A NIGHT OF FEAR!

THIS WAS WRITTEN FOR LOUISE'S BIRTHDAY. SORRY IT'S A LITTLE LATE, BUT I HOPE YOU ENJOY!

DISCLAIMERS—DON'T OWN EM, BUT WOULD LOVE TO!

AUTHOR—WINNIE

Joe Mannix pulled the Barracuda to a stop in front of Martini's grocery and turned to his companion. "I won't be long, Peg. Are you sure you don't need anything?"

Peggy Fair turned towards the man beside her and smiled. "Not that I can think of, Joe. Adam is bringing the wine. I'm sure I have everything else."

"As long as your sure," Mannix gave her a cocky grin as he opened the door. He knew Peggy loved Martini's store and would find it hard to resist going in. They'd been dating since they came to an understanding at Eagle Lake. Joe shook off the memory of that time. He'd taken Peggy and Toby on a camping trip to the Tobias cabin and ended up being attacked by convicts. He looked at Peggy and swallowed the lump in his throat. He'd nearly lost her to those animals and vowed he'd give their relationship a chance. That was six months ago and everyone knew they were seeing each other on a personal basis now.

Peggy didn't miss the shudder that ran through his body and she knew where it came from. She still had her own share of nightmares from the experience at Eagle Lake. Joe Mannix nearly died from the injuries he sustained at that time. She forced a smile to her face as she reached for the door. "Maybe I'll just come take a quick look around," she said as Joe opened the door for her.

"That's what I thought you'd say," the dark haired detective laughed. He reached for her hand and helped her from the car.

The streetlights cast an eerie glow around them as they walked towards the well-lit store. Through the window they could see Martini standing at the cash register. He seemed to be talking with a pretty young blond. The elderly man was turned away from them and they couldn't see his face. The woman was smiling as she placed a few items on the counter.

Joe opened the door and ushered Peggy inside. Martini's was a small compact grocery store and he kept his prices low by having his family working with him. His wife and two sons shared in the work and the profits the store made. It wasn't a lot but it kept them happy and in business. The shelves were well stocked with canned goods and the smell of fresh baked goods permeated the area.

"Smells like Mrs. Martini is baking again," Mannix said with a grin. His mouth watered at the thought of her apple pie.

"Maybe we should pick up a couple for dessert?" Peggy suggested.

"A girl after my own heart," Joe smiled as he headed for the counter. He waited for Martini to finish with the blond and smiled at the older man. He heard the door open and watched the young woman move away from the store. He turned his attention back to the storeowner. "Mr. Martini, any chance we can get a couple of those pie I smell baking?" he asked.

"Ah, Joe, the pies are not ready yet. Mrs. Martini is a little late getting them in."

Mannix saw the nervousness in the old man's eyes and was instantly on alert. Using the mirror above the counter he looked around the store. A young man was going through the magazine rack; a young woman with a stroller was walking down the baby food aisle. Except for him and Peggy they were the only ones he could see. He let his gaze drop back to Martini and again caught the strange look of fear. Martini had his hands below the counter and was pointing to the two men at the magazine rack. Joe gave a slight nod of his head and turned to search the area for Peggy Fair. He spotted her talking to the young woman with the stroller. He smiled in spite of the niggling feeling on the back of his neck. Peggy was like a baby magnet; if there was one around she'd find it. He didn't want to do anything with the two of them in the store, but was unsure how to get the two women and the baby out without alerting the man looking through a fishing magazine.

Peggy looked up and he caught her eye. She watched as he tilted his head towards the door. She knew Joe Mannix long enough to know he was trying to tell her to get out. She instinctively looked around the store and spotted a young man moving towards the counter.

Joe watched him moving and turned back to Martini as if having a simple chat. He felt movement to his right and flinched as he heard the click of a revolver. "Damn," he swore. Joe Mannix moved instinctively and reached for the hand holding the gun.

"Joe!" Peggy screamed as she moved towards the front of the store.

"Stay where you are!"

Peggy turned back to see the young woman with the stroller pointing a gun in her direction. Her head moved back and forth between the woman with the stroller and the two figures struggling for supremacy over the gun. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Martini moving towards the bakery as a second man stepped out. She spotted Mrs. Martini and held her hand to her mouth as she spotted the gun at the silver haired woman's head.

"Stay where you are, Old Man!" the newcomer shouted and Martini's hand went to his mouth at the threat to his wife. All eyes went to the two men fighting for dominance at the front of the store.

Joe's hand wrapped completely around the hand holding the gun. He could see the light of madness in his opponent's eyes and knew he was a drug user. He didn't have time to think as the man's strength came through in the force with which he fought. They stood facing each other as the gun came down between their bodies. Joe's gaze never wavered as he stared into the face of death. Repeated drug use added years to the man's face and Joe realized he was probably even younger than he first thought. He watched as the man's lips twisted up in a horrid imitation of a smile. He smelled the stench of stale tobacco and cheap whiskey on the breath of the man. He could see three missing teeth as well as a couple that were blackened with decay.

"Yer gonna die, Mister," the man sneered as the gun came between them.

"Joe didn't take the time to breath as he struggled with the other man. He knew whatever drugs were running through this man's system it was giving him added strength. Joe fought with everything he had. He heard Peggy scream his name and caught sight of her out of the corner of his eyes. He couldn't take the time to acknowledge her as the gun pressed against him. His eyes locked with the dead eyes of the man he fought for supremacy. The superhuman strength given to him by the drugs was sapping Joe's strength. The struggle continued for another two minutes, sweat beading on each man's face as they quietly fought to gain the upper hand.

Peggy stood where she was, her eyes glued to the two men fighting at the front of the store. She felt the gun prodded in her back, but held her ground.

"Move it, Sister or I'll blow ya away," the young woman said as she shoved Peggy forward. "Kill him, Billy!" she laughed as she watched her baby's father fight with an older dark haired man.

"Yeah, Billy, stop wastin' time and kill 'im!" The second man hissed as he ground his pistol into the older woman's temple. "I told ya ta stay back old man!"

Martini held his ground and met the eyes of the woman he'd been married to for nearly forty years.

"I'm gonna waste ya, Mister!" Billy hissed as his finger slowly forced the trigger back. "Gonna blow a hole in ya and watch ya bleed out on the floor!" he cackled, sending foul breath into Joe Mannix's face. A shot rang out loudly in the store.

Peggy cried out as the shot was fired. She watched as both faces went blank for a few seconds. Nothing moved, no sound issued forth as the two men stood silent under the bright overhead light.

Peter Reynolds was a cop who'd worked patrol in this area for ten long years. He knew the Martini's and made sure he checked on the elderly couple. He loved Mrs. Martini's baking and always stopped by as she finished her baking. He usually orders her apple dumplings with caramel sauce and tonight would be no different. He parked beside a Barracuda and smiled. This was a car he appreciated and would one day like to own himself. He smiled at the thoughts of fulfilling that dream. A gunshot shattered the silence and he glanced to wards the window in time to see two men fighting. He raced back to his patrol car as one of them began to slide to the floor. He kept his eyes on the front window of the store as he reached for the mike. He clicked the button on the side and spoke quickly. "This is car four. I've got shots fired at Martini's grocery on Crenshaw Blvd! One man's been shot! Need help down here, Now!" He heard his call acknowledged and knew other patrol cars were on their way.

Peggy watched the scene unfolding before her eyes. Time seemed to stand still as the two men looked into each other's eyes. The gunshot echoed in her ears and she screamed as Joe Mannix slid bonelessly to the floor clutching his abdomen. She ignored the woman's voice shouting for her to stop. She reached Joe and knelt beside him. She placed her right hand over his and felt the blood running through her fingers.

"No, oh, Joe," she cried tears streaming from her eyes to drop soundlessly onto their hands and mingle with the crimson fluid leaking from his body.

Mannix fought against the nausea and pain and forced his eyes open. He looked into the face above him and saw a mixture of pain and worry there. He felt her warm touch even as his body began to tremble with cold. He felt white-hot pain reach out to engulf him and bit back a cry of pain. He knew the bullet was still in there, felt it grind against the bone in his right hip each time he breathed.

"P...Peggy," he gasped.

"Joe," She sniffed as she released her grip and tore the corner form her blouse. She pulled at his hands but he held tightly to his bleeding side. "I have to stop the bleeding, Joe," she said, the tears continuing their downward trek on her face. "Please, Joe, let me see!"

"O...okay," he mumbled as pain became his whole world. He let his hand drop away from the wound.

His eyes met Peggy's as she pulled his shirt away from the wound and pressed the piece of her blouse against the puckered wound. She didn't take time to look at it as she looked up to see a patrol car outside the window. The sounds of sirens rang shrilly in the night air and she kept pressure on his wound.

"Shit! The damn cops are 'ere, Mike!" the man who shot Joe hissed, he reached out and touched the control for the blinds and watched as they closed off the outside world. He moved to the door and did the same there. He reached up and slid across the bolt lock, effectively shutting out the outside world.

Reynolds swore sharply as his view of the inside of the store was quickly and effectively cut off. There was nothing for him to do now but wait for help to arrive. He prayed it wouldn't be too late for the man he'd seen shot.

Adam Tobias turned his car in a circle as the call came over the airwaves. He was officially off duty and on his way to pick up his wife. They were going to Peggy Fair's house for dinner and a game of bridge. He took out the ball and placed it on the outside of his unmarked car. He turned it on and immediately saw the circling lights and heard the wail of the siren. He wasn't far from Martini's and he prayed he'd get there in time to help the elderly couple.

"Lady, get away from him! Jake, get her away from the window, Margie, you get the baby into the back room. Make sure the doors are locked and get back out here." Mike ordered. Margie wheeled the stroller towards the open bakery door as the two men took care of the people in the store.

"Please, he's hurt!" Peggy shouted as Jake grabbed her hand and pulled her away from the pale man.

"He's gonna get dead if ya don't do as yer told," Jake hissed, his face inches away from Peggy's. He pulled her to where the Martini's now huddled together on the floor. "What about him, Mike?" he asked pointing his gun at Mannix.

"Drag him over here," Mike ordered.

Jake did as he was told and moved back to the front of the store. He shoved his gun into his pocket and reached for the injured man. He lifted him forward, laughing as Mannix bit back a cry of pain. "Bet that hurts!" he snickered as he reached down and pressed his hand against the bleeding wound.

"No!" Peggy cried as she heard Joe Mannix gasp in pain.

"Shut up, Lady!" Mike hissed, kneeling beside her and shoving his gun under her chin. "Now you best be quiet or we'll just have to make sure he can't cry out anymore!"

Jake lifted Mannix's upper body off the floor and smiled as he saw the hidden holster. "Well lookie here!" he said as he dropped the shoulders.

"What is it, Jake?" Margie asked as she came back into the main store.

"I think we got us a cop!" Jake sneered as he pulled the 38 police special from the holster.

"Shit!" Mike hissed. "Margie watch them!" he snapped as he hurried towards the front of the store. He kicked the injured man in the side and watched as he doubled onto his left side in an effort to protect himself. "You a cop, Mister?"

Joe couldn't see through the haze of pain washing over him. He tried to breath, but each inhalation caused his stomach to churn. His head thumped and he realized he was losing a lot of blood. The man's boot caught him a glancing blow to the ribs just above the wound. "N...not a c...cop," he stammered as Mike knelt in front of him.

"Then what're ya doin' with a cop's gun? You steal it or somethin'?" Jake asked.

Joe felt the man beside him going through his pockets. Hands pushed and shoved at him, oblivious of the pain and discomfort they caused. He bit his lip as the man pulled his wallet from his back pocket, gasping for air as he once more curled himself around the gunshot wound.

Mike opened the wallet and smiled. "He ain't a cop. Leastways he ain't no real cop. Are you, Mister?" he laughed as he shoved Joe onto his back.

"Whatdaya mean he ain't a cop. Why's he got a police gun then?" Jake asked.

"He's one of them private detectives. He goes around playin' at bein' a cop. Hey, Mister," he said shoving at the injured man once more. "You like spying no women who cheat on their husbands. You some kinda pervert gets his kicks outta ruinin' things fer other people? My sister had trouble with one of your kind. He caused her to lose her house and her kids. Maybe I should shoot you now."

"No!"

Mike looked towards the pretty woman sitting with the Martini's. His eyes raked over her body before returning to the man on the floor. "She your whore," he looked down at the wallet in his hands. "Mannix? You sleeping with her?"

"G...go to h...hell," Joe snarled.

"Gonna make your life a livin' hell, Mannix. Now get up!" Mike ordered.

Joe tried to do as he was told. He forced his hands under his body and shoved upwards. His strength gave out and he dropped back to the floor, gasping as pain ran the length of his body. "C...can't," Joe groaned as the man stood up and brought his foot down on his left hand. Joe again cried out, but couldn't move. His eyes closed and he tried to breathe past the pain that threatened to envelope him in a cloak of darkness.

Adam pulled in beside the patrol car and jumped out, keep his door open for protection. "What have you got, Pete?" he asked.

"Not sure, Lieutenant, there's at least two men in there. I think I spotted the owner by the counter before the victim was shot."

"Any idea how many people were in the store?"

"No, Sir, I was just getting out of my car when I heard the shot and saw the man fall. They pulled the blinds just after that."

"Was the victim alive?"

"Unknown, Sir," Reynolds explained as a third and forth car pulled into empty slots along the street.

Adam looked at the newcomers and began shouting orders. "Jacobson, you and Harolds cover the back. Mitchell, you and Craig check the building on the right. Carter, you and Marsh take the one on the left." He heard running footsteps as the six officers hurried to do as he ordered. He stood up and moved to his right, joining Reynolds. His eye caught sight of the familiar green Barracuda. "Pete."

"Yes, Sir?"

"The victim didn't have dark hair did he?"

"As a matter of fact he did. How'd you know?"

"Do you know Joe Mannix?"

"Only by reputation. He's a damn good private detective."

Adam smiled at the apt description. "I'm gonna check the registration on that Barracuda. I have a feeling Joe Mannix may be in that store."

"Sir."

"What is it, Pete?"

"If it was Mannix, he's hurt pretty bad. That gun went off between them."

"Shit!" Adam hissed and hurried to the green car. He opened the passenger side door and reached for the glove box. He searched through the papers and swore silently as his worst fears were displayed in the shadow of the overhead streetlight.

"Are you all right, Sir?" Reynolds called softly.

"I'm fine, Pete," Adam placed the papers back where he'd found them and closed up the glove box.

"Is it..."

"Yeah, it's Joe," Tobias interrupted. Sirens rang out again and he knew the captain was no the way. He also knew they'd need the swat team involved because of the hostages. He knew an ambulance was already on the way and he prayed they'd get Joe Mannix out in time for it to of use to him. He briefly wondered if he should phone Peggy Fair, but decided he'd wait until he knew what the men wanted.

"Bring her over here, Jake," Mike ordered. He smiled at the pain filled eyes glaring up at him from under dark lashes.

"Don't!" although his voice was a mere whisper it carried the weight of a man whose anger was written on his face.

There was none of the weakness associated with someone near death and yet Mike felt a shiver run down his spine. He shook it off and watched as Jake pulled the pretty woman towards them.

Peggy pulled free and knelt beside Joe, her hands reaching down to touch his cheek as Mike lashed out and gripped her arm in a vice like grip. "Oh, no you don't, Pretty Lady. Now see, you and me got us some business if this guy Mannix here doesn't get on his feet and get over there with the old man and his old broad." He stood up, dragging Peggy with him and smiled down at the injured man. "It's up to you what happens to her, Mannix!" he leered as he ran his gun down Peggy's neck, coming to rest in the hollow between her breasts.

"Leave her a...alone!" Joe snarled as he once again forced his hands under his body.

"What's that, Mannix? I didn't quite hear you," Mike laughed as he slid the gun further down Peggy's blouse.

"I said l...leave her alone!" Joe ground out through clenched teeth. He slowly pushed his upper body off the floor, ignoring the blood running from the wound on his right side. His hands were slippery and he found it hard to hold himself in that position. He squinted his eyes as the room swam in concentric circles. Taking slow, shallow breaths in order to quell the rising tide of bile in his stomach he clambered to his knees.

Peggy watched as Joe Mannix did the impossible and finally gained his feet. She twisted out of Mike's grip and hurried to his side. "Joe," she said as she took his arm.

"I'm okay, Peggy," he tried to reassure her.

"Well, ain't that a pretty picture," Mike snarled as he reached for the woman once more.

"Don't!" Joe hissed menacingly in spite of the pain flooding through him.

"Please, just let me help him," Peggy begged and was surprised when Mike released his grip.

"Get him over with them or I'll finish him off right here and now," Mike snapped. "Jake, see what the cops are up to out there. Margie, if they try anything shoot Mannix!"

"Sure thing, Mikie," she laughed as the two people came towards her.

Joe forced himself to place one foot in front of the other. It was impossible to ignore the wound in his side now. He held his right arm tight against it as Peggy held his left arm over her shoulder. He stumbled twice and was surprised by the strength in the petite woman beside him. As they got closer to the storeowners, Martini stood up and helped them. Joe felt every move as he slid down to the floor. His eyes never left the man holding the gun. He knew Mike was the most dangerous of the three and would be the one he would have to take down when the time came.

Jake lifted a corner of the blinds and looked outside. He saw movement everywhere and knew there were to many cops for them to make a run for it. "Mike, there's four or five cars out there."

"See any cops?" Mike asked.

"There's lots of 'em. They're running along the street. Want me to shoot one of 'em?" his voice was hopeful.

"Not yet, Jake. We need their help and we ain't gonna get that if we kill one of 'em."

"I already shot one of 'em, Mike," Jake's voice was laced with a nervous edge.

"Not the same, Jake. That ones a private cop. He ain't a real one, but ya know what?" he came forward and once more knelt in front of Joe Mannix. "he might just have friends on the force and we can use 'im or his pretty lady to get out of here. What do you say, Mannix. Should we take you or the woman?"

"L...leave her," Mannix mumbled.

"Will you cooperate?"

"Y...yes," Joe gasped.

"Alright then. Now we gotta stop ya from bleedin' to death. Margie, get on over there and find something they can use to bandage him up with," Mike ordered. "Jake, keep tabs on our friends out there."

"Sure, Mike," Jake felt better knowing he hadn't shot a real cop.

"Here!" Margie smiled as she threw a package of gauze pads and tape at Peggy.

"I need something to clean the blood with," Peggy told her.

"Well, ain't that just too bad," Margie laughed.

"Margie, get her a bottle of peroxide. Gotta make sure we keep the private cop alive until we get outta here. Then maybe I'll let you have him," he smiled at Mannix. "See Margie has this thing for people in authority. She just don't like 'em. Last one who tried to tell her what to do ended up deader than a chicken in a the middle of a pack of weasels. Just as cut up too."

"Want me to get the bullet out?" Margie asked as she returned with the bottle of peroxide.

"No!" Peggy glared at her as she took the bottle of peroxide. "Mr. Martini, can you help me lie him down?" Martini took Joe's right side and between the two of them they soon had him lying flat on the floor.

"He's hurt bad," Martini observed when they had Joe on his back.

"Yes, Mr. Martini, he is."

"You let Peggy take care of you, Joseph," Martini said as Mannix tried to move away from her touch.

"I'm sorry, Joe," Peggy sobbed as she pulled the blood soaked cloth away from the wound.

"It's o...kay," Joe tried to reassure her as fought back the call of darkness.

"I've got to clean it, Joe," she whispered, ignoring the man and woman holding guns on them.

"I...I know." He held himself rigid as she slowly poured the peroxide over the open wound.

Peggy couldn't look into his face as she cleaned the blood from the wound. She used one of the pads to put pressure on the ragged hole to try and stop the bleeding. Peggy smiled gratefully as Mrs. Martini opened a new pack of gauze and handed it to her, while her husband cut strips from the tape. She looked into Joe's eyes and saw the pain he tried to hide from her. Peggy knew how much this was hurting him, but she let him think he was doing a good job of it.

"All done, Joe," she said as she taped the bandages in place.

"T...thanks," Joe rasped through his dry throat. He knew he'd lost a considerable amount of blood and was in danger of going into shock. He smiled as he heard Peggy voice his thoughts.

"Look, he's lost a lot of blood and needs something to drink."

"You're getting a bit to demanding, Bitch," Margie scolded, a smile on her face.

Peggy turned to the man named Mike and hissed. "You want him alive then you'd damn well better let me do the things I need to help him!"

"Margie, get him some juice from the cooler. Mr. Martini can put it on his bill," Mike laughed.

Peggy picked up Joe's left hand and gently washed the abrasions caused by the hoodlum's boots crashing down no it. She felt Mannix tense up under her ministrations and knew there were probably a couple of broken bones in the hand. She smiled as Mrs. Martini handed her a roll of gauze to wrap the hand in. Between the two women they wrapped the hand in a gauze like mitt and settled it down beside Joe's body. Although his eyes were closed they knew he was awake.

Adam took the bullhorn from Captain Carter and spoke into it clearly. His voice came out loud and clear as he called. "You in the store. This is the police. Release the hostages and come out with your hands up. You have five minutes to comply."

"Shit, Mannix, looks like there's no rest for you," Mike said as Margie handed him a plastic bottle of apple juice. "Here! Make it fast," he told Peggy as he handed her the bottle.

"Here, Joe," Peggy ordered and watched as he fought to open his eyes. She knew he was getting worse and wished there was some way out of this. She looked at Mike pleadingly. "Look, let him rest. I'll go with you."

"N...no!" Joe snapped as he sat forward, groaning as it pulled on the wound. "I'm okay, Peg."

"Good, then let's go see what your pig friends have to offer. Margie watch them." Mike watched the smile cross Margie's face and wondered how long he'd be able to control her. He shook the thought off and pulled Mannix to his feet. He looked into the detective's eyes and snarled. "You try anything at all and Margie will shoot the pretty lady. Understand?"

"Y...yeah," Mannix snarled as he was dragged towards the front door.

"Jake, go help Margie watch the others. Me and Mannix got some business to attend to."

"Sure thing, Mike," Jake whistled an out of tune song as he walked towards the other four people.

"Your five minutes are up. Release the hostages," Tobias called through the bullhorn. He turned to see Captain Carter standing beside him, his eyes glued to the front door of Martini's store.

Carter was going to let Adam run the show especially once he heard Joe Mannix was probably one of the hostages. He knew the two men were friends and he, himself, had a great deal of respect for the private detective. Mannix helped him out on a few private thing sin his own life and he was grateful for the closure. He pointed to the front door as he noticed movement behind the blinds.

"Something's happening," Carter supplied.

Joe used every ounce of strength he had to make it to the door on his own. He felt Mike's hand on his arm and the gun was trained on him. If it wasn't for the guns being held no the others Joe Mannix would've made a move on this man. For now, he had to bide his time and wait for a chance to get the upper hand. There was no way he was gong to put Peggy or the Martini's in danger by pulling anything in his condition.

"Open the door, Mannix, but don't try anything stupid."

Joe reached for the door and pulled it inwards. Bright spotlights shone from the patrol cars, blinding him momentarily.

"Tell them to shut off the light, Mannix" Mike snarled.

"Joe are you alright?"

Mannix recognized the voice of Adam Tobias and smiled thinly. "A...Adam, turn the damn lights off. All three of them." Joe prayed he would get the hint. He'd seen only two lights and was hoping Tobias would realize he was trying to tell him how many people were holding them.

"Kill the lights," the lieutenant shouted and the two lights instantly went out.

Mike moved directly behind Mannix and yelled. "You cops better listen up! I got me four hostages in here!"

Mannix repressed a laugh as he realized the con was giving out information that could help the police in the long run.

"I want a car full of gas and I want one hundred thousand dollars parked in front of the store by first light! Then I want this street cleared and clear road all the way to the airport. I want a plane and a pilot waiting there! You hear me cop?"

"We hear you. I'm not sure we can get that much money by morning..."

"You'd better, Cop, or I kill one of the hostages."

"I didn't say we couldn't. I said it was going to be hard and might take a little longer. The man you're holding is hurt. Why don't you let him go..."

"Forget it, Cop. This guys our ticket out of here. We're gonna go back inside now before he bleeds to death. Don't worry his girlfriend's here with him and she'll take care of him." Mike laughed as he pulled Mannix back inside. He slammed the door and shoved the injured man towards the other hostages. He walked over and called his two friends away from the four hostages.

"Dammit!"

"What's the matter, Adam," Carter asked.

"Peggy must be one of the other hostages," Tobias explained.

"What makes you say that?"

"He said Joe's girlfriend was with him. Peggy could've gotten a ride with Joe. I'm gonna call her neighbour and see if she's picked Toby up yet."

"Have one of the others do it, Adam. I want you here in case they make any more demands.

"Yes, Sir." He turned to the uniformed officer next to him and said. "Pete, I need you to check something for me."

"Sure, Lieutenant," Reynolds took the number and went to make the call.

Carter watched Tobias's features and knew the man was thinking about something. "What's on your mind, Adam?" he asked.

"Something Joe said," Tobias answered.

Carter waited patiently, knowing the officer needed to concentrate. He could almost see the wheels turning in Adam's mind as the lieutenant finally turned towards him.

"Joe said all three lights, Right?"

"Yes, he did. Why?"

"There were only two lights. Joe was trying to tell us something."

"He'd been shot, Adam. Maybe he was seeing things."

"I don't think so, Sir. He said turn out the lights, Adam. All three of them. That's something specific..."

"He's your friend. What do you think he was trying to tell us?"

"I think he was letting us know how many people are holding them," Tobias explained.

Carter's dark eyes met the younger mans. "You're saying we're dealing with three men?"

"Could be three men, or two men and a woman or any combination. I'm sure he was trying to let us know how many are in there." He stopped as Reynolds came back. "Were you able to get through to..."

"Yes, Sir," Reynolds interrupted. "Toby Fair is still with her."

"Dammit!" Tobias swore. He turned his eyes to the closed blinds, worry and fear etched no his handsome face. 'We're supposed to be at a dinner party at Peggy's house,' he thought.

Peggy climbed to her feet and hurried to help Mannix sit down. She checked the bandage and saw it was once more soaked through. "Mrs. Martini..." she didn't get to finish as the older lady passed her a couple of new gauze pads. It wasn't long before they had Joe's wound re-bandaged. She sat down beside him and pulled his head onto her lap. She rubbed his shoulders as his body trembled uncontrollably. She knew he was in danger of going into shock, but there was nothing more she could do for him.

"Peggy." She looked up and met Mrs. Martini's eyes. "He's strong."

"I know," she answered softly. She ran her hand through his hair and felt the heat emanating from his forehead. 'God, don't let him die,' she silently pleaded.

Joe felt her shiver as she held him and lifted his hand to her cheek. "Peggy," he moaned.

Peggy looked down at his hand. She could see the dried blood still present on his fingers and embedded in his nails. She closed her eyes as tears formed behind her lids and slowly seeped out. 'How could this night turn into such a nightmare?' she thought.

"Peggy," he tried again.

"I'm okay, Joe," she assured the injured man as she took her hand in his and rubbed it along her right cheek.

"T...try to g...get a...away if...can..." he whispered.

"I won't leave you, Joe," she whispered back.

"You two be quiet over there," Mike snapped.

"You bully!" Mrs. Martini snapped. She stood up to her full height of four foot eleven and placed her hands on her formidable hips. "He's hurt."

"Sit down, Old Woman!" Margie ordered.

"Sit down, Sophie," Martini ordered as he reached for his wife.

"No! Joseph is hurt and I'm not gonna sit here and do nothing. I'm going to get a blanket and pillow from the back room!"

"You're gonna sit down and do as I say!" Margie ordered.

Sophie Martini turned her attention to the man named Mike and spoke sharply "You said you don't want him to die. Well he's gonna do that if we don't get him warmed up and stop him from going into shock!"

"Margie, you gotta go check on the baby anyway. Take her back there and let her get the blanket and pillow for him.

Margie was angry at having her orders revoked and she motioned for the woman to proceed her into the bakery part of the store.

Sophie was sixty-two years old and she knew her words had gotten her into trouble, but she hated to see anyone suffering. She opened the back door and turned no the light. Three large ovens ran along one wall, two floor to ceiling silver freezers lay along the back wall. Shelves ran the length of the third wall and in the center of the bakery was a large marble topped table. She spotted the baby's crib sitting beside the table and hurried past it. She hurried to the shelf and picked up the blanket and pillow she kept there. She could feel the woman close behind her and she turned to face her nemesis. She saw the anger in the ice blue eyes and prepared herself for what she knew was to come. Her head reeled back as Margie's hand connected with her cheek. Still she stood her ground. Twice more blows rocked her head back, and both times she held herself erect. She met the ice blue eyes and was surprised to see a hint of admiration in them

"Don't ever question what I say again!" Margie snapped as she stepped aside and let the woman walk past her.

Sophie walked into the main store, her legs shaking, and her cheeks burning from the open handed blows. She saw her husband come to his feet but shook her head. She hurried over and sat down beside Joe Mannix and Peggy Fair.

"Are you alright?" Peggy asked. Two vicious red handprints were visible on the woman's cheeks.

"I'm fine," she assured the pretty woman. She looked down and noted a pair of fever bright eyes looking at her. A blood stained hand reach up and touched the hot cheeks.

"S...sorry," Mannix mumbled as his eyes slid closed.

"Peggy, are you okay with his head on your legs like that?"

"I'm fine."

"Good," She turned to her husband and forced a smile to her face. "Roberto, lift his legs so I can put this pillow under them." Roberto reached out and did as she asked, smiling as he watched his wife care for the injured man. He helped her unfold the blanket and cover the shivering form with it.

"Thank you," Peggy told her as Margie wheeled the stroller back into the store.

"I gotta feed 'im," Margie said. "Where's the baby food aisle?"

"Aisle three," Sophie answered her.

"I'm gettin' kinda hungry myself," Jake said as he watched Margie walk away. "Think they'd bring us a pizza, Mike?"

"What the hell do ya want a pizza for, Jake. Look around the store and pick something. I'm sure Mannix won't mind if we put it no his bill. Will you Mannix?" he asked as he walked towards the four hostages.

"He's sleeping," Peggy told the hoodlum.

"Oh!" Mike smiled as he bent close to her. "Maybe it's time we let the Martini's look after him while you and me get to know each other better."

"N...no!"

Peggy looked down to see Joe Mannix looking at her. "It's okay, Joe," she soothed as he struggled upwards.

"Y...you don't t...touch her!" Joe snarled.

"You need another lesson on who's in charge here!" Mike snapped as he stood up. He drew back his foot and kicked out at the downed man once more.

The pointed toe of his boot connected with Joe's right knee and he fought to suppress a groan.

"Leave him alone!" Peggy screamed in rage as Joe doubled up in agony.

Adam heard Peggy scream and picked up the bullhorn. "What's going on in there?" he shouted.

Mike grabbed Mannix by the arms and pulled him to his feet. He heard Margie and Jake returning and knew they'd keep the other three from interfering. He held the injured man in front of him and jammed the gun into his wounded side. A muffled grunt issued from his victim.

"Now you listen real good, Mannix!" he snarled, laughing as Peggy continued to scream at him. "I'm in charge here and if I want to take your whore for a private talk I'll do just that..."

"K...kill you f...first," Joe ground out.

Mike laughed in spite of the chill the stammered words caused him, "From where I stand you're the one who'll be killed, Mannix. I got the gun remember?" He shoved the injured man back to the floor and laughed as Peggy pulled him towards her.

Adam Tobias bristled with anger as he listened to the cries from the inside of the store. He turned his head and caught sight of the familiar swat team van pulling up across the street. He knew this team was led by Martin Jackson and prayed his men were as good as he remembered. He heard Carter talking to Jackson, but his own eyes were once more glued to the front of the store.

"I...I'm okay, Peg," Mannix hissed as she ran her hands through his dark sweat soaked hair. He watched as tears ran form her expressive dark eyes. He knew she was crying because of him, but it took a few minutes for him to remember why. "D...don't cry, P...Peg," he muttered as his eyelids grew heavy.

A deep sigh left him as he struggled to gain oxygen to his lungs and she knew he needed help. A bluish tinge was now noticeable around his lips as his heart fought to keep pumping whatever blood was left in his body. She knew things were just going to get worse the longer he was without medical care. She turned her hatred fed eyes on the man named Mike, ready to tell the man just what she thought of him. A hand on her arm made her look into the eyes of the man she'd grown to care so much for.

"D...don't, Peggy, n...not worth it," Mannix mumbled.

"Ya'd best listen to him, Lady, cause if ya try anythin' I'll make him pay," Mike smiled and kicked out with his right foot, again connecting to the injured man's right knee. He laughed as Mannix gasped in pain and tried to curl in on himself.

"Leave him alone," Roberto Martini cried as he scrambled to his feet.

"Shut up old man," Jake hissed as he slammed his gun into Martini's head.

"No!" Sophie cried as her husband dropped heavily to the floor. She knelt beside the unconscious man and wept openly. "Oh, Roberto," she gasped as she wiped the blood running from the open wound above her husbands right eye. She looked up at Jake and spat. "You animal!"

"Shut up, Old Woman, or I'll put a bullet in him right now," Jake hissed, waving the gun back and forth between her and her husband.

Joe could see the situation escalating and knew he had to stop it before the unstable man killed both Martini's. He pushed away from Peggy and lifted himself onto his knees. He crawled the short distance and got in front of the angry man. "You won't s...shoot either of t...them," he snarled weakly.

"Get back where you were, Mannix, or I'll put a matching hole in your left side!" Jake warned, not ready to give up his power over these two people.

"N...no!" Mannix hissed, his voice weak, but his resolve to see these people stopped, strong. He heard Peggy crying beside him as she fought to get away from Margie. "I won't let y...you..."

"Won't let me what, Mannix?" Jake pulled him to his feet and held him there.

Mannix stood on rubbery legs, his breath coming in hitching gasps as pain lanced from the wound in his side. "W...won't let you k...kill t...them!" He could hear Margie unstable laughter ringing in his ears as pain pounded in his temples.

"I'll do what I want, Mannix," Jake said, letting Margie's laughter goad him on. "You ain't in charge here!"

"Neither are you, Jake."

Jake turned at the sound of Mike's words and the smile seemed to fade on his face as he saw the gun pointed in his direction. He swallowed deeply and lowered his gun, but held tightly to the injured man. "Ah, come on, Mike, I's just havin' a little fun!"

"We need him alive!" Mike explained, his gun still pointed at his partner. "He's our ticket out of here. Remember what I said. Cops look after cops. Even if they are private ones. Now leave 'em be!"

"Sure, Mike," Jake swallowed and once more Mannix was shoved to the floor.

Joe tried to hang on to his tenuous hold on consciousness, but a deep breath, a painful shudder and his mind lost the fight. He didn't feel Peggy sit beside him and pull his head back onto her lap. He didn't hear her soft sobs as she settled the thin blanket over him.

Peggy watched as Sophie Martini once more replaced the pillow under Joe's legs and smiled at the older woman.

"He's strong, Peggy!" the older woman told her.

"I know," Peggy said as she placed her hand over the beating heart of the man she held.

Adam watched as the Swat Team manoeuvred into position on the buildings surrounding Martini's store. He knew they wouldn't shoot unless they had a clear shot. He also knew the three people holding the Martini's, Joe Mannix and Peggy Fair would not be escaping in a car or anything else. The procedure called that they be taken down one way or another. He just prayed it would be at the cost of human lives. The bullhorn sat on the roof of the car as he waited for the hostage taker's wishes to be granted. The car and the money would be delivered, but the men would not escape custody with any or all of the hostages. He turned to see Carter and Jackson talking and knew they were discussing how to take the three down. He knew instinctively there were three, knew in his heart that's what Mannix had told him when referring to the lights. His eyes returned once more to the front of the store and he sent a silent prayer that no innocent lives would be lost tonight.

The hours dragged by for the people inside and outside the store. Joe Mannix remained unconscious as Peggy held him in a tight embrace, sending her own strength in hopes of keeping this man among the living. She watched as the three criminals helped themselves to anything they wanted, or trashed the shelves around the store. She felt sorry for the destruction, but was glad they were working out their frustrations on the equipment and not on their hostages. Peggy's head turned towards the small carriage as a soft cry emanated from inside. She watched as Margie moved towards the baby, wondering how any woman could take a baby into such a dangerous situation. She turned her eyes back to the man in her lap and forced a smile as his eyes open.

"Hi," she whispered, not wanting to garner attention from the three people with guns.

Lines creased his brow as he struggled to focus on the woman's face. He moved slowly, his body stiff from lying in one spot. A frown marred his handsome face as pain reawakened with the slight movement.

"Easy, Joe," Peggy said as she rubbed her hand on his shoulder.

"Peg? H...happened?"

She could see the confusion in the fever bright eyes as he struggled to speak. The blue tinge still encircled his dry lips and she bit her lip to stop herself from crying. "It's okay, Joe. You've been hurt and I want you to..." She didn't finish as Adam Tobias' voice droned over the bullhorn.

"Listen!" Margie said as she held the baby in her arms. The child suckled on a bottle and Peggy guessed the age to be around six months. Again she was struck with thoughts of the life this child seemed destined for. She prayed nothing would happen to it.

Adam knew things were about to get tense as a black Sedan parked in the spot next to the door of the grocery store. He knew the time had come for him to inform the criminals that their demands were here. He sighed and picked up the bullhorn. 'Please, God, keep them safe,' he prayed.

"You in the store. We've got the car and the money out here. Now release the hostages and you can go!" Tobias called.

Mike smiled as he knelt in front of Peggy and Joe. He held the gun tightly as he spoke. "You hear that, Mannix? It's time to get this show on the road. Do you think you can get up on your own or should we take one of the others?" he laughed as his eyes raked over the woman before him.

Mannix swallowed with some difficulty, but dragged himself to a sitting position. "I'm f...fine," he hissed as he struggled upwards. He felt strong soft hands helping him and was soon on his feet. He swayed weakly but managed to stand to his full height, his right arm held tightly against the wound in his side.

"Well, I'll be dammed. Never thought you'd be able to get to your knees let alone your feet," Mike said smugly. He reached out and pulled Mannix from Peggy's grip.

"Let them go," Mannix hissed as they moved to the front of the store.

"Not yet! Gotta see what those cops are offerin' before I let anyone go. Jake, you and Margie watch those three." He shoved the injured man towards the door, the gun held tightly to his back. "Open the door, Mannix!"

"Okay, people, looks like things are about to get hot," Jackson warned into the headset. He knew his men were the best and he didn't need to tell them what to expect. He smiled as he looked from rooftop to rooftop. Even with the encroaching daylight there was no sign of movement from above. His eyes returned to the front door and he watched as things began to slowly unfold.

Joe reached for the door with a trembling hand. He knew he was in trouble between the pain and the blood loss he felt as weak as a newborn baby. Twice his fingers slipped off the handle before he finally pulled it open. he looked into the street, surprised that daylight was once more upon them. He felt the gun gouging into his back and bit off a groan as Mike shoved him forward.

Tobias could see his friend was in bad shape as soon as the door opened. He could see blood on the right side of his shirt and gauze bandages wrapped around his left hand. "Joe, are you, the Martini's and Peggy alright?" he asked automatically.

"We're okay, Adam..." he cried out as Mike shoved the gun against his injured side.

"Now listen here, Cop!" Mike shouted. "You move all those cars back and give us a clean street out of here. Otherwise this guys gonna be bleeding from another hole or two," he laughed.

"Let the hostages go first!" Tobias ordered.

"No can do, Cop. We're gonna need some insurance that you guy's'll let us get away," Mike told him.

"You g...got me. Let the o...others go," Mannix muttered softly.

"I got all of you..."

"The police would take it as an act of faith if you let them go. They'll be more than willing to let you go with one hostage than four."

"You may have something there, Mannix. Least you'll be easy to hand. Can't do much when you've got a hole in your side," he cackled as he again shoved the gun against the wound. "Listen up, Cop. I'll let the other three go, but this one comes with us."

"Let them all go!" Tobias tried again.

"No way, Cop. We do it my way or I keep all four hostages. Maybe I should kill one of them right now!"

"N...no," Mannix hissed. "Adam, he'll let P...Peggy and the Martini's g...go. You h...have no c...choice."

"Joe," Adam knew the detective was right, yet he hated he thought of leaving his friend in their hands.

"You heard him, Cop. He's willing to stay with us."

"You let the others go and I'll see you have a clear way out," Tobias assured him.

Mike knew he had no choice. He had to release the hostages and this way there would be less people for him to watch. "Alright. Gimme a few minutes to get them ready!"

"You got ten minutes!" Tobias warned as he pulled the injured man back into the store. He shoved Mannix onto the floor by the counter and turned to the five remaining people. His eyes finally came to rest on Peggy, and the two Martini's. Roberto Martini had finally come too, but he was shaky and pale. "Alright you three can go!" he ordered.

"What?" Jake asked as the three climbed to their feet.

"Ya can't let them go. We need them to get outta here," Margie hissed.

"We've got the private cop..."

"No, please, let him go," Peggy interrupted as she hurried to kneel beside the pale man.

"Sorry, Lady, but he stays. Now get the hell outta here before I change my mind!" Mike warned.

Joe looked into her tear filled eyes and again spoke softly. "Go, Peggy," he ordered as he pushed her away.

"N...no!" she cried.

"Toby needs his mother," he looked into her face and knew he'd said the right words as she stood up.

"Margie?"

The young woman turned at the sound of her name being called. "What?" she asked.

"Ain't no way we can take the baby..."

"I'm not letting..."

"You have no choice. You want him dead?" Mike asked.

"No. I can protect him!" she cried as she lifted the baby from the carriage.

"Not if there bullets flying. You can't hold a gun and a baby at the same time. Give him to her..."

"No, Mike!" she cried as she held tightly to the baby.

"Then you stay behind!" Mike warned.

"No!"

"Yes! I'm not gonna spend my time worrying about you not doing your job. Ain't no skin off my teeth if you keep the baby, but damn sure don't want to have to take care of it. Now ya either give it to the woman or ya stay behind with it. Either way you'll be losing him. One way he'll be dead, the other way he gets a new home with a mama who can take better care of him.

Margie looked at the baby in her arms and felt the warmth of motherhood flow through her normally frigid veins. A tear fell from her glacial blue eyes as she passed the baby to Peggy. "You take care of my boy. Make sure he gets a good home!"

"I...I will," Peggy stammered as she took the crying infant and looked back at Joe Mannix. "J...Joe..."

"Go, Peg," he ordered, a slight smile sparkling in his pain filled eyes.

"Come on, Lady, before I change my mind!" Mike ordered.

Adam and the others watched as the door opened and the dull interior was bathed in sunlight. The Martini's leaned heavily again one another as they exited the store. Peggy came next holding a crying infant in her arms. He held his breath as the door closed and the three people made their way towards the safety of the police cars. A female officer came forward and took the baby from Peggy's arms. The Martini's were quickly escorted to a waiting ambulance.

Adam quickly reached for the Peggy as she hurried towards him.

"Oh, Adam," she cried as his arms wrapped her in a protective enclosure.

"It's okay, Peggy, I got you," Tobias said softly.

"Adam," Peggy lifted her eyes and looked at the soft-spoken policeman. "Joe's hurt."

"I know, Peggy. How bad?"

"He's got a bullet in his right side."

"Reynolds said he was shot and I saw the blood."

"We have to get him outta there, Adam."

"We will, Peggy. The swat team's already in position. They'll take them down if it's possible. How many are there?"

"Three," she saw the slight smile on Tobias' face and wondered where it came from. "Two men and a woman." She looked towards the front of the store as the door opened and Joe Mannix's pale form was silhouetted against the darkened interior.

"Okay, Cop, we gave you what you wanted, now it's your turn. Get them cars outta here, Now!"

"Adam?"

"It's okay, Peggy. Alright, men, move back!" he ordered through the bullhorn.

"Hear that, Mannix, we're gettin' outta here," Mike laughed as he watched the police cars pull back past the buildings and out of sight.

Joe glanced around the area. He knew police procedure and knew there were cops hiding somewhere, ready to take these people down at all cost. He knew if they got away he was a dead man anyway and steeled himself to move at all cost. He felt Mike's gun dig into his back as he was shoved forward. He stumbled and caught a glimpse of a man on the roof across the street. His strength was quickly leaving him as Mike pulled him roughly in front of them. He knew the time had come to act as he caught sight of a second Swat team member hiding behind a garbage bin between the buildings across the street.

'I hope you guys are as good as they say,' he thought as he let his knees buckle and sank to the ground. The blood pounded in his ears, drowning out the cries of rage and pain from the three people who were using him as a shield. He fought to stay awake, to make sure no one else got hurt, but felt himself losing the battle. "Peggy," he groaned as hands reached out for him. He forced his eyes open and looked into Mike's angry face.

"I'll kill you!" Mike hissed as he brought his gun up to Mannix's head.

Joe used the last of his strength to grasp the gun hand. A gunshot sounded, but Joe Mannix didn't know for sure who was shot. Pain radiated out from the wound in his side as blood dripped from the surprised face above him. He let his eyes close as the body fell on top of him. He tried to breath, but the Mike's weight on his chest prevented the air from reaching the oxygen-starved lungs. He turned his head to the side as running feet sounded. He barely heard the men around him as they struggled to lift the dead weight.

"Clear!"

"Get the ambulance in here!" Jackson shouted as he placed cuffs no the arms of the wounded young woman. He saw another of his men cuffing one of the males. The one on the hostage was dead, the bullet through his forehead leaving little doubt of that.

"Peggy, you stay put until we get the all clear!' Tobias warned as he forced the woman into the police car.

"Adam, I need to..."

"You need to stay there until I check it out. Joe would never forgive me if anything happened to you. I'll send one of the men to get you as soon as it's safe."

Peggy's shoulders slumped as she listened to his words. "Alright, Adam. Just hurry, please!"

"I will, Peggy," Adam promised as he hurried towards the store.

Adam rushed around the corner and saw the chaos in front of the store. He watched as Jackson and another man pulled a body of his friend. He ran towards them just as a jacket covered the body. He didn't waste time on who the dead man was as he knelt be side Joe Mannix.

"Joe?"

Mannix forced his eyes open to half-mast. The pain that was dulled during the few minutes of unconsciousness was now screaming for attention. He tried to breath deeply, but there didn't seem to be enough room in his body for the much needed air.

"A...Adam, Peggy?" he asked.

"She's fine, Joe," he assured the injured man as he looked around. He spotted Pete Reynolds and called him over. "Pete, go get Peggy and make sure the ambulance gets through the barricade."

"Yes, Sir, Lieutenant," Reynolds hurried away as Jackson knelt beside Tobias. The two men began removing the blood soaked bandages from the injured man.

Joe felt the hands touch his body and trembled violently. He couldn't remember ever being so cold. He knew a lot of it had to do with the blood loss and shock, but he couldn't give into it until he was sure Peggy Fair was okay. He smiled as the woman and two ambulance attendants came into view. He felt Adam and Jackson move away as the three newcomers knelt beside him.

"Peg, okay?" he asked weakly, a thin smile on his too white face.

"I'm fine, Joe," Peggy said as the two attendants began examining their patient. She reached for his left arm and placed her fingers near his elbow.

A dark haired man placed a BP cuff around his right arm, while a red haired man placed a new bandage over the wound. Both men could see Mannix was in a lot of pain as they tried to make him comfortable.

"Joe, my name is Terry and I'm gonna give you something to help with the pain. Then we're gonna get an IV started and get you to the hospital. Okay?"

"O...okay," Mannix managed to drag out. He felt a cold swab of alcohol on his left shoulder and the sharp sting of the needle as it entered his flesh. The medication soon entered his system and he could feel it take the edge off the agony racing through his body.

"Gary," Terry looked at his partner. "I think we'd better get him on oxygen. His lips are a little blue and he's having trouble breathing."

"I'm on it," Gary replied as he pulled out the portable oxygen cylinder and the mask. "Joe, I'm going to place this over your face. Just relax and breathe as deep as you can." Gary continued to work on their patient. He removed the gauze from the man's hand and immobilized it.

Mannix couldn't muster the strength to answer as the man lifted his head and placed the band around his head to hold the mask in place. He felt the cool mist enter his lungs and smiled at the woman beside him. "I'm okay, Peggy," he mumbled as he felt a needle inserted into his arm.

"He's lost a lot of blood, Gary. I'm gonna run this wide open. He seems a little shocky as well."

"Alright," Gary answered. "As soon as you're done we'll get him on the stretcher."

"Done!" Terry told him. "Ma'am, can you move back for a minute. Lieutenant, can you give us a hand."

Adam moved to take Peggy's place beside the injured man. He could see the dark eyes open and smiled sympathetically.

"Alright, We do this on three," Terry ordered as they readied to lift the injured man. "One, two, three."

Joe cried out as his body was lifted from the ground and placed on the waiting stretcher. He bit his bottom lip as blankets were placed over him. he felt the strap placed over his body to secure him to it. It wasn't long before the stretcher was pulled to its full height and racing towards the waiting ambulance. He couldn't keep his eyes open, but he felt Peggy climb in with him. He knew it was her as a soft hand wrapped around his right hand. He sighed heavily and gave into the call of darkness.

The ride to the hospital seemed to take forever to the woman sitting beside the injured man. She watched the rise and fall of his chest, grateful for every breath he took. She knew once they arrived at the ER the real fight to save his life would begin.

"Oh, Joe," she whispered softly as the ambulance pulled into the covered area. She was shocked to see his eyes open and focused on her.

"S...show me that smile, Peg," he told her as the back doors opened. He sighed as she forced the smile to her face. The stretcher was quickly pulled from the vehicle and he lost sight of her as they raced him through the automatic doors.

"What've we got?" Dr. Carl Lewis asked as he hurried to the stretcher.

"Gunshot wound to the right side. Bullet's still in there. Maybe a couple of bruised ribs as well. The left hand has a lot of abrasions and may have some fractions. The patient was in a lot of pain and was blue around the lips. We put him on oxygen. We started and IV right away and gave him a shot of morphine." Terry explained as they pushed the stretcher into an examination room where they lifted the semi conscious patient onto the new bed. he moved out of the way as a team of nurses and a second doctor entered the room.

Carl Lewis watched as a blonde nurse began cutting the ruined clothes from the injured man's body. More bruises became evident as the clothing was removed. He removed the bandage from his patient's side and heard a soft moan. He lifted his eyes to meet those of his most frequent patient.

"Easy, Joe, we're gonna look after you."

"Hmm, D...Doc," Mannix tried to move on the bed as a hand touched his injured knee.

"Stay still, Joe. We're gonna make you more comfortable in a second. Just give us a few minutes to see where you're hurt."

Mannix managed a small smile beneath the mask as he answered. "H...hurts e...everywhere!"

Lewis couldn't help but smile. "I don't doubt it for a minute. Jenny, I want him typed and cross-matched. Have the blood bank send up two units of packed cells. What have you got, Spencer?"

Spencer Marcus looked up at his colleague and frowned. "Probably got an ACL ligament tear here. Let's get portable X-ray up here now. The faster we get him stabilized the faster we get him to surgery."

"C...cold," Mannix whispered as the last of the clothing left his body.

"Joe, we're gonna set up a second IV and get more fluids in you. You're in shock right now and that's probably got a lot to do with why you feel so cold. Try to relax for a few minutes and we'll get you warmed up."

"O...okay," Mannix muttered as hands continued to probe his body.

Peggy had no idea how much time passed since they'd taken Joe Mannix into the examination room. She'd watched as a portable X-ray machine was rushed into the room. She'd seen nurses come and go. Some carrying what could only be units of blood while another seemed to be delivering more Saline units. She paced back and forth in front of the door trying to stay out of the way, but hoping to catch a glimpse of the man she knew held a part of her heart. She looked up as Adam Tobias entered through the emergency doors. She hurried to him and felt his strong arms wrap her in a comforting embrace.

"Oh, Adam," she cried.

"Any word?" he asked.

"Nothing. They've been in there with him for over an hour and I can't find out anything. I wish they'd tell me what's going on."

As if in answer to her question the doors opened and the stretcher holding Joe Mannix was wheeled through the doors. The two people hurried towards the stretcher and Peggy reached out to touch Joe's right arm. She heard Adam's voice asking the questions she couldn't voice. She smiled as Joe opened his eyes and looked at her from over the oxygen mask.

Joe tried to show assure her he was okay, but the drugs he'd been given made him lethargic and his body unmovable. He knew they were taking him to the OR to remove the bullet from his body. His eyelids lost the fight with gravity and slipped down over the fever bright orbs.

"You'll have to let him go now, Peggy," Lewis told her.

Peggy looked up to see the AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY BEYOND THIS POINT! Sign. She reluctantly released his hand and moved back into the waiting arms of Adam Tobias. The soft sobs she'd been holding in check broke like a dam and tears flowed from her eyes.

"Oh, Adam,"" she mumbled as he passed her some tissues.

"Come on, Peggy. You know Joe wouldn't want you tearing yourself up like this. Let's go get a coffee and something to eat."

"No. I want to be there when he wakes up," she said, swiping at her eyes with the tissues.

"He'll be in surgery for a couple of hours, Peggy. We'll be there when he wakes up."

"I...I can't!"

Adam's eyebrows rose in a no nonsense expression. "You can and you will. Come on. We'll have lunch and hopefully the time will go faster." He smiled as her head bobbed once and he led her away from surgical doors.

His mouth felt like it was filled with cotton as his tongue slipped between dry lips. He briefly wondered where he was as he moved slightly on the bed. 'Bad move,' he silently thought as tremors of pain awoke in his side. A soft voice beside the bed made him smile as he forced heavy lids to open.

"Hi, Peggy," he whispered, and coughed as the words tore at his arid throat.

"Here, Joe," Peggy said as she held a straw in front of his mouth.

He took a small sip and swished it around in his mouth, enjoying the feel as moisture returned to sap away the dryness there. He swallowed and smiled at the woman above him. "Thanks," he said tiredly.

"You're welcome, Joe," Peggy said as she placed the glass back on the table. "How are you feeling?"

"Tired," Mannix answered. "How long?"

"Twenty six hours since you went to surgery," Peggy answered as she reached for the call button and depressed it. As soon as the nurse answered from the desk she told them Joe was awake. It wasn't long before Dr. Lewis and a nurse hurried through the door.

"Well it's good to see you awake, Joe," Lewis observed as he checked Mannix' pupils.

Joe squirmed under the attention, but knew it was necessary. He willed himself to relax as Lewis examined the wound in his side. He bit back a soft groan as the man probed the area. He had no idea how long it took for the doctor to finish his examination, but he knew the man was always thorough in what he did. By the time the examination was finished Joe's body was once more a mass of agony.

"Joe, I know that hurt but it needs to be done. There was a lot of infection in the wound and we need to make sure it doesn't come back. Mary is going to give you a shot of morphine to help with the pain. Then I want you to try and sleep some more."

"Okay, Doc, thanks," Mannix told him.

"No thanks necessary, Joe. You just make sure you do as your told and we'll have you out of here as fast as we can. Try and sleep. Peggy, don't let him do anything stupid."

"Me?" Mannix smiled, knowing the doctor was referring to how many times Joe was hurt and insisted on getting out of bed too soon.

"Yes, you!" Peggy answered as the doctor left. She watched as the nurse inserted a syringe into the IV and delivered the required dose of morphine. "What's that?" she asked as Mary placed a new bag next to the Saline solution.

"Antibiotics. It's to help ward off infections," Mary explained as she hooked up the second bag. "Mr. Mannix, just press the call button if you need anything."

"I w...will," Joe assured her. He looked at the woman standing beside the bed. he saw the lines of worry etched in her face, the bloodshot eyes, the slump of the shoulders and knew he was the cause of them. "I'm sorry, Peggy," he whispered.

"For what, Joe?" she asked seriously.

"Making y...you worry," he answered as he felt her hand slip into his. He let his eyes close as the drug entered his system.

Peggy leaned over the bed and placed her mouth next to his ears and whispered to the sleeping man. "Don't you know I'd do anything for you Joe Mannix."

"Me too, Peggy," he mumbled.

Peggy gasped and smiled as she realized he'd heard what she said. "I thought you were sleeping."

"Al...most," the last was barely audible as he gave into the call of sleep.

Peggy sat beside him and watched his face relax. The drugged sleep caused the pain lines to disappear and she could see he was finally at rest. She slipped her hand from his and stood up to stretch her back. She looked down at the man on the bed and realized just how deep her feelings for him ran. She knew she loved this man. Loved him not only for the special man he was, but for what he meant to her. 'I do love you, Joe,' she thought as she leaned over the bed and placed a soft kiss on his parted lips.

It was two weeks since Joe Mannix was released form the hospital. His right knee was still immobilized and his left hand was still wrapped in gauze. The wound in his side still bothered him at times, but more so because of the itch than the residual pain. He looked at the woman driving and smiled as they pulled into a parking spot in front of Martini's store.

Peggy turned to the man beside her as she pulled to a complete stop. "Are you sure you're ready for this, Joe? she asked softly.

She knew this would be hard on both of them. Adam and his wife were coming for dinner tonight and they both felt a need to face what happened to them nearly a month before. One man was dead and a man and woman in jail because of that night. A baby was in the custody of Child services and waiting for a good home. There were several couples waiting for the child and Peggy knew the baby would be far better off with either of them instead of with it's natural mother.

Joe took a deep breath. He knew this was something he had to do. It wasn't something anyone was forcing on him, but being a man who prided himself on his own actions he would see this through and not dwell on a night that nearly cost him his life. He stepped from the car and hurried around to open the drivers door for Peggy.

"Chivalry is not dead," she laughed as he helped her from the car. This was another side of Joe Mannix she'd grown to love. He was a man who believed in opening doors for women, for paying the bill in restaurants or anything else a man could do for a woman. She smiled as he closed the door for her..

Joe looked in the store window and saw Roberto Martini talking with a young woman. A sense of Deja vu came over him and he shook his head.

"Joe? What's wrong?"

Mannix watched as a pretty blond woman paid for her purchases and exited the store. He knew it was the same woman who'd been there that night. he smiled as she left, content in the knowledge that at least she'd been spared the hostage situation.

"I'm fine, Peg. Let's go see if Mrs. Martini has any fresh pies ready."

"Are you sure, Joe?" she asked worriedly.

Joe Mannix smiled at the woman standing before him. He pulled her close and spoke softly into her ear. "I'm fine, Peggy," he whispered. He moved back and met her eyes, seeing the love he felt mirrored in her expressive eyes. He put his right hand into his pocket and fingered a small velvet box there. 'Soon, Peggy, very soon,' he thought as he led her into the store. A smile spread on his face as the Martini's greeted them and he knew there was no pain left for either of them from that night.

THE END!