Encounters Along the Way
Installment 1
by E. Soral

Summary:  In the busy life of the hero of the Chicago Sun-Times special early edition, a number of people waltz in make their impression and pass on
through again.  In this collection of encounters, Gary Hobson must deal with the usual daily short-term relationships as well as some that leave lasting
changes in his life---some of a life-threatening nature.

Spoiler:  Fate, Fatal Edition, Run Gary, Run, The Iceman Taketh...actually this story draws from memories of many previous episodes from the TV series.

Disclaimer:  Early Edition and its characters and situations are the property of Sony/Tristar.  This fanfic is for entertainment purposes only; no infringement is intended and no profit is being made.

Thanks to Vickie Jo Lesch for her attention to detail in beta reading and to Tracy Diane Miller for her lively input.

Reviews and critiques are invited and requested.  Rated PG.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Encounters Along the Way
Installment 1
by E. Soral

Part 1 of 7


"REDNECK ROBBER STRIKES OUT" The headline stood out against the articles of
lesser danger in the Sun-Times. "Malcolm Dowry, 52, was shot and killed by
police gunfire when he attempted to rob the State Street Specialty Foods
store yesterday afternoon. The unemployed handyman wore a red bandana
across his face and brandished a double-barreled shotgun, demanding the cash
register contents. A quick thinking produce employee tripped the silent
alarm, summoning police. When ordered to surrender, Dowry turned and aimed
the shotgun at CPD officers. He was shot before he could make an escape."
The article covered several columns on the front page and related stories
appeared in two additional pages of the same edition of the paper. It
mentioned that the perpetrator had struck at random it seemed, during a
four-year period, thus making it harder for the police to track and identify

Gary was at the small specialty foods store, standing just outside,
watching. The article had been pretty explicit about the truck and the
suspect. When the pickup truck pulled up and parked at the edge of the
nearby alley, Gary didn't wait for the driver to get out; he opened the
passenger door and slid into the seat. While the driver sat shocked by this
outrageous act of trespass, Gary placed one hand on the dashboard and the
other on the back of the seat. Then turning to face the man, he said, "You
don't wantta do this. This is not a good idea. Besides, they just made a
run to the bank with the morning's receipts. You're gonna go to jail, or
worse, for seventy-five lousy bucks!"

Without any niceties being exchanged, the order was given, "Get the hell
outta my truck! Move!"

Gary began again, more fervently, "Please listen to me. This is a bad
decision. The cops are watching this store. Don't....."

The would-be robber tried to reach behind their heads to the shotgun on the
window rack, but Gary's arm blocked him. "Think about it. I know about
this. Don't you think they do too?"

"I don't know how you know about this, but you can get out of this truck
right now, boy!"

Gary was adamant as he reached into his pocket for his wallet. Fully
extending his hand to offer the man $75.00 in lieu of the robbery loot, he
said, "I'm not gonna let you do this.....and I'm not leaving until I know
you'll ditch the robbery idea and go on home."

"You're not gonna 'let' me.....? You're not gettin' out?" At the negative
shake of Gary's head, the truck's owner calmly responded, "Okay, have it
your way." The driver turned on the motor and gunned the engine in a
jackrabbit start that threw Gary back against the seat.

Silently, the unwilling and unwitting passenger uttered to himself, 'Whoa!
Now what?' He tried to sound casual even though his voice tended to raise
in pitch at his nervousness, "Uh, uh, where you......where you headed?"

"Hey, you're just along for the ride. It was your choice, so sit back and
enjoy it. We're goin' sightseein'." With that, he became uncommunicative
as he drove.

"You, ah, you've been in this business a long time." With the small talk he
was hoping to elicit some response from the other man, "What caused you to
start?" No answer was forthcoming from the driver. Gary continued with his
one-sided conversation, "You take an awful lot of chances for small change.
How do you ever hope to make a big haul from small businesses? Those guys
are the ones who can't afford to be robbed. And, and, how do you, ah, how
do you sleep nights knowing this?" Still his driver remained quiet,
obviously engaged in inner conflict. "Do ya ever consider that you could be
killed doin' this stuff?"

That seemed to arouse the older man to ask, "All right, I've got you along
for the ride. Now what am I gonna do with you?"

Meekly Gary answered, "You don't, you don't 'have' me, exactly."

"Wull, I sure do. You cain't get away, now can ya? What ya gonna do, jump
outta this truck? We passed your last chance to do that a mile ago. I even
slowed down a bit at that intersection, hoping ya would."

The thought of jumping out of a rapidly moving vehicle never occurred to
Gary. "I guess I'm along for the ride, but you can't really get away
either, now can you?"

"Uh, well, damned if you ain't right. It seems that I got me an
intellectual with me. This calls for some thought."

"Why don't you turn yourself in? They'll get you a lawyer and you'll have a
chance to live a new life."

"Yeah," he agreed, "in a prison with some wild-eyed nut as a roommate. I
got a life, pardner, and it's not behind bars!"

He was so sure of himself that it made Gary ask, "What kind of life do you
have now? Can you come and go anywhere you please? What if someone
recognized you?"

"Wull, yes, I could. I could go anywhere... with no one knowing who I
was---until you got into this truck, that is. Now you kin identify me---and
the truck. It seems to me, fella, that your existence is all that keeps me
from bein' free."

Gary was uncomfortable with this twist on the situation. He knew that the
man was right. It was time to use a different line of reasoning and he
asked, "You married?" He received an answer in the form of the man shaking
his head 'no'. "Don't you want to be able to find a woman, get married, and
raise some kids? How old are you?"

"You're just full a questions, ain't ya?" His response was automatic as he
said, "Ah'm 52, come this next week. How old might you be?"

There was that birthday topic that seemed to be following him. "I'll be 37
on the 17th."

"Do you have a wife and kids?"

"Well, no." He was thinking at this point that maybe he shouldn't have
pursued this argument.

"What makes you the expert on what I want outta life? Do ya have what you

Gary rubbed the back of his head vigorously, "Not exactly," he admitted,

"Things just don't seem to work out that way for me. Not yet, anyway."

The driver couldn't help asking, "What's wrong?" He gave his passenger a
suspicious look and added, "Or shouldn't I ask?"

"I don't know. I just don't know. Wait a minute, we're not discussing me.

You're the one who can't work within society."

"I did jus' fine......until you got inta this truck. How's about I let you
out on the side 'a this road and you get on with your life and let me get on
with mine?"

Gary was eager to see the opportunity being presented, but had reservations
to leaving the company of this potential time bomb of disaster. "That's
okay with me," he said, "but you can't just keep on robbing people all your

The other man seemed to take exception to the statement, "Why in hell not?
I have for the last four years. What's ta keep me from doin' it for the
next four.....or fourteen years, fer that matter? You gonna take me in on a
citizen's arrest?" He leered and chuckled at the absurdity.

Gary smiled weakly, "I guess I'd have a problem doin' that, wouldn't I?
What kind of work can you do?"

"I used to be a damned good mechanic.....farm machinery and such. Even some
plumbin' and carpentry."

"What made you stop and, ah, take up, ah, theft?"

"I'll tell ya why." The driver raised up one hand to illustrate, "I busted
my hand up, I did. It nearly had ta be cut off. Right at the wrist! That's what
they wanted to do ta me! I wouldn't let 'em. Now I cain't hold a
wrench proper, nor handle a screwdriver without scratchin' ever'thin' to
pieces. I still got the hand even if it takes me ten minutes ta even load
this ole shotgun."

Gary looked at his misshapen hand, considering the magnitude of the
disability for someone doing the work this man had done. "Ya know, the
state will re-educate you for another job, if you apply. They'll teach you
how to work without having to rely on that hand for power."

He was quick to contradict Gary's assumption, "Oh, that hand has power. Don't think it
don't. It kin knock ya down so's you don't get up right away.
Still, there's hardly any pain in this here hand that I kin tell. It's for
sure that no one challenges me to a fight. They know better."

Trying to get him back on the subject, Gary asked, "Why don't you apply to
the state for training in a new occupation? Get out of this dangerous
business. You're gonna get caught---or worse---some day."

"Nah. They cain't get me 'cause I don't do nothin' the same way twice. And
I don't rob just certain businesses." He laughed as he added smugly, "I'm
democratic---like our government, and I rob any business."

"Some day you're gonna walk in to rob some place and an off-duty cop'll be
there." Silence. "You won't walk out of there a free man. You may not
ever walk out of there."

"That reminds me, how'd you know what I was gonna do back there? You a cop?
How could you know? I didn't tell no one, not even cousin Evert."

There was an awkward silence, then he answered in a nervous stammer, "Well,
well, ya see, I.....ah.....I.....saw that, that look in your eye and saw the
shotgun. I was, ah, reading about someone they call the 'Redneck Robber'
and suddenly, yeah, suddenly you seemed to fit the description." Gary was
relieved to have picked up the explanation so quickly. He wanted, badly, to
take a peek at the paper, but he had to keep an eye on this man and his
ever-so-handy gun.

"What's your name? Mine's Gary."

"Mah name is none a your business."

"If we're gonna be ridin' together......"

"We're not gonna be 'ridin' together'! Don't get that thought in your head.
The first chance I get and you're outta here."

Gary was hoping he meant 'outta here' as in he'll stop the truck and ask his
passenger to leave. "I.....I.....I think we ought to be able to.....to call
each other by first names."

Relenting, the driver answered, "You can call me Malcolm if ya want, but I
ain't gonna blab what mah family name is."

"Okay, Malcolm. Here's what we can do. You can turn this truck around and
take us back to Chicago. I know some people at the police sta....."

"Hey, stop just a minute there. You didn't answer me when I asked if you
was a cop? Are ya?"

"No, I'm not a cop, but I know some cops. They could help you give yourself
up so you wouldn't get hurt in the process. How about it, Malcolm?"
"Why're you so interested in helpin' me? What d'ya do?"

"I, ah, I run a bar in town. McGinty's. Actually, I've got a partner and
together we run the place. We.....we.....could go there right now. You
could meet my partner; you'd like her. Together we can call these friends
and they could come over to help you give yourself up." His hopes were
running high as he added, "I know we could work something out. How about

Feeling that he was being patronized, Malcolm spat out an accusal, "You're
crazy." He kept glancing over to Gary, "You're real crazy. Just be quiet
for a while. I need some time ta think."

"Okay, okay." Gary stopped talking and took to watching the countryside.
They drove on, passing farmlands and a couple small towns. Malcolm had
switched to county roads. He seemed to be familiar with where he was and
made turns now and then in a confident manner.

"Listen, I gotta get rid a you. I ain't never hurt anyone in those
robberies and I don't wanta harm you none either."

Breaking in and vastly relieved to hear him say that, Gary commented, "I
really appreciate that, Malcolm, I really do. How about dropping me off in
the next little town? I think the sign said Pierce's Junction was coming up
in the next few miles. I could call someone to pick me up there."

Malcolm seemed to be considering the idea, then said, "No, not in town.
That's too easy for you to attract attention and get me caught. I need to
find a place to dump you so's a telephone won't be handy for a while. Say,
you got one a them cell-type phones on you?"

"No. No, I don't own one." Trying to keep Malcolm interested, Gary
offered, "Just stop right here and I'll hike on into town. You'll have
plenty of time to get away." He checked Malcolm's face for acceptance and
added, "Does that sound okay?"

At first it looked as though he was in agreement, but he kept driving
without slowing down. The town was in sight now and still he kept up his

"Are you gonna let me out here?"

Malcolm seemed bothered, "Not here. Not here. I cain't leave you go at
this place. We'll go on a bit. I know where there's a crossroads where you
kin hitch a ride with someone."

They drove on. Gary didn't know what to say; he'd run out of ideas. Did
this man know where he was going or was he just searching for any old place?
Malcolm uttered the thought that was bothering him the last few miles, "Ya
know, I was thinkin', you're gonna be able to identify this truck. I won't
get ten miles."

Trying to convince his 'captor', Gary asked helpfully, "How about if I
promise you that I won't 'remember' what kind of truck this is? How about
if I tell them it was a dump truck or an old VW bug?"

"You'd lie for me?"

"I could do that," he said, then more confidently, "I could do that. Let me
out at that stop sign up ahead."

"Hey, what kinda dunce do ya think I am? If you'd lie for me, why wouldn't
you lie TO me? Maybe you're lyin' right now." Gary was shaking his head,
as Malcolm went on, "I never asked you, you got a gun? Or a knife? Maybe
you're a karate expert, gonna kill me when I let you out. Nah, I gotta

"Malcolm, I'm not armed. Why would I be? I'm not a cop or anything. I don
't even like weapons. Please.....let me out."

"Please? It's please now. Your reasonin' done? No more convincin'
stories? No more psycho-stuff? Wull, no matter what, I gotta get you outta
this truck--and soon. You're makin' me mighty nervous."

"You're nervous."


"Ah, I said, 'You're nervous'. I'm nervous. You're not sitting in a truck,
traveling who knows where, with a guy---with a nervous guy, as you
admitted---with a shotgun behind my head. Come on, Malcolm, all we're doing
is getting farther and farther away from Chicago. I need to go home.
People are expecting me. They're gonna be worried when I don't show up."

"You said you weren't married. You living with your parents? Ma and Pa
waitin' fer ya?"

"No. No, I live above the bar. Alone. But my partner and my employees and
friends will wonder what happened. They may even call my police friends.
Ya never know."

Malcolm wasn't fooled, "Don't try to pull that one on me. I know you have
ta be missin' more than a day for the cops ta care."

Suddenly, Malcolm made a sharp turn down a side road. It started out as
paved, but that paving soon became loose gravel. He slowed his speed as the
truck kicked up rocks and left a trail of dust in its wake. He seemed to be
heading for someplace in particular. The sun was getting near to setting as
they began to reduce speed even more. Finally, he stopped in an open area
and backed up enough so he could turn the vehicle around.

"Okay," he announced, "this is it."

Gary looked around curiously, asking, "This is what?"

"This is where you get out and I go on home."

Irritated by now, Gary protested, "This isn't near anything! This is
nowhere! I thought you were gonna let me out somewhere near a phone so I
could call for a ride home."

"You can walk out of here, back to the main road in an hour. After that,
the town is, oh, maybe ten miles yonder."

Gary finally reached his tolerance point, "Listen, Malcolm, I've been going
at top speed all day. I haven't eaten or had anything to drink since this
morning. I won't make it." He was playing on his captor's sympathies,
hoping he had some. "Can't you take me back to the main road, at least?"

"Ya know what? You're gettin' ta be a real pain in the......" Thinking it
over, he caved in, "Okay, okay, but I don't wanta hear another word outta
you. And when we get to that main road, be ready ta get out 'cause I'm
getting rid a you then, willingly or unwillingly!"

Hoping that he sounded as though he really meant it, he said, "Thanks,
Malcolm, thanks."

"Shut up, I said!"

Gary nodded, hoping that he would be true to his plan.


Malcolm put the vehicle in drive and intended to gun the engine to take them
back to the highway. As soon as he heard the motor racing, but felt no
forward movement, he stuck his head out of the window to check the problem.
"What the hell?" Turning off the ignition, he removed the keys, slipped the
shotgun out of its rack, and went to the rear of the truck to see what the
problem was. He found out fast enough; the passenger side of the vehicle
had become mired in a wet depression near the shoulder. The gravel did not
extend that close to the edge of the road and the rear tire had dug itself
almost down to the hub, deep into the mud. He looked up to observe the last
vestiges of daylight still hanging on. Closing his eyes, he muttered an
expletive and murmured, "What have I got in my ole truck here, Joe Jinx?"

He went over to open the door of the passenger side, ordering Gary out of
the truck. "We got ourselves a problem on our hands here. It seems that
the right rear tire is near ta buried in that there hole."

Pointing towards the field next to them, he commented, "That pile a junk out
there looks to have somethin' we kin use ta dig ourselves out. I may need
your help, so follow me and keep up."

Gary was going to say something, but Malcolm had already started off at a
jogging pace. He followed him to the mound of construction trash sitting at
the far end of the open field.

"Over here, boy," he pointed to a narrow piece of corrugated sheet metal,

"Help me slide this outta there. It oughta be jus' the thing to solve our

Gary stationed himself opposite Malcolm and took a grip on the metal. "Now,
watch it," Malcolm warned, "that stuff is jagged and mean. Ya don't wanta
have that bite inta yer flesh."

As they tugged at the piece, it wiggled and moved a little, but not enough
to dislodge the debris atop it. Malcolm stepped back a second, seeking to
determine what might be their best approach. "Okay, okay, city boy, let's
see if we can attack this from another direction." He pointed, "You get
over there and take ahold near that jagged tear---mind you don't let it cut
ya none." As Gary stood in position, Malcolm ordered, "Now, on the count a
three, you pull and I'll give it a good shove. That oughtta get it amovin'

Malcolm looked over to see that Gary was ready and began his countdown, "A
one, a two, and a.....three!" They moved and obligingly, the pile moved.
Some of the items on top came sliding off, lightening the weight and
allowing the sheet metal to move, slowly at first. Then it zipped across
and into Gary's thigh, knocking him down.

Noticing the grimace on Gary's face as he sat flat on the seat of his pants,
Malcolm asked, "Y'okay? Y'ain't hurt none, are ya?" Compassion was the
last thing Gary expected to hear from this larcenous hillbilly.

After the initial frown, Gary responded, actually feeling a bit victorious,
"The edge kinda tore my pants, but hey, it worked! How about that? I didn'
t think you could move that thing without removing all the junk on top of it

"We ain't got that much time. Come on, it's gettin' mighty dark. Let's
tote this thing on back."

When Gary regained his feet, he examined the extent of the tear in his jeans
and felt pain at the spot. "Oh boy," he said quietly enough so Malcolm
wouldn't hear him. The metal had done damage to more than the denim. This
was no time to worry about a scrape. It was fairly dark already and they
weren't to the junction yet.

The two of them carried the panel back to the road and placed it in front of
the tire that was almost buried in the mud, piling gravel both in front and
behind the tire. As Malcolm went to start the motor, Gary stood at the
rear, ready to give a push if it were needed. Between the two of them, they
entertained high hopes of freeing the truck. Malcolm got out after a while
and the two of them together tried to push the truck free. The tire had bec
ome too imbedded in the mud. They were out of breath by the time Gary's
redneck friend gave up and called off the task, the two of them pretty well
exhausted with the effort.

"There ain't no way we're gettin' that blasted thing clear t'night. I gotta
call a tow-truck fer this one." He glowered at Gary and grumbled, "Sayin'
goodbye ta you ain't gonna be hard ta do." He stopped to retrieve his
shotgun again and lock the truck.

Gary was still standing at the rear of the vehicle. By now his leg had
passed the numb stage and was beginning to throb and burn. It was too dark
to worry about it at this time, especially if it meant having the other man
doing the examining.

Malcolm called to him, growling impatiently, "Well, what're ya waitin' fer,
an invitation? We gotta get to the highway ta flag some'un down. Let's go!
It'll cost me an arm and a leg ta pay fer towin'. You got any dough on ya?"
Sarcastically, Gary commiserated, "Oh, I'm real sorry about that. Real
Sorry. And no, I don't have any 'dough' on me. If I'd have known that
someone was gonna kidnap me, I'd have made sure to bring my own ransom
money." He patted the pocket where he kept his money, then began a search
of his other pockets. Gone. The wallet was gone. Where?

"There's no cause to be like that," Malcolm said, trying to sound friendly
all of a sudden. "You're gettin' a ride, ain't ya? And you're not bein'
kidnapped. YOU'RE the one what got inta my vehicle."

"Yeah. It was my mistake thinking you needed to be warned that the store
had a silent alarm system and that you would have been, not caught, Malcolm,
not caught, but killed while resisting arrest." While Malcolm was digesting
the sobering thought, Gary added, out of breath and with obvious irritation,
"Ya know, we could have, could have, ah, done this the easy way back when we
passed through that little town."

They walked without talking for a while, if they didn't count Malcolm's
constant grumbling. Gary was on automatic pilot as he walked. If he had
thought about what he was doing, he probably would have sat down and given
up the thought of getting to the junction on his own power.

Malcolm didn't comment much on their progress. But he was noticing that
Gary had been lagging farther and farther behind and limping as he did.
'City boy!' Malcolm thought, 'He prob'bly didn't walk farther than from his
house to his car any day 'a the week'.

They were close to the county highway. Traffic was sparse and what there
was, was traveling far in excess of the speed limits. Any commuters that
there might have been had long since reached their destinations. Malcolm
sat down on a low rock to wait for Gary to catch up. The younger man seemed
to be weaving as he limped along.

"You ain't in much good shape. Y'oughtta get out more and get some

Gary heard him and mumbled something his friend would not have appreciated.

He wanted to laugh, but he was doing the best he could trying to keep
walking, still concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. The
suggestion that he try to exercise more deserved an answer, but he wasn't
able to conjure up enough energy at the moment to provide it.

He wasn't completely aware of when he reached the intersection, but the
other man noticed that his companion was not stopping, but attempting
instead, to continue out into the road. Alarmed, even without considering
the light traffic, he jumped up and grabbed the back of Gary's jacket,
pulling him away from the thoroughfare, throwing him off balance enough to
hit the ground. "What in hell you doin', boy? A semi comes along---he won'
t even know he hit ya. And neither will you!"

Being pulled to a stop like that, Gary surrendered to the pain and fatigue
and stayed where he had fallen. He was conscious, but laid there with his
eyes closed.

It seemed that Malcolm had but two tones of voice: grumble and growl. This
time he chose 'growl' to ask, "What'sa matter? Gary? What's wrong?" He
saw that there was more to the problem than being out of shape as he had
originally suspected. "We needa get ya some water. You'll be fine. Jus'
rest a minute."

Gary didn't move. He didn't think he could ever move again. Resting
sounded good. Water sounded good too. So did food. Food sounded real
good. Steak and eggs weren't his usual choice, but right now it would have
been one fine meal. He thought he was thinking it to himself, but his new
friend must have heard some of it, "I'll have a portion a that myself. As
long as you're dreamin', make it a double portion."

Gary rolled to a sitting position, grimacing and cradling his injury between
his hands as he did. He released a moan that the other man must have heard.
Malcolm came closer, placed his gun down on the weeds, and crouching,
solicitously inquired, "Y'okay, son?" Gary wondered how he had progressed
from 'City boy' and other less pleasant references that this man had
uttered, to 'son'.

"I'm fine." His 'fine' came out in a whisper. "But I won't be walkin' any
farther, I'm afraid." He tore his already rent pants to take a closer look
at the source of his pain. "It's too dark to tell much, but I think I'll
have to have you send someone back to get me."

The other man leaned over Gary, trying for a closer look, asking, "What'd ya
do there? Sure. Jus' what I told ya not ta do! Y'went and got y'self hurt
on that metal. Cain't you city boys do anythin' right?" 'Son' had suddenly
been demoted back to a lesser rank of 'city boy'. Malcolm gave Gary an
initial fright when he took out a pocketknife and opened it. Pulling the
younger man's shirt open, he cut off a large piece of the white tee shirt
beneath it. Using it as a bandage, he put pressure on the wound site. "Y'
know, we'd a been so much better off if'n you'd a not got inta my truck back

Sarcasm was all that was left as Gary muttered breathily, "Gee, I'm glad you're pointing.....
pointing that out. It would nev.....never have occurred to me."

"No need ta get sarcastic there." Then in what the injured man thought was
the major understatement of their dilemma, Malcolm observed, "You need a
medic." He stood up again, looking both directions up and down the highway.

"How about if I let ya lean on me? Ya think ya could make it, walkin'?"

Gary was holding the makeshift bandage on his leg, and at the same time,
giving Malcolm a 'look' invisible in the darkness. Finally conceding that
Malcolm deserved some courtesy, he agreed, "I don't know, Malcolm. I guess
I could try. Give me a hand up."

With very little effort, Malcolm hoisted him to his feet. When he was sure
that the younger man was not going to fall back to the ground, he put one
arm around his waist and had Gary place an arm over Malcolm's opposite
shoulder as they started out walking. The pace was slow and slower. By the
time they had covered a half-mile, Malcolm had to check whether his partner
was awake at all.

"You awake? C'mon, kid, ya gotta stay awake. I cain't tote ya all the way
to Warren's Corners." He received a moan for a reply. "We ain't covered a
mile yet. C'mon, put some effort inta this. Y'gotta help me some."

His answer sounded like 'Tired', but he wasn't sure. Placing him down on
the grassy berm, Malcolm stood and stretched, still watching for someone,
anyone, to come their way. The 'kid' weighed too much to carry and he didn't
want to leave him while he hiked it alone.

"I guess I could tote ya over mah shoulder fer a while."

"Oh, no.....no.....no......no. Not the over-the-shoulder position. I'd, I'd ra.....rather
stay here and wait for, for you to.....to send someone back to get me."

Malcolm was having none of that idea and told him so, "It would be just the
luck of the day that they'd pick you up afore I got to town and the cops'd
be on my tail quick as can be? Nah, jus' lemme consider."

"I guess I could walk some more, Dowry. Give me another minute."

Upon hearing his last name mentioned Malcolm was puzzled. He didn't
remember giving his family name to his unwelcome passenger. He thought he h
ad strictly refused to divulge it.

Malcolm heard Gary ask for the 'minute', fully knowing that a minute was not
going to give him the strength he would need to cover the miles to the tiny
community up ahead.

A pair of headlamps shone in the distance, giving new hope to him. Gary was
unaware of it as Malcolm made the decision to flag this approaching vehicle
down. The lights came closer; he hoped the driver was alert enough to see
him waving his arms at the road's edge. When the vehicle slowed and
stopped, the passenger window was lowered and a voice called out, "Need a


Malcolm, never more relieved, called back, "Yeah, I'd be mighty thankful if
ya kin take us inta town. My truck got stuck in the mud on Gravel Pit Road
and my friend here, he got hurt."

Even without daylight, it wasn't hard to see that these two men were covered
with mud. "You boys mind ridin' in the back a the truck?"

Malcolm gave one of his rare smiles, "We'd be pleased. Can ya drop us at
Doc Henshaw's? He and I go back a long way."

"Wull, you two won't go back any further 'cause he passed on last year. The
nearest thing we got to a doc right now is Ed Manchester. I'm sure he kin
help him some."

Malcolm hefted Gary to the pickup truck's bed and climbed in after him,
raising the gate behind them. He placed Gary's head on his leg to ease the
bumps of the ride and Malcolm hung on to the side as the vehicle sped along.

The bumps of the road were magnified in the bed of the pickup. "Malcolm?"

Gary tried to yell, but it took too much energy and breath to achieve the
volume he needed.

The predicted growl returned, "What?"

"Do we have very far to go?"

Malcolm harrumphed and asked, "Ain't you just like a little kid. 'Are we
there yet'? Is that what you're askin'?" He was going to go on, but could
see that his travelling partner wasn't feeling up to the argument. His tone
softened, "We'll be there real soon. Ya want my jacket? You cold?"

"I'm...kinda chilled..inside, you know? If it's close, I'll be fine."

Adding, "Thanks, Malcolm."

Incredulous, Malcolm commented, "Thanks?" Again he wanted to say so much
more. Instead, he said, "Don't thank me. Jus' hang in there. The town
lights are up ahead now. You're gonna need to stay awake so's ya can help
me move ya."
A soft murmur sounding like 'sure' drifted up to him.
When the truck came to a halt, it was just past the town, off of a
connecting road. It was really more country than town actually, no street
lights, no sidewalks---just a country lane. The house, from what they could
see, was one-story plus attic. Somewhere in a back room of the house there
was a light, promising that there might be an inhabitant present. The
driver came and helped his passengers by lowering the tailgate and assisting
the two out of the truck. He walked on ahead to the front door and pounded,
calling, "Ed! Ed! It's me, Joey. Open the door!"

Someone inside called back and they could see additional lights being turned
on. The man who opened the door was younger than Malcolm, probably
somewhere close to fifty though, with his sparse hair still showing its
original orange color along with the gray that was encroaching in its
threatened takeover.

He recognized his visitor, "Joey! It's a little late. I was just getting
ready for bed."

Without an invitation, Joey pushed the door open wider and motioned Malcolm
to bring Gary through to the kitchen. Ed followed them.

"Ed, I wouldn't bother ya none, but these two was down by Gravel Pit Road
and got their truck stuck. Can ya help the young guy? He's hurt."

Ed looked from Joey to the other two and back. "Joey, how do you know these
two? They could be......you know......"

"Ed," Joey said reprovingly, as though Ed had placed too much suspicion on
this strange couple.

"I told you not to keep bringing people here for me to fix up," Ed insisted,

"I can't keep doing this. You know!"

Trying to support his attitude, Joey pleaded, "Jus' take a look at his leg,
doc. It doesn't take much to look." He urged again, "Go ahead. Jus' take
a look."

Ed barely glanced at the torn and bloody jeans. He took hold of Joey's
shoulder, turning him off to the side while he whispered to him, "I'm not a
physician, Joe. I'm not a medical doctor."

With a closed mouth smile, Joey contradicted, "Yeah, you are. Nearest thing
we got, anyway."

Curiosity finally won Ed's attention and he cleared off the table, motioning
to the two men to place Gary on the Formica top. As they jounced his leg,
he answered them with grunts and groans. Ed disappeared a moment and
returned with a pair of rubber gloves and a scissors. Cutting away the rest
of the torn jeans, he washed away the blood and dirt concealing the wound.

Gary lay as still as he could and found himself biting his tongue to keep
from moaning with the probing the doctor was doing.

Stressing it again, Ed grumbled, "Joey. You've got to stop bringing people
here for me to fix up." Ed shook his head upon seeing the wound completely,
announcing, "I'm not an MD. I'm a DVM! I'm a vet! A vet!" Still aching
to break through to Joey, he went on, "Ya know what that means, Joey? I fix
up animals--animals! Not people! I could get in trouble!"

Joey smiled and patted the 'doc' on the back in a patronizing manner,
"Animals. People. They're pretty much the same, Ed. C'mon. This guy
needs help and the hospital's fifty miles from here."

"Okay, okay. I'll see what I can do. You two go sit in the living room
while I check him over."

The Chicago barkeeper felt a shiver run up his spine at the thought of being
treated by a veterinarian. Did they even ask him? Did they ask if he
wanted to travel fifty miles back......to Chicago......to his home.......to
be treated by a medical doctor? It really didn't sound too bad to him. He
was pretty well being ignored as to his wishes. It was more than
frightening to think of his 'life' being in the combined hands of Malcolm,
Joey, and an animal doctor. Admittedly, he knew it was only a cut, but
still, he would find more comfort if Ed had the designation of 'M.D.' after
his name.

Meanwhile, 'Doc Ed' disappeared again, this time outside by way of the
kitchen door. Five minutes later, he reappeared, producing a small tray of
items, explaining that the injections he was administering were to deaden
the wound site.

Gary watched him as the vet worked silently, concentrating on what he was
doing. "How does it look?"

"Mm? Oh, sorry." Ed apologized for being unresponsive, "I'm not used to my
patients talking to me. Most of them just whine and shake while I'm
working. The wound is long and deeper than it appeared at first
observation, actually. I may as well get the tetanus shot ready; you're
gonna need one, that's sure."

Because the wound was not quite numb, he found himself gasping at the
handling and the probing by the professional. He answered Ed's question
about the cause, "A piece of, of, ah......sheet metal. Ouch!"

'Always a shot, what was it with doctors?', Gary thought as he looked away
while they were being administered.

"Sorry. You know, a little deeper and it would have nicked the femoral
artery." He shook his head and added, "If that were to have happened, we
wouldn't be having this conversation. In fact, YOU wouldn't be having any
more conversations..ever! How did you say you did this?"

Without going into detail, Gary replied, "We were stuck......ah......in the
mud....... Malcolm thought he had a sure fire way to clear the tires."

"Don't bother talking any more. Did they say your name is Gary?" When he
received a nod in reply, he continued, "It's about as clean as we can get
it. If you can be patient for another few minutes, I'll close it up."

With the room doing a sort of zoom-in, zoom-out motion, he wasn't feeling
too alert at all. And, if he thought at all about it, his stomach was
feeling a little queasy. Once the leg was numb, though, all he felt of the
stitching was the pulling from the suture thread. When that eventually
stopped, he opened his eyes to find the vet had left the room. Raising up
on his elbows to examine the stitching area, he attempted to view the wound,
which was now covered in gauze and bandaging. Remembering what Ed had said
about the length and depth of the gash, he found himself thanking God that
it was still numb.

The vet came back and seemed pleased that his patient was alert. "Good. I'
m glad to see you awake. Joey and I are gonna get you up and put you on the
bed for a little while. I need to get some liquids into you so I fixed up
an IV."

Still reluctant to have this person dictating his health concerns, this
person who was used to handling horses, dogs, and who knows what else, Gary
commented in what he hoped didn't betray his nervousness, "Uh, uh, you don't
need to do that. I......"

Ed was very quick to set him straight, "Yes, I DO need to do that. Human or
animal, you're not in charge here. I'm not going to keep you here any
longer than need be; be assured of that. This is not a hospital and you don
't need one anyway. We're just going to make sure that I didn't waste my
efforts on someone who's gonna die of shock."

Out of curiosity, Gary asked, "Is this where you do your veterinary work?"

"On my kitchen table?" A smile began to grow as he gave what he thought
would be an obvious answer, "No, I have my garage and shed converted to a
proper clinic. I don't have to eat off of an operating table; we're not
that rustic. You didn't want to be taken out there, did you?"

Instantly sorry that he had assumed such a thing, Gary tried to change the
subject, "How long do I have to stay here, doc? I need to get back to
Chicago......tonight, if possible."

"Chicago? Tonight?" Ed, his face a picture of skepticism, looked down at
Gary. "We can try. But I really want to get some liquids into you first."
When he saw the disappointment in his patient, he added, "It's really that I
want to see how you react to this little 'surgery' in the condition that you
're in. I wish I could give you a unit of blood, but that's not possible.
You probably weren't much aware of it, but you lost a good deal of blood on
the way here. Your shoe was soaked in it. That's most of the reason that I
consented to take care of this here and now." Ed was putting his
instruments and equipment back on the tray. "You don't want to try to save
that shoe, do you?" He pointed towards the counter at the sink where a
blood and mud soaked sneaker rested.

The vet called to the other two men to assist his patient into the small
bedroom off the living room. The room looked as though its usual purpose
was that of a guest room. Not much furniture was present except for the
twin-size bed, a dresser and a chair. After Gary was made comfortable in
the bed, Ed prepared an IV and attached it to the patient's left hand,
asking, "Do you have someone who can come to get you, son?" As he was
talking, he was injecting something into the IV.

Gary was instantly alert, "Wha....wha....what's that?"

"It's something to relax you. You seem pretty wound up. And that numbness
is going to wear off in a very short time; you'll appreciate the painkiller.
Don't worry, by the time the IV is done, you'll be ready to go."

It was too late to protest the 'relaxant'; it was already coursing through
Gary's veins. Its sedative effect was working faster than anything he'd
experienced before, more than likely because of the blood loss and fatigue.
He managed to get the words out, "Call Marissa......please."

As he was dozing off, he heard the vet warning the other two men, "You'd
better both make your minds up to never speak of this. I've told you, Joey,
that I don't want you to be bringing 'people' patients here. You've got to
stop!" He added emphasis, "No more!"

Joey nodded, but the vet had no confidence in the nod. "I mean it, Joey!!
Now get outta here and let him rest." As an afterthought, he asked, "Do
either of you know who 'Marissa' is? His wife?" Their faces were blank.
"Oh well, no matter, he can tell us in the morning."


Toni Brigatti entered McGinty's like a woman on a mission. It was her
custom to walk that way. Officially, she was performing a friendly,
off-duty task. Crumb was happy to greet her. Marissa heard him and
approached the bar, waiting for her to come closer.

"Hello, Marissa. Crumb." She nodded to him as she said his name. She had
never gotten used to calling him Zeke as the other officers did, nor could
she bring herself to call him Marion, a name she couldn't quite match up to
his looks.

The bar talk dwelt on the upcoming football game. When a lull developed in
the conversation, Toni touched Marissa's arm and said, "Here's what I
actually stopped by for." Furtively glancing around, she asked, "Is your
partner here? Is he upstairs?"

To Marissa's negative response she went on in her direct business manner,
"Okay, then, I wanted you to know that Paul, Meredith, Winslow, and I will
be glad to be here for Gary's birthday party. Thanks for the invite. In
fact, Meredith wants to know if she can help with anything."

Marissa smiled, touched by the sentiment, "There is one thing the CPD could

"What's that?" Toni asked.

"Help us find Gary. We haven't seen him all day."

"He hasn't called?" Toni was not expecting to find him gone, and was at a
loss. The paper's involvement was left out of the discussion, but Marissa
wondered just what part it played in her partner being missing.

The detective in Toni made her take out a notepad to take notes on their
statements. When she had everyone's comments regarding the last contacts
they had with the barkeeper, she assured them that she'd do some checking,
advising them, "Don't start to worry until I tell you to. There's probably
a simple explanation to all this. We've all been witnesses to him pulling
stunts like this before."


Toward eight that next morning, Gary felt his hand being moved without him
moving it. The fuzz in his eyes took him a while to focus and even longer
to recognize the person. He frowned at first, trying to place where he was.
Obviously it wasn't a hospital, even though he was flat on his back in a bed
with an IV attached to his hand.

"Mornin', Gary," the smiling face said as he smoothed the tape holding the
IV connection. "Know where you are?"

After rubbing his right hand across his forehead and eyes, the face of the
person speaking was still unfamiliar.

"Remember? I'm Ed. Ed Manchester. The vet?"

With a flashback of the previous evening's experiences, Gary's eyes opened
widely. Taking in the brightness of the morning sun coming in the window,
he tried to sit up. The only thing holding him down was Ed's hand on his

"Just a minute there. You can sit up, but do it slowly. And let me get a
couple more pillows to support your back. This isn't a hospital
bed---although I may as well invest in one. God knows, Joey could keep it

He adjusted the pillows and helped Gary get comfortable. "You have some
questions, I suppose. Such as why you're still here?"

"Well, yeah, for one. You said I could go home last night."

"I did say that. By the time that first IV was finished though, I found
that you were running a low-grade fever so I wanted you to stay the night.
You seem to be okay now, at least enough to travel."

The vet removed the bandage to check the wound, "This looks pretty good.
When you get back home, be sure to check it. If it gets streaky or oozes,
get to a doctor." He covered the wound again.

"You know, Gary, I can understand how you met Joey, but how did you and the
other man meet up? You two close friends?"

Evasively, Gary answered the best he could on the spur of the moment, "No,
he was just, kinda, taking me for a ride in the country. Can I get up? The
IV is still attached."

"Not quite yet, I've got some emergency patients out in the 'clinic' that I
can't put off. As long as you're going to be here, you may as well let this
IV finish up. How's the pain when you move the leg?"

Gary made an effort to move the injured leg and gave a groan as he winced.
"It's still there, doc."

"Don't call me doc, please. I have enough trouble with Joey mistaking me
for the other kind of doctor; don't you start. Just a minute, I'll be right

The sitting up was doing some good as far as clearing his head and Gary took
the opportunity to visually examine the room. It was too small for anything
but a guest room, or maybe a den. The lone window looked out on fallow
fields; no houses were in sight. He looked around for anything
familiar---his clothes, a 'newspaper', a cat.

When Ed returned, he had a handful of magazines that he held out to him.
"Here's some reading materials that ought to keep you busy until I finish
with my four-legged customers. I'll leave them and check back between
patients. Oh," he added as he reached into one of the drawers pulling out a
pair of old jeans, "these won't exactly fit you; you're taller and slimmer
than I am, but they'll cover the vital areas. Don't get up without someone

"But, I thought......I thought I could go home."

"You can, but that'll have to wait for Joey to have time to give you a ride.
I'm pretty well booked up with appointments this morning."

Without time for Gary to ask about Marissa or anything else, the
veterinarian turned and left. The outside door was heard closing.
The magazines were old. No national news. No Chicago news. No tomorrow's
news! He read for a few minutes and dozed off.

When the vet came back to check on him, Gary was restless in his sleep,
tossing and turning. To make his patient more comfortable Ed sent a milder
dose of pain reliever through the IV and again left for the clinic facility
across the driveway. He figured that it wouldn't hurt for the guy to rest a
while longer. Meanwhile, it would allow him to finish his appointments.
Gary did rest, and peacefully at that. He woke up wondering why he was in a
fog again. 'Enough was enough', he thought as he peeled away the IV tape.
Looking up at the IV bag, he decided that it was empty enough to pull out
the connection.

Checking the pain level by moving his leg, he thought that he could make an
effort to stand. He sat on the edge of the bed for somewhere near to five
minutes, considering the wisdom of standing up. 'Now or never', he uttered
to himself as he put his full weight on his feet and stood up. He leaned
over to steady himself on the bed and limped along the length of it toward
the doorway.

His head and vision cleared as he made his way to the kitchen. Near a
closed door, probably leading to a pantry, an old telephone hung on the
wall. Dialing the McGinty's number, Gary was about to pull a chair over
when Marissa came on the line. Her voice was never more welcome.

"Hey, Marissa. It's me."

Before he could continue, Marissa asked where he was; why he didn't call;
how could he make them worry so? Where she was usually the picture of calm,
she seemed now so agitated that she babbled on, giving Gary the impression
that she was almost..angry.

When she stopped to take a breath, he had a chance to give her some answers,
"There was a problem on a 'save', kinda, and things seemed to go from bad to
worse from there. I didn't mean to make ya worry, Marissa, but I couldn't
call until now. There was a..sorta..ah, accident and.." He took note of
her sharp intake of breath, "Now don't get excited, Marissa, I'm perfectly
fine. The, ah, ah, 'doc' fixed me up and I'm ready to come home."

She hadn't interrupted. Not even when he mentioned an accident, but her
next words were predictable, "Where are you, Gary?"

For some reason, it hadn't occurred to him until then that he had no idea
where he was. Did they say 'Warren's Corners'? Was that south, north, east
or west of Chicago? Was it still in Illinois? "Uh, Marissa, I'm not sure
where I am. Hold on there, I'll be right back."

He allowed the telephone to dangle at the end of the cord while he limped
off to the living room, hoping to find an address on one of the
magazines---or an envelope---or something, hoping that it wouldn't be a P.O.
box address.

While he was searching in the living room, Ed burst through the kitchen door
from outside. He found what he wanted when he spied his notepad on the
table. At the same time he saw the dangling receiver and put it back on the
hook before turning and going back outside.

When Gary returned and tried to reach Marissa again, the line was busy. He
redialed repeatedly, but was unable to get through. She was probably
calling someone, reporting his call---and the break in the connection.


A sound that he really never expected to hear in this particular location,
echoed through the small house. Its insistent call had dictated to him, had
beckoned him, had ordered him to action for something like five years now.
He hadn't been able to ignore it before and he wouldn't now. He limped back
to the small bedroom from which the noise seemed to originate.


"Keep your fur on, I can only walk so fast, ya know. I'm comin'. And where
have you been?"

From the doorway he could see the small yellow-orange tabby planted firmly
on what appeared to be a local newspaper. Why would the cat care what
Warren's Corners had for news? And just how serious would the events be in
the tiny farming community?

He slipped the paper out from under the cat and watched curiously as the
animal strutted off towards the living room. The front page of the
four-page edition had a picture accompanying the announcement that "LOCAL
MAN KILLED BY GRIEF-MAD PET OWNER". In smaller print, the incident was
described as happening in the vet's animal clinic on Gamebird Lane. It
involved a chain of events that began with a man carrying a fairly large
hunting dog into the vet's clinic. While roaming through the woods to the
east of Warren's Corners, the man had accidentally shot his own dog. The
dog, a ten-year-old English setter, had been seriously injured and his
master was demanding that Ed Manchester work on him immediately. To
punctuate his order, he trained his hunting gun on the vet. In examining
the animal, the vet tried to explain to the grief-stricken owner that the
angle of the shot had done intensive damage to the dog's internal organs and
attempts to repair it would be futile.

As they discussed the humaneness of allowing Ed to euthanize the suffering
animal, the dog went into convulsions and died. The owner yelled, raised
the weapon and shot the vet from close range.

When he realized what he had done, he called the police himself and sat down
to await their arrival, putting up no resistance when he was arrested.
Biographical materials on both men were included in the news coverage.
Wearing the oversize jeans and his jacket, Gary hobbled out the kitchen door
and headed across the driveway to the clinic.

He called out as he entered the office, "Ed! Where are you?"

Ed came out of one of the back rooms and seemed amused to see Gary there,
one hand holding his pants from slipping. "You were supposed to wait for me
to help you up. Well, you're here. Doing pretty good from what I see.
What's the panic?"

Panic was the word for it. The hunter and his dog had not yet arrived.
"Ed, can you take me into Chicago right now? Right now?" He was out of
breath from hustling to find the vet.

Ed, on the other hand, did not share his excitement. He shuffled some
paperwork and opened his appointment book. "If Joey doesn't show up in the
next half hour, I'll close up and take you myself. How's that?"

"No good! I need to get there now. It's a matter of life and death!

As Ed was about to argue with him, the door opened and a burly,
ruddy-complected man entered carrying a dog in a car blanket. He sought out
an examining table and lovingly placed the bundle on it. As he spoke he
placed one hand on the dog's head in a comforting motion. "My dog's been
shot," he yelled, "do something, man. Do something. He's bleeding to
death. You gotta do something...fast!"

Ed moved quickly to check the wound. It didn't take very long for him to
come to the fated conclusion that the paper had spelled out to Gary. "Your
dog, Mr.?"

"Burroughs. Chet Burroughs."

"Mr. Burroughs, I'm sorry..."

"Don't give me 'sorry', do something and do it fast. I know he's hurt bad,
but get the shot out and sew him up or whatever you gotta do. I'll pay for
it. Money's not.."

Ed interrupted. He could see that the man was raving in anguish over what
appeared to be an older dog. A man's hunting dog was more precious than,
than, than his wife. "Mr. Burroughs," Ed hated to discuss this part of
animal treatment. "Mr. Burroughs, your dog is old. He's lost a great deal
of blood from a wound that damaged his internal organs." He pulled the
rubber gloves off of his hands and put one hand on the man's shoulder, "This
animal is in pain. He's lived his life. He's served you. Now it's your
turn to take care of him and see that he doesn't continue to suffer."
The room became silent. It often did when Ed had to give that speech to pet
owners. Gary had watched the scene carefully, watching for a chance to
separate the man from his shotgun.

Lashing out, Burroughs shouted, "No! You're a vet! You can do something
for this old boy. Bucky has lots of years ahead a him. You should see how
spry he is on a hunting run." Shouting again, he ordered even louder, "Do

He could see that the vet was not making a move to perform the miracle that
Bucky needed and his hand clenched on the stock of the gun. Gary stepped
between the two men at that point and looked the man straight in the eyes.
They stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity to Gary. His
legs felt like rubber as he saw Burroughs' emotions change from surprise at
this interference, back to the anger. Chet Burroughs' face became red and
trembled as he considered what he wanted to do at that time, but the anger
deteriorated to frustration and sadness. Tears formed in the man's eyes as
he relinquished his hold on the gun and bent over his dog, holding the
animal's head between his hands as he lovingly kissed him.
At last he stood upright again and motioned to Ed to assist him to take care
of Bucky one last time.

After the man had left, carrying the body of his beloved dog, wrapped even
more carefully in the blood-soaked blanket, Ed cleaned up and wandered back
over to the kitchen. Gary had found the coffee makings and poured each of
them a cup of it. He waited for Ed to speak.

"You know what?" Ed waited, but didn't expect an answer.
"When situations like that happen, I know what 'fear' is and I know what
'humble' means. "

Gary nodded, but kept his silence.

"Animal lovers are so involved with their pets...they feel so..helpless. It
can be a giant of a man or a petite little woman, but they are completely
helpless and lost. They see the little creature that they love, hurting,
suffering. They think, 'it's such a small creature, surely there's
something that can be done and they'll be all right again.' They come here,
trusting me with the life and welfare of their special 'person'. They trust
me. And sometimes I can do exactly what they want. And sometimes I'm as
helpless as they are." He rubbed his eyes as though hoping to change what
he saw by doing it.

Gary, trying to console him in his silent suffering, offered, "You did what
you could." As soon as he said it the words slammed back in his face. He
was remembering Marissa saying exactly those words to him as he agonized
over a failed 'save'. The words were not comforting in the least. In fact,
even though the speaker intends them for solace, they mock the receiver. He
gulped as he realized that he had just said what he, himself, hated to hear.
"I'm...I'm..I'm sorry. That sounded pretty lame. What I wanted to say was
simply, I'm sorry."

Ed looked up, not knowing why this was so moving to Gary, thinking, 'He must
have had to go through something similar'.

"Thanks, Gary." He checked the wall clock. "You know, I think I'll just
lock up and take you home."

They had driven for a while and could see the signs of the outskirts of

"How's the leg doing, Gary?"

Reaching down and gently patting his borrowed pants leg, Gary assured him
that it was 'just fine'.

"You might want to have a medical doctor check it out, but it's pretty
clean. If it looks streaky or oozes, get to a doctor right away."

Gary nodded and they drove on until Ed pulled up outside McGinty's. "Come
on in so I can give you your pants back."

At first Ed declined, then he got out of the vehicle and followed Gary into
the noise of the bar. In the first few minutes no one noticed that the
wayward owner had come in. Then, with the bar becoming suddenly hushed,
patrons spread aside to make a path for Gary and Ed to walk.

"Well, I'll be damned!" Crumb had looked up from his bartending. "Robin, go
get Marissa, please."

Gary had been waving to various familiar faces as he continued on and
smiling as he did. As he neared the office door, Marissa and Robin emerged
from it. They both stopped in their tracks.

Marissa, with her heightened senses, could always recognize Gary by smell.
"Gary?" she asked, then excitedly, "Gary!" She reached out to welcome him
with a hug. "We've been so worried. Are you all right?"

"Now that I'm back here, Marissa, I'm fine." He took her hand and directed
her to face Ed as he introduced the two of them. Then self-consciously, he
said, "Come up to the loft, I need to get something for Ed, then I'd like
to talk with you."

Robin had been standing by, watching the reunion until then. "Gary, I'm, we're all
so glad to see you. Do I rate a hug too?"

"Um, sure." He turned to give her a hug and she put her arms under his to
hug him. Without thinking about the reason that his one hand was not
raised, he put them both around her. As he did so, a few women in the bar

Over at the bar, Gary heard a loud, "Hobson! You're losin' yer pants!"
With that, the entire bar sent up a hoot, whistling, and howling as Gary's
borrowed jeans make a rather quick descent to the floor.

Ed found the moment was the appropriate time to comment, "I didn't expect
you to take them off down here, Gary. I could've waited." The tears in his
eyes were accompanied by a deep, amused chuckle.

Irritated at being the point of their laughter, Gary said, "I'm glad you all
find this so funny," just before he tugged the pants back to his waist and
hurried off.

Part 2 of 7

Gary and Marissa had a long talk later, up in the loft during which he was
able to explain his absence of the last few days. No one understood his
devotion to serving the paper as much as she did. Her philosophy of life
exactly coincided with the 'work' that he did in trying to forestall
disasters. He could trust her to supply support when needed and to nudge
his conscience when that was required.

After she left, he went to bed and settled into a series of dreams. Malcolm
and Chet, the dog owner, played prominent parts in the dreams as they
wandered in and out of Gary's life brandishing their shotguns. When one or
the other would fire their weapon for one reason or another, Gary would be
jarred awake. After making an effort to get up to drink some water, he went
back to sleep. This time his dream revolved around McGinty's. In it he was
piling the chairs on top of the tables while Robin was cleaning up the bar
area. Marissa said her 'goodnights' and left.

"Things going all right in college, Robin? You looked kinda bothered

Robin's face was sober and serious as she answered, "What's bothering me is
the test, Gary."

He asked, "What is it? Mid-terms? I thought it was too early for that, isn't it?"

"Not mid-terms, Gary. If it were only that, I'd be okay. No, I'm talking
about the other 'test'. You know."

He looked at her curiously, "Other test? I'm not following you."

She acted as though he was putting her on, "Gary, you know. The pregnancy

Innocently, he commented more than asked, "How would I know? I didn't know
you were pregnant." Then, just as innocently he asked, "When are you due?"
She approached him, looking him straight in the eyes, "You didn't know? I
told you. It's our baby!"

He began sweating profusely as he said, meekly, "Our baby? As in yours and

"Of course."

"But, but, but we haven't..."

She answered as though she expected that he must have realized, "Remember?
Remember when you came into the bar and hugged me? When your jeans fell
down to your feet?"

At that, he jerked in his sleep and awoke, still in a sweat. 'Holy hell!
What a dream." Impossible to fall asleep after that shock, he grabbed his
clothes and staggered off to take a shower.

He was just in time to turn off the alarm after emerging from the bathroom.
The paper was heard slapping at the door along with the cat's familiar call.
The day had begun with too little sleep, disturbing dreams, and an aching
leg. It made the day something to 'really' look forward to.

After feeding the cat, he had time to sit down with some coffee and juice at
the bar. A noisy bar meant money in the till, but the quiet of the empty
pre-opening bar brought calm. It was the brickwork of the walls. It was
the soft patina in the worn wood of the floor. Even the morning light
casting shadows gave him peace. The walls, the floor, the furnishings of
the bar were familiar and friendly fixtures. It was home. He'd grown to
like the atmosphere through the years. When he tired of it, he could climb
those stairs and concentrate on the 'virtues' of the loft, often thinking
about what it looked like the first time he had ventured up there. The cat
had led him there and fate saw to it that he acquired the title of 'owner'
of the establishment.

He took another sip of the juice and found the first 'save' of the morning
in his special edition of the Sun-Times. It was something that he could do
without drawing attention to himself. In fact, it would probably never be
noticed that an accident had been scheduled to happen. If he was at the EL
at the Merchandise Mart and found the loose board on the waiting platform in
time, he would eliminate the cause of an old man's serious injury.

By noon, when he stopped back for lunch at the bar, he had kept a tourist
from stepping off of a trolley into the path of a taxi and prevented a purse
snatching by acting as interference between the purse and the thief. The 'saves' were
mundane compared to some of those of the past, but each one
gave the saved person another chance at life. And all of these went
unnoticed by anyone except the purse thief---and he wasn't telling!

Sitting at a booth with Marissa, he found his attention diverted to Robin
regularly. Had he never noticed that her auburn hair shone whenever she
neared the light of the windows? She'd worked there, what? He guessed that
now that it was 2002, that it must have been on and off since he owned the
bar. In the middle of his daydream he became aware of his partner drumming
her fingers on the table.

"Gary? What's the matter? You seem to be distracted. Is there something
bothering you? How's the leg?"

"I didn't mean to wander, Marissa. I think it's the lack of sleep along
with the busy morning. And my leg's fine, thanks."

"Are you worried about something?"

Marissa sounded truly concerned. Did he dare confide in her? Without
further consideration, he commented, "Marissa, I had a very disturbing dream
this morning. It's been on my mind ever since."

"Do you want to tell me about it? Maybe it'll help to get it out."

He stared at her expression for several moments. It wasn't that he didn't
trust her; he trusted her more than his own parents. That was a given.
There was no way in the world that he could have told his parents such a
personal thing. As much as he loved them, he didn't trust them with his
private life. They had too much of a personal interest in becoming

Okay then, he'd do it. He'd take the chance. His voice cracked a bit as he
began, "It's like this, Marissa. I had a dream that Robin was here and told
me that she was pregnant."

"That's not so terrible. Why did that disturb you?"

He ran his fingers through his hair, dreading the disclosure of the rest of
it. "She told me that it was 'our' baby. When I asked her 'how' since we
haven't slept...ah, ah, that we hadn't..that there was no.."

"Keep going, Gary. I understand what you asked her. What did she say?"

"She said that it happened the night I returned when we hugged in the bar."

He emphasized, "In the bar, Marissa! Hugging!"

Marissa's mouth drew up on one side as she commented, "Gee, the things I
miss by not being able to see."


With barely a smile, she used a word that she seldom allowed to escape her
lips, "I'm sorry, Gary, I couldn't resist. I hate to tell you this, but it's unlikely
that she could conceive by hugging you in a crowded bar with both
of you fully dressed. Well, at least she was fully dressed they tell me."

"I know that!" He was instantly sorry to have related the dream to her.
"Obviously you find this eminently humorous."

She apologized immediately, "My mistake, Gary. I didn't mean to take it
that way. I know you're disturbed by it." She hesitated slightly, "I guess
my question would be, why does this dream disturb you? It's just a dream.
Or do you find some hidden meaning contained in it? Wishful thinking,

"No!" He checked his watch and stood up, tapping the newspaper on the
table, "I've gotta go. It's gonna be cold tonight and there's a little
family in a camper on the edge of town who're gonna be asphyxiated by a
non-vented kerosene heater. I need to locate them, hopefully before they
start it up. Thanks for listening. It helped a lot to tell you the dream.
Now, please forget it."

She smiled and softly agreed.

After he left, Robin came over to refill Marissa's coffee. She sat down
opposite her before returning to her duties. "Marissa? Has Gary
seemed..different lately?"

This was an interesting turnabout and Marissa was all interest, "Different?

"I don't exactly know, but he made a great deal of effort this morning and
now again at lunch to keep from coming near me---or talking to me. Did I do
something wrong?"

"You ought to know him by now, Robin. Anyway, last night he slept poorly
and was plagued by bad dreams. He just needs to get some rest."

Robin seemed satisfied by the answer and said, "Gary needs a wife and
family. He's what, 37? Well, almost 37. I don't see him going out much.
Does he have a steady girlfriend?"

A warm spot developed in Marissa's heart as she recognized a genuine
interest in Robin's inquiry. "Well, he would like a family, but I think he
keeps too busy, immersing himself in work instead."

"He does keep going, doesn't he? What does he do all day?"

"Oh, lots of things. Bar-type things." Marissa stumbled on, "There are
many errands and stocking jobs involved in running this place. He...

Robin kept at the subject; it was one thing asking about Gary alone, but the
paper played too big a part in her partner's duties to continue in this
vein. It was beginning to make Marissa nervous as Robin commented, "He
manages? All I ever see is you managing. Where does he manage?"

Feeling that it was time to get off of the subject, Marissa asked, "Uh,
Robin, don't you think you should get back to the bar? I've got to get back
to my bookwork in the office."

Robin moved off, leaving Marissa with a sense of relief.


Gary checked the paper again. Like the morning tasks, the paper gave full
particulars as to location. Once he was there, he knocked on the door and
presented himself as a power company representative checking on the heaters
being used. They actually allowed him to examine the heater. He gave the
parents a lecture on the dangers of that type of heater and handed them an
appropriate and safe one---compliments of the Illinois Power Commission.
The family had enough problems, living in the camper, without adding
disaster to them.

The way back to McGinty's gave Gary time to think, time to assess his life.
He had..a roof over his head and a job---of sorts. He had friends and he
had parents who doted on him. If he had disclosed his present mood to his
mom or dad, they would have the 'find a girl, get married, have children'
sermon ready instantly. Not that those three things weren't on his mind
almost daily. His 37th birthday was drawing close; it was time to fulfill
everyone's, ah, desire.

During the last two weeks he had taken a look at his surroundings, finding
that he was more and more drawn to the person of Robin. Robin, for goodness
sakes! She was a fixture at McGinty's. She was their faithful waitress and
bartender for years. How many was it? Except for a couple years that she
took off to get an associates degree at Chicago City College, she was always
present. Her petite frame flitted about the bar doing whatever needed to be
done. She was slim without being skinny, pretty without being beautiful,
and possessed an outgoing, friendly personality.

Where was she during those years? Sure, she was there at work, but she was
so familiar a figure that no one really paid attention to her. That wasn't
true either. Everyone noticed her when Chuck used to tend bar. They begged
for her to get back to work. When she prepared the drinks, the margaritas
looked and, thank God, tasted like margaritas. The martinis tasted like
they should and she actually knew what a fuzzy navel was. When someone
asked Chuck for a fuzzy navel, well, without going into detail, they usually
decided to change their drink order to something more generic, like wine or
beer. It was far preferable to having him lift his shirt for the one
requesting it.

By the time Gary returned, all he felt like doing was ordering a sandwich
and sitting at a booth to linger over it. Coffee was out of the question at
this time. He absolutely needed a restful sleep. Thinking more about it,
he went to the bar to ask for two aspirins.

Robin was with a customer, but assured him that she'd bring the drinks over
to him after she finished. He sat down and watched her work at finishing
with the man's drink. After searching around under the bar, she found the
bottle that they kept for customers. She brought it and a glass of water to
her boss' table. "Got a headache, Gary?" she asked as she set them before

He gulped down two of the pills and stared up at her afterward. "Thanks.
No headache, Robin, I need to be able to sleep tonight." He became aware
that he was staring and asked, "Did you change your hair style?"

"Yes," she admitted.

"It looks nice," he said as he finally broke contact with her face.

"I changed it last year, Gary. But thanks anyway. I guess us seeing each
other every day like we do, we get to be like, like a married couple,
ignoring each other after a while."

He glanced up at her when she compared their relationship to a bored marital
relationship. Robin sensed the implications of her statement and added,
remorsefully, "Sad, isn't it?"

"It would be, if that's what the married couple had grown into. What about
the excitement of being married?"

She snapped out of the mood and corrected herself, "Oh, I didn't mean that
it was what married couples all become." Suddenly noticing the bar crowd,
she excused herself and returned to her customers.

'That's just what I need to blacken this mood,' Gary mused silently. 'Is
that it? Is that all there is?'

He wrapped his sandwich in the napkin and carried it up with him to his
loft. Maybe he was just too tired to eat.


The next day when the paper arrived Gary was showered, dressed and having
some coffee as he awaited the cat's call. While he was lingering over the
hot, steamy mug, his thoughts went back to the short conversation that he
and Robin had in the bar. It bothered him..a lot..that her idea of a
married life was boredom in familiarity. His dad and mom didn't act bored.
Were they? 'Nah,' he thought, smiling to himself, reminding himself how
open they are with their feelings---even after all these years. If they
were, bored, their cover-up act was perfect. 'Nah,' he thought again,
remembering the affection they shared and laughed about together.
Cat's yowl preceded the thump of the paper by mere seconds. Gary's
retrieval of it was almost as fast. He was anxious to get on with the day.

Last night he enjoyed about four hours of solid sleep before the disturbing
dreams began again. As happened the day before, his last dream was
curiously starred in by Robin. This time she was sitting in a rocking chair
in his loft, of all places, holding an infant. He came close to place his
hand affectionately on the child's head as he bent down and kissed Robin on
her forehead. Even in his dream he felt himself fill with pride as he
admired the baby. From the blue receiving blanket snuggly wrapped around
the babe, he assumed it was a boy and from the small wisp of a curl of dark
brown hair hanging out of place on the tiny forehead, he made a natural
deduction that he was the father. He placed the back of his fingers on the
velvety softness of the child's cheek and kissed the baby's forehead then,
asking, "Robin, what's his name? You never told me what his name was."

She giggled as she loosened the blankets slightly and said, "Gary, I named
him after his father...Charles Fishman, of course!"

That was enough to wake him up this morning. He was shocked awake and
didn't even bother to try to go back to sleep for fear that the dream would return.

His first save wouldn't be until midmorning, but he wanted no contact with
'anyone' in the bar. The dream had thoroughly disturbed him in a different
way than yesterday. This time the shock was coupled with disappointment.

Why? Why indeed. Chuck was married and had a beautiful baby girl. Lucky
for the kid, she looked a great deal like her mother. Gary just hoped that
it wouldn't mean that the child was destined to become a thief, or a spy, or
any of the other flaws of her mother.

He went to answer the knock at the door and invite Marissa in. She sounded
concerned as she asked, "Are you okay? You didn't come down and.."

"I'm fine, Marissa. Thanks for caring. I had some things to think about
and take care of."

Skeptical, Marissa merely uttered, "Gary." She waited and said it again,
even more skeptically, "Gary. What's wrong?"

"Does something have to be wrong just because I didn't come down to the bar?
Maybe I needed to clean up some dishes, or make my bed, or clean the tub."

This time he received the 'works' in skepticism, "Make your bed? Since when
has Gary Hobson stopped to fix his bed? I've fixed your bed. The
housekeeper has fixed your bed. Even Robin has.."

"Robin has fixed my bed? My bed?" He sounded outraged and almost

She was even more determined to find out what was wrong now, "What's wrong,
Gary? We're all family here. Robin has worked here so long that she comes
up almost every day and collects whatever belongs down at the bar.
Sometimes she mentions that she has straightened up your kitchen or, yes,
even your 'sacred' bed. Shocking?"

"Well yes, yes it is as a matter of fact. I didn't know that it took a
village to take care of Gary Hobson. And I'm not sure I like the idea. A
bed..a bed is kinda, kinda, ah, personal, Marissa." He saw that she was in
a frivolous mood; it showed all over her face. He added, "Well, don't you
feel that your bed is....personal? And what if I had left, ah, personal
'things' laying around?"

She had a difficult time not laughing, or at least smiling, and she agreed,
"You're right. Of course, you're right, but then again, I take care of my
own tidying up."

"Ouch," he said, smiling sheepishly, catching her point exactly. "Do you
need me to pick up anything while I'm out this morning? I'll have some time
before my first 'save'."


Marissa had asked him to pick up her wool jacket from the cleaners. Just to
make sure, he did that task first. He was careful to hang the cleaning by a
loop over the sliding side door of the van.

The next stop would be Marshall Field's in the Loop area where a
demonstration of remote control toys was taking place. One of the toys had
been reported in the Sun-Times as having run amok among the shoppers. It
seemed to have happened at the hands of some college-age men, who were
determined to relive their teenage days by playing with the toys and caused
the fall of an elderly woman who was startled by the whizzing toy at her

He had only minor problems with separating the men from the remote controls.
The worst time was retrieving the toys that had been scattered through the
department. It wasn't that there were so many of them; the problem was that
he wasn't sure when all of them had been rounded up until he matched the
toys with their controls.

The worst problem, wasn't really involving the toys as it turned out. The
toy department employee called security to have Gary removed from the store
under the mistaken belief that he caused the chaos in the first place. The
employees had watched as he gathered the toys and neatly placed the controls
next to them.

There was no point in grumbling or fighting it, two muscle-bound men
escorted him to the door and encouraged him to exit...and stay out! At
least he was ahead in that they didn't take his fingerprints and insist upon
mug shots. No, no formalities, just kind of shoved out of the door.
Chalking it up to the hazards of his 'responsibilities', Gary walked down
the street a short ways towards where his van was parked before he stopped
to check the paper for the next assignment.

his eye immediately, standing out from among local news of a primarily political
nature. "The four-year-old son of Harris and Julia Harden was seriously
injured in a freak occurrence at the construction yard of Dermot & Dermot,
local contractors. The child had been separated from his parents who had
reported him as lost an hour earlier. Police are asking the help of
businesses and citizens in the area to watch for him. He had wandered into
the storage yard of the construction firm and wasn't noticed until workers
reported seeing a stacked pile of conduit pipes collapse. The stack of 2"
pipes were believed to have been overloaded, causing the supports to fail as
the little boy became interested in them. The child suffered multiple
injuries and is listed in serious condition at County General Hospital."

The rest of the article mentioned the location of the mishap and the time.
Gary found his heart racing as he traveled the busy streets to the site. To
save time, he parked on the property of the company, asking the first man
that he saw for the location of the pile of 2" pipes.

"Hey, buddy, you ain't allowed in here. Get on back in that van and move

Gary glanced at his watch to see how much time was left. "I'll do just
that, but first, have you seen a little boy about four years old?"

In answer, the other man grumbled as he looked around, "Kids ain't allowed
in here. This is a dangerous place for kids to be."

Trying another tact, Gary asked, "Can you show me where you store the
conduit pipes? I really need to see it. The little guy is attracted to
pipes. Please?"

He could see that his pleas were not going to do the trick. As he listened
to the employee's argument and to his orders for him to leave, he was
looking around, trying to spot the boy or the location. His attention was
redirected when he saw a small child cross an open space between rows.
The employee saw him at the same time, "Hey! Get that kid outta there!"

Gary was already on the run towards the little boy. He reached the area
where he had seen the boy turn in, but it took another few minutes for him
to catch up to him. Even then, as he yelled, the boy was standing directly
in front of the stack of pipes. Without any time for pre-planning, Gary
knew in his heart that he really had only one chance to prevent the child's
injuries. The pile was already beginning to quiver. Diving towards the
child, Gary gave him a mighty shove out of the path of danger as the support
stakes collapsed under the stress of the weight.

He made an attempt to roll out of the way, but with a clamor, the pipes
rolled over as well as on top of him, burying him to his armpits. The
breath was knocked out of him and he lay there, head and shoulders the only
parts not covered by the conduit.

The child had gone flying, landing in a mound of sawdust. With the noise of
the crashing of the pipes, he began an unearthly screaming.

Employees were alerted and arrived on the site, at a run. They had heard
the boy and the yell as the iron pipes landed on Gary. The boy was taken to
the office to stay with the secretary; 911 was called.

The yard workers went to work at removing the pipes much like pick up
sticks, one at a time, trying hard not to cause further shifting that might
cause additional harm. One man stationed himself at Gary's head, attempting
to get him to open his eyes.

"Hey, guys, you better step on it, I think he's having trouble breathing,"
he said as he tried to detect a pulse in the injured man's neck. The
efforts were accelerated until the last one was removed. It was just about
that time that the paramedics arrived in the yard.

Before they got out of the truck, a worker with a voice that penetrated
right through to Gary's consciousness bellowed, "Gary! Whut in hell are you
doin' here?"

The last thing that Gary remembered was of pushing the child forward and
seeing as well as hearing the metal rolling. He had been trying to gain his
feet to scamper out of the way, but the first of the falling pipes knocked
his them out from under him. Pinned down, he was unable to move and barely
able to breathe. He thought that he remembered yelling at the whump of pain
that hit him as he fell, but after that, all was blackness. Until that
voice. That voice!

Gary grimaced trying to take a deep breath and opened his eyes to locate the
owner of the voice. He knew who it was; there couldn't be a mistake about
it. In a voice that made him think that he was yelling, Gary croaked out,

The employee stationed at Gary's head ordered the older man in a warning,
"Hey, Dowry. Don't make him talk."

At that point the 911 people moved in anyway. Before moving him to a
backboard they asked his name and took his vital readings. Without allowing
him to protest, an oxygen mask was put in place. All the while as they
worked, the patient attempted to impress on them that he was 'fine' and if
they'd just help him up, he would get out of their lives. The paramedics
continued on with what they were trained to do. Even as he was being loaded
into the emergency vehicle, he was arguing against going to the hospital,
insisting that he had a right to refuse treatment. They could see that
treatment was precisely what he needed, especially since his jeans were
stained with blood where some of the stitches had given way. In addition,
Dermot & Dermot's liability policy would demand it. Gary stopped arguing
only after the doors were closed and he could feel the forward movement of
the van.

The trip was made with sirens blaring, but in Gary's thoughts, it seemed as
though they were there in an instant. He was taken to an ER cubicle and
prepared for examination. They refused to allow him to remove his clothes.
This time, instead of just having his jeans destroyed, all of his clothes
were cut away.

Weakness and the full-body pain kept him from talking except in whispers.
He tried to request some water, but was put off until the examination was


The bar phone rang and it was left to ring for a fairly long time since the
bar was busy. Finally Robin answered the phone, "McGinty's."

"Can we reach a member of Gary Hobson's family?"

An icy chill went through her at the question. Where was Gary? She hadn't
seen him since much earlier. Gathering her nerve, she answered, "This is an
employee, can I help you?"

"We'd like to reach one of his family members. Mr. Hobson has been brought
in to County General..."

Robin felt the blood drain from her face and she said, "I've, I've got to
put the phone down a minute. I'll try to find his partner. Don't hang up."
She hurried to find Marissa and located her in one of the booths with some
friends. "Marissa," she gently placed her hand on the blind woman's arm,
"there's a call from the hospital asking to speak with a member of Gary
Hobson's family." As she said 'hospital' she felt Marissa tense up.

The dignified aplomb that characterized Marissa bore her up as she went to
take the call in the office. Robin followed her. "This is Marissa Clark.
What's happened to Gary Hobson? His parents aren't here." She asked it
many times in the past, never knowing what to expect. With the work that he
did, he encountered many occasions that required his visit to a hospital.
She found herself praying as she waited for their answer.

The voice at the other end began, "Mr. Hobson has been in an accident and he
's in our emergency room. We felt that he should have a family member

"Oh! I..we'll be there as soon as we can. Can you tell me how he is?"
The hospital representative explained that she was merely manning the
telephones and had no information as to the patient's condition. It was
maddening to hear that someone important to her was in the hospital
emergency room and not be able to find out whether that person had stubbed
their toe or been buried in a load of conduit pipe.

Even when they arrived at the hospital the only information disclosed to
them was that he was there and he was still undergoing diagnostic tests. A
large man, rough and countrified, came in after them and inquired at the
clerk's desk about Gary Hobson. The two women took note of it and wondered.
He was certainly not police. Not newspaperman. In fact, they had no clue
from his appearance as to his connection with Gary.

That Malcolm wasn't a newspaperman was just as obvious as the next three
people coming in were reporters. They had the look and mannerisms of
reporters and accompanying them was Miguel Diaz, cameras slung around his
neck. He came over to Marissa and Robin. "Hey, Miss Clark. I haven't seen
you in a while." He gave Robin a smile and a nod of recognition.

Sitting down next to Marissa, he touched her hand consolingly and asked,
"That is 'our' Gary in there, isn't it? We were told to interview
someone---him---his relatives---anyone about his part in the finding and
heroic saving of the little Harden boy."

Marissa numbly said, "Your sensitivity is overwhelming, Mr. Diaz. Did they
tell you that if he was too ill that you should take the pictures anyway and
get back as soon as possible so you wouldn't miss the paper deadlines?"

"No, you got me wrong. I..I...I was just..."

Robin shook her head at him and said, "It's okay. You've got a job. We've
got a friend who's hurt. How much, we don't know. Your job just happens to
require you to intrude in lives when people are the most vulnerable. Why
don't you go and ask someone else?" She motioned to Malcolm Dowry on the
opposite side of the waiting room, "He's here asking about him too."

As Miguel backed away, he expressed his apologies for his intrusion. He
went and casually sat down next to Malcolm. If he had known what Malcolm's
occupation for the past four years was, he would have fainted with joy.
Robin snickered to herself when Diaz struck up a conversation with Malcolm
and Malcolm loudly threatened to throw him out the door, asking him whether
he preferred head or feet first.

She checked with the clerk every hour on the hour for the next two hours,
always being told that they weren't finished with the patient yet.


As to the tests that Gary had to undergo, they didn't leave out much in
their search for internal or external injuries. The only repair they had to
do was to close up the place where the stitches had broken on the previous
leg injury. Gary gave no reply when he was asked who sewed it up. The
fashion of stitching was unique. Some doctors adopted stitching styles
unique to them; most used the common textbook recommended type. He didn't
dare tell them that a veterinarian had attended to him.

One of the nurses peeked her head outside the ER door and called for Gary
Hobson's family. Six people stood up and went over to her. "No, not six
people. Too many," she insisted. "Which of you is family?"

Robin said she was his sister and Marissa was their cousin. The nurse's
disbelief was obvious, but she didn't argue. She led them through to the
same cubicle where he had been placed when he was originally brought in. He
was flat on his back with his eyes closed, nasal cannula supplying extra
oxygen to boost his levels.

"Gary?" The fear could be heard in Marissa's voice, "Gary?"

Robin led her to his side. She placed her hand on his face, smiling as she
felt his smile in return. "Hey, Marissa." His voice was still raspy, but
she was thrilled to hear it. He sought out her hand and squeezed it. One
telltale tear streaked downward from her left eye. "Don't cry, Marissa. I'm fi...I'm gonna be fine."

He turned his attention to Robin, standing quietly at the foot of the bed.
She had the same nervous concern on her face. Understating the truth, she
said, "We were kinda worried when the hospital called." He gave her a
painful smile as she continued, "I wish they wouldn't always call and make
everyone so nervous. They wouldn't tell us anything except that you were
hurt and that you were here."

"Thanks for coming. I don't suppose that you brought any clothes, did you?
They destroyed all of mine."

"They didn't ask us to. They didn't say you were going to be able to

Gary smiled at her and stressed, "They haven't told me that they found
anything so I think they'll release me tonight. The doctor should be in

Forcing herself to be ready to hear the worst, Marissa asked, "Uh, Gary, how
did you end up in the hospital?"

He squeezed her hand again and said, "It was just one of those right place,
right time things that happen to people. You know. They happen all the
time. I just happened to be on the scene when a little boy was about to be
crushed by some construction stuff."

Robin decided to interrupt, "Excuse me, Gary, but Miguel Diaz, the
photographer, and what looks like a couple of reporters are out there,
wanting to talk with you. And there's someone else. He's kinda big. He's
kinda rough around the edges, if you know what I mean. And he threatened to
throw Diaz bodily out of the hospital." She laughed adding, "Score one for
the hillbilly."

Without seeing him Gary couldn't be sure, but it sounded like the owner of
the last voice he heard before the paramedics came on the scene. Malcolm
Dowry! What was he doing here?

The curtain was pulled aside and a white-jacketed man with a hospital I.D.
showing him to be a doctor walked in. Smiling, he greeted the two ladies
with a handshake. "I'm Dr. Atkins. We've performed tests from stem to
stern on our patient here; he'll confirm that." He looked to Gary's pained
expression. Continuing, he said, "The good news is we've not found anything
except extreme bruising, inside and out. We've repaired the stitches on his
leg wound. Other than that, he seems to be very lucky. Very lucky indeed."
That was all that Gary needed to widen his smile. "Then I can go home?"
The smile quickly changed to a frown when the doctor came back with, "Not
just yet. I want to keep you overnight in case there's internal injuries or
bleeding that we haven't detected. You'll be monitored. If all is well,
this time tomorrow you'll be home in your own bed. You're going to be sore.
So sore that you'll swear that you've broken every bone in your body---which
I'm surprised that you didn't. We'll give you some painkillers. They'll
help the healing, but if after a week you want to stop them..we'll let you
be the judge." He patted Gary's leg before he left, saying, "They'll come
to get you when a room is ready. Good luck."

He left no room for negotiation. Gary looked for assistance from Marissa
and Robin, but there was none forthcoming. His fate was sealed. He was in
for the night. The nurse came in a few minutes later and asked whether Gary
wished to see the press. The answer was a resounding 'NO' from the three of


The next day Gary was released and sent home with his painkiller
prescription. Robin had rummaged in his loft for appropriate clothing
before picking him up. He came to realize what the doctor meant when he
told him how he would ache. The pain remedy was taken by the clock,

In the morning, he was groggy when the radio alarm started up. Hearing the
cat outside the door, announcing the arrival of the Sun-Times was less
welcome than ever before. He was trying to maneuver the paper into the room
without having to bend when Robin came up the stairs. He was in his boxers
and had nowhere to hide so he stood behind the door and asked if she would
hand him the paper.

"Anything you need, Robin?" he asked after he folded the paper and held it
behind his back.

She ignored his embarrassment. "Can I come in, Gary? I want to pick up the
dishes from last night."

"How 'bout if I bring them down later when I'm dressed?" He hoped that she'
d understand the message.

"I thought the doctor wanted you to stay in bed a few days. Do you really
feel good enough to manage the stairs?"

He didn't want to think about the stairs, but answered, "I'm fine. I'm
really okay, Robin. Don't worry, I'll bring them down."

"Do you need help in the shower?"

His eyes opened so wide that she could see the whites all around the eyes.
He stammered a bit before she attempted to put his mind at ease with, "Gary.
I've got five brothers---all younger than I am. If there's a part of them
that I haven't seen and, with all probability, cleaned, I don't know what it

It didn't put his mind anywhere near 'at ease'. He responded immediately,
"You may have seen 'all' of your brothers, but I'm not that incapacitated
that I want a female to give me help in the bathroom---in any capacity!"
Robin giggled as quietly as she could contain herself as she descended the
stairs to return to her duties at the bar. She had come in early
specifically to help Gary and Marissa. Now she wasn't so sure how welcome
she was.

Meanwhile Gary sat, after a fashion, at his small table and scanned the
paper, wondering what he would do if something really strenuous presented

He was there only a few minutes when Marissa knocked three times and
entered. "Gary! Where are you?"

When had his life deteriorated so far as to have females wandering in and
out of his loft without invitation? Robin had been one thing, wanting to
clean up his dishes---wanting to clean him up too!! Now it was Marissa.
"I'm over here, at the table. Are you okay?"

"Am I okay? What did you say or do to Robin? I tried to ask her how you
are and she couldn't talk for laughing!"

"Great! My life has just sunk a little lower."

Not giving up, even with his obvious discomfort, Marissa asked again, "Well?
What did you do?"

"Marissa..she asked if I needed help in the shower."

She gasped, then giggled. "Well, you know, it might be fun. How would
Chuck have responded?"

"It's not funny! She tried to assure me that she'd assisted her younger
brothers...in, ah, every way. I told her that I wasn't that ill."

"How are you going to take a shower, Gary?"

He thought as he answered, "I'll just, ah, ah..maybe I'll just skip the
shower today."

With the sound of mischief in her voice, she suggested, "You could ask Vadim
to assist you."

"Ya know what? I can see that you're finding this amusing. You're not
helping me one bit." He hobbled over to the bed, his newspaper in hand, "I'
m just gonna lie down a while. Nothing seems too urgent in tomorrow's paper
at this time. I'll check again later."

She knew that she had just been dismissed, but hated to leave a good
opportunity go to waste, "We could ask Robin to cover the 'saves' today."

"Marissa. Did you know that you have a sadistic streak? Yeah. It seems to
wait until I'm flat on my back to jump up and kick me. How about having me
call either of the two of you if I should need anything? How's that?"

She, too, descended the stairs giggling to herself.

He put his head back, carefully; everything hurt, even his head. He relived
in his dreams the mountain, or so it seemed, of pipes falling over him, this
time burying him to his eyes. The workers didn't work to remove them this
time around. Instead they crawled on top of them, making the pain more
intense with the added weight. From that dream he slipped into one in which
he was once again in the emergency room. Robin was there dressed in nursing
garb. She closed the curtain of the cubicle and announced that she would be
doing the examining. He grabbed the white sheet and held it tightly in
front of him, covering his nakedness.

"You're not examining me, Robin!"

"Why not, Gary?"

"Because, because, because you're not a nurse."

She laughed heartily, "How silly. Why I've bathed and diapered my little
brothers millions of times. Don't worry, Gary, I'm well educated!"

Saying that, she and Gary had a tug of war over the modesty sheet. Finally
giving up, she said, "Okay. I'm calling for help." She put her head
outside the curtain and yelled, "Bernie! Lois! I need help or you'll never
have grandchildren!"

Gary woke up in a sweat and shaking. When the shaking subsided, he picked
up the paper again and looked through it. "EMPLOYEES SERIOUSLY BURNED BY
FAULTY COOKER." The headline announced it and the article told the
frightening story of a fast food restaurant's staff being burned when the
deep fryer thermostat failed and the temperatures soared to extreme highs.
When French fries were put in it, the moisture interacted with the grease
and splattered over a wide area, horribly burning four of the five staff

He tried the easy way and attempted to call the business first, but was
unsuccessful in convincing them that he was serious.

Gary's problem: how to get from point A to point B and back again. Point A
being his loft. He was due for his pain remedy and fully feeling the need f
or it. He wouldn't dare take it and try to drive. What if he took it and
called a cab? The pain medicine usually knocked him out---that's why! He
mulled the problem over and over until he decided that he would first get
dressed. If he were successful at that he would then try to descend the
stairs. If that worked, he would call a cab to take him to the restaurant,
warning them in whatever way he needed to in order for them to disconnect
the fryer for repair. He could take the pain medication after he was up the
stairs and back in bed again. He felt smug about the seemingly excellent

The first drawback was that he couldn't bend to put his shoes, socks, or
even his pants on. Should he take the pills? He couldn't. Not and remain
awake. He needed, gulp, help. Marissa wouldn't let him out of the building
if she knew what he was up to. Vadim wasn't at work yet. He closed his
eyes and grimaced. Robin! Not Robin! Who else was there?

He picked up the phone and called the number for the bar. When Robin
answered, he asked her to please come up. Why was life so humiliating? To
her knock, he called, "Come in, please."

"Something you need, Gary?" Noticing his expression of pain, she asked, "Do
you need your pills?"

"It's not that, Robin. I need, ah, I need some, some help."

"Did you decide to take a shower? Ya want me to run the water? Help you
get undressed? What?"

He couldn't stand prolonging the agony, "Can you please get me some clothes
and, and help me put them on? I'd do it, but I need my pain pills to do it
and I can't, I can't, ah, take them yet."

She really was quite beautiful when she smiled as she was smiling then, "Of
course." She gathered what he would be wearing with an eerie sense of
knowing where to find everything. He tried not to think about that. After
succeeding with the jeans, he insisted that he was okay to zip them himself.
She then took care of the rest of his wardrobe and pronounced him 'dressed'.

He was ready for presenting the next request, "Can you give me a ride
somewhere? We can't tell Marissa, ya understand? She's like a mommy when I'm not
feeling so good and, well, she'll be happier if we don't mention it. Okay?"

"Fine," she said, throwing him another sparkling, amused smile, then she
asked, "Where do you need to go? To the doctors?"

"No, not the doctor. I need, ah... Robin, it's kinda hard to say, but I
need to go to FastEatin' Delights down on Elston."

She looked at him as if he had lost his mind.

With a sickly smile, he commented, hoping to be believed, "I just love their
burgers. Don't ask why. Will you do it?"

After he assured her that it wouldn't be the same if she went for him, the
two of them managed the stairs, the car, the warning about the fryer, and
finally succeeded in returning him to his bed.

Her words as he was falling asleep after taking the pain medication were,
"Don't forget to eat your burger. It cost you, big-time, at least in


Running and climbing seemed to be the theme of his dreams. As before, the
last dream before waking had involved..Robin! What was it? She didn't
appear to be pursuing him, but she was permeating his sleeping hours.

This dream found the two of them sitting at a sidewalk table, sharing a
gigantic hamburger and a coke. They had their heads together, each sipping
the coke through their own straw. She was talking about her family, about
her brothers, commenting about their wives and children. She was the only
one of her siblings who was unmarried. At the age of 25 she had come very
close to marrying someone, but the marriage had been called off and she was
now older and living alone in Chicago.

After she finished with her story, Gary related his. She was familiar with
his parents and seemed interested. They finished the soda, still with faces
just inches apart. Each remained close, looking into the other's eyes when
Gary smiled mischievously and suggested, "Let's get married."

She was just about to say something when a loud pounding at the door
startled Gary awake. He lay there several moments, both stunned by his
proposal over a coke and remorseful over not hearing her answer. How silly!
He called out, "Come in" without getting up.

The next sight was that of Malcolm Dowry standing over him, looking
strangely concerned. "Hey, Gary. I thought that I'd check to see how you'
re doin'. You weren't much with it at the 'yard' that day." Gary was going
to get up, but Malcolm put his hand down on his chest---hard! "Don't be
gettin' up fer me; I'm not stayin' long."

His hand had produced pain where he had placed it and Gary groaned,

"Malcolm, I'm glad to see you, but please take your hand off of my chest."

"Oh, sure, sure," he said apologetically, removing the hand. "You never got
a chance to answer me when I asked whut ya were doin' at the yard. Ya saved
that little kid, but how'd ya know he was even there? Were ya there for
another reason?"

Gary's voice was weaker than he felt when he answered, "Just a freak
coincidence, that's all. What were you doin' there?"

"That's another cause fer me ta be here. After we split up at the vet's, I
kinda took yer sermon ta heart and tried ta picture me in another few years.
It wasn't a pretty sight, I kin tell ya. White-haired old geezer, holdin'
up people by threatening 'em with my cane, no doubt! Nah. Like I said, my
hand ain't much ta look at, but it's plenty strong. I'm workin' at the
construction yard. It ain't very excitin', but the guys're friendly and the
work is honest." To Gary's reaction, he added, "An the pay's not bad. It's

When the bed-bound man chuckled, he growled, "Whut d'ya find so damned funny
about that? Ain't it whut you had in mind with yer lecturin'?"

"Sorry, Malcolm. I'm just happy to hear you found something to do that
wouldn't get you in trouble if you discussed it with a cop."

"Say, were you pullin' my leg? Are you a cop after all? Ya said ya weren't."

Once again he affirmed, "No, I'm not a cop. That's my bar downstairs. I'd
like to buy you a drink, but the stairs are a devil to negotiate right now.
Come by sometime when I'm in better shape and I'd be pleased to offer you
some hospitality."

"Thanks, kid, I'll prob'bly take you up on it. I'm gonna go now and let you
get some rest. This is my 'break' time. How 'bout that? I was always
wishin' ta get a break; now I get one ever' damn day at this time." He gave
a hearty laugh that rang through the loft.

After the big man left, Gary lay staring at the ceiling for a long time,
thankful that he could hear about a positive change in the life of one of
his past 'saves'.


The paper found enough sympathy for Gary's need for recuperation that it
assigned only 'saves' that could have been performed by telephone. There
were three that required Marissa to appear 'on site', but in general there
was a respite during which he progressed to being able to move around
without help of medication.

Life was good. Gary may not have been the first to admit it, but his life
was back on schedule. It was 'on-call 24/7' for the unsung hero. The leg
was healed and his bruises faded.

The dreams had stopped being violent right after Malcolm's visit to the
loft, but the last dream of the morning was reliably something having to do
with Robin. He wondered why, and, in a way, wondered whether she was having
similar dreams. How could he ask such a thing without betraying his

He and Marissa were in the office one afternoon. She was asking about the
stock in the cellar when he suddenly came out and asked, "Does Robin live

Wide-eyed and mystified how that subject had crept into their business
discussion, she said, "The last I heard, she does. Why do you ask?"

"Oh, nothing. Nothing. I just wondered."

She consulted her Braille notes and started to say something about the bar
snacks when he asked, "Have you ever met her brothers? Do they live in

She closed her notes, folded her hands on the desk and smiled. "Why are you
asking me things that you could ask her?"

"No reason. It was just something that popped into my mind."

"No reason? No reason except that something's on your mind. What?"

He whispered as though someone might be listening, "Ya know what? Robin has
been in my dreams for the last couple weeks. I'm talkin' about every night!
What's going on? I don't think I have a fixation or anything, but she's
always there."

"What are the dreams about, Gary?" In her heart she was expecting his
answer. He told her most of his disturbing dreams. A few of them were
too...personal for even her ears. After he was through, she commented, "I
think I detect a theme here, partner. What do you think?"

If she could have seen the pitiful, helpless expression on his face, she
might have had trouble trying not to laugh.

He hesitated, then answered, "If I knew what it all meant, I wouldn't have
to reveal my dreams to my 'female' partner!"

"Mmhmm," she said in her all-knowing tone that, right now, irritated him to
the core.


Instead of a ready answer, she asked, "Do you find yourself thinking about
her in the waking hours?"

"What do you call this? I'm awake! It bothers me not to know the cause."

"Promise me that you won't take this wrong," she said, preparing to unleash
a verbal bombshell.

Even though he dreaded what she was going to say, he was eager to promise.

"I think you have a full-blown infatuation going on."

"Ridiculous!" he said, shaking his head.

She made her "okay" long and drawn out. "That's my diagnosis. I'll let you
figure out how accurate it is. Meanwhile, would you mind leaving me alone?
I'm going to call a couple of wayward suppliers and I wouldn't want to
offend your ears as I blast them!"

He left, knowing full well that her idea of blasting someone would be
scathing without the use of any of the words that he might have used. He
sat at a booth in the bar. He was just about to check the paper when Robin
slid in next to him. "Do you mind if I pretend to be here with you?
Someone just came in that I don't want to talk with. He's been bothering me
for a week about going out with him. I keep telling him that I have a
boyfriend, but he doesn't believe me."

Not knowing what to say, Gary asked, "What do you want me to do?"
Keeping her voice low, she said, "Nothing. Just let me sit here until he
sees us and leaves."

"Okay. Have you told him?"

She whispered almost into Gary's shoulder, "Yes, I've told him over and
over, but he laughs and acts like I'm lying."

Knowing that he should have explained who he meant by 'him', Gary whispered
back, "No, no, no. I don't mean the wolf, I mean, have you told your

She looked surprised, "Gary. I don't have a boyfriend right now. My work
and school take up 'all' my time. Home, school, work. That's all there is
for me. I haven't even visited my family for six months."

With that statement, Gary put his arm around her shoulders familiarly and

The man she had been talking about walked over to the booth, greeting her,
"Hey, Robin. Are we 'on' for tonight?"

Obviously irritated, she said, "Listen Curt, I told you we are never going
to be 'on'. Please stop asking."

Instead of leaving, Curt, stood there and eyed Gary up and down, noticing
his arm around her. "You her 'boyfriend'?"

Meeting his eyes, Gary smiled smugly and nodded silently.

Curt grabbed Robin by the arm, pulling her out of the booth and holding her
in his grasp. She struggled, but he held on as Curt claimed her, saying,
"Now I'm her boyfriend. Any complaints?"

Vadim had been watching from the bar and started heading over to them.
Gary slid out of the booth and warned him, "Listen, buddy, you're making a
mistake. She doesn't want your attention. Why don't you just go back to
where you were and find someone else? You're hurting her arm; let her go."

Upon hearing the shrouded threat, Curt released his hold and shoved her away
from them. He raised his fist to Gary when Vadim's powerful hand closed
over his, squeezing down with crushing strength. The bartender was not of
huge stature, but was a weight lifter with powerful shoulders and arms. If
no one could open a container, Vadim's help was called upon. Curt had no
recourse but to retreat. He did leave Gary with a menacing glare before he
turned away.

"Thanks, Vadim." Turning to see to Robin, Gary asked, "Are you all right?
Let's see your arm." He saw the beginning bruise marks and tenderly rubbed
the sites. "I'm sorry."

"It wasn't your fault, Gary. I guess that I'm too friendly to the
customers. Some guys misinterpret friendship for affection. He evidently
thought that I wanted more than his drink order."

She left to go back to work, leaving Gary to ponder her comments about
friendship not meaning affection. Was she including him in her statement?
He would have to think some more about how he regarded her friendship.


The image was of Robin standing on a train. She was crying. Gary stood on
the train platform, staring at her, unshed tears in his eyes. As the train
slowly pulled out, Robin cried out accusingly, "Why didn't you ask?"

"Good morning, Chicago. It's 6:30 and the morning commute looks bad for
those of you.."

He rose from his depressing dream with moist eyes. At the door the cat
looked up at him, he thought, accusing him too. He was nearing forty. Was
he going to wait until he was almost 50, almost 60, almost..?"

"No!" He said it to the cat as much as to himself. "No!" he said it again,
more determined than before. Whether she likes it or not, he thought, he
was going to ask her out. Almost 40 is the same as almost 60.

Angry with himself in every aspect, he showered, dressed and took his paper
downstairs to read. Robin would not have school today and she wouldn't be
in until noon. Maybe he could catch her at home. Where in hell does she
live? He left his paper at the booth and went to the personnel files in the
office. While it wasn't an acceptable thing to do for personal reasons, he
didn't think twice as he searched through the employee files to find hers.
He pulled it out and sat at the desk to peruse her records, taking note of
her address. Curiosity forced him to read the rest of the file. No
husband. No children. Just her, 33 year-old her. Next of kin: her mother
in Forest Park, Gladys Brewer. No father mentioned. Probably deceased, he
thought. Or, her parents could be divorced. That might explain her
attitude about marriage.

All of a sudden, he said, "No! This is all wrong!" He closed the file and
returned it to the cabinet. 'What's the matter with me?' he asked himself,
crumbling up the address and telephone number he had written down. This is
not the way to go about this. He tossed the note in the wastebasket next to
the desk and briskly walked back to the booth to retrieve the paper and head
towards his first 'save'.

The morning assignments were easy and uneventful. His patience with the
people involved and with himself was in short supply. No one bothered to
acknowledge that his or her life had just come within a hair of ending
forever. One woman even complained when he shoved her out of the way of the
truck. In the middle of his grumbling to himself about the whole business
of life saving, he blurted out, "Why did I throw that note away?"

He looked around, embarrassed that he had expressed his thoughts aloud. As
he entered McGinty's he headed directly to the office where Marissa was
'reading' something.

"Hey, Gary. Did everything go well this morning?"

"Yeah, it was okay." As he was answering her, he was looking for the
wastebasket, hoping to retrieve the crumbled up note. "Marissa. Don't you
have a trashcan in here? I thought I saw.."

Marissa reached down by her feet and brought out the very item for which he
was asking. Before he could take it from her, she set it back at her feet,
saying, "I've moved it because I'm cleaning out some old papers and it's
easier to reach."


He sat quietly, trying to think how he could recover the information without
coming out and admitting anything to her. He considered going back to the
filed records, but Marissa didn't miss anything by her blindness. She kept
aware of things around her, especially where he was concerned.

"Do you need something, Gary?" she asked, knowing he was still there.

"Uh, no, not really." He sat silently watching her work as she tossed more
into the wastebasket.

"Would you like me to empty your trash for you? You'll have more room."

"No, I'm almost to a stopping point. Thanks. Do you have plans for
tonight? Movies?"

"Ya wanta go?" he asked, thinking it would take him off the hook from facing
his decision to talk, really talk, with Robin.

"Emmett and I are going out. Gary?" She hesitated as though she were
considering not saying it, "He wants us to get married."

Surprised only for a moment, Gary enthused, "That's really great, Marissa.
What do you want?"

She allowed an uncharacteristic tear to fall and said, "I'm ready, Gary. I
love him more every day. We know each other's faults and bad habits. He's
a moral and honorable man and I find it harder and harder to say goodnight
when he leaves. I'm your age. I don't want to be fifty and still be
procrastinating. I'm going to say 'yes' if he asks tonight."

Gary rose and went over to hug her. He kissed her cheek and hugged her
again. "You know how happy I am for you. You deserve every happiness and
he's a dam...darned lucky man!"

"Thanks, Gary. Before you go, maybe you'd like this." She held out her
hand and passed a small wadded up piece of paper to him. "Were you looking
for this?"

His hand trembled as he took the note that he had crumbled earlier. "How do
you do these things?" he asked, incredulously. "For someone who doesn't
see, you 'see' perfectly. How do you know what's on this paper?"

Enigmatically, she answered, a smile filling her face, "Love is in the air,

Another time he might have contested her assumption, but this time he had a
task to perform.


He attempted to call the number from his phone in the loft, but only reached
her answering machine. He didn't leave a message. She was probably on her
way to work. He could ask her during a lull in business. Why was he so
nervous? She could say 'yes' or she could say 'drop dead'. Either way, it
would be over with. He would have accomplished that which he had been
dreading for some time now. But that dream. It served to remind him that
time and opportunities pass as quickly as a...a birthday!

The afternoon errands were accomplished with him in a mellower mood. It
must have rubbed off on the 'would be victims' because they, almost to a
person, appreciated his efforts and realized what had almost happened. His
return to the bar that evening was on a whole different emotional level than
this morning's return had been. His 'mission' before him, he showered,
shaved and donned fresh clothes. He waited for 9 pm to make an appearance
in the bar. When he did, he scanned the room for his objective. She was
busy at the bar assisting Vadim. She wore dark pants with a ruffled, long
sleeved blouse. A small bar apron was around her middle and tied in back,
emphasizing her tiny waist.

He waited. He bused the tables. He refilled supplies. He wandered into
the office and tidied up what Marissa already had made tidy. He finished up
by falling asleep on the couch.

At one point Robin had asked Marissa if she were aware that Gary was
sleeping in the office. She raised her eyebrows, giving Robin a "Mmmm?" as
an acknowledgement.

Marissa shook his shoulder gently and called his name, causing him to jump
so suddenly that it scared both of them. "Gary, I'm leaving now. Emmett's
here. Will you be able to close up?"

He was disoriented at first, but agreed, then went out to see if 'anyone'
else was still there. The bar was deserted. Vadim must have left as well.
He proceeded to pile the chairs on top of the tables, cursing himself
silently for having fallen asleep. He was down to the last table when he
heard noises from the kitchen area. Soon afterward Robin emerged from the
door. All he could do was stare for the moment. She stared in surprise as

In unison, they both said, "I didn't know you were still here."

After taking time to laugh, he asked, "No plans for tonight?"

This satisfied him as he thought, 'There, didn't I ask? That was as good as

His inner voice berated the effort, 'That's not asking! That's assuming.
That's stating the obvious since it's one in the morning. ASK!'

He argued back, 'It's too late to go out tonight. You said it yourself, it'
s one in the morning!'

The inner voice had the final word, 'That's your fault for falling asleep.
Did you think that would get you off the hook? Be a man! ASK!'

Robin said, tiredly, "No plans for this morning except to get home and catch
some sleep before I have to be at class. I still have a little homework to
finish tonight, er, I mean, this morning."

"You keep busy. I guess you did tell me that though. Do you ever, ah,
ever, ah, go...out?"

She stopped what she had been doing, and considered his question, "Go out?
Are you asking if I go out on dates?"

"I guess so. Do you?"

She set a chair back on the floor, sitting down, visibly tired. "Now and
then. Mostly then. I haven't gone out on a real date in, maybe, six or
seven months."

"Would you like to---with me, that is?"

She looked at him as though he had just asked her to run the Boston
marathon---tonight. "You want me to go out..tonight?"

"Heh, heh, heh," he chuckled, self-consciously, "Not now. I mean, ah,
sometime. Maybe like Friday. Or Thursday. Or, or, or tomorrow!"

Now it was her turn to appreciate the humor and she giggled, "Friday is out;
McGinty's is too busy that night. Thursday is out, I have a test to study
for. Tomorrow is good. I like tomorrow. What time?"

Never in his wildest dreams did he believe that he would not only receive a
'yes', but have plans set for the next night. They agreed upon 7:30 and she
bestowed the sun and moon on him in the form of a smile before she left. A
few minutes later she tapped on the glass of the door. He opened it and she
asked if he knew where she lived.

The loft had one especially cheerful occupant that evening. Its resident
had a satisfied smile on his face. He hummed, he sang, he slept! 

Continue to Installment 2

Email the author: arcane@nethere.com
Back Home to McGinty's
  Stories by Title 
Stories by Author