Nick flew down the stairs with Greg on his heels. They burst into the living room, where Sofia was sipping tea.|
“Where are they?” Nick demanded, unable to keep the anger and sheer exasperation out of his voice.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Mrs Richards said calmly, taking a sip of her own tea.
“What’s going on Nick?” Sofia asked, quickly putting her cup down and standing, turning from friendly, talkative policewoman into tough, no shit Detective in a matter of seconds.
“We found Katie’s teddy bear upstairs.” Greg informed her. “They’ve been here.”
“Jackson’s been living in the attic all this time.” Nick fumed. “And I’m guessing that Mrs Richards here has been hiding him. He didn’t move out, did he? That was just to throw us off the trail. Where is he? Where’s Katie?”
Just then, they heard a piercing scream from the back of the house. All heads turned towards the kitchen, then Nick, Greg and Sofia all made a run for the back door and out into the rainy night.
Parked at the back of the house, a Dodge Fighter had its engine running and the passenger door open. A long-haired man was carrying a young blonde girl back to it, from where she’d obviously tried to make an escape.
“FREEZE! LVPD!” Sofia shouted, pulling her gun.
The man tossed the screaming child into the passenger seat and disappeared behind the car. Nick took that moment to pull his own gun and looked across at Greg, who carried no weapon, only his Maglite. He knew how Greg felt about carrying guns, but wished at that moment that his friend was armed.
“Mr Jackson!” Sofia shouted over the battering rain. “LVPD. Come out with your hands up!” She used her free hand to unhook her radio, and called for backup.
Nick watched as time seemed to slow down. Ronald Jackson appeared above the roof of the Dodge, a revolver clasped in both hands. Katie, inside the car, was directly in Nick’s line of fire. There was no way he could risk taking a shot.
“Stay away!” Ronald yelled.
“Mr Jackson, please.” Nick called over. “Just let Katie go. This can be over right now and we can all go inside and get this sorted out.”
Katie was screaming and crying inside the vehicle, and Nick felt his legs go weak.
“My wife needs to know what it feels like to have her world pulled out from under her, like she did to me.” Ronald sobbed, his hands shaking. “She cared more about it than me. It ruined my life. That little monster!”
Nick figured that it was a reference to Katie as a baby.
“Look Sir, I’m sure you don’t want to hurt Katie…..” Nick continued. “So why don’t you just let her get out of the car, and let her come over here to us. Then we can talk.”
“She needs to learn.” he shook his head. “That bitch needs to learn what it feels like. She can‘t have her back. She can‘t! I‘m taking her! She‘ll learn.”
Sofia was inching forward, the rain soaking her thin blue shirt until it was sticking to her like a second skin.
“Mr Jackson, this is your last warning.” she said forcefully. “Drop the gun, and come out with your hands up!”
Nick felt the crack of the shot reverberating through his body before he actually heard it, and out of the corner of his eye he saw Sofia fall. Once again time slowed down and he could see Ronald turn towards Greg to fire a second shot.
With split-second timing Nick launched himself on top of Greg, knocking them both into the soft wet mud. He heard the gunshot whiz past his ear. Greg cried out in shock at being knocked to the ground, his eyes widening when he realised what had just happened.
Nick pushed himself off of Greg’s prone body and turned in time to see Jackson jumping into the car and speeding off, the spinning wheels sending a shower of soaked earth over them all. He ran to where Sofia was lying clutching her arm, her face twisted in pain.
“He just winged me, it’s just a flesh wound.” she grimaced, dark red blood spilling from between her fingers and running, diluted by the rain, down her arm. “Get after that bastard now. I’ll be fine.”
With a nod Nick ran around the side of the house to the Denali parked out front. Greg wasn’t far behind. They heard Sofia radio for an ambulance, officer down as they slammed the doors shut. Nick floored it, the tyres burning black marks into the wet asphalt.
They caught up with the black Dodge fighter a mile away from the house. Nick got as close to it as he could, listening as Greg kept up a running commentary of their position with the PD, using his cell-phone. Suddenly he went quiet.
“What’s wrong?” Nick cried out, trying desperately to concentrate on matching the Dodge’s every twist and turn. “Greg?”
“They’re heading for the lake.” Greg gulped, his eyes wide and inky black.
Nick’s own eyes flew to the next road-sign they passed. Lake Mead 2 miles it proclaimed.
“Fuck!” he screamed, hitting both palms off the steering wheel.
As they sped along the dark road, Nick pleaded under his breath for everything to calm down, for Ronald Jackson to realise what he was doing and pull over, for Katie to be OK, and for everyone to get out of this alive. There was a good chance that Jackson still had four bullets left in his gun. That was enough to take them all out.
Greg was still keeping PD informed of their location in a calm voice, but his knuckles were white where he was gripping the cell-phone tightly. The enormity of the situation was obviously getting to him.
“You OK?” Nick whispered across without taking his eyes off the vehicle in front. Greg quickly moved the phone to his right hand and used his left hand to give Nick’s knee a reassuring squeeze.
“The lake’s coming up.” Greg spoke into the phone, but Nick knew that it was as much a warning for him.
Suddenly the rear lights of the Dodge disappeared as the car careened down the bank of the lake. Nick hit the brakes hard, and turned the steering wheel. He managed to spin the car around so that it stayed at the top of the bank, the tyres sending mud flying into the air.
They both jumped out of the Denali and ran down the slippery bank, their shoes sinking into the thick mud. The Dodge was tyre-deep in the water and sinking further.
Without a second thought Nick ran into the lake, wading out to where the car was now submerged to the windows. He heard splashing behind him as Greg followed him into the freezing cold lake.
“Nick!” Greg cried out over the roar of the heavy rain hitting the water. “Can you see her? Can you get her out?”
Nick tried to pull the handle of the door open, but it was stuck fast, locked from the inside. He could see Katie huddled in the passenger seat, crying into her clenched fists. Ronald Jackson was slumped over the steering wheel, blood trickling from his right ear. He wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and had obviously hit his head hard as they’d landed in the water.
“Katie, can you open the door?” Nick shouted, thumping on the window with the palm of his hand. Greg came up beside him and started tugging desperately at the handle. Katie took her hands away from her face and looked at them, fear sparkling in her blue eyes.
The car was still sinking, and Nick watched impotently as the windows disappeared under the inky water.
Suddenly he heard a muffled thud, and turned to see Greg frantically hitting the windshield with the base of his flashlight. The pressure of the water impeded the blow, but after several attempts the glass caved in and washed away. Icy water rushed into the cab of the vehicle, the force of it knocking Greg off balance, sweeping him under the water.
As the car sank faster, Nick took a deep breath and dove under the water. Feeling his way along the broken windshield, he managed to get a hand to Katie’s shoulder. He pulled at her, trying to get her through the gap, but she was trapped in the seat.
Nick’s lungs began to burn with lack of oxygen. He tugged harder at the front of Katie’s night-shirt, his hand grasping at the seatbelt that she still wore.
Need to breathe. he thought desperately, his body automatically trying to kick for the surface. But Katie’s hand was clasped around his wrist, effectively trapping him in the car with her. Fear had made her strong.
Something swished past him in the darkness, and something in his gut told him it was Greg. All of a sudden he felt his nose being pinched and his mouth being covered by Greg‘s mouth. Precious oxygen was being breathed into his lungs. Then there was a rush of water as Greg kicked for the surface again. Nick pulled Katie’s night-shirt again, and this time she came away. Greg had succeeded in undoing the seatbelt as he‘d been breathing air into Katie‘s lungs.
With the renewed strength and adrenaline coursing through his veins, Nick began his own ascent to the surface, holding Katie safely around her waist. Greg appeared beside him as he hit the surface and took a deep breath.
“You OK?” he panted.
Nick coughed a couple of times and croaked a yeah, his throat raw and burning. Katie was coughing and gasping for breath.
“Can you take Katie?” Nick asked. “I need to go back for Ronald Jackson.”
Greg grabbed Nick by the arm, shaking his head. “It’s too late Nick.” he gasped, trying to tread water. “He’s already dead.”
Nick nodded, and began to swim to the shore, one arm cradling Katie.
They both helped to push Katie onto the bank and clambered onto it themselves, panting for much-needed breath.
They lay there just looking at each other, their eyes stinging with rain. Nick couldn’t help reaching out to touch Greg, making sure they were both there, both real, both safe. Greg had saved his life down there. No words could ever be enough to express his thanks. He ran his fingertips over Greg’s muddy face, tracing wet lines through the dirt. It was then that he realised that Greg was bleeding slightly from a head wound, but it didn’t look too serious. He moved his hand further around and cupped the back of Greg’s head, scrunching his fingers through the damp hair.
Greg watched him, his soulful brown eyes full of emotion. Without speaking, he leaned forwards and pressed his lips to Nick’s one more time, but this time the reason was completely different. The lips were warm against him, although they were both trembling from the cold. Nick opened his mouth slightly and turned his head into the kiss, losing himself in the feeling.
Greg pulled away first and leaned his forehead against Nick’s, both of them breathing heavily.
The dark sky became stained with the red and blue of the approaching ambulances and patrol cars, their sirens wailing. Katie was lying between them shivering, but the fear in her eyes had been replaced with thankfulness and wonder at what she‘d just witnessed between her two rescuers.
“You’re OK now Katie.” Greg soothed. “We’ve got you.”
“You know my name?” Katie asked. “How do you know my name?”
“We know all about you.” Nick smiled, before coughing again. When he’d finished, he introduced them. “Milton, your bear, told us about you. I’m Nick Stokes, and this is Greg Sanders. We’re kind of like policemen.”
“Milton? Where’s Milton?” Katie cried out, getting distressed again.
“It’s OK, Milton is waiting for you.” Greg promised, which seemed to settle her down again. Nick went to reach for Greg’s hand to squeeze it, but the world erupted into chaos as Paramedics and unformed officers scrambled down the bank towards them, radios crackling and instructions being shouted over the sound of the rain.
Katie was wrapped in a blanket and taken to the first ambulance by the Paramedics. A policeman helped Greg off the muddy ground and to another ambulance. Nick watched as Greg turned his head to look at him as he was pushed into the back of the vehicle. There was a look in his eyes that Nick couldn’t decipher. The doors were closed behind him, and he was gone.
A few minutes later Brass appeared on the bank beside Nick. He helped him to a waiting police car that quickly took him to the hospital to get checked out.
At the hospital, Nick was finally warm and dry and dressed in dark blue doctors scrubs, his clothes having been soaked through and covered in mud. Grissom was outside talking to the Doctor who was treating the three drowned rats, and Nick strained to try and hear their conversation, but the closed door hindered him.
After a few minutes the door opened and Grissom strode into the room.
“How’s Katie and Greg?” Nick asked, worried. No one had told him anything since he’d been brought in.
“They’re both fine.” Grissom reassured him. “Katie is going to be kept in to make sure there’re no lasting effects from the cold water or from missing her medication, but it looks like she’s had a lucky escape. She‘s been reunited with her Mother. And Milton of course.” he smiled. “She’s asking to see you and Greg.”
“What about Greg?” Nick pressed, trying to keep the nerves out of his voice.
“Greg’s fine.” Grissom nodded. “He’s in the next room. He has a small cut to the forehead but apart from that he’s OK.”
Nick sighed with relief. “And Sofia?”
“Sofia was brought to Desert Palms with a gunshot wound, but it was superficial. She’s already been treated and is complaining about wanting to discharge herself.” Grissom explained.
“So why where they hiding in that woman’s attic?” Nick wondered.
“It turns out that Ronald Jackson had seduced his Landlady, that’s why she no longer charged him rent. He’d concocted a story about his ex-wife trying to keep his daughter away from him, and asked her to lie about his whereabouts should the police ask. Mrs Richards was a lady of a certain age, widowed…. It’s understandable. She was covering for the man she loved.”
“Well, Mrs Jackson did say that he was a very charming man.” Nick shrugged. “But perhaps it wasn’t love that he had over her. Perhaps it was fear.”
“Perhaps.” Grissom mused, then turned and left the room without saying goodbye, in the way that he often did when a thought struck him. Nick got off the bed carefully and made his way to Greg’s room. He rapped the door gently with his knuckles before entering.
Greg was sitting on his bed, dressed in scrubs identical to Nick’s. He had a few white steri-strips holding the cut on his head together, but other than that he looked in pretty good shape. “Hey.” he said softly as Nick came in, his voice wavering with nerves and emotion.
“Hey.” Nick echoed. Suddenly he wasn’t sure what to do with his hands, so he put his arms across his chest awkwardly. “Katie wants to see us.”
“Yeah. Grissom was just in here with me.” Greg nodded. “Shall we go in together, or would you rather…”
“Let’s go together.” Nick grinned, trying not to think of how cute Greg looked in scrubs.
The Doctor was in Katie’s room checking his notes, so they waited outside the door until he had finished.
“Hey Doctor.” Nick stopped him as he walked by. “Is she OK?”
“She’s in excellent health considering what she’s been through.” the doctor admitted. “She’s such a lovely little girl. It just wasn’t her time.”
Nick nodded, feeling a lump in his throat as he swallowed. Not her time.
Katie lay back on the starched white sheets, her soft blonde hair washed and brushed and fanned out behind her on the pillow like a halo. Milton was clutched safely under one arm.
Her face lit up as Nick and Greg entered the room, and she held both hands out in front of her and beckoned them towards the bed.
Greg moved to the right of the bed and took Katie’s right hand in his, Nick went to the left and clasped her left hand, squeezing it tightly.
“You’re safe now.” Greg said with a soft smile. “Your Mom is just downstairs getting something to eat, she‘ll be back soon.”
“The Doctors say you’ve been a perfect patient.” Nick nodded, his eyes moist and shining.
“Thank you for saving me.” Katie’s eyes moved from one man to the other. “You are my heroes and I love you.” She pulled her hands close to her chest, until Nick’s knuckles were touching Greg’s. Suddenly Katie pushed their hands together and moved her own hands away, leaving Greg and Nick leaning across her body, their fingers intertwined.
Nick felt Greg’s grip tighten slightly and looked up to meet his eyes. They smiled shyly at each other before letting their hands drop to their sides. Greg took a quick step backwards, his cheeks flushing slightly.
Nick cleared his throat. “Well Katie, we’ll let you get some sleep before your Mom gets back, OK?”
Katie nodded, pulling the bedcovers higher. “You come visit me again?”
“Sure we will.” Greg reassured her. “We’ll see you tomorrow, for sure.”
“Promise.” Nick confirmed. “Now get some sleep. You must be exhausted.”
“OK Nick and Greg. See you tomorrow.” With that her ocean-blue eyes fluttered shut and her mouth dropped open slightly. They watched as her breathing became slow and regular, indicating that she was finally asleep.
Greg reached out and gently smoothed a stray hair away from her forehead, his own eyes sparkling with unshed tears.
They moved silently from the room and closed the door softly behind them with an almost inaudible click. They stood quietly for a few moments, both lost in their own thoughts.
“Brave kid.” Nick said finally.
“Yeah, totally.” Greg nodded, not looking up to meet his eyes, instead seemingly fascinated by the tiled floor. He nudged the tile with the toe of his sneaker which, like his own boots, were still slightly damp and coated in a thin layer of mud.
“Listen, do you want to go and get a cup of coffee or something?” Nick asked hesitantly. “I mean, if you’re not busy or anything.”
Greg kept his head low, but raised his eyes, watching Nick steadily from beneath his thick lashes. He breathed out slowly, trying to control his nerves. “Yeah.” he nodded after a moment. “Yeah. I’d like that.”
“Although we probably should head home first and get changed.” Nick sighed, looking down at his scrubs and wet footwear.
Greg’s face dropped in visible disappointment. “Oh. OK. Listen, it doesn’t matter, we can take a rain check.” He obviously thought that Nick was only being polite, didn’t really want to talk to him.
“No way.” Nick soothed, pulling Greg into the nearest empty room and closing the door behind them. “I just thought…. But hey, what the hell, let’s pretend to be Doctors.” he grinned.
“Hey Nick, about before….” Greg began nervously. “When I….. when I kissed you. I’m really sorry, I don’t know what came over me. I hope that we can still be friends, that you won’t hold it against me. I guess it was just the emotions of the moment or something. You know, you‘re alive, I‘m alive, it‘s all good. That‘s all it was, so no worries, yeah?”
“Didn’t you notice anything?” Nick smiled as he moved closer to Greg. He‘d always found Greg‘s babbling endearing, but today he had other uses for that mouth.
Greg shook his head, sparks of nervous excitement firing in those deep brown eyes. “What?”
“I kissed you back.” He cupped the back of Greg’s head with his hand and pulled the other man closer, bringing their lips to within an inch of touching. “Just like this.”
Finally he closed the small space between them, sinking into a soft, sweet kiss. He could feel Greg smile against his open mouth. Finally he’d got the one thing he wanted. While looking for Katie, they had found each other.