'I'm fine,' Jessica said.
It was a lie, but she was sticking to it.
The paramedic shone his light into her eyes for the third time, took her blood pressure for the third time, took her pulse for the fifth time.
She had been punched on many occasions in the past - when you box in the ring, it kind of goes with the territory - and this had been a glancing blow, not really that hard. But it had caught her off guard. In the ring, you brace yourself for incoming blows, and the adrenalin that flows naturally at a moment like that works as a sort of neural shock absorber. No one on Earth can be prepared for a sucker punch, which, by definition, comes out of the blue. Her head throbbed a little but her vision was clear, and her energy level was high. She wanted back in the game but they were going to make her sit there like an invalid. She had seen it many times in her years on the job, had even been the purveyor of the unwelcome news to victims of assault.
Just sit there for a moment.
Not so for Vincent Balzano. When the sector cars showed up, she made the call, found Vincent only a dozen blocks away, working an investigation of his own. He broke every speed record getting to the scene. That was the easy part. Calming him down was another matter. At the moment he was pacing like a caged animal. Unfortunately for Vincent Balzano and his Italian temper, he was lacking a convenient punching bag. For now, at least.
Jessica's weapon had been recovered. It had not been fired.
All Jessica remembered was hearing other footsteps but she did not know whose they were. She did not mention the journal, which had not been recovered from the scene
'No one said anything?' Westbrook asked.
Jessica shook her head. It hurt. She stopped doing it. 'No. I heard footsteps approaching. I got clocked twice. There was a scuffle. Then I faded out.'
'What kind of scuffle?'
'Not sure. I heard at least two people grunting. Then the ringing in my ears took over.'
'And you did not see the other person?'
'No, but I—'
Jessica suddenly looked at her watch, sprang to her feet. She felt dizzy for a moment, then it passed. Her anger did not.
'What is it?' Vincent asked.
'We missed it. We fucking missed it.' 'What?'
'The appointment at the Department of Human Services.'
'Don't Jess me.'
'We'll work it out,' Vincent said. 'Don't worry.'
'Don't worry? This is why they turn you down, Vincent. This is the first big test. You don't show, you don't call, it's over.'
Vincent held her close. 'I think you have a pretty good excuse, babe. I think they'll understand.'
'They won't,' Jessica said, wiggling loose. 'Plus, they're not going to place Carlos in a home where his mother is in danger every day.'
'They know we're both cops. They know what we do.'
It all came out. The anger of this brutal case. The inability to conceive for two years. The indignity of being assaulted. All of it.
'You weren't there, Vincent. I was there. I saw how Carlos was living. I saw the dog shit and the fucking hypodermic needles all over the place. I saw the cockroaches and rats in the sink, the rotting food. I saw him hiding under a fucking garbage bag. You don't know what a hell hole it was, how bad his life was. They are not going to hand him over to us so we can make it worse.'
She tried to walk it off. The rage was a breathing thing within her.
Soon Jessica calmed down and let the investigation begin. It was going to be a long day - and it was just getting started.