Disclaimer: The characters from Diagnosis Murder don't belong to me, the ones that I created do.
It was seven o'clock in the morning when the dreaded knock came at Kenny
Parker's front door. He'd known that it was going to happen and had found
no way of avoiding it. Eventually, he'd decided to stop trying and to face
the inevitable. He just hadn't expected them to come so early.
He glanced through the open doorway to where his five-year-old daughter, Chloe was playing with her Barbie dolls. His sister, Beth, was supposed to take Chloe for the day, but she wouldn't arrive for another hour. In spite of this complication, Kenny smiled to himself. Everything he had done, right or wrong, he had done for Chloe.
Kenny took his jacket from the hook in the hallway and slipped it on. Unzipping the pocket and making sure his body concealed his actions from Chloe, he eased out a gun and quickly checked that it was loaded.
The knocking came again, louder and more insistent. Chloe looked up from her toys, just as her father hid the gun away again. He smiled at her.
"Daddy's just got to go out for a few minutes," he said quietly. "You be a good girl and we'll go to the zoo tomorrow. Okay?"
"Sure, daddy," Chloe answered, turning back to her dolls.
He pulled the lounge door shut and prayed that Chloe would stay quiet, just for a few minutes. Taking a deep breath, Kenny opened his apartment door. A big man in a dark suit barged in, forcing Kenny back a step.
"So this is where you've been hiding," the man said in an overly friendly voice. "Mr. De Marco was starting to think that you'd skipped town."
"No." Kenny was horribly nervous. "I just needed... Still need, some more time."
The big man shook his head.
"That's just something you'll have to discuss with Mr. De Marco," he answered. "He's downstairs. He wants to talk to you."
He leaned in towards Kenny, his demeanour becoming suddenly threatening.
Kenny nodded and resisted the urge to touch the comforting weight of the gun in his pocket. He had thought that if he acted meek and nervous enough, the bodyguard wouldn't think to search him. He was right, but then something else happened to rapidly change his plans.
"I'll just wait here," the body guard said. "And keep your pretty little girl company."
Kenny's blood turned to ice. He should have known that they'd have checked up on him and would know about Chloe. But it was too late to do anything about that now. He would just have to play it by ear.
"You don't want to keep Mr. De Marco waiting," the big man warned him.
Slowly, reluctantly, Kenny left the apartment. He took the stairs instead of the lift, trying to buy some time, to desperately think of a new plan. All too soon, he'd descended the three floors and found himself out on the street, still with no idea of what he was going to do or say.
There was a black limousine parked by the sidewalk. As Kenny approached it, the back window slid silently open and he found himself face to face with Gianni De Marco.
"Kenny, Kenny," De Marco said, his voice heavily accented. "Have you got my money?"
For a long moment, Kenny just looked at him. All of his carefully prepared plans had fallen apart . All he could think of was that thug, in his apartment, with his daughter.
"He won't hurt her, will he?" he asked eventually.
"Jimmy? No, he won't hurt your little girl. Not yet anyway. I said, have you got my money?"
Kenny looked away, feeling sick with fear.
"I... I need more time," he stammered, then added desperately: "I'll get it, I promise. Just a few more days..."
"A few more days." De Marco's tone was reasonable, but his eyes were cold. "Three days, Kenny? Does that sound reasonable?"
For a brief moment, Kenny felt his hopes flare, but De Marco wasn't finished.
"Of course," he continued, studying his immaculately manicured fingernails, "such a delay is going to cost you extra. Let's say... another grand."
Suddenly, there was a scream from the back of the apartment building. Gianni De Marco and his money were instantly forgotten, as Kenny raced from the car and round to the back of the apartments. It had been Chloe's voice.
He never heard the roar of the engine, or the screech of tyres, as the limousine raced away. All he could see was his little girl on the ground before him, her small body broken and bleeding. He knelt beside her and gently cradled her in his arms. His eyes were drawn upwards, to the balcony of his apartment. He could see that the doors were open, but there was nobody else in sight.
"Call 911!" Kenny screamed, gently rocking his little girl. "Somebody, please! Call 911!"
Dr. Jesse Travis was just nearing the end of a long and difficult night
shift when Chloe Parker was rushed into the ER of Community General. Somehow,
the little girl had survived a fall from a third floor apartment, but her
vital signs were weak and she had already been resuscitated twice in the
ambulance. She had massive head injuries and multiple broken bones.
Jesse worked as hard as he ever had, desperate to hold on to the slender thread of hope that seemed to be all that was keeping the girl alive. He knew that, even if she did survive, she would be almost guaranteed to have brain damage, but his determination never faltered.
Unfortunately, though, even he had to admit defeat eventually. Chloe crashed once too often and never responded to any attempts to resuscitate. With great reluctance, Jesse covered her face with a sheet and recorded her time of death.
Even though he knew that she had never really stood a chance, that she had been dead the moment that she fell, Jesse felt bad about losing her. It was always more difficult to lose a child and he still had to face the thankless task of informing her parents.
Her father was waiting for him outside the OR. Jesse had seen some distraught relatives in his time, but the man was a mess. The doctor in him told him that Kenny Parker would probably need sedating before he could begin to come to terms with what had happened. The rest of him dreaded what he was about to do.
"Mr. Parker, I'm so very sorry..." he began.
"No." Kenny felt his entire world collapse. "No, she can't be dead. Don't tell me she's dead."
His voice was getting progressively louder, then he grabbed Jesse by the shoulders, almost lifting him off his feet.
"Why didn't you save her?!" he screamed.
At that moment, Lieutenant Steve Sloan turned into the corridor, searching for his father. He saw what he thought was his best friend being assaulted and ran over to help. Grabbing hold of the stranger's arm, he pulled him away from the doctor, pulling back his fist, ready to hit him if that proved to be necessary. Then he noticed the tears that streamed down the man's face.
"It's okay, Steve." Jesse put a calming hand on his friend's arm. "Mr. Parker's just had some bad news. It's alright. Really."
Steve's hands dropped back to his sides and he looked at Jesse a little sheepishly.
"I'm sorry. I thought..."
"It's okay, no problem."
Jesse turned back to the devastated Kenny Parker. He seemed to have got over his anger and now realisation was sinking in. He covered his face with his hands and began to sob. Jesse glanced at Steve and found a smile for him, trying to convey his gratitude for his intervention, then took Kenny by the arm and led him towards one of the waiting rooms.
"It's okay," he said quietly as they walked. "I'll get you something to make you feel better. You're in shock. It's going to be okay."
Steve watched them go, a slight frown marring his handsome features. He too had seen his fair share of bereaved relatives and Kenny Parker's reaction had seemed somewhat extreme. Just then, his pager went off and, for a short while at least, Parker was forgotten.
Steve Sloan prowled the corridors of Community General for the second
time that morning, only this time he was searching for Jesse. He'd just
had some disturbing news about Kenny Parker.
Knowing that Jesse's shift had ended, he headed for the doctor's lounge. His friend wasn't in there, but his father was.
"Hi, Steve," Doctor Mark Sloan said, looking up from the journal he'd been idly flicking through. "What brings you here?"
"Hi dad. Have you seen Jesse recently?"
"Not for a while. His shift finished two hours ago, but he said something about wanting to check up on that little girl's father before he went home."
"Kenny Parker? He's still here?"
"Yes and yes. Apparently, he refused to be admitted, but Jesse convinced him to take a mild sedative. I think he's in one of the private rooms. Is something wrong?"
"I don't know yet, but there might be more to that girl's death than we first thought. Thanks dad."
Now Steve could move with a bit more purpose and it only took him a few more minutes to find Jesse. The young doctor had shed his white coat and retrieved his jacket, obviously just about to head home. Looking at the exhaustion on his face, Steve was loathe to delay him any longer than necessary.
"Tough day, buddy?" Steve asked sympathetically.
"You could say that. I feel like I could sleep for a week."
"Well before you turn into Rip Van Winkle, can you tell me if Kenny Parker's still here?"
"Yeah, he should still be sleeping. I'll show you." He looked at Steve, his curiosity piqued. "Is something wrong?"
As they began walking back down the corridor, Steve told Jesse what he had found out.
"It seems like the little girl was in the apartment on her own. The balcony doors were open, she climbed up and she fell. We could be looking at negligent manslaughter."
Jesse stopped in his tracks. Steve turned back to him, one eyebrow raised questioningly.
"Do you have to do this now, Steve? I mean, the guy's just getting over losing his daughter and now you want to tell him that it's his fault?"
"Credit me with some tact, Jesse," Steve answered, sounding exasperated. "I just want to talk to him."
Jesse nodded, looking abashed and the two of them walked on in silence. They rounded another corner and Jesse stopped outside one of the rooms.
"He's in here. Do you mind if I come in with you? I'd like to see how he's doing."
Steve smiled and gestured for Jesse to precede him through the door. The room was in darkness, with the blinds drawn, just as he had left it. The only difference was that, even in the gloom, both men could see that the bed was empty.
"Where the Hell did he go?" Steve demanded.
"I don't know." Jesse's tone was a shade defensive. "Maybe the sedative wore off and he just decided to go home. He wasn't under suspicion of anything when I put him in here."
Steve looked around the empty room, his hands on his hips.
"I knew it wouldn't be this simple," he sighed. "Parker could be anywhere by now. Dammit!"
"Look, Steve, I think I'm going to head home. I'm pretty shattered. Will you let me know how you get on?"
"Sure, Jess, no problem. I'll call you later."
Jesse headed towards the underground parking lot, looking forward to a long shower and a longer sleep.
In spite of the sedative that Doctor Travis had given him, Kenny had
barely slept at all. He'd insisted on only a mild sedative, not wanting
to betray his daughter's memory by blocking out his pain completely. Then
he had spent the next two hours wishing he had asked for something stronger.
He could only slip into a light doze before Chloe's face filled his mind's eye and his grief surged back to the surface again. He wished that he could remember her as he'd loved her, full of life and happiness, but every time he tried to picture her, he could only see her bleeding to death in his arms.
Eventually he gave up trying to sleep and just lay for a while, staring at the panelled ceiling of the hospital room. Aside from his grief, he also felt a nagging sense of guilt. He shouldn't have lashed out at Doctor Travis like that. He'd known that Chloe was dead, the moment he'd seen her lying on the concrete. He had no right taking his grief out on the man who'd tried to help her.
Desperate to do something to try and ease even a little of his pain, Kenny got out of bed. He slipped his shoes back on and grabbed his jacket off the chair. He was going to apologise to the doctor.
Two minutes later, he was lost. He had no idea whereabouts in the hospital he was, let alone where to find Doctor Travis. Everybody around him seemed to be moving with such purpose, that he couldn't even ask for directions.
After a few minutes of aimless wandering, he somehow found himself back outside his own room and headed off in the other direction. It was then that he heard his own name mentioned.
"...if Kenny Parker's still here?"
Kenny recognised the voice, too. It was the man who'd pulled him away from the doctor. Something about his tone stopped Kenny dead in his tracks. He inched towards the corner as he recognised Doctor Travis's voice responding to the other man. Then he listened in horror to what was being said.
"... looking at negligent manslaughter."
Kenny didn't wait to hear any more. The other man was obviously a cop and they were blaming him for the death of his daughter. Fresh tears almost blinded him as he fled down the corridor, oblivious to the strange looks that were cast his way, conscious only of the need to get out of the hospital.
He found a stairwell, blessedly empty, and dashed down as far as he could go, before bursting out into a parking lot. Only then did Kenny stop. He leaned back against one of the support pillars and slid down to his haunches, his breath coming in gasping sobs. Gradually he became aware of the weight in his jacket pocket, of the gun still nestled there. He pulled it out and looked at it, turning it over slowly in his hands.
"How can they say I killed her?" he whispered to himself. "I loved her."
Suddenly he heard the sound of a lift descending. As the doors slid open, he moved silently around the pillar, keeping it between him and whoever was about to emerge. He risked a quick glance, then his heart almost stopped as he recognised Doctor Travis walking across the parking lot.
A sudden rage built in him. How dare they judge him? They knew nothing about him, nothing about Chloe. Who were they to be his judge, jury and executioner? As quietly as possible, he ran across the lot and arrived at Jesse's car just as the doctor slid in behind the wheel.
Without giving him time to react, Kenny yanked open the passenger door and got in beside him, pointing the gun at him.
"Drive, doc," he said in a low, threatening voice.
Steve sat in the doctor's lounge nursing a cup of lukewarm coffee and
feeling utterly frustrated. He'd questioned dozens of hospital personnel
but, although many of them remembered seeing Parker running through the
corridors, no-one had seen him since he'd entered the stairwell. He could
have gone to any floor, left by any exit. The trail had gone stone cold.
"He didn't go home," he explained to his father, "and his car's still at the apartments. I don't even know where to start looking for him."
Mark didn't seem overly surprised or concerned by this news.
"From what Jesse told me, the man was devastated," he said. "It's quite possible that he's still in shock. He might be in a bar somewhere, or even just wandering the streets. He'll find his way home eventually. He doesn't even know that you're looking for him, so he won't be hiding."
Steve shrugged, still not looking convinced. Mark decided to change his approach.
"Why are you so interested in this case anyway? It's pretty much open and shut, isn't it?"
"It certainly looks that way, but it seems that the reason Chloe Parker was home alone was that her father was outside talking to Gianni De Marco."
"The loan shark?"
"Alleged loan shark," Steve corrected him, wryly. "And a lot of people who have come into contact with him, have been having little accidents."
"So you think that Chloe..."
"We don't know. That's why we need to talk to Kenny Parker."
The lounge door opened and Mark and Steve both smiled as Amanda Bentley walked in. She didn't return their smile though, she looked puzzled and a little concerned.
"Mark, is Jesse okay?" she asked, without preamble.
"He was fine the last time I saw him. Tired, a little stressed, but otherwise okay. He's just gone home."
"Why do you ask?" Steve put in.
"I just saw him driving out of the parking lot," she frowned. "I only caught a glimpse, but he looked awful. He was as white as a sheet and he looked... scared. I think there was somebody in the car with him."
"You think?" Steve asked.
"I couldn't swear to it, but it looked like somebody ducked down when they saw me. I don't know, it was just weird. Jesse didn't wave or toot his horn or anything. And you know that's not Jesse."
"And you couldn't see who this other person was?" Mark asked, leaning forward and looking concerned.
"I'm not even sure there was another person."
"Dad?" Steve could see from his father's expression that he'd just made some sort of a deduction and one that he didn't like very much.
"I think we should have a look at the security cameras from the parking lot," Mark's tone was grim.
"You're thinking it was Kenny Parker," Steve guessed. "But you said yourself, he doesn't even know that we're looking for him."
"I'm not so sure of that now. You and Jesse were discussing Parker right outside his room. What if he'd left, to go to the bathroom maybe, and overheard you? That would explain his running away."
"Okay, but why kidnap Jesse?"
"Kidnap Jesse?" Amanda interrupted, totally lost as to what they were talking about.
"We'd best go look at those security tapes," Steve said. "We'll fill you in on the way."
Jesse couldn't stop glancing nervously at the man sitting next to him.
He was so scared that he could barely concentrate on his driving. He wasn't
helped by the fact that he didn't even know where they were going. Parker
was directing him one street at a time.
That Parker was dangerous, there was no doubt. The one time that Jesse had even considered trying to stall him had almost resulted in him being shot.
"Mr. Parker," he'd said, after he'd recovered from the initial shock of finding him in the car next to him. "Listen to me, you..."
"No, you listen, doc." Parker had spoken with absolute conviction. "Right now, I'm sitting here considering just putting a bullet into both of us. So just drive."
So Jesse had driven out of the parking lot. He'd seen Amanda and been aware of Parker hunkering down in his seat out of sight, but he hadn't even dared wave to her, much less try to give her some sort of signal.
"Where are we going?" Jesse asked, as they exited the hospital grounds.
"Turn left." Parker had told him.
More equally succinct directions followed and Jesse realised that they were heading towards one of the poorer slums of the City of Angels. It was all dingy, high-rise tenements and, thinking of the manner of Chloe's death, Jesse felt his fear increase another notch.
"Why are you doing this?" he asked, unable to keep the tremor out of his voice.
"You wouldn't understand." Then, before Jesse had time to respond: "How could you understand? You think I killed her!"
Jesse closed his eyes briefly as he realised Parker had overheard him and Steve talking in the hospital corridor.
"No, we..." he tried to explain.
"Just turn right here," Parker interrupted sharply. "Pull over there."
Jesse reluctantly did as he was told. The area around the tenement was deserted. There wasn't even the sound of any traffic. As Jesse got out of the car, he saw why. The derelict building that Parker had directed him to was condemned. The windows were all boarded up and the lower levels were covered with warning tape.
None of this deterred Parker though. Keeping the gun firmly trained on the young doctor he gestured for Jesse to precede him up the steps. The front door had once been securely fastened, but somebody had ripped the barricades aside. Parker shoved the door open and, taking Jesse's arm in a firm grip, led him into the building and up the stairs.
As they reached the first landing, Jesse suddenly decided that he wasn't going to give in so easily. He'd offered no resistance since Parker had got into his car, but now he refused to walk to what he knew would be his death. He yanked his arm free from Parker's grip and backed up against the wall.
"Tell me why you've brought me here!" he demanded, anger momentarily overcoming his fear.
Parker looked at him dispassionately.
"Don't make me shoot you, doc." He cocked the gun, but still Jesse didn't move. "I'm not bluffing. Don't make me kill you."
"You're going to kill me anyway." Jesse's gaze darted around wildly. He wondered how far he would make it down the stairs before Parker shot him in the back. "Why else would you have brought me here?"
Parker's face twisted with rage.
"I didn't kill my little girl! I loved her!"
He took two swift steps towards Jesse, still trapped against the wall and, before he could react, brought the barrel of the gun crashing into the side of the doctor's head. Jesse plunged into oblivion.
"We've talked to Parker's sister, Beth," Steve told his father.
"She was supposed to pick Chloe up at eight and keep her for the morning.
Parker never told her what his plans were and she has no idea why he would
have been talking to De Marco."
"And no idea where he might have gone now," Mark sighed. He got up and began pacing, worry for Jesse clearly written on his features.
"Well he hasn't been back to the apartment and we've no idea what he might want with Jesse."
Ever since the security tapes had clearly shown Kenny Parker getting into Jesse's car, Steve had been unable to shake the feeling that they were in a race against time. The tapes had also shown the gun in Parker's hand.
"Jesse was Chloe's attending physician and she died in his care. It might just be a simple case of revenge."
"Then why not just shoot him in the parking lot?" Steve snapped, his frustration coming to the fore. "No, this has got something to do with Gianni De Marco. Unfortunately, he's not being exactly co-operative."
Just then, Amanda walked into the doctor's lounge. Mark and Steve both looked at her hopefully.
"Sorry guys," she said. "I've just finished the autopsy on Chloe Parker and there's nothing to suggest that it was anything more than a tragic accident. There was no sign of a struggle, no unexplained marks or bruises, no hair or trace samples, nothing to prove that anyone even touched her. She died from a massive trauma to the head and that's all I can tell you."
"Okay, thanks Amanda." Steve sighed heavily. "Another dead end."
"Any word on Jesse?" Amanda asked the obvious question, even though she knew from their expressions that they hadn't heard anything positive.
"I've got people checking out his former wife's connections, his parents' house and I've put an APB out on Jesse's car. We'll find him."
"You said his former wife," Mark cut in, sounding thoughtful. "Were they divorced?"
"No, separated, but then she died about two years ago. There was a faulty gas fire in her old apartment. She died from carbon monoxide poisoning."
"I remember it," Amanda said sadly. "The landlord was prosecuted and the flats condemned."
"Have they actually been demolished?" Mark asked slowly, as all three of them came to the same conclusion.
"I don't know," Amanda answered. "But why would Parker go back there? And why take Jesse?"
"That's what we're going to find out," Steve said, pulling his phone from his pocket.
Fifteen minutes later, they had all piled into Steve's truck and were heading towards one of the poorer slums of LA. Steve got a call saying that Jesse's car had been spotted outside an abandoned tenement. He gave the dispatcher strict instructions that nobody was to enter the building. The cops who'd found the car were ordered to observe from a distance and, above all, remain unseen.
"Parker's unstable," Steve explained to the others. "We don't want to give him reason to panic, or there's no telling what he might do."
Jesse came round an indeterminable amount of time later. His head throbbed
and he could feel the sticky wetness of blood on his right temple. He tried
to lift his hand, to probe at the wound, but he couldn't move. As more of
his awareness returned, he realised that his hands were bound behind his
He was lying in the corner of a room, half propped against a wall. His vision kept shifting in and out of focus and he knew that he had a concussion. Kenny Parker was pacing the small room, his gun in his hand and still clearly agitated.
Jesse tried to shift into a more comfortable position, to ease the cramp in his shoulders and back. Parker didn't seem to notice. He'd ripped the boards away from one of the windows and moved over to stand looking out over the city.
Jesse watched him silently for a moment, trying to focus on everything the man had said since his capture, looking for some way to try and reason with him. The pain in his head and the sickness in his stomach made it almost impossible to concentrate. He remembered the last words that Parker had said to him before he'd knocked him out.
"Nobody's doubting that you loved her," he said quietly.
Parker turned to look at him and his eyes were cold. A faint tremor shook his entire body and the doctor realised that he was very close to the edge of insanity. He had to try and find some way to calm him down.
"My friend, Steve..."
"The cop," Parker spat.
"Yeah, he's a cop." Jesse knew there was no point in lying. "He just wanted to talk to you. He wasn't accusing you..."
"I heard what he said!" Parker shouted.
He stormed over to where Jesse lay and, grabbing his arm, pulled him roughly to his feet, then dragged him over towards the window.
"Look down there!"
He grabbed the back of the doctor's neck, forcing him forwards until he was bent almost double over the window sill. Jesse felt a sudden plunge of vertigo.
"That's how far my little girl fell." Parker was ranting now, his voice wild and emotional. "That's how far! Can you imagine how she felt? Can you imagine what she was thinking when she... As she... I heard her scream... God, I heard her scream..."
Jesse didn't dare move. He hardly dared to breath. Parker still kept his grip on the back of his neck, emphasising his words by pushing his head downwards as he spoke. They were three floors up and the ground seemed a terribly long way away.
Jesse wanted to close his eyes. He knew that there was nothing he could do to save himself if Parker decided to push him any further. More than anything, he didn't want to see the ground rushing up towards him, didn't want to suffer the same way that Chloe had.
Steve parked his truck a block away from where Jesse's car had been sighted.
He was determined that they would do nothing that might spook Parker and
bring harm to his young friend.
A patrol car was waiting for them nearby. As they approached, a police officer was waiting for them.
"Nobody's been in or out since we got here. The front door is open, but there's been no sign of life. Are you sure that they're here?" The officer briefed Steve as they stood on the corner looking up at the tenement.
"They've got to be," Steve muttered in response. "Damn, I wish we knew which room they're in."
"There's an open window around the back, on the third floor," the officer put in. "My partner's keeping an eye on it, but so far she's had nothing to report."
Steve glanced at him approvingly. They'd had the presence of mind to cover both exits, which made it even more probable that Jesse was still inside.
"You should have called for back-up," Steve admonished him, without rancour. "We know that Parker's armed."
" It's on its way, Sir. Silent approach, just like you ordered."
"Good work." Steve allowed himself his first smile of the day, then turned back to Mark and Amanda. "I want to check out that window at the back. It will give us some idea of the layout of the place."
In spite of the seriousness of the situation, Mark couldn't resist having a dig at his son.
"We wouldn't want to go breaking the wrong door down, would we?"
The three of them headed towards the rear of the building, keeping to cover as much as they could. They soon found the second patrol officer but, like her partner, she could tell them nothing about what was going on inside. Steve squinted up at the window, mentally calculating the position of the apartment.
"It was open when I got here," the officer was telling him. "I think there might have been some movement up there, but it was just a shadow. I couldn't be sure."
"Okay," Steve was, by now, in full detective mode. "You all wait here. I'll go up and see if I can talk to him."
"I'll go with you," Mark predictably offered.
"No dad, it's too dangerous."
"But Jesse might need medical attention."
It was left up to Amanda, as she had so often in the past, to provide the voice of reason.
"It is too dangerous," she said, trying to placate them both. "We know that he's got a gun and that he's got Jesse. Wouldn't we be better off waiting for a trained negotiator?"
Steve opened his mouth to respond, but a strained whisper of "Oh my God!" from the policewoman distracted them all. She was staring back up at the apartment window and they all followed her horrified gaze.
Even from a distance they could see Parker, his hands around Jesse's neck, forcing him through the window. They stood, transfixed, unable to move as they waited for their friend to plummet to his death.
Without warning, Parker hauled Jesse back in through the window and slammed
him against the wall. The gun was pushed under his jaw.
"And you think that it was my fault?"
Tears were streaming down the man's face and, even in these horrific circumstances, Jesse's heart went out to him. Somehow, even as terror churned his stomach, he found his voice.
"Mr. Parker... Kenny," his voice shook, threatened to fail him, but he forced himself to continue. "I know it was an accident..."
"No! You know nothing!"
His rage increasing as his grip on reality failed, Parker flung Jesse across the room. The doctor crashed into a corner, felt pain shoot through his shoulder, but somehow managed to keep his feet. He knew that Parker was almost insane with anger, and possibly guilt. He also knew that he had to find some way to keep him talking. His life depended on it.
"So tell me," he said, keeping his eyes locked on Parker's, trying to convince him of his sincerity.
Parker stared at him for a long time, then brushed the tears from his face. His anger seemed to diminish as quickly as it had arisen and he used the barrel of the gun to gesture around the room.
"Look at this place," he said dejectedly. "Look at it. Is this the sort of place to bring up a family? What sort of a man does that make me?"
"You used to live here," Jesse whispered, looking around the dingy apartment, trying to imagine any child living in such squalor.
"It didn't always look like this," Parker went on with a dangerous edge to his voice, almost as though he had read Jesse's mind. "We tried to make it home. Denise did her best."
"My wife. My ex-wife." Parker was getting agitated again and Jesse regretted the turn the conversation had taken. "She threw me out. Took my little girl off me and threw me out."
Jesse kept himself firmly backed into the corner. He knew it would not help him if Parker decided to shoot him, but it gave him immeasurable security after hanging half out of the window.
"She died here," Parker went on, his eyes losing their focus as he remembered. "It would have been Chloe, too, but I took her away that weekend. I saved her life."
"What happened?" Jesse asked. He couldn't help but sympathise with this man, whose life had been so filled with tragedy.
"It doesn't matter. What matters is that I got Chloe. I wanted to give her the best of everything. It wasn't easy. I didn't even have anywhere to live."
Parker rubbed at his eyes again and moved back over to the window.
"So I borrowed money," he went on, anger in his voice. "I went to Gianni De Marco and I borrowed so much money. Just for my Chloe. I'd have done anything for her."
Jesse didn't answer. He felt desperately sorry for Parker, but didn't know what he could say to take away his pain.
"And then I couldn't pay him back. You know how it works, doc. The interest rates get higher and you miss one payment. That's when they start on the threats. They threatened my Chloe, threatened to hurt her. That was when I decided to kill De Marco."
"So that was why Chloe was home alone," Jesse whispered, thinking that now he understood.
"No!" Parker screamed at him, turning away from the window, but not before he'd caught a glimpse of movement on the street below. "She wasn't alone!"
He advanced on Jesse again. The doctor pressed himself up against the wall, but he had nowhere to go. Parker's face was filled with fury. He grabbed Jesse by the throat and put the gun to his temple.
"He killed her! Don't you understand? It wasn't an accident. He killed her!"
"De Marco," Jesse whispered, hoarsely.
"Jimmy! Jimmy killed her!"
He shook the young doctor as he spoke, having finally seemed to have lost his tenuous hold on reality. He glanced back over his shoulder towards the window, then put his face very close to Jesse's.
"There's cops outside," he whispered. "Your friend. He's come for me. He's going to say that I killed Chloe."
"No," Jesse was trembling now. He couldn't stop himself. He genuinely believed that he was going to die at the hands of Kenny Parker. "Let me talk to him. Let me explain about Jimmy."
Parker looked at him suspiciously and, for a moment, Jesse thought that he might have got through to him. Then he shook his head, the madness still glinting in his eyes.
"No," he said slowly. "You wouldn't help me. Why should you? You didn't help my Chloe."
Jesse felt sickened by those words. In spite of everything, he'd never forgotten the child at the centre of all this, never forgotten how hard he'd tried to save her, never forgotten his failure.
"I'm sorry," he murmured, with genuine remorse. "I tried. You have to believe that I tried."
Parker shook his head again, this time with finality.
"I'm not going to jail for killing my daughter." He took a step back away from Jesse, keeping the gun trained on him. "Turn around, face the wall."
Reluctantly, Jesse complied. His mouth was dry and his heart was pounding. He knew that he was about to die. A rough hand forced him to his knees.
So this is how it ends, Jesse thought. A bullet in the back of the head. At least I won't see it coming.
Once again, Jesse heard the unmistakable sound of a gun being cocked. He closed his eyes.
Mark, Steve, Amanda and the policewoman all breathed a collective sigh
of relief as Jesse and Parker disappeared away from the window.
"Thank God," Amanda murmured.
"That's it," Steve snapped. "We're out of time. The guy's obviously unstable. I'm going up there."
He took off at a run back around the front of the tenement. Mark glanced apologetically towards Amanda, then set off after him. Another police unit had arrived at the scene and two officers were waiting by the front door. Steve didn't waste any time in explaining the situation to them, he just expected them to follow him. He wasn't disappointed. He was surprised, however, when a hand stopped him on the first landing and it turned out to be his father.
"Dad," he said, unable to keep the exasperation out of his voice. "I told you to wait outside."
"Look, Steve," Mark had dropped into a crouch and was dabbing at the bare floorboards with his fingertips. "I think Jesse might need me."
Steve forgot his annoyance as his father held up his hand. His fingers were sticky with blood. They had no reason to think that Parker had been injured. It had to be Jesse's.
"Okay," Steve conceded. "But stay behind me and do exactly what I say."
They silently made their way upwards, Steve in the lead, followed by the two uniformed cops, with Mark bringing up the rear. When they reached the third floor, Steve gestured for everyone to remain by the staircase. Parker's room was five doors down the corridor and he approached it alone.
There was no sign of life from inside. Steve put his ear close to the door, straining to hear something, but all was quiet. Frowning back towards his father, he put his hand on the doorknob.
Suddenly, shockingly, there came the sound of a single gunshot from inside the apartment.
Steve didn't waste a moment. Putting his shoulder to the door, he threw all of his weight against it. The door had not been locked and it opened with ridiculous ease, almost sending him sprawling into the room. He recovered quickly and swept the apartment with his gun, as he took in the scene before him.
Jesse was on his knees in the corner, his hands tied and his head bowed, looking like a prisoner awaiting execution.
On the floor behind him was the body of a man who Steve could only presume to be Kenny Parker. Jesse's captor had put his gun into his own mouth. The bullet had taken most of the back of his head off.
Steve spared him only the briefest glance, concern for Jesse at the forefront of his mind.
"Dad! Get in here!" he yelled.
He crouched down besides Jesse and dropped a reassuring hand onto his shoulder. The young doctor flinched violently at his touch and Steve could feel the tension in his muscles.
"It's okay, buddy," he murmured as he began to loosen Jesse's bonds. "It's over now. You're safe now."
Jesse relaxed, though only marginally, then winced as his hands became free and his shoulder muscles spasmed at the sudden movement.
"He's dead, isn't he?" he asked, his voice barely a whisper.
"Yeah, Jess. He's dead."
Mark arrived at that moment and, between them, the father and son gently manoeuvred their friend into a sitting position, the elder Sloan beginning to examine his head wound.
"He didn't have to do that," Jesse sighed, trying to pull away from the ministering touch.
From where he sat, he could see the body of Kenny Parker and the great splash of blood that now stained the opposite wall. Steve followed his gaze, then subtly shifted his position, to block the corpse from Jesse's view. Mark forcibly kept his head still as he continued to probe delicately at the wound. He pulled a penlight from his pocket.
"Jess, I want you to follow the light, okay?"
Jesse ignored him and jerked his head away impatiently. His gaze locked with Mark's and his blue eyes were bright with unshed tears.
"He didn't have to do that," he said again. "We could have helped him."
"Some people are just beyond help, buddy," Steve squeezed his shoulder in a gesture he hoped conveyed strength.
He could feel the smaller man trembling beneath his hand and shot a concerned glance towards his father. Mark nodded almost imperceptibly.
"Jesse," Mark said, more firmly. "You're in shock and you have a concussion. We need to get you to the hospital and get you properly checked over."
Mark had injected steel into his tone knowing that Jesse, like so many other doctors, made a terrible patient. But the arguments that he'd expected weren't forthcoming. Jesse's shoulders slumped and he sighed, then nodded resignedly. Over his head, Mark and Steve exchanged another worried glance.
The room had filled up rapidly, not only with the patrol officers, but Amanda now knelt beside the corpse. She glanced up as Jesse was helped to his feet and flashed a sympathetic smile towards him.
He didn't notice. He paused by the body of Kenny Parker and looked down at him sadly.
"We could have helped you," he whispered.
Then he allowed his friends to lead him from the room.
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