four corners pd
By: Cin and Heidi
Day Three: Saturday (cont)
Chris left Nina’s house filled with worry and concern. Vin not showing up, especially with everything that had been happening in the past couple days, worried the hell out of the sergeant. He wanted to see Vin, to know he was okay, as soon as possible.
Since he was already driving his patrol car, he took the long way to the station, passing by all of Vin’s usual haunts without stopping. The Mustang was distinctive enough that he would see it if it was in a parking lot or parked along the street. There was nothing. He called a few informants, but no one had seen the man. Now more frustrated, he drove to the station.
As he pulled in the back and fueled his car, he noticed the Chief’s car parked in his usual spot. It made him wonder what Travis was doing there, especially on a Saturday night nearing dinnertime. Curious now, he finished fueling and parked his car. He let himself in the back, and then went directly upstairs toward the Chief’s office on the second floor, using the stairs instead of the elevator. At the top of the stairs, he went to exit the stairwell; however he heard a loud, carrying voice.
"We'll get this town and the county cleaned up, Orin. We just have to be patient for a little while longer, and identify all the players. Let’s hope there’s none in your organization."
“I don’t think so.”
The elevator opened, and the voice grew softer. “I don’t either, but we have to be very careful not to tip our hand.”
"I know, but I'm afraid things are going to happen soon."
“We’ll deal with it when – and if – it happens. Good night, Orin.”
The elevator slowly closed.
Chris was in a quandary. Should he reveal himself now, and let Travis know he heard something that he obviously was not supposed to hear, or should he wait a minute and then walk to the Chief’s office, acting like he did not know anything?
Given what he heard, he waited a minute. He walked out into the hallway, careful to make some noise, and caught the Chief getting ready to leave his office, one hand on the door to pull it closed.
Travis jumped, not expecting to see anyone, and faced the newcomer. He looked past Larabee’s shoulder before speaking. “Chris. What brings you up here?”
“Looking for you.”
“Why’s that? Something wrong?”
“Have you heard anything from Haskill?”
been forwarded as of last week?”
“You don’t know?”
“Don’t know about what, Chris?”
“The tapes from Thursday.”
“Is it bad? Should we go into my office?”
Chris said, “I think we should.” They walked into the Chief’s office, Travis taking a seat next to Chris instead of behind his desk.
“Tell me what you know.”
“We got his last tape on Thursday, and they were talking about automatic weapons. Vin found out they were going to give him a loyalty test, but he didn’t know what or when it would be yet. I got the impression he’s been rattling the bushes to get things moving, and now he didn’t show up for a get-together at Nina’s house. None of my informants so far have seen him or the Mustang.”
“I didn’t know about the automatic weapons, and Haskill should have called me about that.” Travis frowned. “I’ll look into this, Chris, because I don’t like it.”
“Neither do I. I don’t know what they’re going to ask of him, but Vin seemed a bit worried when I saw him Thursday night.”
“And now you’re worried about him.”
“Yes.” Chris met his gaze directly.
“I am too. This is what we’re going to do. You’re not going to make finding him a priority, but if you see him, let me know. Do not contact him, don’t make a spectacle of him, just get a visual and let me know.”
“Your glares don’t work on me. Do I have your agreement? Visual only?”
Reluctantly, Chris curtly nodded.
“What about Haskill?”
“I’ll take care of Haskill.”
“Chief, I think you should call him now. I don’t like the feel of this.”
Travis looked hard at Chris, and then reached for his telephone. He called Haskill’s cell phone, leaving a message on the voicemail. “No answer.”
“Could you keep trying?”
“I’ll keep trying.” Travis assured him. “Anything else?”
“What do you know, sir?”
I’m not as updated by the Task Force as I should be, but that will be corrected
Chris considered carefully. “Who do we need to warn?”
“Warn about what? The weapons? Our people are as prepared as they are going to get, Chris. I’ll send out a reminder that all personnel should be wearing their vests, per policy, but beyond that, there’s not much that I can do.”
It unsettled Chris that Travis was not that upset about not reaching Haskill. In fact, he didn’t seem that concerned about any of it. Chris frowned, searching Travis’ face - for what, he wasn’t sure. The man mysteriously visiting the Chief, on a weekend, intrigued the sergeant. Not to mention the comment about finding all the players. Larabee had a strong feeling the man in front of him was pulling off one hell of a good bluff. It might have worked too, Chris believed, if he had not by chance heard that conversation. For the Chief’s sake, Chris sighed. “I just have a bad feeling, sir.”
Travis nodded. “I trust your instincts, Chris. Just keep a close eye out. Hopefully, we can end this soon enough.”
“Before someone gets hurt.”
The two men shook hands, the Chief walking Chris out, and locking his office door behind him. “Time for me to go. Have a good shift, and watch your backs.”
“We will, sir.”
Chris continued to the ground floor, coming out by the work out room. Inside, he heard Nathan and Josiah instructing JD on fighting tactics that were not taught in the Academy.
Nathan walked JD through another fighting tactic, showing the younger man tips that are learned only through experience and/or veteran instruction. He made JD try it without the slow motion, and again he pinned the rookie to the mat.
JD rolled over. “Okay, what did I do wrong?”
“Too slow,” Josiah said.
“Yup.” Nathan nodded.
“Can I try again?” JD gained his feet.
“How about you try me? I’m a little wider than Nathan, and a bit slower.”
“And pack more of a punch.” His friend added with a smile.
“That too.” Josiah stood in the center of the mat, feet apart, and smiled. “You ready?”
JD said, “Yeah.”
“Then show me what you’ve got, Kid.”
Dunne approached, initiating the mock arrest. “Get down on your knees, hands behind your head.” One hand stayed on his gun, the other on the pepper spray.
“I said get on your knees, hands behind your head.”
“You shave yet, boy? ‘Cuz I ain’t gonna let some snot-nosed teenager tell me what to do.”
“Sir, you are under arrest. This is your last chance, or I’ll charge you with resisting.”
“Resist this!” Josiah charged and grabbed him in a bear hug, taking the rookie officer to the floor. JD landed on his back, Josiah on top of him, and the bigger man immediately placed a hand in the center of JD’s face. He twisted the rookie’s head and mashed it into the mat.
JD pulled his pepper spray free and pointed it right in Josiah’s face, followed by a solid punch to the bigger man’s side.
Josiah pulled back, acting as if he were sprayed, and JD tackled him, this time flipping the larger man onto his stomach and attaching handcuffs.
The rookie stayed in that position, holding down the thrashing officer.
“Now what?” Nathan asked. “Both your hands and feet are occupied in keeping him down.”
“Damn.” JD rolled away, and then released Josiah. “I forgot.”
“Yup,” Josiah said. “You forgot to get the ETA of your backup before initiating the arrest. Nice submission, but mean drunks wouldn’t go down that easy. Some get worse after they’re sprayed.”
“But if you couldn’t have waited,” Nathan added, “the second you clicked the cuffs on both hands you grab the mike and say your ID along with ‘expedite’.”
“We’ll step on it to get there faster, and we’ll know you have a problem.” Josiah continued sitting on the mat. “But at least you didn’t get mad, which was a good thing.”
“You nearly got me with snot-nosed teenager.” JD ruefully admitted.
“JD wearing you out, Josiah?” Chris walked in.
“Needs to work on his technique, though,” Nathan replied.
“JD, you up for another round?” Chris asked.
“I’ll leave you two alone.” Josiah stood, his back to JD, and stretched.
From behind him, JD sprung to his feet, grabbed Josiah’s shoulders, and dragged him to the ground, effectively pinning him.
“Yup. There’s my ceiling,” Josiah chuckled, looking up.
“Never underestimate someone smaller,” JD released, giving Josiah a hand up.
“I won’t, now that I know you’ll come at me from behind.” Chris smirked. “Take your place, rookie.”
JD stared at the sergeant and gulped.
Buck leaned against the kitchen archway and regarded Nina quietly. From the tense lines of her body, her mother’s visit upset her more than she wanted to admit, and she could no longer hide it with everyone gone. Or she wasn’t trying to. “What did she say this time?”
A pan slammed into the dishwasher with considerable force. “Nothing.” A glass nearly shattered in the top shelf.
He winced at the sound. “Darlin’, nothing doesn’t nearly break glass.” Here we go, he thought to himself. Denial, then anger, then sobbing again, and finally admitting what went wrong. Same pattern, different day. Sometimes he got sick of this, but he’d never admit that to her. It wore them both out, and her family often served as a catalyst, if not a cause, for their infrequent arguments.
Nina spun to face him, the lines of tears now visible on her face. “You want to know? Fine. She started with the usual. . .you know, ‘My, you are just letting yourself go’, ‘Look at how fat you are getting’. Oh, but that wasn’t the best part.” Nina was pacing back and forth waving her arms, emphasizing each hated word she remembered her mother throwing at her. “Oh no, then she told me the only reason she stopped by was to inform me after the fact of Dickhead’s wedding to the Bitch. I was not invited, though, because I’m such an embarrassment to the family.”
Buck’s mind worked through what he knew of the implications of those statements. Dickhead was her younger brother Richard, a true sleaze ball and snake. The bitch was Nina’s older brother Rory’s wife Andrea. Widow, he corrected. Rory married her because their parents arranged it, doing what they expected of their firstborn son. The bitch had an affair with Dickhead and got pregnant; she still didn’t know to this day which brother fathered the child.
Rory found out about the affair by walking in on them. He hated his wife and to escape the reality, threw himself into work and darker things. As Catholic as the family was, divorce was not an option, especially for the eldest. The already strained sibling relationships shattered forever.
He remembered it sent Rory, that likable bastard, into a drug-induced tailspin and fatal accidental overdose. Buck and Nina already had enough grief to last a lifetime to deal with at the time. The added loss of Rory nearly destroyed Nina. Rory’s death came a couple months after Sarah and Adam died, and Nina never recovered from any of them. On top of that, Rory’s death triggered a fatal heart attack in her father, and forced her home when she would have been better off with her friends, rather than with her family. While their relationship had begun to collapse before all the tragedies, their separation only deepened the chasm between them. Going back only to find no reason to stay, Nina decided to move away permanently just two months after all the deaths. A drunk Chris telling her forcefully to get out of his life on one of his bad nights only helped her leave. An event Buck knew Chris didn’t remember, but Nina didn’t forget.
Buck pushed thoughts of then away and considered the information at hand. Regarding the wedding, there did not seem a thing he could do. The other, well, he knew how to cheer her up if she would let him. She always did before and why should now be any different? He hated her family for ripping her already low self-esteem to shreds and leaving her a mess. It made him more protective and caring toward her, nearly breaking his heart every time they put her through this particular wringer. It reminded him of how much their lives were intertwined and how good everything had been when they were together in Nevada.
Coming out of his slouch, he closed the distance between them, stopped her pacing, and drew her into what he called a ‘Buck Hug Special’. His palms ran up and down her back, her body pressed tightly against his for support, and his head bent beside her shoulder. Buck placed his feet outside of hers and pressed her legs together with his, keeping his long limbs against hers and bent slightly at the knee, enveloping her completely in his comforting embrace. An embrace habitual between them, one that both enjoyed because of the support that transferred through it, a support that went both ways.
Her hands wrapped around his waist and latched on, pulling him close, giving him encouragement. He felt her muffled sobs and whispered ever so softly, “Shush, now, and let Buck take care of you. You’re not fat, darlin’, you’re just right. And you’re not letting yourself go; you’re getting more beautiful all the time.” He was not lying; surrounded by her friends, the happier she was and stayed. In just the last two years, he’d watched her revert more and more to the Nina he met and fell in love with all those years ago.
Time scarred them both, driving them further apart until they were almost strangers when they met again. The hard, cold woman bore little resemblance to the Nina he knew, and he admitted that cold woman scared him a bit. That was then, this was now, and now she needed his strength and his unconditional support. Most importantly, she needed his love. The love he felt for her that rested never far from the surface, even after everything they’d been through together and apart.
He heard her hiccup and start to say something. His left hand gently pressed her head against his shoulder and muffled her voice. “Nina, honey, now hush, darlin’, Buck’s talking to you. You need to listen.” That shudder felt like a laugh. Progress, he told himself. “You’re not an embarrassment to them; oh no, Neen, you’re too good for them and they know it.” Was that a snort? He ignored that.
Against his chest, she thought, oh hell, this will never work out. We cannot make this relationship last; we could not do it in Nevada and there’s no way in hell it could happen now. Too much pain…too much sorrow…too many mistakes and secrets prevented it. Nevertheless, Nina drew strength from his embrace as she always did and firmly shoved her negativity away for the time being. She existed in the moment, pulling comfort from the warmth of his arms, the power of his personality, and the generosity of his heart. Nothing else mattered but listening to him and all the love she denied came forward in these moments of weakness. It left her needy and nostalgic for better times. He started talking again, and she settled even farther into his arms. Maybe just one last time. Would it be so wrong?
He kept talking, unaware of the conflicting thoughts in her mind. “You see, honey, they see your goodness, your laughter, and your happiness, and it makes them jealous. They see all you’ve done on your own without them. All the people you’ve helped and all the people that love you, just as you are. Then they see what kind of low down piss-poor miserable excuses for humans they really are and they can’t stand that so they do everything they can to bring you down. And sometimes it works.” He paused, sensing her really listening, although her face remained hidden from him.
“You ever wonder, darlin’, why they don’t like ol’ Buck?” He felt her shrug. “I’ll tell you.” His voice caressed her ear. “I see them for what they are and even though they’re your family, I still think they’re bitches and assholes.” Her laughter shook against his chest. “I scare them, honey. Because for all the damage they do to you, every once in a while you need help.” She stiffened. He knew he struck a nerve, one he hoped to soothe with his next words. “Every once in a while your self-confidence wavers and you need a boost. A boost Buck can give you.” He warmed to his topic, his voice getting louder and more mischievous.
“A good grab in the brains to get you moving again.” His hands reached down and squeezed her backside hard, easily half-lifting her while his mouth nibbled on the back of her neck with exaggerated noises.
Nina squealed as her feet left the ground and damn him, he hit that spot. “Put me down!” she ordered. “A good grab in the brains? That’s not my brains!”
He put her on her feet but maintained his hold, grinning rakishly at her. “Hell, darlin’, they put your head so far up your ass you needed that to straighten out.”
She managed a smile and saw that it worked, making him believe he helped her. Damn. It did but not in the way he wanted; she saw things a little clearer, a little better than she did before. She knew what she needed to do. Right now, though, Nina wanted to be alone and figure out her next actions. “Thanks, Buck, I guess you’re right.”
“You know I am, darlin’. Now, you want me to stick around for a bit?”
What he asked was if she wanted him to stay for comfort sex, a ritual that they usually went through after one of her mother’s visits. Lately, though, they had not performed the ritual for one reason or another. “That’s okay. I need a shower and figured I could get another quick nap, put my head back together before I go in. Thanks for the offer.”
He gave her a smile and in a way, he understood. “All right, darlin’. I’ll see you later.”
“Later.” With a smile, she gave him one last hug before he left.
Buck got into his patrol car and sighed. He knew he helped cheer her up and only hoped she stayed that way until the end of shift when she could sleep. She really needed to rest. He was delighted though, that even if they weren’t together anymore, they were still friends and could be happy with that. They were still there to help each other when they needed that extra shoulder to lean on, like now. As he drove away, he felt good about what he did for her and left with a sense of peace.
Inside the house, Nina closed the kitchen door behind him, leaning her head against the cool wood. Her hand was held flat against the surface, adding to her resolve to keep the door shut, else she’d wrench it open and run after him. She held that pose for a moment, before heaving a large sigh. Turning, she leaned back against the wall, closed her eyes, then slowly slid down to the floor, where the crying started in earnest. Buck thought he cheered her up and she let him think that, but nothing was further from the truth. Words from a song came into her mind and she started humming to herself between sobs,
If he really knew me
If he really truly knew me
The other side of me
On those notes, she pulled herself off the floor and made her way to the bedroom to collapse on the bed for another round of crying, further adding to her headache. Facing work seemed an insurmountable task but she knew she had to; she knew she needed to make things right with someone else, maybe grab her chance at something new and different. If he let her. One thing she knew - she was not going to let her family win at knocking her down. She’d lost too much before too many times, and it was not going to happen again. Nina dragged herself from the bed and into the shower, getting ready for work automatically while her brain worked on what she would say, and analyzing her life to this point.
Completely dressed, she performed her leaving-the-house ritual of checking the doors, windows, and locks to make sure everything functioned perfectly. Part of her knew it was just exhaustion that added to her foul mood, but another part came from the serious case of self-pity and self-doubt she carried that no one saw.
As she finished, she made her way to the shelf of pictures. The candle continued to burn, and Nina leaned forward to extinguish it with a single breath. Her eye caught the picture of Sarah and Adam, and she stopped.
“Oh, Sarah,” she whispered. “I miss you.”
The smoke curled toward the ceiling as she picked up the frame, careful of the draping. “It’s not fair that you died. It should have been me. I’m the fruitcake that straps a gun to my side.” Nina gave a bitter laugh.
“You had everything, Sare. Your husband adored you, you had a beautiful son, and friends that gave a damn about you. Sure, we had hard times, but damn it, you had everything. It should have been me; I have nothing. It’s gotten really bad since you left.” Tears started streaming down her face.
Reaching into her pocket with one hand, she pulled out some tissues and wiped them away. “Damn, I hate it when I do that. If I start, you know me, I can’t stop.” Nina paused. “I can’t seem to let it go this time, Sare. It hurts a lot. All of it. Damn it, you should be here. You had everything, and I have…” Nina stopped to consider. “Almost nothing.”
Closing her eyes once more for a few seconds, she opened them and replaced the picture. Running her fingers one last time over the frame, Nina let go and walked away. She used more tissues on her way through the kitchen, and at the door out, she stopped to look around her home. Her eyes landed on another picture of her and Sarah, taken one day at the beach. “Sare, I miss you. You’d probably kick me in the butt for feeling the way I do right now, but you’re not here. I am, and I’m not happy. Maybe after I sleep, I’ll feel better. But right now, if I went to sleep, I don’t know if I want to wake up.”
With the brief moment of happiness Buck had left her with gone, Nina left to start her shift feeling like all the sadness in the world was resting on her shoulders.
Nathan studied the men inside the room, and he could easily see the tension in their shoulders and demeanor. He knew his friends well.
Josiah was worried about Vin, and he was trying not to show it by joking with JD. Nathan figured the big-hearted man was also worried about Nina, who was uncharacteristically withdrawn during the poker game. Sure, they’d all take turns napping during the games before, but none of them had that haunted, defeated look on their faces.
Thinking about Vin raised Nathan’s concern levels, because the undercover detective was not seen as often as he should be, and usually, the man called to say he couldn’t make it. If he couldn’t call, he got a message to the station, and Communications had nothing.
The phone didn’t help, either, with Buck getting into an argument with Nina’s Uncle Pete, which meant that things were going rotten in the Caswell home life. Buck and Pete only butted heads when it came to Nina not talking to Buck, and Nathan knew whatever happened, it was bad. Thinking of bad things brought him to his sergeant, the king of brooding wearing a big, black thundercloud over his head.
Nathan considered Chris, and compared him to a time bomb waiting for the right type of fuse to set him off. He’d seen the condition of Chris’s knuckles, and that spoke volumes about what the man did during his on and off time. Something more was going on with their friend, beyond the drugs and guns, if Chris was repeatedly pummeling his fists into the heavy bag. A quick glance at it showed some more wear and tear.
The whole thing was tearing the shift apart, and it didn’t look like it was going to end anytime soon. They were all putting on brave faces for each other, giving each other the false fronts so no one would ask the questions that didn’t have answers, or if they did have answers, the answers would be bad.
Which brought the team’s medic to JD. The rookie was really trying to fit in, and he was learning, but he couldn’t have come at a worse time. If the tension level of the shift wasn’t high enough a month ago to be almost intolerable, it was unbearable now. Take the poker game – it was only a group of people trying desperately to reaffirm that someone they cared about was okay, and that someone didn’t show up.
It wasn’t a good state of affairs, and that made Nathan more nervous than anything. He knew that not being on top of things, mentally sharp and bright, could get them killed. So he made a promise to keep a close eye on those near his sector, and see if Josiah and Ezra would watch the others.
Ezra. Nathan snorted. If that man didn’t see what was right in front of his nose, Nathan would hit him up side the head and try to knock some sense into him. It was typical Ezra to leave Nina’s and go home, instead of coming to the station and helping with teaching JD. Nathan amended that; he knew Ezra would help in JD’s education, and probably would do it when no one else was looking, but still…Ezra needed to open his eyes to possibilities that the medic believed were there, if only the Southerner were there and actually looked. Going home didn’t help. But, if Ezra could use that time to get himself straightened out, all the better.
With a grimace, Nathan threw himself back into refereeing the match between Chris and JD, making sure the sergeant didn’t hurt the rookie too bad in his current state.
Josiah sighed. Discreet calls on the way into the station yielded no information on Vin, and that bothered him. Vin’s lack of call and not showing up worried him, because with Vin missing, the rest of the squad would suffer.
He knew the self-defense class was for JD’s benefit, to make him feel part of the group and give him instruction that he needed. It was also a ruse to keep them busy. Less idle time to distract them from their worries. But it didn’t really help too much in distracting Nathan. Or himself.
Nathan was just as worried and trying hard not to show it. Josiah caught the looks Nathan shot him when he thought the broader man wasn’t looking, and those looks made him feel better. At least one of them was focused on the others, and that was a good thing.
JD didn’t understand any of what was going on, and it was probably for the best right now he didn’t. There was too much to explain, and it would be too easy to disillusion the poor boy. Besides, the rookie would meet Lt. Como, the straight-arrow Shift Commander, in roll call, and the better JD’s spirits, the better the meeting could go.
Josiah sighed again as he watched Chris absently rub his knuckles. He knew Larabee was beating the heavy bag again, and that was working on taking out his frustrations, but still, the sergeant shouldn’t let worry eat him up inside. There was too much built up already, and someone was going to trigger that temper soon. It was inevitable.
And it would probably be Nina. When those two were out of sorts, they went after each other like prizefighters in the late rounds. Too weary to give one hundred percent, but too stubborn to quit, they kept going at each other, drawing from reserves, and scoring ugly points.
Their peacemaker, Buck, was already in a foul mood from talking to Nina’s Uncle Pete, and Josiah hoped that the private talk between Buck and Nina would even them both out. It usually did, but still…he could hope.
Straightening, he walked into roll call, catching some of the shift already taking their seats, and hoped it would be a short briefing. Nina didn’t look any better, and Ezra looked…confused.
Saturday, 1900 hours
Ezra pulled away from the parking lot before the rest of the shift. Lt. Como, their other Shift Commander, reviewed all the dayshift calls with them to keep them informed, versus Lt. Halter hitting the highlights. Of all the days that Ezra desired Lt. Halter's short briefings, today ranked in the top ten. He stayed quiet and subdued throughout the shift meeting along with most of his friends. While they meant the poker games to bring a little levity into the workweek and help them relieve stress, this particular one created just the opposite.
He knew Nina started out upset courtesy of the unheralded appearance of her mother, and her mood continually deteriorated throughout the night, thanks in part to her lack of sleep. Her mixed signals between himself and Buck failed to improve Ezra's own mood. He did not understand where he stood with her, nor did he know where he truly wanted to be; to care meant getting hurt. The Southerner felt for every two steps he took forward with her, that inevitably something happened to force them back to the starting point and build up from there, over and over again. Usually, he enjoyed the dance because it increased anticipation, making nights like the previous more intense and special, yet right now it aggravated the hell out of him. Buck’s ill-timed arrival this afternoon while they were in the pool house interrupted the moment. He wondered if she possessed any idea of what she did to him, and then rationalized that today the answer was 'no' because of her mother's visit. The others were no better.
Chris became more agitated as the afternoon wore on although he tried not to show it. Everyone knew he secretly hoped Tanner made an appearance. As the afternoon dragged on, and the undercover officer still had not shown up, all grew wary of their sergeant's solemn silence. As if their own worry wasn't bad enough his mood upped the tension ten fold. With Vin's fading bruising a major concern, Chris worried with the same regard as a mother hen with her chicks that they often teased him of resembling. No one teased him today. Something must have happened to prevent the Texan from coming, and this time, unlike any of the others when he could not make it, he failed to page or call any one of them.
The newbie, following his first round of hesitancy with these new co-workers and friends, overcame his shyness and started plying them with some bad jokes. If anything, it showed the kid would be able to fit in with this eclectic group of friends. By the end, even he turned quiet, sensing the changing mood of the gathering.
Josiah and Nathan kept to themselves and contributed little.
Josiah quietly watched his squad members and seemed to be analyzing each one of them individually as the afternoon wore on. Secretly, he was, wondering what he could do to help and growing more frustrated. At this point, he knew there was not much to do except to offer an empathetic ear and shoulder to lean on when the need arose. As with Buck and Ezra, he cast his own worried glimpses in Nina's direction, sensing her restless mood. Deep down he knew Nina needed monitoring and he planned on being nearby when she needed it; he counted himself blessed to be in her confidence regarding certain personal problems and figured she would need the support after shift.
Thinking of Nina's mother made Ezra scowl. He detested the way his own treated him, and it sounded as if she received similar abuse like Maude dished out to him. His heart ached for her and made him wish she confided in him about it; he might be able to give her assistance in dealing with a difficult parent. Today, however, that role fell to Buck as he had shooed everyone from the house for privacy.
Standish thought back to the briefing and the quiet way Nina and Buck had walked in together. The close friendship between them was obvious but the lines of fatigue and depression created dark circles under her eyes and showed not everything had been solved during their talk, if they talked at all. That thought sprang from the jealousy Ezra refused to acknowledge. Jealousy equaled caring. Then he chastised himself on why he should care, either about her problems or the nature of her relationship with Buck. Hitting the steering wheel in frustration, he headed toward the South and the campus, repeating his previous night's patrol because of the closure of Olympus and the still volatile nature of the student body.
He briefly hoped he might run into Vin tonight. First, he could reassure himself and everyone else that the young man was all right and second; he might have the chance to talk with him a little. Before Vin went under, they slid into an easy companionship that even he, loner that he was, admitted he missed. He was also aware that in the short time the man was with the department, before taking his current assignment, Vin worked his way under all their skins in his quiet, unassuming manner. Almost as much as Josiah, he was the one they could go to if one needed an ear to listen; he did not condemn or chastise and held a person's confidence as if it was his own.
Ace, reading his companion's mood, moved up behind him and licked his ear. Smiling sadly, Ezra reached up and gave his partner a reassuring pat on his neck. He figured his partner sensed all the crazy emotions and feelings circulating through his friends and gave reassurance to his master. It was like his friend Charlie always told him about having a dog for a partner: you could always count on them to watch your back and for companionship that never failed.
His musings were interrupted by the call of the radio.
Ezra sighed. He reflected he really was not in the mood either to do anything tonight, or to start truly working this early in the shift. Resigned, he keyed his microphone.
"K9-16." His tone reflected his dark mood.
Pausing a beat, Ladonna continued, "Assist County Sheriff's Office, missing child, 14028 Ranch Road. 1-4-0-2-8 Ranch Road. Cross streets are Henderson Lane and Line Branch Road. Contact Deputy Malone on scene." Her voice held an edge usually reserved for serious calls.
Ezra frowned; a missing kid, God, he was going to hate this. "K9-16, 10-4. Can you provide an age and physical description on the child?" He heard something else in her voice and it worried him.
"K9-16, child will be a W/M, 4 years of age, blond hair, blue eyes, last seen wearing navy blue shorts, navy striped shirt, and brown leather sandals."
Four years old. A slew of colorful phrases flew through his brain before he answered. "10-4, FC, call County and advise them to keep the perimeter clear."
"Show me en route and send 11-03." As expected, Chris sent additional units. Ezra knew Chris detested these types of calls and did everything he could to assist, to hell with protocols and politics.
Ladonna answered Josiah. "11-03, FC."
"11-03, copied direct." Sanchez informed his dispatcher he had the information and was responding to the call.
Ace's ears perked up as he felt the acceleration of the truck. The lab braced his paws as he taught himself ages before against the modified seats of the truck with the ease of long practice. Sudden acceleration was nothing new to the experienced canine, and he often enjoyed the higher speeds. He watched their progress over his partner's shoulder, his tongue panting in anticipation.
Ezra rolled into the usually quiet neighborhood just outside the city limits of Four Corners on the North side of the county. The small, middle class neighborhood sat at the start of the gently rolling hills that led out to the larger, grander homes. These homes bordered the developed, growing parts of the county and the remaining ranch land surrounding Four Corners. As Ezra located the address, he noted this neighborhood held a wooded area behind the homes, one that he knew contained a small stream that ran from the hills down to the lake. His trepidation over this call increased. Lost kids, woods, and water was not a good combination.
There was no missing the house when he saw three county sheriff units parked running in the driveway, while the front yard hosted a convention of neighbors currently corralled by another deputy. The canine handler only hoped the deputies had called him in before letting anyone traipse through those woods. If that happened, locating the child would become significantly harder because of a compromised scene.
Ezra keyed the mike. "K9-16, 10-23."
"10-4, K9-16 on scene."
Ezra pulled his truck into the drive and parked. As he exited his vehicle, Deputy Sheriff Bud Malone immediately met him. Malone was one of the newly hired deputies to the revamped sheriff's department. Standish remembered meeting him a few times, finding him to be very professional, as well as easy to work with.
"Standish." Malone greeted Ezra, who nodded in return. The deputy walked him up the drive to a young couple clinging to and supporting each other, waiting beside the garage. The man held the woman tightly, gently rubbing his hand up and down her back as she noisily wept into his shoulder.
Malone introduced them. "This is Pete and Cally Turner. Their four-year-old son, Jason, was playing quietly in the backyard. Mrs. Turner said she stepped inside for a minute to answer the phone; when she returned to the yard, Jason was gone. There's an access gate that exits out to the woods, and it was open."
"How long ago?" Standish asked, appreciating the brief, concise report. He chastised himself on not asking on dispatch, and ordered himself to get back on his game, no excuses, no personal business interfering. A child's life was at stake, and Ezra played to win. He would find the child.
The deputy checked his watch. "Total time, about an hour; we requested you right after we arrived."
Ezra gave a brief head bob in acknowledgement and asked, "Has anyone been back in that area?"
Malone shook his head. "Mr. & Mrs. Turner said they looked just past the yard, called for him, then realized they were going to need help before it got dark. Also checked the house while waiting on us to get here. They're the only ones that were back there, and I have a man stationed there now. Thought Ace would be our best chance."
Standish murmured his thanks, and then turned to the sobbing woman. "Ma'am, do you have something the boy wore recently or played with?"
Cally Turner turned her red-rimmed eyes on the canine officer. "I was only gone for a minute." Her face showed her disbelief at the situation, and the parent's worry of losing a child.
"Yes ma'am." Ezra spoke softly to the woman, trying hard to soothe her. A hysterical parent usually hindered more than helped. "We'll locate Jason. Do you have something he was wearing? It will be beneficial in finding him faster."
The question finally penetrated her terrified brain and she slowly nodded. Turning from her husband, she ran back into the house with a purpose in her step. “If I can find something that will help, I’ll find it.”
Pete Turner turned his attention to the two officers. "Shouldn't we get a search party going or something? I thought when you said they were bringing in the canine officer, that more officers would come.”
"Mr. Turner." Malone patiently faced the distraught father. “You said Jason likes to play hide and seek, and the dog here is our best chance of finding him soon. That's what they're trained for - tracking people and kids. It's getting dark, so we want to use our best shot first, okay?"
Turner nodded reluctantly, knowing what they said was true. "He's just so little." The image of his smiling son appeared in his mind and the negative thought of never seeing him again scared him. He wanted to do something, anything, but his rational brain told him to let the professionals he called in do their job.
"Will this be okay?" Cally returned with a small blanket. "He took his nap with it today. He loves this blanket and…" She broke off to start crying again, her hand shaking as she extended it to the Southerner. Pete wrapped his arms around her from behind and squeezed.
Ezra accepted the cloth from her and smiled his most reassuring smile. "That will be fine, ma'am, thank you." From his pocket, he pulled a plastic bag to hold the blanket and not contaminate it with his own scent. Carefully he placed the yellow material inside, tucking it in an easily accessible leg pocket.
He returned to his truck, leaving Malone to deal with the parents and the growing unrest of the well-meaning neighbors eager to help. He noticed another deputy move up to confer with Malone as he left, but he did not recall his name. At his truck, Ace met him at the door, ready to go to work. Ezra reached into the back where he kept Ace's equipment and retrieved the body harness out of the storage box. He slipped Ace's front legs through the openings, brought the harness up, and fastened the straps into place across his back. Attaching the leash to the harness instead of the choke chain, he led Ace out of the truck.
Highly excited now, Ace practically trotted because the canine sensed he knew he was about to work, one of his favorite things.
Malone led the pair to the backyard. As they approached the back access gate, Ezra almost emitted an audible groan when he saw whom the deputies stationed there. Although it had been awhile since they had seen each other, the two had many confrontations when Standish had first moved to Four Corners, especially when he became a canine handler.
Hubert McKenzie fit the stereotypical ideal of a police officer in the mind of 'John Q. Public'. Definitely seeing too many stops at the donut counter over the years, the man was tall, close to six feet, but with a 'beer gut' that rolled over his uniform belt. Ezra wondered how the Velcro straps on the vest managed to hold all that fat so far in without breaking. Dark hair, shot with gray, was cut short in a strict military style that matched the severe black-rimmed glasses residing over a square, stern face. The frown deepened as he eyed the approaching trio.
"Malone, I thought you were bringing in the bloods?" He barked sternly on their approach.
Ezra heard the man beside him sigh heavily, and could imagine his frustration with this man. The Southerner knew McKenzie to be very embittered, one of the remaining holdouts from the old regime, and not happy at the fact. Too old and too old school to move on, he stayed to ride out his time until retirement, which Standish secretly thought was none too soon for everyone involved.
His own contact with the man had been volatile at best. At one time, the County's canine officer McKenzie attended several training classes with the young Southerner. The treatment suffered by the County's German shepherd at the gruff handling of his partner appalled Ezra. McKenzie coddled neither man nor beast. Standish thought he would not have to be facing the man now if the County still had their dog. The poor animal finally died last year, and many unsubstantiated rumors floated around that this man's treatment was the cause.
Malone addressed his colleague with barely concealed disgust. "McKenzie, you know it would take too long for the State to get their bloodhounds here. We need to find this kid fast."
"Good luck with this mutt. Speaking of mutts, how's Caswell? Anyone put a collar and dog license on her yet? Anyone who gets near her needs rabies shots." McKenzie chuffed out. He ignored the expressions of his fellow law enforcement officers, and added his opinion on this situation. "Wouldn't be necessary for us to be here doing Mama’s job if the mother would've kept a better watch on her kid."
There was a started gasp behind the group and they turned to see the young parents had silently approached them. Ezra winced at the pure horror reflected on the young mother's face after the deputy's cruel and careless words. Standish caught Josiah's eye when he saw his friend enter the back yard. Sanchez nodded to the canine officer that he understood the situation and moved towards the young couple. With Josiah, the parents received a friendly ear and reassurance; in addition, the possibility of getting more information from them grew, information that they may not realize is important. Josiah moved them away from the cluster of officers.
"McKenzie..." Malone growled out.
McKenzie smirked at the younger officer. “What? It’s the truth. Parents nowadays aren't responsible and call the cops every time they screw up."
Ezra just shook his head and moved Ace past the two deputies as they began their argument. He had a child to find, and now was not the time to try to teach the old man social sensibilities, although he would not mind trying to pound some sense into the thick skull.
Shaking off those pleasurable thoughts, he led Ace to the edge of the woods and knelt down beside the dog. "Okay, boy, here we go." He patted the canine affectionately on the neck and let him smell the small blanket. Unlike the bloodhound, the canine was not really trained to pick up such a specific scent from one person but they could track in a limited area. They could track for the most recent scent, provided the scene was not compromised by too many smells for the dog to decipher. While the bloodhounds were more sensitive to scents and were able to distinguish one scent from many others to stay on a trail, they were too expensive to maintain for their limited abilities. At present, the only set of bloods in the state were owned by the State Highway Patrol, and their response time could take several hours.
Standish stood beside his eager partner. "Chupa." Ezra issued the command to track. He moved off with his partner as he set to trailing the scent of the young boy.
Ace moved off eagerly, stopping shortly and snorting the area in confusion. "Chupa," Ezra repeated to keep the dog on track. Ace rooted around again trying to please his human. "Chupa," Standish continued the reinforcement of the command. Ezra did not understand this; the lab never needed a third issuance of the tracking command. Ace still seemed confused as he sniffed through the area, finally turning back towards the back gate. Ace returned to the gate and sat at the entrance, looking back at his partner, then at McKenzie.
Standish frowned, giving the backyard a quick glance in the dimming evening light. Nothing out of order could be seen; it was a typical back yard belonging to a young family. A covered patio featured the typical set of table and chairs with a BBQ pit to the left, and in the yard was a small swing set with a slide off to the side. Ezra could see nothing viable where a small boy could hide for an extended period.
"You searched the yard and the house." The canine officer turned to Malone for confirmation.
Malone nodded. "Very thoroughly, room by room, under the furniture and in the closets. The parents told me that Jason likes to play hide-and-seek and left no piece of furniture unturned in the house.”
Standish once again moved Ace back to the edge of the woods, repeating the process to get him to track. He absently heard Larabee arrive on the scene. Ace again seemed confused and tried to return to the back gate. It was then that Standish noted a crushed cigarette butt lying on the ground in the area Ace was getting distracted. Ezra bent to pick it up, storming back to the gate and eyeing McKenzie with barely contained fury.
"You were in the woods!" He shouted the accusation at the man. He held the cigarette butt aloft before flicking it in the middle of McKenzie's chest. It bounced off to land harmlessly on the ground, but the damage had already been done. The strong smell alone can damage a canine's sense of smell on a track; cigarette smoke, especially fresh smoke, would be stronger than the scent on the blanket. No wonder Ace got confused and went right back to the gate; the newest, freshest scent was the deputy and his infernal cigarette.
McKenzie smiled unconcerned at the man before him. “So? I was looking for the kid. That's why we're here, right?"
Green eyes flared in contempt. Each word shot out with the force of a bullet without the slow, easy drawl Standish normally displayed. "You compromised the scene." Ezra knew the former canine handler received the same training he did, and yet, did it anyway.
"What, dog isn't up to the job, Standish?" McKenzie snarled at the handler. "Or maybe the handler doesn't have a clue what he's doing and blowing smoke up all our asses."
Pure fury raged through Ezra as he moved toward the infuriating man. All his rage centered in the tightly clenching fist at his side. He restrained himself earlier; not this time. His intent was thwarted by the tall blond presence of his sergeant as Larabee stepped into his path. The Four Corners' sergeant entered the scene and immediately ascertained the problem from the few words growled out by Ezra.
"Stand down, Standish." Larabee's voice was contained to stay within the small group, but the intent and power behind it was clear. Satisfied Ezra would obey, for now, Larabee flicked his glance to his side and directly at Malone.
The officer understood the meaning behind the green glare directed his way. "McKenzie, go out front and relieve Bruder."
McKenzie glared at the young man giving him orders. "You aren't the boss here."
Malone replied, “It’s my call. I’m primary, so I’m in charge. Get out front.”
Ezra made a move toward the man again, and the blond leader stayed him with his outstretched arm across his chest. Larabee turned understanding eyes to Malone, knowing the position he was in trying to face down the old school officer. He turned his own considerable force of personality and authority toward the man. "McKenzie, back down."
The older officer shot his own glare at the Sergeant. "I don't work for your department, Larabee, and this isn't your scene."
Larabee could feel his own rage build against this man as he tried to contain his temper for the sake of appearances. Along with controlling the raging fury of his canine officer who he knew was quite ready to take this man's face off. They had a kid to find, damn it, and they should not have to deal with this crap too.
The smoldering blond moved up into McKenzie's face. "Thank God you don't work for my department." He snarled. "And if I find out you've comprised this scene, letting harm come to that little boy, you won't be working for yours much longer either."
McKenzie wanted to show he did not fear this cocky upstart in front of him, but his retirement was all he had left now. He knew he was washed up, and no opportunities to look forward to. Two divorces, alimony, and child support were the only things keeping him working, along with the desire to get something out of his life spent in uniform. He would give them no more ammunition to use against him. Warning Malone with a glare that spoke of a later dealing between the two of them, he moved off, muttering under his breath the whole way.
Malone keyed his mike, "Bruder, McKenzie going to relieve you, come back here." He then turned to Larabee. "Sorry."
Larabee resignedly shook his head, completely aware of the problems the sheriff's department suffered through in its rebuilding process. The few old timers left detested the new regime, but had nowhere else to go. They resented the hell out of the new PD that took over their jobs and shunted them off to the side. Many of the newly unemployed deputies and several others tried lateral transfers to Four Corners PD, but found their applications denied by the Chief. Travis wanted a clean slate, interviewing each person extensively before hiring him or her. Chris knew through rumor only that Nina was one of the very few lucky ones, causing some old-timers to resent her, and by extension, her squad. Right this second; he cared less about the political bullshit. His main concern now was to find the missing boy they were called in to search for.
"Ezra?" Larabee turned to his canine officer.
Standish was still glaring after McKenzie's retreating back. If the green daggers shooting from his eyes were real, the man would have been dead many times over.
"Officer Standish." Larabee tried again to get the man focused back on his task.
Standish finally turned his sights back to Chris. "I apologize. . ."
Larabee held his hand up to stop Ezra from going on. “Don’t. He’s not worth it. Are we going to be able to use Ace?"
Ezra blinked, getting his thoughts back on track. He shrugged, "I'll take him further in the woods and see if he can pick up something there." His eyes were full of doubt as he faced his leader saying, "I feel though we may have to do this the hard way."
Larabee nodded briefly and keyed his mike. "11-01, FC." Damn McKenzie. That bastard was going to pay for what he did today.
"FC, 11-01." Ladonna answered.
"Send 11-04 to our location. Have 11-08 and 11-07 cover for now. Alert Lt. Como we may need to call in more people."
"11-08's direct, shifting east." Nina’s voice came through the lapel mikes.
JD said, "11-07's direct, shifting west."
This meant they split the patrol areas from four main sections to two, divided down the center by the already established boundary emanating from Central. The entire East from top to bottom, including Northeast and Southeast, was Nina's responsibility and the entire West from top to bottom, including Northwest and Southwest, was JD and Buck's new territory.
"13-05's roving Outer." Rafe Mosely, filling in on shift augmentation overtime, now covered the outer areas to keep a unit moving through that large section.
Larabee turned to Malone as he listened to his orders being carried out over the radio. "You have any more people available?"
Malone shrugged, "We're short handed tonight, might be able to call some in. Most are covering the County's Auto Show. Appreciate all the help." Although technically Malone's call, the deputy had no problem turning this into a joint operation. With a missing child, this was not the time to have a jurisdictional dispute. Personally, he welcomed Larabee's experience and leadership.
The sergeant sighed as he took in the quickly fading light, wishing for the longer days of summer instead of early spring. "We're going to need light and get some of those neighbors out front organized into search parties. Give Ezra a good twenty to thirty-minute head start and we will stay close to the wood line for now. Keep him on point and we might get lucky."
The deputy nodded. "I'll call for assistance from the fire department. We can ask for one of their light trucks and maybe they can spare some personnel." He moved off to confer with his other partner entering the backyard.
Larabee shifted down to the gate and watched as Ezra and Ace disappeared into the dark foliage. The pinpoint of Ezra's flashlight gave him a source to track their progress. He sighed in frustration. This left the town excessively short handed in coverage, and he didn't want to risk bringing them all here. Chris especially didn't want Nina, and by extension Buck, exposed to McKenzie. The two men nearly came to blows during their last meeting, and Larabee gauged Nina's current mood as not one best suited to deal with her former co-workers. Most deputies were newcomers but the holdovers like McKenzie never made things easy on her. Chris again wished that he knew the whole story, but people still refused to discuss any of it, and it was right around when Mary lost her husband, so he refused to ask her about it. Running a hand down his face, he thought of the lost little boy and prayed this did not end in a tragedy.