I woke with a start to find a nurse bending over me. I bit back the shout that had boiled out of my throat and it emerged as a squeak.
Great, now I sound like a fucking mouse.
She smiled at me reassuringly which did anything but placate me.
"What are you doing?"
"It's time to change your dressing." Her name tag said Emily Thornton and her bearing was very long suffering. Patients were clearly a pain in the ass.
I could handle that. "Why?"
"Where's the doctor, then?"
"He'll be in for morning rounds."
Meanwhile he left Nurse Ratchett in charge. "They train you in nursely sadism in school or do you learn it on the job? Or maybe it's just a natural talent you have."
"What? I mean, I beg your pardon?"
"Learning how to wait until a patient is sleeping comfortably before barging in to wake him up for some inane medical procedure."
"Changing your dressing is hardly inane."
"Honey, at two o'clock in the morning it's all inane."
She was good. I'd give her that. Despite my witty comebacks and sharp delivery she still managed to get my dressing changed. My head was hurting again by the time she left. Deliberate?
"Get me out of here," I begged the ceiling overhead.
"You say something, sir?"
My heart bolted and tried to flee my body through my mouth. If I'd had one of those heart monitors on the whole hospital would have been on code blue.
This time my scream came out as a yelp.
Instantly Detective David Eric Laine was at my side, his big hands surprisingly gentle where they touched me.
"Hey, sorry to startle you, sir. I just thought I'd stop in. When the nurse said you were awake I took the chance I could talk to you again, that maybe you'd remember something else." His somber face lit up with a grin. "I sure didn't mean to scare you half to death."
"At least we're in a hospital. Someone here would know how to handle that kind of emergency."
"Yes, sir. I imagine they could."
"Do you do that to everyone?"
"That - sir, ma'am, all that politeness stuff. If I was the damned shooter would you still be sirring me?"
His face hardened and for the first time I got a glimpse of a man I could fear. Was this the face the criminal element saw before he busted their asses? It was enough to keep me on the straight and narrow.
"Sir, I am only trying to be polite."
"I believe you. Please, lighten up. This place is depressing enough without you moping about in it."
"I can imagine it would be, sir. But there is a worse place to end up. Down at the morgue I don't have to say anything to anyone."
"Touche. Okay, you want me to go over what I saw at the bank today - yesterday."
"Yes, sir. If you could, sir."
I told him again in as much detail as I could remember what had happened from the time I left my house to when the ambulance arrived.
"The car they were driving --"
"An old Ford Taurus. I remember them because my father drove one for awhile." Before he disowned me for coming out to him on my twenty-first birthday. "It was dark, rusted out in spots. And the muffler couldn't have worked very well."
"Why do you say that, sir?"
"It was noisy."
"Did you see who was driving it?"
"No, sorry. I got the general impression of someone behind the wheel, but couldn't tell you if it was even a guy."
"Any sign of anyone else in the car?"
"Any chance you saw a license plate number? Even a partial?"
I pushed myself to remember. "Not sure it had plates. Does that help?"
"Anything might help. It all helps."
He frowned. "Could I get you something to drink, sir? There's a pop machine down the hall. Name your poison."
"Something sweet would go down nice," I said. "An ice tea if they have it."
"One ice tea, coming up."
He left the room and returned three minutes later with two cans - a Coke for him and an ice tea for me. He even opened it before he handed it to me.
"Thanks." I took a deep sip, letting the cool liquid slip down my parched throat. I leaned my forehead against the can. "That hit the spot."
"Head still hurt, sir?"
"A bit." I touched the bandage covering the side of my head. "I guess I took a nasty knock to the head. At least I didn't get shot."
"That's always a positive thing, sir."
I realized he was joking though you'd never know it to look at him. He looked as solemn as a bloodhound. I had the feeling he might be about as tenacious as one.
"You good at your job, Detective?"
"I try, sir."
"Think you'll get this guy, the shooter?"
"I intend to put my best effort into it."
Do not ask me where that question came from. Why on earth would I care if a cop from West L.A. was married. It just slipped out.
His eyes narrowed and I didn't think he was going to answer then he pursed his lips and shook his head.
"No, sir, I'm not."
I tried to cover myself by muttering, "I guess it must be hard to maintain any kind of relationship with another person when you see so much of the bad stuff in the world."
"Lot of cops are married. Some pretty successfully. It's nice to have a safe haven you can go home to. Someplace to seek shelter from the ugliness."
"You keep hoping to find that haven?"
"I don't know, sir. I don't think about it much."
For the first time since I'd met him I sensed David was lying. But he could hardly be expected to share something like that with a total stranger. A civilian. I'd always heard cops lived in a real us-vs-them mentality. Civilians just didn't, couldn't understand.
Oddly enough I wanted to understand. And that made absolutely not sense at all.
David moved around the room, peering into corners and touching the occasional surface. He came to the clothes I had been wearing when the attack - or whatever he chose to call it - happened. He held up what had once been my Armani suit. It was now slightly the worse for wear.
"Pity about that," he said. "Expensive suit like that. Ruined."
I shrugged. "It was a gift."
I shrugged again.
It occurred to me that cops were suspicious by nature. They had to be. People with expensive tastes might do illegal things to maintain a lifestyle. People who got expensive gifts might have secrets. It as the first time I considered that I might be suspect in all this. Maybe they thought I was a failed lookout or something.
"Girlfriend?" David asked, dropping the Armani rag back where he had found it.
"No, no girlfriend."
"Not a wife then either?"
"Am I to assume you have never been married, Mr. Bellamere?"
"You'd assume right." I cocked one eyebrow at him. He looked so damned serious, like the fate of the world rested on the answers to his questions. "You could probably assume a lot of things. The truth, Detective, is that I'm gay. I've known I was gay since I was ten years old so there was never any chance of a wife or girlfriends."
David didn't miss much of anything. His patient watchful eyes saw it all and I was beginning to realize this particular cop was a lot smarter than he let on. I wonder how many criminals had let something slip, thinking they were dealing with a slow man?
"But you know what," I said. "I suspect you already guessed that, didn't you. Maybe you even talked to my boss or the people I work with to find out a bit more about your star witness."
"Star witness? I prefer to think of you as part of a link in a chain. Important, but only part of the whole."
"So what did Petey say about me? Peter McGill, the President and CEO of DataTEK."
"Mr. McGill was quick to point out that you were a long term employee of good standing, though he did let slip that your personal life left a lot to be desired.
"The company faggot," I muttered.
"Beg your pardon?"
"Nothing, just a long standing joke that's really not all that funny." I rubbed the side of my head, careful to avoid the bandages. "Anything else?"
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean, sir."
"No one had any other comments to make regarding my 'good standing'?"
"You have problems at work, sir?"
"Nothing unexpected given the enlightened age we live in."
"You sound bitter."
What, no 'sir'? I frowned at him.
"Would it surprise you if I was? When I first started at DataTEK I never made any mention of my sexuality. My employers couldn't have been happier with my work. I collected reams of accolades, awards, the whole nine yards. Then I decided I didn't need to hide who I was, so I came out. Now the same stuff that got me all those trophies gets me a grudging pat on the back, if that. I have to be twice as good just to be seen as a employee worth hanging onto."
"For years women have said they had to be twice as good to earn half as much as men - and get half the credit. They joke that the only good thing is it's easy to be twice as good. Not very funny though, if you consider the implications."
"You being a cop, I guess you see all the nasty behavior from people. Can't be a fun job."
"It has it's moments.
"But how do you deal with all the ugliness, the intolerance and the hate?"
"Not all of it comes from outside."
"I don't know what you mean --"
"Cops can be as narrow minded and dogmatic as the next red-neck. You aren't the only one to worry about the sting of rejection."
"What --" Then I got it and I'm afraid my mouth must have fallen open. He smiled grimly.
"You also aren't the only one who's gay."
[More to come]
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