Chapter 10

The sounds and feelings that greeted Sam as he opened his eyes confused him. Gone was the intense feeling of pain; his wrists were no longer secured and his eyes focussed on clean bright walls. As the world gradually came into focus, he saw two figures across the other side of the room. As if sensing his awakening, the two figures moved over to him and as their faces came into view, Sam recognised the concerned countenances of Keel and Backus.

"Glad to see you're back in the land of the living!" Keel drawled, smiling with obvious relief. "You had us going for a while there!"

"How long have I been out?" Sam muttered; his throat as dry as sandpaper.

"About two days." Backus said gently. "The doctors kept you under sedation to allow your body to recover. How do you feel?"

Sam looked down at his bandaged ribs and felt his damaged nose. "Like I've gone seven rounds with Mike Tyson in a bad mood. Would you pass me that water please?"

Tina helped Sam into a semi sitting position, trying hard not to aggravate the injuries to his ribs and gently supported his head as he gratefully took some sips of water to quench his thirst.

"Thanks. What have the doctors said about me?"

Keel was seated at on the end of the bed, playing with a chart and trying to mask his obvious relief at his friend's narrow escape. Tina replied to the question.

"You have several broken ribs, concussion, a damaged nose; extensive bruising and you were severely dehydrated."

"At least you're in better condition than George Morris!" Keel quipped dryly, growing bored with the chart and picking up an apple from Sam's fruit bowl instead.

Sam shuddered at the mention of the name.

"He really didn't look like a George…"

Tina, noticing Sam's distress changed tack. "You need to rest, Sam. Chris and I will go now to allow you to rest, but will look in on you every day to make sure you're not playing the nurses up!"

Sam managed a genuine smile. "Thanks, Tina and you too Chris, thanks for getting there in time."

Keel shrugged in his usual off hand way. "No problem, buddy. I had nothing else to do…"

"But I am sure there is something you should be doing now, Mr Keel!" A gruff voice interrupted.

Keel, Backus and Sam turned to face the voice and saw Harry Malone standing in the doorway.

"Sir, we were going to…" Keel began, jumping off the bed and failing to grab the chart which clattered to the floor.

"…Let me know when Mr Curtis awoke? Yes, so I was led to believe, but when was that likely to be, Mr Keel?"

Malone let the question linger and then when no one spoke he continued.

"I am sure there are reports to finish now that you have seen that Mr Curtis is awake, so I suggest you both return to headquarters immediately and make a start."

Keel went to say something, but a look from Tina stopped him. The two agents spoke to Sam.

"I'll drop by later, Sam. In the meantime get better!" Keel winked at his partner as Sam raised his hand slightly. Tina leaned forward and kissed his forehead, careful not to hurt his damaged nose.

"Take care, Sam!" She smiled broadly and then acknowledging their boss, they both left the room.

Sam warily watched Malone as he looked around the room, before drawing up a chair and taking a seat. He had a feeling this wasn't purely a social call.

"How are you, Mr Curtis? How are they treating you?" Malone's smile seemed genuine but Sam knew looks could be deceptive.

"I feel better, thank you, Sir. I've been out of it for two days but I would say they are looking after me very well."

"Good, good." Malone seemed to be choosing what to say next.

"You have your neighbour partly to thank for your rescue, Mr Curtis. If he hadn't collared Mr Keel and told him about the strange noises emanating from your apartment, we wouldn't have found out it had been trashed and we may not have found you until it was too late!"

Sam nodded. He realised he had put a lot of people to a lot of trouble.

"I know, Sir. Thing is, I will have to fabricate some story to cover up what really happened to tell him."

Malone nodded silently. When he spoke again it was with a genuine concern that Sam hadn't heard before.

"That was a very close call, Mr Curtis. It was very rash of you to undertake such a course of action on your own. It could have ended very differently and I am not in the business of losing agents, it's bad for my image!"

Sam tried to smile but it hurt too much. "I'm sorry, Sir. I didn't intend CI5 to get involved. I felt I could handle the situation, but obviously I was wrong."

"I can't tell you how lucky you were. The Morris brothers are a vicious pair and I suppose it's testament to your courage and winning personality that you were able to prevent George Morris from killing you sooner. At least one of them will stand trial, along with Kantor."

Sam appreciated the way Malone had actually praised him; rare indeed.

"Is Kantor involved in this?" He was keen to know.

"Suffice it to say that Kantor and the Morris's were helping each other hand over fist to make money. That reminds me, there is another person you need to thank. Mrs Kantor put herself in danger to get her husband to incriminate himself. It was the wire she was wearing that got us details that you were still alive and her husband to seal his fate."

Sam nodded his understanding. He was slowly beginning to realise that he would have his work cut out thanking and apologising to people, once he was discharged.

Malone couldn't help adding to his agent's misery.

"I also need to have words with a certain doctor O'Brien…"

Sam almost groaned out loud. How on earth had he found out about the doctor's help in all this? Dr O'Brien's information had been invaluable and the last thing he wanted was to get him into trouble. Malone was a human blood hound! Sam couldn't let the doctor take any blame for his actions, so he needed to convince Malone to drop it.

"Look Sir, please don't involve the doctor. It was all my doing, I persuaded him against his better judgement, so if you are going to punish anyone, make it me."

Malone acknowledged his agent's stoicism with a slight grunt.

"Very well, Mr Curtis, I will add it to the list of things to be considered at your enquiry. Let's see, dereliction of duty, breaking and entering; theft; unsanctioned use of CI5 property and destruction of CI5 property. I think that will do for now, unless there is anything else you wish to add?" Malone looked at his agent with a controlled stare.

Sam felt suddenly deflated and slumped further down into his pillow as he acknowledged his boss with a silent, tired nod of his head, before saying, "No, Sir. That just about sums it up. Not my finest hour, eh?"

He knew he couldn't argue against the case that Malone presented and becoming a housebreaker was looking to be a very serious option since his CI5 career looked to be going down the toilet.

Harry Malone, for all his gruffness and serious outlook on life, was in fact very proud of the agent lying broken and bruised in the hospital bed in front of him.

"Well I will add something then." He announced.

Sam stiffened. Something else? This didn't sound good.

"How about bravery, loyalty; initiative; resilience and fortitude?"

Sam looked up at his boss, unsure what he had just heard. Compliments were very few and far between from Harry Malone. The CI5 boss continued.

"Although your actions were rash and unsanctioned, you were helping out a friend and used all your skills to achieve that aim. When held by Morris, you were able to build up some strange rapport which prevented him killing you sooner, especially when you refused to give him what he wanted. You have proved to me just what an asset you are to this organisation."

Now Sam really thought he was back in his medically induced coma. Praise from Harry Malone?

"I will tell the board of enquiry that coupled with Mrs Kantor's statement about her deliberate evasion of her escort, I believe most of the charges may be dropped."

Sam couldn't believe it. Was Malone actually letting him off the hook?

"Thank you, sir. I don't know what to say."

"Don't thank me too soon, Mr Curtis. I said 'may' be dropped. You will still have to appear and show some remorse, but I do believe a reprimand on your file will suffice."

Sam was extremely grateful and not just a little bit surprised. He really had accepted he was going to be kicked out of CI5 for good.

"You have my word I won't do it again, Sir."

"I certainly hope so, Mr Curtis. I need agents like you in CI5 and will fight to ensure I keep them, even if they do go AWOL at times, so long as it's not going to be a regular occurrence."

The CI5 boss then stood up and addressed his agent.

"Once you are up and about again, I expect you back at headquarters."

Sam perked up for the first time in days.

"Thank you, Sir. I'll be there!"

With that, Harry Malone nodded his goodbye and left the room. Sam closed his eyes and felt all the tension draining away. His recovery started here.

He only needed to be in hospital for a couple of days longer and Tina and Keel collected him and took him back to his clean apartment, which Malone had arranged to be tidied up after the break in.

Sam felt so glad to have put the Morris's behind him and had a glass of a good red wine with his friends.

"By the way, Sam." Keel announced. "The guys at headquarters want to welcome you back in style, so they are having a drinks party tomorrow evening, with you as guest of honour!"

Sam hated being the centre of attention, but since he had caused so many people, so much trouble, he sensibly smiled and acknowledged the gesture graciously.

After Tina and Keel had left, he went over to his neighbour and thanked him for his help and concocted some story to explain his injuries about being in a traffic accident whilst hiking in the Lake District.

Peter swallowed the story without a hitch and asked all the relevant questions which Sam fielded brilliantly.
Returning to his apartment, Sam slept the sleep of the dead and awoke refreshed the next morning. He wasn't due back on duty until the following week, so he enjoyed having time to himself and the day passed quickly and pleasantly.

Keel rolled up around 7.30 to collect his partner and was pleased to see how much better he looked, despite a bruised nose.

As they drove to headquarters, Keel had a glint in his eye as he said, "Doc O'Brien spoke to me today and said something about you agreeing to meet his sister?"

Sam groaned inwardly. "Did he, indeed?"

Keel was really enjoying this. "He says because she has CI5 clearance she will be attending this evening. Her name is Erica."

Sam couldn't believe his bad luck. Dr O'Brien setting him up on a blind date!

"Great." He muttered under his breath. "That's all I need."

"Don't worry, Pal. I've heard that she is ok to be let out on her own, providing her brother is around to keep an eye on her."

Sam looked at his partner with genuine concern. "Turn around. Tell everyone I've relapsed. Tell them I'm dead. Tell them anything!"

Keel laughed. "No way, Buddy. You have a lot of apologising to do this evening. Erica is the least of your problems."

Sam covered his eyes with his hands and said nothing.

The offices had been decked out with 'welcome back' banners and most of the staff had come in to wish Sam well. He was totally overwhelmed and took his time to chat to as many people as he could who had helped in his rescue. He was delighted to see that Gerry Owens had been included in the celebrations and as the big man came over, the two men embraced warmly.

"That's another one I owe you, Gerry." Sam said with feeling.

"You would have done the same for me, and more!" The Geordie smiled. "I'll hear no more about it. Just enjoy the evening and put all this behind you."

Tina appeared at Gerry's shoulder and Sam realised they were enjoying each other's company, so he let his friend carry on.

The evening wore on and he was surprisingly enjoying himself, when he was approached by Dr O'Brien.

"Sam! It's good to see you. You really had us worried for a time." The doctor shook his hand warmly.

Sam smiled at him despite the feeling of doom in his stomach.

"Thanks, Dr O'Brien. I hope you have got into any trouble over this?"

The doctor shook his head.

"No worries, Sam. Mr Malone had a gentle word with me but he left it at that."

"Good, good." Sam responded, wishing he could disappear.

"By the way, I'd like you to meet my sister, Erica."

Sam grimaced as Dr O'Brien called over a woman standing nearby.

Sam forced himself to look at the approaching figure and was pleasantly surprised. As she stood next to Dr O'Brien, she smiled warmly at him and Sam was immediately smitten. She was petite and dark haired and had a smile to melt the hardest heart.

The doctor did the introductions.

"Erica, I'd like you to meet Sam Curtis, man of the moment, and Sam, this is my sister, Erica."

Erica held out her hand and smiled that smile again.

"I'm very pleased to meet you, Sam." She said with a light Irish accent.

Sam was beguiled for a second, but then took her hand and replied. "I'm pleased to meet you, Erica. Forgive my appearance; I don't usually look like this!"

Erica laughed gently. "You look fine from where I'm standing!"

Dr O'Brien made his excuses and left, leaving Sam and Erica to enjoy the party together.

The evening was over almost as soon as it had begun and as people started to file away into the night, Sam nervously asked Erica if he could meet up with her again.

Erica shot him a winning smile and without hesitation replied "I'd be delighted, Sam. Let's meet for coffee at that new place in the High Street, say 1pm?"

Sam agreed and watched jealously as Dr O'Brien led Erica away to take her home back to his place where she was staying for the moment.

Keel appeared at his side, grinning like an idiot.

"Well now. That wasn't too bad was it?"

Sam didn't need to say anything; he just smiled with intense happiness.

Harry Malone came over and spoke to his best operatives.

"Haven't you two homes to go to? Remember it's an early start for you tomorrow, Mr Keel and I understand you are back with us on Monday, Mr Curtis?"

Both men agreed in the affirmative and said "Goodnight, Sir." Before leaving Headquarters to return home.

On the way out Sam looked up at the moon, partially obscured by clouds, but still beautiful.

"You want to know something, Chris?" He asked his partner.

Keel became attentive. "What is it?" He followed Sam's gaze.

"I've just realised that I am the luckiest man alive!" Sam replied with feeling.

Keel, ever the joker shook his head.

"Oh that! Yes, I already knew that. Thought you were going to tell me something new!"

Both men smiled at each other and headed back to Chris Keel's car.

To survive in CI5 you needed a bit of luck and Chris and Sam had each other to cover each other's backs. How lucky is that?

Finished! Hope you enjoyed it, I definitely enjoyed writing about these wonderful characters.