I opened my eyes, the blue sky and white puffy clouds above me. It took a second for me to feel the crushing pain in my chest.
I lay on the ground, not moving, not speaking, waiting for death to take me.
Tom’s face came into my vision, his skin covered in sweat, and his eyes wild and pissed off.
He was speaking, but I didn’t hear his words. I didn’t understand them.
He left and returned a moment later with Eli. They both looked at me, then at each other.
Toms voice slowly began to register in my hazy mind, “Paul! Are you ok?”
I shook my head, the back of my skull scraping on the tar. I felt the straps of my vest being pulled at, and the weight of it taken off me. My lungs felt free, and I tried to take in a breath but the centre of my chest sprung with pain.
I coughed as my chest grew tight, holding back the air I wanted so desperately.
Eli’s face was back, “Paul, you need to get up. Come on, buddy, move!”
I snapped out of my vivid, living nightmare, the images of the last few moments running back into my mind at the speed of a bullet, and my eyes began to sting. I blinked, hoping to wash away the emotion, but it rolled down my face into my hair.
Eli stood, extending his hand out to help me up. I looked at him, the dirt on his face, and the pity in his eyes. I grabbed his hand, pulling myself up and wincing at the pain I felt everywhere.
Tom came over to me, “I’m sorry. I had to do that.” He said.
“Do what?” I asked, meeting his eyes.
“You had your gun to your head. I wasn’t going to make it to you in time. You had a vest on and I took the shot.” He said.
I raised my hand to my chest, feeling for the tender spot and paused when I found it, “The heart. You aimed for my heart?” I asked.
“Dead centre. Thickest part of the vest.” He said.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” I whispered, looking down at my vest in the dirt. The bullet glistening in the sun.
I shook my head and backed away from them, my arms raised, “You shouldn’t have stopped me. This would have all been over.”
Tom slowly edged closer to me, “Paul, you need to listen to me, ok. This is not how you stop him. Not like that. Not by letting him win.”
“Look around Tom! He is winning! I can’t keep chasing him, and letting innocent people die! I can’t bring Lilly back here, and he doesn’t give a fuck who he hurts to get to me! If I’m not around anymore, then the pain will stop!” I shouted back.
Tom got into my face, “So that’s it? You wanna give up? Let him get the better of you? Let Addison’s killer walk free. What would Sarah say about that? How would Henry feel? Or your mother when she loses her last living child, or Lilly when yet another person she loves dies, you selfish asshole!” He shouted in my face.
My anger, pain, fear and torment got the better of me, and I threw my fist into Tom’s face, knocking him to the ground.
Eli ran between us, pushing me back, “Paul, relax! Come on! This is what he wants!”
I shifted my stare from Tom’s bleeding lip to Eli’s eyes. “Did you find him? You ran after him. Where is he Eli?” I asked.
Eli dropped his head, “I chased him until I found officer Lloyd with a knife in his throat. It was either leave the guy to die, or chase someone who was long gone.”
I pushed into Eli’s hand, still holding me back from Tom, “Gotta admit, Eli, your timing here in Portland is pretty fucking convenient. You start working in my precinct on the day he calls. You tell me about the cameras at Disneyland. You called me to tell me you’re on your way to my house the night I got shot, so I wouldn’t suspect anyone else at my door. You kept asking about the camera’s and the sweep of my house, like you needed me to find them.”
Eli dropped his hand from me, and stepped back, “Paul, think about what you’re saying. I know you’re hurting, and I get why you’re putting these pieces together, but they don’t fit, man.”
I stepped closer to him, my hands tightening into fists, “How did you know where Gail lived? When he killed her cat? I didn’t tell you.”
His eyes went wide, “The same way any other cop would have, I called dispatch and asked! Check the logs if you don’t believe me.”
Tom started getting off the ground, and I continued, “He knew we were coming. He was ready for us. He ran, because he knew you were chasing him. Where is officer Lloyd?”
Eli’s lip twitched as he got into my face, “I have done nothing but help you since the day this all started. Running around with our heads in our asses from the first day. Now you think I’m working with him. He threatened my son, remember!”
I looked over at Tom, “Your son? I haven’t seen your son, you don’t have any pictures of him, you never speak of him, and I only found out what his name is from Toni.”
Tom moved behind Eli, slowly pulling his gun out its holster.
Eli backed away, his arms raised, “This is what he wants, Paul. Don’t you see that? He wants you to have no one you can trust. If you and I are at war, that leaves you on your own. How long until you start questioning Gail, or Tom? We can’t let him get to us like this,” He dropped his hands and came closer, “I know it hurts man. I can’t imagine what your going through. But we are all doing this together. I dragged Lloyd back to the cabin, to the paramedics. Toni was long gone, and I made a choice to save that man’s life. You wanna see my son,” He pulled his phone out of his pocket, showing me the home screen, “This is Bennie, and my wife, Carlena.”
I looked at the picture of Eli, a pretty Hispanic woman, and a young boy, maybe ten or so years old, all smiling back at me.
Eli slipped the phone back into his pocket, “I get you’re scared. I am too. We all are. We have no idea what he will do next, but if we turn on each other, then we have no hope of finding him.” He extended his hand out to me, waiting.
I dropped my head, shutting my eyes.
Every moment we spend tearing into each other gives him more time to get his next move set up.
Eli waited, his hand in front of him. I looked back into the man’s eyes and I saw truth in them. A real, honest truth to what he was saying.
I grabbed his hand and he squeezed it, pulling me in for a hug, “I got you, brother. I got you.” He said quietly to me.
Tom’s phone rang, and the moment was over.
We pulled apart and waited for the bad news from Tom.
“We’re on our way.” He said and hung up.
Eli and I both turned to him, “What now?” I asked.
He holstered his weapon and nodded at the both of us, “Time to go. We need to be somewhere.” He said, and we followed him back to the gas station and to Eli’s car.
Tom got behind the wheel, and Eli sat in front. I didn’t mind sitting in the back, gave me time to think. To process everything.
We pulled out of the station and Eli asked, “What’s going on Captain?”
Tom didn’t look at him when he said, “Just somewhere we need to be.”
We drove in silence, all of us dealing with the events of today in our own minds. We got to the city, and Tom pulled up to a hospital. My heart sank.
Who's here? Is it Gail? What happened now?
I jumped out the car and waited for Tom and Eli, my hands shaking.
I followed Tom in, and we made our way through the maze towards the surgical department. We walked through the large fire doors and I saw Julie sitting on a chair, her eyes red and puffy, crying.
She looked up to see who had come in, and when she saw me, she ran for me and jumped into my arms.
I held onto her for a moment, not sure what was going on.
Doors opening on the other end of the room got our attention, and she let me go, rushing over to the doctor that had come out. I walked slowly towards them, my heart racing at the grim look on his face.
“Mrs. Jenkins, Claire sustained a lot of internal damage from the knife. We did as much as we possibly could,”
Oh no. Not again.
Don’t say it, please don’t say it.
The doctor looked at me over her shoulder. My hands on my head in anticipation.
“But I’m afraid she will need at least three more surgeries to fix her up.”
What? What did he just say?
Julie let out a long, sob-filled sigh, “But she’ll be ok?”
The doctor smiled, “She’s going to be just fine. Like I say, she still needs a few more surgeries, to repair all the damage, and she will need to stay in the ICU for a while, but I expect her to make a full recovery.”
The words he said crippled me with relief. I dropped to my knees, my body weak from the news. I sat back on my legs, dropped my hands to the ground and let the joy fall from my eyes.
Julie came to me, kneeling down in front of me, “Thank you, Paul. Thank you.” Her voice broke as I looked up at her.
“Don’t thank me. She wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for me.” I turned away from her, not able to look this mother in the eyes.
“You’re right, she wouldn’t. She would be dead. You didn’t hurt her. You didn’t take her from me, and you never wanted any of this to happen. She is alive, and she will grow up to be a strong young girl because you didn’t give up on her.” She placed a hand on my cheek to move my face up to hers, “I don’t blame you for this. I am thankful for you.” She finished, nodding.
“I’m sorry,” I said, my throat getting tight, “I am so sorry,” I said and broke down.
She pulled me into her arms on the ground and held me for a moment. I sat there, on the floor, a weeping, emotional mess and let this stranger hold me as I pulled myself together again.
Claire would live.
The image of her tiny body in the box was no longer so painful. So, constricting.
She let me go, and I stood, helping her to her feet. She gave me a smile and left with the doctor.
I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders as my body hurt, and wiped my face. I turned to Eli and Tom, who stood by the wall, waiting.
I marched over to them, “We need to get back to work.”
They both smiled, and Tom stepped forward, “First, you need to get checked out. Your arm is bleeding again, and I did shoot you. Let’s take today to get ourselves patched up, then tomorrow we hunt this bastard down.”
I looked down at my shoulder, the blood running down my arm and the large dried patch on my shirt.
He has a point. Can’t do any good like this.
We went back to the ER, and doctor Martin came over to me, “Back already?” he smiled.
After having my stitches replaced, my wounds cleaned, and X-Ray's taken of my chest, I was given the all clear to go.
Tom went back to the station and Eli offered to drive me home.
We pulled up outside my house, and I smiled at the lights still on inside. I climbed out of the car, my body tight and feeling the pain of being shot at, twice, in every nerve and muscle. My arm resting in a new sling, and every breath pulling at my bruised chest, I walked towards my front door slowly, a smile on my face to see Gail again.
As I approached the three steps leading to my door, the wail of police sirens carried through the air. I turned around, and four police cars screeched to a stop in front of my house, followed by an ambulance.
Eli jumped out of the Land Rover, running over to the officers in full breech gear. I watched him speak to one of the officers for a moment, then called me over.
What is going on?
Why are they here?
What has he done now?
My keys still in my hand, I looked back at the door.
Eli shouted, “Paul, do not go in there!”
I stuck the key into the lock, and twisted, opening the door.