Marina spent the flight to Battle Creek alternating between worry about what she'd find when she got there--a bullet to the chest, they had said, and that was never good news--and wondering what the hell she was doing making the trip in the first place. She and Milt had barely talked in the past four years--both too busy for more than the occasional email and very occasional phone call. (Truthfully, it had been more her than him--a gap created by her discomfort with the seemingly overnight transformation of her daredevil partner into someone who'd never met a rule book he hadn't memorized cover to cover.) But Marjorie had made it clear when Marina called her that neither she nor Milt's mother had no intention of going to see him, and Marina knew damn well that bastard Kenny Bromberg wouldn't go. Milt deserved to have someone who cared about him with him in case...well, in case.
Battle Creek was small, she realized on the drive from the airport to the hospital. She'd known that, of course, but seeing it...she tried to picture Milt here and kept failing. Oh, from a law enforcement point of view, she was sure there was enough to keep him busy--the town lay directly between Chicago and Detroit, which meant plenty of criminal traffic in both directions. But from a personal point of view? She couldn't imagine what her social, active, sophisticated former partner did to keep himself busy here.
The hospital parking lot was nearly full when she got there. They really ought to consider expanding it, she thought as she steered into one of the few remaining spots. She crossed the parking lot with a touch of dread. She assumed someone would have called her if Milt had died, but...how exactly had his luck run out so badly, anyway?
Inside the hospital, she approached the white-haired, grandmotherly volunteer at the reception desk.
"Excuse me, I'm here to visit someone. Milt Chamberlain?"
"Third floor, turn right when you get off the elevator," replied the volunteer immediately without even glancing at the computer in front of her. "Just look for the line; you can't miss it."
Line? Marina puzzled over that as she rode the elevator up.
When she stepped off the elevator, she understood. There was a long line of people standing neatly against one wall, stretching back nearly to the elevator. A number carried flowers or balloons or containers of what looked like baked goods. Many of them were chatting with each other.
Curious, Marina followed the line around the corner. On the wall at the end of the hall was a giant banner reading "Get Well, Milt." Beneath it were two tables. One was full of flowers and balloons and containers, and the other had what looked like some sort of registration book. As each person reached the front, they dropped their goods off on the table, and leaned over to sign the book. There was no sign of Milt himself.
Off to one side, she saw a man in a rumpled grey suit and black running shoes leaning against the wall, watching the line dourly. Cop, she decided and went over to introduce herself.
"That's quite the line," she said. "Half the town must be here."
The man smiled darkly. "Yeah, and the other half was here this morning." He turned his head, giving her a quick, appraising look that confirmed her suspicions. Definitely a cop.
"Marina Gaines," she said, opening her jacket enough to let him see her bade. "Milt and I were partners, back in LA."
"LA?" A look of interest flashed across his face. He straightened up and offered her his hand. She liked his grip--firm and professional. "Detective Russ Agnew, BCPD. I guess you could call me Milt's current partner. Unofficially."
She nodded. Resident agencies often worked closely with the local police they were there to support, and Milt certainly would have reached out. Either version of Milt. "How's he doing?"
"Stable," Russ said. "But not strong enough for this crowd." He gave a nod toward the line. "That's why the hospital set up the display down there. Lets them feel like they're doing something, and lets him rest."
"Any chance I could skip the line and actually see him?" Marina asked.
"Sure," he said. "I'll take you over."
He led her past the line, back toward the elevator. On the elevator, he hit the button for the second floor, then leaned back against the wall, expression intensely curious. "LA, huh? Does that mean you were Milt's partner during the Acevado case?"
As far as she knew, Milt hadn't talked once about that case to anyone after the internal investigation had ended. Whatever introspection had he had done over it, whatever process had led him to reinvent himself, it had all been private. Of course,
"Yeah," she said cautiously, not sure how much Russ knew about it. "That was a mess." And one that had nearly destroyed Milt, although she hadn't realized it until much later. She hadn't really considered him callous--at least no more so than any other LEO--but she'd still been shocked when she realized just how deeply those deaths at struck him.
"No kidding," Detective Agnew said. The elevator doors opened, interrupting anything else he was going to say.
He glanced sideways at her as he led her down another long, white corridor. "So what was Milt really like?" he said. "Before, I mean?"
Maybe Milt really had told him something about the Acevado case. "He was...a good cop," she said at last. How could she sum up the hundreds of subtle and not-so-subtle changes that Milt had undergone in the weeks and months after that case? Not just the slow shifts in dress and style, or the forced cheerfulness that he'd kept putting on until it might have seemed real to someone who didn't know him, or the abrupt insistence on following every procedure and rule ever committed to writing--which had somehow only improved his extraordinary closure rate. Plus the incident with Mikey, of course.
"That's what I thought," Agnew said with a harsh laugh. "None of this trust everyone crap, right?"
She laughed herself, trying to picture a trusting version of Milt. "No," she said. But on the other hand. "He could always read people, though. Better than any agent I ever worked with. He could always tell who was lying and who was telling the truth, or what they were doing to do. What to say to get them to do what he wanted." Which had been the root of the problem, she'd eventually decided. Milt was so good at manipulating people that he had no choice but to do it all the time, whether he wanted to or not.
Agnew looked thoughtful as he led her down a hall with a few nurses and no line. Not the ICU, she realized. She took that as a good sign. Maybe Milt's luck hadn't completely deserted him.
"So what happened?" she asked. "How did he get shot in the chest? Wasn't he wearing his vest?"
"You didn't hear?" Agnew looked surprised. "It was Casey's father who shot him."
Oh, God. She hadn't heard that. "That case file was sealed...how did he?" It could have been her, she realized. Yes, it had been Milt's case, but they'd worked it together. Everything Milt had done, she had done too. They'd been partners; shared culpability. "Tell me you got him."
"We got him." Agnew sounded grimly satisfied. "Attempted murder of a law enforcement officer. Of course, Milt'll probably insist they not try it as a capital case. He'll probably get his way too."
The new Milt probably would, she thought. Maybe she would too, in his place.
"You know, you're the first person from outside of Battle Creek to come see him. I figured his mother or someone would stop by."
Apparently Milt hadn't told his new partner everything. "His mother doesn't speak to him."
Agnew looked startled. "But...he was shot."
"She knows." It wasn't her place to tell him about Mikey, she decided. Let Milt do that. If he wanted to.
Agnew looked like he desperately wanted to ask, but he held himself back with visible effort, instead nodding toward a nearby door. "That's his room. You should probably go in. Say hello."
"Thanks," she said.
"Come look for me later," he said. "I'll tell you the best place to find coffee."
"I'll do that."
Note: The name Marina is from IMDB. Her surname is total fiction.
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