“RAVELLE, I need to see you,” Sheriff Hunter barked from his office.
Sheriff Lew Hunter had a gruff way about him. It had taken Pierre a long time to understand that it was just how he was and not to take it personally. In short, the sheriff was pretty much an ass to everyone… except the voters, who seemed to love him. They’d elected him to the position three times. Maybe it was because he was really good at his job and the fact that the voters didn’t have to interact with him on a daily basis.
Pierre put aside the information on the prisoner he was getting ready to move from the downtown holding area to the courthouse and stood to walk into Sheriff Hunter’s office. “I’m about to go out on a transport.” He managed to keep the irritation out of his voice.
“I’m putting Stevens on that. I have something else I need you to do.” Hunter’s forehead glistened with sweat. The guy must go through three uniforms a day. The sheriff could soak through a shirt faster than anyone Pierre had ever met, and it was rolling off him today, so someone had really handed him his ass for some reason. And there weren’t many people who could do that. “I got a call from Judge Potter, the head judge at the courthouse. He reported that Crawford is getting threats of some kind, and they’ve been nasty.” Hunter half wheezed and sighed. “So that’s you. Head on over, take a look at what he’s been getting, and provide additional security.” He sounded as thrilled as Pierre felt about this whole thing.
In truth, Judge Crawford had a reputation for being the hanging judge, in a way. His sentences were generally as harsh as he could get away with. From a law enforcement perspective, Pierre couldn’t say he was disappointed. His compatriots worked hard to bring their cases, and making the punishment fit the crime was justice in his opinion.
But this kind of duty was dull, long, and about as exciting as watching grass grow most of the time. Pierre vastly preferred actually doing something rather than standing around at the door to the courtroom or judge’s chambers, watching and doing his best to intimidate everyone who approached.
“If that’s what you need.” He wasn’t going to argue. There was no point in it. Once Sheriff Hunter made up his mind, that was it.
“Good. That’s what I like about you. Smart enough to understand when you don’t have a choice. Now, go on over and make sure Crawford knows you’re there and on the job.” Hunter yanked a couple of tissues out of the box, swiped them over his forehead and then across the back of his neck, and tossed them in the trash.
Pierre left the office, his gun belt squeaking as he moved. He checked in with the desk so they knew where he was and what he was doing before heading out into the muggy summer day, with an almost blinding sun, to walk the block to the courthouse.
The old jail, which was now used as holding cells, had been built of red granite to resemble a Norman castle with two round towers and fake crenellated battlements on the roof. It was impressive and definitely added interest to the area.
Pierre stayed on the shady side of the street with his eyes open, passing other deputies, acknowledging each as he passed, but not stopping to talk. He was on a mission, and judging by the sheriff’s sweaty reaction, he needed to get there fast. Pierre entered the building, showed his badge and pass to his colleagues who were working the metal detectors and security, then walked inside and took the elevator to the upper floor.
When the doors slid open, he strode out and down the white hallway to the last courtroom and into the judge’s office.
“May I help you?” a man about two years younger than Pierre asked. Instantly Pierre was struck by how intense his eyes were and how the waves in his blond, collar-length hair damn near shimmered when he moved. Pierre’s mouth went dry for just a second, and he nearly stammered, but cleared his throat to cover it.
“I’m Deputy Ravelle. I was sent over to provide extra security for Judge Crawford.”
The pinch at the corner of the man’s mouth smoothed out, and he sighed. “Thank God.” The man turned toward the closed door to the judge’s chambers. “We’ve gotten three notes, and they were all sent to the courthouse.” He pulled open a drawer and slid the envelopes over. “I kept everything, including the envelopes, but they have been touched by me, as well as the judge. We didn’t realize what they were until we opened them. We get the occasional crackpot—he’s a judge, so this sort of thing can go along with the territory—but this feels different. These notes are specific, and there’s pointed hatred behind them. This isn’t someone who’s angry at the system, but specifically hates Judge Crawford.”
Pierre took the envelopes, and the man gasped and placed his hand over his mouth.
“Sorry, I’m a little scattered today. I’m Jordan Erichsohn, Judge Crawford’s paralegal and assistant. Sort of the one who tries to keep him organized.” He smiled. “The judge is with someone right now, but he should be done in a few minutes.”
“It’s no problem.” Pierre took a seat and looked over the letters. Just like Jordan had said, they were specific, with vivid descriptions of what the writer wanted to do to Judge Crawford and how he intended to get into his courtroom and rip him apart. They even went as far as to give the room number. They were clearly intended to incite fear, and it seemed to be working, judging by the reactions he’d witnessed.
Pierre knew Judge Crawford by reputation and as part of his professional capacity. Their interactions had always been within the course of his duties and they had never become friendly. Heck, half the time when working with him, Pierre did his job and it seemed Judge Crawford barely knew he existed. He wasn’t at all like Judge Fortier, who had the courtroom next door. Robert was a great guy.
The door to the judge’s chambers opened and Judge Crawford strode out, going directly to Jordan’s desk. They spoke softly, and Jordan inclined his head toward Pierre, who stood and stepped forward.
“He gave you the letters?” Judge Crawford was in his midfifties with white hair, a crisp suit, and patrician features. In short, he was the definition of distinguished, with intelligence lurking behind his dark eyes. “Excellent. You can see why I was concerned.” He motioned to his office, followed Pierre inside, and closed the door before taking a seat behind his large wooden desk. “I won’t be intimidated by anyone, but these letters were rather personal, so I decided to enlist some extra help. My bailiff and staff need to concentrate on their jobs, and I expect you to do yours. Watch, control access to the courtroom, and pay attention.” His gaze grew intense, and Pierre stared right back. He knew this tactic and wasn’t going to back down. Crawford might be a judge, but he was also a person, and one obviously used to getting his own way or forcing others to submit by sheer force of will.
“Do you have any specific enemies?” Pierre asked sternly. “I know a judge with your reputation isn’t going to be winning any popularity contests with those you sentenced, but does anyone come to mind?” He pulled out his notebook, waiting for an answer.
“I have a number of individuals who passed through my courtroom who have been released from prison in the last six months.” Crawford’s expression softened as he handed Pierre the list, which included the names, as well as the crime they were convicted for.
Pierre scanned the names and then pulled out the letters. “These don’t seem to fit. The individual who wrote these is angry, that’s definite, but he or she is very intelligent and articulate. These weren’t written by a street thug or a drug dealer… at least none of the ones I know. These were written by someone educated.” He handed the judge the papers. “The letters say that you should be eliminated and your cancer wiped from the earth. Most people don’t speak or write that way.”
For the first time, Judge Crawford smiled, slightly. “I agree. That’s why I haven’t done anything with that list.”
“I’ll have it checked out, of course, but I doubt our letter writer is here. Is there anything else you can tell me?”
“Not particularly. Your main task is to let me continue to do my job and to ensure I remain safe. I have private security arranged for my home and commute.”
Pierre nodded, and the judge gave him the information for the firm so Pierre could coordinate with them. He needed to try to find the source of the letters—which was going to be a difficult task, given how very little there was to go on—and to make sure Judge Crawford had the extra security he seemed to think he needed. The building itself was already secured, with all visitors and employees passing through metal detectors and all their bags X-rayed so nothing dangerous got inside. But if someone was intent on causing harm, they didn’t necessarily need a weapon.
“Please work with Jordan. He can give you any information and support you might need.” Judge Crawford turned to the clock on his desk. “I have to be in court in ten minutes.” Any additional information was going to have to come from Jordan, as Judge Crawford’s expression hardened and he turned to his computer. Pierre knew he was dismissed. He left the judge’s chambers and closed the door behind him.
“He’s a peach, isn’t he?” Jordan said in the same tone that he might use to ask about the weather.
The judge’s behavior was just a part of Jordan’s everyday work, it seemed. “Intense” was about the nicest thing Pierre could come up with.
“Judge Crawford isn’t a morning person, and he always needs some time to get ready for court.” Jordan stood and filled a mug from the coffeepot in the corner. He then carried it into the judge’s chambers and returned with an empty mug. “Sometimes I swear he mainlines the stuff.” Jordan rinsed the mug and took his seat once again. “I need to make sure he has everything he requires for his day, and then I can go over anything you want.” He hurried into the office, and Pierre watched him go with pointed interest.
Pierre sat back down. He reminded himself that he was working and had to keep his mind on the task at hand, not let it wander to the delicious paralegal who seemed to check all the boxes for the type of man he preferred: lanky, with great eyes, and a backside that bobbed perfectly with each step and made him feel disappointed when Jordan closed the door behind him.
Pierre took the opportunity to make a call to dispatch to report in and request information on the people the judge had identified. By the time he’d finished relaying the information, Jordan had returned and said it was time for court. He took Pierre to the front of the courtroom, and Pierre stood outside the door, watching as the lawyers and clients filed in, along with interested members of the public. He looked for anything unusual, including people who were more interested in the surroundings than the players in the case at hand. He saw nothing, but kept his eyes open as Judge Crawford called his court to order and started the business of the day.
“HOW WAS the first day?” Jordan asked once court had been adjourned and Pierre had checked on any progress on the information he’d requested. He was told it had been emailed to him, and he checked over the data, finding no surprises. None of the people on the list had anything beyond a high school education, and most of them were easy enough to discount: one was dead, two were now back in prison for one offense or another, and two more were living hours away at either end of the state.
“Uneventful.” He actually stifled a yawn. Pierre would much rather spend his days transporting prisoners or on courthouse security detail. At least he had something to do besides watch people, most of whom were going about their business. “You?”
“Same thing, different day.” Jordan checked the clock at his desk and hurriedly packed up his things. He picked up the phone and said he was leaving for the day. “I put everything for tomorrow on your desk and made a folder for the rest of the week so, if you get a chance, you can work ahead if you’d like.” He listened for a while and hung up. “I’ll see you in the morning.” He looked at his watch and scurried out the door.
Pierre followed his movement with his eyes, flutters of attraction rising in his belly. Damn, Jordan was adorable.
Pierre stayed outside Judge Crawford’s chambers, the area quiet, a clock on the wall ticking away the seconds. He glanced at it every few minutes as he waited. Eventually Judge Crawford came out of the office with his briefcase, and Pierre fell in behind him, watching as they descended in the elevator and went down to the main floor to leave the building. Once Pierre escorted him to his car, the judge got in back and the driver took off. Pierre breathed a small sigh of relief once Judge Crawford was out of his care and no longer his responsibility. Then Pierre turned to walk back to the old jail to check in and enter his report on the letters received.
“So, how was it?” Carson asked with a smirk. “I’m glad I managed to sidestep that little task.” He leaned farther into the locker room as Pierre put his things away and got ready to go home.
“That’s good to know.” He rolled his eyes. Carson was always up for getting out of anything he possibly could. The man loved traffic duty because he could sit in his car all day. If doing nothing were a sport, Carson would be world champion, without a doubt. “It was fine.”
“I ran down the last of those people for you. There isn’t much to go on, and none of them would match what was written in the letters.”
“I agree.” Pierre didn’t usually discuss cases with Carson because the man could provide a complete lack of insight with professional ease. “I don’t know what else to go on for now, so I’ll keep my eyes open, my mouth shut, and the judge alive. Other than that, there isn’t anything I can do right now.” What the hell else could he say?
“Ravelle,” Sheriff Hunter called, this time with less stress than that morning. “Everything go okay with Crawford?”
Pierre shrugged. “As well as can be expected, I guess.”
“We’ll run down what we can on the letters, and you report if any more show up. Hopefully this is someone with a beef, and they’ll wake up and realize they’ve gone too far and just stop.”
Pierre wasn’t so sure of that, but they could hope. Of course, that meant they would never find out who was behind them. But cases of all kinds went unsolved, and as long as Judge Crawford was alive and well, that was what was important.
“Head on home. Crawford is a first-thing guy, so he’ll be in the courthouse early.” Sheriff Hunter left the locker area, and Pierre didn’t need to be told twice. He finished getting ready to go as quickly as he could. His days were going to be long enough.
“You going to go out tonight?” Carson asked. “Some of the guys are going to the Gingerbread House for a few drinks. You should stop by. It will give you a chance to wind down a little bit.”
“I’ll think about it.” Pierre closed his locker and left, wanting to get out to his car before Hunter changed his mind and needed him for something.
He went straight home to his row house on Louther Street. He loved the place. When he’d purchased it two years ago, the late-federal-style house had been in need of a great deal of work. Under ratty carpet, he’d found the original wide-plank floors, which he sanded and refinished to a rich, warm tone. The area under the stairs had been drywalled at some point, and when it had gotten wet from a pipe bursting, he’d had to remove it and discovered cabinets made from old-growth oak that had been covered over. Pierre repaired them, and now they were an integral part of the home and gave it even more charm.
He walked upstairs to his bedroom, with its plain mantel and fireplace. He knew it had been painted many times over the years, and one of these days the white paint and all the layers under it were going to be history so he could expose the burled oak he was sure lay underneath. At least he thought so from the test patches he’d done.
Pierre put his gun and equipment in its place and went to the bathroom to shower. Surrounded by steam and hot water, he let his mind wander, and danged if it didn’t settle on a certain wavy-haired paralegal with intense eyes and lips that reminded him of every sin imaginable. Pierre closed his eyes and let a fantasy unfold for a few minutes before growling under his breath. He definitely needed to get out and let loose. It had been too long since he’d gone to Harrisburg to one of the clubs. Too damn long. Especially if he could get this preoccupied by someone he was working with.
Pierre turned off the water, dried himself, and in the bedroom, pulled out a pair of jeans and a lightweight pastel green shirt that tugged slightly over his chest. He was going to be meeting some of the other deputies, so being blatantly on the make was out of the question. He’d intended to walk so if he drank, he wouldn’t be driving, but one step outside into pea-soup humidity changed his mind. Pierre messaged Carson to tell him he was on his way and to save him a seat, then left the house, heading to where his car was, drove the short distance, and parked in the nearby lot.
The brief walk from the car to the restaurant and bar was enough to leave him sweating. Thank God the air conditioner blew around him as soon as he entered, and Pierre tugged his shirt away from his skin a few times. He loved summer, but this sweltering heat was getting to be too much.
“Hey… we’re back here,” Carson shouted, and Pierre moved through the tables and people milling around toward the restaurant area. He slipped into the booth.
“Hey, Red! Terry!” Pierre called down the long table to where the Carlisle police officer sat with his partner next to him. Those two were an amazing couple and a source of jealousy for Pierre.
When he’d joined the sheriff’s department four years ago, he’d expected the usual bullshit regarding his sexuality. Pierre had gotten some of what he’d expected, but not too much. It had only taken a little while before he’d met a number of the local borough police, and he’d been shocked at the number of gay police officers. Red and his partner, Terry, had been the first he’d met, and then Carter and his partner, Donald. Since then he’d learned that a good percentage of the department was gay. Red had explained that they provided a safe work environment, which attracted some excellent officers.
Terry stood and walked to his end of the table. “I hear you got assigned to one of the judges at the courthouse.” He slipped into the empty seat near Pierre.
“Man, word travels fast,” he said a little loudly. He wasn’t angry, but his law enforcement colleagues gossiped like old biddies.
“Tell me about it,” Terry agreed. “It’s a good thing these guys don’t work for national security.” He grinned and looked up for a second, waving to someone who passed.
Pierre followed his gaze and smiled at the familiar face. “Do you know him?”
“Sure. That’s Jordan. He works at the courthouse. He’s a member at the Y, and I see him and his son coming in a few times a week. Jeremiah is four and he loves the water. I’ve given him a few swimming lessons, and Jordan says he’s signing him up for regular swim class.” Terry waved again, and Jordan came over.
“Hey,” Jordan said with a touch of surprise in his voice.
“You know each other?” Terry asked.
“I work for Judge Crawford now,” Jordan said, “and I’m working with Pierre because of the threats the judge has received.” He turned to Pierre. “You should have said you were coming here.”
“I didn’t know until a little while ago.” Pierre caught the attention of the server and ordered a beer. He turned back to Jordan but didn’t know what to say. He wasn’t interested in talking about work, and they didn’t know each other well enough to talk about other things. Pierre also figured it didn’t help that he found himself staring into Jordan’s eyes, forgetting about most everything else. He blinked a few times to pull himself back to the present. Damn, distraction and near blubbering idiot were quickly becoming the norm for him when he was around Jordan. That was going to make his job even harder. He needed to get over this fast.
“Where’s Jeremiah?” Terry asked, to Pierre’s eternal gratitude.
“He’s with my mom and dad. They asked to take him for a few hours, and I needed a night out that didn’t involve chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, yogurt, and spilled milk.” Jordan grinned. “I’m here with Brad and Ricky. They go to the club too. We’ve been meaning to go out for a while, but with Jeremiah, it hasn’t been possible.” Jordan glanced toward the other table, then turned back to them. “I should get back. But I’ll see you at the club. And Pierre, I’ll see you in the morning.” He flashed a smile that showed a touch of perfect teeth and once again short-circuited Pierre’s brain.
“Earth to Pierre,” Terry said, standing up. “Geez, you are really gone.”
“Sorry.” Pierre blinked and shook his head as Jordan sat down. “So, a kid, huh? Is he married?” Just his luck he’d be perving on a straight guy.
“No. Jordan doesn’t have a husband.” Terry leaned a little closer as if to continue, but then sat back. “Nah. If you want to find out about him, you’re going to have to ask him yourself.” He waggled his eyebrows. “I will tell you that he bats for our team, but other than that, the rest is up to you.” Terry stood as Red motioned. “I need to get back.” Terry returned to his seat as the server brought Pierre’s beer, and he did his best to pay attention to the intense conversation on what the guys thought the Eagles would do this year.
“They’re going to be as mediocre as they have been for the last few years. They didn’t make any large changes, and they expect the stars to align and everything to just fall into place.” Pierre shook his head as the others disagreed with him and continued talking. At least he’d participated a little.
He glanced toward the back of the restaurant, where Jordan sat with his friends. They were talking and each had a beer, but there was no animation in Jordan’s eyes. The others seemed happy to be there, but Jordan checked his watch while making it look like he wasn’t doing it. Then, when he wasn’t talking, he bit his lower lip a little, drank from his glass, and looked at his watch again.
“Something going on over there?” Carson asked. “Man, you’ve been paying attention for shit. Carter was just asking if you wanted some help with these notes.”
Pierre turned back to the table. They regularly worked with the other law enforcement agencies in the county because of jurisdictional issues, and everyone had limited resources of some type. “That would be great, Carter, thanks. The more help we have on this, the better. There isn’t a lot to go on.” He leaned forward so he could see Carter better. “They came through the mail and were postmarked locally, but that’s all—with no return address, of course. They could have been dropped in any box. The one thing I noticed was that the addresses were scrawled on the envelopes like the sender was in a hurry.” He shrugged. “The letters themselves were printed on a computer.”
“Bring them over. I’ve had some good luck figuring out printers and the kinds used.” Carter lifted his beer in a silent salute, and Pierre did the same. It was going to be good to have some help on this one.
The conversation around the table continued on and off for a while. Televisions had been hung in the various corners, and one of them flashed to an image of the president and some breaking news about ties to Russia. That set off discussion about politics, and Pierre immediately tuned out. Ever since the election, he had been doing his best to stay away from anything political. He’d gotten burned out on it so much the previous year that he couldn’t take it any longer.
“Guys. That’s enough, please.” Pierre stood, excusing himself to go to the bathroom.
All the stand-up facilities were taken, so he dipped into a stall to take care of business. Then everyone else and the room grew quiet.
“You’re really going to go?” a high-pitched male voice asked as the door closed.
“Yeah. Mom called and Jeremiah is sick. She said he has a fever and he’s not keeping anything down.”
Pierre immediately recognized that voice. He finished up and flushed, putting himself back together.
“I need to get over there, so can you give me a ride?”
“But….” The other guy sputtered a little, like a tiny motorboat.
“Brad, you brought me here, and I could walk home, but it’s a long way after dark, and you promised to be the designated driver and all that.” The worry in Jordan’s voice rang through loud and clear.
Pierre pulled open the stall door and stepped out to the sink behind where Jordan was washing his hands.
“Hi,” Jordan said as he turned to grab a paper towel from the container.
“Hey.” Pierre smiled and did his best not to look stalkerish. After all, they were in the men’s room. “Everything okay?” he asked as soothingly as he could.
“No. My son, or the boy I’m in the process of adopting, if you want to be technical”—Jordan glared at his friend—“is sick and I need to get to him. My mom has him and she’s worried.” Jordan was bordering on frantic from the look in his eyes. “Sorry, Pierre. I don’t need to dump on you.” He turned back to his friend, who looked as though a stiff breeze would blow him away. “Come on, Brad. You’re taking me home so I can get my car and go to my mother’s.” He put his hands on his hips, eyes blazing, tapping his foot. “I can’t believe I have to ask you.” The worry came out again as some of his confidence slipped away.
“He probably has a cold or something. Your mom raised you and your sisters—she knows what she’s doing.” Brad whined. “We never get to see you anymore, and when we do, you run away.”
Jordan sighed. “I know, but I have to go.”
“I can take you,” Pierre offered suddenly, surprising himself. He wasn’t usually impulsive.
Jordan turned away from his friend. “But you’re here with all your friends and everything. I couldn’t ask you to do that. Brad can take me home.” Dang, he was a little bossy too. That was good to know. At least no one was going to take advantage of Jordan.
“It’s all right. I came here for a beer, and I had part of one a while ago. I don’t drink and drive, and the guys will understand.” Heck, it was unusual if they all stayed the entire evening when they went out. Someone always got a call about something either work- or family-related. It happened, and there was no use getting upset about it. Pierre washed his hands and grabbed a paper towel.
Jordan and Brad left the men’s room without giving him an answer. Pierre figured Brad would break down and provide Jordan with a ride, but when he stepped out, Jordan was alone.
“Are you serious about this?” Jordan turned to where his other friends were talking among themselves, and Brad didn’t seem particularly popular, judging by the mutual scowls.
“Sure. Let me tell the guys I’m going.” Pierre walked back to the table and explained that he was leaving. He gave Carson enough money to cover his drink, motioned toward the front door, and led the way to his car as a rumble of thunder sounded in the distance. “I’m right over there.”
Jordan followed him and got in the passenger seat. “I have to admit, this isn’t what I pictured you driving. A big truck definitely, maybe a huge SUV, but not a Focus.”
“It gets great mileage and I mostly use it to go from home and to work. It’s also affordable.” He started the engine and let the air-conditioning lower the temperature inside. He then turned to Jordan, wondering at his quizzical expression. “Are you making fun of me and my car?”
Jordan laughed a little. “Maybe.” The worry returned. “I’m in the condos just off Harrisburg Pike in Middlesex.”
“No problem.” Pierre pulled out and drove north through town, then out and down the Pike. He pulled into the complex of cookie-cutter homes, following Jordan’s directions. He’d never understood why these had been built. It wasn’t as though space was a huge issue, but then, affordable housing was important, and they seemed nice enough and well maintained.
“It’s this one right here,” Jordan directed, and Pierre pulled off to the side to let Jordan out.
“I hope everything is okay.”
“Thanks. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He hurried out and up the drive and let himself in.
Pierre lingered, his fingers fidgeting on the steering wheel. The garage door lifted, and Pierre figured he’d wait until Jordan pulled out. The lights in the dark blue minivan inside flashed and then nothing. Pierre watched a little longer and saw Jordan get out, then tried not to smile as Jordan kicked one of the tires. He could only imagine the curses he emitted.
Pierre lowered his window. “Do you want to get any car seat you need for your son and I can take you to get him?”
Jordan turned, looking at him as though he were crazy and then a gift from God. What Pierre wouldn’t give to be looked at like that all the time. He grew warm just thinking about it, even with the air-conditioning blasting on him.
“Go on. It’s no problem.” Pierre’s only company for the evening was going to be the television anyway.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Go get the seat, and let’s get going so you can check on your son.” He could tell worry was taking over now and Jordan was going to need someone to help him.
Jordan opened the sliding door on the van, grabbed the car seat, closed the van, and then lowered the garage door. He trotted over with a booster and tossed it in back. “Mom is in Mechanicsburg,” Jordan told him, and Pierre pulled out, heading in that direction. “She has a house just off Market Street.”
“All right.” Pierre went as fast as safety would allow. There were limits as to how far he’d push it. Jordan sat in the passenger seat, chewing his nails and abusing his lower lip to the point that Pierre wondered if he was going to chew it off.
Jordan gave good directions, and they pulled up in front of a small saltbox with cream paint and hunter green shutters. Pierre had barely pulled to a stop before Jordan was out and racing up the walk. He went right inside, and Pierre followed more slowly.
He knocked before opening the screen door, as the main door was already halfway open. “Jordan, is everything okay?” He peered inside to where Jordan sat on the edge of the sofa, leaning over a small, pale boy who was definitely not feeling well.
“I don’t know,” Jordan said, feeling the boy’s forehead.
“I took his temperature half an hour ago and it was down,” a woman Pierre presumed was Jordan’s mother said.
Jordan used the ear thermometer to take Jeremiah’s temperature and gasped. “Mom, it’s 103.3.” Jordan lifted Jeremiah into his arms. “I need to get him to the hospital.” Jordan seemed to notice Pierre through his fog of worry, clearly frantic now. “Can you drive us? Mom doesn’t do well after dark, and….”
“Sure. I’ll install the booster seat, and you guys lock up the house and bring him. We’ll go.” He left, heading to his car. Thankfully it didn’t take long to get the seat in place, and Jordan settled Jeremiah into it and climbed in back next to him, with Jordan’s mother taking the passenger seat.
“I’m Gertrude,” she said as he pulled out for the nearest ER.
“Mom, this is Pierre. He and I started working together today. He’s providing some extra security for Judge Crawford because of the letters.”
She humphed. “I’m surprised that man hasn’t had people after him before now.”
“Mom,” Jordan protested.
She rolled her eyes and turned to Pierre. “Are you a policeman?”
“Sheriff’s deputy, ma’am.” He kept the fake Texas accent out of his voice. Now was not the time for jokes. “And we take those threats very seriously.”
“I’m sure you do. But that man is a snake if I ever knew one.” She set her jaw, daring him to contradict her.
“What are you saying? I know he isn’t popular in some circles, but….”
She shook her head. “One hears things, and when Jordan’s father was alive…. He served on the county board for a number of years, as well as held various city and school board positions. He got to meet and knew everyone in the county, and he always said he’d never trust that man as far as he could throw him… and Heinrich always had a bad back. Heinrich never told me why he felt that way, though.”
“Mom, he’s my boss, and we have more important things to talk about than idle gossip.”
As he continued to drive, Pierre checked the mirror and saw Jordan stroking Jeremiah’s forehead. A few minutes later, he pulled into Holy Spirit Hospital and right up to the emergency entrance door. He waited as Jordan got Jeremiah out. Gertrude went with them, and Pierre drove off to find a place to park.
The waiting area was full by the time he returned, and Pierre found Jordan and Gertrude in chairs, with Jeremiah in Jordan’s lap.
“It hurts, Daddy,” Jeremiah said softly, clinging to Jordan with everything his little arms and hands had. “Please make it stop.” Tears ran down his cheeks, and he closed his eyes, curling into a ball. “My tummy, Daddy.”
“I know. As soon as we can see the doctor, he’ll make you feel better,” Jordan soothed as he grew paler and more worried.
Finally, after ten minutes, which Pierre thought a mercifully short period of time, they were called back. Jordan gave the nurse all the information she requested as he laid Jeremiah on the bed and covered him up. Between them, they explained what had happened, and the nurse entered all of it in the computer.
“Jeremiah has had leukemia. It’s in remission, and we believed he was cancer-free. But….”
“Of course. Has his oncologist been called?” she asked.
Jordan gave the name, and she entered that as well. Then she left the room. Pierre wondered if he should go too. He wasn’t really needed.
“It’s going to be all right,” Gertrude said as she settled in the chair next to the bed.
“No more cancer. Please, Daddy, make it no more cancer.” Tears ran down his cheeks.
“Your daddy is going to do his very best for you. I promise,” Pierre said from where he stood at the end of the bed. “So you be brave, and I promise I’ll take you for a ride in a police car and I’ll show you how to make the lights and siren work.” He did his best to try to smile and not let the threatening tears run down his cheeks. Hell and damnation, he saw hurt and pain all the time. Families torn apart by parents going to jail or prison. But this little boy’s pain and knowing this was only the tip of the iceberg, judging by what he was hearing, brought tears to his eyes that he couldn’t stop.
“Promise?” Jeremiah asked.
“Yes. I promise. I’ll take you and your daddy for a ride.” Pierre smiled, and Jeremiah turned to Jordan, who held his hand.
“Please, no cancer, Daddy. I wanna go for a ride in the police car.” He closed his big blue eyes, and Jordan looked even more afraid.
“How long has Jeremiah been with you?”
“Eight months,” Jordan said. “He’d been through so much. His mother is dead, and his father is God knows where. He reportedly took off after Jeremiah was born and hasn’t been seen since. At least that’s what I’m told. Jordan went into the foster care system and was diagnosed shortly afterward. He spent months alone in a children’s hospital, with only the social workers coming to spend time with him.”
“Miss Amy was nice. Miss Kelly was mean,” Jeremiah added, making a yucky face.
“Kelly was the nurse who gave him transfusions and shots. She’s very nice, and they all cared for you a lot. Remember your birthday party?” Jordan asked, and Jeremiah nodded slowly. “They all came and brought you presents.” Jordan stroked Jeremiah’s forehead. “I met him while he was still in the hospital.”
“Jordan had childhood leukemia,” Gertrude explained. “So when he met Jeremiah, he fell in love with him, and then when he found out he needed a family, Jordan petitioned to be his foster parent and is in the process of adopting him.”
“But he’s my daddy,” Jeremiah said, holding Jordan’s hand and staring up at him with open admiration.
“Hello,” a doctor said as he came in. “I understand your tummy hurts.”
Jeremiah nodded. “I throwed up… a lot.”
“I’m Dr. Andy. Can I look you over? I promise no pokey shots for now.” He held up his hands, and Jeremiah nodded his approval. “What did you have to eat?”
“Macaroni and cheese,” Jeremiah answered, then turned to Jordan. “I need to go potty, bad.”
“Do you want me to carry you?” Jordan asked, and Jeremiah threaded his arms around his neck.
“I’ll show you,” Dr. Andy said, and Jordan lifted Jeremiah up and carried him out of the room.
They returned a few minutes later, with Jeremiah still clinging to Jordan. “You were very good.”
“But he wanted to see my poop,” Jeremiah said with astonishment as Jordan settled him in bed.
“Sometimes we learn things,” Dr. Andy said. “Now, you look like you’re feeling a little better.” He took Jeremiah’s temperature again. “It’s down, but he’s still got a fever. I want to run a few tests just to rule out any sort of recurrence, but I think he has a touch of the flu and he might have a problem with dairy. Does he drink a lot of milk?”
“No. He’ll eat ice cream and some cheese, but he says he doesn’t like a lot of it.”
“That’s a good sign. Some kids have issues with cow’s milk. We don’t know what formula he was on as a baby or if his mother was aware, but my suggestion is to eliminate dairy altogether for a while and then test his reactions slowly. Some kids can tolerate some milk, and others none.” Dr. Andy leaned over the bed. “We need to take a little blood. I’m sorry, but we need to know that the yucky cancer is gone. I’ll have the nurse be gentle. I promise.”
“No pokey needles.” Jeremiah pulled his arms to his sides, pushing them underneath to hide them.
“Remember that Mr. Pierre said you could ride in a police car if you were good.” Jordan didn’t scold, and when Jeremiah turned to him, Pierre nodded gently.
“I know you hate needles. I do too. They’re yucky. But they need to make sure there isn’t any cancer,” Pierre told him, reaching into his pocket to pull out his case. “Here, you can hold that for me if you want. But don’t lose it.” He handed Jeremiah his badge, and the boy stared at it, running his fingers over the design.
“Can I be a policeman when I grow up?” Jeremiah asked.
“You can be whatever you want.” Jordan hugged him gently. “I’ve enrolled him in ballet class. The Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet is one of the best in the country, and I want him to learn to move. Even if he doesn’t stick with it, he’ll learn a lot.”
“I wanna dance.” Jeremiah turned to Pierre. “Can I be a dancing policeman?” He giggled.
“Someone is doing better,” the nurse said as she came in. “I’m gonna take a little blood and your temperature again. I promise to be gentle.”
Jeremiah clearly wasn’t happy, but he let her get his blood, holding Pierre’s badge like a talisman. When she was done, she took his temperature and gave him a squirt of medication on his tongue.
“It’s still elevated. We’ll see if the Children’s Tylenol will bring it down. Give it a few minutes.” She left the room, and it wasn’t long before Jeremiah’s eyes drifted closed and he fell asleep.
“Thank goodness. Sleep is best,” Gertrude said.
“Now we just need to wait for the tests.” Jordan continued holding Jeremiah’s hand.
“Is Jeremiah okay… or has he been, I should ask?”
Jordan nodded slowly. “He started getting better right after I brought him home, and he’s been improving really well. Three months ago his tests came back clear, and he’s been getting stronger and healthier by the day.” The worry was plain in Jordan’s eyes. “I don’t want him to go through that again.”
“How is the adoption progressing?”
“Well. There is no one to contest it, and Jeremiah has been in the system long enough that they want a home for him. But we’ve encountered prejudice and roadblocks from people who don’t think a gay man is a fit parent.” Jordan shook his head. “The first time I told the lady at the courthouse that I’d ask Judge Fortier what he thought of that attitude, she backpedaled pretty quickly.” He stroked Jeremiah’s forehead. “We still have a long way to go until the final hearing, but all of the home visits have been stellar.”
“I suppose it can be like walking on eggshells.”
“Yeah. Every step forward means there’s more for me to lose.” Jordan’s features grew gentle as he looked at Jeremiah. “You don’t need to stay. I can call a friend to take me home. It could take some time to get the test results, and….”
“It’s all right.” Pierre took a step back so he’d be out of the way, watching this little family as Jordan rested his head next to Jeremiah’s. A fierce longing washed over him, tugging and pulling at him. This was what he wanted—a family of his own. The love between the two of them was so evident. Jeremiah holding Jordan’s hand in his even in sleep, Jordan stroking Jeremiah’s forehead—it was all so tender, gentle, and loving. He wanted that in his life.
“I’m going to see if I can find some coffee or something. We’re going to be a while and it’s getting late.” Gertrude stood and left the area. Obviously they had both been through this routine many times before.
“Is this what happens when…?” God, he wasn’t even sure how to phrase the question.
“Sometimes. You never know how the disease will manifest itself after remission. For years after I was declared cancer-free, Mom jumped at each sneeze and had me on the way to the hospital for a stubbed toe. It’s part of dealing with all this. You get hypersensitive. That’s why I raced back when Mom called and why she didn’t write this off as just a case of the flu. You’re just extra cautious.” Jordan returned his attention to Jeremiah.
Pierre checked the clock on the wall and then did it again a few minutes later, wondering just how long it would be before they heard anything. This sort of thing had to be nerve-racking for Jordan. It already had Pierre on edge.
Gertrude returned with three cups of coffee and handed them out. It tasted like burned glue, but he sipped it. Gertrude sat back down. “Anything?”
Jordan shook his head. “It’s going to be a while. As busy as they are, things will be backed up, and it’s late, so they aren’t going to have a huge staff here to run tests just in case someone comes in.”
Pierre excused himself and set his coffee on the little stand near the bed. He went out to the desk, mentioned who he was there with, and asked when they would know something. He tried to be charming, and the assistant looked at him as though he had two heads, so he leaned closer, explained who he was, and let some authority slip into his voice. “I asked how long it would be.”
She checked the computer. “The results just came back, and the doctor needs to look at them.”
“Thank you.” Pierre smiled and returned to the room. “They’re waiting for the doctor to check the results.” He picked up his coffee again. Often being a police officer had its perks, and a little vocal authority backed up by something official usually did the trick.
Dr. Andy came in. “He came back with the flu. Jeremiah might also have a milk problem as well. So I’d remove it from his diet and reintroduce it a little at a time to see how he feels.”
Jordan breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you.”
Jeremiah began fussing, and Jordan gave him a small drink of water.
“Give him plenty of fluids and let him rest. I suggest you see his doctor in a day or two if he isn’t better.” Dr. Andy held Jeremiah’s hand. “You were a good patient and you deserve that ride in the police car.” He left the room, and a nurse came in with forms. Jordan lifted Jeremiah into his arms and carried him out of the hospital and to Pierre’s car.
Pierre drove Gertrude home before he took Jeremiah and Jordan to the condo.
“I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Are you sure?” It was late, and Jordan was most likely going to be up most of the night with Jeremiah.
“I have to be.” Jordan waved slightly and then carried Jeremiah inside. His answer seemed strange to Pierre, and he wondered just what Jordan meant. Something seemed very wrong, but there wasn’t a way to ask him about it just yet.
Pierre waited until Jordan was inside and then went home to his place alone, already missing what wasn’t his to begin with.