a Road lEss traveleD
Chapter 13: more than words
It is still night, but he doesn't know how long he's been lying there, on the smooth stones by the pool. One hand is in the water, but he can't feel it. It is his left hand. He tries to sit up, and the weight pushes him back down, a heaviness on his left side that has rendered his arm and hand and most of his body in fact, useless. He thinks there is pain as well, but is not sure. He stopped feeling pain a long time ago.
He tastes copper on his tongue.
He wants to close his eyes and sleep on the shore. Charlotte will find him, curl up under his arm and they'll doze awhile before going in. They will be shaking sand out of their hair and clothes for days and it will make Angie crazy, but then again, there is nothing new in that.
He smiles, breathing in the salt air. He loves the ocean. Loves the beach. Loves his home in Mailibu.
Paddy, not now. Get up.
He waves his right hand for her to come over, join in the cuddle. A family affair. It would be so nice.
Get up, you ass.
He raises a brow. Angie doesn't cuss like that.
Okay, so you've been shot. Big deal. Get your lizard brain in gear and pull yourself together.
Yeah, me. You've taken out two. You got one left. Get up, you lazy son-of-a-bitch.
He opens one eye, sees their shapes shimmering against the clouds and the purple sky. Angie is wringing her hands, looking both worried and pretty in her French floral sundress, the blue one with the buttercups. She never had nice things growing up. He'd made it a point to buy her nice things. Mashburn is next to her. He has many nice things.
"Am I dead?" he asks.
Not yet, says Mashburn. But you will be soon if you don't get the hell up.
He holds out a ghostly hand to help him.
Please, Paddy. Please. For me.
For her. Anything for her. Always for her. He would travel to the gates of hell and back for her. He's pretty sure that he just has.
So he reaches out and takes Mashburn's hand. It feels like nothing, like the wind, but it helps him nonetheless and he staggers to his feet, swaying. His left side is hunched and heavy, his palms and belly and cheek streaked with red.
And now his chest, just above his heart, turning Cho's nice T-shirt red. All red.
He hates the colour red.
"Look at you," sang a voice and he turned slowly to see Gale Bertram trotting down the path, sniper rifle slung across his back like a well-healed English gentleman. "Still alive. Patrick, you never cease to amaze me."
He looked around for Angie and Walter, but they were gone and he was alone with the man and his powerful gun and the wind.
Bertram stopped and glanced down at Schelling, his face mangled and body twisted in the shrubs. But it was the bloody face on the stones he studied, a smile of his own playing about his lips.
"You were so close, Patrick. So close."
He looked at Jane, like he had many, many times before. He was such a pleasant looking man. He had such a nice voice.
"You should have finished it. Really, you should have. It would have completed your evolution."
"I am not you," Jane whispered. "I am not Red John."
"No, sadly. That much is clear."
Bertram stepped closer, dropped one hand on Jane's shoulder. The good one. The world spun and reeled like a drunk.
"You could have been so much more. You know that, don't you?"
Jane blinked at him. He had nothing. No words, no strength, no resources, no cunning plan. Nothing. He was bleeding out of many wounds and the red…
"You know I have to kill you. I really don't want to do that. I like you Patrick. Really, I do."
The red was leaving.
Jane looked off to the east, where the sun was just beginning to break across the horizon. It sent faint streaks across the sky. Red streaks, of course. It was beautiful.
One hand still on his shoulder, Bertram slid a long hooked blade from the pocket of his windbreaker. "You are a very challenging individual. I would have liked to get to know you better. I think we could have been fast friends, you and I."
The red, which had formerly been a prison, a set of chains, an entire paradigm, was leaving.
It was just a colour. One of many in the spectrum of the rainbow. The colour of blood and muscle and sinew and hearts and sunrise and sunset and flowers and potatoes and fire and heat and tides and hair and tape and gold and moons and ponies. Red was just a colour.
It was leaving and he was going to miss it.
"I'll make it quick, I promise? Are you okay with that?"
He was good.
He was fine.
He was free.
"I'm not okay with it," came the voice of Teresa Lisbon, and Bertram froze as he stood, blade poised, shining in the sunrise. "Put that down, sir. Or I will blow three holes in your back the size of my fist. Do you understand?"
Her voice like an angel. A fierce, gun-toting angel. Angry little princess.
"Ah, Agent Lisbon, I, ah… I am arresting this man. He has killed two officers of the court tonight—"
"Shut up, sir. Put the knife down."
Slowly, Bertram dragged his eyes back to lock with Jane's. "Now this is where we come down to it. Two tigers, we both. And we will burn bright in life, and in death. It is Poetic Justice and it is art. Agreed?"
Jane stared at him. He had no words.
He looked over Bertram's shoulder, to where Lisbon was standing, her Glock raised and braced. Her hair was rising and falling in the wind, her eyes burning like green coals. She looked ferocious, like steel.
His anchor of reality.
Behind her, Cho and Rigsby, both with weapons drawn. His cavalry.
And his heart, free as a bird, soared at the thought.
"Put it down, sir. NOW!"
See. Hear. Touch. Taste. Smell.
Bertram leaned in close.
"What immortal hand or eye, could frame thy fearful symmetry?"
He saw Bertram's arm move, saw her finger flex.
He heard the gunshots, bang bang bang
Felt the cold heat of the blade in his ribs, felt his breath catch in his throat, felt Bertram's weight as the man lurched forward, felt the weight increase ten fold as his knees bucked and the pair of them fell to the ground
Tasted blood on his tongue
Smelled the salt air, gunpowder, rosewater
The red was leaving
Bertram is gone, rolled off his body and into the pool
Teresa Lisbon bending down
live she is saying please live
Her long dark hair falling
Gold cross swinging above him
Please God let him live
her great green eyes bigger than the whole world
the red balloon floating high overhead
Our Father who Art in Heaven
gold cross swinging
Hallowed be Thy Name
the dawn sky now yellow and purple and bright
red leaving with so many colours left
Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done
only one voice inside his head
and finally darkness
On Earth as it is in Heaven
with not a drop of red in sight
Three weeks later…
JJ LaRoche sighed and looked around at the office.
It was large, larger than anything he'd ever worked in before.
It was beautiful, with cherry wood furniture, paneling and shelves that still contained hundreds of books, many of them by William Blake.
It was located in the heart of the Department of Justice, in the center of downtown Sacramento, in the capital of California.
And perhaps the most surprising of all, it was his.
He shook his head and sighed again. Three weeks ago, it had belonged to Director Gale Bertram. Bertram, pillar of the community, paragon of law and order and justice. One of Red John's friends. The entire organization of the CBI was under investigation, at his own prodding, and the infection seemed to have no end. But a list had been found on Bertram's personal computer and the ferreting had been swift and ruthless. They were still uncovering connections that went back for almost ten years.
The victim list had also continued to mount, and it was staggering the profound effect that the entity known as Red John had had on things. It was mind-boggling, the stuff of movies and John Grisham books, and if he stopped to think too long and hard enough about it, he knew the sheer weight of it, the whole wicked convoluted conspiracy, would drive him mad.
For some reason, he thought of Patrick Jane.
He felt heavy as the emotions rolled in.
He shook his head. He was not used to feeling such things. He was a man of the mind, of intellect and reason. What was done was done and he could change nothing with regret or guilt or sorrow.
But he could be a better man. He had promised Teresa Lisbon and her team this. He could be kinder, more open. He could be compassionate and less dogmatic. He could listen and he could learn. Yes, he would be a better man.
He was the new Director of the CBI.
His mind would be reeling at the speed of his promotion, if his mind were the sort given to reeling, which it wasn't. He ran a finger along the edge of the desk, not certain if he wanted to sit. He'd been on his feet all day, with the paperwork, the swearing-in ceremony, the meeting with the Governor. He desperately wanted to sit but once he sat, he owned, and he wasn't certain how he felt about that. For now, the desk was his.
But he did sit, and to his surprise, the chair made no creaking sound under his weight. He pursed his lips. It was a well-made chair. Almost as if it fit. Almost as if he belonged.
From a large brown pocket, he pulled the only personal item to follow him from job to job, office to office, the first and last thing he took when moving around his particular circles. A small framed photo of a little white dog.
He smiled and set it on the desk.
There was a knock at his door and he looked up. His new office administrator was standing there. She was his age, perhaps a year or two younger, with large blue eyes under tortoiseshell glasses, a small pink mouth and neat blonde hair tied back in a loop. She was wearing a brown skirt and beige blouse, and he thought she seemed perfectly competent and professional in her office wear.
In fact, he thought she was rather pretty. But the last time he'd thought things like that, it had ended badly, so he pushed them from his mind.
She smiled. "Excuse me, Director LaRoche…"
His flickering gaze weighed on her a moment. "Miss Davenport, you may call me JJ."
She averted her eyes. "Oh sir, that is far too forward."
She blushed. "If you insist. I um…I have some forms for you to fill out…"
She brought them over, laid them carefully on his desk. As he began to read, she noticed the photograph, turned it slightly to study it and her face lit up like a beacon.
"A Maltese? You have a Maltese?"
Slowly, he lifted his head. "Yes," he said, also slowly. "I do."
"So do I! They're the sweetest dogs, aren't they? I don't know about you, but I have considered showing my little girl. Do you show?"
A smile began to carve into the potato and he tried to restrain it. But it warmed him right to his big potato toes, and he realized that at this moment, he had no words for how he was feeling.
But that was just fine with him.
She had no words for this.
It was a beautiful place, she thought to herself, high on a hill overlooking the ocean. The breeze was strong – it always was by the ocean – and she could hear the sea birds laughing and wheeling high overhead, the waves rushing and roaring on the rocks below.
It was perfect. She couldn't have chosen better.
Two weeks ago, there had been a very small ceremony at his house on the beach. Only the closest of friends and family were allowed to join in. Everyone spoke, shared something that they would remember about him and she had been touched by the heartfelt expressions of affection toward a man known more for his appetites than his affections.
He had been cremated, his body returned yesterday in a golden urn the size of a coffee can, his name monogrammed across its shiny surface like a badge.
And so here she stood on that high hill, canister in hand. She had been given the privilege (task, she moaned, or duty) of loosing the ashes into the sea. She had never done anything like this before, but she was the one everyone was looking to. His last official 'girlfriend.'
Curious, she shook it a little, hearing the rustle and clink of tiny pieces of tooth and bone.
"Damn you," she moaned, as she cracked the rubber on the jar and forced the lid open. She made a face, scrunched up her eyes and flung wide her arm, sending the particles lifting up, up, up on the wind.
She followed its path with her eyes as long as she could before the remnants of his body became one with the air. And still she stood a while longer, not ready to leave him or this place quite yet.
"Goodbye Walter," she whispered under the wind.
And she smiled.
For there was another task (privilege, this time, she thought) that was demanding her attention, and she needed to leave. She would return, she promised him. She would return and she would always remember.
She wandered down the grassy path to the road where she'd parked the car. It made her smile, that car, and she had to admit that this was part of the thrill. She had grown to love the little thing in the weeks that she had been driving it. It was as smooth as it was quirky, just like its owner.
The Citroen DS.
She slipped in behind the wheel, stomped the clutch, put it in first, and rolled off the sandy dunes in the direction of the city.
She'd found a classic rock station that was playing eighties hits and had cranked the tunes all the way in. He would die if he knew she was playing classic rock in his baby, and that made it all the more delightful. It was almost a two-hour trip from Marin County but she sang along to all of them, from Blondie to Aha, from Nina and her 99 Red Balloons to her long-time favourite, More than Words by Extreme, and she was surprised at how quickly the lyrics came back to her. Before she knew it, she was rounding the loop into downtown Sacramento and, pulling into the parking lot of Sutter General Hospital.
It was a beautiful day. The heat wave had broken at last, just days after their ordeal on the island, and while Sacramento in summer was always hot, both mornings and nights were cooler now, and rain occasionally broke through in welcome relief.
As she slipped from the driver's seat, she reached in for the one thing he had asked for and pulled it out of the car.
A helium-filled balloon. Red.
She shook her head. At least he hadn't asked for 99 of them.
As she strolled out of the parking lot toward the front lobby, she spied him with a nurse waiting near the doors. He was wearing a light blue shirt, grey trousers and a grey plaid vest, open and casual. He was also in a wheelchair, and was chatting away like a schoolboy, smiling the smile that charmed cobras from their baskets and bees from their hives. The nurse, a tall leggy young thing, was blushing, laughing, tucking her hair behind her ear.
She shook her head again.
She was so glad he had lived.
"Hey," she called and he caught her eye and smiled like the sun.
"Ah, Lisbon," he sang. "I'd like you to meet Kandii. With a K."
"And two i's," said Kandii. She blushed again. "It's a joke. Two i's. Get it? Two eyes."
She batted her lashes for emphasis.
"I have a gun," said Lisbon.
"Now, now, Lisbon," said Jane, his blue eyes gleaming with the game. He had a scar on his cheek, under his left eye. "Her mother thought it would make her special."
"And I'm sure she is." Lisbon extended her hand. Kandii did a little curtsy and Lisbon wanted to gag. "So, Jane…what are you doing in a wheelchair?"
"Protocol," said Kandii. "All patients are escorted to the lobby in a wheelchair."
"Why?" asked Lisbon.
"Um…I…" Kandii cocked her head. "I really don't know."
"Protocol." Jane nodded, beaming.
"Yes," said Kandii. "Protocol. Is this your girlfriend?"
Lisbon's eyes flicked down to his left hand. No wedding ring.
She took a deep breath.
"I'm his boss," she said.
"Maybe," corrected Jane.
"Maybe? What do you mean 'maybe'?"
"Well, I haven't decided if I'm coming back or not."
She stared at him. "Of course you're coming back. Why wouldn't you come back?"
"I brought you your balloon."
"That is so sweet," said Kandii.
"Ah. Can you hold on to it?"
He spread wide his hands. "I'm in a wheelchair."
Lisbon scowled at him.
Kandii was peering out at the parking lot.
"Is that your car?"
"Sweet, isn't she?"
"I can't drive stick."
"I'm sure you could find someone to teach you."
Kandii blushed again.
Pick me, pleaded the Glock. Pick me.
"Can we go now?" she growled.
"Oh, sure." And with both hands, Jane pushed himself up from the chair, bounced a little on the soles of his feet and turned toward the young nurse. "Oh, wait…"
His hand reached up toward her hair, slipped in behind her ear, pulled out a coin and proudly held it up with two fingers.
Lisbon rolled her eyes but Kandii squealed.
"A bicentennial quarter! How did you get a bicentennial quarter? And it's Kansas! That's the one I need for my collection!" She cocked her head again. "Oh, Mr. Jane! How ever did you know?"
He turned and grinned at Lisbon.
They fell in step with one another as they headed through the parking lot, Lisbon still holding the red balloon, which was bobbing at the end of its tether. She slid him a sideways glance.
"So? How are you feeling?"
"Fine. A little stiff, if you must know. But Dr. Webb says I must take it easy or I might pull my stitches, and I'd really rather not. I have scars, Lisbon. Very big, scary ones. Mostly stitches but some staples. Nasty things, staples. I'd really rather not go through that again. He worked very hard to put me back together so I suppose I owe him a little consideration."
"Well that's a very rational approach."
"I'm a rational man, Lisbon."
"Not when it comes to doctors and hospitals..."
He grinned. "Meh. I've arrived at a place of peace, Lisbon. Of acceptance."
She smirked. "Really."
"Yes, really. Hospitals are simply stomping grounds for dead and mostly dead people. It puts things in a whole different perspective."
"Dead people, huh?"
"Yes. Speaking of which, how's Walter?"
"You tell me."
"I'm sure he's happy that you tossed his ashes, but a little disappointed. You didn't do it with much gusto, now did you? Very little drama and no angst at all. Honestly, he expected more."
"You still seeing dead people?"
But they had arrived at the Citroen and he threw up his hands. "Lisbon, I told you, no drive thru car washes! They wreak havoc with the paint!"
"Jane." She leaned over the roof of the car. Driver's side. "Are you still seeing dead people?"
"Sure. Whatever. Hypothetically."
He glanced in the window of the car, into the back seat. Made a face, looked back at her.
"Hypothetically, would that be a problem if I were?"
She rolled her eyes. "You're just going to have to admit it sooner or later, Jane. You're psychic."
"There are no such things as psychics."
"Denial is a symptom of self-delusion."
"It's also a river in Egypt. Lisbon, you are familiar with the psychiatric evaluation forms for officers and agents of the CBI, yeh?"
"Yes Jane, I'm familiar…"
"Which you yourself have undoubtedly had to fill out a time or two in your years with the CBI…"
"The one that I passed with flying colours, by the way…"
"Nowhere on the form does it ask if the person filling out the form sees dead people. Did you realize that?"
She smirked, causing her right cheek to dimple.
"It seems to be a non-issue for state employees. So, I figure, Don't Ask - Don't Tell. I may be crazy, but you know what Lisbon? It's working for me. Really. It's working."
"So it's easier for you to think of yourself as crazy, rather than psychic. Is that what you're saying?"
He blinked slowly at her, sighed as if speaking with a very young belligerent child.
"What I am saying, Lisbon, is the fact that I can still do the job, still devise cunning plans, still root out the bad guys with a minimum of fuss, manpower and public funds. I can still tell when someone's lying, or when someone's evading or even when someone's been playing classic 80s rock in my car. Maybe I can even do it better."
"Yes." He looked around the parking lot, smoothed the front panels of the vest he was wearing. "Yes. I think I can do it better."
"So you are coming back then?"
"I didn't say that."
"What are you saying?"
"You are very possessive all of a sudden. Honestly. One kiss and you think you own me. I feel tawdry, Lisbon. Used."
"You are so special. Do you want your balloon?"
"Ah, yes, that…" He stared at it a moment. It was bright and bobbing at the end of its tether. She had carried it from the car, into the lobby and back to the car again. He had wanted not to notice. He had wanted not to care.
"Do I need it?" he asked.
"You asked me to get it for you, Jane…"
"I know…" He swallowed. "Can you keep it for me?"
She made a face. "No, I'm not going to keep it for you. Here. It's a balloon. Deal with it."
And she passed him the string.
He took it, stared up at it another long minute.
"It's a balloon," he said quietly.
"Yes, Jane. It's a balloon."
"It's only a balloon."
"Riiiight," she growled. "And how many dead people are in the car?"
"Hypothetically…?" He peered back in before straightening up. "Five. They're rather cramped back there."
"Hypothetically cramped, yes."
"So…what are you gonna do, Jane?"
What are you going to do?
He looked at her, back up at the bobbing metaphor in his hand. Just a balloon. It was just a balloon. So with a deep breath and a wish for luck, he let it go. Watched it float up, up, up until it was a speck in the sky.
And then it was gone.
He held his breath as if expecting something, but nothing happened.
She shook her head. "Get in the car."
"Can I drive?"
"No." She got in the car, stomped the clutch. "Do you know how much that balloon cost me? How many stores I had to go to in downtown Sacramento to find it?"
"No idea whatsoever." He got in the car, winced as she stomped the clutch. "Gentle, please. She's a sensitive girl."
She sighed, rolled her eyes, and the little car rolled out of the parking lot.
"Are we going to stop in at the office? We could stop in at the office if you'd like. I have the feeling they're going to throw me a party. I do hope they throw me a party. JJ LaRoche sent me flowers. He likes you, but he sent me flowers. He's a very kind man, really. He has a little white dog, and I know you like dogs, but still. You kissed me, not him, and that's got to mean something. I promise I won't feel threatened by your authority. Do you think there will be any Scotch at the party? Certainly not the good stuff, understandably. But I'm not picky. Hospital food is so terrible and there was no Scotch anywhere. Believe me, I looked. I'm really in the mood for a party…"
She hit the radio to drown him out, but immediately cursed her bad luck. She tried to turn it off but his hands were quicker and he stopped her to listen.
Magic Man by Heart.
He smiled his most wicked smile at her before turning the volume up as high as it could go and the little car hit the downtown loop for Sacramento.
Fortunately, the hypothetical dead people in the back seat were quiet.
And above them, a red balloon floated quietly far and away into the blue, blue sky.
The End of this Road.
The Beginning of a New One…
(Author's Note: Thank you, thank you, thank you for all who came along with me for this roller-coaster ride. I don't normally write stories that 'change things', but after the finale and Bruno Heller's 'game changer', I figured if he could do it, so could I! I've had a few people ask if I'm going to continue in this AUniverse, and I could - I've had an idea for a story that would happen hot on the heels of this - what do y'all think? Anyway, thanks again for indulging me in this cathartic story. Cheers to all! B-street)