Within minutes of calling for help, Steve and Jeannie returned to the accident site and waited for the police and rescue units. They made sure they were visible to the responders as they saw the emergency vehicles roaring up the highway.
A light drizzle began to fall as Officer White of the California Highway Patrol approached Steve and Jeannie for a statement. From their comments, the policeman understood that Mike was a father and a fellow officer. He also learned where he was going and whom he was seeing in Santa Rosa. Steve asked the officer to notify Chief Holloway as well as Lessing back at the squad room. White returned to his car and radioed dispatch with the request.
The officer asked the pair to wait several yards away as the rescue commenced. From there, Jeannie and Steve watched two fire trucks and an ambulance join the police and rescue units. The men made fast work of unloading equipment including chains, ropes, a stretcher and then finally, the jaws of life. Steve would have normally joined the rescuers, but acknowledged that given the number and skill level of the responders, his best use was to keep Jeannie company. He knew that's what Mike would have wanted. He also knew he was becoming increasingly weak and tired.
It was cool, overcast and the drizzle turned to light rain. Steve recovered his jacket from the tree branch and proceeded to the area where Jeannie was watching the rescue. Cross-legged with her back against a large tree trunk and her arms wrapped around herself, Steve could see she was cold. He made a quick trip to the Torino and retrieved the standard issue blanket which was kept in the trunk.
As he draped the warm cover around Jean, he said quietly, "I wish there was something more I could do for you."
"Sit by me," was her simple command.
He quickly obliged and shortly after, wrapped his arm around her. She responded by leaning her head on his shoulder. She could feel the heat from his fever as the top of her head touched his neck. They were cold, wet, miserable and sick with worry. All they could do was watch and wait.
In the course of an hour, they saw several rescuers rush from their vehicles to behind the brush and back. They couldn't tell what was happening, but could hear the loud noise as the jaws of life cut through the car's steel. He must be in there for them to use the jaws, Steve acknowledged silently.The nerves in his stomach were the only thing that gave him feeling. He was otherwise numb from the cold, his sickness and from holding onto Jeannie.
"Steve…" Jeannie whispered as if to read his mind. "What if…"
"No," was Steve's quick reply. He knew her thoughts exactly. "Let's not think about that. Maybe he's not even in there. Maybe he's fine or just barely hurt. But we can't just think that only the worst has happened."
Minutes later they heard noise - more like loud shouts - coming from the area behind the brush. Something had happened, but they couldn't tell what.
Officer White came running up to the couple. "He's alive and we got him out!"
"What?" This was not the news Steve was expecting.
"He's actually in good shape, all things considered. He's arguing with them about getting on the stretcher."
"Daddy's okay?" Jean jumped up and reached toward Officer White.
"Yes, miss. They'll have him up in a minute. He'll go to the hospital to be checked over, but really, he's not complaining about anything other than general aches and soreness."
"No head injury or broken bones? He can move?" Steve was incredulous as he rose in a much slower fashion than Jeannie.
"The fire department cut through the top frame of the car. It took a long time, but once we created a hole large enough, your father was able to crawl out. With a little help, of course."
"Jeannie, this is the best news we could have had." Steve couldn't hide his smile.
"Woo hoo!" Jeannie wrapped her arms around her dear friend. "I can't believe he made it through the accident. That's our 'Iron Mike'." The girl could barely contain herself and she remained in their embrace.
"Officer White, thank you. Thanks to all of you. This could have turned out so much worse. I can't wait to hear what happened," Steve remarked as he offered up a freed arm to shake the hand of the policeman.
"He must not have been going very fast as he left the road, but with the wet pavement and grass plus the angle of the slope, it looks the car just did a soft roll and he became trapped." Officer White shook his head. "Lucky man."
The hospital in Petaluma was closest to the accident scene. Mike was quickly loaded in the ambulance but managed to catch a glimpse of his daughter and partner as they got into their car to follow. After a twenty minute ride behind the ambulance, the pair made their way to the emergency waiting room and took a seat. They were both soaked and cold, but more than content to wait for her father.
Lessing and Captain Rudy Olsen arrived over an hour later.
"Keller, what the hell happened?" Rudy barked sternly as he marched toward the pair. "Mike wrecks the car. You run off with his daughter to lord-knows-where. We have work to do and cases to solve."
Steve looked surprised but then realized that the captain was attempting humor when he saw the man's crooked grin. Lessing rolled his eyes.
"Seriously, how is the old man?" Rudy asked. "I had an update from the local boys and they said he came out okay."
"It seems like he doesn't have any serious injuries, but they want to check him over to be sure." Steve's answer became increasingly hoarse until he entered into a prolonged cough.
"Good God, man. What's wrong with you?" Rudy glared at Steve. .
"Nothing. I'm fine." The answer was reflexive, wheezy and nearly unintelligible.
"He's quite sick, Rudy." Jeannie responded. "He should see a doctor."
"Well, no better place to find a doctor than at the hospital," Rudy agreed.
As Steve continued coughing, he drew the ER receptionist's attention. A nurse who was gathering records at the desk also noticed and came over to see if there was anything she could do. Before Steve could open his mouth, Jeannie answered for him.
"He's been sick for a few days. He's got a fever and I'm afraid he may have pneumonia. Just listen to him."
"Pneumonia? I don't have that…" Steve interrupted his own protest with a cough.
"Come with me, young man…" Now that Jeannie had played the pneumonia card, the nurse had no choice but to take him back to one of the emergency rooms. Steve gave his travel companion a dirty look. Rudy and Lessing chuckled as they watched him being led away by the no-nonsense nurse.
"Jeannie, Lee is going to finish the business Mike had with Chief Holloway in Santa Rosa. I'll stay here. I understand you took one of our units to come up here…"
"Well, Steve did. I thought that was okay."
"Of course it was. One of my best men was missing, after all. It was police business. And judging by what you all have been through these last couple of days, I'll be the one driving you back."
"Well, there he is!" Rudy announced as he saw Mike approach the waiting room, dressed and ready to go home. He was escorted by the nurse. "How is he?" Rudy asked.
"For a man who was trapped overnight in a wrecked vehicle, I'd say very well. He needs to go home, have a good meal, a bath and a good night's sleep. He's a little dehydrated and tired from the ordeal, but physically, he's fine."
The woman handed Mike his release papers and then returned to her other patients. Mike looked sheepishly at Rudy and then down to his daughter who had fallen asleep on the waiting room sofa.
"Sorry, Rudy. It was a helluva of a fog and it rolled in so quickly. One minute it was clear. The next, I couldn't see a damn thing. I was driving slowly, but it felt like I was about to go off the road. I guess I overcorrected."
"You rolled over, but apparently not too fast. The local police called it a soft roll."
"Makes sense. The rollover was not fast at all. I had no control, yet it all felt like slow motion." Mike looked again at his sleeping daughter and at that moment wanted nothing more than to go home. "Well, I guess we can go now?"
"Not yet. We're waiting on Keller. The ER nurse wanted to take a look at him." Rudy stopped to explain when he saw Mike's confusion. "I think it's just a bad cold, but he hacked enough to where he drew the staff's attention here."
Mike nodded as he sat down. "I'm sorry for the trouble I caused."
"It was an accident and it sounds like it was beyond your control. You're lucky…in more ways than one."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Those two," Rudy said as he referenced Jeannie and her absent companion. "They didn't give up - and they were in it for the long haul."
Rudy relayed to the senior detective what Jeannie and Steve had told him while Mike was being examined. He learned that Steve got out of his sick bed to make sure that Jeannie was met at the bus station. He also realized that for Jeannie, the search started the moment she stepped off the bus after an all night ride.
After the nurse took Steve away for his exam, Jeannie told Rudy more. She said Steve stayed with her every minute with no intention of allowing her to face whatever the outcome was alone. He did so despite his worsening illness and fatigue. It was at that moment Mike realized that if something truly happened to him, Steve would be there to take care of Jeannie. The comfort Mike felt from that revelation couldn't be measured.
Not long after that, Steve walked out of the emergency treatment area. Mike had only seen a glimpse of him back at the accident site and was now taken aback by his partner's haggard appearance.
"No pneumonia?" Rudy half teasingly asked the pale young man.
"Of course not; just the sniffles. And look, Sucrets!," Steve held up a tin of the cherry cough drops. "Plus I got a shot and some high powered cough medicine with codeine. I'll be fine." He dropped the tin box of cough drops back into the bag that also held the syrup which had been prescribed for his bronchitis.
No longer wanting to discuss his own health issues, he turned his attention turned to Mike. "How are you?" Steve grinned as still couldn't believe their good fortune.
"Better than you, by the looks of it," came the gruff response. The worry was obvious in the older man's face. He thought again of what Rudy had told him about his and Jeannie's search. Barely able to resist grabbing the young man for an uncharacteristic hug, he instead placed both his hands on Steve's arms and squeezed. "Thanks for taking care of my little girl."
Steve nodded out of embarrassment and then glanced at the young woman who was just awakening. He wanted to step back out of the picture and let the father and daughter have their moment. He bent over and helped the young woman to her feet.
"Oh, Mike! I'm so happy this is all over! Are you sure you're okay?" Jeannie reached for her father. "Let me look at you."
"And let me look at you. You're a sight for sore eyes, young lady." This time, Mike had no inhibitions about showing his emotions and grabbed his daughter for an overdue hug.
Not forgetting Steve, Jeannie extended a free hand to the young detective. He grabbed it and squeezed gently. Remembering the silent look the pair shared at the motel, Steve felt extra heat forming in his already flushed face. She returned the squeeze. With a slight nod, he decided to let the father and daughter continue their reunion in private and walked towards the exit with Rudy.
After a few seconds of watching the scene Mike and Jeannie, Rudy let his impatience show. "Oh, for heaven's sakes, let's get going before another fog rolls in."
The four departed and enjoyed clear roads all the way.