Noting the light reflecting through the portholes onto the water, Nick slowed his pace, almost tiptoeing down the wooden pier. Though it was almost 3:00 in the morning, it was apparent that Cody's date was lasting even longer than his own. It was rare that any of them could get the boat to himself for an intimate evening. But, with Murray in San Francisco at some kind of high I.Q. conference, and Nick out on a date, the opportunity had opened up for the third member of the Riptide Detective Agency.
Nick was glad that Cody was getting the chance to have a quiet night. He more than his partners needed these private times, as he always seemed to feel their failures more deeply. Unusual since he was also the most optimistic. But, when a case went wrong, as had recently happened, Cody inevitably felt it was solely his fault.
Three weeks ago, they'd been hired to prove that Brian Westerly was cheating on his wife. Eight days later, after being presented with the evidence of his infidelity, Westerly had then proceeded to kill not only himself, but also his wife and two small children. It was unfortunate that their investigation had not uncovered the man's psychiatric history. They'd done the job they'd been hired to do. But, none of them could stop second guessing, wondering wishing they had somehow foreseen the future.
Climbing aboard the Riptide, Nick forced a smile to his face and a lilt to his voice, "Hey, Cody, I hope you're not in the middle of something, because I'm coming down."
Carefully negotiating the stairs down to the main salon, Nick stopped as his eyes focused on the body of a young girl. Lying face down on the carpet, blood had pooled around her head. Despite his training, Nick stopped in shocked surprise.
"I was beginning to wonder if you were going to miss our little party, Mr. Ryder."
His feet automatically finishing the descent, Nick's eyes were drawn in the direction of the strange voice. In a movement that was almost reflexive, he slowly raised his hands. In the hands of a man he had never seen before was Cody's gun aimed directly at his chest. Most of the face was hidden behind a thick black beard and long stringy hair. His build was close to the dark haired detective's own, compact but powerful. The eyes though were what commanded attention. They reflected an intelligence that Nick had seen in many of Murray's friends. Yet, where their eyes had been warm and friendly, these were cold and impersonal. Seeming to brand Nick with disdain.
Careful to keep his movement to a minimum, Nick's eyes searched till they finally settled on his blond partner. Cody's arms were bent at the elbows. A rope tied tightly around his wrists looped up to circle his neck in such a way that if he tried to use his hands, he would choke himself. The gag in his mouth prevented him from speaking the warning Nick saw in his eyes. Ignoring the plea, Nick's attention focused on the red stain spreading across his friend's right shoulder. Instinctively, he stepped across to help.
"That's far enough, Mr. Ryder."
Barely controlling his anger, Nick snapped, "What the hell is oing on?"
"That is of no consequence to you."
"No consequence! A girl is lying dead on the floor, my partner is trussed up like a thanksgiving turkey bleeding to death and you try to tell me my business!"
"The only thing you need to concern yourself with is getting this oat out of the harbor."
"That too is no business of yours."
"Then go soak yourself."
The gun moved to the left. "Then your partner will die."
"All right," Nick reluctantly backed down. "At least let me bandage Cody's shoulder."
"We haven't got the time."
"If I don't stop the bleeding your going to lose you're bargaining tool."
The stranger casually reached for the first aid kit. Checking he contents, he extracted the scissors before throwing it to Nick. "Be quick."
Crossing to Cody's side, Nick asked, "Can I remove the gag?"
"Sure, there's no one he can warn now."
Realizing Cody's mouth would be dry, Nick gently removed the cotton rag. Opening the first aid kit, he began to wipe away the blood so he could see the wound. His back to their captor, he whis¬pered, "Cody who is this guy?"
His mouth too dry to reply, Cody shook his head negatively, grimacing as he did so.
"I'll have to do as he says," said Nick his hands expertly band¬aging the shoulder. "As long as we can stay alive, we've got a chance."
Nick could see in Cody's eyes that his partner didn't agree. With his own eyes, he tried to convey a sense of optimism.
"You've wasted enough time, Mr. Ryder, now get this boat under¬way."
"Where are we going?"
"Just get us out of the channel, I'll set the course then."
Without looking at Cody, Nick rose and walked back out on deck. His mind working furiously, he tried to think of some way he could get himself and his friend out of this alive. Untying the mooring ropes, he threw them on deck before jumping aboard. Entering the wheelhouse, he nervously turned on the engine. Though he'd often piloted the boat on the open sea, Cody rarely allowed him to take her out of the chan-nel.
The moon his only guide, Nick eased the boat through the dark, quiet water. Idly, he wondered if bumping into something might lead to a chance to escape. Reluctantly, he realized the only way his plan could work would be if the stranger came up to the wheelhouse. The distance was too great, Cody would be dead by the time Nick could get down to the main salon. If Cody didn't die, he would kill Nick for daring to damage his precious boat.
His mind feverishly seeking a chance to escape, Nick delayed as long as he thought safe before calling below, "We're out of the chan¬nel, what course do you want?"
"Put your hands on your head Mr. Ryder and back away from the wheel."
Nick reluctantly did as he was told. Poised for an opening, he watched as the stranger climbed the stairs. With barely a glance at the instruments, he spun the wheel to a new course.
Backing down the ladder to the main salon, the stranger said, "I don't need to tell you what will happen if you deviate from the course I've set."
Grimly, Nick shook his head. He prayed that his piloting skills would be adequate. They had to be, or Cody would die.
* * * *
Squinting his eyes against the bright sunlight reflecting off the water, Nick wiped the perspiration from his brow and did a couple of deep knee bends. He had never spent almost seven hours piloting a boat before and he was beginning to feel certain muscles. The heat from the hot summer morning, combined with thirst and exhaustion was making him dizzy.
"Hey, any reason I can't have a beer up here? I promise not to get picked up for drunk driving." When no reply came from below, Nick sighed wistfully, "I didn't think so."
"Turn off the engine."
"Gee, does that mean I can come down and have a drink with the adults?" asked Nick facetiously.
"Pull the Ebbtide along side and climb aboard."
Nick quickly reviewed his options. The Ebbtide didn't have enough gas to return him to King Harbor and if he left, what would happen to Cody?
"Now, Ryder or I'll put another bullet in your buddy. It might not kill him, but he'll wish it had."
"All right, all right!" No longer allowing himself the luxury of choice, Nick pulled the Ebbtide alongside. With only a slight hesita¬tion, he climbed aboard. Realizing that the man would know of his departure by the movement of the boat when he stepped off, Nick waited for his next order.
"Now, put your hands on the windshield. If you so much as twitch . . ."
"I know, I know, Cody gets it. What would you have done if Cody and I hadn't been such good friends?"
"Ah, but you are, a circumstance I was counting on. My little plan might not have worked so well otherwise. Now Mr. Allen, you will kindly join your friend."
His arms still tied, Cody weakly made his way up the steep stairs. A safe distance behind, the man slowly followed.
As the blond detective reached the railing that separated the two boats, Nick protested, "Cody can't climb that railing with his arms tied like that."
"You can do many things when death is your only alternative, Mr. Ryder."
Nick watched helplessly as Cody slowly and painfully sat on the railing and swung his legs across. A sudden swell made him loose his balance when he began to step into the Ebbtide. Instinctively, he tried to use his hands to break his fall.
Unable to stand and watch Cody choke to death, Nick dropped to his friend's side desperately trying to loosen the rope around Cody's neck. His concentration solely on his struggle, he didn't hear the engines of the Riptide start up, or see it slowly slip away.
Finally loosening the slip knot on the rope enough so Cody could breath, Nick anxiously gasped, "Are you alright?"
"I will be as soon as you get this noose off me," croaked Cody.
"That guy's as good at tying knots as you are, I'll have to try and find a knife."
"In the bait box."
"Yeah," agreed Nick realizing he should have thought of that earlier. Rising to his feet, he quickly returned with the knife and cut away the ropes. "It looks like we're stranded."
"Where are we?"
"You got me, all I know is we were heading southwest. I'll set a course back to shore as soon as I patch you up. In case you haven't noticed your shoulder is bleeding again."
Though the movement was obviously painful, Cody shook his head, "Steer north into the shipping lanes, we'll have a better chance of being picked up."
Nick personally didn't want to calculate their chances in either direction, but he nodded agreement. With only half a canteen of water, a mid summer sun and limited shelter, their prospects were not very encouraging to even the most optimistic person which Nick knew quite well he was not.
* * * *
Pulling off his suit jacket, Murray Bozinsky draped it across his suitcase before loosening his tie. He knew it would be cooler waiting inside the air conditioned airport, but apprehension had driven him outside into the early evening heat. As though, being closer to the pick up point would make Nick and Cody's arrival that much quicker.
They knew his plane was due to arrive at 6:00 and had promised to meet him. Yet, it was after 7:00 and there was still no sign of them.
Frequent calls to the Riptide had produced no response. With the Roboz beside him, Murray knew it would be almost impossible to get a cab. Past attempts had produced strange looks and exhaust fumes.
Finally, in desperation, Murray dialed the familiar number of police Lieutenant Joanna Parisi. "Hello, Lieutenant, this is Murray Bozinsky, I was wondering if you'd heard from Nick or Cody?"
"Not today," said the Lieutenant, her voice echoing softly down the line. "Is there a problem?"
"Well, I don't know. You see, they were suppose to pick me up at the airport over an hour ago. They still aren't here and I can't seem to raise anyone at the boat."
"Maybe they got caught up in a case," suggested Joanna reassur¬ingly.
Murray shook his head doubtfully, forgetting that Joanna couldn't see his physical denial. "I still think if they couldn't come them¬selves they would've sent someone. They know I have the Roboz and they know how hard it is for me to get a cab."
"Well," said Joanna, her English accent giving the e a softer sound, "I was just on my way out the door, I could pick you up."
"Could you, Lieutenant? That would be really boss. Maybe Nick and Cody have left a message for me on the Riptide."
"I'll be there in about twenty minutes, Murray."
Replacing the receiver, Murray sighed surprised to realize he felt only slightly relieved. Though he knew he could now return to the cool terminal to wait, he stayed where he was. His eyes continu¬ally seeking the familiar red and white Jimmy.
* * * *
Nick turned the engine key off. They'd gone as far as their fuel supply would take them. Now, all he could do was hope that a ship would pass close by and soon.
Picking up the small canteen of water, he almost panicked as he realized how light it was. Kneeling beside Cody in the cramped quar¬ters of the Ebbtide`s forward cabin, he lifted his friend's head. "Time for a drink, Cody."
Resisting the urge to take a drink himself, Nick held it against the blond man's pale lips. All too quickly he was forced to pull the canteen away.
"More," croaked Cody, the rope burn and bruises circling his throat obviously making speech difficult.
"I'm sorry, buddy, this is all we've got and we've got to make it last."
"Hot, can't breath."
"I know, it'll be night soon and it should cool off. Why don't you try to sleep."
"Please, Nick, please take me out on deck."
"The sun'll burn you to a crisp."
Too tired and thirsty to fight his friend's pleas, Nick reluc¬tantly agreed. "All right Cody, maybe it will be easier for you to breath on deck."
The weight of his partner heavier than he remembered, Nick slowly dragged Cody outside. Pulling out the survival blanket, he tried to construct an awning to protect them from the still hot rays of the late afternoon sun.
Apparently seeing Nick's dried and cracked lips for the first time, Cody asked, "Are you drinking your share of the water?"
"Do I look like Joan of Arc?" In an effort to keep Cody from pressing for an answer, Nick said, "If you feel up to it, I'd really like to know how we ended up on this little jaunt."
"Brandi called and canceled our date, so, I watched the Dodgers and Cubs. Then, I thought I'd get some more beer and spend the rest of the evening watching one of my favorite old movies on the late show. On the way out of the liquor store, I met this girl."
"That sounds familiar."
Cody smiled slightly before continuing, "She said she needed our help, so we came back to the boat to discuss it in private. Friendly Freddy was waiting for us in the main salon with a .357 which he pointed directly at me. Neither of them said a work. She took my gun and gave it to Freddy. Using a pillow to muffle the sound, he them proceeded to shoot her between the eyes. I never even learned her name."
Though Cody's voice was apparently emotionless, Nick knew better. That the murder had been committed with his own gun made it that much more painful for the blond detective.
"Good ol' Freddy is a pretty good gunslinger. Before I could react, he shot me with the .357 and I passed out. When I came to, I was tied up just as you found me. The whole time we waited for you he never said a word."
"What do you mean waited for me, why?"
"I didn't tell him your name, Nick. But, he knew who you were and he knew who I was."
"Our names are listed as partners in the agency."
"But, how did he know who was who?"
"Damn! What the hell is this all about?"
* * * *
Murray waited impatiently while Joanna parked next to Cody's Jimmy. It was difficult to sit still when all he wanted to do was jump out of the car and race to the Riptide. Everything seemed normal from what he could see. But, he had learned long ago that in their profession normal was a word not necessarily a condition.
"Why don't we leave the Roboz in the car till we see what Cody and Nick have been up to," suggested Joanna.
Realizing that this would get him to his desired destination that much quicker, Murray nodded gratefully, "Thanks, Lieutenant."
His feet traversing the well worn planks of pier 56, Murray climbed aboard the Riptide. His inbred courtesy forced him to wait and help Lt. Parisi on board.
Duty fulfilled, Murray crossed quickly to the stairs. "Cody, Nick, I'm home."
Now more anxious than ever when no reply greeted his call, Murray descended into the main salon. "Oh, my God!"
"Murray, what is it?" Joanna asked.
"See for yourself, Lieutenant." Murray stepped aside so the policewoman could get a clear view of the young girl's body in the middle of the salon floor.
Fear plainly showing on her face, Joanna called, "Nick! Cody!"
No verbal directions were necessary as the two friends split up to search the boat. Under normal circumstances the Riptide appeared rather small to be the home and office for three adults. But, this time, under these circumstances it seemed incredibly large.
Returning to the salon, Murray crossed to the stairs impatiently calling, "Did you find anything, Lieutenant?"
"No other bodies," reassured Parisi. "But, the Ebbtide is miss¬ing. How about you?"
"Nothing, no one's even touched my computers."
"I have to call a homicide team and the coroner," said Joanna her professional training marshaling aside her personal concern. "From the smell in here I'd say the girl was not killed recently."
Nodding his understanding, Murray asked, "What do you want me to do?"
"Let the team do its job and come back to headquarters with me. While we're waiting for the reports we can start filling out the paper work."
"What about finding Nick and Cody?"
"I don't know where to look Murray. I wish to God I did, but I don't."
* * * *
Nick didn't view the spectacle of the new sun rising with any appreciation. The memory of the previous day's burning heat was still too fresh. For Cody who's flesh was already burning with fever, the heat of the new day could end his silent struggle.
Their water was all but gone. What was left could only keep Cody alive a few hours longer. For himself, Nick knew a dehydrated deliri¬um would claim him long before the black Spector of death. Idly, he wondered if he would go as quietly as Cody was slipping away from him, or would he rage at the injustice. "Water, water everywhere, yet not a drop to drink."
"I'm sorry, Nick."
Shocked, Nick glanced over at his friend. These were the first words Cody had spoken in over six hours. His brow was beaded with sweat, but his eyes were clear as he repeated in a voice barely loud enough to be heard, "I'm sorry."
His dry lips cracking and his own voice only peripherally louder than his partner's, Nick asked, "For what?"
"For saying such rotten things about the Mimi."
"I never even heard half of em," smiled Nick reassuringly.
"Still, I know what she means to you and it wasn't very nice of me. I'm sorry."
"Listen, big guy, if you're going to start getting maudlin on me, I'm gonna leave."
"Where would you go?"
As Nick watched, Cody's eyes slowly closed, apparently content that he had alleviated one concern. Gently placing his hand on the hot forehead, Nick almost cried in frustration. "You worry about the damndest things at the most godawful times."
* * * *
Lt. Joanna Parisi quietly entered her office and crossed to sit behind her desk. Glancing over at the recumbent figure on her coach, she shook her head sadly. Apparently, Murray had spent the night there rather than return to an empty boat. Recalling the few restless hours she had spent in her own bed, she really couldn't blame him.
Recognizing the logo on the report that rested under her hand, she anxiously opened the manila folder. As she read the forensic report, the hollowness in her stomach became more pronounced. With trembling fingers, she closed the report and opened the ballistics folder.
"What do they say, Lieutenant?"
Though the voice was quiet and gentle, Joanna jumped having forgotten that she wasn't alone. "The bullet that killed our Jane Doe came from Cody's gun."
"That doesn't mean he shot her," defended Murray.
"No," Joanna agreed, "but it will make him the D.A.'s prime suspect. The fact that he has also disappeared will weigh heavily against him as well."
"Come on, Lieutenant, you know Cody wouldn't shoot somebody and then run away."
"I know that and you know that, but a judge and jury don't."
"If Cody shot her why has Nick disappeared, too?"
"A judge doesn't look at the questions, Murray, he looks for the answers." Unobtrusively trying to shuffle the forensic report beneath the pile on the side of her desk, Joanna continued, "Nick will be considered an accomplice. Whether it's to murder or simply harboring a fugitive doesn't make too much difference to the courts these days. They carry almost equal penalties."
"Is there anything in the forensic report that could prove the gun wasn't fired by Cody?"
"The girl was apparently shot at close range somewhere around midnight, Saturday. Initial reports show a number of witnesses will¬ing to testify that Nick was in Straightaway's at the time with a female acquaintance. No one's sure exactly why or when the Riptide pulled anchor. A man reported seeing it return about 6:00 p.m. Sun¬day. However, neither he nor anyone else has seen Nick or Cody since the night before."
"What else did the report say?" asked Murray suspiciously.
"Nothing that will help clear Cody."
Obviously unappeased, Murray pressed, "What else did it say, Lieutenant?"
Unable to meet the eyes of the man across the desk, Joanna ab¬sently focused on her hands. "It says that the blood found on the lounge did not belong to the girl."
"What was the blood type?" As the Lieutenant refused to meet his eyes, Murray uncharacteristically slammed his hand down on the desk. "What type was it?"
In a voice barely loud enough to be heard, Joanna admitted, "Cody's blood type."
Forcing his body to remain rigid, Murray worked past a suddenly dry mouth, "Then wherever he is, Cody's hurt."
"Has anyone checked the hospitals?"
"Yes, so far nothing."
"How about," pausing, Murray closed his eyes and took a deep breath before continuing, "How about the morgue?"
"Again, nothing, there weren't even any John Doe's who fit either Cody or Nick's description." Under her breath, Joanna added, "Thank God."
As Murray sighed in relief and slowly lowered himself onto the couch, the door flew open.
"All right, Parisi, I want to talk to those beach bum friends of yours and I want to talk to them now."
Barely managing to hide her anger and dislike, Joanna politely ignored the rude entrance and introduced the two men. "Sgt. Norm Watson, this is Dr. Murray Bozinsky, a friend of Cody Allen's and Nick Ryder's."
"I don't care if he's an enemy, if he can tell me where those two bums are."
Joanna had had very few dealings with Watson in the past, a circumstance for which she was very grateful. Many of his qualities reflected those of a Lieutenant she had not met, but had heard much about, Lt. Quinlan. Unlike, Quinlan, however, Watson had the height and breadth to match his big mouth.
Obviously not intimidated by the height that topped him by a good two inches or the weight that more than doubled his own, Murray boldly stepped forward, "My friends happen to be missing at the moment Ser¬geant."
"Convenient, if you ask me."
"Cody is not a murder."
"That's for a jury to decide, its my job to make sure he gets his day in court."
Rising from her chair, Joanna bravely faced her fellow officer. "If I remember correctly, I'm in charge of homicide and it's my job to see that the murderer is caught, not a murderer."
"The mayor wants you concentrating your entire resources on that serial killer who's raping and shooting those teenage girls. Beside," stated Watson smugly, "the chief knows about your friendship with those beach bums. So, he's placed me in charge of the investigation."
"We'll see about that," snapped Joanna.
"Fine, just be sure that after you've been set straight you keep me informed of any developments, or believe me I'll make sure you lose your rank if not your badge."
Feeling as though she had just been punched in the stomach, Joanna watched in despair as Watson swaggered from her office. It wasn't fear for herself that had knocked the breath from her, but, fear for Nick and Cody. How could she hope to protect them if when they were found.
Nick shook his head to try to dispel the roaring in his ears and quickly regretted the action. The shelter he had built to protect Cody from the sun was only slightly large enough to shade one body. Even then, it only covered the upper torso. From where he sat, Nick could see that his friend's legs were as wet from perspiration as his own. Valuable fluid lost that they could ill afford to waste. He knew it would be cooler if he tore off their pant legs, but he also knew that the flesh would quickly redden and burn, just as it had already done on his arms. Without seeing it, Nick could tell that his face was in equally poor condition. Probably from his frequent checks of the surrounding area with the binoculars.
Realizing they could be stranded for a few days, Nick had strict¬ly rationed what little water they had, only allowing Cody a few sips at two hour intervals. It hadn't made much difference though, over two hours ago he had given Cody the last few drops left in the can¬teen.
"Is it two hours yet, Nick?"
Aching equally at the weakness of the voice and the lie he was forced to tell, Nick soothed, "Not yet, Cody, only a little while longer."
"Funny isn't how time seems to crawl when you look forward to something."
Nick forced a smile to cracked and burned lips, "I remember the time you finally got a date with Vanessa Michaels. You were ready a full two hours before you were due to pick her up."
"I wanted to be on time. Unlike some people I could name I wanted to make a good impression."
"You certainly would've made an impression all right if she'd seen how paranoid you got before the date."
"You, big guy. Not only did you lock Murray in his room so he couldn't trip and spill something on you, but, you turned off the water so the Roboz wouldn't pour a glass of water on you."
"You of all people should understand why."
This time the smile was genuine as Nick remembered a time, that seemed so long ago now. His circuits screwed up, the Roboz kept pouring glasses of water all over the place including over Nick's head. "After he poured that glass on Quinlan, I was almost tempted to ask Murray not to fix him. That sight alone was worth a wet head."
"I'd give up even that pleasure for just one of those glasses of water right now," sighed Cody wistfully.
"Believe me, buddy, I'd give up a lot more."
When no reply was forthcoming, Nick glanced nervously down at his friend. Gratefully, he noted that Cody had fallen asleep again. At least he hoped it was sleep. Suddenly panicked, he quickly placed two fingers against the carotid artery in Cody's neck. The pulse was slow and uneven, but, it was there and right now that was all that mat¬tered.
Or was it? After enduring the burning heat of the day, now they would have to somehow bear the wet chill of the evening. Already suffering from loss of blood and a high fever, could Cody make it through another night? And, how much longer, Nick wondered, before he himself slipped into a dehydrated delirium?
A loud roar finally penetrating his stupor, Nick glanced up. Blinded, he shielded his eyes from the last bright rays of the setting sun. At least he had the answer to one of his questions. The black form slicing smoothly towards him looked more like a sea monster than a cargo ship. It couldn't be real? It had to be a figment of his imagination or a delusion brought on by dehydration.
Almost of their own volition, his hands fumbled for the flare gun he had kept by his side. With only two flares available, he had decided to use them only if or when he actually had a ship in sight. Afraid to blink his eyes for fear that the shape would disappear into the descending gloom, he sightlessly loaded the gun and aimed it toward the sky.
"Please be real, please God, let it be real."
"Murray, it's getting late, why don't you go home and try to get some sleep." Joanna gently suggested. "I've left word with every agency in a hundred mile radius to contact me if Nick or Cody are found. I promise I'll call you if there's any word."
Between eye strain and exhaustion, Joanna knew that she herself wouldn't' last much longer and she had at least spent a few hours in her own bed the night before. Murray didn't even have that dubious advantage. In fact, he'd rarely left the office in the last twenty four hours.
"I'm not sure I could stand being on the Riptide right now. It's so," hesitantly, Murray said, "quiet."
Joanna knew the word Murray had almost said lonely. Without the two men who had become the first real friends the young genius had ever had, the Riptide was only a place to store his computers. Home had disappeared with Nick and Cody.
How much more could either of them take she wondered. If they did find the two detectives, what would happen? What Watson had said was true, while she had not been relieved of duty, this one particular case had been taken out of her control. No amount of arguing with her superiors had altered that status. In fact, she had come perilously close to getting herself suspended. Backing down when this had become apparent, she realized that even though it would be limited, she was still in a better position to help Nick and Cody as a police lieuten¬ant, than as an unemployed friend.
Cody's were the only prints found on his gun, but she knew with¬out asking that he hadn't pulled the trigger. She had seen his de¬pression these last few weeks. He had not pulled the trigger on the Westerly's but from the guilt he displayed you would almost think he had. No one with that much compassion would shoot a young girl be¬tween the eyes and disappear. And, no matter how loyal Nick was to his partner, Joanna knew that such an act would destroy the friend¬ship. If it were in self defense, Nick would believe in his friend and stand by him. Any other scenario would not be acceptable to the young detective.
"Lieutenant, the Coast Guard in on line six for you."
Feeling as though she had been awaken from a long, unrefreshed sleep, Joanna called, "Thank you Sergeant." Lifting the receiver, she gently placed it against her left ear, habit reminding her that too hard and she would stab herself with her own earring. "Lt. Parisi."
Excitement and relief coursed through her as she listened to the gravely voice rippling down the line. For the first time in two days, she smiled. Finally replacing the receiver, she sighed with relief. "A Japanese freighter found Nick and Cody. They were stranded on the Ebbtide in the middle of the ocean."
"Yes." Almost crying, Joanna reiterated, "Oh, yes, from what little the coast guard could understand, they're both in pretty bad shape, but they're alive."
Practically jumping with excitement, Murray asked, "Did he say what pier the freighter's docking at?"
"Yes, but he also said that an ambulance would be taking them directly to the trauma center at McKee General and we'd probably be better off meeting them there."
"Well then, let's get going."
Smiling broadly, Joanna followed Murray from the office. Barely keeping pace with the taller man, she almost skipped out of the build¬ing. The report she should have made to Watson was forgotten in her relieved happiness.
As he felt the first twinges of pain burning into his flesh, Nick peripherally decided that regaining consciousness at this time was not one of his brighter ideas. But, for some reason, he felt there was an urgency for him to do so. Though his vision was blurred, when he finally pried his lids apart, it didn't need to 20/20 for him to recognize the bespectacled, lanky form of his partner. "Boz?"
"I'm here Nick, so is Lt. Parisi."
"Does that mean I'm in trouble?"
Her image barely discernible to the injured man, Joanna moved closer to Murray. "I'm here as a concerned friend."
The word obviously sparking a memory, Nick glanced over at the empty bed next to his own. "Where's Cody?"
Exchanging apprehensive looks with Murray, Joanna reluctantly explained, "He's in ICU. He lost a lot of blood and while not as severe a case as your's, he's suffering from dehydration."
"He'll make it though, right?" His eyes shifting from one pale face to the other, Nick growled, "He will make it!"
Reluctantly, Murray admitted, "The doctors aren't sure. He still has a very high fever, and . . . well . . ."
"The, ah, doctors, ah, don't think he's fighting very hard."
"The hell he's not." Throwing back his covers, Nick dizzily pushed himself up to a sitting position.
Joanna's hand gently pressed against the heaving chest, "What the hell do you think your doing?"
"Take me to Cody," demanded Nick.
"In case you haven't noticed your slightly incapacitated your¬self. Not to mention the umbilical cord attaching you to that life¬saving elixir."
"It can come, too," said Nick absently.
"Jolly good of you ol' chap."
"Nick," said Murray calmly, "you were severely dehydrated and sunburned. You've been unconscious for over ten hours. Don't you think you better wait a while before you go traipsing around the hospital."
"Murray, I have to be with Cody. I know what to say to him to make him fight, and I'm probably the only one who can."
"Nick, you can barely sit up," Joanna pointed out. "What do you think you can say that will make such a difference?"
In a voice that was barely audible, Nick said, "That I need him."
"It's enough for Cody. Now will you help me or do I have to crawl to ICU?"
Reluctantly, Murray procured a wheelchair and with the Lieuten¬ant's help practically lifted Nick into it. With Joanna guiding the IV stand, Murray, the guilt clearly visible on his face, pushed Nick down the hall and into the elevator.
Though he knew they had never left the hospital, Nick felt as though they had when the doors finally opened on ICU. While his own floor had been sunny and cheerful, this one was somehow gloomier. Or, was it his imagination? As hard as he tried, he could not seem to exorcise the impression that ICU was a hospice. A place a person went to die.
"Mr. Ryder, what are you doing out of bed?"
The vaguely familiar voice brought Nick's head up sharply, but the face was unknown to him. His eyes showing his puzzlement, Nick glanced up at Murray hoping for identification.
Obviously understanding the silent plea, Murray explained, "Nick, this is Dr. Royce. He's head of the Trauma Center and he operated on Cody."
"And, I helped find the proper mixture to pump into you to keep you from dying on us. An effort you obviously don't appreciate."
"I'm all right Doc, but from what Murray says, Cody isn't. I think I can help him."
"Your collapsing will certainly do him a world of good."
"Talking to him will. You gotta understand Cody, if he thought somebody needed him, he'd come back from the dead."
"There's one thing you don't understand, Mr. Ryder, there might not be anyone in there to hear you. Mr. Allen has had a very high fever for an extended period of time. He may have suffered slight to severe brain damage."
Faced with a possibility he had never envisioned, Nick flinched, but his determination to be at his friend's side never wavered. "I'll take my chances."
"I have to admit, Mr. Ryder," Royce reluctantly backed down from the determined man before him, "at this point, I'm willing to try any¬thing. Good luck."
Watching the trim figure walk briskly down the hall, Nick asked, "Did he just say I could go in with Cody?"
"I would say that was a fair interpretation," smiled Joanna. "Doctors! Even when they speak English, I can't understand em."
"That's it, Mr. Ryder, time you were back in bed."
Obviously too weary to raise his head, from where it lay beside Cody's hand, Nick growled, "Could you quit this Ryder crap and call me Nick, Doc."
For the first time Nick was almost grateful for his exhaustion. It was clear that no one had seen his reaction when Royce called him Mr. Ryder. Was an adverse reaction to the sound of his own name a legacy he would carry forever thanks to Friendly Freddy?
"Nick," said Royce in a tone that was compassionate yet firm, "You can return to your friend's side later, when you've sufficiently rested."
"Later might be too late."
"You've almost lost what little progress we've made since your rescue. I can't just sit back and watch you kill yourself."
"It's time to change your IV and I'm going to do it in your room with you in your bed and I really don't think your in any condi¬tion to fight me."
Admitting defeat, Nick finally raised his head. Glancing first at the doctor's implacable expression, his gaze shifted to the color¬less face of his partner. "Stay with Cody, Murray, talk to him."
"I I d don't know what to s say," stuttered Murray nervously. "I'm not the one he needs to hear."
"Like hell your not. You wouldn't be here if you weren't his friend."
"My friendship might not be enough for him."
"When Cody suggested we make you a partner, I wasn't sure, but, he was."
"You didn't want me as a partner?" asked Murray trying to hide his hurt.
"It's one of the few times Cody was right and I was wrong."
Recognizing Nick's revelation was meant as an apology, Murray sighed, "Nick, I've known from the beginning that I needed Cody and you. The problem is Cody doesn't need me."
"To Cody there's no difference, your needs are his needs. Talk to him Murray, it won't hurt him and it might help you."
Murray watched helplessly as Dr. Royce wheeled Nick out of the room. His panic almost overwhelmed him when he saw Joanna start to follow. "Lieutenant, do you have to go?"
"I'm sorry Murray, but I do. If I don't check in at the precinct pretty soon, they're going to file a missing person report on me or have Watson demanding my badge. Besides, I think you'd work better without an audience."
Alone, Murray almost fell into the chair next to Cody's bed, fear sapping the strength from his legs. This was more responsibility than he was sure he could handle. Cody and Nick were the only real friends he had ever had. Now, he had to try to keep one from slipping further away from them. And if he didn't succeed, he would bear the condemna¬tion of the other.
No, that wasn't fair. Nick would never blame him if Cody died. He would only blame himself. Each of them would bear a personal guilt that the other couldn't breach. Eventually not only would the part¬nership die, but, so would the friendship.
Pulling the chair around so that it faced his friend, Murray started to speak. At first, he was unusually hesitant, unsure of what to say. But, as he talked the words got easier and he told Cody all the things he'd wanted to tell his friend, but, had never had the opportunity. When he was through, he switched to remembering the times the three men had shared. As the words came faster and easier, Murray actually found he was enjoying himself. The closeness they had shared made him feel good inside. If only he could make Cody feel it too.
This time when Nick regained consciousness, the pain had dimmed somewhat. Afraid to take the improvement for granted, he cautiously moved the arm with the I.V. to a more comfortable position. Realizing that his mouth was painfully dry, he slowly opened his eyes and glanced hopefully over at the table beside his bed. Despite his need, the pitcher seemed impossibly far away.
"Would you like some water, Nick?"
Surprised to find that he wasn't alone, Nick's gaze focused on the figure of Lt. Joanna Parisi sitting in a chair at the end of his bed. "Please."
"Here let me crank you up first so the water goes in your mouth rather than down your chin and across your chest."
Still puzzled as to what Joanna was doing in his room, Nick nodded agreement before asking, "Are you here this time in an official capacity or personal?"
"A little of both," said Joanna obviously uncomfortable as she handed Nick a glass of water.
Slowly sipping the cool water through a straw, Nick curiously regarded the pacing police officer. Suddenly scared that her nervous¬ness had a more ominous basis, he asked, "Is Cody all right?"
"There's been no change. Murray's still with him." A smile lighting her soft features, Joanna continued, "His voice is almost gone, but he's still trying to make Cody listen to him."
"If anyone can talk away that fever, it's the Boz."
"Yes," Parisi absently agreed. Carefully keeping her back to the man in the bed, she continued, "Actually, I shouldn't be asking you this, Nick, but I'd really like to know what happened. Maybe I can run interference for you with Sgt. Watson."
"Who the hell is Watson?"
"The man put in charge of the murder investigation involving the girl on your boat. My Captain felt I was too personally involved to be objective."
"What cop could be objective with the murder of a young girl or the attempted murder of two friends."
"Nick we found the Riptide in it's moor. On board was a young girl dead from a bullet wound. The bullet was traced to Cody's gun."
Now Nick understood why Joanna couldn't face him. "And you think Cody shot her?"
"No!" Turning, Joanna fought to keep the tears in her eyes from spilling down her cheeks. "If he did he must have had a very good reason. Don't you see it was your little disappearing act that's made it look bad for you."
Controlling his anger with difficulty, Nick growled, "I don't suppose anyone has noticed that Cody also had a bullet in him."
"We found a gun lying next to the girl."
"And I'm sure ballistics will show that the bullet taken out of Cody's shoulder came from that gun."
"I'm sure it will too." Pulling her chair up to the side of the bed, Joanna gently held Nick's hand and sat down. "That's why you have to tell me what happened. Maybe I can stop Watson before he arrests Cody for murder and you as an accomplice."
Closing his eyes, Nick reluctantly recalled every detail he could remember of the ordeal he and Cody had endured. It was only slightly easier the second time. His own denial of water and Cody's painful deterioration he kept to himself. As good a friend as she was, Nick still felt a certain reluctance to disclose everything. There were somethings that were between him and Cody.
"Cody didn't know who this man was either?," asked Joanna as Nick finished his explanation.
"If he did, he didn't tell me. For some reason though he called him Friendly Freddy. Of course, by the time we could talk, he wasn't in the best condition to be a reliable witness."
"I have a feeling Watson's not going to believe in your phantom shooter."
As a look of understanding and determination passed between the two, the door flew open. His face covered with a three day growth of beard and his eyes bloodshot, Murray stumbled through the door. "Nick! Nick!"
Seeing the tears streaming down his friend's cheeks, Nick sudden¬ly felt lost. Clutching his hands into fists, he whispered, "Not Cody, please."
"You were right, Nick," said Murray, oblivious to his friend's pain. "I talked and talked and he finally woke up and answered me."
Anger at the scare Murray had given him mixed with an almost overwhelming relief made Nick dizzy. It took several deep breaths before he felt calm enough to ask, "What did Cody say, Boz?"
"He said, 'Be quiet Murray'."
No longer fighting them, Nick allowed the tears to slide down his cheeks as he laughed at the familiar refrain. How many times in the past had he or Cody tried to terminate one of Murray's harangue's. A task not always easily accomplished.
"Dr. Royce thinks he's going to be all right. He's doing some tests now to be sure." The wonder showing clearly on his face, Murray sighed, "I can't believe Cody actually responded to me."
"Why shouldn't he Murray, your his friend too."
The flush of embarrassment showing faintly through the growth of beard, Murray stuttered, "I know, I j just, well, I thought, you know, that he'd need you."
"Now you know he needs both of us." Finally turning his atten¬tion to Joanna who had stood quietly by during the emotional exchange, Nick asked, "Would you take this quivering lump of jello home and put him to bed before he collapses."
Obviously not trusting her own voice, Joanna nodded.
"But I'm fine, Nick. Don't you think I should stick around in case Cody needs me."
"Don't worry, Murray, Cody won't be alone. I'll still be here."
"Well," agreed Murray reluctantly, "if you think that's enough, I guess I could stand a wash and a shave anyway."
"And at least twelve hours of sleep."
"Gee, that's a long time."
"Cody'll survive, he's going to need you at his bedside talking, not sleeping."
"Your right," suddenly eager to get home and get some sleep so he could return to Cody's side, Murray opened the door and threw a hur¬ried, "Come on, Lieutenant," behind him.
Smiling, Joanna shook her head, "Cody's going to kill you."
"Let's worry about one murder at a time, OK?"
Another summons hurried Joanna to the door. "Take care of your¬self, Nick. I'll see you tomorrow."
Forcing a smile, Nick carefully balanced the glass of water against the arm with the I.V. and gave a quick wave. Finally alone, he allowed his anxiety to show. Murder! It somehow seemed preposter¬ous that anyone could conceivably believe that Cody was capable of cold blooded murder. Sure, he was quite ready to defend himself if the need arose and the presence of the gun in the girl's hand could suggest to the judge that it was self defense. However, their appar¬ent attempt to flee pointed to the very fact that it was a probable murder.
The major problem was making the Judge, a jury and the district attorney's office believe that Friendly Freddy existed. The way it looked right now, he and Cody were going to end up in Leavenworth for 150 years.
Already depressed from the Westerly case what would all this do to Cody's mental well being? Would he get angry and fight back? Or, would he slip further away to a place where even Murray couldn't reach him?
As he slowly followed Murray and Joanna down the stairs into the main salon of the Riptide, Nick was surprised to discover he was nervous. Instead of the sense of homecoming and happiness usually associated with being released from the hospital, he felt uncomfort¬able. Whether it was from finding himself on the boat again after their ordeal or from being forced to leave Cody's side, he wasn't sure.
He and Cody had been roommates for the last five days. In that entire period, Nick was sure he could count the number of words Cody had spoken in double digits, and most of those had consisted of please and thank you. Nick understood that it might still be painful for the bruised vocal cords, so he was willing to excuse the silence. Howev¬er, no matter how cheerful he tried to be he couldn't break through his friend's obvious depression. This, Nick realized was shy he didn't want to be home. His place was at Cody's side, whether that was where Cody wanted him or not.
"I left a pasta salad in the refrigerator when I came to pick up Murray this morning. Why don't you both sit down and relax while I dish it up," suggested Joanna.
"Gee, that would be really boss," said Murray excitedly. "Would¬n't it Nick?"
Nick decided to try and keep his concerns to himself. So far, Murray hadn't seemed to notice Cody's behavior. "Yeah, Boz, pasta salad sounds great, especially considering what that hospital's been trying to feed me. They may call it food, but I'm a detective, I know better."
"A detective who is on suspension. Don't forget that, Ryder."
Surprised by the unexpected appearance, Nick turned to find Sgt. Watson facing him. A combination of the sudden movement and the shock make Nick lightheaded. Putting a hand quickly on the nearby table, he fought to regain his equilibrium. Hoping no one had noticed his momentary weakness, Nick snapped, "It's customary to ask permission before coming on board."
"I don't ask nuthin from accomplices to murder."
Climbing up from the galley into the salon, Joanna corrected, "Alleged accomplice, Sergeant."
"I thought I might find you here Parisi," Watson sneered.
Nick tapped sharply on Watson's arm, "That's Lt. Parisi, Ser¬geant."
Obviously enjoying Watson's discomfort, Joanna asked, "What are you doing here Sergeant? Nick's statement is on file down at the precinct. His bail has been set and paid."
"I just wanted to make sure that Ryder understood that he was not to leave town."
"You think I'd take off with my best friend still in the hospi¬tal?" asked Nick incredulously.
"No friend is worth twenty years behind bars."
Calming noticeably, Nick shook his head, "Maybe your friends aren't work it, but mine are."
"Unless you have official business here, Sergeant," said Joanna, "I suggest you leave."
Watson's growled, "Yes, madam," was barely audible as he angrily charged from the boat.
"I think you just made yourself an enemy, Lieutenant," noted a concerned Murray."
"He can't do anything to me, Murray."
"But he can do something to Cody," Nick anxiously pointed out.
Nick was already up and carefully dressing early the next morning when the phone started ringing. Tugging down harder on his shirt, he hurried hoping he might be able to answer it before the sound woke Murray. He himself, had gotten virtually no sleep the night before. But, at least in the hospital, with the aid of drugs, he had gotten ten full nights. On the other hand, Murray's sleepless nights were obvious in the young genius's blood shot, baggy eyed face.
Lifting the receiver on the third ring, Nick tried to ignore the raw pain searing across the skin of his still tender arms. "Yeah?"
"Nick, this is Dr. Royce . . ."
"What's happened to Cody," Nick anxiously interrupted.
"Nothing, I'm sorry I had to scare you like this. You see, Cody's gone as far as we can medically help him. Now he's starting to slip back. He doesn't eat and is obviously very depressed. Though it's earlier than I really feel comfortable with, we'd like to send him home. Hopefully, he will respond favorably in familiar surround¬ings."
"Are you sure he's ready Doc.?"
"No," said an obviously exasperated Royce, "but, if he doesn't start eating soon, we'll have to do it with a tube in his stomach. Somehow, I think that will only depress him further. We certainly don't need that."
Though this was what he thought he wanted, Nick found himself strangely reluctant to bring Cody back to the Riptide. Was he afraid he would fail the best friend he'd ever had? As Dr. Royce continued, Nick was tempted to ask him if depression was contagious.
"You'll have to keep a close eye on him."
"That won't be a problem," said Nick burying his doubts. "When can we come and get him?"
"Whenever you want. Personally, I think the sooner the better."
"We'll be there within the hour."
"Great, I'll make sure his release papers are signed so you won't have any problems on this end."
"Thanks Doc." Replacing the receiver, Nick turned to find Murray blocking his path.
The anxiety clearly visible, Murray asked, "What's wrong with Cody?"
Nick's apprehension with the news that Cody was coming home intensified as he realized what the two men would be undertaking. Closing his eyes, he carefully recited the conversation he'd had with Royce.
"I've got the computer reviewing our past cases for some kind of connection, so far, nothing. I sure wish I could find something," said Murray in frustration. "It might make Cody feel better."
"Cody knows you've been doing your best Murray. Don't forget you've been working alone."
Obviously not consoled, Murray started for his room, "I'll get dressed so we can get going."
"Boz, you did your best."
"Too bad my best wasn't good enough."
As he watched Murray dejectedly enter his cabin, Nick shook his head, "Great atmosphere to bring Cody home to."
Despite Nick's misgivings, as soon as they entered the hospital, Murray's depression seemed to vanish. It was the first time in their acquaintance that Nick could remember seeing Murray deliberately fake
an emotion. While he was grateful, it also hurt to see even a little of that special innocence that was the Boz, disappear. How much more would Friendly Freddy destroy before they caught up with him.
Outside Cody's room, Nick forced a smile to his own lips. Enter¬ing, he was shocked to find a nurse checking the room. "Hooter, where's Cody?"
"Why he checked out. Dr. Royce said you knew."
"He called to tell us to come pick him up."
"That's strange, when his other friend was already here."
Fear making him shake, Nick gasped, "What friend?"
"You know, that police friend."
"You mean Lt. Parisi," supplied Murray.
"No, this was a man. A big man, taller than you."
Relieved that it wasn't Friendly Freddy as he had first thought, Nick's vision blurred as anger coursed through his veins. "Watson!"
"That's the man," Hooter agreed happily. "They left about a half hour ago."
"Thanks, Hooter." Grabbing Murray's arm, Nick dragged him through the door. "Come on Murray, we gotta find a phone."
"So Joanna can be on the lookout."
The first person Nick spotted when they entered the police sta¬tion was Lt. Parisi. Anxiously, he asked, "Did you find Cody?"
"Watson had him booked on murder one," said Joanna disgustedly. "Luckily, Judge Greisman was free and I had him contact Dr. Royce so he could see how imperative it was that bail be set as soon as possi-ble."
Murray pulled the jimmy's keys from his pocket. "When's the hearing? Let's see, we used the boat and the vette as collatrol for Nick . . ."
"Murray," Joanna tried to interrupt, but as usual with the young genius, she was going against the tide.
". . .if the Jimmy and the Mimi aren't enough, I can hock my computer equipment . . ."
"Murray!" Joanna sighed with relief as Nick put a hand over Murray's mouth effectively silencing him. "As I was about to say. Apparently Dr. Royce was able to convince the judge that Cody should be released immediately. The lease on my condo was enough collatrol. I'm on my way to the holding pen now to get Cody."
Nick could see the shock he was feeling reflected on Murray's face. "You shouldn't risk your home like that Joanna."
"Why not? There's no chance I'm going to lose it."
"Thank you," whispered Nick almost overwhelmed by the police officer's implicit trust.
"Does that mean," asked Murray still slightly confused by the rapidity of recent events, "that Cody can come home?"
Resuming her journey, Joanna nodded, "As soon as we get the keys, Murray."
The dejected figure laying on the cot was barely recognizable to Nick. Gone was the ready smile and bouncing optimism. Entering the cell alone, Nick stooped down till he was on a level with the recum¬bent form. Placing a hand on the arm that lay across Cody's eyes, he asked, "You ready to go home?"
In a voice that still sounded raw and scratchy, Cody whispered, "I killed that girl, Nick."
"Friendly Freddy killed her, Cody, and we're doing everything we can to find out who and where he is. He should be here, not you."
"He only pulled the trigger, I brought her home."
"Cody, you're no more responsible for her death than you are the Westerly's"
The blond man visibly flinched at the reminder. "Leave me here, Nick, it's where I belong."
"Then so do I and so does Murray. We're partners, remember. In fact, I was the one who interviewed Mrs. Westerly and accepted the case. Murray was out with Carla and you were out with Tammi."
Showing more life than he had since before their ordeal, Cody defended, "You couldn't have known what the husband was going to do just from interviewing the wife."
"Anymore than you knew what was waiting for you on the Riptide," Nick pointed out. "Stop punishing yourself, Cody. Watson is more than happy to do the job for you. Why not let him?"
For the first time in weeks, Cody gave Nick a genuine smile. "Yeah, we should let the child play with his toys."
"It's the least we can do after all he's done for us." Fighting the tears that threatened to escape, only half of Nick's mind was on the familiar banter as he helped Cody up off the low cot.
Quickly coming to help Cody on the other side, Murray asked, "Who did what for us?"
"Watson," explained Cody.
"You're both crazy," snapped Murray visibly recoiling, "that man has given us nothing but grief."
To himself, Nick disagreed. You're wrong, Murray, he gave us back Cody. Out loud, he asked, "Do you think I should offer to shake his hand?"
"And then kick him in the knee," suggested Cody.
Obviously trying to get in the spirit, Murray added, "I can have the Roboz pour a glass of water on his head."
"Be like old times," smiled Nick, "except instead of the three of us against Quinlan, it'll be four of us against Watson."
"Yeah, this time we have an ally," Cody agreed smiling gratefully at Joanna.
"An ally who better get back to work before she gets suspended. So, get the hell out of here."
Supporting Cody between them, Nick and Murray slowly walked out of the station. Even this simple act was happily familiar. Nick knew a few understanding works weren't enough to dispel Cody's depression completely, but it was a start. And, right now that was good enough.
Still fuming over the destruction he'd found on the Mimi, Nick picked up his pace as he walked back to the Riptide. Vandalism galled him. It was such a senseless, wasteful act. His anger wasn't only because it had been done to the Mimi. But, that it had been done now, when he was working so hard to stay cheerful for Cody's sake.
Straightaway`s call warning him about what he would find was not totally unexpected. It had happened before, and considering it'd been almost three weeks since he'd even seen the Mimi, the vandalism had not come as a total surprise. Anything left unattended that long was bound to be an invitation to some joy happy punk.
Nick was just grateful that Cody had been asleep when he left. In his present mood, the blond haired detective didn't need to see his partner in such an agitated state. Murray was so involved in his programs, he had barely noticed. His attention diverted for only the length of time it took to order the Roboz to tell him if Cody made a sound.
Nearing the Riptide, Nick stopped and leaned against the railing. The orange and yellows shooting across the sky as the sun dropped below the horizon helped to sooth his agitation. This sunset was subtly different than the one he had witnessed from the Ebbtide. Somehow, it seemed friendlier, less menacing. Strange how a situation could alter one's perception.
As the colors disappeared, Nick slowly climbed aboard the boat. Going below, he peeked in on Murray, "How's it going, Boz?"
"Nothing yet, Murray admitted in frustration. "How bad was the Mimi?"
"It's been worse." Glancing down at the still closed door of the cabin he shared with Cody, Nick asked, "Any problems?"
Knowing from the direction of Nick's gaze, what he was really asking, Murray shook his head. "Not a peep out of him. Even if I couldn't hear him, the Roboz would've."
"I think I'll check on him anyway." Apprehensive, but not know¬ing why, Nick quickened his pace to their room. Opening the door, he stopped in mid stride, shock momentarily robbing him of all coherent thought.
His brain was refusing to receive the input of what his eyes were seeing. Instead of a comfortably reclining Cody, the blond head and one arm were hanging off the side of the bunk. Below the out-stretched hand was the bottle of sleeping pills Dr. Royce had pre¬scribed once full, now empty.
Tears rolling down his cheeks, Nick whispered, "No, Cody, oh no!"
As the shock finally began to wear off, he suddenly realized that, though slight, Cody's chest was rising and falling. Crossing swiftly to his friend, he yelled, "Murray call an ambulance. Now!"
Nick was grateful that for once, the Boz was performing an action without asking a mirade of questions. Gently lifting the blond head back onto the pillow, he idly wondered how Cody could have lost so much weight in such a relatively short time.
His fingers seeking a pulse in the too thin neck, he almost panicked when they failed to find a beat. Forcing himself to calm down, he moved his fingers in a slower, tighter search pattern. Finally he found a beat, too slow and too irregular but there.
Almost choking on the words, Nick cried, "Damn you Cody, you have no right to do this to us."
Meeting Murray's tortured eyes with his own, Nick wished he could have spared the sensitive man from the implications of what the empty medicine bottle represented. "It'll be all right, Boz. He's still alive."
"Did he . . ."
"It looks like it."
Anger began to replace the initial fear and pain. Looking down at the still figure, Nick shook his head, "I don't know why, Murray. I wish the hell I did, but I don't."
Nick was beginning to develop an intense hatred for hospital waiting rooms. Over an hour ago, he had counted how many steps it took to get from one wall to the other. And, over two hours ago, he had discovered there were an average 325 holes in a ceiling tile. He desperately wanted to ignore the reality of Cody's action. The effort was futile however, in the middle of pacing or counting, the grim truth would inevitably intrude.
How Murray was coping, was a mystery. For once the expressive face was an emotionless mask. That in itself, Nick realized, was a gauge to measure his friend's pain. But, the only 'help', he could give were platitudes he himself didn't want to hear. They were mean¬ingless words that couldn't comfort an aching heart.
"How is he?" panted Joanna as she joined the two men. From her breathless state, it was apparent that she had run from the parking lot to the waiting room.
When it became obvious that Nick wasn't going to answer the Lieutenant's question, Murray reluctantly admitted, "We don't know. No one has . . ."
From the smile on Dr. Royce's face, Nick could tell that once again, they'd been very lucky. "Cody's going to be all right."
"Don't ask me how," Royce admitted, "from the condition he was already in, this should have finished him. Apparently, this time, he fought hard and won. He's even conscious and wants to see you."
Nick eagerly started down the hall, closely followed by Dr. Royce. "He's very weak. Getting your stomach pumped isn't a pleasant experience. Don't be surprised if he falls asleep on you."
"Right now, I wouldn't care if he spit on me."
With Royce close behind, Nick entered the emergency room. Slow¬ing his pace, he hesitantly approached the pale, still figure of his friend. "Cody?"
"Nick," though talking was obviously painful, Cody asked, "Murray . . . . . O.K.?"
Puzzled, Nick nodded, "Considering this latest escapade of yours, he's fine."
"Freddy . . . said . . .I . . sound . . . kill . . . Murray."
Though the explanation was far from complete, Nick knew his partner well enough to decipher their meaning. "Freddy was on the Riptide and threatened to kill the Boz?"
"Yes." Royce made a slight adjustment to one of the tubes going into Cody's nose. Obviously finding it easier to breath, Cody gasped, "Kill Murray . . . . if didn't . . . take . . . pills."
"So you didn't try to commit suicide." Finding himself almost dizzy with relief, Nick continued, "Friendly Freddy tried to kill you, again."
". . . Know Freddy . . . . Nam."
Noticing that Cody's eyelids were drooping heavily, Nick desper¬ately pressed, "Cody, what's his name?"
"Mas. . ."
"Cody! Please! What's his name?"
As the light blue eyes disappeared completely, Nick glanced fearfully over to where Dr. Royce was checking the readouts of the machines. "Is he asleep?"
"Yes, his blood pressure is up, but, that's to be expected."
"Can we wake him? I need that name, Doc."
"I wish I could, I'd like to see you catch Freddy myself. Unfor¬tunately, it's too dangerous. His falling asleep was his body's reaction to the indignities forced upon it. If I interfere with that, I could endanger him further."
"Succinct, yet appropriate."
Despite his concern, Nick smiled. As he walked out of the room and down the hall, he found the doctor's presence beside him inex¬plicably comforting. Though McKee wasn't the closest hospital to Pier 56, it did have the closest trauma center. A fact for which Nick was decidedly grateful. He knew from experience that the personal inter¬est Royce was taking in Cody was not normal procedure in a big city hospital.
Though his eyes were watering, Nick managed to smile brightly as he squarely faced Murray. "Cody did`nt try to commit suicide, Boz. Friendly Freddy was on the boat. He threatened to kill you if Cody didn't swallow those pills."
"I think he's hallucinating, Nick," said Murray sadly. "I was involved in a program so I can see how Freddy could get by me. But, I had the Roboz on alert, nothing could get by him."
Nick closed his eyes as he realized that Murray was right. The Roboz was infallible, given a command, he followed it to the letter. Hoped dawned as the last three words of his thought became a litany in his head. "Murray, do you remember your exact words to the Roboz?"
"Something to the effect that he was to let me know if Cody made a sound."
"That's it!" Nick excitedly rapped the back of his hand against Murray's arm. "Cody said that Freddy told him if he made a sound, he'd kill you."
Joanna shook her head, "Then that means he knew the exact wording of Murray's command."
"How could he know that?" asked Murray.
"A bug," said Nick happily. "A bug that with the Roboz's help, will lead us right to our man. He's finally made a mistake."
Murray pensively agreed, "If it's a voice activated transmitter he can."
"We won't find out standing here."
"Wait a minute," Joanna called, "concern for Cody wasn't the only reason I stopped by. I just got a report from ballistics. Not only, was the .357 found in Jane Doe's hand the gun used to shoot Cody, but also four other teenage girls."
"You mean," Murray asked, "it's connected with that serial case you've been working on?"
"The very same." nodded Joanna.
Nick slumped dejectedly onto the couch, "Ouch!"
"That's good isn't," asked Murray. "That proves there was anoth¬er shooter."
Joanna shook her head, "Afraid not, Murray, it points to Cody as being the serial killer."
"To us, yes, we know Cody." Patiently, Joanna explained, "To the DA, it looks like the girl somehow got the gun away from Cody and shot him with it. To save his own life, he was then forced to shoot the girl with the gun he has registered with the agency. Then, rather than be arrested for murder, he enlisted Nick's aide and tried to escape to Mexico in the Ebbtide."
"And since that didn't work," added Nick, "he tried to commit suicide."
"I'm glad you people are finally beginning to see sense."
Nick wasn't surprised to hear Watson's raspy tones, what was that old saying, a bad penny always turns up. "What are you doing here, Watson? I know it can't be concern for my partner."
"You got the same report I did," supplied Joanna, "and you thought that getting the collar for an important case like the serial killer would guarantee you that promotion you've been after."
"Unlike some, I'm not blinded by sentiment," sneered Watson coming perilously close to insubordination.
Fighting the exhaustion that had suddenly reinstated itself, Nick rose from his seat. "You also don't seem to care whether you put the right man behind bars or not. Your willing to see an innocent man pay just so you'll look good to your superiors."
"Innocent men don't try to commit suicide, desperate men do."
Wearily, Nick dropped back to the coach, running one hand through his hair. "I can't explain things to a moron, somebody else give it try."
"Listen, Ryder . . ."
"Sgt. Watson," Joanna interrupted, "what exactly are you doing here?"
Reluctantly backing away from Nick, Watson explained, "I came to get Allen's statement and put a guard on his door. Just in case he tries to escape via another method."
His face showing the satisfaction he obviously felt at thwarting Watson's intentions, Dr. Royce shook his head. "No, go, Watson, my patient is in no condition to be cross examined. And," Royce raised his hand to forestall Watson's protest, "I predict it will be quite a while before he will be."
"You will let me know the minute I can see him?" Though his face was flushed with anger, Watson's voice was relatively mild.
"As soon as I feel he's fit enough to put up with you," agreed Royce readily. "Don't be surprised if it's in the year 2000."
Obviously furious with the doctor's mocking tones, Watson growled, "Don't try to play games with me Doc, you won't win."
"Winning isn't everything, Sergeant."
Nick felt some of his weariness slipping away as he watched the two combatants. It felt good to know that the doctor was on their side.
"Cutter?" When five angry faces turned on her, Hooter nervously backed away. "Dr. Sternhauser asked me to remind you that there's a board meeting in ten minutes."
Royce impatiently waved his acknowledgement, "Thank you, Hooter, you can tell Dr. Sternhauser that I'll be there when I'm ready and not before."
"If it's all the same to you, Cutter," Hooter shook her head, "I'd rather you told him yourself, sir."
Nick found his anger cooling as he watched the tall, young nurse fearfully, yet bravely confront her superior. The name she had ad¬dressed him by however, was what really interested him. "Cutter! That's why your voice is so familiar."
"Do you know Dr. Royce, Nick?" asked Murray curiously.
"I never met him face to face, Murray. But, there was this crazy doctor in Nam who insisted on being taken to the wounded rather than having the wounded brought to him. I pulled him out of some rather interesting situations when I was flying temporary duty with a med evac unit."
Cutter shook his head, "Interesting was not the way my superiors described the situations I got myself into."
"From what I heard, you did all right."
"We learned a lot about trauma in Nam. We learned how important medical attention is in that first hour, the golden hour we call it, after an accident."
"Personally, I'm glad you did," said Nick glancing down at he closed door of Cody's room.
"I have more important things to do than listen to old home week," interrupted Watson. "Where can I put the guard on Allen, Doc?"
"How about Hollywood and Vine."
Obviously tired of the run around he was getting, Watson threat¬ened, "We'll just see if your superiors agree."
Through most of the exchange, Nick was under the impression that Cutter was actually enjoying himself. In the space of a few seconds though, the easy manner disappeared and was replaced by an anger that surpassed Watson's own.
"I am the head of this trauma unit. We try to save lives here. I will not have my people worrying about running into a statue you've planted in the middle of my corridor."
"You'd rather leave a killer free to roam those very same corri¬dors?"
"Cody is not a killer," protested Murray.
"Aside from the fact that I agree with the aforesaid assessment," said Royce. "Cody Allen is in no condition to roam anywhere and won't be for quite a while. Which makes your concern unjustified."
"It better be Doc," growled Watson reluctantly backing down, "or I'll have you up on conspiracy charges. You and Ryder will make great roommates."
"Not if he snores," said Cutter.
As Watson stalked angrily away, Nick held out his hand to Royce. "Nice going, Cutter, I owe you one."
"Let's just hope he never stops me for speeding," blushed Cutter, embarrassed by his unusual loss of temper.
The worry on her face commanding the attention of all three men, Joanna said, "I agree with your sentiments, Cutter, but I'm not sure you should have refused that guard. What if Friendly Freddy tries to get at Cody again?"
"Gee," sighed Murray, "the lieutenant has a point."
"Without cluttering up my hospital with Watson or his goons, I think we can effectively guard Cody. I have a paramedic who could double as a tank. Stix's can look after Cody physically as well as medically."
Eager to continue the investigation, Nick nevertheless wasn't totally convinced. "Are you sure Cutter?"
"Believe me, Freddy would have to be Godzilla to get by Stix's. Even then, he'd find himself in one helluva fight."
"Just keep me abreast of what's happening. I worked on one of those teenage girls. She suffered before she died. This is not a nice man your after."
Exhaustion warred with anger and fear as Nick followed Murray into the small but efficient computer room that had been built on the Riptide. They had found not one, but three bugs hidden on board. Attaching a high frequency homing meter to the Roboz's receiving mod¬ule, they had easily followed the signal to its source.
The house was small, but modern and, unfortunately empty. Whether it was by design or coincidence, they couldn't tell. Search¬ing the premises they had discovered the name of their nemesis, Fred¬eric Masters. Which explained why Cody called him Friendly Freddy. Sub consciously, Cody's mind knew from the beginning who his mysteri¬ous assailant was.
With two plain clothed detectives stationed across the street from the house, the three friends returned to the Riptide. Consider¬ing their present relationship with Watson, it seemed safer, if slow¬er, to use Murray's computers rather than the police departments. Murray was certain the computers would reveal another possible loca¬tion where they could find Masters. Nick had to believe that Murray was right. No matter what Cutter said, the dark haired detective was sure Cody wouldn't be safe till Friendly Freddy was either behind bars or dead. Nick personally preferred the latter. Cody had already been made a victim by Masters, he didn't deserve being victimized by a judicial system that was often more severe with the victim than with the perpetrator.
"I don't know if it'll do any good," said Murray, his fingers seeming to fly across the keyboard, "but I'll start a search program."
"What will that do?" asked Joanna.
The program will automatically pull up any occurrences of the name Frederic Masters. With his social security number I can call up his military record, IRS, etc. Unfortunately, a social security number isn't required for tickets."
"Let's get his military record first, Boz," suggested Nick. "I want to see if we can find a connection with Cody."
Keying up what Nick had requested, Murray sent it straight to the printer. This freed up the screen in case his search program discov¬ered anything.
With Joanna and Murray peeking over his shoulder, Nick quickly skimmed the familiar military documents. "Cody and Masters were in the same unit at approximately the same time. I don't see any inci-dent that connects them directly though. It was a large unit. Their chances were slim of even meeting in the short time they overlapped."
"There isn't so much as a reprimand on Master's record," Murray pointed out. "So what could Cody have done to make Masters mad enough to kill him, yet, not have it appear on his record?"
"You got me, Boz. I guess we'll have to wait till Cody wakes up to find out."
"Nick, why don't you give the hospital a call and see how Cody's doing while I pull up Master's IRS papers."
Wondering if Murray had read his mind, Nick eagerly crossed to the phone, "Good idea." With a finger in his ear to drown out the noise of the printer, Nick dialed a number that was becoming all too familiar.
Disappointed, but encouraged, Nick hung up the receiver after a short conversation with Royce. Seeing the expectant, yet slightly wary faces turned to him, Nick had to smile. It looked as though he wasn't the only one getting a little paranoid about Masters. "Cutter says Cody is doing fine. He's still asleep."
"Good," tearing a sheet off the printer, Murray said, "Masters IRS records just finished printing."
To anyone else, Murray's reaction might have seemed callus. But, Nick knew his partner better. After all that had happened, the only stability to be found right now was in the work the Boz knew so well. When this was all over, the emotional stress that even now threatened to debilitate him, would finally be released. By that time, Nick realized, he would probably be in the same condition himself.
"Nick, Murray, look at this," cried Joanna pointing to a line on the sheet of paper she was holding. "Under employer, it says Mills Engineering Consultants. Isn't that where Westerly worked?"
"Yes," said Murray, almost appearing to be in shock. "Masters must have seen Cody there on one of our visits and thought he might be a threat."
Nick angrily turned away. His fist clenched, he threw it at the door, pulling it just in time to keep from breaking anything. Even so, the pain was enough to dampen his temper. Leaning his head against the cool wood, he whispered, "Is that damn case going to haunt us forever?"
Even though he wanted to, Nick found it impossible to ignore Murray's excited plea. "What is it, Boz?"
"The search pattern worked, a Frederic Masters has booked a flight to Rio on United 297 leaving LAX at 4:00."
Looking at her watch, Joanna gasped, "That's in less than an hour."
"Let's go," ordered Nick.
"What," asked Murray, "if it's not the right Frederic Masters?"
"Don't worry, it is Boz," said Nick confidently.
His eyes never wavering from the security monitor, Nick paced impatiently. It had been Joanna's idea to send in two plain clothed detectives to arrest Masters, thus ensuring the safety of the other passengers in the boarding area. Armed with a computer formatted picture lying atop a folded newspaper, the two men were slowly making their way through the crowded terminal.
Nick knew that his restlessness was as much from frustration as from anxiety. He desperately wanted to be the one to put the hand¬cuffs on Masters, but, unfortunately his face was known to the man. The safest course to follow was for Nick and Murray to stay hidden in the security office till the actual arrest was made.
Though he was looking, Nick didn't realize he wasn't actually seeing till Murray exclaimed, "They got him!"
Nick couldn't remember a time when he felt such relief as he watched Ramey pull Masters arms behind his back and fasten the hand¬cuffs. However, he felt no satisfaction. Nothing would ever lessen the images etched in his mind of watching Cody come close to death, not once, but twice. Worse was the quilt he still felt that he had actually believed Cody was capable of taking his own life. Even with proof that scenario should have been beyond belief. Cody enjoyed life too much to take that ultimate step.
With Joanna and Murray beside him, Nick followed the two officers and their prisoner to a police car. Desperately he tried to match the figure walking ahead of him to the man who had set them adrift on the open sea. Though they'd spent hours together on the Riptide, they had actually confronted each other for only a few minutes on three differ¬ent occasions. Nick was more than willing to lie on the witness stand if it would save Cody's life, but, right now, he truthfully couldn't testify that Friendly Freddy and Masters were the same man.
"You may have won round two, Mr. Ryder," said Masters. As they reached the car, Masters turned and confidently faced the young detec¬tive, "but, I won round one."
All Nick's doubts disappeared as he heard his name spoken in the voice he remembered so well. "You lost both rounds, Masters. Cody's still alive."
"Alive," Murray added, "and ready to put you behind bars where you belong. Your days of victimizing teenage girls are over. There won't be anymore . . ."
"I think he's got the picture, Boz," Nick interrupted.
"You don't really think the accusation your making against this man will stand up in a court of law?"
Nick fought to control his temper as he turned to face Watson. "Gee, Normy, how is it you always manage to turn up after the shouting over?"
"Listen, Ryder, if you and Parisis think . . ."
"Ramey," Joanna interrupted, "would you take Masters in. Book him on murder, attempted murder and kidnaping. I'll be in later to help with the paperwork."
"As soon as the car was far enough down the drive to ensure a modicum of privacy, Joanna turned on her colleague. "Don't you ever try to undermine my authority in front of my men again. Do you under¬stand me, Sergeant?"
"Yes,Lieutenant, but I don't think the chief's going to approve of your decision to arrest an innocent man."
"Innocent!" cried Murray. "That man has killed we don't know how many young girls, almost kills Nick and Cody and you call him inno¬cent."
"We all know who the guilty man is, Cody Allen. I've got enough to put him behind bars for the rest of his life. Even a homicide lieutenant can't alter proof."
"In this case, I don't need too," smiled Joanna sweetly. "You obviously haven't read the latest reports, Sergeant, or called into the office like I just did."
"You mean he can read," asked Nick facetiously.
Ignoring the dark haired detective's snide remark, Joanna ex¬plained, "Fingerprints we found at Masters home matched fingerprints found on one of the bugs hidden aboard the Riptide; as did a partial print found on one of the bullets taken from the .357 used to kill Cody."
"That's not full proof evidence," said Watson defensively.
"No, I suppose you would call it coincidence."
Nick felt almost dizzy with relief. It was finally over. All that was left to make Cody a free man was the paperwork.
"If you ever hope to make Lieutenant, Sergeant Watson," continued Joanna, "you better learn how to read people. Even if Cody Allen hadn't been my friend, I would've known he couldn't possibly have been the killer."
"They call it instinct, Watson," explained Murray.
His face showing the anger he couldn't verbally express, Watson turned on his heel. The echo of his steps reverberated behind him, but, his eyes remained focused ahead. It was obvious he was unaccus¬tomed to defeat.
As soon as Watson was far enough away, Nick turned on the police lieutenant, "Is what you just said true, or were you just being sadis¬tic?"
"Sergeant Watson is a fellow office, would I be deliberately cruel to a colleague?"
Nick and Murray looked at each other before echoing, "Yes."
Smiling, Joanna shook her head, "I got the information just as Ramey made his arrest. I didn't get a chance to tell you."
"Whaddya say we go see if Cody's awake and tell him the good news," suggested Nick.
Once again, before entering Cody's hospital room, Nick forced a smile to his face. This time though, it was easier. This time, he wasn't fighting sadness or frustration, just exhaustion. The smile flashed brighter as his eyes focused on the relaxed figure of his friend. Though pale and probably in pain, Cody was conscious, alert and, obviously anxious for their return.
"Nick, Murray, I know who Friendly Freddy is."
For a moment, Nick was unable to speak as he watched a man moun¬tain rise from the chair next to Cody's bed. "Man, am I glad you're on our side."
A slight impediment marking his speech, Stix smiled, "I do seem to have that effect on people."
The voice might be rougher and lower than normal, but the plain¬tive wail was clearly audible. Calmly, Nick soothed, "It's all right, Cody. Frederick Masters is in custody."
"In fact," Joanna added, "at this moment, he's being booked on charges of murder, attempted murder and kidnaping."
The door opened once more admitting Dr. Royce. "Hooter told me you were back. With good news I hope?"
"Masters is being booked as we speak," explained Nick.
"Good, that means the thingamabob on the dohinky worked."
"Oh God, I am tired," Nick groaned, "that actually made sense."
Cody shook his head, "I'm tired too, but it didn't make the least bit of sense to me. Would someone mind being a little more specific."
"First," said Nick putting a hand on Murray's shoulder to close the mouth that had just opened. "Let's start at the very beginning. How did you know Masters and what did you do to him that made him want to kill you?"
His eyes shadowing from obviously painful memories, Cody ex¬plained, "My first patrol in Nam was under the command of Captain F. Masters. We had just entered a small Vietnamese village when the enemy attacked. I saw Masters disappear into a hut, but was too busy to wonder why till it was all over. Before we left, I went into that hut and found a young girl, somewhere around fourteen or fifteen years old. She'd been raped and shot. A single bullet right between the eyes. When I came out, Masters was watching me with this smug look on his face. I knew he'd done it; he knew I knew and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it."
"Why not?" asked Murray naively.
"Because," Nick answered for his friend, "there'd be no way to prove it hadn't been the work of the VC. In fact, knowing the brass, without an investigation that's what probably went into the report."
Cody nodded, "They even gave the bastard a medal for bringing his squad back without a single loss. I was the only one who knew he spent the entire fight in that hut. When I told my C.O., I suddenly found myself transferred to another unit."
"That M.O.," Joanna pointed out, "fits the M.O. of our teenage serial killer."
"And that's why he tried to kill you Cody," said Murray trium¬phantly. "You could finger him as a possible suspect. But, it doesn't explain why he tried to kill Nick."
Nick took the chair vacated by Stix. Chivalry wasn't dead, it had mearly been over shadowed by exhaustion. "Masters didn't really care if we lived or died, Murray. His primary goal was to make the authorities believe that Cody was the serial killer. I was just someone in the way. Watson was proof that it could've worked."
"Then why the fake suicide?" asked Cutter.
"With the bugs he could hear us talking and referring to him as Friendly Freddy. My guess is that he was afraid Cody would make a more solid connection eventually. So, this time he decided he needed Cody dead, in a way that would hopefully, end the serial killer inves¬tigation."
"Watson said it himself, "Murray agreed, "it made Cody look guiltier."
"It's too bad Masters didn't use brains like that for a more productive purpose," said Cutter.
The dark rings under his eyes clearly pronounced against the pale face, Cody asked, "What about the girl?"
"Her name was Betsy Horner," explained Joanna, "a sixteen year old habitual runaway from South Dakota."
Nick put a hand on his friend's arm, "Before you start feeling guilty," he admonished, "she's been on the streets since she was thirteen. Her parents found her twice and took her home only to have her run away again. She liked living on the edge. Even her parents knew her life would end violently."
"It doesn't make what happened to her right," snapped Cody.
"It also doesn't make her totally innocent. She set you up, not the other way around."
"I'll try to remember that," said Cody leaning his head back against the pillow.
Here we go again, thought Nick, regarding his friend with exas¬peration mixed with fondness. He was sure that Cody was not cognizant of how his depressions affected his partners. But, this last month had been hell for all of them and it was not a place Nick cared to continue to reside. There were some truths Cody had to hear. But, not now and not here.
Rising to his feet, Nick patted Cody on the arm, "I think we better let you get some rest, big guy. You look like hell."
"Well, you guys don't look so great yourselves."
"I'm not usually at my best after watching my best friend almost die."
"Damn you," surprised, Nick felt himself growing angry, "don't you dare try to take the blame for that too."
"What did I say?"
Cutter slipped calmly between the two men, uselessly adjusting the IV running into Cody's left arm. "Whatever it is the appropriate reply can wait till you are all strong enough to deal with it. I am going to start counting. Anyone left in this room by the time I reach 5 will be admitted as a patient, with all the benefits there of."
"What benefits?" asked Nick remembering his own recent stay.
Ignoring the question, Cutter said, "One."
While Nick was grateful for Cutter's intervention, he wasn't sure if the surgeon was serious. "Aren't hospitals suppose to be short of beds?"
Short or not, Nick had a feeling Cutter would find him space somewhere. Even if it was obstetrics.
Deciding he wasn't willing to risk it, Nick hastily said, "We'll see you later, Cody."
"Is there anything we could bring you?" asked Murray.
Grabbing his friend's arm, Nick dragged him out of the room almost stepping on Joanna's heels. "Never mind, Murray."
As the door swung slowly closed behind him, Nick heard Cutter's satisfied voice, "It works every time."
Nick's glance automatically sought his recumbent partner. Stretched out in a lounge chair on the main deck of the Riptide, the figure was still too thin and the skin too pale. Despite this, Nick was determined to see that Cody didn't over due his 'day in the sun'. Easing his own aching body into a chair under the protection of the wheelhouse, Nick took a long satisfying drink from his beer.
"I could use one of those."
Surprised to discover that Cody wasn't asleep, Nick shook his head at the hopeful look, "Sorry, big guy, your medication and alcohol don't mix."
"Ah, come on Nick, what's a little beer."
"An unnecessary risk. Considering what you've been through recently, I don't think you better push your luck."
"Your like a mother hen protecting her chick," complained Cody.
"He has good reason to be," said Murray, the bantering tones in Nick and Cody's voices missing from his. "It's not fun watching a friend almost destroy himself."
"What're you talking about. All my problems were caused by Mas¬ters."
"Not all of them, Cody."
"Murray's right." Not sure that Cody was up to hearing the truth, Nick nevertheless backed the young genius. "You played right into Master's hands with that depression you got yourself into."
"All right, I'm sorry, it won't happen again."
"That's easy to say," stated Murray bluntly.
Nick was amazed to see Murray standing up so determinedly against Cody. Back when they first met, the young genius had put the two ex M.P.'s on pedestals. Though the height had diminished as Murray accepted them as friends, the pedestal had not disappeared. Nick had to admit that while it had been irksome in the beginning, now, he hoped it would never crumble. That special relationship they shared might disappear with it.
Unaware of Nick's admiration, Murray continued, "You are not responsible for what happened to the Westerly's or Betsy Horner, so stop punishing yourself."
"That's funny coming from you," snapped Cody defensively. "You can still barely hold a gun after shooting Nathan Warwick."
"That was different."
"How? How can it be different when your responsible for people dying?"
"Because I killed Warwick. I pulled the trigger and Warwick died. You didn't pull the trigger on Mrs. Westerly and her children."
"It feels like I did."
The silence that followed Cody's declaration was oppressive. There was nothing anyone could say that would change such an impres¬sion. "Maybe it's time we closed the Riptide Detective Agency then," Nick quietly stated.
"No!" Shocked, Cody shook his head, "why?"
"We opened the agency to help people. Sometimes, it hurts, sometimes, people die, and sometimes, it's going to be if only indi¬rectly, our fault. I don't know about Murray, but I can't just sit by and watch Cody Allen destroy himself. Masochism is not my idea of a spectator sport."
"I hear what your saying, Nick." Closing his eyes, Cody let his head fall back against the soft cushion of the lounger. "But, those kids would still be alive if . . ."
"Would they, Cody," Murray interrupted, "I didn't know you were omniscient. We don't know that our investigation was the catalyst. What if Mrs. Westerly said something that set her husband off. He may have wanted a divorce and she wouldn't give it to him."
"I never thought of that," Cody reluctantly admitted.
"We can't know what went on in that house that day," said Nick picking up where Murray left off. "It's not fair to us or them for you to bear the guilt."
"Let it go, Cody," encouraged Murray.
Noting the exhaustion etched on his friend's face, Nick rose to his feet and crossed to Cody's side. "All right, Cinderella, it's midnight, time to leave the ball."
"Nick, it's two o'clock in the afternoon," Cody protested.
"For you it's midnight and nighty night time."
Scowling at the baby talk, Cody allowed his two friends to help him out of the low lounger. "I think your enjoying this."
"Who me?" asked Nick innocently. His hand remaining at Cody's elbow, Nick suggested, "I'll help Sleeping Beauty to his bunk while you get his sleeping tablets, Murray."
"I'm not a character out of a fairy tale you know."
You are to me, buddy, thought Nick, remembering the two occasions he had thought his friend to be dead. Even though they knew that Masters had been responsible for Cody's apparent suicide attempt, Nick still couldn't stand the sight of a medicine bottle. Thus, all Cody's medication was kept in Murray's room and he would acquire the appro¬priate doses at the appointed times.
"Don't bother getting those tablets, Murray," said Cody inter¬rupting Nick's thoughts.
"You know what Cutter said," Murray protested. "Sleep is the best healer he knows."
"It's all right, now, I think I can sleep on my own."
Wondering if it was only his imagination, Nick realized that he was breathing easier. He wasn't naive enough to believe that all Cody's problems had been solved by their little talk. Without the pills to help him sleep, Cody would still suffer through nightmares. The difference was, that now it appeared he was willing to live with them.