Fatal Justice (Chapter 20)

Sam figured SWAT probably had the place surrounded by now. She wondered if Nick was outside, too. Her mind wandered back to what he'd said the night before. No, I can't go there. I'll go crazy if I think about that.

She noticed Reese talking to himself and strained to hear him.

"It's her fault I had to do the babies, too," he muttered. "I never wanted to hurt them."

Sam swallowed hard. "So then why did you?"

He stared at her. "What did you say?"

"Why did you hurt the babies?"

"I didn't mean to. She was screaming at me again. We had no money for groceries."

"Where'd you get the ten grand?"

Reese seemed almost ashamed. "I got a second job, and it still wasn't enough. So I started selling drugs. Didn't mean to get into that, but no matter how much I brought home, it wasn't enough for her. She said she hated me and was going to take the babies and leave me. I didn't want her to know I had the money. If she got her hands on it, she would've left me."

Sam hung on his every word, forcing herself to stay still and let him get it out before she made her move.

"I couldn't let her take my kids. That wasn't going to happen." He didn't seem to notice the tears that tumbled down his face. "I went to get my gun. Just to scare her into shutting up, but she didn't care. She just kept spewing shit at me."

"Why'd you shoot her?"

Clarence's eyes met hers. "She called me a loser. Said she never should've married me." He shook his head. "After everything I'd done for her."

"What happened with the kids?"

"Jorge started screaming. I told him to shut up so I could think. He wouldn't shut up." Clarence's voice caught on a sob. "I didn't mean to hit him. I loved him. I loved all of them, but nothing I did was enough."

Sam wanted to go to him, but was mindful of the gun in his hand. "I can help you," she said. "We can walk out of here with no one getting hurt. If you let me help, this doesn't have to end badly for you."

"It already has," he said in a tone devoid of hope.

"Your life isn't over. I'll talk to the U.S. Attorney. I'll tell them your wife emotionally abused you. I'll make sure you get a good attorney who'll enter a temporary insanity plea. You'll do some time, but in a hospital not a prison. Let me help you."

Reese shook his head. "You can't bring my family back."

Sam stood up. "But I can – "

"Stop!" He aimed the gun at her. "Just stop talking. I want my money. If I get the money, I won't need your help. I won't need anyone."

Moving past the fear, Sam took a step toward him. "They've got this place surrounded by now. SWAT is making a plan. They'll come in and take you out. They won't care about you." She took another step, reaching outside herself for the fortitude. "All they care about right now is saving me. I'm the only one who cares about you, Clarence."

"You don't care about me. I shot your partner."

"He startled you. You thought he was robbing your house."

"I never meant to shoot him."

"I know." She took another step. Three feet to go. "Give me the gun. I'll call them. I'll tell them you're unarmed. No one has to get hurt."

He eyed her warily. "Why do you want to help me? I took you hostage."

"You were desperate. I understand that." She thought of Nick, of what he'd said the night before, and forced herself to concentrate. "I don't want you to get hurt. Think of your mother. She just lost Tiffany and the children. She doesn't want to lose you, too."

His shoulders sagged, a sob hiccupping through him. "Why couldn't Tiffany be happy with me?"

"I don't know, Clarence, but maybe you'll have a chance to make someone else happy. I can help you. I promise I'll help you." She had him. She could see it in his eyes as she took yet another step toward him.

The door to the diner burst open, startling them both. "Freeze, police!" Two SWAT officers dressed in black riot gear aimed their weapons at Reese.

He spun toward them, waving the gun.

"No!" Sam screamed to the officers. "Hold your fire." She held out her hand to Reese. "Give me the gun. I can still get you out of here alive."

He shook his head, his eyes focused on the two officers at the door.

"Drop the gun, Reese," one of them ordered.

"Clarence, I can help," Sam pleaded.

"No you can't." His eyes shifted to her. "No one can." He put the gun to his temple and pulled the trigger.

The gunshot rang through the diner's parking lot.

"Oh my God!" one of the reporters cried.

Nick couldn't have said it better himself. Four people were inside – three cops and Reese. Nick's money was on the cops. "Come on," he whispered, watching the door so intently his eyes watered from the need to blink.

Christina squeezed his arm.

Five long minutes passed before one of the SWAT officers escorted Sam out of the building.

A cheer erupted from the crowd gathered in the parking lot.

Nick's legs went weak with relief as he watched her talk to Captain Malone. A few minutes later, Malone gestured behind him to point Nick out in the crowd.

"Thanks for waiting with me," Nick said to Christina. "I'll check in later." He moved toward Sam. The crowd between them parted, their eyes met, and nothing mattered more to Nick than getting to her as fast as he could – not the worries he'd expressed the night before, not the media watching their every move. Nothing mattered but her.

He put his arms around her and brought her in close to him, attempting to shield her from the blinding blur of camera flashes.

"We'll be on every front page in the city tomorrow," she said.

"That's okay."

He held her for a long time before he pulled back to study her pale face.

"I had him," she said. "I just needed one more minute…"

"All that matters is that you're safe."

"I called you. The minute I could. Just like I said I would."

"I know, babe. I know." He noticed there was something gray all over her. "Let me drive you home so you can change."

She brushed at the lapels of his coat. "You'll need to have this cleaned."

"What is that?"

"Clarence Reese's brain."

Nick shuddered. "Jesus, Sam." Ignoring the media clamoring for a word from her, he ushered her to her car and held the passenger door for her. He took off his overcoat, rolled it into a ball and tossed it into the backseat.

"I had him," she said again as they pulled out of the diner.

"I'm sure you did everything you could."

Looking over at him, she said, "He didn't shoot my dad."

"But the stuff in his place…"

"Previous tenant."

"Shit."

"Yeah. Back to square one – again. But at least I have a lead to work with."

"I hope Malone gave you the rest of the day off."

"He tried to, but as soon as I get a shower, I'm back on Sinclair."

"You should take the day, Sam. This was a traumatic thing."

"I'm fine. I need to work."

Nick knew it was pointless to argue with her.

"I was surprised to see you when I came out," she said after a long period of silence. "I wasn't sure if you'd be there."

"Of course I was there."

"I thought you were 'taking some time.'"

Nick's jaw tightened with tension. "I needed to know you were all right."

"Will you still need to know I'm all right if we break up?"

"Sam…"

"I'm just wondering."

"I'll always worry about you, no matter what."

"If that's the case, then it seems kind of stupid to break up. What if I'm with someone else and I get taken hostage? You won't be able to show up like you did today. It won't be your place."

The idea of her with someone else tore at him, which of course was her goal. "I know what you're trying to do."

"I'm trying to show you how dumb you're being."

"Gee, thanks." He was so damned glad to be arguing with her that the barb didn't bother him in the least. On Ninth Street, he parallel parked between his house and her dad's.

"Thanks for driving me," she said. "You must need to get back to work."

"I've got some time. Let's go in. I'm sure your dad is anxious to see you."

He followed her up the ramp to her father's house where Skip, Celia, Angela and Tracy waited for them.

When her sisters started to rush over to Sam, Nick held up a hand to stop them. He shook his head, and they seemed to get the message that Sam needed someone else just then.

She went straight to her dad and rested her forehead on his shoulder. "It wasn't him," she said. "He didn't shoot you."

"That's the least of my concerns right now. How are you?"

"I'm fine," she said, straightening. "I need a shower, though. Reese offed himself right next to me."

Angela winced. "God, that must've been horrible."

Sam shrugged off her sister's sympathy. "I'd almost talked him out of the gun."

Nick's heart ached as he watched her attempt at stoicism. He could see the truth in her eyes. No doubt her family could, too.

"I'm sure you did everything you could," Tracy said. "Just like you always do."

"That's right," Celia said.

"Go on up to the shower," Skip said. "You'll feel better once you get cleaned up."

After Sam went upstairs, Sam's sisters followed Celia into the kitchen.

Skip turned his gaze on Nick. "Takes a special kind."

"Sir?"

"It's not easy loving a cop. You get to do all the worrying."

Hands on his hips, Nick struggled to contain the surge of emotion that hovered just below the surface. "Yeah."

"She needs you," Skip said. "She'd die before she admitted it, but she does."

Nick marveled at how Skip saw right through him.

"I'm, ah, going up to check on her."

"You do that."

Sam scrubbed her skin until it burned. She washed her hair and then washed it again. The horror was harder to get rid of than Reese's brain matter. Standing under the hot water, she relived the whole thing, from the moment he got into her car until the fatal shot. She'd done all she could to bring about a positive conclusion. Of that she was confident. But that didn't change the fact that a man had died a foot from her. All her training and time on the job only went so far on days like this.

She leaned against the shower wall and closed her eyes. All she could see was Clarence's face in the moment she knew she had gotten through to him. And then she saw the gun at his temple. Sometimes the waste, the sheer destruction she witnessed on the job was too much to bear.

The shower door opened, and Nick stepped in.

He reached for her, but she shook him off. "Don't."

He lifted her into his embrace anyway.

Sam fought him. "You can't come in here and do this. Not after what you said last night. You don't have any right."

"I have every right."

"I can't allow myself to rely on you if you're not going to be here next time."

"I'll be here next time. Every time."

"Because you want to be?"

"Because I wouldn't know how not to be." He left a trail of hot kisses from her neck to her shoulder. "I'm not sure why, but for some reason I wasn't as afraid today as I was yesterday. You were in real danger this time, but I knew you'd find a way out of it." Brushing his lips over hers, he added, "You're so smart and resourceful. I had faith, Sam. I  faith. In you."

"So what happens the next time someone takes a shot at me? Or if I actually get shot? Will I have to worry about you freaking out and hitting the road?"

He shook his head. "We have a deal, remember? I can't ever do this again."

"I need there to be , Nick. I need one thing in my life I can be sure of."

"You can be sure of me, babe. I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere."

"Promise?"

"I promise."

"So this is a forever kind of thing?"

"Absolutely." His lips came down hard on hers for a deep, devouring kiss.

When she came up for air, Sam said, "I need to get to work, and so do you."

"Another couple of minutes won't matter." He pressed her back against the wall, hooked her legs over his hips and thrust into her.

"Only a couple of minutes?" she asked with a coy smile.

"However long it takes." He tipped her chin up so he could see her eyes. "But there'll be no more faking."

Her heart skipped a beat. "How did you know?"

"After experiencing the real thing, there's no mistaking a fake."

"I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry I filled your head with doubts." Cupping her breast, he said, "The way I see it, I owe you two."

Eyes fluttering shut, Sam floated on a cloud of sensation. "Must. Go. To. Work."

He kissed his way down her neck. "You'll get there. Eventually."