Hunter sat up at the sound of the door opening. An ashen-faced McCall, wearing Hunter's T-shirt and a pair of too-big men's jeans held up a key. "Can you get up, Hunter? We have to go." She tossed a pair of pants in front of him as she unlocked his handcuffs.
"What happened, Dee Dee?" he asked, getting dressed. "Are you all right?" He held her by the shoulders, searching her eyes for an answer. The one they gave him didn't correspond with what she said.
"I'm fine. Let's go."
Hunter leaned on McCall for support as they climbed the stairs, his head still woozy and his legs wobbly. She pushed the button that swiveled the bookcase, praying that Mike hadn't double-crossed her. She breathed a sigh of relief at the empty hallway and they tiptoed out to the front door in their bare feet.
"Going somewhere?" John G's voice may as well have been the voice of death as Hunter and McCall slowly turned around and faced into the barrel of a .44 automatic. "I don't think Big Joe would appreciate you sneaking out without saying goodbye. How 'bout we just run that by him before you go?" John pressed a button on the intercom and requested the presence of Joe, Tommy and Mike.
"Goddammit!" Joe bellowed as he strode into the living room followed by Tommy and Mike. He glared at his sons and John. "Would one of you geniuses like to tell me why these two are standing in my living room?" The three men looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. Joe shook his head derisively. "I've got the three fucking stooges here!" The men stood mute, taking it, as they always did.
"What do you want us to do, Pop?" Tommy finally managed.
"I'll TELL you what I want. I want John to get his car keys and drive these two pains in my ass out to the middle of nowhere where Mike will blow their fucking brains out. Got that?"
"What about me?" Tommy asked.
"Make sure Mike does what he's told. If he doesn't… shoot him." He said it casually, as if he were ordering a drink.
The brothers stared at each other in disbelief. They'd taken very different paths in their lives, Mike staying clear of the uglier elements of his family's legacy while Tommy took to it like second nature. He'd ordered hits and carried some out himself but to kill his brother? Tommy leaned close to Mike. "Don't make me do it, Mikey," he whispered then headed for the bunker to retrieve the handcuffs.
With the odds temporarily down to two against three, Hunter, even in his weakened state, took his chance and threw a vicious elbow into Big Joe's midsection, doubling the old man over. McCall kicked at the gun in John's hand but he held onto it, and grabbed her around the neck with his left arm. Mike stood off to the side, paralyzed by indecision as John aimed his weapon at Hunter who had Joe in a headlock, choking him. Hunter cocked Joe's head to a forty-five-degree angle in a promise to break his neck
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," John threatened.
"Let McCall go and I won't."
"Let me explain how this works," John reasoned, calmly. "You kill my boss, then I kill you. And when I'm finished with you, it's her turn." He jabbed his pistol hard into McCall's temple making her wince. "Only I might take my time and get to know her a little better, first. You know what I mean? Or maybe I kill her right now so you can watch, THEN I kill you. As you can see, it's a win-win proposition for me and you lose twice over."
McCall's eyes were wide open, imploring Hunter to snap Big Joe's neck and put an end to the nightmare sooner rather than later.
Hunter agonized then in a rage of frustration and fury, shoved Joe to the floor.
"Hey, what the fuck's going on?" Tommy said, running toward the commotion. "You want me to blow him away right now, Pop?" He jammed a .38 to Hunter's head. Mike finally moved from his spot and took the handcuffs from Tommy. He snapped one end around Hunter's right wrist, then pulled Hunter's left arm behind his back and squeezed the second one shut.
Joe picked himself off the floor and stood eye to eye with Hunter in a glaring match. Seething, he slugged Hunter hard in the stomach, then followed with an uppercut to the jaw. Hunter stood his ground, staring defiantly at him, refusing to go down. Joe turned to Tommy. "Get your fucking clothes on and get them outta my house. And don't come back without bringing me a souvenir."
After nearly two hours of freeway driving and a half-hour on a dirt road, Hunter gave up pulling at the handcuff that fastened his right arm to the car door handle. McCall sat still by his side, deep in thought, her right hand cuffed to Hunter's left, their fingers intertwined, and her left to Tommy, riding shotgun in the back seat. She looked over at her partner, the emotional toll of knowing these would be the last moments they would ever share together written all over her face. He returned her gaze with a look of resignation then finally one of peace. "I've always loved you," he mouthed.
She tightened her grip on his hand and silently formed the words, "I've always loved you, too."
As the car rolled to a stop, sagebrush crunching under the tires brought Hunter back to his childhood for a moment, evoking the sound of tires rolling over gravel at the local drive-in. The dim light of dawn substituted for dusk making the comparison all the more eerie. Except that this wasn't a movie. John got out of the car and opened Hunter's door. "Get out," he ordered, unlocking the handcuff from his prisoner's right hand. Hunter slid out, pulling McCall and Tommy along with him.
John unlocked the handcuff from Tommy's wrist, leaving Hunter and McCall shackled together. Tommy motioned for his brother to join him. "Come on, Mike. We got business to take care of. You stay here, John. Mike and me got this covered." Tommy shoved Hunter in the back. "That way," he ordered, marching the barefoot prisoners a few dozen yards toward a ten-foot deep wash. They stopped when they reached the edge.
"Get down there," Tommy ordered.
"No," Hunter growled. "You wanna shoot us, you're gonna have to do it right here."
Tommy kicked Hunter's knees out from behind, sending Hunter tumbling into the wash, dragging his partner along with him.
Mike straightened his arms, aiming his gun with two hands at the fallen detectives. "Do it, Mike!" Tommy ordered.
Hunter shielded McCall's body with his own, tensing, waiting for the barrage to start.
"Goddammit, Mikey, shoot 'em!" Tommy yelled.
Hunter and McCall looked up to find Mike's hands shaking, his face tight.
"I can't," Mike sighed, dropping his hands.
Tommy took aim squarely at his brother's chest. "Don't make me do this Mike. You gotta kill them. You owe it to Pop."
Mike's eyes hardened as thirty-four years of seeking his father's approval ended in an irreversible decision. "No," he said, firmly.
Tommy shook his head then reluctantly squeezed the trigger, staggering his only brother, sending him falling backwards into the wash. "Dammit, Mikey! Why?"
Hunter scrambled to grab Mike's gun as Tommy began shooting in a blind rage. Hunter fired off three rounds, all of them striking Tommy in the chest, sending him face first into the dirt. The gunfire sent John running toward the wash, only to be greeted by a bullet whizzing over his head. He quickly took stock of his situation, realizing that he could be killed if he kept coming and knowing for certain that he was a dead man if he turned up back at Big Joe's house without Mike or Tommy. He ducked down low and fled back to the car.
Hunter held his fire as he heard the tires from John's car spinning in the dirt, digging for traction, then taking off to God knows where. John certainly didn't know.
"Dee Dee, are you okay?" Hunter asked, turning his attention to the blood spreading on her shoulder.
She pressed her hand against the wound and grimaced. "Yeah, I think so. What about you?" she asked, pointing out the blood seeping from his leg. Hunter looked down, surprised. He hadn't realized he'd been shot until she pointed it out.
They looked at Mike who lay on his side and they inched toward him. He was conscious but breathing slowly through his mouth. His eyes settled on McCall. "I'm sorry, Dee Dee," he said in a dying voice. "I'm sorry I put you through that back at the house. Please forgive me."
McCall stared at him, confounded as to what she should be feeling. She understood that he'd intentionally sacrificed his own life for hers and Hunter's but she hated him for what he'd done hours earlier - something that an apology couldn't take back. A choice between sure death or prostituting herself for the chance at life for Hunter and her was no choice at all. By definition of the law, he didn't rape her but she felt as violated as if he had. She sat back and closed her eyes, sitting quietly for a long moment. Mike's ragged breathing brought her out of her daze. He was looking up at her with pleading eyes when she opened hers. "I forgive you, Mike," she finally whispered. He smiled and within a minute he was gone.
Hunter ran his hand reassuringly down McCall's arm. Tears were gathering in her lower eyelids and she collected them with her knuckle before they could run down her face.
"Was it worth it, Dee Dee?" Hunter asked, glumly.
She looked up at him, suddenly angry and defensive. "Was it worth it to allow Big Joe to beat the shit out of you if there was a chance it meant we might get out of this alive?"
"I'm sorry, Dee Dee. I swear I'm not judging you. I just wanna know that you're okay."
"I AM, Rick," she sighed, softening. I will be, anyway. Let's just get out of here, okay? Can you make it?" Hunter got up to one knee, then struggled to put weight on his damaged leg. Together, they labored to the top of the wash.
"Oh no," McCall groaned when they made it out. There was nothing for miles around but sagebrush and a soon to be scorching sun on the rise. They looked down at their bare feet and leaned into each other.
"Hey, Charlie, you hear from Hunter or McCall today?" Sgt. Korman asked, poking his head into the captain's office.
"No," he answered. Why? Is something wrong?"
"I don't know. I've been trying to raise them all morning and I'm not getting an answer. I'm starting to get worried. I already went by the apartment and they're not there. And they're not picking up the radio. I think I'm gonna run by Hunter's place if you don't mind."
"Want some company?" Charlie asked, grabbing his jacket.
Korman felt a sense of relief when he saw Hunter's car parked in front of his house. It was short-lived as they spotted the tell tale brown hue of dried blood marking a trail to the house. They drew their guns and slowly pushed open the unlocked front door, following the bloody path to the bedroom.
"Ah, shit!" Korman swore when he spotted the large bloodstain on the sheets. He picked up the phone and called for backup.
"It looks like Hunter had company last night," Charlie, said, fingering women's clothes that hung over a chair. He picked up a purse and nervously opened the wallet, dropping his head as he checked out the I.D.
"McCall?" Korman asked, hoping he was wrong. Devane nodded, unhappily.
"Damn it," Hunter cursed, having tried on both pairs of the dead men's shoes, finding them at least two sizes too small. McCall had settled on Mike's size tens, her feet swimming around but guaranteed at least some protection from the desert floor. Searching Tommy's pockets, Hunter found a small pocketknife and began cutting away the toes of Tommy's shoes. He slid his feet into them, his toes hanging over the edge by a full inch. Mike's shirt offered Hunter protection from the sun, having chosen it not by size but by fewer number of bullet holes. He slid Mike's gun into his waistband and handed McCall Tommy's.
"You ready, McCall?"
"Yeah, but exactly where are we going, Hunter?"
"Back the way we came," he said, pointing at the dirt road. He took a step and grimaced as pain shot up from the wound in his leg. "This is not gonna be fun," he said, shaking his head.
"What about these?" McCall asked, holding up her cuffed hand. Maybe we should shoot them off. Don't they always do that in the movies?"
"We've got four bullets between us. I think I'd rather save them in case we run into any more of Carducci's boys. Besides, I kinda like it being chained to you." He grinned, making her smile, too. "So, how about we get going?"
They set off toward the dirt road, Hunter limping and McCall holding her shoulder. "What?" Hunter asked as she started to giggle.
"Nothing, she answered, trying unsuccessfully to contain herself.
"WHAT?" he asked again. His eyes followed hers down to their feet. McCall was shuffling along in her way too big shoes and men's pants, looking like a clown at Ringling Brothers while Hunter's toes were hanging out, leaving combination shoe and toeprints in the desert sand. He started laughing along with her as they turned right onto the dirt road.
Three hours later…
"You're bleeding again, Dee Dee, we'd better rest a minute." They sat on the ground, leaning against a large boulder. Hunter pulled the neck of her T-shirt down to examine the wound, applying pressure with his hand to stem the bleeding. "Where the hell is the main road?" he asked, frustrated that it was still nowhere in sight.
McCall leaned her head back against the rock. "I don't know but we'd better find it soon. No one's gonna be looking for us out here."
"Yeah, I know," he sighed.
"I'm just so thankful that we found each other in time. Even if it's not a lot of time."
He gazed at her, wistfully. "Me too," he said, brushing his hand against her cheek. He started to get up, offering his hand. "But I'd rather it be more time."
They took off again, trudging onward toward an unsure future.
"Planning a vacation?"
John Girardi closed the trunk of his car and looked up into the barrel of a .38. He glanced at the man holding it. "What do you want?" he demanded.
"You're gonna tell me where they are," Korman answered, menacingly. And you're gonna tell me right now."
"I don't know what the fuck you're talking about."
"I think you do," Korman said, fingering the trigger.
"Go ahead, pull the trigger, asshole! I don't know what you're talking about and I don't give a shit!"
Four o'clock in the afternoon…
"Can we rest a minute, Hunter?" McCall bent over with her hands on her knees. Their pace had slowed to a crawl as the heat of the sun and lack of water, along with the loss of blood, drew them as close as either had ever been to complete physical exhaustion.
"Yeah, sure. Can I just ask you something, though?"
"Depends on what it is," she answered suspiciously, as they lowered themselves slowly to the ground.
"Remember when you told me that you would never marry another cop?" McCall nodded her head. "Well," he continued, unsurely, "what if that that cop were me?"
McCall smiled. "That might be different." She ran her hand down his face and kissed him. She stopped after a moment. "Rick?" she said, yanking on his shirt. "Do you hear that or am I going crazy?"
Hunter looked up and together they stared at a helicopter hovering in the distance. "If you're crazy, then I'm right there with you." Tears of relief trickled down McCall's cheeks as the helicopter grew closer until they could read the letters on the side, "San Bernardino County Search and Rescue". It was barely on the ground for a second when two sheriff's department deputies ducked under the rotors and jogged over to them.
"You wouldn't happen to be Rick Hunter and Dee Dee McCall, would you?" asked Deputy Sanders.
They looked at each other, confused. "Yeah," McCall answered. "How did you know where to find us?"
Before Sanders could answer, a third man disembarked the helicopter. "You two sure are a sight for sore eyes!" the man yelled.
Hunter squinted, trying to bring him into focus. "Don? What the hell are you doing here?"
"You wouldn't return my phone calls," Korman said with a grin.
"Yeah but…" McCall started, "how on earth would you know to look here?"
"Oh, no big deal. I just happened to run into John Girardi this afternoon and he couldn't wait to tell me where you were."
Hunter eyed Korman with disbelief. "Yeah, right. There's no way that sack of shit volunteered anything."
"Well, he didn't exactly volunteer. I kinda had to shoot him first."
McCall frowned at Korman "You shot him? You could get fired, Don. You could go to jail."
"Yeah, well, we all have to make choices, don't we Dee Dee? It's worth it to find you guys alive."
Hunter shot McCall a look that she instantly understood.
"Geez it's hot here," Korman understated. "How about we get the hell out of here?" He offered his hands, helping the two wounded officers up and to the helicopter. Hunter lifted his partner into the chopper, leaving one of her loose shoes planted in the sand. He stared at it a moment before leaving it and climbing in himself. Moments later as the helicopter lifted off, three more shoes, two conspicuously without toes, tumbled out of the desert sky.