To Eliminate the Impossible
Notes: The characters are not mine (except the doctor) and this thing is. It was semi-written for the 31 Days writing prompt Give My Body to Be Back Again. I rarely post stories focusing on oneshot characters outside of Livejournal, since I'm nuts about such characters but it's not always easy to find others who like them too. But I rather quite like this, and since regular character Andy plays a fairly large part too, I thought maybe I'd go ahead with it. It uses Gene Torg and Pearl Chute from season 6's The Bogus Books. I have a few pictures of them on my Lucky-Ladybugs-Lovelies Tumblr account, if anyone wants a refresher of who they are. As always, the setting is the present day.
Lieutenant Anderson never liked the late-night calls. In his department, that generally meant trouble. And when on one cold evening the Highway Patrol informed the LAPD of a car that had gone off the road and down an embankment with an occupant, he dreaded the investigation and having to inform the person's family.
The Christmas season made it all the worse. Serious injuries and death were horrible at any time of the year, of course, but it felt even more heartbreaking when people expected to have a happy and joyous celebration. He and the others in his department had been depressed and discouraged over several cases of late, as well as the news of outrageous tragedies both near and far, and for him, this was shaping up to be a most disconsolate month.
Lieutenant Tragg's cynical side was starting to come through. Lieutenant Drumm was growing angry. Andy felt numb with the shock. But if much more went drastically and sorrowfully wrong in such a short amount of time, he was sure that his protective shell over his feelings would shatter.
There always seemed to be inventive ways for things to go wrong. A new problem now, he discovered upon his arrival at the current accident scene, was that no one quite knew whom to inform about the car crash victim's injuries.
"It looks like the poor guy was robbed before they shoved him in the car, Lieutenant," Sergeant Brice told him. "He doesn't have any identification on him at all."
Andy frowned. "What about the car's registration?"
"It doesn't help," Brice said with a shake of his head. "It's registered to a man who's been dead for five years. And there's no record of any subsequent owner."
Andy sighed, pushing up his hat. "What about the victim himself? The caller said they weren't sure if he was alive or dead."
"He's still alive, but it doesn't look good." Brice glanced to where the paramedics were bending over a limp form. "He was unconscious when they got here and pulled him out. And they said there's been no response at all since then."
Andy walked over the browning grass and weeds to study the body. He stiffened when he drew closer.
"I think I know whom to call," he said grimly. "I never expected this person would be him."
"You recognize him, Lieutenant?"
"I believe so," Andy said slowly, "but we'll need positive identification."
He took out his phone.
The hospital had called and asked her to come down and see if she could identify the body of a man who had been brought in badly hurt. She was puzzled; why would they think she knew him?
But she went, especially when she heard the police were involved. After a stint in jail for altering rare books as part of a racket, the last thing she wanted was to run afoul of the police again. Oh, not that she wanted to go straight, per se, but she did not want to be caught. And there was no sense making the cops mad over something like this.
For some reason, when she stepped through the doors and was met by Lieutenant Anderson, her stomach twisted and her heart leapt into her throat. She knew Lieutenant Anderson; he was from the Homicide department.
She nodded. "What is this, Lieutenant?" she demanded. "Why was I asked to come down here?"
He sighed. "Miss Chute, when was the last time you saw Gene Torg?"
She went stiff. "Gene? Why, not for a while. He called me after I got out of jail, and we had lunch together, but that was it."
He made a note in his pad. "We think he was the man brought in tonight. He was in a car accident. But when he was pulled out, he had no identification on him."
"So you think someone was trying to kill him? Is that why you're on the case?" She stared at him in disbelief. "Look, Lieutenant, Gene may have been mixed up in a few shady rackets, but he never did anything bad enough that someone should want to kill him for it. And I think that last stunt with the book racket scared him into going straight."
He nodded. "Maybe, but someone obviously didn't want anyone to know who he was."
"He probably just forgot his wallet," she countered.
"Miss Chute . . ." He hesitated, debating how to say what he needed to say. "We found evidence that someone was beating him and then tried to make it look like he was in a car accident. There's no way he could have sustained some of his injuries in a car wreck, particularly the blow to the back of his head."
She gripped her purse. "But he's going to be alright, isn't he?" she cried.
The Lieutenant's eyes were filled with regret. "He died before you got here, Miss Chute."
Somehow she had not expected that at all. The color drained from her face. "No," she whispered. Then, louder, "No, you're wrong! Gene's going to be fine. He can't be killed. Not like this. Where is he?! I want to see him."
He looked sad. "There's no mistake that he's dead. The only question is whether he's really Mr. Torg. I'll take you to him."
He guided her down the corridor, their footsteps echoing eerily off the walls as they went. She walked with him but felt far removed from the entire gruesome situation. It was a dream, a nightmare that she would wake up from. She would tell Gene and they would laugh about it.
But when they reached a certain room and Lieutenant Anderson pushed open the door, and she saw the dark-haired man lying so still and lifeless on the bed, reality punched her in the stomach.
"Gene," she choked out.
Lieutenant Anderson exhaled. "I'll start making my report," he said quietly.
She advanced into the room. "I want to stay with him a few minutes, Lieutenant. Is that alright?"
He nodded. "It's fine. Take all the time you need, Miss Chute." He stepped out, pulling the heavy door closed.
Each step forward seemed to weigh a ton. She was shaking, still not really believing it yet knowing now that it was true. Gene was dead. It must have happened just shortly after he had been brought in; he was still in his own clothes and not one of those flimsy hospital gowns.
He looked like he was asleep.
"Gene?" she whispered. She waited for a reply, but received none. She laid her soft hand over his bruised and scratched one. "Gene, it's me. It's Pearl."
He wasn't asleep. There was no breath, no movement. And to be so close, to see firsthand that there was no life left, shattered her heart into numberless pieces. She sobbed, sinking into the nearby chair and holding his hand between both of hers.
With both of them having been into crooked things in the past, and each wanting to make a profit, their friendship had been a strange one. She hadn't always been the best sort of friend to Gene. She had manipulated him into doing things for her, such as stealing one of the books from Kraft's Bookstore and not telling him how much it was really worth. (He had believed its value to be a few dollars instead of eight thousand.) She had tempted him into the book racket, even though she had known then that he was trying to go straight. Granted, it hadn't taken much convincing for him to want in; that was what she had counted on. She had been sure he couldn't go straight for long, so when she had formulated her plans for getting deeper into the racket, she had dragged him down with her.
Sometimes she hadn't even been sure that she really cared about him. She knew he had wondered that himself more than once. And perhaps he had wondered if he cared about her, as well. But deep down, she had always known that both she and he cared, somehow, someway. And he knew it as well.
Now he was gone. It was wrong, it was all so wrong.
"Who would want to do this to you?" she cried. "You didn't deserve it. You never did anything that bad."
He was just a smalltime conman. He didn't even carry a gun. He was a good fighter if he had to be, but he tried to avoid it whenever possible.
He would have tried to fight whoever attacked him tonight. But it hadn't done him any good.
At last she drew a deep breath, fighting to compose herself. This was not doing her any good. She had lost a friend whom she had not always treated as a friend. Sitting here mourning over his lifeless body wasn't going to change anything.
She stood, bringing his hand to her lips. "Goodbye, Sweet," she whispered, kissing the scraped fingers before letting them go.
Or trying to. Suddenly she was being grabbed.
"Pearl?" Gene rasped, confused and bewildered and in pain. "Pearl, what's going on? Why are you so upset?"
She rocked back, her mouth hanging open, her heart pounding in her chest. Gene was very much not dead now. He was staring at her, his eyes glassy, his hold on her hand weak and trembling.
Shaking, she leaned over the side of the bed, touching his cheek, feeling its relative warmth. "Gene, you were dead," she choked out.
"Dead?! Why, that's ridiculous." He tried to push himself off the bed and then grimaced, sinking back into the mattress. "But I sure have a killer of a headache."
"They found you in a wrecked car," Pearl told him. "But Lieutenant Anderson thinks you were hurt before you were in the car. You didn't have any identification on you, so they called me to identify you, but when I got here the Lieutenant told me you'd . . . you'd died."
"But you can see I'm not dead," Gene protested.
"Yes, I can, Sweet," Pearl agreed. "Just as I could tell you were dead when I first came in."
"I couldn't have been!" Gene exclaimed. "People don't die and come back to life."
"You did, Sweet." Pearl moved to step away. "I have to get the doctor in here."
She was reeling, not sure what to make of any of this. She had Gene back. She could try again, try to do better by him.
But it was impossible to have him back. This had to be the dream, something she longed for that could never come to pass. She must have fallen asleep sitting in that chair, still holding onto his hand.
"Pearl, no. Wait!" Again Gene tried to rise. "Don't leave me here. Stay and explain what's going on. Help me understand!"
She shook her head. "I tried to explain!" she retorted, her emotions beginning to bend and break under the overwhelming strain. "How can I help you understand when I don't understand myself?! You were dead when I came in. How many ways can I say it? Now you're alive. But you can't be alive, because people don't come back from the dead. You said so yourself. And . . ." She held a hand to her forehead. She was starting to make herself dizzy.
"Pearl . . ." Gene sounded hesitant and concerned now. "Do you wish I . . . hadn't come back?"
She spun around to face him again. "No!" she burst out. "No, that isn't it at all. Gene, I . . ." She sank into the chair. "I want it to be real. I'm afraid that it isn't real, because it can't be real. You can't have come back."
"It feels real to me, Pearl." Gene sounded stone serious, unusual for him. "Pearl, I'm in pain. Dead men surely don't feel pain."
She looked up with a jerk. "I need to get the doctor," she berated. "I'll just be a minute and then I'll come back."
Again she got up and headed for the door. This time Gene did not stop her, but she could feel his eyes on her, watching her.
When she brought the doctor back, he would see it too, wouldn't he? He would know that Gene was alive. Then she would have a second witness to this impossibility.
Lieutenant Anderson was standing outside the room, writing in his notepad. Pearl held the door open as she leaned out. "Lieutenant, get the doctor," she directed.
He looked up with a start. "What?"
She paused. "No, wait a minute. Lieutenant, look in here and tell me what you see."
He gave her a baffled look. "Miss Chute, I . . ."
"Pearl, why is he here?!" Gene exclaimed. "I haven't done anything wrong."
Lieutenant Anderson went rigid. He peered into the room and nearly dropped his notepad and pen. "Mr. Torg?!"
Pearl went limp with relief. "Then I'm not going out of my mind," she said. "Gene really is alive." She frowned. "Is the doctor absolutely positive Gene was dead?!"
"Of course," Lieutenant Anderson said, in a daze as he stepped back. "I'll get him."
"Maybe you should get two doctors," Pearl said dryly. "Just in case he made a wrong diagnosis, we can have a second opinion."
But she knew it surely hadn't been wrong. Gene had been dead when she had first entered this room. Now he was alive and awake and looking at her. She walked back to him and sat on the edge of the bed, leaning down and gently embracing him.
"Gene, what happened to you?" she whispered. "I thought I'd lost you."
"Someone thought I knew too much about something," Gene frowned. He reached up, returning the embrace. "Actually, I knew very little."
"And they killed you for that?"
Gene stiffened. "They didn't kill me."
"They killed you, Sweet," Pearl nodded. "You were dead and gone for I don't know how long. Then you came back. Gene, I . . ." She shut her eyes tightly, resting her head against his shoulder. "I started thinking about silly things."
"Silly things like what?"
"Like how I'm so sorry for all the times I used you to make a profit for myself."
He regarded her in surprise. "This is what me being dead does to you?" It was a rare thing, to see her so vulnerable, and they both knew it.
She nodded. "I guess so. I was thinking about the past and how I could never make it up to you." She drew back, looking into his amazed eyes. "I haven't even seen you much since I got out of jail. I knew you were determined to go straight this time, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to, so I just avoided you."
"And now?" he asked, quietly.
"Now I don't want to let you go," she declared. "I have you back. That's all I want."
Finally he smiled. "Then you won't have to worry about letting me go. I'm staying."
She kissed him on the lips, a gesture he returned. "You'd better, Sweet," she said. "I couldn't handle you leaving now."
"Well," he returned, "we can't have that now, can we."
"No," she said. "Not at all."
". . . Excuse me, but . . ."
Both of them jumped a mile. A red-faced physician was coming in through the door, adjusting his glasses.
Pearl quickly released Gene and moved off the mattress. "It's really not what you're thinking, Doctor," she smiled. "We're old friends."
"Very friendly old friends, I must say," the doctor said. "Really, after what he's been through, he shouldn't be emotionally upset."
"Oh, but I'm not," Gene said, leaning into the pillows. "I'd be more upset if Pearl wasn't here."
"Well, she'll have to leave while I examine you," the older man grumped, starting to pull the curtain around the bed.
"I'll be right outside," Pearl said, looking around him to Gene, who waved.
"Come back when he's done," he said.
"Of course, Sweet." Pearl pulled open the door and stepped into the hall.
Lieutenant Anderson was on the phone, but he looked up when he saw her. "Just a minute, Miss Chute," he called, holding the receiver away from him. "I'm afraid I'm . . . going to need to question Mr. Torg about what happened to him."
She shrugged. "Fine, Lieutenant. Go ahead. I'd like to know myself. All he said was that someone thought he knew too much about some subject or another. He didn't say who, or what the subject was, just that he actually didn't know much about it at all."
"When the doctor comes out then," Lieutenant Anderson said. He spoke quickly into the phone and hung up.
"I can't say as how Gene will like it much," Pearl said. "But I'm sure he'll want to see those people caught. So do I."
"Then he'll deal with the questions," said Lieutenant Anderson.
Pearl shrugged. "Yes, I suppose he will."
"Oh, and Miss Chute . . ."
She glanced to him inquiringly. He was pressing the button on his pen to wait for the doctor's return. He smiled a bit. "I'm glad Mr. Torg is alive."
She smiled too. "Now if we could only figure out how and why he is, when he wasn't."
"Well . . ." Lieutenant Anderson hesitated before speaking again. "In my experience, especially of late, I can only say that this world is filled with things we'll probably never understand. And miracles are very real."
Pearl raised an eyebrow. "Are you saying this is a miracle, Lieutenant? A Christmas miracle?"
"I'm not saying anything, Miss Chute," he answered. "But if you know Mr. Torg was dead when you first saw him, can you think of a better explanation?"
"No," Pearl said slowly. "I suppose I can't. I guess I just didn't think Anyone would care enough about Gene to send him back."
"You cared enough to want him back," Lieutenant Anderson said.
"Would that make a difference?"
"Most of the time, no, it doesn't. But every now and then, it seems to. I can't explain why."
"Hmm." Pearl contemplated that without coming to an answer that made sense. She could not believe this had happened just because she wanted him back. Was it because he was making an effort to turn over a new leaf?
Not that the details really mattered in the end. It was just so bewildering, and perhaps she was still worried that this would not continue to remain real, so she kept analyzing it in the hopes of satisfying herself that it would indeed remain as such.
The doctor stepped out of the room, shaking his head in bewilderment. "Darnedest thing I ever saw," he proclaimed. "That man is fine. Oh, he's shaken up and he's got some bad bruises and a concussion to match, but he doesn't seem like a man who could have died in the treatment room."
"But you know he did die, Doctor," Lieutenant Anderson said.
"Yes. I've seen enough people die to know it when it happens. His injuries were fatal. At least they were then." The doctor absently pushed his pencil into his pocket. "Darnedest thing I ever saw."
"So I can go back in now?" Pearl asked.
"Yes, yes, go ahead. He's waiting for you."
Pearl smiled. "Then I'll say goodnight to you, Doctor. And I suppose you'll be wanting to come in now, Lieutenant?"
"Yes, I'll need to," Lieutenant Anderson said.
"Fine then. But I can stay?"
"If you want to," Lieutenant Anderson nodded.
"I do. I want to know what happened myself." She headed back inside the room. Before the door swung closed, they saw Gene smile and reach out for her.
The doctor shook his head. "I can't make heads or tails out of this case. What am I going to write in my report?"
"Just that you wish all of your fatal cases turned out as well as this one," Andy returned. "That's what I'm going to write in mine." He laid a hand on the physician's shoulder as he moved to reach for the door. "Merry Christmas, Doctor."
The doctor stepped back, slowly smiling. "Merry Christmas, Lieutenant."