Letting It All Out
Written by Shell
I walk out of the elevator and towards the nurse's station, my palms sweating already. A young black woman looks up and asks if she can help me, and I explain that I'm here to visit Tim Bayliss. She directs me down the hall towards a man and a woman, obviously from the FBI, who introduce themselves as Special Agent Stuart and Special Agent Kennedy. Stuart frisks me, courteously but very thoroughly, while Kennedy examines my ID and asks me some questions. I'm comforted by their competence, and chat with them briefly in the short-hand of all police. I'm gratified and a little surprised by the obvious regard and admiration they have for Tim.
I'm also a little surprised to find myself here, in a hospital halfway across the country, visiting someone I haven't spoken to for over two years. I almost didn't get on the plane yesterday. I landed last night, and I could easily have come to the hospital this morning, but I waited. I was tired after the flight, the three hour time change. I'm still tired, but I'm here.
Mary called the hotel this morning, and again this afternoon. If she calls again and finds me still there, I don't want to hear what she will say.
My identity confirmed to the agents' satisfaction, they direct me further down the hallway to a smaller nurse's station, this one staffed by a somewhat portly, grey-haired woman. I introduce myself again, and as the nurse, whose name is Cheryl, explains that Tim is sleeping but that I'm welcome to wait, I look up and realize the window I'm facing shows his hospital room.
"Have you met Mr. Boisy? He should be back soon."
"What? No, I haven't met him--just talked to him on the phone. He's the one who called me last month, told me what happened." I'm distracted by the still, pale form in the bed. I still don't know who exactly this Boisy is, despite some research; neither do I know who he is to my former partner. I don't understand why he's still here with Tim.
"Well, I'm sure they'll both be glad to see you. You were Tim's partner, isn't that right?"
"Yes, for six years." I'm relieved when she looks at her computer screen and excuses herself to go give report, whatever that is. I'm able to stand alone at the window now and examine the bed and its contents more closely.
Bayliss is pale, thinner than the last time I saw him, and very still, the only movement the gentle rise and fall of his chest. I run my hand over my scalp and watch him breathe. His leg, up in traction, looks like a crazed welder has attacked him. The very normality of the long, sock-covered foot at the end is incongruous. There's an IV hooked up to his forearm--why does he still need that?
I fight back a surge of panic that rises with the sudden memory of Tim seizing in the ER, and the measured movements of his chest when he was on the respirator after surgery, so still and lifeless. Remembering how helpless I always feel in hospitals.
He's just sleeping. The nurse would not have left otherwise. There is no respirator here, no cardiac monitor. He's wearing a perfectly normal flannel shirt, not a hospital gown. It's not the same--and this time it's not my fault. But I don't want to think about that. There's a lot I'd rather not think about--the fact that Tim took a bullet that was meant for me, the fact that this is the second time he's almost gotten himself killed.
The last time I spoke with Tim is something else I'd rather not remember. I still don't understand what he thought he was going to accomplish, confessing to me like that. Putting that on me. Asking me to arrest him. To absolve him. I watch him sleeping, thanking God he didn't do what he said he would and eat his gun.
I looked for him that night, after I watched him write Ryland's name in blue and walk out the door. When I told him I couldn't absolve him, couldn't arrest him, I made him promise not to do anything stupid. Told him that suicide was as wrong as murder. Told him I'd never forgive him if he did that, I would not wear dress blues and salute him, my partner. I took him in the box and yelled at him until he gave up, gave in, promised to walk away if I would give Gharty his badge.
I never understood how he could have thought I would absolve him. Much as he would like me to be one, I am not a priest. I don't believe in absolution any more, if I ever really did.
I'm not sure what I believe anymore. All that time, talking with Tim about right and wrong, good and evil--for most of those years, I truly believed what I was saying, but somewhere along the line things got a little blurry. Tim questioned me on everything, and even after I quit Homicide, I still heard his questions in my head. When he confessed to me, things got blurrier still. I'm still not sure if I did the right thing, refusing to turn him in, but at the same time I know with absolute certainty that to turn him in, to allow him to commit the slow suicide of the penitentiary or the quick suicide of eating his gun, that would have been a greater wrong. Because I could not believe that Tim Bayliss was truly capable of evil. This man, my partner, my friend, who would have traded his life for my own, is not evil.
I stand there for some time, still sweating, repeating to myself that he's just sleeping. Then I hear someone approaching and turn to find a lean, rangy man with spiked blond hair bearing down on me. He wears jeans and a t shirt, one so old that the logo is too obscured to be legible, and he carries a guitar case. He puts it down by the window and reaches out to shake my hand, an accusatory look in his bright blue eyes. I have the uncomfortable feeling that this man knows far more about me than I do about him.
"Frank Pembleton, right?" There's no mistaking the challenge in his voice.
"And you must be Bill Boisy." There's a challenge in mine as well, and he doesn't miss it. I'm here, and I'm going to make sure Tim is okay.
He nods, reluctantly acknowledging my right to be here. "Tim still asleep?" His fierce expression softens as he looks through the window.
"Yeah, sleeping like a log, so still--made me a little nervous." Why did I admit that?
Boisy smiles faintly, still watching Tim. "The first few days, I'd wake up six times a night and check to make sure he was still breathing--drove him nuts if I woke him up." He pauses, moves closer to the window, gesturing companionably for me to stand beside him. His body language conveys that this is his turf, not mine, but he's willing to tolerate me, for now. Tim is apparently his turf as well. I stay where I am, ignoring his gesture.
"I'm really glad you came, Frank. It'll mean a lot to him, your being here. It's--this has been really tough for him, he's in a lot of pain, pretty much all the time, thanks to that medieval torture device on his leg." His words are friendly, but I hear the anger behind them. We stand there a moment watching Tim sleep.
"When did you get in?"
"Last night, the red eye."
"Visiting hours are all day, Frank--what took you so long to get up here?"
"I was tired."
"I thought the almighty Pembleton didn't get tired."
"What? Look, Boisy, what the hell are you doing here, anyway? Who appointed you nursemaid?"
"I fail to see how that's any of your fucking business, Frank."
"Not my business? How is anything about Tim Bayliss, my partner, not my business?" The anger's out in the open now, on both our parts.
"Listen, I know Tim was your partner, but even if you ignore the fact that you haven't talked to him for years, there's the fact that I called you over a month ago to let you know about what happened, and you've only graced us with your presence now. So what brings you here, Frank? Why are you here now?"
I open my mouth to yell again, but I catch a glimpse of the window out of the corner of my eye and stop myself. Boisy catches me looking, and he turns, faces the window again. I realize that the expression on his face when he looks at Tim is not just concern. It's tenderness, maybe even love. Who is this man? What the hell is going on with him and Bayliss?
"You know, Boisy, I've never been able to abide hospitals. Working murders, standing over bodies, autopsies, never bothered me, but hospitals--can't abide the smell. Tim never understood that. Always pushed at me, always tried to drag me in to see whoever. Pissed me off then, coming from him, and it sure as hell pisses me off coming from you."
Boisy meets my eyes briefly, a measuring glance, then speaks. There's still a trace of hardness to his voice, but there's something else underneath. Maybe some of that tenderness I see in his face when he looks at Tim.
"That first night, when they brought him up from surgery, I was fucking terrified. I was cowering over in the corner, afraid to touch anything, you know? And just terrified, of how pale he was, how thin, all the bruises, the pain in his eyes, and all the fucking equipment that surrounded him.
"Marilyn--that's his primary nurse--was there, and she saw how scared I was, how scared he was, and she was amazing. She grabbed me by the hand, brought me over, and went through every line, every tube, every piece of equipment in that room, and what it all meant. Showed me where to see his heart rate, his O2 sat, his chest tube, where to be careful of the weights, where I could touch him, which was everywhere, really. And that was only part of it--"
Boisy's voice breaks, and he has to stop for a moment until he can get it back under control.
"While she was telling us about the equipment, she started her assessment. She took me by the hand again, and put my hand next to hers on Tim's chest. She examined every inch of Tim, head to toe, and she guided me through that, too. She told us what she was doing, how he was doing, what she was looking for, and started showing me some of the kinds of care he was going to need. And when she'd finished, the room had a totally different feel. When they'd first brought him up, all I'd been able to see was all that fucking scary equipment. When she'd finished, all I saw was Tim."
Boisy glances at me to gauge my reaction. I remain silent, knowing he'll take that as an invitation for further speech. It works.
"And since then--jesus, Frank, I'm doing things for this man--I wouldn't do them for anyone else--" he breaks off again, then continues. I don't get this openness. He's obviously trying to provoke me again, but I keep quiet, knowing he'll keep talking.
"The first thing Marilyn taught me was how to give him a bath. The two of us did it together at first, and it wasn't like I was seeing anything new, but I was bathing him from head to toe, changing his sheets, wiping his butt for him, you know? I mean, someone must have done that for you, when you had your stroke, right? Tim would have done it for you in a heartbeat, no questions asked, but I guess he figured you'd die of embarrassment first."
There it is again. He's letting me know again just how much he's been there for Tim, that he--what? That he's Tim's lover? Letting me know how much Tim's been there for me, and how I've dropped the ball. This man has known Tim how long-- a couple years? How the hell does he get off knowing so much? What business of his is my relationship with my partner?
"I thought we were both going to die of embarrassment the first time, but at the same time I could see how much it meant to him."
He's still talking about bathing Tim.
"He told me later about the nurses and aides he'd had in Baltimore and how much he'd hated it to be bathed every morning by a stranger who didn't even talk to him while they did it, just went through the motions like he was on an assembly line. So I did it, my face beet red, and every day it got a little easier for both of us."
Yes, this man is quite capable of caring for Tim. Much more capable than I, he wants me to know. Tim is his turf, not mine. Not anymore. But I know Tim well enough to wonder what secrets he has kept from Boisy, what I know that he doesn't. Has Tim told Boisy of his childhood? Maybe, although I doubt it. Has he told him about Adena Watson? Almost certainly. But I doubt very much Bill Boisy knows about Luke Ryland. Tim has always been able to keep his own secrets better than anyone else's.
"And now, he's so much stronger, he can do so much more, but he's still tied down by that fucking traction, and I do everything the nurses do except stuff like hanging IVs. I do pin care, helped with dressing changes until those were done, still help him wipe his butt sometimes, hold his hand while he waits for his pain meds, and it kills me that I can't take any of his pain away, when he yells at everyone because he hasn't been out of that fucking bed in over a month. But he also tells me practically every day how much it means to him that I'm there. So sometimes I have to get out for awhile, breathe some real air, walk around outside, but I come back as quickly as I can, because he can't go with me, won't be able to even get into a wheelchair and leave the room for at least another week, and if I'm not there when he wakes up I feel like the worst kind of shit."
Yes, Tim's good at inspiring guilt in those who care for him. I know that more than anyone. More than Boisy. And some of the anger that's been building in me comes out.
"When I had the stroke, Tim was there every damn day, and I couldn't stand it. He smothered me--every time I tried to push him away, he'd come back for more. I couldn't talk right, couldn't even understand everything people said, felt like a retarded child, and I couldn't stand for him to see me that way." The fact is, I still saw him as that rookie with the redball, and I wasn't ready for him to see me as anything other than the person who taught him how to be a detective. And that nearly cost us our partnership and our friendship.
"That never mattered to Tim, Frank--he was your friend, your partner, and to him it didn't matter if you never worked with him again, he'd still love and respect you. You were a father figure to him, sure, and he still worships you a little bit, but he always knew you were human, even if you didn't want him to."
I'm not going to listen to any more of this armchair psychoanalysis from Tim's lover, and Boisy seems to realize he's gone far enough. He looks at me for a minute, then it's back to the window again.
"Okay, Frank, I'm going to go wake him up now. He's pretty worn out--he's been fighting a kidney infection this week, so he's back on IV antibiotics, and he had surgery again last week, and the combination of all of it has really fucked him over. Anyway, why don't you wait here, and I'll let him know he's got a visitor."
"Fine, fine, I'll wait."
Boisy nods at me. We've established some sort of truce, but I'm still not sure about this Billy Tallent person. I called in some favors before I left, got the skinny on one William Boisy, rock star, with a history of substance abuse, a juvie record, a bandmate who committed suicide, and an illegitimate daughter. A Canadian living in the United States. A drunk, apparently sober since the suicide of Joseph Mulgrew. Tim sure can pick them. This one seems to care about him, more than people like Emma Zoole and Julianna Cox, but how much of that is because of Tim's injuries? Will Boisy be here for Tim later, or will he leave him as everyone else has? I haven't left him--not really, even though it may appear that I have. I always come back. Boisy's obviously taken my place as Tim's confidante and friend, and he appears warm, friendly, and approachable, even soft-spoken, when he's not yelling at me, but I find myself wishing for the two-way mirror and recording system of the Box as he walks into the room. I don't trust him. He wakes Tim by stroking his cheek, speaking his name. I can't hear anything else; the door has closed behind him. Boisy is not the only one who wishes to protect Tim, and I'd be a lot more comfortable if I could hear their conversation.
Perhaps there is no need. As Tim awakens, he reaches for Boisy's hand, still lingering on his cheek, and brings it to his lips. The love between them is obvious--Boisy's sharp features are transformed by a brilliant smile, one that finds its match on Tim's face. I've never seen Tim look at anyone that way.
Then Boisy leans forward and kisses Tim sweetly, no longer aware of anyone but the man in the hospital bed in front of him. Boisy asks something, Tim answers, and then Boisy takes a pair of glasses from the bedside table and hands them to Tim, saying something and pointing toward the window. Tim shakes his head, looks up in disbelief, and meets my eyes through the glass, mouthing my name in a question. Another brilliant smile covers Boisy's face as he gestures me to come in, but the smile has left Tim's. No, Tim doesn't look happy to see me. Perhaps I bring back memories he'd rather forget.
Perhaps I'm not the only one with unanswered questions about what happened the last time we spoke. No, Tim hasn't told Boisy about Ryland. I'm still the only one who knows.
I can't believe Frank's really here, but there he is, coming through the door, bigger than life. Only maybe it's smaller than life. He looks tentative, nervous, maybe even a little scared--imagine that, Frank Pembleton scared. Of me?
I should be glad to see him--he's my friend, my partner, someone I haven't seen in years--but for some reason, when I look into those dark eyes, what I feel is dread.
He comes in the room, shakes my hand.
"Tim, good to see you, how are you doing?"
"Fine, Frank--good to see you too. How are Mary and the kids?"
We continue making small talk for a few awkward minutes, Bill smiling at both of us. He's happy for me, that Frank has finally graced us with his presence; he's pretending to be unaware of the tension in the room. Frank and I are all too aware of it. He's the first to do something about it.
"Mr. Boisy--Bill--I hate to be rude, but Tim and I have some catching up to do. Would you mind giving us a little privacy?"
Bill looks at me, surprised. None of my other friends from the force have asked him to leave, and I know he enjoys hearing their stories of life with the murder police. I also know the fierce protectiveness he sometimes displays toward me, the same protectiveness that saved my life that night in Church Canyon.
"It's okay, Bill--I think it would be good for Frank and me to talk awhile, just the two of us, I mean. Uh, Frank doesn't like anyone hearing about his business, he's a private kind of guy, you know?" I look into his eyes, pleading silently for him to understand. He looks back, nods. He doesn't understand, not really, but he trusts me, trusts that I need this for some reason.
"Sure, no problem. I'll just go take a walk, maybe take my acoustic down to that kid on peds, give him a little pep talk. I'll be back before dinner, okay? You want me to pick anything up?"
"Yeah, Bill, that would be great--maybe get us a couple pizzas, and Frank can join us for dinner. You can do that, can't you, Frank?"
"What? Oh, sure, sure, I can do that. Got no plans other than visiting you, Bayliss, so pizza is fine."
"Good--there'll be someone else who likes meat on his pizza."
Bill's picked up on the vibe; he's no dummy, and he's puzzled, but he gives me a quick peck and heads out the door. Yeah, he trusts me. And suddenly I realize why I'm not thrilled to have Frank here. Bill trusts me, but he doesn't know me, not really. Not the way Frank does. Bill doesn't know what I'm capable of, believes I am a good person. Frank knows I'm not.
Frank knows all about what I'm capable of.
And typical Frank, with that keen mind of his, to just get right to business. Frank, he doesn't pull his punches. As soon as Bill's gone, the small talk ends.
"So, Tim--how long have you been shacking up with the rock star?" His voice is sharp, with the smallest tinge of anger.
"Not that it's any of your damned business, Frank, but I met Bill just before I went undercover last spring. Our--our relationship has gotten, uh, deeper since he saved my life last month."
"Oh, yes, since he saved your life, since he was there for you, when I wasn't. Mind you, I'm glad you're okay--more than glad--but I have to wonder about a relationship built on--what? Another one night stand, this time before you left on a romantic undercover assignment?"
I hate it when he's that perceptive. How the fuck did he figure that one out? "Dammit, Frank, I know you don't think I'm capable of a real relationship, and I sure as hell know you're not comfortable with my sexual preferences, but there's no reason for you to insult me or the man I happen to be in love with." My voice comes out cold, but I can't help blushing. And he notices that, too.
"Oho, you're in love with him now? Well that's good, that's rich. No, I'm happy for you, I really am. But tell me one thing--how well do you know this man that you claim to love? And more to the point, Tim--just how well does he know you?"
"That's it, isn't it? He can't possibly know me as well as you do, can he?" I am so sick of that self-satisfied arrogance.
"No, I don't believe he can. And I don't want to have to pick up the pieces after this doesn't work out. Not again."
"Not again?! Since when have you ever picked up the pieces for me? Tell me, Frank, when?"
"Try after Emma Zoole, after Juliana Cox, after you went out to dinner with that restaurant guy, after you couldn't make up your mind who or what the hell you thought you wanted. Since always, Tim."
"That is bullshit, Frank, and you know it! You were never there for me, not when I really needed you. Not the way I was there for you. I just wasn't enough of a priority, I guess. But Bill has been there for me, every step of the way."
"There it is, isn't it? Right on schedule. You were there for me after the stroke, Bill's been there for you with your leg, but I wasn't there for you when you got shot.
"Well, you're right, Tim. I wasn't there for you. I let you down. I didn't come to the hospital every day, cluck over you, baby you. I had enough respect for you to let you alone, like I wish you had let me alone after the stroke."
"You wish I'd let you alone? That's ridiculous--you were my partner, my friend--I wasn't going to leave you alone!"
"No, of course you wouldn't. Because you never paid any attention to what I needed, just what you thought you'd want."
"That's not fair, Frank! It didn't matter what I did after the stroke, you hated it. If I'd left you alone, you would have hated that, too, just like I hated it when you left me alone."
"Well, we'll never know the answer to that, will we? Because you're incapable of leaving me alone--you're always at me about something. Bugging me to take my medicine, to get me to invite you to my house, bringing presents for my kids--you don't know how to leave me alone. You don't know how to leave anything alone, Tim--you obsess about everything!"
"My wanting you to come visit me when I was in the hospital, when I was laid up at home for six fucking months, that's obsessing? That's bullshit, Frank, and you know it! Why can't you just admit you were scared, or feeling guilty, or whatever the real reason was?"
"You think I was feeling guilty? Why, because you took a bullet for me?"
"Yes, Frank. Because you couldn't take the shot. You had time, just like when Junior Bunk shot up the squadroom, but you couldn't take the shot, and I couldn't let you get yourself killed. So you felt guilty. Are you going to admit it?"
"Okay, Tim, fine. You want me to admit it? I admit it. If you'd been standing there instead of me, you would have taken the shot, the guy would have gone down, and all would be well--is that what you want me to say? Because we both know you're certainly capable of shooting someone!"
We're both speechless for a moment. I think he's just as shocked to have come out with that as I am to hear him say it.
"I may have felt guilty, Tim, but I'm not the only one. No matter what you said that night, about feeling okay in your heart, you wouldn't have told me, wouldn't have asked me what you asked me, if you weren't feeling guilty for what you did."
I stare at him for a minute. I don't want to admit it, but he's right, of course. He's always fucking right, especially when I don't want him to be.
"Do I feel guilty for shooting Luke Ryland? Is that what you're asking? Is that why you couldn't absolve me, Frank? Do you feel guilty about that, too?"
"Maybe I do, Tim, maybe I do." He looks at me a minute, then asks the question.
"You haven't told him, have you?"
There's no use pretending I don't know what he's talking about.
"Didn't think so."
"Why should I, Frank? Why should I tell him? That's the past--it's over, I've dealt with it, dealt with my feelings. I don't need your absolution anymore, Frank--being in that godforsaken town for 7 months was absolution enough. So why should I tell Bill about Luke Ryland? If I tell him--"
"You haven't dealt with it, Tim! You're in denial, same as you always are. You're afraid to tell him, afraid he'll leave you. But Tim, if you don't tell him, it's gonna tear you up, and you'll lose him anyway. Just like not telling anyone about Ryland was tearing you up before. I know what you went through undercover was horrible, but I also know you, Tim. I know you. If you really love him, you gotta tell him the truth."
"I told you the truth, and I lost you. Every time I told you something, I lost you, every single time." It's true--telling people my secrets has always driven them away. Bill stayed when I told him about Uncle George, and that totally amazed me. I can't tell him about Ryland--he'll leave, just like everyone else.
"Is that what you think? That you lost me?" Frank's voice is softer now, calmer.
"What else was I supposed to think, huh, Frank? Okay, maybe you felt guilty after I got shot, but that's not the first time you pulled away from me, and it damned sure wasn't the last. You left the force, Frank, without even talking to me."
"Okay, Tim, first of all, you pulled away from me after the stroke. When you told me about your uncle, I tried to be there for you, but you didn't want anything to do with me. So don't put that on me."
I open my mouth to yell at him again, both of us staring hard at each other, eye to eye. But suddenly it's just not worth it.
"We sure are a pair, aren't we? First time we see each other in two years, and it doesn't take five minutes before we're yelling at each other. I don't want to do that anymore, Frank. How can we stop doing that?"
"I don't know. I wish I did, I really do." He sighs, sits down next to me, takes my hand.
"Tim, what do you want me to say? Do you want me to apologize? Fine, I apologize. What do you need me to apologize for?"
"I don't know anymore, Frank." I'm surprised to find it's true.
"I'll tell you one thing. I'm not sorry I didn't turn you in. What you did was wrong, but you're a good man. I don't know how I can believe that, but I do."
"I don't know about that, Frank. It was wrong for me to shoot Ryland, and I don't know how you can think of me as a good man after I did it. It was wrong because it wasn't just a simple execution of a criminal. I hated Luke Ryland, hated what he did, what he planned to do again. Hated what he did to me, not just what he did to those women. I was lying when I said my heart was okay that night. Because part of me killing him, part of it was revenge, against him, against my uncle, my father, anyone who ever hurt me. And when I shot him, for just a second, I felt great."
"I know, Tim."
"You know?" How can Frank, who could never shoot anyone, know how I felt?
"I felt the same way when they got the guy who shot you. Felt it when Kellerman kicked him--wanted to kick him myself. Wanted to kick Kellerman later that night, after Gee let him go."
We look at each other again. He pauses, rubs the top of his head, sticks his tongue into his cheek. Classic Frank. Persistent, challenging, exhausting.
"Listen, if it's all right with you, can we lay off this heavy philosophical shit for awhile? I'm out of practice doing the arguing with the Jesuit thing, and I'm kind of tired, too." I'm smiling at him as I say it, but in truth I am beat. This stupid infection has really taken it out of me the last couple days.
He looks at me closely, leaning in, taking careful notice of every detail of my face. All the power of Frank Pembleton's gaze is focused on me. It's unnerving, even when you've been subject to it countless times before.
"Shit, Tim, why didn't you say anything? You look terrible! Boisy said you had a, a, what, a kidney infection? Aren't these doctors taking care of you? And the nurses--why are they hanging out out there, instead of taking care of you? I know Boisy's helping you out, but aren't they supposed to run the show? What the hell's wrong with them? Who's the chief of staff here--who can I talk to to get you some better care?"
And I just start to laugh. I shouldn't, really, he's just doing his thing, showing me he cares, but the idea of him yelling at Cheryl for letting me get an infection is just hilarious for some reason. And that's when I think we're going to be all right. Still have some stuff to work out, no question, but I think we'll be okay.
It takes me awhile, but I finally convince Frank there's no one he needs to go interrogate, intimidate or otherwise bully into taking better care of me. After that, we relax a little, just talking. I hear about Frankie's first words, how Olivia likes kindergarten, and teaching at Loyola. I tell Frank a little about Billy, a little about Church Canyon, and quite a bit about the kids there--Eli, Sarah, Ruth, and the rest.
As Bill returns with the pizza, Frank is regaling me with tales of a spectacularly underwhelming student from the current term. I can see the relief in Bill's eyes--he's been worried, wondering what was wrong. I know that Frank is right--I have to tell him about Ryland--but not tonight. Please, not tonight.
All is not quite right in Timland, but he and Frank seem to have arrived at a comfortable cease-fire. None of us acknowledges the remaining undercurrent of tension, choosing instead to enjoy our meal together. The night nurse is working a twelve hour shift tonight, so she comes in and does her assessment at 7, says she'll be back at midnight to hang the next antibiotic.
Frank and I move over to the table to talk while she's with Tim. The discussion centers on Tim's recovery. For the first time, I see real evidence of how much Frank really does care about Tim--the full force of his skills as an interrogator are focused on me until he understands everything about Tim's condition and future.
"What's going on with this kidney infection? How the hell did that happen?"
"He had surgery last week to put a plate in and remove a couple pins. He had to have a catheter again, and sometimes that can cause an infection."
"When is he gonna get out of that damned traction?"
"Hopefully in another week. They'll be doing x rays to see."
"What happens then?"
"He'll be in what they call external fixators for another few weeks, maybe another month. After that, he might need one more surgery--a knee replacement."
And so on. Finally we both realize we've been totally ignoring Tim, talking about him like he's not even there, and look over at the bed. He's fallen into an exhausted sleep, and I feel like shit for not even noticing how tired he was. I go to the bed, rest my hand on his forehead. Doesn't feel like he has a fever.
"Shit, Bill--he's gonna be okay, right?"
"Yeah, Frank, he is. It's not going to be easy; it's going to take a long, long time, but from what everyone tells me, he's going to be okay. Won't ever run after a perp again, but that's fine with me. I'd rather have him safe, you know?"
We watch him sleep for a minute, and then Frank gets ready to go. He stops at the door and turns back to me. I can tell he's got something to say, but isn't sure whether to say it.
"What's on your mind, Frank?"
"You love him?"
I can't stop the goofy smile that covers my face. "I do. Sounds corny as hell, especially coming from someone like me, but I really do, with all my heart."
"Good. He needs--look, I've known Tim for a lot of years now. Partnership between cops, that's almost like a marriage--shit, most days I spent a hell of a lot more time with him than I did with my wife. He's a complicated man, Bill. I'm sure you know that already, but maybe it doesn't hurt to hear it again. He's complicated, maybe more than you realize. I know he loves you--haven't ever seen him look at anyone the way he looks at you; it's pretty damned amazing--"
He's running his hand over the top of his skull, looking nervous, like he was when I first saw him this afternoon.
"Frank, what exactly are you trying to say?"
"Just that there might be some things you don't know about, stuff Tim hasn't told you yet, and I hope that when and if he does, it won't change the way you feel about him."
"Listen, I appreciate what you're trying to say, but there is nothing that Tim could say to me that would change the way I feel about him." We're meeting each other's eyes, stare for stare, the way we did earlier.
"I hope that's true. Because I don't want to see what it would do to him if he lost you."
"I'll tell you this one more time, Frank. I love him. Nothing could change that."
He nods at that, shakes my hand, and tells me he'll be by again tomorrow evening. And I'm left standing there wondering just what the fuck is going on.
Shit. None of this mystery is going to get solved tonight, because I'll be damned if I'll wake Tim up, not when he's this wiped out. So I get ready for bed, turn off the lights, and get in next to him. He stirs just a little, murmurs my name, and I kiss his cheek, stroke his hair, tell him to go back to sleep.
I'm still awake an hour later, watching him sleep, when he starts moaning, fists clutching at the blankets, in the first nightmare he's had since I started sharing his bed two weeks ago. I stroke his forehead, call his name, and he wakes up with a start, face covered with sweat, panic in his eyes.
"It's okay, Tim, you're safe, I'm here."
"What? Shit. Okay, I'm okay. I'm okay, Bill."
"You're okay. I'm here."
He sighs, and I put my arms around him, rest my head on his chest, listening to his heart pounding. Whatever he dreamed about this time, it was a fucking doozy. And suddenly I have to know.
"What was it, Tim? What did you dream about?"
He tenses up. He's scared to tell me. Jesus, Frank was right-- there's something he hasn't told me, something big. I turn on the lights, low as they'll go, get up and get us some water, give both of us a minute to regroup. I sit back down next to him. He's not meeting my eyes. Shit, what the fuck is going on?
"Tim, what's going on? Tell me. Please."
"I don't know if I can. It's--I've done things, Bill. I told you that once before, and you said it didn't matter, but I think it does."
A chill runs through me when I hear those words. What could he possibly have done that would cause him to speak in such a quiet, desperate voice?
"What have you done, Tim? Tell me."
He turns then, finally meets my eyes, and I see the disgust and self- hatred in his face, and it tears me apart. It looks like Joe's face when we left Bucky's farm, for the one second he let his feelings show. I reach for his hand, but he pulls it away.
"No, don't, Bill. It's hard enough to talk about this--just don't touch me right now, okay? Or I'll never be able to tell you."
Jesus. "Okay, whatever you need, just tell me. Is it about your uncle? Is it something with Pembleton? Did he do something to you?"
He laughs at that, a short, dark chuckle that is totally without humor or joy.
"No, that's just it, really. Frank didn't do anything, even when I asked him to. Couldn't absolve me, couldn't arrest me."
"What the fuck would he want to arrest you for?"
"That's what you do when someone confesses. And that's what I did to Frank, what he's never forgiven me for. I laid it on him, confessed to him, and he solved the case, didn't he, but he never told anyone."
"Tim. What did you do?" He's scaring me now.
"I killed someone, Bill."
"Is that it? But I already know about that homeless guy, Tim, you told me about that a long time ago, that--" I'm so relieved that I almost don't notice, but he's sitting so still, so stiff, with the slightest tremor running through his body.
"I'm not talking about Larry Moss." He looks at me again, and just for a second I see terror in his eyes. Frank was right--whatever this is, it's enough that Tim's scared he'll lose me if he tells me.
I ask him again, as quietly, as soothingly as I can, even though I want to take him by the shoulders and shake him.
"What did you do, Tim? Please, tell me."
"I killed Luke Ryland. I went to his house, and I shot him. Executed him. Put a bullet in the back of his head and walked away."
Luke Ryland. The name's familiar, I know Tim's mentioned him before, but my mind is blank. Tim killed him, executed him. Why?
"Why did you kill him? What did he do, Tim?"
"I finally found somewhere to put my hate, didn't I? I never did anything to George, but Frank was there then, keeping me on track with the whole good and evil thing. Frank wasn't there when Luke Ryland walked on a technicality after killing two women."
"Ryland was that internet killer, the guy who outed you." Now I remember. Tim killed him? And confessed to Frank? And then he quit the force. It's starting to make sense now, and I don't like what I'm thinking.
"Yeah, he was. And no matter how much I told myself I was doing good, saving the women of New Orleans from a predator, that was only half of it. I didn't kill Luke Ryland because he was a murderer who was going to kill him again. That wasn't the only reason, anyway. I killed him because I hated him, and because I hated myself. Hated what I'd become, without Frank there to keep me honest, keep me a good cop."
"Tim, you are a good cop." But even I can hear the doubt in my voice, and he sure as hell doesn't miss it. The doubt's not about that, not exactly, but it doesn't matter. I can't lose him the way I lost Joe. He looks at me bitterly.
"So that's it, Bill. You know everything, all my secrets. No more confessions. The question is, what are you going to do now?"
"I don't know, Tim. This is--fuck. I need to think about this, need to get out of here, okay? I'll be back--I don't know when, but I will be back. Don't give up on me, okay?"
He sucks in his breath, just like I hit him or something. But he doesn't say anything, doesn't try to explain it away. He just nods, resigned already to losing me, and for a second I just want to kiss him and tell him it's okay, I still love him. But I'm too fucking pissed for that. Why do I always pick the self-destructive type to fall in love with? So I don't kiss him. Instead, I put on my shoes and socks and walk out the door.
I stay awake for an hour, then two, after Bill leaves, hoping he'll come back. Charnelle comes in at midnight, hangs my IV, but she doesn't say anything. I wonder if she even notices that Bill's not here. Charnelle's good at her job, but she's uncomfortable with our relationship, and she seems to cope by ignoring everything except my physical needs. And that's fine with me tonight. If Marilyn were here, asking me what was wrong, I don't think I could take it.
I think about calling Frank, but I'm not sure I could handle that, either.
Eventually, I fall asleep again. I wake when they bring the breakfast tray in at 8. It takes me a minute to realize what feels so wrong--the mattress next to me is empty for the first time in two weeks. My eyes burn as I pick at my breakfast.
Then I see the sleeping form in the sofa bed. He came back. He may still leave, but not without talking to me first. I'll have that, if nothing else, and maybe, just maybe, I'll have more.
Bill must hear me, because he stirs, sits up, runs his hand through his hair. I quickly rub my eyes and put on my glasses. He's looking at me, no expression at all on his face. There are dark circles under his eyes, and I can smell the tobacco permeating his clothes from across the room.
He doesn't say anything, just gives me a little smile, one that doesn't reach his eyes, and heads into the bathroom. I hear the shower start a moment later. I push my breakfast around on the plate a little longer, manage to eat a couple bites, but what I really want to do is throw it across the room.
I hear the shower go off, but long minutes pass before Bill emerges, fully dressed. He walks slowly over to the bed and sits down in the chair next to me.
"Haven't eaten much there, Tim."
"Wasn't hungry." I look at him, searching his eyes for any clue to what he's thinking, what he's feeling. "I'm glad you came back," I venture cautiously.
"I'm not going anywhere, Tim. Thought you knew that. I told you I'd come back, didn't I?" His voice is quiet, calm, but I hear the anger in there as well.
"I'm sorry, Bill."
"Just what the fuck are you sorry for? For what you did? For why you did it? Or are you sorry that Pembleton came and made you tell me about it?"
The anger's out in the open now, his blue eyes fiery, his hands clenched.
"When exactly had you planned to tell me about this, Tim? What the fuck am I supposed to do with this information, especially since I know damned well you weren't going to tell me until Pembleton told you to? That's not buddies, Tim. You know everything about me, everything important, and I thought it went the same for you. Pembleton tells me I don't know you as well as I think I do, and I'm pissed, because I figure he doesn't know what the fuck he's talking about, but it turns out he's right, isn't he?"
"Wait a minute, Billy. Hold on. Okay, I'm sorry I did what I did, for the reasons I did. And I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier. I did try, once, that day at Wahweap Creek. But by then I was halfway in love with you, and I didn't want to lose you.
"Then, after... everything, I was so fucking relieved, so happy just to have you here--for the first time, Bill, I wasn't even thinking about Ryland, about Baltimore, Frank, any of it. And yes, I am a past master at shutting off unpleasant memories, you know I've had a lot of practice at that. So it was easy to just go with what felt good, what felt better than anything ever had, despite the fact that I was tied down to this fucking bed.
"But when Frank came, oh, he figured it out right away, used those famous detective skills and deduced the truth, that I hadn't told you yet. And that pissed me off, that he could still figure things out about me before I did, that he knew I had to tell you or I'd lose you. And I'm sorry for all of that, too. But there's one thing I'm not sorry for, and that's the fact that I love you, Bill. I love you, and I know that after what I told you, that maybe you can't love me, because I am not a good man. I'm a murderer, same as that sick fuck, Eisen, same as all the people I put away when I was working Homicide."
He's shaking his head, slowly, and I can see that he's getting even angrier.
"You just don't get it, do you? You know, for a detective, a fucking FBI agent, you can be awful fucking slow on the uptake!"
He's furious. He gets up, starts pacing around the room, sticks an unlit cigarette in his mouth.
"Let me make one thing perfectly, crystal, clear, Tim. I do not give a flying fuck what you did to that asshole Ryland. Far as I'm concerned, he got what he deserved. From what you've told me, he was about to go off and murder some more women, and you saved their lives by killing him. All well and good, Tim. No problems there."
I stare at him in shock as he comes back over to the bed, leans over, gets in my face.
"What I do give a fuck about, Tim, is that you've been holding out on me. I know you well enough to figure this thing's been eating at you for what, three years, give or take? And when you told your partner, when you told Frank, you expected him to arrest you, right? Put you, a fucking cop, in jail, where you'd get the punishment you thought you deserved. You wouldn't have lasted six months in there before someone killed you, and Frank knew it, and he couldn't allow that to happen. He wouldn't punish you, so maybe you even thought of blowing your brains out, just like Joe did, huh?"
I can't help but react to that, and he nods.
"Yeah, thought so. Frank, he manages to talk you out of that, but that's not the end of it. You go off and join the FBI, go undercover, practically get yourself killed that way. And you never tell me, the man you say you love, about the fact that you've got a fucking death wish the size of fucking western Canada!"
"You think I have a death wish? That's what you're upset about? But Bill, it's okay, I'm not going to do anything stupid-"
He interrupts me. "Don't fucking lie to me, Tim. Do not lie to me. Did you or did you not think about killing yourself after you killed Ryland?"
He's still in my face, eye to eye, and all I can do is nod. I start to say something again, but he shakes his finger at me and glares until I close my mouth.
"Now you listen to me, Tim, and you listen good. I am not going to lose someone else I love. Joe, he never told me what was going on, how he was really feeling. I should have known, when Bucky told him never to come back, or when he smashed the Strat, but I didn't, and he never told me, and then he blew his brains out on the sidewalk. He had a bottle with him, and two glasses, did you know that? He was waiting for me to join him after the show. Maybe he would have talked to me then, I don't know, maybe I could have done something, but we didn't talk, and we'll never talk again, and that taught me a lesson. Had to get hit over the head with it, but I finally learned that you have to talk to people you care about. That's buddies, Tim--talking about things. Okay?"
I nod again.
He moves back, then, sits back down in the chair, takes my hand. I let go of a breath I don't remember holding. My hand in his is trembling, and he squeezes it reassuringly.
"So I gotta know, Tim. Where are you at with this Ryland thing? Are you going to wait until you're out of here, then find some other way to risk your life, keep doing that until someone does to you what you did to him? Or are you going to talk to me, talk to a therapist, talk to Frank for all I care, until you talk yourself out of this fucking suicide wish? Can you do that? Because if you can't-" he pauses, makes sure I'm listening. "If you can't do that, Tim, then there's no point in me sticking around."
"I--I want to do that, Bill. I'm not sure how. Talking about things, important things, like Ryland, that's not easy for me. But I want this--want you--more than I've ever wanted anything, and I'll do whatever it takes to keep you." I take a deep breath. "Bill, I did think about eating my gun, after I killed Larry Moss, after Ryland. And maybe you're right--maybe joining the FBI, going undercover, that was another way to that, I don't know. But now, right now, I promise you that all I want to do is be with you."
He leans forward, kisses me softly, all the storm gone from his eyes. "Okay then. New deal. You, me--talking, no holding back. You, me, talking. Say it with me, Tim."
"You, me, talking, no holding back."
"You, me, talking, no holding back. I love you, Tim. Don't--don't check out on me, okay?"
"I won't, Bill. I love you." I pause, look up into those eyes, full of nothing but love now. "You're sure you're okay with what I did? It doesn't bother you that your lover is a--a murderer?"
"Let's just say I consider it justifiable homicide."
He kisses me again, slower this time, a deliberate kind of kiss, showing me with his lips and tongue that he means it, he's not going anywhere. "Tim, what was the nightmare? I know it must have been about Ryland, but what was it?"
I shiver, and he gets out of the chair, sits down on the bed next to me, pulls me into his arms.
"It's okay, Tim. You, me, talking, no holding back, remember?"
"You, me, talking, right. Okay. The dream." I take a breath, let myself feel the warmth of his arms around me, his breath against my ear.
"I'm back at the station, at the computer there, trying to trace Ryland before he kills again. And the clock ticks down and the computer's on my website, then it's on the woman, tied up, and he's there, ready to kill her. Then all of a sudden I'm the one tied up--you know how it is, when you're dreaming, and you just are the other person?--and Ryland's laughing at me, telling me all about how he loves New Orleans, where the women are easy. And I try to get my gun out, but it's not there. And then you're there too, tied at my back like you were that night, and he's got his knife out. I tell him to leave you alone, scream at him not to hurt you, please, he can do anything to me, just don't hurt you, but it doesn't work. He, he kills you, and I'm just standing there, watching; I can't do anything. Then Ryland's face changes to Eisen's, and he's got a big rock in his hand. And then I wake up."
Bill doesn't say anything for a long moment, just holds me, squeezing tight, stroking my arms.
"Jesus, Tim. No wonder you woke up sweating like that. You fucking need a therapist, buddy!" he adds with a smile. "We'll get you hooked up once we get home."
I let out a sigh, releasing the tightness in my chest, allowing myself to believe that he's still here, he still wants me. I tremble again, and he continues to hold me, saying, "It's okay. Ryland's dead, he can't hurt you anymore, and Eisen's in jail. I'm here, Tim. Not going anywhere, no one's gonna hurt either one of us, okay? Not as long as we keep talking."
I sigh again, feel myself relaxing some more. "Can we do more than just talk, sometimes?"
"Just try and stop me, Secret Agent Man," Bill replies, leaning over to kiss me again. This time he doesn't stop until there's a knock at the door, a knock that makes both of us groan in frustration.
"Who is it?" I manage to call out, Bill smothering a laugh in my chest.
"It's Assistant US Attorney Roberts, Agent Bayliss--here to take your deposition?"
Shit. Forgot that was happening today--it's been put off so many times. Bill smiles at me, rebuttons the top three buttons of my shirt, straightens my hair, and moves back to the chair next to me, grabbing his guitar to cover his erection. I pull the tray table closer and invite Ms. Roberts to join us, hoping my face isn't as flushed as it feels.
Four exhausting hours later, lunch arrives, and we break for the day. I miss Bill, whose presence was not permitted during the deposition.
"I appreciate your patience, Agent Bayliss. I realize this is difficult to talk about, and that you're still healing, physically and emotionally, from your ordeal. I just want to let you know how much I admire your courage. Without you, who knows how long it would have taken us to shut that cult down. I'll be back tomorrow morning to continue this, if that's okay."
"Yes, that's fine, Ms. Roberts."
"Would you like me to bring Mr. Boisy in? I believe he's been waiting outside, and I need to confirm the date for his appearance before the grand jury."
"Yes, would you?"
And in he walks, carrying his guitar case, smiling that smile at me, coming right over to the bed and planting a big wet one on my cheek, and all the pain and tension left over from the deposition is gone in a flash. Because he's here, and he's not going anywhere.
You, me, talking, no holding back. Yeah, I can do that. Just try and stop me, Mr. Hollywood Rock Star.
I go back to the hospital the next afternoon, not sure what to expect. I knock on the door, hearing the sounds of a guitar as it opens. When I enter the room, I see Boisy on the couch under the windows, playing and singing softly to himself, scribbling notes now and then.
"Don't mind Bill, Frank--when he gets started on a song, he doesn't notice anything else that's going on. In half an hour or so, he'll look up and wonder when you got here."
Tim is smiling at me, a true, happy, open smile, the kind of smile I haven't seen on his face (with the exception of yesterday, when Boisy woke him) for years. I think the last time I saw that smile was when he came by to visit the house after Frank Jr. was born. And it's never been possible not to smile back when Tim's got that expression on his face, so that's what I do, my heart suddenly lighter. Maybe things went better than I expected.
"You look better today, Tim. How are you feeling?"
"I am better, thanks. Still feeling a little crappy from the antibiotics, didn't get much sleep last night, had to sit through four hours of deposition today, but I'm feeling pretty damned good, all things considered."
"Any particular reason you didn't sleep well?"
Oh, he knows what I'm asking. His face gets serious, but there's no anger, no pain, in those clear brown eyes.
"You can probably figure that out on your own, Frank, but I'll tell you anyway. Yeah, I told Bill last night. And he left, for awhile, but then he came back, and then we had a fight, but we worked it out."
"You worked it out." He hears the doubt in my voice.
"Yes, Frank, we worked it out. Bill and I, we have a new deal. We talk, no holding back. You know, he had a lot more of a problem with the fact that I hadn't told him than he did with what actually happened."
"Did he?" Somehow, I'm not surprised by this. From the little I know about Boisy, it seems unlikely he'd be that upset by what even I am beginning to view as somehow acceptable. It becomes harder to maintain my moral certitude with each passing year. And the main reason for that is sitting in the bed across from me.
"So what about us, Frank? What do we still need to work out?"
It's on the tip of my tongue to come back with some sarcastic comment, but I manage to restrain myself. This is important. Tim is important, Lord knows why, somehow worked his way into my heart a long time ago. So I tell him the truth.
"I don't know, Tim. You and I, we've never been very good at communicating with each other, at least not outside the Box."
"Yeah, but we were golden in there, weren't we? Could almost read each other's minds. Why was that so easy, and everything else so hard?"
"We're both... intense... people, Tim. When the two of us focused that intensity on a suspect, we were able to work together, harmonize, play off each other's strengths. But when we focused that intensity on each other..."
"Yeah. No more harmony."
"Yeah, cacophony. Like a big old explosion of noise, sometimes."
"A lot of energy in explosions, Tim."
He nods. "A lot of energy. Sometimes pretty destructive. Knocked out some walls, sometimes."
"Yeah, you were always good at that. Couldn't keep anything from you. You'd just bang, bang, bang away until my resistance was gone."
"Took a lot of banging."
"Damn right it did. Shit, Tim, no one's ever gotten under my skin like you can. No one but Mary."
All of a sudden Tim's got an alarmed look on his face. "Frank, I hope you never--I mean, you know I love you, always will, but I hope you know it was never--"
"Don't worry, Tim, I never feared for my virtue. I admit it, I was a little nervous after you went out with Rawls, but I never thought you were gonna jump my bones."
"God, no! That's just--that's just disgusting, Frank!"
"Are you saying I'm not an attractive man, Bayliss? Because I don't think that's a fair assessment. I happen to be very attractive!"
He pats my hand nervously. "No, no, of course you're attractive, Frank, of course you are. Just--just not to me, not that way."
"Detective Pembleton, you're not propositioning Tim, are you? You had your chance--he's mine now, and you can't have him."
Boisy appears at my side, grinning at both of us, and Tim starts to laugh. A second later and I'm laughing too, don't even know why, just that it feels good. It feels good to laugh with Tim, and all of a sudden I don't care if I ever hear the name Luke Ryland again.
I look at Tim, and he's looking back at me, and we both know that it's okay. We're okay. He's okay, and that's okay with me, and that thought just gets me laughing harder. And Boisy joins in, all of us laughing like loons.
We spend a pleasant afternoon together, but I can see the looks that pass between them. If I were absent, those two men would be all over each other. As I'm getting ready to leave, Boisy comes up to me, says he wants to talk to me a sec.
He walks me outside the room, puts a companionable arm around my shoulder. I let him. Hey, what can I say--the guy grows on you. And he makes Tim happy. And maybe I've mellowed a little in the last few years.
"You and Tim--you're okay?" he asks.
"Yeah, we're okay, Boisy. No worries."
"You and Tim are okay too, huh?"
He smiles. "Yeah, we're good."
"You hurt him, I'll hunt your skinny white Canadian ass down."
He laughs. "I believe you. Listen, Frank--what we were talking about last night, Tim's recovery? His surgery is scheduled for next week--they'll be putting him in those external fixators I told you about, and putting a couple more plates in. It's a pretty big deal. He'll be coming off traction, but from what Marilyn and the orthopods tell me, it's not gonna be any kind of picnic, not by a long shot. Any surgery, there's always a risk, we both know that.
"So I was wondering--I don't know when you were planning on going back to Baltimore, and I know the holidays are coming up and all, but would you consider sticking around for awhile? It would mean a lot to Tim, and it--I'd appreciate having somebody there to talk to, during the four hours they tell me this surgery's going to take. So it would mean a lot to me, too. I know you and I didn't exactly start off on the right foot, but Tim cares about you, and I think it would be good if we could be friends. Or at least pleasant acquaintances."
I stare at him a minute. This guy just keeps surprising me.
"Let me get this straight. You are asking me, Frank Pembleton, to stick around until some time next week, to give up a significant part of my Christmas break, just so that I can hold your hand during Tim's surgery?"
He doesn't scare off easily, either. He just grins at me like he knows he's already convinced me.
"Absolutely not, Bill. I'm going home to my family."
"Oh, come on, Frank, you know you want to! Go on, give your wife a call--I bet she'll tell you it's okay. You want me to call her for you?"
"There is no way you are calling my wife, Boisy."
"Okay, so you'll call her then?"
"Is this how you always are, Boisy? You're worse than Tim!"
"I'll take that as a compliment. Come on, you can use the phone right here. Frank, seriously, you only just got here. Stick around for awhile, okay?"
"Okay, okay, okay already, Boisy! You're probably right--Mary pushed me into coming out here, so she'll probably make me stay. For a little while. For Tim, okay? For Tim."
He nods. "For Tim. Thanks, Frank."
"Yeah, yeah. Get back in there--he's waiting for you. I'll see you tomorrow."
I walk back into the room, feeling pretty damned good about Frank Pembleton. Quelle surprise. I get ready to tell Tim he's sticking around for awhile, but then I realize he's asleep. Again. I've been waiting all fucking day for some time alone with him, and he's asleep.
So I watch him sleep, again. Been doing a lot of that, and I actually like it. I call Billie, wish her a good night, apologize for not calling her yesterday. After awhile, I get into bed with him. He doesn't wake up, not really, but he turns his head towards me, rests his hand on my hip. And he doesn't have any nightmares, not tonight. Eventually I fall asleep as well, and I don't have any nightmares either.
I wake up, some time later, and find him watching me.
"Sorry I fell asleep on you."
I kiss him. "It's okay, Tim. You had a rough day."
"Yeah, but I had plans for the end of it."
"Night shift been in yet?"
"Left about half an hour ago. You slept right through it."
"Yeah, well, I had a rough day, too."
"You still tired?"
"Not that tired, Tim."
And you know, Tim and I, we've gotten pretty good at this, the logistics of making love in a hospital bed with one of us in traction. We've gotten pretty good, but the thing is, each time it gets better. We get better. And this time is no exception.
I can't imagine how good it'll be when he can actually move.
The next week is a busy one. Tim finishes his deposition, and I get to testify as well--what a thrill, can't wait for the trial, if there is one. I resent the time it takes me away from Tim, but Frank's here to keep him entertained. And it gives me some time to do some research and planning. Chelle and Kat help me find someone to make the house wheelchair accessible, and Marilyn helps me find a good home care agency. And help for Tim's Christmas gift comes from an unexpected corner--John knows a silversmith in Austin who turns out to have just what I'm looking for. Chelle tells me what she plans to get for Kat, and that blows me away for a while, but then I figure out the perfect gift for them, too, so it works out pretty well.
They've cut back the FBI surveillance to just one agent at night. I don't have anyone following me every time I go out anymore. Bartlett and Roberts both say that as soon as the Grand Jury stuff is over with, we'll both be safe. I'm not sure I believe that, but I guess they know more about it than I do, and Tim reassures me that, once I get him home, he'll be able to carry a gun again. Tells me he's a crack shot. Like that's supposed to make me feel better--I'll have a man in a wheelchair in my house who happens to be a superior marksman.
Marilyn warns me that it may not be possible to get Tim home by Christmas, but it doesn't really matter. Any day I can get Tim out of here will be Christmas. Neither one of us is exactly Christian, after all, and it's a pagan holiday anyway--we'll celebrate it when we want to.
The night before the surgery, we're all on edge. It's weird seeing all the Christmas decorations everywhere when the sun is shining on the red mountains out the window, even weirder than Christmas in LA. We eat a last meal of macaroni and cheese, hamburgers (well, Tim has a veggie burger), french fries, and milk shakes. Tim's not allowed to eat or drink anything after midnight, and that was what he wanted, so that's what we had. He's pretty easy to please in the food department, except for the vegetarian thing, which I don't quite get. But what do you expect from a grown man whose favorite show is Mighty Mouse?
Frank leaves after dinner, so it's just the two of us and the medieval torture device, which will be dismantled in the morning before they take him to surgery. Tim asks me to sing to him, so I get out the acoustic and play him some of the stuff I've been working on, mostly songs about him. Then I ask him if he has any requests, and he gets an embarrassed look on his face.
"Okay, Tim, spill. What horrible song do you want me to play for you?"
"You'll never play it. Even if you know it, which I doubt, you'd never sully your beloved acoustic by playing something so utterly lacking in any sort of edge."
"Try me, Tim. Tonight's a special night. If I know it, I'll play it for you."
He just looks at me. He knows better.
"Okay, I admit it. There are some songs I will not play. But you don't know this is one of them. I don't think you're going to ask me to play you something by the Spice Girls."
He makes a strangled noise.
"Tim. Please don't make me play the Spice Girls, I'm begging you."
"No, Bill, it's not the Spice Girls--"
"There is a god!"
"--it's Neil Diamond."
I stare at him.
"I will not sing to you about any fucking heartlights, Tim. I love you, but I don't love you that much."
"Jesus, Bill, even I have better taste than that! No, it's something he did a long time ago. My mom, she loves him, saw him in concert when I was just a kid, and she had the 8-track of Hot August Night, used to play it all the time. And there was this one song, totally, disgustingly, mushy, I admit, but it reminds me of you."
And fuck all if I don't think I know what song he's talking about.
"You know, we had that 8-track, too. My mom had a big crush on Neil Diamond. Use to listen to it all the time, drunk, alternately belting it out and, well, crying in her pretzels, if you will."
He laughs at that. "That's not the song, Bill."
"Damned straight it's not. Or it better not be. Not gonna sing that one. Can't believe I'm gonna sing you any Neil Diamond song, but at least it's not the Spice Girls."
"Hey, Chris Isaak covered 'Solitary Man,' and UB40 did 'Red, Red Wine.' Neil Diamond's old stuff's kinda cool."
"You're really up on your Neil Diamond trivia, there, Tim. If you ever tell anyone about this, you'll be sorry. Now shut up a sec--gotta see if I can remember how it starts."
"Bill, I haven't told you which song."
"'S okay--I think I've got it."
I start picking out some chords, trying to remember the tune, the words. And it actually comes back to me. Of course, I could be wrong--he could be thinking of some other song. But somehow I don't think "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" is what he has in mind. So I start playing, humming a little, look up to see, and he's got this totally amazed expression on his face.
Yeah, I was right. So I sing it to him, changing a couple pronouns. Good thing Joe isn't around. Good thing no one is around, because if Tim ever tells anyone, I'd have to kill them. And him. And I don't want to do that.
So this is what I sing:
He was morning and I was nighttime
One day woke up to find him lying beside my bed
I softly said, Come take me
For I'd been lonely, in need of someone
As though I'd done someone wrong, somewhere
But I don't know where
I don't know where
You are the sun, I am the moon
You are the words, I am the tune
Songs he sang to me, songs he brang to me
Words that rang in me, rhyme that sprang from me
Warmed the night
And what was right, became me
You are the sun, I am the moon
You are the words, I am the tune
And so it was that I came to travel
Upon a road that was thorned and narrow
Another place, another grace
Would save me
You are the sun, I am the moon
You are the words, I am the tune
The next day, everything goes pretty much as planned, at least at the beginning. Tim heads off to surgery, and Frank and I hang out together in the waiting room, getting updates every now and then from one of the OR staff. Then we get a visit from Bartlett and Roberts, and they don't look too thrilled.
The Grand Jury's done its thing, all the bad guys are indicted and in jail, and Tim's safe, they tell me. Then what's the bad news, I ask? Well, the Bureau, wanting proper credit to be given to Special Agent Bayliss, has released his name to the press. Some public relations guy from the Bureau who didn't know her ass from a hole in the wall.
And, well, what with folks in Baltimore who know stuff, and people in Arizona who know stuff, and Eisen's lawyers, who've figured stuff out, they expect that, any minute now, it's gonna hit the presses that a gay cop named Tim Bayliss was behind the Eisen investigation. And that said gay cop has a lover by the name of Billy Tallent, guitarist for Jenifur.
I was wondering when it was going to happen. I knew it would, eventually, but I'm not sure Tim did, and I've been trying not to think about it. Not sure how he's going to react to our personal lives being talked about on Entertainment Tonight. We've never talked about it, about the fact that I'm sometimes subject to the kind of media scrutiny anyone in their right mind would run screaming from. Usually they leave me alone, figuring Chelle and Kat are much more interesting, but a few times a year someone dredges up Joe's suicide and wants to talk to me about it. This will be a whole hell of a lot more exciting for them than that ever was.
Just being outed to the Baltimore City Police was traumatic for Tim. I dread telling him he's about to be outed to the whole fucking world. Frank, of all people, tries to reassure me.
"Listen, Boisy, I really don't think it's that big a deal to him. You're right, it was really hard for him when Ryland outed him in Baltimore, but that was a totally different situation."
"Yeah, it was. This time the whole country is going to know."
"No, no, that's not the point. See, back then, Tim's whole life was being a murder police, a Baltimore City Homicide Detective. He thought I'd abandoned him, wasn't close to anyone else in the squad, was struggling with the whole Buddhism thing, not to mention his bisexuality. So having one part of his identity, a part he was still struggling with, a topic for discussion in the notoriously homophobic confines of a police force, that was devastating. Because he didn't have anything else to fall back on, not then."
"But he does now. Is that what you're trying to tell me?"
"Damn straight. Look, didn't you tell me Tim's already decided to retire from the FBI?"
"Yeah, but on his own terms, you know? Not railroaded out for being gay, which he isn't, not exactly."
"Uh-huh. Which you aren't either, not exactly--is that what this is about? You're not just worried about Tim here, are you?"
"That's not fair, Frank."
"No, it's not. Listen, this isn't just about me, or Tim--maybe you're right, maybe I am a little worried about it, but not because of that. My daughter--when I first found out about her, her mother tried to deny me any rights because she thought I was gay. Because of the relationship I had with another man, the singer from the band I used to be in. We worked all that out, and it's not that I lied about Joe and me, but once the judge ruled I could have joint custody of Billie, I don't think Mary ever let herself think about that anymore. I know I don't have any problems with being bisexual, and I think Billie's pretty accepting of Tim, but I don't know how Mary's going to react to all of this.
"And the fact is, I live a public life, but up to this point I've been able to keep Billie from being too affected by it. The focus of the media has always been on Kat and Chelle, who never hid their relationship from anyone, and that's kept me, the guitarist, kind of safely in the background. When this comes out, I'm going to be right in the front of it, and Billie's sure to be affected by that."
"Does Mary know about Tim?"
"Well, yes, of course she does--she brought Billie here to visit, and I told her then."
"How did she react to it?"
I look at him for a minute, taken aback.
"She--she was fine with it, actually. She said she was happy I'd finally found someone." I hear the astonishment in my own voice, and so does Frank.
"So what's the problem, Bill? Yeah, you'll have to work a little harder to protect your daughter, but I think you'll be surprised by Tim's reaction. I think he's gonna be pretty happy to not have to hide that part of his life. He won't have to deal with the conflict between who he is and what he does, not anymore."
"Yeah, maybe you're right."
"Of course I'm right. I'm always right--hasn't Tim told you that?"
"As a matter of fact," I say, laughing, and then Marilyn comes in and tells us that Tim's in recovery, and I get up and head down there. I'll talk to Tim tonight, see how he wants to handle this. See if Frank is right about his reaction.
Waking up in Recovery is never fun, no matter how many times it happens, but having Bill there helps. He looks worried about something, though, and as soon as I can string a few words together that make sense, I ask him what's wrong--did something go wrong with the surgery?
"No, Tim, nothing like that. It's just a little PR snafu--we'll talk about it later, okay?"
A public relations snafu--I think I know what that means, and if I'm right, it's almost a relief. Almost, because although I don't mind anyone knowing about my relationship with Bill, I don't know how he feels about it, given his celebrity.
Sure enough, a couple hours later, after I've settled into bed and eaten the lovely clear liquid dinner that's standard post-op fare, he tells me that the news has broken. The FBI announced my name, and within an hour the tabloids broke the story about "Billy Tallent's lover, the mystery agent behind the Church Canyon investigation!" It's the top story on Entertainment Tonight, where they show footage from Brodie's documentary (fortunately not me in my bathrobe) and a clip from a Jenifur video.
"How do you want to handle this, Tim?" Bill asks, his face serious.
"You're the one with a daughter and a career, Bill--how do you want to handle it?"
"Well, I don't want to try to deny it, or hide it. The public's known about Kat and Chelle for a few years, and that hasn't been too much of a problem. But I am concerned about how this is going to affect Billie. And I'm not sure if you realize what it's going to be like once we get you out of here. You have to be prepared for reporters, paparazzi, phone calls-"
As if on cue, the phone rings. It's the first of many calls that night, most of them handled ably by Bill. He talks to Mark, Chelle, and Kat about a statement from the band. They agree to release a brief statement tonight acknowledging our "close, personal relationship," noting that we met just before I went undercover and that Bill assisted in the Church Canyon investigation. They set up a press conference for the morning outside the hospital; I'm gratified when Marilyn agrees to read a statement from me.
I talk to Bartlett, who calls to apologize for how the story broke. His bosses, under pressure from the Republican administration, want to announce my retirement from the FBI. I tell him I have no problem with that, and he shocks the hell out of me by telling me he's put my name up for consideration for the Congressional Medal of Honor. "I doubt it will go anywhere, given who's in the White House, but you deserve it, Tim."
I also talk to Megan Russert, who calls on behalf of her cousin Tim. He wants to interview Bill and me on his weekly CNBC show. I tell her we'll think about it.
I fall asleep as Bill's on the phone with Mary and Billie, not even waking when Bill joins me.
The press conference starts the next morning, and Cheryl sits with me as we watch the live coverage from downstairs. Bill puts on the full charm of Billy Tallent as he introduces Marilyn. She speaks first, prefacing my statement with one of her own. I'm deeply touched by her words, full of warmth and caring. Then she reads my statement, just a few sentences thanking the hospital staff, thanking Bill for his incredible love and support, and a brief description of what went on in Church Canyon, along with a plea for tolerance and acceptance.
Then Bill speaks, first thanking the hospital staff and Marilyn in particular for all her help. He, too, talks about the horrors of Church Canyon and urges tolerance. He pauses for a moment before speaking again, and I realize he's fighting back tears.
"It's no secret," he says, "that Special Agent Timothy Bayliss is an important person in my life. I wouldn't want it to be a secret, because Tim is an incredible man. He has more courage than anyone I've ever met, and his dedication to righting wrongs, especially wrongs committed against children, is a constant source of inspiration for me and anyone else who has ever met him. What he accomplished in Church Canyon almost cost him his life, almost cost me the great gift of having him in my life. If there is any way that I can use the fact that I live in the public eye to fight the kind of hate crimes that went on in Church Canyon and indeed happen every day in every country of the world, I will. Thank you."
With that and a quick wipe at his eyes, he steps away, ignoring the clamor of reporters trying to ask him questions. Marilyn gives him a hug, and I see that she's wiping her own eyes, as is Cheryl beside me. I think I'm still staring in shock at the television when Bill and Marilyn come back into the room.
"Well, what did you think?" he asks me, sitting next to me on the bed. "Because I think it went pretty well, personally."
"Um, yeah. I mean--fuck, Bill, you--what was that?"
"It was me, talking about you. Making a statement."
"I think you embarrassed him, Bill," Marilyn chimes in. "But he was just telling the truth, Tim--you are an inspiration." I must look as horrified as I feel, because Cheryl takes pity on me an announces that it's time for the inspiration to get out of bed.
It's painful to realize how weak I am after all these weeks in bed, but it's mitigated by the utter joy I feel as Bill wheels me down the hall to a sunny waiting area. I catch a couple stares from visitors, especially when Bill beams at the sight of me sitting there, then kisses me. Only one person actually approaches us, a teenage girl asking for Bill's autograph and for a picture with the two of us.
Eventually Bill wheels me back to the room for lunch, but I refuse to leave the wheelchair. I fall asleep before dinner, and they have to wake me up to get me back into bed.
The external fixators still keep my right leg completely immobile, and there are still pins and bars, but there's also something resembling a normal cast around some parts of my leg. I am much more mobile--I can roll from side to side, and in a couple days I'll start using crutches. And for the first time, that night, I can sleep on my side, spooned up against Bill. It's a wonderful feeling.
And in a week, if all goes well, we'll fly back to LA.
Notes: Thanks to Beth for a great beta, and belated thanks to Gemini for betas on this and the other parts of the series.
Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix is part of the same network that manages Page Hospital. When I left Page in 1997, the hospital was in the process of joining Planetree, which is a real organization that does have a lot of great ideas like Care Partners. Page was supposed to be the pilot hospital for Planetree within the Samaritan system; I don't know how far that process has gone.
I have done some research on skeletal traction and orthopedic nursing, including talking to a friend who works on the orthopedic floor at a local hospital. I have tried to be as accurate as I can, but I am a midwife, not an orthopod. Any errors are my own.
"Play Me" was written by Neil Diamond and is copyright 1972, Prophet Music. And I think a guy who watches Mighty Mouse and loves grilled cheese sandwiches would love that song. And yes, my mom & dad went to see Neil Diamond in the summer of 1972 in Detroit, and we had the 8-track of Hot August Night.