Some Cats Get Too Close to the Wire; Chapter Five-

Pete had a difficult time waking up. Green and black bulbous hues held him in a sticky knot of sleep. When he tried to rise to the surface, the colors swayed as if he were coursing through a nightmare. Sinking back and giving in, sleep shut off the light of his consciousness.

But there came a time when his head pushed through the thickness and allowed him passage. He opened his eyes. No surprise, it was Julie sitting next to him, her pretty face quiet. Her eyes were mournful until he stirred. Then her face switched to profile. She spoke to the side.

"He's awake, Captain."

"Linc, get the Doctor," Captain Greer ordered, and Linc appeared at the door and slipped out after sending him a glance.

"Pete, are you all right?" demanded Greer, leaning over the bed rails. "Can you talk to us?"

His mouth was slow to move. So he nodded.

"I'll take that as a 'yes'," Greer muttered.

The door opened and a doctor in a lab coat came in, looking important and ready for business.

"Stand back, please," said the man. His three friends, Linc then Julie then the Captain lined up against the wall. Pete tried to smile at them, but a small beady light was being shone in his eyes. The doctor began asking him questions and calling him, 'young man'.

'Young man, how many fingers am I holding up?' 'Do you know where you are?' 'What day is it?'

Pete tried to keep up, but his voice lagged behind.

"He hasn't come out of it yet," the Doctor reported. "He's been given some sort of hallucinogen, mixed with a powerful tranquilizer and something else that the lab hasn't been able to process."

"Is he going to be all right?" the Captain demanded, in a tone that insisted that the man had better answer in the affirmative.

"I should think so," the Doctor said, vaguely. "Give him some more time and perhaps I'll be able to tell you."

The Doctor tried to get away, but Greer wasn't in the mood. His Captain followed him out the door, snapping for answers. Pete made eye contact with Linc. He still couldn't talk, or even move all that much. But as he stared into Linc's eyes he saw his friend begin to lose that hunkered down look he was carrying. He knew Linc would understand.

"It's all right Pete," said Linc, his hand now resting on his shoulder. "I see you in there. You just take it easy until you're ready to talk to us."

It helped that Linc had recognized the connection. He nodded and sighed. Julie's hand, small yet long and shapely, slipped into his. He curled onto his side and kept hold, focusing on Linc's touch on his shoulder and Julie's grip. He went back to sleep, feeling better.

The next time he woke up, it was a great relief to move his limbs in the bed. It was as if he were a vacuum cleaner now able to motivate after being plugged in. He was eager to see the faces of his friends, but his room was empty. He blinked, and his brain obliged by delivering clear thought.

It was late, for Pete could see the night out the window, where the blinds cracked open in slants. A small night-light shone over his bed. His arms were taped and tubed, and hospital silence had settled down in the hallways. He rested back against his pillows. His friends had probably been sent home, with an order to try and get some sleep too. He began an inner inspection of his body parts. His head was clearer but it had a dull ache. He had other aches too, across his ribs, his forearms, and his knuckles. Even his jaw was sore. He felt very tired, but no longer sleepy.

A shadow appeared in his doorframe as it was pushed open a few inches. At first he wasn't alarmed. A nurse perhaps, wanting to check on him but not to disturb? And yet the long listening pause that followed alerted him. The figure at his doorway wasn't moving like a hospital professional. And he suspected that he had been with this person before. As the seconds ticked by and his almost-visitor clung just out of sight, Pete tried to gather his strength. That couldn't be a nurse, or anyone else good. Whoever it was seemed aware of him, of his alertness. He rustled, wondering if he could get his feet on the floor and rush the intruder.

But as he supported his arms and lowered his feet to the floor he knew it was no good. He wasn't ready for another wrestling match. Suddenly he was certain of the intruder's identity.

"It's you, isn't it," he managed to say, his voice guttural. The figure at the door froze.

"Why don't you come in and face me?" he spoke again, getting angry. He was weak, and no doubt foolish to itch for a confrontation. But he wanted to see his attacker's face.

"What are you, some sort of coward?" he stressed, pleased to hear his voice now strong and back to normal.

And then he heard a shout in the hall. His door yanked closed, and the scuffling sound of running footsteps outside could be heard, for just a second, until the hospital silence settled back into place. Pete sat bolt upright in bed, his heart pounding, and waited.

When next his door pushed open he knew his adversary was gone. A policeman, a full-fledged uniform cop hurried in. He knew him, a man in his fifties that had been a beat cop for over twenty years.

"What goes on?" the cop bellowed. "You all right, kid?"

He grinned.

"Hi Pete," he said.

Pete Stamford, a cop that Greer must've set on duty to watch over him, relaxed into his polished black police shoes. He grinned back.

"Hi Pete," he returned. "But what happened? Can't a cop step out for two seconds to use the facilities?"

Pete was going to make a joke but a small white object caught his eye.

"Hey, Pete, what's that? There, on the floor."

The other cop turned, and then bent.

"It's an envelope, Pete Cochran," he said. "And this letter's got your name on it."

Pete took it, frustrated by how much strength it took to dig his finger under the flap and tear it open. He read the few sentences and shook his head. He handed it off to the other man, squinting now from a resurgence of pounding headache. He rubbed the throbbing place above his eyebrow.

"Hmmm," Stamford said, after a moment. "I guess the Captain should be told about this. Stay here, kid. I'm going to use the phone at the nurses' station."

"Just remember that I'm helpless," he cracked, grinning again. "Don't turn your back on me."

"You helpless?" Stamford laughed. "That'll be the day."