Malloy’s heart sped up as fear and anger at his helplessness shoved up his throat. But his eyes didn’t shift from Will. “Well?” he asked in exaggerated expectation.
At first, Will looked away, as though he might refuse. But then he said, “Alright. But slow.”
Malloy nodded graciously and got to his feet. The way back to Bobby and Reed seemed long. At last he turned the corner of the dead-end aisle and saw Bobby’s face. It shone against the shadowed floor, pale and wet, like the moon’s reflection in a rain puddle.
Malloy swallowed. He continued his slow walk, but not because Will had his gun near-to-hand. It was because of the reminder of death; death awed him, and he couldn’t shake its hold over him, heart, mind, and body. He came to Reed, who gave him a strangled look.
“It was so fast…” Jim began.
Malloy just shook his head and kept going.
Bobby was quiet but stirred when Malloy knelt beside him. He smiled.
Malloy allowed his tense face to soften in response, although he felt something moist soaking into the knees of his pants. “How ya doing, Champ?”
“Not bad, actually,” Bobby whispered. His forehead puckered as he spoke, as if it hurt to upset the delicate balance he’d found, all he had left in life. He had to breathe for ten seconds before he’d saved up enough air to press words into the world again. “Would you…?” Something bumped under the blanket.
Malloy reached his hands, still cuffed in front of him, beneath the cloth and found Bobby’s. It was cold as running, melted snow.
A smile again lifted the corners of the boy’s eyes and mouth. He breathed again and spoke more softly still. “… give this to Margaret?” He pressed something, a knotted cord, into Malloy’s fingers.
Malloy grasped the string in one hand and the boy’s hand in another. It was slick, with sweat or blood he wasn’t sure. “Of course,” he said.
“Thanks. And tell her… it helped.” Bobby swallowed. He was struggling to control his breathing.
Malloy heard quick steps behind him. Jus’s grating whisper was ear-splitting in the reverent stillness. “I just heard on the radio. They’re sending two cars out this way to find the black-and-white. They’re setting up a command post near the dock.”
Will shook the present from his mind, looking only to the future. “Come on, you guys,” he ordered. “We’ll bring the kid with us.”
Reed scoffed, but quietly. “You won’t. You can’t. He won’t make it to the car.”
Will ignored him and took Malloy’s shoulder. “Come on. On your feet.”
Malloy turned from Bobby’s face and looked up Will’s arm, again fixing him with a stare. “Two minutes,” he ordered tersely.
Will took a step back, and Malloy worried that he’d gone too far. But Will nodded. “Jus,” he said, “I’ll get Reed. You start packing up.” He backed away and released Reed’s cuffs. He snapped them in place behind the officer’s back. Then he gestured for him to walk in front. “To the van.” Just before he disappeared from sight, he looked back to Malloy. “Two minutes,” he warned.
Malloy turned his back. “I’ll be waiting,” he muttered. Under the blanket, he let go of Bobby’s hand and pulled the knotted cord from under the blanket. It was red and sticky.
A sigh escaped his tense chest. Then he spoke, softly but quickly. “Listen, kid.”
Bobby’s eyes opened all the way. His brows slowly raised.
“Push the button, wait a second, then talk. Okay?” Malloy said. “And don’t forget to let go at the end.”
The boy gave a weary nod, closed his eyes, and released his breath.
Malloy jerked the blanket over Bobby’s head. Then he stood, took the boy’s feet, and lowered them, as gently as he could, to the floor.
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