WAIT FOR BACKUP
He realised his luck had probably run out when he saw the four facing him. Cliché-like, everything ran in slow motion. Like, why hadn't he waited for Ryan, or PD back up? Yes, he had his gun drawn, but no way could he take on four, despite being a fast and accurate shot. They stepped closer. He knew he'd broken protocol, as he had done dozens of times before. His risk-taking had never incurred more than a cut or a bruise. His cop's brain was taking in details of the four, while wondering if he was going to get a chance to pass the information on. They stepped closer. Now one of the four had a gun drawn, held close by his side.
He said calmly, "Put the gun down."
There was no fear in his voice because, oddly, he felt none. Some annoyance at himself, for getting caught out, but no more than that. If he could hold them off for a few minutes, Ryan would be there. The man levelled his gun.
"Put it down," he repeated. "You're not in that deep. Yet."
He now suspected the others weren't armed, which changed the odds somewhat. He saw one murmur to the gunman. He couldn't hear it all, but thought he picked up 'cop killer'.
"You know what happens to cop killers," he said. "Now put it down."
The man started to obey, then suddenly swung the gun up and fired. Horatio felt a searing pain in his left thigh. Not crippling, a flesh wound, but hard enough to knock him to his knees. He had fired his own weapon a split second later, but his aim was already off, and he thought he took the gunman in the shoulder. He tried to get up but then they were on top of him.
"We don't want to kill you, Caine…" one of them snarled.
"Just teach you some manners."
He could fight, and did, but a vicious kick just over his left eye all but blacked him out. He felt someone kick the gun from his hand, then the punches and kicks rained down, until he was, to all intents, helpless.
Then he heard sirens. His assailants heard them too, and ran. Horatio lay on his back, trying to get his breath, and mentally went through his injuries. He reached down to feel his leg, and his hand came away covered in blood. It burnt like hell, but he still thought it was just a flesh wound. He felt his jaw and teeth, which seemed intact, though his lower lip was split. His left eye was almost shut and his head hurt. As he took a deep breath before trying to get up, he felt the breath-grabbing pain of broken ribs.
Nevertheless, he rolled onto his front and forced himself to his knees. Christ, he was dizzy… He spat out blood, and worked at resisting the urge to lie down again. The sirens were close, then stopped. Ryan came pounding up, slid to halt, dropping to his knees beside him, and put both arms round him. He was about to protest, but realised it would at least stop him going down again.
"H, why didn't you wait? Oh man, why didn't you wait?" Ryan pulled his phone out.
"Ryan, listen…" He coughed and spat out more blood. "It's not serious. Just looks bad. There's a bullet here somewhere. You need to find it." He indicated his leg. "Through and through."
"H, shut up a minute!"
He stopped speaking more out of surprise than anything else. Ryan was on the phone summoning an ambulance.
Frank and another police officer arrived. "Oh, Christ, H. What have you done?"
He looked up through the veil of blood over his left eye. "Catch them, Frank. Four of them. They haven't been gone five minutes. Only one was armed, but they've got my gun too."
Ryan chipped in. "I've called a bus."
Frank nodded. "OK, I'm onto it. Ryan, look after him."
"Help me up." Horatio grabbed onto his junior, and, surprising even himself, made it to his feet, though a groan escaped him as he did so.
"If you won't stay still, come back to the Hummer."
With his arm round Ryan's shoulders, and the younger man's arm round his waist, he made it to the car and sat on the broad tailboard.
"So what's the damage?" Ryan asked urgently. "Your eye I can see. Did you say a through and through?"
"Yep. My leg. Flesh wound. Broken ribs. Few bruises… nothing else." He tried to focus on Ryan, and couldn't. He was too dizzy, and his vision was coming and going. "Ryan, find that bullet."
"I will, but not right now."
"I'm all right."
"You definitely are not."
"Then at least tape the scene."
"I'm not leaving you." The argument was settled by a further patrol car pulling up, and Ryan instructing the officers where to tape. "And one of you stay here. Make sure nothing's disturbed. I've got to get him to hospital, so I'll get another CSI out."
On cue, the ambulance pulled up, and, with some relief, Ryan handed Horatio to the paramedics. He shut the tailgate of the Hummer, noting the smear of blood where his boss had been sitting. He shook his head, murmuring, "Oh, H…", as he got into the driving seat, made a U-turn, and headed off after the ambulance. As he drove, he called the lab and spoke to Calleigh.
"Can you come out here and find a bullet, Cal?"
"I expect so. Where are you?"
"Following a bus taking H to hospital."
"Oh my God! What happened?"
"He went after some thugs without waiting for me. He's got a gunshot to the leg - through and through. That's the bullet we need. Some broken ribs, I think, and he's very beaten up."
"OK, I'll come now. Ryan, take care of him. And let us know."
For over an hour, there was no news. Ryan sat in the hospital's waiting area and fretted. It was something he had always half-expected, since H only ever led his team from one place, the front. He also took insane risks, and rarely waited for back up. And his luck had held. Until now. Although, Ryan mused, he had still been quite lucky, since, by rights, he should be dead. Had all four been armed…
A doctor came to find him. "He's been fairly lucky," he said, iterating Ryan's thoughts. "If you can call that much beating lucky."
"He's got a bullet wound in the leg, as you know, but it's not that serious, more of a gouge - it's gone through skin and fat, but the muscle and bone are OK. He's got three cracked ribs, but no lung damage."
"He was lucky."
"Less so further up. His eye may be damaged. We need to get the swelling down a bit before we'll know. And he was kicked in the head several times. No fractures and nothing on the CT scan to worry us, but we need to keep an eye…"
"Hard-headed, our Horatio."
"He must be. He wants to see you. Actually, he wants to discharge himself. Perhaps you can persuade him that's a really bad idea."
"I'll try." Ryan got up and followed the doctor.
Horatio was sitting, propped up, in bed. He had visible bruises on almost every area of skin that showed. He was bandaged over his left eye.
"Hi, boss. How're you feeling?" Ryan sat down by the bed.
"Mmm…" Horatio considered the question. "Sore. Lucky. And a bit of a fool."
Ryan smiled. "You were certainly lucky. How's the leg?"
"Oh that's nothing. They've stitched it. Reckon I can walk on it. Have you got your kit with you?"
"In the Hummer."
"Get it. I've got trace on me."
Ryan did as he was told, taking scrapings from his boss's dirty and broken fingernails.
Horatio said ruefully, "There should be more. I tried to get you in here before they treated me, but they've washed too much off now."
"I'm surprised you let them."
"Didn't have much choice. I passed out."
Ryan hid a smile at the admission, then said, "You know they want you to stay in…"
"Seems unnecessary. Everything will heal in its own time."
"H, they're worried about brain swelling. And your eye."
"I know. Maybe I should. Just overnight."
Ryan nodded, relieved.
Horatio rested his head back on the pillow, closing his uncovered eye. "Did they get the gang?"
"I don't know - I've been here. Don't worry - Frank's onto it. And Calleigh's processing the scene."
"You'd better get back then - take that trace in."
"OK. You hang in there, boss." He leant over and gripped Horatio's shoulder briefly.
He drove back to the lab and was immediately cornered by the rest of the team. He delivered his report. "He's knocked about, though he got off fairly lightly. They're keeping him in overnight. The worst thing is that he was kicked in the eye - they don't know whether his sight's damaged."
"Oh no…" This was Calleigh. "Left or right?"
"That's bad. You know how left-eye dominant he is." Of course, they all did. Hundreds of times they'd seen him sight a gun - always left-eyed.
"Did you get the bullet?" Ryan asked.
"Yes. And Frank's gone to pick up a guy with a gunshot to the shoulder - probably H's shooter. As for the others…"
"This might help." Ryan handed over his evidence. "From H's fingernails."
There was a sense of shock over the whole lab. Of course, it was hardly unexpected. His legendary luck had to fail sometime, and it was a minor miracle that he wasn't lying in the morgue. Even more of a miracle was his appearance in the lab the next day. It was early afternoon when he walked in, limping heavily and using a cane. His usual shades didn't quite hide the bruising round his eye. Darkening bruises showed too on one cheekbone, and on his mouth and both hands.
It was Eric who saw him first. "My God, what are you doing here?"
"My lab, remember?"
"Yes, but -"
"I'm going home, Eric. I can't drive, I can't use a weapon, I can hardly see, so I'm no use here. I just wanted to know how the case was going. I don't take kindly to being beaten up."
"Come into the lab. Calleigh's up to date on it…" He was tempted to put a supportive arm round him, but refrained.
Once in the lab, he was surrounded by the others. It was Calleigh who asked, "How's the eye?"
Horatio slid the shades off, and Calleigh winced. The eye was three-quarters closed, and where the eye showed, it was filled with blood.
"Sweetheart, that is a mess," she said softly.
"They think it'll heal." He put the shades back on. "But it's stopping me doing anything, so I'm on my way home."
"Good. You want to know how we're doing… We've got the guy who put a bullet in you. We've got another name from the trace you gave us, and PD are after him as we speak. Haven't got the other two."
"Are there any known associates? I got a good look at them."
Eric went to one of the computers and pressed a few keys. A dozen faces came up. He watched his boss take his shades off again, and wince with the effort to focus. However, he had no difficulty identifying the other two assailants.
"OK. We're onto it," Eric said. "Now let me drive you home."
He didn't argue. "Call me if you need me. I'm not out of action, just a bit crocked."
Eric got into the elevator beside him. "'A bit crocked.' Understatement, even for you."
"It'll heal. As long as my eye's OK. Otherwise I'm really screwed. I'll have to learn to shoot all over again."
"When will they know?"
"Few days - once the swelling's gone down and the blood's dissipated. I'm supposed to just rest it. They wanted to cover it." He grinned at his colleague. "Didn't fancy an eye patch."
"For God's sake, do as they say!" Eric said.
"I will. To be honest, it hurts too much to do anything else. I just hope it doesn't last too long."
It was such an unusual admission that Eric stared at him for a moment. Then he said quietly, "Never mind us calling you. You call us if you need anything. Anything at all. Promise?"
Horatio nodded briefly, and followed Eric to one of the department Hummers. Eric opened the passenger door. The seats were high on a Hummer. Horatio grabbed the handhold on the dash, put his good leg on the running board, went to step up and gasped, holding his ribs.
"F**k it…" he murmured.
Eric smothered a smile, since H never swore. "Can I help you?"
"You'll have to. Dammit!"
Eric stood close to him. "Put your other hand on my shoulder. I'll give you a boost."
They succeeded, although it clearly hurt him. He sat carefully back in the seat, with a rueful smile. "Ribs… More painful than gunshots, I reckon."
"Yeah, I'd agree." Eric shut the door and walked round to the driver's side. He got in and started the engine. "Wouldn't you be better in hospital?"
"I'll be better at home. Don't fuss me, Eric."
They had no further conversation as Eric drove him carefully home. He suspected Horatio was fighting a huge amount of pain and that conversation would only be an extra strain. At the condo, he helped him out of the car. "Do you want me to come up?"
"No, I'm OK. Truly. Need to go to bed, that's all. Eric, thank you…"
"You're very welcome. You will call if you need anything?"
"I will. And I'll see you in a few days."
At the lab, they tied the case up easily enough. They even recovered Horatio's gun, which one of the thugs had been too arrogant to ditch. Conviction looked likely. Not that they'd get much of a sentence. They'd try for attempted murder, but the DA wasn't hopeful. If they had wanted to kill him, they had had the opportunity. It was, after all, just a beating. The only thing that was certain, and everyone at the lab knew it, was that their cards were marked. Horatio would, they knew, go out of his way to make their lives miserable. He was a fair and compassionate man, but no one with an ounce of sense would get that far on the wrong side of him.
After the arraignment, and two days after they'd last spoken, Eric called Horatio. Partly to tell him the news, but mostly because he was mildly worried that he hadn't heard from him.
It seemed he didn't need to be. Horatio answered with, "Eric, I was about to call you."
"Hi, H, how are you?"
"Doing OK, I think… I wondered if you'd like to drive me in to see the eye man…"
"Of course. When?"
They met an hour later. Eric thought he looked better, though the bruises were still obvious. He was limping, but had discarded the cane, and he made it into the passenger seat without help.
"So how is it? The eye?"
"Don't know." He took his shades off. Most of the swelling had subsided, though the eye was still blood-filled. "I still can't see properly out of it, but the pain's gone. Anyway, I'll find out, won't I?"
The news was good. Cautiously good, admittedly. They had rinsed away a lot of clotted blood, and the iris showed its striking dark blue again. Eric grinned at him. "You've got your baby blues back anyway. How's your vision?"
"Blurry. I'm still not cleared to drive. They think it will come back… about a week or so… I'll be back in tomorrow. Not sure how much I can do."
"Plenty, H. We've got a very peculiar murder on our hands at the moment."
"Why didn't you call me?"
"Why do you think? Because you'd have come in."
Horatio smiled. "You're right. Anyway, tell me about it…"
Eric sketched in the details as they drove back to the condo. Horatio glanced at his watch. "I could come in now."
"Hardly worth it. I'll pick you up tomorrow morning. If you're sure…"
He did, and the next day the lab got back to normal. It really didn't function the same without Horatio. He was more than just the boss, he was also their inspiration. Apart from all his other skills, he was a first-class forensics investigator, and an inspired 'ideas' man. But it was more than that - his team held him in such high regard and affection that his absence was a glaring hole in their collective psyche. He knew, of course, and, when he was welcomed back with good wishes, and a kiss from Calleigh, he accepted them with good grace.
"Right, guys… we'll meet in the layout room in ten minutes… You can get me up to speed on this case. OK? If I've got any ideas, I'll throw them into the mix and we'll see where we go… Now, I can't drive, and I can't see well enough for most lab work, but I can think, and I can interrogate. We'll work like that and see how it goes."
It occurred to Eric, and, he suspected, the others, that this was how Horatio was supposed to work. That his brain was his greatest asset, not his almost suicidal courage, nor even his marksman-like shooting. Still, he knew Horatio would fret under the restrictions. Despite his skills, he was an unhappy lab rat and preferred being in the field. Well, he'd have to be patient.
And he was, surprisingly so. They suspected his ribs and leg were still painful enough to stop any heroics. Instead, they had the benefit of his highly original thought processes, which certainly gave them leads to pursue in their murder case. And, when they brought a suspect in, it was Horatio who did the interrogation, admittedly seated, and with his still-damaged eye hidden by shades. As usual, a uniformed PD officer stood behind the suspect, so the risk to Horatio, should the suspect kick off, was minimal. But this contact with the 'outside world' made him impatient, and the next day found him in the autopsy room, begging the ME to check his eye.
"I haven't got all the equipment," Tom protested. "You need to see your specialist."
"But you could do the driving sight test. And sign me on to drive. Can't you?"
"I expect I can. If you are fit to drive…"
"No blurred vision?"
"Only if I'm tired."
He took off his shades and allowed the examination. The ME pulled a series of letters and phrases up onto a screen, measured a distance and said, "Read that back to me."
Horatio did so, without difficulty. "See?"
"Not done yet." He reduced the size of the letters, and changed some.
Horatio could feel the strain of the still-bruised muscles focussing his left eye, but he could still read clearly enough. "Well, Tom?"
"You'd pass a driving sight test."
"Good. Will you sign to that effect?"
"I will. Don't overdo it."
"You've been lucky, you know."
"Apart from my ribs, and a hole in my leg, you mean?" But he was smiling. "Thanks, Tom."
His next call was the firearms lab. Calleigh looked up from the bench. "H?"
"Is my gun here?"
"It's in the safe. Released from evidence, as we don't need it to make the case." She paused. "Do you want it back?"
Calleigh unlocked the safe, pulled out the SIG Sauer which she had meticulously cleaned, and handed it to him. She knew what he had in mind, and, smiling, handed him a box of 9mm ammunition and followed him to the firing range. Both put on protective eye and ear covers, and Calleigh stood behind him as he loaded the magazine and fired ten shots into the distant target. He fired fairly slowly, for him, and Calleigh suspected that focussing the left eye was still less than easy. He took off the glasses and dropped the ear muffs, pulling the target towards him to examine it. Five shots to the head, five to the body. Good shots.
"You haven't lost your touch," Calleigh said, smiling. "How's it feel?"
"OK. I think. Eye sort of aches."
"Probably still some muscle damage."
"Put a new target up for me."
She knew better than to argue. He put the protectors back on, and this time fired the same ten shots, but in fiercely quick succession. The target showed his eyesight tiring. Nine had hit, but four were definitely off, and one had missed altogether.
"I can't hold the focus," he said ruefully, putting down the protectors, but still topping up the gun's magazine. "Still, how often do we shoot like that?"
"Not often. You wouldn't pass an assessment though."
"Soon will. Do you think I'm safe to carry it?"
"I can't say, H. You're the boss. Do you think you're safe?"
"Put it this way. I've been cleared to drive, and I don't fancy going out unarmed."
"You're going back into the field?"
"If anything comes up."
"Oh well, H, if it stops you fretting…"
"Have I been fretting?"
"Just a bit." She took a slight risk and put her hand on his cheek. "I'm so glad you're OK."
"So am I, Cal, so am I."
"So will you wait for back-up next time?"
He raised his eyebrows, gave her an enigmatic smile, and left her shaking her head.
The next time she saw him, he was striding out of the lab, the limp barely noticeable, his jacket flapping back to show the holstered gun nestling comfortably on his right hip. Normal service resumed. Was he more careful afterwards? No one really knew. Certainly his luck, if that's what it was, seemed to kick in again.