The burr of the alarm woke me from a sound sleep. I sat up, letting the sheet pool in my lap and I blinked the sleep from my eyes. I rubbed the bridge of my nose, squeezing my eyes, trying to wake up.
I was getting too old for these all nighters. I climbed out of bed and put the kettle on for instant coffee. Changed my mind when I thought about drinking instant coffee and decided I would stop in Westwood at a place I knew for an Espresso. That would wake me up.
I grabbed an Armani out of the jumble in my closet. Throw in a hand painted tie and I ought to impress even Petey with my deportment. I ran a toothbrush through my mouth and brushed my hair. Instead of boots I slid on a pair of dark Italian loafers. Properly attired for a business meeting with corporate idiots I grabbed my laptop and files and headed out the door.
The closest parking spot to the coffee shop was a block and half away, in front of a bank that did a bad job of blending in with its eclectic surroundings. I parked behind an idling Ford Taurus of uneasy vintage and hurried down Melrose toward my coffee.
The line up was short and I was in and out in ten minutes, clutching my Espresso and a chocolate biscotti. I had time to stroll back to the SUV sipping coffee and going over the migration job in my head, trying to see if I had missed anything. Sometimes the easy ones fool you with troublesome glitches that crop up after the fact. I always tried to avoid those by thinking over every possible problem ahead of time.
Nothing came to mind and I was feeling pleased at myself when I disabled the car alarm and keyed the door open. I barely heard the distant shout or the sound of running feet coming my way. They were background noises that didn't impinge on my world until someone started screaming. Then I heard what the voice was screaming.
"Gun. He's got a gun. Omigod, he's GOT A GUN!"
I spun around and threw myself against the side of the vehicle. The man who happened to be standing beside me didn't fare as well. He lurched onto the sidewalk straight into the gunman.
The gunman held a heavy looking handgun in one hand and a ski mask in the other. His thick reddish blond hair was plastered to his scalp with sweat. His brown eyes bore into mine even as he cuffed the lurching man aside with the side of the gun. Wild eyed he swung the gun around and squeezed the trigger.
Multiple screams rent the air and I wasn't the only one to hit the ground. I came face to face with the poor guy who had run into the gunmen. His mouth was open and his eyes had a strange glazed look to them. It wasn't until I heard the gurgling and saw the blood that I realized he'd been shot.
I rolled away from the body and cringed when I heard another shot. Sharp pain slammed into the side of my head and I instinctively covered my face with my arm. A damp wetness dribbled down my face and I felt my bladder loosen. Then the car idling in front of mine screeched into gear and squealed out into traffic. The pain expanded, blossoming into something that felt like it was setting up shop to stay a while.
Shit, I'd been shot. The bastard had shot me.
The scream of sirens tore through the West Hollywood streets. My time sense was completely shot. It might have been seconds or hours later when a pair of police cars and an ambulance ground to a halt where the getaway car had sat idling the whole time I was in getting coffee.
What was left of my biscotti lay on the pavement a couple of feet from my outstretched hand. My Espresso was no where to be seen. Two pairs of blue clad legs approached. One shiny black shoe had a wad of gum stuck to the heel. Funny the things you notice when you're dying.
Someone crouched by my side. A hand gently touched my shoulder.
"Don't move, sir. The paramedics will be right with you."
I wanted to tell him that I didn't have time for paramedics. I had a presentation to give today at two o'clock. The Tilton people were expecting me.
More hands touched me and I felt brief pain in my face and a gloved hand brushed my cheek.
"Abrasions on the left cheek, doesn't appear serious. Probably a stone chip from a ricochet. Please, sir, hold still."
"Can't... Let me up."
The hand holding me down was gentle but insistent. "We're taking you into the ambulance now, sir. You'll be transported to Mercy General. They'll want to look you over to make sure you're all right."
"Hospital... no." I had to make them understand. I didn't have time for this. "Appointment."
"What did he say?"
"He's shocky. Get him covered and in the wagon. The other wagon's already here, they can take care of the DB."
"Coroner's going to take that one."
The ground under me jolted and I was lifted and saw the walls of what I assumed was the ambulance slide by. Damnit they weren't listening. What did it take to get through to these characters?
"No hospital... Busy..."
The rear door to the ambulance slammed shut and the siren renewed its wail as it tore down the street. The sound dopplered as we passed intersections and tall, noise-confining buildings.
Mercy General. They were taking me to the damned hospital. What the hell was I going to do now?
The flowers were cloying. I just knew the tag on them read Peter C. McGill, President and CEO of DataTEK, Inc. He'd made sure to staple a business card to the discreet get well card the florist had included. I guess it was in case any hospital workers might need a computer crisis resolved for them while in the middle of their regular life and death hospital stuff.
At first I just assumed he was another hospital employee. A porter maybe or orderly, though usually they wore uniforms. I had a headache and could be excused from thinking straight.
He was a big guy, six two or three and heavy. Not obese, just big, with the start of a beer gut and a massive chest that didn't look like fat to me.
His face was craggy and careworn and a bad case of acne had left his skin pitted and scarred into adulthood. His hair was dark brown with gray already touching his discreet sideburns and sprinkling through the luxurious growth elsewhere.
His eyes were hooded when they met mine. A man used to keeping secrets, but not a furtive man. I felt no fear in his presence, which given what I had just been through was pretty amazing.
He approached the bed with a heavy tread when he realized I was awake.
"Mr. Bellamere, Chris Bellamere?" He held out a massive hand. It swallowed mine whole. "Detective David Eric Laine. I'd like to ask you a few questions if you feel up to it."
"I don't - I need to make a phone call."
"How about after I get your statement I find you a phone. That sound fair?"
The cop frowned. "You had a pretty nasty knock on the head. Would you rather I came back later?"
"How long will I be?"
I nodded eagerly then winced at the pain that drilled through me.
"Don't move, sir. Can you move your lips?"
"Great, sir. Then instead of trying to nod and making that headache I know you have worse, why don't you just tell me yes or no. will you try that, sir?"
David smiled then and it took some of the hangdog expression off his face. He looked several years younger - I'd had him pegged at being in his forties. Now I wasn't so sure. Maybe early thirties, with a lot weighing on his broad shoulders. I'd always imagined a cop's life must be pretty brutal. The things they saw. The things they had to do to keep the rest of us civilized.
David dragged over a chair and pulled out a battered notebook and a chewed up stub of a pencil. He licked the lead and made a notation at the top of the notebook.
"Were you aware of what was going on outside the bank this afternoon at around oh-thirteen twenty today?"
Bank. That's what it was. I'd been caught in the middle of a bank robbery. I started to nod, stopped myself and said, "Yes."
"Did you see a man with a gun?"
"Did he knock you down?"
"Did you fall down on your own?"
"Yes. Heard the shots."
"Yes, shots were fired. How many did you hear?"
I thought back and closed my eyes. When I opened them he was looking down at me, his brown eyes heavy with concern.
"Two," I said.
"Two shots? You're sure?"
"Very good, sir. Now, did you see anyone else in the vicinity at that time?"
"Another man? With the gunman?"
"No. Not together. He fell into the gunman... Shot. His face --"
"Did you see the gunman, Mr. Bellamere? Could you make out the shooter's face?"
"Yes." I nodded as well. I didn't want there to be any mistake about his. "I saw him, closer than you are right now."
"Could you describe him? Was he wearing a ski mask by any chance or did you see his face?"
"Face. Mask off."
A flicker of triumph, come and gone so fast I almost imagined I saw it. "Describe him for me, sir. Anything you can remember."
My jaw felt stiff and sore and I could feel the heavy bandage that had been put on as I kept on speaking. He wanted to know if I had seen the killer's face? That image would haunt me for the rest of my unnatural life. As we talked I could tell Detective David Eric Laine was building up a picture of what the bank robber had looked like.
I had another question though for this cop.
"The man who was shot. Is he okay?"
David snapped his notebook closed and tucked the pencil stub into his shirt pocket.
"No, Mr. Bellamere," David said. "I'm afraid he isn't. I'm very much afraid that he's dead. Which is why it's very important to tell me everything you can remember about this afternoon. If you can do that I stand a good chance of catching this guy before he tries this again."
But my eyelids seemed to take on a mind of their own and I couldn't keep them open. David saw my discomfort.
"I've got quite a bit here, Mr. Bellamere. If you like, we can take this up later. Get some rest, maybe it will help improve you memory."
"'Kay," I said and before he had even left the room I turned my head into the stiff hospital pillow and drifted off to sleep.
[More to come]
If you like this story so far, let me know at Patrick's email I'm always happy to hear comments, suggestions, anything.