By:  Heidi

WARNINGS: Lots of humor, double entendres, a tiny smattering of violence, and a few bad words.

Rating:  PG

Main characters:  Vin, Chris, Buck, OFC

Category:  Comedy H/C

In the crisp, clear night, the man drove down the rural highway at a slow pace.  Ice formed and created slick sheets on the roads, turning the driving treacherous. The frost already started, coating windshields, guardrails, street signs, and anything else it could.  Visibility went as far as the trees and fields allowed, as the stars winked down from the heavens, creating a rustic scene designed for a holiday card.   

The man checked the clock in his dashboard, concentrated on it, focused on it, and believed it read three fourteen in the morning.  When he looked back up at the road, he noticed he had drifted a little too close to the shoulder, and the snow-coated grass lining the edge of the pavement told him he didn't want to go over there.  He adjusted the wheel, slid a bit, and went into the other lane
before he recovered. 

Breathing heavily, he chastised himself, and forced his concentration back on driving.  Looking out the windshield, he searched for the yellow line down the center of the road, and made sure it was under the middle of his car.  Nothing was coming, so he figured he was safe. 

Until his head started to spin, his brain telling his body that there was entirely too much alcohol floating around the system, and the center yellow stripe quadrupled.  He couldn't tell which one of the four was the right one, so he aimed for the middle of all of them.  Satisfied, he kept his speed down below the speed limit, just in case there happened to be a police officer nearby. 

He couldn't afford another arrest for Driving While Intoxicated (DWI); he'd barely gotten out of jail time on his third charge.  He'd done his thousand hours of community service, and he didn't want to clean or paint anything again.  Judge Habernacle told him if he were caught one more time, he'd definitely go to jail for the maximum amount of time allotted under law.  The Judge also said it would be worse for him if he was in an accident; he'd been lucky so far, and had been picked up by friends and family before anything bad happened.

The man kept telling himself to concentrate on the road, he was driving just fine, and the four sets of yellow lines kept him centered in the middle of the highway.  He navigated the sharp, nearly ninety-degree curve perfectly, congratulating himself, but during his short 'whoo-hoo', something appeared a short distance ahead of the car in the rural straightaway.

It was a buck – an enormous buck - with three heads, and a fourteen-point rack on each head, standing straight and tall, on all four sets of yellow lines.  It was big, and it didn't move.  The massive heads stared at him, and all six eyes reflected back at him because of the headlights.  "MUTANT!" he yelled, his foot slamming down hard on the brake pedal. 

It was written in a book of physics somewhere.  It was boldly printed in driver's handbooks and vehicle owner's manuals, if anyone would bother to read them: wheels, brakes, and ice do not mix.  Having applied the brakes hard on a slick, frozen surface, the wheels lost traction, locked, and slid.  He screamed as the car went out of his control, no matter how hard he wrenched the wheel, and then he passed the unmoving, still-staring mutant deer, continuing off the road and stopping in a large, gradually deepening ditch on the side of the
highway.  The front end of the car crumpled inward, with the back pointed toward the sky, and the wheels continued to rotate because the car was in gear.  A pair of red taillights brightened the dark night, and the strangled death throes of the engine covered nature's sounds.

The buck was frightened by the loud noises, and when he was released from the blinding lights, he bolted to safety across the road and into the field on the opposite side from the car.  He stopped to stare back at the mess, then continued through the field until he found his family and joined them for a snack. 


Inside the car, the man heaved several deep breaths, and it seemed a new question popped into his mind with each indrawn gasp.

"Am I dead?" he whispered. 

Two breaths told him he was alive.

"Am I hurt?"

He listened to his brain, the organ he'd been ignoring the entire night while drinking, and it told him he wasn't feeling any pain.  Or was that the booze talking?

"The car."

He put the car in Park, not that it mattered at this point, and turned it off before it shook itself apart from the water in the engine.  He grabbed the keys and shoved them in his pocket.

"Can I get out?"

He tried the door, and it opened.  He stepped out, right into the water lining the bottom of the ditch.  The thin layer of ice on top broke under his weight, sending his feet into the water, stopping two feet down. 

"Cold, cold, cold!"  The man high-stepped his way across the three-foot wide bottom of the ditch, up the bank, and then stared at the slick road.  The buck was gone, making him wonder if he imagined it.  He figured he'd walk until he found a house, or someone came along.  Shaking out his cold, wet, feet, he shuffled onto the highway, and took the first step toward his own residence.  He thought there was a farmhouse not too far ahead.

Wrapping his arms around his body as he shivered, the wet, cold denim stiffened against his legs and rubbed the chilled skin beneath raw.  That last drink must have helped him because he was still moving and he didn't hurt that much.  But it was cold.  He debated whether or not walking was a good idea, because he had a warm car sitting over there.  He could stay there until someone noticed him.  Of course, the odds were against that because of the time of night, and the fact
it was still winter didn't help.  After the curve, it was all wide-open ranch and farmland on either side of the pavement.  Houses were few and far between in this secluded part of Outer East, and everyone went to bed with the chickens.

While he debated, he heard the sound of a car engine, and four lights broke the darkness.  A car!   He practically ran out into the highway, and then decided that was a bad idea.  There really wasn't too much of a shoulder, only enough flat ground for a car to be half off the road without risking going into the ditch.  Standing right on the edge of the flat ground, he waved his arms and jumped up and down. 

The car slowed even more than it was doing already, bringing it significantly closer to him.  He heard the tires slip one second before he knew he was too close to the car.  "NO!" 

Out of control, the heavy car slid right into him, launched him across the ditch, and he landed hard against something that held him upright.  He couldn't move. 

The car continued into the ditch, stopping right beside his own, nose down, rear up.

This driver, however, obviously was not planning to stick around, and threw the car into reverse.  Geysers of water and mud erupted from under the front tires resting in the bottom of the ditch, and the nose of the car sank further into the muck, taking the tires with it.  The side effect was that water and mud sprayed the man, and he was now wet and muddy all over, along with being unable to move.

"Stop it!"  he yelled at the driver of the car.

The driver didn't hear him, trying to back out of the ditch again.  It was then he recognized the car.


A few minutes later, the driver stopped, opened the door, and looked down at the mud mix.  "Ew.  I'm not getting out."

"Come get me down, ya bimbo." 

The woman stared at him blearily, and he remembered she had drunk more than him at the bar.  She finally yelled, "Shut up, asshole."

"Damn woman driver!"

"Who wrecked first?  I was doing fine until your sorry ass got in front of my car."

"I was on the shoulder, you lush.  And it's my car.  I bought and paid for it."

"Community property.  We're married, so it's my car, too," she slurred at him, sticking her tongue out for emphasis.

"Well, get your ass out of OUR car and get me down!"

"I'm not getting wet."

"Ain't that the truth; you never have!  That's why I drink so much, because I can't stand being with a cold fish like you!"

"Harvey!   You're an ass.  You can stay there."  She slammed the door.


"I'm not listening!" She yelled through the closed window.

"Call my brother, then.  He'll tow us out, and the cops won't know.  We won't go to jail!"

"Fine.  I'm doing this for me, not you."  She reached into her purse, got out her cell phone, and dialed the much-used number.


"Okay, Mrs. Henderson.  We'll send someone out."  The night dispatcher of Harold's Towing disconnected, and paged the tow company owner, but the on-call driver called back instead.

"Hey, it's Patrick."

"Hi.  Mr. And Mrs. Henderson both wrecked in a ditch, and they need yanks out."



"Are they hurt?"

"She didn't say.  I paged Harold; I don't know why your pager went off."

"I'm covering for him tonight; he went to the bar, and he's in no condition to drive a truck."

"Meaning Harvey and Bertrice are worse."  The night operator sighed, having received calls like this from the couple before. 

"You know what to do."

"I feel bad.  It's Harold's family."

"And his life, Ruthie.  If any of us yank them out and let them drive knowing they're drunk, he'll lose his towing license.  He loses that, he loses everything.  Then we lose our jobs."

"I know."

"He told you to do it, Ruthie.  Now, give me the location."

"Highway Seven, by the McClarran farm--"

"The McClarrans own thousands of acres on Highway Seven."

"Did you let me finish?  Just past the sharp curve."

"Oh man!   You said they're both in a ditch?"


"Separate cars?"


"Must have been too drunk to drive on the ice out there.  Seven's bad for it."  His sigh came through the line.  "I'm on it, and I'll have Ricky come with me, bringing the rollback.  So if they both need it, we've got the equipment there."

The dispatcher knew that the rollback was the tow truck with the long, flat back on it that sat a car on all four wheels on the bed, and allowed for towing a second if properly connected.  Knowing the size of both vehicles, it was better than a tow truck with a hook on the back.  "All right.  I'll call and tell them."

"Don't forget the other call; I'll take my time getting there."

"I hate this."

"I know, Ruthie." 


"Four Corners Police Department, how may I help you?"  Casey Wells answered the telephone with the standard greeting, wondering why this person wasn't in bed at three fifty in the morning like most normal people.  The police dispatcher was prepared for just about anything that could be said to her.

"Hi, Casey.  It's Ruthie from Harold's Towing."

"Hi, Ruthie.  What's up?"  Casey relaxed.  She knew the speaker, the caller didn't sound rushed, and if the call started with just an introduction, usually it wasn't that bad. 

"I've got an accident to report, and I want this to be anonymous, okay?"

"Sure," Casey agreed, going back on alert.

"We just got a call from Bertrice Henderson. She and her husband both wrecked on Highway Seven, after the sharp curve, near the McClarran farm."

"Are they hurt?"

"I don't know.  She sounded completely drunk, Casey, and Harold doesn't want them driving if they're drunk."

"He's doing the right thing, Ruthie.  Both of you are.  Tell him we said that."

Ruthie laughed.  "He'd hate to see anyone hurt, or lose his business because of them.  Judge Habernacle warned Harold that he'd lose his tow license if he let them drive drunk after pulling them out again.  So, they're in separate cars, I don't know if anyone's hurt, and two of my trucks are going.  The drivers are going to take their time, though, to give y'all the chance to get there."

"Good.  We'll send someone out there." 

"Tell them to be careful; Seven gets really icy."



Casey disconnected, and started typing in the computer.  Since they had so many accidents right past the sharp curve on Highway Seven, Casey pulled up the highway list, and selected that location.  She sent the call via computer to Ladonna, her dispatch partner.  "They're gonna have fun with that."

"The Hendersons?  Again?  Wouldn't this be, like, his fourth DWI?"

"Yeah.  I'm pulling up their driving records now.  She's not too far behind; this might be her third."  Casey stared at the screen, and then sent the driving records to the printer.  "They both have their licenses revoked because of too many DWI's, and let's add to the joy with the Medical Advisory Board slapping an indefinite alcohol restriction."

"Great.  And guess who goes."

"Vin and Nina."

"Yup.  Rookies get all calls.  I'll send Buck as backup, just because those two can be a handful."

Casey joked, "Vin and Nina, or Harvey and Bertrice?"

"Yes."  Ladonna laughed.  "FC, 11-05, 11-02, channel four."  She told them to go to the non-published radio channel number four, where they could speak without the public hearing them.  This would prevent any scanner hounds from listening in on the dispatch. 

"11-05 on four."  Vin's raspy voice answered immediately.

"11-02."  Buck's tones followed on the requested channel.

"Report to Highway Seven, just past the sharp curve near the McClarran farm. Reference two vehicles in the ditch, possible result of a DWI accident, anonymous complainant advised use caution due to ice."

"11-05's direct."

"11-02's en route."

"FC, 11-05, 11-02, vehicle owners believed to be Harvey and Bertrice Henderson, they already contacted Harold's towing, two trucks responding with delayed ETA."

"Delayed ETA?"  Vin asked.

Ladonna said, "11-05, 11-02, the trucks are giving you the time to get there first.  Night dispatcher for Harold's wants to be anonymous.  Also, both parties are revoked and have alcohol restrictions on their licenses."

"We'll make it look like we're just rollin' up.  Buck, take yer sweet time getting there, and I'll call ya on the air ta make it look good."  Vin's Texas accent came through clearly.

"10-4.  11-02's going back to channel one."


"I hate the Hendersons."  Sitting in the passenger seat of her patrol car, Corporal Nina Caswell scrubbed the heels of her hands against her eyes. 

"Never dealt with them." 

"That's because you haven't had the pleasure of being on the road long enough, Rookie."  Nina smiled at the tall, lean Probationary Officer driving her car. 

"Reckon that's so, Corporal."  The way he stressed Corporal came across as an insult. 

"Shove the rank crap, Vin, we've know each other too long.  Makes me feel old every time you say it.  Besides, you know rookies get abused."  She pushed his arm.

"Watch it, Caswell, I'm tryin' ta drive here.  And we both know I ain't yer standard rookie."

"I know, but don't wreck my car."

"I ain't gonna wreck yer car."

"You better not."

"I won't.  I drive better than ya do."

Nina let out an unladylike snort.  "Yeah, right.  You'd get killed on the highways around Vegas."

"We ain't in Vegas, Nina.  'Sides, yer just mad ya have ta let me drive."

"Am not."

"Are too."

"Letting the trainee drive builds confidence and character."  She sniffed.

Vin laughed.  "Yer resortin' ta quotin' the trainin' manual since ya can't get yer way."

"Remind me again why I'm training you instead of Buck?"

"Halter, Como, Larabee.  Those names sound familiar?"

"Yes.  All men with more rank than me, telling me that spending twelve hour shifts trapped in my car, not driving, training you, was a good idea."

"I ain't complainin'."

She looked over at him.  "I'm not either, Vin.  Seriously, I don't mind.  If I minded, I wouldn't be training.  And it gives us the chance to catch up on everything."

Vin smiled.  "Yup.  So, are ya gonna give in ta Bucklin and go out on a date with him again?"

"I don't know."

"He loves ya, sis.  Ya can see it in his eyes, his face, anytime he looks at ya."

"I know."  She grew quiet.

"Y'all have some history."

"Quite a bit."

"And I think ya got some pretty strong feelings for him."

"You're right again.  Wait - mark that down.  Right twice in one day.  Where's your evaluation?"  Nina started rooting through her metal clipboard. 

Vin ignored that comment, sticking to the topic he knew she was trying to avoid.  "He wants another chance."

"Yeah."  Quietly, she closed the clipboard, returning it to its spot. 

"So, what do ya think?"

"I don't know.  I really don't know.  Trusting men's hard."

Vin reached over and squeezed her hand.  "I know.  Figure we're due a little happiness.  Grab it where ya can."

Nina returned the squeeze.  "Thanks, Vin.  Now, why are you so pro-Buck?"

"He makes ya smile, sis.  Don't see many of those, and I can see ya care for him.  That's all.  Just want ya ta smile more often."   

She looked at the man who saved her life a few short years before.  He'd done his share of suffering too, but he was taking the time to check on her.  "I ever tell you how lucky I am to know you?"

"Reckon it goes both ways.  Now, don't get all misty-eyed on me, woman.  I'm trying ta drive on ice, here, and I ain't gonna wreck.  The poor suckers who wreck get tortured the rest of their careers, and I don't aim ta be one of them.  'Specially as a Probationary Officer."

"Let me give you the bad news.  Wrecks happen at any time, to anyone."

"True.  Speaking of crashes and burns, ya gonna say yes one of these times when Buck's tryin' his best?"

"I'll play it by ear.  Go with my gut."

Vin rolled his eyes.  "Gut or…?"

She hit him in the shoulder.  "Eyes on the road, Rookie, and watch out for the ice.  We're coming up on the curve."

"Ya ain't answering."

"I don't plan to answer."  They came out of the curve easily.

Tanner laughed, keeping close watch on the ice.  "Well, look at that." 

"Unbelievable."  Nina shook her head.  "Make sure you get this on the camera, and park so we can continue taping."

"I know, Corporal.  That camera's brand spankin' new, and we're supposed ta use it ta prove it wins cases.  Then we can buy more of them."

"Exactly.  How in the hell did they do that?" 

The patrol car slowly passed the accident scene, and then neatly turned around in the middle of the road to park on the opposing shoulder, at just the right angle so the camera picked up everything.  What it captured was a bizarre scene.

Two cars, one a older model Cadillac Deville, and the other a Lincoln Continental, were nose first inside the ditch.  Both had their long back ends pointed toward the road, and the front ends on both were smashed and buried in the water at the bottom of the ditch.  The Continental was buried further and it was unoccupied.

Closest to the patrol car, the other driver was suspended with his arms out, looking like a scarecrow on a pole.  His heavy coat was entangled in the barbed wire fence he was stuck to, and both officers realized he probably had barbs in his skin.  He was covered from head to foot in mud and water.

The woman was tugging on the man's coat, trying to free him, but only succeeded in creating openings in the coat to allow the down feather lining to flutter freely around the pair.  Dirty feathers floated like a cloud around their torsos, sticking to the mud.  His face was twisted into a grimace, worsening with every one of her tugs. 

"I hate the Hendersons," Nina mumbled.  "But they're so funny at times."  She kept her chuckles behind her hands, and her face tipped down so if the couple looked in the patrol car, all they could see was the Stetson hat.

"I'm spotlighting them."  Vin reached for the line of switches in the center console, intent on brightening the night.  First, he turned on the A-frame spotlight on the driver's door, shining it at the legs of the couple, lighting up the area.  Next, he turned on the overheads.  Red and blue flashed off the white snow, creating more light, along with announcing their presence if the couple had not noticed.  He flicked on the left alley; a white light located near the bottom of the light bar, and it provided more illumination in the direction of the accident.

"Are ya done gigglin'?" Vin asked Nina.

"Mmm-hmm.  Have you called us arrived?"

"Waitin' fer ya ta stop laughin'."

"I'm done."

"Uh-huh."  Vin reached for his lapel mike.  "11-05, FC."  He called FC, the station's call sign.

"11-05, go ahead."

"We're out with an accident on Highway Seven just past the sharp curve.  Will advise further momentarily."  He said it this way to make it appear they came up on it by chance, instead of receiving the call through their dispatch center, all to protect the tow company.  The dispatch on the non-published channel four prevented the public from hearing that there was an accident at that location.

"10-4, 11-05.  11-02, are you direct?"  Ladonna called Buck officially for backup.

"11-02's en route."

Vin stepped out of the patrol car, careful not to slip on the ice, and watched Nina work her way around the front of the car. 

She stopped at the edge of the car, looking down to make sure he parked with the tires pointed out like he was supposed to, grinned at him, and finally clicked on her microphone.  Nina ignored his glare at her check of the tires.  "Corporal Nina Caswell and Officer Vin Tanner on location of a dual accident.  One male subject appears to be caught on barbed wire fence, while the female subject is trying to free him.  From previous dealings with this couple, this officer
recognizes them as Bertrice and Harvey Henderson.  We will lay out a flare line."  Nina opened her trunk, grabbing a handful of flares. 

Nina passed some to Vin because they did not want to take the chance of someone not paying attention, driving through, and wrecking because they were staring at the accident, instead of and not focusing on the slippery road.  The corporal went a short distance behind her car, set up a line stretching back to show there was a problem, and that nearing drivers should slow down. Vin repeated the
process at the other end.

The officers approached slowly, a little distance apart, watching the couple carefully.  They reached the edge of the ditch, both trying to maintain a serious demeanor.

Nina spoke quietly into her lapel mike.  "11-08, FC."


"Locate and hold copies of the driving records for Bertrice and Harvey Henderson."


"Sir?"  Vin yelled.  "Are you injured?"

"Hell, yeah!   I got barbs stuck in me everywhere and this bimbo's trying to rip my flesh off!" 

"Shut up, you asshole.  I'm trying to get you down.  Who's that?"  Bertrice squinted in the direction of the lights.  "I can't see a damn thing because of all those lights.  Go get your bolt cutters, get him down, and then when our tow arrives, we'll be on our way."

Vin asked, "You already called a tow?"

"My brother," Harvey yelled.  "He's coming."

"Okay.  We'll get an ambulance for you."

Bertrice said, "He doesn't need an ambulance.  He needs to be cut down.  I'll take care of him when we get home."

"Get me the ambulance, Officer!   I'd rather go to the hospital than have Florence Nighting-Hell tend me."

Vin reached up onto his shoulder, activating the lapel mike.  "11-05, FC."

"11-05," Ladonna crisply answered. 

"Start us an ambulance this way.  Male subject conscious, breathing, caught on a barbed wire fence."

There was a pause.  "Repeat last, please."  Ladonna's voice sounded strangled.

"FC, he's hung up on a barbed wire fence."

"Confirming a driver, not the vehicle hung up on the fence?"

"That's correct."

"Ten – Four." Ladonna drew out the number four for emphasis, practically laughed on the radio.

"11-08, FC."

"11-08."  Humor was still evident in the female dispatcher's voice when she answered Nina.

"Tell them to bring bolt cutters, and call Mr. McClarran to come out here; we're about to cut his fence.  Start us a salt truck, and confirm Harold's Towing's enroute.  It's pretty bad out here."



Ladonna burst into laughter once she unkeyed.  "Oh my!   He's hanging on a barbed wire fence!"  She continued laughing, holding her sides. 

Casey shook her head.  "I can't do this."  Tears ran down her face.  "Okay, okay, stop laughing, Ladonna, so I can call the fire department."

"Like I can stop."  But she put her hand over her mouth.

Casey hit the button on the telephone. 

It was picked up on the first ring.  "Go ahead, Four Corners."

"I've got a fun one for you."

"I don't like your fun ones, Casey," said the man on the other end.

"I've got an accident. Two vehicles, both in a ditch, and one victim hung up in a barbed wire fence."

"You're kidding.  I know we all get a little loopy after four a.m., but that's taking it too far."

"I'm not kidding.  It's the Hendersons."

"Why didn't you say so?  That sounds like something they would do. Conscious, breathing alcohol fumes, absolutely drunk?"

"Yes, yes, and haven't confirmed."

"Nature of injuries?"

"Barbs in skin."

"Anything else?"

"Stand by."  Casey turned to Ladonna.  "Ask them if he has any other injuries."

"Sure."  Ladonna keyed up the radio.  "FC, 11-05."


Having carefully crossed the ditch without getting wet more than their boots, both officers approached the couple.  Vin's radio called him.

"FC, 11-05."

"11-05," Vin answered with his left hand.

"Does the subject have further injuries other than the barbs?"

"Stand by."

Harvey looked at the smaller officer.  "Hell.  Caswell." 

"Hello to you too, Mr. Henderson.  Where are you hurt?"

"I hate you," Bertrice said to Nina.  "You're a bitch."

"Nice to see you again, Mrs. Henderson.  Mr. Henderson, where are you hurt?"  Nina asked.

"She hit me!   That bimbo I married hit me!"  Harvey glared at his wife.

Exchanging a look, Vin moved closer to Harvey, while Nina stood between Bertrice and her husband. 

"What did she hit you with, sir?"  Vin asked.

"The bimbo hit me with her car, sent me flying!"

"The car slipped on the ice, you asshole.  I didn't mean to hit you.  If I meant to hit you, I wouldn't have used the brakes!"  Bertrice put her hands on her hips.

"Where did you hit him, Mrs. Henderson?"

"In that big mound of fat he calls his stomach."

"Officer?"  Nina didn't look over at Vin.

"Where does it hurt, Mr. Henderson?" Vin asked.

"Can't feel a damn thing."  When Harvey breathed out, his alcohol-laden breath nearly bowled Vin over. 

Blinking rapidly to clear his vision, Vin twisted slightly away, drew in a few deep breaths, and keyed up his radio.  It was key up or say something pithy, and it was too early in the call for sarcasm.  "11-05, FC.  Be advised he was struck in the chest by a vehicle."



"It's only getting better," Casey said into the telephone.  "He got hit in the chest with a vehicle apparently before getting hung up on the fence.  They want you to be sure to bring some bolt cutters, too."

"We send a fire engine on all accidents with injury, so that shouldn't be a problem.  Thanks for giving me this joy, Casey."

"Oh, my pleasure.  Highway Seven, just past the sharp curve, near the McClarran farm."

"Great.  Ice central."

"Pretty much.  I'm calling for a salt truck, but you know County Highways – usually a sixty-minute ETA.  Be careful."

"Wonderful.  I'll tell 'em, Case, but you know how it goes."

"Yeah, I do."  She laughed as she disconnected. 

"Ambulance and Fire Department notified."


Casey then paged County Highways, receiving the expected sixty-minute ETA.  The County Highway department went home earlier in the day, and it took about an hour for them to report back, get the equipment on the road, and respond to the scene.

Part 2

"FC, 11-05."


"Ambulance and Fire Department notified, salt truck sixty minutes, working on Mr. McClarran."


Vin looked at Mr. Henderson, and Nina moved off with Bertrice, out of earshot.  "Help's on the way," Vin stated. "So, which car were ya drivin'?"

"The Caddy."

"I'd suggest not movin' too much until help gets here.  It'll only dig those barbs in worse."

"I'm staying still, believe me."

A yell reached him from his wife.  "Don't move your sorry ass!"

"I ain't, ya bimbo!"  Harvey glared in that direction.

Vin redirected Harvey's attention.  "Are ya bleeding anywhere?"

"Can't tell because the bimbo covered me in mud."

"Okay.  So what happened?"

"A big, mutant deer with three heads, three racks, and six eyes stood in the road!   I swerved to avoid it."

"Three heads?"  Vin asked.

"Well, my eyes were a bit blurry."

"Why were your eyes blurry?"

"I don't know."

"Have ya been drinking tonight, Mr. Henderson?"

"Two beers."

Vin nearly rolled his eyes at the standard lie.  "Only two?"

"Yeah, just two beers."

"Ya smell like stale whiskey."

"I had some whiskey too."  

"How much?"

"One glass."

Vin's head drooped forward.  "How many times did you have the glass refilled?"

"I ain't answering that."


"Mrs. Henderson, tell me what happened."

"I gotta get him down."

"Ma'am, it's best if we don't move him right now, because if we do jerk him around, we'll only drive the barbs further into his skin."

"So?  He's due a little pain."  Bertrice Henderson shrugged.

"It means he'll be home longer with you while he's recuperating."

Bertrice leaned sideways to yell at Harvey.  "Don't move your sorry ass!"

"I ain't, ya bimbo!"  Harvey bellowed back across the distance separating them.

"Ma'am.  Tell me what happened."

"I was driving home, and when I came out of the curve, a short distance up I saw something jumping up and down in the road.  He was in my lane!"

"Then what?"

"I hit the brakes to see what was wrong, because there was this huge thing in the ditch, and I didn't know what to do.  The car slid, and it hit him."

"You hit the brakes, the car slid, and it hit him?"


"How fast were you going?"

"I don't know."

"Okay.  So when you hit him, what happened next?"

"I went into the ditch."

"Did you see where he went?"


"Did you look?"


"All right.  So you were driving the…?"


"Lincoln looks a little more buried."

"I tried to back out of the ditch so I could check on him."

"You tried to back out."


"Did you know it was your husband?"

"Not until I heard him yell 'bimbo'."


"I called Harold's company and requested a tow, and then tried to get him down.  I bet that little bitch Ruthie called you."

"No, ma'am.  You saw us drive up."  It was the truth, because Ruthie called Communications, and Ladonna called Vin. 

"Oh.  I guess you were looking for us."

"No, ma'am.  So have you had anything to drink tonight?"

"A glass of wine."

"How many times was the glass refilled?"

"Screw you, bitch."

"Ma'am, I'm being nice to you.  Please do not call me that.  How many times was the glass refilled?"

"I'm not saying."

"So you were driving the Lincoln?"

"I already told you that."  Bertrice rolled her eyes. 

"And you've had a few drinks."

"A glass of wine."

"That you won't say how many times was refilled."

"Piss off, bitch."

"Mrs. Henderson, I'm giving you a direct command not to call me that.  If you fail to obey, you will be placed under arrest."

"Piss off, Corporal." 

"Well, that's an improvement.  Why didn't you call for an ambulance?"

"Figured I could get him down.  What's with all the questions?"

"Your husband made the allegation you struck him.  My job's determining whether or not that's a valid complaint."

"Of course I hit him – I slid on the ice.  Aren't you listening to me?"

"Yes, ma'am, I am."

"Doesn't sound like it."


"My wife's getting pissed."   Harvey tilted his head in the direction of the two women.

"She won't do anything stupid, will she?"  Vin asked.

"That woman put down two bottles of wine tonight.  She'll get pissed and take a swing.  She hates Caswell.  I don't like Caswell, myself."

"Why's that?"

"She's arrested us both for DWI." 

"Ya ever think if ya didn't drink and drive, things like this wouldn't happen?" Vin asked.

"Yup, and Bertrice is about to fight.  Aren't you gonna go help?"

"Corporal Caswell can take care of herself."

"I'd bet on my wife."

Vin turned to see Bertrice take a good swing at Nina, who ducked out of the way. 

"You're under arrest, Mrs. Henderson!"  Nina's yell reached Vin's ears.

"Like hell, bitch!"  Bertrice swung again, and Nina dodged.

Laughing silently, he watched his friend, the woman he considered a sister, try to arrest Bertrice, and Bertrice tackle the policewoman.  Both went rolling down into the ditch.  Bertrice landed face first in the icy water, with Nina's weight pressing her further down when they stopped.

The corporal pulled Bertrice's arms behind her, handcuffed her, and then dragged them both up out of the ditch.  When they reached the top, Nina marched toward the other pair, and Bertrice kept trying to drag Nina back down into the snow.  Aggravated, Nina let Bertrice fall down, dodged the plethora of kicks and swings still coming her way, and finally dragged her face first through the snow, all the while telling her to stand up and quit fighting.  Bertrice continued to struggle, making it a classic case of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, all on the tape in Nina's car camera.

When they neared Vin, the Texan helped pick up the woman, and the two crossed the ditch carefully. The two officers carried the still wiggling Mrs. Henderson, who continued to yell obscenities and insults, and headed for Nina's car to put the woman in the back.  Just as they reached the shoulder, a patrol car pulled to a stop in front of them.   

Buck climbed out, took one look at the two women, the grinning Texan, and helped settle Bertrice across the hood of his vehicle.  "Mornin', Mrs. Henderson."

"She's crazy, Corporal Buck."  Bertrice spread her legs eighteen inches apart, her face sideways against the smooth hood.  "Did you see what she did?"

"Got any weapons, needles, knives, anything on you that I should know about, Bertrice?"  Nina asked.

"If I did, I wouldn't tell you.  But I don't, bitch."

"Mrs. Henderson, you are already under arrest for assaulting me.  Let's not add to the charges with failure to obey, okay?"  Nina quickly and efficiently frisked the woman.   

"Tanner."  Buck caught the smiling man's attention.  "Go back to the victim."

Giving Buck an obvious eye rolling, Vin went back to stand with Mr. Henderson, the human scarecrow. 

Buck then pulled Mrs. Henderson into a standing position, subtly blocking Nina.  The female corporal let him, pulling off her Stetson and pouring the water out.  When that was done, she roped  up the hair that escaped the tight knot she kept it in, held it up with one hand, and then mashed the Stetson down on top of it. 

"11-08, FC."


"Mark the time as one in custody, female party, assault on officer, disorderly, and resisting.  Additional charges may follow."  This meant that Nina had formally arrested Mrs. Henderson, and the time of the arrest, which would be needed for court and charging documents.

"10-4, 11-08.  One in custody.  Units okay?"

"Units okay, FC."


Wilmington saw what she was doing out of the corner of his eye, but focused in on the woman handcuffed in front of him.  "Mrs. Henderson, you have anything to drink tonight?"

"A glass of wine."

"Just one?"

"One glass."

Nina coughed. 

"Bitch," Bertrice mumbled. 

Buck said, "I think Corporal Caswell can help the ambulance crew, and then come back.  Okay?" 

"All right, Corporal Buck.  I like you, not her.  And I wasn't drinking too much tonight."

"I understand, Bertrice, and I appreciate your cooperation.  Let's move over here and get your statement."  He undid the handcuffs.


He helped the woman stand by the flat stretch of pavement on the side of his car, closer to the ditch than the highway, partially protected by the car, and began field sobriety testing.   


Nina watched the ambulance finish the curve and held her breath as it slowed. She saw the driver navigate the straightaway, past Buck's police car closest to the two vehicles jutting out of the ditch. It passed Nina's own car, making sure that at least one lane of traffic stayed open, and came to a perfect stop, without one single slide. 

She was there to help grab equipment within moments.  The white-haired driver climbed out, took one look at her, and shook his head.  "The troublemaker, I should've known.  You're soaked."

"I know."  She looked down at her uniform, giving a grimace.  "It's a mess."

"Get yourself dry quick.  It's too cold out here to be wet."

"I will.  Too much to do right now."

"All right, Cracker."  Cracker was Nina's street name, and one the driver used to remind her she was concentrating on work more than herself.

Nina nodded in acknowledgement, and then changed the subject.  "Nice stop with the ambo, Dempsey.  Appreciate you not hitting anything." 

"I know how to drive, kid.  Now, whatcha got for me?"  Mike Dempsey grabbed his trauma bag, gave his partner the backboard, and passed Nina some equipment to carry.  "Thought they said something about a man hanging on a fence." 

"Take a look."  Nina indicated the scene with a tilt of her head.  "He's conscious, breathing, snagged in four or five places, and states that he was struck in the chest with a vehicle and launched into the fence where he is now."

"I'd give it a seven," Dempsey said.  Steve Dempsey was a retired career ambulance driver and paramedic from a large Southern city, giving his time and skill to the local ambulance corps as a volunteer.  He loved the late night calls, and the corps loved him driving, since they only paid until midnight.  After midnight, the corps switched to volunteers, with paramedics taking turns being on call if the volunteers could not get out.   

"Please, Dempsey," his partner Mike Brewster replied.  "Where did he launch from?"  Brewster had been Dempsey's partner for twenty-five years, and they both had moved their families here when they retired.  The long-time friends had started a rating system sometime during their long partnership of what they saw, and what they believed the incident ranked.  That scale ran from one to ten; one
was boring, and ten was spectacular, and often a cause for discussion between them as they debated the merits of each situation they encountered.  Their banter was one of their most endearing qualities, along with the fact that they still loved to run calls. Volunteering at night gave them their thrills without having to give up their retirement.   

Nina said, "From what we can get, on the shoulder right before the Lincoln went for a nose-dive."

"Hit him hard enough to clear the ditch and land him upright," Brewster said.  "Plus didn't hit the car already in the ditch, and lined them up perfectly.  That's definitely a nine."

"How drunk?"  Dempsey looked at Nina.

"You don't recognize Mr. Henderson under all that mud, ice water, and down feathers?" 

"Harvey Henderson?  Oh, it goes down to a four now."

"I'll agree.  We'll keep it a four," Brewster said.  "It's the Hendersons.  Wrecking's old hat to them."

The two ambulance volunteers made their way across the ditch, coming to a stop by Harvey. 

"Who are you?"  Dempsey looked at the young officer.      

"Vin Tanner, sir."  Vin tipped his hat. 

"You training him, kid?"  Dempsey called over his shoulder to Nina, as he started taking Mr. Henderson's vital signs.  


"Train 'im right.  You, Tanner, listen to her.  She knows what she's doing." 

"Never doubted it."  Vin chuckled.

"Vin, I'll be back in a minute.  I'm going to watch Buck shove her into the car.  He's probably gotten her to admit how much she had tonight."  Nina walked across the ditch, coming to a stop a few feet from Buck and Bertrice. 

Buck looked hard at the woman he'd just finished taking a verbal statement from and administering field sobriety tests.  "Bertrice, you had more than one glass, didn't you?"

"I ain't saying."

Vin came up beside Nina.  "Hey," he said softly.

She smiled at him from under a dripping hat, and then focused on the pair again.

"I didn't drink that much!"  Mrs. Henderson nearly yelled her

"Bertrice, did you know your license was revoked?"  Buck looked at Mrs. Henderson with infinite patience. 


"Did you know it's against the law to drive revoked?"


"Why did you do it, Bertrice?"

"I like to drive."

"What about the alcohol restriction?"

"I knew about that."

"That you can't have any drinks at all, and you're not allowed to drive?"

"I wasn't riding with Harvey.  He's drunk."

Confronted with this nonsense logic, Buck sighed.  "Okay, Bertrice, turn around.  You can sit in the back of my car."

"I'm still under arrest?"

"Shouldn't have taken a swing at me, Mrs. Henderson," Nina said. 

"Corporal Buck, she's mean, a bitch, and she made me mad.  Doesn't she ever make you mad?"

Nina lifted a brow in Buck's direction.

Buck swallowed hard, and then clicked the handcuffs back on.

It was then, in that silent, awkward moment, Vin heard the fire engine coming, and he tipped his head in that direction.  The large engine came from the other direction, moving down the straightaway toward the curve, with the lights flashing.  He heard the air brakes applied, and then heard the big wheels lose traction.  "Aw, hell," he muttered. 

Disbelieving eyes watched the engine start to slide, and with its entire weight coming from behind, it sped up on the slick ice.  In the way was Nina's patrol car.

"No, aw, hell, NO!" 


The front end of the engine slammed full force into the back end of the parked patrol car, giving it a solid push.  That push sent the car across the highway toward them, the motion following the turn of the wheels from Vin's proper parking procedure with the wheels pointed out.

"BUCK!   Move!"  Vin yelled this as he threw an arm around Nina's waist and jumped, taking them both into the ditch.  They landed hard in the water, but Vin did not let them stay.  He half dragged, half carried his dripping friend up the bank, stopping in a heap at the base of the barbed wire fence, a few scant feet from Mr. Henderson, Dempsey, and Brewster.  He looked back to see Buck grab Bertrice, pick her up, and run to the other end of his patrol car.  Wilmington
then skidded to a stop, a look of horror on his face.

Vin's and Nina's attention was split between the unoccupied patrol car coming right at them, and the still sliding, starting to fishtail, fire engine.  The patrol car spun sideways, having absolutely no traction on the ice.  When one side of the patrol car reached the dip in the ditch, it was enough to drop that side, and physics, combined with gravity, did the rest.  The passenger side
went down, and the other side came up and over, ending with the car on the roof.  The sound of shattering glass filled the air as the light bar was crushed beneath the weight, and the area darkened immediately.  The A-frame spotlight, cocooned in a hard, metal case, continued to shine, lighting up the water with an eerie glow.  It showed the water moving into the car itself, and loose items started floating inside the vehicle.   

Taking their eyes of the remains of Nina's car, and Vin's responsibility, they looked down the Highway to the fire truck, halfway into a fishtail, and looking like it might go into the ditch and straight into the vehicles.  The other two humans stayed behind Buck's trunk, hoping that they might be missed.  Fate – or driver skill – smiled on them, and the engine's big tires caught some traction, finally stopping at an odd angle down the street, the back end inches from going into the ditch right at the start of the curve.

Dempsey stood above the wet police officers, Vin still covering Nina with his body, and stared at the wreckage.  The grizzled veteran said, "I'd give it an eight."  His slow drawl made it sound even more obscene.

"Hell, Dempsey, that's a nine point five.  The patrol car's toast and the driver of the engine managed not to put it in the ditch."

"If the nozzle nuts knew how to drive, and didn't go pell-mell to every call, after they'd been told there was ice on the road, then I'd give it the nine point five."

"Point taken, but he still didn't completely wreck the engine, and we don't have four more hosebeater patients."

"I'd still give it an eight.  You two okay?"  Dempsey looked down at the pair still lying in the snow, both entirely soaked through to the skin with freezing water. 

"Gee, thanks fer askin' right quick."  Vin shook his head, sending water everywhere.

Nina groaned.  She lifted her head to look into Vin's eyes.  "Vin."


"Please tell me a fire truck didn't just hit my car."

"Can't do that." 

Nina's head fell forward into the snow, and she let out a groan.

"Looks like those other two are okay."  Dempsey shrugged. 

"Excuse me."

"What?"  Brewster turned around to his patient.

"Is someone gonna get me down anytime soon?  It's starting to hurt!"  Harvey Henderson yelled. 

"Sure, Mister."  Dempsey chuckled.  "As soon as those four in that engine get their wits back together and clean their pants, they'll bring along the bolt cutters.  You two ready to get up now?"

"Reckon."  Vin rolled off his friend, and then helped her up.  They both shook water off of themselves, and brushed the worst of the snow off before it turned to thin patches of ice on their clothes. 

Crackle… hiss… spit. 

Both Vin and Nina looked down at their lapel mikes, watching them crackle, the static hiss, and water spurt out of the box. 

"Aw, hell."

"Yup."  Nina looked down, and saw the microphone for her camera also dripping water.  Not that the camera mattered much now, seeing as it was slowly filming underwater, but it was equipment that she had to write a report about to account for its damage. 

"Buck's waving," Vin said.  He held a thumb up to the other corporal, who gave one in return.  "Looks like he realized our radios died."

"Time to clean out the car.  What's left of it."  Nina sighed, and then waded into the water to her car, bending down and looking in.  Her hand dipped into the icy water, she reached through the broken window and pulled out one of the most important pieces of equipment in the car – the shotgun, usually mounted right behind the driver's head.  When it came out, she turned it over, and water poured copiously from the barrel. 

Vin came down to help her move everything to a sodden pile in the snow, including the dashboard camera.