Authors: Lee Goldberg
"Then let me pull over," Mark said. "I can take a nap and you can think about a better plan. I'll still be your prisoner when I wake up."
Pike jabbed Mark with the gun. "Drive."
"If I fall asleep at the wheel," Mark said, "we could both get killed, along with whoever is on the road with us."
"I bet it's hard to feel sleepy when you're in excruciating pain." Pike pressed the gun into Mark's thigh. "Would you like some? I can spare the bullet."
Pain was an approach Mark was already taking, biting his tongue to keep himself alert. But even that was rapidly losing its effectiveness.
"I'll pass," Mark said, keeping his eyes on the road.
Pike snorted derisively. "I thought the offer would help you focus. Let me know if you change your mind."
Mark decided the best way to stay awake might be to keep talking. "Assuming you could get Rachel out of the hospital somehow, what would you do then?"
"Take her somewhere where no one can keep us apart," Pike said.
"It's not going to be easy."
"I was chased by every cop in Washington State, Doc. I drove off a cliff into a river. I broke my ribs, my nose, I nearly drowned. I crawled out of that river and lived like an animal in the woods for months before riding the rails down to Oregon. Do you think that was easy?" Pike said. "I survived all this time without nobody knowing I was alive. You think that was easy, too?"
Mark blinked hard, concentrating on the road, on the row of parked cars on his right and the broken white line on his left.
"What kept me going was waiting for her," Pike said. "Because I knew she was waiting for me. She still is. I'll take Rachel somewhere the police will never find us."
"The police know you're alive now," Mark said. "You killed a law enforcement officer. They'll never stop chasing you. I guarantee Marshal Wade won't stop until justice is done."
Pike laughed ruefully. "Wade won't stop because he's my father."
At first, Captain Newman was furious that Steve had ignored a direct order and kept poking into the Rachel Swicord case anyway. But then the captain listened to what Steve had found out and decided to let the insubordination slide, at least for the moment.
Steve had discovered, through some simple Internet snooping, that Pike Wheeler was Marshal Tom Wade's estranged son. When Pike was five years old, Wade's wife ran off with an insurance broker named Dave Wheeler and took her kid with her.
She divorced Wade and was granted sole custody of Pike. The Wheelers were married as soon as the divorce was final and moved to Walla Walla, a farming community four hours south of Spokane and adjacent to the penitentiary, where she worked as a guard.
Pike got into trouble with the law almost as soon as he was old enough to walk out the front door of his house on his own, starting with petty vandalism and theft when he was an adolescent and evolving into arson and armed robbery by his late teens. As Pike grew up, so did the severity of his crimes. Each time he was caught, Wade used his influence to get his son a lighter sentence. But it didn't help. Pike's rebellion only escalated.
Steve wasn't a shrink, but it was clear to him that Pike resented his father and yet, at the same time, was desperate for his attention. By committing crimes, he got back at his dad, and everything Wade stood for. He also got his dad to notice him in a big way. It worked so well, Pike couldn't stop repeating the strategy and raising the stakes each time.
Pike was eventually sent to a youth camp for juvenile offenders. But instead of reforming him, the experience toughened him. He came out even more violent than when he went in. Pike drifted up to Spokane, bringing his crime wave even closer to his dad.
"Damn," Captain Newman grumbled. "Pick Marshal Wade up, bring him in."
"I'll try," Steve said. "But if he finds his son before we do, I'm afraid of what might happen."
"You think he'd kill his own son?"
"I think his son might try to kill him," Steve said.
"Wade doesn't strike me as being slow on the draw," Captain Newman said.
"All it takes is one second of hesitation," Steve said. "And then Pike will have killed two lawmen."
The long, gray boulevard was blurring in front of Mark's eyes. He knew he was on Roscoe, heading west across the San Fernando Valley floor, but he'd forgotten which cross streets he'd passed. He wasn't certain anymore where he was going or how he intended to get there.
Wherever they were now, it was a bleak, endless stretch of identical, decaying apartment blocks and empty industrial warehouses, tall weeds rising from the cracked, empty parking lots that surrounded them.
Had he passed the San Diego Freeway yet? Had he passed Van Nuys Boulevard? Had he crossed Sepulveda Boulevard? Community General Hospital was in West LA, somewhere south of wherever Mark was, on the other side of the Santa Monica Mountains. It might as well have been in Brazil. It seemed impossibly far away. He grew wearier even thinking about it.
Even the revelation that Tom Wade was Pike's father wasn't enough to keep Mark awake. Now he knew why Pike looked familiar. He had Wade's penetrating gaze and sharp features.
"It's not too late to reconsider your plan," Mark said, his voice heavy with fatigue. His fear of being killed by Pike had long since been lulled to sleep. The rest of his mind and body were ready to do the same.
"You're right, I could kill you, take your car, and drive myself to Community General with my good hand," Pike said. "But you might come in handy at the hospital."
Every time Mark blinked, raising his eyelids was like lifting weights. He managed it but wondered how much longer he could resist. Minutes, at most.
"If you truly love Rachel," Mark said, "you will turn yourself in."
Pike shoved his gun hard into Mark's side, almost hard enough to break a rib. Mark winced at the unexpected pain but, in a strange way, he was grateful. It jolted him awake, if only for a few more seconds.
"Don't play Tom Wade with me," Pike said, then began mimicking his father. "There are laws, son. We all have to follow them. That includes you."
Pike shook his head with disgust. "The hell it does. I don't have to do nothing. Except take Rachel back."
Mark found himself straining to keep his eyes open again, despite the ache in his ribs. He considered asking Pike for another jab with the gun. Without meaning to, Mark did.
"What makes you think she wants you?" Mark said. "Rachel ran away from Spokane and changed her name so you wouldn't find her. She jumped out a window rather than be with you. Take the hint."
Pike smacked Mark on the side of the head with the edge of the gun. The blow stunned him. Mark swerved hard, then back into his lane, his eyes wide open, his head pounding. For a moment, the creeping slumber was held back, the sting of the blow crawling over his face like ants.
"You wanna die?" Pike yelled. "Do you?"
"I'm trying to keep us both alive," Mark said, his words slurring. He wasn't sure whether it was the fatigue or the blow, though he didn't think Pike had hit him that hard. "Your plan is suicidal. And I'm falling asleep at the wheel."
"You're faking it," Pike said. "Rachel wants me. She's been calling out to me since the river swept us apart. We're gonna be together and you're going to make it happen."
"Please," Mark mumbled.
His eyes closed again and this time, Mark couldn't open them, not even when he heard Pike's terrified scream.
Steve sat at his desk, tapping his pencil on his knee, a very worried man.
He wasn't able to reach Wade at his hotel, at the U.S. Marshals' office, on his cell phone, or on his pager. Neither could anyone at the U.S. Marshals' office. Steve checked with the airline. Wade hadn't taken the flight to Spokane, which was no surprise.
What was Wade doing?
Steve knew the answer to that. The marshal was hunting down his son. But where? What leads did Wade have that Steve didn't know about?
A missing marshal chasing his cop-killer son somewhere in the city was reason enough for Steve to worry. But Steve had even more.
He couldn't find his father, either.
Steve tried reaching Mark at the beach house, at the hospital, and on his cell with no luck. It was possible that his father was at home, so deeply asleep after days without adequate rest that he didn't hear the phone ringing. Steve doubted it, but just to be sure, he called Jesse, who had a key to the beach house and gladly went out to Malibu to check up on Mark.
Jesse had called only a few moments ago Mark wasn't there. And neither was his car
Steve had a hunch Mark was out there looking for Pike too If his father and the marshal found Pike at the same time, Mark could get killed in the crossfire.
Somehow Steve had to find them both. Fast.
The city was a sprawling mass of tangled freeways and endless boulevards that was so big and so wide, it was impossible to know where Los Angeles ended and other Southern California cities began. Mark and Wade could be anywhere from Camarillo to Redlands, from Palmdale to Torrance.
Steve could electronically flag their credit or ATM cards, wait for a hit, then roll to wherever the cards were last used. He could call the phone company and attempt to monitor usage of their cell phones, find out who they were talking to, and then zero in on the location they were calling from. He could get their pictures and license plate numbers out to every cop, highway patrolman, and sheriff's deputy in Southern California and hope somebody spotted them.
But all of those approaches would take time and a lot of luck. He didn't think he had much of either to spare.
And then it hit Steve.
The license plates.
He didn't know where either his father or Tom Wade was, but he knew they had to have one thing in common if they were both searching Los Angeles for Pike.
They were both driving cars.
He wouldn't have to find them. They would tell him where they were.
Mark didn't dream because he wasn't asleep. Thankfully, he wasn't dead either. He'd been unconscious, but for how long, he didn't know.
When he opened his eyes, the first thing he was aware of was the air bag in his face. Then his mind began instinctively conducting its physical diagnostic, sending signals to every nerve in his body, asking for damage reports.
Within seconds, the messages came back in the form of pain, discomfort, and range of movement. The jagged, shooting pain in his left arm, and his inability to move it, told him it was broken. The bone hadn't broken through the skin, and the pain seemed to be radiating from his elbow. The pain was a good sign, too. The fact he could feel the agony in his arm, wiggle his fingers and toes, and lift his head told him he wasn't paralyzed.
Mark was breathing without difficulty and wasn't experiencing any chest pain, so the air bag had done its job. He didn't know how he broke his arm and didn't care. At least he wasn't seriously hurt.
He slowly leaned back in his seat, feeling dizzy and nauseous. Blood was streaming down his face from what felt like a superficial gash on his forehead Through the shattered windshield, he could see his folded hood, smashed up against the side of an old Cadillac parked at the curb.
Mark glanced at the seat beside him. Pike was gone. The passenger side air bag had deployed and there was blood on the seat. Pike had either been injured in the crash or the impact opened up his gunshot wound. Either way, the man would be hurting.
He looked out the back window, afraid he'd see crumpled cars and bodies lying in the street in his wake. The only bodies he saw were a half dozen curious onlookers, most of them Latino, standing around the accident scene. There were no other dented cars. There were no corpses in the street.
Mark Sloan hadn't killed or injured anyone. He breathed an enormous sigh of relief.
Wide awake now, he used his right hand to hit the trunk release button, open the driver's side door, and pull himself out.
He rose shakily to his feet and a wave of nausea swept over him. A symptom, he supposed, of his concussion, or a mild case of shock. The smart thing to do, and what he would advise anyone in his situation, would be to remain still, relax, and wait for the ambulance.
But Mark couldn't do that.
He made eye contact with the closest person staring at him, a large Latina woman in her thirties with her black hair pulled into a tight ponytail, then staggered to his open trunk.
"I'm a doctor," Mark said to her as he stumbled along. "Is anybody hurt?"
"No, just you, senor," the woman said tentatively, speaking with a heavy accent. "You drove right into the parked cars. Are you drunk?"
"Just tired." Mark found the dust sham he used to clean his car. He opened his medical bag, took out a roll of Ace bandages and used it, with the dust sham as a splint, to fashion a crude sling and brace for his broken arm. As he did so, he continued asking the woman questions.
"There was another man in my car. Did anybody see where he went?"
She pointed to an abandoned, three-story apartment building across the street. The windows were boarded up with rotted plywood, the property ringed with a cyclone fence. A tattered cardboard sign was nailed to the front door, all the words faded except for one in big block letters: CONDEMNED.
"He went in there," she said. "So did the other man."
"Other man?" Mark asked, then noticed the Crown Victoria parked at an angle across the street, the driver's side door wide open, the engine still running.
"They both had guns," she said.
Mark dragged himself over to the car and looked inside. There was a Stetson on the passenger seat.
The marshal knew he wouldn't walk away from the case. So Wade followed Mark, counting on him to find the doctor who'd treated Pike. Mark had been too tired to notice the tail.
"Call the police," he said to the woman, giving her Steve's number. "Ask for Lieutenant Sloan. Tell him what happened here."