November 16th

"Good morning!" Ray called as he and Carl came into the department.

"Brrrr! It will be if that sun ever breaks through those clouds," Carl said as he looked at the phone messages on his desk.

Glancing at his watch, Sam stretched, shoved his chair back from the desk and stood up. His shift was over at last. This was the first chance he had since that night to even think about visiting Kelly. He had constantly called the hospital in Braxton to check on her condition, and sent flowers, but as busy as they'd been, he hadn't had time to pay a visit. He heard she'd been released to go home, and he definitely wanted to see her today, he thought, smiling as he anticipated the meeting.

"Well, the place is yours, guys, I'm out of here!" Charlie said, grabbing his jacket off the coat rack. Turning to Sam, he asked, "Want to go to breakfast? I sure worked up an appetite! Man . . . I never thought we were going to get through this past week, tying up all the loose ends in this case."

"Yeah, and I've had enough of the interviews to last a lifetime!" Sam answered. "Between the reporters and the lawyers, I'm surprised we had the time to finish the paper work."

"At least Channel 12 has dropped all their charges against you," Ray laughed.

"Hah! What choice had they? I hope the town of Quainte brings a lawsuit against them over this whole mess, not to mention the tragedy of those deaths caused by one of their employees," Sam said, shaking his head in disgust.

"I can't understand how they could justify hiring an employee and not checking into his past employment," Carl remarked, "Especially when he was using a false identification."

"Right. When we went back to check that name, there wasn't any background on him at all, so they should have found that out when they hired him!" Ray added.

"I just bet, right now, they're going through every employee at the station . . . checking all their records," Charlie smirked.

"If I was head of their Personnel Department . . . I'd start with Blaney. I can't imagine he had the brains to advance to his position without some pull from a few friends," Sam grumbled, still mad over the trouble that man had caused him.

"Hey, you two!" the Captain shouted as Sam and Charlie reached the door. "Don't go yet . . . a quick meeting," he added, waving them back to his office.

Both men groaned as they turned around and headed in that direction.

The Captain waited until they were all settled, then made his announcement.

"The Chief will be back tomorrow. He's heard . . . from his usual sources . . . that we've cleared up the case. And of course you can surmise he'll want to boast to the citizens of Quainte about how well our wonderful department has done under his leadership," he said wryly.

"Ah yes . . . it's an election year coming up. I almost forgot," Sam remarked.

"Yeah, he timed that good," Carl added.

"Was he waiting to see the outcome before he made his return to our fair city?" Charlie asked.

"Do you suppose if we hadn't caught the killer, he would have had the excuse he was out of town?" Ray wondered.

"Now, now, none of that. That's why I called you in. When he congratulates all of you on your hard work and dedication to the department, you better say the right thing in your response," he warned.

"Not even one little request for over time pay?" Ray quipped.

"Ahhh hell, you know I'm going to do my best to have the Chief okay it," he answered with a sigh, thinking of the likelihood of getting the approval.

"Sure, Captain, we know, and you worked as hard as the rest of us, so we're okay with it," Sam answered, frowning at Ray.

"Yeah, right," Charlie added, and Carl nodded. They all knew the Chief would remind them of the department's tight budget.

"Anyway, that's all I had to say . . . to let you know he'll be back. Winter's coming and our tourist business has slowed already, so maybe we can work out your vacation time that's overdue. At least it will give you some needed rest-time. Okay, that's it, meeting's over," he said pushing back his chair.

The four tired detectives wearily stood up and returned to the outer office.

"I'd like to start my vacation tomorrow . . . before he gets back," Ray murmured to Carl, as they headed for their desks.

"Me first . . . seniority you know," Carl answered smugly.

"I'll flip you for it," Ray laughed.

"Still going to breakfast with me?" Charlie called to Sam as he retrieved his coat.

"Nah, I'm too tired now. Just want to crawl into bed," Sam answered. After I see Kelly, he thought.

Sam slowed his car as he pulled up in front of Kelly's house. He winced when he noticed the neighbor out in his yard.

"Doesn't this guy ever go inside?" Sam muttered as he got out of the car and headed up the walkway.

"Hello Detective! Seen you on TV most every night this week!" Greenwood called.

Sam nodded, smiling, as he kept his steady pace toward her door.

"She's not home, Detective," he called again.

Surprised at the remark, Sam stopped and turned toward Greenwood. He was sure that Kelly had been released from the hospital.

"Gone away, she has. Said she needed to get away from here. Don't know when she'll be back . . . didn't even say where she was going when I asked," he complained.

Stunned at this news, Sam merely nodded, muttered a thanks, and returned to his car.

All the way home, he berated himself for not making an effort to see her in the hospital. All the meetings, interviews, paperwork, and the exhilaration at bringing this case to a close seemed so important at the time. Now it made him feel guilty for not putting her first on his agenda. He realized . . . too late . . . that she was the most important.

He entered the house as his emotions finally caught up with him and felt a tightening in his chest. He wondered if he'd ever see her again, and began to feel a terrible loss.

Sighing, he ran his fingers through his hair, and tried to push the thought away. He pressed the button on his answering machine and sat down to remove his shoes.

"Hi . . . it's me . . . Kelly."

Sam looked up in surprise and stared at the machine.

"I just wanted to tell you thanks for all the lovely flowers . . . and . . . how grateful I am that you came to my rescue. I. . . I don't think there are words to describe how I felt when I saw you standing in that doorway and Jay was . . ." she breathed a deep sigh, "Anyway, I wanted you to know . . . and also to let you know I'm going away for a while," she said in a trembling voice, then with a nervous laugh continued, "I know how it feels now to be hounded by the press and having a microphone shoved at you! I guess it's retribution for the many times I did that . . . well, no more . . . I quit my job," she sighed, and then another nervous laugh. "I hate talking into these machines! Wish you had answered the phone . . . well . . . I guess I'll just say good-bye . . . I'd like to hear from you . . . if you want to call. I'll give you my number, but, please, don't tell anyone where I am, okay?"

Sam reached for a pencil, his mind quickly calculating how soon he could put in for a vacation to see her.

"My number is . . . area code, Eight-Oh-Eight, Nine-Two-Thr . . ."

Stunned, Sam stared in dismay as the recorder stopped.

"Nooooo!" he yelled, grabbing the machine to press the button again.

"Come on, come on . . . work!" he muttered, "Damn, why didn't I get this thing fixed!"

Sam breathed a disheartened sigh as he watched the tape rewind, and wondered how long she'd be away.

****The End****

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