Authors: Lee Goldberg
"I keep seeing Rachel in that window," Mark said. "I keep seeing the look on her face."
"The case is solved," Steve said. "There's nothing more you can do for her."
"I know that," Mark said.
"So why is it making you crazy?"
"I'm not crazy," Mark said. "I'm just tired. Otherwise, I am in top form."
"Is that why you just put two cups of chopped onions into your Chocolate Decadence a la Sloan?"
Mark looked into the pot of melted chocolate in disbelief. If he'd put the onions in the dessert, where did he put the walnuts?
He deduced the answer without looking. There was nothing he could do to save either dish now.
Mark took off his apron and tossed it on a barstool. "How do you feel about hamburgers?"
"I love 'em," Steve said.
"Great," Mark said, moving the pots with the chowder and the chocolate to the sink. "I know where we can find the best burgers in town."
"BBQ Bob's?" Steve said.
"Better," Mark said. "The Community General cafeteria."
Steve shook his head and sighed. "I'll drive."
On the way to the hospital, Steve briefed his father on what he'd found, an exhaustive explanation that covered the drive from the driveway to the street.
Justin Darbo had a record for marijuana possession, which was no surprise to Mark, and had no apparent connection to Brant of any kind, beyond teaching him how to skydive.
Dr. Sara Everden authorized the LAPD to bring in a forensic accountant to go through the company books, but Steve was sure lawyers representing Clifton Hemphill, Dean Perrow, and Virgil Nyby would fight it.
Steve pointed out several fast-food places and restaurants along the way, but Mark insisted none of the establishments could match the fine dining to be had at the hospital.
"Everybody knows hospital food is the best," Steve said. "I've heard of people hurting themselves just so they could enjoy the cuisine."
Mark didn't take the bait. He simply sat in the passenger seat, unconsciously pressing his right foot to the floor as if there was a gas pedal there.
When they arrived at the hospital, Mark went straight up to the ICU, as Steve knew he would. Mark was in such a hurry that he didn't even notice something that made Steve forget his appetite. United States Marshal Tom Wade wasn't sitting in the waiting area anymore.
By the time Steve caught up with his father in the ICU, he found out why.
Rachel Swicord was gone.
A thin man with tiny, round glasses stood at the foot of her empty bed, reviewing her chart while Mark angrily confronted him. The man was thirty years old and had obviously spent most of his adolescence picking at his face.
"Who are you and where is my patient?" Mark said.
"I'm Dr. Huntley Lipp," the man said, not bothering to lift his eyes from the chart. "And Miss Swicord is on her way to my hospital."
Steve flashed his badge. "Which is?"
Dr. Lipp was unimpressed. "The prison ward at County-USC Medical Center."
"You can't move her," Mark said.
"I can and I have," Dr. Lipp said, reaching into his jacket and handing Steve a folded sheet of paper. "This is a court order. She's on her way to the ambulance and so am I."
Lipp marched off towards the elevator, Mark and Steve charging alongside him.
"She's neurologically unstable," Mark said. "She's been in a waxing and waning coma for over twenty-four hours, which could be indicative of brain swelling or bleeding. Transporting her now could be highly risky."
"Her CT scans and MRIs show no evidence of swelling or bleeding," Dr. Lipp said, stepping into the elevator. "The changing levels of her comatose state could simply be due to her severe concussion."
Mark and Steve crowded into the elevator with him. "The swelling and bleeding are often delayed for hours or days alter the injury and can occur very quickly. If she's not in a hospital, available for immediate surgery to relieve the pressure, she could die or suffer irreparable brain damage."
"Then we'd better get her to the prison ward as fast as possible," Dr. Lipp said. "Now I have an excuse to use the siren."
Mark glanced at Steve, who met his gaze. "The paper work is all in order, Dad. She's Wade's prisoner. It's out of my hands."
"She's certainly in no condition to run away now. Even if she was conscious, she's got a broken leg, a broken arm, and her free arm is restrained. Rachel can't escape or hurt herself," Mark argued as the elevator arrived at the lobby. "What's the rush to take her to the prison ward?"
"You'll have to ask Marshal Wade that question," Dr. Lipp said, and strode out.
They didn't have to go far to find Wade and his prisoner, who was being wheeled by two orderlies towards the waiting ambulance outside the ER.
Mark and Steve caught up to them quickly.
"Why are you doing this?" Mark demanded of Wade. "Couldn't you at least wait until she's conscious to put her behind bars?"
"She's a fugitive and a suicidal one at that," Wade said. "The best place for her to be is in jail. Safer for herself, safer for society."
"She's not a danger to anyone," Mark said. "Especially now."
"Tell that to Deputy Barker's widow," Wade said.
They stepped outside onto the brightly lit ambulance bay. The medical transport was backed up nearly to the ER entrance, the rear doors of the vehicle swung wide open. The orderlies were about to slide the gurney into the ambulance when Steve glanced towards the street. Later, he would ask himself what made him look. Was it instinct? Something he saw in his peripheral vision that only registered subconsciously? He'd never know and it didn't matter.
Steve saw a man with a gun, illuminated for an instant, the sweep of headlights from a passing car revealing him in a doorway.
"Gun!" Steve yelled, tackling his father and pulling out his own weapon in one smooth motion.
Bullets from the gunman's automatic weapon riddled the front of the ambulance, blowing out the tires, the vehicle slumping forward with a gasping hiss. The windows of the ER doors behind Wade exploded in a spray of glass, but he barely flinched. He stood squinting into the darkness. The orderlies screamed and dove to the ground, hands over their heads. Dr. Lipp threw his body over Rachel and wheeled her gurney behind the protection of the open ambulance doors.
Steve got off four rounds before he hit the ground. One of the shots found its target, spinning the gunman around on his feet. The gunman stumbled, recovered his balance, and ran off, lurching to one side.
Wade charged across the street, his Glock in his hand, while the gunshots were still echoing in the air. Steve scrambled to his feet and quickly chased after him.
Mark went immediately to the orderlies, who suffered only minor glass cuts. He turned to Dr. Lipp, who was in the process of checking Rachel for wounds.
"She's unhurt," Dr. Lipp said.
"Let's get her back to the ICU," Mark said, taking the gurney and wheeling it back inside. He wasn't waiting for an argument and he didn't get one.
Steve caught up with Wade on the other side of the block, behind the building Rachel jumped from the day before. Wade was standing in the middle of the empty street, gun at his side, peering into the darkness, car alarms wailing every where.
The gunman had disappeared.
"I think I got him," Steve said, catching his breath.
"You did," Wade said, pointing his gun at some drops of blood on the street.
"What do you know?" Steve said. "Ghosts bleed."
Captain Newman didn't appreciate being yanked out of bed and dragged into the station at five o'clock in the morning. He especially didn't appreciate it when Dr. Mark Sloan was the one responsible.
It was bad enough that Steve let his father yank him into a suicide investigation, which then became a murder inquiry, and now inexplicably had grown into a federal case of some kind involving the United States Marshals Service. How one man—namely Dr. Mark Sloan—could get so many people into so much trouble was beyond Newman's understanding. But Newman was determined not to let this mushroom into anything bigger.
Dr. Sloan, his son Steve, and Tom Wade were crowded into the LAPD captain's cramped little office, which was cramped even when nobody but Newman was in it. Newman was big and he was wide and he filled spaces. Even when he was standing in an empty field, it somehow felt smaller. He looked as if he'd been artlessly carved out of an unforgiving, and not particularly interesting, block of stone. That hard, blockish physicality applied to his personality as well.
"I haven't showered, I haven't had my morning coffee, and I'm constipated," said Newman. "So you can imagine what kind of mood I'm in right now."
"I can give you something to clear your bowels," Mark said.
"You certainly can," Newman said. "You can stop meddling in my homicide cases."
"Technically, this isn't one of your homicide cases," Mark said.
Steve winced. Newman pinned Mark with a cold, constipated stare.
"It nearly became one, didn't it?" Newman turned to Steve. "What the hell is going on here? I want the airline version, not the director's cut."
"Marshal Wade is here chasing a dead man," Steve said, "and using Rebecca Jordan for bait."
"Rachel Swicord," Wade corrected.
"So Sloan has it right?" Newman asked.
Tom Wade nodded. "She was in a stolen car driven by her boyfriend Pike Wheeler. He killed a law enforcement officer and, in the subsequent chase, lost control of his vehicle and drove off a cliff into the river. Rachel went to jail, Pike was presumed dead."
"But not by you," Newman said.
"The body was never recovered. To me, that means alive until proven otherwise. I was the only one who held that view."
"You could have told us what you were really doing here," Steve said.
"I did," Wade replied. "I came to apprehend Rachel Swicord. My other pursuit was strictly personal and unofficial. I wasn't going to ask anyone to help me chase after a ghost."
"Only he's not a ghost now, is he?" Steve said.
"At least now we know why she broke her parole, came here, and created a new identity," Mark said. "And we know why she wanted to die."
"We do?" Newman asked.
"She was running from the same ghost Wade was chasing," Mark said. "When the article about her and the Cuddle Bear went on the wire, she knew the marshal would come for her. And Pike, if he was alive, would come for her, too. Apparently, she couldn't live with either prospect."
"I don't see how this changes anything," Wade said. "Now that we know Pike is alive, and willing to kill, it's all the more reason to move her to a prison hospital."
"She's not going anywhere," Newman said. "We'll keep her under twenty-four-hour guard at Community General."
"That's a mistake," Wade said.
"I can't risk Pike taking shots at more civilians or this woman dying because of medical complications during the transfer," Newman said. "You should have told us about Pike. We're damned lucky nobody got killed tonight, no thanks to you. You're going back to Spokane on the first plane out in the morning."
"I don't work for you," Wade said.
"If you did, I'd fire you." Newman handed him a ticket. "This plane ticket is from the U.S. Marshals Service."
"What about Pike?" Wade said. "He's still loose, carrying a bullet."
"I'm sure we'll find him, or his body, very soon," Newman said.
"He's a fugitive," Wade said. "It's not a local matter."
"Which is why a U.S. Marshal from the LA office will be taking over for you and working closely with me," Newman said. "Have a nice flight."
Wade walked out without another word. He didn't even bother tipping his hat.
Mark and Steve had started to follow him out, when Newman cleared his throat.
"I'm not done with you two yet," Newman said. "Dr. Sloan, stay away from Rebecca Jordan or whatever the hell her name is. She didn't invite you to meddle in her life and neither did we."
Newman turned to Steve. "That goes double for you, Detective. Stay away from her, it's not your case. You're supposed to be working twenty-four seven on the Winston Brant murder, remember? What progress have you made?"
"I'm pursuing several avenues of investigation," Steve said, well aware of how lame and evasive it sounded.
The painstaking search of the drop zone didn't turn up any evidence, nothing unusual was found in Brant's parachute pack, and the LAPD's forensic accountant had only just begun digging into the financial records at Brant Publications. And Steve hadn't found any motive for skydiving instructor Justin Darbo or Brant's business partners Clifton Hemphill, Dean Perrow, and Virgil Nyby to want the daredevil publisher dead. But the most annoying thing was he still hadn't figured out how the murder was committed in the first place.
Newman snorted derisively. "I want to see progress, Detective, or you'll be applying your investigative skills to parking enforcement. The media can't stop talking about this case. It's the cover story in the
, for God's sake."
"What happens to Rachel Swicord now?" Mark asked, not only because he was very interested, but also because he was eager to change the subject and take the heat off his son.
"It's up to the Marshal's office," Newman replied.
"What about her brother Deke's murder?" Steve asked.
"I've reassigned it to Detective Rykus, who is working closely with the boys from the Spokane PD," Newman said. "Stay out of it. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, sir," Steve said.
"I still have a few questions—" Mark began, but Steve pulled him out of Newman's office before he could finish whatever he was going to say.
"Are you trying to get me fired?" Steve asked, leading his father through the nearly empty squad room.
"The captain would be a much more pleasant person if he added some fiber to his diet," Mark said.
"I think it will take more than a few bowls of bran to lighten him up," Steve said. "You've got to drop this Rachel Swicord thing. It's over."