His fear began to turn to anger; his pale face flushed, and his lips pulled back from his teeth in a wolflike snarl. "I won't let them. I won't let them bite off my cock. I'll kill all of them!"
Tony was frustrated by his inability to get through to Bobby, and his frustration was exacerbated by the knowledge that Frank might be bleeding to death, getting weaker by the second, in desperate need of immediate medical attention. Deciding to enter into Bobby's dark fantasy in order to control it, Tony spoke in a soft and reassuring voice: "Listen to me. All of those crocodiles have crawled back into the toilets and the drains. Didn't you see them going? Didn't you hear them sliding down the pipes and out of the building? They saw that we'd come to help you, and they knew they were outnumbered. Every one of them has gone away."
Bobby stared at him with glassy eyes that were less than human.
"They've all gone away," Tony said.
"None of them can hurt you now."
"No. I'm telling the truth. All of the crocodiles have gone down the--"
Bobby threw his empty pistol.
Tony ducked under it.
"You rotten cop son of a bitch."
"Hold it, Bobby."
Bobby started toward him.
Tony backstepped away from the na*ed man.
Bobby didn't walk around the chair. He angrily pushed it aside, knocked it over, even though it was quite heavy. Tony remembered that a man in an angel dust rage often exhibited superhuman strength. It was not uncommon for four or five burly policemen to have difficulty restraining one puny PCP junkie. There were several medical theories about the cause of this freakish increase in physical power, but no theory was of any help to an officer confronted by a raging man with the strength of five or six. Tony figured he probably wouldn't he able to subdue Bobby Valdez with anything less than the revolver, even though he was philosophically opposed to using that ultimate force.
"I'm gonna kill you," Bobby said. His hands were curled into claws. His face was bright red, and spittle formed at one corner of his mouth.
Tony put the big octagonal coffee table between them. "Stop right there, dammit!"
He didn't want to have to kill Bobby Valdez. In all his years with the LAPD, he had shot only three men in the line of duty, and on every occasion he had pulled the trigger strictly in self-defense. None of those three men had died.
Bobby started around the coffee table.
Tony circled away from him.
"Now, I'm the crocodile," Bobby said, grinning.
"Don't make me hurt you."
Bobby stopped and grabbed hold of the coffee table and tipped it up, over, out of the way, and Tony backed into a wall, and Bobby rushed him, shouting something unintelligible, and Tony pulled the trigger, and the bullet tore through Bobby's left shoulder, spinning him around, driving him to his knees, but incredibly, he got up again, his left arm all bloody and hanging uselessly at his side, and, screaming in anger rather than agony, he ran to the fireplace and picked up a small brass shovel and threw it, and Tony ducked, and then suddenly Bobby was rushing at him with an iron poker raised high, and the damned thing caught Tony across the thigh, and he yelped as pain flashed up his hip and down his leg, but the blow wasn't hard enough to break bones, and he didn't collapse, but he did drop down as Bobby swung it again, at his head this time, with more power behind it this time, and Tony fired up into the na*ed man's chest, at close range, and Bobby was flung backwards with one last wild cry, and he crashed into a chair, then fell to the floor, gushing blood like a macabre fountain, twitched, gurgled, clawed at the shag carpet, bit his own wounded arm, and finally was perfectly still.
Gasping, shaking, cursing, Tony holstered his revolver and stumbled to a telephone he'd spotted on one of the end tables. He dialed 0 and told the operator who he was, where he was, and what he needed. "Ambulance first, police second," he said.
"Yes, sir," she said.
He hung up and limped into the kitchen.
Frank Howard was still sprawled on the floor, in the garbage. He had managed to roll onto his back, but he hadn't gotten any farther.
Tony knelt beside him.
Frank opened his eyes. "You hurt?" he asked weakly.
"No," Tony said.
Frank looked terrible. His face was milk-white, greasy with sweat. The whites of his eyes had an unhealthy yellowish cast that had not been there before, and the right eye was badly bloodshot.
There was a hint of blue in his lips. The right shoulder and sleeve of his suit coat were soaked with blood. His left hand was clamped over his stomach wound, but a lot of blood had leaked from under his pale fingers; his shirt and the upper part of his trousers were wet and sticky.
"How's the pain?" Tony asked.
"At first, it was real bad. Couldn't stop screaming. But it's starting to get better. Just kind of a dull burning and thumping now."
Tony's attention had been focused so totally on Bobby Valdez that he hadn't heard Frank's screams.
"Would a tourniquet on your arm help at all?"
"No. The wound's too high. In the shoulder. There's no place to put a tourniquet."
"Help's on the way," Tony said. "I phoned in."
Outside, sirens wailed in the distance. It was too soon to be an ambulance or a black-and-white responding to his call. Someone must have phoned the police when the shooting started.
"That'll be a couple of uniforms," Tony said. "I'll go down and meet them. They'll have a pretty good first aid kit in the cruiser."
"Don't leave me."
"But if they've got a first aid kit--"
"I need more than first aid. Don't leave me," Frank repeated pleadingly.
They were both shivering.
"I don't want to be alone," Frank said.
"I'll stay right here."
"I tried to sit up," Frank said.
"You just lay there."
"I couldn't sit up."
"You're going to be okay."
"Maybe I'm paralyzed."
"Your body's taken a hell of a shock, that's all. You've lost some blood. Naturally, you're weak."
The sirens moaned into silence outside of the apartment complex.
"The ambulance can't be far behind," Tony said.
Frank closed his eyes, winced, groaned.
"You'll be okay, buddy."
Frank opened his eyes. "Come to the hospital with me."
"Ride in the ambulance with me."
"I don't know if they'll let me."
"All right. Sure."
"I don't want to be alone."
"Okay," Tony said. "I'll make them let me in the damned ambulance even if I have to pull a gun on them to do it."
Frank smiled thinly, but then a flash of pain burned the smile off his face. "Tony?"
"What is it, Frank?"
"Would you ... hold my hand?"
Tony took his partner's right hand. The right shoulder was the one that had taken the bullet, and Tony thought Frank would have no use of that extremity, but the cold fingers closed around Tony's hand with surprising strength.
"You know what?" Frank asked.
"You should do what he says."
"What who says?"
"Eugene Tucker. You should jump off. Take a chance. Do what you really want with your life."
"Don't worry about me. You've got to save your energy for getting better."
Frank grew agitated. He shook his head. "No, no, no. You've got to listen to me. This is important... what I'm trying to tell you. Damned important."
"Okay," Tony said quickly. "Relax. Don't strain yourself."
Frank coughed, and a few bubbles of blood appeared on his bluish lips.
Tony's heart was working like a runaway triphammer. Where was the goddamned ambulance? What the hell was taking the lousy bastards so long?
Frank's voice had a hoarse note in it now, and he was forced to pause repeatedly to draw breath.
"If you want to be a painter ... then do it. You're still young enough ... to take a chance."
"Frank, please, for God's sake, save your strength."
"Listen to me! Don't waste any more... time. Life's too goddamned short ... to fiddle away any of it."
"Stop talking like that. I've got a lot of years ahead, and so do you."
"They go by so fast ... so fu**ing fast. It's no time at all."
Frank gasped. His fingers tightened their already firm grip on Tony's hand.
"Frank? What's wrong?"
Frank didn't say anything. He shuddered. Then he began to cry.
Tony said, "Let me see about that first aid kit."
"Don't leave me. I'm afraid."
"I'll only be gone a minute."
"Don't leave me." Tears streamed down his cheeks.
"Okay. I'll wait. They'll be here in a few seconds."
"Oh. Jesus," Frank said miserably.
"But if the pain's getting worse--"
"I'm not ... in much pain."
"Then what's wrong? Something's wrong."
"I'm just embarrassed. I don't want anyone ... to know."
"I just ... lost control. I just. ..I... peed in my pants."
Tony didn't know what to say.
"I don't want to be laughed at," Frank said.
"Nobody's going to laugh at you."
"But, Jesus, I peed ... in my pants ... like a baby."
"With all this other mess on the floor, who's going to notice?"
Frank laughed, wincing at the pain the laughter caused, and he squeezed Tony's hand even harder.
Another siren. A few blocks away. Approaching rapidly.
"The ambulance," Tony said. "It'll be here in a minute."
Frank's voice was getting thinner and weaker by the second. "I'm scared, Tony."
"Please, Frank. Please, don't be scared. I'm here. Everything's going to be all right."
"I want ... someone to remember me," Frank said.
"What do you mean?"
"After I'm gone ... I want someone to remember I was here."
"You'll be around a long time yet."
"Who's going to remember me?"
"I will," Tony said thickly. "I'll remember you."
The new siren was only a block away, almost on top of them.
Frank said, "You know what? I think ... maybe I will make it. The pain's gone all of a sudden."
"That's good, isn't it?"
The siren cut out as the ambulance stopped with a squeal of brakes almost directly below the apartment windows. Frank's voice was getting so weak that Tony had to lean close to hear it. "Tony
... hold me." His grip on Tony's hand slackened. His cold fingers opened. "Hold me, please. Jesus.
Hold me, Tony. Will you?"
For an instant, Tony was worried about complicating the man's wounds, but then he knew intuitively that it no longer mattered. He sat down on the floor in the garbage and blood. He put an arm under Frank and lifted him into a sitting position. Frank coughed weakly, and his left hand slid off his belly; the wound was revealed, a hideous and unrepairable hole from which intestines bulged. From the moment Bobby first pulled the trigger, Frank had begun to die; he had never had a hope of survival.
Tony took Frank into his arms as best he could, held him, held him as a father would hold a frightened child, held him and rocked gently, crooned softly, reassuringly. He kept crooning even after he knew that Frank was dead, crooning and slowly rocking, gently and serenely rocking, rocking.
At four o'clock Monday afternoon, the telephone company serviceman arrived at Hilary's house. She showed him where the five extensions were located. He was just about to begin work on the kitchen phone when it rang.
She was afraid that it was the anonymous caller again. She didn't want to answer it, but the serviceman looked at her expectantly, and on the fifth ring she overcame her fear, snatched up the receiver. "Hello?"
"This is Michael Savatino. Savatino's Ristorante?"
"Oh, I don't need reminding. I won't forget you or your wonderful restaurant. We had a perfect dinner."
"Thank you. We try very hard. Listen, Miss Thomas--"
"Please call me Hilary."
"Hilary, then. Have you heard from Tony yet today?"
Suddenly she was aware of the tension in his voice. She knew, almost as a clairvoyant might know, that something awful had happened to Tony. For a moment she was breathless, and fuzzy darkness closed in briefly at the edges of her vision.
"Hilary? Are you there?"
"I haven't heard from him since last night. Why?"
"I don't want to alarm you. There was some trouble--"
"--but Tony wasn't hurt."
"Are you sure?"
"Just a few bruises."
"Is he in the hospital?"
"No, no. He's really all right."
The knot of pressure in her chest loosened a bit.
"What kind of trouble?" she asked.
In a few sentences, Michael told her about the shooting.
It could have been Tony who died. She felt weak.
"Tony's taking it hard," Michael said. "Very hard. When he and Frank first started working together, they didn't get along well. But things have improved. The past few days, they got to know each other better. In fact they'd gotten fairly close."
"Where's Tony now?"
"His apartment. The shooting was at eleven-thirty this morning. He's been at his apartment since two. I was with him until a few minutes ago. I wanted to stay, but he insisted I go to the restaurant as usual. I wanted him to come with me, but he wouldn't. He won't admit it, but he needs someone right now."
"I'll go to him," she said.