Notes: I use the paper's chronology of events, not the airdates.
In homage to Jayne Leitch's terrific "Crimes Against Criminals", I've made Winslow's first name Logan; otherwise he's my own interpretation.
Disclaimer: Early Edition, its characters, and its aired situations belong to Tristar Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended, and no money is being made off this work of fan fiction. On the other hand, all original material contained within this story belong solely to the author and may not be used without permission.
Archiving: Please ask permission before archiving (I like to keep tabs on my stuff.).
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As if on auto-pilot, Gary Hobson, gentleman that he was, gently closed the passenger door of the dark green McGinty’s mini-van, made his way around to the driver’s side, and settled into the seat. Despite the ire he had recently been subjected to, even after the right cross that had stung long after Chuck’s wedding, he’d had a surprisingly good time tonight. He had not only convinced Brigatti to go to a movie with him, but he’d also wrangled dinner together - both accompanied by pleasant conversation and gentle ribbing. And now that the evening was at an end, he discovered that he wasn’t quite ready to say goodnight.
He risked a brief glance at the woman next to him, taking in her glossy
black hair and pleasantly ethnic features as she fastened her seatbelt.
Toni Brigatti intrigued him. She was quite the opposite of most of the women
he found himself attracted to; but maybe that, in itself, was part of the
attraction. She wouldn’t take any grief from him, that much was certain.
Every false step had left him smarting. Sometimes literally, he thought wryly,
remembering how she’d punched him just hours ago.
Brigatti had been so angry with him over the Harland diamond and Amber/Jade, that he was quite certain she’d never agree to go out with him again, even if it was only because she had either killed him or put him in jail. Of course, from her point of view, he reasoned, he had been a louse at best. The finality of her “We’re through” after she’d caught him with Jade after his saying he hadn’t seen her had left him stunned. Having her smack her fist firmly into his face was, by comparison, an encouragement. Encouragement enough for him to ask her to a movie as they headed down the steps after the wedding. And, miracle of miracles, she had agreed - thanks to that very punch allowing her to retain a bit of dignity in the face of being lied to, kidnapped, relieved of an arrest by a presidential pardon, and finding her date in a hotel room bed with a known felon. Of course, it wasn’t at all what it had looked like; he and Jade had fallen onto the bed as they’d struggled over the diamond. But even Chuck had needed some convincing on that score. Come to think of it, Chuck had hit him, too. Which brought everything back to the woman seated next to him.
No, Antonia Brigatti would not put up with a myriad of lame excuses for cancelled dates or no-shows, especially no-shows. Based on his experience with the Paper thus far, he could guarantee that cancellations and no-shows would occur. Toni would demand an explanation; and what Toni demanded, Toni got. Gary figured that the only reason she hadn’t put two and two together so far was the sporadic and often perilous nature of their encounters. She was one of the most intelligent and intuitive people he knew; so if they continued to date, if things ever got serious.... Gary paused in mid-thought, startled to realize that he had even asked himself that question, had even considered the possibility of a serious relationship with Toni. Not wishing to cross that emotional bridge yet, he chalked it up to the fact that they’d been through quite a lot together in the year they’d been acquainted, re-filed those thoughts in his subconscious, and returned to the much safer mental territory of the Paper’s influence on his near-nonexistent personal life.
Yep, getting tomorrow’s newspaper today definitely has a way of interfering with a guy’s social life.
That was one reason he didn’t want the evening to end. Chances were he’d find it nearly impossible to make and keep another date with her. It had taken months for this one, thanks to the Paper, his arrest for murder, and her busy schedule. And it had very nearly been wrested from him by the events of the last two days.
He had finally reached a point where he was comfortable with the “saving lives” aspect of the Paper. In fact, he was understanding that it was simply what he was supposed to do, and, generally speaking, he found great fulfillment in it. Unfortunately, he still hadn’t managed to figure out how to have any semblance of a normal life in between his saves - simple things, like having - and keeping - a dinner engagement. Truth be told, the Paper’s interference was both irritating and convenient. Irritating when he was trying to have a normal life; convenient when life, or rather romance, came too close for comfort.
Gary Hobson was a man of contradictions in that area. Deep down inside, he wanted nothing more than to settle down with the right woman and raise a family. But the fear of another heartbreak had its claws gripped so tightly around his heart that he couldn’t even see that he pushed intimacy away with one hand while reaching desperately for it with the other. That was another thing about Toni Brigatti - she appealed to that dichotomy. Despite any protest he might make if someone suggested it, he was definitely drawn to her feisty vulnerability; yet her standoffishness gave him breathing room, made him feel safe - even if it sometimes gave him the emotional equivalent of heartburn. Of course, Gary didn’t recognize this contradiction in himself. He only knew that he was inexplicably attracted to this woman and that every time she rebuffed him, dejection settled over him with a heaviness akin to rain clouds insinuating themselves across a previously clear summer sky. But then, Brigatti was a two-sided coin herself. Gary never knew which side she’d present at any given moment: the warm, vulnerable, decidedly feminine side; or the tough, aggressive, take-no-prisoners side. Tonight she was the former - very refreshing after a full day of the latter - and Gary wanted to enjoy it as long as possible.
Gary started and looked at the brown-eyed woman in the passenger seat. Brigatti had teased him about driving the sports bar’s van. But Gary was as comfortable with the van as he was his large loft apartment above McGinty’s.
“Are we going to sit here all night?” she prodded, her arms crossed, her eyebrow raised in a gesture of barely-maintained indulgence.
“Oh...uh, no. I...I guess I should take you home.”
“My car’s at the church.”
“Church. Your friend’s wedding? That doe-eyed man-chasing felon who conned both you and the U.S. government into letting her go free?” She looked him up and down. “The reason you’re wearing that suit?”
“Oh, right. The church.” Gary attempted to forestall the blush creeping
up his neck at being caught indulging in romantic musings by the subject
of those thoughts. He covered his unease by starting the mini-van and heading
out into the late Friday night traffic.
Toni Brigatti cast another gaze at the dark-haired man beside her. He was a complete puzzle to her. He seemed so nice, so polite; yet he was definitely odd. Tonight had been the most “normal’ she’d ever seen him. No, that wasn’t true. He had been perfectly normal when they’d tried to nail that jewel thief. In fact, he’d been much better than normal, much to her surprise. When he had been thrust into her undercover operation by the sheer chance of an incorrect nametag (or so he had claimed), she couldn’t have imagined anything worse than pretending to be Gary Hobson’s blushing bride. But in the wake of their kiss after picking up the Harland diamond, she suddenly found herself liking the idea very much. So much so that she had ventured to ask not only why he had returned (and just in time to save her life, she added, once again giving silent thanks), but also whether or not he might have any feelings for her. Granted the whole conversation would have been cryptic to anyone else, but the code words had been established immediately after that kiss in the jewelry store.
“Why’d you come back?”
“I figured you needed someone to look after you, I guess.”
It had been so long since anyone had even considered that she, a police detective and former U.S. Marshal, might need looking after, that her heart swelled. But the questions remained.
“Even though I make you crazy?”
Gary’s eyes had glittered in response to her anxious expression. Then his mouth quirked slightly as he warmly answered, “You don’t make me crazy all the time, Brigatti.”
Here it was: the moment of truth.
“Not all the time?”
Catching her intent, Gary gazed candidly into her eyes before answering. “No, some of the time you’re okay.”
Hope sparked. “Just...okay?” she asked, the ghost of a smile playing leapfrog across her eyes and lips.
His voice fading to a hoarse whisper, he replied, “You’re pushing it, Brigatti,” echoing her earlier words when she hadn’t wanted to admit how much she had enjoyed kissing him.
Brigatti often recalled that day and had yet to decide if she cursed or blessed Marissa for calling when she had, interrupting what would have been at least a test of their earlier, coerced-at-first kiss. She sighed mentally. He was like that tonight: just a sweet, somewhat shy, good-looking, and rather old-fashioned guy. Not some lunatic who always happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or was that the right time? She cast the whole idea aside; it gave her a headache every time she tried to figure it out. Gary Hobson made up the most ludicrous excuses and yet he always seemed to be trying to do the right thing. Somehow he kept bumbling his way into “good guy” territory.
Shaken from her reverie, she turned her attention to her companion. “What?”
“Are you still mad at me about Jade - Amber - Jade?” He still had a little
trouble keeping the name and the alias straight.
A flash of memory darkened her features: Gary lying to her about seeing the known cat burglar; Gary showing up in Amber’s hotel room; the two of them tumbling onto the bed! She didn’t know which infuriated her more. She had told him they were through - as though they’d ever even been an item - and yet, here she was on a date with the guy. You had to call it a date, no matter how informal it had been - he had paid, after all.
“I’m angry that you lied to me,” she said finally.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized, sounding the way a chastised puppy looks. “Chuck walks in out of nowhere, says he’s getting married, and introduces Jade as his fiancée, “ he began to explain. “ Minutes after they leave, you walk in, canceling dinner because you’re looking for her. I hadn’t even figured out what to do about Chuck. But you.... I know that’s not a good excuse -”
“You’re right. It’s not.”
Gary’s voice strengthened. “What would you have done if I’d told you? Arrested her?”
“Then and there.”
“And look how things would have turned out. There’d be a war in Eastern Europe right now and -“
“I still don’t buy that, presidential pardon or not.”
“You’re not a very trusting person, Brigatti.”
No, she wasn’t, she would admit to herself. Given her history and the realities of chasing down criminals on a daily basis, it was quite understandable. “It comes with the job,” she replied, a certain sullenness creeping into her voice.
“I guess I didn’t trust you either.”
Brigatti gazed at Gary, judging his sincerity. She sighed lightly. “No, you trusted me to do my job, to be a cop. You’re right. I would have arrested her and never given it a second thought.”
She thought back to a time not so long ago when she had failed to arrest a suspected criminal, a fugitive no less. Her training was screaming at her to do her job and so she had pulled her gun, picked up the phone. But she couldn’t. Somewhere deep down inside, she knew Gary wasn’t a murderer, no matter how damaging the evidence had been. But then she hadn’t helped him either. How could she? A police detective aiding an escaped prisoner? But she hadn’t turned him and she had never told anyone of his visit. She had had very little sleep or peace of mind during those days. She couldn’t believe that he had so completely bamboozled her; it was a severe blow to her professional pride. And it stung even more on a personal level. Several of the other detectives had thought her judgment compromised by her “relationship” with Hobson; but she had meant it when she’d told Armstrong that she was a cop and would stay on the task force even if it came to shooting. Yet seeing him before her had strained her resolve to the breaking point. She so wanted to believe he was innocent, but the evidence.... She had told herself at the time that she’d done all she could by arranging a top-notch lawyer for his arraignment. Toni still wrestled with the notion that her choice to be his champion was formed out of some sort of emotional attachment to Gary rather than a strict interpretation of the facts. He had told her that night in her townhouse that he could prove his innocence, and then he had faxed her the proof. Even after she’d let him down. With that realization, and with that evidence, she became his staunchest supporter - his only supporter in the police department - and had risked her career and her life to uncover the rest of the evidence that would indict the real killers.
Yes, Gary Hobson, of all people, should have trusted her with the truth. But he was right: she wouldn’t have listened, wouldn’t have believed him. Especially after she’d been so reticent to believe in his innocence. Especially about Amber. Especially considering Amber’s admiration of Gary’s glutes.
Somewhat defensively, she added, “It’s my job, Hobson.”
“I know. And you’re very good at it.” He paused. “I never meant to hurt you.”
Brigatti remembered the hurt look on his face when she had pulled her gun on him. He had risked everything in trusting her, and she had pulled a gun on him. Then he had trusted her again - literally with his life - trusted her not to shoot him as he slowly left her apartment. What he didn’t know was how ashamed she had felt - both for not helping him and for not bringing him in - or how she had cried after he left because he was in trouble and she couldn’t bring herself to help him, or how the pained betrayal on his haggard face had gouged her already weary heart. And yet, somewhere along the way, he had forgiven it all. Was that why she’d agreed to go out with him? To assuage her guilt?
She knew better, even if she were to tell herself otherwise. Over five months had passed since that early November incident. And even though they had never discussed it - and she at least hadn’t finished dealing with the guilt and confusion those days had produced - they had moved beyond it enough to agree to go to dinner together. Truth was, he scared her to death. She had kept any recognition of finding Hobson attractive at bay with her usual sharp wit and icy pragmatism. But when they’d kissed in that jewelry store last October, it was like opening the floodgates on a dam. Internal barriers dropped with alarming speed, and once down, were replaced only with the harshest of measures.
All this she thought in the moment that she looked in his brownish-green eyes after he’d apologized for hurting her, and she found herself unwilling to look away. A car horn broke the spell. Gary returned his eyes to the road and swerved quickly to avoid the oncoming traffic. He cleared his throat and mumbled a sheepish “Sorry”.
“Think we could get back in one piece?” Brigatti asked.
Gary started to argue, but saw the mischief in her eyes. He smiled playfully.
Gary shut the passenger door and escorted Brigatti to her blue police-issue Chevy. “I’m glad you came. This was fun.”
She looked up from her purse, where she’d been fishing for her keys. Her smile sent a warm glow across the horizon of her face. “Yes, it was.”
“You sound surprised.”
Brigatti had the grace to blush. “You’re a big bundle of contradictions, Hobson. I never know what to expect from you.”
Resuming the search for keys, she quickly located them, automatically selecting the appropriate key for the car door.
“I could say the same about you,” Gary responded.
Brigatti turned and leaned back against the car, her hands draped casually in front of her. “Oh, yeah? How do you figure that?”
“Toni Brigatti, tough as nails police detective.” His eyes crinkled in delight as he forged ahead. “But I’ve seen you in an evening dress.”
Brigatti smiled at the playfulness in his voice. “You’re a pretty decent dancer as I recall.”
Funny how so much of their relationship, such as it was, was based on that weekend. Gary had only come aboard the dinner cruise to prevent a gas leak from causing an explosion; and suddenly, much to his dismay, he was undercover and newly “married” to Brigatti of all the women in the world. But then, to his astonishment, he’d quickly found himself attracted to her and thought for a time that it might be mutual. He had never been sure; she seemed to turn the attraction on and off like a light switch. Nevertheless, the episode had been a turning point for them.
“You’re easy to dance with,” he answered.
“You seemed to enjoy dancing with...Amber,” she noted, imitating the breathless, airhead voice the jewel thief had assumed. Toni was still struck by the jealousy that woman elicited from her.
“Not really. She’s not my type. Besides, I was too busy keeping an eye on you.”
“On me? Because of Cantnor?”
“Well, he was supposed to be the jewel thief and you had almost been killed earlier that day.”
“I can take care of myself.”
“Like you pulled yourself up from the rooftop ledge of the Hilton?
The memories of that afternoon came flooding back to her again: she, hanging precariously onto that infamous ledge after being knocked over it by an unknown person; Gary, like the stalwart hero of an old western, arriving in the nick of time to rescue the damsel in distress; the two of them clinging to each other and the railing as they caught their breath; tending to the nasty scrape he’d gotten as he’d worked to pull her to safety; their dancing with others later that evening, but finding it difficult to keep their eyes on their partners.
“Maybe you were just jealous?”
“Me? Jealous? What about you? You were the one acting jealous when I danced with Amber.”
“We’ve been over that. I was not jealous,” she insisted.
“Well, me neither.”
A slight challenge sneaked into her tone. “You were just worried about me?”
“Yes, I was.”
Gary’s admission, truthful enough though incomplete, changed the mood entirely, creating a moment of silent tension between them, dragging out the seconds, making time an irrelevant concept.
“Glad to hear it, Hobson,” she replied, barely able to maintain the defiant look that was her layer of protection. “Do you realize that you have never called me by my first name?”
“Of course, I have.”
“No, you haven’t. Why is that?”
Brigatti struggled to find a believable but non-self-disclosing answer. “Habit,” she told him finally. “Besides, you never call me by my first name.”
“Oh, yes, I have. I’ve called you ‘Toni’...Toni.”
Brigatti couldn’t completely hide the effect of hearing her name from his lips: the stiffness escaping from her shoulders as she released an involuntarily held breath; her gaze softening, then straying to Gary’s lips; the vulnerable look in her eyes as she raised them again.
Gary’s eyes crinkled in pleasure as he noted her reaction. “Well?” he prodded, gently invading her emotional space. “Whatcha afraid of, Brigatti?”
“Me? I’m not afraid of anything, Hobson. Especially not you,” she retorted, advancing into his physical space.
Gary nodded minutely. “Okay.”
“Okay,” she concurred, as though she’d scored that point.
Pulled along by proximity and the memory of their one other kiss, the “thank-you” kiss in the jewelry store - for one could hardly count the brief peck that merely rescued Brigatti’s undercover operation from being hopelessly compromised by Gary’s sudden arrival on the scene - they drew closer, inexorably drawn to each other like opposite magnetic poles.
“Woo-hoo!” yelled some teenagers from a passing Jeep, the exclamation punctuated by the staccato notes of the vehicle’s horn and the derisive catcalls from its passengers. From the next corner, blue lights flashed and a police siren whooped, bringing an end to the teenagers’ joy-riding.
Suddenly very self-conscious, Brigatti backed up and cleared her throat. When she faced Gary again, the mask had been pulled into place. “Well, it’s late.”
Gary blinked at the sudden change in her demeanor. Somehow it always caught him off-guard. So he replied brilliantly, “Oh, yeah.”
Toni opened her car door and retreated behind it, shielding herself from the pull this man had on her. One of the nice things about her profession was that she rarely felt out of control. Gary Hobson made her feel out of control on a regular basis. She didn’t know if she liked it or hated it. “Thanks, Hobson,” she told him awkwardly.
“You’re welcome.” He really wanted to ask her if he could call her, see
her again, follow her home...but that old fear of rejection began waving
its hands in a zealous and successful attempt to gain his attention. So Gary
told Brigatti to drive safely, bid her farewell, and reluctantly closed the
door. In seconds she was gone, but he continued watching long after the car
had disappeared. Finally he began the lonely drive back to McGinty’s.
The warm water felt so good as it gently peppered his shoulder and neck muscles, massaging away the relics of a short night in which sleep was the loser in a tag-team wrestling match waged by his emotions. So, with no pending catastrophes this morning, Gary luxuriated in the rare long, hot shower. He raised his head and leaned back into the steaming water, rinsing the shampoo from his dark hair. Finishing, he rubbed the water from his pond-green eyes and, opening them, stood stock still, momentarily stunned beyond the ability to move. Quickly and deliberately wiping any remaining water away, he again peered ahead, certain that he could not have seen what he thought his water-smeared eyes had seen.
“I told you you’d better hurry up or I’d get in this shower with you.”
Gary could not have been more shocked had a pink- and blue-striped, fire-breathing dragon materialized before his eyes and started tap-dancing.
Even as he struggled to cover himself, Gary gaped appreciatively at the vision before him.
“What’s the matter, Hobson? Never seen a naked woman before?” Brigatti
asked as she moved seductively toward him.
Gary stammered before losing the power of speech altogether.
Beside the bed, the clock ticked off the minutes in a steady rhythm. The
drone of the radio had gone unnoticed, as had the thump of a newspaper hitting
the door and the soft mewl of a cat. But gradually the meow grew more insistent
until, by 7 am, the screeching sounded more like a neighborhood cat fight
than the beckoning call of a lone feline. A particularly loud squall broke
through Gary’s numbed mind the way a no-nonsense mother’s stern glare stops
a wayward child dead in his tracks.
With a gasp, Gary bolted upright in bed, dazed momentarily by the vivid dream which had just been shoved from its comfortable home in his subconscious. He groaned with the realization of false memories and his almost certain inability to ever have that dream again - or the equivalent reality. Another feline screech earned the Cat a surly “Don’t get your tail in a knot. I’ll be there” from his supposed master - though who was the master of whom was an exceedingly complicated question.
Gary thought of Toni Brigatti again. How could he not? The mental image he currently had of her - however unreal it might have been - was too...appealing to banish quickly. He dropped his head into his hands. “If she ever finds out about this, she’ll have me drawn and quartered - and served for dinner.” He rubbed his face, trying to clear away the vestiges of the dream. “Which is why I am never mentioning it anyone, including myself.”
Forcing himself out of bed, Gary yanked the door open and greeted the Cat with less warmth than usual. “You sure know how to spoil a good dream. It had better be worth it.”
The Cat regarded him accusingly before moving off Gary’s special edition of the Chicago Sun-Times and into Gary’s loft.
“Cats probably don’t even dream,” Gary muttered as he grabbed tomorrow’s
newspaper and began scanning the headlines.
Marissa held her coffee between her palms, savoring the warmth between sips. She smiled to herself as she listened to Gary ambling down the stairs and into the bar. Her friend and business partner was often racing off on another mission of mercy by this time of the morning. She figured it must be a light day or at least a slow morning, which pleased her greatly, for she intended to obtain every detail of Gary’s date with Detective Brigatti. And from the sound of his footsteps, it was going to be a very interesting tale.
Truthfully, Marissa had her doubts that Toni Brigatti was a good match for her best friend; the woman seemed too volatile, overbearing. But Gary was obviously smitten with her, no matter how much he denied it. The blind woman’s ability to sense what people were feeling, even thinking, was far more than uncanny; it was unsettling. So when Gary had insisted that he was happy after the incident with Brigatti and the jewel thief, Marissa had known better. She had bided her time until he had to talk to someone about it. Prior to that incident, she would have thought they’d be more likely to re-enact the gunfight at the O.K. Corral than to find anything remotely resembling romance. Marissa couldn’t stop the broad grin that blossomed on her face. Then again, I may be making much ado about nothing. Maybe they are simply a modern Beatrice and Benedict. Deciding that she might not be giving the police detective a fair chance, Marissa vowed to find an opportunity to chat informally with the woman and get to know her.
“What are you smiling at?” Gary asked as he sat with her.
Marissa sidestepped the question with one of her own. “So, how was your date with Detective Brigatti?”
“It was okay.”
Gary paused as the phrasing dredged up memories of the woman in question.
“It was fine,” he answered vaguely, opening up the Paper.
“Fine? Explain ‘fine’.”
“What is this, an interrogation?”
“I want details, Gary. Specific details.”
He put the Paper down with a sigh. “We went to a movie and to dinner. Do you want to know which movie we saw? What we ate?”
“Dinner, too, huh? When did you get in?”
“I don’t know. Late.”
“So you had a good time?”
“That’s what I said.” Gary turned another page in the Paper, hoping to spot something that would require his immediate attention.
“How good?” Marissa prodded, refusing to accept such a scanty report. “Fair? Good? Great? Terrific? So incredible you dreamed about her?”
Gary looked sharply at Marissa, fearing she somehow knew his secret. He wouldn’t put it past her. Not seeing a smirk on her face, he relaxed but refused to answer.
Gary’s silence forced her to change tactics. “Well, if there’s no chemistry, I can understand-”
“Exactly. I mean, it’s possible for two people to simply have a good time, but if there’s no chemistry between you...”
“Chem.... No, no, there’s chemistry.”
Marissa could hear in Gary’s voice what he wasn’t saying: There was plenty of chemistry there. She also heard the hesitation. “But?”
“Hmm-hmm. Are you asking her out again?”
“So call her.”
“I will...when I’m ready.”
Marissa handed him the phone. “You said there was chemistry...you said you had a good time....”
Gary thought about the evening and how it had ended, or rather fizzled. “I don’t know.”
Gary slowly accepted the telephone, staring at it as though it was some newfangled piece of equipment that had no obvious purpose. He glanced at the Paper and immediately did a double take. One of the headlines had changed.
4 dead, 3 injured in apartment fire
Gary read on.
A child’s birthday party turned deadly when a helium tank exploded yesterday around 11:00am. A grease fire in a second floor apartment quickly burned its way into an adjacent apartment, where a helium tank used to fill party balloons exploded. Three children and one adult were killed in the blast. Three others were severely injured and are listed in serious condition at County Hospital.
“I gotta go.”
“There’s gonna be a fire. Four people die.”
“And I’m not chicken,” he added on his way out the door.
“Of course not,” Marissa gibed.
Gary double-checked the address in the Paper and sprinted up the stairs. Not knowing the apartment number, he listened for the sound of children. He thanked his lucky stars when he discovered that the birthday party was in the apartment at the end of the hall - no guessing which side the fire started on.
He glanced at the Paper again: Margie Ramsey apparently failed to turn off the stove before falling asleep on the couch. Fire officials confirmed eyewitness accounts that the smoke detectors in the apartment building were not functioning.
Gary began knocking on the door. “Ms. Ramsey?” He checked his watch: 10:50. “Ms. Ramsey!” he called, banging on the door.
The noise from the party next door subsided as Gary’s voice became louder and more insistent. Soon the hallway was full of gawking children - and parents. He smiled weakly at them before again banging on Margie Ramsey’s door. “Ms. Ramsey, wake up! It’s important!”
Gary was spared trying to break through the door when a frail, white-haired woman opened it to him. She greeted Gary with a courteous but wary “yes?”
“I’m sorry to disturb you, Ms. Ramsey, but I think there’s a problem in your apartment...with your stove,” Gary told her, brandishing the fire extinguisher he’d picked up on his way down the hall.
“Oh, my! But I don’t smell any-”
“I smell smoke,” one of the children declared.
“Excuse me. May I?” Gary asked, edging his way past the little old lady’s feeble protests. Gary turned into the small kitchen to find the flames licking the blackened wall adjacent the next apartment. Another couple of minutes and the fire would have burned through.
Ms. Ramsey gasped behind him; but Gary ignored it and sprayed the growing fire until it was beaten back and doused. Exhaling excess adrenaline, Gary turned to the appalled woman and swallowed the rebuke that was almost out of his mouth.
Ms. Ramsey was white with fear. “My son is right. I’m too forgetful to be alone.”
“Don’t be too hard on yourself, Mrs. Ramsey,” he told her, placing a comforting hand on her arm. “The smoke detectors aren’t working either. You’d better get the landlord to fix them. And maybe you can get one of those stoves that turn off automatically.”
She looked at Gary. “Thank you, young man...Mr....?”
“Gary. Gary Hobson.”
She patted his hand with grandmotherly affection. “Thank you, Gary.”
He smiled warmly. “My pleasure, ma’am. You be careful, all right?”
As he neared the door, Gary caught sight of the wide-eyed children ringed around the doorway. “Cool!” one of them murmured.
Gary pointed his finger at them and admonished, “And all of you need to be careful, too.” They fell back as he approached.
Once in the hallway again, Gary turned to regard them. “Whose birthday is it?”
A freckle-faced girl raised her hand shyly while some of the other children
pointed and fervently offered the information. Gary smiled brightly at the
girl. “Happy birthday.” With a wink to the birthday girl and a nod to the
parents, he made his way back to the stairwell. The birthday girl giggled
excitedly at the friendly wish from the handsome hero and, lingering behind
as her friends were ushered back into her apartment, determined that Prince
Charming must look exactly like Gary Hobson.
Toni Brigatti collapsed on her desk. Painstaking, meticulous, she didn’t normally make repeated mistakes on a police report. It should have taken her an hour to write up what had happened in the Harland diamond case; but here she was three hours later and barely halfway finished. She was too tired and distracted to do this. In frustration, she softly pounded her head on top of her crossed arms.
She raised her head to see Logan Winslow standing beside the metal desk and somehow looking both concerned and mocking. The loquacious Winslow was a first rate gossipmonger; but he wasn’t mean-spirited or manipulative. In fact, Winslow’s relaxed, fun-loving nature and his practice of scrupulously avoiding malicious or potentially damaging tales prohibited revenge or the carrying of grudges by the subjects of his natter. Nevertheless, Brigatti did not want to be the subject of one of his subtle insinuations.
“It’s Saturday, Winslow. I don’t want to be here writing a report.”
The blond-haired man’s eyes glittered. “Got something better to do?”
Winslow chuckled. She did look tired, so he spared her - this time. “Okay,
I’ll let you finish so you can get to your...laundry.”
Brigatti watched him walk away before sighing in relief. She glanced at her computer screen and decided that she was in serious need of a cup of coffee before trying again. She could also envision her evening: take-out, an old movie, and a mind-numbing dose of chocolate.
Gary plopped down on a barstool and put his head down on the bar.
“Rough day?” Marissa asked.
Gary groaned an unintelligible reply.
“Want a drink, Mr. Hobson?” the bartender asked. With a glance at Marissa, he took Gary’s moan for a ‘yes’ and brought him a beer.
“You want to tell me about it?” the dark-skinned woman queried.
Gary shook his head, or at least tried to; then he forced himself upright, saw the beer in front of him, and made his first deliberate move since he’d entered McGinty’s. After a long drink, Gary put the cold bottle to his forehead and sighed. Marissa waited him out. Finally Gary said, “In the last eight hours, I have put out a fire, stopped a robbery in a deli, pointed the police to a escaped prisoner hiding in a pile of dirty laundry at a dry cleaners - and they thanked me by grilling me for an hour and a half about how I knew where he was - saved an elderly man from a scam artist, stopped a kid from falling out of a tree and breaking his neck, and rescued a Rolex in danger of being lifted from a golf bag - naturally the owner tried to have me arrested, too, as an accomplice. I haven’t had a thing to eat all day, and this is the first thing I’ve had to drink since my coffee this morning.”
“I guess that means you haven’t called Detective Brigatti.”
Gary glared at his business partner.
“Just checking,” she told him.
“I told you, Marissa, this Paper does not want me to have a life.”
“Then you’ll just have to fight for a life if you want one.”
“If I want one?”
“I’m just saying that if you want a personal life badly enough, you’ll stop hiding behind the Paper and fight for one.”
“Did you hear anything I said about the day I’ve had?”
“Yes, I did, Gary. And I’m thinking that talking to her, maybe even setting up another date will make your day a little better. But I could be wrong.” Deciding that she didn’t want to hear Gary complain and feel sorry for himself if he wasn’t going to do anything about it, Marissa headed to the kitchen for some dinner-rush management.
Gary took another long swig from his beer, attempting to drown both his weariness and his impending frustration at his friend’s lack of sympathy.
“Woman problems, Mr. Hobson?” Brent, who was tending bar at McGinty’s to pay for grad school, set another beer in front of his boss.
“I heard Miss Clark say something about a date and talking to someone....”
Gary would not normally have answered, preferring to keep his personal life to himself. But this time he was too stressed and worn-out to care. Besides, there was something different about discussing it with another man.
“Oh, she wants me to call this woman I went out with last night.”
“Why don’t you?”
Gary’s brow furrowed. “Well, I....”
“Did you have a good time?”
“Yeah, I had a good time.”
Gary scratched his head. “I’m not sure.”
The bartender nodded sagely. Brent was an excellent bartender: he mixed a good drink and he was the kind of guy people talked to. Moreover, Gary got a chance to help someone who appreciated it. “Is she pretty?”
Gary chuckled wryly before responding. “Oh, yeah, she’s pretty.”
“Mr. Hobson, there is nothing like a pretty woman to make your day look a whole lot better. Call her,” he urged. “You look like you’ve already had a lousy day - no offense. What can it hurt?”
“Oh, ho, ho. You don’t know her. It can hurt a lot.”
The bartender acknowledged a call from the other end of the bar. “Well, that’s your decision, Mr. Hobson. But some women are worth the pain.”
Gary stared after the young man for a moment. Deep in thought, he nursed his drink for some time before ordering something to eat and heading upstairs.
Toni Brigatti had just poured her first cup of the Monday morning swill her co-workers called coffee when Paul Armstrong walked up to get a refill. Armstrong eyed her as she intently studied her coffee, eagerly awaiting her startled response when he spoke.
“A little jumpy this morning, aren’t we, Toni?” he asked, his dark face completely innocent.
“I didn’t get much sleep.”
Armstrong regarded her. “Really? Why’s that?”
Brigatti waved her hand at the other detective. “Ah, nothing. Just too much on my mind.”
“I thought maybe you’d been socializing too much over the weekend,” he quipped as she turned away.
Brigatti stopped and turned slowly to face him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, nothing.” Armstrong turned his full attention on his coffee.
Brigatti moved into his personal space. “I know you, Paul. You wouldn’t say something like that without a reason. Let’s hear it.”
Feigning discomfort at being “caught”, Armstrong confessed, “It’s just a rumor I heard.”
Brigatti rolled her eyes. “Just when I thought...Now what?”
“Well, that whole thing with the Harland Diamond is making the rounds....”
“I just filed that report Saturday.”
Armstrong shrugged. “News travels fast.”
Logical thought broke through the haze of irritation. “Why would my report on the Harland Diamond case cause gossip? Except for the interference of the Feds - and the fact that that cherub-faced thief, Amber...Jade... whatever her name is, got off scot-free - ” Brigatti sighed. “ Yeah, I guess I can see why people would be talking.”
“Actually it was another name in your report that generated most of the gossip.” At Brigatti’s frown, he explained, “Gary Hobson.”
Brigatti’s eyes went wide and cleared her throat in an attempt to stifle the color rising to her checks. “So? Hobson winds up in a lot of police reports.”
“Which is very peculiar. Don’t you think?” Armstrong stopped her from answering. “I’ll find out what’s going on with him someday. But that’s not the point.”
The tall, black man shook his head. “It’s the fact that you and Hobson are dating.” Brigatti started to protest, but Armstrong cut her off. “Don’t get me wrong; I like Hobson. But you have to admit that he’s...secretive. And he keeps popping up in your cases.”
“But not yours?”
“Brigatti, I wasn’t the one kissing him on the street.”
An entire swarm of flies could have zoomed into her mouth as her jaw dropped. Picking it up off the floor, Brigatti moved it up and down several times before any sound came out. “What...I....but...”
Her lack of coherence told Armstrong that he’d hit a soft spot. . “Bellamy and Krankowski saw you and Hobson being very chummy over by the temple on-”
“We weren’t kissing.”
“An unsubstantiated rumor, then? A misrepresentation of the facts?”
“And you weren’t on a date with him?”
Brigatti stammered. “One...evening does not mean two people are ‘dating’. It’s a whole different thing.”
“It was a spur of the moment thing,” she told him, intentionally leaving out the fact they had originally scheduled a date that had been postponed because of Jade and the Harland Diamond. “And the case was over by then,” she added for good measure.
“So you’re not dating Gary Hobson?”
“No,” she could honestly answer, having had only one date with the guy. He sure hadn’t called her in the interim - which, now that she thought of it, rather irked her.
“Okay.” Armstrong moved toward his office, but was within earshot when
Winslow entered and greeted Brigatti with “I hear you and Hobson were making
out on a street corner.” Armstrong shut the door to muffle the sound of
Winslow being fed into a verbal paper shredder.
“So does that mean you won’t go to the charity ball with me?” Winslow asked after Brigatti’s tirade had blown over like a severe thunderstorm leaving an uneasy calm in its wake.
Winslow’s cockiness never failed to amaze her. If he wasn’t so good-natured, he’d risk being annoying. Brigatti decided she’d spent enough words on him and simply walked away.
Undaunted, Winslow tossed at her back, “I’ll take that as a maybe.”
Toni Brigatti growled softly as she realized where her aimless driving had landed her: on West Illinois, headed toward McGinty’s Bar. Evidently her driving wasn’t so much aimless as it was subconscious. It had been bad enough that her co-workers had teased her mercilessly for over a week regarding her street corner “tryst” with Hobson; even her e-mail and faxes had included snide comments about the two of them. Now to find herself practically on his doorstep - it was galling. She momentarily railed at her subconscious mind, but her inner tirade was cut short when the car behind her honked because she’d failed to notice the traffic light turning green. She pulled into the next parking spot, earning a rude gesture from the driver behind her. Why hadn’t she just driven on? Wouldn’t that have been her normal response? What was she planning to do, a little surveillance? An interrogation of Hobson’s associates? What if he was there? What if he wasn’t? Which would have bothered her more? Would she admit to being bothered at all? Maybe Hobson was lurking in her subconscious because of all the taunts she had endured lately. Maybe if she confronted him....
“Are you going in?”
Brigatti blinked, bringing herself back from the depths of her musings. Her face must have looked quite blank, because the man holding the door again asked, “Are you going in?”
Brigatti wondered when she had gotten out of her car and walked to the door. Realizing that she’d be more conspicuous if she turned and walked away, she smiled politely. “Sorry, lost in thought. Thanks.” She went through the door and held her smile until the former patron had left, assuaged at having discharged his duty to see her safely inside. Then her smile vanished in a sea of consternation. Another low growl voiced her displeasure with herself. She gazed through the second set of doors at the bar’s patrons. Suddenly she drew herself up, wrapped herself in all the self-assurance she could muster, and decided that, America being a free country, she could walk into McGinty’s just like anybody else, Gary Hobson or no Gary Hobson.
Always attentive to his customers, the bartender noticed the attractive, dark-haired woman before she’d even had a chance to get comfortable on the barstool. “What can I get for you?”
“Hobson. Is he here?”
“Mr. Hobson? No, he’s not here right now.” She nodded as though she’d expected that answer. “Can I get you something to drink?”
Brigatti hesitated. She didn’t drink often; it dulled the senses and she knew from experience that you never knew when you’d need your wits about you. But at the moment, the fortification might do her good. She placed her order and looked around the bar as she waited. The customers were strictly middle class: basically clean-cut, hard-working, regular joes; no rich snobs; no down-on-their-luck lowlifes; just what you’d expect at McGinty’s. But there was no Gary Hobson. Toni Brigatti almost sighed in relief. She’d fought her fears and come inside, and it hadn’t hurt a bit.
“Here ya go.” The bartender placed the drink in front of her with a smile.
Feeling more relaxed, she graced him with a smile of her own. “Thanks.”
He almost reeled from the effect. The sun had just dispersed the darkness of the night. Another patron called him and he backed down the length of the bar with a goofy grin on his face.
Brigatti admitted to herself that the bartender’s reaction provided a needed boost to her ego. She decided to enjoy her drink, maybe even flirt with the young man a bit. Just so she didn’t overstay her welcome.
“How’s it going, Brent?” Marissa was making the rounds from the kitchen to the bar, keeping everything running smoothly.
Brent leaned toward her. “I’m in love.”
“See that woman at the end of the bar? Oh, no, of course you don’t.” The young man almost flushed at his lapse and was glad Marissa couldn’t see that. “You know that saying about someone’s smile lighting up a room?” Marissa nodded. “Her smile is like...it’s like all the lights being turned on at the stadium. It’s like fireworks on the Fourth of July. It’s...a supernova.”
His enthusiasm elicited an amused grin from Marissa. “So why aren’t you down there talking to her instead of here talking to me?”
“Cause you’re the boss. Anyway, she asked for Mr. Hobson.”
“She did? Tell me about her, Brent.”
“You’re looking for Gary Hobson?”
The policewoman turned toward the voice. “Marissa.”
“Hello, Detective Brigatti.” The voice had confirmed the guess Marissa had made about their visitor as she compared Brent’s words to the description Patrick had given when “the major babe” had first entered the bar a year and a half ago. “Brent-the bartender-told me you were looking for Gary. Is it anything important? Anything I can help you with?”
“No. No, I just thought I’d ask since I was here.”
Marissa, hearing the lie, just nodded. Then she smiled. “You’ve made a conquest.”
“Brent. I think he’s smitten with you.”
Brigatti looked down the bar toward the bartender and caught him watching her. She chuckled briefly as he blushed and busied himself. “It’s nice to know that can still happen once in a while.”
“Would you like to sit at a table, chat a while? If you’re not in a hurry.”
“Oh, I don’t know. You must be busy here by yourself.”
“They’ll call me if they need me. Besides, I haven’t had dinner yet and I’m hungry. I could use the company.” True enough, even if it also provided her the opportunity to get to know the enigmatic Toni Brigatti.
Brigatti considered the offer. “I could eat.”
Marissa smiled. “Good.” She called to the bartender, who hurried over. “Brent, please have someone bring a menu.”
“Right away, Miss Clark,” he replied, but he smiled at Brigatti.
“Now to find an empty table,” Marissa commented.
“Mr. Hobson’s table is free,” Brent told them.
“He has his own table?” Brigatti asked.
“Actually, it’s the house table; we hold it until last when we’re not busy. Keeps us from having to eat in the office or in the kitchen all the time.”
The table was exactly the one she would have chosen herself: off to the side, discreet, with a view of the entire room. Toni had positioned herself with her back against the wall. She could see the front door and note who came and went; she observed the flow of servers and busboys in and out of the kitchen; the entire length of the bar-which was divided into two segments, one on each side of the entry-was unobstructed; she could even view the pool table up in the corner. And she could see the door to the office and the one that led up the steps to the loft that Hobson called home. Brigatti mentally chalked up a few points in Gary’s favor for his choice of tables.
“Are you from Chicago, Detective?” Marissa opened.
“Oh, please, call me Toni. It’s dinner, not an interrogation.”
While waiting for their meals to arrive, the two women discussed inconsequential personal matters like family size, hometowns, careers. Marissa was quite proud of herself for keeping Gary’s name out of the conversation; Brigatti, although she’d accept any information the other woman happened to toss out regarding Hobson, was simply relieved at the feat. By the middle of the meal, however, Marissa had managed to turn the topic of conversation to dating in general by sharing some of her own horror stories. It was a sure-fire means of female bonding.
“I surrender,” commented Brigatti. “You dated a guy who later tried to kill you and you almost went to Egypt with a smuggler. I just got stood up at the altar.”
“It was right after college. My senior year I met this guy, we dated a while; I was madly in love with him and my family adored him. Three months before graduation he asked me to marry him. Then the day of the wedding, he doesn’t show. Neither does my cousin, Teresa. Turns out they were having an affair.”
“So no wedding.”
“Oh, no. There was wedding, all right. Just not mine. My fiancé and Teresa chose that day to elope.”
“Oh, Toni,” Marissa sympathized.
“I was so angry and humiliated that I immediately applied to the agency.” Brigatti shrugged. “I was hoping I could find a way to shoot ‘em both. But as it turned out, I was very good at the job.”
“What happened to them?”
Chuckling wryly, she explained, “He cheated on her. She knocked his head in with a rolling pin and currently makes her home in the state penitentiary. Of course that doesn’t keep certain family members from reminding me of my humiliation on a regular basis. They seem to think it’ll coerce me to try again.” She rolled her eyes. “Anyway, I became engrossed in my work and...Well, it kinda took over.”
“Hmm, sounds familiar. Have you dated anyone since, other than Gary?”
Brigatti paused slightly at the mention of his name. “A few, but nothing serious. Law enforcement is particularly hard on relationships - the hours, the stress, the danger, the transfers.” She paused, remembering fellow marshal Kingman. She’d been transferred shortly after they‘d started dating, something she owed to Hobson. He was engaged by the time she had returned to Chicago and joined the police force two months later. She cleared her throat. “When I get a date outside the force - and trust me, there aren’t many men outside of law enforcement who want to date a cop. When I get a date, I wind up having to cancel half the time.”
“Sounds like someone else I know,” Marissa murmured.
“Or wishing I hadn’t gone,” Brigatti continued. “And repeat business doesn’t seem to be my strong suit. So being more open to the possibility of dating doesn’t seem to have enriched my social life much,” she finished, her resiliency evidenced by the levity in her voice.
Marissa offered a slight smile in commiseration.
“I didn’t really consider dating for the longest time. I thought my job was enough.”
Marissa had to force her dropped jaw back into place; it was the last answer she’d expected. Not inquiring about their recent date required concentrated tongue-biting.
Enjoying Marissa’s reaction to her declaration, Brigatti continued, “When I was handling his witness protection, he told me that he didn’t want to wake up one day at 65 and realize that he’d done a great job, but had forgotten to have a life. Being so engrossed in your work that you keep putting off life....” She shrugged. “It struck a nerve.”
Marissa was incredulous. “Gary I-don’t-have-time-for-a-social-life Hobson said that?”
The corner of Brigatti’s lip rose in a half-smile. “He doesn’t take his own advice, huh?”
“No - or mine.”
“So what does he do that keeps him so busy? No offense, but it can’t be this place.”
“No, I run the day-to-day operations here.”
Brigatti nodded and filed away the quickly concealed apprehension that had appeared on Marissa’s face. “So what is it, then?”
“Ummm...” Marissa tried to think quickly. “He does a lot of, uh... volunteer work.”
“Volunteer work? Isn’t the point of volunteer work that it’s optional? It’s a choice? What kind of volunteer work could keep him from having time for a social life?”
“Well, G-Gary...It’s impromptu. He’s the guy who jumps in when there’s a...an unexpected need.” Marissa was actually glad she couldn’t see Brigatti’s face; it would have made things even more difficult. Nevertheless, she could still hear the skepticism in her dinner companion’s voice.
“Unexpected. Like an emergency?”
“I guess you could say that.”
“Hobson does emergency volunteer work? What, like a volunteer fireman?”
Brigatti’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “There aren’t any volunteer fire departments in the city of Chicago.”
“I didn’t say he was a volunteer fireman. Just that it was similar.” Desperately
trying to steer the conversation away from Gary’s
“work”, Marissa added, “I’m sure you can see how being called away suddenly could interfere with a social life. You’ve probably experienced that yourself.”
“That’s a concept I’m very familiar with.” Brigatti decided to let Marissa off the hook. “But when you chase criminals every day, you also become cynical, suspicious. You learn to bury your feelings so you can survive.”
“You don’t have to be in law enforcement to experience that. I think everyone who has ever been hurt has done it to some extent.”
“Trying to prevent that pain from recurring,” Brigatti confirmed.
“The problem is that, whether that attempt manifests itself as anger or aloofness, or burying oneself in the job, it’s still exchanging one kind of pain for another.”
Brigatti studied the blind, African-American woman across from her and wondered if her eyesight had been replaced with an unusual amount of insight.
Marissa continued into the silence. “You have to get back out there, you know. Otherwise whoever, or whatever, inflicted the pain has won because you let them rob you of the chance for happiness.”
“Are you always throwing out those little nuggets of wisdom?”
A small, confident smile eased its way over Marissa’s lips. “I’ll add you to my list of regular subscribers.”
“Gee, thanks,” Brigatti replied with false enthusiasm. “So, Master Yoda, you got anything in your little bag of tricks that might actually convince a skeptical student?”
“I don’t know. What are you looking for?”
Her voice imbued with sincerity, the detective answered, “Somebody who’d restore my faith in the basic decency of human beings.” Then self-preserving cynicism thinly painted itself over her wistful vulnerability. “From my experience, there’s no such creature.”
Marissa thought about Emmett; he had taken a job in Atlanta - a good firm, an opportunity he just couldn’t pass up - but it had separated them, and she missed him still. Emmett was a good man; so was Gary. Gary. Possibilities began to swirl in Marissa’s mind. Not only was Marissa beginning to understand this woman and feel a certain kinship with her, but she was also getting a glimpse of how much the detective and Gary had in common. Maybe, just maybe. Aloud she said, “Call me an eternal optimist, but I have to believe that the right one will turn up eventually.”
Brigatti raised her glass. “To eternal optimism.”
Gary glanced at the Paper again.
At 8:34 last night, nurses in the maternity ward of Mercy Hospital discovered that a baby was missing from the nursery. Police believe that the baby was stolen 8:15 - 8:30. The whereabouts of the infant are still unknown.
Gary looked at his watch: 8:10. He complained silently about the obnoxious observer at his last rescue who talked his ear off and almost made him late for the hospital. Gary hurried to the elevator leading to the maternity floor, hoping the time in the Paper was accurate. He’d need every minute. The elevator was slow as people entered and exited in each floor. Finally he reached the fourth floor and looked around for the sign to the nursery. The clock on the wall read 8:14. Gary slid around the corner just in time to see a nurse holding a baby turn the opposite corner. He chased after her. “Stop!”
The nurse turned and Gary almost ran into her.
“That baby,” Gary began. Than he noticed that he uniform and her ID looked
very official. He smiled weakly. “Beautiful baby.”
“Yes. They all are,” she replied, her brow furrowed. “Can I help you?”
Before Gary could reply, the baby’s mother appeared. Gary watched the nurse check the wrist bands while the mother cooed over the baby. He allowed himself a small smile.
Having handed the baby over to its mother, the nurse returned her attention to Gary, who had vanished. The nurse looked up and down the hallway before shrugging and reminding herself, “New fathers....”
Realizing that he might be missing the kidnapper, Gary had slipped away from the nurse and had headed back to the nursery itself. Looking up from his watch, which now read 8:18, he saw woman in jeans and a loose-fitting jacket exit the nursery with a baby in her arms. She glanced around her as she tucked the baby inside her jacket. Her eyes fell on Gary. She turned quickly down the hall away from him.
“Hey!” he yelled. She glanced over her shoulder and picked up speed.
Gary hurried down the corridor after her, yelling for attention. In seconds, staff members began poking their heads out to see what was happening.
“She’s stealing one of the babies!”
Gary's announcement caused the woman to run. A nurse and an orderly at the end of the hall blocked her route. The woman looked about her and headed for the stairs, pulling carts and other obstacles into the paths of would-be pursuers. Worried that she would escape or that, in her haste, she would fall on the stairs and injure the baby, Gary darted after her, cutting through the nurses’ station, pushing equipment and personnel out of the way with quick a “excuse me” or “get out of the way”. With a final sprint that would have made his football coach proud, Gary beat her to the stairwell door.
“You don’t want to do this,” he told her. “Give the baby back.”
The woman began to back away slowly. “They killed my baby. I deserve another.”
“I’m sorry about your baby. But you can’t just take someone else’s.” She blinked as she hit the wall behind her. Gary continued, “How would you feel if someone else stole your baby? You don’t really want someone else to go through what you’re feeling right now. Do you?”
The woman looked in the face of the baby as it peered out from her jacket, the little boy’s cheeks still wet from crying as the woman’s fear had mingled with his own.
“Besides,” Gary told her, “don’t you want a child that’s really yours?”
She looked at Gary with tears in her eyes. “Why? Why is my baby dead?”
Compassion now overrode his fear for the baby’s safety and he moved closer. “I don’t know. But I do know that taking this baby won’t take away the pain.” He reached out. “Why...Why don’t you give him to me now?”
Reluctantly the woman eased the child from inside her jacket and slowly handed him to Gary. “I just wanted my baby,” she said.
Security moved in then to take the woman into custody. A gurgle from the infant pulled Gary’s attention away from the would-be kidnapper. The little boy, probably not even a day old, stared serenely at Gary, making the man feel decidedly paternal for a moment.
“You must be a good father; babies can sense those things.”
“Oh, I...I don’t have any kids.”
The nurse smiled. “Well, then you’ll be a good father someday.” She reached for the child. “I can take him now.”
Gary looked at the nurse before him. “Oh, sure.”
“Thank you,” she told him. “You saved an entire family today.”
He looked at the infant again and wished, not for the first time, that he could have a family.
The baby’s parents arrived then and all attention was directed toward
the family reunion, allowing Gary to slip away unnoticed.
After bidding her new friend goodbye, Brigatti stopped by the bar to give Brent a wink and a smile. It had been a pleasant evening after all, if for no other reason than assuring herself that Hobson’s partner had only platonic feelings for him. She chuckled to herself, remembering Marissa’s dumbfounded expression at the suggestion. Brigatti waved at the bartender as she walked through the door and bumped into someone entering the bar.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she apologized automatically at the same time he excused himself. Recognizing each other, they jumped apart.
An awkward silence filled the air around them.
“Well?” he finally asked.
“Did you want to see me?” he asked, his brown-green eyes betraying his vacillation between hope and mistrust.
Out of habit, Brigatti raised her chin in a defiant movement Gary had come to recognize all too well. “No.”
He frowned. “Then why are you here?”
“What, no one can come into this place without wanting to see you?” “Well, no... I mean, yes...I mean...”
“I had dinner with Marissa.”
“Oh, that’s nice...You had dinner with Marissa?”
Gary’s eyes widened as he thought about Marissa and Brigatti having dinner together. It dawned on him that Marissa may have intervened despite his obvious wishes to the contrary. He chuckled sarcastically. “I’ll bet that was fun. I can’t wait to get my hands on....” he muttered to himself.
Gary looked down at Brigatti. Funny how she seemed so much taller than she really was. “Well, what?”
“Are you going to get out of my way so I can go home?”
Gary turned and saw that he was blocking the door. “Oh. Sorry.”
He tried to move back, but the outer door opened and a group of late-night patrons entered, forcing Gary to move out of their way and toward Brigatti. The result was a closeness that made them both ardently uneasy. But neither gave ground, each waiting for the other to make a move, to give away their position first. It was an equal contest, an inevitable stalemate.
Without a hint of surrender, Brigatti bid Gary goodnight. He held
the door open for her, wishing he could think of something safe to say.
Brigatti paused and almost spoke as she passed him, but wasn’t ready to take
the risk. Having forgotten all about Marissa, Gary watched Brigatti through
the closing door and wished he had the gumption to go after her.
Although she’d been eyeing the door since she’d arrived, Toni Brigatti remained unprepared for the task she had set herself. Having waited yet another week with no word from Hobson even after she’d run into him at the bar, Brigatti was determined to go out somewhere with someone. She’d settled on the least objectionable companion. It was rife with potential difficulties, the main one being his recurring infatuation with her. But he was a nice guy and likely to accept her suggestion as nothing more than friendliness. Or so she hoped, since he was definitely not her type. She sighed roughly, breathing out her doubts and allowing a certain perverse obstinacy to take its place. Automatically adjusting her jacket as she rose, Brigatti headed for the coffee pot, her eyes leaving her target only long enough to catch the whereabouts of others in the office. With a last look around to gauge her privacy, she cleared her throat.
“Good morning, Brigatti,” Winslow greeted cheerily, his blonde hair falling into his face in its usual unruly manner. “Coffee?” he offered.
“No, I have some,” she responded brusquely. “Thanks.” Winslow poured his own. “Say, Winslow, you wanna catch a movie tonight?”
The blonde man paused in his movement to replace the coffee pot. He set it down deliberately and faced her with a triumphant smile battling its way to his lips. “Are you asking me out, Brigatti?”
“It’s not a date,” she hastened to clarify. “Just a movie.” Seeing his eyes twinkle, she added, “I wanted to see a movie, but I didn’t want to go alone. So,” she said with a shrug, “I thought I’d ask around. I saw you first, that’s all.”
Winslow’s smile indicated that he didn’t believe a word of it. “It’s just a movie, Winslow. Just two coworkers going to a movie. Strictly Dutch. In no way would it be a date.” Brigatti almost reneged on the offer.
“Okay,” he told her abruptly.
“Yeah? You understand that this could not even remotely be called a date?”
“Whatever you say, Brigatti.”
“Okay. Uh, we’ll decide on a movie and I’ll meet you there. Okay?”
Winslow let her move away before he turned to watch her and silently congratulate
himself on finally getting to her.
Gary turned to see Marissa gazing placidly in his direction. “Yeah. I have a date,” he explained proudly.
Marissa smiled. “A date?"
“I've hardly had time to eat and shower over the last week, but tonight...tonight I have the evening off and I'm going to take advantage of it.”
"Good for you. Where are you and Detective Brigatti going?”
“Huh?” Gary turned from the small mirror in the office. “Oh, I'm not going with Brigatti. I met a teacher at that school today,” he told her, referring to an accident he’d prevented that morning involving an assortment of percussion instruments in a high school band room. After an initial reticence, the teacher, Julie, had agreed to go out with him, noting that she liked his “seize the moment” approach.
“She what?” Marissa responded when he told her.
“She liked my - aw, never mind. I have a free evening and I’m going out. That’s what you’re always telling me to do, isn’t it?”
“Well, all right, then,” Gary concluded as he opened the door. “See ya.”
“Have fun.” Marissa heard the door close, but her mind was preoccupied.
She frowned with the realization that she really did wish he was going with
Toni. Sighing, she reasoned aloud, “Well, at least he’s going out.” The Cat
twitched its tail and mewled derisively in response.
“I’m just going to slip to the ladies’ room.”
“Oh, okay,” Gary answered his date. Pointing toward the concession stand, he added, “I’ll just, uh....”
The wait enabled him to survey the place and its occupants. Not too busy, being a weeknight, but the three open lines at the concession stand were moderately lengthy and decidedly slow. Well, his was anyway. The line next to him seemed to be moving rapidly. Gary was considering switch-ing when the third line caught his attention. He bobbed and weaved, even jumped up a couple of times, trying to get a better look. He tossed that idea when he landed on a woman’s foot after the second jump. The line behind him grew restless and he moved forward a few steps before trying again to see the front of the third line. A man and a woman turned toward him just as the middle line cleared temporarily.
Brigatti. Toni Brigatti and.... Gary couldn’t see the man’s face. Juggling popcorn and drinks, his head down, the man was oblivious to his surroundings; but Brigatti spied Gary the moment she turned in his direction. Blanching, she steered the unidentified man toward the back of the concession line, skirting Gary by the greatest distance possible and causing her date to resemble a circus act as he balanced his load against her maneuverings. Brigatti glanced back surreptitiously just before she left Gary’s line of vision. He had followed her movement by turning a full 360 degrees in line. Gary never even heard the ballerina comment from a disgruntled bystander.
“Sir?” coaxed the concession stand attendant. “Sir, can I help you?”
“Yes, thank you,” Gary replied automatically as he moved out of line and
walked dazedly toward the last place he’d seen Brigatti.
Selecting a row, Winslow offered to let Brigatti in first. She smiled lamely. “I need to make a pit stop first. Back in a minute.” She was gone before Winslow could mutter a reply.
With a good-natured shake of his head, Winslow muttered to himself, “Good
thing I grew up in tornado country, cause that woman’s a whirlwind.”
A group of noisy teenagers roused Gary in time to see Julie emerge from the ladies’ room. Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of Brigatti come back into view, walking slowly toward the ladies’ room, never once allowing her eyes to leave Gary. He met her stare with trepidation and curiosity.
“Gary?” He turned to his newly arrived date. “A problem with the drinks?”
“Huh? Oh, no. No, I just thought I’d wait until you got back,” he replied, shaking off his discomfit at seeing Brigatti. It didn’t work. But he motioned for Julie to precede him and cast a final look at Brigatti before following.
The site of Gary with another woman made Brigatti wish she hadn’t come looking for him. Yes, she was curious to know if he had been alone, but she hadn’t really expected him to have a date. She could handle it; they weren’t dating, after all. Of course, if they were dating and he went out with someone else, she’d have to shoot him. Another blonde, she groused. Brigatti purposefully turned on her heel and entered the restroom.
The movie patrons remaining in the lobby jumped at the loud noise emanating
from the ladies’ room. It sounded rather like one of the large metal trash
cans being thrown against the wall and clanging repeatedly as it bounced
and then rolled across the floor.
“Oh, boy,” groaned Gary, the only person in the theatre to guess the origin of the ruckus.
The lights had dimmed for the previews when Gary made his excuse and headed
for the theatre lobby. Brigatti’s temper ... well, somebody out there
might need some help. Gary emerged from the darkened theatre to run headlong
into Brigatti herself.
Typically, she pounced first. “What are you doing here?”
“Well, I...” he began, gesturing toward the theatre behind them. He stopped, catching on to the nature of her question. Gary turned, his expression a study in beleaguered sufferance. “I’m watching a movie.” Brigatti harrumphed. “What are you doing here?” Gary asked with a tight-lipped smile.
Brigatti lifted an eyebrow. “Watching a movie.”
“Yeah, this movie. Like you didn’t know.”
“Seems a little coincidental, doesn’t it? Same theatre, same movie; same night, same time.”
“You don’t think I...?” Gary paused to let a late-arriving couple get
through the doors he and Brigatti were blocking. “Getting jealous again,
“Jealous? You egotistical... And who just came out looking for whom, huh?”
Waiting for their eyes to adjust to the darkness, the new arrivals glanced back at the warring factions, then at each other. As they headed for two sets on the back row, one whispered, “At least they’re arguing out there instead of in here.”
Realizing how long he’d been gone and not wishing to argue any more, Gary stated, “Look, I gotta get back in there.”
“Yeah, me, too.” Brigatti straightened her shoulders. “You go ahead.”
“Oh, no, after you,” he responded saccharinely.
Unwillingly to let Gary follow her to Winslow, Brigatti suggested, just as sweetly, “Let’s go in together.”
Inside, the couple in the back watched with interest as Gary and Brigatti entered and proceeded down the aisle. Every couple of rows, one of them would stop to see if the other would sit. Finally, midway down the theatre, Brigatti told Gary to stop following her.
“I’m not following you. I’m just going to my seat.”
“I can’t; I’m not there yet.”
“Then get there already,” she hissed.
“Shhh!” fussed a chorus of annoyed movie watchers.
“Sit down!” complained a solo.
Gary and Brigatti both bit back angry retorts and merely glared at each other. They simultaneously inched forward, row by row, trying to gauge where the other would stop. It looked like a race between side-winding tortoises, or agonizingly slow crabs. Finally reaching their respective rows and being unwilling to pass them, the quarrelsome duo began making their way to their seats. Unfortunately, each was paying more attention to the other than to their row-mates. Gary stepped on nearly every foot in the first few seats - Why did we pick the middle of the row? - and when he turned to apologize, he smacked a guy in the next row in the head. For her part, Brigatti strained to step past long feet and bony knees, nearly taking a nose dive into a fat lady’s lap along the way. Why the hell couldn’t Winslow have sat on the end? she fussed. Finally she eyed the empty seat. Gary had arrived at his seat, leaned over to apologize to the person next to him, and knocked his date’s drink in her lap with his rear end. Brigatti found it difficult to stifle her laughter until she sat - and found herself in Winslow’s lap.
“And I thought this wasn’t supposed to be a date,” he quipped.
In her haste to remove herself from such an undignified - and undesirable - position, Brigatti banged the extra-large tub of buttered popcorn that Winslow was holding, sending showers of yellow hail onto neighboring heads.
Gary looked up from his date’s syrupy distress to take some small delight in Brigatti’s embarrassment.
“Sorry. Sorry,” she was saying to everyone and to no one in particular as she sank as far into the seat as she could manage.
“You okay?” Winslow asked, acting like the last few seconds had never happened. “I thought I was going to have to send a search party.”
“I’m fine. I just ran into someone I know.”
Neither Gary nor Brigatti paid much attention to the movie; both were too aware of the other’s presence. She positioned herself in her seat so that she could glance back at Gary unobtrusively and still keep him from seeing Winslow’s face. Gary repeatedly tried to shift enough to identify the man with Brigatti; something about him was familiar, but Gary couldn’t get a clear view of his face. Brigatti’s constant surveillance didn’t help. Finally Gary put his arm on the back of Julie’s chair, which incensed Brigatti enough to turn around, but not enough to cause her to make advances toward her escort. By focusing her attention on the screen, however, Brigatti did not witness Julie shrinking from Gary’s unwelcome overture.
Although prepared to sit through the credits and wait until the lights had come on to leave, Gary caught Brigatti trying to sneak out with the crowd. No way was he leaving without finding out the identity of Brigatti’s mystery date.
“Let’s go,” he told Julie. Seeing that the aisle Brigatti had used was too crowded to enable him to catch up, he looked for another route. “Let’s take a shortcut.” Gary lifted one long leg and straddled the seat momentarily before hopping over it to the next row. Julie regarded him as slightly uncouth. “Come on, “ he coaxed, offering his hand to help her over. She warily accepted and mounted the seat with great difficulty. The tight skirt she had worn really wasn’t conducive to climbing. Gary swung her over, set her down, and climbed over the next row. As he waited for her to climb atop that seat, he looked for Brigatti. He spotted her, huddled against the crowd, just three rows from the door. He’d never make it. Julie was too slow. His breeding and innate kindness warred with his curiosity and sense of urgency. The latter won.
“I’m sorry,” he told the woman who had finally managed to crawl upon the
wobbly theatre seat. “I’ve really got to, uh, go. I’ll meet you out there,
“ he said in a rush and took off, jumping the next four rows like hurdles
and dashing for the open door.
Julie watched him in mild dismay as her high heels teetered on the chair - which promptly folded in half, sending her crashing through the opening between the chair back and the chair seat. She sat dazedly, facing backwards, only to discover that there wasn’t enough room for her legs in that opening once the seat was down. Her extraction required several pairs of sturdy and sympathetic hands.
Gary, meanwhile, had raced through the other door and positioned himself, breathing heavily after his track and field events, so as to unavoidably meet up with his quarry.
“Brigatti!” he called, attempting to sound surprised. “Imagine running in to you here.”
Brigatti swallowed her mortification and plastered on a smile before she approached. “Hobson. What a surprise.” Her smile didn’t keep the edge from her voice.
“So, how’d you like the movie?” Gary asked, reveling in her discomfort.
“Loved it. Where’s you date?” Brigatti asked, turning the tables.
“We got separated on the way out. Where’s yours?”
Before Brigatti could answer, Winslow arrived. “Sorry, I got caught in that rush of people headed for the exit. Thought I was going to have to show my badge and turn on a siren to get back here.” Winslow’s boyish grin barely dimmed as he recognized Gary.
“Gary Hobson,” he greeted, extending his hand. “I never expected to see you here.”
“Detective...Winslow, isn’t is?”
“Right.” He cast a glance at Brigatti. “Small world, huh?”
“Isn’t it, though?” Gary agreed, casting a triumphant look Brigatti’s way.
“Are you here by yourself?” Winslow asked.
“No. No, she’s, uh...here she comes,” Gary announced as he caught sight of Julie exiting the door. Her disheveled appearance made all three of the onlookers pause. Julie smiled weakly and Gary asked, “What happened?”
With a forced laugh, she answered, “Just a little problem with a chair.”
Realization hit Gary with piercing speed. “Oh, Julie, I’m sorry.” But his groveling was thwarted by Brigatti’s excessively courteous interrogation.
“Aren’t you going to introduce us, Hobson?”
“Oh, right. This is Julie...Julie...uh...”
Brigatti smugly arched an eyebrow.
“Morgan,” the woman finished as she held out her hand to Brigatti.
The police detective politely shook the woman’s hand. “Toni Brigatti. Have you known Gary long?” she asked, twisting the knife in Gary’s chagrin.
No one paid attention to any of her answer after “We just met today”, because Winslow proffered his hand and completed the introductions. “I’m Logan Winslow.”
While Winslow dangled his wayward blonde locks in front of Julie, Brigatti leaned in to Gary and rubbed it in, “You don’t even know her last name?”
“I know her name, I just....”
“Still going after blondes, huh? And you just met her today?” Brigatti pursed her lips sardonically. “Guess you can move fast when you want to.”
Gary caught the little dig, but fired back. “Some people are easier to get along with than others.” When her nostrils flared and her eyes flashed, Gary shot off the second missile. “I never expected to see you with Winslow. You two been dating long?” he asked just as Julie and Winslow chanced upon a lull in their conversation.
Brigatti glared, but Winslow jumped back into the conversation with an air of amicable self-assurance. “You know, it took me a while to get her to go out with me, but...arrgh!”
“Are you okay?” asked a concerned Julie.
Between clenched teeth, Winslow managed, “Just stubbed my toe.”
Brigatti removed the heel of her shoe from Winslow’s toes. “Actually, we’re just two co-workers taking in a movie together to pass the time. It is not a date,” she clarified. “Is it, Winslow?”
“Nope. Definitely not a date,” he squeaked.
Seizing the opportunity to beat a hasty retreat, Brigatti took her leave and strode purposefully away, dragging a hobbling Winslow after her.
“You didn’t bring me here to make Hobson jealous, did you?” Winslow bravely asked.
“Of course not. I didn’t know he was going to be here. Why on earth would I want to make Hobson jealous?”
“Maybe cause the two of you were-”
“How many times,” she interrupted,” do I have to tell you that Hobson and I were never...anything?”
“Sorry I asked.” Winslow held his hands up in surrender. “I just thought he was your type and, well, Brigatti, you have to admit that there-”
Brigatti whirled around, cutting him off by the force of her scorching look.
“Okay. Whatever you say.”
“By the way,” Brigatti warned, “if you ever again speak of this night as a date, I will use you for target practice. And since I’m a very good shot, I’m going to be sure to inflict as much pain as possible,” she noted, her voice deceptively soft but her eyes revealing the menace behind the smile. “Got it?”
“Good.” Brigatti’s voice returned to normal. “See you tomorrow,”
As Winslow watched her go, a slow smile crept onto his face. “Ah, beneath
that cast-iron exterior burns a fire of epic proportions.”
“Gary, how could you!”
“Well, I didn’t know she’d fall through the chair.” Gary still hadn’t figured out how a blind woman could fix him with such a glower.
“Racing out of the theatre to see another woman. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.” Marissa wasn’t about to let him off the hook; she held Gary to higher standards because he generally met them. “What were you thinking?”
“What was I thinking? I was thinking ‘Who is Brigatti with?’ That’s what I was thinking,” he answered petulantly. “And what was she doing there with Winslow anyway?” Gary resumed his pacing. “Huh? Tell me that.”
Marissa smiled benignly. “I’d say she was doing the same thing you were, going out on a date.” Gary just glowered and continued pacing. “If it bothers you so much that she went out with someone else, why aren’t you dating her?”
Gary halted in mid-step. “It doesn’t bother me.”
Gary deliberately pulled a chair out and sat in it. “It doesn’t bother me at all. She can date anyone she wants to.”
Marissa sat quietly, waiting and listening.
“I can’t figure out what she sees in him.” Gary stood and started pacing again. “She almost acted like she didn’t want to be seen with him.”
“She did say it wasn’t a date.”
“People say that all the time; it doesn’t mean it’s not a date.”
“Hmmm. People like you?”
“‘It’s not a date, it’s dinner.’”
“Well, it just is, that’s all.” Gary glanced at the clock as he turned to pace back across the room. He pulled the Paper from his hip pocket, turned a few pages, and read.
“What?” Marissa asked, having heard him end his pacing and rummage through the Paper.
“I gotta go.”
Marissa flinched when the door inadvertently slammed. “Men.”
For three days, Gary had spent his time between overturned trucks, weapon-bearing attackers, and exploding vending machines wrestling with both the causes and the aftermath of the fiasco at the movies. He’d made the worst possible impression on Julie, who hadn’t deserved a bit of it. He could rest assured that it would be the last date he ever had with her - or anyone she knew. Marissa had yet to let him forget his bad manners. And Brigatti - he still didn’t know what to do about her. So he was sat at his desk in the office trying to get through a stack of invoices and all he could think about was Antonia Brigatti. Gary propped his elbow on the desk and rubbed his eyes with his fingers before moving his hand down his face and letting his hand come to rest in a V over his mouth, providing a support for his head as he thought.
Gary Hobson was the introspective sort. Not given to speech-making, embarrassed by attention, content to do his good deeds in anonymity. But think and feel he did, deeply. Even when he acted cavalier in his attitude, he succumbed to the weight of right and wrong faster than most. He never intentionally hurt anyone and, whenever he did blow it, guilt nagged at him until he made amends. Julie could have been more gracious when he’d called, but he didn’t really blame her. Which brought him back to Brigatti, as always.
Gary leaned back in his desk chair and locked his hands behind his head. Now was as good a time as any to consciously think about their complex...relationship, for lack of a better term. It had been rude of him not to call her after their...Okay, just say it...date. She confused him. His life was complicated enough without her hot-and-cold act. Although she’d made an indelible impression on him from the very beginning, it wasn’t until their weekend at the Hilton, posing as man and wife to catch a jewel thief, that he’d recognized an underlying attraction to the feisty detective. It had to have been there all along; how else to explain the heart-pounding effect of a single kiss?
They had seemed on track to...something until Brigatti had gotten jealous over his dancing with Amber. No matter what she said, she was jealous. Or so he thought, until she’d summarily dismissed him after they’d arrested Cantnor. If he allowed it, Gary could still feel the loneliness and heartache that had accompanied his return to his apartment and the laying down of the boutonniere she had carefully placed in his lapel. It had even been difficult to return the wedding ring that had been part of the ruse. But as he watched her leave that night, he knew that neither of them was ready. So he waited.
Gary pulled himself from his chair, wandered over to the small refrigerator, and popped open a can of soda. He took a long swig of the ice-cold drink, savoring the burn as it slid down his throat. “Ahhhh,” he sighed in appreciation before resuming his reflections.
Everyone rummaged through their memories from time to time, but not many people had the kinds of memories that Gary Hobson had. His memories included not only what had happened, but what might have happened. One of the effects of getting tomorrow’s newspaper today.
Gary cast his gaze toward his desk and tomorrow’s edition of the Sun-Times. He had become reasonably comfortable with his “gift” over the last few months. His experiences with the Paper in that time had not only helped others, they had also helped him to better understand his place in the world, what he was meant to do and why. It wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t easy, by any means, but it was definitely rewarding and, Gary was beginning to realize, right for him. His inability to find a career that really excited and motivated him made sense in light of the Paper. It’s kind of hard to pursue a career when you’re running all over the city day and night saving people’s lives.
It’s also pretty hard to have any kind of personal life in that situation. Sometimes Gary wished he were more like Sam Cooper, his one-time counterpart in New York: carefree, able to delegate. But Gary carried the responsibility on his shoulders alone; paying others to take care of the situations the Paper revealed to him would have been tantamount to dereliction of duty. Marissa took care of the bar, allowing him to go whenever and wherever was necessary, and she provided his sounding board. Occasionally even his parents helped. But the responsibility was his - for now - and he took it very seriously. But, so far, it seemed impossible for him to get the Paper and have a life of his own, too. It seemed that every time he tried, the Paper got in the way.
Take Brigatti’s current antagonism, for instance. The Paper had really kept him busy the last few weeks; he hadn’t had time to call her. Okay, so he could have called at least if he’d really wanted to. It wasn’t that he didn’t like her, most of the time; it was that he never knew when she’d suddenly give him the cold shoulder. So here he was once again trying to figure out why he had waited six months to ask Toni Brigatti out and why she had suddenly dismissed him after their dinner.
Actually, when he thought about all that had happened in the six months
between that mind-boggling weekend at the Hilton and his asking her out,
the waiting made sense. Admittedly, he was a bit gun-shy after she had rebuffed
him last October. He’d gotten the distinct impression that something was happening
only to experience a sudden freezing sensation. It had hurt, much more than
he would have expected. And he’d had to spend considerable time trying to
make sense of her hot and cold flashes. He’d just begun to get up his nerve
when the Paper set him up to be framed for murder. That had required it’s
own brand of healing, and he’d spent all of his free time with Marissa and
his parents. He’d also developed his crush on weathergirl Rebecca Waters
during those days. Gary chuckled to himself. He realized now that although
her luminosity had sparked hope in the aftermath of those dark and terrifying
days, she could never have handled the Paper and the relationship was doomed
But that November was a cakewalk compared to the following month. Over and over he had had to watch Marissa die because he couldn’t get to her in time. He still didn’t know how or why he was able to relive the sequence of events until he got it right. All that mattered was that, finally, he had gotten there in time; and he had learned not to take their friendship for granted.
And so he’d concentrated on Marissa for the next several weeks. Until the severe Chicago winter and a wonderful man named Earl taught him the ultimate lesson about second chances and using them to help someone else get another shot at life. Gary learned about using one’s own gifts and experiences to help another, as he had helped a clairvoyant girl find peace with her gift and had, in return, gained further clarity about his own situation.
One of the Paper’s greatest lessons had been the interconnectedness of small, seemingly insignificant things. Like leaky water pipes and single women reading books in bars. Gary smiled remembering Ginger. After his mysterious trip into the bar’s 1920’s past, he and Ginger had dated for a couple of weeks before she’d taken a job in Europe. She was nice, and it had been too short; but the whole episode, especially the time warp, had caused his dreams of marriage and kids to resurrect themselves.
But as the Paper was wont to do, it followed those dreams with temporary blindness caused by an exploding cannonball, a performance review of his handling of the Paper, and a play. Actually, the play had been kinda fun --not that he ever wanted to do it again. That’s when he almost got married, and not by choice.
Katie O’Rourke, and Quigley - Quigley! Gary sighed. That had been a close
call, especially after his mother had shown up thinking, like Katie’s entire
family flown over from Ireland, that he was getting married and that she was
pregnant. Only for him to find that he... No, he wasn’t going to go there.
That was one thing he still wasn’t prepared to deal with. However, the whole
thing had gotten him to thinking about Brigatti again; and so he’d called
her, asked her to dinner - not a date, just dinner.
He could swear the Paper was totally against him having any kind of personal life; Marissa would say to try anyway, that the Paper didn’t mind him dating. Of course, his relationships always took a swan dive off the Sears Tower within a short time, thanks to the Paper. The only woman to keep popping up in his life was Brigatti. He might think the Paper had something to do with that fact, if It wasn’t always thwarting his attempts at a life. He still didn’t quite agree with Marissa on that score; the Paper might not be opposed to his dating, but, as far as he was concerned, it was definitely against him getting serious about anybody. Of course, the problems at the movies hadn’t had anything to do with the Paper. Nor had his running into Brigatti again. He’d had the evening off. A rare night off, Gary clarified.
“Meow,” interrupted the Cat.
Gary looked at the tabby quizzically, then shook off the thought that
it was reading his mind. He peered again at the Cat, who was busy grooming
its right paw. “Get a grip, Hobson,” he muttered. “Next you’ll think that
stupid Cat’s playing matchmaker.”
He jumped slightly when the Cat launched itself onto the desk. With a haughty wave of its head, the cat made a show of walking across Gary’s paperwork, jumping off the desk, and retreating to the far corner of the room.
“No offense,” Gary told it. He reseated himself at the desk, thinking
to get back to work. Instead, he picked up the phone and dialed Brigatti’s
Toni Brigatti dropped her keys onto the small table just inside her living room and automatically looked at her phone. The message light was blinking. Toni pushed a button and moved into the kitchen as the messages rewound. She half-listened as her mother reminded her about the requisite family dinner, a capricious event from which she’d just returned. The next call sounded, over the clink of the ice she deposited into her glass, like an automated reminder call - the dentist, laundry pickup, something nonessential. She was just taking a sip of her drink when she heard an unexpected voice. She raced back into the living room and rewound the message.
“Brigatti. Hi. It’s, uh, Gary Hobson. Listen, I, um, I-I just wanted to, um, apologize about the other night.” Brigatti could almost see him running his hand through his hair. “I...well, I guess I wasn’t really on my best behavior.” Toni smiled at the sheepishness in his voice. “Anyway, I-I’m sorry, and, uh ...I don’t know, maybe we could-”
Brigatti waited for another message, but there had only been the three.
She cursed the idea of limited time on incoming messages, a reason she had
bought that model in the first place. Then she replayed Gary’s message, hoping
to infer what he had been about to say. The results were inconclusive. Noting
the lateness of the hour, she pulled the machine down to the floor with her
and quickly lost track of the number of times she replayed the message, just
listening to his voice.
(The end of False Starts)
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