four corners pd
By: Cin and Heidi
day one: Thursday (cont)
The wet, sticky feeling on his hands alerted him there was a problem. Looking down, Chris realized the cheap ballpoint pen the department provided exploded, coating his skin with black ink. Well, he admitted, the pen did have some help in its destruction. When he unclenched the fist he did not realize he still formed, the ink dripped onto the desk surface.
With a curse, he threw the now destroyed pen in the trash can and used his clean hand – unclenching that one in surprise as well – to stop the tape playing in the walkman. The clean hand also ripped off the earphones, and then grabbed some tissues to wrap around his hand. Fingers and palm covered as not to spread any ink further, he wiped off the top of the desk then went to the men’s room to wash his hands. Chris collected wet paper towels to finish cleaning up the mess. Sadly, since Vin went under, this was not the first time an inanimate object suffered Larabee’s wrath. The fight he'd heard on the tape fueled his anger enough to break more than the pen. Even now, he moved automatically; if he thought about what he heard, he would probably toss the trashcan through the mirrors and it still would not make him feel better.
After cleaning up the wet ink as much as possible and scrubbing the top with cleaner, Chris settled back in the chair. Taking a deep breath he settled the headphones back on his head and pressed play, ready to continue listening. From the tape quality, it seemed Vin was overhearing a conversation and his friend was doing his best to catch the words. Unfortunately, the sounds dissipated and the volume faded in and out missing much of the dialogue. Chris and Vin both knew the lab would clean up the sound quality and make written transcripts for the Task Force. Those concerned and involved with the case would receive one of the distributed copies. He could get one but that took time and he might not see it for a week.
A week was unacceptable when involved anyone under his command or his care. Especially since he finally accepted the long dormant feelings of friendship and protectiveness exploded in this town. So, on pick up nights, he listened to the tapes and took his own notes, hence the pen in hand and the subsequent explosion. Checking out of service and shutting himself in his office, he sealed himself off from all distractions and listened to the voices. Those arrogant voices that did their best to destroy the little bit of stability the police department finally brought to this town. It took three years and they still needed to gain the complete trust but everything improved around here. The voices ripped at the fabric of what the police built and held a small part in trying to tear a little bit of soul from his friend.
“. . . a go, right? . . . got someone lined up?” Chris recognized the first male voice as Bellows, that piece of trash. He had the pleasure of locking the gang leader up a few times and knew he had a violent temper but little punch behind it. Bellows thought he was hot shit mouthing off at his arrestor until he met the Larabee resolve then folded with the ease of a house of cards in a tornado.
“Yes, it is a go,” replied the second voice. “Keep. . . crew smooth, . . . under control, . . . be fine. . . big plans. . . two.”
“Both. . .? . . .punk got. . .don’t?”
“I. . .know, Mark. . .you’re. . .right. . .man. You keep. . .running. . .for me. . .we all take orders. . .Taylor…” the voice cut off and silence fell on the tape.
Son of a bitch. Taylor what? What the hell were they talking about? Chris found his hands gripping the pen again and he eased off, waiting for the next statement on the tape.
Vin’s recorded voice came over in a whispered narrative, “End of conversation, subjects left the room, unable to follow, time is 1642 hours.”
The tape ended and Chris flipped it over. Another quick whispered introduction with the date, time and the name Jennings was given before the talking began. This time the conversation was only one side of a cellular phone call. The hollow echoes and other sounds pinpointed the location as possibly in a men's restroom.
“Yes, sir, we’ve got four sources to interview. Yes, four. Sir, do you really want to know? I thought so. Let me handle it; I’ve got it under control. Yes, I’m watching Taylor. He’s more than we expected. I found out something you need to know that will fit in with your plans. We are sanctioned for this, correct? No, I don’t worry too much. Yes, sir, we’ll show those cops what real firepower is, won’t we?” The call ended with Jennings laughing. The laughter sounded evilly chilling as he could be heard exiting the room.
The dispassionate tone of the undercover detective followed giving the time and location again before ending the recording. The tape clicked back on once more filled with the boasts, brags, and bravado of the running buddies Vin spent most of his time with.
Chris nearly threw the Walkman across the room in a fit of rage. Just before his hand let it go, he stopped himself, replacing it carefully on the desk. Destroying the Walkman did nothing for the PD except cost him money and generate paperwork. Gentle fingers removed the tapes and bagged them for evidence, writing the tags in neat, careful script. The bags went into the proper evidence locker. When he finished, he headed for Communications.
Casey looked up. “Hi, Chris,” she greeted him with a smile as he entered their domain.
His ingrained manners refused to allow him to be rude to the ladies; they did nothing to earn his ire. He kept his tone calm and level. “Hello.”
“Hey, Chris,” called Ladonna, currently removing a tag from the printer.
He willed his breathing to
calm and said, “Ladies, will you do something for me?”
Both women nodded and waited for the request. Chris rarely asked them for anything so when he did, they paid close attention and used every resource to get what he wanted.
“Short of anyone getting hurt, don’t bother me until I clear.” His green eyes swept them both.
They looked at each other. “Okay,” replied Casey with a frown. He was gone before she got the second syllable out.
“What was that about?” asked Ladonna. Usually Chris at least waited for an acknowledgement before leaving.
Casey threw a bottle of 'White Out' at her co-worker, nearly bonking her on the head. “Pick up tonight, remember?”
Ladonna picked up the bottle from the floor, set it on the console, and hit herself in the forehead with her open palm. “That was dumb, Ladonna, use your brain.”
“Yeah. He’s probably killing that heavy bag. I wonder how bad it was this time.” Casey’s worry about Vin translated when she hit the wrong button on the computer and it beeped annoyingly at her. “You shut up,” she told it crossly.
“Me or it?”
“It,” the brunette replied.
Ladonna sighed as she worked on her filing. “He’s going to have an ulcer soon.”
“I’ll be right there with him.”
The amount of worry in that tone raised Ladonna’s sisterly instincts. This whole thing needed to end soon or all of them might suffer from various stress related health problems. Maybe there was something Casey could do so Ladonna made a suggestion. “When he leaves, you want to go punch the heavy bag?”
Her dry response showed Casey’s humor starting to return. “My luck, I’ll break my fingers and still know less than I do now.”
Ladonna laughed. “Offer’s there if you want it.”
Casey shrugged. “Maybe later. Think I’ll skip breakfast this morning so I don’t have to tell Aunt Nettie yet.”
“You’re going to avoid your aunt?”
Lieutenant Halter walked in and asked, “Can either of you tell me why I have a half dressed sergeant in the gym looking like he’s prepared to go ten rounds with Hasim Rahman?”
“New tapes from Vin,” Ladonna replied.
The lieutenant sighed heavily when he remembered the pick up scheduled for earlier tonight. He knew better than to interrupt Chris during these stress reduction moments; the world was a better place without a short-tempered ready to explode Chris Larabee and frankly, Halter did not want the headache. He’d let him work out the anger then have a talk with him. It was not going to help him or the case if he let his close association with the undercover officer interfere with the performance of his duties.
Once he felt the majority of the rage leave him, Larabee showered and changed back into his uniform. He requested to speak with Lt. Halter but before they got the chance to talk, the reporter from The Clarion showed up requesting the blotter and the press release along with an official statement from the Lieutenant. Not wanting to be caught in that, he exited the building.
Chris left the station feeling a little more spent and a lot less aggressive but not much better. He hated this undercover assignment and the longer it dragged on the more his instincts screamed warnings at him. The blond squad leader wanted to pull Vin out whether he liked it or not and go after the group the old-fashioned way – legwork, determination, and brute force if necessary.
Firepower, as described on the tape, only meant one thing to Chris – guns. With them interviewing four sources – not one or two like most criminals worked at cultivating, but four! – it chilled him to think what they could be preparing to buy. With the amount of money and drugs they already confiscated, it seemed this group enjoyed an endless supply because it kept coming. No delays were noted because of seizures, no upsurge in prices; the drugs came without interruption. Adding in Nina’s new information about automatic weapons, the investigation alternatively gave him chills and infuriated him.
This assignment took a toll on each member of the squad. Personally, he hated seeing his friend going through the wringer this way. Vin changed right before his eyes and not for the better. Each time he saw the shy, quiet Texan, those blue eyes showed more reserve and never stopped moving. The bruises pissed Chris off because it meant things were getting rougher on the undercover officer. Larabee would give anything to stop the paranoia from taking permanent hold and warping that kind soul forever. He knew Vin had a rough time in his younger years and suffered probably more than most people he knew did. From the little he managed to learn about him, Chris was amazed the younger officer became the good-hearted man he knew today. He credited much of it to the positive influence of Nettie Wells who he knew entered Vin’s life at a crucial time. The rest of his decency from the other people Vin rarely spoke about.
Chris snorted. Vin speaking about anyone except maybe his mother ranked as an event because of the tight-lipped way Tanner conducted himself. Nina knew some of it, probably more than him, but again he hit that damn wall of silence that blanketed the town and the Caswell Wall of Silence. Somehow, those years between Sarah and Adam’s…deaths…and him arriving in Four Corners permanently scarred one of his friends and damaged a new one he had not met yet. Even the Chief was reserved when speaking of his early time in Four Corners. Knowing about the loss of his son, Chris could understand some of it, but so many others in the town took the same tight-lipped stance. He only heard rumors and innuendo, nothing concrete, because none of the participants chose to speak of that time.
Josiah just gave soulful looks and grew contemplative whenever Vin’s name was mentioned; he worried, too, but he comforted the others before himself as was his way. Chris knew the squad would have fallen apart without the caring man’s gentle influence and thanked God every day for Josiah. Unfortunately, there was not much the spiritual man could do in this situation except bolster the others and himself.
Nathan did the same except he kept them practical. Whenever they flew off the handle about this, that, or the other thing, Nathan calmed them down with his trademark saying “Calm down, now,” and strong hands on their shoulders to ground them. His worry showed when he grew silent, keeping his distance from everyone. Larabee would worry more about Jackson because he did keep so much to himself if it were not for Rain. Chris guessed Rain heard more than the squad but she kept her silence. When Larabee saw them together, he knew the couple shared much and anchored each other when they needed it. He could envy Nathan that security and his happiness.
Buck’s worry showed in his face; the normally jovial man only cracked a handful of jokes and stopped telling tall tales because his most appreciative (and harshest) audience was not there to comment to him. Chris also knew the number of dates the gregarious rogue went on significantly declined after the first two weeks of Vin being under; Buck wanted to be available if Vin needed him. Hell, they all stayed home more with Vin under; all of them wanted to be there but especially Buck. Chris knew what it was like to have the jovial man’s friendship and protection; he’d tried to shove it away enough. He smiled as he thought of his oldest friend - if Buck Wilmington decided to take you under his wing you could guarantee you’d have a loyal friend for life.
Chris worried the most about Ezra; of all of them, he developed the closest friendship with Vin, almost on the level of Larabee’s own with the Texan. It did Chris good to see Ezra opening up to someone after all that happened to him at Atlanta PD and he hated the fact the blooming friendship was cut short because of Vin going under. Ezra suffered more than the others as well; because of Ace, Ezra found himself forced in keeping away from Tanner and could not even take part in the pick ups to see Vin except from a distance. He only managed time with Vin when he broke away to attend group functions and even then shared him with the others.
The sergeant shook his head. Oh, he knew his squad called him a ‘mother hen’ behind his back…and in Buck’s case, to his face, but he justified it by saying that he did his job and looked out for his people. They did not need to know…hell, they probably did, okay, so they did not need to acknowledge how he felt about protecting those he cared about.
Vin being under was one of the major reasons he checked the mirror every morning for gray hair. If that started, he’d kick the Texan’s butt and not tell him why. The next thing he’d do would be to buy hair dye. He told himself he was not vain; he just did not need to show these yahoos that worked under him that they were causing him any undue stress. He’d never, ever live it down. Hell, Caswell already called him ‘old man’; all she needed to see was one gray hair.
Thoughts of her forced him to finally acknowledge Caswell was in this almost as deeply as Vin. He chose not to notice when she dealt with the sludge of society to get information which was too often in his opinion. Well, he did; he just tried his best not to let her see he noticed or watched her back for the double-cross. She got good information all the time; the only problem he saw was her constant exposure to the ugly side of life. She had enough ugliness to deal with and did not need this crap. If he could take over her informants, he would; his only problem was that he scared them so much they refused to talk to him.
Tanner, though; hell and damn. Where Caswell only crawled into the sewer briefly, Vin lived there. What a shithole that was. It did not surprise him Vin was slowly changing but he hated it all the same. Chris realized his current frustration only made the speedometer go higher and he needed to stop somewhere before he really got himself in a jam. Finding one of his personal hiding spots, for officers like to hide where the public cannot see them to do reports as not to be accused of doing nothing, he got out of the car and stretched.
His fists still showed a little red in the scant light where he abused them on the heavy bag under a thick layer of tape. They hurt, too, but he ignored that pain. His mind continued replaying the conversations Vin brought them and he wondered what they planned for his friend. They watched him too closely and too intensely, as if they either knew he was a cop were toying with him or they planned bigger and worse things for him to do higher in the hierarchy. Larabee knew the latter would get them the information they needed but he did not like the increased danger to his friend.
Chris wondered how the hell this organization managed to stay as far hidden as it did for so long. It formed right under their damn noses, without a word or whisper until the mass shipments of drugs started arriving and people started getting hospitalized for overdoses.
Scarier still were the indications of how large an operation it was, much larger than a fly-by-night easy in, easy out setup.
Something big brewed in the future and that something made Chris very nervous. Every instinct screamed to pull Tanner out but until he had something solid, concrete proof, Tanner stayed under. Even if all the indications led them to believe this operation was too big for the small investigation they had going. He looked at his hands to realize he clenched them in fists again and worked on controlling his temper.
He looked up at the sky. Was it too much to ask to have five minutes, hell, one minute alone with his friend without the pressures of the job? Just a little down time?
After finishing his walk, he returned to his patrol car and laid his head back against the seat. The stars mocked him with their bright and happy intensity, giving hope when he felt none. With a sigh, he drove around Outer North and West because he liked the quiet. He needed quiet right now.
The next time he looked at his clock, he realized he drove for a long time without even thinking about it. Stopping again at his report writing site, he forced himself to think of where he went so he noted it on the beat sheet and called Communications for times; he remembered calling things in and getting answers but not much else. With a sigh of frustration at himself, he filled in the times and told himself he needed to pay more attention. That done, he closed his eyes for a minute.
The ringing of his cell phone brought him from his reverie. A quick glance at the clock showed him only out a few minutes but he told himself that was a few minutes too long. Chris never, ever let himself zone out while on duty; it was unprofessional and could get him killed. He’d close his eyes for maybe a minute but not as long as he just allowed himself. Annoyed, he answered on the first ring.
A familiar taunting voice rang out at him with, “Come find me, cow-boy.” Click.
That did it; Caswell just bought herself that month of foot patrol in Yucka and she’d have company in the form of a rookie and his training officer. Exposure and all that fun stuff; no one worked Yucka foot patrol alone and Buck deserved it right along with her for letting his rookie take off after an armed suspect alone. Besides, it would irritate Nina to no end to have Buck and a trainee in Yucka and that brightened his day. Telling her would improve it more. He’d wait for breakfast before springing that on her.
Buck and JD finished processing the DWI, Dunne writing the initial report and Wilmington adding his supplement. The Lieutenant came down and administered the formal Breathalyzer test for them. This consisted of reading her the legal forms, observing her for twenty minutes, and giving her two chances to exhale continuously into the tube once she agreed to take the test. The Breathalyzer machine measured the blood alcohol content from the breaths. During the short time he sat in the room with her, her level rose. Miss Foster’s bloodstream absorbed more of the alcohol and she grew more intoxicated registering a .23 on both tests. With the legal limit set as .08, her high score concerned the three men.
After declining to go to the hospital, refusing on-site ambulance treatment for potential alcohol poisoning, and signing the appropriate refusal and release forms, they called Miss Foster’s parents in Denver. Shocked and dismayed, the parents arranged a nearby relative to pick her up and for their daughter to stay there overnight until they arrived the next day. Miss Angela Foster cried all the way home with the unsympathetic-woken-from-a-dead-sleep-for-her-drunk-butt relative.
“You hungry?” asked Buck as they finally left the station. He needed good food after hearing all that crying and whining. Perhaps it might stave off the brewing headache. A woman’s tears, usually effective with him, did nothing this time because he rarely let women take advantage through them. The cacophony she made, especially drunk, grated his nerves and he held no sympathy for people who drank and drove. In addition to her crying, her breath reeked and nearly bowled them over where they sat. If he smelled another wine cooler, it would be too soon and he would not be responsible.
JD answered, “Starved.” Earlier, they stopped for a snack at a convenience store but that was hours ago. His own head pounded a bit from the caterwauling he endured and he somewhat envied Cpl. Caswell her escape.
Buck clapped his hands together once then rubbed his palms together. “Then let me introduce you to a midnight shift tradition. Haney House.” Buck even said the name of the place reverently.
“What’s Haney House?”
“A diner, Kid. A diner run by the toughest woman you will ever meet in your life and you had better treat her with respect.” The underlying warning said volumes for the rookie concerning his well being if he failed in the last order.
“Okay.” JD decided to reserve judgment until he met this woman for himself. A tough woman could be one that just said “no” to the resident lothario.
“Hang on, Kid,” the Corporal warned as he noticed a car that caught his eye. He suddenly stopped the vehicle and whipped it into a parking lot.
JD banged his head against the passenger window and his Stetson knocked sideways. “Ow,” he complained. In his travels, he saw New York cabbies drive better than this lunatic. He looked for what inspired his ‘injury’ after straightening his hat so he could see. It was a large parking lot with only one car in the vast expanse. A single light shined through the darkness from the back window of the adjacent building. The sign out front read simply, ‘Saloon’. “This is Haney House? It doesn’t look like a diner.” JD checked the surrounding buildings and found nothing resembling a 24-hour eatery.
“No, it’s not, JD. This is The Saloon, a place we frequent when we’re off duty. The main owner lives out of state but the co-owner, Inez Recillos, is a vision of loveliness.” The goofy lovesick grin and faraway look in Buck’s eyes warned the rookie that this woman meant something special to the field trainer.
Dunne glared at Wilmington while rubbing his head with exaggerated motions and hoping the not-so-subtle hint earned him an apology. “And we’re here why?”
The trainer missed the hint instead explaining, “Her car is still here. She should have closed up and been out of here already.” Buck paused for a second then added, “Sometimes we escort her to the bank after closing but it’s been fairly busy tonight and it’s possible that no one may have stopped by and checked. Just want to be sure everything is okay.” A slight tinge of worry colored his tone. Once out of the car, Buck straightened his hat, checked his shirt, and pulled himself to his full height.
Involuntarily JD did the same thing then stopped to shake his head and catch up to the long legged officer. As Buck knocked on the back door with JD beside him, they heard the faint sounds of music from within the closed establishment.
“We’re closed,” a feminine voice called out.
“Darlin’, it’s Buck.” He called loudly so she could hear him through the closed portal. A shiver of anticipation ran through his system at seeing her.
“I’m fine, Senor Buck, thank you.” The owner of the slightly accented voice stayed hidden behind the firmly locked door. “You may leave now having done your sworn duty.”
The ladies man blew out an exasperated breath knowing she tried her best to keep him at arm’s length. Some days he wondered if she did that for his or her benefit; if it was for his, he’d tell her to forget it. “Well, while I’m here I have a new rookie for you to meet.” He knew her manners would not allow her to turn him away when he wanted to make introductions.
“You never give up, do you, Senor?” the voice yelled, but it was followed by the sound of several locks sliding open.
Buck chuckled to himself. No I don’t, he thought, and one day you’ll realize that.
JD almost gasped, and he was sure his mouth gaped open, as the barrier opened to reveal a beautiful woman. Brown, wavy hair past her shoulders, a lightly tanned complexion, with an exotic look to her, the woman stared in surprise at them for a second in the poor lighting. Inez really did not believe that the rogue told the truth when he said he had someone with him. She figured it was another ploy to get her attention by using her manners against her. They always played a game of tomcat and not-so-timid mouse but she was still not sure enough of him to allow him to believe he had her trapped. Now astonished to find he'd told the truth, she quickly recovered herself. The bar owner snapped, “What are you waiting for? To let all the bugs in? I know I am letting one in now.”
Buck smiled at her as he pushed JD ahead of him. “Hello, darlin’. Inez Recillios, meet Officer JD Dunne. JD, meet Inez, the owner of this fine establishment.” He emphasized the word fine and it was obvious he was not referring to the locale but to the proprietress.
“Hello, ma’am,” JD greeted her removing his hat.
“Ma’am? Well, at least one of you shows some respect,” she said with a pointed look at Buck.
The corporal felt wounded by that shot; he prided himself on respecting all ladies. “Inez, darlin’, you know I respect you,” he answered with a serious expression.
The spirited bar owner stared into his eyes and saw the sincerity there. Sometimes she wondered if there was a much deeper layer to the self-proclaimed ladies man than he let on. Especially after all the long conversations she and Nina had during ‘Girl’s Night Out’ about everything. Not that Nina shared too much, but what she did say painted a picture of a generous, loyal, more caring soul than his outer persona portrayed. “I know you do,” she finally replied. The two exchanged a look with several levels of meaning.
Before the moment grew uncomfortable, JD asked, “So, ma’am, do you mind if I look around?”
Those words broke the spell of silence surrounding the police corporal and the bar owner. Inez looked away first and took the young man on her arm. “Let me show you around; I’m sure Senor Buck will bring you here soon enough as a patron.” The smile she gifted him with caused a flutter in his stomach and JD understood why Buck seemed so smitten with her.
Decorated as a replica of an Old West Saloon, the hardwood planked floor shined with a heavy layer of protective polish. Every light fixture hung from the ceiling as either full-sized wagon wheels with electric candles on the spokes or miniature lanterns suspended by chains over the tables and booths. The only concession to modern times, besides electricity and running water, were the deep crimson booths lining the walls.
Different examples of frontier ‘gear’ hung on the walls and exposed rafters accompanied with old time photographs (either real or modern-day mockups) and a pair of spurs sat on a shelf fifteen feet off the ground. A saddle lay over one of the rafters, the stirrups dangling thirty feet off the floor. Other assorted items completed the motif, all part of the way of life in the Old West.
A few steps up led to the back section and this area held flat round tables with neighboring pool tables while on the main level a dance floor filled the center of the cavernous room. A small stage for the live bands sat in the right corner along with a DJ’s booth and a jukebox that was the source of the music filtering through the building.
The main bar, the entire length of the left wall, led to the kitchen on the left side and to the storerooms and offices on the right. Mirrors covered the wall from floor to ceiling giving the bartenders and patrons complete views of the saloon.
JD noticed the front entrance consisted of three sets of doors with a short corridor. The first set from the outside was glass with numerous locks and the word “Saloon” in period-specific script across the center. This opened into a small five by five foyer with the second set of doors a pair of thick, oaken planks. These locked from the inside in case someone tried breaking into the business through the glass.
Next was the corridor with men’s and women’s restrooms along with a trio of payphones. A pair of stools sat before the third set of batwing doors for the bouncers to check ages, ID, and sobriety as the patrons either entered or left. Inez took her liquor license and ownership responsibilities seriously and refused to allow a single person to drive home the slightest bit intoxicated. This included her friends; many a time she shoved one of them in the back of a cab, their vehicle keys in her custody until the next day. She paid for cab rides home for the worst ones (through a sweet discount deal with the local companies) and rewarded Designated Drivers with non-alcoholic drinks and lowered rates on food. The more people the drivers took, the better their reduction. Therefore, Designated Drivers were frequent visitors to the Saloon and it made the Police Department’s job easier. Everyone knew not to take advantage of Inez’s good nature with the cabs; usually after getting to know the owner, people did not abuse the privilege of not paying for a way home.
“This place is cool,” JD sealed his approval as Inez finished explaining everything to him.
“You know what the best thing is, JD?” asked his training officer, currently slouching against the bar and silently observing Inez up to this point.
“The little filly who owns it.” He winked at Inez.
“Senor Buck!” exclaimed Inez with her hands on her hips.
Buck was lost as he gazed at the figure she made standing there in the peasant blouse and brightly colored broomstick skirt she preferred wearing. He could see her bare painted toes peeking out from the leather sandals on her feet and knew her well-tanned and shapely legs did not need the confinement or adornment of any hosiery. A gold heart locket glimmered around her neck and a matching glint of fire shown from her dark eyes.
The locket came from Buck as a Christmas present a few months before. She repeatedly tried returning it but he refused to take it back. When she finally accepted it, she placed a picture of her departed mother inside. Whenever she wore it, she saw hope and big smile in his eyes. She’d forgotten she put it on today because she was not expecting him to show up. Sadly, the paperwork took longer today than she expected making her stay even later than usual. Inez saw that hopeful look right now and almost sighed; he would be unbearable knowing she wore his gift.
“It’s the truth, darlin’, and if you would ever break down and let me show you what a *fine* woman you are, you won’t regret it.” The light of promise shone in his eyes.
The reply came immediately and without any serious heat; by this time, both parties threw barbed comments and missed the banter if it did not happen for whatever reason. “When pigs fly.”
Without missing a beat, the corporal jerked a thumb at his rookie saying, “He don’t weigh much. Think he can fly?”
“Senor Buck! You are terrible!” The owner failed to hide her smile at the quick response to her insult. Life around him never seemed dull and he added vitality to whatever place he happened to be at the time.
“Hey! Nobody’s tossing me anywhere and I’m not a pig.” The look he gave Wilmington told him he’d like to see the bigger man try.
“Sure, Kid,” Buck replied without taking his eyes off Inez.
The owner smiled at the spirit displayed by the rookie; usually Buck’s personality overwhelmed the new arrivals even if he did not train them. It pleased her to see somebody finally willing to give as much as he got.
“And I’m not a kid!” JD glared defiantly at his training officer, still detesting the moniker ‘Kid’ and especially used in front of a beautiful woman.
This declaration diverted the rogue’s attention. Buck came out of his slouch to run his fingers down either side of JD’s cheeks. “Yeah, you are, Kid, ‘cuz I’m betting you don’t even have peach fuzz to shave in the mornings.”
“My shaving habits are none of your business.” He smacked the hands away and inspiration struck. “Besides, you still haven’t told me what happened on the 4th of July.” JD immediately received a vicious elbow to the gut as Inez nailed Buck with a look causing him to immediately polish his charm and plan his escape from this situation.
Inez asked, “The 4th of July? Si, Senor Buck, what happened on the 4th of July?” Suspicious eyes narrowed at him, the bartender expecting a tale of machismo and female conquest. Or perhaps a collection of half-truths where he presented the best side of the facts without the down side that she often needed to find out from other sources or pin him down on to make him confess. She stepped within inches of him with her arms crossed and waited.
JD waited and watched Buck squirm. Though he did not know the story, he knew enough to know that it made the corporal very uncomfortable.
“Nothing, Inez. Kid heard something out of context,” Buck mumbled. He would never, ever tell this woman what happened that day. Likewise, if his rookie did not close his mouth, there would be one less new officer to train.
Dunne ignored the glare aimed his way and smiled innocently.
This caught Wilmington unaware again. That expression brought back so many memories, a quick pain to the heart, but Inez spoke up and broke into his thoughts before they went too far. Bless her for doing that.
The owner gave him a raised eyebrow and a smirk. “I see. Would this be the same 4th of July that involved Nina?”
Oh hell, Buck thought to himself, followed closely by how much does she really know? Nina never told tales out of school- well, she hardly ever told tales out of school. Oh hell. Well and truly caught in the rookie’s trap, Buck knew anything he said buried him deeper. To save himself, he changed the subject. “Well, we’ve got places to be. You ready to go? We’ll escort you to the bank.”
She smiled sweetly and patted his face, deciding to let him wonder how much Nina actually revealed. “It is so nice of you to take care of me this way.” With that loaded comment, a sway of her hips and a shake to her walk, Inez went into the office and left Buck staring wide-eyed after her.
“When are you going to tell me about the 4th of July?”
Buck forcefully mashed Dunne’s Stetson further down on his head and into his eyes saying, “Never, Kid.”
That time, he did not resent ‘Kid’ because he deserved it. JD laughed as he adjusted his hat. “Hey, Buck, before we go I need to uh . . .” he stammered as he cocked his head in the direction of the restrooms.
“Sure, we’ve got a few minutes,” Buck murmured his okay. He stayed distracted as his thoughts drifted back to the dark eyed lady of his dreams and what the former love of his life and current dear friend might have told her about that particular holiday and everything else. Sometimes staying good friends with the significant ‘ex’ often brought out things best left in the past and interfered with the future.
He was deep in thought over his dilemma when the sultry Latin beat of the song playing on the jukebox made its way into his awareness. Buck closed his eyes as the image of the equally sultry bar owner forcefully slammed into his brain with an overwhelming wave of desire that the song conjured up for him. He opened his mind and truly listened to the lyrics, wondering at the capriciousness of Fate for playing this particular song, a smoky dance remix of a slow ballad.
to understand her
you’ve got to know what’s deep inside
hear every thought, see every dream
and give her wings when she wants to fly
“I am ready, Senor B . . . what are you doing?” Inez was startled as Buck took the deposit bags from her and put them on the bar along with his hat. He then swept her out to the dance floor and pulled her close.
“Just go with it darlin’,” he whispered softly as he moved them into the romantic steps the dance. His greater height made her feel secure in his embrace, pressed tightly against his chest, his arms wrapped around her, hers around him, their gazes locked as one.
Surprised at his skill, Inez easily followed his lead as her brain finally became aware of the soft melody from the jukebox. As the lyrics flowed over her like warm sand from the gravely voice of the singer, she too caught herself up in the unexpected romance of the moment.
When you love a woman
You tell her that she’s the one
She needs somebody
To tell her that it’s gonna last forever
The two moved with synchronicity to the music totally lost in the beat, the words, and each other’s eyes. Buck pulled Inez even closer to him, facing each other scant inches apart. Staring deeply into her eyes, he moved them around in a slow, languorous circle.
To really love a woman
to let her hold you
till you know how she needs to be touched
you’ve gotta breathe her
and really taste her
until you can feel her in your blood
when you can see your unborn children in her eyes
JD returned to the large room and stopped mesmerized as the pair continued moving to the sultry guitar. He watched as the two separate people moved as one melded being, man and woman as they were designed to be, bodies pressed and fused, holding close, seeing only each other, nothing else existing outside this moment.
An overwhelming feeling of rightness swept over him as he silently observed, seeing things as they should be, and a brief stab of jealousy struck his heart. He wished he could find a woman that would stare at him like that and give him that kind of encompassing attention. His eyes stayed on the entwined pair.
The couple let the mood take them, lost in the sensations, the real world a forgotten dream. All that mattered was the two of them in this universe. Playfully Inez freed herself, dancing seductively around Buck, flashing her skirt as he held his hands high and clapped to the beat in the Latin style, all the while holding each other close with their eyes. Buck shook himself as his mind wondered, trying to understand why his feelings were racing out of control with this woman. He tried forgetting the image of a laughing, small child with dark hair and flashing eyes like her mother’s reaching out to be swung up into his, her daddy’s, strong arms.
you tell her that she’s the one
She needs somebody
to tell her that you’ll always be together
so tell me have you ever really,
really, really ever loved a woman?
Buck brought her close again and moved them around the floor, trying to say everything he was feeling with his eyes and his body, letting the lyrics speak for him.
You’ve got to give her some faith
hold her tight
a little tenderness
you’ve gotta treat her right
she will be there for you
taking good care of you
you’ve really gotta love your woman
and when you find yourself lying helpless in her arms
you know you really love a woman
As the song moved into its final stage, Buck pulled Inez even closer not wanting to let her go. He did not, but in the back of his mind he was still confused because errant thoughts of Nina still plagued him. Their years-long tumultuous relationship left them with permanent feelings for each other but…there was always a but.
He pushed thoughts of Nina aside, held onto Inez, enjoying the rightness of this and almost humbled by the experience. He closed his eyes and breathed in her soft perfume and the unique scent of her, imprinting this moment on his memory forever.
Inez too was befuddled by the stirrings this man brought in her, wanting him yet afraid to take the chance that she could be the one to hold his heart where others had failed. True love scared her and she was sure this would be true love with him – all or nothing, never holding back, for now and always. Pushing aside thoughts of the future, she gave herself over to the moment, to the feel of his body against hers, and wanted to freeze this dance forever in time.
you tell her that she’s the one
She needs somebody
to tell her that it’s gonna last forever
So tell me have you ever, really
really, really, ever loved a woman?
Just tell me have you ever really,
really, really, ever loved a woman?
Just tell me have you ever really,
really, really, ever loved a woman?
As the music faded, Buck swung Inez into a dip. Bending over her their eyes locked. Seeing his intent, her lashes fluttered closed as his lips moved closer to hers. She felt the faint tickle of his mustache, the anticipation making her want him even more, wondering about that first kiss…
“Achem!!” JD thought it best he not be a voyeur for something that obviously was going to spiral out of control if it happened. If he knew the history of these two, he probably would not have interfered but in his ignorance, he did.
Blinking in surprise, Buck helped Inez right herself and she quickly retreated to the bar, blushing and not wanting them to see her flushed face. She felt completely exposed and vulnerable, two feelings she never thought she would feel concerning the confirmed ladies man.
As JD moved shyly up to his partner, Buck whacked him solidly with the back of his hand across his vest. “You’ve got lousy timing, Kid.” Though the training officer kept his voice low, the angry amount of heat came through very loud and very clear to the rookie.
Smiling to himself, thinking his corporal was upset for just losing a simple kiss, JD eyed his trainer closely. He saw the still glowing countenance and wondered if he would ever understand the rogue. At least when it came to the full story about him and his women. He could write a paper on the mixed signals he picked up from this crew and it still was only the first day.
Buck cleared his throat, “Ready, darlin’?” Buck moved up beside Inez at the bar, retrieving his hat and settling it on his head with slow deliberation and unsteady hands.
“Si,” she replied quickly and moved away from him toward the door while keeping her face averted from his prying eyes. For some reason the darlin’, one of his favorite expressions, held an emotional note not normally heard in his voice – a deep, husky sound of longing and intensity.
Their eyes met again as she locked the door after their exit. Neither felt the need for words, nor could they pick up their playful banter. Much remained unsaid as the officers quickly completed escorting her to the bank and seeing her on her way home once she dropped the deposits in the night depository.
As Buck watched the taillights of her car travelling down the street, he sighed deeply and rubbed a finger across his mustache. He felt he could still feel her gentle breath tickling the hairs there as he leaned down to capture her lips in what he was sure would have been a mind-blowing kiss. If not for the interference of some wet behind the ears rookie. Casting a sideways glance at the kid, he thought he was going to have to educate him in a little bit more of life than police work. Pulling onto the road he saw the lights of Inez’s car disappear ahead of them as she made a turn. He shook his head at the feeling of loss and thought, “Damn, what a woman!”