four corners pd
By: Cin and Heidi
Day two: Friday
The scenery rushed by in a blur; the rider did not care to take in the majestic sights; he just relished his precious few moments of freedom. The roar of the engine beneath him, between his legs, the power of it vibrating his thigh muscles, felt so familiar, almost as enjoyable as having a living, breathing horse beneath him. He gave the engine more gas and thrilled at the rush of speed. He finally took a moment to look down at the speedometer and read eighty-mph; regretfully, he brought it back to a more ‘acceptable’ seventy. While the lone rider’s face hid behind the full-face plate of the helmet, he longed to ride with the wind blowing through his hair. Much liked he wished for the same earlier in the Mustang, but instead forced himself to rely on the protection of the helmet as he rode, not only for safety but to keep his face from prying eyes. Thinking that miserable thought took away the feeling of precious freedom.
To the rider, the rushing blur of scenery seemed to fit his muddled frame of mind. All his thoughts continued to run together. Each time he felt he was getting a handle on the direction he needed to go, another obstacle popped up. The obstacles grew harder and harder to surmount, each one asking for more and more of his soul.
All too soon, the ride ended with the Harley roaring into Eagle’s Bend. The town could be a sister to Four Corners, but lacked the added growth and the problems the University often inflicted. Vin maneuvered the bike through the light traffic to an auto repair shop in the northwest section of the town.
Pulling into on open bay and parking the bike, he gratefully yanked the helmet off. He shook his hair out and ran his fingers through the flattened strands. Flat hair was a small price to pay for the exhilaration of the ride. His gaze roamed around the orderly shop until his blue eyes found a figure walking his way from the corner office.
Vin smiled in greeting. “Hey, Tiny.”
The large man in the gray coveralls grinned in return and shook the smaller man’s hand readily. Vin. It’s been awhile.” The smile brightened the man’s entire face.
Tanner sighed swinging his leg over the bike to stand before the stouter man. Carl Buckner was a formidable sight. Standing just over six feet, his broad shoulders and thick neck spoke of his past football days. Earning all-state honors in high school, and moving on to college, the opponents facing this immense hulk bestowed upon him the moniker of ‘Tiny’, which stuck with him to this day. His hair was cut into a flattop style that hid the graying light brown locks. Like his nickname, the haircut was another hold over from a past life. This one came from a short military service that was also evident in his bearing and no-nonsense manner.
He traded his military training in on a career in law enforcement, until an on-duty injury ended his service early. Taking disability retirement, he opened his garage for a second career but kept in touch with his friends on the force, still giving help when he could. Like now. Besides covertly passing along information gathered from the variety of clientele that moved through his repair shop, it was a safe house of sorts for clandestine meetings like the one about to take place.
Tiny saw the faded bruises along with the dark circles under the young man’s eyes. “Rough, huh?”
Vin snorted. “Looks worse than I feel.”
Tiny laughed. “Quit trying to fool me, kid, been there, remember?”
Vin nodded, recalling the stories Tiny told from his days on the police force. With Tiny’s size and demeanor, he worked Narcotics before having a drug section was in vogue. He could convince just about anyone that he was a big, mean biker looking to buy or sell drugs. Those were the few times he grew his hair out in his lifetime.
The big man asked, “Seen my brother lately?”
Sadly, Vin shook his head, “Don’t get much of a chance to keep in touch with friends, even Yosemite.”
A belly laugh erupted involving his entire body. “Surprised he hasn’t knocked yours and Chanu’s blocks off for giving him that name.”
“He loves it and you know it,” Tanner retorted. Vin laughed, thinking about the larger man’s brother who lived in Four Corners and whose special skills led to a fast friendship between himself and Chanu.
Sam Buckner was almost a twin image of his brother. Well, if one could overlook that he was several inches shorter, and a bit heavier in the waist. He also carried more hair not only on his scalp, which was long enough to tie back into a ponytail, but also in the full-length beard he sported. He claimed the beard as his pride and joy and kept it meticulously clean despite its length. Both his hair and beard were the same light brown as his brother’s but because of the longer length, the gray gave more of an iron and wood appearance.
The two brothers would have taken similar career paths too, if not for the high school injury ending any dreams Sam had of following his brother’s footsteps into college football. After completing college, Sam moved directly into business, setting up his shop in nearby and larger town of Four Corners. He took advantage of the learned and inborn mechanical skills the brothers seemed to be blessed with; both brothers claimed if it had an engine or not, they could make it run. They often did the impossible with derelicts and hopeless causes. Not only masterful at fixing any type of vehicle engine, Sam extended his skills to the nearby ranchers. Learning the disappearing trade of the ferrier, he was able to also work on the four-legged horsepower in the area. He kept a mobile forge to make it easier to do the horseshoeing jobs on site where he was most needed.
Sam was in awe of the antique forge that was still in working order on the Wells ranch. The Wells brothers found the pieces of the forge when they first purchased the ranch and they worked to refurbish it. They then did their own limited amount of blacksmithing before their passing.
Learning of Sam’s second trade, Vin and Chanu brought him out to the ranch to show him their treasure. Thrilled to work with the antique set up, Sam taught them a bit of his mechanical trade in exchange and helped them put it to use, even fixing some parts to the cars they were rebuilding. The special touch he had with car engines extended to the four legged beast and people were often in awe how he could tame even the most spirited animal. The trade worked out well for all involved; everyone benefited from this arrangement.
The two brothers – Vin and Chanu - bestowed the affectionate nickname of Yosemite upon Sam when they found out about his other love. He loved cartoons, especially the character of Yosemite Sam. They thought the character was fitting of his namesake and soon had the whole town using the moniker for him. Especially after they decorated his garage with posters of the Looney Tune character. For a Halloween party one year, he showed up as Yosemite Sam and won first prize for his realistic costume. Vin always thought that Sam Buckner was another person who was living out of his time. Watching him in his leather apron, operating the bellows on the old forge and using those powerful arms to pound out equine shoes, Vin instead saw a pioneer pounding out a new history from the Old West.
Seeing the wistful look on the young man’s face, Tiny shook his head, “I don’t get to see him enough myself.”
“Not that far away,” Vin reminded him.
“I know,” Tiny sighed and shrugged his shoulders. “You know the same old story busy and all.”
Tiny and Yosemite, geographically a short distance apart, lived different lives. They got together when they could but their incompatible schedules often made things difficult. Both kept strange hours because of their professions, Tiny often called out as a tow truck driver in the middle of the night in the tri-county area. Yosemite often got animal calls when the vet was unavailable, asking for his advice on what to do until the owner reached the vet.
To Vin, family was everything. As far as he knew, he did not have any relatives that shared his family tree but he cherished his adopted family members just as ferociously. He hated not being in contact with them because of this assignment and it upset him that others missed grabbing all the precious moments they could with loved ones. He said, “Maybe when all this is over we can have another big barbecue out at Nettie’s again.” There was no maybe in Vin’s mind; he would make sure there was and both Tiny and Yosemite would be there.
Tiny smiled, remembering the last festive get together. “That’d be great!”
“Guess that won’t happen if I don’t get this over with.” Regretfully, Vin returned to the reason he came. “He’s here, right?”
Tiny snorted, cocking his head toward the door at the back of the shop. It led to a staircase going to the second floor of the small business. “Yeah, probably pacing the floor waiting on you and making sure he doesn’t get anything on his suit.”
“He kept me waiting on this meeting long enough.” Vin shrugged. He started toward the door. “I’ll see ya before I leave.”
A large hand landed on his arm, halting his departure. Curious blue eyes rose in question to troubled brown ones.
Tiny licked his lips, now hesitant about what he was going to say. “Look, kid,” he stopped, glancing out of the shop toward the road and back again to the stairwell. “I’ve still got some connections. I mean, I didn’t have much to do with that Four Corners bunch before, but I do know people.”
The hairs on the back of Vin’s neck that remained persistent in their alertness tingled anew at this unexpected turn of events. What was going on around here? Tiny should not be involved any more than just giving them a meeting place. What had Tiny heard about this and how far did this god-forsaken organization stretch?
“If you get into something. . .you need help, you can call me,” Tiny looked deep into Tanner’s eyes to be sure he understood. “Anytime, anywhere. Don’t matter. You need help, you call. I’ll do what I can for you.”
“I’m fine, Tiny,” Vin tried to reassure him or maybe himself. The bigger man’s words ran a chill through his system.
The large man nodded and released Vin’s arm taking a step back. “I know, but you know it’s important to watch your back.”
The younger man smiled, hearing the familiar phrase usually spoken by another green-eyed, glaring worrywart. “So I’ve been told. ‘preciate the offer, I’ll keep it in mind.”
“It’s a dangerous part of the job you’re in, boy,” Tiny patted him on the back. “Lots of things can go wrong.” Carl ‘Tiny’ Buckner paused again as he wondered how much of his fears he should let the undercover officer see. Sighing deeply, he chose a cryptic warning, “Sometimes we put our trust in ones who don’t have our best interest at heart, only theirs.”
Vin nodded, “Thanks, Tiny.” He smiled reassuringly at the large man. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
Tanner turned and entered the stairwell. Out of habit, he moved quietly up the second floor after tucking his hand into his pocket for a brief moment. Looking through the glass on the upper door he could see the man he came to meet pacing back and forth before the set of windows overlooking the street on the far wall. He smiled, thinking back to Tiny’s comment, which quickly turned to a frown as he also thought on the veiled warning signals the larger man was sending out. Seemed to him Tiny was trying to tell him not to trust this man. As Vin watched the man and his agitated pacing, the thought was at the back of his mind, ‘I don’t’. That scared him because Haskill was supposed to be his contact, his boss, and the man to make the decisions concerning the investigation. This was the man to save his butt if he needed it. Vin silently studied him without alerting Haskill to his arrival.
Neal Haskill was dressed in a suit and tie as usual. He was not a tall man, standing about five-nine. What he lacked in height, he tried to make up for in arrogance. The strawberry blonde hair was styled short in a military style, tapered up the sides and back. The fair skin, though not freckled, showed a ruddy complexion, possibly due at the moment to his agitated state. His square jaw was clenched in a frown. His arrogance did nothing to improve his image, only his reputation and ability to manipulate facts earned him the high position of Head of the County’s Task Force.
Vin took a fortifying breath, knowing he was going to hate this meeting, but it was necessary. He needed to know where he stood and what future options he might have. His opinion of this man was not high, even after hearing of his distinguished background. He’d learned Haskill was from Texas too, serving with the Highway Patrol for many years. Rumor said he was supposed to transfer into the Rangers before he moved west. Information from that point was scarce and no one could say just why he moved away weeks before upwardly transferring into that prestigious, historic unit. From the few meetings Vin torturously endured with the man, he figured it was because they ran him out on a rail. The man was irritating and that was being polite. Time to get this show on the road.
Haskill turned as the door opened. “Officer Tanner?” He raised his arm up in an exaggerated manner and glanced at his watch. “I was beginning to think you and that motor-cycle of yours met with an unfortunate accident.”
This was one of the many reasons the man got on Tanner’s nerves. His voice was not deep, more high pitched and nasally. When he pronounced motorcycle, he over-emphasized the ‘cycle’, mutating it into ‘sickle’. Vin once heard one of his counterparts attempts to correct him on the pronunciation, and the unfortunate soul received a royal dressing down.
“Would ya have cared?”
Haskill drew back briefly before saying, “Of course. I would have lost a friend and colleague.”
The man’s presumption galled Vin. “I ain’t yer friend, Haskill.”
“I’ve grown rather fond of you, Officer Tanner.” The man actually appeared to pout. “You do good work and we’ve worked well together. I presume to call you a friend.”
“Ya presume much.” Tanner bored his gaze right into those eyes and his neck hairs prickled again. What he saw in those hazel depths showed a man that did not like to be crossed. Vin knew he pushed Haskill’s patience right now.
Haskill reevaluated the man before him and realized he nearly made a mistake. Unacceptable. He rephrased his earlier words with, “Perhaps you’re right. I have been reading over your reports and listening to your tapes. I suppose, in my constant exposure to your voice and writings, that I grew comfortable in thinking of you like an old friend, keeping in touch with another friend. I apologize.”
Vin nodded briefly because he wanted Haskill to think he accepted that lame-ass apology. Ezra could have done better half-lit and the top of his mouth coated with peanut butter. Hell, what a mess. He threw his own bone out there. “Reckon ya have been listenin’ ta me a lot.”
The other man smiled. “Often. I feel I know most of the recordings by rote.”
“Still don’t make things easier.”
Haskill sighed. “No, it doesn’t. I see I may not have been too far off in worrying over your well being though.” He motioned to the fading bruises.
Vin frowned at the false concern, getting tired of constant scrutiny his minor injuries were bringing of late. “Nothing ta worry about.”
Eyeing the young man warily, the bureaucrat finally got down to business. “Then what brings us to this lovely spot?”
“You’ll hear on the latest tapes, they’re looking fer guns. Lots of ‘em.”
“Hell.” He gave it the same inflection Vin usually did.
Ignoring that, Tanner continued with the reason for this meeting. “And they don’t trust me yet.”
“Seems they’ve trusted you enough for all the jobs you’ve been involved in. Why are they questioning you now?”
Vin shrugged. “All I know is word is they are planning a loyalty test fer me.”
Haskill resumed his pacing, running his hand constantly over down his chin as he thought. “Perhaps this means they have bigger plans for you.” He stopped his agitated walk and eyed the younger man. “Any ideas?”
Shaking his head, Vin shrugged again, “It’s gotten tougher ta get info. Haven’t heard a thing, nothin’ good anyway.”
Vin privately wondered at the man’s persistence. “Maybe a contract.”
Haskill nodded in agreement. “With this group it would make sense. Any ideas who?”
“They’ve got plenty of enemies right now. Seem set ta piss a lot of people off, even among themselves.”
The older man frowned. “So it might be a rival or a disposed member?”
“Maybe.” Vin watched as the ex-trooper resumed his pacing. The man really was irritating. “I was thinkin’ more like the police department since the law’s been hittin’ their members so hard. Maybe even Travis.”
“Why Chief Travis?”
“He’s been pushing ta clean up around here, and the PD’s succeedin’.”
“But Travis is not the only one trying to get rid of the drugs.”
“Yeah, there’s that Sheriff ya work for, but he’s been quiet lately.”
“I do believe the Town Council’s been active in pushing for new state anti-drug laws, as well as local ordinances. Wasn’t it Guy Royal who approached them about it?”
“Don’t know all that political junk. I just think they’re going after someone who has caused them the most problems, sticking their nose in the wrong person’s business. From the sounds of it, I’d say a cop.”
“But you’re not sure?”
Vin got angry. “I don’t have proof, if that’s what yer askin’. Doin’ the best I can with what I’ve got.”
“I know, Vin, and I appreciate it. What you’re telling me is that it could be anybody.”
“Hell, Haskill, it might be you, being the head of the Task Force and all.”
Haskill stopped his pacing, eyeing Tanner thoughtfully.
Vin thought he’d like to have the gift to read minds right about now. If he did he’d hear the man cursing himself. ‘Damn it, damn it all to hell.’
A scowl crossed the Task Force leader’s features and his ire showed. “That wouldn’t be good.”
Vin snorted and bit back the retort he wanted to fire at the man. Instead, he said, “Figured, but how do I get out of it? I say no, I’m done. I say yes, I’m screwed. Either way, I’m probably dead.”
“How long do you think before they ask you?” Haskill’s mind turned over how to work this to the best advantage.
Vin ran a hand through his hair, noting the man’s disinterest in what Tanner saw as his probable future demise. “I don’t know. Soon.” His instincts screamed at him.
“You want out?” That was the last thing the leader of the Task Force wanted to happen but he had to present the option. Things were obviously in motion; he’d already heard from his own sources about this officer challenging that loser Bellows for a meet with Bellows’ boss Jennings. If Tanner could meet with Jennings, that could bring them another step higher in the organization, which they needed in order to justify the funding for the Task Force. Tanner had been his best source for showing constant strides forward in their investigations. Hell, Tanner was his only source.
“I ain’t quittin’ this close. I’ve asked for a meetin’ with Jennings ta push things along, waitin’ ta hear back from him.”
“Good. Maybe we can get to another level and have a little time to get more information before we shut them down. When it gets too hot, Vin, I’m pulling you out. No arguments.” Although his words and actions spoke of concern, the sentiment did not reach his eyes.
Vin thought to himself that it was already too hot, but again he held his tongue. “Hell, Haskill, I’m ready fer this thing ta be over but I’m stickin’ it out until the job is done.”
“I’m not compromising your safety.”
When he said that, Vin felt those hairs prickle again and he saw the lie in the man’s eyes. Haskill would sacrifice him for the assignment. Why? Glory? No, that wasn’t it. What the hell was going on? “I like all my parts where they are,” agreed Vin, burying the mistrust in his own blue eyes.
“Then we understand each other. Get that meeting with Jennings, get it on tape, and agree to just about anything. I’ll run this by the District Attorney, although he’s agreed with all our contingencies so far. We knew this was a possibility. They want you to shoot somebody, tell them yes. Page me and I’ll get you out immediately.”
Vin’s paranoia ran rampant through his system while he outwardly maintained his control. He had the feeling Haskill would leave him in and make him take the fall. It was already straight in his mind; there was no way in hell would he shoot a fellow cop, nor anyone for that matter. He’d been accused of that once. He wasn’t going there again, even for the job. Not now, not ever. He’d done a lot of dirty things for this assignment, all under Haskill’s orders. No matter the assignment, he’d been assured the District Attorney was on board as well as other members of the Task Force. He was told it was what they had to do to shut them down. Everything was cleared. But he’d never met with anyone other than this man, even then infrequently, and his assurances did not set well with him. And this. . .went well beyond what most would expect an undercover officer to do, so he wanted confirmation. Hell, he wanted it in writing, but he knew that was not possible. “So yer orderin’ me ta meet with Jennings, record it, and agree to just about anythin’ they ask. If they want me ta shoot someone, I say yes and then page ya. Once I reach ya, I’ll be pulled out.”
“What if I can’t reach ya?”
“Do what you have to do.”
“There’s no way I’m shootin’ anybody.”
“Officer Tanner, if I order you to shoot, you will shoot.” Seeing the young officer prickle at that order, Haskill covered. “I’m sure with your skill you will be able to take every precaution not to injure anyone. And we’ll be sure everyone wears their vests. We’ll also notify the Council, the Sheriff, Chief Travis, Guy Royal, and the PD to increase their security. We’re not taking any chances.” He glared at the young man before him as he took his firmest tone. “But if you have to take that shot, you will. It’s what you have to do to protect yourself and the case.”
“Then pull me out now. Ain’t doing that.” Vin crossed his arms.
“No. You’re in, and you’re staying in for one more meeting. You’ve managed it before with the drive-by.”
“Fine. I quit.”
“I refuse to accept it. As your supervisor, I have authority to decline your resignation.
“You told me you’d pull me out iffen it got too hot. If it comes ta that, it’s too hot. Pull me out.”
“I lied.” The grin on Haskill’s face was feral.
Vin glared, and even as his blood boiled he felt a shiver race down his spine. He might not know the whole truth but he knew something was wrong here. “How many other times have you lied to me?”
“What I do is always in the best interest of the Task Force.”
“That don’t make me feel all warm inside, Haskill, and that didn’t answer my question.”
“It wasn’t meant to; you work for me, and you take my orders.”
“I’ll call Travis then. He’s my boss, not you.” Vin turned to start down the steps only to have Haskill grab his arm and shove him against the wall.
“Listen to me, boy, and listen good. We haven’t gotten this far for you to turn chickenshit on me. You will do whatever they want you to do, however and whenever they say, because you can’t screw this up. I’ve got too much riding on you for you to blow it.”
“This ain’t right,” Vin continued to argue, shoving Haskill back. He wondered just how far this lunatic was willing to go to seal this all-important case.
Haskill got right back in Tanner’s face as he growled, “It’s right if I say it is. You just take orders.” He pinched his finger and thumb together and held them up in front of Vin’s face. “We’re this close and you are not going to spoil it for me.”
Vin glared, thinking again that maybe it was all for the glory for this man. He still sensed a seed of underlying danger that he could not put his finger on, nor could he get a good read on Haskill. “There are others. . .”
Haskill shoved a finger in Vin’s chest saying, “You’re the best shot and our only shot.”
Tanner batted away the hand and frowned further. When he accepted this assignment, there were other agents scheduled to go under. “What do you mean?”
“Let’s just say our plans didn’t go well.” He backed up giving Tanner back his space. “We’re not sure about the fate of a couple of men.” The evil grin was back. “I would hate for a similar fate to happen to you son.”
Ice blue eyes glared at the weasel of an agent before him. Now it sounded like the man was making a threat, one he was sure he could do something about. Just what the hell was going on here? Did this man mean what he thought he did, that they lost men to this investigation?
“Now, come on, Tanner.” Haskill raised his arms up as if pleading with the younger man. “You don’t want all your hard work to be for nothing. You have a real chance to make this come together. I assure you it will all be covered.”
Vin thought as he continued frowning at the man before him. He wanted to take this gang down; he was not sure how big they were but they were dangerous, and they were still growing. It would not be long before Four Corners would experience some of the problems they had three years ago when the county was held in palm of a corrupt sheriff. Then, it left the citizens with no where to turn and in constant fear of their lives. He didn’t want to see that time return. Vin honestly did not know if he could survive it again, much less anyone else here from that time. “It still don’t seem right…”
“Officer Tanner,” Haskill sighed, trying to regain some of his own decorum. “I will assure you again everything will be covered. It may be unorthodox, it may be risky, but I feel it’s a risk we have to take.”
The world-weary blue eyes studied the well-dressed man for several minutes. This man went from hot to cold, what part was he playing? It was not like the Texan was an expert at this police stuff. He was just a street kid playing a part he knew well. Perhaps this was the only way to get the desired results. Even if this guy was looking out for himself for whatever reason, he could have the bigger picture in mind. So why did this feel so wrong? Why did he feel the person was playing him? Deciding to give Haskill enough rope to hang himself, Vin finally said, “You can warn Travis.”
Haskill nodded without hesitation, “I can assure you I will meet with other members of the Task Force as soon as I leave here. We will alert everyone who needs to know and if we feel they may be a target, we will give them a warning and get them adequate protection. I’m sure your skills can take care of the rest.”
“I don’t like it,” Vin declared simply.
“I don’t like it either, but I can’t say cutting out on us now, Tanner, would do much for your career.” There was no emotion in the cold hazel eyes.
“I don’t like being threatened,” snapped Vin.
The small smile appearing on the ruddy face was chilling. “I don’t make threats. Now, page me if you hear something else. This meeting is over.” Haskill stormed down the stairs and out the back door to his car.
Vin stared after Haskill’s quickly retreating back and
shook with anger. He hated this assignment even more than before, but now he
was between a rock and an even harder place. The Texan punched the wall once,
twice, and almost a third, having his fist stopped by Tiny.
“Easy now, Vin. He ain’t worth all that aggravation.” Tanner shook his hand free and held a finger to his lips. He reached into his jacket and removed the tape recorder, pressing stop. Tiny stared at it in amazement. “You’re taping him?”
“Remember what ya said about trust, Tiny? Well, lately, I’ve been getting some insurance. Gave me my marching orders right here on this cassette. Curious part is he has ta know ‘cuz I’m still wearing the bug.”
Tiny’s respect raised another notch; not many undercover officers would even consider taping their boss, the man responsible for his or her continued well-being. That took balls and he now knew Tanner owned a solid brass set. “All right. Mind if I ask who gets those?”
“I’ll arrange for them ta get ta Chief Travis tonight. If not tonight, then soon, no later than Monday.” Vin moved off and headed back downstairs, Tiny following behind.
“Glad to see you’re taking care of yourself,” Tiny said. “But I take it the meeting didn’t go well.”
Vin turned to face his old friend and shook his head. “Didn’t really expect it to, but now . . .” Vin frowned, eyeing the larger man closely. “Tiny, have you heard of any officers reported missing from this operation?”
Tiny scowled at the off the wall question, “No.” He scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Tell the truth, didn’t know there was anyone else under but you.”
The answer took Vin back a bit. When he was first approached by the Narcotics Task Force he was told there were other officers who would be joining the operation as it went on. Some undercover, others in contact situations. Haskill explained contact between the parties involved would be kept to a minimum so not to jeopardize anyone’s cover. “You haven’t seen or heard of any of the other operatives?”
The large man shook his head. “At first, yeah, there were a few other men besides Haskill, but since it started no. To be honest, this is the first time I’ve been asked to house another meeting since the beginning.”
Tanner’s thoughts overloaded. This was supposed to be one of the main meeting places for the Task Force. If this was the first meeting in several months, what was going on? Where else were they meeting or were they? Weren’t the members going over the evidence?
“Something wrong?” Tiny asked, not liking the emotions he felt emanating from the young man.
Vin tried to reassure his friend. “No, just wondering.”
Seeing the young officer’s concerned face, Tiny placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. “Just remember what I offered, boy. You need me at any time, anywhere, you just call. Still have my cell and pager number?”
“Yeah, Tiny. Reckon I should leave ‘fore I’m missed too long back home.”
“You take care. Oh, can you get this to my brother?” Tiny produced a manila paper-sized sealed envelope.
“My pleasure.” Vin took it, shook hands with Tiny, replaced his helmet, and climbed back on board the Harley. He kick started it and headed back to Four Corners even more unsettled than before the meeting. Maybe he’d take Nina and Chris up on that talk. Or Ezra; the southerner could figure out everyone’s angles. Or Josiah, just to soothe his soul. That man had a gift for doing that. Or Nathan for his no-nonsense approach. Or Buck for his magical way with words. Aw, hell. He missed them all. But as pleasant as it sounded, he knew this was still something he was not going to burden them with. Suspiciously, he did not think they could help; more importantly, he felt they would be in danger if he did.
With a heavy heart, a muddled brain, and a lead foot, Vin drove back to Four Corners. Whatever was coming it was going to be soon. He couldn’t help wondering if he was ready.
As he left the garage, he used the alleys and side streets to avoid prying eyes. Reaching into his coat pocket, he pulled out his cellular telephone. He dialed quickly. When the other person answered, he started. “Yeah, it’s me. We’ve got problems. Tanner thinks he knows what’s going down. So you might want to set things in motion. I’ll let you know when I know for sure. No clue, we’re still covered. Thank you, sir.”
He disconnected dialing a second number just as quickly. “Mr. Haskill to speak to Mr. McBride. Thank you. Sir? It’s Neal Haskill. You may want to let your boss know Tanner is getting suspicious; you may have to move your timetable up. He set for now, I’m sure he’ll go along with whatever the plan. No, I don’t believe he’s heard the news yet. Yes sir, thank you sir.”
The third call was even easier using the speed dial programmed into the phone. “Chief Travis, please.” Once he passed through the assistant, he heard the welcome voice of the Chief. “Sir? It’s Neal Haskill. I was calling to let you know I just met with Officer Tanner and things are going right on schedule. No sir, no problems, he’s doing a fine job. Yes, I believe this will be wrapped up soon. Thank you, sir.”
Neal Haskill’s grin broadened as he thought over the last hour and the reports he just made. He guided his sleek gray Audi out of Eagle’s Bend, glad to leave the mediocre town behind. He’d almost allowed his temper to blow it for him; he needed to watch that. There was too much riding on this. As he drove, he allowed his mind to wander and thought of the past, while dreaming of things to come. It was certainly going to be interesting. And he was going to be set for life if he continued to play his cards right. He knew he played a dangerous game, but he dreamed big and this was the quickest way to get there. It was a finely strung tightrope he walked, but the payoffs were huge and he could soon collect his earnings. He’d be able to take himself to somewhere that he would be appreciated better. Finally, he would be no one’s flunky anymore. Things were looking up.
The man replaced the receiver in its cradle, running his hand over the smooth surface like a caress. He sighed deeply and smiled. Rising from behind the desk he moved to the large picture window overlooking the foothills bordering his property. Many would consider the panoramic view soothing. The dark silhouette of the hills basked in fiery sunrises and serene sunsets offered a majestic natural portrait to gaze upon and dream. Dream was what this man did. He idly fingered the chess pieces positioned on the game table sitting in front of the window. He picked up the white king, his smile growing, as he rolled the piece between his hands. The smile grew into laughter that soon echoed hollowly through the empty house and across the vacant desert land toward the distance hills. The players were in place and soon he could call check. Phase one of the master plan began.
JD turned his motorcycle onto the back lot of the station and found an empty space in the row of civilian cars. As he shut it down, a Ford Escort parked two spaces away, the driver giving him a smile as she exited and locked her vehicle. “Nice bike,” called Casey Wells. She sent quick thanks upstairs for good timing.
“Thanks,” he replied, hefting the small bag holding his uniform and a spare one for the locker as Buck recommended the night before.
She walked around the new Kawasaki Ninja and admired the bright green paint job, the in color for this year. “Vin’s got a great Harley but this is cool.”
“I like it,” JD answered with pride, straightening his denim jacket clad shoulders. He planned to change into his uniform before shift in the locker rooms downstairs. Something about being in uniform on a motorcycle off-duty did not appeal to him; maybe all the Academy horror stories about officers becoming targets when too exposed gave him an uneasy feeling. Giving the name Vin consideration, JD asked a question to clarify, “Vin’s the one I haven’t met yet, right?” With all the new faces, he wanted to make sure he kept them straight in his mind.
Casey’s eyes slid toward the rookie as they walked together. “Yeah,” she sighed sadly. She really did not want to think about the man that she considered an older brother, not to mention what his current assignment was doing to her and her Aunt Nettie. Heck, what it did to all of them. “Hopefully you’ll meet him soon.” She changed topics by saying, “So how did you like your first night?”
“It was great,” JD’s enthusiasm did not dampen even with all that transpired and he still was just as excited as the day before to begin living his dream. “It was busy.”
The seasoned dispatcher barely resisted rolling her eyes at the rookie. If he thought last night was busy, she wondered what his reaction would be after a night they really rocked. Casey wanted to see him during the summer when all the kids got out of schools and into mischief along with the adults who took brief leaves of their sanity and sobriety on the weekends. Instead, she blandly answered him with, “It can get like that.”
They reached the rear side door together, Casey already having her keycard out, slipping it through the small panel while JD pulled the door and held it open for her.
“Have you had the tour yet?” she asked, wanting the conversation on a different topic. Casey often showed up early to unwind and prepare herself for a few minutes before starting her shift instead of rushing around. Although technically scheduled seven to seven, dispatchers worked modified hours. They usually relieved early at the end of the shifts so their personnel change did not interfere with the officers’ shift change or Roll Call.
JD answered, “I got a tour during the Academy but it went kind of quick.” The regional multi-agency class toured all the police departments that sent cadets, making each stop extremely brief.
They currently stood just inside the doorway talking. Casey said, “If you’re interested, I’ll give you another one.”
He enjoyed the thought of spending time with her. “I’d like that.”
“Well, we can start here.” She pointed to the dark room on his right side. “This is the juvenile interview room; we use this when we need to talk to the juveniles and their parents. The four doors beyond it are the processing rooms; we have to keep the juvies separated from the adults.”
“Okay. And this door?” He pointed to the one immediately on his left.
“Leads to the storage room for Roll Call. Also makes it easier for the guys to get out of Roll Call faster if someone brings in an uncooperative prisoner to interview or the Detention Center’s on a routine lockdown and not accepting anyone. Also if it’s someone from a nearby agency that wants to come pick up their prisoner instead of having us book them in the processing center. Saves paperwork that way. We’ll bring them in this way as long as there’s no juvies. Juveniles,” she corrected. Casey often forgot that people in the job knew the slang and new people needed to learn it.
“I got juvies,” JD replied with a confident smile.
She teased, “Just watch you don’t say a jupe of grooveniles.”
He laughed at her joke seeing how easily a ‘group of juveniles’ could be twisted in a hurry. JD discovered he was attracted to the cute dispatcher but did nothing yet because he did not know if she was single, what she liked, or really, anything about her. He hoped to use this time to find out more and go from there.
Casey liked his smile and figured him about the right height for her. She hated feeling so tiny beside any of her boys on Squad One, the giants. It made her feel weak, a sentiment she detested, and she covered that with bravado and knowledge. They continued walking down the polished floor to a door fifty feet on the left from the door they entered. “This is the computer room. All the systems that we use are based in here; it takes a key kept up in Communications to get in here after hours.”
“That’s okay; I didn’t need to see that.”
“Okay. Next to it is the telephone switching room; all the telephone lines are hardwired in there. These are the practical aspects that run this place; not very exciting but extremely important.”
They continued on to pass a large unmarked section on the right with only one door. JD pointed with his finger and asked, “What’s this?”
She said, “Empty space for now. When they designed this place they left room for expansion.”
“We think so.” The pair reached an intersection with a ten-foot hallway and a doorway on the end of the right side. “That’s the back entrance for the adult prisoners.” She shifted to point straight-ahead and right. “You already know about the Breathalyzer room. I don’t know if you noticed last night but we have three others just in case.” She saw his eyes widen and smiled. “Trust me, during the Olympics, summer months, and holidays, we can stack them up.”
“Oh, I can believe it.” If yesterday’s fight and his own chance stop gave any indication, he’d bet they easily found drunk drivers.
“Over there still down this hallway on your left and are the holding cells I mentioned earlier. We divided it into separate sections of male and female. The Shift Commander or Officer of the Day has to be present to let them into the area. We keep it locked down until needed.”
He nodded and they turned left to follow the corridor up to the next major intersection thirty-five feet ahead. “I think you recognize this hallway,” she remarked.
“Yeah. Down there at that end,” he pointed left, “is the Roll Call room.”
“Uh…from Roll Call to us…Lieutenant, Sergeant, Corporal, and I don’t know.”
She giggled before leading him to the first three rooms in the hallway. “Large empty room, Mail room, and the copier/supplies room. You can get your blank forms from the supply room. Better stock up; you never know when you’ll get a lot of reports.”
Most of her ideas made sense so he took mental notes to himself. “Okay, I will. And this one?” He pointed at the doorway halfway down this hallway on the right side.
“Break room with kitchen, lounge, and TV.”
They stood in the intersection of the hallway and she turned them to face the hallway leading to the upstairs and Communications. “Right side: Men’s locker room, Women’s locker room, and bunk room for emergencies. Left side: workout room and fire exit with the elevator and stairs.”
He stopped beside the men’s locker room and asked, “Casey, do you mind waiting while I change before continuing the tour? I’ll be quick.”
“Sure. I need to get my drink from the break room refrigerator anyway.”
JD hustled into the Men’s Locker Room, found the one with his name taped to it, and changed into his uniform. The second uniform he hung on the hooks while his toiletries landed on the top shelf. He stuffed the small bag into the metal square, attached his lock, and double-checked his appearance. His comb straightened the fly-a-ways feeling nervous for some unknown reason.
“It’s not like she’s this goddess or anything,” he mumbled to his reflection. “But she’s pretty cute.” He realized was talking to himself and stopped, hoping the echo did not carry out to the waiting dispatcher. Finally, he felt confident enough to leave the sanctuary of the locker room.
Casey entered the break room and made sure no one was around before taking a few deep breaths. “Get it together, girl,” she told herself in the empty room. “You know next to nothing about him. He may be married for all you know.” She opened the refrigerator door and found her juice.
A familiar voice asked her, “Who could be married?” Nathan entered the room in time to hear the end of her mumbling and took her place in front of the refrigerator.
She jumped then held the door open while he unloaded his bags and answered nervously, “Nothing. Hi, Nathan, how are you?”
“Fine,” he replied. The slight flush in her cheeks kept him from pressing any further so he looked for the big marker kept by the dry erase board on the wall.
“Have a safe one,” she called. Casey walked out and mumbled aloud to herself. “Good one, Case, now he’s got you talking to yourself. It’s not like he’s this god or anything.” Her distraction prevented her from seeing Josiah turning the corner and she smacked right into his barrel chest.
Josiah caught her and held her shoulders until she regained her balance. “Hello, Casey. You all right?”
Now truly embarrassed and flustered, Casey answered, “Yeah, I’m fine. I’m sorry.”
He chuckled. “Any time a pretty young woman like yourself wants to run into me, that’s just fine with me.” Josiah grinned.
Casey smiled back at him. “Let’s hope not with a car.”
“That could be painful,” he agreed. “So who’s a god?” Josiah asked.
She turned an even brighter shade of red. “No one.”
Nathan inadvertently saved her. “Josiah,” he called, “Got the new Gall’s catalogue. Whenever you want to go through it, let me know.” Gall’s was the most recognized supplier for police equipment.
“Now’s a good time,” he answered. “Excuse me, Miss Casey.”
“Be safe,” she replied, standing at the corner and watching the two men disappear into Roll Call. She turned the corner to be out of their view in front of the workout room entrance. Standing there, Casey waited just outside the workout room and checked JD out as he exited. Today’s view was much better than yesterday’s; today had time to examine his face and found something to her liking. The short sleeve also showed off his muscular arms. She guessed the definition denoted numerous pushups but she was not complaining at the view. The dispatcher kept her professional demeanor and smiled as she said, “Ready?”
“Yeah,” he croaked, then cleared his throat for a more confident answer. “Sure. Lead on.” He held his hand out in front of him and she took a few steps to the end of the hallway. JD again held the door open for her until she started climbing the stairs.
His mind went straight into the gutter – no detours - when he watched her hips sway going up the stairs in those tight, tailored uniform pants. Casey told him over her shoulder, “Aunt Nettie said you two met last night.”
If any thought could kill the hormones racing through his system, the visual of the tough woman he met last night at Haney House did it, especially considering her blood relationship with the young, attractive woman in front of him. The way Miss Nettie easily handled Chris and Buck, two men he thought feared little, told him he was no match for her. Heck, he was not even in the same class as Nettie Wells. JD’s sense of self-preservation kicked in and he looked up and over Casey’s head when he answered. “Yes, I did. Buck, uh Officer, uh Corporal Buck, I mean Corporal Wilmington took me there near the end of the shift.” That sounded smooth, JD, he told himself. Real smooth.
Casey gave him a small smile and thought he was cute when he got flustered. She enjoyed the idea she flustered him, a rare thing for her to do to a man. Maybe that was why she put a little swing in her hips going up the stairs to see if he noticed. It pleased her that he did. Leading him through another door straight-ahead at the top of the stairs, she showed him the Records section, the Warrants section, and the collection of offices for different members of the department.
Leaving there, she cut through the door behind Communications and led him to the opposite side of the building. They passed the elevator doors, the entrance to the stairwell, and a set of bathrooms. Through another locked door, they entered the storage area for several units: Traffic, Quartermaster, Equipment/Armory, Special Response Team (FCPD’s equivalent of SWAT called SRT), Narcotics and Drug Interdiction, Hostage Negotiation and a few others.
While they stood just inside the entrance for this section, they started talking again. Neither wanted to part company yet and they still had a few minutes before required elsewhere in the building.
“You sounded pretty good on the radio last night,” Casey told him, a shy smile on her face.
“But I can help you sound better if you want.”
“Meaning…what?” His head tilted down as he stood close and looked at her even closer.
She shrugged slightly. “You know, more professional and less stiff.”
He did not believe her. JD questioned, “I sound stiff?”
“Of course you do. All the rookies sound like they’re afraid of the mike.”
“I’m not scared of the mike,” he squawked.
“’Course you’re not. You just need to get a rhythm.”
“A rhythm?” Different connotations of that word flooded his brain along with their isolated surroundings and low lighting.
“Yeah, a rhythm. You know, talking like you would in person instead of formal speech.”
This conversation just went into the bizarre, JD told himself. He gave her a disbelieving look. “I think I’ve got a rhythm.”
She actually laughed. “Yeah, you sound like you’ve got a board up your…spine.” Casey paused before giving him a grin. “And I can tell you’re a screamer.”
“Huh?” This was new territory. All these thoughts about rhythm, flow, and screaming combined with images of her going up the steps put his mind precisely where it should not go. Exactly how in the hell does she know what he does in his private life? His chin dropped, his eyes widened, and then he shook his head. A little bite entered his tone. “And how would you know?”
“Silly, you screamed last night,” Casey teased with a smile. “Your foot pursuit? You were screaming and squawking like an angry hen.”
JD got flustered with himself because of her critique of his radio demeanor and his mouth engaged before his brain. “I’m sorry; did you go to the Academy? Did you actually go out there and put yourself in the path of bullets?”
That response immediately changed the tone of the conversation. “He never fired at you,” Casey calmly stated; inwardly, she fumed at the stupidity of men. He just hit on one of the biggest pet peeves of dispatchers and law enforcement officers alike – neither truly understood the other’s job until they did it for themselves. Perhaps because of this disagreement of perspective most departments required a dispatcher to ride with an officer and an officer spend a shift in Communications to help the new person fit in. Unfortunately, it wasn’t time for JD to do his shift in Communications yet.
“That’s not the point; you’re in here and I’m out there. It’s different; and I didn’t scream; I spoke loudly so everyone could hear me. There was a fight in the background or did you forget about that?” He crossed his arms and towered over her, using his height to intimidate even if there was not too much difference.
“Find your own way back.” She sneered and spun on her heel, letting the door slam behind her. She thought typical, arrogant, cocky male with a mouth that needed shutting. He was cute until he spoke she raged to herself, satisfied when she heard the door slam hard behind her. Why did she fool herself into thinking he was different? When she turned twenty-one, she would go to the Academy and show them all how to do it.
JD stared at the door wondering what exactly happened and why they parted on unfriendly terms. When he left the room, he walked behind Communications and felt her glaring daggers at him through the door. Checking his watch, he realized he had exactly thirty seconds to get downstairs to Roll Call. JD scrambled through the doors, down the stairs, turned right, found the intersection, and reached the room right before the Lieutenant left his office.
Breathlessly he dropped into the chair he occupied yesterday to the amusement of the others that greeted him with smiles, chuckles, and a single scowl. JD caught the scowl and nearly flushed from his almost late entry. The rookie whipped out his notebook and tried making himself invisible.
Buck Wilmington stopped by Communications for his nightly greeting and watched as Casey angrily stormed out of one of the offices then settled herself down enough to relieve Rita. He found her agitation an interesting development because she rarely let her temper go when she worked. He only caught her feisty side off-duty and even then it was still rare and took plenty to provoke. The corporal guardedly asked, “Something wrong, Casey darlin’?”
“That…that…oh! Men!” she hissed. “Try and help them and they bite your head off.”
Mackie, the Officer of the Day, covered his eyes with his hand and hoped for deliverance or the clock to hit seven - whichever mercifully came first. His squad mates envied him being inside, protected from the elements, insulated from the public, and surrounded by women all day. They told him: “Mackie, you lucky SOB, you get a cake job!” followed by “Mackie, you want to trade places,” and “Man, Mackie, twelve hours surrounded by women. Heaven, man.”
If he saw any of them now, he’d punch each and every one of them in the face for maximum damage. Dealing with irate females this close to the end of the shift only capped off a horrible day with screaming, irate complainants. The long suffering officer only hoped Wilmington managed not to piss them off more than they already were; if he did, Wilmington and Mackie’s ASP, the equivalent of an extending nightstick, would have a personal meeting. Several times.
“Any particular male or the entire species?” Buck mentally reviewed his own conduct and found nothing he believed amiss.
Yup, Mackie thought, Wilmington needed his ass kicked. He glared at the only other male in the room and cursed the jerk for being able to leave.
Buck caught the glare and practically grinned back. Mischief lit his eyes as he considered how to make the dayshift officer pay for being in Communications.
Casey remained oblivious to the silent conversation occurring around her and fumed. “That rookie of yours. I gave him a tour and some pointers and he…he…” she glared out the door at the passing rookie and target of her ire. “Oh! Never mind,” she hissed.
Buck bit his lip to prevent himself from laughing. When he checked the other women, Rita, Amber, and Ladonna all suffered from the same malady. Only Mackie continued glaring at Buck, one hand reaching into the desk drawer and showing the ASP to the rogue. The other scratched the bridge of his nose with his middle finger.
Wilmington twisted the knife. “You sure you want me to never mind? I know Mackie here enjoys his time with you lovely ladies and I’m positive he’d love to share his opinion. Not counting ol’ Buck’s expertise.”
Casey waved that off by saying, “Mackie’s one of us. He knows how to take advice and when not to open his mouth. Your rookie doesn’t and you,” her index finger pointed at him, “You need to teach him. Now get out and do what I tell you.” She turned her back on him.
Mackie closed the drawer and mouthed a two-word phrase at Wilmington who smugly grinned back. The grin fell off when the dayshift officer took his index finger and tried pushing it up with his other but not letting the finger stiffen or straighten. The meaning was clear – Mackie implied Wilmington owned a limp noodle.
“You still here? I thought I told you to leave,” snarled Casey. She spun back around and ignored all of them.
It looked like their Casey finally found a man that interested her. Being Casey, she was going to do this the most difficult way imaginable. Rita gave Buck a wink and he correctly interpreted it as instructions to find out about JD’s feelings. He winked back and the conspiracy started that quick; Rita would find out Casey’s sentiments and they would compare notes later.
“Well, ladies, have a good night,” he said. “I’m off to roll call; oh, Ladonna, darlin’, give JD the radio traffic. I want to see how he’ll do.” Casey swiveled her head in his direction and then twisted away but not before Buck saw the glare aimed at him. Okay, he thought, the Kid pissed her off royally and by extension all other males including him. With a final wave to the girls and the bird to Mackie, Wilmington followed in the wake of the hustling rookie and stepped inside just as Lt. Halter reached the front of the room. He slipped into his seat behind Chris, thoroughly enjoying the scowl the sergeant gave the rookie. Buck’s knowing smirk piqued the sergeant’s interest and Chris sent Buck a look silently informing his corporal there will be a discussion about this in the very near future, no excuses accepted. Buck grinned back at his friend and bobbed his eyebrows, almost breaking the Larabee stone face into a smile.
“Good evening, everyone,” Lt. Halter called as he situated himself behind the podium. Various mumbles filled the room.
Caswell sighed when she saw the exchange between Chris and Buck. This meant something was going on and ever suspicious for her continued wellbeing, she grew nosy. ‘Forewarned is forearmed’ as the old adage said and she firmly believed it. Since Buck just left Communications, she told herself to visit there after Roll Call. Nina made the mistake of looking at Ezra briefly and his smirk and wagging finger below the desk warned her off her future plans. Nina leaned over and whispered, “Don’t wag it at me unless you mean it.” His startled wide green eyes pleased her but before he retorted, Halter started the briefing.
The lieutenant greeted them with, “Let’s get this over with.” Halter hated long roll calls and the sooner he finished, the sooner they hit the street. He began, “First the good news: both the Fire Marshall’s Office and Liquor Control Board temporarily closed Olympus pending a hearing.”
“Whoo-hoo!” yelled Nina. “Yeah, baby!” She did a seated victory dance. This meant a chance at a weekend shift sans riot.
Ezra dodged flying elbows and arms with a look of amused disdain.
“About damn time,” echoed Buck, nodding his head up and down.
JD jumped at the yells around him, too intent on his own thoughts and startled out of his reverie.
Chris allowed himself a satisfied smirk.
Josiah heaved a sigh of relief while Nathan reminded himself to call Rain and give her the good news. No Olympus equaled fewer patients.
“Corporals,” Halter said with a pointed look and a pregnant pause. “As much as we know you like peace and quiet on your shifts,” he stopped for the inevitable snickers and guffaws because nothing was further from the truth. “You can at least attempt some measure of professionalism.”
“Yes, sir,” they chorused without looking at each other. If they looked at the other, one would start laughing and the other would lose complete control.
Once confident he controlled the briefing again, Halter continued, “Moving on, assignments: Sanchez – North; Jackson – West; Caswell – South; Wilmington and Dunne – East; Larabee – Roving; Standish – I’ll get to you in a minute. Mosely’s out on augmentation until eleven. Patrol requests: same as yesterday with one additional: Campus Police requesting a heavy presence because of the closing of Olympus. Standish, you’re assigned the perimeter.” He ignored Ezra’s expression of distaste. “Jackson, stay low.” Nathan nodded. “All right, that’s it, be safe. Sergeant, I need to see you in my office.”
“Yes, sir,” Chris responded as the nightly ritual ended. “Watch your backs out there,” the blond warned them. Everyone but JD knew their sergeant repeated that every night because he worried about his people and it gave him some sense of reassurance that maybe his words might inspire them to be careful. Chris followed the lieutenant into his office and closed the door.
After they left, Buck stood and clapped JD on the back. “Kid, we’re going to have some fun tonight.”
“Define fun,” JD requested with a suspicious look. Buck only chuckled as he steered the rookie through the storage room to their car.
The rest watched them leave and knowing Buck planned to let JD drive tonight, resulting in the rookie’s introduction to the mandatory vehicle checklist before shift. The checklist was not necessary tonight because Buck had his own car but the squad knew the corporal wanted to make the form second nature until Dunne finished probation and qualified for a take-home car of his own.
As of now, only patrol, K9, and Chief Travis got take-home cars with everyone else rotating pool vehicles. Provided the town council approved the budget increase, the PD hoped that within the next couple of months the fleet enlarged enough so that CID would be able to have take-homes. The specialty units kept their own vehicles in the industrial sized garage located one hundred feet to the rear of the main building behind the gas pumps.
Nathan and Josiah walked out behind the still bickering pair. “I hope it’s decent tonight,” the tired medic sighed as he watched them.
“Glad you didn’t say the ‘S’ or ‘Q’ words.” The ‘S’ and ‘Q’ words were slow and quiet, and whenever an officer or dispatcher said it, the exact opposite happened.
“I wouldn’t curse us like that.” The tall black man shook his head.
“Right now I appreciate you honoring superstitions.”
Nathan nodded before saying, “Wonder what happened to make JD late. Saw him pull in with Casey at six tonight.”
Josiah raised an eyebrow. “You came in at six?” He knew his friend always arrived at six fifteen.
Nathan shook his head. “Nope. Went to Mitchell’s for tuna and macaroni salad before they closed.”
Mitchell’s, a small baked goods store, only stayed open until six thirty on Friday nights. The owners, seventy-one year old Trevor Mitchell and his wife, seventy-year-old Violet, believed in fresh-grown produce and making everything that could be made from scratch. However, their advancing years curtailed their hours and until their youngest grandchild finished college and took over, the couple worked during daylight hours only. The Mitchell’s children ran their own successful businesses and helped with the heavy lifting and accounting at their parent’s store. The other grandchildren pitched in for the breakfast and lunch rushes, keeping the older couple’s dreams alive. Nathan loved their healthy garden-grown salads and often stopped before shift. He even escorted them to the bank if they wanted him to on his own time to make sure they got there okay.
The medic caught the hopeful look in his friend’s eye; Josiah possessed an infamous weakness for the melt-in-your-mouth muffins and bagels Violet baked. He grinned and said, “I took care of you; there’s a bag with your name on it in the refrigerator.”
The smile brightened Josiah’s entire face. “Thank you, brother. How much do I owe you?”
“Pick up our breakfast next time.” The two often bought the other’s meals and snacks and paid back the next time. This practice started in the Academy and continued throughout the intervening years.
“With pleasure.” Josiah’s mouth already watered for this food and still did not know what Nathan bought. It really did not matter because everything there tasted incredible.
“Got you an everything bagel with ham and extra cheese on the side. Also bought a small thing of macaroni and chicken salads and Miss Violet sent along a pair of chocolate chip muffins.”
The goodies sounded more divine now that he knew what Nathan brought him as he contemplated his later meal. A scary thought occurred to the older man. “How did you mark the bag?” Things disappeared from the break room even if properly marked and dated because some people cared less about food rights and took what they wanted.
“Blue bag with your name and haggis written on the outside. Figured you eat enough strange food that no one would touch that.” Nathan’s smile was infectious, bringing out a bigger one from his friend. Haggis was something Josiah would eat but no one else would try sober even on a bet.
“That will do it.” They separated long enough to pull their vehicles to the gas pumps and start filling them.