Four out of five people in the hospital room looked utterly exhausted.
Champ sighed heavily in his bed as he continued to replay his inexplicable time jump/near death experience in his head. He muttered to himself and kept checking his reflection in the tiny makeup mirror Michelle had provided from her purse.
Aspen had crawled into bed with Tex, who looked relieved to have the company. He kept one eye on Champ and the other on Michelle and Wally, while he also absentmindedly stroked Aspen’s hair as she attempted to sleep.
Wally, perhaps the most fatigued of them all, slowly got to his feet and immediately winced.
Michelle, despite being all levels of anxious about what her presence in the room meant, noticed Wally’s pain and rushed to his side.
“Is your leg bothering you?” she asked the way someone with serious feelings might ask.
Wally grimaced, but then shook his head. “It’s just a little stiff. I’m fine.”
Wally had recently been shot by the infamous mob hitman Irish Tony, who had decided that adding a rookie police officer to his lengthy list of victims would make the perfect Christmas gift for ADA Ambrose.
Luckily, the bullets had missed any major arteries and the surgery had been a success. Wally still walked with a slight limp, but his leg was improving every day. He wore his wound like a badge of honor, and if he had to be completely honest, he didn’t mind the way the other cops looked at him like he was some sort of superman for surviving the encounter.
Wally had noticed that while Michelle doted on him more post-shooting, she also worried exponentially more about him every time they parted ways at the start of the work day.
As for Irish Tony, Bruno had made sure the bastard paid for shooting his partner.
Not that Bruno would ever admit that Wally was his partner, but that’s an entirely different story.
“You should take it easy,” she said softly as she rubbed his arm.
While Wally enjoyed the affection, he didn’t want to look weak in front of the others, so he pointed to the door.
“Why don’t we talk outside?” he suggested.
Michelle nodded her agreement and led the way out into the hall.
Once they were gone, Aspen, who was now half asleep, opened her eyes.
“There’s a lot of sexual tension there,” she commented.
“Clearly,” Tex replied, “but I’m more concerned about why the Assistant District Attorney is here at this hour.”
Aspen nodded and drifted off to sleep.
Champ continued to glare angrily at his reflection like he expected it to change at any moment.
Michelle watched him cautiously. She was stuck in that awkward area of deciding if she should act like the concerned love interest or a work colleague with an important agenda.
In a move that surprised her, she went with the former.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” she asked.
“My leg is fine,” he confirmed. “Thank you for asking. But why are you here? And what did you mean when you said I couldn’t question them without their lawyer present?”
Michelle, ever the professional, looked around to make sure their conversation could not be overheard. Just to be safe, she motioned for Wally to follow her to a dark corner at the end of the hallway.
“I know about as much as you do, but this order came from my boss, who got it from someone far enough up the chain of command to be able to get him out of bed at this hour and accept that the Feds would be taking the lead on this case.”
Wally threw up his arms. “How did that happen so quickly in the middle of the night?”
Michelle gave Wally a look she usually reserved for witnesses she thought were lying to her.
“I know Tex and Champ are our friends, but they led a high speed chase through a very affluent neighborhood,” she pointed out with an edge to her voice. “The chase included gunplay of the assault weapon variety and caused serious property damage. That’s going to catch the attention of the residents, who include the District Attorney and several City Council members.”
“But like you said, this is Tex and Champ,” he reminded her. “I can’t vouch for Aspen, but you know Bruno and Maggie consider those two knuckleheads to be something akin to family.”
Michelle nodded. She was a pro at weighing the evidence and knowing what side to come down on in any case…especially one including people she knew.
She was also extremely ambitious, and planned to run for her boss’ job in the next election. This was definitely a case that was going to get a good deal of attention with the Feds involved, and it could make or break her campaign before she officially threw her hat into the ring for the District Attorney gig.
“Why were they doing driving a stolen car loaded with assault weapons?” she demanded.
Wally shrugged. “I’ve been trying to get answers all night, but Tex passed out as he was about to tell me. Then Champ had a heart attack that was so serious he almost died. Aspen is totally freaked out and refused to talk to me without Tex and Champ. I was finally going to make them spill when you burst in and told me not to question them.”
“And if you’re curious, yeah, my stress level has been elevated since I realized this was hospital they took me to after I got shot. But I think I’ve got that under control now…”
Michelle sensed his stress and quickly switched over from ambitious political candidate to loving significant other. She took his hand and gently caressed the back of it with her thumb.
“I’m here now,” she assured him. “I know my surprise appearance added to your stress, but I’m hoping my calming presence can counter all the ill effects.”
Wally finally allowed himself a smile, and he leaned in for a quick kiss.
“There has to be a reason they were driving that car,” Wally insisted. “There’s no way Tex would venture down a criminal path again after Bruno scared him so straight back before Christmas that I’m sure he soiled his shorts. Champ’s finally got a roof over his head, a solid job, and a supporting cast willing to play chess whenever he asks. Something else is going on.”
“I agree,” Michelle confessed, “but I still have to do my job.”
Wally sighed and stretched his bad leg.
“What I don’t get is why the interest from the Feds?” he asked after stretching his leg again. “The guns are a problem, and I understand they tore up the quiet neighborhood of people with a great deal of clout, but that doesn’t usually lead to a Federal presence.”
Michelle made a face that betrayed she knew something that could be damning for their friends.
“The Feds are interested because of the number of guns found in the trunk,” she explained. “Not only does it match an amount picked up in recent chatter about a group on the domestic terrorist watch list, but it’s also a unique number.”
Wally looked at her in confusion. “Unique how? I’ve been in touch with the guys on the scene. They found four crates with a total of forty guns. That’s basic shipping for guns.”
“They found thirty-nine guns in the crates,” she corrected him. “The fortieth was in the backseat where Champ allegedly used it to fire at the car that was pursuing them. Thankfully, it was not a law enforcement vehicle…”
Wally was totally befuddled. “That’s still forty guns, though. What am I missing?”
“Thirty-nine guns in the crates would indicate that the recipient had placed an order for that amount,” Michelle explained. “Apparently, this terrorist group that has the Feds’ attention has strong ties to Revolutionary War history, so they like to do things in groups of thirteen, to represent the thirteen original colonies.”
Wally quickly did the mental math.
“And thirty-nine is three sets of thirteen…” Wally finally put it all together.
“It’s not exactly a smoking gun…I’m now regretting that poor choice of words…but the Feds have been looking for any sort of lead to find and take down this group. They think this is it, so they are mobilizing and will be here much sooner than we’d both like.”
Michelle offered a smile to dampen the negative impact of her words, but it did nothing to improve Wally’s view on the subject.
“They think that Champ, Tex, and Aspen can lead them to this group?” he asked.
Michelle nodded. “They are working with the theory that they were on their way to deliver the guns to known domestic terrorists. This does not look good for them.”
Wally pointed in the direction of the room down the hall. “Those guys are not involved with terrorists. If they were, why were they being chased by people who were clearly trying to stop them? And why would they call me for help in the middle of committing a crime?”
Michelle rested her head on his shoulder. “You don’t have to convince me. I’m on your side, remember? You just have to help me convince my boss, the Feds, and this city’s most influential residents that they’re innocent.”
“Piece of cake,” Wally said sarcastically. “We’re going to need to get Bruno involved. And he’s not going to be thrilled with this turn of events regarding a couple of his favorite strays.”
Michelle flashed her best million dollar smile. “That’s why I’m going to leave telling him to you, Handsome.”
She kissed him, but it didn’t have its usual effect because he was thinking about Detective Bruno and how pissed off he was going to be.
TO BE CONTINUED…