Takes place between the teaser and the first act of 'Judgment'.
I guess I always thought he was invulnerable.
I mean, it's not like I'm under any illusions about how dangerous this self-assigned job of his is -- there've been too many close calls for that, too many times when it all could have fallen apart. But it never did, like he could hold his plans together just by willing them to work. I've seen him do it so many times, I think I just assumed that he would always be able to pull it off.
Until he came staggering into the motel room an hour ago, his shirt soaked with blood, and collapsed against the wall.
Want to know the stupid thing, the awful thing? I didn't even notice at first.
I was watching a movie, not even worried that he was out making the exchange; it never even crossed my mind that anything could go wrong. But then I heard him say, so casually, "I'm shot," and saw the blood... And then there he was, hurting and helpless on the carpet at my feet.
I'm so scared he's going to die.
It took us ten minutes to get him onto the bed, once I stopped panicking. Or started panicking less, anyway. He tried not to make a sound, but he moaned when we got him to his feet, and gasped once when I helped him lay back down. I can't imagine how much he was hurting for his control to have slipped that much. I got the covers of the bed around him and got a towel pressed against the wound, but not before I saw the hole in his shirt, and in him.
There's so much blood, and that damn vet is taking so long to get here, and he keeps fading in and out on me. I keep talking to him, babbling really, trying to keep him awake, trying to keep myself from going crazy. I'm scared to death, my hands are shaking, and I just keep thinking, "Please, God, not him, too."
I just lost Ronnie -- I can't lose Chapel, too.
He scared me to death the first time I met him. I'm not ashamed to admit that.
It had been the worst week of my life. I'd just finished my first year of law school, and I was happily sponging off Dad for the summer, while I worked part-time as a paralegal. Dad didn't mind; we'd always been close, and gotten closer after Mom had taken off my sophomore year. And it's not like I wasn't paying my way. I helped with the housekeeping, and with the cooking -- in fact, I made supper the night everything fell apart.
See, Dad always gets home between 6 and 6:30, right after the bank closes. He's not really uptight, but he's got his schedule and he sticks to it. So when it was almost 8 and he still hadn't shown up, and my casserole was a dead and burning mess in the oven, I started to get really worried.
Then came the phone call from Dad. At the police station. Asking me to call Jeff Roland, our lawyer.
They'd accused him of embezzling. Almost his entire life he'd given to that bank, working his way up to president with 40 years of 70-hour weeks, and they accused him of stealing from them. They did a good job of it, too; I've seen a lot of frame jobs over the last few months, helped set up some of them, and I can expertly state that this was a first-class frame. There was money in accounts under Dad's name, the paperwork was hidden in a false drawer in his desk at home (and yes, I *did* buy new locks for the house right after the police left), and all of the missing money could be traced back to accounts Dad had handled personally. Oh, yeah, they'd done a great job setting him up.
I never doubted he was innocent.
But it looked like I was the only one. The police were pretty damn convinced, no matter how many times I talked to them and yelled at them and begged them. So was the district attorney. And the jury, after the trial two months later -- well, that 'guilty' verdict sounded pretty convinced, too. I can still remember the look on my dad's face when they took him out of the courtroom to jail. He was looking for me, completely stunned, not understanding how this could have happened to him when he'd never hurt anyone. I called out to him, but I don't know if he heard me over the noise in the courtroom.
He was innocent, but no one else believed him.
Well, almost no one.
Chapel is starting to fade in and out on me again; I have to replace the towel against his side because the old one is already soaked. How much blood can a person, even a guy as big and strong as Chapel, lose before it's just too much?
His eyes open when I press the towel against him again; he barely winces, and I'm not sure if that's good or not. I don't think it is. Oh, why wasn't I pre-med instead of pre-law? And, do you believe it, he tries to smile at me. "Don't panic, kid," he says, with something that might have been a grin if his face wasn't so drawn with pain. "I've been through worse than this."
Oh, *that's* comforting.
I walked out of the courtroom in a daze, nearly walking into walls and people a few times, blinded by the pop of the flashbulbs, the lights of the cameras. When I made it to my car, I started it, then discovered I couldn't see out the windshield. I was crying too hard, the tears blinding me, sobs shaking my body so much I could barely turn the keys to stop the engine again. I sat there, slumped against the steering wheel, and cried for what seemed like hours.
When I finally got back under control, I started the engine again -- then just sat there, staring out the windshield. I didn't know where I was going to go -- we'd sold the house to pay the legal fees, and the little apartment I'd found wasn't what you'd call homey. No job since I'd gotten fired (something about 'the daughter of an indicted embezzler' not being the right image for the firm), school wouldn't start for two more weeks, and I wasn't sure I wanted to go back anyway -- I wasn't exactly enchanted with the legal profession at that point. So I just sat there, until I noticed something on the passenger seat that hadn't been there when I'd gone into the courthouse that morning.
A plain manila envelope -- no label, no writing, just sitting there looking blandly back at me. I don't know what I thought it was, I don't really think I was thinking at all at that point. I just picked it up and opened it.
I can still remember the headlines: "Lawyer Disbarred on Counts of Misconduct", "Lawyer Reinstated, Cleared of All Charges".
"Mother Accused of Kidnapping Daughter", "Mother and Daughter Reunited After Father Arrested". "
"Stockbroker Indicted for Misuse of Funds", "Broker Returns to Wall Street as Charges Dropped".
"Griffin Indicted on Embezzling Charges". Then that single sheet of paper with the phone number. 555-0132.
I sat there and stared at it, leafing through the papers again and again. It must have been ten minutes before I actually started thinking about those stories, what they could mean. What that phone number could mean.
I'm still not sure when I made the decision to call, that I had nothing left to lose. Suddenly, the cell phone was just in my hand, and I'd dialed, and someone answered.
"KC Griffin? I'm glad you called."
Oh, God, where is that vet? Another half-hour and I'm calling an ambulance, I don't care *what* Chapel says. It's not like he's in any shape to stop me, and I'd rather have him alive and having to answer questions than dead. I almost lost my dad, I lost Ronnie, I am *not* going to lose Chapel because he's too damn stubborn to let the authorities help for once.
His eyes are closed, and I have to check to make sure he's still breathing. "Chapel?" Yes, he's breathing. "Chapel, wake up! Stay with me!" His eyes open a crack when I yell at him; thank god he can actually *follow* orders sometimes, instead of just giving them.
"Still here," he says groggily; his voice is so weak, I can barely get past the gravel to make out the words. He's hurting so much I can't stand it.
"Good," I tell him sharply, hoping to irritate him just a little. Just enough to keep him awake. "Then stay awake, okay?" Sharp doesn't work when your voice keeps trying to break, but he tries to grin again and his eyes stay open. I retreat to my chair and go back to staring at the television screen.
You wouldn't think a voice like his -- like ten miles of bad dirt road, the kind that bumps so much your head keeps hitting the roof of the car -- would be reassuring. But it was, in a weird kind of way -- calm and supremely confident, like nothing would dare happen any way but the way he wanted it to.
"Who are you?" I asked, since I couldn't think of anything better to say.
"Let's just say, I'm someone else who believes your father is innocent. And I think I can maybe help you prove it."
That brought me bolt upright in the driver's seat. "Are you a cop? Or a lawyer?" I'd had more than enough of both of them, thanks.
He laughed, that raspy chuckle that never quite sounds like he's having fun. Or maybe just having fun for the wrong reasons. "No, I'm not a cop. And I'm not a lawyer. Just someone who wants to help."
"Yeah, right." Okay, so I wasn't exactly the most trusting of souls. How was I supposed to know?
He didn't get mad; his voice never changed. "Look, meet me at the diner across from the courthouse and we'll talk. Fifteen minutes."
He hung up without saying good-bye and I was left sitting there, staring at my cell phone. It took me most of those fifteen minutes to fold the phone away and get out of the car, the rest to force myself to walk across the street to the diner.
I knew who he was the second I saw him -- a huge man with broad shoulders and a broad face and an odd twinkle in his eyes that matched his laugh perfectly, but didn't hide the hard emptiness behind them. This guy was no knight in shining armor; a Mob enforcer with a really twisted sense of humor, maybe, but very definitely not a safe person.
Every single self-preservational instinct I ever had told me not to get anywhere near this guy; I almost turned around and walked back out. But he just looked at me, raising his eyebrows and smiling like he knew what I was thinking, and I suddenly wasn't afraid any more. Oh, I was nervous, yeah; if you're not nervous around Chapel at first, you're not really very smart. But I just.. knew that he wasn't going to hurt me.
So I slid into the booth opposite him.
The movie's ended, another one starting. I have no idea what it is, since I was getting another fresh towel when the credits rolled. That's four, so far; we're going to run out of towels pretty soon.
If Chapel doesn't run out of blood first.
No, I can't think like that. I'm not going to. "Chapel?"
It takes him a long time to answer, but he finally says, "Yeah?"
"Nothing." He rolls his head to the side, just enough to give me a Look, and I almost laugh at his long-suffering expression, which is probably what he intended. God, he's lying here bleeding and he's still trying to take care of me. "Just... making sure you're still with me."
"Yeah," he says again, nodding a little. "I'm still here, kid."
"Good. Keep it that way."
"Who are you?" I knew I'd already asked him that, but it still seemed like the right question.
"Call me Mr. Chapel," he answered. He was utterly motionless, leaning forward a little, his arms resting on the table and his fingers interlaced. His eyes never left mine, like he could stare right through me, into my soul. Not exactly a comfortable way to start a conversation.
Somehow I got the nerve to point out, "That's your name. I want to know who you are."
He tilted his head and his smile got a little wider, like he was giving me points for something. "Me? Oh, I'm just a guy who shows up when things are broken. You know, like a mechanic or a repairman. Only my rates are better." He stopped and considered what he'd just said. "Well, they're different, anyway."
I glared at him, my eyes still red from my crying jag in a car a few minutes earlier. "My father is in jail, and he's innocent! Fixing this is going to take more than a screwdriver, or a.. a torque wrench."
He nodded slowly, seriously, his eyes still on mine. "Yeah, it is. But sometimes, you gotta call in a specialist. That's me."
I was really confused by then, and starting to get mad. "Look, if you've got a point, can you just get to it? I haven't slept in days, I haven't eaten since last night, I just saw my father dragged off to jail, and now some strange guy who broke into my car is talking to me in riddles. I do *not* need this!"
I expected him to start shouting back, or start threatening, or get up and leave. Instead, he just blinked at me a few times, then handed me a menu. "You really should be more careful about your eating habits," he advised, very seriously, as if he'd gotten stuck on the food part of my rant, and just not heard the rest of it. "After all, you are what you eat."
I stared at him open-mouthed, and he moved the menu towards me again, shaking it until I took it automatically. "Try the pancakes," he advised. "They make them with chocolate chips and they're very good."
A waitress showed up right away, and I ordered -- yes, I got the pancakes, wouldn't you? -- and by the time she'd bustled away, I was thinking again.
"Okay, so... You're a specialist," I said carefully. "And you specialize in... getting people out of jail?"
"Well, putting them in, usually," he said with a shrug. "But I'm kind of flexible."
I tried to ignore that; the man delights in non sequiturs. "And you can get my father out of jail?"
He just nodded, and I felt the first, faint stirrings of hope.
"And what about the people who put him there?"
He tilted his head, studying me. "I'll take care of them, too."
Hearing that didn't feel as good as believing he could bring my father home, but it felt good. Really good. I leaned forward across the table. "So, what's in it for you? Every repairman I've ever called came with a really nice-sized bill in his toolbox."
He leaned back, deliberately putting a distance between us again. "Well... there is the matter of my fee. One million dollars."
"KC." Oh, thank god, he can still talk.
"What?" I'm still holding the towel against his side, trying to get the damn bleeding to stop, or at least slow down. "What do you need?"
He's not really with it, but still hanging on. Every thought seems to come with an effort. "The guy who shot me... he touched the bag. Left prints."
Damn him, he's still working on the case. What does it take to shut him off? I don't say anything, just nod. "I'll run them. We'll find out who he is."
Chapel nods, his eyes drifting back shut. I shake his hand, not too hard, and his eyes open again. "None of that. Stay with me."
"Yeah." He tries to nod. "The prints, KC."
"Prints. Okay." Good thing I've been hanging around cops since I hooked up with Chapel. Dusting for prints is only one of my newly-acquired skills, and I've got the contacts to get them run. I want to know who did this.
So I can hunt him down myself if Chapel dies.
Looks like vengeance is another skill I've acquired.
When he sprang the million-dollar surprise on me, that little flare of hope died so fast, I almost collapsed. But fury replaced it instantly. Who the hell did this guy think he was, offering me and my father salvation he *knew* we couldn't pay for! I started out of the booth without a word, but he caught my arm before I could get to my feet.
I shook him off, and was too furious to realize that he let me go before I could hurt myself trying to get loose. "One million dollars? From a law student and a convicted embezzler?" For the second time in an hour, my eyes filled with tears, but these were the angry, burning kind. "I don't know what the hell your game is, but go play with someone else's life!"
"KC." Chapel's voice stopped me where his hand couldn't, calm and understanding. "There's an alternative."
I swiped at my eyes, not wanting to let this guy see me cry. "Oh, really? What do you want, my first-born child? You're going to have a pretty long wait."
He almost chuckled again at that. "No, thanks, that's, ah... not what I had in mind. Just... a favor."
I glared at him, narrow-eyed, and he sat in the booth and returned my gaze blandly. "A favor?"
He nodded. "Right. I help you, I bring your father home and nail the guys who framed him, and you owe me a favor. And someday, when someone else's father is in jail, or someone else is paying for something they never did, I'll call you and you repay that favor."
Call it the influence of a year of law school, but I *really* hated the sound of that open-ended favor. But....
But I'd looked Chapel in the eyes, and there wasn't a shred of doubt in him that he could do this, that he could bring Dad home. He just sat back in that booth without a care in the world, waiting for me to make whatever decision I was going to make. I had the feeling that if I'd said 'No' this time, he would have let me walk out of the diner without another word, and I never would have seen him again.
Maybe I should have done just that. But I couldn't. This was Dad's last chance, and I couldn't walk away.
I sat back down instead, took a deep breath, and said, "Okay. One favor."
It's dawn; I can see the light starting to come in around the drapes. I'm so tired, and so scared, and the damn vet still hasn't shown up.
I'm out of my chair as soon as I hear Chapel moving. "What? What can I do?"
"Turn on the TV. The news."
There's no point in arguing with him, and concentrating on the TV will at least keep him awake. I jump up and turn off the movie, finding one of the networks covering the Sanricci trial. They're still in the middle of the early-bird weather forecast, with some obnoxiously cheerful blonde telling us it's going to be a nice, sunny day. If she was in the room, I'd rip her hair out by the roots just for being so damn perky.
I turn down the volume to save my own sanity. Chapel makes a sound that should have been a laugh, if he'd had the strength for it. "My own fault, you know," he says conversationally. I sit carefully on the bed next to him, checking the towel. "Should've figured he'd have a gun somewhere."
"So now you're omniscient?" I challenge him automatically, hoping he can't see my face. The bleeding hasn't stopped.
"No," he says after some thought. "But I should've seen this one."
I shake my head, biting my lip. "You can yell at yourself later. Stay still."
"....Yeah. No problem."
The next day, a guy showed up at my apartment, a guy who I would have considered big and tough before I met Chapel, but pale and shaking. He handed me plane tickets and then left as fast as he could. Chapel said something to me later about a meat locker; I still don't know if I believe him.
He sent me to London. I didn't want to go, didn't want to be that far away from Dad, but it was part of the deal, Chapel said. I had to be out of the country. So I got on the plane, I went to England, and I spent the next five days scouring the American newspapers for any sign of what Chapel was doing.
I still have no idea what he actually did to the owner of the bank and his scumbag son; I've never gotten up the nerve to ask him. But whatever it was, it made page twelve of the New York Times -- "Bank Execs Admit Guilt". I saved that article, and the one in the newspaper at home, the one about Dad being released. The phone call from Chapel, telling me to come home, was the best call I ever got in my life; Dad was released less than two weeks after he was convicted.
He spent his first hour of freedom hugging me like he'd never let go.
That night, after dinner, the phone rang. It took me a second to pick it up, since I knew who it was.
"Mr. Chapel." Ever been torn between a thousand emotions at once? Relief, happiness, nervousness, gratitude, even a weird kind of affection. He'd done what he'd said he'd do; he'd brought my dad home.
"How's your father?"
"Oh, he's... He's home." I laughed, a little; I must have sounded half-crazy, but Chapel didn't say anything. "God, I can't believe it's really over."
"Believe it." He paused for a second. "Your father's a good man. Take care of him."
"Oh, I'm going to." It was the craziest thing, but, for a second, I had the feeling he was there. That those calm, steady eyes of his were watching me, measuring me, making sure everything really was okay. And it didn't make me feel nervous or scared, it made me feel... safe. "Thank you, Mr. Chapel. Thank you so much."
"You're welcome. And KC...?"
Dad was finishing the dishes, calling for me. I had to get off the phone, I didn't want him to know any more than he had to about this. "Yeah?"
"I'll be in touch. About that favor."
And he hung up without saying good-bye. Again. And left me standing there staring at a dead phone. Again.
Two years later, he kept that promise, too. The phone rang at the DA's office, he called in the favor, and my life was just never the same again.
The TV promises to switch to coverage of the Sanricci trial in a minute; I sit in my tiny chair behind the tiny table and stare alternately at the screen and at Chapel.
He's been drifting in and out for the last ten minutes; I get up and shake him awake whenever he's quiet for too long. I don't know anything about bullet wounds, or how to treat people hurt as badly as he is. I just have the terrible feeling that if I let him fall asleep, he'll never wake up.
Just thinking it makes me sick to my stomach. I can't even imagine going back to life BC -- Before Chapel. Going back to drifting through not doing much of anything. Working because I had to, not because I liked it. Going home to an empty apartment every night, or out on a date with a guy I was *not* going to get serious about. Ending every day without accomplishing anything, without making any kind of difference.
I never even noticed, I just... figured that was how people lived. Then Chapel came breaking back into my life, kidnapping people, blowing up cars, and making things better in his own weird, twisted way. It's dangerous, and scary, and I almost got killed within twelve hours of him reappearing in my life....
And I don't think I could give it up. I don't want to. I want to keep feeling powerful, instead of helpless. Like one of the good guys instead of just one of the victims. I want to keep feeling... alive.
And I want to find some way to make Chapel feel alive again. I don't know what happened to him -- I'm not sure I *want* to know -- but I look at him sometimes, and I can almost feel him hurting. As bad as this bullet is hurting him, only it's every day. All the time.
I can't fix that, any more than I can make the bullet go away. But I can watch his back. I can help him with cases. I can make him laugh. I can remind him that he's not alone.
I don't know when Chapel became so important to me, as important in his own way as Ronnie was. Maybe it happened that night when I sensed him outside the house, watching over me and Dad. Or when he was so relieved Pike hadn't killed me that all he could do was stand there and shake. Or when he let me cry on his shoulder when I finally broke down and grieved for Ronnie.
Whose shoulder will I cry on if I have to grieve for him?
It doesn't matter much. All that matters is that he's part of my life now. He's my friend. And I don't want him to die.
The coverage of the trial is starting, and that damn vet still isn't here. All I can do is sit in this chair and watch. And wait.
I'm not going to let Chapel die.
I miss Vengeance. The combination of bright, funny, enthusiastic KC and cynical, sweet, bitter, chocoholic Chapel was utterly irresistable. ABC sucks a lot. :P