"Write it on the board, Thom," Rhyme said. "In your beautiful, cursive writing."

"Thanks for the compliment, Linc," Thom replied. "- Approximately 1.5m" went onto the whiteboard.

"Okay, so I'll have to look for a really short guy walking around the place, who has blond hair and blue eyes - "

"You don't know if it's a wig and coloured lenses or not, Amelia. For all you know he might have jet-black hair and gray eyes."

Sachs opened her mouth, and shut it again. She opened her mouth to say "But-"

"You look like a fish. What are you going to say?"

Sachs glanced at Mel Cooper, the soft-spoken lab technician. Rhyme had been increasingly irritable the past week, so it was not a good time to tell him straight to his face that he hadn't been listening or paying attention. "I was going to say, the hair strand left in the car had a small bit of glue on it."

"Meaning it was definitely from a wig. Thom, write every single hair colour except blond."

Sachs interjected. "He might have blond hair but was just wearing a blond wig to lead us off into thinking that he did not have blond hair."

"Did you seriously think that anyone would wear a wig the same colour as their hair? The purpose of a wig is to disguise themselves, not to lead investigators off."

"It might have been planted evidence," Amelia said with decreasing confidence.

"You heard what the witness said. Thom, write every single colour except blond."

"Yes, sir. Does anyone want coffee?"

"Apparently my dear Thom has a new recipe. He's been telling me all about it, the infusion of goodness knows what vanilla or something into what coffee beans and how the aroma is therapeutic and some such."

One did have to admit, Thom had good food/ drink creations. "Sure," everyone in the room agreed simultaneously, apart from Rhyme.

"Mel, now it's up to you to show off your amazing handwriting skills," Rhyme told him. Mel shot him an amused glance as he got up and took the marker.

"Lon, while Thom is at it, mind getting some nice thick malt-y Scotch for me?"

Sachs stared at him. "But he's across the room! I'm right here why didn't you ask me to get it?"

"Men are generally more generous than ladies when it comes to alcohol thank you Lon."



Lon poured a few fingers into the cup on the large arm of Rhyme's cherry-red Storm Arrow wheelchair. Rhyme took a long sip slash gulp. "Ah. Heaven," he remarked. "And no, Amelia, I didn't mean to offend you. Are you angry?"

She shook her head, but he wasn't convinced. "Really? That's a first."

She shot him an acerbic glance. "What do you mean?"

Rhyme shrugged, one of the few actions the accident that had crippled him from the fourth cervical vertebra of his spine allowed him to do. Again, he was annoyed that he was unable to shrug as dismissively as he would have liked.

Lon was surprised. "Wow. You're actually concerned!" but shut up when Rhyme gave him a dirty look.

"Wow, Lon, to add on to that awesome realisation, we're also not doing any work!" He sipped more Scotch and continued the staring game.

"Okay, results from the GC/MS out," Mel announced. "The elements make up tar."

"Tar." Rhyme made the word into a three-syllable one. He wheeled over to the computer screen to see the results. "Find out what places in New York have been undergoing construction within the last month, and if those areas have lousy, chippy scaffoldings."

"Chippy?"

"Wood chips. Look at the microscope slide on the screen. Those random little whitish-brownish dots. That's wood."

"How'd you know?" Sachs asked. "It could have been paint."

"That's because the GC/MS results show resin. Wood to be made into scaffoldings are coated with them."

"Coffee isn't ready, but I thought my handwriting might be needed for a while. I really wonder why I smell Scotch," Thom said. He looked at his boss. "You've been drinking."

"No, I haven't been drinking, I drank. And so did Lon and Mel."

The two of them did their best to mask their surprised faces.

"Even if I did, what's wrong?" Rhyme asked. "Will it cause me to die or something?"

"Indirectly, yes," Thom replied. "Firstly, it's 11pm and you should be in bed by now. Secondly, you're drinking alcohol during the night, which overworks your underworking liver, which does cause damage to you, which results in your death. Thirdly, it isn't good for you because it might cause a dysreflexia attack. That enough for you?"

"Look, Thom, I know you're really concerned about me and all, and I really appreciate it-"



"You do?"

"But don't you think you're getting too grandmotherly?"

"No, I don't, that's my job to be so, and you have to go to bed now."

"Look, Thom, stop it. One more word and you're fired."

Sachs, Mel and Sellitto shared a look. They all knew how Thom had quit 3 times, Rhyme had fired him 3 times, and all 6 times, Rhyme had hired him back.

"And by the way, Thom, is what you wrote 1.3 or 1.5?"

Thom looked uncertain. "1.3."

"Based on what we said just now, it's 1.5. You nearly screwed our case. You're fired."

"But-"

"And you know I hate apologies or excuses. You're out of here by tomorrow afternoon 12pm."

Thom stared at him, disbelieving. He strode into the kitchen without a word, and called back, "Coffee's burnt, sorry!"

-

There was an awkward silence as Thom got his boss dressed for bed and did a sitting transfer from his chair to his bed. With a command of "lights out" by Rhyme, the Environmental Control Unit/ECU responded to his command and the lights were turned off.

Thom shut the door silently and in the dark, Rhyme tried to think whether what he had done was right. If he could toss and turn, he most definitely would have. He felt that Thom would have to go sooner or later, anyway. He thought about Thom, he thought about his current case, he thought about his pop music CD suddenly. He thought about Sachs, how beautiful she was, how amazing her cop and forensic skills were, and suddenly…

She came in.

Her hair wasn't shining as usual, because there was no light to reflect off it. Or maybe it was because she had been undergoing a lot of stress lately and her hair had lost its natural gloss.

Sachs sat beside him, not on one of those lousy plastic chairs Rhyme had set out for the visitors who came (and he hated), but on his bed.

It was a long time before she actually started talking. "Why did you fire Thom, Linc?"

Rhyme closed his eyes. He didn't know why either, but he wasn't about to admit it. And to call him back now would be ridiculous.



"You didn't have to, you know. You need him and he needs you." He hated it when she talked in that persuasive tone of hers.

"I know."

His voice surprised her. She wasn't expecting an answer.

"Then why? It isn't too late to call him back now."

"It is."

Sachs took his right hand. Holding hands had become very important for them ever since he regained his grasping function about 6 months ago. Rhyme squeezed her hand in response.

"Linc, you have to find a suitable caregiver by the end of this week, you know. I can't be doing all the things Thom does for a long time."

Rhyme didn't answer. His eyes were still closed, as though it was an attempt to shut himself from the brunt of the hard reality of what he had done, and the consequences he had to face.

He felt Sachs release his hand, kiss him on the forehead, and leave him in a world of darkness, alone.

-

He was woken by Sachs the next morning. He was surprised that it wasn't Thom, and suddenly was reminded by her telling him "Thom left already. He said it wasn't right for him to stay for much longer."

The next two days passed with Mel Cooper, Lon Sellitto and Amelia Sachs trying to solve their case. The atmosphere was cool, without any hot cookies or coffee being prepared. Single-malt Scotch was the only drink served, and only to one person: Lincoln Rhyme himself.

When Mel went out to get Chinese takeaway dinner for all of them, Rhyme felt a sudden urge to play some pop music. He remembered how Thom had reminded him of Kenny G and how he had gotten hooked after that, but now he wanted something that did not remind him of his ex-caregiver. He scrolled through his collection of CDs, and ended up at his sole Westlife CD: World of our Own. One title caught his eye.

Soon the sad lyrics of "I Cry" resonated through the living room/ forensic laboratory. Sellitto stared at Rhyme. "Hey, since when did you become a fan of such weird sad songs?" But was shut up by one of Rhyme's classic dirty looks.

He pondered. He didn't know why either. Why was Thom's departure affecting him so much? He didn't want it to, and it shouldn't have.

A scent he recognised suddenly came up from beside him. "You're sad because you fired Thom, right?"



Rhyme turned to look at Amelia Sachs, intending to disagree and rebut immediately. But when he saw the look in her eyes, her look that made him feel that she was staring deep down into his heart, he crumbled. He turned away.

"Linc, you've been weak lately emotionally and physically. You've been working your butt off on this case and staying up so late at night, yet you still insist on drinking that vile Scotch of yours!"

Rhyme raised an eyebrow.

"Okay, not that I don't like it, it's just that it's bad for you! And I don't know why, but you've been so emotionally unstable! You disagree with almost everything I say and you do it really rudely and weirdly, too. Honestly, Linc! Now you fire Thom for no reason whatsoever, simply because he was just doing his job and being concerned about you!"

"Look, Sachs, just- just shut up, okay? I'm really tired." He turned and wheeled away.

Sachs was taken aback. He never called her by her surname in conversations like this; he reserved it for official matters, like when they were both on the job.

Rhyme had gone up to his bedroom in the tiny elevator. He stared at the peregrine falcons nesting on his window ledge. "Why are you here? Why are you on the window ledge of a crip's home?"

The falcons didn't respond, but merely looked back at him.

He sighed. This case was starting to get into him. He was really, really tired now, and he had just chased Amelia away. How smart of him, he thought.

But, just like Thom, it would be ridiculous to call her back now. He didn't know what to do, and he hated it when there was nothing he could do. He stared at the clock. 7.30pm. It was getting dark outside. He wondered about Mel; when he would be coming back. He suddenly felt like sleeping early; this case was tiring him.

In the midst of his thoughts, Sellitto came in. He stood there silently for a while, and when he realised Rhyme was in a world of his own, he started to speak first. "Linc."

Rhyme turned to face him.

"Amelia loves you, you know that, right?"

"Look, just get to the point. What do you want to tell me?"

"That's what I want to tell you. That you're hurting her this way."

"Got it. By the way, what is she doing now?"

Sellitto shrugged. "Sitting there, pondering whether to come up or not while waiting for dinner?"

"Okay. Do you have any idea when Mel is coming back? I feel like resting early today. "



Sellitto was surprised. "You fire Thom for telling you to sleep early, and now after he leaves you finally decide to listen to him."

Rhyme didn't answer. He was feeling that dreaded feeling again; something he hadn't felt in a long time. The same feeling he felt when he was searching for the perp who had treasured bones and killed innocent people for them. The same ominous feeling that he was going to become more crippled than he already was.

"Rhyme? You okay?" came the voice of Sellitto.

No, I'm not okay, Rhyme thought. I'm having a dozen sledgehammers being slammed into my head and you ask me if I'm okay. His neck began to shiver, and it became increasingly violent. An undescribablye feeling, a mix of panic, pain and pressure started at the fourth cervical vertebra and sped northward. Then, his shiver turned into a storm of sweat as it rained down his face.

Rhyme didn't know who to call. Sachs? Sellitto? Mel?

Thom?

"Thom," he whispered. "Thom."

Sachs got the message. "Sellitto, call Thom," she instructed. "And I don't care what he says, just get him over here right now. Mel, get the EMS." She gasped as Rhyme's face turned the same shade as his wheelchair.

The pain was unbearable, too unbearable for him to take. He jammed his teeth together, he slammed his head against the mounted headrest on his chair, he clenched his fist he had spent so long to regain feeling in it. He tried anything to stop the terrible pain in his head. The area above his site of massive injury turned red, and the area below became paper white. The blood rushing to his head was threatening to burst the capillaries in his brain, and gain, Rhyme was terrified of the stroke it might cause him, rendering him even more helpless than he already was. But that thought contributed to the worsening of his attack. The massive attack threatened to crack even his skull, or so he felt. He felt the attack of autonomic dysreflexia get worse as he saw the peregrine falcons on his ledge escape easily into the safe haven of the city. He felt his life getting knocked out of him as he tried gasping for air, but failing miserably. He heard Sachs getting out the phrenic nerve stimulator, he heard Sellitto shouting into the phone, then he heard nothing.

-

Rhyme felt a cold metallic thing on his chest.

Or so he thought. He couldn't feel anything below his chest.

He turned his head to the left, to the right, and finally he turned up. He opened his eyes to find himself staring into a pair of clear blue eyes that exuded concertn. The world seemed to swim before him. He shook his head and opened his eyes again.



"Welcome back." Sachs greeted him with a kiss on the forehead.

Rhyme clenched his right fist. He was thankful it still retained its movement. He glanced down at his chest. "Don't want the nerve stimulator," he muttered.

"Let's just keep it on for a little while more and see how it goes, okay?"

Rhyme recognised that voice. "Thom," he said with mock heaviness, but in a voice that concealed joy and relief. "What are you doing here?"

Thom glanced at Sachs. "Let's just say she asked me to come back. But ask is an understatement."

Sachs ignored him. She wiped Rhyme's forehead. "Thom saved your life, Linc. You should at least sound grateful."

"Thanks," he said, hardly audible. Thom cocked his head.

"Thank you, Thom," Rhyme said slightly louder.

"Welcome."

There was a short silence, them Thom spoke again. "Am I still fired?"

Rhyme pondered. "No, we need your excellent handwriting skills. Go get the marker."