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"What was that?" Robert Lemos came running from his office into the front room. Barefoot and in boxers, the sleeves of the oversized T-shirt stretched over his biceps and the tail hung to almost the edge of his shorts. His knees hit the floor as he came to a sliding stop next to the man who squatted at the open window, pistol pointed toward the brilliantly lit front lawn.
"Somebody trying to break in, I think, Mr. Lemos," said the man calmly. He turned molasses-colored eyes toward his employer, smiling.
"You shot at them? Jorge, this is not Nicaragua. You can't shoot at people."
"I didn't hit them," said Jorge. "I think the alarm went off."
Sure enough, the phone rang in the hallway and Robert trotted over to talk to the security company.
"Lemos here," he said, finding his glasses still perched on top of his head and laying them carefully on the hallway table. "We think we had an attempted ... what?"
"This is Mrs. Pritchard, of Queen of Angels hospital," said a voice. "You are listed as the emergency contact for a Mr. Joseph Ryan?"
A hospital instead of the security company? "Yes?"
"Mr. Ryan has been shot."
Robert actually felt his heart stop, the thud of it hitting his rib cage and bouncing back, stunned and heavy, into his chest. He stared up at Jorge, who gazed back with those warm eyes.
"Is he...?" he asked.
He managed to pick the words, "surgery" and "critical" from the flow of information coming over the line, then the voice seemed to drown in the sudden buzzing in his ears.
Robert's knees were suddenly cold and he realized he was kneeling on the marble floor. Jorge kept saying his name. The phone hungfrom Robert's hand. He stared down at it and saw Jorge's manicured hand take the thing. Jorge began speaking into the receiver.
Then Jorge was draping Robert's coat over his shoulders, handing him his pants, and guiding him gently toward the garage.
"Mr. Ryan is in surgery at Queen of Angels hospital, Mr. Lemos. Put on your clothes, and I will drive you there."
The freeway separating Robert's home from the Hollywood hospital seemed an endless seamless expanse of trucks and cars and sirens.
Robert had his body pressed into the corner of the backseat and his cell phone pressed to his ear. As if the combined pressure of fine leather interior and cutting edge technology could hold him together while his brain went white with the effort of not thinking about what might happen to JD.
He was on hold with the hospital, catching Jorge's eye in the rear view mirror as he scowled at life in general. He saw the whites of those expressive eyes roll and then dip away. Jorge's shoulders sank just a little lower in his seat.
"Lighten up, Robert. The universe isn't plotting against you."
"Not the universe, JD, just the human race. Every fucker you see has an agenda."
"Not always." That smile, blue eyes bright with humor.
"Always, JD. They're all just waiting for you to turn your back."
"Only because they want to check out my ass."
And, of course, that had made him laugh, dispelled the scowl JD had been objecting to in the first place. "Fucker." And his hand had reached out to cup and squeeze that ass. JD pushing into his hand, eyes heating. "Nalga de angel," Robert breathed.
Robert forced his mind to shut off the memory and pressed the "two" button on his cell. "Detective Lara," snapped a voice.
Robert took a breath. "Yo. Chato." There was a marked silence on the other end of the line. Robert actually moved his phone away from his ear to check to see that the cell connection hadn't dropped as they passed through the canyons. No, Gabe was there still. He was just deciding whether or not he wanted to speak to Robert. Things had been a little tense lately.
Robert rubbed his eyes with shaking fingers. "Please, Gabe," he whispered.
"I'm on duty." Gabe's voice sounded tired. "What the hell?"
"JD's been shot," said Robert. He heard the words he'd just spoken and squeezed his eyes shut, clutching the phone.
"Fuck, Roberto." Gabe's voice was sincerely sympathetic. "Where are you now?"
"Car." Robert heard his breath wheeze as he inhaled. It sounded like a sob.
"Fuck, I'm sorry, Robert," said Gabe sincerely. "I'll check in with our shift officer and I'll meet you ... where are you going now?"
"The Angels," Robert said tightly. "Why the fuck they took him there, I don't know. I can't find out what happened. No one will talk to me. He's in surgery now. Fuck knows if I'll even be allowed to see him."
"Wait wait wait, mi amigo. What did you say? He's in surgery?"
Robert nodded at the phone. He couldn't think.
Gabe's voice was slow and thoughtful. "They'll let you see him, Roberto. They know ... they'll know about the arrangement, sí?"
"He's on my insurance."
"Mmm." This wasn't Gabe's favorite topic of conversation. He'd accepted that his childhood friend was de los otros, homosexual, like you accepted the news that your buddy was blind, or had an incurable disease. But he'd always been there for Roberto, no matter what. "I'll be there soon, Mosca. I'll wait with you."
"Que gracias, Chato," breathed Robert. "Ciao." He leaned his head against the seatback.
"Mr. Lemos?" asked Jorge. "Are you feeling ill?" Robert met his driver's worried look in the mirror. He realized he was half sprawled across the seat, clutching the disconnected phone to his cheek like a wireless teddy bear.
"Señor Lara will meet us at the hospital," he told him.
"Yes, sir. That is good, no?"
Robert leaned his head back against the cold glass of the back window as rain drizzled slowly down the pane. They'd stopped for traffic several blocks down from the hospital. Neon proclaimed discount CDs on one side. Prostitutes and kids huddled in doorways on the other. Red taillights reflected in the damp streets before them, as though God had tagged Sunset Boulevard.
"The hospital called because Mr. Ryan still had me as his emergency contact," Robert said wonderingly.
"Ah," said Jorge, noncommittally.
"It doesn't mean anything." Robert spoke more to himself than to his driver. "It's just Jay being sloppy. He never keeps up on his paperwork. Always late filing taxes, doesn't pay bills, respond to correspondence."
"He always had you to do those things for him," said Jorge.
The car slid up to the front door of the hospital. Jorge boldly stopped in the dead center of the no stopping zone "Il a gente de la television est aqui," said Jorge. They were huddled in the eaves, but now that Jorge had pointed them out, Robert clearly saw them with their microphones and handheld cameras.
"The media," said Robert. Of course. Waiting to get a photo of Robert Lemos, human rights activist, dirty cop prosecutor, defender of the weak, rushing to his lover's bedside. The tabloids would be jacking off over this for weeks.
Except JD wasn't his lover anymore.
Robert rubbed his knuckles across his eyes. "Jorge?" The name encompassed a world of distress.
"I will be praying for you, Mr. Lemos," said Jorge.