Authors: Lee Goldberg
Dr. Yorder got up, went to the door, and opened it. "Great to see you again, Mark. Be sure to stop by again in another five years."
Mark didn't move. "I remember the bright young resident you used to be, before you started prescribing more drugs for yourself than your patients. You would have lost your license if it wasn't for me testifying on your behalf."
"So this is payback?"
Dr. Yorder closed the door. "Suppose I do help people regardless of the legalities. If I do, it's because they need help. It's because they are in pain. That's what doctors do."
"There are legal obligations," Mark said.
"In the ER, does it make a difference whether the patient is a criminal or not? No. What matters is saving lives. We aren't supposed to care how our patients got hurt, just relieve their suffering and make them well. Unlike you, most doctors aren't cops and don't pretend to be."
It was a weak rationalization, but Mark didn't have the time, energy, or inclination to argue with him about it.
"The man I'm looking for would have come in this morning, with a bullet in his shoulder," Mark said. "He tried to kill someone and, if you helped him get better, he will try again. If he succeeds, you'll be responsible for the murder."
Dr. Yorder took a seat on his stool and slouched forward again, suddenly looking wearier than Mark.
"I'm not saying I know who your guy is and I'm not saying I treated him, you got that? And I'm certainly not saying I took a bullet out of him about an hour ago."
If Mark hadn't dozed off at the wheel, if he hadn't stopped at the park to try and sleep, he could have caught Pike right here, having the bullet taken out of his shoulder.
The fugitive would have been caught and a good deal of Rachel's problems solved.
But it didn't work out that way. Mark was late. And Pike was gone.
"If I did, though, I would have prescribed antibiotics and painkillers," Dr. Yorder continued. "Then I would have sent him to Sid's Drugs up the street. That's where I send everyone."
As Steve wrote up his report on the shooting, it was only natural that he thought about everything he'd learned about Rachel Swicord, aka Rebecca Jordan, and the events of the last day or so.
All the facts seemed to fit, especially after Lissy Dearborn, Rachel's roommate, came in and positively identified Pike off a mug shot as the man who attacked her in her apartment.
Steve was about to say hello to Lissy, but a stern look from Captain Newman kept him rooted to his desk. When the case was over, and Pike was in jail for murder, Steve decided he'd send her a coffee table, with a ribbon around it, and a note asking her to forgive him for momentarily giving her assailant the upper hand.
That ought to get him a date, he thought, and establish what a charming, romantic, lovable guy he was.
He was about to set the Swicord case aside and open up the thin murder book on the Winston Brant homicide, but there was still something about Tom Wade's story that nagged at Steve. He just didn't know what it was.
It was a feeling, that's all. Like indigestion, he thought.
Steve wanted to ignore it. In fact, he'd been ordered to. But the feeling was there, tugging at his attention, refusing to let go.
So he went on the Internet and looked for articles about Pike's joyride, the murder of the sheriff's deputy, and Rachel's trial.
Technically, he wasn't getting involved in the investigation again. It was just reading. Even so, he kept looking guiltily over his shoulder, keeping a watch out in case Captain Newman strolled by and saw what was on his screen.
There was nothing in the articles that contradicted what Marshal Tom Wade had told them. Rachel went to prison and Pike Wheeler was presumed dead, swept away by the river.
Then Steve realized there was one vital fact missing from the articles.
Marshal Tom Wade.
Nowhere in the articles was his name ever mentioned. Not that it should have been. After all, Wade's job was chasing and apprehending fugitives. There were no fugitives in this case, at least not until Rachel was released and jumped parole. As far as law enforcement authorities were concerned, Pike was dead.
So why was Wade so intent on finding Pike Wheeler from the beginning? What was it about the case that drew the marshal into it so early? Did he know the murdered deputy or his family? Did he know Pike?
Steve wasn't going to find the answers on the Internet. Or could he?
He cracked his knuckles, looked around, and began typing away. The Internet was truly a detective's best friend.
An hour or so later, Steve found the answer. It wasn't hard. It was a matter of public record that hadn't been made public. Anybody who bothered to look could have found it. But nobody bothered because, until now, there wasn't a reason.
Steve made a call to Walla Walla, Washington, and talked to Estelle Wheeler, Pike's mother. She wasn't very happy to hear from an a LAPD detective. He told her that her son was alive and being pursued by the U.S. Marshals, Spokane police, and the LAPD. Mrs. Wheeler wasn't overjoyed by the news. In fact, she used some common profanity in some very uncommon ways. He was tempted to take notes on the vocabulary alone to use himself if the right occasion ever arose. Their conversation was short and unpleasant, but he was able to fill the gaps in the information he found on the Internet.
His next call was to Mark, but after a few rings, he got kicked into voice mail. Frustrated, Steve left a message and hung up.
Now came the hard part. Steve glanced at Captain Newman's office, took a deep breath, and went in to see him.
If Mark hadn't been so tired, he might not have forgotten his cell phone in the car when he went into Sid's Drugs. Then he would have received Steve's call, and the events of the next few hours might have played out very differently.
Sid's Drugs was an uninviting little convenience store with iron bars over the windows and doors. The narrow, dimly lit aisles were overstuffed with cheap toys, picnic supplies, snack foods, soft drinks, yellowed paperbacks, out-of-date magazines, and in the very back, a pharmacy.
There wasn't a single customer in the store or, it seemed, a proprietor.
"Hello?" Mark said, raising his voice.
He heard a groan from behind the pharmacy counter. The groan was muffled and weak, not the kind of sound that came from someone in fine health. He rushed up to the counter and leaned over it to see a bloody and bruised Asian man, lying on the floor.
The injured, semiconscious man was in his fifties and had, judging by his wounds, been recently beaten. The cash register was open, the drawer cleaned out.
Mark reached into his pocket for his cell phone and was just realizing he'd left it in the car, when he felt something cold and metallic touch the base of his skull.
"Take your hand out of your pocket," a man's voice said. "Put both hands behind your head and turn around very slowly."
Mark did as he was told and saw a tall, unshaven man in his late twenties, with deep-set, intense eyes, a strong jaw, and chapped lips. He wore dirty jeans and a new dress shirt that was untucked and already damp with sweat. His left arm was in a sling and there was a bulge under his shirt from the bandages on his shoulder. There was also the outline of two prescription pill bottles in his breast pocket.
It was Pike, Mark was certain of that. There was something vaguely familiar about the man, though Mark didn't get a good look at him the night before and hadn't even seen a mug shot.
"You must be Pike," Mark said.
The man blinked, but if he was startled by being recognized by a stranger, he covered it quickly. "And you're dead unless you do exactly what I tell you. Stand completely still."
Pike cautiously parted the flaps of Mark's jacket with the tip of his gun to see if he was wearing a holster of any kind. Satisfied that Mark wasn't, Pike stepped back but kept his gun trained on him.
"I remember you, old man. I saw you at the hospital," Pike said. "What are you doing here?"
"Looking for you," Mark said.
"You thought you could take me?" Pike asked, a smile on his face.
I wasn't thinking at all, Mark thought. He shouldn't have been driving half asleep. He shouldn't have been looking for Pike alone. He shouldn't have gone to Sid's Drugs.
But Mark hadn't been expecting to find Pike himself; he was simply hoping to uncover a lead to where the fugitive might be hiding.
Then again, he had to admit, he probably would have followed that lead alone, too. It was all a big, dumb, dangerous mistake, one Mark hoped wouldn't cost him his life.
"Who are you?" Pike asked.
"Dr. Mark Sloan," he said. "Rachel is my patient. I saw her try to kill herself. I'd like to stop her from trying again."
"You still can," Pike said. "You're going to help me get her back."
"I don't think so," Mark said.
Pike aimed the gun at him. "Then maybe I should drop you right now."
Mark met his gaze. The next ten seconds passed slowly; each silent second felt like an hour. And with it, Mark's weariness grew. All he wanted was to go to steep, wake up, and discover he wasn't standing in a dingy grocery store with a gun aimed at his forehead.
"Where's your car?" Pike asked.
To Mark, the question was a huge relief. It meant he wasn't going to get shot, at least not for the moment.
"It's right outside the door," Mark said.
"Let's go." Pike motioned to the door.
Mark glanced at the pharmacy, where he could still hear the proprietor groaning. "That man you beat up needs medical attention."
"You're gonna need embalming if you don't move your ass right now."
There was a cold firmness in Pike's voice that left little doubt that Mark would be shot if he argued. Mark reluctantly headed down the narrow aisle for the door, Pike right behind him, pressing his gun into the doctor's back.
The Starbucks on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City was filled with the usual mix of aspiring actors, aspiring screen writers, aspiring directors, and at least one real estate agent aspiring to nothing more at the moment than a cup of Colombia Narino Supremo.
Lenore Barber finally reached the counter, got her coffee, and in her haste to leave, nearly collided with the man right behind her.
She froze for a moment, too startled to move. There was a deep depression in the man's face where half his jaw should have been. It looked as if his face had caved in and was sewn shut with a scrap of dried flesh.
From the neck down, he was muscular and trim, a physically fit man in his thirties. He was the kind of guy she'd ordinarily be attracted to, if his face was whole, that is.
"Got a cigarette?" he asked in a muffled voice.
"Sorry, no," she said, once again embarrassed at catching herself staring at someone with physical deformities.
Lenore quickly sidestepped past him and hurried out to her Lexus. The day was turning into a living freak show. She couldn't wait to get to the sanctuary of her real estate office.
Susan Hilliard, sitting at the window, flipped open her cell phone and called Jesse at Community General.
"She's on her way to the office," Susan said.
"Perfect," Jesse replied, checking the clock above the nurse's station. "She'll be right on time for her first showing."
"I wish I could see it," Susan said.
"So do I," Jesse replied, hanging up.
The man with the missing jaw brought two cups of coffee over to Susan's table and sat down.
"Maybe I should have said trick or treat," the man said. "At least I could have got some candy from her."
"You think we're being cruel to her, Dennis?" Susan asked, then added tentatively, "Or to you?"
"You are incapable of being cruel, Susan," Dennis said. "I'll always remember how you took care of me after my surgery and during the chemo. I appreciate it and so does my wife."
"Lenore looked at you like you were a monster," Susan said. "That couldn't have felt good."
He shrugged. "If I can prevent one person from going through what I did, then I don't mind a little embarrassment. Besides, I'll do anything for a good cup of coffee."
"Really?" Susan said teasingly. "I wish I knew that before you got married."
Dr. Mark Sloan was driving his Saab convertible very slowly down the street, Pike sitting beside him, jamming his gun into Mark's side.
"Speed up," Pike said. "I could walk faster than this." But Mark was afraid to go any faster or to get on the freeway. He was gripping the wheel tightly, blinking hard, fighting a wave of fatigue that threatened to wash over him, putting him to sleep. He was aware enough, though, to appreciate the absurdity and gravity of the situation.
How could he possibly sleep with a wounded murderer pointing a loaded gun at him? Who could take a nap at a moment like this?
It wasn't a choice for Mark to make. His body was making the choice for him. Apparently, being scared to death wasn't enough to keep a man awake.
"This won't work," Mark said. "You've lost a lot of blood and I haven't slept in two days. This is a disaster waiting to happen."
"Only if you don't shut up and drive a little faster," Pike said.
"Do you have a plan?"
"I'm going to get Rachel out of that hospital," Pike said. "You're going to help me."
"She's in intensive care," Mark said. "She can't walk out even if she wanted to. And even if she could, she's probably under police guard."
"I'll deal with it," Pike said. "I'm good at improvising."
"Like you did in Spokane?" Mark asked. "I suppose when you stole that car, and held up that convenience store, you always planned to kill a deputy and drive off a cliff."
"Shut up," Pike said.
"You haven't thought this out very well," Mark said drowsily, slurring his words and weaving into the next lane. A passing car honked loudly at him.
"Pay attention to the road," Pike said.
"You drive," Mark replied.
"I can't drive and keep a gun on you at the same time," Pike said.