four corners pd
By: Cin and Heidi
Day two: Friday
Josiah drove slowly through Outer North, following the roads and turning whenever he felt like it. Periodically he stopped and stretched, content with the quiet. He preferred North, Outer North especially, because of the solitude and more relaxed atmosphere. It also gave him time to reflect on things without the constant movement of South. Not that he minded being busy, but sometimes a man needed time alone with his thoughts.
Outer North consisted of primarily farmland and ranches along with several well-to-do mansions and older neighborhoods. This particular area consisted of a small tight-knit community where the vast property owners watched out for each other and called the police whenever something seemed wrong.
Like now. Josiah saw Lee Anderson waving to him as he drove past the field separating Lee’s property from the Petersen’s. Sanchez hooked a u-turn and pulled into the access road while Lee stopped his tractor beside the patrol car, shutting ‘Ole Blue’ down.
“Howdy, friend,” greeted the policeman with a light smile, looking up at the operator. His sunglasses kept the setting sun haloing the man out of his pale blue eyes.
Lee smiled. “Hey, Josiah. Just making sure you knew Harry took his family to Disney for the week.”
“Yup. Checked it a few times last night and will go by it a few more tonight.”
“Thanks. His brother Aaron will be coming over several times a day to tend the animals and keep watch on things.”
“Hadn’t heard that. What’s Aaron driving?”
“Green Ford F-150.”
“Much obliged,” replied Josiah, making a note on his clipboard. This way, if he saw the green Ford pickup, he would not jump to conclusions and assume someone was breaking in. He would have Communications get him the tag number and add it to the printed home check for the other shifts as well.
“No problem; you look out for us.”
“Do my best,” he modestly answered.
“We appreciate it. Sorry to cut this short but I have to finish the chores.”
“It’s no problem.” They stretched to shake hands and Lee fired up ‘Ole Blue’, lumbering along the paths cut in the fields toward his own barn and the never-ending work waiting for him.
Josiah started his own patrol car and headed to the Petersen farm, keying his mike as he turned in the driveway. “11-03, FC.”
“Henry Charles, Larson Mill Road.” The Henry Charles meant home check and he gave only the road name, knowing the dispatchers kept a chart in Communications of all the home checks in alphabetical road name order.
Josiah walked the property, checked on the livestock (chicken, cows, and horses), then continued on his way after about twenty minutes. He stopped at the Widow Greene’s house, immediately earning himself an iced tea and a lecture about how he needed a woman to take care of him.
The kindly widow Greene, eighty-seven years old, lost her husband last year. Her grown children called or visited once a week to check on her from their homes in the next county. This left her living alone.
Therefore, Josiah felt it his duty to swing by her house during his normal patrol to check that she did not need anything, and making sure her house stayed in general good repair. Once a month, he loaded her and her friends into his big van and took them shopping. Her closest friends, all in their early eighties, came by twice weekly for a bridge tournament and the neighbors popped by throughout the week to give her companionship.
Mrs. Greene firmly believed Josiah needed a good woman to take care of him, press his uniforms, and most importantly feed him. Until that woman appeared, however, the kindly widow cooked dinner for him on specific days. Today was one of those days, and Josiah was treated to a whole rotisserie chicken, twice-mashed potatoes, homemade gravy, and a cooked vegetable medley from her small garden. The five foot two woman with the bowed back and devilish blue eyes beamed at him from under her curly steel gray hair as she watched him finish all the food she lay before him.
“Mrs. Greene, you outdid yourself again.” He sighed with a satisfied pat to his stomach. Secretly, he hoped the Velcro straps on his vest held everything in because it felt to him that he gained ten pounds just sitting there. “You know you don’t have to do this for me.” He almost groaned when he remembered the food Nathan brought him from the Mitchell’s, but quickly figured that would do well around two or three in the morning.
“Now, Josiah, it’s no bother at all. You come around here, you fixed my roof when my daughter took me to lunch –don’t deny it, I know it was you - and you look after an old woman in her declining years. I can still cook and I like feeding a young, strapping man such as yourself.”
“I’m not that young,
ma’am.” He figured he passed young, strapping man a decade or so ago.
“Hush up, now. You are a spring chicken and if I were thirty or so years younger, I would go after you myself.” She gave him a smile from her chair, her hand on top of her orthopedic cane. “And how many times have I told you to call me Ginny?”
He chuckled, having had this conversation with her before. “I meant no disrespect, ma’am, but I don’t want to take liberties with your name.” Josiah flirted with her to watch her smile. “After all, it’s almost as pretty as you are.”
“Pshaw,” she giggled. A touch of the notorious flirt she once was showed in her voice. “You can take any liberties you want.” She winked.
“Well, then, Miss Ginny, do me the honor of escorting me out on the town Tuesday? We can run our errands together.”
“I would be delighted. Now, you best go before you get in any trouble.”
A low, ironic chuckle escaped his lips; he knew Chris would ask after her when he saw him next. Josiah said, “I’ll be on my way, then, ma’am, and I thank you for the fine meal.”
“Oh, take your nice sergeant and your friend Nathan some food. They don’t get up here as often as I’d like.” Leaning heavily on her cane, she stood and pulled out two cloth-wrapped packages holding containers of food.
“You didn’t have to do this, Miss Ginny.”
“I know, but they’re growing boys too. Besides, I understand the loneliness your sergeant feels; when I lost my Quincy, I thought my world was over. It’s hard being the surviving spouse. Not that I’ll ever say anything to him, mind you, but I do understand. Your friend Nathan is lucky he’s found himself a girl; you need to do the same.”
“Yes, Miss Ginny, I’ll try.” He told her that every time. “Thanks again for dinner, and thanks from them for the food.”
“You’re welcome.” She walked him out to the front porch and he waved as he pulled away, making sure she got inside safely before heading to the next stop on his route.
Three iced teas and two lemonades later, along with all the gossip about everyone’s business, all he wanted was a bathroom. Josiah aimed his patrol car for the station. Just as he finished his business, he heard Casey radio him to back up Nathan on a call. Sighing, he left the station and headed in that direction.
Casey gave an aggravated growl as she heard the telephone ring yet again. She was still fuming over a certain arrogant full of himself rookie. Even though he was cute, he still needed to learn to respect his dispatchers and the hard job they do. Happy as she was to pay him back in some small way through sending him on calls, she really did not want to be this busy. The telephones had not stopped ringing since the shift started, and as she noted the time on the clock, she groaned; it was still early yet. At least she was working the radio; Ladonna probably hated her right now.
Ladonna answered the incessant, annoying machine and grimaced at the high-pitched screaming that penetrated the receiver, putting an immediate hurting on her eardrum.
The female screamed almost incoherently. “Oh my God! I need help!”
As usual, when the panicked sounds of an apparent emergency first came in, it felt like the stomach dropped to the feet and the adrenaline started to pump hard and fast. The shoulders straightened, shoes landed flat apart on the floor, and the senses all sharpened. Ever the professional, Ladonna remained calm and tried comforting and controlling the caller to get the necessary information. She already had the address and telephone number from the enhanced telephone lines and filled out her computer screen in case the caller remained hysterical.
Ladonna kept her voice quiet and measured. “What happened?”
“I’ve been ROBBED!” ‘Robbed’ echoed loud enough through the receiver for Casey to hear and turn around, wanting to see if she should dispatch immediately or wait for the call to come up on her pending queue screen on the computer.
“Is the person that robbed you still there? When did this happen?”
“No! I came home and found my house broken into and my things gone!”
Prepared to hear there was an armed robbery, fight or home invasion, Ladonna inwardly sighed as the voice on the other side of the line began calming. The dispatcher was finally able to translate the screaming banshee was trying to say her home had been broken into. While the violation of one’s home was traumatic it was not life threatening, unless the persons doing the crime where still there.
The police and the public hold different definitions of a robbery. To the public, coming home and finding things stolen from the house or vehicle is having been robbed. To the police, a robbery is where one or more persons take money or belongings from the victim by force in the presence of the victim. The theft of items from a home or vehicle typically qualifies as a burglary and theft under a different yet equivalent set of guidelines. So the dispatcher or call-taker will interrogate further to determine the correct type of call.
The next thing Ladonna did was confirm the address and telephone number. Then she requested the caller’s name and asked, “Ma’am did you enter your house?”
“What?” Of course I’m in my house, how do you think I found all my stuff gone? Please send someone; HURRY!”
“Yes, ma’am, the call is being put in for dispatch.” Ladonna continued trying to control the woman as she typed the information into the computer and sent it to Casey. Casey dispatched the units over the radio while Ladonna continued her interrogation. “Have you been through the entire house?”
Ladonna asked this question to see if any room may still be occupied by the suspect(s) and if the answer is no, like now, give the caller safety instructions. “Is anyone else home with you? Can you go outside and wait for the officer in your car or at a neighbor’s?”
“No there’s no one here but . . .oh my God!” The woman started another round of screaming. “You think they might still be here. Oh my God!”
“Ma’am, please try to remain calm.”
The woman screamed again. “Remain calm!”
Ladonna held the earpiece away and rolled her eyes, expressing her opinion of Casey taking the radio with a gesture.
Casey smiled, shrugged, and mouthed, “You offered”.
The gesture repeated itself before Ladonna added a couple lines in the computer and nodded that the call was finished.
The banshee continued her complaints. “I come home and all my stuff is gone, how am I suppose to remain calm!” Why did this happen? Where were you? What do I pay my taxes for?”
Ladonna rolled her eyes again at the familiar litany with the receiver near but not against her ear. “Ma’am, please try to calm down . . .”
“Why the hell should I calm down? All my stuff is gone!”
At this rate, any self-respecting burglar already beat feet out of there to preserve his ears if nothing else. Hearing the same refrain screamed at her again, Ladonna almost wished for a true emergency, or at least that Casey was on the phone instead of her. Today was the last time she let Casey have the radio first on a Friday night. She knew better, damn it, and she only hoped Casey’s revenge was worth it because she was not doing this again. “Ma’am…”
“FC, 11-02.” Laughing at Ladonna behind her and at her retribution against JD, Casey sounded rather chipper through the radio.
Instead of Dunne, Wilmington answered. “11-02.” In opposition, Buck sounded morose and resigned to the pits of hell for the duration of the night.
“Copy noise complaint. 1402 Turner Lane. 1-4-0-2 Turner Lane. Cross streets of Franklin and Park. Complaint on loud music, complainant wishes to remain anonymous.”
In his truck, Ezra chuckled as he heard Buck and JD get issued yet another call. He hoped he never pissed off a dispatcher that badly. When he initially came to this PD, the first thing he did was send a floral arrangement and fruit basket to Communications for the dispatchers as an introduction. Every Christmas, each one received a small box of chocolates and a personalized card. So far, he dodged the ‘pissed off dispatcher’, having received that advice from his hero Charlie when he first started in law enforcement. Charlie rarely led him astray and kept him from doing the ‘Dispatcher Slam’ like Buck and JD did now. Those two had been running from call to call since the start of the shift and it was early. By his clock, Casey still had hours to vent on the Dynamic Duo and Ezra planned to be nowhere near that mess, thankful for the first time about his University assignment.
The radio crackled again. “FC, 11-04, 11-03.”
“Burglary of a Habitation. 2223 Holden Lane. 2-2-2-3 Holden Lane. Cross streets of Crest and Colgate. See Lucy Carmichael. Has not checked entire residence; advised to wait in her vehicle out front.”
“10-4, 11-04 en route.”
“Show me en route to back.” It could be a long shot but it never hurt to let Ace work the scene to see what clues he might pick up. Ezra was close to the area anyway and it saved him another circuit of the University.
Ezra pulled onto Holden Lane and easily found the house. All the homes in this neighborhood had the large brick mailboxes in front with the house numbers prominently affixed to the side. He pulled to the curb in front of the house, reaching for Ace’s leash as he opened the door. The canine was already alert and ready, wiggling excitedly.
After his leash was attached, Ace eagerly jumped from the backseat of the truck, panting to go to work. The handler started leading his partner up to the front door, absently waving at Nathan as the squad’s paramedic parked behind his truck.
The front door opened and a very well coifed blonde woman, dressed professionally in a black skirt, white shirt and matching black jacket, came running out as quick as her three inch high heels would let her.
The southerner thought, ‘so much for waiting in the car’.
She stopped, gaped in shock, and her mouth opened and closed like a blowfish three times as she watched Ezra coming up the walkway with Ace. The whole neighborhood heard her shriek; hell, the entirety of Four Corners probably thought a small animal was being tortured.
“Oh my God! I come home from work to find all my worldly goods stolen, I call the police for help, and what do they do? They send me a BLIND cop!!”
Nathan struggled to keep from erupting in laughter at the statement, and he would give anything to get a look at Ezra’s face.
Standish, for his part, stood still, staring owlishly at the woman, trying to process through the shrieking.
Ace shifted side to side and shook his head hard, chain jingling around his neck. That hurt. He decided he did not like this female human but would do what his human told him to do.
The southerner, through great difficulty, formulated a response. It was not one of his more intelligent, but it was a response. “I beg your pardon, ma’am?” Perhaps he had not heard her right. He doubted that, but it always paid to be polite.
“What the hell am I paying taxes for? What good is a blind cop?” The disgust easily showed in her voice.
Ezra could hear the muffled snort behind him and could just imagine the ribbing he would take later. This was one of those calls one never forgot and neither did co-workers. Ten years from now, he’d still be hearing about being called a blind cop.
“Ma’am, I’m not blind,” Standish tried to assure her.
She looked at him like he thought she was stupid. “Yeah, then what’s the dog for?”
“He’s my partner, ma’am,” Reaching down he gave Ace a gentle pat, more for his own reassurance than anything else. “This is a certified, trained police canine of the Labrador Retriever breed on location to assist in the search for clues and obtain evidence through scent detection to solve this heinous crime that has been perpetrated against your person and prosecute the offenders of this traumatizing incident.” Ezra laid it on thick, really emphasizing his drawl and hoping it gave him a few seconds quiet while she processed that statement.
It was the woman’s turn to blink owlishly back at the canine officer. Finally she huffed, “Oh well, it’s about time somebody did something.” She abruptly turned and headed back towards her house, heels clacking angrily along the walk.
Nathan and Ezra turned and looked at each other, grins barely holding back the outright laughter. Ace growled once at her retreating back then sat.
“Couldn’t have said it better myself, boy,” Ezra commented as he patted the lab’s head.
“We can’t say the job is boring,” Nathan retorted. Even after all this time, it took him a minute to understand the jumbled explanation and he worked daily with the verbose southerner.
“Obviously,” Ezra agreed.
“Well, are you gentleman coming?” The blonde yelled at them for the doorway. Her foot tapped angrily on the foyer tile.
“I’m certainly glad Buck is not here.” They again looked at each other and held back their laughter as they voiced their thoughts together.
Ace sat patiently at his master’s side looking back and forth between the house and the humans. Sometimes these humans were just so silly, he thought, weren’t they here to work? The quicker we work, the sooner we leave this annoying human, he communicated with his eyes to his handler.
Ezra sighed as Nathan went to the back of the house. Before bringing Ace in, he asked, “Ma’am, do you have any pets?” The family pet could screw up a scene and make it more difficult for the police canine, as well as distract the dog from his job.
She gave the southerner a strange look as if saying, ‘Why are you asking me this?’. “Yes, a purebred white kitten named Miss Ellie.”
“Is your kitten contained?”
This seemingly innocuous question started the next round of hysteria. “OH MY GOD! WHERE’S MISS ELLIE?” Lucy realized she had forgotten her pet and started calling out, “MISS ELLIE! Come here, Miss Ellie!”
Having returned from the rear and finding it secure, Nathan firmly took hold of one of her arms, trying to calm her, “Ma’am, why don’t you wait out here and we’ll look for Miss Ellie? We’d like to check your house over.”
“My kitty-witty-cat! If something happened to my baby, I’ll kill myself!”
Ace ducked his head at that high-pitched wail. At least when his female human talked to him like that, she kept her voice at a nice pitch. He did not like the way this thing sounded. He now refused to call it a human because it did not deserve that distinction. Just when he thought his human was a lost cause, he heard that low, familiar whispering drawl in his ear. “I understand completely.” He met his human’s green eyes, read the disgust in there, and felt better about it. At least he was no longer suffering alone.
“Now, ma’am, I’m sure that we’ll find your kitten under a bed or in a closet hiding,” Nathan reassured her while leading her to her car parked out front. “Just have a seat and let us do our jobs, ma’am.”
“If you had done your jobs, I wouldn’t have been robbed!” she wailed, starting a crying jag that both men felt relieved to leave outside.
Neither felt like arguing with her about how they could not be everywhere at once and focused on clearing the house over comforting her now. Both knew the suspect(s) were long gone but followed procedure.
They called in on the radio to Casey to inform her they were entering the residence for a building search. Nathan stationed himself to the rear in case someone tried leaving that way.
Ezra and Ace slowly entered the home, Ace on a tight leash because of the kitten, and went room to room, checking every door, closet, and conceivable hiding place. The interior of the spacious home reflected wealth and from what was left of the furniture, showed exquisite taste. White, black, and red carried throughout the rooms, each room a slight variation from the others. The only color came from the red accents and the two remaining abstracts on the wall in the living room.
Neither Ace nor Ezra located the cat or the burglars, but Ezra did find an envelope addressed to “Lucy” taped to the answering machine. Satisfied the house was clear, they returned to Miss Carmichael and Ezra put Ace in the truck, spending a couple minutes with him before preparing to return inside. Having told dispatch they were okay, and Casey lifted the Code White so no one transmitted in the building, Ezra called Nathan on the radio and told him to come around. He informed him of the note as the taller man arrived. The paramedic led the complainant inside to read the note.
Staying outside, Ezra watched Josiah park, and waited for the bigger man.
“How goes it?” asked Josiah. “Anyone hurt?”
“My ears,” Ezra cryptically replied. “Shall we?”
Concern filled the gentle face. “What happened?”
Giving his friend an enigmatic smile, he said, “You’ll see,” and walked inside. Josiah followed in time to hear a keening wail coming from the kitchen.
“OH MY GOD! I CAN’T BELIEVE HE DID THIS TO ME!”
Blinking twice, Josiah looked at Ezra, who smiled and kept walking forward. “Brother?”
“That’s her normal volume. Wait until she gets really upset,” he shot over his shoulder.
“Ma’am…” said Nathan.
“GO ARREST HIM! RIGHT NOW! DO WHAT I PAY YOU FOR AND ARREST THAT BASTARD!” She looked up to see Ezra enter the room. “And you, take that dog of yours and bite him in the ass, you hear me?”
“Ma’am…” Nathan tried again.
“Don’t you ma’am me, Mister. Why didn’t you stop him?”
“Perhaps if I understood the problem I could try and help,” offered Josiah, his smooth voice cutting through the hysteria and offering a comforting ear.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“Josiah Sanchez, ma’am. I take it you know who took your things?”
“That rotten boyfriend of mine. We bought this house together and furnished it ourselves. Now he’s found a new floozy and taken me for a ride!” Her wailing reached a fever pitch and the crying started all over. Josiah led her to the loveseat and sat down beside her, letting her cry on his shoulder.
“Ezra found a note, Josiah, that her boyfriend moved out without telling her. Took what he wanted and left what he didn’t,” explained Nathan.
“Including Miss Ellie!” she screamed then fell sobbing into his shoulder.
Before Josiah could ask, Ezra raised a hand to stop him. “Her kitten.”
The older man nodded and started whispering words of comfort to her, his voice working the usual magic. They waited while he patiently explained to her, between racking sobs, about how she would have to go to court to get what she wanted back if they could not work out it amongst themselves, and no matter what she did, because he co-owned the house, he could come and go as he pleased without it being an offense. Josiah recommended she see a lawyer and that thought finally stopped the tears.
The vindictive side came out with her ranting about how she was going to make the bastard pay. She then started making telephone calls. Seeing their cue to leave, Josiah left a business card with the incident number and walked out front. They congregated by their vehicles.
“Tylenol?” asked Nathan. He pulled out the bottle and passing the pills to eager hands. “11-04, FC.”
“Clear us civil dispute, no burglary, referred.” This meant that there was nothing the police could do about the theft until she went through the legal hoops. The referred meant for the complainant to go to the courts and an attorney to get the best advice on how to proceed.
After downing their Tylenol in blessed silence, Nathan started chuckling.
“What amuses you, brother?”
Nathan waved his hand in front of Ezra’s eyes. “Ezra, can you see that?”
Ezra smacked the hand away. “Perfectly.”
“You sure?” teased Nathan.
“I assure you there is nothing wrong with my vision.”
“Hmm. Miss Carmichael didn’t seem to think so.”
“What am I missing?” asked Josiah.
“You noticed how excitable our complainant was?” Josiah’s ringing ears said yes and his head bobbed once. “Well, Ezra pulls up, gets Ace out, and she starts screaming about how the police sent her a blind cop!” Nathan burst into laughter at the end only to get a friendly shove from the canine handler.
Josiah started chuckling which turned into a full belly laugh complete with running eyes. “A blind cop? Ezra?”
“It gets better. Once he convinced her he was not blind, he laid on this sentence so thick and full of fifty dollar words that it rendered her speechless!” The paramedic wiped his own tears away.
“Laugh while you may, gentlemen. I will have the last laugh on all of you.” That said, Ezra climbed in his truck and drove away.
After chuckling at Ezra’s departure, Josiah reached into his car and handed off a package. “Mrs. Greene sent this for you.” He left Chris’ in the refrigerator at the station and planned to tell him later.
Nathan took it. “Chicken and mashed potatoes?” He identified the package from the smell.
“I won’t tell anyone.” He winked at his friend, knowing Nathan’s weakness for Mrs. Greene’s cooking.
“You better not,” warned the paramedic, tucking the bag into his own vehicle. “I’m going to find somewhere to enjoy this. Did you thank her for me?”
“Of course,” replied Josiah. “I have somewhere I have to be also. Catch up to you later.” With a wave, the big man climbed into his own car and drove away, wincing when he looked at the clock. He needed to hurry if he was not going to be late.
Tonight was one of Four Corners annual community events – a spring fever dance with the proceeds to support the needy and the food bank. It was held at Perlman Youth Center. The organizers – he was one of them – charged the kids admission in the form of a dollar or a canned/dry good, most of which could be purchased from the Potter Mercantile next door. The parents often made large donations because their kids found a safe, clean place to hang out, play, dance, and socialize, thereby staying out of trouble.
This year, the local community and religious representatives combined their efforts in finding families for the goods and money. Reverend Mosely, head of one of the largest churches in Four Corners invited the press in order to gain more coverage for the event and insure a larger turnout for future events. It also earned him a little publicity and goodwill.
Sanchez backed into a spot in the rear of the large multi-purpose building next to an old church. The adobe walled structure was once restored by his ancestor in the eighteen hundreds. Today, it was served as part of the community center and only saw service as a quaint place to hold small weddings in an old fashioned setting. The rest of the time, it was a part of the city’s home and museum tour route of historic buildings. While old, the building was well maintained, surrounded by a white picket fence with a wildflower garden and tended walkways that led to the old town cemetery. Josiah loved the small church and lovingly helped keep the pews sanded and polished, the hard wood floor buffed, and the interior as close to the original as he could. He used the few remaining pictures he saw, all in memory of his ancestor. He learned that his namesake, Josiah Sanchez, was a hard man, but a good man, one that proved being human and compassionate often made all the difference in the world.
After he locked his car and clipped the keys to his belt, he entered through the back door and found the kitchen ruthlessly run by Gloria Potter. The woman ruled the kitchen with a glove-covered fist while her children played with the younger kids in the front of the building. In the background, Josiah heard the DJ finish his sound checks from the edge of the stage when he leaned down to buss Mrs. Potter.
“Hello, Gloria. How goes it?”
Her hand reached up and gripped his forearm with a friendly squeeze. “Josiah, you made it. I hoped you could come and work wouldn’t keep you away.”
“I’m only sorry I could not take off.”
“Oh, we understand. The PD’s short-staffed and they need everyone they can get their hands on. Besides, you spend so much time here, you might as well get a cot like your ancestor and move in like he did.”
His smile brightened the room and he rumbled with laughter. “I’m afraid lightening would burn the church down.”
Gloria chuckled along with him, squeezing his arm once more before returning to filling napkin containers. “If your ancestor did half the things the legends say he did, lightening should have burned this place down a long time ago.”
Josiah considered. “He probably would have rebuilt it from scratch and called it penance.”
“Probably. Go on out front; Reverend Mosely’s giving a press conference.”
The big man sighed and slipped into his impassive ‘cop’ face.
Gloria saw the change. “I know you don’t approve of his attitudes but he’s bringing us money and goods. We run mostly on donations; you know that.”
One hand ran down the cragged face. “Exactly why I’m going to go play nice.”
“And set a positive example for these teenagers. They’re smarter than he thinks, and they can see what kind of person he is. They need people like you to show them that pettiness has no place in their lives.”
With one last smile, he left the kitchen area and entered the main section of the building, a huge room that converted to whatever was needed. It served as a gymnasium, theatre, banquet hall, and general gathering place. Pool tables sat out from the long far-left wall while air hockey, pinball, arcade games, and ping-pong tables lined the right wall. Basketball hoops stayed in their resting-place near the ceiling, able to be dropped when people wanted to play.
At the front of the room, on the small stage, Reverend Mosely continued talking about the community pulling together in the spirit of brotherhood. As he listened, Josiah felt the chicken settle heavily in his stomach.
“Preacher!” The greeting came from Caleb, one of the sixteen-year-olds Josiah helped counsel in Youth Group. They gave him the moniker “Preacher” out of respect for him and as a tribute to his ancestor. Well, it was Preacher or Prophet and he never felt comfortable with Prophet. Besides, Prophet was his cat.
“Hello, Caleb,” he answered, noticing the jeans and T-shirt that actually looked liked they fit the tall, thin boy for once. With light brown skin and close-cropped black hair in the newest style, he looked like one of the singers for those boy groups.
A few of Caleb’s friends – Sherri, Michelle, and Denise - came over and brought the boys – Dewayne and William – along with them. Josiah smiled as he thought about the raging hormones in the boys that made them follow the girls just about anywhere.
“How ya doin’?”
The kids greeted Josiah with genuine enthusiasm and he greeted each one in turn, asking about their families, their grades, and their lives, truly listening to their answers. He never talked down to them because of their youth and they felt comfortable giving him their confidences.
While the group caught up, Mosely finished answering questions and left the stage, passing Josiah on his way out the door. Before the good reverend passed the kids, Josiah heard the man mutter, “So much mixing going on; it should be a crime.” Mosely referred to the mixed race kids, products of parents joined in love and happiness.
The remark angered the police officer enough to step away from the kids and insert himself between the Reverend and the door. “Reverend, a word, please.”
Mosely looked over the man who gained the trust and caring of all the kids present, something he never accomplished, and sighed heavily. He checked his watch and said, “If you must; my wife and I are expected at the Country Club for a banquet. I’m expected to say the grace.”
Forcing a tight nod, Josiah led Mosely off to a corner. “Reverend, no offense, but how long have you been here today?”
“Twenty minutes, give or take. Long enough.”
“You feel that twenty minutes is too much?” he asked softly, keeping his distinctive voice below the audible range of those present.
“Five minutes is too much. I’m a busy man, Officer Sanchez, to spend my valuable time. I only did this as my Christian duty in supporting a worthwhile endeavor. The Lord would expect no less.” As usual, Mosely’s attitude was that the whole affair was beneath him and that he didn’t want to be associated with participants here.
The wonderful chicken Josiah ate earlier now tasted bilious. He said, “The Lord expects compassion and caring for all His creatures. And all children are His greatest gift.”
Mosely turned an imperious face on the officer. “Are you ordained, Officer Sanchez?”
A few other pastors and reverends approached the pair, wanting to keep the peace. Josiah Sanchez and Reverend Mosely rarely got along because of their differing views; Sanchez was more forgiving and understanding of human nature while Mosely held rigid beliefs, unbending in what he termed God’s work and his true direction.
“Is there something we can assist with?” asked Pastor Fletcher.
“No,” said Reverend Mosely. “Unless you can tell me where this man received official permission to teach the word of God.”
“Anyone can teach the word of God,” Pastor Fletcher replied. “Some of the best teachers never attended seminary school.”
The discussion caught the attention of the kids – Josiah’s original group and somewhere around fifteen to twenty others. They drew closer with the keen awareness of something about to happen.
“True, but those teachers do not attempt to counsel children like Officer Sanchez.”
Reverend Higgins defended Josiah, “But the children like, trust, and respect Officer Sanchez, as he does them. Can you say the same?” Higgins, a black reverend, hated Mosely’s bigoted nature, but Higgins’ smaller congregation was no match for Mosely’s larger, politically backed church.
“I love all of God’s children,” Mosely replied, “but some were not meant to be.” He gave a significant look at Caleb, who had a white father and black mother. The man’s gaze swept over William Lee, son of Chin Lee and his American wife Barbara, and Dewayne, having an Asian mother and black father. All of them bristled, as did their friends and the other teens gathered around them. Low grumbles of “pig” and “bigot” started flowing through the crowd.
Having spotted the press catching wind of the confrontation and starting their way, Josiah decided he would back off first. “Meant to be or not, God works in mysterious ways, giving us children to brighten our future.” He raised his voice. “Children to love, to provide for, to educate, and to make for a better society. Perhaps they can learn from our own mistakes and petty attitudes, becoming more unified, rising above them and caring for each other as well as we care for them.” The video camera caught this on tape, running the sound bite for the eleven o’clock news over Reverend Mosely’s planned and canned speech.
The assembled teens, Reverends, Priests, and Pastors nodded their agreement while Mosely smiled and mugged, “Exactly right. By caring and sharing in God’s work, we are the better for it. If you will excuse me?” He slipped out while the reporters double-checked the quote, the cameras flashed and the video cameras recorded everything for posterity.
Once Mosely left, the tension level dropped significantly. Privately, Josiah wondered how people could follow a hypocrite like Mosely. Many citizens did, but he cynically thought that many of them also paid for Mosely’s country club membership and all the little perks the man enjoyed from the wealthier residents of Four Corners. Those residents firmly believed his sermons about donating their cash to the church (and him) causing their sins to be forgiven.
Out of range of the press, Caleb exclaimed, “What an asshole!” His friends agreed as Josiah rejoined them.
“Prick,” muttered Dewayne.
“Fucker,” said William. “I’d like to have a ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting with him.” A ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting meant giving the recipient a beat down until they prayed on their knees to Jesus for a reprieve. Usually, this involved extreme pain and multiple hits to make the person receptive to prayer.
The big man mentally fortified himself to drive his point home to upset teenagers. “Whatever views Reverend Mosely holds, you are better than he. Will you allow yourself to stoop to his level?” The kids started shaking their heads. “Then be better people and accept there are others in this world that you will not be able to change. I know every one of you are better than Reverend Mosely’s small-minded attitudes.” They solemnly nodded showing their agreement.
“But how’d he get to be a preacher?” Dwayne asked.
“He does try to do good work, Dwayne,” Josiah sighed. “His interpretation of God’s word may be a little different than what you or I believe. But look around,” Josiah waved his hand over the assembled crowd. “Are we the same or different?”
“Different,” came the agreed response from several of the teenagers.
“Is that wrong, should we all be just alike, all believe or like the same things?”
Several of the heads around him shook in a collective negative response.
“Be a pretty boring world,” Josiah agreed. He smiled as those same heads nodded in agreement. “That’s why God said 'Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these'. So that’s why you must be tolerant and be examples for others to follow. You are the future.”
“Preacher, when’d you get so smart?” asked Caleb.
“Trial and error,” he replied, refusing to elaborate.
“Okay, let me hear some noise!” called the DJ from on top of the stage, getting ready to start the dance part of the evening. Most of the teens gave a half-hearted yell. As of now, about a hundred people gathered in the room and barely filled it, with more arriving every minute.
“That was sad! Let me hear you say Huh!”
“Huh huh huh huh huh!”
“Huh huh huh huh huh!” As they answered, the kids started gathering around the edge of the dance floor, none interested in going first but not wanting to miss anything.
A medium fast dance beat started. No one set foot on the floor itself but people swayed in place. Gloria Potter came out of the kitchen to watch as the song continued.
Finally, Caleb signaled the others with him to get on the dance floor and gave a significant look to Josiah. Six pairs of hands landed on his back and started pushing, their thin bodies straining at moving a planted tree.
Feeling hands on him, his eyes widened and Josiah looked back at them while shaking his head no.
The other kids joined in, yelling, “Go Preacher, Go, Preacher”, and encouraged him with taunts and yells.
Josiah gave in to the inevitable and sighed, hoping he would not make too much of a fool of himself, then not caring because the kids were now distracted from the unpleasantness with Mosely. He found his beat about ten seconds into it and started dancing. The officer surprised the kids because he even knew some of the steps. He sent a silent thank you to Nina for all those dance lessons she made him suffer through, thinking it would make things easier for him to get along with the kids. Getting into it, he moved his hips the way she taught him and went ‘down low’, whatever that meant, earning some howls and whistles.
“Preacher got him some moves.” Caleb observed to his friends over the din.
“Let’s see,” Sherri and Michelle laughed as they got on either side of their adult friend and started dancing very close to him. He was careful not to let them touch him, but danced with them anyway, matching their moves and still keeping it clean because of their age and appearances.
The song finally ended with everyone on the dance floor surrounding Josiah and the group. The DJ called, “Hey Preacher man! Any requests?”
The kids stepped back to give him some room as he spied Gloria Potter on the sidelines. A wicked grin crossed his face as he called up to the DJ, “Twist!” A couple teenagers groaned while the other assembled adults started laughing.
“Come on baby, let’s do the twist!” The lyrics bellowed from the speakers and Josiah grabbed Gloria’s hand. He pulled her onto the dance floor, her protests covered by the catcalls of the crowd. For the first thirty seconds of the song, the kids watched the pair twist high, twist low, and twist near each other.
Caleb whistled low, “Check him out…going down on Mrs. P.”
Gloria took this in stride and yelled back, “Our generation was going down before you were even a thought. I’m challenging all the adults here to come on out and show these kids how it’s done.”
Laughing, the remaining adults joined the couple in the center and danced better than the teenagers ever thought. The DJ replayed the song to keep the couples moving. This was the scene that had Nathan laughing when he walked in, watching his friend and Mrs. Potter practically on their knees with their hips moving.
A call went through the crowd. “Doc!”
“What’s up, Doc?” Nathan earned the nickname Doc for three reasons. First, he was a paramedic and the kids liked his phrase, “I’m going to doctor you up”. Second, he was seeing a beautiful woman doctor. Third, he received the nickname because he once wore a Bugs Bunny tie on a date with Rain and a couple of the kids caught him, finding it funny to toss out the trademark Looney Tunes line.
Various teenagers called out a greeting to the officer as a huge smile spread across his face. “Hey Preacher,” Nathan called out. “I didn’t know your knees bent that far!”
Josiah was having too much fun and only gave his friend a shit-eating grin. “Doc, you only wish you could dance this well!”
“Let’s see…knee wraps, muscle relaxers, some smelly creams; yeah, I think that will cover it,” teased Nathan. “Oh yeah…lots of complaining.”
The same group that shoved Josiah pushed Nathan into the center. The circle of adults who spread further out to allow the newest member.
“I can go lower than you,” challenged Josiah, equipment belt jingling.
“Hah! I’m in better shape.”
“I’ve been doing this longer!”
“Boys!” Gloria chided them with a grin. “Prove it!”
It ended up being a tie as the two tall officers twisted down almost onto their knees and then back up again, both sets of joints creaking and popping as they stood. Gloria held a hand over each man and received equal applause approval, the contest ending in a tie.
“Okay, we’ve twisted so now let’s hear from Doc! What’s your pleasure?”
“Oh no,” denied Nathan, crossing his hands in front of him. “You got me to do the twist; I’m not doing anything else.” The kids groaned.
Caleb had Nathan’s number. “Probably ‘cause you’re a brother with no moves!”
Narrowed eyes found the teenager. “I can dance. I chose not to.”
“Everyone knows Doc’s not as rhythmically inclined as I am.” This boast came from the Preacher.
Nathan snorted. “I got more rhythm than you.”
“No, you don’t.” Josiah smiled.
“Yes I do.”
“Prove it!” yelled Caleb, leading the chant of “Do it, Doc!”
“He won’t,” called a new voice. A pair of crossed arms and a devilish grin immediately sank Nathan’s hopes of leaving without dancing any more than he already had. “Isn’t that right, Doc?”
“Stay out of this, Nina.”
Blue eyes twinkled with mischief. She yelled, “Hey, Mister DJ, put a record on. I wanna hear some Billie Jean.” She knew Nathan memorized every step to almost all of Michael Jackson’s videos when he admitted it to her one night after a few drinks, and she had thrown a Michael Jackson CD.
“Only if you go after me,” he challenged.
The opening notes of the song started and she nodded. Immediately Nathan Jackson, police officer, disappeared and an excellent dancer a la Michael Jackson appeared. He started a choreographed dance and the crowd immediately cleared a circle. Josiah and Gloria backed off while a few of the teenagers who knew the steps joined in.
Nathan’s skill amazed the assembled group as the song continued; the youths made excellent backup dancers, complimenting their leader. At the end of the song, Nathan moonwalked almost as well as Michael himself, earning himself a standing ovation and a deafening roar of approval. Not one to take all the credit, he shared the limelight with his dancers.
One arm grabbed Nina around the biceps and tossed her to the center of the floor as the latest sacrifice on the altar of youth entertainment. “Don’t sing,” Nathan hissed in her ear; “you’ll kill all of us.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” she replied while making a face.
The DJ yelled, “What’s the lady’s pleasure?”
“Since I’m an eighties/early nineties kinda girl, going to have to say “It’s Electric!” Several kids groaned and shook their heads.
“Cracker, you’ve lost some major cool points,” called Sherri. Cracker was one of the street names they knew her by; they called her FireCracker, Cracker, or Cracker Jack, depending on their mood.
The Cracker Jack came from a shakedown of an uncooperative, drug-carrying female. A female she really did not want search thoroughly and completely, up to and including body cavities. In a moment of frustration she said, “Come on, give it up. I don’t want to jack your crack, okay?” Somehow, the comment made the rounds and reversed into Cracker Jack.
“You haven’t seen my version.” Thanks to the Las Vegas showgirls she knew at her family’s casino, she learned a new version of the Electric Slide when hip-hop started and this version was something these kids probably never saw.
The familiar music started and she moved her feet as the girls patiently taught her years before. All those dancing lessons her mother made her suffer through gave her some rhythm. The new version involved more arm motion and fancier footwork, and a whole lot more energy. A few of the girls tried picking it up on one side of the dance floor while the others went through the well-known steps.
The DJ immediately ended that song and went into “Strokin’”, getting the crowd moving and dancing. At the end of it, trapped in their vest and sweating half to death, the three police officers met at the drink table and gratefully accepted ice water.
“I owe you,” Nathan told Nina point blank.
She winked at him while using a napkin to wipe some perspiration off her face. “The kids liked it; that’s all that matters, right?”
“She has you there, brother,” a laughing Josiah told his friend.
“Watch your back, Caswell. Paybacks are a bitch.”
“And so am I,” she sweetly retorted.
“11-01, 11-03.” The radio interrupted their banter and reminded them that no matter how much they wished it otherwise, they remained on duty.
“What does he want?” grumbled Nina, who scowled, then brightened. “I’ve got something to tell you.”
The three officers went into the quieter kitchen to get away from the loud music and noise and better hear what might affect them. Josiah nodded as he answered. “11-03.”
“That is too easy,” Nina remarked, rubbing an ice cube on the back of her neck.
“Negative. I passed that some time ago. Twenty nine and holding,” Josiah answered. He knew Chris asked for his location, but as Nina said, that was too easy.
A few clicks came through before the sergeant answered.
During the pause, Nina said, “Come on, Chris, say something nasty. Be ignorant.”
Nathan and Josiah gave Nina a strange look when their radios finally squawked with the Sergeant’s answer.
“10-4. Your location?” They heard the laughter in his voice and Nina snapped her fingers mouthing ‘darn’.
“10-4. Meet me at the station.”
“Direct.” Josiah unkeyed and stared at Nina. “Why on earth do you want Chris to be in a bad mood?”
The smile reminded Nathan of a Cheshire Cat and that image disturbed him, knowing Nina’s penchant for practical jokes. He mentally reviewed his locker contents and decided against calling out at the station when he needed personal relief.
“Because Chris made a bet with me.”
“I’m scared now.” Nathan shook his head.
“That,” she continued with bobbing eyebrows, “he was going to be nice to everyone – and I mean everyone - all night tonight or lose the bet. And he’s only allowed to have two faces – neutral and smiling, or whatever is passing for a twisted smile on that lovely visage.”
“What inspired this?” asked Josiah. The thought of a nice Chris Larabee filled him with a little apprehension.
“A little side discussion. Nothing to worry about. I just need your help to make sure I win.”
“What do you get?”
“We’re not allowed to discuss the stakes, but I’ll pay you to help me.” Sometimes the men required monetary incentive or her buying meals and drinks in order to assist her, especially in her more dangerous or likely to get killed by the victim practical jokes.
“I’m not taking your money,” said Nathan. “This will be interesting.”
“I’m looking forward to watching Brother Chris remain pleasant, especially considering all the students out and about tonight.”
“Just remember, you’ll be witnesses. I’m expecting him to turn around a lot and drive away instead of argue.”
“Speaking of bets and bettors,” chuckled Nathan.
Nina knew something was up. “What?”
“That civil burglary we had earlier?”
“Complainant saw Ace and thought Ezra was blind.”
“It’s the truth. Made Ezra speechless for a few seconds.”
“Ezra Standish, windbag galore, speechless? Now I know you’re pulling my leg.”
“Nope; standing right there. ‘Course he recovered quick to throw a pile at her and I wanted my waders when he finished.”
“Now that sounds like the Ezra I know. Thanks for telling me; I’m going to have fun with this.”
“On that note, I’d better get out of here before Chris catches me here; I’m in Central, but South’s only has Rafe. I’ll go hunt him down and tell him about the bet also.”
“See ya,” Nathan waved as she bounced out of the room.
“Bye,” called Josiah. They watched from the kitchen entrance as she expertly moved through the crowd, saying goodbye to everyone, making it out the doors without incident.
Nathan and Josiah then took their leave too. Nathan returned to his patrol area in West while Josiah headed for the station. As he drove to his meeting with Larabee, he reflected on how much fun he had and thought about how badly his legs and thighs would probably hurt later in the shift. He made a mental note to keep walking and doing foot patrols so that they did not cramp in the car.
Rafe Mosely finished his routine patrol of Outer South before swinging into the main section to help with the Central calls. For some unknown reason, Buck and his rookie kept getting all the calls. This made the experienced officer wonder about the distribution. He remembered his own training and knew it was expected for rookies to handle the bulk of the calls for experience, but this was getting ridiculous.
He reflected on his life as he drove, deciding he liked the way things stood right now. He had a great job, a beautiful fiancée, and wedding plans in the making. Amber wanted a big wedding and reception, so they both picked up overtime to pay for it. Rafe did not feel right about making Amber’s mother pay for any of the wedding or elaborate reception, not when this sector augmentation overtime was so easy. Besides, he really liked her mother and did not want to bankrupt the woman from the figurative cash register sounds of Amber’s plans.
On his side, his father approved of Amber, a definite plus. He felt sorry for his sister Claire who, with her husband Chanu, ran a small ranch next to Nettie Wells. While his dad did not approve of Chanu, Claire was happy and that was all that mattered to Rafe. He realized that he himself had reservations about Chanu when they first started dating. However, as he came to know him, he knew his sister could not have done much better than the hard working young man who loved her very much. He only wished his father would accept them; he missed having his family whole.
Rafe’s own relationship with his father often strayed into rocky waters, but mostly, the senior Mosely stayed out of Rafe’s life and the son reciprocated. Other than the obligatory appearances at church every Sunday and afterwards at the mandatory brunch, their paths rarely crossed. The closeness he shared with his sister added to the strain, but they put the best public face they could on their relationship, at least for those who found appearances more important than discovering the true story.
The feminine voice blared from the microphone attached to his shoulder. “Hey, Rafe.” Glancing at the radio frequency, it showed she used the talkaround channel.
“Meet me at the W/S.” The W/S was the West/South border.
“10-4.” Taking the next left, he saw Nina’s patrol car parked in the back lot of one of the liquor stores that littered the sector border, closer to the University than to the bar sector. As he pulled alongside of her vehicle, he rolled down his window. “Hello.”
“Hiya, Rafe. How the heck are you?” She greeted him with a dazzling smile.
“Fine. What’s got you in such a good mood?” From experience, Rafe knew Nina’s good moods often involved someone getting in trouble, usually her and whoever she suckered into her schemes.
“I’m going to win a bet tonight, but I’ll need your help.” She did not mention the dancing she did earlier or the time she spent with the kids, brief as it was.
“I’m not lighting firecrackers in the men’s room while Buck’s in there again. He would have shot me if he caught me.”
“Phft.” Her hand waved in dismissal. “Child’s play. I’m going for real stakes now.”
“How much are you paying?” Ever practical, if he was going to get burned, he wanted to be compensated for it.
Her paying him started as a joke. Rafe told Nina that she could not pay him enough to help with the prank she intended, but she hounded him to name his price. He fired off a high figure in cash and surprisingly, she readily handed him the money. As he recovered from his shock, she insisted he take it, especially since he said he would do it if she paid him, and to consider it payment in advance. Now he accepted her payments, being practical and needing every bit he could save. It also still served as a joke between them. In fact, he often threatened to set a fee scale depending on who her target was. “What am I doing before I agree?”
“Just watching Chris Larabee and telling me whether or not he has any face but ‘neutral’ or ‘smiling’. I get one whiff of a bad mood, a frown, or anything negative, I win.”
“What do you win?”
The hand waved again. “Don’t worry about it. Fifty enough?”
He shrugged. It was her money, and this request sounded easy. “Sure.”
Nina dug into her cash stash and passed the bills to him. He often wondered where her money came from, as did many people, FCPD officers included. Buck shot down most speculation by explaining her father came from money, and when he passed away, he willed her a considerable chunk. Nina herself rarely answered the rumors other than saying she inherited money from her father’s estate, and it left her comfortable. Some people cracked that they’d hate to see what she thought uncomfortable was, but they never said it to her face or her squad members. The last person that committed that particular folly ended up with a black eye from a sudden slip of Wilmington’s wrist.
Rafe accepted the money with a tip of the hat, planning to tuck it away in the wedding fund. “What happens if he wins?”
“Never happen,” she replied confidently. “Chris Larabee not scowling or glaring?”
The male officer started laughing. “You’re right. Ezra taking bets?”
“Not yet; haven’t seen him yet.”
Rafe looked up and smiled, “Speaking of which…”
Ezra’s truck pulled into the lot stopping near them. In response, they climbed out of their vehicles and stood around his truck. The southerner grumbled in that honeyed drawl, “Did I ever mention that I detest university patrol and high-pitched wailing complainants?”
Nina smiled. “I believe you mentioned it once…or twice.” She turned to the lab that lapped up her playful greeting greedily.
“Come to think of it, yeah, you have. What’s the matter? Someone call you Dog Dude again?” asked Rafe. His grin spread across his face as he teased with the hated nickname for the genteel gentleman.
The southerner in question scowled as Ace barked at the moniker.
Rafe made the ‘hang loose’ sign with his hand while affecting a dopey look on his face. “Dog Dude, hang loose, man!”
“I suggest you refrain from further comments before I am forced to teach you a lesson,” warned Ezra in a less than friendly voice.
“Touchy, aren’t we?” asked Nina with a grin. “Dog Dude.”
“Ms. Caswell, did you ever learn the adage ‘silence is golden’?”
“No, because I hooked that part in school.”
“Somehow I can see that,” Rafe remarked.
“You stay out of this.” She gave Mosely a significant look.
“Or what?” He gave her his cockeyed grin and waited.
“Uh-huh. Typical male – clueless. Have you been listening to the radio tonight?”
“Recognize the pattern?”
Ezra started chuckling as he remembered Nina’s own frustration with Rafe. As a rookie, Mosely managed to tick off both Casey and Ladonna, putting them through the Dispatcher Slam.
“At least I’m not the only one,” Rafe countered.
“And they’re going to get it a whole lot worse,” Nina snickered.
“I find it interesting you are enjoying the discomfort of others.”
“Ezra,” she said, looking him in the eye. “I am not enjoying their discomfort; I am relishing the fact that certain other factors are in play, which I will not discuss at this point in time. Speaking of factors, I have a bet going with Chris that he will not make any face other than ‘happy’ or ‘neutral’. This includes no insults, yelling, screaming, glaring, or any negative action against anyone tonight. I’d be appreciative if you’d tell me if he violates that.”
“How intriguing. What are the stakes?” The southerner figured they must be high if the normally dour Larabee agreed to be a happy person all night.
She pulled in a quick breath. “Can’t say. Will you help?”
Rafe spoke up for him, “Of course he will, but what does he want in consideration of his cooperation?”
Ezra gave him a mock glare and then looked at Nina’s knowing face. “What?”
“Name it, Ezra.”
“I will ponder my options and advise you of it later.”
“Unconditional agreement?” Ezra asked with a smile.
“Absolutely not; leave nothing to chance. I agree to hear your options later,” she replied.
“Nice save,” Rafe interjected.
“Speaking of saves, I haven’t exactly been as visible as I should be, and I really am not in the mood to call the lieutenant and explain where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing. So, I have to bail before I need saving from the doghouse.”
Ace barked in complaint.
“Sorry, Ace…figure of speech. You have…never mind. Rafe, Ezra, I’ll see ya later.” She waved as she left.
“I suppose I must return to the University,” sighed Ezra, “before my absence is noticed.”
“Yeah, I’m going to hit South for Nina; she probably already left the Spring Fling and plans on hitting the patrol requests she’s gotten before someone notices her lack of calls.”
The administration expected the officers to fill out a ‘beat sheet’, accounting for all the things they did on a shift in the way of patrol requests, business checks, and calls. All this served as a check and balance against the computer logs in Communications. Lt. Halter often checked the logs to see what his people did, and did not do. Not doing rated an immediate telephone call and questions why.
“Yes; thank you for reminding me. Perhaps I will swing by the Spring Fling myself.”
“Dad said he saw you taking several cases of cans there last night and slide them next to the drop box.”
“He must have been mistaken,” Ezra dryly replied, a clear meaning in his tone.
“Yeah, well, he might have been, but in case he’s not, thanks, Ezra. I won’t tell a soul.” Rafe winked as he left to show the colors.
With a sigh of resignation – he originally believed no one saw him last night – Ezra accepted the thanks. He realized it did make him feel good, more so recognized than when he anonymously dropped off the supplies that he got wholesale from a local merchant sworn to secrecy. With the feeling giving him a new burst of energy, he put the truck in gear and went for his next lap around the University.
Josiah entered the station from the back using his key card. He stopped at the men’s room again before washing his hands and wandering into the break room for water. Bottle in hand, he crossed the hall and knocked on Chris’ closed door.
Sanchez stuck his head in and waited.
“Josiah, close the door and sit down.”
He did as Chris told him, stretching his long legs out. “What’s troubling you?” Josiah knew Chris only kept the door shut when he wanted complete privacy; during their shift, rarely anyone visited the PD, especially this section and that usually assured quiet.
Josiah nodded, half expecting this answer.
Chris ran a hand down his face. “Things are heating up for him. The last tapes said they’re looking to buy fully automatic guns.”
Sanchez blinked and started thinking. “That takes things to a new level. Is the Task Force pulling him?”
“Not yet.” Chris tossed the pen he was twirling in his hands on the desk before he exploded another one. “As far as we know, they don’t trust him yet, and pulling him out could make them change their plans.”
“And if the Task Force yanks him, we might never learn what they’re doing.”
“What’s the rest?”
“They’re going to ask for a loyalty test. No one knows what it will be but…”
“It won’t be good,” Josiah finished for him.
“And you’re afraid of what they’re going to ask him to do.”
“Damn it, Josiah, he shouldn’t be in there alone.”
“I agree, Brother, but there’s nothing we can do except watch out for him.”
“How can we do that? We don’t even see him very often.” Chris stood and started pacing behind his desk.
“Nina’s informants?” So far, this was their best source of information on Vin.
“Oh, they let her know what they can and she tells me, but sometimes the information comes too late. And she shouldn’t be talking to half the scumbags or meeting those hoodleheads without backup.”
Josiah leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands tight against his stomach. “Who said she doesn’t have backup?”
Chris stopped pacing and stared. “What are you saying?”
“Someone’s always watching Nina’s back, whether she knows it or not. She’s not the only one with connections on the street.”
“I am the Preacher, the confidante of many.”
“As Vin would say, you silver-tongued devil.”
Josiah chuckled. “Seriously, Chris, I know about Nina’s nocturnal visits. My informants are watching her to make sure she stays in one piece when they’re not looking out for Vin. If they know in advance, they tell me where and when and I’ll be there, hiding in the shadows and listening.”
“Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
“You didn’t ask.”
Chris stared, blinked twice, then started laughing. With Josiah, not asking often meant he never offered. “How often do you find out about the advance meetings?”
“She never said a word to me about having backup. But, this is Nina; she probably wouldn’t.”
“She doesn’t know,” said Josiah. “Brother, if you got within ten feet of one of her more skittish informants, you’d understand why they will deal only with her.”
“People well in the know, Chris. Let’s just say I’m surprised at the identities of those she speaks with on occasion.”
“Vin has proven harder to watch because of who he hangs out with. I do my best, but I think someone else has taken care of that situation.”
“I’m not at liberty to say, but you can rest assured no life-threatening physical harm will befall Vin.” Josiah’s informants often worked on Nina or Ezra’s private payroll and kept the Preacher informed of what happened in Vin’s life.
Chris sat back down. “I want to believe that.”
“We do what we can, Chris.”
“Tell me something.”
“If I can.”
“Who else on my squad has informants and snitches watching other members of the squad that I don’t know about?”
Josiah smiled. “That’s divulging a confidence, Chris. And before you get mad, remember your bet.”
“She told you?!” Chris nearly swore but stopped himself before he said something he would regret or cause him to lose the bet.
The big man chuckled in his chair. “Yes, she told us.”
“Myself and Nathan, not counting she was going to see Rafe.” Chris wanted to make a face but refrained, the struggle obvious to Josiah. Sanchez laughed again. “This will be painful, won’t it?”
“What’s the stakes?”
“Hmm… Must be good, then.” Josiah looked at him before asking, “Anything else?”
“Keep this all in-house for now; we don’t want to tip them off. If you hear anything, Josiah, I want to know. I’m asking, just so we’re clear.”
The rumbling chuckles continued as Josiah enjoyed the clarification. “You got it, Brother.”
“Thanks. I’m going to talk to Nathan.”
The Preacher checked his watch. “Try the hospital; it’s near Rain’s break. I’ll see you later.” Josiah stood up and left the room, heading for Communications to greet ‘the girls’ before returning to the road.
Chris watched the big man go and shook his head at the revelations. He figured he probably should have met with all of them about their informants earlier. It now seemed to him that the entire squad watched the others without letting anyone know what they were doing. Someone should coordinate so at least one person knew everything. Standing up, he locked up his office and called Nathan on the radio, meeting him at the hospital before Rain’s break.
Nathan watched Chris park beside him with a small measure of curiosity. Usually, Chris met with each of them individually when he did vehicle inspections or evaluations, talking to them about other things on their off times, or on calls. He rarely called for private, one-on-one meetings. “What’s up?”
“Vin’s in a jam.”
The black man straightened in his seat. “What can I do?”
The bitterness showed in the next statement, but the face remained expressionless. “Nothing.”
“Come on, Chris, you can’t tell me that Vin’s in trouble and expect me do nothing.”
“There’s nothing we can do, other than keep a close eye on him without tipping off his keepers.”
“They’re looking for automatic guns and they’re going to ask him for a loyalty test, but we don’t know any more than that.”
Nathan closed his eyes before looking directly at Chris. “Watch and listen?”
“Yup. Take every precaution, stay alert. When I know, you’ll know.”
“Keep it in the squad for now.”
“All right. You going to see Ezra?”
“Yeah. He’ll be happy to get away from the University.” Chris smiled. “Dog Dude’s probably ready for a break.”
Nathan chuckled. “Well, Rain’s break’s about to start. Thanks for the heads up.”
“Watch your back.”
Nathan tipped his hat before heading into the hospital.
Chris drove away, heading toward the University. When he got close, he grabbed his mike, setting it for talkaround. “Hey, Dog Dude!”
The answer came almost immediately. “Sgt. Larabee, must you persist in calling me that odious moniker?”
“Yes, Ezra, I must. You available for a meet?”
“If I am allowed to tear myself away from the thrilling outskirts of the higher learning establishment.”
“See you in a few.” Chris stopped in the back of the large open park, finding his officer along side Ace, walking on his leash. Chris could not resist another insult. “Dog Dude!”
Ezra gave Chris a dimpled smile before he leaned over to touch the choker chain, non-verbally threatening to let the dog go to play with another one of his human chewtoys.
“Don’t do it, Standish.”
“Call me that sobriquet one more time and I will be tempted to release Ace from his confinement. Is that a frown I see?”
Chris immediately smiled through gritted teeth. “No, Ezra.”
“For I would detest having to tell the lovely Ms. Caswell of your slip and therefore allow her to win your wager.”
“How much have you bet on this?”
“What’s the pool?”
“I have not had time to create such an endeavor, however, I thank you for the idea.”
“Are you interested in participating?”
“Is that a frown?”
“Knock it off.”
“Well, if you are not inclined to join the festivities, might I inquire the reason for your visit to this charming area of exile?” Ezra started walking toward the open space, Chris falling in step beside him.
Ace started straining on the leach in order to play in the field.
Chris noticed. “He’s in a good mood.”
“Ace? Yes, well, he enjoys a good game of tug-of-war. Care to indulge him?” Ezra presented a medium-sized knotted rope from one of his many deep pockets.
“Sure.” Chris grabbed one end and before he solidified his grip, Ace lunged and grabbed the other, tugging hard. The sergeant felt his feet sliding across the grass. The tug-of-war started in earnest once Larabee dug his heels in, the two fighting for control of the rope. Ezra sat on a picnic table and watched. He felt pleasure with this development; Chris sporadically played with Ace and when he did, the two of them went all out.
The tugging continued for several minutes, while the police canine gave the grown man a fight. Ace dragged him all around the area under the amused visage of his handler. Finally, Ace snatched his prize away and curled up at Ezra’s feet, gnawing on it with gusto.
Chris dragged himself over to the bench and used his handkerchief to wipe his face. “Either’s he’s getting stronger, or I’m getting older.”
“Do you want me to answer that?”
“No.” Chris nearly made a face but refrained at the raised eyebrows and dimples. “Quit laughing, Standish. Just reminds me that I need to work with him more.”
“I believe I have mentioned that fact to you before.”
“Don’t push it.”
“Was that a threat?”
Chris twisted his lips into a facsimile of a smile. “No.”
“The reason I’m here, Standish, is to tell you about Vin.”
Alarm immediately registered on the southerner’s face. “Has something happened to Mr. Tanner?”
“No, not yet.”
“They don’t trust him so they’re asking for a loyalty test. I’m getting sick of saying this.”
“I sympathize. Keep an eye out for him?”
“However you can.”
The southerner’s usual poker face slipped a little, the smile showing some trace of hidden knowledge.
Eyeing his K-9 officer warily, Larabee continued, "I want us all to try and watch his back as much as we can. The tapes revealed they're moving beyond drugs, they're looking for guns now."
Standish paled, frowning as he thought of the all too brief meeting with his friend. The uneasy feelings he had then returned ten fold. Larabee noted the reaction.
"What do you know, Ezra?"
The southerner shrugged, not wanting to add to their leader's worry, but knowing it couldn't be helped. "I met with Vin yesterday," he finally admitted.
Larabee was briefly surprised by the admission since neither party involved mentioned the fact earlier. He kept his expression neutral, noting that Standish was probably frowning enough for the both of them.
"I did not think he wanted it common knowledge that he was not trusted. He carried a package, but did not feel he could go to the safe house."
Sighing heavily, Chris kept his gaze out over the vacant field. "He was being followed."
Shaking his head slightly, Ezra could tell how much and how hard the sergeant worked at holding his feelings in. "He thought it was a real possibility, though there was no indication of such during our meeting."
"Thank you, Ezra," Larabee cocked his head toward the southerner. Even if Ezra withheld information from him, he did so trying to protect Vin, and for that, he could not fault the man. "And this is a ‘neutral face’."
“So you say, Sgt. Larabee," Ezra chuckled slightly.
The sergeant gritted his teeth again and figured his dentist bill would be astronomical after today. “Ezra, you and Ace just be careful.”
“We will. Rest assured, we will be very careful.”
“Good. Time to go find Buck.”
“Give it a minute on the radio and you’ll hear their next call.”
The smile was genuine as Chris headed for his car, Ace and Ezra right beside him. Ace still carried his rope. When they reached the truck, Ezra set out the lab’s water bowl and handed a small chilled bottle to his sergeant as well.
Ezra gave the standard salute on his hat.
“I don’t have to tell you to keep this in-squad, right?”
“My lips are sealed.”
Chris nodded before taking off, listening to the next call given to Buck and JD. He turned his patrol car in that direction to meet up with them.
Buck barely refrained from nailing JD on the head with his hat again as they went to yet another call. It aggravated him that they ran from place to place to place without rest, while the others on the squad loafed, or at the most, announced only patrol requests. “Kid, I’m getting real sick of this.”
“I’m not a kid, Buck.”
“Right now, I’d love to tan your hide for this, but that would require you stopping. The way you drive, it would take five minutes to get moving again.”
“Laugh while you can, but we’re not going through this again. You’re going to apologize.”
“Yes, you are.”
“No, I’m not. Look, isn’t that Sgt. Larabee?” JD indicated the unmarked patrol car waiting around the corner from their barking dog complaint.
“Yeah. Go handle the call while I talk to him.”
“Gee, thanks for the backup.”
“The owner’s sitting right out front, I’ll be out front, and that mean cuss over there will be out front. Someone tries something, we’re right here.”
JD rolled his eyes as he climbed out of the car, locking the driver’s door. He straightened his hat as he approached the homeowner.
Buck and Chris met up near the front sidewalk, watching as JD properly approached the man seated on the front porch. They continued watching as the man stood, walked to the side, opened the gate, and brought the dog into his house, closing the animal inside.
“We meet again.”
“Yeah, got some things to go over with you. Think you’ll have a few free minutes?”
“Like hell. Damn kid pissed off Casey so bad I don’t know whether I’m coming or going.”
“Okay, then I’ll follow you around until we finish this conversation.”
“You want to talk to Casey and Ladonna, maybe get us a reprieve?”
The Larabee smirk came into play, along with a laconic explanation. “I’m not the one in trouble.”
“Gimme a sec.”
JD joined them, nodding a greeting to Chris. “Sir.”
“Hold off on clearing us, Kid. I’ve got to make a call.”
“What’s her name?” Dunne covered his mouth after the words escaped, mortified in front of Chris.
“You learn quick, Kid,” Chris told him with a smile. “Got you pegged, Buck.”
“He’s also got a big mouth that gets him in trouble.” Buck reached over and grabbed one of JD’s upper arms. “See this muscle? That’s from running his mouth and paying for it with push-ups.”
“At least I know I could bench press you without difficulty,” JD retorted.
“You can try, Kid.”
“I’d say he could do it, Buck. You’re full of hot air.”
Buck gave Chris a sarcastic grin before reaching into his car and pulling out his cell phone. He hit speed dial, reaching Ladonna. “Ladonna, honey, show us clear but I have a request.”
“Can you ask Casey for a five minute reprieve so I can talk with Chris about something important uninterrupted?”
“Sure, we’ve only got five more in pending.”
Buck groaned. “Thanks for telling me.”
“You’re welcome.” He heard her partially cover the mouthpiece before saying, “Hey, Case. Buck needs five with Chris.”
“Fine, take a little while. The rest of the these are reports.”
Buck groaned again as the response came through the receiver.
“You hear that?”
“Not my fault, Buck.”
“I know, I’m working on it.”
“Thanks, darlin’. He put the phone away before saying, “Okay, we’ve got about fifteen before someone gets writer’s cramp. And that someone is not me.” Buck glared at JD who made a face back at him.
“Hey, pard, what’s wrong with your face?”
“What do you mean?”
“Cute, Buck, cute. Meet me at Haney House.”
The two cars left this section of Central and headed for Haney House, meeting up in the back lot. They entered, Chris and Buck heading for the bathroom, while JD waited at their customary booth. When the pair returned, JD excused himself and left the two men alone.
“What’s up, Stud?”
“Yeah, but they’re looking for guns and loyalty, not a good combo.”
“Tell me about it.”
“You got the networks with their eyes open?”
“More eyes than I knew about.”
Buck chuckled. “Guess you talked to Josiah first, huh?”
“What, does everyone know but me?”
“That Josiah’s got almost as many if not more snitches than Nina?”
“Those two get together and compare names every once in a while to make sure they’re not overpaying the same people for the same information.”
“How long have you known?”
Buck waved a hand. “Awhile.”
“What’s your angle?”
“I think you know.” Midnight blue eyes bored into green ones.
“Making sure a certain pain-in-our-ass takes care of herself?”
“Someone’s got to watch out for her. She usually does a piss-poor job of it by herself. I swear, that girl can trip over the only hole in a field and fall into a nest of snakes.”
“Just like someone else I know.” Chris gave him a smirk.
“We’re not talking about me.”
“Sure sounds like it.”
“You’re worried about them both, too.”
Chris finally nodded, the smile falling off his face. “I don’t know what it is about those two, but they sure can get themselves into some messes.”
“Yeah, I’m guessing whatever happened before we came was pretty nasty. I don’t know about Vin, but again I’ll say Nina’s not the same. Nowhere close.”
“Wish both of them would finally break down and say.”
Buck snorted. “Yeah, right. Nina will actually marry me before that happens.”
“You still holding thoughts that way?”
Wilmington sighed. “I don’t know. I’m seriously wondering if it’s a lost cause, and I’m deluding myself thinking there’s something more than a close friendship.”
“What about Inez?”
The goofy grin was Larabee’s answer, followed by, “An angel, and heaven on this earth.”
“Who?” asked JD as he came up to their table.
“None of your business, Kid.”
“Again with that? Wait, I recognize that smile. You were thinking about Inez again, weren’t you?”
Chris lifted an eyebrow. “Inez?”
“Yeah, sir, he gets all goofy when he’s talking about her. You should have seen them dancing last night.”
“Shut up, Kid.”
Seeing he struck a nerve, JD continued with his tale. He was looking to get a few jabs at his training officer to make up for the guff he was taking over all the calls they were getting. “Yeah, cheek-to-cheek and all that. Thought they were going to kiss on the dance floor, but then they remembered I was there.”
“Chris, stay out of it.”
“Uh-huh. As for the topic of our previous discussion, I’m thinking you might be right.”
“What do you know that I don’t?”
“A lot, Buck. That’s why I’m the sergeant.”
Buck snorted in derision.
Chris changed the subject. “JD, how are you doing so far? Any questions, problems?”
“Other than getting my tail run off, no, sir.”
“Trust your sergeant on this. Apologize.”
“I said nothing wrong, sir.”
Chris shook his head, but his smile stayed in place. “Keep telling yourself that as you write your reports before you go home this morning.”
“I don’t have to do all of them tonight, right?”
The sergeant’s grin grew wider. “Yes, you do. Before you go home; all of them will be done, checked by your trainer, approved, and put in Report Review, even if you’re there until noon.”
“Yes, sir.” JD looked glum at the prospect.
“Thanks, Chris.” Sarcasm figuratively rolled off the trainer’s tongue with the consistency of molasses.
“I’m going to stay in East for awhile, Buck, so you and JD can catch those pending calls. Don’t want them sitting there too long.” With a smirk, Chris stood up and walked out, waving goodbye to the staff.
“Kid, you will apologize before this night is over.” Buck stood, leading them out of Haney House.
“Nope. I’m enjoying being busy. If this is the worst she can do, I can take it.” JD boasted as he closed the car door on Buck’s response.
“Yeah, but can I?”