Doug could no longer feel the fingers of his left hand. His arm from shoulder to wrist was stiff and rapidly becoming numb. He could feel the sticky warmth of fresh blood oozing across his neck from the bullet wound in his shoulder. His heart was leaping in his chest; pulse pounding; breathing rapid, deep and desperate. His shoulder burned as though it was on fire.
He looked up from where he was inexplicably pinned on the blood-soaked ground and watched the life leaving the young woman’s pleading eyes as the killer tightened his grip around her neck.
There was nothing Doug could do to prevent her death. Through the buzz in his ears, he could hear sirens from the back-up he’d called for, but he knew they’d be too late. He tried to summon enough strength to reach his gun. He was paralyzed with a fear greater than any he’d ever previously encountered in the line of duty. He felt helpless, powerless and useless.
“Let her go!” he pleaded. “Let her go, and walk away. Don’t kill her. Just walk away.” Doug knew he sounded like he was begging. He was.
Just as the outstretched fingers of his right hand touched his gun he heard a snap that sounded like the dry branch of a tree breaking, and watched the woman’s lifeless body slide to the ground.
Although her eyes were open, he knew she was no longer there. His own vision started to grow dark around the edges. He heard the killer’s boots crunch on the gravel.
Doug rolled onto his back and viewed the killer lean down close to him. He focused on the killer’s gun positioned in front of his face. As though from a distance, he saw the killer’s finger tighten on the trigger. Doug knew it would be the last thing he ever witnessed.
Then suddenly all was dark.
Doug opened his eyes and found himself in bed. His left arm was pinned beneath a smooth, tanned feminine neck and shoulder, which had caused his arm to fall asleep.
His heartbeat was heavy and bounding in his chest and his breath came rapidly.
Slowly extricating his arm, he sat up, the navy blue sheet pooling around his lean hips. He ran fingers through his short dark hair as he took a couple of cleansing breaths.
“Doug? You awake?” The feminine form behind him now sat up and ran a manicured hand around to the front of his broad chest until he could feel the warmth of her firm, sculptured breasts pressing against his back.
He pushed down a wave of revulsion that surprised him and put one of his hands over hers to stop its downward direction. He felt her stiffen against his back and then she pulled away from him.
Doug puzzled himself with the way he was acting. He shook it off, attributing it to the false emotion stirred up by the dream. That awful impotent dream.
It was his biggest fear as a cop. That he’d be unable to save someone in time. That the bad guy would win.
It wasn’t fear for his own life. He was comfortable with knowing that his life was on the line. He would never be comfortable with knowing that he’d failed in the line of duty, and an innocent civilian would be dead. Like most other cops, he dreaded the possibility.
He shoved out of the bed and padded into the bathroom. He set the shower temp to hot and stepped under the needle spray. When the shower door opened behind him he wasn’t surprised. Nor was he tempted. He knew that Jessica wouldn’t understand, and would probably pretend to be hurt. He also knew she’d move on and find someone else.
They weren’t in love; they liked each other and were convenient. Over the years, Doug just hadn’t found anyone who made him feel strongly enough to commit. Once or twice he’d been in lust, but not in love. Jessica was just the latest in line.
Doug’s day didn’t improve when he arrived at the station, either. As a rule, he got along with most of the other officers. However, there was just something about the new sergeant that set his teeth on edge. On the outside, the guy seemed fine. A little too precise for Doug’s taste, but better that than sloppy. Maybe it was the way the guy spoke – just this side of prissy. Maybe it was the way he didn’t have a single hair out of place. Or maybe it was just the fact that he was an asshole. Yep. That was it. And now that Doug was able to correctly file that fact, he felt better.
Right up until said sergeant spoke to him.
Doug stopped in the hallway and backed up two paces to the open office door.
“Come in. Come in.” Another point against him; the guy repeated himself.
“Yes, Sir.” Doug stood in front of the pristine desk and waited for the sergeant to speak.
“Doug, are we having a communication problem?” The sergeant’s hands were folded together in the center of his desk.
“Sir?” Doug tried to hide his impatience. God only knew what had gotten the sergeant’s knickers in a twist this time.
“Communication. Between us. It’s lacking.” The sergeant also seemed unable to speak in full sentences.
“How’s that, Sir?” Doug tried to keep his expression neutral.
“Forms?” A single raised eyebrow accompanied the latest syllable. The brow looking suspiciously plucked – or maybe waxed.
“Forms, Sir?” Doug was beyond understanding at this point.
“Forms. Requisition forms, to be precise.”
God forbid we not be precise.
“Sir. I’m at a loss here. Please remind me.” Doug hoped that the grimace around his mouth might pass for a small smile.
No such luck.
“Don’t get smart with me, Saunders. I’m onto your game.” Obviously the good sergeant knew something Doug didn’t.
“Sir, I’m not trying to get smart with you. I honestly don’t know what you’re talking about.” Doug tried for a little sincerity in his voice and demeanor.
It seemed to work, because the sergeant actually started explaining himself. Apparently Doug had failed to fill in one of the myriad requisite forms. As the sergeant continued to explain in exquisitely gruesome detail about the form, Doug’s mind wandered.
He had a meeting today with Jorge Morales, a young man who was working undercover in one of the local gangs. Last year when Jorge tried to leave the gang, he’d been beaten and kicked right up to death’s door. After a painful and terror-filled recovery, Jorge decided to get even. Although dangerous, his plan was good. He “remained” in the gang and was working on getting information regarding their drug sales in order to get the leaders put behind bars. Since there were a couple of deaths involved, there was a good chance he could get them put away for life.
Doug came back to the present and realized that he’d apparently been listening to silence, and for quite some time according to the look on the sergeant’s face.
“Are we clear, Saunders?”
“Crystal, Sir. Will there be anything else?”
“No. It is what it is.”
Doug winced inwardly. NO one liked that hackneyed phrase. And no one used it more often than the Sergeant.
With that, Doug headed out the door and down the hall to the locker room. What an ass. Could this day get any worse?
Of course it could.
Doug was supposed to meet Jorge at a downtown parking structure. After waiting 45 minutes, Doug had the awful gut feeling that something bad had happened. He headed back to the police department and asked one of the bilingual officers to call Jorge’s number and check on him.
By the look on Crystal’s face, Doug knew something VERY bad had happened. “Doug, I’m sorry. That was his aunt. Jorge’s in the hospital. He was shot last night. They’ve got him in ICU.”
Doug commandeered a black and white, again forgetting the requisition forms, and flew over to Chapman Hospital. When the elevator doors opened on the ICU floor, Doug was looking into the eyes of Armando, the main leader of the gang Jorge had ‘joined.’
With recognition, but without speaking, they passed each other. Doug stepped out of the elevator and into the hallway while the gang leader stepped into the elevator. Eye contact was maintained while the elevator doors shut. Just before the doors met, Doug saw Armando’s middle finger thrust into the air. Shaking his head, Doug thought to himself that once again, someone was telling him that he was number one. Too bad they keep forgetting to use the correct finger.
Doug turned and went down to the nurses’ station and asked which curtain area Jorge was in. Emily, one of Doug’s ex-girlfriends, smiled and pointed out the area at the end of the unit.
He quietly moved down to the area and glanced around the corner of the curtain to ensure that no other visitors were present. When he saw that it was all clear, he stepped next to Jorge’s bed.
Jorge appeared to be asleep. His mouth was slightly open and his head was rolled away from Doug. Looking closer, Doug felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. The monitor had been turned off. Jorge wasn’t breathing. And the handle of a four inch blade knife was sticking out of his side, surrounded by a spreading pool of red.
Doug yelled for the nurse and within seconds the curtain was thrust aside, as was Doug, and three people started working on Jorge. CPR – Intubation – Three units type-specific blood. Atropine, Lidocaine, Epinephrine, calcium bicarbonate and more epinephrine all injected into the IV line.
“200 joules!” … 250… 300… 350... The doctor tried valiantly to get a pulse, but to no avail.
Doug winced when he saw the doctor open Jorge’s chest for a thoracotomy. There was blood everywhere. The crunching of the ribs under the surgeon’s tool made Doug swallow several times trying to keep breakfast down. After what seemed like an eternity of gory chaos, the attending doctor called time of death at 9:44 am.
Yep, the day had definitely gotten worse.