four corners pd
By: Cin and Heidi
day one: Thursday (cont)
Nina looked up from her paperwork when a pair of headlights faintly lit the area and approached from a distance. She knew the visitor was either a co-worker or an informant. One reason she liked this remote, secluded spot was its isolation because only those looking for her knew about it. On the other hand, it could be a couple searching out a secluded area for a little ‘together’ time. She killed her interior red light, waiting and watching the approaching vehicle closely for any surprises. One hand rested on her gun and the other on her radio. She recognized the familiar shape of a ‘classic’ Mustang with the top down and sighed in relief. Vin. Immediately Nina thought to kill him for the tense moment he made her suffer.
He pulled up beside her chuckling at her cautious face. Nina’s car faced out with his facing in a short distance apart, putting him on her left side. “Hey. Not expectin’ anyone?”
“Hey yourself. And no, I wasn’t, but I am so glad to see you. How are you doing?” She smiled with true happiness at seeing him away from the thugs and miscreants he spent most of his time with now. All negative thoughts floated away as she hungrily examined him, visually checking him over both physically and mentally.
He shrugged. “Makin’ it.”
Nina thought things were doing good since he did not give her his standard ‘fine’ even when things were not fine. “Should I ask what happened to your ribs and eye?” The tilt of his head gave her the answer. “All right. You’re being careful, right?” Her tone said he better be or deal with her.
Vin grinned. “Yeah.”
She asked a question of him anyway just to be safe. “Anyone know you’re here?”
“Nah.” Tanner said, “Just the crickets and you. Find anywhere more remote?”
“Not without going to Outer North and visiting Josiah. Now leave my secret spot alone.”
She winked and asked him a question. “That an offer?”
Vin twitched when he belatedly realized the double meaning behind her ‘secret spot’ comment. “Hell, no!” he exclaimed.
He glared at her.
“Okay, okay. Hey, I need to talk to you.” With an agitated look, Nina said, “Speaking of checking things out, Vin, I’m hearing rumors.”
His tone remained flat, the blue eyes devoid of their normal life and merriment. “They don’t trust me yet.” He knew it and hated it. Vin needed their cooperation and gullibility to gather crucial evidence along with moving up in the organization.
Vin gave her another tidbit he learned on the sly. “They’re gonna ask for a loyalty test.”
His knowledge surprised her; she only found out tonight during the ruckus. “You’re as well informed as me.”
“Yeah, well, I’ve got my own sources.” Vin gave her his trademark smirk telling her that he knew more bottom feeders than she did. They opened up more around him than they ever would to her no matter how well she paid.
Nina rolled her eyes. “I believe it. Your sources telling you to watch your step?”
“Yeah, I’m kinda pushin’ things now. Sick of bein’ at the bottom. Want ta get this thing over with.”
“Don’t push too hard; they might push back in ways you’d rather them not. We’ve been down that road before.” Her warning read easily in her eyes along with the memories.
Vin sighed. “Yeah, I know.” His hand lightly smacked the steering wheel. “Just when things started goin’ right this shit comes down the pike.”
“It’s better now – we’ve got more friends backing us up. We’re not as alone.”
“Some days, girl, it feels that bad.” The lost look in his eyes nearly undid her.
Nina reached out and grabbed his hand, not letting him pull away. After a moment, he held on and squeezed. For all they went through before, this simple touch reaffirmed their bond and reminded them of what they fought against, both in the past and now. Blue eyes met blue eyes in a prolonged moment of silent support. Vin looked away first. “Hell, sis.”
“This is screwed up,” she agreed. “But you remember one thing.” Nina squeezed his hand until those soulful eyes met hers.
“You want out, you tell me.”
He immediately grew defensive. “I ain’t quittin’.”
Nina placated, “Didn’t say that. It gets too hot, I’ll get you out, Haskill or no Haskill.”
“You ain’t Haskill’s boss,” he told her.
“Haskill may run the Task Force but that doesn’t mean I don’t have pull. He treating you right?”
Vin glanced away and stayed silent.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” Nina shook his arm once.
“Sometimes I get, hell, forget it, it’s stupid.” He broke their grasp. For a minute he thought about voicing his concerns with her. Then he stopped. What did he really have? Nothing . . .just a feeling. She’d been dragged through enough shit before, no need to be dragging her into this too. He’d meet with Haskill tomorrow and then he’d decide what to do.
When he fell silent, she prompted, “Something’s bugging you. Let’s get it out and deal with it. We’re past the point of secrets between us.”
“Yeah, somethin’s buggin’ me. I didn’t get ta mess with Cowboy Cop enough.” He avoided the question with a mischievous grin and an eyebrow bob in her direction. No, very little stayed secret between them; what came before the police department formed cemented the bond between them.
Reluctantly Nina accepted his dodge and grimaced. “Gee, thanks.” Her mouth dipped down into a quick frown.
Her tone clued him that things may not be rosy between the corporal and her sergeant. He knew where the blame usually lay. “Ya pissed him off again?”
The look she gave him warned him he might not like the answer. “Pulled a Tanner. Charged in without backup.”
His grin lit up the night as he acknowledged the point against him. “Ain’t it fun?”
Her serious face lasted for three seconds before she finally laughed. “Charging in or watching Chris yell?”
“You know it.” Snickering, she reached down and grabbed her cellular telephone. Dialing quickly, she was thankful he answered on the first ring. “Come find me, Cow-boy.” End. Nina grinned at Vin whose answering smile reminded her so much of her older brother, all smirk and twinkling eyes. Her own blue eyes sparkled with humor as she remarked, “Figure that will bring him here quick.”
“Reckon so. Also reckon you’ll be in Yucka foot patrol fer half a shift.” Chris hated the moniker cowboy and only let a select few get away with calling him that; Nina was not one of them. Her response was to call him Sarge and Old Man, two terms that she knew twisted his tail. Cowboy usually brought a threat, retribution, and a grudging smile if he allowed her to say it.
“I’m already on his shit list so what’s one more offense?” Nina shrugged with the contentment at seeing Vin safe and not particularly caring about Chris’ wrath at her calling him cowboy. The topic of nicknames and insults reminded her it was time to harass the lean man across from her about the abuse he gave her at the bar fight earlier. “Snake and eggs, huh?”
Vin flushed in the poor lighting, letting his long hair cover part of his face. “Keith talks like that,” he replied, still avoiding her gaze. Silently he cursed that she remembered what he said.
“In your voice,” she teased. “And your body.” Nina winked at him. “You been working out? Things seemed a little tighter and…harder than the last time.” She clicked her tongue with a suggestive grin.
“Y’all can shut up now,” he growled at her. She knew just how to push his buttons and it aggravated him to no end.
“Nope. Unless you plan to make me scream?” Her eyebrows waggled at him in a fair imitation of his own personal quirk.
“Knock yer shit off, Enya.” It was a nickname he called her, catching her once leaving the women’s locker room after a workout humming the singer’s trademark tune “Orinoco Flow”. Put bluntly, Nina’s singing voice sucked, doing no justice to that song or any song for that matter. Vin never let her forget it, ragging her at every opportunity.
“Enya? I must really be getting to you tonight. You only call me that when you’re rattled.” After the first two months of the nickname, she eventually thought of one for him that he truly detested. As a compromise, they quit the name calling except when as a warning the other was about to go too far.
“Y’all ain’t rattlin’ me. Ya did enjoy that pat down too much though.” His narrowed eyes expressed his opinion of her earlier actions. His butt ached for about ten minutes after that pinch.
“Making it real, Vin.” Nina smiled insincerely. “And some days, I do so love my work.” Her hands made squeezing motions.
“Ya don’t need ta feel up every part of me,” he complained to her laughing countenance. He knew she perversely enjoyed the shakedown as a payback against him.
“You offer me snake and eggs in front of your friends and don’t expect me to retaliate? You’re lucky I didn’t ask to see the eggs grow or for some of the snake’s venom.” She said this without acting the least bit uncomfortable regarding the delicate subject.
His entire body flamed. “A man’s parts are his own. Ya need ta respect that and not grab everythin’ ya can get yer hands on. It’s not like I’m really one of them.” Sometimes what came out of her mouth amazed him. She had a dirty mind but he could partially blame that on Buck and Chris. Those two could be some of the most foul-mouthed, crude, suggestive, and perverted people when they wanted. Prolonged exposure rubbed off and corrupted her especially considering her impressionable age when fell in with them. He frowned as he rethought that, remembering some of the tall tales the three bantered around about things they did in the past. Maybe it was more like she rubbed off on them.
Her tone informed him he hit on the one topic that instantly set her off – questioning her professional ability. Her words emphasized her point. “You need to respect I’m a hard-ass police officer. When I shake you down, I’m going to shake you down. No holds barred. You’re not Vin then; you’re that asshole Keith Taylor. Keith does not get a break.”
He held his hands out in supplication. “Ya know I do, sis, but ya gotta watch yer roaming hands.” Once he saw her relax, he added, “Ya get randy, Buck will oblige. From yer attitude, take it he hasn’t lately?” The mischievous half grin infuriated her.
Vin dodged the waded paper missile, leaping immediately from his open passenger side as she threw open her own car door and lunged at him. He suddenly realized he must have really struck a nerve; she usually did not get so riled this quick. Silently the Texan wondered what must have happened between her and Buck to set her off like this. Maybe this could be interesting. He danced around the muscle car. “Now Enya, ya need ta calm down a mite.”
“I’ll calm down when I have you begging for mercy.” She circled left and he went right. Nina knew this was foolish but that remark about Buck after all the serious discussions she held with herself on that very subject just cracked her one last nerve. If Vin did not button his trap, he just might pay dearly for his remarks even if he may not know the cause.
Seeing a chance for some real payback, Vin could not resist. “Heard ya had Buck beggin’ when y’all was together. ‘Course, hear him tell it, he says ya pantin’ after him and couldn’t get enough.” He told her a blatant exaggeration because Buck respected her too much to talk about her that way. Whenever pressed, Buck either left the room, got a drink, or changed the subject quickly. Chris never anything other than ‘drop it’. He accepted their silence on their earlier times, thinking a little of it was payback for his and Nina’s silence on the events that occurred earlier in Four Corners that still kept people on edge. He figured he scored another point when her fists bounced off the metal and what sounded like a growl emitted from her throat. The Texan kept the mass of metal between him and the spunky corporal. Vin admired her tenacity; it impressed him enough when they first met for him to gradually allow her to become his friend. Friendship was something he found hard to give or accept, having been burned by too many in the past.
Now, he considered her an older sister worth tormenting. In the years he’d known her, she’d earned something else from him as well, something he never gave lightly: his trust. Vin also knew better than to let her get her hands on him; in a previous wrestling contest she found his ticklish spots and knew how to use them to her advantage. Her own experiences made her a dirty fighter. Hell, if Larabee and Wilmington routinely ganged up on him, he’d learn tricks too. Not counting their shared history in Four Corners before the others arrived. He considered himself a good fighter but when it came to her, they sparred evenly matched if she found that spot on his knee that dissolved him into helpless laughter.
She went left again and he dodged right but her feint caught him off guard. Nina leapt on the hood and dove at him over the far side of his car. The tackle sent them sprawling into the tall grasses growing along side her favorite parking spot.
“Watch it!” he called as she twisted mid-air. She took the brunt of the fall on her vest and back allowing him to land on top of her, belatedly remembering his ribs right as she flew. Once they landed, he took advantage of her concern, pinning her beneath him and grabbing her left knee, tickling it and giving no quarter.
Her hiccups filled the silent night as she worked on freeing herself. Her salvation came when headlights filled the small area, distracting him from his purpose. Knowing from the shape of the lights Chris arrived, she reversed their positions, balancing her weight on her elbows and knees. This time her hands found his ticklish spots and he laughed weakly under her expert ministrations.
The headlights swept over the familiar car with the open door and the Mustang. Seeing both vehicles empty, Chris scanned the area. Finding nothing, he ran the a-frame spotlight over the ground, catching movement off to his right. The light focused on a dark, familiar lanky form rolling his corporal over trying to pin her down. He allowed himself a grin; the two played like siblings, constantly trying to outdo the other in everything. This impromptu wrestling match between them might seem odd to others but it was a bit of normalcy among his rag tag group of family. He felt the iron band of worry and fear that clamped around his heart and emotions lessen just a little, giving him a respite from the constant anxiety he felt since Vin went under. Larabee exited his car.
A voice yelled at him from the mass of tangled limbs. “Hey, cowboy! Took ya long enough. Wanna help?”
“No, the cowboy does not want to help!” Nina barked as she wrapped her legs around Vin’s waist, attempting to roll him over.
“You call me a cowboy?” The blond sergeant tried looking stern, knowing she just threw out another challenge to him. He added dryly, “Again?”
Just before Vin unwrapped her legs and tossed her on her back again, she called out, “If the boot fits!”
Not caring if it was appropriate, Chris dove into the fray. The three tumbled around in the tall grasses unmindful of stains or appearances, gouging belts or equipment, and giving themselves over to fun and stress relief. Nina held her own for all of three seconds but having one of her oldest friends who knew all her weaknesses in addition to the Tanner Terror left her gasping for air at the bottom of the heap.
Once she cried her reluctant yet inevitable surrender, Chris and Vin rolled off her on either side, lying on their backs and panting from exertion. Vin idly rubbed his sore ribs as the three stared into the fading starlight. The undercover officer breathed a deep sigh of relief. As crazy as it may have been, this night was what he needed. First with Ezra and then with these two. A few minutes of silence passed before reality intruded.
Buck’s voice boomed through two lapel mikes. “11-02, 11-08.”
“Oh, go away,” Nina mumbled before reaching for her lapel mike. “11-08.”
Chris and Vin chuckled at her tone before Buck’s voice came through louder and more cheerful than the previous transmission. “11-07 needs your supplement regarding the DWI arrest.”
Nina thought, ‘I’m going to kill you, Buck. You know I’m trying to stay low if non-existent on the Larabee Radar. You don’t need to remind him that I owe you a supplement.’ Chris leveled that withering look at her and she shrugged, smiling sweetly. “It’s in the car, Sarge. I just finished it.” Into the mike she said, “10-4. 10-20?”
“Business check Haney House.” Translation: the all-night diner owned by Nettie Wells.
“10-4. En route.”
Vin frowned as he glanced between his two friends, “Who’s 11-07?”
The easy smiles that for a moment replaced the worried frowns reverted once more as it slammed home hard just how much Vin missed by being under for so long.
“That Buck’s rookie, JD,” Nina informed him. “Today was his first day.”
“Buck’s training?” Vin was again confused knowing that duty usually fell to Nina. He frowned as he wondered just how much more he missed.
“I’ll be transferring soon, brass figured it be easier not to start something I couldn’t finish,” Nina said with a shrug.
Vin nodded, “How is he?”
Chris turned a devilish smile on his friend preparing a bit of payback for some of the teasing he’d endured from his wily friend. “You know rookies. Too full of themselves, upstarts, arrogant as hell . . .”
Tanner caught the teasing glint in Larabee’s eye grabbing a handful of grass throwing it in his friend’s direction. He caught his innuendo and knew technically he’d spent such a short time on the street as an officer, he could still be considered a rookie, but he wasn’t an upstart and he wasn’t arrogant. He frowned further as his other so called friend chimed in her agreement.
“So true.” The woman saw the opportunity to harass Chris. “Take heart, Vin, because you quit being arrogant. Some people, like Chris, never outgrew that.”
Laughing Nina pulled herself off the ground, before she got caught in more retribution between the two friends. She looked down at the dark uniform and shrugged, not caring about the multiple grass stains this late in the shift. It was worth it to relieve a little of the stress for a friend and herself for that matter. She worried this assignment would permanently change Vin and hoped that these infrequent visits brought him a small measure of peace. A few brushes removed the worst of the weeds and the two men sat up as well. She felt a tug on her pants leg and gazed down at the younger of the two.
“Tell Nettie hey fer me, okay?” Vin asked a wistful smile forming as he thought of the older woman he cared so much about and considered a favored yet stern aunt if not a surrogate mother.
“She’s worried,” Nina baldly told him.
He caught the silent message that they all worried about him. “I know. I’ll try and see her for Sunday supper. Oh, tell everyone to check out the car show if they get a chance. Chanu’s supposed to get our entries in.”
Nina smiled knowing what the hobby shared between the two brothers meant to them. “Did you get that one finished?” Blue eyes waited with barely concealed anticipation.
Vin’s grin broadened, he cut a quick almost imperceptible glance to his friend, and said, “Yeah, it’ll be there.” Nina was one of the few that knew of the special project he’d been working on. A project meant as a special surprise for a certain friend who griped at the implausibility of making anything out of the rusted shell he’d helped drag out of the farmer’s field almost a year ago. Helped and bitched the entire time while doing it, ending up with a cut on his leg from where he failed to pay attention and sliced it open on the twisted, rusted fender. That friend vociferously complained about the cut but the two brothers laughed and told him it served him right. Later that night, Nettie just shook her head when she treated the wound.
Catching Larabee’s suspicious frown, Nina laughed knowing the ambiguous remarks would eat at him and his innate curiosity until he found out the solution to the mystery. Predictable, Larabee, very predictable. “Sweet. I look forward to it! And if you get the chance, Saturday afternoon, my house, poker game. You too, Chris.”
Vin nearly sat up at this news. “Yer hostin’ poker on a work night?” Someone slickly manipulated her in order to pull that off. He harbored a suspicion and the identity of his supposition pleased him. Perhaps the thought of ‘who’ inspired the raw nerves regarding Wilmington and her. Vin took that as a good sign. As long as she was happy. God knew she deserved it.
Nina would not meet his eyes. “Yeah, well, whatever. Be there, okay?”
The mystery momentarily forgotten, Chris smirked guessing how she volunteered to host. Probably had something to do with a southern pain-in-the-ass working his own brand of guilt on the corporal for her lapse of judgment earlier that night.
Vin remembered that saying ‘curiouser and curiouser’ as he contemplated her lack of eye contact, something unusual for them. No eye contact meant something brewed in that twisted brain of hers and it probably dealt with confused feelings. If he looked hard, he probably would see the questions in those blue depths but her pride refused to allow that so she avoided him. With a reluctant shrug he answered, “No guarantees.” He changed the subject for her as she did for him.
Giving Vin a small nod of thanks and a smile telling him she understood, Nina instructed, “You take care of yourself, you hear me?”
His wise-ass grin should have warned her. “Reckon I will, but who’s pantin’ and goin’ after Buck now?” He dodged the flying female body and let Chris stop her before she came close to connecting. It took a couple tries, not helped by Vin’s taunting laughter, but Larabee finally spun her around and shoved her in the direction of her car. With a glare at her Sergeant and a final silent ‘good luck’ to the Texan, she climbed in her vehicle and drove off, leaving the two good friends alone for some much needed down time.
Once the taillights disappeared, Vin casually turned his friend and berated, “Next time ya might want ta get here quicker.”
“Why’s that?” Larabee repositioned himself back on the ground beside his friend. Silently he wished they did not have to resort to these back woods out of the way meets.
“’Cuz that she-cat’s got nasty claws. I’m gonna have fingerprints on my skin.”
Chris smirked with contentment at the normalcy knowing Vin complained good-naturedly about Nina’s harassment. He’d mutter about the bruises but the Texan would not trade a minute of it, especially now when times like these were few and far between. Feeling good, Chris dispensed his standard advice regarding Nina. “Poke a rattler, pay the consequences.”
The scowl he gifted his friend with did not reach his eyes. “Yer all heart, Larabee.”
Chris saw the warmth and relief of being surrounded by friends, if even for a moment, gave the younger man. Once again, he thought about how much he hated what this assignment cost his friend. The slight changes that others may not have picked up on showed easily to Larabee’s discerning eyes and he also knew how much Tanner hated it. The rougher language and dark circles under the eyes were the minor signs; the deeper core feelings worried him the most these days. He resumed the conversation with a question. “So how’d she catch you?” On foot, Vin’s speed and longer legs usually kept him one step ahead of her.
“Hell,” he muttered before saying, “Dove across the damn hood of the car. Gotta buff out the footprints, too. Not that both of y’all didn’t muck it up at the bar earlier.” Vin crossed his arms behind his head as he lay back and stared at the sky. He loved this time of morning – nothing stirred yet as the world paused briefly between the night and the coming day.
“She’s sneaky that way,” Chris agreed with a genuine grin. Long experience taught him that Nina was extremely crafty. Especially after watching her chase Buck around whenever he frequently riled her about something. Sometimes, Chris wondered if Buck provoked her for his own amusement because the rogue liked the abuse she dished out. Both had hellacious tempers and when pushed, they dished out massive damage. Nina knew how to push his buttons and he knew just how to push hers. ‘Course, their makeup sessions contained the same intensity of their fights and neither could stay mad at the other for long stretches. Chris still did not know what caused her to leave Nevada or the reason for the uncharacteristically reserved reception they both got when they first saw her here. Thinking about it, he did his own share of provoking back then and hell, she chased him too when she thought he deserved it. Most times, he did. Sometimes Sarah saved him from her best friend only to make him suffer worse later under her merciless hands. The grin grew bittersweet as the sharp pain of loss pricked him.
Vin continued with his complaints unaware of Chris’ thoughts. “Woman put her hands all over me so I told her she overdid it. She had the nerve ta tell me she frisked me that much ta make it look good. Ya believe that shit?” He snorted. “Won’t say what kind of low comment she made about my privates. They ain’t any of her business.” Keith Taylor’s bravado stayed absent leaving only the real Vin Tanner shining through for a change.
Considering the ‘snake and eggs’ comment, Chris knew Nina’s adult response probably caused an extreme flush in the normally shy man lying on the ground beside him. He pitched his voice at his most sympathetic knowing Vin would tell him. “What did she say?”
“Said somethin’ about how I was lucky she didn’t ask ta see the ‘eggs grow’ or ask fer some of the ‘snake’s venom’. She’s got no shame.”
Chris could not help it; he laughed for almost a full minute until his sides ached. He could just hear her in his mind and see Tanner’s reaction.
Larabee’s hilarity offended Vin; he thought his friend would take his side and act properly offended like he was by her comments. “Ya think this is funny, Larabee?”
Vin reached over and punched him in the arm.
Chris shoved him back. “You know how long she’s known Buck. Hell, they lived together. You think shame ever entered their vocabulary?” Conveniently, he did not mention his own contribution to the Corrupt Caswell’s Mind project initiated by himself and Buck. He snorted, remembering the times by his pond in the summertime. They talked him and Sarah; well, mostly Sarah – Chris usually had more than a few beers in him courtesy of Buck – into skinny-dipping in the Larabee pond. Skinny-dipping led to chicken fights, dunking, and degenerated from there.
Vin considered his friend’s words before saying, “Didn’t think on it that way.”
Chris continued chuckling and finally shook his head. The memories still caused a pain to pierce his heart but they were getting better. The happy ones made the pain fade a bit more each day. “The stories I could tell…”
“Yeah?” Vin propped himself up on an elbow, his head facing his friend, blue eyes curious.
His friend matched his position so they could see each other’s face and eyes in the dim light of the wakening day. “There was this one time at NHP that we got a whole new fleet of cars and the three of us each got one. We acted prouder than peacocks over those, keeping them buffed and polished all the time. This one night the shift dragged and everyone found somewhere to hide. I went looking for…”
Buck’s voice interrupted, “11-02, 11-01.”
Larabee stopped, enjoying the expressions on his friend’s face. First the anticipation of a story and then disgruntlement at this interruption showed clearly on his friend’s face. “11-01,” he answered.
“Be advised I’m direct on the animal complaint 11-08 handled earlier. Do I need to contact Wildlife?” The laughing tone came through clearly.
Vin’s face immediately darkened and he glared daggers at the radio. “I’m gonna skin me a she-cat and that no good rascal, friends or not.”
Chris felt his grin widen. “Negative. I think I’ve got it under control.” Just as he unkeyed, Vin punched him in the side through the vest. He twisted away with a grunt. Receiving that punch required immediate payback on the instigators. Larabee said in his best authoritative voice, “Be advised you and 11-08 have a vehicle inspection later tonight.”
“Confidential results, correct?” Buck’s hopeful tone also held a note of warning.
His smirk encompassed his entire face. “Negative.” He drew it out long and low.
The reply sounded long-suffering. “10-4.”
He knew Nina was probably pummeling the hell out of Buck. Time to make it worse. “11-08, are you direct?”
He heard sadistic laughter in her voice. “10-4. Go to Channel 4.”
Yup, she was beating up Buck. Chris flipped over, knowing the rest of the shift switched over with them but the frequency stayed confidential and unavailable to the public. “Go ahead, 11-08.”
“Be advised I left the snake in the grass and it was viciously protecting a pair of tiny eggs. Watch out for the small tongue also. It may have been coiling to strike or spit. Don’t know how long it can reach, maybe one to three inches at most. Might get a little vicious with you.”
“Must have been taking lessons from you,” Chris cracked back, holding his newly bruised sides once he unkeyed. Vin packed quite a wallop in the rapid series of blows delivered the longer Nina talked. Once he regained his breath, Larabee rolled away and kept laughing.
“One to three inches my ass. I’ll give her…” he cut off as Chris convulsed beside him. He slapped at the nearest target a few more times and started complaining again. “Brazen, shameless hussy,” Vin hissed. “Ain’t got a lick a’sense. Gonna have ta do somethin’ about that.”
Nina chose that moment to answer. “Possibly. If you see venom, let me know. 11-08’s switching back to one.”
“She’s gonna regret that.” The Texan sat up and looked directly at Chris. “Now ya gotta tell me what ya started; I’m needin’ some blackmail material.”
Chris considered and decided he would enjoy watching the mischievous Texan wreak havoc on two of his oldest friends. He said, “I went looking for them. Since I knew their usual hiding places, I checked them first. Nothing. It took me forty-five minutes to find them because neither answered the CB channel we used then. When I did, both were unhappy to see me.” He paused for effect. “Once they noticed I was there.”
The implications of that comment surprised the normally unflappable Texan. “They broke in the car? On duty?”
“Hell, yeah. They’d already done his and were working on hers when I rolled up. My timing worked for me but not for them. Worst possible moment.” Chris winked.
Vin flushed thinking about what Chris drove up on that late night. “Whatcha do?”
“Got the Polaroid.” Larabee replied with an evil grin, remembering the very compromising position he caught the oblivious pair in.
The Texan sputtered. “Ya took pictures?”
“One. Flash tipped them off. Never saw two people straighten uniforms quicker. Still wonder how they got the vests on so fast. Locked myself in my car and backed far away until they cooled down.” He let his green eyes meet the incredulous blue eyes and the men burst into laughter. Larabee was lucky he lived considering Nina’s explosive temper and Buck’s cross between anger, amusement, and desire for revenge.
Vin could just see the scene in his mind. “What happened to the picture?”
“Still have it. Works for encouragement when I need it. Good thing I came along when I did; ten minutes later, our shift commander showed up for vehicle inspections. Thought he’d take advantage of the slowness to get them out of the way, make them a surprise. Never so happy to see that man in my life.” He remembered it took considerable restraint for Nina not to maim him in front of the Shift Commander and Buck’s amused eyes promised later retribution. Along with a chorus of, ‘You just don’t do that to a man, especially a friend, Chris, and I thought you knew better.’
Tanner followed events through to the logical conclusion. “So ya told Buck you’d do vehicle inspection…”
“Just to rattle his cage. The confidential results was his way of asking if I told you.”
“Oh. So he knows that I know.”
“Right. And Nina knows you know.”
A glare struck Larabee dead center for putting him in the middle of this. “Hell. Thanks, cowboy.” Vin paused in contemplation. “Always reckoned she was a little wild but didn’t think she do the nasty on duty,” mused Vin. “Buck, she-et, he’ll keep ya guessin’ and never know what ta expect.”
“As far as I know, that was the only time. They’d been on opposite shifts for three months straight and never had a day off together. We worked nights and she worked evenings then we’d switch.” Chris took a deep breath and pushed the pain away from what he said next. “Some dickhead Sergeant got a case of the ass with them working and living together. Got her transferred to his squad – she had the lowest seniority so she was ordered to go cover what the Sergeant called ‘shift shortage’. Took several months before things straightened out and she transferred back.”
Chris did not mention that Sergeant’s ulterior motives or the result of that fiasco. He knew Nina fiercely guarded her privacy and if she wanted anyone to know, she would tell him or her herself. That excluded humiliation especially after her shot at him. He was not arrogant – just confident. Personally, he felt thankful everything turned out well and Nina did not turn into another victim or statistic. Larabee paused, switching to a topic that truly interested him. “How are you doing?”
The standard answer came with an indifferent shrug. “Fine.”
“Your face says otherwise.” Chris pressed, worried about Vin’s cover and what happened when they were not around to protect his back. Vin out there alone without backup bothered him the most about this assignment. Listening to the tapes earlier was proof that those worries might not be unfounded. This assignment was not like the larger cities or counties that could afford the bigger undercover operations. Larabee felt uneasy from the beginning on this assignment but it was only suppose to be a small problem. Something the small number of officers assigned to the Task Force should have handled quickly and that proved wrong so far.
“Just got inta a little scuffle, cowboy. Nothin’ ta worry about.” His words did nothing to reassure his friend.
“And your ribs? Heard most of that ‘little scuffle’. It sure didn’t sound like nothing to worry about.”
“Lucky punch. Hurt like hell.”
“Must have been with your self-defense skills.”
“Three on one odds didn’t work in my favor.” Vin groaned as the Sergeant’s face darkened. “Easy, Chris. It’s over.”
“No, it’s not. They still don’t trust you. This is not what we bargained for.”
Vin rolled. “I know. They’re gonna ask fer a loyalty test.”
“You already knew or Nina told you?”
The longhaired man nodded. “Already knew. They’re looking ta buy guns. I’m working on findin’ their contacts, but…it’s on the tape.”
“I heard.” The sergeant did not mention the second trip to the workout room after processing the tapes as evidence and forwarding them to the appropriate recipients. Or how that did nothing for his anger.
Vin snorted. “At least mine was a real fight and not that that puny brawl you had. Getting soft, Larabee. Only saw a few treated by the ambulance.” Chris looked away. Vin drew back surprised. “Weren’t yers? Must have been Josiah, then. He looked like he was havin’ fun. What were ya doin’?”
“Getting Nina’s ass out of the fire.” The look the blonde gave Vin told him to drop it.
Tanner gave a closed mouth smile and understood Nina’s momentary reluctance earlier to call Chris. “Poker night, huh? He’s getting better at manipulatin’ her. Guessin’ that’s why she sassed ya too.”
Chris waved a dismissive hand. “Don’t care about Nina or Ezra right now. What are you planning? What do you think this test is going to be?”
The young man sighed knowing that his usual attempts at turning the line of conversation would not work with Larabee this time. “Gonna follow along, play their little games. We gotta get the drugs off the street and arrest this bunch. It’s not just the simple little gang we thought at first. But we can’t let ‘em get bigger. The test?” He shrugged.
“It worries me, you out there alone.” An emotional admission by the normally stoic man showed the depth of his concern for the man he considered a best friend.
Blue eyes acknowledged the worry with a silent message of his own passing on he truly was fine. “Hopin’ it’s just a month more. I won’t lie ta ya, cowboy, it’s bad. Almost as bad as ‘fore y’all got here but not there yet.” Vin stopped, deep in thought and remembering something.
Once again, Chris wanted to ask, wanted to know what Vin, Nina, and the others compared the current situation to but held back. Asking Caswell only pissed her off; they already had one nasty scene awhile ago and he really did not want a second. He’d searched the newspapers from that time but nothing major was mentioned. He eventually learned from Mary that a number of files turned up unaccountably missing. Approaching Chief Travis about it was out of the question; most of the time, he refused discussing it. Chris figured it was because of the understandably painful memories it raised regarding the loss of his son.
Rain hinted but never explained. When asked, Nettie’s face tightened with pain and grief and she turned stern silence into an art form. Judging from her reaction, he did not dare approach Casey. It seemed to Chris the entire town lived under a self-imposed code of silence. Even his best friend Vin grew even more closed mouthed or walked away instead of talking about it. Chris kept hearing the phrase, ‘you weren’t here’ before someone shut up, shook their head, or left. Mysteries like this frustrated him. He respected people’s privacy but this silence interfered with him doing his job and others around him from doing theirs. Something this emotionally charged could potentially explode in their faces. But Chris knew if Vin wanted him to know, the Texan would tell him.
As if reading Larabee’s thoughts for a change, Vin said, “’Fore ya ask, and I know yer itchin’ ta, I don’t want ta talk about it. It does no good ta drag up the past.”
“I’m not asking,” the sergeant defensively replied.
“I don’t always get what I want.”
“Like a brain?”
“Fuck you, Tanner.”
Vin laughed at him. “Nah. Just goin’ ta enjoy this time while I can. Don’t get ta see y’all often enough.”
“You figure another month of this shit?”
“Reckon so.” He hoped tonight’s actions sped up that timeline. Knowing Larabee’s temper, he definitely chose not to let him in on the route he was taking.
“Damn month too long. This fucking thing’s dragging,” vented Chris.
The curse words indicated the level of worry. “Cowboy, I’m watching my front, back, and all my parts in between. What I ain’t, Nina’s got eyes and ears reportin’ nearly every move. Startin’ to feel a bit smothered.”
“We give a shit, Vin. That’s why. Get it through your thick mule headed skull that a group of fine people gives a good damn about you, about you staying alive, and about your well-being. You can’t understand that, I’ll beat it into your head.”
“Damn, cowboy, that’s more words than ya normally say in a day.” The twinkling blue eyes told the green-eyed Sergeant he understood.
“Yeah, well, when talking to glue bait, you have to make it simple."
“Who ya callin’ glue bait, old man?” Vin used one of the hated nicknames his older sister tormented Larabee with when she wanted to rile him.
“Cowboy…now old man? You’re asking for it Tanner.” Chris thumped a fist against his chest, more than willing to wrestle a bit more. “You want some of this?”
“Hell, cowboy, ya ain’t got nuthin’ but hot air.” Vin ducked the swing aimed at his head and quickly rolled the offending arm behind Chris’ back. “Like I said, nuthin’ but hot air.”
Larabee countered the move by kicking the younger man’s knee and the ground fight started in earnest. The two friends grappled until they called it an exhausted draw. Both fell back in the grass in better moods as the sun slowly warmed the morning sky.
“Hate ta do this but gotta leave. I’ll try fer Saturday.” Vin brushed the grass off his clothes and extended a hand, helping his friend to his feet.
Chris swatted the worst of it off and silently berated Caswell for her choice in report writing spots. Reluctantly, he turned to his friend knowing it was time to part. He cursed himself for not getting more answers to his questions, but knowing his friend would not answer anyway. Larabee forced himself to let Vin go back into the world that Chris hated. “All right. Watch your back.”
“Always.” The full arm shake and the exchange of looks said more than either man was willing to admit. Chris let the Mustang roar off first, giving him a twenty-minute head start before heading for Haney House. He knew the rest of the shift already gathered there since the car’s clock read six thirty. Somehow, almost ninety minutes passed since he got the call. It might seem like a lot of time wasted to some but to him it was not enough. It would never be enough until Vin came out from under and they could stop worrying.
Buck’s emotions stayed in an uproar as his mind remained on Inez, the softness of her skin, the way she felt in his arms, her perfume, and the intensity of emotion charged the air between them. Raw, fresh desire trapped him within its web. The excitement of it kick-started a heart long thought dormant and stuck in a particular groove. He remained quiet as he drove to the diner, finally pulling in beside Nathan and Josiah’s patrol cars as he reached their destination in the back parking lot within view of their table. The owner let them use the back exit when they needed to leave in a hurry. “Kid, I am going to introduce you to a real lady, one Miss Nettie Wells. I hope you have manners under all that cockiness.” Buck failed to realize he partially repeated himself about how JD should act from before they detoured to see Inez.
“My name is JD, not Kid, and yes, I have manners.” Presenting Buck with a disgusted glare, he slammed the car door and started for the front of the diner. With a couple rigs parked on the lot, JD looked in the glass windows showing the only customers wore guns, badges, and patches that read “Four Corners.”
The front of the diner held several large panes of glass with booths overlooking the concrete and a collection of carefully tended flowerbeds, bushes, and trees. Nestled at a major intersection, Haney House attracted business from all of Four Corners as well as frequent travelers on the Interstate. Currently owned by Nettie Wells, an independent, feisty woman, she preferred working the early morning hours into the afternoon then returning home to tend the small ranch her husband and his brother left her.
Her young niece, Casey pitched in with the chores when she arrived home in the mornings after her shift and between the two of them they managed to keep her ranch prosperous. It was not always just the two of them. The small truck farm and horse-breeding ranch originally started as a joint venture between the two Wells brothers, meant to be a family operation but as the ranch prospered and grew according to their dreams, the family did not.
Jonathan and Michael Wells were as close as two brothers could be and had always thought their families would also be so. Tragedy marred their dreams and watched them die. First Nettie and Jonathan lost their sons one to an accident the other to the emotional aftermath. Michael suffered the loss of his wife and infant son, struggling hard in the emotional wreckage to raise his daughter alone. Yet Fate was not finished with the family as both brothers met with fatal accidents, later discovered to be murders. Accidents or murders, it truly did not matter because the outcome was still the same; the two women were left behind to manage alone. The older charged with raising a young girl who at first couldn't understand why their family suffered so much loss. Nevertheless, the two survived and eventually started prospering again, physically and emotionally due to the Nettie's fortitude and a few friends.
As Buck and JD entered Haney House, Nettie waved at them from her position of wiping down one of the booths. Buck took the initiative by striding over to her, picking her up, drawing her into a huge hug, and spinning her around in a large circle.
“Buck Wilmington! You put me down this instant!” Nettie scolded him but her voice lacked heat or censure. Secretly, she enjoyed the attention lavished by the gentle rogue, neither caring about her age nor treating her less of a woman because of it.
Planting an exaggerated kiss on her cheek, Buck set her on her feet and pulled her against his side. He gestured to his rider in front of them. “Miss Nettie, allow me to introduce you to our newest rookie, Officer JD Dunne. JD, this is Miss Nettie Wells, the queen of my existence and my best gal.”
“Flatterer.” She laughed while slapping his vested chest. “Officer Dunne, a pleasure to meet you.” Nettie extended her hand and the rookie shook it, giving her the respect of a decent handshake instead of a wimpy one holding the fear of hurting her by squeezing too hard.
“This is also Casey’s aunt. You know the dispatcher you met at the start of shift.” Buck gave the rookie a small wink. The unspoken warning was there that if JD thought about Casey, he’d also deal with her aunt.
JD subconsciously looked the woman over and guessed her in the low five feet range especially against Buck’s side. With a thin but sturdy build, dressed in a long skirt, dark colored blouse, and an apron tied around her middle, she projected a motherly air but with an added toughness that screamed ‘don’t mess with me’. Distinguished wrinkles lined her face adding to the wisdom in her eyes. Her short, curled white hair framed her face and emphasized the no-nonsense aspect of her personality.
Nettie approved of what she saw in return: eagerness, respect, and self-confidence that allowed the youngster to present himself well. She saw a hint of that youthful exuberance in her Vin every once in a while and hoped this addition brought new life to the squad. Recently, they fell into complacency and it worried her. She corrected herself; it was not complacency; it was existing instead of living. Part of it dealt with Vin being under for such an extended time and the constant worry that brought. The other was the repetitive and routine calls the shift was inundated with day after day. It would do them good to see their world through fresh eyes. “Welcome to Haney House, young man.”
“Thank you.” He tipped his hat to her. Looking around the diner, he found it very welcoming with the counter not too far from the door running the length of the business. Swivel stools with dark blue padding matched the navy trim throughout the place and the dark blue booths lined the white walls and windows. Different pictures displayed various scenes of, wild horses, plateaus, mountains, and the southwest in the background, all designed to help the restless eater or the weary traveler find something peaceful to look at while their food was prepared.
Tucked in the back corner far away from the front windows sat a large, circular booth with the ability to see the entire diner, the parking lot, and every entrance/exit. The back door was nearby and the patrol cars easily accessible. Nettie understood the nature of their jobs and gave the officers all the advantages she could. If she knew they were coming, she put a ‘reserved’ sign on that table and refused to let anyone sit there.
Josiah and Nathan currently occupied the booth, their mugs in front of them and reports spread out on the table. Both quit writing when Buck arrived and smiled at his antics. As they currently had the diner to themselves, Josiah called out, “Hello, brother.”
“Hey, Josiah.” Buck let Nettie go and went behind the counter to pour some coffee.
“Buck Wilmington! I’ll wait on you!” The owner reprimanded, hands on her hips and a scowl crossing her features.
The trademark Wilmington grin appeared. “Now, Miss Nettie, you work so hard all the time and it’s no trouble for me to get it myself.” He tried his charm and logic in getting back into her good graces.
“I’ll remind you this is my place and you don’t go tramping through here like you own it.” She glared to ram home who was the boss of this place.
He smiled at her and stopped what he was doing. “Yes, ma’am.” He then made his way around the counter and sat down at the booth. JD joined him as Nettie walked over, still giving Buck a glare that cause the rogue to shift uncomfortably side to side. When she did that, he felt as big as an ant.
She directed her next comment at JD, “What can I bring you, son?”
“Coke, please, ma’am.”
“Certainly. You two eating yet or doing reports?”
“Reports,” Buck answered for them and she nodded her understanding.
“The never ending cycle of documentation,” Josiah grinned as he heaved a sigh. “No matter how advanced our society becomes, we always rely on the written word.”
“Just be careful what written word you trust,” offered Nettie. She brought over a soda and placed it in front of JD. Her other hand held the coffeepot. “Nathan or Josiah, you boys need a refill?” She smiled at the black man and he answered it, accepting the tea bags she passed him from her apron pockets.
The older woman liked the quiet, steady paramedic, pleased with the balance he provided to this eclectic, energetic group. She knew a little of the trials he suffered before he arrived at Four Corners from several late night talks over tea and coffee. Where many people would probably be bitter about such treatment and constantly harp on how unfair their treatment, that was not Nathan.
She also knew he kept his hidden temper under a tight rein; a temper that if released made every person on his squad wince. He would have made a caring doctor had he not been denied the opportunity. He still did what he could with the medical knowledge he amassed over the years to help others and especially his friends but hated it when his friends failed to follow his advice. Nettie enjoyed the rare opportunities of hearing him yell at a few of his friends after they suffered injuries. He wanted them to take care of themselves but they often disobeyed or pushed doctor’s orders. Yet he continued to fight them as the self-nominated committee of one to insure they did what they were supposed to do and help their recovery in any way he could. She smiled and wished more people cared as much as he did.
“Nettie, is Chanu still planning on fixing the fence tomorrow?” asked Josiah. She nodded while refilling his mug. She met Chanu when he came to Four Corners looking for his blood brother, Vin Tanner. He now served as her foreman in addition to starting his own small ranch that he ran with his wife Claire. He and Claire leased the land and house that belonged to Michael Wells from Nettie, raising a few horses and rebuilding cars and old farm equipment on the side. He helped keep the truck farm going and the produce sold provided an adequate income for the ranch.
“I think so, Josiah.”
“Tell him I’ll be by around two to give him a hand,” the big man said.
She frowned at him. “You don’t have to do that.”
Josiah knew how much she hated taking charity so he rephrased his response. “I know that but I want to work off my debt for all the meals you’ve generously gifted me with over the years.”
“Wasn’t any trouble.”
“Let me do this, Nettie. I need a little exercise to keep myself from gaining too much weight from your fine home cooking.” He patted his stomach and gave her an option that allowed her to not take his help as charity.
“Well, all right, I’ll call him this morning and tell him.” Nettie felt a rush of warmth for her friend flow through her system. Josiah always pitched in and both of them knew he did it for her, not because of exercise or free meals. However, she had been independent since the day she kicked her way into this world foot first and hated taking what she considered charity from others. Josiah often lent an ear or became her sounding board for her own problems without complaint, giving her advice that not only made sense but helped her out of her own predicaments. He also provided spiritual comfort around those times that the memories of her loved ones brought her down. She walked off before anyone could see the softening in her expression; it would not do for the young’un to see what she considered her weak, emotional side. She did not know him that well yet.
The police officers settled in on their paperwork. “So, JD, how do you like your first day?” asked Nathan.
“It’s been pretty exciting. I mean, I had a foot pursuit and a DWI all in the same night, not counting the fight all of you had.”
“You know it isn’t always exciting.”
“Yes, sir, I know.”
The sir still threw Nathan but he let it pass with a smile. He remembered how strict Nina was about respect when she taught the first Four Corners class at the Academy, drilling it into their heads until it became second nature. “Call me Nathan.”
“Yes, s..Nathan.” JD managed a smile and Nathan gave him one in return.
“I want you to read something,” Josiah passed him a piece of paper from his folder. “Read it and learn. That’s yours to keep.”
JD held the paper in both hands and saw it was a poem by an unknown author. He read it carefully.
At nineteen I began my journey,
Down the road I chose
To be a protector of rights,
Though, danger it would pose.
Just a kid, some would say,
Wearing that badge and gun.
I promised to uphold the law,
Until the job was done.
My Mom and Dad were very proud,
Their praise would never stop.
The little blonde haired son they raised,
Had chosen to be a cop.
It didn’t take long for me to see,
What the job was to entail,
The senseless crimes that man commits,
That sends his soul to Hell.
Robbery, Rape, and Homicide,
The victims haunt me still,
I became a part of each of them,
Their pain, it seems, I feel.
For many years I walked the beat,
Dealing day and night,
With more tragedy than most would see,
In their entire life.
I was taught to be the strong one,
I could not weep when others cried,
I must be strong and do the job,
The emotion I must hide.
I was not to fear as others did,
When facing certain danger.
I became accustomed to tragedy,
And suspected every stranger.
Don’t sit with your back to the door,
Don’t sleep too sound to hear,
Be prepared for anything,
Always keep your pistol near.
Don’t back down, Never give up,
Don’t let them see you sweat.
When finished with the murder scene,
The victim’s face, forget.
Now I’m haunted by all these memories,
Children, Women, and Men,
I meet them in my dreams at night,
I relive those days again.
No one knows the pain inside,
I’ve learned to hide it well,
Faceless victims of a thousand crimes,
Each tells an eerie tale.
Images and feelings often return,
My memory they stain,
Was there something more I could have done,
To help them ease their pain.
Help me God and teach me,
To deal with every day,
And thank you Lord for hearing me,
Every time I pray.
JD looked up at the officers and saw the understanding and the price each man paid for their job through new eyes. “I’m sorry, sirs, but isn’t this a bit depressing?”
Buck gave him an encouraging smile. “It is, but it’s also true. You’re being given the chance to start out fresh and we hope you stay that way.”
“With a little divine intervention,” added Josiah. “Trust your friends and co-workers, JD, and we’ll steer you right.”
The rookie nodded his agreement and put the poem in the front of his own clipboard.
“While you’re in there, let’s get your beat sheet started and make sure you have all your paperwork together.” The trainer smiled at the groaning trainee.
What seemed to be an interminable time later they caught up on all the documents, JD receiving a crash course and more than he needed to know on how to take a report quickly. He also realized he needed some paperwork for his DWI arrest folder. “Uh, Buck, I think I need Cpl. Caswell’s supplement before I can turn this in.”
Buck flipped through the folder and nodded. “That you do.” He reached up to his shoulder and keyed his mike. “11-02, 11-08.” He could almost hear her saying go away.
Yup, there was that ‘go away’ tone. Time to make her even happier and hope he lived through it. “11-07 needs your supplement regarding the DWI arrest.”
A pause. “10-4. 10-20?”
“Business check, Haney House.”
“10-4. En route.”
“You know she was hiding.” Josiah cocked an eyebrow at him as Nathan chuckled.
“Hiding from who?”
Buck laughed and answered the rookie. “Nina was hiding from the sergeant to get her paperwork done. He knows where she was so it doesn’t matter.”
“Why?” This sounded strange again.
“Josiah? You can probably explain it best.” Buck ducked this question while he finished proofreading. Sometimes even he could not explain Nina’s behavior; he just accepted it and ducked the personal questions. Dodging questions couldn’t get her mad at him.
The older man rubbed his chin thoughtfully and replied, “Nina has a tendency to occasionally seek solitude. Especially when she thinks she did something wrong, like tonight when she dove into a fight without backup.”
JD wrinkled his brow. He never saw that because of his foot pursuit. “I thought I heard Ezra pull in right behind us.”
“You did, Kid, but it still doesn’t excuse why she went into the middle of the fight and didn’t stay on the edges like she’s supposed to until someone’s there to back her up. That’s a rookie mistake that I don’t want to see you make.” Buck smacked him once on the top of the head for emphasis.
“Ow, quit it.” JD rubbed the offended spot. “I got it.”
JD glared at his trainer and received a laughing smile in return.
The two saner heads laughed as they cleared the paperwork from the table surface and prepared to order breakfast.
A few minutes later, the door opened and admitted one Corporal Nina Caswell. Blue eyes swept the diner until they landed on the owner coming out from behind the counter. Nina bounced over and lifted her up, swinging her into another large hug.
“Land sakes, girl, put me down. What do you think I am? A rag doll?” Nettie complained rather loudly for her audience.
Nina laughed and placed the older woman on her feet, giving her a squeeze and a big kiss on the cheek. “That’s from Vin,” she whispered in the older woman’s ear and felt an answering squeeze back.
Nettie’s eyes studied Nina for a second and found that the younger woman looked happy and she was passing on a message from the man Nettie considered a son. “He look okay?” the diner owner asked in an equally low voice.
Nina nodded. “Poker, my house, Saturday afternoon. You’re invited, he’s going to try and come.”
“Nina, you know I work here Saturday afternoon then take the night off for myself.”
“I know, but it never hurts to ask. One of these days you’ll break down and come over for more than my parties.”
“Maybe,” the older woman conceded. She was happy to know that her boy was doing okay. “Go on, sit, I’ll get your breakfast.”
“You are an angel!” exclaimed Nina as she joined the others at the end of the table. She remained standing and beaming as she caught sight of something out the window.
Buck looked her up and down, seeing all the grass stains. “Damn, Nina, you been rolling around in the weeds?”
Nina laughed, “Actually, I was making a snake think twice about harassing a pig.” The men exchanged confused glances. With a sigh, Caswell explained in a stage whisper, “I saw Vin. He’s okay but I had to pay him back for his snake and eggs comment. Chris is talking with him now.”
The door opened admitting Ezra before anyone could make a comment. The dapper southerner smiled at Miss Nettie who humphed back at him as she brought Nina’s decaf coffee. The two started their daily difference of opinion with her opening shot, “Well, look who finally shows up.”
“Better late than never,” replied Ezra. “One must be patient for the best.”
“Or the worst and someone who can’t read a watch,” she retorted.
One elegant eyebrow lifted. “I can read my timepiece yet I choose to set my own schedule regarding my arrival at your fine establishment. I have successfully managed not to embroil myself in the grinds of paperwork that my co-workers have slaved over and as such timed it perfectly to coincide with the beginning of the breakfast proper.”
“You should use all that hot air for something productive,” Nettie scolded him. She bantered this way with the cocky southerner because she liked him yet his reserve still kept her at arm’s length. She saw the hurt child in his eyes, like her Vin, and wanted to comfort him but he shied away from that for some unknown reason.
Nina wrapped an arm around Ezra’s waist above his Nylon gun belt. Ignoring his surprised look, she teased, “Now, Aunt Nettie, Ezra has the right idea. Neither one of us showed up for the paperwork marathon…that should say something about our intelligence factor. Great minds and all that.” She smiled impishly at Ezra who only gave her a sideways flick of the eyes.
His arm wrapped around her to keep her from shifting away like she always did when confronted with a question she did not want to answer. “My dear, if your mind is so great, tell me why you charged right into the fray tonight?” Sure enough, she tried sliding the other way but Ezra held her fast.
Nettie walked off with a hidden smile as she watched the pair of them. Lord, to be young and confused again, she thought to herself. The older woman returned with the coffeepot and mugs to watch a smug Ezra still restraining a not-so-struggling Nina giving him a less-than-thrilled expression.
“And you could enlighten me as to why you felt it necessary to bring a blood sucking insect with you, along with half the foliage of your normal report writing site?” He stared in disgust at the back of her neck.
“Tick?” she asked with a sigh.
“Park it, Caswell,” Nathan ordered, getting out of the booth. The older woman shook her head and returned with the first aid kit. She guessed Nina and Vin rolled around in the grass like the overgrown kids they were whenever they got within ten feet of each other.
Ezra plunked her down in the booth and watched as Nathan expertly removed and killed the insect, disposing of the remains in the trashcan nearby. Just when Nina could not move, Nathan asked, “You preached to us about waiting for backup then go alone into the middle of a major fight. Want to explain yourself?” Disapproval radiated from his tone.
The southerner added, “You still have not answered the question, Ms. Caswell. Pray tell the reasoning behind your foolish charge into the fray.”
She ignored the waiting for backup question and answered the earlier one Ezra asked about the weeds instead. Privately she hoped her news changed the topic permanently until she felt ready to answer why she acted like an idiot. “I was tormenting a snake in the grass and this cowboy came up and joined us, making life a bit harder on me.”
Ezra recognized the dodge and started chuckling along with the rest of the table but for different reasons. “How is he?” He declined mentioning his own visit with Vin earlier, wanting to keep that private for the moment. Besides, he did not know if Vin wanted the rest of them to know that plans changed and he could not go to the safehouse to check the package or that things heated up to the point that a quick scan at the school served as an investigation.
“He’s doing okay. Still can’t anticipate my moves.” She shot them all a smug grin. “Left him with Chris,” she repeated. “Figured they needed a little down time together and someone here…Buck…needed my supplement and let the Sarge know I didn’t have it turned in yet. Thanks, by the way.” She almost stuck out her tongue in violation of her own House Rules.
Buck grinned unrepentantly at her, “Darlin’, I’m not done yet.” He keyed his lapel mike. “11-02, 11-01.”
“What are you doing, Buck?” Blue eyes narrowed as she scooted around the circular booth and Ezra slid in on her other side, effectively pinning her between JD and Ezra, Buck on one side of JD and Nathan and Josiah beside Ezra.
“Be advised I’m direct on the animal complaint 11-08 handled earlier. Do I need to contact Wildlife?” He dodged the flying fist crossing JD’s face. The rookie only leaned back knowing better than to get in between two higher-ranking officers.
“Negative. I think I’ve got it under control,” Chris replied. Everyone present heard the welcome sound of laughter in his voice. There was a pause and then, “Be advised you and 11-08 have a vehicle inspection later tonight.”
Buck groaned while JD found a female half on top of him reaching over him to wallop his training officer repeatedly. Wilmington complained, “Nina, damn it, cut it out. This is not my fault.” He reached up to his shoulder and said, “Confidential results, correct?”
“Negative,” came the immediate reply.
Wilmington pushed Josiah and Nathan out of the way and vacated the booth just as Nina managed crawling over the stunned JD. Buck quickly ducked behind the counter. “10-4,” he answered as he worked on keeping the counter between him and the woman threatening to dismember him most painfully if he let her catch him. They went down the length of the counter and back again.
Josiah hummed, “And the race is on…”
“Is there something we should know about vehicle inspections?” Nathan asked innocently, liking the spark of playfulness that had returned to the squad, if only for a brief moment. The rest looked on in amusement or fascination.
“NO!” Two voices bellowed back at them.
“11-08, are you direct?” asked their sergeant, further twisting the knife.
She started laughing, having thought of a suitable reply that would earn Larabee a few bruises if played right. “10-4. Go to Channel 4.” With everyone there, it really did not matter except four was a non-published frequency and she could say what she wanted.
“Go ahead, 11-08.”
“Be advised I left the snake in the grass and it was viciously protecting a pair of tiny eggs. Watch out for the small tongue also. It may have been coiling to strike or spit. Don’t know how long it can reach, maybe one to three inches at most. Might get a little vicious with you.” The look she gave Buck told him her last comment aimed at him if he kept it up.
Howls filled the diner while the other police officers hysterically laughed at the jab toward the undercover detective. Josiah slapped a few times on the table and Nettie chuckled.
“Must have been taking lessons from you.” This set off a fresh round of amusement.
“Possibly. If you see venom, let me know. 11-08’s switching back to one.” Once she unkeyed she pointed an accusing finger at Wilmington, “This is your fault.”
Her finger waggled back and forth. “Don’t you darlin’ me.”
“What’s all this about vehicle inspections?” asked JD.
Buck glared at him trying to make him silent and cleared the end of the counter just as Nina leapt over it.
“Girl, don’t you be doing that!” hollered Nettie just as the corporal landed on her feet and started after the quickly moving male. Nettie’s own hands landed on her hips.
“Sorry, ma’am, but he needs this!”
“You will not turn my restaurant into your playpen. I don’t care how old you are, I will turn you over my knee!”
Buck ducked behind the older woman and waited for Nina to decide whether or not to challenge Nettie. He knew she would be upset with what Chris planned to share with Vin because of her private nature but he also knew how wild she really could be and enjoyed provoking her temper. He happily accepted the bruises because seeing her laugh made it worth it. The Nina he met after their long separation was not even a shadow of the one he knew and fell in love with years before. This one acted excessively serious and if pressed, he would have to say haunted. He waggled his eyebrows at her and stuck out his tongue in direct violation of her House Rule Number One (HR1): ‘Don’t stick it out unless you plan to use it’. Her eyes narrowed but her forward advance stopped.
“And you,” Nettie turned to catch him pulling his tongue back into his mouth. “I don’t care how much the women around here like you, I am immune to your charms, Buck Wilmington. Sit your butt down right now.” Her stern, no-nonsense face showed nothing of the caring she felt for him.
Nettie remembered how he helped that scared runaway, spending an hour talking with her until she felt comfortable enough to go home. He even drove her there and the owner knew he checked on her as often as he could. However, his boisterous nature combined with Nina’s feistiness made for a dangerous combination especially when he riled her.
Over the older woman’s shoulder, Nina gave Buck a look promising this was not over. However, for Miss Nettie’s sake, she slid back into the booth. This time Ezra sat next to JD and kept the feisty corporal between him and Josiah, hoping she might not climb over both of them and Josiah could help detain her.
The physical bodies may deter her from pounding him but the glares aimed in his direction made Buck flinch each time he looked at her. “Nina.”
“No.” Her hand waved to cut him off, nearly hitting Ezra in the face. The handler grabbed her hand and forcibly placed it under the table, keeping a tight grasp on it. The last thing he wanted or needed was her with access to sharp eating utensils.
Josiah unobtrusively removed her knife and fork under Nathan’s watchful gaze and wry amusement. The medic lifted an eyebrow and got a shrug in response. Silent messages about ‘what are you doing’ and ‘being prepared’ passed between them.
“My dear, if you want to impale Mr. Wilmington, please refrain from involving others in your dispute. Mr. Dunne does not need you as a lap ornament.”
JD wisely remained silent but the idea did not sound half-bad.
“A pretty lap ornament,” added Buck with his rogue’s smile and a wink.
His words and wink sparked fire-filled eyes that forced Ezra to squeeze her hand harder and shift his body to block her view of Buck. He hoped for out of sight, out of mind. Ezra made a mental note about appropriate payback involving Buck participating in some more K-9 demonstrations, especially the one where Ace chases down, jumps on, and bites. . .hard. “Ms. Caswell, I prefer not to have bloodshed with my morning repast. May I be so bold as to ask for a truce until the end of the shift?”
Nina’s expression softened as she stared into those mesmerizing green eyes. “For you, anything. I’ll just say one final thing.”
She tipped sideways so she half leaned across the table to see her ex-boyfriend’s face. “Buck, if you ever, and I mean ever, tell anyone about vehicle inspections I will permanently end your sex life with a dull butter knife.” Amazingly every knife on the table immediately disappeared. Nathan and Josiah tucked theirs away from Nina’s grasp. JD, learning the strange nuances of this group quickly, grabbed his and Ezra’s, while Buck blanched with one hand instinctively going to cover his crown jewels and the other to the utensil in question. He swallowed, nodding slowly because it looked like she actually meant it this time.
Ezra swallowed once and gently used his other hand to push her back into the cushioned booth. He removed it off her shoulder immediately at her self-satisfied grin but kept hold of the hand beneath the table. At this point, he did not care about appearances; self-preservation required he continued keeping a strong grasp based on the high odds of a flying fist passing across his chest and accidentally hitting him. Besides, that secret part of himself rationalized, he liked the feel of it.
“Sister, I never realized you had such a vivid imagination,” Josiah said while sipping from his coffee. “Or have you been reading those true crime novels again? What was that gentleman’s name? John Bobbitt?”
Buck choked on his coffee and started coughing. “Let’s change the subject. Now, what’s everyone doing tomorrow?”
“Sleeping and working, what else,” Nina replied with an evil grin. “Making sure the bedbugs don’t bite.”
“Rip Van Caswell,” cracked Buck. He knew with the truce she would not attack him but that did not stop him from provoking her. “You spend most of your time off during our four working in bed.”
“Depressingly alone,” she replied while sipping her coffee with her left hand.
Ezra felt a slight squeeze on the hand he kept trapped beneath the table and returned it, his face not showing the surprise or the pleasure.
“A little solitude helps a body reflect,” offered Josiah, starting to get depressed about his own love life, or lack thereof.
Nathan opened his mouth and caught the evil look emanating from the other side of the table from him.
“Say it and regret it. You have a beautiful, kind, caring woman living with you,” warned Nina.
“That I never see because of her schedule and mine.”
“Hallway sex,” Buck sagely commented, having experienced it first hand when Nina involuntarily transferred to evening shift at NHP.
JD never heard of such a thing and that sounded a bit too personal. “What?” The question escaped his mouth before he realized it left and had no way to pull it back.
“Kid, hallway sex is when you live together and don’t see each other very often. When you pass in the hallway, one is either getting off work or going to work and you say,” he cut off to whisper in JD’s ear.
“Oh!” The rookie started laughing. “That’s rude.”
“What will be rude is if you don’t clear the plates,” Nettie added from the end of the table where she started passing out platters.
“Yes, ma’am,” chorused back at her as each person accepted their morning order and Nina looked around for her silverware.
“Hey, where’d my silverware go?” she complained, looking at each of them in turn. “Boys, how do you expect me to eat pancakes without a knife and fork?”
“Try a spoon,” suggested Buck. “You and knives don’t get along.”
“No, knives and I get along just fine. Men don’t like some of my uses for knives.”
Nettie noticed the lack of knives all the way around the table and noticed Ezra keeping Nina’s right hand pinned beneath the table. She guessed the threat the woman threw out at Buck and hid her smile. Nina had spunk and never backed down, two things that Nettie admired in the girl.
From behind the older woman came a familiar voice, “Did you threaten to de-man Buck again, Nina?”
“Don’t even go there, Larabee, or I’ll threaten you with the same thing.”
“You’ve got nothing left,” he arrogantly told her with a smirk.
This time Josiah grabbed her one arm while Ezra kept a tight hold on her other as it looked like she might climb across the table to get at him.
Her grin turned wicked as they pushed her back down into the cushioned booth seat. “How’s the arm and chest?”
“Shut up.” He scowled and nearly rubbed the spots. Her comments reminded the pain receptors to work.
“Belted you good, did he?”
“I owe you for that. Vehicle Inspections.”
“Chris, whatever you’re thinking, count me out. I don’t want to get killed.” Buck shook his head side to side as he watched the temper rise in Nina’s eyes.
“Wallpaper hanging,” she retaliated. Blue orbs flicked from green to blue and back to green again. A slow grin spread her lips.
He blanched as did Buck. “Shut up. That’s an order.”
“You’re over a barrel, Larabee; that’s not work related. Vehicle inspections are. I shut up, you shut up, we’re both walking away clean.”
“I sense a good story,” Josiah was intrigued by the various play of emotions on the three and he always wanted to know more history. And like his partner he was enjoying seeing the lighthearted by-play return to the squad. “What could have happened at a wallpaper hanging?”
Chris flamed bright red and Buck waved his arms back and forth then covered his face, also turning a lovely shade of crimson. “Nothing,” Chris snapped with a death glare encompassing the table.
JD nearly flinched under the force of that glare and wondered what it would be liked aimed solely at him then vowed that would never happen if he could prevent it.
“Bad timing and a misunderstanding.” Nina nearly choked on her coffee at the chagrinned looks on both Buck and Chris. Years before, Sarah enlisted Nina to help hang wallpaper in the Larabee’s master bedroom while the men tended the horses.
With Adam down for his nap and the boys outside playing cowboys, the female friends fell into their normal pattern of talking about everything while working. When the two men came in to harass their women before taking them out to dinner, they heard the following through the closed bedroom door:
“Right there?” asked Nina. Her voice was low and soft.
“Uh-huh,” replied Sarah with a moan.
“Are you sure?”
“You like that?”
“Yes, I like that.”
“What about your husband?” I don’t know about this.”
“Will you stop worrying? I know what I like and I’ll get my way.”
“Yeah, but what about Chris?”
“Too bad. He’ll just have to adjust.”
“Are you going to tell him or shall I?”
“Let him be surprised.”
“Is he armed?”
“Neen, stop worrying and keep touching.”
“I know what I’d like to be touching.”
“What will they say when they find out?”
“What they don’t know won’t hurt them until after we’re done.”
“I like the way you think.”
Whatever Sarah was about to say was cut off when both men charged in the room under the influence of a mistaken assumption. When they entered, they found Nina up on a ladder hanging the border while Sarah kneeled over and stenciled just above the waist high chair rail she never discussed installing with Chris.
Cursed with abundant women’s intuition, the girls immediately realized what kind of situation their men assumed they’d find and played it up. They hugged each other while Nina stood on the ladder and Sarah leaned against her below, dropping comments about shared times when they were roommates and making the men flush from the suggestive comments being bantered about. The women finally confessed to their teasing after Chris turned an interesting shade of reddish-purple as he tried to remain calm and open-minded. They’d actually lost it themselves when Buck got a contemplative look on his face only to receive a hard punch from his friend. Words failed them and the boys refused discussing the incident or their mistaken assumptions, not that there was anything wrong with that idea, but it gave the girls ammunition they happily used when needed.
“Shut up,” both the men in question hissed when it looked like she would tell anyway.
“Please continue. I for one would love to hear about something that makes both of them uncomfortable.”
“Ezra, stay out of it.”
“Ez, close your yapping trap.”
This time he squeezed the hand he still held for encouragement and her eyes twinkled.
“Well, you see…”
“I still have it,” interrupted Chris. “And I’m not afraid to use it.”
Buck groaned and cursed that Polaroid picture. Not that he minded getting caught but having physical proof constantly thrown in his face wounded his pride.
“Idle threats,” she scoffed.
His eyes met hers and a staring match started. Two minutes passed and neither looked away, having captured the attention of everyone at the table. While the threats of retaliation for revealing past secrets remained, the more subtle feelings of joy also passed between them that they were able to share memories of Sarah with a little less pain.
“Chris Larabee, are you going to continue standing there like a statue or are you going to sit down and eat like a civilized person?”
Miss Nettie’s voice from right behind him instinctively caused him to tense and look at her. The second he did he heard Nina laugh. “Sorry, ma’am. Just reminding someone of the value of proper behavior in public.”
“Eighty-nine,” Nina replied and enjoyed watching the flush creep up his neck and Buck choking on a piece of toast. JD whacked him hard in the back and he coughed the bread into his napkin.
“One of these days, brothers and sister, I will understand the numbering system you use and for what purpose.” Josiah shook his head in puzzlement between the three. He’d already guessed a year, game scores, and a host of other things to no avail.
This sent Buck into another fit of coughing resulting in a harder blow from a beet red Chris. When he regained his voice, he swallowed JD’s just delivered glass of milk then sputtered, “Stud, you want to answer that?”
“Hell no. Um, sorry, ma’am,” he said to Nettie as she passed him by again.
“Hey! Leave my drinks alone,” the rookie complained.
Nina watched with glee. “Buck, you drank milk? Real milk? Well, that’s a first.”
“What other kind of milk is there?”
“Lord save us from the naïve,” commented Ezra as Nina fell into his shoulder laughing. “Compose yourself. Your meal is starting to congeal.”
“That’s because I still don’t have silverware.”
“Here,” replied Nettie, handing her a fresh set as she placed a coffee and bagel in front of Chris who nodded his thanks.
“Thank you, ma’am.” Reluctantly she tugged her hand free and started eating while Ezra continued keeping his hand below the table, giving the appearance that they were not connected while everyone knew better.
Even Chris noticed and filed the information away for future consideration. An idea was forming that might just change the group dynamics for the better but he needed to think on it before he brought it up.
“Zero-seven hundred, w-f-c-p-998.” The time check required by the FCC gave the station identifier and was supposed to be done on the half-hour. Since the day shift came in and relieved, it was a signal for the midnight shift to secure. As they did every morning for their first one working, they went around the table.
“11-04, 10-4.” The dispatcher acknowledged them by number first so that if two of them called simultaneously and covered each other, both officers knew who the dispatcher answered.
He shook his head; Amber must not be awake yet. “11-01, FC.”
“11-01,” she answered, a small fluster and apology in her tone.
“Mark the shift Ocean Status.”
“10-4.” Ocean Status meant that they were technically no longer on duty but still had the take-home cars out and had not turned in for the night. This also meant that if they saw something or were in the area of a dayshift call, they could assist or be dispatched if necessary. Amber knew they were at Haney House having their breakfast like they always did on their first night back. It was a way to reaffirm the bonds between them through a good sit-down meal. Most times Casey and Ladonna joined them but both went home this morning. Their opposites on day shift went out for drinks after work, changing first then meeting at ‘The Saloon’ to decompress.
After finishing their breakfast the squad scattered their separate ways. Some went back to the station to turn in reports the rest headed home for their beds and sleep.
Before they left, Nina signaled to Buck she wanted a minute alone with JD. As she approached the car, Buck walked over to talk to Chris for a minute.
“JD,” she called.
He turned to face her. “Yes, ma’am?” He straightened from his slouch against the car.
“I want to tell you that I made a mistake today and I know better. Let me share this wisdom that comes with experience. If you can wait ten, twenty, or thirty seconds for backup on a hot call, do it. Don’t charge in like I did; I only made a bad situation worse. Basically, I’m telling you don’t do what I stupidly did; you’ll live longer and take less grief.”
JD found himself surprised to hear her admit her mistake. He never saw it but he knew everyone else grew angry at her about it. “Yes, ma’am.”
She smiled. “And by the way, thanks for letting me reach across you earlier. I don’t think two officers beating on each other was covered in the manuals so I do appreciate it.”
“No problem, ma’am.”
“Call me Nina.”
“Only with other officers or alone, right?”
“You learn quick.”
“Can I ask a question?”
“Go for it; no guarantees I’ll answer.”
“What happened on the 4th of July?”
Nina started laughing. “I promised someone I would not tell but if you want to see your trainer come over here like his pants are on fire, watch this.”
“All right.” He respected her promise and waited.
“You see, JD, on the,” she raised her voice to carry, “4th of July, we all…”
“NINA!” roared Buck and sprinted over.
“Told ya,” she smugly commented to JD.
“You’re right; he can run like his butt’s on fire.” The rookie smiled at Buck. “You ready, Speedy Gonzales?” JD climbed in the car and shut the door in Buck’s sputtering face.
“Darlin’,” he started, one finger shaking in her direction.
“Yes, darlin’?” she mocked. “He learns quick.”
“Don’t you go tellin’ him tall tales.”
“Nope, you’ll do enough of that.” With a wicked wink, she started for her car.
“We leaving or not?” asked JD through the slightly open window.
“Kid, don’t push it,” Buck warned as he climbed in and drove off. The rest of the squad followed with waves, salutes, and tips of the hat.
Josiah returned to his quiet apartment and his collection of cats. His children – Frost (for Robert Frost, the poet; well, he was white too), Vincent (for that character on the TV show Beauty and the Beast and Vincent the cat had beautiful blue eyes), Dante (the black one with an attitude to match), Prophet (the big brown tabby), and Pigpen (from the cartoon the Peanuts – this cat could not keep clean!) appeared from their spots to greet him properly. After feeding them and giving them their morning milk, he secured his gun, stripped out of his uniform, and readied a new one, the short sleeve, thank goodness, for tonight. With a weary sigh he set the alarm for a time way too early and put out a set of work clothes and bandanas so he would be ready to help Chanu with the fence. His last thought as he drifted to sleep was that maybe he could convince Nathan to keep watch while he took his thirty minute lunch break examining the inside of his eyelids tonight.
Nina made it home on autopilot, the darkness of the garage being a welcome relief against the bright sun. She left the garage and went through her routine without thought, habits honed from too many years of doing this half if not completely exhausted. Tired seemed a permanent state of mind during her four days working and she was one of those people that after she ate a full meal when tired all she wanted was a nap. She found her bed and collapsed into it after pulling the room darkening shades and closing the lined curtains.
Nathan reached his townhouse going through his normal checklist of things to do in order. He believed that if he performed each task repetitively, he would not lose anything or forget where he put his uniform pieces and parts. Like all other police officers, he secured his gun first then he finished stripping, heading for the shower to wipe away the day’s grime before climbing between the sheets Rain always kept clean. Lord knew he was tired tonight and with a trainee, things always got more exciting. It seemed it was always that way; trainees and full moons brought out the crazies and the insanity, as if God decided to give the rookies exposure in his own way.
Chris drove home and took care of his animals before putting himself to bed. He lay there and considered what he learned tonight, not liking any of the situation with Tanner. Reluctantly he admitted Vin seemed okay but this was taking too long and festering. He hated festering. He festered the first year after Sarah died and what good did that do him? With troubled thoughts he drifted into a restless sleep, the alarm set to take care of the animals in the afternoon before another short nap to tide him over.
After his drop, Vin Tanner slept on peacefully unaware of the heavy-duty worries his best friend held about his well being or how much concern that he generated among those who cared for him. They wanted to watch him every second but knew it was more important to protect his cover, making them suffer in silence. One thing was for certain: things were going to happen soon.
The canine officer drove himself and his partner home, spending the early morning hours with Ace brushing, petting, feeding, watering, and cleaning up after the lab. Their morning frolicking through the house only made both more tired and ready for the bed. Ace took over his usual side of the king sized waterbed laying his head against the pillow. Ezra would be the first to admit it might be considered strange that he let the overgrown puppy share the bed, especially given the southerner’s fastidious nature. Yet it sprang from the ever-growing bond between his four-legged partner and himself and a big part of how he spoiled the lab rotten. He also knew he would never find a more loyal partner or friend. The rest of the world could go hang itself
Buck dropped JD off at the station, showed him where to put the reports for the people in Report Review, and left for the bed of the woman he wanted to sleep, and only sleep, with. He liked having a warm body beside him and the lady in question hated sleeping alone for the short time she slept.
The rookie drove home, parked his sedan, and yawned as he climbed out of the car. One good stretch and he felt much better. Now, to get rid of this uniform. JD’s mind was still in turmoil after all he observed and lived through today. His first day was far from routine by anyone’s definition and he got plenty to think about through all the calls. Only twelve official hours passed but he realized that New York minutes paled against the fluid time of policework. Everything and anything could happen in five seconds and twelve hours gave Fate plenty of time to pack as much as possible in that short span. JD sent a silent thank you to God for getting him home alive.
Running a hand down his face and slicking his now falling bangs back, he wearily opened his door and closed it behind him. He first secured his gun in the gun safe and took off his lapel mike before unsnapping his keepers and setting his equipment belt on the bed.
Next, his uniform shirt came off quickly followed by the vest because it got hot under that weight, making his T-shirt stick to his skin. He stripped it off and tossed it into the hamper before pulling off his regular belt. Not used to an equipment belt, his waist sported red marks from the width of the leather. He figured he would loosen it a bit tonight not wanting raw skin from such an integral part of his uniform. JD thought about the Nylon belt and how much lighter it looked but decided he might stick with the heavier leather because he wanted to adjust to the weight first.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, he pulled off his shoes and socks, the socks landing in the hamper in two straight shots, the shoes were pushed toward the closet. He stripped off his pants, leaving him in his boxer shorts, and felt a whole heck of a lot better. His skin felt like it could breathe again out the confines of the cotton/polyester blend materials and smothering weight of the vest.
He reached over and carefully removed all the collar brass, setting it in a neat pile beside him, before standing up and stretching. After hearing a second satisfying pop from his spine, he retrieved a clean shirt and reattached the works before re-hanging it in the closet. The shoes went on the bottom in the spot reserved for them while the dirty uniform went into a separate bag for the cleaners. His vest sat on top of his shoes and his equipment belt joined it.
JD then went into his bathroom and showered, enjoying the feel of the hot water washing the sweat from his body and removing the mousse from his hair. He hated the stickiness when he woke without washing it out. He admitted to himself that he was tired from being up all night, while that was nothing new, it was hard, especially on a twelve-hour shift and making sure he stayed alert the entire time. The constant change from adrenaline rush to boredom was more taxing than he thought and the paperwork dulled even the sharpest wits.
Before he could allow himself to sleep, he had one thing left to do. Reaching into the nightstand, JD pulled out the notebook he kept for a specific purpose. Inside the front cover was a copy of the last letter his mother wrote him safely ensconced inside a thick plastic protective sheet. He read it like he always did right before bed.
I write this with the knowledge that I will not see you grow old, nor will I see your children, my grandchildren, but I want you to know that I regret nothing.
I love you.
I loved you as a baby growing inside me and I loved you when you came kicking and screaming into this world. I loved you all those nights I spent awake with you just holding you for hours. I loved you when you first ate solid food, your first steps, your first words, from the time you were an infant until you were walking and talking simultaneously.
I loved you when you climbed the tree when I told you not to and fell. I loved you the whole time you complained about the bruises, and I loved you throughout all the painful phases of growing up.
I never regretted one minute with you, no matter how many times you asked me why or asked me to take you to the police station to see the officers on duty. I loved you even as you planned to pursue I career I feel is too dangerous and I swallowed my fears to encourage you. You are my baby boy and I would do anything for you.
When I got sick, I hid it as much as possible but you knew, my bright little baby. You are so smart, smarter than I ever was, and I thank God for that every moment. I’m sorry I put you through so many trials as I grew weaker while you grew bigger and I know there’s things you did to make my life easier that you don’t want to tell me about but I want you to know this: no matter what, I forgive you and I love you.
You did everything out of love for me and it humbled me. I should say it humbles me. I’ve been blessed with a beautiful baby boy who loves me unconditionally and I can only hope your own children will look at you with the same feelings I see reflected in your eyes for me.
You’ve grown into a fine young man, John, and now’s the time for you to pursue your dream. I will be free of this mortal world and able to watch you from heaven above, for I know having you guaranteed me a spot there, and I’ll be your guardian angel if God lets me.
Be the best police officer you can be and do what you know is right in your heart. You’ll make mistakes, you’re human, but learn from them and make yourself better. Follow your dreams, follow your heart, as you always have, and you’ll be just fine. I have faith in you, John.
I only ask one thing from you. Read my letters to you; I’ve written a different one every day that I have been sick, telling you about your childhood and what I felt for each milestone in your life. Remember always that you are loved.
I’ll be in a better place so don’t worry about me; just remember me occasionally and tell your children about me. Have them tell their children and grandchildren; call me vain, but I want to be remembered through my family, through my son and his family.
I love you, John. Always know that. I love you.
His hands traced the letters in Mom, her flowery script neatly flowing across the page. All her original letters bore similar protectors and resided in the fire safe for his future family and for him, letting him read them over and over without worrying about them becoming damaged.
He reached for the tissues and wiped the tears away that the letter always caused; it was his personal torment and reminder to him that life was too short not to experience it completely. He smiled as he remembered when he took her to see the Florida beach for the first time in her life, having bought tickets on a train and booked them a hotel near the end. She laughed, playing in the sand and they built a sandcastle together. A kind soul took a picture of the two of them beside their masterpiece and he had it framed to sit on the nightstand. The negatives stayed in the fire safe as well. It was the first time she had laughed in pure joy in a long time, and the last time. She died two weeks later, the day after he received his acceptance to the Academy, and he started his journey.
Now he found a way to honor her, a way to keep her memory close to him. He found a way to tell her all that happened in his day. Each morning or night, before he went to bed, he collected his thoughts and wrote them in the form of a letter to her in this notebook. Grabbing the pen, he started.
Wow! Today was my first day on the road and I’ve seen some amazing things. This might be a bit jumbled because I’m really, really body tired and want to go to sleep but my mind’s too keyed up and I want to share all of it with you.
Okay, first, the police station is awesome! I know I told you about the brief tour but actually being there as a real officer made me feel incredible. Everyone has been so nice to me, not like the people at the Academy were, and gave me all kinds of advice.
Let me introduce you to everyone. First, my Field Training Officer, Corporal Buck Wilmington, he’s a ladies man, Mom. He flirts, he has some women eating out of his hand, and you would have liked him. Tall, broad chest, loud, and down-to-earth. He can turn a phrase, like you used to say, and he’s really colorful.
He’s smart, Mom, a lot smarter than most people give him credit for, and an attitude to match. He backed me up when I took off after an armed suspect today and he gave me the credit. I mean, *I* made a major arrest and I got the credit. I heard of other rookies losing their arrest but they gave it to me.
I got the lockup during a big bar fight and apparently one of my co-workers got in over her head. Her name’s Nina Caswell and she’s a Corporal also. I can tell she has some romantic history with Buck but I don’t think there’s anything now except a close friendship. She’s pretty friendly and very physical, in a good way especially when she’s tormenting Buck over something in their history but I can tell she’s seen some pretty hairy things. Especially considering she went into a fight without waiting for another unit and from what I heard at the scene nearly got creamed by four college football players. She came up to me and told me not to follow her example and admitted she was wrong, something that most people won’t do.
Of course, she really helped me out with a nineteen-year-old drunk by transporting her and taking care of the Portable Breathalyzer Test. I don’t think I could have stayed as composed as she did during that whole thing. I know I didn’t; fortunately I got to look away and turn around a lot. I’ll write more when I wake up and give you details but I want to get this down before I fall asleep.
My sergeant got in there and helped Cpl. Caswell out during the bar fight. His name is Chris Larabee and he’s pretty impressive. I mean, he walks in a room and commands respect. Everyone in the squad listens to him but I think Nina and Buck have known him too long to be too afraid of him. He’s quiet, too, except when he’s really mad. He yelled at Nina today because of the fight but there’s no hard feelings between them.
Another person I met was Josiah Sanchez. He’s interesting because he talks in riddles. Not literally, but half the time I don’t understand his meaning. But he gave me this poem suggesting I talk to God for guidance because of all the things I will see on the job. I mean, I think he really cares about me even though we just met and will make sure I stay on the straight and narrow. I got the impression he’s the spiritual adviser for the group but I’m not sure. I didn’t spend enough time with him.
His partner of sorts – I mean, they act like partners, is Nathan Jackson. Nathan is a paramedic and police officer combined, making him important, at least in my opinion. He’s straightforward and he seems pretty together. He’s also seeing a resident named Rain at the hospital. I like him because he’s watching out for me as well. Calm and laid back, he helped keep all the others from doing something stupid and managed multiple arrests by himself!
Then there’s Ezra Standish. He’s the canine officer and he’s from the South, with a capital S. Polished gentleman. Looks like his uniform gets pressed at least twice a day and not a dog hair to be found on him. Oh, his partner is a black lab named Ace of Spades, called Ace for short. He gave me a demonstration and it’s pretty impressive watching the pair of them. He’s also a little taller than me, making me the shortest man on the shift. I can deal with it, Mom, because they all make me feel welcome. I just have this feeling I’m part of something special and I hope it’s not my overconfidence playing tricks on me.
I’m told there’s another person on the squad, Vin Tanner, but he’s undercover right now. They said they saw him today but I didn’t; I was too busy counting drug packets and stuffing my prisoner into the van to see what the others were doing. Well, not stuffing him per se, but helping with the other arrests while they shoved him in the compartment.
I met this girl too – her name’s Casey – and she’s pretty cute. She’s a dispatcher so I don’t know how much she knows about my job, but she’s nice. I think I’ll just get a lay of the land, so to speak, before I do anything.
Her aunt Nettie Wells owns the local diner – Haney House – and she’s really strict but nice. It’s like she can see who you are without even trying and treats you fairly depending on how you treat her.
Mom, I’m going to go to bed now because all the lines are running together but I’ll write more later. Hopefully I’ll wake up early enough that I’ll have time…the way I feel, it might be hours before I wake up.
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