four corners pd
Category: Christastrophe Hurt/Comfort fic
Disclaimer: Work of fiction based on the characters from the television series "The Magnificent Seven." No copyright infringement intended to Hallmark, CBS, TNN, MGM, Mirisch, Trilogy, and any others I have not listed with the rights. No profit will be made from this work.
Warnings: Violence, a few bad words, a couple double entendres.
Author's Note: Thanks to Cin for being so wonderful. My fics wouldn't be half as good without her help. Takes place in the Four Corners Police Department AU before the end of Vin Tanner's training. Regarding the title, ultra vires is Latin for "Beyond the power or authority of a person or body," which applies to the events in this fic.
Saturday Night, 1835 hours
Squad One Roll Call
"Patrol request, 1482 Gardenia Way, unknown subject egged the residence. Patrol request, 2914 Coyote Crossing, theft of lawn ornament. Business check, 4670 Mecca Park, Sofer Textiles, alarm out of service. Patrol request – "
It went on and on every night Lt. Como worked; the reading of every call from the previous shift that might impact them or require action on their part. Sergeant Chris Larabee of Squad One appreciated the Shift Commander's diligence, but unless it was life threatening or high priority, he just wanted a quick list of addresses and reasons without a dissertation. The business alarms out of service were important, but after five long minutes, the dry delivery grated on his nerves.
Chris Larabee was a doer, not a sitter.
Roll Call served a purpose; it let him see his people, and gave him a sense of where they were physically and mentally before starting the shift. If someone was sick, Chris could take some calls for them to make life easier. If they were really bad, he could send them home. Their job was dangerous enough; it didn’t pay to have someone not one hundred percent and alert.
"Radar request at –"
He tuned that out; short of a direct order or the apocalypse, he hated making traffic stops. That whole experience working radar not too long ago soured him. Thinking of that fiasco had him staring at Probationary Officer Vin Tanner seated beside him. It amazed him that the Texan managed to look completely relaxed in a uniform starched and pressed within scant centimeters of standing upright on its own. When his uniform was like that, Chris couldn't wait to shed it. The only incongruous sight was the tucked under ponytail, Vin's only refusal to conform. He was still amazed Chief Travis upheld the 'personal request' that allowed his friend to keep it. Of course, there was a history between the two of them that no one else was privy to, except perhaps his other corporal. Whatever happened 'before' was shrouded in mystery, not spoken of, and emotionally charged for those involved. It only raised his curiosity.
The other corporal in the room was here 'before', and she shared a bond with the Texan. He compared their bond to the relationships formed between survivors of a horrible experience that only someone who shared it with them could understand. Which circled his thoughts back to his appalling lack of answers. He glanced over at the woman, Corporal Nina Caswell, and found her smirking at him. She lifted one eyebrow in silent question.
A not-so-gentle elbow connected with his ribs beneath the table and out of sight of the Watch Commander.
Below his chair, a boot from behind nailed his calf.
Annoying pain blossomed in two sites, and he was firing glares beside and behind him.
"Sergeant?" Lt. Como's voice held several questions in that single word.
Vin spoke up, "We'll be fine, sir. No need to assign Sgt. Larabee South with us."
"Figure I’ll stay roving and let the Probationary Officer prove himself." Chris mentally noted he owed a thank you to Vin for restating the question, and a hard boot to Wilmington's backside for his infliction of pain. It galled and shamed him to be caught woolgathering instead of setting a good example.
Lt. Como nodded in agreement, but sought another opinion. "Corporal Caswell?"
"I already cut the apron strings, sir. Just trying to get Sergeant Mother Hen to let the chick fly free."
Chris glared and opened his mouth to speak, but was cut off by the indignant drawl beside him.
"Gee, thanks, Corporal," Vin cracked, dragging the title out. "Nice ta know ya trust me all by myself."
"You know I do. I'm still your ghost, but I honestly don't see the need for three of us in South," Nina replied.
"Oh, I can. I smell disaster. A full moon obscured by clouds, it's been raining all day, storming hard half of it, more rain scheduled, it’s Saturday night, and Trouble One with Trouble Two are working South." Corporal Buck Wilmington, deliverer of the kick to Larabee's calf, straightened out of his slouch. He reached in front of him to grab and shake Chris by the shoulders. "What are you thinking? Stay close to them." He paused. "No, you better not. They're trouble magnets. They'll take you down with them."
"Lord help us," Ezra remarked. "Are my insurance premiums up to date?"
Nina opened her mouth to retort, but found it covered by Josiah Sanchez's hand. She shot him an evil look.
Blue eyes twinkling, he shook his head no.
"Did you have something to add, Corporal Caswell?" asked Lt. Como.
Giving her a big smile, Josiah removed his hand.
"Just a reminder about the Sheriff's Office doing security for the Fellowship Festival tonight. We didn't have any problems last night, but I expect that to change."
"I know you think the Sheriff's Office isn't that great, but they'll do the same thing we did," Nathan said. "Our guys had it under control, why shouldn't they?"
"Our people cut things off before they could get out of control. The Sheriff's Office has different procedures; they’re less proactive," Nina explained.
Chris nearly groaned aloud; inwardly, he winced and felt his stomach start to churn like it always did when faced with a potential disaster. It still amazed him he hadn't gotten an ulcer yet. Thinking about ulcers brought him back to the reason he wished he'd submitted a leave slip and went home. He'd almost forgotten about the Festival because there were no problems there the night before. Sadly, it was too late to submit that leave slip, and he doubted he would even go through with it. He would grit his teeth and ride it out. Buck was right; all the elements for disaster were there.
The Fellowship Festival was located right on the borders of Outer South, Outer West, and the county, encompassing a huge field rented to the organizers by Stewart James. Similar to a carnival and outdoor fair, most major restaurants and bars were participating and set up huge tents to serve their specialties, with one cover charge for everything. Billed as a family event, the majority of the attendees were students from the local university. Although colored plastic wristbands showed who was of legal age to drink, the resourceful under-aged found ways to obtain them. So the troubles mounted the later in the day it became. Those of legal age to drink became drunker and usually meaner, and many of the first time drinkers wanting to show off just got stupid. In general, college students with alcohol were not a good thing to begin with, and with this type of setting, it was not a good combination.
Throw in the craft shows, midway-type games, and live local band concerts, and the town had a major attraction for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It was drawing large crowds, everyone wanting a break from the humdrum daily life for a night. An escape, a reason to drink, just something to do outside of the norm. Organizers ended the craft show around six each day to make room for the band audiences at night. Since it sat on the town and county's borders, each group took turns as event security. Friday was FCPD's turn, and Chief Travis paid overtime to anyone that was willing. There were plenty willing, so the high number of police kept the peace. Plus, the officers were good at spotting trouble and stopping it before it got out of hand. Most of them were either veterans of other departments, or they were well-trained by their Academy and their field trainers. That experience and training helped out last night.
Chris knew tonight would be different. The Sheriff's Office opted for fewer personnel because the current Sheriff did not see the need for a strong police presence. That was the official line; the unofficial was he refused to pay the exorbitant overtime his counterpart in FCPD paid. It was also common for the deputies to hold off doing anything until an actual crime occurred. This way they could make the arrests and earn statistics instead of preventing things from happening. Much of their funding was based on number of arrests, and it was very easy to get arrested by the Sheriff's Office when they needed to increase their statistics. Many fights would get out of hand before they were stopped tonight, raising the statistics for the Sheriff's Office, but not helping with keeping the peace or relations between the two departments, or the citizens. The more deputies that left the Festival because of trumped up or trivial arrests for minor infractions, the more FCPD would have to pick up the slack and take people away from their patrol, all because the current sheriff did not want to pay the overtime.
The current tensions between the resentful Sheriff's Office and fledgling police department that took a large territory and power from them would cause FCPD to not be greeted with open arms during patrol requests of the Festival. Nevertheless, they would do them. Chris would hate for anything major to happen if they could help prevent it, politics be damned. Larabee made sure his people knew that no matter who wore the badge, the badge was to be respected, and if needed the law enforcement officers were to be helped. He'd seen officers left out to hang because of politics, and the end result wasn't pretty. In fact, he chose not to think about that, because it happened to someone that quickly became very close to him.
The sergeant spoke up, "Nathan, Nina, Ezra, and Vin, I want a drive-by once an hour. Keep an eye on the numbers, and let us know if there's a huge crowd. If there is, no one goes in alone. Foot patrol on the buddy system; we're not taking any chances."
"I agree, Sergeant," Lt. Como said. "Parking lot will be solo, but if there's a large crowd, no one gets out without a buddy. I know you know this, but call everything out if you're there."
They nodded at the orders from their sergeant and Shift Commander.
"Pard, I'll stay low in East, calls permitting," Buck offered.
"I'll stay close to town instead of Outer North," Josiah offered.
"All right. Anything else, Lieutenant?"
"Nope. Be safe."
"Watch your backs." Chris told them.
"And stay dry." Casey Wells called from the doorway. "Major thunderstorms intensified and coming our way around nine tonight. Weather Service upgraded our flash flood watch to a warning from now until 0200hrs."
"Thank you, Casey," Lt. Como said.
"Be careful, and Sgt. Larabee, you have a phone call on three."
"Have a good one." Lt. Como left roll call, followed by Chris, both heading to their respective offices.
"Don't wreck in the rain, Crash," Buck told Vin.
Tanner turned around, reached over the desk, and teasingly shoved the other man. "If I'm Crash, you're Burn."
Buck paled considerably, waving his hands in front of his face. "Don't remind me."
Laughter filled the room from the other officers in hearing range, remembering the incident.
"'Sides, when will y'all quit treatin' me like a green rookie? I ain't."
"When we get a new one," Buck replied. "One that doesn't damage so many cars in one shot."
"That wasn't my fault!" Vin pushed himself to his feet and glared.
Buck followed suit, stepping toward the door with his gear in hand. "Nope. That was your trainer's fault for letting you park there." Wearing a big smile, he winked at Nina.
run," Nina warned, ready to burn off some tension
before the shift began in earnest. "Now."
Wilmington, who recognized the glint Caswell’s eyes and also had too much energy, was already halfway out the door by the time Nina caught up. Both barreled full-tilt into Chris Larabee, who chose that unfortunate moment to step out of his office. All three went down in an unsightly, tangled heap, their gear – clipboards, hats, and papers - spreading out haphazardly around them.
Chris felt the very strong urge to choke his two friends once he got out from under their weight. To do that, he tried tossing Buck off him. He stopped when a solid punch from Nina connected mid-thigh, causing an immediate Charlie Horse. Adding insult to injury was Buck trying to get up and away, mashing various parts of his friend's anatomy.
"Tanner!" Chris yelled through gritted teeth, looking for help as he realized he was on the bottom of the twisting pile. Laughing, Nina was throwing punches, not caring if she hit him or Buck in the process. "Get the she-cat off me. Buck, if you don't quit moving, I'm going to teach you how to sing soprano!"
"She-cat!" Nina yelled outraged.
He felt some of the weight come off him, but not before another punch landed in the same spot. Sounds of a scuffle above his head reached his ears, and he knew Vin held tight to female fury. Buck ceased moving, but now an elbow pressed Chris's face to the floor.
Vin's drawl reached him. "Didn't know ya liked the bottom, cowboy."
"Can I move now?" Buck asked.
"Buck, just get off, will you?" Hearing the laughter, Chris rephrased, "Just stand up."
That caused more hilarity, followed by muffled coughing and shuffling feet.
"Is there a problem?" Lt. Como asked.
Buck rolled off quickly and stood, trying to regain some semblance of decorum. "No, sir. Sgt. Larabee and I collided. My apologies if we disturbed you."
"No disturbance. Sgt. Larabee? Please use more care in your phrasing in the future. Let's not open the door for sexual harassment."
"Yes, sir," Chris replied, not believing the hint of a smile he saw coming from the Lieutenant. He sat up and rubbed his injured thigh. Seeing everyone standing around and laughing, specifically at him, he ordered gruffly, "Clean this up and hit the streets. You're not paid to stand around after Roll Call."
Still smiling, Buck and Nina cleaned up and disappeared. The rest of the shift went with them.
Pushing himself to his feet, Chris tested his weight on the injured leg, wondering how yet again he suffered some indignity because of Buck and Nina. The clowning duo hadn’t changed over the years. Even with the Nevada Highway Patrol, he was usually dragged into some form of their over exuberant escapades. The leg seemed steady, but a little sore. He reminded himself he owed both of them for this. Grabbing his own gear, he went outside. Glancing around the parking lot, it pleased him the shift was gone. One of his pet peeves was officers loitering around the station after roll call, so his people quickly learned to leave and get on with their duties. Not knowing the cause of his abrupt meeting with the floor, he decided to wait to find out until after his anger dissipated or his thigh quit aching, whichever came first.
First things first, though. His phone call was a request to meet with an informant. While checking his dashboard clock, he saw it was only 1842 hours (6:42 p.m.), giving him plenty of time to get there. With the high position of the informant in Stewart James's organization, he wouldn't call it out to Communications and give away his location. Let everyone think he was roving.
During the drive, the rain worsened from the steady downpour of a few minutes ago. The skies opened up and dumped massive quantities of water. Along the roads, water built up quickly, and the driving turned treacherous. Making him late to the meeting, arriving at 1849 hours. He was glad the informant waited, but knew his greed played into a lot of it. It only took five minutes for him to get the information and pay off the informant. He stayed behind at the meeting place to allow the person time to leave without being seen with him, and to finish his tip sheet about the encounter.
Chris didn't see the point in driving in this weather and risking his life, but he also knew that the peace wouldn't last. Judging from the thunder and sky-brightening lightening, they could look forward to a shift filled with the inevitable power outages that would set off the business alarms, the trees that would blow over to block the roads, and the power lines that would fall and arc. At least two or three transformers would blow, the blue-white explosion would cause enough chaos but would probably cause some reports of shots fired as well. He hated storms; most of their time was eaten up running from false alarm to false alarm, or babysitting trees and wires until the utility companies made it out. There was nothing worse than blocking a road – car at one end, officer at the other – because people ignored the flare lines stretched out across the pavement and drove over or around them. He groaned, knowing it was going to be miserable, and he'd spent most of the night wet.
His radios crackled, one in his car, and one on his shoulder. "FC, all units, copy a disturbance." Casey's voice was clear and serious, none of her playfulness or good humor evident.
In the background of her transmission, Chris could hear several phones ringing, telling him that his quiet was about to end. He reached up to his lapel mike. "11-01."
"K9-16." Ezra got the second answer position.
"11-05," Vin's drawl came through.
"11-08." Nina was next.
"11-03," Josiah's deep voice rumbled.
"11-02." Buck sounded resigned.
"11-04," Nathan answered calmly.
Casey spoke again. "FC, all units, respond to the Fellowship Festival, Mount Olympus tent, reported fight between 15-20 subjects. Unknown reference to weapons. Sheriff's Office units advising disturbance is escalating quickly, with a large crowd surrounding them."
Chris barely heard all the units acknowledge, but it pleased him to hear that dayshift, so close to getting off-duty, was volunteering to respond. That would help raise their numbers, especially if the Sheriff's Office had let things go out of control.
Putting his car in drive, he slowly pulled away, heading down the winding road from his Outer North position toward the Outer South. Once he came out of the curves and hit the main thoroughfare, he'd pick up his speed.
Saturday Night, 1852 hours
Communications, Four Corners Police Department Station
"Communications, Ladonna." The dispatcher answered the ringdown line from the Sheriff's Office with the standard greeting. As she started receiving the information from her counterpart at the other agency, she started firing off questions, trying to get as much information as she could. "Where? How many involved? Any weapons? How many do you want? How big's the crowd?" When she disconnected, she typed the information into the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) and transferred it electronically to the pending queue for Casey to send units.
"Peace didn't even last until seven," Casey lamented. She keyed up. "FC, all units, copy a disturbance." Mentally, she ticked off the units as they called.
During the dispatch and check-in, the phones lit up. Several of the cellular lines blinked and rang, while the business and 911 lines started.
"FC, all units, respond to the Fellowship Festival, Mount Olympus tent, reported fight between 15-20 subjects. Unknown reference to weapons. Sheriff's Office units advising disturbance is escalating quickly, with a large crowd surrounding them."
"Forgot my keys," Rita said when she entered, and then saw the phones. "So much for leaving early." One hand hit the 'help' button in Communications, and then she started answering.
A few seconds later, Amber ran in, followed by Mackey and Lt. Como. All of the new arrivals started answering telephones.
Mackey, Amber, and Rita would normally be on their way home, but held up due to the heavy rain, they happened to have stayed long enough to hear and answer the 'help' signal. The special button in dispatch sent a specific tone through the building. It was one of Chief Travis's innovations; if Communications got busy and needed help, they were taught to hit the button. If there wasn't anyone but the Shift Commander in the building, at least he or she would be able to come up and assist them in answering the telephones, or be available to make decisions.
Questions floated around Casey.
"How many people?"
"Do you see any weapons?"
"Is anyone injured?"
"What's going on now?"
The questions continued, and the people answering the telephones called information to Casey. She updated the units with the new information as quickly as she received it. It sounded really bad, and the telephones kept ringing. She was thankful that the dayshift people hadn't gone home yet; she and Ladonna would have been hard-pressed to handle this. They would have, but having help was always nice.
Just like it was nice having the dayshift field units head toward the Festival too. Many of them checked en route, the first being Sgt. Raphael Cordova de Martinez.
"FC, all units, respond to the Fellowship Festival, Mount Olympus tent, reported fight between 15-20 subjects. Unknown reference to weapons. Sheriff's Office units advising disturbance is escalating quickly, with a large crowd surrounding them."
Vin cursed. The last thing he wanted to do was get out into the rain and handle a fight that probably shouldn't have happened. This was why he shared Nina's dislike for the Sheriff's Office – well, one of the many deep dark reasons. To add to that, his gut was twisted up, and he knew this call was not going to go well. His gut hadn't steered him wrong yet.
Figuring it was better to warn the others, he reached for his CB. "'Ey, Chris."
"I got a feelin'."
"I don't like your feelings, Tanner. Someone usually gets hurt."
"Think I like havin' them, cowboy?"
"Guess what, guys," Nina's voice came over the channel, one that they always used for private discussions. "It's uglier than you think – worse than Buck's hair when he first wakes up."
"Hey!" Buck yelled through the CB.
"11-08's on location," Nina's voice switched and came through the police radio. "Keep everyone coming."
Vin managed a tight smile, then changed to his police radio. "11-05, 11-08, stand by. I'm fifteen seconds out."
"Already surrounded. Expedite!"
Vin’s patrol unit skidded into the crowded parking lot nearest the area of the problem. It was a controlled skid, but one worthy of significant skill. He didn't like doing that, but Nina's message told him things were going to be bad. Seeing the mass of swarming crowd, it was obvious they were dealing with more than the reported 15-20 combatants, as had first been reported. If anything, that was seriously understated. He threw his car into park, locked it, and took off at a run. While sprinting through the crowd, he called, "11-05, FC, on location. Confirmed major fight, more than 20 subjects around, all units respond and expedite!"
Ignoring the radio responses, the Texan caught sight of a police Stetson in the throng near the Mount Olympus tent, already enveloped in the shoving mass. This was going to be one hell of a fight. He dove in, pushing his way toward the center, ducking and dodging blows from those he jostled. Several people got out of his way, many did not. Those who didn't received a quick toss off to the side.
He realized his mistake as he neared the middle of the madness. There were too many people and too few officers. They were badly outnumbered, and he'd just added another victim – himself. Right in front of him, the Sheriff's Office deputies quite literally fought to keep control of their guns. Too many hands reached, grabbed, and forced them to keep a protective stance over their weapons. This caused them to take more blows than they normally would have if they didn't have to protect their gun. Vin saw the deputies had the sense not to pull them from the holsters; doing that would only end up with someone getting shot.
Defending himself was something he'd been trained by the best to do. As he advanced, he was able to keep most of the people at bay, allowing him closer to the deputies and officers. By getting closer and pushing the crowd back, he allowed the deputies to break free and form up in a circle. Vin made a point of getting next to Nina, knowing she would guard his back, and she would know she had at least one person there she could trust to support and guard her. He smelled pepper spray, and it hadn't dissipated completely from the air, despite the rain. His nose and eyes started to run mildly, but he ignored that as a nuisance.
He reached for his radio to advise the responding units of the situation. Finding that the microphone had been wrenched from his shoulder at one point, all he had left was a dangling wire attached to nothing. His eyes quickly spotted his radio on the ground, mud oozing into the cracks and crevices, ground in by the many feet that trampled it. That was a lost cause, and he wasn't going to give anyone an opening to try and get it. Nor would he leave Nina's back unprotected; there would be more units here soon, and they could relay the situation. All he, Nina, and deputies had to do was hold out for reinforcements.
"Aw, hell," he muttered. "Nina, radio?"
"First thing they destroyed. Then went for my gun." Her voice sounded congested with her chest heaving hard, one of her hands protectively over the holster.
Blue eyes ringed in red told him that she'd emptied her pepper spray entirely too close to her, probably giving her a little space, but not helping in the long run. Knowing Nina only resorted to the pepper spray when things got bad, it said a lot about their current situation. Her shirt was ripped open due to her keeping her lapel mike wire tucked inside for instances like this. Right now, her vest was clearly visible.
Whoever grabbed her yanked pretty hard on the lapel mike, the only visible part, in order to do that damage. He guessed it was the unconscious guy with a swollen nose and rapidly swelling round bruise on his forehead. Or it could be the guy with his head dunked in a bucket and screaming in pain while his friends tried to wash his face off. Which took at least two or three people out of the fight. He'd experienced first-hand the effect of pepper spray, having been sprayed with that and worse in the Army as part of Ranger training, and again as part of his police training. He didn't have any sympathy for the dosed subjects now; they deserved it if they helped start this mess.
Vin eyed the hostile, shifting crowd with a practiced eye. Many were still fighting each other, but a large portion of the crowd was turning their anger toward the officers, and they were trapped in the heart of it. Rapidly calculating the odds, it didn't look good for the side of law and order.
"Hell," Vin muttered. His hand reached down and passed his spray to Nina. "Ya need this more than I do."
"I'm already sprayed; what's a little more? Rain's enough to dilute it so I can still breathe." She took the canister, promptly turning it on one guy who tried to grab her. "Back off, jerk." It haloed around the man's head, and she used a leg to push him back. Vin pulled her out of the cloud, getting them to a more defensible – if there was one of those – position. The rain was not helping either and the quagmire of mud they were dancing in made it hard to find good footing to stand and defend themselves.
One deputy went on the offensive, or he thought he was. "Disperse!" He yelled to the crowd. "Go to your homes, leave the area peacefully, and there won't be any more problems."
They growled, an animalistic sound, with many clenching and unclenching fists. Some started removing their belts to use for weapons, if they didn't already carry something, or find some elsewhere.
"Ya tryin' ta get us killed?" Vin kept his voice low but threatening to the deputy.
"That was stupid," Nina hissed.
"They need to hear orders to respect our authority," the deputy defended himself. He raised his voice. "Don't make us arrest you."
Vin and Nina groaned.
"Reckoned he just dared them, didn't he?" the Texan whispered to her.
"That he did. Don't think they're human any more."
The first brave soul came at the deputies on the opposite side of them.
"Back ta back?" Vin questioned, his voice not even a whisper.
"You know it," she responded.
Converging, the horde swarmed. Nina fired off the last of the pepper spray in their direction before dropping the canister. Using the crowd's avoidance of the mist, Vin and Nina moved away again from the crowd and the cloud, getting themselves ready for an all-out fight. A couple dropped back, having walked into or been unfortunate enough to enter the cloud, which gained them a few precious seconds to pull their asps.
Vin stood back to back with Nina, both of them connecting against their attackers with their asps, an equivalent to a nightstick when extended. His concern was the people in front of him, and keeping Nina upright at his back. The deputies he worried about, and tried to help out by drawing attackers, but the mob slowly swallowed them.
When an arm landed on his, he immediately smacked it with the asp, not looking at the owner of it.
"Damnation!" Buck yelled.
"Took ya long enough, Bucklin," Vin retorted, ducking a swing that immediately connected with the taller man's side.
Buck immediately decked the offender, putting him unconscious with a shot to the jaw. "I called in a few seconds ago; calvary's coming." Wilmington completed their triad.
The three of them stood their ground and let the unconscious pile up around them. It became clear to most in the fray that the three now in the middle of the maelstrom were the better fighters. Each of them displaying skills of their police training, with hints of a variety of martial arts, and when it came down to it, dirty street fighting.
"Watch your radio and gun," Nina warned during a lull, letting Vin reach in front of her to break a man's nose with the flat of his hand.
"Already lost that when someone tried to pull me backwards," Buck retorted. "Guy won't make that mistake again." He shoved Nina aside to stop a tackle aimed at her. His foot mashed the guy's face into the mud. When he could look, he saw Nina had taken his place, currently using the asp in places most men would prefer remain untouched by hard objects. "Darlin', you're getting mean."
"Mean's gonna be Larabee when we have to fill out the loss of property reports," she ground out, taking out a woman's knee and leaving her flat in the mud. The knife fell out of the woman's hand under Nina's boot. "Knife."
"Hell," Vin said.
All conversation ceased at that point. Grimly, the three fought. None of them knew that they were the focus of the fracas, too concerned about staying alive to realize something worse was afoot. One of the more enterprising souls started a betting pool about how long those three could last, and how many people they could knock out or disable in the meantime. Bets flew hot and heavy; the number of combatants grew with the size of the pot. The free whiskey shots liberally laced with PCP – passed on by an unscrupulous sort – gave the combatants a tough edge against the already beleaguered officers.
Combatants went down, but got right back up laughing. PCP made them feel invincible, so strikes that should have rendered them unconscious only made them fight harder. Someone broke a picnic table, and another person snapped a picnic bench into pieces, arming those about to enter the fray. Blows started landing on the officers, pushing the triad further into the throng. The crowd, loving the excitement and seeing a free opportunity to get a wallop on a police officer, pummeled and pushed them back into the fray. The deputies first on the scene were already out of the picture, either disabled or the few who quickly lost their courage and fled to the safety of their cars or the parking lot against the overwhelming odds.
Backup units arrived, but found the situation out of control. More units were called for, along with ambulances to be manned but to stage away from the scene. The new groups started fighting their way into the mass to reach the officers they had not had contact with since Buck arrived. It wasn't too hard; they just followed the trail of broken bodies making their way out of the mess and the writhing mass of people pressed closely together in one area.
Chris swore fluently because the rain and wet roadways slowed him down. He needed to get there fast, to help out his fellow officers, but that wasn't happening. Right now, he was in the lower North patrol area. The roads were mercifully clear of traffic, but not standing water. He hydroplaned more than once, his heart in his throat, and each time he was forced to drop his speed a little more. Him dead or injured wouldn't help anyone. As frustrating as this was, he couldn't risk injuring himself by going too fast. The situation was already bad enough.
The lights and sirens announced his passing to everyone, but the driving sheets of rain precluded visibility. Darkness continued to fall, making things more treacherous. At one point he wasn't sure if the deepening gloom was because of the weather or the time.
Larabee heard Tanner call out at location and request units expedite, meaning he needed help immediately. The tone of his friend's voice informed him things were really bad; not much shook Vin's radio calm.
"FC, 11-05," Casey called through the radio.
He waited for Tanner's reply.
"FC, 11-05," she repeated.
There was no response.
"FC, 11-08." Casey tried Nina.
"FC, 11-08 or 11-05."
Neither answered her.
Casey hit the tones that broadcast across all the channels. "FC to 11-05 or 11-08."
"11-02, FC, show me on location, keep everyone coming fast and furious. We've got a near-riot here, and our people are in the middle of it." Buck's voice was practically a yell, and even then hardly heard over the shouting, screaming, and fighting in the background.
"10-4, 11-02. All units responding expedite."
Chris knew it sounded redundant because they already were expediting, but if Casey didn't say it, she could be liable for not getting the word out. This also meant for everyone to step up their pace if possible.
"11-02, can you advise revised numbers?"
There was no answer from Buck.
"11-02?" Casey toned again, and there was still no answer.
Shivers ran down Chris's spine. Vin's feeling was proving right yet again.
"All units responding to the Fellowship Festival, Sheriff's Office has also lost contact with their officers. Receiving multiple 911 calls about deputies and officers being assaulted."
A part of his mind respected the way Casey gave the dispatch without showing too much emotion. It was a testament to the young woman's dedication that she wasn't losing her control knowing that her friends were involved in an incident that sounded like a total disaster.
A few minutes earlier…
"FC, 11-05," Casey called Vin's radio number.
She waited for Tanner's reply.
"FC, 11-05," she repeated.
There was no response. She tried to block out the chaos going on around her as the phone calls continued to pour in. Ladonna was on one of the phones calling for backup from the State Police and any nearby towns that could afford to send units. Throughout all the varied conversations, she tuned them out and concentrated on hearing the voices she most wanted to come over the radio. They were the only ones that would slow her pounding heart down. But even as anxious as she was, she remained cool, calm and reserved. She couldn't help anyone if she panicked now.
"FC, 11-08." Casey tried Nina.
"FC, 11-08 or 11-05."
Neither answered her.
Casey hit the tones that broadcast across all the channels. "FC to 11-05 or 11-08."
"11-02, FC, show me on location, keep everyone coming fast and furious. We've got a near-riot here, and our people are in the middle of it." Buck's voice was practically a yell, and even then hardly heard over the shouting, screaming, and fighting in the background.
"10-4, 11-02. All units responding expedite. 11-02, can you advise revised numbers?"
Casey ordered and questioned into the radio again, wishing responding units there quicker.
"11-02?" Casey toned again, and there was still no answer.
She felt a hand on her shoulder and looked up into Ladonna's concerned face.
"Why don't we switch and let me take the radio?" her partner suggested.
Casey shook her head, "No, I'm fine."
Ladonna tried to persuade her, "Casey, we don't have time to argue. That's Vin out there. He's practically your brother. You're too close to this; let me take over."
"No," Casey was vehement. "I've thought about this since he's joined the force and we've talked about it . . . I'm fine. Sure I'm worried about him, but I'm worried about Nina, Buck and the others too. Vin's not blood, but it doesn't take blood to make a family. We're all family, and I'm going to do my part to keep my family safe."
Smiling and impressed with her co-workers determination, Ladonna knew there was no further argument she could give that would sway the young dispatcher. She was right anyway; it didn't take being of the same blood to make a family, they were concerned for all of their charges; it would be no different for any of them. She patted Casey on the back, "Ok, but I'll switch whenever you need a break."
"Thanks, Ladonna," Casey smiled briefly then turned back to the radio console quickly. She didn't want her co-worker to see the prickling of tears in her eyes. Softly she cleared her throat, attempting to get rid of the hitch in her throat before she tried to sound her usual calm self on the radio once more.
There was no answer. Inside, Casey could feel the tremors of fear grip onto her, although her outside demeanor showed no turmoil. She was a professional; she could do this. Worrying came later; emotion was not needed right now.
"FC, 11-02," she tried again.
Silently she sent up a quick prayer and wondered what else could go wrong this night as she reached to set the tones off again.
Chris cursed the storm once again.
Turning off the one road onto another that he hoped would allow him to speed up, Larabee hit the gas. This section of road was flat with deep ditches holding tiny streams on either side. Only a handful of curves, a few flat bridges, and a copse or two of very old, large trees broke the terrain, the curves having more to do with property boundaries than good sense in street planning. He approached one of them, braking into it.
Once through the two massive trees, the trunks wider than three of him, he straightened out. His many lights only showed rain a short distance ahead, so he pressed on the accelerator, hoping to make up some time. If only his informant had picked someplace closer to South than back there, making him have to push to get to the Festival and help out his squad.
Buck didn't answer.
"FC, 11-02," Casey tried again.
Casey hit the tones. "FC, 11-02, 11-05, 11-08."
None of the three called back over the radio.
"13-01's on location. Start and stage ambulances for multiple traumas. Get the wagon here fully manned ASAP. We're going to need everything we can get." Sgt. Raphael Cordova de Martinez gave a series of requests.
"10-4. How many patients?"
"Madre de Dios!" Raphael answered. "Keep everyone coming, call the state for help. I can see fifteen separate fights, multiple people down, and a few deputies trying to treat wounded. Situation is not – I repeat NOT – under control."
"11-01, 13-01," Chris called into his mike.
"13-01," Raphael replied.
"Any sign of
11-02, 11-05, or 11-08?"
"No, no, y no. Too many fights, too much chaos. Get down here, vamanos."
"10-4." Larabee acknowledged. A heavy weight surrounded his heart.
He came out of a curve accelerating. From here on out, he could make up some time; the road changed into small rises and valleys, but no curves in the road to slow down his speed. Heading down into one of the valleys, he started across a bridge.
What occurred next happened so fast he couldn't react; he could only hang on for the ride.
The normally tranquil ravine with what seemed a barely trickle of water to keep the lush vegetation alive suddenly awakened to a turbulence it hadn't seen in hundred years and likely never would again. A wall of water poured on and over the bridge, sweeping everything off of it. The sheer amount of it got under the tires and lifted the patrol car, sliding it in the direction of the current. Rusted, ancient barriers collapsed under the weight of the vehicle, and the fast moving deluge as it swept Chris' patrol unit off the bridge.
Fortunately for him, the speed of the water and the shallowness of the ravine kept him from striking the bottom. Unfortunately, water seeped in and started filling the vehicle, and he was no longer in control of the car. He tried to roll down the window to get out of the vehicle if he could, and found that the water level had risen to just outside the door. Opening the window would only bring the water in. His engine sputtered and died.
The water continued to slowly rise in his car.
He reached for his lapel mike to advise Communications what was happening.
"K9-16, FC! Officers down!" Ezra's usually calm voice was a bellow. "We need more people down here!"
"10-4, K9-16, Officers down. Ambulances staging, advise where to send them."
Chris thought he was in hell. He'd just started to key up and Ezra covered him. Not only was he being dragged along the deep ravine by a wall of water that soaked the interior of the car, his engine was dead, there were officers down, and he couldn't get radio time to tell them about his predicament, either.
That was his last thought before the large, old tree slammed into the driver's side of the car, pushing through the glass, letting the water rush in, and knocking Chris unconscious.
Chris Larabee's vehicle continued floating with the current down the ravine until it narrowed. Once that happened, the patrol car with log still attached wedged between the banks, creating a break in the water. The flash flood turned surging stream continued to pour brackish runoff into the broken windows of the patrol car. With the prior water, the level inside the vehicle continued to rise. It now reached the calves of the driver, who was pressed back into his seat. His head had no room to move, his cheek scraped raw on one side from the log, and that side of his face was still resting against the wood.
He didn't know his left arm was broken. He didn't know about the damage done to his face, or feel the blood dripping from his open wounds. He didn't know his shoulder was separated, his collarbone broken, and the only reason he was still alive was that the momentum of the log was slow enough it didn't impale him as it pierced the vehicle. It did, however, keep him pressed into the seat and prevent him from moving. Not that he could really care, at the moment. He didn't know his legs were pinned beneath the weighty wood. He didn't know no one knew he was missing.
No, at the moment, Chris Larabee didn't know much nor did he care. He was floating in a world of darkness.
Vin started to tire. He'd already taken quite a few hits; he was pretty sure some of the blood on his hands and asp was his, and he was more than sick of this. How come a simple night out at a Festival went so wrong? He knew it was the nature of the job, but he suspected if the rest of the deputies working this detail were like the ones that he and Nina encountered earlier, it wasn't all that surprising things had spiraled so far out of control. Thinking about control brought the question of where was their backup, and what the heck was taking so long? Most importantly, why the hell wouldn't these people stop and stay down?
He'd noticed that the attackers kept clear of him, focusing their punishment on Buck and Nina. Putting himself forward as a target only caused the crowd to pull back and wait for an opportunity to attack the other two. It was starting to piss him off that they'd go for someone weaker than him.
He heard a dog barking, and noticed a small break in the crowd. Vin knew that bark anywhere; it was Ace of Spades, meaning canine handler Ezra Standish was not far behind. Concentrating on the people heading his way, instead of the fights around him, he picked out a few more Stetsons coming through the press. Relief filled him at the approach of the reinforcements.
Vin's inattention was costly. His periphery vision saw Buck dive on Nina and take her down to the ground, covering her with his body. The cause: five men with pieces of wood making a concerted effort to knock out, if not kill the police officers. He jumped between two of the attackers and the officers, kicking and punching until they backed down. His attempt to save his friends was not without adding a few more wounds to his own collection, though. He took them, and dished some of his own punishment with renewed energy from a second wind.
A streak of black blurred by on his right, all teeth and attitude. Canine incisors clamped onto the arm of one man swinging a makeshift club and did not let go. The man fell back, screaming at Ace and trying to shove the dog off. He was unsuccessful; two dayshift officers rushed up behind him and took him into custody.
Seeing the increase of numbers of those in uniform around him, Vin tackled another assailant currently beating on Buck and Nina while they lay sprawled on the ground, Buck protectively curled around her. From their lack of movement, neither was conscious, and a part of his brain acknowledged Buck's protective instincts for women.
Apparently the hopped up, drugged crowd thought this was part of the entertainment, forcing the newly arrived officers into another protective circle.
"Took ya long enough," Vin said out of the side of his mouth to Ezra.
"Dreadful weather. Absolutely dreadful," the Southerner deadpanned. That was as far as he got; the mob surged forward. Anyone in their path, no matter how good their intentions or their strength, was plowed down. This included some of the dayshift officers, caught up and pulled away from the protective circle. They were overrun, and it became a fight to survive.
Vin was proud of Ezra; the handler and Labrador stood over the fallen bodies of Buck and Nina. Growling, barking, and biting, the stampede to assault the officers avoided the dog and handler. In turn, Tanner protected the Southerner.
A voice came over the din, sounding far away, but very clear, especially in its intention. "Five hundred bucks to each person that hurts a cop!"
"Aw, hell." Vin saw one of the fallen officers get kicked in the ribs before another officer shoved the aggressor away and knocked him unconscious in the process.
"Aw, hay-ell." Ezra reached for his lapel mike. He needed to yell to be heard over the din. "K9-16, FC! Officers down! We need more people down here!"
"10-4, K9-16, Officers down. Ambulances staging, advise where to send them."
Swinging his asp and forcing someone back from hitting Ace in the head, Ezra couldn't answer immediately. When he could, he reached back up and said, "Send the Calvary, stage the ambulances."
That was his last transmission for some time; he was too busy fighting the throng. It surprised him how many people wanted to hurt Ace; he couldn't understand the need to attack a canine. Ace was holding his own, in his own dog style, yet his handler continued to knock away idiots from his partner. Footing got hard to come by, the constant downpour not discouraging the crowd. The white flashes of lightning illuminated the grisly scene, throwing off combatants when having to squint against the sudden brightness. Although the strung yellow lanterns and bulbs helped them see through the gloom, the strobe-like lightning flashes hurt drug dilated eyes.
Vin stuck with Ezra, taking down those who wanted to hurt him, Ace, Buck, or Nina. He'd lost track of how many people Ace bit; when the mess was sorted out – if it was ever under control before they lost - they'd find those people from their distinctive wounds and charge them for assaulting an officer (canine).
It seemed like forever before the flood of Sheriff's Office Detention Center employees in full riot gear started to take control. By this time, the riot – Vin didn't think it could be anything else – had flowed all around them, and devastation filled his vision. Things were slowly coming under the command of law enforcement.
None of the tents remained standing. Shredded and trampled, the bright colors were coated with mud. Tables were in shambles, some listing to one side or overturned. Unconscious bodies were strewn across the field. Because of the mass of arrestees, officers resorted to be using flex cuffs instead of regular cuffs for those not injured, but under arrest. These people were forcibly being loaded into the Sheriff's Office Transport Wagon. There were enough still fighting, even restrained, to cause problems for the officers, adding chaos to an already turbulent scene.
Ambulance crews finally got the okay to come in closer to the scene. Crews moved quickly among the wounded, taking out the more seriously injured first. In the still constant downpour, very little was done at the scene for the patients; it was more of a scoop and run operation. Buck and Nina were among the first transported.
Those with less severe injuries were getting triaged by the ambulance crew under the watchful eye of officers from various jurisdictions. Vin saw at least five different police agencies represented, some from neighboring counties and municipalities. He watched the FCPD Special Response Team move in small teams, keeping in tight formations for optimum protection, making arrests and assisting in crowd control. Identified suspects who refused medical treatment were arrested; the refusal was necessary so the respective agencies did not pay the hospital bills. Patients involved in the multiple assaults requiring transport to the hospital were met by another security detail from the Sheriff's Office and babysat until they were released, and then promptly arrested.
Back at the scene, Ezra sported a black eye and rubbed the arm that held the asp, Ace looked exhausted, and Vin hurt all over. He could not isolate which part hurt worse. After what seemed like hours of fighting for control with the crowd, his arms throbbed, his legs and feet ached, and he was sure his head already left his body and someone replaced it with a bass drum. Besides wanting to know how his friends were, he just wanted to sit down.
"How ya feelin', Ez?" Vin asked, flexing his hands to keep them from stiffening up.
"We aren't paid enough for this abuse."
Vin laughed. "Tell that ta the Chief."
"I intend to."
"Hey boy." The Texan squatted down beside the exhausted canine. He made sure Ace knew it was him before rubbing his head and scratching behind the ears, considering the constant state of fighting that the canine endured for a prolonged period. "Good job."
The Labrador wagged his tail half-heartedly, his tongue lolling to one side. Even he seemed physically drained.
"Wonder how many he bit."
"I believe it will be easy enough to determine," Ezra remarked. He nodded to Rafe and Raphael, shoving a quartet of suspects toward the wagon. Raphael came over to them, leaving Rafe to help the deputies do the loading.
"Amigos." The sergeant's uniform was torn and muddy in several places, and he favored his left side, keeping it away from the prisoners.
"Gracias," Vin said immediately. "Saw ya protectin' my back."
"De nada. You are well?"
"Mr. Tanner here needs to get checked out. I believe his nose might be broken, among other things."
"He was also bitten by a human during the brouhaha," Ezra added.
"Thanks, Ez." Vin glared at him.
"Then you will be checked out. No arguments." Raphael pointed toward the ambulances.
"Good Lord, Vin, do you know how many bacteria are in a human bite?" Ezra looked appalled. He attached an arm on Vin and started dragging him toward the ambulances, Ace following peacefully.
"I can walk." Vin declared even as he stumbled a bit.
"I have no doubt of that. I'll make sure you don't walk in the other direction."
Raphael laughed, waving to Rafe while they walked by the Transport Wagon.
Once at the ambulances, the EMT's started to work on Vin's multiple cuts and abrasions.
"13-01, FC," Raphael said.
"I know it will take some time, but I want you to do a roll call of all the units here. Have allied agencies do the same. Make sure all units are okay."
Casey started with the dayshift units, hearing all of them check in okay. Several warrant units and off-duty units that heard the call responded, and they checked out okay. All of the Special Response Team checking in then, taking over the radio momentarily. The young dispatcher finally was able to start on the midnight shift units, skipping Buck and Nina because she knew they were transported. Instead, she started at the bottom of the roster and worked up.
"Okay, mark me with four in custody."
"Okay, Five in custody, sent five to the hospital." Josiah sounded slightly out of breath.
Chris Larabee did not answer.
Again, he didn't answer.
Casey hit the tones. "FC, 11-01."
Rafe called over the radio. "He's okay, I just saw him."
The dispatcher finished her roll call with the other units that were operating on their radio frequency, and all units were fine. Some were battered, almost everyone had a prisoner, but everyone was alive, including Buck and Nina.
The first flickers of awareness entered his consciousness, mostly due to being wet and uncomfortable. He tried to open his eyes, but they didn't seem to work. A shiver shook his system, followed by pain. That brought him semi-alert, retreating from the fog of lassitude, and he attempted to figure out where he was. Something large blocked his vision; it was brown and rough, pressing hard against his body, it was so tight it was making it hard to breathe. It looked like a tree, but what was a tree doing in his patrol car, the edges of which he could see around the monstrosity? Lifting his left arm to shove it away, he couldn't contain the scream.
Nor could he prevent himself from returning to the darkness. He didn't know how severe the danger was, or that the water continued to rise, or that his life was in jeopardy. Pain kept him down and out.
Vin finished getting his hand checked. His badly bruised nose was cleaned up, the gash above his right eye was butterflied closed for the moment, and the multitude of other cuts and bruises were checked and tended. Despite his aches and pains, and the dizziness and nausea that was making itself known now that the adrenaline from the fight was wearing off, he was still arguing against getting transported for a possible concussion. He taken plenty of heavy hits to the head, but he didn't feel it was anything serious. There was still too much to do, and the fact he didn't like hospitals.
"Don't make me order you, Probationary Officer," Raphael tried to look stern, the effect ruined with his obvious lean against the ambulance for support.
"Ya ain't my sergeant, sir," Vin retorted.
"You will still do what I say, for your own good."
"I ain't goin' ta the hospital."
"Yes, you are."
"No, I'm not."
"Are you disobeying a direct order?'
"Ya ain't ordered me yet."
Standish stepped between them, holding up a hand to prevent Raphael from speaking. He gave the sergeant a significant look.
Raphael crossed his arms and waited, somehow straightening and looking imposing while bruised and disheveled.
"K9-16, 11-01," Ezra called into his radio.
There was no answer.
"Whatcha doin'?" Vin asked suspiciously.
Seeing the ploy, the dayshift sergeant grinned until his lip started to split, which deterred him from making an all-out smile.
"Those bumps on your head have slowed your thinking. I am making sure you are properly cared for, Mr. Tanner. I, myself, could order you to go, as well as the good sergeant here, but I believe it will be more effective and memorable if Sgt. Larabee forced you."
"Yer all heart."
answered," Raphael said. "13-01, 11-01."
Silence came over the radio.
"K9-16, 11-01," Ezra called again.
There was yet another long moment of silence.
Chris Larabee could not hear the radio; therefore, he could not answer. His dreams were filled with warmth – a roaring fireplace providing heat, a soft body pressed against his, and a full stomach. He had no complaints. Even the sound of the pouring rain outside provided a level of atmosphere, closeness.
The peace was shattered when his bare feet, resting on the cold rug, felt wet. Staring down, he saw water slowly seeping in through the windows, the rain coming through without pause, and the floor getting covered with the incoming deluge. He tried to stand, but the soft body that he'd held moments before pinned him down, and her face turned into…a tree? Confused, he stared at everything around him, the cabin blurring, his head heavy with sleep, and he disappeared back into the depths of darkness.
Since Chris had not answered, Raphael used his radio to call Rafe, the last person who said he saw Chris Larabee on scene. Maybe Chris was too busy to answer the radio, he thought. "Where did you see 11-01?"
"11-01? Haven't seen him."
"You advised you saw 11-01 on the roll call." A sharp edge entered his tone, one he usually wouldn't employ with one of his men.
Rafe's voice sounded a touch confused at the question. "Negative, 13-01, I heard 13-01 called on the roll call. Figured you were busy and replied for you."
"Madre de Dios," Raphael muttered. His hand tightened on the lapel mike. "13-01, all units. Advise if you have seen 11-01."
Multiple units checked back with him telling him no.
Vin shot to his feet, swaying a bit, but pushing away the EMT who tried to stop him.
"What time do you have 11-01 on location?"
There was a long pause. "13-01, I put him arrived when I was advised he was there and okay. Thought his arrival transmission had been covered by all the other units."
"Aw, hell." Tanner's battered face paled.
"What was his last known location?" Raphael asked.
"Clearing from the station after roll call."
"Let's go. Ez, yer drivin', I'm lookin' Ain't gotta radio, so we'll double up." He looked at Raphael. "Sarge, they're gonna need my car ta transport 'cuz of the cage, right?" This was probably not the case, but the unspoken plea was there.
"Si." Raphael granted the request, knowing it was useless now to try and get the rookie to go to the hospital.
"Here's my keys." Vin tossed them at the dayshift sergeant. The Texan started toward Ezra's truck, the Southerner falling in step beside him with Ace following behind.
"Gracias," Raphael replied. He keyed his mike. "13-01, all units available to clear, checking for missing officer 11-01. K9-16 and 11-05 will handle the main route from the station to here."
Vin waved over his shoulder that he heard the order from Ezra's radio and understood. He knew it wasn't standard procedure for officers involved in use-of-force and with injuries to leave the scene, but a missing officer took precedence. They had to find Chris, paperwork could wait.
Rushing around and through the patrol unit, the water level continued to rise inside. Slipping into the cracks and crevices, it shorted out the machinery. It soaked the upholstery. Now, it threatened to coat the legs and waist of the single occupant. Moving slowly, steadily up the body.
Miles from anywhere, Chris Larabee was completely alone with the rising water. Even his dreams continued to try and warn him, but his body and mind were not in synchronicity and listening to each other. The danger grew with each moment he was in the cold water, and hypothermia was starting to become a good possibility.
Casey Wells was scared. Chris Larabee never, ever failed to answer the radio when called. She knew it stemmed back to when he was a trooper with the NHP regarding an incident involving him, Buck, and Nina, but other than that, she couldn't ferret out any details. Chris also made sure that his Squad answered when called; he was a demon when someone didn't answer and didn't have a good reason for it.
He hadn't been heard from since his last transmission asking the status of Buck and Nina. All attempts to raise him failed. What could she do? Not much, which frustrated her. She'd already pulled the map books for the grid assignments, contacted all the other agencies to be on the lookout for him, called his cell phone with no answer, and she knew the others had tried the CB without success.
Ultimately, she was responsible. She made an assumption that he was there, didn't verify it, and now there was a missing officer. A missing friend. Part of her could feel Ladonna looking at her back every few seconds, but she wasn't going to turn around and meet her gaze. Her mind kept telling her in a little whisper in the back of her mind that she screwed up. Her stomach churned, and her eyes watered with blinked back tears. She would see this through to the end, and then think about quitting later. What good was she to them if she was a screw-up? The footsteps behind her nearly startled her out of her musings, and she took a deep breath to steady herself. No point in losing her composure now; they'd only pull her off the radio, and she'd be more of a failure.
Lt. Como paced the small confines of Communications when he didn't have a phone attached to his ear. All the appropriate notifications had been made about the riot, so Chief Travis was on his way in, along with the senior staff.
It was too quiet, a big change from barely thirty minutes before, when all hell was still breaking loose. It was scary and strange, and hopefully not an omen of worse things to come, Casey thought, absently acknowledging a unit en route to the Detention Center with a prisoner. Even the radio traffic was muted and minimal on the off chance that Chris was trying to radio in. There was always a chance he couldn't get on the air or someone else covered him, so the officers limited themselves to the briefest transmissions.
The ringing telephone broke the silence.
"Four Corners Police Department," Ladonna answered crisply.
"Um, hello." The caller's voice was tentative.
"Hello. May I help you?"
"I don't think I have the right place. I was calling the highways department, and I got your number for emergencies."
"Yes, that's right. We answer the highways emergency line. What's the problem, sir, tell me exactly what happened? "
"I was driving down Thorny Road when I got to the bridge. It's been washed out or something."
"Which bridge, sir? The large overpass?"
"No, ma'am. The real old tiny one. Looks like the crick shot right on over it. There's water high and rushing on either side of the road. Damn, uh, excuse me, dang near covering it in places."
"Did you see if anyone was hurt?"
"Nope. Went over it fast and counted my blessings. The railings on one side are gone, so I kept my eyes on the road."
"Okay, sir. Is the road passable?"
"Now it is. Wouldn't bet on a short time ago, but yeah, you can drive down it if you're careful."
"Thanks for calling, sir. We'll call Highways to send someone out and check it." Ladonna disconnected. "The old bridge on Thorny might have been flooded. I'd put a call in, but we're too short staffed right now."
Casey snorted, partially in disgust and partially to cover her running nose. "They said the storm was coming at nine. What do they know? It's on top of us, and flash floods are possible. Anyone hurt there?"
"Not that he saw." She paged the highway department, telling them that the bridge was missing a railing. They gave their standard ETA of one hour – long enough for the crew to get to the shop, send the supervisor out to check it, and bring the right equipment to meet the supervisor. On their authority, Ladonna was told not to send an officer to check it.
Casey had toned out for Chris again, and the search was on. No one had heard anything from Chris yet, and the rain continued to fall.
It crept over the legs and started up the waist, coating everything in the path. The police portable radio, relatively waterproof, was not designed to be submerged. A loud tone issued from the partially covered device, it warbled and the voice following sounded like it was gargling instead of calling urgently in search of the missing Sergeant. There was a crackling as the water rose, and then silence. Water finally shorted out the circuitry, not that the unconscious man in the driver's seat noticed.
He was warm again. This time, he felt it from the bottom of his toes to the top of his head. Felt really good, too. Not a care in the world, just warm and comfortable. Like he was floating or something, maybe sitting in a hot tub and relaxing.
Searching from the station to the fight was a long, time-consuming process. Each map grid had to be checked thoroughly for the car and the driver, with none of the paired up search teams finding anything. Officers took turns going into the Detention Center to fill out their charging documents, to a person filling out the forms fairly quickly and completely, but not wasting any time in order to get back out and look.
No one knew where Chris Larabee was, and no one knew where to find him.
The search continued.
"We ain't findin' anythin' but rain," Vin hissed in frustration. He was riding shotgun in Ezra's truck, Ace curled up and resting in the back seat.
"I agree. If I were Sgt. Larabee, where would I be?"
Tanner thought back. "Ya said it seemed like he wasn't that close."
"I never heard him give a location, but yes, he seemed a distance away from the frustration in his tone."
"What if he weren't between the station and the fight? We've checked that about six times."
"Where do you propose we look? East, West, or North of the station?"
"Hell, I don't know. Just thinkin' aloud."
"Don't give up, my friend. We're going to find him, and he'll probably yell at us for taking so long."
"I ain't givin' up. Mark my words, I ain't gonna give up."
"Count me in."
Jerry Lane hated storms. Not only did the rain, wind, and lightning wreak havoc on Nature, it destroyed his sleep patterns. It was coming up on nine o'clock, and he was just starting. His boss called him at home and told him to get his butt in, pronto, because the list of fallen trees blocking the roadways was getting longer by the minute. After hanging up and making a few disparaging remarks about his boss and Mother Nature, Jerry gave up on his sleep. He always went to bed at eight thirty to get a good night's rest before he got up at four to be at work by five. This was cutting into his sleep time.
All together grumpy, Jerry drove himself to the convenience store and filled his extra-large thermos with coffee. He managed a grunt at the clerk, then stopped at the shop for the work pickup. That was a perk he liked – driving a fully loaded vehicle filled with someone else's gas. He received his list via the fax and checked it over in the truck while it warmed up. A few of the complaints were more nuisance than actual reasons for him to be out in this. His list was twenty items long, and from the sound of the fire radio on the scanner, it would get worse.
The first item he took care of was the easiest one. He went to Thorny Road, found the broken rails, and marveled at the high level of the water right around the bridge. He dropped two barricades on the broken side, making sure they were anchored with sandbags, never looking down the stream. Posting some high water signs a half-mile in either direction, Jerry was finished here. He climbed back into the warm, dry truck, used a towel to mop himself off, and checked off the 'temporary solution applied' box on his checklist. He had too much to do to stick around.
Jerry Lane drove off without ever knowing there was an injured, unconscious man trapped in a car down the storm-swelled stream.
Sleep beckoned, welcoming him in its embrace. Nothing mattered but the warmth and the sleep. Nothing at all…nothing.
Cold. He was cold, and that brought him around. Chris saw the tree directly in front of his face, and pieces of memory returned. Hadn't a tree come in the window of his cabin? Or was that a dream? What was real? Why were his pants wet? Had he disgraced himself?
It shot through him with speed and tenacity. He opened his mouth to scream yet no sound emerged. His face hurt with surprising agony, and his chest throbbed with torturous pain. It owned him, this pain, and he sought an escape from the all-encompassing power of it.
Sleep beckoned him, and he gratefully went for it. A small part of his mind told him to not give up, but that voice was drowned out by the warmth of the crackling fire in his dream cabin. The warmth was drawing him in, to a place of peace and comfort.
Everything was okay now. There was no more pain.
The hours dragged on. Rain continued to fall. As predicted, trees fell, wires arced, and transformers blew. Officers were pulled off search details to answer regular calls and road hazards. Other officers were called out to help with the search, and to supplement patrol. No one was having any luck, but no one was going to give up.
The smell of wet wood filled his nostrils, and then the sharp pain from inhaling too deeply dragged him away from his pleasant dream. He didn't want to wake up, but a part of him, the part that didn't want to give up, forced him to consciousness. Chris realized his body was pinned and injured from whatever happened to him, and he remembered floating in the stream. Cold water numbed his lower legs and waist.
"Help," he whispered.
An attempt for his radio left him gasping for air and fighting to stay awake. The last thing he should do is fall asleep again; he recognized the signs of hypothermia in himself.
"Help," he tried a little louder. His chest burned with fire, but he tried again.
"HELP!" He managed a scream.
The water, rain, and wind swallowed it, preventing anyone from hearing it.
He kept yelling, promising himself he would not sleep.
Vin's frustration mounted. All his instincts told him Chris was in serious trouble, that they needed to get to him right now, but no one knew where to look. He'd already checked with Rafe at the hospital twice. Since the ER was overwhelmed with casualties, it took awhile to find out the conditions of Buck and Nina. They were among the seriously injured but were in stable condition, with severe contusions, fractures, and concussions from the assaults. At least the news was good that they would recover, however, the bad news was that Chris Larabee had not showed up at the hospital either.
He punched the dashboard.
"Mr. Tanner, please refrain from assaulting my vehicle. I detest the destruction of city property and the paperwork involved."
"We gotta find him, Ez. He's runnin' outta time."
"Does your gut have an idea where to look?" Ezra gave his friend a serious look, not mocking him at all. "Just say where, and we'll go."
Vin shook his head.
"Then we'll continue on our assigned search grid."
A sharp bark behind them announced someone had woken from his long nap.
"All right, Ace. We'll head up to the park."
"That's still in our search grid, right?" Vin asked.
"No, however, Ace has priority." Ezra drove about ten minutes north to one of the many – in this case closest – parks that he used when letting Ace out.
The Labrador practically leapt from the truck, running to the first tree and disappearing behind it.
"Modest," Vin joked to his friend standing just outside his window.
"He barely tolerates me around when he must answer Nature's call."
"Just needs ya ta clean up after him."
"Yes. Wet fur and muddy paws. How delightful." Ezra pulled the gear out of the back of the truck and waited until he saw his partner reappear.
Ace barked twice.
"Don't tell me you're proud of yourself." Standish approached the tree. "Dear Lord, even with the rain, you still manage to offend me. What did Buck sneak you today?"
The Labrador barked again, turned, and ran off.
"Ace!" Ezra yelled. He gave the command to come back, but Ace disobeyed. Happy woofs came back to him. "Don't make me come after you."
Sighing, Ezra carried his plastic bag, scooper, and started after his errant partner.
Vin watched, letting a small smile cross his lips. The way Ezra spoiled Ace was something to watch, and the dog-controlling-human routine never grew old. Tonight it provided some much needed distraction.
"Get back here! This is not playtime! I know you missed it after your hard work, but we do not have time for frivolity."
Tanner nearly chuckled. They were at it again, and from the sounds of it, Ezra was going further into the trees. Knowing his assistance was not welcome or needed, Vin stayed in the truck, still trying to warm up. Neither officer took time to clean up, leaving the riot scene directly to search for Chris. Both were damp and muddy but put their own comfort aside to look for their missing sergeant. As he turned the heater back up, now that the canine officer was out of the truck, Vin kept wondering where Chris was, and why they hadn't found any sign of him. The later it got, the more worried he became.
The person of his worry had stopped yelling to conserve his strength. All he could hear was wind, water and rain, and his calls would not be heard over that. The numbness was spreading with the rising of the water; he couldn't feel his feet, legs, knees, thighs, or his waist anymore.
Sleep was dragging at him between one painful breath and the next, and it called him with the enchantment of a siren's song. He was trying to resist, but he knew he was losing.
"Vin, get out here and help me!" Ezra's voice came through the car radio on the talkaround channel. "He's taken off."
Consigning himself to another drenching, Vin adjusted his rain slicker, turned off and locked the truck, then adjusted his hat, though it did little to help deflect the rain. He set off in the direction he last saw Ezra, tracking the other man's run through the woods easily, even the rain couldn’t wash out all the damage as the duo raced through the trees. With Tanner's training, Ezra's track looked like a five year old on a tear instead of a grown man chasing his dog. Ace's barking carried over the storm, giving him another point of reference. It didn't take him long to catch up to the handler.
"He's never done this," Ezra stated, exasperated over his partner’s antics. "He must believe we're playing."
"Lemme lead." Vin stepped in front of the Southerner. "Duck."
"What?" Ezra got slapped with wet leaves attached to a soggy branch. "Mr. Tanner, give me more one than one second's warning, if you please."
Standish dropped, letting the branches Vin pushed out of the way go over his head, but water still fell on his head. "Thank you, I think." He brushed water droplets out of his face.
"Ez, I ain't been through this part of the park before. What's back here?"
"It comes out on a rise and parallels Thorny Road by the small bridge. Rather picturesque in better, more welcoming weather."
"Fer a stream that ain't been more than a trickle in years."
Ezra said nothing, concentrating on his footing along their slippery path.
It overtook him. The warmth and sleep overtook him, despite his best efforts, and he went unconscious. His last coherent thought was of failing his friends by dying this way. Vaguely he remembered he was trying to get to them; they needed him. He wondered what happened, and if they would forgive him for his failure. What they might think when they found him. As he finally let himself slip away, his weary mind never considered that he might not be found.
Their trek continued for some time, Ezra sliding throughout the woods.
"I detest you, Mr. Tanner."
"Walking like an elf with sure footing through this morass threatening to take me down at a second's notice."
"Ain't much ta it, Ez."
"Says the expert," Standish grumbled, his right boot sliding yet again on some fallen leaves.
A strong arm steadied him before he fell ingloriously on his butt. "Thank you."
"Just step where I step."
Peace. He was warm, safe, and at peace.
Then why was the wind howling outside and the cabin look like it was underwater outside the windows? Shrugging off those troubling thoughts, he let himself drift.
Vin continued leading the way, a short time later coming out just where Ezra said they would. Ace was sitting on the ridge and howling at the sky. He turned and looked at them, his tongue lagging out of his mouth, with what looked like a pure grin on his face.
"Ace of Spades!" Ezra snapped the lead on his collar. "You will not run from me like that again. Look at you. You're filthy. That's it; you're getting groomed tomorrow."
"Damn, Ez. Look at the trickle." The Texan stood on the edge of the rise watching the rush of the now swollen waters.
Standish stopped his scolding and stared down at the formerly placid stream, now a raging current in the constant, continuing rain. "Dear Lord."
Vin shined his flashlight down. The trickle, as Vin called it, had blossomed into a full-blown flood. The deep walls on either side, scored long ago by storms forgotten by most residents, were practically full. Debris floated by them heading to their left. Impressed by Nature's fury during the downpour, Tanner shifted his light upstream to check on the bridge. His light only reached a short distance before it caught the reflection of something.
A deer's eyes stared back at him on the bank before the doe went running back into the woods.
"She must be lookin' fer somethin' ta be out in this."
"Only fools are out in this. Come on. I want to get back to the truck and continue the search. That and dry my partner before he gets sick." Ezra turned back toward the way they came. "I'll spring for coffee."
"I can drink hot coffee," Vin muttered, feeling the chill deep in his bones from being damp for too long. He turned away, his light still sweeping in front of him, when something caught his attention. "What?"
"I said I'll spring for coffee." Ezra and Ace spun around to face them. "Can we go now?"
"Hang on. Somethin' ain't right." His flashlight swept the opposite bank, going from left to right, then across the water to the spot they saw the doe. He saw something that caught his attention way in the distance, something that looked out of place. It was too far away to make out clearly, and his light wasn't quite strong enough. "Ez, get yer light near mine."
Standish complied, and the two powerful beams shone down into the water. White light bounced off the reflective striping under the water a good distance from them. They recognized the design; it was the one that graced the side of the marked patrol cars.
Vin took off running the length of the rise to the
side of the bank closer to the car. He slipped
and slid along the way, but he didn’t care, his
focus was on the car and what he feared he’d find
inside. He heard Ezra and Ace behind him, running
at their best pace on the dangerous slope. When
he was above the wedged patrol car, he held his
flashlight so the beam shined right into the
shattered windshield. The light reflected off the
shattered glass, and grimly he thought he saw
traces of red. The log obscured anything behind
"Chris!" Vin yelled over the rain.
There was no response.
"Myself and 11-05 found 11-01's vehicle halfway submerged in a large stream. Start the fire department and an ambulance for a swift water rescue. We're on the left side of the small bridge off Thorny Road coming from town."
"10-4. Any sign of 11-01?"
"Stand by, FC. 11-05's going to the car now."
Ezra caught the gunbelt tossed to him, slinging it over one shoulder; he missed the Stetson as it sailed behind him. He waited with Ace to see if Chris was even alive, a silent prayer escaping his lips.
Vin sunk into the mud, fighting his way to the car. The very cold water was up to his waist, and trying to pull him along with the current. Already beyond it’s help and finding himself encumbered by its weight, he quickly stripped off his rain slicker and threw it toward the bank too. Ignoring the cold, he ducked around and under the log jutting out of the driver's side, getting wetter in the process. He held his breath while he looked in.
Chris Larabee was in water up to his chest, pinned against the seat, and his face was a mass of scraped, bloody flesh. He was unconscious. Vin's hand slid in around the tree, stopping when he reached the shoulder. He tapped it gently and waited. No response. Two fingers reached down and checked for a pulse. The skin was cold to the touch and he hesitated and took a deep breath before he pressed to feel for the jugular vein. A heartbeat, not very strong, but a heartbeat nonetheless, was under his fingers.
Vin went to yell and realized he'd been holding his breath. He blew it out in one giant whoosh, and then called to Ezra, "Alive. He ain't gonna be moved without getting cut out. Tree's got him pinned."
"Injuries?" Ezra called back.
"Face's all cut up. Can’t really tell what else. No tellin’ what damge this tree’s done, he's pinned. Can't see anythin' beneath the water. And the water's colder than an icicle in here. Figure on hypothermia."
"Hang in there, Chris,” Vin whispered as he brushed the wet strands of hair off of the battered face, trying to be careful. “We've got ya now."
Chris chose that moment to come to consciousness and scream in agony. The strength, power, and suddenness of that gut wrenching yell quite literally knocked Vin backwards, jumping free of the car. For a man that little scared, that bellow of pure, unadulterated pain chilled him to the bone even more than the water was doing right now.
"Chris? We got you." Vin pushed his way back to his friend's side. "Listen ta me. I'm here, Chris. Right here, and I ain't goin' anywhere."
Drenched in rain, blood, and gore, a single bloodshot eye rolled slowly in Vin's direction.
"Yeah, it's me, cowboy. Don't go movin' around, and don't ya dare go ta sleep on me."
The eye blinked slowly and painfully.
"Oh, he's winkin' at me. I'm standin' in the middle of a stream that wants ta freeze and kill us both, and he's getting cute."
A glint appeared in the eye.
"Don't wanna piss ya off, but ya ain't real pretty right now. Not that yer ever, but hey, ya qualify as downright ugly." Vin realized he was running off at the mouth, but the sense of relief filling him at finding Chris alive was too immense not to express it. Besides, it was only the two of them there, and he knew neither would repeat his remarks.
He was safe. Even the pull of sleep couldn't hold him now, not when Vin was there to protect him. Chris even felt the tiniest touch of amusement at Vin's chattiness, but he also recognized it for what it was – relief and the comedown from a serious worry. Part of him saw the mass of injuries on Vin's own face and wondered at them, but he was safe.
Vin would keep him safe until they could get him out of this.
"Ez, what the hell's takin' so damn long?" Vin didn't even look over his shoulder at the handler.
"I just checked – they're about a minute out. There are the sirens now. How is he?"
"Alive. Face looks like it went through a grinder, but he's alive."
The single eye narrowed at him.
"And he's pissed off, too," Vin added.
"Would you expect any less?" Ezra tartly called back.
"Nah." He grinned broadly, still feeling a little giddy about finding Chris alive.
The grin Vin wore only caused the eye to narrow more, and then widen when a shaft of pain went through the owner.
Great, Chris thought, my face looks like it's been through a grinder, according to my best friend, and he's laughing because I'm pissed off. Hello, Tanner? You expect me not to be? A damn stream – a piddling baby stream that couldn't hurt a fly – swelled and swept me off a bridge and kicked my ass. Damn humiliating. Hey, let's make it fair – why don't you trade places with me? I've got a log in my face, everything's going numb, what parts of my body that are not numb hurt, and I'm wet. I hate being cold and wet. See how you handle it.
"Aw, Chris, I can see yer getting mad at me. I ain't pokin' fun, I'm just glad ta see ya alive. Got the whole damn county out lookin' fer ya. Reckon I'm comin' down from the scare, and I ain't quite myself. I just…I'm just glad yer breathin'. Tell ya what. I'll let ya kick my ass – or try – when yer up ta it."
The eye closed slowly once and opened, the evil glint returning.
"Aw, hell, what did I just agree to?"
"Officer? How's he doing?" A paramedic yelled from the bank.
"Conscious, breathing, not speaking, severe facial lacs I can see, and pinned by the tree. I ain't tried ta move him; just watchin' his condition."
"Good." The paramedic and his partner came up beside him. "Now move." He jostled Vin away from his position.
A part of him didn't want to be knocked aside like that, but he knew that the paramedics had to get to Chris to determine what was needed. It seemed like forever while they worked.
"He's crashing," one yelled, digging in his bag on the roof for some meds.
"Shit!" Vin shoved a paramedic to the side, making a grab for Chris he started yelling, "Don't you quit on me!"
"Officer! Let me at the patient." The paramedic shoved Vin back.
His partner, having found an unusual angle to get to Chris, had managed to stabilize the injured officer. "Got him stable. Pulse is weak, pressure's crap, not responsive, but he's still with us."
"LARABEE!" Vin yelled. "Get yer sorry cowboy ASS awake."
One eye popped open to the surprise of the paramedics. "Waking up now," he said.
"Stay awake, damn you!" Vin almost sobbed in relief.
Right then, the firefighters arrived to cut the tree and the man from it, in the order that they felt best. Vin stayed right there; none of the fire department personnel, or the ambulance personnel, could move him away for very long. Chris clung to consciousness, probably goaded there because Vin never let up. The paramedics allowed Vin to ride in the ambulance to the trauma center, not only because he was able to keep their patient awake, but to keep on eye on him too since he seemed about to collapse himself, though he wouldn’t admit it. He sole focus was getting the injured man the help he needed as soon as possible.
Chris woke some time later in pain, and cold. Every part of his body hurt. He shivered and it felt like tiny needles running through his body. His nose felt enormous, the skin around his eyes felt like tight and stuffy. He felt the trickle of air at his nose and reasoned that he was in a hospital on oxygen, but he couldn’t remember how or why. He tried to open his eyes, but he couldn’t get them to cooperate. Other parts of his body made themselves known as he moved a bit to try and assess what might be wrong. As his chest, arms, and legs screamed at him to stop, he wondered where the painkillers were. Slowly his left hand slid along the cool sheets, searching for a call button or something. The pain he felt over rid every thing else and he could not tell if he made progress or not.
Welcome warmth closed over his hand a raspy voice spoke gently near his ear, "Easy, cowboy. I'll get the nurse in here. Don't try ta move or talk." The warmth of the hand left briefly, and Chris thought he heard a rush of movement in the room.
“Well Sergeant Larabee,” a deep voice washed over him. “Nice to have you back with us. Let’s see how you’re doing.”
Chris withstood the poking and prodding stoically, though his muddled brain still wasn’t sure what was going on. He tried to answer the doctor’s questions, but found it hard to get his mouth to work. He was given a few sips of water, but it still didn’t help.
He gasped at a sharp stab of pain caused by the doctor’s examination.
“Easy, Sergeant, I’ll be through in just a minute; you’re doing fine.”
It wasn’t long before Chris didn’t notice the doctor’s hands checking the various parts of his body. He felt a strange tingle throughout his system and felt a lassitude wash over him again. The welcome fuzziness of drugged stupor enveloped him, and he forgot wanting to ask what happened and why he was there. He heard the drawled rasp again.
“Rest, cowboy, I got yer back.”
He felt comforted by the statement and even if he couldn’t see or know what was going on, he felt safe. Slowly, he let the darkness slip over him again and sunk back down into its healing sleep.
His next round of consciousness found Vin at his bedside once again. Before he moved, his friend stilled him.
"No use bustin' up what the docs worked hard ta fix."
Chris would have smirked if his face cooperated. Everything still felt stiff and painful.
"Ugly mug like that, they coulda done more ta make ya purty. 'Course, there was only so much ta work with; guess they did the best they could."
Before he could attempt a response, a new wave of tired washed over him. He fell back into the comforting sleep.
"Quit hidin' in there. I know yer awake."
Chris nearly sighed. He'd been floating in that land between awake and asleep, reveling in the lack of pain. With an effort, he groaned his displeasure at being disturbed.
"I know ya can talk. It's been a week with ya flat on yer back. Bucklin and Nina roused themselves from their sickbeds ta drag their sorry asses in ta see ya. Least ya can do's greet them."
"Go t'hell," Chris slurred. All the pains and aches announced themselves on waking, dulled enough by drugs to be somewhat manageable.
"Been there, done that," said Nina. "Got the X-rays and hospital gown to prove it."
"Chris?" A familiar also recognized voice called his name.
"You got hamburger on your face, Stud. Oh wait, that is your face."
Chris lifted a single finger with effort.
"It moves!" Nina crowed.
"Vin?" Larabee whispered.
"Kill 'em." He kept his functional eye closed.
"That'll be messy. Ain't much left ta kill since they look like they got on the wrong side of a brawl."
"I'll kick your butt later, Vin," Nina promised.
"No." They heard the faint whisper from the injured man in the bed.
"No she won't, or no, don't kill 'em?" Vin questioned.
"I wanna kill 'em."
"Gotta get well first," Buck told him. "At least 'fore your ass and this bed become permanent companions."
"Good. Right now you're just butt ugly."
Chris heard the teasing in his friend's voice. "Not the only one here who got butt kicked." Vin had filled him in on the disastrous Festival outcome during one of his lucid moments.
"It took a riot to put us down, Chris," Nina defended.
"Where you lost to a bit of water and a toothpick," Buck finished. "Haven't you learned Mother Nature's the only lady you don't piss off? She'll kick your butt every time."
"When I get out of here, I'm gonna take that toothpick and shove it sideways – "
"Mr. Larabee." A sharp voice cut him off.
Oh boy, Chris thought, Nurse Nasty. Of all his caretakers, she ran the tightest, strictest shift. "Ma'am?"
"I believe you were about to say something vulgar. Vulgarity will not be tolerated on my floor."
"Mr. Wilmington and Ms. Caswell, your sanctioned visitation is over. You will return quietly to where you came from. If you are smart, you will go to your beds and rest, since both of you have not been out of here that long. There will be no racing, no tripping, no bickering, and no argument. Move."
"Glad you're back with us, Chris. Talk to you soon." Nina's voice faded.
"Buck." Two words, and Chris knew how Buck felt.
"Do you need anything, Mr. Larabee?"
"Fine." She left.
Chris heard her loudly berating telling Buck about his improper use of a hand on Nina's backside, and Nina just as loudly threatening to get some pepper spray.
"Tell me again how hurt they are. Drugs making me forget."
"Buck's leg's broke – clean break, but the five fractured ribs and internal bruising keeps him coming back for the orthopedic and follow-up x-rays. Nina's right arm's snapped and her left knee's sprained. Got a slew of stitches in her head and a crack in her skull. Concussed the hell outta her ta the point they thought her brain was gonna swell fer awhile, but now they're having her stay with Nettie and Casey ta watch over her. Must be that hard head of hers that kept her from dyin'."
"They're gettin' well enough ta cause havoc."
"Ez and Ace were tired. Ace got eleven bites – new record fer the state. Nate's got some cuts, but he's fine. 'Siah released some demons, as he put it – sent one less ta the hospital than yers truly – and his folk weren't hopped up on PCP. Just stupid, I reckon."
"So there's Josiah's, Nathan, Ezra, and you left from our squad."
"Huh?” Larabee realized his friend’s voice sounded raspier than normal and a little nasally. “Catch a cold in the rain?”
Vin chuckled, “Somethin’ like that. Also didn’t dunk enough. M'nose got sprained and they tell me I have a concussion. Travis ain't letting me back with what he called the white 'hit me here' flag on my face."
Larabee managed a chuckle, then winced. "Hell."
"Ya got more white than I do, cowboy. Tree took out some chunks on yer face. Only reason yer nose ain't broke's because yer face was turned. Got two great shiners and lips swollen like women pay a surgeon fer. Busted left arm and collarbone, and yer shoulder's no longer separated, but it'll be sore for a while. Although with them two busted ribs and that cut ta yer right leg, ya might not notice. Missed yer privates by an inch."
Chris gulped. He'd heard all of his injuries before, but now he was lucid enough to remember. He wished he didn't. "Gee, thanks."
"How'd you guys do?"
Vin coughed. "One hundred officers there from eight jurisdictions."
"Eight? Only five or so are close."
"Yeah. Communications pulled off a miracle. Sent 'em a thank you card signed by all of us. Put yer name on it. Oh yeah – flowers and chocolates too."
"Hell, they just kept callin' agencies and our people. Casey told me at one point every line was lit fer us, the Sheriff's Office, and then jammed up the State police. Travis personally thanked all of them by visiting. You're lucky you missed it."
"Yeah. Ya would've been beat up worse there."
Chris flipped the bird with his good hand.
"Made three hundred seventy eight arrests since. Some had ta get outta here 'fore we arrested 'em. Kept the commissioner and warrant units busy."
"I'm sure." He didn't even want to think about the amount of paperwork – and press – the entire incident generated.
"Festival's been cancelled permanently. Never did prove who passed out the PCP or put a bounty on our heads."
"Stewart James there?"
"Ya know it. Can't prove it."
"Only one thing left."
"No, I don't."
"Yeah, ya do."
Applause greeted his return to the station. Although still out on sick leave to recuperate, Chris scheduled a visit, called Buck, Nina, and Vin to be there, then had Mary drive him. He greeted everyone, including Casey and Nettie, Lt. Como, while Lt. Halter, the other Shift Commander for nights, graciously gave him time after roll call.
Chris noticed Casey avoided his eyes for most of the visit, and her remarks were directed at her shoes. "Guys?" he asked, a look passing from him to the others. They moved out of the room, Nettie having to be pulled by Vin into the hallway. The sound of the door closing told him they were as private as they were going to get.
"What's wrong?" he asked in his no-nonsense way to the young woman standing before him.
"I…I'm just glad you're okay," she finally said.
"And?" He tried to get her to look at him, but that wasn't working; she was avoiding his gaze. His good hand reached out and lifted her chin. "Casey? Talk to me."
"It's my fault, Chris." She tried to pull away, but he held on. "It's my fault you got hurt."
"Why is it your fault?"
"I screwed up. I put you arrived when you weren't there."
"From what I understand, you had your hands full."
"I still shouldn't have assumed you were there. We're not supposed to assume anything on this job." Her body turned away from his, pulling her free, while her arms crossed across her stomach. Sobs shook her small frame. "It's my fault."
"Didn't it seem like Rafe called me on location during the roll call?" he asked. Vin had told him about what happened, and that the Texan was worried about Casey. She'd been making comments about quitting, and Chris meant to put a stop to that.
"Yeah, but I should have made sure. You could have died!" Casey wept.
"Turn around and come here. I'm only gonna say this once." Chris waited until she finished thinking through it, and then complied. Once he was sure he had her attention, he said, "One. You are not at fault. You did not cause the rain. You did not cause the flood. That wasn't you. Two. Rafe misunderstood a transmission, and he led you to believe that I was there and okay. He's already beating himself up for that, and I've forgiven him. Mistakes happen. Three. I'm not always the best about calling myself on location, and Travis let me hear the tapes. There were so many transmissions that you kept up with, you should be damn proud of yourself for the job you did. We're family, and you took care of us. All of us. Four. You're one of the best damn dispatchers I've ever had the pleasure to have watch over me, and I don't hold you responsible. You did a great job, and you should be proud of yourself. If I don't blame you, don't blame yourself. Now, I think I've talked myself out, okay? Are we good?"
She cried a little bit more, and then nodded. Casey took a half-step forward toward him, and then stopped herself.
"Come here." He gave her a hug, ignoring the pain in his body, because she had done an incredible job under the worst conditions. Understanding her blaming herself, he needed to show her he meant every word he said. Chris rocked her until she felt well enough to pull away.
"Thanks, Chris," she said, wiping tears away from her eyes.
"You can thank me by not quitting," he said softly. "If that's what you want to do, that's your choice, and do what makes you happy. I just want you to know, though, I won't give up on you without a fight." He managed a smirk.
"I'm not quitting. At least for a while. Maybe take a couple days off, but I'm not quitting."
"Travis putting you guys through Critical Incident Stress Debriefing?" he asked. He'd hoped the Chief was following through on that, something he, Nina, and Buck insisted on for everyone involved in major incidents.
"Yeah. They want to have a group one when you guys are better." She nodded.
"Is it helping?"
"Then I'll be there. Now, get everyone else in here so I can say my goodbyes."
Casey stopped first and cleaned up with a tissue before opening the door. "Guys? Chris wants to say his goodbyes." She stepped out of the way, letting everyone in, and moved back to the semi-circle around the sergeant. Nettie's arm went around her waist, and the younger woman leaned into it.
Buck cleared his throat. "You're not leaving yet. It's time."
"For what?" Chris asked suspiciously.
"Come over here." Wilmington waved him over to the back wall, wheeling himself that way.
Buck, with Josiah's assistance, revealed the object of Chris's trepidation – the Wall of Shame. Started to prevent departmental car accidents by showing the results, the Wall of Shame had evolved into the best of the worst of their accidents. Being Squad One and given their propensity for trouble, they were well represented on the Wall of Shame. One spot was covered over.
"You want the honor, Stud?"
Taking responsibility was always a point of pride with Chris; he wasn't going to shirk his duty now. With his good hand, he removed the covering. It was then he groaned.
The first photograph was the car submerged in water, rescuers on both sides. It was captioned: "Underestimation of a flash flood warning." Second was a picture of the car being hauled out, water pouring from it. "An improper car wash," read the caption. The last was the damaged car sitting on the rollback tow truck, cut up because of his extrication. "How not to be removed from your patrol car," was in bold letters.
"We ain't done, cowboy." Vin walked over with something behind his back. "A keepsake." He presented the object.
It was a trophy of sorts. A copy of the submerged car photo – minus rescuers – was mounted under Plexiglas on the base. At the top, one of the miniature scale FCPD cars was sitting halfway in dark bluish-green simulated water made from Plexiglas, and a large imitation log was thrust and suspended through the driver's side. Every dent had been replicated. On the back of the base was a plaque with the location and the date.
"I hate you all." No matter the words, the affection was in the tone.
"Don't you have anything better to do after Roll Call than hang around the station?" he barked.
"And he's back," Buck announced.
One by one, they came over and gave their well wishes, then left. Vin was last.
"You gonna get mushy, too, cowboy?"
"Nope. Just glad you're around."
"'Sides, they'll forget about callin' me Crash with the new one fer the Wall. Thanks fer that."
"Aren't you returning to the street soon, Probationary Officer Tanner?"
Vin snapped off a crisp salute. "Yes, sir, Sergeant, sir." He did an about-face and marched.
"Sir?" Tanner turned smartly on a heel, the image only ruined by the large bandage over his nose.
"Watch your back."
Things were returning to normal.