Sutter says my attempts to look as though I’m not stealing are a joke. Here’s another punchline, then.
McCallister peered inside the hospital room to see the woman sitting on the side of her bed, looking toward the window, seemingly deep in thought. The afternoon sun streamed in, and a swathe of it touched her leg.
After a deep breath, she lightly rapped on the door.
Immediately, the woman’s head turned, and a smile spread across her face. “Detective! Please, please, come in,” she eagerly invited.
McCallister did so, informing, “Dr. Lythegow said you wanted to see me.”
“I did,” she replied and pointed to the chair by the window.
“How are you feeling?” she asked as she took the seat. “You look much better.” She quickly studied her to determine whether her remark proved anything more than polite. A deep red mark replaced the bandage that had been on her forehead. Her split lip had nearly healed.
“Physically, I feel a ton better. The other stuff, though…”
“You still haven’t remembered anything?”
She shook her head defeatedly and looked out the window.
“What can I do? What do you need me to do?”
“I’m not really sure,” she answered. “I’m sorry I bothered you, but I keep going back to your business card. I keep trying to figure out why I would have had it.”
She wasn’t sure what to say to her. She was curious herself, but listing the unverifiable scenarios she had run through her own mind did not seem a wise choice. Whatever she imagined came fastened to Dr. Lythegow’s description of the woman’s terror upon awakening. She did not want to be the one to send her back to that place, and so, she said nothing.
“It’s scary not to know who I am,” the woman told her. “It’s scary not to know where I belong in the world. They bring in a meal tray, and I stare at it, trying to figure out if I like green beans before I taste them. How do I know they’re green beans but not remember what they taste like?”
She shook her head, feeling bad for the woman’s frustration and frustrated herself for not being able to supply any answers.
“And how did I know your business card was printed in blue but not remember why I even had it?” When McCallister again shook her head, she added, “How did I know what blue even was?”
Because you have blue eyes, McCallister thought to say as she looked into them a bit too deeply. She nervously cleared her throat. “Deputy Nichols checked Missing Persons,” she assured. “There’s no one matching your description.”
Tears came to her eyes. “Maybe there’s nothing much to remember about my life if there’s absolutely no one in the world who even knows I’m missing.”
“Maybe you lived alone,” she countered. “Maybe they just haven’t figured it out yet. Or maybe—”
“Or maybe someone wanted me gone.”
“Or maybe you were supposed to be gone this long—away on a trip or something.”
“Something.” Her eyes drifted to the window, and she stared into the bright blue sky.
“Deputy Nichols said the car you were driving was bought in Arizona by someone named Rachel Hillman. Does that name mean anything to you?”
She shook her head. “Dr. Meade—the psychologist—thinks my name starts with a J. I keep hearing a J-sound in my head. I try to hear the rest of it, but I just can’t. She even got a baby name book, and we went through every name in there. Nothing seems to jog my memory.”
“Do you think you’re from Arizona?”
She shrugged. “Why would I come all the way here from Arizona? Just to talk to you?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know anyone in Arizona. I’ve never been to Arizona.”
“Where would I have gotten your card then?”
This time, McCallister shrugged.
“And what would I have needed a detective for? What kind of cases do you work on?”
“Homicide or things with suspicious circumstances, but when there aren’t cases like that, I work just about anything.” She paused for a moment and then added, “But I work for the City of Granton. Everything else is out of my jurisdiction.”
“So it had something to do with here. Or someone to do with here.” She stood and walked to the window. “I look out there, and absolutely nothing looks familiar.”
“Maybe you’ve just never seen Granton from the second floor of St. Mike’s.”
“Good point,” she said with a slight laugh. “Maybe once I get out of here, I can look around, and something will come back to me.”
“I’ll take you to look around,” she blurted and then reprimanded herself.
Her head whipped to McCallister. “Would you? My God, would you really?”
The look on her face instilled a sense of obligation, but bigger than that, she liked the idea of being able to give her something. She smiled. “I’d be happy to. Why don’t we ask your doctor if you’re strong enough to go on a little field trip? I’ll give you the Granton grand tour.”
“Seriously?” Her face beamed. “When? When could we go, Detective?”
“Let’s find out.” After retrieving her phone from her pocket, she said, “If your doctor can call my cell, I figure it’s okay to call his.”
A moment later, she explained the situation to him. He proved receptive to the idea with the condition that he first clear it with the psychologist on the case. He told her to plan on it, that he’d contact her should there be any objection.
As she disconnected, she quickly recalled her schedule and then suggested, “Ten o’clock tomorrow morning, how does that sound?”
“Perfect,” she said, and McCallister saw hope move into her eyes.
She rose from her chair. “Great. I’ll be back in the morning. Be sure to get a good night’s sleep.”
As McCallister headed to the door, the woman thanked her at least three times. Then, right before she was about to disappear into the hall, she called, “Detective McCallister, does the word ‘scoop’ mean anything to you?”
She stopped dead in her tracks, and her stomach violently lurched. Slowly, she turned around. “Why?”
“I have no idea. I was just hoping it did. It keeps running through my mind.” Nervously, she laughed. “Don’t mind me. Anyone I bump into in the hall I ask the same thing. I’m afraid I drive people crazy with my questions.”
She half-smiled. “I’ll see you in the morning.” She turned and made a beeline for the elevator.
After speeding away from the hospital, she purchased three large cups of coffee from a drive-thru and then parked within view of Granger Bridge. There, she spent the rest of the day going over unsolved case files. Her mind drifted to the past depicted in the musty files. It would dart with fear to the present as she scanned for any young people nearing the spot where the three suicides had taken place. It hurried to the future, imagining the trip around the city with the woman.
By the time she got home that evening, too much caffeine and far too many thoughts had taken a toll. She was jittery, and her mind was in fatigued disarray. Holly told her to relax while she made dinner, but McCallister found it impossible. Instead, she paced the patio, smoking cigarette after cigarette.
They shared a dinner of steak and salad, and numerous times McCallister tried to get herself to tell Holly about seeing the woman that day and about taking her out in the morning. Yet every time she came close to saying it, her throat tightened and her eyes came dangerously close to tearing up. She was just tired, she told herself. But that did not account for the knot in her stomach each time she envisioned the woman or fantasized about being the one to help her remember her life.
Why the knot? Was she crossing lines? In many respects, helping an amnesiac was indeed detective work, and yet, she knew her intent to help fell outside her authority. If—when—she helped her it would be on personal time and she’d have to keep it off Greeley’s radar.
But why not tell Holly? Or even Greeley for that matter. She had volunteered her off-duty help many times in the past, and never had it been a secret, especially from Holly. Why was this so different? In a shadowy place in her mind, she knew why, but she could not allow herself to acknowledge it, not even silently.
Ripping herself from her thoughts, she said, “Hol, I’ll take care of the dishes since you cooked such a nice dinner.”
“I’ll help. It always goes faster when we do it together.” She stared at her for a moment and then asked, “Is something bothering you, babe?”
“Just tired,” she quickly answered.
“Then how about I do dishes and you take a bath and relax?”
That sounded good to her, figuring a total submersion would force excessive and relentless thoughts to float away, popping bubbles on their way. Yet, she knew leaving Holly’s side would make her feel guilty. “I’m fine,” she replied. “I’d rather do the dishes with you.”
“You’re worried about the kids,” Holly said as she tried to shove a cork back into the barely touched bottle of wine.
She gestured for the bottle, and when Holly surrendered it, she hit the cork hard with the side of her fist. It hurt, and the pain steeled her. Derailing Holly’s train of thought, she said, “Good choice on the wine, by the way. Not too dry. And speaking of which, would you like to wash or dry?”
“Wash,” she answered and examined her hands. “I still feel like I have paint all over my hands.”
She knew that meant Holly had taught a class that afternoon, and that entailed cleaning a slew of brushes. Taking care of her own proved a sacred ritual, one that seemed to rejuvenate the artist, as though the finishing touch. But with others’ brushes, the same activity felt like dirty work. She found the reasoning odd, and yet on some level, she understood, and it endeared Holly to her even more.
They chatted about the day as they did dishes, and again, McCallister said nothing, despite the sense that she should. Their conversation continued in the living room, and she found herself clinging to Holly even more than usual, as though she wanted to crawl inside her and forget everything else, specifically teenagers on bridges and a woman with no recollection of her past.
Eventually, they went to bed, and their usual lovemaking took a rare turn. What had always been profound togetherness became desperately one-sided. She made love to Holly in a purposefully slow way—a devouring, savoring kind, and yet, she knew she avoided that inevitable moment when Holly’s focus would turn to her. Uncharacteristically, she did not want to be her focal point. She only wanted her. She held her, caressed her, whispered to her, nearly willed her to fall asleep, and after initial resistance, she soon did. She continued to stroke her arm. She smelled her hair, her neck, imagining the sweet scent filling every cell and expelling everything else.
A while later, she had just begun to fall asleep when her cell phone sounded on the nightstand. She tried to reach for it without rousing Holly, but it didn’t work.
“This can’t be good,” Holly mumbled as she rolled off her, anticipating liftoff.
“McCallister,” she greeted, and not five seconds elapsed before she shot out of bed, shouting, “Kid on the bridge!” She dove into sweatpants and shoes and grabbed what she needed as she ran through the house to the front door.
Even with police lights and the lack of traffic, crossing the city on a diagonal would take what amounted to forever. She cursed where she lived.
Hurriedly, she turned on her radio but found nothing but silence. Feeling the fool, she realized they were using cell phones instead, keeping it discreet. She cursed procedure.
On edge, she lit a cigarette, and with each exhale, she loudly chanted, “Don’t jump. Please don’t f-ing jump.”
With a mere two blocks to go, she finally got what she needed from the radio, “Granger all clear.” A block later, it told her that the fire department’s water rescue team had been ordered to return to its station.
When the bridge finally came into view, she noted a squad car blocking each lane and an officer in the middle of the intersection to direct what little traffic there was. She screeched to a halt, bailed out of her car, and yelled for an update.
With a thumbs-up and a wide smile, he shouted, “Kid’s safe. In custody.”
“Good work,” she told him and then requested and received permission to enter the scene.
As she made her way onto the bridge, she saw two squads and four officers congregating on the mid-section. She walked cautiously until one of them noticed her. After his acknowledgement, she picked up her pace.
“Who got him? Who talked him back?” She desperately wanted to know.
An officer used his thumb to point behind. “Hansen.”
“Hansen!” she instantly called and approached him.
“What?” he reflexively snapped.
“Good work,” she said. “Damn good work. Thank you.”
He exhaled loudly. “Jesus, I don’t want to do anything like that ever again!”
She patted his back. “Here’s hoping you never have to. Is it okay if I go talk to him?”
“Help yourself,” he answered. “I need to get my shit together before I take him in.” He held out his hand to show her its trembling.
“Just breathe,” she told him. “It’s over. He’s safe because of you.” She touched him again, asked the boy’s name, and then headed to the squad.
A peek through the back window showed her a young man with dark curly hair. His head bowed so low that his chin seemed part of his sweatshirt’s front. He obviously shared none of the jubilation outside the vehicle, but she hoped he felt some of the relief.
She opened the driver’s door and sat down, her legs outside the vehicle. He glanced up at her through the cage, and she gave him a gentle, sympathetic smile.
“How you doing, Chad?” When he looked down in an obvious refusal to answer, she said, “I just want you to know I’m proud of you.”
His head shot up, and he shrieked, “Proud?”
“Yes, proud,” she answered. “It took a lot of guts, a lot of smarts to come back from where you were just standing.”
He didn’t respond, but a moment later, he asked, “How much trouble am I in?”
“Well, you’ve earned 72 hours at St. Mike’s.”
“That’s not so bad. Three days off of school, and there are some really good people there,” she told him. “Talk to them, Chad. If you were ready to jump off this bridge, you’ve got nothing to lose by laying it all on the line. Keep having guts. Keep having smarts. Life can really suck sometimes, but there are people and things that more than make up for it. The trick is to hang in there, find those people and things, and then hang on tight.” She took a breath and smiled at him. “But I’m not here to preach at you. I just wanted you to know I’m glad—every one of us here is glad that you didn’t jump.”
His eyes teared. “I’m sorry,” he said.
“Nothing to be sorry for. Everybody hurts sometime. Everybody.” She stood and then leaned her head back inside. “Talk to them, Chad. Talk their f-ing ears off until you feel better. You deserve to feel better.”
He nodded, but she knew it lacked belief. Regardless, this domino had not fallen, but it had come so close.
Again, she thanked Hansen, and with a much lighter spirit, she returned to her car and aimed for home. As she drove, she thought about what she had said to the boy, about holding on tight to those who made life worthwhile. For her, that was Holly, and while that knowledge made her feel a sense of gratitude, it also made her feel guilty. It wasn’t so much that she hadn’t told Holly about the woman in the hospital. Rather, it was the realization that she didn’t want to. She was accustomed to not talking about work-related things: to keep Holly safe, to leave work outside their home, to respect the boundaries of active investigations. But this wasn’t work-related, and if she couldn’t convince herself otherwise, Holly would see right through it.
Taking a roundabout way home, she came to a stop in front of St. Mike’s. After casting a cursory glance to the second floor windows, she leaned back onto the headrest to think.
She neared a line she knew she shouldn’t cross. She came dangerously close to emotional involvement. Despite the objections of a sharp and ethical mind, something inside her had already begun to make the woman’s recovery personal.
But that sharp mind also told her to distrust the whole idea of amnesia. She had read too many twisted scenarios in novels. She had heard it used too many times as a criminal’s defense. Eight times out of ten, it reeked of utter bullshit, she told herself, but that force inside her prayed this instance was akin to the other two.
She trusted the woman. She trusted Dr. Lythegow. She trusted her own instinct. But was it instinct? Frustrated, she slammed her fist onto the steering wheel. A willingness to tell Holly something was like a divining rod, a perfectly tuned gauge of the purity of something, a tried and true instinct. So it wasn’t instinct; it was wishful thinking.
Hold on tight to those who make life worthwhile. Hold onto Holly. No one could come before her. Nothing could come before her. She’d keep her word to the young woman and take her on a tour of Granton. Then she’d back off and let Lythegow see to her recovery.
Feeling centered again, she shoved the car into drive and sped home, allowing her mind to be filled with thoughts of Holly, the relief of stopping the boy, the knowledge of her aims.
The second she pulled into the driveway, she saw Holly come bounding out the front door in only her robe. She knew by the look on her face she had probably paced the entire time she had been gone. To abate her worry, she smiled broadly and gave her a thumbs-up.
“He’s safe,” she announced as she got out.
“Good job, babe!”
“Oh, it wasn’t me,” she said. “It was over with before I even got there. Hansen got him.”
“Then, good job, Hansen,” she corrected as she put her arms around her.
She held her tightly and whispered, “We stopped one, Hol. We f-ing stopped one.”
They embraced for a long moment before McCallister noticed how cold Holly felt. “You shouldn’t be out here in just your robe. Let’s get you warm.”
With her arms outstretched, she backed up, and Holly jumped, wrapping her legs around her. She carried her into the house and then hoisted her onto the kitchen island.
“But we can’t let our guard down,” she said as though talking to the entire department, not her lover. “This just proves we can stop it, not that we did. We have to stay on top of this.”
“Aye aye, Detective, 10-4,” Holly said with a melodramatic salute.
She laughed. “You know what I mean.”
“I do, and I’m very glad you feel better.” She grabbed the front of her bomber jacket and pulled her near. “Now, about before.”
“Before? What about before?”
She kissed her and then cupped her face. “You, babe, let me fall asleep before—”
“You were tired,” she interrupted to defend herself.
“But I seem to have gotten a second wind.”
“That’s adrenalin, not wind,” she said, trying not to let herself get swept away by what burned in Holly’s eyes. She reminded, “It’s a high from knowing the boy didn’t jump.”
The return of thoughts about the boy seemed to diminish Holly’s playfulness. She pulled McCallister back in and held on tightly.
The subsequent silence caused McCallister’s thoughts to run to the bridge and to St. Mike’s where he had probably been admitted already. The Psych Ward was on the third floor, she told herself, not the second. The second was where the woman was, probably sleeping in preparation for their morning field trip. The image of her sleeping produced a wave of guilt and fear. Once more, she felt compelled to focus on Holly. She whispered, “Holly, I love you. I don’t think it’s humanly possible to love you any more than I do.”
“I love you, too.” She nuzzled her neck. “Let me make love to you, babe. Give me what I want.”
After moving back a bit, she looked deeply into her blue eyes and said, “You give me something first.”
“Hol, give me a promise that nothing will ever come between us.”
“Babe, I promised that nearly a dozen years ago.”
“I did, too, and nothing ever has.”
“And nothing ever will.”
“Ever,” she said and again tugged on her jacket. Between kisses, she whispered, “Not even clothes.” Another tug fully opened her robe.
In utter awe, she cleared her throat. “You, Holly Crawford, are a very bad girl.”
With a kiss, she clutched her and said, “And you love me for it.”
She laughed. “That I do.”
Holly squeezed her legs around her waist, and McCallister carried her back to bed.