Murray had purposely slept on the outside of the bed, instead of in the middle where he belonged, so he could slip away in the morning without disturbing his worried lovers. And they were still worried. Murray ran the numbers again as he gathered up his clothes. Two weeks in the hospital, two weeks at sea, and now four weeks in port without leaving the boat. He hadn't even been to Straightaway's yet, despite dozens of invitations and the disappointment of his many friends. There was something he had to do first, something long neglected, and he wasn't going to feel right, wasn't going to feel normal until it was done. Murray had to go to the library, and he had to go alone.
He showered and dressed in the head, got a drink of water in the galley instead of the juice he wanted, knowing the acid would make him vomit, and went back up to the salon to gather up his books. This was going to cost, he thought, placing them carefully in his backpack. Nick and Cody had offered many times to return them and stop the mounting fines, but Murray knew that was wrong. He had to do it himself, like getting back on a horse. If he let them this time, it would be easy to next time, and years might pass before he set foot inside that beloved building again. Anyway, he was well now. His ribs had healed, the wounds on his body were nothing but pink scars fading to white, and he hadn't had a screaming nightmare in almost a week.
Taking a pen from his pocket, he wrote a quick note and propped it up next to the coffee maker. Guys, Went to the library. Back soon. L, M. Then he slung the pack on his back, unlocked the door and stepped out onto the deck.
It was six in the morning, still warm from yesterday, and he thought how nice it was that September in Redondo wasn't like Chicago or Baltimore. There wasn't that nip in the air, even at dawn, and the sunrise was lovely. Taking a deep breath, he climbed over the rail for the first time in six weeks and felt the solid planks of the pier beneath his feet. So long since he'd stood on anything that didn't move. The first few steps were a challenge without the gentle roll of the deck. Need to get my land legs back, he thought and laughed a little at his own joke.
The walk tired him more quickly than he'd expected, climbing the sloping streets away from the harbor, and by the time he reached the level downtown area he needed to stop and rest. He sat down at an outdoor café, not yet open for business, and set his pack at his feet. His stomach growled and he thought about hanging around until he could get something to eat. But there was still the chance of throwing up if he got too nervous, and besides, anything could give him an excuse not to follow through. So after he caught his breath again, he shouldered his pack and went on.
The library wouldn't be open this early, of course, but that was part of the point. Not just getting away before the guys woke, making it harder with their loving desire to help, but also staying there awhile. Sitting on the stone bench outside like he always did, looking at the fountain and waiting for the doors to open. That was one of the things he did, a Murray Bozinsky thing. Something that would take him one more step away from that guy and toward the man he used to be.
He didn't see anyone he knew as he walked, but that didn't surprise him. At the crack of dawn on a Monday morning, why would he? There weren't many people that he didn't know on the street, either, and Murray felt a little like he owned the town. That was nice. He was strong and in control and no one would bother him. The feeling lasted until he reached the library and froze at the edge of the parking lot.
There was the space where he'd parked the Jimmy, next to the book drop box. There was the spot where he'd been standing, and next to it was the space where the big black car had stopped, doors opening and arms reaching to pull him inside. All of it had happened right there, not twenty feet away. Or rather, it had started there. He still wasn't entirely clear about the location where it had continued, and since he wasn't sure yet if it was finished, he couldn't say where that did or would happen. Maybe it would never really be finished.
"No," he whispered, shaking his head. "No, it has to end." Stiffening his spine, he walked boldly across the parking lot and took up his position on the bench near the front doors, unaware that across the street, someone was watching him. Someone else who hoped it could end here.
Murray put his pack down at his feet and took out a book. He'd finished it a long time ago, but parts of it were funny and he flipped through it looking for his favorite chapter. It was hard to read there, and for the first time ever, the presence of the library didn't comfort him, but he tried hard. The sound of cars passing made him look up continually, and when voices approached he couldn't help flinching. But no one paid any attention to the skinny man in the t-shirt and flannel, sitting cross legged and hunched over his book, twitching away from footsteps and the cries of birds. No one but the figure in the car across the street, whom Murray still hadn't noticed.
After half an hour of broken reading and endless darting glances, after wishing over and over for the security of the gun he'd left at home and knowing that if he had it, he'd have shot three birds and a skateboarder by now, the librarian arrived.
"Why, Dr. Bozinsky. It's good to see you again."
"Good morning, Molly," he said with relief. "I have a whole bunch of books for you. And I'm so sorry about the fines…"
"Don't worry about it," she said with a sweet smile. "I have those books you requested. We'll make an even trade."
"I requested books?" he asked, following her inside. She flipped on the lights and moved to the big desk in the center of the lobby.
"The last time you were here. I suppose you've forgotten, but I thought you might still want them, so I kept them for you." She bent and retrieved a canvas bag from under the desk. "Here you are. If you don't need them anymore, I'll send them back to their home libraries, no harm done."
Murray picked up one hard bound volume and examined the cover, his brown eyes suddenly gone distant and strange. The Panda's Thumb by Stephen Jay Gould. He'd never been a natural sciences student like Melba was, but she'd raved so much about this book and its author that he'd decided to check it out. They didn't have a copy here and Molly had sent to an LA branch affiliate for it. That seemed so long ago now, so much longer than two months, and he wondered again if he was still the Murray Bozinsky who had put in the request.
"Is there something wrong, Doctor? Should I send them back?" Molly asked, sounding worried almost to tears.
"Oh, no. No, thank you," he said, taken aback by her distress. "Of course I want to read them. It was awfully nice of you to keep them all this time."
"Well, I knew you'd be back."
He nodded, laying the book down on the counter.
"Now, about the fines. I must owe a fortune by now."
Molly tried to argue but he wouldn't hear it. In the end he handed over twenty-four dollars and put the new books in his pack. It was heavier than it had been before; most of the books he'd returned had been paperbacks. But he kept his shoulders up and his back straight and walked out of the library like a man who had nothing to fear.
It was that feeling of fearlessness that left him so unprepared for the sight of Quinlan sitting on the bench where he had been not twenty minutes ago. He managed not to gasp by holding his breath, and if he flinched it was hardly noticeable.
"Good morning, Lieutenant," he said, a little shakily. "The library's open if that's what you're waiting for."
"I can see that, Bozinsky. I might not be a big shot scientist, but I'm not completely stupid."
"Oh," he said, and blushed when he heard how it sounded.
"I saw you walking up here. What happened? Couldn't get your friends to give you a ride?"
"No, I—I just thought I should do it alone. It wouldn't—well, I didn't think—what I mean is…"
"It wouldn't count if someone was holding your hand?" Quinlan asked and his gruff voice was suddenly kind. Murray wondered if anyone else knew this side of the lieutenant.
"Yes," he whispered. "It wouldn't have counted. I always come to the library by myself. That's normal."
"And you want to prove that you're normal." It wasn't a question but Murray nodded anyway. "Did you? Do you feel more normal now?"
Murray took a deep breath, out of long habit pressing the flat of his hand to wounds that no longer hurt.
"Not as much as I'd hoped. But I proved that I can, if I have to. I'm not a prisoner anymore."
"Good," Quinlan said with finality and got to his feet. "That looks heavy, though. Do you want a ride home? I'm parked right across the street."
Murray thought for a few seconds and decided that accepting a ride wouldn't impinge on his victory. He'd already made his point.
"Yes, thank you. It's my first time off the boat and I'm a little tired."
"Better start off getting some exercise closer to home," Quinlan said, striding boldly across the street to his car. Murray followed, grateful that the lieutenant hadn't offered to carry his books. He got into the passenger seat of the unmarked cruiser and put his bag between his feet.
"I intend to. But I had fines adding up…" He trailed off, knowing how lame that was. How could he ever explain to this man how important it was not to let his friends pay his fines for him? Then he realized that if Quinlan had seen him walking into town and then been there when he came out of the library, he must have been watching all that time. Murray shivered a little at the thought of being spied on and changed the subject.
"You never came to see me," he said. "I kind of thought you would."
"Did you want me to?" Quinlan asked simply and he had to think about it.
"I don't know. Nick showed me the papers you gave him. I wanted to thank you for that. For shooting Russell Todd."
"I didn't do it for you," Quinlan said, more gruffly than usual.
"Oh, well, no. I didn't think…"
"I did it because he was getting away and I had to stop him. Animals like that can't just walk around loose, you know. But I was glad he tried it. He gave me a fair shot."
And Murray understood that Quinlan had wanted to do it for him. He'd just had to wait for a rock solid excuse.
"I know. I'm glad I don't have to worry about him anymore. Thank you, Lieutenant."
"I just said I didn't do it for you."
"Yes, I know. But thank you anyway."
They rode the rest of the way to the pier in silence.
Nick and Cody were out on deck when the cruiser pulled into the no parking zone near the gangway. They tried hard to look casual as they hopped off the boat and started up to the street, and Murray had to laugh, just a little.
"Didn't tell your watch dogs you were going out, huh?" Quinlan asked with a harsh grin.
"I left a note. If they were worried, they'd have come to find me. That's what they do." But he knew that wasn't necessarily true. They'd been worried sick, but they were too much his friends to stop him from doing what he needed to.
"I'd better go. Thanks for the ride, Lieutenant. I really appreciate it."
"Yeah, well, it's just this once. I'm not running a geek taxi here."
"Yes," Murray said, smiling patiently. He opened the door and stepped out, reached back for his bag, and closed the door before his friends got to the car. He waved, still smiling, as Quinlan pulled out, and only he saw the lieutenant raise his index finger from the wheel in acknowledgement.
"Murray, what were you doing?" Nick asked, snatching his pack from him and slinging it over his own shoulder.
"Yeah, Boz, couldn't you at least have let one of us drive you?" Cody seconded, slipping his arm around Murray's waist.
"Not this time," he said simply. "But I want to take you both out to dinner tonight. We have some things to celebrate."
"We do?" Nick asked blankly. Murray took his hand, put his arm around Cody, and tugged them both back toward the boat.
"Uh-huh. But first I want some breakfast. It was a long trip and boy, am I hungry."