at the hotel, who, after checking, turned out to have worked with Mack's deceased nemesis. They contacted the local agents, and learned that they had had some concerns of their own over the large contingent who had visited. Particularly when there was no reason for that many agents to be in that one place at that time. Digging a little further revealed a cache of high powered firearms. With a direct connection to the three still in Cascade. Performing ballistics tests proved that at least six of the weapons had been used in the three way shootout. The local DEA office cooperated fully, helping to get the warrants for the arrest for the three apparent rogues.
Mack continued to slowly improve. Blair sat with him, now. Still in ICU, but since the hospital still thought it was Jim, they waived the time limit rule. Therefore, every time Mack woke up, there was Blair's familiar face right there with him. After the first few times, he learned where to look upon awakening, taking comfort from the familiar figure beside him.
Holli slipped into the darkened ICU room, smiling at the bleary-eyed Blair. "Hi." She whispered. "How's he doing?" approaching the bed and its occupant. Looking critically at the tubes and wires. Her brow lowering at the realization of just how serious his condition was. She reached out and gently touched Mack's face, judging his condition from his temperature. "He's cold." She whispered to Blair.
"I know." He hesitated, wondering how much he should tell her. "Uh, did they tell you what happened?"
"Only that he was critical. I don't like how low his temperature is. He shouldn't be this cold." She turned away, to go in search of someone who would have authority to do something. "I'll be back." She stopped in the doorway. "Thanks."
Blair smiled. "You're welcome."
With the warming of his body, he started showing marked signs of improvement. His breathing became less shallow, in spite of the damage to his right lung. He also became more aware. Waking up more often, and staying conscious longer. He could almost carry on a conversation, except for the pain that talking engendered.
The first time he opened his eyes and saw Holli was priceless. His eyes fluttered open, just as Blair had said they would. He had Mack's waking timed nearly to the minute. When they opened, the first thing he saw was Holli's blond framed face. He smiled. "'m drm'n?" He mumbled. Trying to smile through the pain.
"Shhh. Take it easy, Mack. It's OK. Yes, I'm here. I need you to let me know if you're cold, OK? Can you do that?"
He managed to nod, faintly.
"Good. Now, are you cold?"
He closed his eyes, trying to feel beyond the pain in his gut from his injuries and the surgery. He shook his head. "C'n't tell." His protesting vocal cords pronounced with an apologetic expression on his face.
"That's OK. I'm going to assume that since you can't tell, that you're cold. OK?" He nodded, relieved. She pulled an electric blanket over him, turning it to the highest setting. Just to get him warm. Careful not to disturb the drainage tubes from his wounds, or the monitors attached to him. When she had finished, with Blair's help, of course, she smiled at the once again unconscious man.
"How cold was he?" Blair asked. I noticed, but they didn't do anything whenever I'd ask. Why now?"
"His temperature was only about ninety-one. Much too low. The reason they listened to me is because I'm a doctor. You aren't. And he's my friend. In spite of how much we annoy each other." She smiled at him.
"Uh huh." Blair grinned back.
By the time Mack next awoke, his core temperature had risen by nearly three degrees. There was no fluttering of eyelids, this time. His eyes simply opened. And were aware. Aware of the pain. Of the machines, of friends sitting with him. Blair noticed first.
"Hey. How you feelin' Mack?" Moving closer.
"'K." It was obvious that he wanted to say something. Holli came over and held his hand.
"Hi. Are you warmer, now?"
He had to think about it. He nodded. His belly was no longer on fire, either. The warmth from the blanket had allowed his muscles to stop cramping, which had, in turn, allowed the muscles around the injuries to relax, as well. He wasn't going to be doing anything strenuous for some time to come, but he was feeling a lot better.
Blair recognized the look on Mack's face as the 'I need to talk to you, Chief' expression of Jim's. He leaned forward, picking up Mack's unencumbered right hand. "Mack. You want to tell us what happened?" Softly not wanting to startle the injured man. Mack smiled and nodded, slightly. Blair smiled back and squeezed Mack's hand. "You think you can write?" At Mack's slight shrug, he took a pencil and pad of paper from Holli, holding it for Mack to write on.
'drug war dea involved correza sambuco' He wrote. Followed by 'set up trap magellan wins' Blair looked curiously at the cryptic messages. He looked into Mack's eyes which were trying to bore a hole through him.
"OK, let's see if I've got this straight. The DEA was working on the drug war between Correza and Sambuco, right?" Mack nodded, never changing his focus on Blair's eyes. "OK. This thing that happened here, it was a set up, a trap to kill both sides off, leaving Magellan with all the pieces. Right?" He was rewarded with Mack's brilliant smile, a slight nod and a tightening of Mack's hand in his. "I'll tell Jim. They've got three of those DEA guys down at the station. They'll need this." Mack nodded and sighed, relaxing back into sleep, content and confident that he had gotten his message across.
Holli took Mack's limp hand from Blair and sat in his chair as he vacated it. "You go ahead. I'll stay here." She smiled up at him. "I'll bet they take him out of ICU either tonight or tomorrow. He's really doing very well." She confided to him.
"Good. I haven't heard his latest chances, but I'm glad he's doing better." He paused, then continued. "Do you think he'll make it?" The pain and worry in his voice.
"I'm pretty sure of it. Barring any unforeseen complications." She smiled reassuringly at him. "He's pretty tough. Accident prone, maybe, but tough."
Blair smiled back at her. "Good. About being tough. I know how it is about being accident prone. Look, I need to get to the station with this info, I'll be back later. He probably won't wake up again for a couple more hours. If anything happens, you have all the numbers, right?"
"Yes. Go on, now. The sooner this is all settled, the safer he'll be."
"Right. Later." He hurried out.
The three rogue DEA agents weren't talking. They were unaware that Mack had survived, and they hadn't seen Jim. When Blair brought the information about the deal the agents had made with the Magellan drug cartel, it lit a fuse to a regular atomic bomb of anger from the local agents and the members of Major Crime. Simon had to raise his voice to be heard over the angry words from the clean cops and agents.
"That is enough, people!" He bellowed, "We all agree. They're scum. Now, how do we go about proving it?" He was met with silence.
"Uh, Simon, I mean, Captain?" Blair asked, hesitantly.
"Yes, Sandburg?" Realizing that the kid had been out of the loop for the past two days, sitting with the injured Hawaiian Cop.
"Have they seen Jim, yet?"
"No, why?" Simon wasn't the only one who was giving the scruffy looking long-haired grad student a puzzled look.
He started to bounce. Jim came to attention. He had been angry and belligerent, just looking for trouble at the entire mess. Being unable to do anything constructive, he had turned sullen. He took attacks on his friends as a personal affront. Blair having an idea brought his interest to focus on the younger man.
"Uh, well, If Jim can come back to the hospital and talk to Mack, he could maybe trick the bad guys into thinking they missed? I mean, everyone thought Mack was Jim, so how hard would it be for Jim to convince the three of them that he is Mack?"
"Mack was seriously injured and unable to speak. I don't know how well Jim could impersonate him." Simon said softly. Blair smiled.
"Ask Cassie and Holli how well he can impersonate Mack. We did it for nearly a week. It was funny. They already share a lot of the same mannerisms."
"I heard about it from Cassie. This isn't quite the same thing, though, Blair."
"I can do it. Let me talk to Mack and get some specifics. They'll never know I'm not him. Hell, I'll even tell them who I am. One look and I'll bet they fall apart." His jaw twitched in silent anticipation of the confrontation. The other members of Major Crime winced at the picture. The men from the DEA merely watched with polite interest, willing to take any chance that could result in taking down the rogues.
Simon stared long and hard at his men. The challenge in Blair's eyes, the determination in Jim's. Finally, he nodded. "Let's get it done, men."
It took another day and a half before Mack was able to pass on enough information for Jim to be able to pose as him. He wore a blue open collared shirt with his navy chinos. Each rogue agent was in a different interrogation room. He entered the first one, only to be greeted with the reaction of a man confronted with proof that ghosts do exist. He started babbling his confession and accusations of his fellow agents before Jim even opened his mouth. The man's lawyer was unable to shut him up.
"Y-you don't understand. We killed him. We blew such big holes in him that he should have bled to death within minutes." He went on to describe the entire event, including the deals made and who shot whom. The lawyer shook his head, packed up and quit.
Jim just stood silently by while rogue one rattled off his statement. He'd never even had to speak a single word. The hardest thing was maintaining control and not attacking this piece of scum and breaking him into little pieces. It had been a setup from the start. Mack had been their perfect fall guy. An honest cop who thought other cops would be as honest as he was.
Simon and Blair, watching from the other side of the two-way glass, exchanged comments about Jim's rage and the awfulness of the whole sordid scheme.
"Simon, I am so angry. I think I could shoot that man. Right now. If I had a gun, I'd be more than happy to blow him away. He willingly took part in a war, attempted to kill a really good man, and all for a couple of hundred grand. I cannot believe it. I...." He started to sputter in his outrage.
Simon lay a hand on the smaller man's shoulder. "I know. I agree. I could, too. But we won't. We'll do this right, by the book. We can't afford to let one of these men to get away because of something we do or don't do. So, we'll sit here and listen. It's being recorded. By the book."
Blair took a deep, cleansing breath. "Thank you. We need to get Jim out of there. He's almost zoning on this guy. If he loses it, we'll all lose."
Simon looked at his man. "You're right." He left, going around to the interrogation room and entered. He motioned to Jim to come with him. Jim, glaring murderously at the suspect, stalked out, barely controlling his rage. Blair met them outside and the three silently walked away.
Taking the elevator to the gym in the basement, the three worked out, Simon and Blair spotting for Jim as he worked at the free weights. Pushing himself far beyond his normal routine. Reaching a new personal best for bench presses. Still angry, Simon held the heavy bag for Jim to hit. If Blair hadn't insisted on wrapping Jim's hands and making him wear the heavy gloves, he would have probably broken both hands. Finally, they played some two on one basketball. Still in absolute silence. Eventually, they exhausted themselves. They were just sitting, regaining their breath when Joel entered. He looked at his friends.
"We have three confessions. Along with some accusations for some other people. The warrants have been signed, and the local DEA guys are pushing for the return of the other rogues." He grinned, tightly. "They won't know what hit them. We'll arrest them as they arrive. The other two folded from just hearing about the confession of the first one. If Jim wants to make an appearance, fine. You don't have to. We've got enough."
"Thank you, Joel." Simon replied. Jim's jaws were still torqued down, the anger still palpable. "Jim?" He was met by the still angry eyes of their Sentinel. "Come on, Jim. It's over. The good guys have won." Grasping the stiff shoulder of the angry man.
"When will it be over for Mack?" The anger turning to pain in the blue eyes.
"Jim? Can we go back to the hospital now?" Blair asked. He was exhausted, physically and emotionally, and wanted to be with their injured friend. He was out of ICU and his prognosis had improved to the fact that he would survive, but there was still no word on his ability to ever return to work. Simon had been in contact with Mack's superior, Captain Hertzog, in Honolulu, and they knew that Mack's job would be waiting for him. The Captain had granted permission for Mack to work with the rogue DEA agents, never suspecting their duplicity. Angry at having been tricked and that a good cop had been badly injured. Holli had been forced, reluctantly, to return to Hawaii, her work there calling to her. Leaving Mack alone in a strange city, with only the two of them to care. At least there was some good news. The sooner it was passed on, the quicker Mack could stop worrying about the bad guys finding out he had survived.
"Sure, Chief." Jim answered. He'd managed to work himself to the brink of physical exhaustion, but mentally, he was still reeling at the duplicity of the rogues. His anger no where near appeased. Perhaps he could bring it under some semblance of control by apprising his 'twin' of the results of their day. He wondered if the happy-go-lucky man would ever be able to return to normal. All he could see when he looked at his friend, was the physical pain caused by the three slugs that had torn him apart, the added damaged required to be able to put him back together. The fear that his world had changed forever. That there was nothing left for him. He was shocked to discover that Mack had no family and was completely alone in the world. No one and nothing to fall back on, yet he had still remained such an upbeat kind of guy. He realized that they were staring at him, waiting for some kind of response. He dragged himself back to the present.
"Sure, Chief. Let's go." Turning without another word, he headed for the showers, to clean up and change before going back to the hospital.
Joel stopped Simon from following the Sentinel and his Guide. Waiting until he heard the water in the shower turn on, he then spoke.
"I understand that Mack has no family. Mable suggested he come and stay with us to recuperate when they finally let him out of the hospital. We have the room, and she loves to take care of people. I know we haven't officially met him, but, well, we thought we'd throw it out for consideration."
Simon sighed. "Why don't you go now and introduce yourself. I'll stall them for a while, anyway. I want Jim to make an appearance to the other two, just to consolidate our position. I don't have a problem with it, of course. He's afraid, though. Can't say as I blame him. Talk to him. That's all I can say."
"Yeah. That's what we thought. Mable's waiting for me. I'm on my way, now. I'll keep you posted. If anyone can reach him, it's my Mable."
Simon smiled. "I'll have to agree with that. Although, Blair did make him laugh last night."
"We need him to do more than laugh."
"Yeah. I know."
"Hi. You up for some company?" Joel asked, stepping into the private room, where Mack had spent a boring day with daytime television. He looked at the strange man, noting the suit, the calm demeanor, the friendly expression and answered.
"Sure. Any time. Have we met?" Unsure. Surprised when the man held open the door to allow a beautiful woman in a wheelchair to enter.
"Not formally. I'm Joel Taggart, from Major Crimes, I work with Jim and Blair. This is my wife, Mable."
"How do you do?" She asked, politely, moving over beside the bed and extending her right hand. He reached, automatically, to take it. Almost hiding the grimace of pain the movement caused.
"Pleased to meet you. Mack Wolfe."
"Oh, my. You and Jim do sound alike." She smiled. "I'm terribly sorry for what happened. Is there anything I can get you?"
"Solid food would be nice. But they say I can't have anything but water and juice for another week." He frowned in displeasure. "At least they're allowing me that much." His throat was still sore, but he was able to speak, now. His breathing was much easier, as well. His body healing.
She smiled in return. "Oh, my, yes. I can imagine, considering how awful hospital food is, anyway. So, tell me about yourself."
Joel smiled, staying in the background. Letting Mable do all the talking, watching as the injured man opened up to her gentle probing. He soon had her laughing at some of the tales of his exploits. When he told her the story of his meeting with Jim and Blair, she laughed so hard that she had tears running down her face.
"Oh, my. I can picture it. You say that Blair could always tell you apart?"
"Yeah. I thought we had him, on that last day, but he still figured it out. It'll be easier, now, I suppose." The sadness and dispair of his physical condition creeping into his voice.
"Young man, take it from one who knows how devastating an injury can be; you're alive. You'll heal. It may take some time, but you will recover. Be thankful for what you still have. You don't have any permanently drastic injuries. You can and will return to a normal life. Providing you don't give up and fall into a pity pit. It's going to take time. Don't you dare give up." Her voice was nearly angry. Mack blinked and withdrew a bit in surprise.
"Baby. Back off a little. Don't scare the poor man." Joel interrupted her tirade. When he had Mack's attention, he smiled, warmly and explained. "You'll have to forgive my Mable. She gets passionate about recovering from traumatic injuries." He chuckled. "I had a building fall on me a while back. It was tough. I'm still having therapy sessions. Worrying more about arthritis setting in than anything else, I suppose. But I'm nearly a hundred percent. Although I did switch to Major Crimes from the Bomb Squad." He smiled. "If you're willing, we'd like you to come and stay with us when you get out of here. You won't be able to do a lot, yet, and we have the room. Believe it or not, Mable likes to take care of people."
"Thank you. I wouldn't want to impose." Mack started, touched that these strangers should be concerned.
"It isn't an imposition." Mable insisted. "I admit it. I do like to take care of people. I have to warn you, however, I'm a tough taskmistress. I will push you as far as you can go. But I do know when to stop." She smiled. "Besides, Jim and Blair both vouch for you. That makes you family. Please?"
He couldn't resist her warm, caring, brown eyes. He blushed. These total strangers wanted him to stay with them until he was well enough to go home. If he even had a home to go back to.
"Thank you." His acceptance was met by the pleased smiles of the couple.
With perfect timing, Jim and Blair chose that moment to arrive. Jim had relaxed considerably since his confrontation with the other two rogues. They smiled at the Taggart's presence and Blair excitedly filled Mack in on the happenings of the day.
"That's great, Chief." Mack replied when Blair finally wound down. He didn't notice the starts of surprise from the Taggarts, who exchanged amused smiles.
"So, Mack. You're going to be here for the trial, right?" Blair asked. The others thought he was jumping the gun. There was still a great deal of work to be done before anyone would be ready for the case to go to court.
"Well, I kinda hoped I'd be home by then, but I'll be sure to be here for it, yeah." There was the faintest note of worry in his still raspy voice.
"Oh, yeah. Simon talked to your Captain. He said that your job is waiting for you whenever you're ready to go back." Jim informed his double.
"That's good." Now, if he were only getting a paycheck in the meantime. There was no one to see that his rent was paid, or any of his bills taken care of. There wouldn't be much to go home to, except the job, he was afraid.
Jim suspected what Mack was worried about, but he needed to do a little digging before he said anything.
Sensing Mack's discomfort, Mable spoke up, "Mack has decided that he'll accept our hospitality when they finally release him." She announced.
"Oh, man. That's great, Mack. Mable is probably the best cook in town." He glanced slyly at the pleased expression on her face. He leaned forward to whisper to Mack. "She's got this really great 'mother' thing going." Smiling broadly. Mack didn't look convinced.
The rest of the visit was a little strained. Mack was hurting and depressed, and nothing anyone ever said was going to help. The Taggarts made their farewells and left soon after Jim and Blair arrived, with the reminder that Mack was more than welcome in their home.
"She means it, you know." Jim informed Mack. "They never do or say anything they don't mean."
"Why?" Mack asked.
"Because, you're our friend." Blair answered. "They care. They've both been through some pretty traumatic injuries, themselves, and are therefore more concerned about others. You'll see." His confidence in his friends' motives being pure showing on his expressive face.
"Oh." Still unsure.
"You should have seen those creeps cave when they saw Jim, man. It was funny, the way the first one just started talking the second he saw Jim. He didn't even have to say a word." He went on to describe the interview.
Mack was glad the rogues had folded. It eased his fears that they would find him and kill him. He smiled at Blair's telling of the tale.
He still tired easily and the nurse came and chased his visitors away. The first time anyone had seen Jim, they had freaked rather badly, but they had kept Mack's real identity a secret. Now, they were used to seeing Jim, and only Mack's care-givers were really aware that there were two of them.
It was nearly a month before Mack was healed enough to be released, and even then, he was only allowed to go to the Taggarts', where he would still be getting twenty-four hour care. He'd been in good shape to begin with, so the fifty pounds he lost while in the hospital had all been muscle mass. Fortunately, Joel still had his workout equipment, and was willing to help with Mack's rehab, or they would have kept him in the hospital. Jim and Blair had been his almost constant companions in the evenings. Mable had taken to visiting him during the days and he had gotten to know her very well, making the transition to her care easier.
Blair picked him up the morning of his release. Jim had to be in court and was unavailable. Blair was shocked at how weak Mack still was. How he needed help just getting from the wheelchair to the car. How he still couldn't straighten up due to the damage done to his abdominal muscles. Causing Blair to worry about Mack's chances for a full recovery. How emaciated the man looked, and was. How his clothes hung on his scarecrow frame. Blair was almost moved to tears at his friend's condition, but realized that this was immensely better than the alternatives had been.
He had to help him up the ramp to the Taggart's home, too. Mack was panting from the exertion just getting the twenty-five feet from the car to the door, then through the house to his room. Thankfully on the first floor. He wouldn't have been able to make the stairs to save his life. Blair was nearly carrying him by the time they made it to the bed. Blair even had to break his fall onto the bed. Easing him back onto the pillows, shifting him further onto the bed, lifting his feet and removing his shoes. Mack was asleep before Blair had finished.
Sitting and talking with Mable, Blair told her of his fears for his friend. "He's lost so much weight. He can't even stand up straight. I don't know what to do."
"It's going to take a lot of time, dear. Trust me. It took only a few seconds to do the damage and look how long it's taken for him to just get this far. He's only been on solid food for two weeks, and he still has to be very careful. You should see the lists of things he isn't supposed to have. I hope he likes vegetables." She smiled at that.
"Uh, yeah. I think so. I know he likes fish, and fruit." His brow furrowed as he tried to remember their meals together in LA. "Oh, yeah. He'll eat just about anything." Smiling. "And in great quantity. At least, he did. When he was healthy." The depression for his friend coming back.
"Blair, he's depressed enough on his own. Please don't join him there. Our job is to encourage his recovery. Challenge him to do better, more. Push him back on track when he derails. I'm not saying that this is going to be easy. It isn't. But he's depending on us. He doesn't have anyone else. So, we have to be his cheering section. We need to care enough about him to do what needs to be done to get him back up to speed. I'm going to post a sign on the door. 'No negativity allowed.' That doesn't mean putting out false positives, or false hope. That's just as bad as the doom and gloom. Just encourage him to do a little more. A little better. After all, it will be his own character and determination that will dictate how well and how much he recovers. He may not ever be one hundred percent again. But he can be the best that he can still be. If it's only eighty percent of what he had before? So be it. If he can make a full recovery, we would be doing him a disservice to allow him to quit before he got there, don't you agree?"
Blair had listened carefully. Understanding what she said. Deciding for himself to hide the pain he felt for his friend. Vowing to help Mack recover as fully as possible. He didn't notice his body straightening up, nor the look of determination that showed on his face as he committed himself to assisting in his friend's rehab. "You're right. When and where do we start?"
The first week out of the hospital, Mack still slept most of the time. When he was awake, Mable had him up and moving around as much as he felt comfortable with. He found the Taggart's to be warm and caring people, generous to a fault. They made him feel like a part of their family. Knowing that Jim was their friend, he was surprised that they never called him by the other man's name. Just one more example of how much they cared.
Friday. He'd been there almost a week, already. He was able to get up and move around, albeit, slowly. He was able to stand up straight, and walk from room to room without help and without running out of breath. He had begun lifting small weights, building back up his arms and back muscles, finding himself still favoring his chest and abdominal muscles. Wondering if he would ever again get back to normal. Jim and Blair came over every night and, along with Joel, helped him work out. Adding a number of exercises that the doctors didn't know about, but probably would approve of. After every session, he had to take a nap. They had gotten into the habit already of eating an early dinner and visiting for an hour or so afterward, then the therapy sessions, then a shower and bed for Mack. He was always exhausted afterward. He tried to hide the pain the exercises caused, but he wasn't fooling anyone, and he knew it. But they let him pretend, allowing him to retain his dignity.
Friday. He woke from his afternoon nap, his stomach hurting from the extra exercise session he'd added to his morning routine. It was at this time that he would push himself as far as he could, trying to see if he might possibly be able to return to what he had been before. He didn't know that Mable was keeping a close eye on him, making sure he didn't hurt himself. He had overdone it that morning. Known it when he did it, but did it anyway. It was the first hopeful sign he'd had that he might just recover enough to be able to return to his life. So, even though he was in pain, he didn't mind, seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. He got up from his nap, and shuffled out to the kitchen. Mable was a wonderful cook, allowing for his food limitations, she kept him satisfied. He could smell whatever she was cooking from his room.
"How are you feeling, dear?" She asked as he shuffled past her to the refrigerator for a glass of milk.
"Pretty good, actually." Smiling at her.
"Uh huh. How are the stomach muscles? Pretty sore?"
"Uh, yeah, a little, I guess." Wondering how she knew.
She sighed. "Next time, take an analgesic before you take a nap. That way, you won't be quite as sore when you wake up." Smiling her encouragement.
"Yes, Ma'am. I'll make sure I do that. Thank you." He watched her chopping vegetables. "What are you making?"
"Oh, I thought I'd make some stew for dinner tonight." She replied, with a smile.
"Can I help?" Having poured his glass of milk and replaced the carton in the refrigerator; pulling out a chair to sit across from her.
She looked at him, closely. Noting the lines of fatigue around his eyes, seeing that his hands were steady, that he was sitting up straight, not hunched over as he had been only two days earlier. She smiled.
"Of course. Here." She pushed her chopping board over to him along with the knife and vegetables. "I prefer a half inch dice for all the vegetables. You don't have to be exact, of course." She watched him as he carefully lined up the celery and began chopping like a pro. "You've done this before." She told him.
"Yes, Ma'am." He smiled across at her. "I kind of like to cook, although my only claim to fame is barbecue sauce. I can throw together a pretty mean teriyaki sauce."
"Hmmm. Maybe we need to have a little barbecue and try out your recipes. I know Simon Banks makes a pretty mean barbecue sauce, as do I. We could have ourselves a little contest." She watched him, seeing how his eyes lit up at the prospect. Filing away the information for later. Maybe next Friday.
"How much of this do you want chopped?" Indicating the rapidly growing pile of celery.
"Oh, all of it. I need to make a big pot of stew." When he looked askance at her, she explained. "It's Friday. The boys come here for the poker game every Friday."
"Oh." Wondering if he was intruding. Still uncomfortable with the others. Knowing he hadn't any money to play, anyway.
She realized and understood his feelings. She smiled at him. "What say I front you for the game?" She asked, softly. "I don't play, but you could play for me. What do you say?"
"I...I don't know what to say." Still not understanding why they were being so nice to him.
"Yes works." Smiling again, encouraging.
"OK. Yes, if they don't mind." Hedging his bets.
"Oh, I'm sure they'll want you to play. They already have seen how much you look like Jim, Joel's been telling me how much they want to find out whether or not you're like him in other ways. I mean, you have the same voice, even. You both call Blair, Chief. Even some of your gestures are the same. It's uncanny. I'm looking forward to watching this game tonight. Just know that it's OK to quit when you get tired. You wouldn't want me to embarrass you by telling you that it's time for bed, now, would you?"
He chuckled, and didn't even try and hide the grimace of pain that action still caused. "No, Ma'am. I wouldn't. Thank you. For everything." He added softly.
"You're welcome, dear." She reached across and patted his hand, then turned away to work on the other things it took to get her stew made.
Once the stew was simmering on the stove, she looked at him and said: "Why don't you go and lie down until the rest of them get here. You don't want to fall asleep at the table."
Chuckling, he answered her. "No, I don't. OK. Wake me?" Standing to go back to bed.
"As soon as Joel gets home. Dinner is at seven, the game starts right afterwards." She watched him as he returned to his room, noticing that he wasn't shuffling any more.
Jim and Blair actually managed to beat Joel home. Mable greeted them at the door with a comment on how early they were.
"We came to get Mack ready for the game." Blair confided. She sent them off with her blessing, having no idea what they had planned.
Mack was still horribly underweight, but he'd already managed to gain some weight back under Mable's tender care. Fortunately, he had gained first in his face, making his resemblance to Jim quite noticeable. They had brought some of Jim's clothes, choosing carefully to disguise just how thin Mack really was. When they were ready, Blair compared them, critically. Then smiled. "I doubt if Mable will be fooled, and maybe not Joel, since they've gotten to know you pretty well, but I think we can fool Simon and the others." They smiled conspiratorially at one another.
"Just so long as pineapple isn't on the menu." Jim joked.
Their entrance was everything they could desire. Joel stared, surprised. Jim had slowed down to match Mack's abilities, for now. They both moved slowly and carefully, Blair bouncing out in front of them. The others just stared; unable to comprehend what their eyes were telling them. Unable to tell the difference between the two. It had been fortunate that Mable had kept him napping most of the day, the dark circles around his eyes weren't much in evidence.
"Oh...my...Lord." Simon murmured in his surprise. "I can't believe it." He stood up and approached the pair. Walked around them, looking for differences. "OK. Which of you is which?" He finally asked, only to be met with matching smirks.
"Can't you tell, Captain?" The men chorused. The others joined in the examination of them, trying to guess which was which. Blair bounced, smiling like a child at Christmas. Even Joel had to look closely, and he wasn't positive.
Mable watched their antics, smiling. Blair approached her. Crouching down beside her, he asked, "So, can you tell them apart?"
"Of course. Mack's the one on the left." She whispered. "He still can't quite stand up straight. Much better, though. He's also a lot thinner. But the men don't usually look beyond the clothes. You chose well. Joel isn't positive, but he has guessed right." Turning to the others, she called out: "OK, boys. That's enough. Dinner is ready." The men reluctantly moved their examination to the dinner table, where Jim and Mack sat side by side, just inviting comparison.
"You know, we're in trouble." Rafe muttered. "The more I see of them, the more alike they seem."
"Yeah." Brown agreed.
The game wasn't any more help. They even played poker alike.
"Come on, now. This is getting a little too much." Simon complained. But the pair continued to play, just showing their matching expressions of puzzlement to the others.
Blair was having a ball. The others were so distracted by the matched pair that they weren't concentrating on the game. Joel had finally figured it out, but after a visual conversation with his wife, let the two men have their fun. They were, of course, the big winners of the evening.
"OK. Which one of you is which?" Simon growled, good naturedly. Still shaking his head in confusion.
"I'm Jim." the two men chorused, in unison. Smiling.
Simon shook his head. "Other than Sandburg, can anyone else tell them apart?"
"I can." Mable admitted.
"So can I." Joel agreed. "Although it took me a little longer to figure out which one was which."
The others shook their heads. "OK. Give."
"I'm Mack." Mack finally admitted. He was fast approaching exhaustion. It was nearly midnight, and, although he hadn't had his evening workout, even keeping himself vertical for so long had been a chore. He withstood the close scrutiny of the three confused detectives and was pleased that they still couldn't tell them apart.
"How can you tell?" Brown nearly whined.
Mable laughed. "He's much too thin. Look past the face at the body. He's still having trouble staying up straight, he's obviously exhausted." But she smiled as she tattled on him, reaching out to take his hand, noticing the trembling from fatigue. "And, it is way past his bedtime."
With that, the guests made their good-byes and left. Laughing and joking with both of the look-alikes.
Jim and Blair looked chagrined. "Sorry. I should have been keeping closer tabs." Blair admitted.
"It's all right, dear. I was keeping track." Mable told him. "I wouldn't have let it get out of hand."
Mack, now that the rush of the game and practicing their joke on Jim's friends was over, was feeling the exhaustion. He softly murmured his apologies and good-nights and went to his room, only to collapse on his bed.
Jim, hearing the soft moan of pain, went after him.
"You should have said something." He told his double.
"I was having too much fun." Mack replied. Jim had to help him back up and even help him get undressed.
"Well, next time, say something. Overdoing anything at this point could result in putting you back weeks in your therapy. Make sure you sleep in tomorrow to make up for it. And no exercise until Mable says so, clear?"
"As crystal, Sir." Mack grinned in response. "They're pretty special people." He added, referring to the Taggarts.
"Yeah. I know. They're the best. And Mable is an absolute gem. They're lucky to have each other." Jim agreed. He helped Mack beneath the covers, not at all surprised when the man fell asleep before Jim could even get him tucked in.
Mack had weekly checkups and therapy sessions at the hospital, as well as the regimen at home. The medical staff were amazed at the speed and quality of his recovery. They asked him about it when, only a month after his release, he showed such marked improvement that they decided to permanently release him. He was still only back to about seventy-five percent of his previous abilities, but his improvement was so dramatic, that they felt he could deal with the rest of it alone.
When they asked, he told them. He was working with free weights, doing ordinary calisthenics, only done slowly, never pushing through the pain, only up to the pain and backing off. All the old-fashioned, time tested ways of improving strength and mobility. That and walking. He was up to jogging, now, but only a very small percentage of his five miles on foot every other day. He would walk for a couple of miles, jog one, then walk the last two. The jarring caused by jogging still caused pain in his damaged abdominal muscles. He was up to fifty sit ups, and twenty-five push ups. He still was unable to chin himself more that five reps.
With his final release papers in his hand, he rejoined Mable and returned to the van, stopping for lunch along the way.
"They say I can go home, now." He told her as they sat over their lunch.
"Is that good?" She sensed his fear.
He looked at her, the concern in her eyes. "I don't know. I know I can't pass the physical to go back to work. I have to be able to run five miles and do the combat obstacle course. I couldn't make it over the wall or across the rope swing right now to save my life." He looked out over the harbour, visible from their seats at the small restaurant.
"You're afraid." She gently reached across and took his hand.
"Yeah. If...when I go back, I don't even know if I'll have a place to live, let alone a job. I..." He looked at her, not knowing how to express his fear.
"Didn't Jim tell you?" She asked in surprise.
"Tell me what?"
"He got ahold of your Captain, and took care of everything. He made sure your pay continued while you're in rehab, your bills are taken care of, your dog..." She stopped talking at the look on his face.
"He....He what?" Whispered, eyes shining with unshed tears.
"Oh, Mack. He and Holli have been taking care of everything. Although, I'm not sure about your landlord. Jim seemed a little put out about it. Do you remember some papers he had you sign while you were still in the hospital?"
"Vaguely. I was still pretty out of it."
"Well, don't say that to anyone, but one of those papers was a power of attorney, giving him permission to act on your behalf. He filed a lawsuit against the rogue agents and everyone involved in that mess, he..."
"He what?" Mack stared at her, dumbfounded. "Why?" Not understanding.
She tried to explain, the only way she could. "When I first met Jim, I saw an angry, bitter, hurting man who had turned his back on the world. He was stoic, unfeeling, unfriendly, humourless. Not a very nice person, at all. But, he was a good cop. He never expected anyone to do or give more than what they were able to do. He only expected perfection from himself. He was a very lonely man. Even his wife couldn't reach him."
"He was married?" Surprised.
"Oh, yes. Carolyn and he loved each other, but he had built up the walls around his heart so thick and so high that she couldn't get through to him."
"What happened?" This description bore no resemblance to the man he knew.
"Blair. He was looking for a thesis subject. He's writing on closed societies. He was assigned to Jim, figuring that one day with Iron Ellison would send him packing. It didn't happen. Instead, Blair managed to break down those high, thick walls and release the very nice man imprisoned within. When I first met him, he didn't even know how to smile. Now, he even cracks jokes. We're all much better for the changes in him. He's become a warm, kind gentle man. At least toward victims and friends. He's still the same hardass when it comes to the bad guys, I'm happy to say. He still has a lot of anger stored deep inside, but he is very careful about letting it out. Before Blair, he was frequently in trouble with his superiors. Simon was the only one willing to take him on, after he left vice. Henri Brown and Brian Rafe were afraid of him. Joel liked him, but could barely tolerate his attitude, sometimes."
"But why? Why help me?" The silent 'What's in it for him?' going unsaid.
"Because you're a friend. He's learned the value of friendship. He still doesn't have very many friends, people he trusts. You're a cop. How many people do you trust to watch your back? Two? Twenty? Jim trusts us. Blair, Simon, Joel, me. He trusts Brown and Rafe. Blair and he consider you a friend. You all had a good time at that seminar in LA. You have common interests with Jim. You look alike. You got hurt doing your job here. He takes his responsibility very seriously."
"What responsibility? He had nothing to do with that mess."
"This is his city. He's the guardian. It happened on his watch, in his territory. That makes it his responsibility. I can't explain it any more than that. Just accept it. He's been taking care of everything, so all you have to do is get well and rebuild."
"I...I'll never be able to repay any of you for this. I..." He was losing control, and turned away.
She moved over close to him, reaching out to pull him in to her. Holding the overwhelmed man close. "Shhh. It's OK. No one is doing anything for any kind of gain. We're helping you because you're a friend. That's all. Blair has this saying. 'It's about friendship.' It means a great deal to all of us. You're part of that, now. Welcome to the family." She soothed, rubbing the overwhelmed man's back and shoulders. Comforting and caring, until he was ready to pull away on his own. He was still trembling, but smiling.
"Thank you. I...No one has ever...I mean..." He looked into her warm brown, understanding eyes. "Thank you."
She laughed. "You're welcome, dear." Patting his shoulder before moving away. "Now, I think you need to talk to Jim and Blair. Joel, as well as Simon. I'm afraid we're all in on taking care of you." The expression of amazement on his face kept the smile on her face for the rest of the afternoon.
It was true. Jim had taken care of everything. For possibly the first time in his adult life, he was nearly debt free. All because of these people. These odd, caring, loving people. Who had done all this for him. A man they didn't even know. It was seriously freaking him out. Their care and concern overwhelming him.
Although the hospital had released him, he continued his stay with the Taggarts, working out longer and harder, trying to return to as close as he could to his previous physical condition. It took another month, but finally, he felt ready to return to his own life. Knowing that it was waiting for him.
The weekly poker games had continued to include him and he'd been accepted as a part of the group. When they talked shop, as they sometimes tended to do, he was able to join in, being one of the group. Being a member of the brotherhood, as it were. When they had bull sessions during the game, his war stories were the equal of any of theirs.
But the time finally came. He was as ready as he was ever going to be. As recovered as his body would ever allow. On top of which, he found himself missing the warm ocean and frantic surf of his home. Jim simply could not convince him to take a board out into the cold water off the coast. Mable drove him to the airport, all of them there to see him off. He knew he would be back, if only for the trial of the rogue DEA agents. The DEA had decided to pick up his medical bills, as well as matching his pay for the time he had to be away. Jim was an excellent manager, and he was actually debt free. He'd been given a budget, and promised to stick to it, which would result in savings, for the first time in his life.
At the airport, He passed out hugs to one and all. He would miss these new friends. He promised to provide a place to stay any time any of them ever decided to visit Hawaii. He was sad, having to leave his friends. But he had other duties awaiting him at home. He hoped his dog remembered him.
The trial was a nine-day-wonder. They never had a chance, once Mack took the stand. When one of the defense lawyers demanded he prove that he was Mack Wolfe and not James Ellison, the two men stood together and removed their shirts. The scars spoke volumes to the jury, who only took three and a half hours to convict the defendants. They were sentenced to life in prison, and no one expected them to have very long lives there. After all, they had been cops. Crooked, perhaps, but still cops.
Saturday. Mack had carefully removed a dead section of the Taggart's garden and dug a four foot deep pit. He had built a fire in it the night before, filling the pit with hardwood, allowing it to burn all night. First thing, even before daylight, he had prepared the pig for roasting. Wrapping it in banana leaves, stuffed with various seasonings, and buried for ten hours. When his guests arrived, he greeted them with orchid leis and hugs, telling them "Mahalo" as they entered. He opened the pit at the appropriate moment. Pulling the perfectly roasted pig from the ashes while Blair waxed professorial over the meanings of the rituals involved in roasting a pig in various cultures. He had prepared a number of dishes to go with the whole pig, tropical fruit bowls (sans pineapple in consideration of Jim's dislike of the fruit), yams, rice, drinks. Knowing how hard it was to prepare, he'd left out the poi. He acted as server as well as chef.
When they had all stuffed themselves, he stood before them, holding a drink. "I just wanted to say 'thank you' for everything you've done for me. To the Taggarts who took me into their home and hearts, aloha Nui Loa. To Jim and Blair, my friends, a thousand times Mahalo. To the rest of you, thank you for everything you've done for me, I...I don't have the words to tell you." He raised his glass to them, and finished his toast. "To friends, who took a stranger in and made him welcome."
They all touched their glasses together and drank.
I may add to this at a later date, but Wolfpup needed me to finish this before she moved. I hope it's in time. I mean, it's only Thursday, right? She isn't leaving until, uh, tomorrow? Saturday?
Search for another story