four corners pd
By: Cin and Heidi
Day Three: Saturday (cont)
Ezra loaded a very tired Ace into the back of his truck, and left the reunited family’s home. He drove for a little while, showing a police presence since it was Saturday night, and past midnight, but he knew he needed to write his report. He was tired as well.
Pulling into his – and Ace’s – favorite park, he gave the lab water, let Ace take care of business, and cleaned up behind him. The cleaning up part Ezra could do without. Before he let Ace back in the truck, the Southerner spread out the lab’s second favorite blanket, and left his much loved chew toy in the corner.
Hopping up, Ace walked around three times before lying down in the corner, his chew toy firmly in his mouth.
Ezra settled in his seat, the muted red interior light on, and wrote his reports. He let the occasional squeak keep him company, comforting him in the simplicity of it. Sitting here with his dog was peaceful. When he finished his report, he twisted to glance in the back.
Curled up in a loose ball, Ace was asleep. His head rested against the side of the truck, and his toy was securely tucked under one paw. Ace looked like an innocent, overgrown puppy, and it pulled Ezra’s already weakened heartstrings.
“Sleep well, partner,” the human whispered. “You deserve it for a job well done.”
Turning around, Ezra worked on his beat sheet, caught up on other reports, and continued to enjoy the quiet. He figured Chris said something to the ladies in Dispatch, because they were leaving him alone.
Lost in his busyness and errant thoughts about children of his own, it took a moment to realize something changed. One delicate breath later, and he knew. Accusing green eyes whipped around to stare at the other occupant of the truck.
Lifting his head, Ace sniffed the air, and then shifted to sniff his backside. Ace’s head immediately twisted away.
“Yes, Ace, that rancid aroma originated there.” Ezra lowered all the truck’s windows.
Ace’s head went out immediately. He howled.
“You offended yourself! How do you think I feel?” Ezra leaned a little further out the window. “I do believe my eyes are watering.” He quickly exited the truck, pulling Ace with him, to a short distance away. They let the truck air out for five minutes, but that did not improve the situation.
Resigned, Ezra knew he needed an air freshener – now. Driving toward Central, with his head half out one side, and Ace’s the other, the Southerner reviewed what Ace ate today, and reached a conclusion. Only one substance affected Ace this way. He grabbed the CB mike, for once appreciating the semi-private form of communication installed in the truck. Since the CB was not recorded like the Police Department’s radio, he could say what he wished. “WILMINGTON!”
“Yeah, Ez? I can barely hear you.”
“YOU WILL DIE!”
“What was that? All I heard was wind noises.”
“Meet up with me, and I’ll give you a whiff of wind.” Ezra brought his head back in the truck.
“What are you talking about, Standish? You’re not making sense.”
“The perfect death, you locked in my truck, the windows rolled up, with Ace.”
“The chili you fed Ace.”
Buck’s laughter came back through the speakers. “He likes it.”
“His digestive system does not.”
“Neither does your delicate nose.”
“You will be paid back. Rest assured, I will have my revenge.”
“Ezra?” Chris called through the speakers.
“Keep your head in the truck.”
“Believe me, sir, you would have your head in the fresh desert air if this were your vehicle.”
“But it’s not my truck, or my problem.” Glee sounded in Larabee’s tone.
“Your are all heart, Mr. Larabee. I will add you to my list for revenge.”
“In your dreams.”
“Yeah, right,” Buck replied. “You always say that.”
Ezra grinned evilly. “Do you think Ace thought of throwing you into the pool on his own this afternoon?”
“That ain’t right!”
“We shall see.” Ezra hung up the mike, passing the crowded Saloon. He saw Nina and Inez talking out back, but Nina waved him off, signaling she was okay.
He continued to the twenty-four hour self-serve car wash, purchasing a scented pine tree freshener from the machine.
The pine scene immediately warred with Ace’s chili aroma, giving Ezra the first traces of a headache. He wondered what Nina and Inez were talking about, especially since Nina was given a call somewhere else just as he went by the Saloon.
Nina used her cellular to call the bar.
“Saloon, may I help you?”
“Inez, it’s Nina. Can you meet me out back in about fifteen? I need a couple minutes of your time.”
“Would you rather me come inside? I have to talk to you now before I get the next call.”
“All right. Back door, and don’t let the patrons see you.”
“Do my best.”
Nina pulled up in fifteen minutes, skirting the outside of the parking lot until she reached the back, slipping the car into the delivery truck slot that was not easily seen from the road. The last thing Inez or Nina needed was someone complaining that a marked unit was loitering on the lot.
Inez met her almost immediately. “What brings you here?”
The other woman shrugged before saying, “You.”
The concern touched the bartender as she leaned forward to say, “I am well, thank you.”
“Good. We need to talk. Timing sucks but, it needs to be done.”
“You seem troubled.”
“Facing some truths can do that to a person.” Nina took a sip of the water bottle she brought with her, and screwed up her courage. “Got a few minutes?”
Intrigued, Inez replied, “Yes.”
“Been facing up to a few truths in my life, and one of them involves you.” Another sip, and she felt her hand stop shaking. This was probably going to be one of the most important conversations of her life, and she wanted to get it right.
“Oh?” Inez stared at her.
“Yeah.” Nina judged the other woman’s expression. “How do you feel about Buck?”
“Excuse me?” came the immediate reply.
Caswell easily spotted the emotions Inez tried hard to keep hidden. She saw something, something strong for Buck, flit across the pretty co-owner’s face before the shutters firmly closed. Nina shook her head. “You don’t have to answer. I just need to explain something to you.”
Inez swallowed. “Whatever occurs between you and Senor Buck is your own business.”
“Actually, Buck and I have been officially over since before I left Nevada and moved here.”
Inez considered the words.
“Oh, we used to see each other occasionally since he got here, I’ll be the first to admit that, but lately…things have changed, Inez. I’ve realized that neither one of us is doing ourselves any good falling into what’s comfortable.” She paused, liking the sound of that. “Comfortable describes us perfectly. We’ve been together on and off for a good chunk of both of our lives. We’ve just found ourselves falling into habits formed that are hard to break.” Blue eyes assessed the bartender.
“You do not have to tell me anything,” Inez said. She wanted to know, yes, but she also feared what Nina was telling her.
“Yes I do. I owe it to you,” Nina closed her eyes, gripping the steering wheel in a white knuckled grip and took a deep breath. Her bright, blue eyes opened and looked deeply into Inez’s dark ones. “Most importantly I owe him. I just need to say this so bare with me. Buck was my first, and that created something between us. I was his first virgin, if you can believe that, so the feelings reciprocate. You remember your first, right?”
A smile crossed the bartender’s face. “Si.”
“Well, with Buck and I, it was a struggle to get together, stay together, and even if we did marry back then, we’d probably already be divorced. We were right for the moment, Inez, but the moment’s long gone. I guess a part of me will always love him, but I’m not the one for him. It’s just not meant to be.”
Inez considered what she was hearing. She could see how difficult this was for the young corporal, and understood the deep emotional ties that bound the woman before her and the tall, charming rogue. “What are you implying, senorita?”
“Buck never looked at me the way he looks at you. He’s scared, though.”
Inez snorted. “Senor Buck? Scared? You are joking.”
“He is terrified, Inez, of what he feels for you. It scares the ever-living crap out of him. Sorry if I’m being blunt, but mincing words today is not an option. Now, I’m not saying this to scare you either, but I’ve never seen him so far gone about a woman, myself included.”
The bartender swallowed hard as she thought about what Nina revealed. She could not deny there was a connection between them when they danced the other night, but the thought of it scared her too.
“Inez, when Buck gets scared, he always goes for what’s most comfortable, what he knows. He’s always done that. I’m comfortable. I don’t put expectations on him. I don’t make demands or ask for commitments; he’s comfortable with that. To a point, we’ve both been satisfied with that, but things have changed. We’re both holding each other back from something potentially more fulfilling, more exciting, more dangerous, and more rewarding, because neither one of us will take the first step. So I’m going to take it.”
“What exactly do you mean?”
“I mean, Inez, that I’m cutting the apron strings. Setting him loose because it’s not doing either of us any good. I’ll have him over Sunday afternoon, and we’ll hash it out, but it’s time for us to only be friends. Way past time. We’re not lovers, and haven’t been for a while, but it’s time to take the safety net away. I’m telling you all this because I know Buck; he’ll start hitting on you harder than ever, and you won’t know why. This is to give you a heads up, and a clear slate. If you’re concerned about where I fall in the picture, I can say that a part of Buck and I will always love the other, but it’s not the kind of love that lasts. You have a chance at that everlasting love, Inez, and I’m not going to get in the way.” Before Inez could retort, Nina left.
With those words, Nina gave Inez several things to think about, and the bartender spent the rest of the night in quiet contemplation. Even after she saw the last customer out and locked the doors, the words still tumbled about her head. She realized it felt like Nina was passing the torch to her.
Did Buck look at her differently than other females? She honestly did not know; she only knew he flirted with many women. How often did she see him with other women? Not very, she ruefully admitted, and not recently. If she saw him with anyone, it was Nina usually standing at his side. They may not have been touching, or seemed like a couple, but they were comfortable. That word did describe them. Comfortable. No pressures, no expectations, just companionship and friendship, with a large dose of history involved.
As she drove home, her mind still raced with all the jumble of words and emotions, even as she tried to settle down to sleep. Inez wondered what triggered Nina’s sudden desire to cut things off, set things in motion, but could not come up with a reason. Shrugging, she let herself fall into a dreamless sleep, not aware of events already in place for later that morning.
Events that would rip the very fabric of the town apart.
Ezra watched the familiar patrol car turn into the entrance to the park with a mixture of surprise, pleasure, and wariness. He felt unprepared and had no inclination to deal with the mixed signals Nina gave him. As the car stopped in the darkened corner away from prying eyes, Ace, that traitor, took off and greeted her.
He continued watching as she approached, saying nothing, encouraging nothing. Ezra kept his face unreadable and knew when he saw her blue eyes she was looking in his for something. One of her hands nervously stroked the happy lab at her side and she swallowed. It appeared to him that she was gathering her courage.
"Hi." Her voice cracked and she cleared her throat. "Hi," she tried again.
The Southerner nodded in greeting, skipping his normal joke of felicitations. Again, she searched his impassive visage with her eyes and a flicker of disappointment flashed across her face. Was that nervousness he read in her body language?
"Can we talk?" she asked, whisper soft. Her hand never left Ace’s coat of fur, either drawing courage from the lab or reassuring herself.
The request surprised him. Normally, they just segued into conversation, covering whatever they felt necessary without the formality of permission. Whatever Nina wanted to discuss must be important enough to warrant a request. In the part of his walled-off heart and quicksilver brain that harbored a large soft spot for her, subdued elation flowed through his system at the knowledge she came to him. "Of course," he replied.
"Walk with me?" she hesitantly asked. Maybe if they talked as they walked it might make things easier to say.
He nodded his agreement and keyed his mike. "K9-16, FC." He thought it best to tell Dispatch what they were doing and fill in another line on their beat sheet.
The answer came immediately. "FC, K9-16."
"Show myself and 11-08 foot patrol Nature Park."
"After you," he motioned her toward the trails. Perhaps she might be more talkative in a more secluded environment.
Nina offered a weak smile and stepped ahead of him. Foot patrols of the park were a staple because of the high numbers of malicious destruction that occurred from people drinking and partying after it closed. They continued in silence to the center of the park, a spot overlooking both the parking lot and the lake below in the other direction.
Ace trotted alone in front of them enjoying the walk even if his humans seemed quiet and withdrawn. He stopped at a bench and lay down in the grass as if encouraging them to stop there. After working so hard earlier, he wanted the opportunity to lie down in a peaceful surrounding.
The humans sat on the hard, cold bench, keeping a few inches between their bodies, and let the canine rest.
Ezra decided to let her go first, maintaining his silence until she was ready. He almost failed to hear her because her voice was a small, pale imitation of the Nina he knew.
"I owe you an apology."
Nina was sorry and apologizing? "For what?"
"For being a bitch today, for bringing everyone down. For making everyone worry; we’ve got other, more important things to deal with than my petty problems." She met his eyes with her own turbulent ones. "Especially for causing you to worry, Z."
The nickname surprised and touched him, while her apology showed she cared about his feelings. He stayed quiet, waiting to hear her out.
Ace knew the emotions ran high and stayed quiet, content to lay on the cool grass and relax. Tracking all that time was hard work and he enjoyed the peace and quiet.
Nina blew out a breath. "I’m really not in a better mood, but you deserve an explanation."
She sighed, using her entire body. "I wish you would have stayed after the poker game because I wanted to talk to you then."
He raised an eyebrow.
She correctly interpreted his non-verbal question. "Yes, I know Buck shooed everyone out. Habit, I guess, but Buck’s not who I wanted there. You were."
"Perhaps you could explain why you said nothing? Maybe enlighten me as to why you preferred my humble self?"
"This could take awhile," she warned him. Nina looked away, down at Ace, at the parking lot, then at him.
"I see nothing immediately requiring our attention." He found himself intrigued; Nina rarely shared confidences, and it sounded as if he was about to be on the receiving end, showing him how much she trusted him.
"Will you hear me out? I mean really listen?"
"Certainly," Ezra immediately replied.
"As you know, Buck and I had a long and complicated relationship that changed gradually into a friendship. What you may not know is my mother, Bethany, holds extremely high expectations for all her children. Expectations I repeatedly failed in reaching and quit trying to long ago. Because of my blatant acts of independence, our relationship was always strained to say the least." Nina managed a sardonic grin.
Ezra understood ‘strained’ relations with a parent on the rare occasions Maude appeared in his life. He nodded slightly.
Nina felt encouraged by his nod. She spent the majority of the shift so far thinking and most of her thoughts kept circling back to the Southerner seated beside her. She thought about his feelings, her actions, the consequences, and what she really wanted in her life now that the family ties were finally cut.
She continued, "What does not help is Buck. He sees Bethany for the narrow-minded bitch she is and pulls no punches. Bethany loves putting me down; she’s done it all my life. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but every once in a while she knocks me for a loop. So Buck ends up listening, cheers me up, plays my hero, a routine we go through every single time." Nina waited until she felt he understood that Buck comforting her was one of their long-standing rituals.
Her tone flattened. "He assumed, and usually he’s right, that we’d go through it again today and acted on that without consulting me. The reason I said nothing was because . . ." she hesitated, watching the toe of her boot dig a hole at her feet. "I just didn’t have the energy to fight him too and I was afraid of hurting his feelings by not letting him do what he’s always done."
Her explanation made sense and matched Ezra’s mental profile of her. He knew of many times that she kept the peace, although it went contrary to her own wishes. He still wondered about something. "Pray tell me how this affects me."
"I’ve been thinking, Z, and that’s dangerous for me. Bethany made me realize a few things about myself, things that jarred me from my complacency." She paused.
Nina stared into those bewitching green orbs and said, "I kept thinking about last night before I got the call. Of what could have happened. I thought about today in the pool house before anyone got there, and where it might have gone had Buck not shown up when he did. I realized I was holding back because I was scared."
"Scared of what?" Ezra pitched his voice low and soft.
"Making a move, doing something just for me . . . afraid of cutting ties."
"Between you and Buck?" he clarified.
"Yes. There’s always going to be a bond there, but I’m holding both of us back by letting him think there ever will be more again. He has a chance for something special with someone else and he is going to blow it if he doesn’t realize that soon. We’re old news, and this confusion is hurting us both. I want him to be happy. Just as I hope that maybe I have my own chance, if I haven’t screwed it up like everything else in my life."
The meaning in her eyes was clear; she meant she wanted to be with him if he let her. Key words: if he let her. Letting her meant caring and he shied away from that. An automatic defense mechanism kicked in and he changed the subject while his brain absorbed and processed these revelations. "It seems your mother inspired your mind; what brought her to your doorstep to begin with?"
Nina almost smiled – that was not a flat out no. He was thinking and she would oblige him. "I trust you won’t repeat this?"
"My lips are sealed."
"Bethany came to inform me of my younger brother’s marriage," she snorted, "to my older brother’s widow."
A second eyebrow raised because of both the information and the pain in her voice.
"Yes, my Dickhead brother married the faithless bitch who screwed Dickhead while married to my older brother and had a kid. As the Stomach Churns." A wry laugh that showed no amusement escaped her lips.
"And?" This news sounded expected; something else ate at her.
Nina looked away and closed her eyes. She sighed as she revealed the painful truth, "My mother disowned me today. I am not to contact them or her for any reason other than to apologize."
The admission rocked Ezra. Disowned? Even Maude at her worst would never disown ‘her darlin’ little boy’. No wonder her mood resembled the darkest night.
The next words surprised him further. "Buck doesn’t know about that."
"Why ever not?"
"Because I couldn’t deal with his temper when he heard. His mother, he repeatedly tells me, was a saint. He can’t understand the cruelty a mother can inflict on her child and him being mad about it solves nothing. I need understanding, not anger, and I kinda felt you would understand."
He did understand more than she thought. Ezra realized they shared another similarity, and guessed her silences and secrets stemmed from necessity, like his. He knew it cost her to admit all this to him, and the wall around his heart weakened.
One arm wrapped around her shoulder and pulled her against his chest. He heard her start crying and wrapped his other arm around her as the emotional control broke. Ace shifted so he lay on her feet, his head on her thigh.
This was the first time he saw her fall apart like this; she rarely allowed anyone other than Buck or Chris near her when she felt her control threatened. Granted, he had seen angry, mad, frustrated, laughing, hysterical, energized, and a few more emotions in between. But this…this… he never saw her this upset, this…broken. The tight bands he kept around his heart loosened considerably as she sobbed against him.
They stayed that way for what seemed hours until the torrent of tears ceased. Now embarrassed, Nina pulled away first and started cleaning up her face with tissues from her pocket. She tossed them in the nearby trash can at the end of the bench and realized she was afraid to face him now.
Ezra sensed her nervousness and solved it by bringing her face to his, one hand under her chin, and dabbing away the remains of her tears with his handkerchief. Softly he said, "Fear not, dear lady, as I do understand."
She read his eyes and saw he did, further warming her heart toward him.
The Southerner gave in to impulse and leaned forward, tilting his head, asking permission, until their lips nearly met. He saw her move closer. A low growl from Ace stopped them and both looked in the direction he indicated, faces inches apart. Several drunken people pulled in the park’s lot and started climbing out of their cars, oblivious to the patrol units parked in the partially lit area. Cases of beer appeared from trunks and backseats along with blankets and a portable stereo while they started toward the trail. The canine officer faced her again, sighed with regret, and touched his forehead to hers, one hand around the back of her neck. "Their timing is impeccable," he grumbled before pulling away to the sound of her low laughter.
"So much for nothing requiring our attention," she retorted. "Let ‘em get set up, and observe them violate the alcohol laws," Nina said. "Why they didn’t see the bright reflective stripes on both our vehicles parked down there, I don’t know."
Ezra leaned down and attached Ace’s leash, holding onto the thin strip of material easily with one hand. “Why not? It’s already been a long night.”
They waited for fifteen minutes before walking the trails back toward their cars. The three heard them long before they saw them, and quietly approached under the sounds of the loud portable stereo.
"Shall we?" Ezra asked.
"I’ll call it, you circle?"
He nodded, moving himself and Ace around to the back of the group. One hand lowered the radio volume.
"11-08, FC." Nina spoke softly into her lapel mike.
"We’re out with several juveniles and alcohol violations."
"11-03, FC." Nathan called.
"11-03," Casey answered.
"I’m not too far from there. I’ll be en route."
Moving one hand to her gun, and pulling out her flashlight, Nina walked toward the clearing. She flicked on her camera mike, knowing the images would not be recorded, but the audio would be captured. Activating the white light, she shined it in one pair’s face. "Morning. Four Corners Police, and everyone stay where you are. Let’s see a show of hands."
Three males immediately stood to run.
"Police Canine! Remain still!" Ezra’s shout came from behind them, followed by a few well-timed barks by Ace.
The three stopped, holding her their hands up over their head.
Ezra, Nina, and Ace approached carefully, gathering the kids in the center. They watched each other while they searched the kids for weapons. They found none.
"Do you know why we're here?" Nina asked.
"You like hassling us," said one teenager.
"No, sir," Ezra replied. "We are here to enforce the large sign, also known as a billboard, that clearly stated, 'Park closed between dusk and dawn. No Trespassing'."
"That don't mean anything." The same teenager that spoke earlier shook his head. "You're here, so doesn't that mean you're trespassing, too?"
"Uh-uh," Ezra said. "Since youngsters such as yourselves chose to ignore the sign, and partake of copious amounts of distilled spirits, we are charged with routine patrol and enforcement of the previously mentioned billboard."
Chuckling, Nathan entered the clearing. "He means you are trespassing and drinking alcohol against the law."
"So let's see some identification." Nathan stared hard for a second, and then took some pictures of the campsite with his camera. While the juveniles produced their ID cards and licenses, Nathan called the names in to Casey to run wants/warrants checks.
Nina supervised the pouring out of the alcohol, eliciting many groans while the teenagers complied. All the aluminum containers went into a nearby recycling barrel.
Then the fun began.
"11-04, FC." Nathan called into Communications.
"11-04," Casey answered.
"555-1870, speak with parents of Julie, have them respond to pick her up. Advise them she's been drinking."
"10-4." Casey shook her head, while Ladonna laughed.
"555-8591, parents of Carl, same message, and bring a second driver for his vehicle."
The notifications continued until Casey copied all the parents' phone numbers.
Ladonna laughed. "I love making these. Pissed off parents can straighten kids out more than cops can at times."
From someone's pocket, a cellular phone rang. Ezra, Nathan, and Nina all shook their heads.
"Carl?" Ezra said.
"What?" The juvenile fumbled to find the phone.
"I detest amateurs." Ezra reached for his lapel mike. "K9-16, FC."
"Would you perchance be trying Carl's parents?"
"Disconnect. Carl provided a bad number."
The ringing immediately ceased.
"Perhaps, Carl, you would care to provide the true number to your parents?"
Ezra sighed. "K9-16, FC."
"Find the telephone number for Carl's parents off his driver's license address. Give them a call, and advise them he's being less than truthful.
Ladonna found the number and dialed.
It was picked up on the first ring. "Who the hell is this?"
"Four Corners Police Department, sir, on a recorded line."
"What do you want?"
"Do you know where your son is, sir?"
"Carl? In bed."
"Could you check for me?"
"He better be." There was a long pause accompanied by fumbling noises. "Is he okay?"
"Not for long. What did he do?"
"Drinking, alcohol, trespassing, and lying to my officers. Would you and second driver be able to respond to pick him and the vehicle up?"
Ladonna told him, obtained a vehicle description, how long it would take the parents, and passed the information on to Casey.
The young dispatcher relayed it to the officers, along with the other responding parent notifications.
They waited in a semi-silence, Nathan's blistering lecture on the evils of alcohol the only words spoken.
As parents arrived, they received a copy of their child's alcohol citation. They were also advised of the procedures of the tickets going to Juvenile Services, after which, they would be notified of the date for the mandatory parent-child court appearance. Since parents are legally responsible for their youngsters until the age of eighteen, the parents were equally accountable.
Finally, the kids were gone.
"Same reason they always lie." Nina shrugged.
"But it's pointless."
"Annoying," Ezra added.
"Gives me a headache," Nathan said.
"Couldn't agree more." Nina rubbed her temples.
"Have you taken anything?" Nathan asked.
"All right. Just try and stay quiet the rest of the shift."
"I'll try." Nina managed a wan smile.
"See you later."
"As for our earlier conversation, my dear, did you want to continue it in a more suitable location?"
"I'd love to."
"May I suggest you take your lunch break now, and close your eyes? I'll wake you if you're needed."
"I may have done a lot of things, but I've never dozed on duty."
"Perhaps you should make an exception."
"Thanks for the offer, Z, but I won't start now."
"But I would appreciate conversation."
"I would be delighted."
"K9-16, copy scan for highway."
"So much for conversation." Nina rolled her eyes.
"Go ahead," Ezra answered.
"Mile marker forty five point three, southbound."
"See you later."
"Take care of yourself." Ezra and Ace climbed into their truck and drove away, leaving Nina alone in the park.