four corners pd
By: Cin and Heidi
Day two: Friday
After Roll Call
Buck felt his nerves stretch thin as JD carefully exited the PD’s parking lot and headed them for their patrol area. The kid drove so cautiously that Buck consciously fought the urge to write him a ticket for impeding the flow of traffic. Wilmington figured a little encouragement might help be in order because the rookie may be nervous driving under the scrutiny and trying to do everything right. “Kid, the skinny pedal on the right, that’s the gas. It makes the car go.”
“I know that,” JD acidly returned, his eyes never leaving the road. He sat ramrod straight with his hands in perfect regulation position on both sides the wheel.
With that comment, Buck rolled his eyes. “Then hit it, will you? Snails crawl faster than you’re driving!”
JD indignantly retorted, “I’m obeying the speed limit.” He really did not need this criticism; he kept his eyes peeled on the road and his surroundings.
Buck rolled his eyes again; from where he sat, they went almost ten under. He explained with only the barest trace of exasperation, “You have to reach the speed limit to obey it.” Suddenly, the trainer’s hands impacted hard on the dashboard and the seat belt attempted choking him when it snapped tight because JD slammed on the brakes to avoid a kid chasing a ball into the street. Without looking, the mother ran right behind the child, scooping the now crying boy up, and carried him back to safety. Cursing under his breath, Buck unfastened his seatbelt and took a quick look at JD. “Nice reflexes, Kid. You okay?”
The rookie shot him a sideways glance. “That’s why I wasn’t going the speed limit, SIR. I saw him and thought he might run out.”
“Good thinking,” Buck praised before climbing out of the vehicle. Kid saw more than he did; that stung his pride and he reminded himself he needed to be more vigilant. Buck greeted the mother and son with, “Hello there folks, how is everyone?”
The mother looked up from her seat on the front stoop and gave him a shaky smile. “He’s fine, thanks to your officer keeping a sharp eye.” She shuddered thinking of would have happened if the officer was not paying attention.
“We try our best, ma’am.” Buck tossed the troublesome ball into the yard watching it roll to a stop beside the mother’s right foot.
The woman asked, “Is the other officer okay?” She felt concerned because of the narrow escape; it weighed heavily on her and she knew the officer probably felt worse. She would not forget the driver’s stunned face and the squealing sounds of brakes locking up against the pavement.
The corporal turned on his natural charm to reassure her. “He’s fine, ma’am. I’d just ask you keep your boy away from the street, okay?”
“Oh, I plan on it.” She rubbed the little boy’s back and hoped for a nightmare free night for both of them. “Back yard only for you, Tiger.”
“Well, we’ll see you. Be safe, now.” Buck tipped his hat and walked back to the car where JD watched curiously. “Kid’s fine.”
“Good. Scared five years off my life,” admitted the rookie. His body sagged with relief.
“Mine too.” The rogue chuckled as he climbed back in. “Let’s go.”
Before they went any further from the near accident scene, the radio demanded their attention. “FC, 11-07, copy theft from vehicle.”
“11-07,” JD crisply answered. He was pleased to have radio privileges tonight along with the responsibility of driving the patrol car.
“Will be in Central, 1418 South Market, 1-4-1-8 South Market; contact Dana Briton reference theft of cell phone; no suspect; occurred sometime today.”
“Well, Kid, here’s a report for you,” Buck said, not really too concerned about this.
“Yeah,” JD muttered under his breath.
There seemed to be something else lingering under that comment that piqued the rogue’s interest. Buck’s curiosity forced him to ask, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing means something.”
JD sniped, “Forget it.” He turned up the music and ignored the trainer.
Now extremely suspicious, Buck found his cellular telephone and called Nina to find out more. She knew something; he felt it in his bones, and he believed that if anyone could get information from her, he could. After her one word greeting, he boomed, “What the hell were you bouncing for?”
It took one second for a reply. “None of your business, Corporal,” Chris yelled in place of Nina’s sweet voice. “Get your ass to your call.” The line disconnected immediately.
“I’ll be damned.” He chuckled at the light tone in his friend’s voice and wondered what kind of sunshine Nina planned on spreading tonight. He enjoyed these mood swings on the rare occasions she experienced them. They seemed so far and few between now.
JD heard what sounded like yelling and saw his trainer laugh after an initial shocked expression. “What?”
“Nothing,” mocked Buck, earning a glare from his rider. They continued on their way with Buck giving directions.
JD called in as they arrived. “11-07’s 10-23.”
“10-4. Have one pending when you clear,” replied Casey. She thought ‘and another, and another after that, and yet another’, before telling herself tonight was going to be a fun night.
Buck found this strange; usually calls were split evenly between the officers along sector lines unless this next one occurred in East. Shaking his head, he walked JD through quickly taking the report and clearing.
Casey answered JD’s disposition code with glee in her tone. “10-4. 11-07, copy Civil Dispute.”
“10-25 16 West Spring Drive, Number Sixteen West Spring Drive, Cross streets of East Spring and South Spring, contact Henry Harkins regarding his neighbor’s dog trespassing on his yard.”
Buck started thinking hard about why Casey picked him and JD to handle Mr. Harkins. The young woman knew Mr. Harkins pried into Buck’s personal life and the dispatcher long ago agreed not to send him if avoidable. West Spring sat squarely in Central and according to the radio traffic, no one else was busy. In addition, Central calls did not get held for one particular unit unless…“Kid, what the hell did you do?” interrogated Buck. He’d been around long enough to know this meant one thing and he wanted to be wrong.
The rookie disliked the tone of that question. “Regarding?” JD kept his eyes forward as he drove.
“She’s not my dispatcher, Buck, and she knows nothing.”
Hmm…the amount of heat in that statement sounded promising in finding the answers to several questions. “What makes you say that?”
“She called me a screamer.”
Buck could not help it, bursting out into laughter at the wounded tone.
His rookie glared at him saying, “That’s not funny. I don’t scream.”
The trainer continued chuckling. “Oh, you don’t, do you?”
“No. I spoke loudly so everyone could hear me over the din.”
Buck slowly shook his head. So that’s what all this radio traffic is about. “Sorry, Kid, but you screamed. Figured it was your first time and you’ll get better.”
“I did not scream.” Indignant, JD refused to believe he had done anything wrong.
“So you thought she was talking about something else, huh? Maybe your personal habits? Totally misunderstood what she said?” Buck kept laughing.
JD griped in a frustrated, know-it-all tone, “No, I did not misunderstand what she said.”
“Yes, I’m sure. Why doesn’t anyone believe me?”
“Because, Kid, a few of us went down that road before and right now it feels like déjà vu.”
“Oh, and you’ve never misunderstood anyone?”
Buck ruefully admitted himself that the Kid kept getting funnier before responding, “Not saying if I have or haven’t, but I’m wise enough to admit when I’m wrong.” His head bobbed in agreement with his statement.
JD snorted. “You, wise?”
Buck warned, “Might want to consider respecting those who’ve been doing this awhile.”
“Oh, I do, SIR, but respectfully, SIR, you don’t know nothing about nothing.”
The trainer let the conversation die at that point; weren’t he and Chris just as bad when they first started? Thought they knew everything and got knocked down a couple pegs because of it. They turned around and did it to Nina when she came out of the Academy. Knocking the arrogance out of rookies was a rite of passage and privilege for police officers. It was too soon to do that to JD; the Kid needed to build his confidence a bit. Buck also noticed the more agitated JD got, the more he trounced the gas pedal, actually bringing them up to the speed limit as they entered Mr. Harkins’ neighborhood. Wilmington silently let Dunne find the correct house and savored the look on the rookie’s face at his first sight of the well-protected yard.
Silver posts stood sentry, driven deep into the edges of the concrete, lining the sidewalk with heavy white ropes stretched from top to bottom connecting each post. Each rope was one inch thick and spaced precisely one point two five inches from the previous all the way to the bottom rope, also one point two five inches from the ground.
The grass, cut to a uniform height and a solid green in color, dared not show a hint of discoloration or a weed. The precision cut square bushes lining the front of the brick rancher matched the exact height of the fence posts. Along the boundary lines, Mr. Harkins repeated the post-and-rope fencing, adding large black and red “No Trespassing” signs posted at three-foot intervals.
The property owner waited for them at the curb with an irate expression on his face, standing in the classic ‘at ease’ posture. Before they got out, Buck offered advice. “Kid, if you don’t listen to me about anything else, listen to me good on this one: stay on the road. Don’t set foot on any part of his property.”
JD thought that tidbit sounded strange because the complainant wanted to see them. He corrected his thoughts; everything about Four Corners and its customs seemed strange. He hoped he quickly adjusted to the quirky nature of things here. “Why?”
“If you do, he’ll file a formal complaint against you.” At JD’s startled look, the corporal kept his smile hidden under his hat and said, “It will be tossed out but it’s pain in the butt. You’re too new for that aggravation and it reflects badly on me for letting you get written up. So stay off his property.”
“Why?” he asked again, not having gotten a real answer for why Mr. Harkins constantly called then criticized the officers that responded.
Buck sighed as he admitted, “Mr. Harkins likes to complain.”
Dunne thought ‘was that so hard’ before saying, “Okay.” JD settled his hat and stopped at the back of the car while Buck leaned against the car with his feet firmly planted on the roadway inches from the curb.
The complainant barked in a no-nonsense tone, “Who are you?” Seventy-five years old, white crew cut, sharply pressed pants and shirt, fit, and trim, Mr. Harkins gave the appearance of still being in the military even though he retired some time ago at the rank of full Army colonel.
JD tipped his hat and introduced himself, “Officer JD Dunne, sir.” Man, he liked saying that.
“Well, Officer Dunne, you march yourself right over there now and tell that good-for-nothing loafing slob next door to keep his mangy mutt off my property!” Each word fired out in a clipped ‘obey-me-or-else’ tone.
Buck chuckled under his hat, keeping his muffled chortles extremely low and inaudible to the raving Mr. Harkins. Same complaint, different day.
“Sir, I could go talk to him once I understand exactly what happened.” JD met the older man’s gaze head on and waited patiently for the explanation.
Wilmington liked the kid’s approach to a difficult complainant. JD did not back down, meeting challenges head on and waiting to learn the entire story before taking any action or making any promises.
Pleased with the straight shooting manner of this officer, a far cry from Wilmington’s levity, Mr. Harkins explained, “I’ll tell you, Officer Dunne. He let his kick-me dog dig a hole on his side of his yard, which I have a disagreement with because it does nothing to beautify the neighborhood, however that is another issue. The issue is that little ankle-biter crawled onto my property and left a ‘present’.”
He glared with crossed arms at the neighbor’s house where the man indolently waved back. Mr. Harkins stiffened before saying, “I returned the ‘present’ and demanded an apology which that malefactor refused to provide. Since I realize that he is a lower life form, I will not insist on the apology but I demand he be spoken to about letting that rodent cross the boundary line.”
JD checked Buck and found no help there; the mustached man stayed concealed and silent. However, he thought he saw the shoulders almost imperceptibly shaking. Evil thoughts crossed his mind about making his trainer pay for not helping him with this one. Buck left him alone with that drunk female too; what was this? Trial by fire? “Sir, I can talk to him, but have you considered taking him to court in a civil action?”
“Yes, young man, I know my rights, yet I feel that nothing productive will come from that. I will only earn myself an egging or some other retaliatory strike against my property. I do not understand the pleasure people feel in inflicting suffering on hard working souls unless they are jealous of my perfection.” His hand waved to include his entire property behind him.
“I’ll be back in a minute, sir.” JD kept his composure long enough to turn around and start down the driver’s side of the car. Buck carefully stepped to meet him at the hood as they walked down the pavement to the neighbor’s house.
“Thanks for the help,” JD whispered to Buck.
“Anytime,” Buck returned.
“Don’t strain yourself.”
“That’s real nice of you.”
“I thought so. You need to
"Learn, not be thrown out to the wolves.”
“How do you think the rest of us learned? On the Job Training, Kid. Get used to it.”
JD made a face and Buck chuckled. The neighbor came over to meet them under the watchful gaze of Mr. Harkins.
“Hey, Donnie,” Buck greeted the man as they drew near.
Donnie smiled, nodded, and replied, “Buck. Gotta love the old fart, don’t ya?”
“You let Muffy dig into his yard?” Buck inclined his head in the direction of the complainant.
“Nope. Let Muffers dig into mine then she somehow got into his.” The man held Muffy, a small dark brown Chihuahua with red rhinestone collar, in his hands. Muffy looked unimpressed with the proceedings or the complaint against her, an ongoing event every couple of weeks.
With his back turned to Mr. Harkins, Buck smiled. “You know we can’t support you letting Muffy into his yard and he can take you to court for this?”
“I know. I can’t say it won’t happen again but I’ll fill in the hole.”
“Sometimes, Donnie, I think you let Muffy into his yard to agitate him.”
Donnie chuckled. “The old fart needs something to complain about. If he doesn’t, he gets testier than normal. Figure letting him have it out at me is better than watching him stroke out at someone’s kids undeserving of his abuse. I can take it better than they can and I keep him from starting a neighborhood war with the parents. Besides,” he shrugged, “just because I work from the house and don’t drive to an office every day doesn’t mean I don’t work. It’s fun watching him get all wound up.” Donnie ran his Internet business from his home and watched his three children while his wife worked in Admissions at the hospital. “Hi, Donnie Lent.” He extended his hand to the younger officer.
“JD Dunne, sir.” They shook.
“JD, what I didn’t tell you before was that Donnie and Mr. Harkins have a neighborly rivalry going but we have to treat each complaint seriously. Now go on over there and tell Mr. Harkins you’ve warned Mr. Lent and Mr. Lent will fill in the hole and try,” Buck gave a significant look to Donnie, “to not let this happen again.”
Donnie nodded, realizing he needed to look serious for the watching Mr. Harkins.
Casey’s voice interrupted. “FC, 11-07.”
“Units Ocean King?” The dispatcher checked their status because even the most routine calls could go sour in an instant.
JD returned to the edge of Mr. Harkins’ property and reported the outcome, “Sir, we warned Mr. Lent about the trespassing. Also, he will fill in the hole on his side of the fence and try not to let this happen again.”
Mr. Harkins nodded. “Thank you for your time, Officer. It is gratifying to know that the police care about the concerns of the citizens. I recommend you cut your bangs. You will look more professional with them shorter.”
“I’ll think about it, sir, but I like my bangs long,” JD replied. “My mother, God rest her soul, loved them that way.” He found using that sentence kept most people off his back about his hair.
“I can understand your reasoning, young man. You honor your mother like a good son and I respect that. Therefore, I won’t say anything more about it.”
“I appreciate that, sir, and thank you for the advice. Have a good day.” He tipped his hat and Buck joined him.
“Corporal Wilmington,” Mr. Harkins called.
Buck finally met the older man’s gaze. “Sir?”
“I still don’t see a ring.” His arms crossed in front of him as he waited for an explanation.
“You’ll need to talk to the lady about that,” Buck replied without looking when he climbed into the car and shut the door on the conversation.
JD settled behind the wheel. “What was the ring comment about?”
“None of your business.”
The rookie took a guess based on the observations he made in his short time here. “Does it have something to do with Corporal Caswell?”
A none-too-gentle fist landed in JD’s upper right arm. “When I say none of your business, you respect that. Is that understood?”
“Am I understood?”
“Yes, sir,” JD automatically replied.
“Good.” Buck really did not want to think about much less discuss the convoluted mess of his on again, off again, relationship with Nina or the fact they never married.
“Fine.” JD blew out a breath and grumbled, “Geez, ask a guy a question and he gets all pissed off.” He then fastened his seat belt and started the car.
Some of Buck’s ire left with that statement. The kid did not know and the only way he could find out was asking questions like any good investigator or cop. Buck ran a hand down his face. “Kid, you’ll find everyone on our squad is as touchy as hell about our pasts. Now, I know you’re new and don’t know nothing so I’ll forgive ya this once. I’ll tell you more about the squad later. Just let it go for now and clear us.”
JD, a bit pacified by the explanation, nodded his acceptance. He keyed up the radio, “11-07, FC.”
“Units 10-8, Code Paul Sam.”
“10-4. Copy noise complaint.”
“It’s going to be a long night,” Buck mumbled under his breath.
“11-01, copy as backup. Both units respond to 4000 Village Green Road, Four Thousand Village Green Road, cross streets of Tartan Green and Gaelic Green, loud music complaint, possible party.”
JD finally broke down and asked, “Why are we getting every call in Central?” From what he remembered, Village Green Road was on the other side of Central closer to Nathan or Josiah.
Buck whacked him with his hat on the shoulder. “Because, JD, you pissed off your dispatcher. When you piss off your dispatcher, you pay the consequences. We’re going to get every Central call, all the backups she can manage, and generally run our butts off because of your big mouth.”
“That’s not fair,” complained JD. “I didn’t say anything wrong.”
“Yes, you did.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Oh yes you did but there’s a justification. A method to the madness you swam us right into.” His hand made swimming motions as his voice rose in aggravation. The hand turned into a sharp finger poking into his trainee. “You’re a rookie,” Buck said, his face mocking JD’s clearly not amused one. “You,” he poked him again in the arm, “need exposure.” An idea crossed his mind about a certain bouncing corporal and he grabbed his cellular telephone. Once he heard the familiar greeting he asked, “How much of this is your fault?”
She laughed and replied, “Absolutely none.” Click.
Okay, that made twice he had been hung up on. Let’s go for three, Buck thought to himself. This time ought to be the charm; he had not been shut down like this for almost two months or the previous time he saw Inez before last night. Any more and he’d start getting a complex. He hit speed dial.
“Who are you calling?” asked JD while turning where Buck instructed.
“I am going to try and fix the predicament we’re in like the good training officer I am.” He shot JD a smug look before saying, “Ladonna, honey, how are you?”
JD rolled his eyes and muttered, “Good luck,” as they headed for their call.
Ladonna leaned back in her chair with a smile. Casey still fumed but found perverse pleasure in sticking this pair with all the calls. The dispatcher saw three more on the monitor waiting for them. “Getting better. Yourself?”
“Wondering how much weight I’m gonna lose tonight, darlin’.” He heard the telephone ring in the background.
“Hold on.” Twenty seconds later she came back with a fourth report call for the pair and chose not to tell Buck. “I’m thinking a lot.”
Buck winced. “That mad, is she?”
“Uh-huh.” Ladonna looked at her partner and easily saw the tightened shoulders.
“Lemme talk to her.”
“Boy, Buck, you really want to run your tail off tonight, don’t you?” She sighed. “You sure?”
“I’ve been hung up on twice tonight. What’s one more?”
Ladonna laughed and said, “All yours,” before she placed him on hold again.
“Casey, darlin’, how are you?” His voice oozed charm.
She did not buy it. “What do you want, Buck?”
“Just curious why I’m working on losing my backside tonight.”
“Ask your rookie.”
“Well, I did, and he’s a mite confused.”
“Is he now? Well, that’s his own fault.”
“Darlin’, we both know you have more of a clue about what goes on than he does; he’s only on his second day. I thought you’d have a bit more patience. I mean, a fine filly like you worked miracles with Rafe.” Buck dodged the fist aiming for the center of his chest and leaned further against the window, waving his hands at his glaring rookie.
“Rafe’s different,” Casey replied easily. Rafe apologized once Nina allowed him to handle five hard calls back to back and then explained the situation to him. He never caused a problem again especially now that he planned to marry a dispatcher. Casey expected this particular call from Buck a little later in the shift.
“How so? Both are cocky and arrogant pups.” This time he felt a thud on his arm.
“Yeah, but Rafe listened. Yours doesn’t.”
“Hang on a second.” He covered the mouthpiece. “Pull over.”
“What?” exclaimed JD.
“Pull over, right now.”
The rookie rolled his eyes and complied. Once JD put the car in Park, Buck got out and closed the door, taking a few steps away to stand on the shoulder. The rookie stared out the window at the training officer and started rolling down the window before receiving an emphatic ‘no’ gesture from Buck.
The rogue’s voice dropped in pitch, turning into a smooth low roll resembling a fine, perfectly aged whiskey sliding down the throat. “Casey, darlin’, you like him, don’t you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
His voice slipped into his best ‘trust me’ tone. “You’re not foolin’ me. He’s cute, isn’t he?”
“Well…” she reluctantly admitted.
“Mm-hmm. I thought so. I know he thinks you’re cute but he’s still got a lot to learn.”
Casey laughed. “He sure does.” She liked the thought of JD believing her cute. Most guys only saw the tomboy they went to school with or once they knew her family’s history and/or met her aunt, they backed off.
“And you need to teach him, but try and be a little merciful on ol’ Buck here; Buck hasn’t trained in awhile.”
“I’m not going to take it easy.” She smiled at the fifth Central call that appeared in her pending.
“And no one will blame you,” he said, changing tactics. “Just remember you’re punishing me right along with him.”
“I’ll have Aunt Nettie make your favorite pie for tomorrow, okay?” Casey paused. “But you tell your rookie that he’s got a hard lesson to learn. Until he can sit in my chair and do my job, he won’t give me any bunk about going to the Academy.”
Buck sighed. ”All right, darlin’. Will I see you tomorrow at Nina’s?”
“Nope, but you will have your pie.”
“Thanks, Casey. Let’s hope it stays quiet.”
“No guarantees,” she said with a laugh, knowing JD would have writer’s cramp in an hour.
“I know,” he sighed. “Talk to you soon.”
Buck got back in and glared at his rookie, “This is all your fault.” He poked him in the chest.
“What? I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Never mind; give it some gas so we can get to our call before your sergeant. It’s bad form for the sergeant to beat you to the call unless he’s right in the area. Since we’re in Central and he’s in West, we need to beat him.”
“We’d be fine if someone hadn’t had to stop and talk on the phone.”
Buck crossed his arms. “You’ve got a smart mouth, Kid.”
JD accelerated and arrived them a full twenty seconds before Chris. Buck covered the back while JD knocked on the front door, finding a group of cooperative partygoers who did not realize the music was too loud.
As they turned it down, Buck left the rookie to gather the information needed for his shift report and joined Chris out front. “Hey, Stud.”
“Buck,” Chris nodded with a smile. “How’s he doing?”
“Except he pissed Casey off.”
“That he did.” Buck chuckled nodding his head with a small smile. He found his mind drifting as it had several times since meeting the newest squad member.
The Sergeant noticed the wistful smile on his oldest friend’s face and wondered at the memory that put it there. “You seem to get along together well?” he asked, inviting Buck to share if he needed to talk.
Buck looked sadly at his friend, knowing he would understand. “You know, I got a real jolt when I met him yesterday.”
Chris tilted his head and quirked an eyebrow, waiting for Wilmington to continue.
“You know who he reminds me of?”
Larabee glanced behind the Corporal at the young officer standing at the door talking to the partygoers. As he studied the dark haired youth, a sudden light dawned on him “Tommy?” he breathed and nearly kicked himself for not realizing the similarities earlier.
Buck nodded slowly. “Even uses his initials like Tommy took to doin’”
Staring closely at his friend, the new revelation brought on added concern. “You okay with this?” Chris only met the younger Wilmington a few times, but he knew how close the brothers were. Larabee felt like he had known Buck forever. They met in the Navy where both joined up right out of high school. After his Midwest upbringing, Chris was ready to see the world. Buck . . .yeah he was ready to see the world . . .and the girl in every port he always heard sailors brag about. It did not take long after their first meeting for the two to become fast friends. Their commanding officers realized early on that the unlikely pair made a formidable team and kept them together as much as possible, a rare intelligent move made by the military.
One thing that failed to change over the years was the way the gregarious man loved to tell a story. Back then, Chris was regaled with tale after tale of the terror the Wilmington brothers caused. Thomas James Wilmington, or ‘TJ’ as he demanded to be called in his teenage years, was five years Buck’s junior and acted every bit the scoundrel his older brother was fast turning into. It did not help with the two being raised by an attractive mother in the heart of ‘Sin City’, Las Vegas, Nevada. Vanessa Wilmington brought up her two boys the hard way . . .alone. Wisely saving and investing her wages earned as a dancer in her younger years, she eventually became part owner of a successful club. The one thing that came through like a shining beacon in all of his tall tales was how much Buck loved his family.
Looking at JD now, Chris grew sad, thinking of the memories JD’s resemblance to Buck’s much-loved younger brother must be bringing back to his friend. Much the same way Billy made him think of his own lost son. He and Buck had been in the third year of their first hitch when he saw his jovial friend’s world rocked. The devastating news told of the fatal crash that claimed the lives of his newly licensed brother and beloved mother by a drunk driver. Chris had never seen anyone so inconsolable as the usual smiling man had been those first few weeks after the wreck.
Chris stood by and supported him as much as possible, even managing to get leave (someone high up looked out for them both) at the same time to attend the funerals. Buck needed him then to help pick up the pieces of his life, make the arrangements regarding the funerals and tend to the family finances. Buck was, in a word, devastated. When they returned to duty, Chris dragged him out of drunken fights and married officer’s wives beds over Buck’s vocal and physical protests in order to keep his career on track. Several years later, the roles were reversed and it was the heartbroken rogue’s turn to support Chris when they lost Sarah and Adam. But Fate was cruel and that served as a second devastating blow, a second loss of family, and it nearly destroyed them both.
“It’s like almost having him back again,” mumbled Buck wistfully, glancing back as the younger officer tipped his hat at the residents and started in their direction.
“You sure about this, Buck?” Chris asked seriously. “Nathan and Josiah are certified trainers also.” On the one hand, the squad leader and Sergeant did not want the FTO distracted from the serious business of training the new officer. Lives depended on how well JD learned his job. On the other, a friend did not want to see his oldest friend hurt or be a part of it, however indirectly.
“I’m fine, Chris,” Wilmington knew and appreciated where Larabee’s concern was coming from. “’sides you need the best to teach him right and that’s me,” he cracked as the rookie drew near. “You finished, Kid?”
Dunne resisted rolling his eyes at the ‘Kid’ moniker again in front of his Sergeant. Instead he snapped off a quick, “Yes, sir.”
“Then call it in,” Buck reminded him to clear their call.
JD reached for his mike and keyed up, “FC, 11-07 and 11-02, 10-8. Code Paul Sam. They turned it down.”
“10-4, 11-07. Copy another call.”
Larabee barely suppressed a chuckle at the expression on the other two officer’s faces. He had not heard the whole story from Buck or JD yet but he knew he would eventually. For now, though, he knew the rookie suffered through a valuable, painful lesson on maintaining good relations with his lifeline.
As JD took the information for the next call, Buck turned back to his friend. “Chris, remind me . . .do I like training?”
At Buck’s put upon expression, Chris chuckled and waved as he left.
The stupidity of people amazed Chris. Some days, he wondered if those calling themselves human actually realized the menace they posed to society. The object of his amazement, a vehicle, not only failed to stop for one stop sign; the lone driver blew through three more, the fourth directly in front of the Sergeant’s unmarked squad car.
He smoothly pulled out his Crown Victoria behind the dark green Camaro and ran the tag. As he waited for a response, the Camaro ignored another red octagon with bright white letters reading, “STOP.” Activating his lights, he called out his location, the tag, number of occupants, and the vehicle description while expecting the Camaro to pull over.
Apparently, the red, blue, and white lights failed to capture the driver’s full attention. Chris said into the mike, “11-01, FC, vehicle not stopping, North Hartwood passing Vine.”
Casey crisply replied, “10-4, 11-01, no wants or warrants on the vehicle, registered to Kia Marie Sandridge. 11-08?”
“11-08’s in the area.”
Chris activated the wail and enjoyed watching the female driver jump and nearly hit her head on the roof. Her eyes shot to her rearview mirror and she shook her head no, punching the gas pedal.
“11-01, FC, still not stopping, North Hartwood passing Baneberry. She knows I’m here.”
“10-4, aware you’re police, North Hartwood passing Baneberry.”
“11-08’s at Liriope and North Hartwood.”
Liriope crossed North Hartwood one block up from Baneberry, so Nina waited with her lights going for the Camaro to pass her and to fall in behind Chris. She waited instead of trying to cut the driver off and potentially injuring both of them. What she did not expect was the Camaro to screech to a halt in front of her car and the driver to leap from the vehicle in a charge to the driver’s side of the patrol car.
“Bailout!” Chris yelled in the mike. Bailout meant the vehicle stopped but the operator started running on foot.
“FC all units, Bailout, Liriope and North Hartwood.”
“K9-16 en route.”
“11-04’s en route.”
“11-03’s dropping low.”
Nina jumped from the car in one smooth motion, her hand on her gun, her other on the OC Pepper Spray. Nerves screamed their newly awakened alertness. Chris stopped fast and blocked the now empty Camaro. He leapt out of his own vehicle, ready to defend his officer.
The driver of the Camaro wailed, “Officer! You have to help me! That man’s pretending to be a police officer!” The young seventeen-year-old started crying as she tried ducking behind Nina, who would not let her. No police officer would ever let anyone behind them that they did not know.
Chris keyed up. “11-01, FC, vehicle stopped at Liriope and North Hartwood. Stand by.”
Nina kept the girl between the hood of her car and herself, knowing Chris guarded her back. “Ma’am, calm down and tell me exactly what happened.”
“That man behind you! He’s not a cop! He’s trying to trick me, maybe rape or kill me! He may hurt you too!” Wide, fearful eyes begged Nina to handle the threat three feet behind the Corporal.
A sideways glance showed Nina that Chris struggled in an effort not to scowl or glare.
Corporal Caswell used her calm, professional voice. “Ma’am, this is my Sergeant. My boss. Why do you think he’s pretending to be a police officer?”
The girl looked at Nina suspiciously. “Because everyone knows police officers only drive cars with stripes and light thingys like yours.”
Caswell nearly bit a hole in her lip trying not to laugh. She peeked beside her at the disbelieving look and silently applauded Larabee’s restraint. “No, ma’am, we also have unmarked cars.”
“But my mother said people without stripes on the car pretended to be cops and put fake lights in the dash.”
With honesty and absolute patience, Nina answered, “That has happened, ma’am, but not as often as people think. I can vouch for this man as a honest to goodness NICE police officer.”
Chris held onto his ‘neutral face’ with extreme difficulty, especially after the ‘nice’ descriptor. This kid honestly thought that he, Chris Larabee, faked being a cop to rape or kill her? How gullible was she?
“Oh. He scared me with that siren thingy.”
“That’s because he probably thought you did not see his lights.”
“I saw them; I just ignored them.” She shrugged. “I was scared.”
“FC, 11-01. Units Ocean King?” The question came from four radios: the two lapel mikes and both vehicles.
Chris keyed up. “Units okay, cancel anyone else responding.”
“OH MY GOD! You both really are cops!” Her hand flew to her mouth as the enormity of what she’d done hit her.
“Yes, ma’am,” said Nina. “Can we see your license and registration?” She chose not to mention how close the kid came to meeting the patrol car hood face first, getting a gun drawn on her, or an eyeful of pepper spray for charging the Corporal along with a painful takedown. Only years of law enforcement experience kept Miss Kia Sandridge from a complete shakedown; officers can react badly at someone running full tilt at them, especially after fleeing and failure to stop for police.
“Um, yeah.” The teenager carefully edged over to the Camaro and reached into her purse and glove box under two pairs of cautious eyes.
Nina whispered, “I’m thinking fried chicken and mashed potatoes for the dinner you’re cooking me.” She kept her camera mike off but the tape running as the girl found her vehicle registration.
His smirk appeared. “You haven’t won yet. By the way, have an addendum. We can’t discuss the terms with anybody.”
“That’s fine and I’m proud of you for not yelling at on her. Does it hurt?”
“More than you know.” He sounded as if his teeth ground together.
The young girl returned with the requested items and handed them to Nina. The officer clicked on her camera mike before taking them to catch the girl’s words on tape. “Here you go. You’re not going to write me a ticket, are you? I just got my license last week.”
“We’ll see,” replied Nina. “Stay here.” The Corporal climbed into her vehicle and Chris turned down his radio. “11-08, FC, copy information.” She also adjusted her volume.
“Wants, warrants, Driver’s License check, Sandridge, Kia Marie, OLN S457104.”
“10-4.” Casey plugged the information in and saw the issue date. “Rookie driver,” she told Ladonna.
“Speaking of rookies, have a lost wallet in East.” Ladonna finished sending the call over.
“Thank you,” Casey replied with a grin. “FC, 11-08.”
“Negative wants/warrants, valid license issued one week ago.”
“10-4.” She tuned out the next call on the furthest side of East with a single smile. It broadened when she heard Casey say, “FC, 11-07, when you clear holding a vandalism to vehicle in your sector.”
“10-4.” This time the reply came from a grumpy Buck instead of a chipper JD.
As Nina exited her vehicle, she saw Larabee’s genuine smile. A silent message passed between them, laughter in their eyes at Buck’s fate. She turned away first to address the teenager. “Okay, Ms. Sandridge, there aren’t any problems with your license which brings us to the reason we’re here. Sergeant?”
“You ran six stop signs,” he bluntly told her.
“No, I didn’t!” exclaimed the young woman.
“Yes, you did.” He pointed down the deserted street at the signs all in a straight row, each a block apart.
She looked confused. “But they’re optional.”
Nina nearly smacked her forehead but stayed silent. This just might win her the bet.
Chris counted to ten and remembered why he was being nice. It was not the stupid bet; it was for the good of two friends. One needed a shove in the right direction and the other required an eye opening to new possibilities. All nobility aside, he also craved not being called Sarge or old man for a while. Thinking of his rank, he reminded himself this was his stop. He asked the obvious question, “What makes you think they are optional?”
“The white border. Stop signs with a white border are optional.”
This proved stupidity and menace factor; now to find out the source of the stupidity and deal with it. “Who told you that?” he patiently asked.
“My best friend.”
He willed patience, an extremely difficult task. “How long has your best friend been driving?”
Chris refused to look at Nina. He knew the ‘Nina face’ the teenager saw read serious but the eyes sparkled with merriment. His own mug probably contorted in some type of grotesque mask. “Ms. Sandridge, I hope you realize your friend is wrong. Every stop sign has a white border and they are there for a reason.”
She nodded her understanding and waited.
“Now, I could write you nine tickets.”
The teenager cut him off. “Nine tickets?” The bottom lip started quivering, a sure sign of the crying defense that never worked.
“Yes. One for each of the stop signs, speeding, a failure to stop for a law enforcement officer, and reckless driving. However, because I’m in a nice mood today, I’m letting you off with a verbal warning.” He ignored the muffled choking behind him. “Also I would recommend you re-read the driver’s handbook.”
“Oh, thank you officer, you’re so nice! Thank you! This will never happen again and I will read that book thingy you want me to!”
Nina handed Ms. Sandridge her license and registration without a word; she found herself incapable of speech and only wished the girl gone.
The teenager carefully pulled off with a final wave goodbye. As soon as the taillights disappeared, Nina burst into incoherent laughter under her bemused Sergeant’s best ‘neutral’ face.
It took all of ten seconds before Chris joined her in hilarity. “But they’re optional,” Nina cried between heaving breaths.
“My best friend’s been driving two whole weeks and knows all the traffic laws,” commented Chris.
“Because I’m in a nice mood today I’m letting you off with a verbal warning,” mimicked the Corporal. “Oh, I can’t wait to hear you clear this.”
The neutral face fell in place again and nearly slipped into a frown. He forgot about that. Wondering and reaffirming to himself yet again on what possessed him to place that stupid bet, he grabbed the mike, “11-01, FC.”
“Clear with a verbal warning.”
Casey thought she misunderstood; when Sergeant Chris Larabee made a traffic stop, someone got a ticket. Especially a failure to stop with bailout. “Copied clear with a verbal warning?” she clarified.
“That’s correct,” he relied with a twisted smile. Nina would bet and win that his jaw and teeth clenched under those tightly stretched lips.
“10-4. 11-07, stand by on vandalism, copy loitering.”
After the dispatch, Nina’s CB squawked for her attention. “Nina, what did you do with the real Chris and where is he?” Buck issued this demand, curious about this radical change in his friend’s demeanor.
Giggling, she reached in her car and replied into the CB mike, “Right in front of me.”
“Ask him what’s up with the warning; is he feeling okay?” Buck did not notice anything earlier when they talked.
The male’s facial muscles twitched as Nina answered, “He’s in a nice mood today.”
Buck stared at the speaker in shock. Little Miss Sunshine brightened Black Thunder Larabee’s mood enough to give a failure to stop with bailout a verbal warning? “10-4. 10-20 of Mulder and Scully?”
“Unknown at this time.”
Chris grabbed the mike and asked, “Can’t a guy be nice every once in a while?” He knew what he was doing with such a loaded comment: inviting laughter at his expense.
A few seconds of silence passed before a hesitant Wilmington quipped, “Pard, more power to you; just let me know when I can leave the funhouse.”
“Don’t you like the way you look in those mirrors?” asked Chris, a big grin on his mug. “Thought you liked seeing yourself from every angle, makes you look better to the ladies.” His smirk aimed at Nina. “Taller, wider, bigger, and a whole lot more of you.”
Her answering grin caused her eyes to twinkle as she remarked to Chris, “I remember a certain someone here using mirrors in a different way in the casino’s elevator.”
“Red’s a good color on you, Chris.”
Buck jumped in with, “Don’t go there, Stud. I might be tempted to find that tape.” He did not know he echoed Caswell’s threat.
Stripped of his normal glare, ‘shut up’ orders, and the ability to threaten, Chris relied on his wits. He keyed the CB mike while simultaneously meeting Nina’s gloating eyes. ‘Be nice, Larabee,’ he reminded himself. ‘This is for their own good’. “Go ahead,” he finally said aloud.
Silence ruled the airwaves while both Buck and Nina tried figuring out Larabee’s angle.
Chris answered the question with, “At least I know I ranked as the top cheesecake in the survey. Hard on the outside and creamy in the middle.”
It was Nina’s turn to flush as she remembered that conversation. After one of the shows at her grandfather’s casino Fire & Ice, the show’s dancers, Nina, Buck, Chris, and Sarah went barhopping. By the third club, everyone but the designated van driver was sloshed and the women started ranking the hunks at the club, comparing them to their favorite food. The intoxicated women forgot about the two men present and included them, Chris placing first by a narrow margin with Buck right behind. Of course, in those days, Nina drank along with them.
Once the women finished their selections, the two men snuck off and ordered an extra-large sampler cheesecake delivered to the table in tribute. Chris and Buck roared with laughter as their women turned bright red with realization and the dancers enjoyed their discomfort. One woman remarked she’d enjoy the cheesecake because she knew Sarah and Nina got the real thing – hard on the outside and creamy in the middle. Nina and Sarah never lived that down. Likewise, Sarah grew embarrassed every time someone mentioned a certain routine security tape taken from one of the mirrored elevators in the casino. It featured a wild encounter she and Chris had on an anniversary night going to Sarah’s suite, left over from her college days rooming with Nina. Nina refused to let anyone else live or stay there and her grandfather agreed to indulge his granddaughter, keeping the suite only for Nina’s best friend.
“Nina, you having cheesecake tomorrow?” teased Buck.
“I think I can arrange that,” she replied. “Along with a security video for entertainment.”
“Don’t forget a Polaroid,” Chris added with a smile.
Nina winked at him.
“Count me in for sure,” crowed Buck. The next second they heard JD call them on location.
Chris rehung the mike in her car. “I’d threaten you but I hate losing.”
“Sucks to be nice.”
“Especially when you’re provoked.” His smile never left his face.
“We never said I couldn’t provoke, agitate, aggravate, or generally make you uncomfortable.” Her insincere grin told him it would be a long night. “Speaking of which…” She leaned into the car and grabbed her cell, dialing quickly. “Mary! How ya doin’? We really didn’t talk earlier.”
Green eyes lit with emerald fire as he forced his face to stay neutral.
“I’m good, real good, thanks. Question: can you and Billy swing by for just a couple minutes tomorrow?”
Mary felt flattered that Nina invited her earlier and still felt that way. Usually workweek poker nights consisted of the squad only. “We’d love to…”
Nina interrupted, “Excellent. Tell me, do you like cheesecake?”
“Well, yes, but…”
The corporal dodged the questing fingers trying to tickle her with a neat sidestep and turned the corner on the car, moving around to her passenger side. “Great,” Nina interrupted again. “What’s your favorite topping?” She stuck her right thumb on her nose and waggled her four fingers at Chris.
“I don’t know; either chocolate or strawberries.” Mary wondered if Nina would ever let her get a word in edgewise. She went to say something and thought apparently not as the Corporal continued the conversation.
“Ooo…my favorites: chocolate or strawberries.” Her hand covered the mouthpiece as she said to Chris, “Make a note – Mary likes chocolate or strawberries on her cheesecake.”
Chris smirked again and tapped his forehead, a silent message he would remember.
Nina continued, “The reason I’m asking is because I’m thinking of having a couple cheesecakes over tomorrow.”
The smirk reached his eyes giving him a devilish look. “Statement, Caswell, payback’s a witch.”
“You know it, baby,” she promised. “What? Oh, I’m sorry, Mary. I was talking to Chris. You want to say hi? Here!” The phone flew over the roof and Chris reflexively caught it. Her index fingers planted on either side of her mouth and she twisted them in a signal to smile.
He started thinking of ways to make her pay as he held the phone. A weak ‘hello?’ reminded him of who was on the other end. “Mary?”
“How are you?” he automatically asked then nearly groaned; he just saw her earlier. That settled it – Caswell made him feel like an idiot and therefore she must suffer.
“Fine. Listen, can you thank Nina for the invitation but we can’t? I could not seem to get a word in edgewise.”
“I understand completely.” He remembered all the times he yelled at her over the CB to get off the phone with Sarah. For some reason, those two burned up the telephone lines. That was before he got smart and bought call waiting; Chris could never reach his wife short of setting off her pager or yelling at Caswell. If he received a dollar each time he told her to shut up in those days, he’d be rich and retired. Chris looked at the woman in question who gave him an unholy grin then started writing on her clipboard. That grin made him wary again. A sign flashed up: ROOM SERVICE. STRAWBERRIES AND CREAM. Nina started giggling.
He went to flip her off then remembered the bet. That bet was going to kill him. His hand, instead of creating a single finger salute, waved her off while he strained to keep a smile. “Nina’s in one of her moods. Ignoring her’s the best way to get through it.”
“One of her moods? My goodness, you make her sound horrible,” said Mary.
“Some days I wonder,” he muttered through gritted teeth and forced smile as the woman under discussion blew kisses.
“Chris!” exclaimed Mary.
“I heard that!” yelled Nina. “Come on, Sarge, old man, you cowboy you! Say it! Tell me what you’re thinking.”
“Is she goading you?”
“Can’t or won’t?”
Mary’s reporter instincts kicked in and she knew something was going on between Nina and Chris, more than their normal antics. “I see.”
“No, you don’t,” he replied. “And you’re not going to.” This last comment earned Nina a wink.
“Yes you will, Mary!” yelled the female Corporal. “COW-BOY, BABY!”
“Then let Nina tell me,” Mary requested.
“Nope,” he said. “She can’t either.” He inwardly fumed at her yelling ‘cowboy’ and planned a later retribution after his winning of their bet.
“You’ll see soon enough!” bellowed Nina.
“Wrong answer, Caswell,” grinned Chris.
“You can’t do it!” Nina challenged.
“I can and I will,” he answered.
“Excuse me, but will someone please explain what’s going on?” Mary felt her frustration level rising the longer this bizarre conversation continued.
Chris said, “No.”
“Let me talk to Nina.”
“She won’t tell you either.”
The radio prevented Nina from grabbing the phone. “FC, 11-08.”
“Copy patrol request.”
Nina turned away to answer it. “Go ahead.”
Chris half listened to the call, catching the address and reason while getting ready to end his own torture. “Mary, we’ve got to get back to work.”
“I’ll talk to you soon?”
“Yes. Call me when you get a chance.”
“All right. Bye.”
“Yeah?” He dropped into neutral face again as Nina started pantomiming a goodbye scene, playing out both parts of eager suitor and flattered woman.
“Be careful.” Some days Mary worried about him, especially considering his attitude and notoriety.
The smile turned genuine. “Always.”
“Bye.” He hit ‘End’ and nearly bounced the cell phone off Nina’s head. His laughter continued as he watched her fumble to catch it before it hit the ground. “You’re slipping.”
Chris asked, “Don’t you have a patrol request?”
“Yes I do, Sarge, Sir.” She whipped off a crisp salute and took off like the maniac driver he accused her on a daily basis of being. She circled around the block and came up behind him, hitting her wail just as he bent over to sit down. He nearly banged his head as he heard an insincere, “OOPS!” on talkaround. Chris made a mental note to get back on his game; he’d been too distracted all night tonight and that needed to change immediately.
Inspiration struck as he reached into his bag and pulled an item out. Chris waited until she came alongside, started his unit with his right hand, looked at her, and then grinned evilly. The object rested against the glass and he manipulated one part of it before pulling off himself.
Nina did not know whether to laugh, cry, or rear-end him. He held up one of the stuffed teddy bears they gave traumatized kids for various reasons and waved goodbye with the arm. A message for her to say “Bye-Bye” to her own ‘teddy bear’. She hated losing the last word and he effectively silenced her with a gesture.