CHAPTER TWO

It was four minutes after ten when Molly woke up in her hospital bed. This she knew from the moment that she opened her eyes and was faced with a clock hanging directly opposite her, though her first real thoughts pertained almost exculsively to three things. The first was the unavoidable pain of her injuries and the major surgery she'd needed, the anaesthetic for which was steadily starting to wear off. The second was the vivid recollection of one of her attackers thumping her hard in the gut, and the cause of her sudden jolted awakening. And the third, odd as it sounded and felt at the time, was the blurred image of the first face she's seen after coming around from her concussion, and the last she'd seen before slumping into unconsciousness in the ambulance; that of Detective John Clark. Both times he'd had the same genuinely concerned look in his eyes, an expression which transcended the rather clinical precision with which the situation had been handled by those around her, and comforted her more than she could say. And now that she was lying in a dimly lit recovery ward in what, she assumed, was the local county hospital, she was more in need of that comfort than ever.

She lay for what seemed like hours - or would have done if she hadn't been forced to watch the clock the entire time. She couldn't sleep, and though she could never have admitted it, she was far too nervous and tense to let down her guard enough even to relax a little. She knew without being told that she should have been killed that afternoon, because they'd know as well as she did that ski masks weren't enough to stop her IDing them - not after all the information they'd given in their questions. So there she was, in a quiet, empty ward, with the Lucciotti Side of the New York mafia no doubt wanting her dead, unable to determine why they'd kept her alive, or whether it was a mistake.

It was almost eleven when a nurse finally came in, by which point Molly had become so involuntarily worked up that for almost a minute straight all she could do was babble out frantic nonsense about being in danger and needing police protection. The nurse did her best to placate her agitated patient, though it was to little avail, and finally it was Molly who forced herself out of hysteria with a long deep breath and iron willpower.

"Alright Miss Sanderson, now this is going to help calm you down so you can get some sleep, ok?" the nurse said soothingly, approaching Molly's saline drip with a syringe as her patient sprung to alertness again.

"No - don't." she said quickly, terrified of being put into a drowsy and otherwise helpless state. "Please -"

The nurse had been just about to respond with another empty, appeasing chain of words when, to Molly's surprise and relief, a strangely familiar face came tentatively through the double doors and towards the bed.

"Hi." John Clark smiled warmly, fleetingly at Molly, then more charismatically at the nurse, immediately sensing that her attentions were bothering the patient. "I'm Detective Clark," he told her authoritatively, "do you mind if I talk to Miss Sanderson for a few minutes?"

The nurse, in her twenties and instantly vulnerable to his doleful expression and polite charm, returned his smile and nodded, as though their official statuses gave them a special bond which Molly was ignorant of.

"Sure. Can I get you anything? Coffee or something?" she replied. He shook his head graciously and thanked her with another smile, watching obediently as she walked towards the door and flashed him an alluring grin. He turned back to Molly as she smiled distractedly.

"Thanks."

They both knew what that was for. Molly was the last nineteen year old in the world who could handle being treated like a child, and Clark could see that.

"No problem." he replied, the new sincerity obvious in his tone, though retaining some formality. "How are you feeling?" Molly breathed out again.

"I'm…scared." she told him matter-of-factly. "Did you find those guys yet?" Clark shook his head.

"Not yet. We found some tyre tracks and we're trying to track down a black Mercedes right now." Molly nodded, then started to frown.

"Wait - what're you doing here so late?" she smiled cynically and added "I know how NYPD shifts work - unless you're working second and third watch you should be off by now, right?"

He nodded, impressed.

"I'm checking up on you."

If only that were true, he thought to himself. His shift had ended at five, and not only had he stuck around at the station for a further two hours to help track down the Mercedes, but on finally returning to his lonely apartment Clark had discovered that the uneasiness growing in his stomach had been directly related to his concern for the pale, fiesty girl who he'd seen covered with blood and beaten black and blue a few hours before. He was interested - there was no denying it - no, more than that, he was fascinated by her. An hour before he could've kicked himself as he sat trying to be engrossed in the NFL game on tv, trying to ignore his realisation, trying to pretend that he didn't always go for rebellious, damaged women - physically and mentally. Maybe it was because deep down he was a bit of a boy scout, desperate to swoop in and save good women with inevitable human flaws, because it made him feel needed, or because it deflected attention from his own problems to her's, stopped him from concentrating on the demons in his own mind, from ending up drunk out of his head in seedy bars and waking up next to strippers in the morning. Apparently that was what Andy thought; that he was so afraid to feel the grief of the two suicides that he numbed the pain with drink and girls, desperately afraid of losing anybody else that he loved and now constantly having to redeem himself.

Whatever it was, Molly was no normal girl. When he'd been given the job of doing her background check at the precinct that afternoon, he'd discovered not only that she was nineteen, but also that her father had been influential Mafioso Vincent Gambino, who had been killed in a violent bloody shoot-out when she was seven, two years after the death of her mother in a suspicious automobile accident. After that she'd been sent to live with her maternal grandparents in Los Angeles and, from what he could gather, had been left pretty much to her own devices until she'd graduated high school and headed back to New York, carrying with her a short but impressive string of misdemeanours, including exhibition of speed and indecent exposure inside a moving vehicle. Surprisingly, it had not been this which made him sit up and take notice, but rather the fact that she had, through no lack of perseverance, managed to finish high school - on the honour roll no less. Two things he was sure of; this girl was smart, and she was also in a hell of a lot of danger.

Two months ago he might've been worried that in some deluded way his concern for Molly stemmed solely from a desire to get into her pants - now at least he was sufficiently back to his old self to be certain that he was just intrigued by her. Besides, he'd already been caught with an underage girl once - nearly six months ago - though luckily her father had come into the bar, revealed her age and beaten the crap out of John before he'd had a chance to do anything illegal. It was, therefore, equally fortunate that he was in the process of retrieving his integrity - though this hadn't stopped Sipowicz from making the snide but stern side comment "keep it in your pants this time, Junior" as he left the precinct that evening. He was always one step ahead of his young partner, and John was pretty sure that Andy had known he was going to end up heading for that ICU.