Hello again! Many thanks for all the lovely reviews :D Without too much delay, here's the next chapter...
As hard as I tried to convince myself that it was a dream, nothing else, little things kept trying to tell me otherwise. Almost every step we took, I saw something that looked familiar, as in I'd seen it before, dreamed it before: a guy walking past with a bright green Mohawk; woman with box braids coiled up on top of her head; couple arguing about something '…and you always take her side', I heard the words in my head a second before one of the women spoke them. Felt like a never-ending déjà vu.
It was freaking me out. I was starting to get real paranoid, too, that Stell had noticed and was going to think I'd been drinking again. I kept glancing at her, trying to do so without her noticing. So far, she hadn't said anything, but I swear she was watching me. Terrific. No doubt she'd tell Mac, who would give me that look of his, telling me without saying a word that he was worried about me, which would make me feel even worse… I felt my forehead tightening, eyebrows lowering.
Someone shoved past me, 'Watch where you're going,' I heard myself snarl at them.
The further we walked, the more I could hear and see what was going to happen right before it did. Only way I could describe it was like… like an echo in reverse.
I decided on a sort of test when I saw a newsstand I recognised right ahead of us. I'd seen that in the dream: so, if I really was experiencing the same events I'd dreamed about, then the guy in the stand was about to stretch over to grab a candy bar, and his glasses would fall off the top of his head.
I could feel the muscles in my jaw tightening. The apprehension was almost unbearable. I couldn't take my eyes off the guy – reading a magazine, glasses on his head, totally unaware of me watching him. We approached, walked right in front of the stand… and passed it.
Nothing happened. He carried on reading.
The sigh of relief I let out must've been loud enough for the whole street to hear. That was it then. I'd proved it. I felt instantly better. Grinning, feeling lighter inside, I strolled on. Actually, I felt pretty smug. The fact the moment hadn't happened proved it was only a dream, right?
The feeling held until we passed an old guy, magazine tucked under his arm, fumbling in his carrier bag outside a store. Something made me keep looking at him, so I was easily able to see the moment his glasses slipped right off his head and into the bag.
I was so done with all of this - this freakery.
'You OK, Don?' Stell asked, pausing by the edge of the street, looking bewildered. Crap. Hadn't even realised I'd sworn out loud…
'Yeah, I, um, stubbed my toe.' I knew how lame it sounded even before I said, it but it was the best I had. 'Guess I'm kind of clumsy today.'
'I see that.' She bit her lip, trying to stop a smirk. 'If only I'd let you eat something earlier, huh?'
I grinned weakly.
And we still had a short way to go before our witness's apartment complex. But it felt way too big a distance. Knew I should have insisted we drive. The street stretched ahead of me, threateningly. I strode on, aware of being hyper-alert and listening for the same shouts I'd heard in the dream while I tried to mock myself for being over-dramatic.
It took my concentration away from anything else. After a few attempts, Stell gave up trying to make conversation with me, which part of me regretted. Several times I almost told her what I was experiencing; each time I didn't. Because, what the hell was I going to say?
'Hey, Stella, this is going to sound crazy and all…' Yeah, no. She'd escort me straight back to the precinct and send me for a psych evaluation. Although, maybe a psych evaluation might not be a bad idea…
Actually, nope; it was a bad idea. Scratch that. I'd had a dream. Nothing else.
But the sooner we reached our destination the better. Least then I could be sure nothing was going to happen to Stella out on the street.
After that, I could look forward to getting an early lunch, and a pretzel, and Stell could look forward to planning with Mac about the next Jets game. Even better, I could look forward to some detective work about what exactly was going on between those two.
That cheered me up, especially when I thought about how I could recruit Messer to help out, be my eyes and ears in the lab.
Felt a lot less cheerful when we approached a spot I recognised all too well from the dream; the place where Stell had been stabbed. That uneasy feeling stirred in my gut again and I quickened my pace, made sure I was right beside Stell so I could easily get her out of the way or defend her if I needed to. Tried to be subtle about it, although she did throw me a questioning look at the way I'd suddenly invaded her space.
Unconsciously, I'd moved my hand to my piece. I didn't want to, but it was impossible not to look as I passed the stoop I could vividly recall Stell's blood dripping down. That image was horribly clear in my mind. Might have been a flash of sunlight, or cloud, but for a second I swear I saw blood on those steps.
Then it was gone. We'd passed it. Nothing had happened.
No shouts, no blood, no nothing.
We'd walked by just an ordinary stoop on the streets of Manhattan. One of hundreds, thousands even.
Nothing out of the ordinary.
I could have laughed with relief. Moved my hand away from my piece and widened the gap between me and Stell.
Sun was shining, breeze was still lifting Stella's hair as she strode along at her usual pace. The uneasiness lessened, I felt more relaxed.
We reached the next crosswalk with no further incidents of déjà vu. Little way ahead I could see the witness's apartment block. Almost home and dry.
At the kerb, I breathed in and out deeply, enjoying the sun on my face. Saw a toddler toss a doll out of his stroller and handed it back with a grin, then caught sight of Stell giving me a quizzical look before she commented. 'You're looking happier.'
I shrugged. 'Sun's come out and it's a beautiful day, Stell.' It sure felt that way now.
She smiled with a slight shake of her head.
'Even better,' I gestured, having only just noticed it myself, 'We're right across the street from a bodega that I happen to know sells some of the best, if not the best, cannoli in the city.' I paused expectantly, feeling pretty sure it wouldn't take much to persuade Stell to stop for cannoli.
'Is that so?' Stell said raising an eyebrow.
'If you don't believe me, then we ought to grab some on our way back so I can prove it to you. You could pick some up for Mac, too,' I added innocently.
She pointed at me. 'Don't push your luck, Don.' Which I had no doubt was to be taken in two ways.
Saved by the crosswalk light changing, I strolled across the street little way ahead of Stella. Felt pretty satisfied with myself and how things were turning out. So, it had been nothing but a damn crazy dream all along, and nothing but my tired, cranky, overworked mind playing tricks on me. When we stopped for the cannoli later, I'd joke about it with Stell. Make some smart comment about how I wouldn't be pursuing a future career as a psychic.
Nothing but a dream.
Which was all in the past.
Leaving us safe for the present…
So when the kid with the Yankees cap comes running out of the bodega, it catches me so off guard it ain't funny.
When the old dame comes running after him, hollering, I know we're in trouble.
But by then it's too late.
He's already run right into us.
I go down first, falling on my ass, kid landing almost on top of me, taking Stell down with us as well, along with a display of bottles on the sidewalk. There's a smashing sound, an explosion of glass, liquid and fragments all over the sidewalk.
'Son of a bitch!' Stella yells, but she manages to get to her feet first, broken glass tumbling off of her. I'm still trying to keep a hold of the kid who's wriggling like a freaking worm while Stella calls for back-up.
Well-aimed kick to my ankle distracts me long enough for the little punk to break free.
Stell's fast, though, and lunges for him, manages to get a hold of his arm. I can see what's going to happen next. Can see him reaching for the weapon I know he's got. That Stell doesn't know he's got. I got to stop him. Adrenaline pumping, I grab my piece, aim and yell at the kid to drop the knife.
'Now! You hear me, punk?'
There's a second when everything seems to stop. Everything hangs in the balance.
At last, reluctantly, he drops the knife. Hits the ground among the broken glass and after scrambling to my feet, I kick it out of reach. It's clean. No blood on it. Relief washes over me. Between us, Stell and I subdue him enough to pin him against the wall of the bodega and cuff him, 'cause his ass ain't going anywhere except downtown.
Soon as he's secure, and we got the knife safely in our possession, Stell shakes more glass off of herself and looks in disgust at her soaked shirt.
'You OK, Stell?' I ask, wanting to be sure.
'Yes, yes, I think so,' she says, brushing more bits off glass off of her blouse and inspecting her hand. 'Few scratches, that's all.' She pauses before asking me with a slight frown, 'how'd you know he had a knife?'
There's silence for a moment. It's a hell of a question.
'Instinct,' I tell her finally, giving a shrug as though it's no big deal. 'Just had a hunch.'
Nodding, she accepts that, which is something of a relief. She asks if I'm OK, and I can answer her very honestly that I am. Sure, my ankle's throbbing, but in the grand scheme of things, that don't count.
Couple of unis reach us then. Squad car pulls up seconds later. I hand the kid over to them, they can deal with him. I want to be sure Stell really is OK. She seems kind of shaky, but likely that's the adrenaline. Feel pretty shaky myself. That was way too close.
'Hey, let me see those scratches,' I demand, crunching across the broken glass to her.
'Honestly, it's only superficial,' Stell says, inspecting her palms after brushing her blouse again. One thing I'm sure of - both of us are going to have change our clothes after this.
I glance down. God knows how many bottles have smashed. Mostly they've shattered, but there's a couple big jagged pieces. Could have been real nasty. Involuntary shiver takes hold of me.
Noticing the old lady's purse among the mess, Stell bends down to pick it up.
The sharp gasp she gives tells me something's wrong. Her hand flying to her ribcage, colour draining from her face tells me it's really wrong...
She straightens up slowly. Still holding her hand against herself.
I turn cold. Any relief is long gone.
'What is it? What have you done?'
'I… don't know.' She draws her hand away and stares, horrified, at the fresh blood shining on her palm. She lifts up her blouse a few inches, revealing a tear in her skin that's leaking blood.
Her gaze meets mine, both of us afraid.
A drop of blood hits the glass.
Another follows it.
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