four corners pd

By: Cin and Heidi

 

**Note: Lyrics from the song "My Way" by Linkin Park reprinted without permission of the artists.  No copyright infringement intended. 

Day Three: Saturday (cont)

Part Fifteen

"FC 11-08, 11-02, copy domestic."

 "11-08."

 "11-02."

"1740 Bayberry Road, 1-7-4-0 Bayberry Road, cross streets of Blackberry and Raspberry, between complainant Tiffany Love and her husband Troy.  Was physical, verbal only at this time.  No weapons, both parties intoxicated and separated."

"10-4." Nina needed a domestic like she needed a hole in the head.  Her precarious mood bottomed out as she received this call in the upper southeast.

 

"11-02ís enroute."  Buck cursed under his breath as he released his mike. 

JD asked, "Whatís wrong?"

"I hate domestics," replied Buck.

"Why?"

The ladies man sighed.  Seeing the result of love going bad always brought him down, and he knew Nina hated them even more than he did.  Sometimes, with their history, working so closely together made things harder.   "Because, Kid, domestics are the first place you will get your ass kicked and you'll see things that really disturb you.  If children are involved, there is nothing worse than seeing kids being torn apart by their parents fighting and how much it hurts them."

"Because at a domestic if you have to arrest one of the parents, the other may go after the police officer and the kids get to watch and get shuttled off to another relative, right?"

"Right.  Donít take your eyes off anyone in the house because things can get ugly quick."

"All right."

 

The radio chirped.   "11-01, FC."

"11-01."

"Show myself and K9-16 responding." 

"10-4."

Chris looked at Ezra, having met up with him after the scan for the highway, and said, "Letís go.  Hopefully we wonít have to referee, and theyíll handle it before we get there."

"Referee the squabbling couple, or referee for the police officers?"

"Yes."

"Wonderful.  I have yet to understand why you volunteered us."

"Ezra."

The Southerner sighed.  "Because Mr. Wilmington will be focused on making sure Mr. Dunne does not get killed or maimed, and Ms. Caswell needs someone else watching her back."

"I knew you were smart," Chris ribbed him as he drove out of the parking lot for the call. 

 

Nina reached the house first and had barely stopped the car when a hysterical female hit the window with both fists.  The corporal immediately said, "Okay, maíam, take a step back and weíll talk, but donít hit the car, okay?"

The woman sobbed, backing off to give Nina room to get out of the vehicle. 

"11-08ís on location with the female outside."

"10-4, 11-08."

"11-02ís direct."  Buck acknowledged. 

Nina said, "Okay, maíam, whatís your name?"

"Tiffany." 

Nina moved the woman in front of the patrol car while watching the windows of the house.  She saw the male peek out the front blinds before letting them slide closed.  "Hi, Tiffany.  Iím Cpl. Caswell."  She activated her microphone as she spoke and began trying to get the story, "Tell me what happened."

"He hit me!" she wailed.  "Look!"  Tiffany pulled up her sleeve revealing the track marks and the perfect impression of a handgrip on her left forearm.  Black marks around her neck showed where someone had tried to choke her. 

Nina examined the marks briefly asking, "Do you need an ambulance?"

"No," Tiffany replied between sobs. 

"Do you have any children inside?"

"Our three kids."

"How old are they?"

"Fifteen, six, and two."

"Okay.  Are you new around here?"  Nina did not recognize Tiffany at all and she remembered the address belonging to another couple that used drugs.

"Yeah.  Just moved in last week."

JD pulled the patrol car to a stop and Nina motioned she was okay, giving Buck a signal to go inside and get the maleís version of what happened. 

"Kid, get out and go directly to the house, donít look at the women, and follow my lead."

"Okay," JD replied. They went into the house to meet with an irate Troy Love.

"Tiffany, tell me exactly what happened."  Some days she loved the camera in her car that allowed her to get the story and play it back when people started lying to them.  The threat of getting the tape often caused many people to finally give her the truth. 

"Well, weíd been drinking beer most of the afternoon. Then we ran out so we started on the hard stuff.  We usually donít do this, but we just wanted to relax tonight."  Tiffany was shaking her head trying to put a better light on the subject,  "I mean, Troy got a new job and a raise and we wanted to celebrate.  We invited another couple over Ė theyíre married too Ė and we started partying."

"Uh-huh."  Nina often found grunts and non-committal answers saved her from being called prejudicial to one side in court.

"Anyway, we, uhÖ" Tiffany looked away for a second. 
 

"You did drugs?" guessed Nina, the track marks giving her an idea what happened.  The whole thing disgusted her.

"Yeah." 

"Then what happened?" 

 

"11-01ís 10-23."   Chris parked his car.

"K9-16 also."  Ezra climbed out of his vehicle, seeing Nina looking very disgusted.

"Ezra, deal with Nina; Iíll talk to Buck."

The scowl he fired Larabee should have incinerated the man on the spot; personal concerns aside, the foul mood pervading Chris Ė from not seeing Vin - and Nina's mercurial mood swings - only guaranteed an explosion at some point in the very near future.  At least Chris was smart enough to keep himself away from her for the time being.  Ezra walked up in time to hear Tiffany continue her explanation.

"Well, like, we were high and things got a little out of control."  Tiffany reached into her pocket and lit a cigarette. 

The smoke made Nina wince because Tiffany blew the first breath almost into her face. 

Ezra saw her discomfort and moved beside her, forcing Tiffany back a step and giving Nina a reprieve.

Nina shot a grateful look to Ezra right before she asked, "How did things get out of control?"

Tiffany stared down the street and said, "Troy and Jennifer got real close and started talking.  Anyway, her husband Elwood and I start dancing and next thing we know, Troy and Jennifer are on the back porch doiní it."

Infidelity, drugs, and alcohol Ė a dangerous combination singly and when any of those combined, negative things inevitably happened.  "You stopped them?"  Nina prompted.

The smoking wife snorted.  "I donít call Troy ĎTwo Strokeí for nothing; it was over before it even started.  Elwood got pissed and dragged Jennifer outta here while Troy and I got into it.  I got pissed heíd had sex with her in front of me on my property Ė I rented the house, itís my name on the lease, so I yelled at him.  He yelled, I pushed, he shoved, next thing I know heís got my arm twisted behind my back and tossiní me into the wall.  Turns me around and starts choking me, calling me a bitch and telliní me heíll screw whoever he wants."

"Then what?" Nina kept her face straight.

"I got away and called you."

  

Inside the House

Buck walked up to the front door and knocked once.  The disheveled man flung the painted beige wood open, rushing out a greeting in his relief, "Officer, am I glad to see you.  That bitch is crazy."  Troy Love backed up a step, allowing the officers entry. 

"You want to tell me what happened?" asked Buck, taking in the black eye and fingernail marks across Troyís cheekbone. 

"She went nuts, man.  She shot up and got pissed."  Troy pointed at the needles carelessly tossed in the kitchen trashcan. 

"Whyíd she get pissed?"  Buck motioned JD to stay silent and observe, having given him the same order in the car. 

JD stared at the trash littering the house, the general unkempt appearance of the man, and the dirt threatening to declare its independence any minute. 

"I got a new job and a raise so she and I were celebrating with El and Jennifer.  We all got a little high and well, hell.  Jen and I hooked up on the back porch while my wife and El had a good time in here.  They finished first and she got pissed at me about it.  Started screaming at me about cheating on her, not thinking about the fact she just did it herself.  Then the bitch punched me.  Hell of a right hook."

Buck hid his grin; that shiner was going to get worse and hurt like a mother.  "Then?"

"Jen and El bailed and we really got into it.  Iíll admit to twisting her arm behind her back, but the bitch came at me with a knife.  Itís over there on the floor."

The corporal nodded to JD to secure the weapon in an evidence bag after taking a picture of where it was found.  "And?" 

The rookie nodded to Chris as he came in the house and joined Buck. 

"She kept trying to stab me with it, so I tossed her against the wall.  Her hand raked my face and I grabbed her to stop her.  Didnít realize I had her by the throat until she dropped the knife.  Then I let her go."

"All right, Troy, go on over and sit down on the couch."  JD joined Buck and Chris in the kitchen as Troy plopped down on the living room sofa, one hand over his face.

Chris asked, "What have we got?"

"A cluster.  She came at him with a knife after they played musical partners with a couple thatís no longer here."

Larabee winced.  "Drugs?"

"Drugs and alcohol."
 

"Hell."

"That about sums it up, pard."

"We taking her?"

"Heís got marks; whatís her side?"

"Left Ezra out there to sort it out."

"You left Ezra alone with Nina in the mood she was in?  Christ, sheíll chew him up and spit him out if he tries to get in her way."

Chris gave him a small smirk.  He said, "I have faith in Ezra."

"What does that mean?"  Buck wanted to know.

"Let me hear the other side."  Chris walked away and dropped an order over his shoulder, "Get his statement."

"Got it."  Buck turned to JD.  "Kid, take a form to him and have him write it out.  Watch him the entire time and donít tell him what to put; just tell him to write what happened."

"I know how to take a statement," the rookie replied, pulling out the appropriate form from his clipboard, and walking into the living room.  "Mr. Love?"

The man looked up at him. 

"Iíll need you to make a statement for us, okay?"

"Sure."

"Just write down exactly what happened and Iíll tell you what to do when youíre done."

"Are you going to arrest her?"

"My sergeantís talking with my corporals about it; they havenít told me what theyíve decided."

"Oh."  Troy Love concentrated on his statement while JD stood near him, one eye on the man and the other on his corporal, keeping his attention focused on his surroundings.  Buck leaned against the front door frame and watched the proceedings outside.

 

Chris walked outside and saw Mrs. Love writing her statement in the front of Ninaís patrol car.  Both Nina and Ezra leaned against her car, one on either side, just in case the woman did something stupid.  With a jerk of his head, Chris motioned her down the street away from both parties.  A stare at her microphone and she shut it down, not wanting this conversation to be recorded as they compared stories.  "What do you have?"

"They got drunk, they shot up, he screwed someone else on her back porch.  She got pissed, they verbally argued, he twisted her arm, tossed her into the wall, and choked her."

Larabee noticed no mention of the knife and figured the woman left it out.  "Any mention of weapons?"

"Nope.  Straight physical fight."

"Itís not."

So much for hoping this was an easy one.  "What do you have?"

"She screwed too."

Ninaís face twisted in a grimace.  "I hate being lied to."

"I know."

"Hell."

"Yup."

"What else?"

"Went at him with a knife."

"He get hurt?"

"Black eye and scratches across his face."

"Defense or offense?"  She grasped at straws.

"Corporal."

Nina hissed in aggravated frustration.  "I hate domestics.  I hate people who get married then screw around on each other.  I hate this.  Why even get married if youíre going to screw around?"

Chris shifted uncomfortably at this release of venom from her.  He chalked it up to her motherís visit and from what Buck told him, Dickheadís marriage to the bitch.   "Chuck your personal feelings, Corporal, and concentrate on the job."

She resented the implication.  "I am concentrating on the job."

"Doesnít sound that way.  Donít let your familyís crap interfere." He knew he was pushing her, but he also did not want this arrest to come from personal feelings and watch it get tossed in court.

"Back off, Larabee.  You donít know what youíre stepping in."  The warning in her eyes screamed that she was holding back a considerable amount of anger. 

"I know exactly what Iím stepping in and itís not the end of the world, Caswell.  Youíve been a bitch all night and Iím sick of this shit." 

"Iíve been a bitch?  Youíve been a grizzly with his nose stuck in a beehive."

The tone of the meeting quickly deteriorated and the voices lowered to hisses. 

 

Ezra watched as Tiffany wrote out her statement and knew from the body language of his friends that an all out argument was brewing between the pair.  He only hoped that they remembered where they were and what they were doing before tearing strips off the other.  He considered intervening with the talk-around, but Mrs. Love did not need to hear Ďfamily businessí. 

 

"You know why Iím worried."

"And you think Iím not?  Heís my friend too, Chris."

"Then where the hell is he?  No oneís seen him.  What have your informants told you today?"

"You know things were getting hot for him, maybe he had to lay low for awhile."

"Oh, that just made me feel better.  Youíd still think someone would have seen him."

"You know they havenít seen him; if they had, I would have told you.  He hasn't BEEN seen."

"I donít know; you like keeping your secrets."  His frustration had him saying things he probably should not.

Instantly she grew defensive.  "What does that mean?"

"Did you ever plan on telling me about your motherís visit, or do you think I like hearing things from Ezra and Buck?"

"Ezra told you?"

"Ezra would not even confirm your mother was here, but he's not the only one who can read body language.  I've gotten a good sense of when Ezra's holding something back from me, and he's keeping your secrets for you."

"Good."

"Why can't you just talk about it?"

"Why can't you talk about losing Sarah and Adam with me?  I loved and lost them too."

"Back off."  He glared at her.

"You back off.  I'll use your phrase Ė my personal life is my business."

"I'm asking you about it."

"Why?"

"Do you have to even ask that question?"

"Well, obviously, you already know, so why rehash it?"  Her tone cut with ease.

Chris said, "It's time to lay it on the line, and get some things out in the open.  We'll start with youíre getting bitchier by the minute.  Did you realize that?"

A car slowly drove down the street, the car almost vibrating with the song the supercharged stereo played.  Somehow, the lyrics fit the argument for both sides. 

                        Just one more fight

                        About a lot of things

                        And I will give up everything

                        To be on my own again,

                        Free again

                         Yeah!

                         This time I'm 'a let it all come out,

                        This time I'm 'a stand up and shout,

                        I'm 'a do things my way,

                        It's my way, my way or the highway

 

Nina looked at the car, and then back at Chris.  "Maybe being a bitch is all I have left," she said.  She knew she wasnít making much sense, but her life didnít make much sense right now.  "Or are you going to take that away from me too?"  The female stared hard at the male, waiting for his response. 

He wanted to scream in frustration, shake her until she understood him, but all she managed to do was tick him off further.  "No oneís taking anything from you, Nina.  Weíre here if you want us, but donít think it doesnít hurt that you donít want us around.  The wounded animal seeing isolation routine only goes so far."  He let out a bitter laugh.  "I should know."

"Okay, I'll admit things aren't rosy today.  Not at all.  And yes, I'm hurting, but I haven't had time to deal with everything the right way between calls and the non-stop thinking that's going on in my head.  I've worked a few things out, but I'm exhausted, Chris.  I'm nearing the end of my tether, and I just want to get through the rest of the shift, and then sleep.  Maybe after a few hours I'll be better.  But the thoughts I'm having right now are not warm and fuzzy, and they sure aren't nice."  Nina took a deep breath and blew it out.  "You claim to understand me, but you don't have the first clue about me."

"I think I have a pretty good idea," he replied.  "And I know a lot of this is coming out of being tired compounded by the she-bitch."

"Do you really, Chris?"  She stared at him.  "I don't think so.  You couldn't even scratch the surface of who I've become."

"Become?  You're the same person inside Ė where it counts - that I met years ago."

Nina shook her head.  "No, I'm not.  I'm damaged goods, Chris, and I know it."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"To start with, I am a bitch, Chris, because time and circumstance made me that way.  Iíve grown dependant on myself because for a while I was the only one who gave a shit about me.  And sometimes I didn't give a shit about me," she paused and looked away to an unknown time and place Chris couldn't follow, "but someone else did that for me."

It only took a moment for Chris to make the connection.  "Vin.  Does this mood go back to the time before we came?  During the time you went home when your brother died?"

"You noticed I was gone?  Be honest, Chris." 

He swallowed.  "Not really."

"Because you were drowning yourself in a bottle."

"Yes, damn it.  I didn't want to live."

"I know that feeling," she replied.

"But I pulled through.  Took everything I had, and Buck's constant riding of me to get me to the point I wasn't fighting everything in sight, but this is more than losing your brother and myÖfamily," Chris said.  "Something else happened, something major, and I'm sick of not knowing.  I'm sick of asking questions, and getting politely Ė and even violently Ė told to butt out.  There's this dirty little secret the town keeps, and no one can know anything about it unless they were here.  A code of silence, or a pact to keep it hidden."

"Yes.  We keep our secrets because it's the only way any of us who lived here then can survive!"

"How bad was it?"

"Worse than you could ever imagine."

"What happened?  Tell me so I can understand."  Chris grabbed her arms and squeezed.  "Please, Neen.  I want to know so I can help my friends."

Nina stared off into the distance, not looking at him.  Tears started rolling down her face.  "I can't."

"Why not?"

"No, Chris."  Her head whipped side to side.  "No.  Don't make me."

 "It might help to get it out."

She pulled away from him, turned her back, and wiped at her eyes.  "That will only make things worse."

"How can you know unless you tell me?"

Nina wheeled to face him.  "Because I know.  Hell had nothing on this place during that time, and the people you think you know, well, we were all different.  Only a few people remained true to who they were, and they paid dearly for that.  I'll admit I became someone else.  Someone I don't like very much, and someone that I don't want to think about.  And every damn time you bring it up, it stirs up the memories.  How would you like it if every day I asked you about Sarah and Adam's deaths?"

"I'd tell you to shut up.  I don't want to think about it."

"Same principle, Chris."  Nina enunciated each word.  "I don't want to think about what happened before because it reminds me of who I used to be."

"I don't think you could ever be as bad as who you're trying to say you were."

"Which is precisely why you won't ever know if I can help it."

"This is why I get so frustrated.  You're blocking me at every turn."

"I have to in order to remain sane.  Some days I wonder if Iím not deluding myself thinking that any of you care.  Hell, some days I donít even care about myself and todayís one of them.  So let me be a bitch and get it out of my system before I say something I really will regret later."

His head shook as he absorbed her statements.  This sounded way too depressed for him and something she should not go through alone.  He had winced at her statement of no one caring about her, knowing there were years he didnít give her a thought, pushing her away.  Yeah he knew she was right he wasnít there for her then.  But he was here now, and dammit, it did hurt she wouldnít let him help.  "You're being stubborn."

"Just like you."
 

"You donít listen.  Weíre here to help you if youíll let us," Chris offered. 

Nina shook her head.  "You're not listening to me, and youíre pissing me off.  Can we drop this and take care of this call?  When the shift's over, and after I sleep, maybe we'll talk.  Okay?  That's the best I can do right now.  You keep bringing up memories, and I'm going to be useless the rest of the night.  Hell, I already am useless."

"No, you're not."

"Sure feels that way."

Chris ran a hand down his face and changed the subject, realizing any further discussion would not be productive.  "We take her."

"What about him?"

"Someoneís got to stay with the kids."

"Oldest is fifteen and can watch them until one of them is processed through."

"Why do you want to take him?"

"Choke marks on the neck and grip bruise on the arm."

Chris explained, "Grip bruise during the struggle."

"Choke marks?"

He hated taking both parties because it never served the interests of the kids.  "Oh, boy."

"Take them both?"

"We have to."

"I could have told you that five minutes ago."

"Will you stop?"  Her comments were really plucking his nerves right now.

"Stop what?  Doing my job?  Arresting people for screwing around and beating each other up about it?  No wonder I have commitment problems; look at the sterling examples in my life."  She stormed off and went directly to Mrs. Love.

Chris stared after her feeling frustrated and angry.  When did this conversation go so wrong, and why the hell was she stepping on his very last nerve?  He counted to ten, walking back in time to hear Nina inform Mrs. Love that she was under arrest.  She also explained why, and informed Mrs. Love in no uncertain terms that because she lied to the police she was also being charged with making a false statement to a police officer.  Mrs. Love immediately started crying, which Nina ignored as she patted her down, cuffed her, and shoved her in the back of the patrol car.  The dark look she gave Chris only showed the depths of the depression she slowly sank into like quicksand.

Chris met Ezra's questioning glaze with a brief shake of his head and a nod toward Nina.  Standish answered with a tip of his head, though the Sergeant never doubted Ezra would watch Nina's back, and for any other signs she might finally give up and break down.  Maybe he shouldn't push so hard and let it lay like everyone wanted.  He shook his head as he walked toward the Love's residence, as if the action would erase all of his dark thoughts.  Larabee entered the house to find JD taking a statement from the fifteen-year-old who witnessed the incident, and signaled the arrest to Buck.  The ladies man dropped his head as he heard Nina call out en route to the DC with a prisoner.

"Time to go," Buck told the man.  "We can do this easy or hard."  He walked him outside and waited on the front porch, Chris by the doorway and Ezra on the front sidewalk. 

"What do you mean?"

Buck explained he was under arrest as well and led him screaming and fighting to his patrol car, patted him down, cuffed him, and secured him behind the cage.  As they left with the prisoner, Chris followed Buck and JD, the fifteen-year-old now responsible for the other children until Grandma could get there from two hours away. 

Child Protective Services was notified, and they would conduct their own investigation because of the violence and drugs in the house. 

Ezra drove off with a sad shake of his head hating this part of his job.  He patrolled Outer South and Outer East so that Buck and Nina could do their reports and not leave a hole in the patrol.  It surprised him when ten minutes later Buck cleared, meeting up with Ezra at the Outer East/South border.

"How did you procure your emancipation from paperwork?"

"Chris kicked me out.  Said something about having to talk to Nina."  The rogue shrugged and stretched, the rookie sat halfway bored and hoping something would happen.  "Didn't sound good, but I wasn't going to argue."

"Is it me or has her mood deteriorated even further into the depths of darkness?" 

"Itís not you, Ez, and I hope she can pull out of it soon."  Obviously their time together helped earlier, but it was like a small bandage on a bleeding, festering wound that never healed properly.  And the events of the night made things even harder to maintain a decent mood.

"I guess bad days are part of the job, huh?" JD asked. 

"Yeah, Kid.  They are."  Buck sighed. 

 

Chris sat beside her in the charging room and waited for her to acknowledge him.  "Ignoring me is not helping."

"Iím trying to do my job, Sergeant, just like you asked."

"Nina."

She threw her pen in frustration.  "What, Chris?  What do you want me to say?  Huh?  Yes, Dickhead married the Bitch, yes, my mother came to visit and the visit sucked, and Iím way too tired to be doing this crap right now.  Iím tired, Iím depressed, Iím cranky, and now youíre starting to piss me off.  Again.  Do us both a favor and back off.  Please."

His own temper kicked in, but he reined it back hard.  "For now.  Weíll talk tomorrow; understood?"

"Yes, sir."  She threw him a snappy salute and went back to work.

One hand grabbed hers and forced her to look at him.  "If you donít knock it off, Iíll send you home."

"Please do.  Maybe then I could get some sleep and forget parts of today ever happened." 

"Do you want to go home?  Seriously?  You've got the leave time, and it might help."

She sighed knowing she should, but sheíd never liked quitting.  She'd done enough quitting in her life.  A glance at the clock made the decision for her.  "Iím this close to done; I can stick it out.  Thanks for the offer."  The last was said as she acknowledged he was trying to help.

"You know?"  He gave her a serious, heartfelt look, one that communicated without words.

"I know."  Nina swallowed. 

"Youíre still pissing me off."  He kept his tone neutral, one of telling her how it was without hurting her feelings.

"And youíre still doing the same to me."  She gave him the truth right back.  They often did this; something about their personalities occasionally clashed, usually when one was tired, cranky, drunk, or depressed, or a combination of any of the above.  The only thing they could do was work through it, taking care in what they said so as not to tip the scales too far that they couldnít get their balance back. 

"Good.  We understand each other."

"Yup."

After that, they finished their statement of charges in silence and split off, using space and distance to keep things on an even keel.  Tomorrow after they slept and emotions calmed, they would both give their own version of an apology and things would return to normal, the incident forgotten.  At least that was the way it was suppose to work.

Part Sixteen

Sunday Morning, 0615 hours

Casey gave out the call unaware of the implications.  "11-02, 11-03, Copy motor vehicle accident with injury and rescue."

Throughout the patrol areas, the officers winced.  No one liked an accident. 

Buck cringed, thinking so much for coasting till the end of the shift.  "11-02."

Josiah sighed.  This was the one part of the job he hated, witnessing human suffering.  "11-03."

"Intersection of Fern and Maple, truck versus car.  Emergency equipment responding."

"11-03, 10-4."

"Josiah, I have a bad feeling about this."  Nina frowned at him through the open windows of the side-by-side patrol cars.

He nodded slowly, starting his car.

"We'll talk later?" she asked.

"When this is done."

"Good.  I need you today."

"I'll be there."

"You have no idea how much I appreciate you."

"It's mutual."  He paused.  "Time to go."  Josiah pulled away.

Nina grabbed her mike.  "11-08, FC."

"11-08."

"Show me responding as Accident Investigator."

"10-4."
 

"11-01 also."  Chris piped up, stating he planned to respond.

"10-4, 11-01."

Josiah led, Nina behind him, as they both kicked in their lights and sirens, pressing hard on the accelerators. 

 

Nearby, if he didn't already have both his hands occupied, JD would have crossed himself when he practically slammed into the dashboard.  His hands kept his face from making contact.  "Will you watch it, Buck?  I donít want to eat the dash, okay?"  He pushed back and checked the seatbelt, pulling it once extremely loudly to test it.

"Sorry, Kid, but weíre going code.  Make sure your seatbeltís secure."  In his mind, Buck saw nothing but the horrific traffic accident they had responded to several years before.  Every accident since then made him edgy.  "JD, you ever see an accident scene?"

"Sure.  Who hasnít?"

Buckís voice grew soft.  "No, JD, I mean up close and personal.  Right there, blood and gore in your face, broken bodies all around, the smell of gas and fumes in the air, and if youíre lucky, no one dies?"

"Umm, no."

"Prepare yourself.  This sounds like it will be a mess.  If you feel sick, no one will hold it against you.  If you get sick, just do it out of the way of the accident site."

"I wonít get sick."  The rookie firmly told his field trainer.

"Just listen for a second, JD.  We've joked around, and I've let you give me some backtalk, but this is serious.  Sit there, open your ears, shut your mouth, and don't sass me now."  He waited until he knew he had the young manís full attention.  "Itís not pretty, and it stays with you if you let it.  You have to keep yourself professional at all times, whatever it costs.  People die at these things, and sometimes you watch them die, unable to stop it.  Or they're dead before you get there.  If this one's a fatal accident, just remember people don't die neat.  You'll see horrible deaths.  Getting sick at the first dead body is expected, and if you donít get sick, youíll only get sick at the next one.  Thereís no shame in it; we all went through it, and if youíre lucky, you never get used to it."  The trainerís voice faded off softly as he thought about what may lay ahead.

"Iím not going to get sick, Buck."

Buck sighed at the kidís unwavering confidence, and a touch of anger entered his tone.  "Then obey your trainer.  I'm not playing now.  Stay behind me and say nothing.  Got it?"

"Okay," came the hesitant reply. 

"Iím telling you, JD.  Just watch and do exactly as I tell you.  Touch nothing, do nothing, unless I say so."

The rookie sensed this was not one of those times that he could cross his field trainer.  "Yes, sir."

"Good."  Buck rolled up on the scene and immediately wished to hell he had not.  Truck was an understatement; it was a damned tanker.  The red diamond placard on the side of the silver cylinder indicated hazardous material.  Liquid flammable material.  Oh, shit!   "11-02ís arrived." 

From another direction, Buck saw two patrol cars. 

"11-03's arrived."  Josiah's tones came through the radio.

"11-08 also, my vehicle's taking Fern and Elm.  Reroute equipment."  On a sharp angle looking down Fern, Nina's patrol vehicle blocked oncoming traffic from getting on the closed highway at the next cross street, Elm.

"Direct on all arrivals, and notifying now," Casey answered.

Caswell took a quick assessing glance over the area and started rapid-firing orders to Communications.  "11-08, FC.  Expedite FDís response.  Advise them tankerís displaying placard number 1203. Contact Chemtrec.  Find a number for Highlands Petroleum and tell them we need one of their tankers out here ASAP to off load this truck before we move it.  Have one of their supervisors respond, too." 

 

"10-4."  Ever professional, Casey waited until she unkeyed to say, "Oh, boy, Ladonna.  Theyíre in the crap now."   She then rerouted Ezra and Nathan to the scene, knowing that they would need all the manpower they could get.

Ladonna replied, "Iím on the notifications."  True to her word, the lines for the Fire Department lit up and she fired orders at them before disconnecting and working on the other calls.  It looked like none of their shift would see their beds anytime in the very near future.  She called down to the Lieutenant and informed him, who in turn told the oncoming Lieutenant to prepare for changes.  The dayshift officers may hit the streets the second they go on duty and skip roll call depending on the severity of the accident.

 

Buckís patrol vehicle stopped directly behind the accident leaving Josiah the traffic detail behind him.  Sanchez passed them on the opposite side, turning around to the nearest intersection and blocking it.  It was Buckís area of responsibility to check for injured, and he would not foist this one off on the kid.  For now, Buck tossed a bright yellow vest with silver reflective stripes and the word Police in bold letters at his car mate.  "Turn everything around or stop everything that isnít a police car, fire truck, or ambulance.  Cones and flares are in the trunk."

"Yes, sir."  JD resented not being in on the action, but he also knew how to follow orders and when to follow them.  Like now.  He had a responsibility and no matter how insignificant it seemed, he did it.  Heíd ask why later.  The rookie grabbed the cones and flares and started the roadblock as ordered.  His training officer was right; the air smelled of fuel and blood, a thick cloud hanging over the entire area. 

Buck cajoled, threatened, and pushed in some cases the growing crowd of onlookers away from the scene.  Even though it was early Sunday morning, the transient nature of Fern Highway kept people coming through all the time.  The witnesses to the accident he directed over to JD to identify and keep them segregated from the throngs.  By the time he reached the wreck itself Ė a short thousand feet Ė the bile rose in his throat.  "Dear Lord, no," he whispered.

The tanker had jackknifed, the back doing a good job of stopping traffic all on its own.  In the front, he found the front wheels of the cab resting squarely on the roof of a small station wagon.  The driver of the tanker did not survive the crash.

Buck made a slow turn around the truck, checking the scene.  Although the smell of fuel was heavy in the air, he sent a silent prayer of thanks heavenward that there did not appear to be any leaks coming from the tanker.  It also looked unstable, and he didn't trust it.  As he came around to the side with the station wagon, he saw a familiar pair of boots twitching inside the remains.  "Damn!" he yelled, rushing forward to grab the feet and anchor their owner while she searched the interior of the vehicle, having crawled through the decimated front windshield.  He also kept a wary eye on the truck to make sure it had no plans of falling off or going further into the car.

"Out!" she yelled and he started pulling carefully, watching out for the jagged edges of metal and broken glass.  Once free, she turned to face him, moving them both over to the shoulder.  Carefully she shook the loose shards of glass from her uniform, stopping when she saw the blood soaked front of the material.  Her eyes rose from her blood and glass covered gloved hands slowly to his face, the man she accepted comfort from a little more than twelve hours before. 

Her eyes nearly undid him there.  Heíd seen that look before Ė the look of death, of horrors only seen by those in their profession and that of Emergency Services.  "How bad?"

Nina kept her pain-filled eyes on him.  "Cancel the rescue." she swallowed hard, trying to put another grizzly sight out of her mind.  She bit her lip hard as a different accident scene wavered in her vision.

Buck closed his eyes.  "How many?"

"Two in the wagon and the truck driver."

Wilmington used his radio.  "11-02, FC.  Downgrade rescue response, call it a triple 'F'.  Make appropriate notifications.  11-03, begin crowd control."

"10-4, 11-02."  Casey knew someone died when the officers told her to call it an "F"- Fatal accident.  The next notification would be to the county coroner.  They chose the "F" code instead of flat out saying it so the scanner hounds would not show up at the scene and take pictures, whether they were civilian or media hounds.  The PD would need time to notify the families before their kin saw it on the news. 

"Direct," Josiah sighed into the mike, knowing what the downgrade meant.  With a heavy heart he moved to direct people away from the area, silently praying for those who had died.

"11-01ís arrived."

Ninaís mouth flew open.  All the conversations or arguments they had during the shift, the ones that drug up so many harsh memories, came rushing back.  Now she had only one thought running through her mind.  "Buck, keep him away."  She started running for the sergeantís car visible on the other side of the median where the sergeant used a turnaround to park.  Chris climbed out of his car and started for the front of the truck.

Buckís longer strides put him past her and stopped Chris before he rounded the jackknifed tanker.  Wilmington realized Nina turned back, and he lowered his voice.  "Pard, you donít want to see this.  Help out with traffic control until we need you.  Nina and I have it."

Chris gave him a look clearly saying, Ďdonít protect meí.  The sergeant attempted sidestepping his friend only to have his path blocked.  He hissed a warning, "Buck."

"Chris, weíve got it."

"I can handle it, Corporal.  Step aside."  Chris asserted his authority, knowing he could not let Buck keep him from his duty, no matter how unpleasant or the personal cost.  They both knew the rogue could not protect him, or handle everything for him, but the big-hearted man had to try; it was the way he was made.  The two friends locked gazes and the taller man allowed his shoulders to slump slightly, just enough that Chris knew he was not happy.  Buck looked away first. 

The sergeant stopped and laid a hand on Buckís arm.  "I appreciate it, big dog, but itís my job."

The midnight blue eyes softened before the head nodded as the black boot kicked a rock.  Buck watched as his friend worked his way around the tanker and out of sight before following and hoping they survived the next few hours.  Already he knew Nina would not handle this well; Chris would probably fall apart, and he himself would need some serious time to process all this.

Chris rounded the last corner and came face to face with the scene, softened by the tarps temporarily covering the station wagon and tractor waiting for the recovery crews to arrive.  This protected the deceased from becoming front-page news, but in this instance was probably was done more for Chris than for the deceased. 

He found Nina removing a roll of pictures from her 35mm camera and replacing it with a fresh roll, backing around the tire tracks to capture them while they were fresh and before the elements and man obliterated them.   He joined her.  "Corporal."

She acknowledged with a nod.  "Sergeant."

"You all right?"  He indicated the heavy layer of drying crimson darkening the front of the uniform.

She clicked off her microphone so her car camera would not capture her remarks.  "No," she replied and looked away for a second.  "You shouldnít be here."  Buck joined them but stayed unusually silent.

Chris gave her points for honesty; only his professionalism kept him from running directly to the nearest bar.  Too many memories, too much pain.  "Iím supposed to be here, itís my job."

"Did I ever mention our jobís a screwed up mess?" 

"Only when youíre pissed off or upset about something." 

"This qualifies."

"Yeah, it does."  Her tone worried him; it sounded too defeated and hopeless.  He thought of the conversation they had yet to finish.  Looking around at the destruction it didn't look like they would be finishing it anytime soon.  Their emotions were stilling running high and raw, but they still had a job to do.   His eyes, but not his face softened.  "It really does."

 

"Letís get this done and go the hell home."  Alone, Nina thought, to an empty house, an empty life, and too many memories.  All the words her mother threw at her found their mark; no matter how hard she tried not to dwell on it, being disowned hurt.  Seeing the destroyed lives in the wagon reminded her metaphorically of the end of her own family Ė in disaster and pain.

 

Chris nodded his agreement and she reactivated her mike to record her notes.  "We have a tanker obviously jackknifed that impacted with a station wagon.  The driver of the tanker was partially ejected.  No pulse detected and OIEL."  She pronounced it "oil", meaning Obvious Injuries Exceed Lifeforce.  "The tractor is sitting on top of a station wagon, and I performed a thorough search of the vehicle.  Both adult occupants are DOA.  No pulse, no breathing, no respiration, and no response."

Larabee winced.  Memories started surfacing of another accident scene, one more personal. 

Nina suggested, "Iíll get started on the AI part of it if you want to help Officer Dunne with witness statements until we get the bodies out of here."

"Weíll both get started."  Stern green eyes warned her not to push it.

"Fine.  Give me a minute, okay?" 

He nodded.  

She left him to begin her part of overseeing the removal of the bodies from the vehicles without disturbing the scene more than necessary. 

As he stared at the remains of the station wagon, it struck him that he recognized the model as the same type he and Sarah bought just after Adam was born.  Different color, but it even looked like the same year. 

Oh, hell, here it comes, what Buck and Nina knew would happen and tried to protect him from.  The memories smacked him with the force of a two by four as he remembered the accident that scarred his life forever.  The memories overwhelmed.   

 

Las Vegas, Nevada

Five Years AgoÖ

It seemed like just yesterday, but it was actually a little over five years ago, when Buck, Nina, and Chris worked with the Nevada State Highway Patrol.  Chris was happily married to Sarah, Adam was getting bigger by the day, and the godparents Ė Nina and Buck Ė were almost residents of the Larabee household. 

On that fateful day, Chris and Nina caught an accident on the Interstate right near the end of their shift and Buck rode along for traffic control.  When they reached the site, they found the crunched metal remains of a station wagon off the side of the highway.  The vehicle had crashed through the guardrail, down a shallow ravine and into a sparse cactus patch.  They knew it was going to be an emotionally draining experience because of the obvious damage done to the wagon. 

The wagon was on its roof and had obviously rolled several times from the amount of damage to every side; the tags were obliterated and bent beyond recognition; all the glass was missing, scattered along the path of destruction.  A spark from the wiring of the still running engine caught the trail of gasoline from the shattered fuel pump and caught the wagon on fire.  When they arrived, it was fully engulfed and their extinguishers did nothing to contain the blaze. 

None of the three Nevada highway patrol officers could get closer than five feet to the car, and they knew the occupants were still inside.  Chris, Buck, and Nina burned themselves trying to get near enough to save the occupants' lives, but the fireball spiraled out of control, feeding on the spilled fuel and flammable liquids pooled beneath the wreck.  Desperation filled them, and adrenaline allowed them not to feel any pain while they continued their efforts.  The heat intensified as the fire trucks pulled up and took over. 

Their attempts failed. 

Two bodies were located in the wreckage Ė an adult female and a male child.  Buck saw it firstÖbefore the rescue crew sealed the victim within the body bag.  Although dulled by the soot from the fire it still glinted, catching his eye.  The singed locket around the womanís neck.  A locket that even blackened looked suspiciously like the one Chris gave Sarah as a Motherís Day present.   One she wore everywhere with a picture of Chris, Adam, and Sarah on the right so it lay against her heart and a picture of the four of them Ė Buck, Nina, Chris, and Adam on the other side. 

His howl echoed and raised a chill to everyone within hearing range.  Nina and Chris rushed over to him, but Buck tried instead to pull Chris away.  An intense shoving match commenced, and finally Chris realized what his friend was trying to protect him from seeingÖthe devastated car and his . . .his family.   Time froze for the blond man as his mind unrelentingly replayed the last moments of his wife and child. 

The next few hours flew by in a haze as Chris held his wife and son while the rescue workers tried to pry them free from his grasp and transport them away.  A fierce Nina and overprotective Buck kept them at bay, all thoughts of working the accident gone as they too grieved with their friend.   

Chris was told later what happened: A fireman, unaware of the real situation, made a callous comment to relieve tension and Buck, Chris, and Nina had to be physically restrained before they ripped the man apart like a trio of rabid wolves.  Buck and Chris were literally knocked unconscious, kept that way by a group of patrolmen and a medic with sedatives.  They shoved Nina into the backseat of a patrol car that she nearly decimated in her attempts to get out.  The NHP learned after that incident to replace the real glass in the rear window with Plexiglas Ė when she used her body to break through it, crawled over the trunk of the car to Sarah and Adam, and refused to leave them.  It was only their personal involvement with the victims that kept the three of them from being fired outright, instead of the minor reprimands they received instead for their actions.

Since Chris and Buck were out of the picture for the next couple of hours, Nina handled the details like a demented madwoman with one foot grounded in reality and the other in lunacy.   She never left Sarah and Adam's sides until the hospital refused to allow her in the morgue.  Only then did she return to Buck and Chris, and sat vigil for hours while they slept.  She held them when they awoke and stayed with them as much as the hospital would let her.

The grief and pain ripped the three friends apart, each for different reasons. 

Buck wanted to be there for all of them, but his personal relationship with Nina was mostly over and both knew it.  The more desperately they tried to hold onto each other in the first couple of months right after the deaths, the harder it got.  They drew comfort from each other, but not enough to sustain the relationship.

Sarah had been Ninaís college roommate and Nina had been indirectly responsible for setting Chris and Sarah up.  With the losses of her closest friend and her godson, she barely held on.  After the memorial service she helped organize, Nina collapsed alone from exhaustion while Buck was tending to Chris at the Larabee home.   Buck found her the next day in a crumbled, unconscious heap on her kitchen floor and rushed her to the hospital.  She was treated for dehydration and exhaustion, among other ailments from neglecting her health due to overwhelming grief. 

Chris saw and heard nothing those first few months; after Ninaís collapse and subsequent hospital stay, he refused to allow himself to care or be hurt anymore.  He turned to the bottle and drank heavily, pushing Buck away too.  He recalled once Nina was released, she urged Buck toward him, knowing he needed a friend more than she didÖand the rest blurred.  He could only remember a dark kaleidoscope of pain, and long periods of drunkenness.  He did have vague memories of Nina having her own personal problems at that time, some recollection of her brother unexpectedly dying, and her staying away for a long time.

The cause of the crash was determined to be a hit-and-run by a tractor-trailer that was never located.  It was still an open case.  When Chris finally pulled himself together enough to go back to work, he found he could not.  The memories were tearing him apart.  The Highway Patrol's main function was controlling traffic and working accidents, and he could not face accident scenes.  He resigned his position and set himself adrift from his friends.  If he did not have anyone close to him, he could not be hurt.  Cutting himself off from friends included Buck, no matter how hard the stubborn man tried to bring him back to the living.  Their eventual falling out originally meant nothing to Chris, and Buck reluctantly decided they needed some distance from each other, before Chris dragged him into the dark abyss he found himself in. 

Larabee's self-destructive path ended when he hit the little unknown town of Four Corners.  It was another spot on the blurry map as he moved around trying to forget and outrun the memories.  He'd never heard of the place, and didn't know it was the town where Nina moved after leaving Nevada.   

He arrived looking to drown some more of his sorrows, but instead he found himself in the middle of a vicious bar brawl helping a woefully outnumbered, struggling police officer.  Fighting by his side was a blue eyed young man he almost mistook for one of the combatants, until he looked into those eyes and got the feeling he had found a piece of his lost soul.  He and the blue-eyed man developed an instinctual rhythm, helping the officer until his backup arrived.   

That officer was Nathan Jackson, and when he got off duty, he issued an invitation.  Friends born in battle shared a drink afterwards, then drifted again, thinking that was all there was Ė a thank you, appreciate your help, and it was done.

Officer Nathan Jackson reported the citizen help to his Chief, also requesting some type of formal recognition by the Department for the pair's efforts.  Hearing and reading how Larabee and another stranger had helped Nathan, and struggling to find men he could trust to fill out his force, Travis did a little investigating on his own.  It was then Chris met the very stubborn and formidable new Chief of the Four Corners Police Department, Orin Travis. Chris knew then Ė one of the few facts he found out Ė that Four Corners was a town rife with corruption and unrest.  That corruption and unrest was the result of the former Sheriff, a man who ruled the town through his power and evil will.  That will inspired fear in the citizens, and it took a long struggle to have him removed.

Reading Larabee's history with the Nevada Highway Patrol, Chief Orin Travis knew this would be a good man to fill out his force.  Once the former judge made up his mind, he used all his formable persuasion to recruit Chris to his fledgling department.  Travis told him he had found a man who could help bring law and order back to the small town, as well as be a strong leader Ė Chris Larabee.  Chris would be the person the town would trust, and his record spoke of his code of honor.  Larabee was exactly what was needed, but was told nothing about the history beyond the reports of corruption. 

The Chief informed him the corruption had been excised with the Sheriff, and that everyone would start with a relatively clean slate.  He also warned Chris that no one would speak of the past, which suited Chris just fine.  Chris at least learned the Chief was suffering his own grief, from the loss of his son.  He also understood the Chief's motivation in restoring order to the town, especially when he learned the former Sheriff was the main suspect in his son's murder, but there was no evidence to support what most people felt.  Each day, the Sheriff was becoming a suspect in more and more dirty dealings that were coming to light, but again, there was no proof Ė and no Sheriff around to question. 

Larabee didn't want to talk about the loss of his family, and he wasn't really sure he wanted this job, something completely different than what he did in the Nevada Highway Patrol.

Chief Travis just had to convince Chris to come back to the living permanently and take up the challenge.  If anyone could say anything about Orin Travis, it would be that he could be very convincing when he put his mind to it.  Chris should have known it wouldn't take much convincing.  He had been wandering around lost for some time, but 'home' was calling to him.  Four Corners was a far cry from Nevada, but it was a small town, a fresh start, and a desperately needed purpose.  Once in law enforcement . . . always in law enforcement. 

Larabee quickly found himself with a new job.  Although it could bring up some hard memories at times, it was a job that slowly helped put his painful memories to rest, at least sometimes. 

Not too much later, a stranger came through town, looking for women and beer, in no particular order.  Chris heard about the stranger through his informants, and he went for a visit.  The added bonus of seeing Buck and recruiting him for the PD helped assuage the hurts inflicted on his friend.  It took beer, a long heart-to-heart, and effort on both their parts.  Buck had been deeply wounded by Chris's actions, and that required time and patience to heal and forgive.  Chris set out to prove that he did in fact want his friend in his life.  They worked hard at putting their friendship back together, and finally achieved a sense of balance and trust.

A couple months after they worked the road in Four Corners, Nina reappeared.  She'd taken a personal sabbatical for a few months after putting in exhaustive efforts in building the new police force for Chief Travis.  She never spoke of the intervening years between leaving Nevada and her life here in Four Corners, but Chris could tell her connections to this town were deep and powerful.

Nina's reappearance nudged Chris further through the grieving process by giving him a sense of normality again.  He didn't like thinking about her frosty reception for him and Buck, so they both put out considerable effort to win back her trust.  Chris knew the only person she trusted completely was Vin, because it was obvious they went through an ordeal together.  Friendships repaired, or working on it, Chris had his two friends at his back and a new friend at his side.   Nina, Chris, and Buck got themselves promoted through the ranks of the Four Corners Police Department with ease Ė their experiences with NHP and good teamwork made their squad highly effective as they added to their family unit. 

Yet, even after all these years, at any accident scenes - especially like this one, Nina and Buck went out of their way to protect him.  In his mind he flashed back to that fateful day in Nevada; he still heard the screams and saw the mangled remains of the station wagonÖhe bit his lip hard to prevent the tears from showing.  That internal eye showed him his wife and son the night before the fatal accident, telling him they loved him and to be careful out there.  Hell.  He lowered his head and thought about how much he lost. 

 

Four Corners

Present Day

A tentative hand on his arm startled him out of his reverie, pulling him back from his thoughts of his lost wife and son, and the intervening years since.  "Chris?  Rescueís done.  We can get started if youíre up to it."  Ninaís soft tone was meant to soothe.  He tossed her arm off viciously, hating himself for this weak moment and her for seeing it.  In addition, this whole day stirring everything he thought buried back up to the top. 

Different uniforms, different town, different year, but it felt the damn same. 

"Fine."  He strode past her without a backward look and checked out the tire tracks.   No mater what, they still had a job to do, and he just wanted to get it over with.

"I miss them too," came the whispered voice behind his shoulder.  Soft, full of mourning, full of raw emotion - that voice cut into his soul. 

It reminded him, and he did not need Ė or want - another reminder.  Christ, he needed a drink.  A bottle.  Then maybe another.  And another.  And most of all he needed her to shut up.  "Back off, Caswell."  He never looked back.

"Okay.  Iím here if you want to talk."

Talk?  Hadn't he been saying that to her all shift?  Now, all he wanted was to get the hell out of Dodge.  He turned around and glared at her.  "I donít need to talk; quit yapping and get to work."

 

She blew out a breath through gritted teeth and stalked away to start her part of the investigation.  So much for attempting to offer comfort.  It pissed her off when he shoved her away like this; like he forgot that she and Sarah *lived* together throughout college in the suite her Uncle Pete provided at his hotel/casino.  That they were as close as sisters.  That Adam was her godson, damn it, and she loved the boy so muchÖhell. 

Her anger and grief rose on top of the high emotions she was still dealing with from her motherís visit, and all the shit that brought upÖso screw you, Larabee.  She mentally said her thoughts to him, not daring to voice them aloud Ė yet.  I am not up for your pisser of a mood, Chris.  Iíve got enough shit of my own to deal with.  Weíll finish this, weíll go home, I donít know what Iíll do after I talk to Josiah.  If I see you between the end of this and the time we leave, I hope I donít lose control and use your head as a target. 

 

Larabee was getting one of his bad feelings. It had been churning for a while, but it was worse tonight.  It made him overprotective earlier, and now dealing with this mess and his memories, he was just in a foul mood.  It was to the point his people avoided him because he was such a bear.  Right now, he did his thing and Nina did hers, crossing paths wordlessly, but a thick tension continued to build around them.  When she backed up examining the tire tracks, she bumped into him accidentally.

"Watch where youíre going," he snapped, using the tone he used with suspects.

"Sorry," she hissed back, unrepentant.

He growled, "Donít be sorry.  Just look."

Her temper snapped.  "You know what, you need to knock this crap off, Larabee."

He glared at her as they faced each other over the tire tracks by the wrecked mass of metal.

"Youíre not the only one having a bad day."

"Back off, Caswell."  He turned away from her.

She yanked his arm, spinning him around.  "I will not back off.  She was my best friend and roommate.  I arranged for your first date all those years ago.  You donít think I donít miss her?  That I donít miss Adam?"

"Stop now."  His tone should have sent her scurrying for cover.

Nina was too far-gone in her ire to pull back now.  "Damn it, Larabee.  We all lost two people we loved very much, and thatís rough for all of us.  Accidents like this bring everything back twice as nasty as the first time.  You could not deal with it then, and you are not dealing with it now.  Buck does not want to say anything so he wonít piss you off.  He doesn't want to lose his friend again.  With the day I'm having, Iím sick of walking on eggshells around you when youíre like this, so do your worst."  She held her hands away from her body offering him a challenge.   "Take the first shot.  Come on.  You know you want to do it."

"Donít tempt me," he glared as he shook his head, unaware that beside him Buck released a pent-up breath.  Between the two of them was not somewhere Wilmington wanted to be, especially when both were emotionally raw and would fight at the least provocation.

"Wus," she muttered before turning away and examining the tracks again. 

"What did you say?"

"You heard me."  She refused to look at him, squatting down for a closer look.

He yanked her upright and brought her within inches of his face.  "The only reason Iím not suspending you for insubordination is our history.  Donít push it any further.  Do I make myself clear?"

"Crystal.  Let you suffer and take it out on others, as usual.  Got it."  She tried twisting away and he shifted to stay in her face.

"Finish what youíre doing and leave."

"Yes, sir.  Send me away because Iím feeding you the truth.  You expect others to take it, but you can't.  Oh, wait.  You donít want to hear how much of an asshole youíre being right now."

"And you're an unprofessional, emotional bitch who's letting her personal feelings affect her job performance.  I can't count on you now.  You should have gone home earlier.  If you weren't so busy being a martyr, you would have missed this accident."

"You didn't have to be a masochist and come see it," she immediately retorted.  "But again, it all comes back to the asshole factor.  Tell me, do you like torturing yourself like this?  I'm not the martyr here Ė you are.  The Masochist Martyr Chris Larabee."

Chris took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and struggled for composure.  His fists clenched at his sides.  "Enough.  We keep this up, I'll do something you'll regret."

"It would just be another in a very long list, and that list of regrets started long before I met you, continued after I left you in Nevada, and really stretched once I hit this town.  There's not much you can do to me that hasn't already been done worse by another man with power and a badge.  You're a picnic compared to what he put me through.  So what are you going to do?  Kick me out?  Fine, I'll go do something else for the rest of the shift.  Send me home for insubordination?  I could use the time off.  It would be a relief to be away from you!"

"Caswell," he hissed.  "This isn't helping.  I'm not out to hurt you, unlike whoever you're comparing me to."

"He was and did."

Softly he asked, "What did he do?"  He hoped she would tell him something, anything, because the amount of pain on her face was almost too much to bear.

It took a second, but she shook her head violently, waving her arms in front of her as if preparing to ward off a blow.  "Quit prying!  I said too much.  Forget it."

"I can't forget it if you're this hurt.  Come on, Nina, what happened?"

"No."

"It was the former Sheriff, wasn't it?  You worked for him, and he abused you."

"I'm not talking about this."  Her arms wrapped around her middle. 

He took a step toward her, his own anger momentarily forgotten.  She jerked away, her eyes wide with fear.  "I'm not him, Nina.  I'm not going to hurt you."

"Stop.  Please." 

"Nina," he said softly.  "Neen."

Almost as if a switch had been thrown, the hurt disappeared to be replaced by anger.  "This isn't about me.  It's about you being an ass."

"I'm not being an ass," he replied.

"Says you.  You're not on the receiving end.  Can't you just leave it alone, or do you have to pick, pick, pick until it starts to bleed?"

"I'm not picking.  I just want to help!" he yelled, frustrated his efforts to help were being distorted.

"You have a damn funny way of showing it.  You can't take the heat, so you turn it around on someone else and push them.  Well, I'm pushing back."

"Quit pushing me away."  He took a step closer to her, leaning down in her face.

Buck could not take this anymore Ė they weren't going to back down, and this wasn't going to end without interference.  Deciding to do something, anything, he tugged her away from Chris.  "Stop it.  Both of you," he chastised them both.  "Youíre acting like children when weíve got bigger problems, think about somebody else for a change . . .like the families of these people.  Something caused that truck to jackknife, and we're supposed to be the ones to find out what.  I'm not looking forward to talking to these families and telling them that the people they loved died a senseless death.  Because no matter what the two of you say, you're going home this morning.  None of those people are.  Just think about that."

The arguing pair stopped when they saw the truth in Buckís words.  Shamefaced but still fuming, they retreated from each other, both silently promising this discussion was not finished.  It would wait until later, when maybe they could approach it like it adults, not in their current emotional and physical conditions.  They were tired, frustrated and angry.  When they should be trying to support each other and comfort each other, all they could feel was the anger and the need to lash out. Even if they recognized the problem, there was nothing they could do to stop the emotions.  Emotions would only be denied for so long.  

Chris started walking to the rear of the station wagon to give them some space and she stepped around the front. 

Down the street, something caught Nina's attention, registering in her subconscious before her conscious mind drew awareness of it.  Uneasiness settled on her and the hairs at the back of her neck prickled.

She stopped where she was, instinct guiding her into a sweeping pass with her eyes from one side of Fern to the other.  Nothing.  She swept back and it struck her . . . what caught her attention in the strengthening dawn light.  The distinctive 1966 Ford Mustang Convertible was parked outside a building a distance down the street.  In front of the tallest building on Fern, a building she knew housed insurance agents.  A place like that would not be open on a Sunday morning.  Her eyes focused on the building and her mind worked on why he would be there.  It hit her suddenly and she realized how exposed she was, and whipped her body toward Chris.  He was in more danger than her, right next to the tanker.  His back was to her, Buck a few paces ahead of him, and she knew.  

"Oh, no!" she whispered frantically, the pieces all coming together in the span of three seconds.  It was a set up to get the police on location.  Either they planned for the deaths, or something went wrong, but the whole thing was a setup.  And the Mustang was the tip off.  "No, Vin, please God, no!" 

Putting everything she had into the next few steps, she sprinted toward her friend as she neared she yelled, "Chris!"

He jerked around with a scowl just as she leapt, slamming hard and high into his chest.  Her momentum took them over backward and they landed with a sickening thud on the hard pavement, his head and back taking the impact. 

Buck turned at the yell and watched his two friends fall, not understanding what was going on, wondering if they were finally having a brawl.  He saw shards of plastic, metal, and wiring shatter from Nina's shoulder, forming a shrapnel cloud around them.  He scrambled over as the breath whooshed out of the sergeantís mouth and Larabee's hands automatically wrapped around her, cushioning her fall.  Buck winced as he heard the crack of Chrisís head against the pavement.   A second crack came a half-second later as Nina's face slammed into the pavement over his left shoulder.

"What the hell are you doing?" Buck roared at Nina, only belatedly realizing that neither one had moved after the fall. 

"Chris?  Nina?"  His voice was shaking as he called to them.  Squatting down beside them, his eyes were drawn to the blood forming a halo on the pavement around Larabeeís head, and the blood splattered over one side of his face. Nina, for some reason, remained unresponsive on top of him. From seeing and hearing the hard impact he knew his friend could have a serious head injury. "Oh shit, Chris?"  He keyed his microphone.  "11-02, 11-03."

"11-03."

His hands shaking, he felt the fear take over.  Something was terribly wrong.  What the hell happened?  "11-03, officer's down!  Get those ambulances in here . . .you hear me!  OFFICERS DOWN!"

TBC in AftermathÖ

 

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