The day had been long starting at an hour early in the morning and filled with the sickness of the human condition. To come home meant a reprieve if only for a few hours. To work in his home city made the transition to rest and clearheaded more difficult for Sims. He had trained his mind to treat a bland hotel room as a refuge. He had trained his mind to think of home as the same, but rarely did he come home unless the team had finished a case. Even when the case didn't end well or as well as he had hoped it was still finished. On this day he'd go home and the next morning wake up in his own bed to the same problem he'd fallen asleep with.
Mick had suggested they get a hotel room just for this reason. He thought about giving it a try. The nagging something in his belly had dissuaded him. He only had a few hours to get some rest and come back refreshed; nevertheless he decided to call home on drive. The familiarity of checking on milk, bread and cereal quantities meant a sliver of control of something in the world.
"Hey, pick up. I'm on my way. We get the night at home and I wanted to know if we needed anything from the store."
He paused thinking that usually the phone got picked up a little earlier in his rambling when he'd call. Ava, his ex-wife, and he kept a landline. The rest of the team, particularly Beth, found this ridiculous. They screened their calls using an answering machine - something else foreign and odd to the younger generation he worked with. Even Coop, despite his age, had let his answering machine and landline go for the singularity of cell service.
"Okay, guess you aren't there. Call me,"
He hung up and dropped his phone into the cup holder for safe keeping. He swallowed and tried to focus all his attention to the road in front of him. He reached for his phone and switched his eyes to the screen, then the road, back and forth. It took only seconds. He called her cell phone.
A light standard turned yellow. 'Prophet' shifted his foot to the brake and started to apply even pressure. The light switched to red and he slowed to a stop in ample time.
Her phone went to voicemail. He ended the call. Again he dropped the phone into the cup holder and then reached for the radio dial. He pressed the first preset button for the radio, the second, the third, and finally all the way to the sixth and repeated. Commercials or a song he had no desire to listen to were all that seemed to be on air while he waited the few more seconds of the red light.
He thought about the case. His stomach started to sour. He tried to think about milk, bread and eggs. He swallowed again and found dry mouth setting in. The light turned green and he hit the gas. He suddenly needed to be home; to see her car parked in its' usual space and to pull in alongside. He needed to see a light on, waiting for him. He needed to unlock the front door and hear low music and find her in the bathtub or just coming out of the shower – reasons she couldn't or wouldn't pick up either of the two ringing phones.
"Fuck," he cursed at his paranoia, "Fuck. Just call me back."
The store he planned to stop at was a blur through the right window. He eased to make a stop at the red octagon sign. He rolled through it. A patrol cop would understand if he got pulled over and then had to explain. He accelerated and switched to the left lane. He still had to make a left onto a one way street and then pull into the parking garage specifically made for the tenants of their loft building.
About two hundred yards ahead the light standard controlling his upcoming left turn shifted from green to yellow. Sims had to hit the brakes when the yellow changed to red; he thought he had a few more seconds to make it, but the light had no patience for him. Then the sound of tinkling bells came, much like wind chimes.
"What the hell kind of ringtone is that?" Mick had asked the first time he heard Prophet's phone ring.
Sims took the phone from the cup holder, checked the screen to see who was calling, and swiped the screen to answer.
"Hey, sorry I missed the call. My phone got left on silent." Ava replied.
He breathed out once he realized he'd kept his breath held since speaking.
"I figured something like that. Are you at home?"
The light switched green and after making sure there was no oncoming traffic, he made his turn.
He smiled and relaxed his shoulders, sunk back a little into the car's seat and switched on the blinker to turn into the parking garage.
"I'm pulling into the garage. I was going to stop on the way if we needed anything at the store."
"I don't think we do. I know one thing I need right now,"
"I need you,"
His lips parted and he was about to reply, but before that he heard the sniffling and the tremble. He pulled into the space marked with an abbreviation. Other tenants had their initials or a last name. He went with something completely arbitrary, but would suffice so no one would take the spot by mistake. He'd done it on purpose for them both.
"This guy at work," she sighed, voice now heavy and playing tricks with his mind so that he could visualize a trickle of tears though no sound could back this theory up.
"I'm waiting for you to pull up." He said, pushing the gear shift into park and twisting the keys to kill the idle engine.
"He scared the shit out of me,"
"What did he do? Is this a patient?"
She groaned and he overheard the clicking of a turn signal echoing among the road noise reverberating in the car.
"No, it's not a patient. It's this prick that they hired. He's a fucking psycho," she spat disgustedly. "I'm probably going to go to hell for saying that, but oh well,"
"I'm pulling in to the garage right now."
He unhooked his seatbelt, opened the car door, and slipped out. He shut the door, phone to his ear listening to her shaky quick breaths, and popped the trunk with the remote on his keys. He took out his black satchel that contained laptop and case files. He had to take it inside with him at night. So he slid the strap across his chest and shut the trunk. He stood there to wait for her to pull up and park.
"What's this guy's problem?"
"He's a chaplain. They hired him for, you know," she explained, cloaking the explanation of terminal patients with an ambiguous euphemism.
"His name is Daniel. I don't know. He's kind of just off. Tonight was awful. He got me when I wasn't paying attention,"
Her headlights came into view and her car gracefully rolled forward on the polished cement that never felt the abuse of weather safe within the structure of the garage. His pulse seemed to slow just seeing her through the windshield, one hand on the steering wheel and the other clutching the phone. He normally would have hung up, but he held on to the phone and the sound of her voice.
"What do you mean by 'got you'?"
"I mean, got to me. We got into it verbally. I'm so stupid. I can't believe this is bothering me."
"Don't blame yourself. Whatever he did, it wasn't your fault."
The car swung into the space beside him and he took the phone from his ear. He walked from his trunk to hers and around to the driver's side door. He looked down at the phone and saw the connection end as she'd hung up. When he looked in her window he saw she was tossing her phone into her purse. She then took her keys from the steering column, killing the engine.
Before she could reach for the lever herself, he opened her door and held it open for her. She smiled half heartedly and stepped out, holding her purse in one hand, keys in the other and stepped closer. Prophet put both arms around her and she wrapped both around his waist, resting her cheek against his chest. She let out a long held breath and he stroked one palm over the back of her head to keep from tangling his fingers in the silky curls.
"I got ya."
He'd all but forgotten the stress from his day's objective – find the killer targeting middle aged white females from this area. Now, he had a mind teeming and swirling with all the possibilities of what some other man had done or said to incite this reaction from his ex-wife, well, his once ex-wife, or legally divorced partner. They'd made a decision to divorce after he'd been arrested and charged with murder, to protect her financially and professionally. Before the trial had ended it had been finalized and the state jumped at the chance to put her on the stand. After threats of being put in contempt of court, she had no choice but to testify that she couldn't account for his whereabouts on the night of the murder.
"Shit, you have probably had the worst day and here I am…" she muttered trailing off.
"Your foul nurses' mouth is just what I needed to forget my day." He replied, trying to put her at ease.
She nervously smiled, "Let's go inside. This garage still creeps me out at night."
She was the first to pull back and release him from the embrace. He eased back and let one hand drift over her shoulder, down her forearm to her hand. She couldn't hold back the spread of a short-lived smile, weaving her fingers with his. His other hand reflexively touched his service weapon, a 9mm semiautomatic pistol. Just having it there, the heavy weight throwing off his gait throwing at the beginning was a comfort. In the same way, his other hand fingers entwined with hers was also a comfort.
They walked the short distance to the garage foot entrance and along the footpath to the building. She still had her keys out, a habit, one that he liked. She knew to stab for the eyes with her keys if someone approached her.
"I need a glass of wine, stat," she said, putting the entrance key in the lock.
He let go of her hand so she could twist the knob while turning her key.
"Do you want it in CCs or just eyeball it." He joked, letting his eyes sweep over the area, a habit that would never leave him.
They stepped inside and he shut the front door, giving it a pull to test that it had locked behind them. From the entrance they walked to the elevator. She already had her other key ready.
"Fill it up. I've had it. Three days off is going to do me good,"
"Coop gave me six hours."
"Remind me why I complain about my hours to you?" she grinned, more at ease and falling into the familiarity of coming home.
"I'm sure someday you'll win," he retorted with an adorable smile to follow.
They stepped in to the elevator and Prophet pressed the number for their floor. The floor had two lofts and theirs was the door closest to the elevator.
"So, a whole six hours instead of four?"
"We hit a brick wall. It's not making sense and burning midnight oil last night didn't exactly help. So, 6 hours instead of 4. Maybe that extra precious sleep will give us an edge."
"You know I can't say."
She rolled her eyes, "Any hope is what I'm asking?"
"Close, but no cigar." He sighed, shoving hands in his pockets.
She snorted a quick breath and adjusted her purse strap on the crook of her arm. He changed the subject back to her problem at work.
"So you've got the chaplain from hell?"
She reached for his elbow and slipped her arm around his, stepping in close. A subtle sign she needed security even though it rung obvious in his mind. The elevator stopped and the doors slid open. She started to loosen her grip as they stepped forward out of the wide entry into the hallway.
"I screwed up," she remarked, her tone serious once more.
She took the keys and slid them into the door lock.
"Shit where I ate spiritually, so to speak,"
Sims couldn't help but shake his head with a grin. "You, woman, have a way with words."
Ava simply sighed, released his arm and swung open the door. They crossed the threshold and she spared no time putting toe to heel, kicking off her shoes on the entry rug. She stalked forward in socks dropping her purse on the coffee table and all but dropping onto their couch. The chocolate colored sectional set had a three seat couch, with one of the seats concealing a foot rest and would recline. The second half boasted a love seat. He locked up behind her, door handle, lock and deadbolt before ducking his head to pull off the satchel. He set it alongside the couch and then sat down beside her to unlace his boots.
"So," he began, leaving the word hanging in the air to bait her.
"So, they hired this jerk about a month ago. I liked him right off. He really seemed to care, which I guess a minister is supposed to do. So he's making rounds and I'm making my rounds."
Sims pulled off the first boot, setting it off to the side and started on the second, glancing up at her as she spoke. She didn't look at him, just trained her eyes to the ceiling. He felt a pinch of guilt for assessing her that way. He hated that his mind calculated that she was not lying based on her gaze off into the distance like someone watching the past like a movie. He hated that it took him at least a day to stop being on the job. He hated even more that it would be pointless to even try to turn it off for a measly 6 hour break.
"He had a sense of humor. The other chaplains had pretty proper senses of humor, but I thought it was a nice change to have someone who could crack jokes with the nurses and didn't give us the tsk tsk for sarcasm."
Prophet stood up, now in socks as well. He strolled across the length of the wood floor into the kitchen, listening as she explained. The box of wine she kept on hand for relaxing after work had just been opened within the past few days. He pulled it from the ice box and set it on the counter and reached from the hanging rack for one of the stemmed glasses. He poured her a glass of table red.
"We had lunch a few times, sometimes just me and him, but mostly me, him and Sherry or Meg. Just talked about life and he'd do his duty sharing the faith. We had some good talks. Apparently, he thought I should make an appearance at his church some night when I didn't have a shift. I tried to bow out saying I usually got stuck with Sundays, but apparently they have really amazing services on Wednesdays. He's just one of many pastors there,"
"Where's there?" Prophet asked, returning to her and handing her the glass of wine.
He took a seat on the couch, angling so he could face her. He tried to shake off the stiffness and feign relaxed, but he ended up with his elbows on his knees, one fist balled up and the other hand cupping it so he could squeeze it like a stress ball as she talked. She sat up from her full slouch and tilted her head back to take a long sip of the wine before quoting a church name he'd never heard.
"Anyway," she sniffed, twirling the stem of the glass in her fingers, focusing now on it as she spoke, "Daniel started really evangelizing some of the patients. I love being manager because I get to handle these little moments. Sherry comes to me and says she overheard him doing some counseling. She said he told a fifteen year old boy who had just come out of a car crash, lost his father, damn near lost his leg, and has a mother who lives in bumfuck Iowa coming to get him meaning that he's probably going to have to pull up and go live with her - that this is all God's plan and being mad at God is not going to change any of it. That it's wrong to doubt the Lord and his plan,"
"Yeah, she said this kid just laid there taking it in and next thing Daniel is telling him that if it weren't for God he wouldn't be alive and he needs to thank God for everything, right there."
"She stepped in the room and made up some sort of procedure and asked Daniel to leave. She thinks he got wise because he asked if there was any way he could have 5 more minutes to pray with the kid and then he'd turn him over. She gave the kid one look and pointed him to the door."
"Great." He said with a final squeeze to his balled up fist flexing open both hands, "Just what the world needs, another dictator with a cross."
"I can't wait until the kid's mother arrives. It's going to be a shit storm, but thank God I'm off. I had Sherry write it up for me. I took it as a complaint, but I had to go follow up on it before I filed. I thought maybe Sherry got it out of context. I didn't think this guy could truly say that to this poor kid. He's a sweet kid, wholesome, religious and if he couldn't see his mom he thought the next best thing would be a preacher."
"Then the guy basically tells him to feel guilt for his grief process." Prophet summed up.
"I get the write up and when I finally have a chance I go see Daniel. I didn't come at him at all. I knock on his door and ask him if I can talk to him in private about something work related. So he says sure and I go in the little cubby the chaplain gets for an office, it's right off the chapel. I sit down and I explain that there had been a complaint about his conduct with a patient and before I can finish he gets all defensive. So I knew right then Sherry had it right. If it had been benign he wouldn't have gotten worked up."
She took another sip of the wine and leaned her head all the way back against the cushioning of the couch. She sat for a moment in silence, eyes shut. Sims edged closer and put his hand out to cover her hand free hand.
"He tells me that I don't know what the circumstances were and that my nurse kicked him out of the room before he could properly finish up "relationship processing" with the kid and then he said the kid called to have him come back and my nurses were all blocking him from getting back into the room. He goes on about how he's about to call my supervisor because I'm coming down here without even getting his side of the story.
"Already, I am really concerned, because he's just morphed into this total unprofessional and second he's using this terminology that I have never in my life heard."
"Cult behavior," he surmised, as if still in the war room with the team picking apart the evidence. Ava didn't take exception, nodding in agreement.
"I was sitting at his desk across from him and I just took a breath and calmly tried to explain that some of his advice had upset the patient and there had been concern about the patient's needs because he is so young. The child is in our care until his mother arrives from Iowa and in order to do our jobs and keep him comfortable and recovering from his injuries the staff member consulted with his physician about adequate rest needs and that his visitors are limited to family only.
"He comes off at this point about how family isn't just blood and that the kid is a Christian and needs his Christian family. He won't come see him if the kid doesn't want him there, but we have no right to block this kid from accessing Christian counsel during his greatest time of need."
"And this guy is still employed as of you punching out?" Prophet asked incredulously.
"Yeah," she spat, lifting the wine glass and taking a healthy slug, reducing the volume by a quarter.
"I get up and am like – look, I've told you that there has been a complaint. I just need you to write up your side of this. I'm going to go ahead and send this up the line because I don't think you and I are going to be able to reach an agreement on what occurred and I can see that I've upset you."
She groaned and pulled her hand away to rub her eyes and he saw her lower lip shake. He took the wine glass from her hand, set it on the coffee table, and leaned forward wrapping one arm around her shoulders and using the other to nudge her toward him. She gave no fight and still covering her face with one hand, put her other against his chest, rested her cheek on his shoulder and began to weep. He knew better than to push her any farther so he let her cry for the minute or two that she needed.
"His voice had kind of risen when he was explaining himself. He got pretty excited during his little defense speech. But when I said that, he got eerily calm and was really short. He said to me 'Upset, Ava? I'm not upset. You're the one that's blowing this out of proportion." And I just stood there completely like – what the hell did I just walk into."
"That's manipulation. He turned the feeling emotion back on you. You said he was upset. He had to deny it because it doesn't fit his façade to be upset. A minister doesn't get upset. So, he put the label on you to discredit you and keep his ego intact."
"It gets weirder." She mumbled, pulling her hand from her eyes to wipe her cheeks, "I am staring at him and I'm like, oh hell no. I said to him something like "Look, whatever. I can go over the statement with you now or I can send it up. It's your choice."
"He starts back peddling, immediately and says how he is willing to discuss it. He is just very concerned for the boy and wants to help him as much as possible and that I of all people should know how very much the boy needs a spiritual presence to guide him.
"I tell him that this is nothing to do with me and my personal beliefs. This is about telling an impressionable traumatized teenager some things that upset him and – well, later the kid did complain, but he hadn't yet. So all I could say was that it had concerned staff to hear what he said, but if it was taken out of context then now would be the time to explain that so that it goes on record."
"Let me guess, he has a good reason for everything?" Jonathan asked.
"Of course he does. He gives me a slightly different version of what he said. Then says that he isn't mad at Sherry and he may have thought the same thing she did if he came from her background. So I try to leave it alone and he goes into how Sherry has been disobedient a number of times and that having had lunch with her and listened to her comments he is aware she is an atheist and he thinks this is why this complaint is happening.
"I ask him if he refused to vacate the room when Sherry asked him to do so for the medical procedure and ignored his explanation about Sherry's personal life affecting her judgment at work. He says that she was pretty rude about telling him to get out and he just asked, because he didn't understand that what she had to do couldn't wait. He tried to say that it had been offhanded and he'd left after she asked and not the other way around."
"So, after the whole thing is kind of now done and I have a he-said, she-said on my hands. I'm like, okay, please write this up as an incident report and forward it along to legal and cc me. And he is just staring at me with this intense look and I look behind me, because it really – I don't know. I just don't know how to even describe this. Then he blinked and was back to all smiles and told me he would do that, got up from his chair, shook my hand and smiled and thanked me for coming to see him."
Sims remained silent. Ava pulled back and reached for the wine glass on the coffee table. He lowered one arm so she could learn forward far enough to reach, but kept his other arm tight around her. He pulled her back against him. She shifted so that she could lean her side against him and sip her wine.
"And he's an ordained minister?" He finally said.
"At a real church,"
"Wow, and he's on the loose."
She nodded and took the final sip of the glass.
"Another?" he questioned and received an affirmative murmur. He took the glass from her hand and gently pushed her forward so he could get up. He walked into the kitchen on autopilot and filled her glass, stuffing the wine box back into the fridge, determined not to let her go for a third no matter how much her nerves needed settling.
"What do you think?" she questioned as he handed her the glass before lowering down to the couch and slipping in behind her.
"I think he sounds pretty messed up. I don't even know how he-" Prophet paused, "Don't tell him anything else about you, okay."
"Okay," she readily agreed, taking a first sip of the second glass and making a pronounced 'ah' after.
"I'm serious. Even the smallest detail is something he can latch on to and use later whether it be verbally sparring or," he hesitated, "or whatever."
"It really got to me. I had no idea he'd act like that. We'd been working together a month, granted not daily or too close – not like I work with the other nurses. It just shocked me. I couldn't get it out of my mind the last two hours of my shift. I kept checking my back when I clocked out and went to my car. I almost asked the security guard to walk me."
"Next time, you even think about it – go with it. Instincts don't lie and you have especially good instincts."
She gave a half smile. "My instincts told me to take the name plate on his desk and bash his head in, but I held back."
Prophet said nothing.
"Bad joke," She added, lifting her glass. "Worst joke probably."
"I regret it every day."
"I know, I know. I should know better than to even joke about it."
He half heartedly shrugged and wound his arms around her, just beneath her ribcage.
"It's something that makes a whole lot of sense though. There are times I wish ethics didn't exist or remorse, but they do and since they do and I have them both, well here we are: court costs, shame, a marriage, six years of my life that I'll never get back and a full pardon later."
"I waited. I tried not to. I tried everything, but in the end, I waited." She said softly.
"I know." He said, even softer.
The sound of a thunder crack and a guitar riff broke the placid mood. Without hesitation, she broke from his grip and leaned at an odd angle, reaching around him, grabbing her purse.
"Hospital ringtone," she explained quickly, dropping the purse into her lap and digging in for her phone.
While still holding the wine glass she used to her pinky to swipe the screen and answered the phone call.
"Yellow?" she chirped, hiding the serious tone that she'd been speaking in for nearly an hour since they'd been home.
Prophet saw her back muscles tense through her scrubs. Her posture changed completely. She took a sip from her wine glass and swallowed the bitter liquid back.
"Look, I don't want to talk about it. See you when I'm back on, okay."
She turned looking over her shoulder at Prophet with a harried expression on her face.
"Well, that's fine for you. I am off the clock so right now I just –"
She paused and listened. Sims put his hand out for the phone.
"Honestly, I accept your apology. I appreciate that you understand how things got misconstrued and that you are sorry for how you –"
There was another pause and she removed the phone from her ear, hitting the red rectangle on the screen that clearly said END. She set the phone onto the coffee table and took a sip of wine before putting the glass down, too.
"Him?" Prophet asked, humorless.
"Yeah," she said quickly, her eyes darting away.
"Don't," he said in response to her body language, softening his still serious tone, "I'm not mad at you for answering; you thought it was work."
She scratched her cheek and then lowered her hands to her lap, folding them. Another thunderclap followed by the opening notes of a guitar. She glanced over at the phone. Prophet looked over her shoulder at the lit up screen.
"Let it go to voicemail." He told her.
She turned around and wrapped her arms around his neck and hiding her face in the crook. He automatically returned the hug and pulled her off the couch onto his lap. She felt like a child hiding from a storm, a monster, or the threat of a bad grade. The ringtone eventually ceased. They sat in silence. A solitary beep came from the phone and a visual notification on the screen for the voicemail that had been left.
"Save the voicemail." He said.
"I will," she whispered back.
"Tomorrow, if he contacts you again, text me; I'll be in the field, but I want to know if he's harassing you."
"I'm sure it's not like that," she reasoned. "I just got tired of his platitudes and hung up. He probably thinks the call dropped."
"Yeah," he blandly agreed.
The thunderclap sounded again. Prophet let go of her with his right arm and reached for the phone, grabbing it before she could remove her arm and thwart him. He swiped the screen and put the phone up to his ear.
"Hi, this is Pastor Shue."
"Great. This is Special Agent Sims."
"Her husband," Prophet gave only half a second for a pause, "Ava isn't going to take your calls at home. I'd suggest sending her an email if you need to communicate about job related matters. She can attend to it during business hours."
"No, there are no buts. Don't call her again. The conversation is finished. There is nothing else to say to her."
He hung up the phone and put it on the table, a wide smile spread across his lips. She looked at him in shock, her face paled in comparison to moments before.
"Sorry," he said through his smile, "I used 'cop voice'. I didn't mean to scare you,"
She shook her head. "I love cop voice. I'm just not looking forward to what he's going to do after that. I'm so going to hear about it later."
"You hear anything about it later in any form or fashion and I can pay him a visit. I'm sure a one-on-one chat would give him something to think about other than harassing you and making your life hell."
"Hah. He's going to be pissed that you just dominated him."
"No, he's going to stand down. He has no authority with the hospital board of directors. He has no authority with the nursing staff. You have authority with both. Regardless of what he thought he could pull in his office, on his territory, with you in a closed room alone with no possible witnesses, he knows the game's changed now. Feds and religious nuts have historically not done too well together, mostly on the side of the religious nuts. He's probably pissing himself on his knees praying there's not going to be another Waco at his church or compound, whatever." The venom in Prophet's voice was undeniable.
"Guess I got lucky I have the possessive fed for a husband."
"Hey, boyfriend sounds less macho, ex-husband is too confusing, and besides, common law counts."
She rolled her eyes. "Are you ever going to remake an honest woman out of me?"
"If we could ever get off enough vacation at the same time, but that would require an honest to God miracle."
"I wasn't serious or anything." She excused, flustered and starting to blush.
"Good, I wasn't asking," he goaded putting his right arm back around her and stroking the small of her back.
She ran her hands from his shoulders to his neck, cupping his chin and leaned down. She touched her lips to his, hesitating before nipping at his bottom lip.
"You still have five hours. I know you probably need to sleep and I'm worn out."
"Are you asking for a rain check?"
She brought her lips back to his, kissing slowly. She moved his lips apart with hers and deepened the kiss.
"More like a quickie," she answered.