Doing the Right Thing
by Lisa O'Brien

Author's Note: Gary, Marissa, Lois, Bernie, The Paper, The Cat and Spike aren't mine, of course (although I wish Gary were mine daily). No copyright infringement is intended, nor was any profit made from this story. And I put everyone back almost as good as new.

Thanks to Linda, Susan, CeCe, K.G., M.J. and Lisa for their beta reading and suggestions. I couldn't have done it without y'all! And a special thanks for K.G. for the summary.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Doing the Right Thing
by Lisa O’Brien

Mary Grace Davies finished packing files into an already overloaded briefcase, then hefted the case from her chair and walked out of her office at the Illinois State Attorney's office. As she passed her secretary's desk, she paused and set the heavy case down. “I'm heading out to the bank, then to get a sandwich, then I've got a meeting at the courthouse with Judge Norman on the Rose case.” She pulled a stack of message slips from a spike on the desk, quickly thumbed through them, then absently stuffed them into the pocket of her blazer.

Her secretary, Karen Todd, stopped typing and turned from her computer. “You have my permission, Meg.” She laughed. “Let me make sure I don't have any filing.”

“Thanks.” Meg smiled. “I've got the file if anyone asks.”

Karen laughed as she rolled her chair over to a squat, battered file cabinet. “You know they will.” She opened the top drawer and pulled an inch thick stack of papers from an organizer. “Of course, they won't ask now that I know where it is.” She muttered as she thumbed through the paperwork. “All of this is for Robertson.”

“I've got a prelim in that next week,” Meg informed.

“It'll be filed and on your chair before you get back.” Karen placed the stack of papers back in the organizer and closed the drawer. “You're going to trial on Rose?”

“That's what it looks like. I'm not pleading him down to a misdemeanor.” Meg picked up the case as Karen was swinging her chair around. “Anything I can bring back? I should be finished before you leave.”

Karen grinned. “Just free samples from the bank.” She winked. “Hundreds if they have 'em. Tens and twenties if they don't.”

Meg laughed and returned the wink. “I'll check on the old bill discards.” She patted the pocket of her blazer. “I've got my cell phone if anybody needs me.”

Karen saluted, then turned back to the computer. “Make sure you have it on this time,”
she called as Meg left the desk and through the administrative area.

Meg was still laughing when she reached the elevator. She'd promised to be available on her cell phone once and had forgotten to turn the thing on. Karen had yet to let her live it down. Karen took a lot of flak for me that day. Hell, I'd never let me live it down after that, either. Meg stepped into the car, then pulled the slim phone from her pocket. She snickered as she placed the activated phone back in her pocket.

Meg stepped out of the building onto Washington, pausing to breathe in the cool, spring air. She silently debated retrieving her car from the garage, then decided to walk. It's such a nice day. She shifted the briefcase and turned toward the corner where the First Commercial Bank had recently opened a branch. She had no idea what the afternoon held as she walked toward the bank.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Less than a block away, Gary Hobson stepped off an El train and made his way through a group of slow moving tourists. He finally managed to sidestep the tourists and jogged down the stairs, stopping at the bottom to pull the Chicago Sun-Times from the back pocket of his jeans.

Assistant State's Attorney Killed in Cross-Fire.

Gary scanned the headline, which had remained unchanged since the paper's arrival at 6:30 that morning. He'd hoped for a change before he reached the El platform, but hadn't counted on it. He scanned the text of the story, murmuring the words aloud.

“Mary Grace Davies, 35, was shot once when an unidentified gunman and a security guard exchanged shots during the gunman's attempt to rob the First Commercial Bank. Ms. Davies was pronounced dead on the scene and an autopsy is scheduled later today to determine which weapon fired the fatal shot. Police have not released the guard's name. The gunman, who police suspect may be wounded, fled and his whereabouts are still unknown.”

Gary closed the paper, folded it and stuffed it back into his pocket. There'll probably be a hostage story in the paper tomorrow. He checked his watch and found he had less than ten minutes to stop an armed robbery, prevent a murder and make sure police found the gunman. He'd always tried to get police to intervene in stories like this, but that was before the Scanlon murder. Since then, he'd been wary of trying to get police involved in anything before the fact. His attempts to save Scanlon's life had backfired so badly.

Gary reached the bank, opened the door and stepped out of the bright sunlight into the subdued dark of the marble lobby. He scanned the few customers standing on line, but none of them seemed nervous, or jumpy. The faces and body language said “bored,” not “about to rob a bank.”

There was a counter at the center of the lobby and Gary went there first, hastily pulling several deposit slips from the neat stacks at the center of the island. Might as well look like I belong here . He picked up one of the pens chained to the counter and pretended to fill out the slip, while trying to keep an eye on the customers and the door. If I can keep the guard from pulling his gun, then the shooting won't happen. The prospect of being the victim of a robbery wasn't an appealing one and the thought of warning the bank occurred to him. He dismissed that idea. It's never worked before.

A customer walked away from the teller and crossed to the doors. Gary watched as someone outside held the door open for the departing customer, then a woman carrying a briefcase stepped into the bank. He found himself staring as she smiled and stopped to talk to the guard. That picture must'a been an old one. He was still staring as she left the guard and walked toward the roped line leading to the counter.

The next part happened so fast, Gary was caught off guard. The customer at the teller window suddenly vaulted over the dark marble counter and raised a gun above his head. The guard! He saw the guard's gun come out of its holster and swing toward the gunman, who was shielded by the State's Attorney's back.

“Gun!” Gary leaped toward the woman as the first shot rang out. He'd gotten an arm around her waist when he felt like someone had punched him in the left shoulder. The two of them hit the floor before he could apologize for the tackle.

Two more shots rang out and Gary did his best to keep his head and body out of the line of fire.

“DROP IT OR I'LL BLOW HER HEAD OFF!” A man's voice shouted.

Gary risked a glance up to find the gunman holding the sole teller by the neck. The man held the barrel of his weapon against the woman's right temple. Gary's heart was pounding in his ears, which were still ringing from the gunshots. He could only imagine what the teller's heart was doing. He held his breath, letting it out when the guard knelt and placed his gun on the marble floor.

“LOCK THE DOOR!” The gunman shouted the command, which was the only way Gary would've heard it anyway.

The guard complied.

“Kick the keys away!”

“I think it's safe to get up now.” A woman's voice brought Gary's attention back from the door.

“Sorry,” Gary muttered, feeling his face heat up. He pulled himself up, gasping at a sharp pain in his shoulder. The ringing in his ears got louder and his head suddenly felt like it was levitating from his shoulders. Everything went gray, then black.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“Whoa!” Meg exclaimed as the man who'd just saved her life suddenly pitched forward. She caught his shoulders and felt moisture beneath her right hand as she gently lowered the man to the floor. When she pulled her hand away, she identified the source of the moisture. Blood . She quickly removed her blazer, rolled it up and gently placed it beneath the man's head.

“Move over by the desk,” a man's voice ordered from behind her.

Meg turned to find the gunman, still holding the teller. “He's been shot and he needs a doctor.”

“Shot?” Meg detected surprise in the gunman's voice. Then his face hardened. “Then move him.”

“Not until the bleeding's stopped.” Meg slowly turned back to her wounded rescuer. She carefully lifted his torso, then his shirt to check the wound. No exit wound. Definitely a good news/bad news situation.

Meg turned back to the gunman and the teller. “Do you have any towels around here?”

“Lady, I told you to move him.”

“When the bleeding's stopped,” Meg repeated. “Do you have any towels?” She repeated the question to the teller.

The teller nodded, wide-eyed and voice shaking. “Behind the counter?”

“Can she go get them?” This time Meg directed the question to the gunman. “Please.”

The man nodded silently and released the woman, who stumbled, then turned and half-walked, half-ran across the marble floor to the teller counter. Meg returned to her examination of the wounded man's shoulder. Collarbone's probably broken. She was trying to remember how to gerry-rig a sling when the teller returned with a stack of thin, white towels.

“Thanks.” Meg took one towel, folded it and placed it inside the man's shirt. “Can you slit one about half-way, then fold it and hand it to me?”

The teller's hand shook as she complied. Meg used the second towel to fashion a crude pressure bandage. The man moaned and his eyes fluttered, but remained closed. When her hand was free, Meg reached over and grabbed her fallen briefcase.

“Don't do it, Lady!” The gunman barked, his gun now aimed at Meg's head.

Meg held both hands up. “Relax. I just want to get a strap out. His arm needs to be immobilized.”

The gunman frowned, but didn't lower the barrel of the gun. “You a doctor?”

Meg shook her head. “Just took some first aid courses. Can I reach into my case and get the strap?”

“Yeah.” The gunman watched Meg warily as she reached into the briefcase. His gun remained trained on her until she pulled out the strap.

Meg's rescuer groaned as she lifted his shoulders. With no other warning, the hazel eyes flew open and the man struggled to turn away from her.

“Take it easy,” Meg soothed. “It's all right.”

The man groaned and stopped struggling. Slowly, unfocused eyes turned up to look at Meg.

“Do you remember what happened?”

“Shooting . . . my shoulder . . .” The man's eyes drifted shut, then opened again. He blinked rapidly several times.

“You were shot in the shoulder. I think your collar bone might be broken, too,” Meg advised. “I'm gonna finish immobilizing your arm.” She reached beneath the man's right shoulder. “Just let me do all the work.”

The man gasped, then moaned as Meg lifted his torso. His head dropped and she thought he might've passed out again. As carefully and gently as she could, she placed the strap over his head, positioned his left arm in the make-shift sling, then lifted his collar and secured the strap at the back of his neck. When she'd finished, the man's head slowly lifted.

Meg turned to the gunman. “I don't think we can move him.” She checked the strap again.

“'M okay.” The man coughed, then drew in a deep breath. “Jus' a li'l woozy.”

Meg turned back to her rescuer and smiled gently. “Just a little, huh?” She turned to look for the teller, who had moved into the administrative area. It looks like I'm it. She turned back to her “patient.” “Can you tell me your name?”

“Gary . . . Gary Hobson.”

“I'm Meg Davies.” Meg nodded toward the desks. “I'm gonna help you over there. Think you can make it?”

Gary's head slowly turned and he stared blankly at the desks and chairs. “Think so.”

The process of getting Gary to his feet was a slow and difficult one. Several times, Gary's knees folded and his greater height and weight nearly brought Meg down. She fought the urge to order the gunman to help her, since people with guns generally didn't take to being bossed around. When she finally succeeded in getting Gary upright and keeping him that way, she took a deep breath.

“Just take it slow and easy,” Meg advised as they crossed the lobby toward the knee-high wooden barrier separating the lobby from the administrative area.

Gary's breathing grew labored as Meg helped him across the marble floor. “How . . . how much far . . . farther?”

Meg glanced over at the man, whose head hung down. “Almost there.” She led Gary through the low gate and gently lowered him to the floor.

Instead of lying down, Gary painfully maneuvered until he was leaning against one of the desks.

Meg turned to the gunman, who had followed them. “What now?”

The gunman frowned and seemed to be considering the question. “Just sit down and shut up.”

Silently, Meg sat next to Gary, joining theguard, two men and a teller, who'd all been caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Eight years as an Assistant State's Attorney and her own brushes with crime over the course of her life had taught Meg how to handle herself in situations like this. I'm probably the only one not surprised to be involved in a bank robbery. Well, except the robber.

The gunman pulled a chair from behind one of the desks and straddled it.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Fifteen minutes later, the sound of sirens grew closer. When the sirens reached the bank, the tell-tale flash of blue and red lights on the marble floor announced the arrival of the police. Soon, the gunman was up and anxiously pacing the lobby. Occasionally, he stopped his circuit to briefly peek through the blinds lowered over the door.

“What're the cops doing?” A florid man whispered. “What're they waiting for? Aren't they supposed to make contact . . . get his demands?”

“They're setting up a perimeter. They'll wait for the department hostage negotiator. They might wait for the plans to see what their options are,” Meg informed quietly. “We just have to stay calm. That'll keep him calm.”

“She's right,” The guard added.

“Calm?” The florid man repeated. “Look at him.”

“Keep your voice down,” Meg ordered.

“They won't let him walk away, if that's what he thinks.” The third man wore a suit and Meg guessed he was one of the bank officers.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph.” The florid man muttered.

Meg leaned over and squeezed the man's perspiring arm. “We'll be all right,” she assured. She turned to Gary. “How're you doing?”

Gary blinked, then shook his head. “I . . . 'm okay. A little dizzy.”

A pop interrupted Meg's reply, then the lights went out. The windows and afternoon sunlight kept the interior of the bank from being shrouded in black. Instead, the interior became a murky gray.

“They made their first move,” Meg said quietly.

“Wha?” Gary frowned.

“The police. They cut the power. That's good, though,” Meg informed.

“Good?” The perspiring customer exclaimed.

“Shut up over there!”

Meg leaned toward the sweating man. “He'll have to give something to get something.” She turned to Gary. “That means we might be able to get you out of here to get the power back.” She leaned around to check the makeshift bandage on Gary's shoulder.

Gary winced and pulled away.

“Sorry,” Meg said quietly. “We're gonna get you out of here and to a hospital.” She replaced the first towel with an unbloodied one.

Gary gritted his teeth as Meg secured the bandage. “It's . . . pretty . . . bad, huh?”

“You've been shot, Gary. That's always bad.” Meg sighed. “Sorry. We're gonna get you out of here as soon as we can.”

“You're . . . okay . . . okay, though?”

This guy's more worried about me being hurt than himself. Meg nodded. “I'm fine. Your tackle saved me.”

“Good.” Gary sighed, leaned his head back and closed his eyes.

“Try and stay with me, Gary,” Meg ordered.

“You're a pretty good doctor for an attorney,” Gary muttered.

Meg's brow furrowed and she frowned. “How'd you know I'm an attorney?”

Gary blinked. “You didn't . . . I . . .” He wiped his face. “Briefcase . . . just a guess.”

“What're you doing?” The gunman stood menacingly over Meg and her charge.

“I'm sorry.” Meg held up both hands. “He's getting shocky. I was trying to keep him awake,” she said evenly.

“You've got the gun. What difference does it make?” The perspiring man asked angrily.

The gunman turned and aimed the weapon at the customer. “I told you to be quiet.”

The potential conflict was diffused when the phone on the desk behind the gunman rang. The only sound for several minutes was the ringing, then the gunman turned to the teller and motioned toward the phone with his gun. “Get it.”

The teller slowly lifted herself from the floor, using the desk for support. She leaned over and picked up the handset. Once Meg was sure the gunman was occupied, she turned to the perspiring customer. “Do that again and I'll shoot you.” She was whispering, but the edge to her voice spoke volumes.

The customer's mouth opened and closed repeatedly, making him look like a fish in a bowl.

“We're all getting out of here, but not if you set him off,” Meg added, then turned her attention to the teller. I've got to get him to put me on the phone. Then I can get Gary out and the power turned on. That's the only way this guy'll trust me.

The teller held the handset out to the gunman, who shook his head. She was relaying the response when the gunman took the handset and returned it to the cradle. He then motioned with his gun toward the desks. The pale and shaken teller returned to her place between the officer and the guard.

The gunman walked into the lobby, picked the keys and guard's gun up from the floor, then disappeared behind the teller counter.

“What'd they say?” The officer demanded.

“They wanted to talk to him, but he wouldn't.” The teller's voice shook and she took several deep breaths. “The police are out there. They want to know what he'll do to get the lights back on.” Her voice broke. “He said he needed to think.”

Meg leaned forward to comfort the woman. “You did great job.” She took one of the shaking hands between both of her own. “You're gonna be okay.”

The teller smiled weakly.

“He doesn't want to hurt anybody,” Meg continued.

“You don't know that,” the customer challenged. “What about him?” He motioned toward Gary.

“Wrong place . . . wr . . . wrong time,” Gary said weakly.

“They're right, Mr. Hansen,” the bank officer spoke up. “If he wanted to hurt us, we'd be hurt already.”

“Did the negotiator give you a name?” Meg asked, turning her attention back to the teller.

The teller frowned. “He did . . .” She shook her head. “I can't remember it.”

“What's it to you?” Hansen demanded.

“I'm an Assistant State's Attorney. I know these guys,” Meg shot back. “And you?”

Hansen did his fish imitation.

“What's he doing back there?” The frightened teller shifted nervously.

“I don't think he knows,” Meg guessed. “He probably expected to get the money and get out. Now he's stuck with us.”

“We'll be all right, Claire,” The bank officer offered. “We just have to stay calm and do whatever he says.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A cup appeared in front of Gary. “Here, drink this.”

Gary struggled to sit up, unable to remember laying down in the first place. The constant throb in his shoulder and left arm flared, radiating down to the tips of his fingers and across his shoulder and chest. His vision filled with stars and he blinked to clear them.

Meg's face wavered in front of Gary when his vision finally cleared. She was holding a plastic cup and she looked worried.

“'M okay,” Gary murmured, taking the cup and lifting it to his mouth. He hadn't realized how thirsty he was until he took that first drink. The cup was taken away and he groaned.

“Not so fast,” Meg cautioned. “Sip it a little at a time. Okay?”

Gary nodded. “'Kay.” He took the cup back and sipped, fighting the urge to down the water before Meg could take the cup away again. “How . . . how long?”

“Almost two hours.”

Gary nodded silently. It was getting harder and harder to keep track of time. He couldn't remember ever losing consciousness, but every time he opened his eyes, things had changed.

“He still won't talk to the police,” Meg informed. “Mr. Marshall and Mr. Gregory are gonna bring a couch in from the employee lounge. We'll try to make you a little more comfortable.” She turned to look at something, but Gary was too tired to follow her gaze. Then she turned back to him and smiled slightly. “I think he's close to letting you go to get the lights and A/C back.” She fanned herself. “It's getting a bit toasty in here.”

“I thought the air was still on,” Gary said weakly. “I'm cold.”

“I was afraid of that,” Meg commented.

Gary sipped the last of the water. “C'n I . . . get some . . . some more?” The room had started doing a slow spin, but he ignored it. I'm so thirsty.

Meg took the cup. “In a bit,” she promised, turning and setting the cup aside.

Gary blinked as the room started spinning a little faster. When he opened his eyes again, he was lying on his back on something soft. Meg's fingers felt warm against his neck. “How'd you . . . get . . . get Meg . . . from Mary . . . Mary Grace?”

Meg pulled back, looking very surprised. “How do you know that name? I never use it.”

It was Gary's turn to be surprised. He blinked and tried to come up with an explanation. But his brain had turned to jello and he couldn't think of one. “You didn't . . .?”

“I don't use the name Mary Grace. Not since I was 12, anyway.” Meg crossed her arms and regarded him with a raised eyebrow. “Did you guess that, too?” Her voice bore the same suspicion conveyed by the look. “Which you couldn't have, since it's not a common name to shorten to Meg.”

Lawyers and rhetorical questions. Marcia used to do that to me, too. Gary was too tired to explain. “Must'a read . . . read it . . . in The Paper.”

Meg blinked, then smiled and uncrossed her arms. “Oh.” She laughed quietly and it reminded Gary of bells. “That'll teach me not to read my own press clippings.”

Gary sighed with relief. That's the end of it. For now.

Meg touched his left wrist beneath the splint and Gary winced. “Sorry.” She smiled gently. “Can you flex your fingers for me?”

The movement was painful, but there. “So?”

“What?” Meg asked, then chuckled. “Oh, your question.” She blushed. “It's not very interesting.”

“We've got . . . got time.”

Meg nodded. “Yeah, we've got time.” She took a deep breath. “It was my younger sister. She couldn't say Mary Grace when she first started talking. So she called me Meg. When she got older, she refused to call me anything but Meg. By the time I was 5, my family accepted it.”

“Wha's her name? Your . . . your sister?”

“Melissa. I called her Mel, but my mom never liked that.” Meg laughed. “It should've been Mary something . . . tradition in my dad's family.” She sighed. “That's another story. Also not very interesting.”

“No . . . it's inter . . . interesting,” Gary responded.

“Short story. I have aunts named Mary Catherine, Mary Beth, Mary Ellen, Mary Margaret . . . yadda, yadda, yadda.” Meg smiled again.

The man in the suit and the guard appeared lugging a couch between them. Gary didn't know which one was Marshall and which one was Gregory. He wasn't sure he cared.

“Thanks,” Gary murmured once they'd set their burden down.

The guard knelt next to Gary. “Le'me help you up,” he offered, putting an arm around Gary from the injured man's right side.

After that, Gary concentrated on not passing out. He didn't notice as the paper slipped from his back pocket. He did notice the soft cushions on the couch. Then he passed out.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Robert Wallace watched the guard move the wounded customer to the couch, only half interested in the proceedings. He had more important things on his mind. You screwed this one up. Big time! The bank job wasn't his only mistake. Now you're screwed for life!

The woman in the suit was kneeling next to the wounded customer and Robert watched her, mentally kicking himself for letting the guard get the drop on him. His plan had been to jump the counter, get the money and get out. He never should've tried it when the guard was on duty. He was supposed to be on his lunch break.You should've waited for him to go to lunch.

Robert couldn't believe that he felt bad for the wounded guy, but he did. And for the teller. He hadn't meant for anybody to get hurt. And he hadn't wanted to threaten anybody. He'd pulled his piece to scare the customers, sure, but holding a gun to the teller's head hadn't been part of the plan. It was the only thing he could think of to get the guard to stop shooting. Thank God the guy wasn't one of those nuts that'd shoot the teller just to kill me.

The lady in the suit stood and stepped away from the couch, then knelt to pick something up from the floor. Robert walked over to the gate.

“What're you doing?” Robert winced at the nervous sound of his voice. There was something about the lady that made him antsy, though.

“I think it's Gary's paper.” The woman held the folded newspaper up. “Can I get my jacket and briefcase?”

“Huh?” Robert frowned. Why's she asking me? Then he remembered he had the gun. “Yeah. Sure.”

“Thanks.” The woman smiled, then crossed to the island in the middle of the lobby where she'd left her jacket and briefcase. She knelt to pick them up, then carried them back to the couch.

Robert followed. “He gonna be okay?”

The woman turned to the couch, then back to face Robert. “He needs to be in a hospital.” She set the case, jacket and paper down on the desk. “What's your name?”

“Robert Wallace.” Robert winced. That was stupid.

“I'm Meg. That's . . .”

“Lady, I don't care.” Robert cut her off. I don't need their names. That's the last thing I need.

Meg held her hands up. “Okay. Sorry.”

She acts like I'm gonna shoot her. “Look, I don't need any psychobabble right now. Okay?” Robert informed. “Just sit down, be quiet and we'll all be out of here soon.”

“Have you decided to let Gary go to get the power back?”

Robert glared at the woman. I haven't decided anything, yet. Except that my life is gonna suck worse by the time this is all over.

“You have a plan, don't you, Robert?”

Robert wanted to admit that his plan had gone sour. The woman was so calm. So in control. Maybe she could figure a way to get me out of this. But he couldn't do it. He was the one with the gun. That was supposed to mean he was the one in control.

“Just sit down. And. SHUT. UP.” Robert turned and walked away from her, escaping behind the counter.

Robert stood there, staring at the tellers booths, with their drawers filled with bills. Another two minutes and your troubles would've been over. It was all so screwed up.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Across the lobby, Meg turned back to the desk as Wallace disappeared behind the tellers' booths. It was worth a shot.

“Good job, Red.” Hansen said sarcastically.

Meg's first thought was to give Hansen the finger. When we get out of here, I'll punch his lights out. That'll make me feel better. She sighed. That's not the way to deal with it, either. She ignored him.

“Leave her alone, you asshole!” Claire jumped to Meg's defense. “At least she's trying!” The distraught woman took a swing at the beefy customer.

“You little bitch!” Hansen exclaimed, dodging the blow. He raised his right arm, curling the hand into a meaty fist as he did.

“It's not nice to hit ladies, Mr. Hansen.” The guard grabbed the man's arm in mid-swing.

Marshall put an arm around Claire's shoulders to comfort her. “You need to calm down, Claire.” His voice was quiet. “Take deep breaths.

Hansen pulled his arm from Gregory's grasp and slithered to the far end of the administrative area.

“Thanks, Tim,” Meg smiled appreciatively.

Gregory shrugged, then took his seat next to Marshall, who was still trying to quiet the teller. “It's gonna be okay, Claire,” he assured, reaching over to gently rub the sobbing woman's back.

Meg sighed and turned back to the desk. The headline on the front page of the Sun-Times drew her attention. It must've unfolded when I set it down.

Meg picked the paper up, frowning as she read the words.


Meg's brows drew inward as she scanned the article, which identified her, Marshall and Hansen as the dead. The story listed Gary in critical condition and Wallace in custody.

“This isn't possible,” Meg murmured. Her heart pounded and a chill worked its way from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. She looked over at Gary, who remained unconscious.

Meg read the story again, but there weren't any clues about how or why she and the others would be killed. I'll bet Hansen's at the bottom of it.

A groan sounded from the couch and Meg hastily folded the paper and shoved it into her briefcase. She doubted that Gary would be in any shape to explain his special edition of the Sun-Times. I don't have the heart to interrogate him and find out, either. She shook her head. Well, at least I know how he knew my real name.

As Meg crossed to the couch, the phone on the desk rang. She instinctively grabbed the handset on the second ring.

“Meg Davies.”

“Chicago Police . . . Davies? What're you . . . never mind.”

The familiar voice almost made Meg smile. In other circumstances, she would have. “Yes, Stan, I'm in deep kimsche again.”

“Yeah, up to your cute little ass.” Stan growled at her. “You got a pen and paper? Take this number down. If we get cut off, you call me on your cell if you can sneak off. Tell him you gotta go to the ladies' room.”

Meg grabbed a pen from the desk and pulled a page from the calendar. She quickly took the number Stan Gertisch recited, then folded the sheet and stashed it in the waistband of her skirt.

Meg craned her neck, searching for Wallace. He was nowhere in sight at that moment and she knew she didn't have much time. “We've got one gunshot wound. The perp is Robert Wallace. He's alone. Armed. He's pretty calm. Doesn't wanna talk.”

Wallace appeared and made his way across the lobby. Meg stopped passing information to Gertisch, nodding silently as the gunman approached her.

Without speaking, Wallace took the handset from Meg and placed it on the cradle. “What'd you tell them?”

Meg met Wallace's eyes. “They'll turn the power back on if you let two of us go.” She hoped he wouldn't demand an answer to his question. If he catches me lying, he'll never trust me.But I can't tell him the truth, or we're all dead.

“One,” Wallace responded.

The phone rang and Wallace nodded at it. Meg snapped the handset up. “Hello?”

“You okay, Meg?” Stan sounded worried now.

Bless his little black heart. Meg kept her eyes on Wallace. “Yeah. He'll let one go. Or no deal.”

“Okay. No way for two?”

“Nope. It's not that bad in here.” Hope he picks up on what I'm really trying to tell him. Meg dropped her eyes to the desk. SWAT was always a last resort, but she got the feeling that Wallace would go down without a fight. Top priority is to get all of us out of here before whatever gets three of us killed happens.

“Okay, Meg, we'll do the deal and get your wounded man out. Then you keep yourselves away from Wallace.”

“We'll need a gurney.”

“We got paramedics here,” Stan informed.

Meg pulled the phone away and put her hand over the mouthpiece. “Can they bring a gurney in to take Gary out?”

Wallace shrugged. “Yeah. Sure. No cops.”

“They might not be able to do that, Robert,” Meg responded. “Some of the City's EMTs are cops, too.”

“Then we move him to the door,” Wallace informed.

Meg nodded and went back to the handset. “Give us ten minutes. We're moving the victim to the door.” She gently placed the handset on the cradle.

Wallace turned to the bank employees, still clustered in their small group. “You two, move him to the door.”

Meg went to the couch, where she found Gary conscious and watching her. “We're gonna have to move you again, Gary. I'm sorry.”

“L . . . let Claire go.” Gary's voice was weak and Meg almost didn't hear him.

“Claire?” Meg repeated, kneeling next to the couch. “Gary, you need a doctor . . .”

“S . . .she's . . . she's scared. Gonna . . . lose . . . lose it.” Gary smiled weakly. “I'll . . . pr . . . probably . . . sleep . . .”

Meg shook her head. “I can't let you do this, Gary.” She leaned in and lowered her voice. “We won't be in here much longer.”

Gary blinked several times. “Then . . . let Claire . . . let Claire go.”

Meg sighed. Stubborn! “All right.” She stood and turned to Wallace. “He doesn't want us to move him. Can Claire take his place?”

Wallace looked briefly at the wounded man, then at the sobbing teller. “Doesn't matter to me.”

Meg went to Claire and knelt in front of her. “Come on, Claire,” she coaxed, helping the woman stand. “You're getting out of here.”

Wallace pulled the keys from his pocket and handed them to Meg. “Open the door. And don't try anything,” he warned. “I'll be right behind you.”

Meg nodded, took the keys and escorted Claire to the lobby doors. The lock resisted her first effort to turn the key. “Come on,” she breathed, alternately pulling the door in and kicking it.

From next to Meg, Claire sobbed. “What's wrong?”

Meg turned and smiled. “The lock's being stubborn, that's all.” She redoubled her effort and the lock finally yielded, releasing the bolt. She swung the door open.

Claire remained frozen in the doorway, nervously eyeing the crowd of bystanders perched behind barricades, the formidable array of police officers crouched behind vehicles with their weapons drawn and aimed at the door of the bank, and the news vans and reporters squatting like vultures on a carcass.

“Go on,” Meg urged. “It's okay.”

Claire stepped out of the bank, took two steps and froze.

Meg waited, watching as the teller took two more steps and stopped again. After two more steps, a riot gear suited police officer appeared and whisked the teller away.

Meg couldn't close the door. Freedom was right there. She was quick. If she ran, she could make it. What about Gary? And Jeff? And Tim? Her conscience wouldn't let her abandon any of them. Even Hansen.

“Close the door, Lady,” Wallace growled from behind her.

“Yeah. Okay.” Meg took one last look at freedom, then let go of the door, letting its weight swing it shut. She turned the key, re-locking the door, then removed it and handed it to Wallace.

The gunman pocketed the keys and motioned Meg back to the administrative area.

Gary's eyes opened as Meg settled down next to the couch. “Claire . . . okay?”

Meg sighed. “Yeah. She made it out fine.”

“Good.” Gary groaned and shifted on the couch. “Good.”

“What about you?” Meg asked, reaching out to brush a strand of dark hair from Gary's pale forehead.

“It doesn't . . . doesn't hurt . . . so much.” Gary winced and shifted again. “How about . . . you?”

“Me? I'm fine.” Meg shrugged.

“What about . . . about . . . inside?” Gary asked.

“Oh. That. Shaking like a leaf.” Meg smiled, then winked. “Maybe I'm too adept at hiding it.” She looked down at the carpet, tracing a pattern in the fibers with her thumb. After a minute, she looked back up at Gary. “You know that guy in Die Hard? Bruce Willis' character, McClain?”

Gary frowned, then nodded.

A quiet pop sounded, followed by a hum. Then the lights came on and the air conditioner whirred back to life.

“We've got the power back,” Meg said quietly.

Gary shifted again, then winced. “What about Die Hard ?”

Meg laughed quietly. “Well, I have McClain's luck. Except I don't attract terrorists. I attract petty thieves and criminals. Like our friend over there.”

“You're . . . a pros . . . prosecutor,” Gary reminded.

“This ain't a courtroom, Pal.” Meg grinned, and winked again. “That's another long story. Maybe when we get out of here.” She sighed and checked the bandage on Gary's shoulder. “The bleeding's stopped.” She took a deep breath and let it out. “Why didn't you get out when you had the chance?”

Gary shrugged, then winced. “It was . . . the right thing . . . to do.”

“You're a rare man, Gary.” Meg smiled. “I'll bet you don't even realize it.” She wanted to ask him about the paper, but didn't. He's probably exhausted. She brushed his forehead with the back of her hand. “Get some rest.”

“You're pretty . . . special . . . yourself.” Gary smiled weakly. “Bet you . . . don't . . . realize . . . either.”

Meg felt the blush creep from her neck to the tops of her ears and her hairline.

“Made you . . . blush.” Gary flashed a weak grin.

“Gary, I'm a redhead. Making me blush is no great feat.” Meg smiled. “Now, close your eyes and rest.”

Gary flashed the weak grin again. “Yes, ma'am.”

“And don't call me ma'am,” Meg growled. “Rest,” she repeated, watching as Gary let his eyes close.

After a minute, Meg turned to look at the clock above the tellers' cages. The SWAT team would've been mobilized and at the scene. Which meant they could storm in anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour after her call with Gertisch. The detective wouldn't try to warn her. The plan was dangerous enough without the possibility of Wallace catching onto it. Which is why I can't warn Gary, or anybody else.

Goosebumps broke out on Meg's arms and a chill ran up her spine. Oh, come on. You can't be scared now. Then she realized that she was sitting directly beneath an air vent. She smiled slightly and shook her head, then turned back to Gary, who was visibly shivering.

Meg stood and went to the desk to get her jacket. The paper was in her briefcase and she couldn't resist the urge to check the headline again. She set the jacket on the desk and pulled the folded paper from the front pocket.

Hostage Stand Off Ends. One Dead.

The story had changed, too. Now she, Marshall and Hansen were released unharmed, along with Gregory. Gary would be pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.

“I can't let that happen,” Meg whispered. Gary had given his one chance to survive to someone else. She didn't know whether Claire had been the one to set-off the fatal confrontation that had led to the earlier story, or whether something else had changed the outcome. You can figure it out later.

Meg folded the paper and put it back in her briefcase, then crossed the lobby floor to where Wallace was quietly pacing in front of the tellers' booths. “Robert, you need to listen to me.”

Wallace stopped and turned to glare at Meg. “I told you, no psychobabble, Lady.”

“Then how about the truth?” Meg returned. “There're only two ways this can end. You can walk out of here, or you can be carried out feet first. Dead.”

Wallace continued to glare.

“You know you're looking at hard time,” Meg continued, trying to ignore the pounding of her heart against her ribcage. “If Gary dies, it's capital murder.”

“The feds don't execute people. I'm looking at life, either way.” Wallace looked smug.

“Unless the feds decline prosecution. They tend to do that with attempts that result in a death,” Meg paused, letting the words sink in. “I'm an Assistant State's Attorney, Robert. If you walk out of here now, I can help you.”

Wallace smiled. “You're lying, Lady.”

“Do you wanna see my I.D.? It's in my briefcase.” Meg stared Wallace down. “I won't prosecute this case, but I know the feds. I can get the U.S. Attorney to take the case. That means you'd do federal time.” She paused. “It's better than Joliet.”

“Yeah, I've been there.”

“What's it gonna be, Robert?” Meg asked quietly. “Do you put down the gun and let us all out of here? Or do you wait and see what happens?”

Wallace silently considered the questions, his expression indecipherable. Several minutes passed, then he turned the gun around and offered it to Meg, butt first.

“Just set it down on the counter,” Meg informed quietly.

Wallace turned and placed the gun on the counter. He pulled the guard's gun from the small of his back, then pulled the keys from his pocket. Meg took them silently.

“Now, step away from the counter and put your hands on the island over there. I'm gonna call the police.” Meg reached through the first cage and pulled a phone through to the outer counter. Her hands shook as she dialed the number Gertisch had given her. “Tim!” She called to the guard, who rose and walked toward her.

“Gertisch.” The gruff voice answered in the middle of the first ring.

“Stan, the suspect's ready to give it up and end this. I'm sending someone to unlock the door. Three of the hostages will be coming out. Then you can send in officers and paramedics.”

“They're on their way,” Gertisch promised.

Meg set the handset on the counter, leaving the line open. “Tim, you, Jeff and Mr. Hansen can go.” She tossed the keys to Gregory, who caught them one-handed. She kept an eye on Wallace as the guard unlocked and opened the door, then ushered Marshall and Hansen out onto the sidewalk.

Within seconds, uniformed officers streamed into the bank, their weapons drawn. Two officers immediately pounced on Wallace, guiding him to the floor and searching him before cuffing his hands behind his back and lifting him to his feet.

“The suspect had the 9 mil. The revolver belonged to the guard,” Meg informed another officer, then headed across the lobby to the couch.

Gertisch entered the bank right behind the uniforms and intercepted Meg half-way across the lobby. “You're in the wrong line of work, Meg,” he called, flashing her a grin. “One minute you're up to your cute little ass, the next you come out smelling like a rose. You should'a been a cop.”

“Leave my ass out of this, Stan,” Meg growled. “If I were a cop, crap like this wouldn't happen.” She quickly squeezed the detective's arm. “I need to check on Gary.”

“I'm gonna need a statement from you, Meg. I wanna know how you got out of this one.” Gertisch called after her.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“. . . crap like this wouldn't happen.”

Gary recognized Meg's voice and wondered who she was talking to. The person answered her, but there was so much background noise in his head, it was hard to figure out who the other voice belonged to, or what they'd said.

Gary felt Meg's hand on his forehead. Her skin was so soft and warm and he was so cold. He shivered, then groaned as pain radiated from his shoulder.

“It's okay, Gary.” Meg's voice was soft and soothing. “Help's on the way. Just hang on.”

Gary tried to open his eyes, but they refused to cooperate. Maybe The Paper'll be late this morning.

Gary heard a woman's voice. Damn, the alarm. He reached for the snooze button, but his arm got stuck on something.

“What've we got?” Another woman was in the bank.

Did Claire come back?

A band tightened painfully around Gary's right upper arm, but he couldn't move it. What the heck is it stuck on? The band released and he felt fingers on the inside of his left wrist. Something must be wrong with the radio. The D.J.'s voice sounds funny. Like she's at the bottom of a barrel.

Hands lifted Gary and his eyes snapped open. “Don't . . . Ahhhh.” He groaned and wished he could pass out.

“Sorry, Sweetie. I've gotta get a look at your shoulder.” The other woman's voice.

Gary opened his eyes again and saw a blurry, large blond woman looming above him. “Wha? Wha' happened?” He tried to crane his neck to find Meg, but the woman stopped him.

“Just sit tight, Darlin'.”

Gary blinked and the blond woman got a little clearer. “Meg? Where's Meg? She okay?”

“I'm right here, Gary. It's okay.” Meg's hand touched his forehead again.

The woman laid Gary back on the couch and then she disappeared. Gary managed to focus on the woman's hands and spotted a needle. A big, nasty looking needle.

“I don' like . . . don't like needles. N . . . no shots.” Gary weakly batted at the woman's hands as the needle got closer and closer to his right arm.

The blond woman's face reappeared. “Baby, we need to get some fluids into you. The best way to do that is with an I.V.” She smiled. “It's not gonna hurt, Sweetie.”

“No shots . . . p . . . please . . . n . . . no shots.”

“Gary, look up at me.” Meg's voice.

Gary eyed the needle nervously, then managed to obey, looking up. Meg's face swam into view.

Meg smiled. “That's good. Just keep looking up at me. It's all right. The paramedics're gonna take good care of you. They're gonna make you feel better.” She brushed the hair from Gary's forehead and brushed his right cheek. “It's okay. It's all over now.”

“All . . . over?” Gary repeated. “No . . . nobody . . . hurt?”

“Thanks to you.”

“I.V.'s in.” The blond woman announced. “Let's get him on the gurney and en route.”

Gary squeezed his eyes shut and bit his lip as hands picked him up and set him down on something that wasn't as soft as the couch. He nearly sobbed with relief when a blanket covered him. He tried to open his eyes again when he felt movement, but they felt glued shut.

The movement stopped with a bump.

“Gary? Gary? Open your eyes, Baby.” The blond woman's voice. “Gary, can you hear me? Try and stay with me, Gary.”

Gary wanted to open his eyes and answer. He wanted to open his eyes and find Meg again. He couldn't. He was wondering where Meg was when the darkness swallowed him.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The paramedic leaned toward the front compartment of the ambulance. “What's our ETA?” She placed an oxygen mask over Gary's nose and mouth.

“Minute and a half, two minutes, tops.”

The blond paramedic leaned down, close to Gary's ear. “You hear that, Darlin'?” she asked, “I know you're tired, but you've only got another minute to hang on. You can do that for me, can't you, Baby?”

Gary didn't respond and the woman sat back, checking the flow on the I.V., then adjusting the flow of oxygen into the mask.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A loud noise and a thump startled Gary. His eyes snapped open to a tile ceiling and light fixtures passing overhead at high speed.

“Welcome back,” the blond woman from the bank smiled down at him. “He's coming around.” She called out to somebody, but Gary wasn't sure who that was.

The fire in Gary's shoulder flared with every bump the gurney traveled over. There was something uncomfortable over his nose and mouth, but when he tried to pull it away, someone's hand kept him from moving it.

The rough ride finally stopped, but not the fire in Gary's shoulder. He was vaguely aware of someone cutting off his clothes, then he was covered with a thin sheet and blanket.

People were swarming around Gary and he couldn't tell which ones were doctors and which ones were nurses because they were all dressed in identical light purple scrubs.

A man's face suddenly appeared above Gary, startling him.

“I'm sorry, Mr. Hobson.” The man smiled. “I'm Dr. Fletcher. Do you know where you are?”

Gary looked up at the ceiling, then around the curtained cubicle. “Hos . . . hospital?”

“That's right. You've got a serious bullet wound in your shoulder.” Dr. Fletcher stopped and turned and talked to somebody Gary couldn't see. “Sorry about that. We're gonna be taking you up to surgery in a few minutes. Is there anybody we can call for you?”

“My . . . par . . . parents. Lois . . . Ber . . . Bernard Hob . . . Hobson.” Gary couldn't remember the phone number. “Mar . . . Marissa . . . Clark . . . McGinty's.” He couldn't remember that number either. “Hickory . . . Indi . . . Indiana.”

The room started to spin around Gary, who closed his eyes and tried to ignore the noise swirling above and around him. The noise receded, getting farther and farther away. Then he didn't feel anything.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“Is McGinty's in Indiana, Lisa?” Dr. Fletcher turned to the blond woman to his left.

“No, it's here in Chicago. I think he meant his parents are in Indiana.”

“Can you make sure someone notifies them?” Dr. Fletcher requested.

Lisa nodded. “I'll take care of it myself.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Forty-five minutes later, Meg was still at the bank, although not by choice. She'd wanted to follow the ambulance, but her sense of duty had kept her at the scene. She'd just finished recounting the day's events to Detective Peter Lindsay when Gertisch joined them.

“How're you holdin' up, Meg?” Gertisch gently squeezed Meg's shoulder as he stepped up behind her.

“Kind'a tired actually.” Meg looked up at the detective. “Any word from the hospital?”

“Nothing, yet.” Gertisch smiled. “But it's only been a few minutes in hospital time.”

Meg sighed. “I've given a statement. Do you mind if we call it a day?”

Gertisch pulled a chair over and sat across from Meg. “Yeah, I've just got a couple questions. Then I'll give you a lift over to the hospital.”

“What's up?” Meg frowned.

“I talked to the teller, the guard and the manager. They all said they'd never seen Hobson here before.” Gertisch paused. “I'll bet when we check, we'll probably find out he doesn't have any accounts with this bank, either.”

Meg didn't like what she was hearing. “Cut to the chase, Stan.”

“What's you're take on Hobson? You think he could'a been working with Wallace?” Lindsay spoke up.

“No.” Meg's voice was flat. Her laugh was equally flat. “No way. No how.”

“Then why was he here at the exact moment Wallace decided to rob the bank?” Gertisch persisted.

“I'm good, Stan, but not that good. I don't read minds.” Meg stood. “Why don't you talk to Wallace first and find out if he even had an accomplice?” She hefted her briefcase from the floor and walked away from the detectives.

Gertisch stood and trotted after her. “Hold on there, Meg. I'll give you a ride to the hospital.”

“I'd rather take a cab,” Meg muttered.

Gertisch grabbed Meg's free arm, stopping her. “Come on, Meg. Level with me here.”

Meg yanked her arm away. “Look, I know you think Gary saved me because he was working with Wallace and didn't want to go down for murder.” She looked up, meeting the detective's eyes. “That's not what happened. I can't explain it. But I know that's not what happened.”

Gertisch put his hands in his pockets. “I'll take you to the hospital, then have a talk with Wallace.” He shrugged. “I hope you're right about Hobson, Meg.”

Meg laughed. “Have I ever been wrong?”

Gertisch shook his head. “Geez, now you sound like my second ex-wife. Or maybe it was my third.” He cocked his head. “You know, you're just about the right age. Wanna be my fourth ex?”

“I love you, Stan, but not that much.” Meg laughed. “Let's just be friends, okay?” She gestured toward the door. “So, are you gonna take me to the hospital, or are we gonna stand here yakkin'?”

Now you sound like my first ex-wife.” Gertisch laughed.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Marissa Clark entered the hospital through the Emergency Room entrance and was almost overwhelmed by the rush of sound that met her as she stepped through the automatic door. She'd lost her eyesight at the age of 18 months, so she'd always managed to get around with minimal assistance. This wasn't one of those times. She stood frozen in the hall, unable to sense anything but the rush of sound and people moving past her. “Excuse me. Can someone help me?”

The request got no response. Marissa's guide dog, Spike, was with her, but Spike wasn't able to read signs to her. And he was waiting for her to give him the signal to move forward. She felt a presence to her right and turned toward it. “Excuse me, could you help me to the information desk?”

The presence moved on and Marissa waited for the next one to approach. She was so worried about Gary she could barely think straight. And she didn't like that sign of weakness.

A hand touched Marissa's elbow. “Hi, I'm Meg. Where do you want to go?”

Marissa smiled with relief and turned toward the voice. “The information desk.” She unconsciously nodded. “Thanks.”

“No problem,” Meg responded. “We're going to go to the left.”

Marissa nodded. “Left, Spike.”

Marissa felt the walls of a hallway as Meg and Spike guided her to the left.

“Now we'll go straight for about ten feet.”

“You've done this before,” Marissa commented as Meg guided her along the hallway.

The woman laughed self-consciously. “It's what I'd want to know.”

They continued walking for about ten feet, then Meg stopped and placed Marissa's hand on the information desk.

“Thanks, again.” Marissa smiled.

“Would you like me to wait here?”

With directions, Marissa knew could get where she needed to go. She started to tell the woman “no,” then reconsidered. Like Gary, she was sometimes too set on being independent. You've probably got a long wait by yourself. Have a little human contact while you can. Marissa smiled. “Thank you.”

“Can I help you?” The woman's voice was deep and directly in front of Marissa.

“Yes, my friend, Gary Hobson was brought in about an hour ago. He was . . .” Marissa stopped, unable to say the word “shot.” “There was a bank robbery.”

Marissa heard the tap of fingers on a key board. “He's in surgery. The waiting room is on the 5th floor, just get out of the elevator and go to your right. You can't miss it.”

“Thank you.” Marissa kept her hand on the counter as she turned. Meg's hand on her elbow was comforting.

“I guess I should introduce myself,” Meg said as they walked.

“Why is that?” Marissa stopped walking as Spike stopped. She heard the ding of the elevator and Meg guided her toward the empty car.

“I was in the bank with your friend.” Meg paused and Marissa sensed that she was keeping something back. “He . . . he saved my life. That's probably why he's here.”

“That's Gary,” Marissa said quietly. “You weren't hurt?”

The elevator lurched, then dinged again.

“Okay, we'll go forward for about two feet, then right,” Meg informed.

They moved forward and Marissa felt them enter the open hallway. Meg guided her to the right.

“The nurse was right. It's not far from the elevators. We'll go to the right again.”

From the change in feel as they entered the waiting room, Marissa guessed that it was soundproofed.

“There's a desk right inside the door. A volunteer is there 24 hours a day. If you need to leave, stop by and let them know.” Meg stopped. “Meg Davies . . .” She laughed nervously. “I'm sorry, I didn't get your name.”

“Marissa Clark.”

“We're waiting for news on Hobson . . . first name Gary.”

Marissa heard papers shuffle.

“Hobson. He's not on my list, but they haven't updated it in a while.” Marissa could tell that the woman had once been a heavy smoker. A whiff told her that the woman hadn't given the habit up completely.

“Okay, there are chairs and couches set up in four groups. There are two empty groups and one that's got a few people in it. What works best for you?”

Marissa smiled. “I like the way you put that,” she commented. “Is the group closest to the desk free?”

“Not any more.” Meg led her forward. “There are chairs to your right.”

Marissa tapped them with her cane. “Got 'em.” Her cane tapped the couch. “And I've got the couch.”

“I'm gonna get a cup of coffee. Can I bring you one?”

“Yes, thank you. Just a little sugar and cream.” Marissa settled on the couch and absently patted Spike's side as he settled down next to her feet. I wonder if Meg would mind giving me her phone number?

Marissa laughed quietly at the thought. She was a friendly person, but she'd always had a hard time finding real friends. One way or another, she'd always ended up disappointed when she learned that the people she'd thought were friends couldn't see past her loss of sight. Until Gary.

The thought of her friend made Marissa feel guilty. You're supposed to be here for Gary, all you can think about is finding somebody to do chick things with. Since Chuck Fishman's departure for the West Coast, her conscience had adopted his voice. That Chuck Fishman's voice would serve as Marissa's voice of reason was too twisted for words. I would expect Chuck's voice to be the devil on my shoulder, not the angel.

“Would you like me to chug this at the table and make myself another cup?” Marissa heard the smile in Meg's voice.

“No.” Marissa patted the empty couch next to her. “Please sit down.”

Meg placed a cup in Marissa's right hand.

“What's your dog's name?” Meg laughed. “And would it be all right for me to pet him?” She laughed again. “Or her?”

Marissa smiled. “His name is Spike and, yes, you can pet him now that he's not working.”

“Spike?” Meg laughed again. “Oh, I like that.”

“What's so funny?” Marissa frowned.

“Uh-oh. Put my foot in my mouth,” Meg muttered. “I mean . . . did they tell you this was a Retriever?” Her laughter turned nervous. “I mean . . . well, they're . . . they're cute and cuddly dogs. Not a vicious bone in their bodies.”

It was Marissa's turn to laugh. “Yes, they told me he was a Golden Retriever. My first dog was a German Shepherd.”

“Now, that's a Spike.”

“I wanted to name this dog after my first dog.” The one Gary gave me the money to get.

Meg was silent for a minute. “I really do like the name Spike for a gentle dog.” She laughed. “Kind of like Precious for a Pit Bull and Fang for a Yorkie.”

Marissa felt Meg lean toward Spike, who whined, then loudly slurped the woman's face. “Ooops, I forgot. He licks.”

“Thanks for the warning.” Meg laughed. “That's not licking, though. It's kisses.”

Marissa listened as Spike's tail thumped on the floor next to the couch and the brush of his tail whispered across the fabric. Meg was still leaning down and Marissa heard the slurp as Spike licked the woman's face again. “I was pretty afraid of dogs most of my life. I can never bring myself to let him do that to me.”

Meg leaned back. “He knows that, I'm sure.”

Spike whined, then quieted, remaining at Marissa's feet. Marissa reached down and scratched the dog behind the ears.

“I'm gonna grab a napkin to wipe my face.” Meg laughed.

Marissa waited until she heard the couch whisper as Meg sat down again. “How was Gary when you saw him?”

“Well . . .” Meg paused and sipped from her coffee. “You can't really put any stock in that, Marissa.”

“Why not? What aren't you telling me?”

“It's just that Gary'd been shot in the shoulder and he'd gone a couple of hours without medical attention.” Meg sipped from her cup again. “This is the best hospital in the city for gunshot wounds.” She groaned. “Foot in mouth, again.”

Marissa smiled, hoping to ease Meg's dilemma. “Gary wasn't doing well.” She said quietly.

“He was hanging on, Marissa. That's the most I can tell you.” Meg sighed. “I'm sorry. I didn't mean . . .” She sighed again.

Marissa decided to change the subject. “Were you speaking from experience when you said this hospital was the best?”

“My ex-husband was here a few times. He's a cop. He was shot. And in a bad accident in his patrol unit.”

“Is he your ex because he's a cop?” That's an awfully personal question. “You don't have to answer that. I majored in psychology.”

Meg chuckled. “No, it's okay. We pretty much lived and worked in the same world. I'm a State's Attorney.” Her voice was wistful. “Our biggest disagreement was who worked with the lowest of the low. He always said the criminals were the lowest and I said the defense attorneys.”

Marissa smiled.

“Chris considered himself God's gift to women. I knew that from the day I met him.” Meg paused. “Unfortunately, he didn't stop sharing the gift after we got married.”

A cell phone trilled somewhere in the waiting room.

“Oh, crap!” Meg breathed.

Marissa heard a zipper, then the snap of a cell phone opening.

“Davies . . . still at the hospital . . .”

Marissa turned her head and caught the faint sound of a television in the adjoining section. She tried to concentrate on that, rather than eavesdropping on Meg's conversation.

“. . . now?” Meg sounded angry, then audibly sighed. “Yes, Stan, . . . yes, I know . . . well, you can tell him he's barking up the wrong tree . . .” Another audible sigh. “Oh . . . yes, all right, fine . . . no, I'll get a cab.”

The pop of the cellphone being closed sounded like a cap gun.

“I'm sorry, Marissa. I've got to go to the station.” The couch creaked as Meg stood. “If you have to leave for any reason, just let the volunteer know.”

“I'll be fine,” Marissa said automatically.

“Didn't say you wouldn't.” Meg laughed quietly. “I probably won't make it back tonight, but I'll try.”

A small, slim object was placed in Marissa's hand.

“My cell phone. I'll call you the first chance I get. And I'll be at the 4th District station, so you can call me if you get word on Gary before then.”

Marissa opened the phone and felt the keypad. Meg's hand guided her finger to the Send button.

“That's Send.” Meg guided Marissa's finger to another button. “That's the 0.”

Marissa nodded and smiled. “Thanks.”

“You're doing me a favor. I despise the damn thing.” Meg laughed.

“I'll let Gary know you were here,” Marissa promised.


Marissa listened as Meg's footsteps disappeared into the hall. She absently patted Spike's side, turning her head toward the neighboring section and the television.

“. . . saved all our lives. She kept her head and kept us calm. I don't know how she did it.” The speaker was a man, but Marissa hadn't heard his name.

“A hostage was released just prior to the stand-off ending. Did Ms. Davies make the decision to release Ms. Tyler, rather than Mr. Hobson?”

“That was Mr. Hobson. Ms. Davies didn't want him to do it, but I guess she couldn't talk him out of it.”

Marissa smiled. Not once he set his mind to do it.

“Thank you, Mr. Marshall.” The female reporter paused. “That was Jeff Marshall, one of the hostages at the First Commercial Bank on Randolph Street.”

Marissa sighed and sat back on the couch to wait for word on Gary.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Gertisch was on the stairs when Meg walked into the station, sweeping past the desk with barely a glance at or a word to the Sergeant on duty. Gertisch bit his lip to keep from smiling. Meg definitely wasn't in the mood for humor.

“There you are.” Meg jogged up the stairs and stopped on the riser next to him. “Okay. I'm here. What the hell is going on?”

“I told you on the phone. Wallace won't talk to anybody but you.” Gertisch paused. “And some bozo from the U.S. Attorney's office is here.”

“Did you call the Federal Public Defender's office?” Meg asked.

Gertisch shrugged. “Wallace ain't askin' for an attorney.”

Meg rolled her eyes and Gertisch bit back a grin. “Would you please call the Federal Public Defender's office and get somebody over here?”

“You sure you wanna do that? An attorney's just gonna tell him to keep his mouth shut.”

“Where is he?”

Gertisch swept his arm toward the head of the stairs. “I'll take you to him.” He turned and led the way up to the detectives' squad room on the third floor.

Four months before, the City had given the place a face lift, replacing the battered office furniture and warped linoleum with cubicles finished in carpet a shade lighter than that on the floor. To Gertisch, the place was now as soulless as the thousands of offices where nine-to-fivers put in their time. After stowing Meg's briefcase in his cubicle, they headed to the interrogation rooms, where the bozo fed was waiting for them.

The interrogation rooms were behind the squad room along a narrow corridor that was still painted institutional green, with the same warped linoleum that had covered the floor of the squad room. Gertisch hoped the renovations never made it this far.

“You must be Meg Davies. I recognized you from the news.” The man held out his hand. “I'm Rob Michaels.”

That bozo's suit probably cost more than I make in two months!

Meg briefly shook the offered hand. “The news?” She looked at Gertisch.

“Ah, the vultures got some good shots of you when that teller came out of the bank.” Gertisch shrugged.

Meg rolled her eyes and sighed. “Oh, crap!”

“It's Chicago, Meg. Some politician'll distract 'em,” Gertisch offered.

“Yeah, everything in this town blows over eventually.” The suit smiled. “Damn wind.” The smile widened, displaying teeth that were even and too white.

Probably capped. Gertisch was pleased to see that Meg wasn't amused by the suit either.

“Detective Gertisch tells me Wallace won't talk to anybody else, so can we get this over with? I'd like to get back to the hospital some time tonight.”

“Interrogation 2,” Gertisch informed. “Want us to turn on the camera?”

Meg shrugged. “Yeah, sure.” She crossed the hall and opened the door, disappearing inside and closing the door behind her.

The suit was new, so Gertisch let him sweat it for a minute, then led the way to the observation room behind the 2-way mirror in the interrogation room. Gertisch flipped on the camera and speaker.

“. . . you want?” Meg was at the scarred table, across from Wallace. Her hands were folded in front of her.

“How's the guy that got shot?” Wallace sounded like he could cry any minute.

“No word. He's still in surgery.”

“I didn't shoot him. I didn't even pull the trigger.” Wallace's voice shook.

“I'll be sure the police check that,” Meg said. “Was that why you wanted to talk to me?”

Wallace shook his head and leaned across the table. “You're a lawyer, right?”

Meg nodded silently.

“I think I need one.” Wallace laughed nervously. “I want you to be my lawyer.”

Meg shook her head. “I can't do it, Robert. First, I'm a potential witness. Second, I'm an Assistant State's Attorney.” She opened her hands, palms up. “Those're two big conflicts of interest.”

“What the hell's she doing?” The suit muttered.

“. . . understand.”

“I can't legally establish an attorney-client relationship with you, Robert. I'm a potential witness against you and I'm not a private attorney,” Meg explained. “Anything you tell me couldn't be held in confidence.”

Wallace rubbed his face with both hands, then ran his hands through his hair. “All I wanted was enough money to get back to Maine. I didn't want anybody to get hurt.” Wallace shook his head, probably wondering what had gone wrong and how. “I took a job out here . . . got in a little trouble . . . lost my job and now I'm stuck.”

“Robert, I can't represent you,” Meg repeated. “Do you want an attorney?”

The suit rapped the mirror behind Wallace and shut off the camera before the man could answer Meg's question.

Wallace jumped and turned around in his chair. “Hey! What's going on?”

“Standard procedure, Robert,” Meg said calmly. “They want to make sure I don't come in here and beat a confession out of you.” She wasn't laughing at her own joke. “You want an attorney.”

Wallace nodded. “I want an attorney,” he parroted.

Meg stood and went to the door. “I'll contact one for you.” She opened the door and stepped out of the room.

“What'd she do?” The suit demanded.

Gertisch shrugged. “He wanted a lawyer . . .” He wasn't crazy about the idea himself, but he figured if Wallace wanted Meg to be his lawyer and she couldn't, she had to do something.

The suit yanked the door open and stormed into the hall, meeting Meg as she reached for the door.

“Hey, Michaels, calm down,” Gertisch warned. The suit was about to make a big mistake. The least Gertisch could do was try to warn him.

The suit ignored the advice, believing that Meg's size gave him the advantage. Cops, criminals and their attorneys had made the same mistake. What they didn't realize was that Meg was tougher than she looked. In that tiny body, beneath that china doll face is the heart of a permanently pissed off she-bear.

Meg stepped back and the suit stepped forward, backing her against the far wall. He was tall and had to lean down to get in her face. “What the hell do you think you're doing? You threw this in our lap and now you wanna screw it up?”

Meg's eyes flashed and she stepped forward invading the suit's space. She didn't lay a hand on the suit. She didn't need to. The look in her eyes was all it took. The suit stepped back and Meg followed him until he was the one backed against the frame of the door.

“I tried to warn you, Pal.” Gertisch muttered.

“Wallace wanted me to represent him. You and I both know that's not possible, right?” Meg's voice was cold as ice.

Glad I'm not the one she's pissed at. The suit looked to Gertisch for help. He just grinned at him.

“Do you know why I can't represent him?”

“Con . . .” The suit swallowed nervously. “Conflict.” His adam's apple clicked again. “You didn't have to make him say he wanted an attorney.”

“Why not?” Meg shot back. “This is a slam dunk, Junior. You've got his weapon, witnesses, he was arrested in the damn bank. How much damage could counsel do?” She paused. “Lots if Wallace tried to secure an attorney who has a conflict and you get that individual to misrepresent the fact.”

“I didn't ask you . . .”

“You jumped my case when I didn't do it,” Meg interrupted him. “Don't even try to tell me that's not what you wanted.” She stepped back. “Look, I've been at the State's Attorney's office for eleven years. I don't know what they taught you in law school about the judicial system in Chicago, but I don't play games with suspects because they always come back to bite you on the ass.”

The suit stood a little taller. “How do you know I haven't been practicing as long as you have?” His voice was filled with righteous indignation.

Meg chuckled. “Bubba, you're so green you still squeak.” She took another step back and let the suit off the frame of the door. “Call the Federal Public Defender's office and get somebody down here before you talk to him.”

“I haven't filed the charges on this guy. I can walk away any time.” The suit let out a snort. “Your office can deal with it.”

“You do that and I'll go over your head so fast, I'll leave foot prints on both sides of your skull.” Meg hadn't taken another step, but the suit backed himself up to the door frame again just the same. “You've got him. Offer him a deal. He'll take it.” She looked up at the suit. “ After he talks to an attorney.” She turned to Stan. “Can you give me a lift back to the hospital?”

Gertisch nodded. “You got five minutes for me? I wanna run something by you.”

Meg frowned. “If it can't wait, I guess I don't have much choice.”

Gertisch didn't want Meg pissed at him, too, so he kept his mouth shut.

Meg turned back to the suit. “Oh, one more thing, Bubba.” She stepped forward. “You ever back me against a wall like that again, you'd better be wearing a cup.” She stepped back, then headed up the hall toward the squad room. “I'll meet you at your desk, Stan,” She called over her shoulder.

Gertisch stepped over to the suit. “She ain't kiddin', Pal. Last year, she broke a guy's jaw he pulled a stunt like that.” He didn't volunteer that the guy was wanted in a series of rapes in Meg's suburban neighborhood. Or that he'd cornered Meg in her garage. Or that Meg hit him with a briefcase full of books. Let the little shit sweat that one for a couple days. He grinned at the suit, then walked down the hall to the squad room.

Meg was sitting at Gertisch's desk when he stepped into his cubicle.

“These computers aren't for personal use, Stan,” Meg began. “I didn't check out any of the sites, but the names tell me more about you than I want to know.”

Gertisch laughed. “I've been a dirty old man since the day we met, Red.” He hit the power switch on the monitor.

“What's this about?” Meg was a suspicious soul. It was one of the things Gertisch liked about her. “We don't have any active cases.”

Gertisch leaned against the desk and picked up a file. “Wallace wouldn't talk to me, so I had to check out Hobson on my own.”

Meg leaned forward and snatched the file from Gertisch's hand. “Let me see that.”

“This ain't the first bank robbery he's been involved in,” Gertisch informed. “He was questioned and released after an attempt on the South Side.”

“Released, Stan. That's the key.” Meg flipped through the file. “Oh, here's something. Hobson was charged with stealing a mattress.” She snickered. “He was apprehended wearing same.” She shook her head. “I wouldn't expect that to be a misdemeanor. But there you have it.” She closed the file and set it on the desk. “Hobson didn't try to steal anybody's clothes that I noticed, Stan.”

Gertisch snatched the file up. “Okay, Miss Smartass,” he growled. “What about him being the prime suspect in the Frank Scanlon murder?”

Meg sat back and rested her chin on her hand. “It's interesting. I had that case. An M.E. and a cop pled out. They were caught trying to kill a detective . . .”

Gertisch slammed the file back onto the desk. “Just what is it you know that I don't?” In spite of his earlier desire not to get on the wrong side of Meg's temper, his own was at the boiling point.

“Who says I know anything?” The look of innocence on Meg's face was too much.

“That!” Gertisch exclaimed, pointing a finger at her. “You're as cynical as me, Red. But with this Hobson character, you're at the hospital . . . you're worried about him. Something ain't right about the guy. And you know it.” He shook his finger at her. “And don't give me the 'he saved my life' crap 'cause I ain't buying it.”

“Do you trust me, Stan?”

The question came out of left field and caught Gertisch right between the eyes. Meg was the only prosecutor he didn't look down on. She was the only one he'd ever met that didn't look down on cops. He wasn't sure whether that was because she'd been married to one, or because she'd had so many close calls that she knew what a cop's life was like. Either way, he could say he liked her and not be lying through his teeth. But he'd never considered whether he trusted her or not. Until now. “Yeah, sure I trust you, Red.”

Meg stood. “Then trust me when I say that you wouldn't believe me if I told you what I know about Hobson.” She shrugged. “You just have to trust that I do.”

Gertisch snorted, then hauled himself off the desk. “I knew you knew.”

Meg laughed quietly and picked up her briefcase. “Can I still get that ride to the hospital, or do you want me to call a cab?”

Gertisch took the briefcase. “A ride to the hospital isn't a problem.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The day's events caught up to Meg as she was in the elevator on her way back to the surgical waiting area. Thankfully, she was alone in the car, which suddenly felt hot and airless.

“Not now.” Meg moaned and reached a shaking hand out to stab at the buttons on the panel. She managed to light up a floor and the elevator stopped. The instant the doors opened, she stumbled out of the car.

Meg had ended up in a central waiting room on one of the patient floors purely by chance. She could see chairs, but the distance seemed impossible. I'll never make it.

“Are you okay?” A man's face wavered in front of Meg.

Meg managed to shake her head and was relieved that the man understood the gesture. She felt hands on her shoulders, guiding her to a chair. The hands helped her sit down and she concentrated on breathing for several minutes, oblivious to the presence of her rescuer or anyone else in the waiting area. A can of juice appeared in her hand. She stared at it for a minute, then sipped, wishing that low blood sugar was her only problem.

To Meg's surprise, the man was still sitting next to her when the shaking stopped. “Thanks,” she whispered.

“Will you be okay while I get a wheelchair to take you down to E.R.?”

Meg cleared her throat, then shook her head. “That's not necessary. Really.” She smiled, although she wouldn't be surprised if it ended up looking more like a grimace than a smile. “I haven't had anything to eat today. Bad things happen.”

“If I were you, that'd be a good reason to let the docs check you out.”

The man was wearing scrubs and Meg guessed that he was either an orderly, or maybe a nurse. “Thanks, but the juice helped. I'm here to check on a friend in surgery. As soon as I do that, I'll get something to eat. I promise.” She smiled again. “Thank you.”

The man shrugged. “Your choice.” He stood. “I don't think it's smart, but I can't force you.”

Meg nodded. “Thanks. I'm fine, now.”

“If you change your mind, have one of the nurses at the desk call an orderly.” With that, the man turned and continued down the hallway to Meg's right.

Meg sighed. “Get a grip. That's twice in one day you've had to be rescued,” she muttered. She took another sip from the juice can, then set it down and rubbed her face with both hands.

Now it was the elevator that seemed too far away. Meg picked up the can of juice to finish it. In mid sip, she remembered her briefcase. She had no idea what had happened to it after the start of her panic attack in the elevator. She was relieved to find it on the floor at her feet.

Meg was curious about whether the headline in Gary's paper had changed since her last look at it in the bank. She was also terrified that it had changed to something worse. She hesitantly reached into the briefcase and pulled the folded paper out. Equally hesitant, she opened the paper.

Meg was again relieved when the headline announced a successful conclusion to the hostage drama. She was also pleased with the portion of the article that informed her that Gary had survived surgery and was on his way to recovery from his wound. She was less pleased with her prominent mention in other parts of the same article.

Questions about the origins of the paper swirled through her head in a manic symphony. Who was behind it and how it came to be served as the chorus. Knowing that the answers wouldn't be available tonight made it that much worse. She shut the door on the orchestra before they made her dizzy again.

There were more questions, but they weren't as overwhelming. Stan's suspicion of Gary was something she not only understood, but could relate to. Had she seen Gary's file that morning, she too would have expected his presence in the bank to be more than mere coincidence. However, she'd seen Gary's paper.

Gary was shot saving you. In that instant, Meg put the paper and Gary's injury together. Maybe she'd already done that and been unable to acknowledge it. You were supposed to die.

Meg stuffed the paper back into her briefcase without folding it. She stood and lifted the heavy case from the floor. Instead of going back to the surgical floor, she rode the elevator down to the lobby.

Meg realized that she didn't want the answers to her questions any more. She could face accused killers and their defense attorneys, most as blood thirsty as their clients. She could deal with men like Michaels who saw a woman and believed they could bully her. Those things didn't frighten her. Her own mortality, however, was something she couldn't face. It was better to try to forget that the day had happened at all.

Any duty Meg might have felt toward Gary was forgotten as she hailed a cab to take her home.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Gary first became aware of something hard beneath his back. Next came a cool, metallic smell filling his nose. He tried to identify both and failed.

“. . . Hobson?”

Crumb? What's he doing here? Gary tried to open his eyes, which refused to cooperate. When he tried to speak, he sounded like a frog.

A hand squeezed his. “It's okay, Mr. Hobson.” The voice belonged to a man, but it wasn't Crumb. “You'll be on your way to recovery in a minute.”

Recovery? From what? Gary tried to remember the day and got lost in the fog.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When Gary came out of the fog, he was lying on something soft. His eyes opened, but all he could make out were blurry ceiling tiles and a square light fixture above him. Wherever he was, it was cool, dark and quiet. Except for my alarm.

Gary rolled to his left to shut the thing off. In mid-roll, white hot pain lanced from his shoulder. He gasped and dropped back to the bed, squeezing his eyes shut and alternately praying that he would die, or his shoulder would fall off. He didn't care which, as long as the pain went with it.

“. . . easy . . . deep breaths.” The woman's voice was quiet and would have been soothing if The Cat hadn't been gnawing on his shoulder.

“H . . . hurts . . .” Gary didn't think she'd believe that a cat was chewing his arm off.

The beep from the alarm clock went from slow and normal to fast and erratic. Gary opened his eyes and a blurry face appeared above him. “It . . . hurts.” As soon as the words left his mouth, he felt himself floating away and leaving the pain below.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

There was a cool hand over Gary's right hand and voices murmured around him.

“. . . like watching you sleep, but I need you to wake up just for a minute so I know you're okay.”

Mom? Gary was pretty sure the voice belonged to his mother. Or somebody that sounded just like her.

Gary's eyelids weighed a ton, but he finally managed to lift them.

“There he is.” Mom smiled.

“A . . . sleep.” Gary's throat hurt almost as bad as his shoulder.

Mom laughed. “Well, you've been sleeping for seven hours.” She leaned down and kissed Gary's forehead. “Your dad's here. And Marissa.”

Dad's hand squeezed his right shin. “How're you feelin', Gar?”

In a brief moment of lucidity, it all came back to Gary. The guard. The gun. Meg. “Like I've been shot.” He tried to clear his throat, making it worse. “Throat.”

Mom turned and disappeared from Gary's line of vision. Something told him trying to find her would be bad, so he waited. When she reappeared, she was holding a small cup.

The cool, metallic smell was making Gary sick. He reached for the irritating plastic under his nose, but Mom's hand stopped him.

“It's oxygen, Gary. Leave it be.” Mom held the spoon to his lips. “The nurse said you could have some chipped ice.”

Gary took the chips from the bowl of the spoon and searched without moving his head for Marissa. “Hi, Mawissa.”

Marissa smiled. “Hey.”

Gary found his father. “Hi, Dad.” He swallowed, closing his eyes as the coolness soothed his throat.

“You're gonna be okay, Son.” Dad smiled.

Gary started to respond, but didn't succeed. His stomach flipped and a chill swept through him. “Mom,” he moaned.

The pain in his shoulder came back with a vengeance. Each spasm pushing his stomach up and out of his mouth made the pain worse. His world was reduced to a heaving, pain-filled, miserable blur.

Hours seemed to pass before the heaving finally stopped. Gary decided that he'd ask somebody to just shoot him, rather than suffering another bout of retching.

Gary felt a cool cloth on the back of his neck and another on his forehead. Suddenly, he was a kid again, staying home from school with the flu. Mom's hands were holding the cloths and somebody else's hands were holding him up. Dad.

When Gary realized that his mother and father had held him while he vomited, he felt incredibly embarrassed. He knew it was irrational, but that didn't matter. Marissa didn't see it, but she heard it. He was embarrassed for her, too. “I'm sorry.”

“Nothing to be sorry for, Gar.” Dad chuckled. “This isn't the first time I've had to hold you while you puked. Remember that time you and Chuck had the hot dog eating contest?”

Gary's stomach turned with the memory and the mention of food.

“Bernie!” Mom exclaimed. “What you're father's trying to say is that it's okay. You're our son and it's not your fault you're sick.” She turned the cloth on his neck, then the one on his forehead. “It's probably the anesthetic.”

Gary swallowed, relieved that his stomach had stopped doing triple gainers. “I'm . . . okay.”

“Nice and easy.” Dad gently lowered Gary back to the pillow.

The words made Gary think of Meg. “Was anybody else hurt?” He opened his eyes and searched the room. “Was Meg here?” He frowned, unsure of why he'd asked the question about Meg.

“Are you dating someone, Gary? You hadn't told me.”

Gary's eyes had closed, but he didn't need them to know his mother was smiling.

Marissa rescued Gary from explaining. “Meg Davies was in the bank. She was probably the one to save Gary's life.”

“Oh!” Mom exclaimed. “The one on the news. She sure doesn't want to tell anybody about it. All she says is 'no comment'.”

Gary felt exhaustion creeping up on him. “She works . . . for the . . . State's . . . Attorney.”

“Then it must be force of habit,” Mom commented.

“Meg was here. She had to go to the station and I guess she couldn't get back,” Marissa informed.

Gary opened his eyes, which instantly fell closed again. “Sorry . . . so . . . tired,” he mumbled.

Mom kissed his forehead. “You need your rest.”

“Then why'd you wake him up, Lo?” Dad's voice was teasing.

“I wanted to make sure he was all right. Now that I know . . .”

The rest was lost as exhaustion caught Gary and held onto him.

“. . . this Meg person. Is she nice? It's so hard to tell when she's pushing her way through those T.V. cameras.”

Oh, brother. Gary was asleep again before he heard Marissa's answer.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Two days later, Gary was looking forward to his parents' return to Indiana. He loved them, but their constant, undivided attention was as trying now as it had been from the ages of 10 to 18 when he left home for college. During those years, he'd wished that he hadn't been an only child. Right now, he was wishing for a brother or sister again.

Gary awakened to several more bouts of vomiting during his first day after surgery. During those times, he'd appreciated the attention from his mom and dad. Now that he felt better, they were starting to drive him a little crazy.

The one advantage was that Mom and Dad both knew about the Paper and could handle changing its headlines. None of them had been excessively dangerous, which was a relief to Gary. It also made him wonder if the Paper knew he was out of commission. And whether the Paper saved the really dangerous headlines especially for him.

“Are you feeling all right, hun? You haven't touched your lunch.”

Marissa was at the bar and Bernie was off trying to stop a minor car accident on the South side. That left Mom as Gary's only company.

Dad wouldn't be worrying about your lunch. You should've sent Mom to stop that accident. Gary picked up his fork and poked at the cream colored lump in one compartment of the tray. “I'm just not hungry.”

Mom stood and placed the back of her hand on Gary's forehead. “You're a little warm.”

“Have you had lunch?” Gary tried to change the subject.

Mom smiled. “I'm getting on your nerves, aren't I?”

Gary felt his face flush and wondered if Mom had read his mind. “No . . .” He stopped, remembering a promise he'd made to be more honest about his feelings instead of holding them back. “You know how cranky I get when I'm sick.”

Mom laughed. “Tell me about it.” She brushed the hair from Gary's forehead. “All right, I'll go down to the cafeteria and eat lunch, then stop by the gift shop and get you some magazines.” She kissed to his forehead. “You feel warm, so I'm sending a nurse in to take your temperature.”

Gary shifted slightly, not happy with the idea. “Thanks, Mom.” He hoped he could fall asleep before the nurse got there. At the least before his mom and dad got back.

“Do you want to watch some T.V.?” Mom lifted the remote from the rail and set it next to Gary's right hand.

“Yeah, that'd be nice.” Gary aimed the remote at the set, which Dad had informed him was bolted to a shelf that was so high, nobody could steal it anyway. Of course, only Dad would think of that. Or Chuck. He grinned. Chuck would probably try to find a way to steal the T.V.

Gary surfed past game shows, soap operas and the hospital's information channel until he found the noon news.

The anchor woman was instantly replaced by file footage of Wallace being led out of the bank in handcuffs. “And now we'll take you live to Jim Tucker at the State's Attorney's office.”

“Thanks, Paula.” The camera focused on a tall, blond man.

“You've had your work cut out for you this week, Jim. Any word on the purpose of this press conference?” The anchor woman's voice asked.

“This has definitely been a fast moving case. On Tuesday, Robert Wallace walked into the First Commerce Bank on Randolph Street and took employees and customers hostage. Five hours later, without making any demands, Wallace surrendered to police.” Tucker paused. “Only one man was injured, a local bar owner named Gary Hobson.”

Gary rolled his eyes, then frowned at the mention of his name on the news.

“Mr. Hobson is recovering at an area hospital.” Tucker paused again. “On Wednesday, the United States Attorney filed charges against Wallace and took him into federal custody.”

“Is that unusual, Jim?” The anchor woman interrupted.

“Well, the U.S. Attorney has first choice of bank robbery and kidnapping cases. However, in cases of attempted robbery, the State's Attorney generally prosecutes.” Tucker answered.

Behind Tucker, several people filed across the screen. Tucker turned briefly to watch the procession, then turned back to the camera. “The press conference is about to start.”

The camera left Tucker and focused on the podium. Gary immediately recognized Meg among the group. She stood next to the detective that had visited Gary on his second day after surgery. Unfortunately, Gary couldn't remember the man's name.

A young man in an expensive suit stepped up to the podium. He waited for the assembled reporters to quiet, then leaned toward the microphone.

“Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen. I'm Robert Michaels, Assistant U.S. Attorney.”

As it had been in the bank days ago, Gary's attention was drawn to Meg, who was still visible at the edge of the screen. She seemed smaller standing between the detective and the man to her left. The detective said something to her and she smiled briefly, then covered her mouth and dropped her head. He remembered Meg's smile from the bank. She's got a nice smile. She doesn't need to hide her mouth. Then Gary realized that he was on the outside of an inside joke.

The camera focused on the man at the podium, who was in the middle of a sentence Gary hadn't been paying attention to.

“. . . entered a guilty plea to attempted bank robbery.” Michaels looked out at the camera. “Any questions?”

“What kind of sentencing are you looking at?” A man's voice asked. “Tom Jensen, Tribune.”

Michaels smiled. “Good question, Tom. Sentencing is set for next month, but under federal guidelines, Mr. Wallace will serve ten years before becoming eligible for parole.” He smiled again and pointed. “Yes?”

“Joyce Matthews, WKPP, Detroit. Did the victims agree to this plea bargain? Wallace would've faced life in prison if he'd gone to trial.”

“With the exception of Mr. Hobson, the victims were consulted and felt that the plea was the best way to put the experience behind them.”

“My sources say that one of the victims wanted this case to go to trial.” A man's voice made the statement before Michaels could call for the next question.

“Your sources are mistaken.” Michaels' voice was curt. “Next question.”

“Now that the case is resolved, can we get some more information about Mr. Wallace, the robbery and the hostage situation? The police have been closed mouthed about the incident.” The voice belonged to a woman, who didn't identify herself.

“Robert Wallace has a prior felony record for vehicular manslaughter. He served 18 months in the state prison at Joliet.” Michaels paused. “He'd lost his job and was trying to obtain money to return to his home state of Maine.”

“Joyce Matthews, again. I see Ms. Davies at the podium. She was actually in the bank. Is there any chance we can talk to her?”

Michaels frowned, then turned. The camera followed, focusing on Meg. “Ms. Davies.”

Meg's expression as she stepped up to the podium would've been more appropriate for facing a firing squad or an IRS audit. She lowered the microphone, causing a burst of feedback. The grin that resulted lit up her face. “Ugh . . . sorry about that.”

Quiet chuckles rippled through the audience. Then the assembled reporters began shouting questions. Meg briefly looked surprised, then she raised a hand. “I've only got two ears, so y'all are gonna have to slow it down.”

“Two of the hostages have credited you with ending the stand-off.” The loudest voice got her attention. “What do you have to say about that?”

“No comment.” Meg grinned and Gary laughed. “Just kidding. You can edit that out, can't you?”

“Some of us can. Some of us are live.” Tucker's voice called out.

Meg grimaced. “Sorry.” She looked down at the podium, then back up. “Before I answer that, I'd like to thank the people who've sent notes, cards and letters to me care of my office.” She paused. “I wasn't the only person in that bank. There were five others and each of them played a part.

“Mr. Wallace chose the teller to act as the go-between with the police. In spite of the fact that she seemed to prefer the idea of dental surgery without novocaine, she cooperated with Mr. Wallace.” Meg paused again. “Mr. Marshall and Mr. Gregory remained calm. Mr. Wallace might not have intended to hurt any of us, but if they'd lost their heads, things would've ended differently.

“Mr. Hansen also did his best to stay calm in bad situation.” Meg stopped and looked down at the podium for several minutes. “Mr. Hobson was wounded, but gave up what might've been his only chance out. To me, that act was more heroic than my ability to talk fast and end the stand-off.” Meg paused. “There were six of us in that bank. We all just did our best to do the right thing.”

“But how did you get him to surrender? Sources say you promised him leniency.” A woman's voice called out.

“I told Mr. Wallace what he already knew,” Meg began. “The only promise I made was to recommend that the U.S. Attorney's office prosecute him.” She paused. “Ten years is a long time. Mr. Wallace made a mistake and for the next ten years, he'll be paying for it.”

“Shouldn't he be paying for his crime at Joliet, instead of a cushy federal prison?” Another voice shouted out.

Meg shrugged. “Prison is prison. You ought'a try it some time, Bubba.”

Michaels stepped back up to the podium. “Thank you, Ms. Davies.”

Gary shut the set off when Meg stepped out of camera range. For the first time, he realized that he was disappointed that she hadn't been to the hospital. She hadn't even called. After her comment at the press conference, he couldn't figure out why.

The door opened and one of the nurses came in carrying a vase of flowers with three balloons tied around it. Since the Cat and the Paper first appeared on his doorstep, Gary had lost his appreciation of Garfield.

“Somebody paid a pretty penny for these.” The nurse smiled as she set the vase on the stand to Gary's left. “Tiger lilies, roses and a couple orchids.”

Gary smiled politely. “Yeah, they're real nice. Thanks, Cece.”

Cece plucked the card from the middle of the arrangement. “Would you like to read it now, or save it for later?”

Gary sighed. “Might as well read it now.”

Cece opened the small envelope and handed the card to Gary.

Thank you. Meg Davies.

“At least she sent flowers.” Gary muttered, silently handing the card back to Cece, who placed it in its envelope and put that back into the prong at the center of the arrangement.

“Your mom thinks you might be running a fever.” Cece walked around the bed. “So I'm going to check your pulse, b.p. and temp while I'm in here.” She pulled the pressure cuff from the holder behind the bed and wrapped it around Gary's upper arm.

Gary sighed and closed his eyes and the nurse inflated the cuff. He winced as the cuff tightened around his upper arm.

“Sorry.” Cece released the air, deflating the cuff. “Is your right arm bothering you?” She asked as she removed the cuff.

“You've gotta do everything to my right arm. I've got bruises on top of bruises,” Gary muttered, instantly regretting the sharpness of the words. He opened his eyes and looked up at Cece. “Sorry. I know you can't do anything with my left arm . . .”

Cece smiled. “No offense taken.” She placed her fingers on Gary's right wrist to measure his pulse. When she was finished, she pulled an aural thermometer from the pocket of her smock. “Last thing and it won't hurt a bit.” She placed the probe in his right ear, it beeped and she removed it. She frowned as she read the display.

“My mom was right, huh?” Gary sighed and closed his eyes. He heard Cece say something about the doctor and orders, but he was too tired to pay attention. He was pretty sure Cece was still in the room when he fell asleep.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Gary's fingers sank to the first knuckles in the sand as he stumbled and fell to his knees. He frowned and looked at the golden grains. “Sand?” He got back to his feet and turned 360 degrees. “This sure isn't Chicago. Or even Illinois.” Finding out how he got to the desert was almost as high on his list of priorities as finding out where he was.

“Maybe I'm here to stop something in The Paper.” That was almost a no-brainer, since the last six years of Gary's life had been consumed by The Paper. He patted his back pocket and found that, for the first time in six years, there wasn't a paper.

Gary's frown deepened. “Something's not right . . .” He squinted up at the sun and wiped sweat from his forehead. “I'd start walking, but I don't know which way to go.” He looked around again, trying to figure out where he was.


“Mom?” Gary followed the voice as his mother cried out again.

“Gar!” Chuck's voice echoed from behind him. “GARY!!”

“Gary, help me! Please!” Marissa's voice was to his left.

“GAAAARRRYYY!!!” Gary's father's voice came from the right.

Gary froze. The voices continued calling him, begging him to help. He wanted to help them, but he had no idea who to help first. Other voices joined those of his mother, father and friends.

Gary looked around, trying to find the people, or the danger, or something more than the voices. He looked around for something he could touch, or hit, or kick, or move. He turned, scanning the vast wasteland and finding nothing but sand.

There was a flash of red in the distance and Gary squinted, blocking the sun with his hand. The red was a woman's hair. Gary had seen her before, but he'd never been able to catch her. She had something to do with The Paper and he'd always wanted to know what.

“Hey! Stop!” Gary shouted as he ran through the shifting sand. “I need your help!!”

Gary didn't see the growing hole in the sand until he stumbled into it. By then, it was too late.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Lois wrung excess water from a washcloth into a basin, then gently set the cloth on Gary's forehead. He mumbled and twisted his head, tossing the cloth off. Lois retrieved the cloth and gently mopped her son's forehead and face. “Shhh, Sweetie. It's okay. Mama's here.”

Gary's eyes snapped open and he gasped. He briefly tried to sit up, then groaned and fell back to the bed. His eyes squeezed shut and he took several shallow, shaky breaths.

Lois wet the cloth, wrung it out and placed it on Gary's forehead, holding it in place. “It's okay, Gary. You had a bad dream. Just a bad dream.”

“Falling,” Gary mumbled, then groaned again. He finally opened his eyes and looked up at Lois.

Lois tried not to let the brightness in her son's eyes worry her, but it did. She smiled down at him as she turned the cloth. “It was just a dream. You're safe here.”

Gary blinked. “You're okay.” He looked around the room. “Dad? Chuck? Marissa?”

Lois caught Gary as he tried to sit up again. “Dad's at the loft. Chuck's in California and Marissa's at the restaurant,” she informed quietly.

Gary closed his eyes and sighed. “S'hot in here.” He pushed at the blanket with his right hand, then kicked it from his legs and feet.

“You have a little fever.” Lois winced at the lie. Gary's fever had spiked to 102 just 20 minutes ago. “Nothing we can't handle.” She pulled the sheet and blanket up and tucked them around him. “You don't need to worry about anything but rest and healing.”

“Don' wanna have that dream.”

Lois wrung the washcloth again, then smoothed the matted hair from her son's forehead before laying the washcloth over his brow. “What did you dream about?”

“Don' wanna talk about it.”

Lois smiled at the tone of Gary's voice. He'd developed an independent streak by the time he was three. He'd always wanted to handle things by himself. She turned the cloth. “It might help,” she prompted. “When you talk about it, it makes it less real.”

Gary looked up at Lois. “I was in the desert and voices were calling me to help them.” He closed his eyes. “I didn't have The Paper and I didn't know what to do. There was a woman with red hair.” He trailed off, briefly closing his eyes. He took a deep breath and opened them again. “Then I was falling through a hole in the sand.”

“Well, it sounds to me like you're just worried about The Paper.” Lois soaked the washcloth, wrung it out and gently mopped Gary's face. “But your dad and I have that covered. Did you know this woman? The one with the red hair?”

Gary closed his eyes again. “Unh-uh. I've seen her . . . think she's got somethin' to do with The Paper.” His words slurred.

“See? You're just worried about The Paper,” Lois said brightly. “But you've got nothing to worry about.”

“'Kay.” Gary shifted slightly, never opening his eyes.

Lois silently mopped Gary's face. She'd kept this vigil through enough childhood illnesses to know that her trick had worked. He wasn't worried about a silly dream any more. He would be asleep again in minutes. She continued to mop his face, in an effort to keep him comfortable, watching as his breathing evened out and slowed as he went back to sleep. Some things never change.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A month later, Meg stood outside of McGinty's staring up at the bar's sign and the Chicago Fire Department sign above the first floor lintel. She'd walked around the block four times, unable to work up the courage to open the door and face Gary. If he's even here.

Meg knew that walking away from the hospital without looking back was a terrible thing to do to a man who'd been shot saving her life. And you didn't even have the decency to thank him in person. She sighed. I wish I'd never seen that stupid paper!

The guilt and the voice of her conscience had finally driven Meg to McGinty's to set things right with her rescuer. Although she couldn't figure out why, she'd also kept Gary's paper, which was still in her briefcase. I'll return that, too, while I'm at it.

The door opened and Meg forced herself to walk into the outer entry. She peered through the frosted glass door, looking for Gary. When she didn't spot him, she was tempted to leave. Then she saw Marissa at the bar. Even though Marissa wouldn't see her, Meg couldn't leave.

Marissa was still seated on a stool at the end of the bar as Meg stepped into the main room. Spike stood and wagged his tail as she approached them.

“Spikey.” Meg laughed and scratched the dog's head, then sat on the stool next to Marissa's.

Marissa turned and smiled. “Hey, Stranger. Glad you finally made it over here.”

Meg had promised to visit the bar when Marissa returned her phone. I didn't realize how hard that would be when I made the promise. Meg laughed, more at herself than Marissa's comment. “Back-to-back trials. They tend to consume my life.” That only excuses the past two weeks.

“Can I get you a drink? On the house, of course,” Marissa offered.

A couple of drinks might shut my conscience up for five minutes. Meg reconsidered. “A Diet Coke would be great. Thanks.”

Marissa turned toward the other end of the bar. Once she'd relayed the order to the bartender, she turned back to Meg. “So, it's been all work and no play, huh?”

Meg laughed. “That's my lot in life.”

The bartender set a glass in front of Meg. “Here ya go.”

“Thanks.” Meg looked around. “Gary must be out.”

“Nope. He's bringing some stock up from the cellar.” Marissa replied. “He'll be up in a minute.”

Meg took a sip of her soda. “Oh, okay.”

Marissa tilted her head and smiled. “He's on his way back up, now.”

Meg sat up and looked around, but Gary was nowhere in sight.

Marissa leaned toward Meg. “I can hear the bottles.”

“I'll be careful what I think around you just to be on the safe side.” Meg laughed.

“If I could read minds, I'd know why seeing Gary is such a big deal for you,” Marissa returned.

Meg rolled her eyes. “When you find out, promise to clue me in, okay?”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Gary climbed the stairs and stepped out of the cellar, carefully pushing the door closed with his foot. He was on his way through to the bar when he spotted a flash of red hair next to Marissa. He froze when he recognized Meg. She looked up, then smiled and waved to him. What's she doing here? He stood there for minutes, then the box in his hands started getting heavy.

Gary put his head down and walked to the other end of the bar, away from Meg. He set the box down, then opened the counter and stepped behind the bar. Purposefully, and without looking up once, he opened the box and began transferring the bottles inside to a cabinet beneath the bar back.

“Hi, Gary. How's it goin'?”

“Just fine.” Gary kept his back to the bar and continued transferring bottles to the cabinet. He wasn't sure what he would do when he ran out of bottles.

“That was really lame, wasn't it?” Meg laughed nervously. “I say really lame stuff when I don't know the right thing to say.” She paused for a breath. “Not visiting you was really lame . . . really low . . . beyond rude . . .” She groaned. “Gary, could you at least look at me while I grovel?”

Gary stopped, then stood and turned toward Meg. “Go ahead.” He crossed his arms.

“Thank you.” Meg smiled. “The whole thing freaked me out. When I'm freaked out, I do an ostrich routine . . .” She stopped and turned to the man on the other side of the service area. “Hi, I'm Meg and this is Gary.” She held out her right hand.

The man smiled and shook Meg's hand. “Tommy.”

Meg withdrew her hand. “Well, Tommy, why don't you just move your stool on over here and join in the conversation?”

Gary felt his jaw drop as Tommy blushed.

“Oh, it's okay. I just don't want you fallin' off that stool tryin' to listen to us.”

The man's face flushed to a deep red-purple and he stood, heading for the door.

“Hey!” Meg called after him. “Where you goin', Tommy? You might miss something interesting.”

“Crazy bitch.” Tommy yelled back, the slammed out the door.

“Yeah, like nobody's ever called me that before,” Meg muttered.

Gary realized he was staring at this woman, but he couldn't help it. I can't believe she did that!

Meg turned back to Gary. “Haven't you ever wanted to do that?” She laughed.

“I've never done it.” Gary laughed as Meg waggled her eyebrows at him. It's tough staying mad at her.

“Okay, so my filter doesn't work. Besides, eavesdroppers are a big pet peeve.” Meg shrugged. “You never know which one is a reporter.” She laughed. “I usually gross them out by talking about mangled bodies.” She winked. “I didn't think you'd appreciate that.”

Gary tried not to smile and failed. “Not too much.”

Meg's eyes widened. “That guy wasn't a regular, was he?”

Gary finally laughed. “If he was, he isn't now.”

“Ooops, sorry.” Meg said contritely. “Is there some place we can talk privately, so I don't have to drive off any more of your customers?”

Gary nodded. “We can talk in the office.” He stepped out from behind the bar and headed toward the office.

“One second.” Meg called.

Gary stopped and turned as Meg hurried down the bar, grabbed her briefcase, then hurried back to where he waited. He motioned toward the open office door, then followed her.

“Have a seat.” Gary motioned to the chair in front of the desk as he closed the door.

“Thanks, but I'm fine.” Meg smiled.

Gary walked around the desk, feeling her watching him as he did. He tried to ignore it as he sat down in the chair.

“Wow, I didn't realize you were so . . . tall.” Meg laughed nervously. She pulled a newspaper from her briefcase and set it on the desk. “That's one of the things that freaked me out.”

Gary frowned and looked down at the paper, then back up at Meg. I hope that isn't what I think it is. “It's a newspaper.”

“Don't give me the innocent-little-boy-it's-just-a-paper face.” Meg tapped the headline. “That changed three times . . . that I know of.”

Gary's stomach churned as he looked down at the paper again. Loucious Snow got The Paper for 40 years and nobody knew. I've had it for six and half of Chicago knows. As much as he resented The Paper at times, he wasn't sure what he'd do with himself if it went away. He finally managed to look up at Meg. “I guess you want an explanation.”

Meg blew out a breath, then sank into the chair she'd declined. “No.” Her brows came together and she frowned. She started to speak several times only to stop abruptly, as though searching for the words to express herself.

She's been trying to deal with it for a month. No wonder she never came to see me.

“At first, I wanted an explanation. But now . . . well, I don't need an explanation. I don't want one.” Meg shrugged. “I guess it'd be kind of like going to see a magician, going back stage and slamming him against the wall to force him to explain every trick.” She shrugged again. “It would ruin the magic.”

“So, you didn't . . . didn't mention it to anybody?”

Meg giggled. “And bring out the nice men in the white coats with the butterfly nets?” She laughed. “I don't think so.” She blushed suddenly and dropped her gaze to the desk. “I know you saved my life that day. That was what really freaked me out. Knowing it would've happened if you hadn't been there.” She looked up again. “The sick puppies I work with actually have a pool to guess when I'll buy it and how.” She rolled her eyes. “Because of my . . . past experiences.”

“Oh, yeah . . .” Gary laughed and shook his head. So many memories of the bank and the robbery were fuzzy. But he remembered Meg talking about a movie. “I kind of remember talking about the movie Die Hard .”

“Yeah, well, that's another story. A long one.” Meg laughed, then looked down at the desk again.

“Two hours, at least,” Gary said with a grin.

Meg looked up and laughed. “Good one. But, since there were three movies, it'd be more like six hours.” The smile disappeared and she turned serious. “I am sorry I didn't visit you. Besides the paper, I had reporters up my back for almost two weeks. I didn't know what to say, or think.”

Gary sighed quietly. “I can understand that.” He smiled. “What about now? Are you okay with it?”

Meg wrinkled her nose. “I walked around the block 4 times. Does that answer your question?”

Gary laughed and Meg smiled again.

“I know I'm going to die . . . some day. I'd just prefer to be surprised.” Meg winked, then shrugged. “I know what a responsibility that thing is,” she gestured toward the paper. “I got a taste of it when I found it. If I can ever help, I hope you'll call me.”

Gary smiled and nodded. “Thanks.”

Meg nodded. “Good.” She checked her watch. “Well, I'm due back at the office.” She stood and picked up her briefcase. “Thanks again for saving my life.” Her eyes widened. “God, I can't believe I haven't asked how you're doing. Is everything okay?”

Gary smiled shyly. “I'm doing fine.” The tops of his ears were suddenly warm. “I guess I owe you, too.”

Meg snickered. “Nah, you were shot saving my butt, so it doesn't count.”

When Meg winked at him, Gary's felt his face heat up. “I'll . . . I'll walk you to your car.”

“I'm okay, thanks.” Meg went over to the door and opened it.

Gary walked around the desk and followed her.

Meg stepped out into the bar, then stopped and turned back to Gary. She smiled up at him, then stood on tiptoe and kissed his cheek. “Thank you,” she whispered.

The heat in Gary's face centered on his left cheek. He watched Meg as she walked through the bar, stopping next to Marissa, who was at the bar, her fingers skimming across the Braille account books. Meg stopped briefly to talk to Marissa, then looked back and waved at him a final time.

Gary returned the gesture, watching Meg as she walked out of McGinty's. Maybe I'll have a reason to call her soon. He smiled. If not, I can make up a reason.

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