As Blair approached the intersection in his Volvo, he saw an old, tan
four-door sedan parked in front of a cop car. The black-and-white's siren lights were rotating lazily, and Blair automatically glanced at his
speedometer even as he realized he wasn't anywhere near the speed limit and, even if he was, what were the odds that the cop, already occupied, would do anything about it?
Blair slowed the car to stop at the red light. He glanced to his side, looking at the unlucky driver of the tan sedan. It was a large black man with broad shoulders and dreadlocks. He wore a red bandana on his head and presented an overall frightening image. The cop remained in his cruiser, talking into the police radio.
Blair looked back at the stoplight, his foot firmly on the brake. He heard a loud BANG, and something thrust his left shoulder forward in the seat. He blinked, vaguely aware of the screeching of tires and the sound of sirens as he looked down at his shoulder and saw red.
Pounding on his window made him look up. The uniformed cop, his dark eyes narrowed and his brow furrowed, hunched down and continued knocking on the glass, which now had a large, cracked hole in it.
"Oh." Blair leaned forward against the shoulder strap of the seat belt and grabbed the handle to lower the window, but his shoulder erupted with sensations of searing pain and hot throbbing.
A strangled cry escaped him, and he fell against the seat, tilting his head back and panting through the pain. He closed his eyes, distantly aware of the sound of the cop yanking on the Volvo's doorhandle. Blair opened his eyes and gritted his teeth, then reached over with his good arm and flipped up the lock.
The cop opened the door and leaned toward Blair. "An ambulance is on its way, sir."
Blair nodded, then waved the officer away. "Go get the guy."
"Other units are taking care of the suspect. Don't worry."
"I'm not worried," Blair said, then darkness swirled in his vision, and he went limp in the seat.
He woke to a deep, hot pain in his left shoulder. His mouth tasted like
chalky paste, and his head felt heavy. He opened his eyes, and saw a
glowing, rectangular panel set against white. A machine beeped steadily to his left, and he recognized the sound of the EKG.
A hospital. He was in a hospital.
He blinked and turned his head toward the sound. As expected, a square machine displayed the green blips of his heart rate, beeping in sync with the rhythmic spikes.
"Hey there, Chief."
Jim. Blair managed to pull his lips upward into a smile and turn his head toward the voice. Jim was leaning forward in a chair, a shadow of stubble on his jaw.
"Hi." Blair swallowed.
"Do you remember what happened?"
Blair closed his eyes and nodded. "Got shot."
"Yes, you did."
"Tired." He barely heard Jim's reply as he fell into sleep's warm embrace.
He woke again to pain, only this time it flowed from his shoulder down his arm, making the entire limb feel three sizes too big. He groaned, and swallowed the lump of sludge coating his tongue. He really needed some water.
"Jim?" He opened his eyes, finding the room dim. Only one of the ceiling lights glowed, giving him a sense that it was night.
"No." An unfamiliar voice pulled his attention to the right. Seated in the chair Jim had occupied earlier was a large, black man with hair falling to his shoulders in dreadlocks.
Blair's heart sped as recognition cleared the fog from his brain, and
beeping of the heart monitor grew frantic.
"It's okay." The man rose to his feet, his deep voice low and almost
soothing. "No worries, man. I ain't come to hurt ya. You was just in the wrong place. I didn't mean to get you. So here." He reached into his pocket, and Blair's lungs froze.
The man took his hand out of his pocket to reveal a wad of green bills in his grip. He leaned over the bed rail and grabbed Blair's hand, shoving the money into Blair's palm.
Blair swallowed. "Uh, I don't.... You don't need to...." He couldn't
breathe. Was this a bribe? A pay-off? Where was Jim?
"I can't take it." *Shut up!* He screamed at himself silently. *Just shut up.*
"You ain't got a choice. I'm giving it to you."
"It won't stop me from testifying." He was shaking now, but he couldn't seem to stop his damn tongue. What the hell was wrong with him. Where was Jim?
A small chuckle escaped the man. "It ain't about that. See ya."
"Where's Jim?" *God, what did you do to him?*
"The guy who's been visiting you left. I think he went down to the
cafeteria. So, I'm outta here before he gets back." He jerked his chin
toward the money. "We even now." He turned and slipped out of the room, leaving Blair alone.
Jim drained the last sip of coffee from the paper cup and tossed it in the trashcan, then continued down the hall toward Blair's room. He was about fifteen feet away when he extended his hearing and heard the frantic,mechanical beeping of the heart monitor. Breaking into a run, he burst into the room.
"Blair. What is it?" He was at the young man's bedside instantly.
Blair was shaking, staring at him, his eyes wide.
"Chief?" He looked down and noticed a wad of green in Blair's hand. Cash? "Where'd you get that?"
"He was here." Blair took a deep breath. "The guy who shot me. He was here, and he told me he didn't mean to shoot me, and he gave me this and said we were even."
"Shit. Hang on, Chief."
Jim spun and hurried out of the room, coming to stand just outside the door. He tilted his head, listening. He heard dozens of footsteps, but none of them running. Nothing sounded suspicious.
Releasing a breath, Jim turned and walked back into the room. Blair raised the cash. "Here. I don't want it. I know I can't keep it. Just take it, please. I told him I..."
"Easy." Jim took the cash from Blair's hand. "Easy, buddy. He's gone."
"I told him I'd still testify."
"You what?" Jim dropped into the empty seat. "Sandburg, why on Earth...?"
"Do you think he meant that were even, so now he can, you know... "
"You know, the scores even, so... I don't know. If I testify, he can take me out. He said it wasn't about that. He said...."
"Just calm down, Chief. Your heart's running a marathon here. I don't know what he meant, but I promise you one thing. He's not going to get near you again." Jim leaned forward and stuffed the cash in his pocket. He'd call Simon and hand it over, but right now, he had no intention of leaving Blair. "It's okay." He lightly batted Blair's cheek. "Okay?"
Blair swallowed and nodded. "Okay." The beeping of the heart monitor began a slow descent toward normal. "Thanks, Jim."
"Don't mention it, Chief." Jim stood from the chair, and Blair tensed instantly. With a smile, Jim grabbed the chair turned it 90 degrees, putting him at an angle where he could see the door and keep himself between Blair and whoever walked into the room. "Go to sleep, Chief." He sank back into the seat, reached to the end table, grabbed the remote, and flicked on the television, turning the volume down to a near mute. "I'm not going anywhere."