The New Adventures of Crash and Burn (cont.)
recovered from the shock of the accident, Buck did the
first thing that came to mind. After asking if
she was okay, he stuffed
Bertrice in the back of his car.
Buck shook his head, and fought back the smile he could not let Nina see. "11-02, FC."
Wilmington looked over at Nina, and he made an imaginary noose above his head, hanging himself one-handed while he spoke in the radio to request the super-visor, Chris Larabee, to respond. "Start 11-01. We just had a departmental accident."
"10-4. Everyone okay?"
"11-01, 11-02, what happened?"
"Will advise when you arrive. Use caution because of ice."
"11-02, FC. Any luck reaching Mr. McClarran?" Buck asked about the status in contacting the property owner.
"That's correct. He's en route with a twenty-five minute ETA. Advised to do what you need to, and he'll bring some fencing with him. Also requested the names of the parties involved, and their insurance information."
"10-4." Buck unkeyed. Since Bertrice was safely locked in the car, he reached into the trunk of his own patrol car, coming out with two items. Buck walked over to the pair still digging around in the upside-down car, while the fire-fighters left the engine where it was with the lights on. They passed him, heading for Mr. Henderson.
"Way to go, Crash." Buck addressed his remark to Vin.
Vin looked up at him. "Weren't my fault, Bucklin."
"You're the last one that was driving, so they'll question if you parked properly, had the wheels turned just so, and it's now your crash, Crash."
Tanner gestured rudely.
"That any way to treat the man who brings you a warm, dry jacket? It's the summer weight, but figure your trainer's spent more time in the drink and needs the heavier one." Buck held up his jacket. It wasn't heavy enough for this weather, but it was dry, and provided more protection against the cold than the iced-over one currently on the Texan's body.
"Thanks." Vin stripped out of his wet jacket, and pulled the warm one on. "Much obliged."
"What, Buck?" Her head remained half in the patrol car, pulling out things and throwing them behind her onto the bank.
"Dry coat before you catch your death."
"Speaking of death, you called Lethal Larabee?"
"Yup. He wanted to know what happened. Told him we'd advise when he got here. I didn't want to be responsible for him wrecking himself on his way here."
"From laughing too hard." Nina climbed out, stripped off her wet coat, and pulled on Buck's spare winter jacket. It was too big for her, hanging way down on the sleeves, and the waist of it nearly reached her knees. She rolled up the sleeves, and unzipped the sides to give her mobility. "Thanks for the jacket, Buck."
Vin snickered at her bedraggled appearance. "Fire engine wrecked yer car. Sorry, sis, but that's funny."
"Shut up, Tanner."
"You told him?" Buck looked from Nina to Vin.
"We don't have secrets, Buck." She met his gaze steadily. The tension level raised a notch.
"Fair enough." Buck held up his hands, not wanting to aggravate her. "You're talking to me like a friend again, and I'm not gonna mess that up."
"You're finally learning. Good boy." Nina grinned at him, breaking the mounting anxiety.
"Always knew ya were a dog, Bucklin." Vin ducked the swat coming at his head, laughing the entire time.
"Why'd you empty your car out?"
"So when the tow truck comes, I won't have to chase crap through the water when it's flipped back over."
"Did you call me a truck? My radio's shot."
"I'll call Crash a truck."
"Screw you, Wilmington. At least I don't crash and burn every time I--" Vin cut off.
"Every time he does what, Vin?" Nina looked at the lanky Texan.
"Never mind." Vin shook his head, sending a spray of water onto Wilmington.
"Quit it!" Buck reached down to make a snowball.
"Both of you quit it. Vin, go check on Hanging Harvey, okay? Buck, make sure the flare lines are still okay, and the hosebeaters didn't wipe them out."
"Who made you in charge? I outrank you."
"Not for long, Wilmington, and if you don't do what I say, I'll start remember-ing things you'd rather I forget."
He stared down at her in challenge. "Like what?"
Vin stopped moving toward Mr. Henderson to listen.
"I'm going, I'm going." Buck hurried back onto the road to check the flare lines.
"What does that mean?" The soft voice asked, looking right at his friend. "Ya never told me 'bout that."
Nina gave Vin a wicked grin. "Because I didn't want to tell you about something that personal." She winked saucily.
"Oh. I don't want ta know. I really don't want ta know about…can't even say it."
"If you ever want to mess with Larabee, just say fourteen. Don't tell him anything beyond that, or even where you heard it, but just say fourteen. I'll probably get killed, but he turns such an interesting shade of red."
Vin's smile lit up the night. "Reckon I just might."
Changing the subject, she indicated the activity nearby. Her tone indicated that he was supposed to get back to work, and her _expression said the moment of levity was over. "They're trying to figure out how to cut Mr. Henderson down."
"Ease up, Corporal." Vin sauntered toward Mr. Henderson.
Corners Police Department, how may I help you?"
"Buck! What happened?"
"Well, it's a long story. Can you call a tow for Nina's car? It's upside down in a ditch."
"Upside down? Everyone's okay, right? How'd that happen?"
"Yeah. Scared us, but no one was in it when it went. I'll tell you in person, okay?"
"Sure. Upside down in a ditch," she repeated.
"And it's in about two to three feet of water."
Casey chuckled. "Par for the course. All my calls are weird tonight."
"Just let us know who's coming, darlin'."
"Sure will. You want it on the radio, or do you want me to call you back?"
"Radio's fine. Oh, and we have a portable radio problem here. Vin and Nina's radios won't work, so if you need them, call me."
"Okay…what happened to their radios?"
Buck cleared his throat. "Later."
"Got it. We'll let you know, and you will tell me."
"Yes, ma'am." Buck disconnected.
Casey turned to Ladonna. "It's only getting weirder."
"Listen to this." After checking the roster of FCPD approved tows for patrol cars, Casey called. "Hi, EZ-1 Towing. We've got one for you. Yeah, it's a patrol car. It's gonna be fun. Yes, fun. Try upside down in a ditch in two feet of freezing water. That work for you? No, I don't know how it went into the ditch; you can ask when you get there. It's on Highway Seven, right past the sharp curve, near the McClarran farm. We've got a salt truck en route, but those on scene are saying it's really, really icy out there. Twenty minutes? Good. Thanks!" She turned to Ladonna.
"Upside down in the ditch?"
"Uh-huh." Casey gave Ladonna a significant look.
"EZ-1, 20 minutes?"
"Okay." Ladonna keyed up the radio. "FC, 11-02."
"EZ-1 Towing, 20 minute ETA."
his speed down, and he saw the flares long before
rounding the sharp curve. He slowed even more,
and then entered the
straightaway. His head nearly whipped around
checking out what he
First, the fire engine was parked at an odd angle, the back end mere inches from the ditch. In fact, it probably needed help getting back on the road. The flare line started right where the engine ended. He continued forward, seeing Buck's car intact, a woman sitting inside the back of the running vehicle, and vehicles jutting out of the ditch.
That caused him to look real quick and pay close attention, knowing from that second on he was driving right into a cluster, the euphemism for a simple call that went complex and horrible in a very short period of time. Well, the Hendersons were involved, so it was a cluster to begin with, but now it was a cluster royale. He passed Buck's car, and when he reached the break between Buck's car and the ambulance, he saw the upside-down vehicle. Reflective striping winked back at him, and his jaw dropped.
Quickly checking, he saw Buck and Nina standing beside the wreckage, while the dark form of Vin hovered around the barbed wire fence. The shock of seeing a man hung suspended from the wiring, nearly caused Larabee to stomp his gas pedal instead of the brake. Shaking off the image, he continued past the ambulance, turned around very slowly and very carefully, parking with his lights flashing in what he considered was the safest spot. He had no way to know it was the
same spot Vin had parked Nina's patrol car.
Chris got out of his car, straightened his hat, and stepped carefully to the edge of the ditch. He stared hard at the man in the barbed wire fence, wondering if he'd ever see anyone hung out like that again in his life, right next to three wrecked vehicles.
"What happened?" he barked down to Nina and Buck.
Both climbed out of the ditch, standing in front of him.
Nina took one look at him, swallowed, and said, "I can't say it, Buck." She turned partially, her shoulders turned away from Chris.
"You want me to?" Buck shifted his posture, facing her more than his sergeant.
"It's your car," he retorted.
"He looks too pissed, and I'm too pissed, wet, and cold to yell at him."
"You've dealt with worse. You can do it," Buck encouraged. "Hell, you've put us in our places more than once."
"Not tonight. Not in the mood. We'll get Vin. He was the last driver."
She gave Buck a significant look. "He's going to laugh."
Buck ran a hand down his face. "Don't remind me."
"That's the first thing he'll think of, you know."
Chris forcefully inserted himself between them. "Someone tell me what the hell happened before I knock both your heads together. And why the hell are you all wet, Nina?"
Buck winced, and Nina glanced away, refusing to meet his eyes.
Wilmington finally faced his friend, heaving a big sigh. "Pard, you gotta promise to keep control of yourself."
"I won't lose my temper, Buck. You're all okay, right?"
"Yeah." Nina blew out a breath, white in the winter's cold.
"Tell me," Chris asked, obviously trying to be reasonable and calm.
Buck mumbled, "The fire engine hit her car and made it slide."
"What? I didn't hear that." Chris leaned closer.
Buck mumbled again, even softer than before, "…fire engine hit…car…"
"Speak up," Larabee commented.
Buck finally looked at Chris. "I said the fire engine hit her car, and made it slide."
Chris bit his lip. "The fire engine."
"Hit your car." He pinned Nina in place with a glare.
"Yes, Chris." She stared at her wet boots.
"The fire engine totaled your car." His tone changed, amusement tingeing his words.
"Oh, will you let it out? You'll hurt yourself." Nina punched him in the arm. "It's not funny."
Chris couldn't hold back the laughter. He had to walk away from the groups, holding his sides, tears of laughter streaming down his face. Every few seconds, he gasped for air.
"It ain't that funny, Stud." Buck called over to his friend, a note of censure in his voice.
When Chris thought he had some control over his emotions, he walked back to the pair. "Did you ask her out, Buck? Is that why I'm looking at a trashed car?"
"I'm not amused, Chris."
"I'm sorry, but this is the second time that you two have been together when a vehicle's been totaled by a piece of fire equipment. At least you weren't trying to get married this time."
Nina stepped forward to punch him.
"Back off, Corporal. We've got an audience." Larabee indicated all the people currently looking their way.
Her eyes narrowed, and she stayed still. "You'll pay later, Larabee."
"I figured that." Chris continued to chuckle. "Oh, come on, Buck, it's damn funny."
Buck gave Chris his best threatening smile. "Pard, this call has gone from just plain funny to a pain-in-the-ass, kick-a-man-while-he's-down, in your face, cluster from hell. Can't think of single reason to laugh right now, unless it involves making you into a snowman."
"Try and die, Pard. Pictures!" Larabee raced for his car, returning with his camera. He snapped a few of Mr. Henderson before they cut him down, and then snapped the patrol car, followed by the Lincoln, then the Continental, the fire engine, the damage to the front of the fire engine, and then stood in the curve and took a shot of the entire scene. When he rejoined Buck and Nina, he saw the firefighters carefully cutting the wire two feet from Mr. Henderson's
body. One person held him up as the lines snipped, and the paramedics watched him carefully. "Looks like they're making progress."
"Good. Then I can go back and get some dry, warm clothes on." Nina shivered, pulling Buck's coat tighter around her.
"Darlin', I'm more than happy to offer my services to keep you warm."
"There it is!" Chris nearly yelled. "The feelings that caused this!"
Whap! Buck hit his friend with his hat when no one was looking.
Nina looked at Buck. "Not right now, Wilmington. Anytime later, but not right now. Please."
"You got it, Baby." Buck smiled at her. "Your teddy bear's waiting for you."
The woman smiled at the nickname Buck only used with her.
"I'm gonna be sick." Chris rolled his eyes and stuck his finger in his mouth, miming a gag.
Turning back to the sergeant, Nina said, "Good. Then the teddy bear and the old man can help me move this stuff into your trunk. I'm not leaving my shotgun loose." She handed him a stack of items.
"They're wet!" Chris juggled them for a few seconds, holding them away from him.
"Really? I hadn't noticed!" Nina piled more on.
Buck heard the sound of a large, rumbling engine, and looked up. "Tow truck's here."
Nina and Chris automatically glanced around, searching for it.
The big truck, a rollback, was coming from the same direction the fire truck had come from, avoiding the sharp curve by approaching from the other way. It was moving slow.
"So far, so good. Now the stop," Buck mumbled.
The driver applied the brakes, gradually lowering the heavy truck's speed. It slowed more, and then disaster struck. The front wheels hit the newly bared piece of ice uncovered by the fire engine's slide, and lost traction.
"I can't watch." Nina buried her head in Buck's chest, and his arm slipped around her, holding her close.
Buck and Chris stared in shock.
Time turned sluggish. Over ten thousand pounds of metal was no longer under the control of the driver, except for the steering wheel and the gears. The ripping sound of gears shifting hard came through the night, and the tow truck swerved toward the back of Larabee's car.
"Noooooooooooooooo!" Chris yelled with the sound echoing through the stillness. He started running toward his car, stopped by Buck's grip on his arm.
With scant centimeters to spare, the driver recovered, pulled it away from the back of the patrol car, threaded the needle between the vehicles parked on the shoulder, and came to a sliding stop. Its front bumper lined up with parts of the fire engine.
"It missed, Baby," Buck whispered down into Nina's ear. "You can look now."
Nina came out of Buck's chest, following the direction of Buck's eyes to the stopped tow truck. Another tow truck came to a perfect stop several feet from Larabee's car.
Leaping out of the heavier rollback tow truck, down by the fire engine, the driver held onto the door, and nearly fell under the fire engine the second his feet hit the ice. He started yelling, "Son of a bitch! Whoo! I haven't slid that bad in a long time. Damn, that was lucky!"
While he was yelling, the firefighters and paramedics passed the three officers. Firefighters carried Mr. Henderson, stretched out on his stomach, with the lines of barbed wire still in his back. It was cut to the edges of his torso to make it easier for the surgeons at the hospitals to remove it.
Dempsey called out, "That's a ten." He tipped his head in the direction of the rollback.
"A ten?" Brewster nearly yelled. "You've never, ever given a ten!"
Giving Nina a pat on the shoulder, he explained himself. "He missed the ambulance – damn good thing, too, two police cars, especially the one with Mrs. Henderson sleeping in it, and the fire engine. All without going off the road. That's impressive driving."
"Okay, I agree. We'll remember this as the only ten in the history of our partnership."
"Hell, boy, look at the wreckage around us. This whole brouhaha's gone from a four overall to an eight."
"Will someone take me to the hospital, please? I don't want to hear about ice, ranks, accidents, or anything other than, 'You're going to be fine, Mr. Henderson! ' Am I understood?"
"Alcohol's wearing off," Dempsey said.
"Yup. He's feeling it now." Brewster nodded, following the backboard.
"What a charming man," Buck cracked.
Just as they finished loading the ambulance, the large salt truck came rumbling down the road. They could hear the sand and salt mixture hitting the pavement as it went, and it stopped near the flare line. A pickup truck went around it and parked behind the second tow truck.
The driver of the pickup got out and walked across the road. "Haven't y'all learned it gets damn icy on this road in the winter? I could have told y'all that, and we wouldn't have this problem."
"Mr. McClarran." Buck waved.
"What a mess. Wilmington, you have all their information?"
"Good. Now help me get the fence fixed. I'm sending him a bill, and the rest of y'all a bill for trashing my ditch. Caswell? That your car?"
"Which idiot hit ya?"
"The fire engine."
"Damn firefighters. Only know how to destroy things. Wilmington, are ya waiting for the ice to melt before ya move?"
"Chris?" Buck turned hopeful eyes on his friend and sergeant. "I've got a prisoner."
"I'll handle Mr. McClarran. Give me the information. Mrs. Henderson hurt?"
"Nope, and she's a refusal on the Breathalyzer. Failed field sobriety," Buck told his friend and sergeant.
"Okay. Drop Mrs. Henderson off at the jail, then get the blood kit from the station and go to the hospital, and take Tanner with you."
Vin shook his head. "I ain't hurt."
"You need to see how to do the blood kit so you can do the evidence collection in the future," Chris explained.
Vin rolled his eyes.
"Come on, Crash," Buck said. After we drop her off at the Detention Center, you can change at the station into some dry clothes."
Buck and Vin slowly made their way to Buck's patrol car and they left the scene. They carefully navigated the curve and disappeared from sight.
Nina quickly loaded his patrol car with her
equipment, and then she
went to talk to the tow truck drivers about
getting the two cars out.
They figured out how they were going to do it, but
there was one
Stomping over to the parked, warm, still running salt truck, Nina glared at the driver.
Getting the hint, he stepped out. "Damn, it's cold."
"You don't say."
"Hey, you're all wet."
"Rolling in the snow, ice, and mud tends to do that."
"Oh, man. And here I am sitting up here in my truck like an ass."
"It's okay. The sooner we do this, the sooner I can get a hot shower and change. Tow trucks need to winch, and they can't do that if they're gonna slide into the other ditch. We've had enough things slide tonight."
"I'm on it. Three or four passes?"
"What kind of mood are you in tonight?" Nina stared at him.
"Four passes, and then I'll hit the curve, and the rest of this beast. Hey! Isn't that one of the Henderson's cars?"
"Both are the Henderson's cars."
"Ni-ice! All right, I'll hit it, and then do the rest thattaway. I'll come back through to make sure it's enough."
The salt and sand mixture in the back of the dump truck did the job, making the road surface sufficient to support the tow trucks as they pulled the two Henderson cars out of the ditch, one at a time.
Chris sketched out the accident for the patrol car, and he took statements from each of the firefighters while they waited for the police tow.
After the police tow arrived, Nina and Chris watched the operator figure out how to flip the car, and then pull it out of the ditch. He got it up on the rollback, water dripping out of it the entire time, freezing almost immediately as it hit the roadway.
The salt truck hit the highway a couple more times, and Chris drove a very wet – and cold – Nina to the station. He ran some errands and then went to his office to work on the reports.
cascaded over her body, and it slowly took the
chill away. Wishing she
could linger longer, Nina warmed herself up,
washed off the mud, and
then dressed in her spare uniform. Both her
handgun and her backup were useless; they were
soaked from the dunking, and
now resided in the gun lockers.
Leaving the women's locker room, she went down the hall to Larabee's office in order to get a pool car for the remainder of the shift. Nina reached into the cabinet, checking the numbers on the keys. She ignored the sergeant.
"It would be a blessing if it was wrecked."
"Shut up, Larabee."
"Is that any way to talk to the man who went out, on his own initiative, and bought you an extra large hot chocolate?"
"GIMME!" Nina spun around and looked for it.
He held it above his head and grinned. "What do you say?"
"Nope." He laughed.
She glared at him.
He smirked back.
"Thank you, you wonderful, nice, charming human being, for thinking of your lowly corporal, and buying her something to warm her."
"About right." Chris handed her the hot chocolate.
She took a huge sip. "Oh, thank you."
"I've got something else for you."
"What?" Nina wrapped both hands around the paper cup.
"This." He put a box in front of her.
Inside the box were new radios for her and Vin, along with two spare equipment belts, and a revolver.
Her hand reached down and pulled the revolver out. "This is your backup, Chris."
"You're not going around unarmed. Figure you and Vin both drenched your backups during your dunking, and they're going to have to be cleaned and dried out."
"Wasn't planning on it. I was going to run home and get one."
"You're not leaving this building without a gun on your side. Put that holster on the new belt, and change it over now."
She sighed. "All right, all right." Nina set her still wet, mostly bare Nylon gunbelt on a chair. "Where'd you get the other Nylon belt?"
"We bought different ones for Standish to try the weight for canine school. These are his rejects."
"So I'm getting Ezra's rejects now."
"Basically." Chris shrugged. "Problem?"
"Nope. When's he due back?"
"He's got a couple more months of training. Apparently, he convinced Travis to let him take all the classes at once, so when he and the Ace come out, they'll have guns, tracking, drugs, and all the current certifications offered. I think the Chief denied the bomb dog bit, since the State has a 24-hour on-call bomb dog. Just imagine – Ezra Standish, K9-16." He grinned.
"He wanted this, Chris."
"I know," the sergeant replied quietly.
"I heard your recommendation was practically glowing, especially coming from you." Nina gave her friend an amused look.
"He earned it." Chris wouldn't meet her eyes.
"Softie," she accused quietly, a smile on her face. "You like him, even though you won't admit it."
Chris shifted uncomfortably. "Hell. Don't you have reports?"
"Thanks, Chris. It meant the world to him."
"He'll just have to prove himself when he comes out."
"They will." Nina grinned. "Ezra Standish, K9-16. I like the sound of that."
"Detective Caswell will sound just as good. The Chief give you any idea?"
"When the budget crisis is over, and manpower straightens out."
Chris scoffed. "We're too short handed."
"I know, but there's another class about to start in the Academy. They'll be out by springtime."
"Knowing our luck, we'll get the wide-eyed, gung-ho, ball of fire that will probably get the crap beat out of him on his first night."
"Such a positive attitude for a squad leader," Nina cracked. She finished putting the belt together, and attached the new lapel mike to her shoulder.
"Says the short-timer about to abandon her squad."
"There's not enough room for two corporals on the shift, and you know it. Buck's the squad's corporal, and I'm the excess baggage."
"Sassy baggage," Chris teased. "Besides, who would train if you weren't here? Buck?"
Nina gave him a dirty look. "We know how that goes." Changing the subject, she said, "You want me to unload your car?"
"Already taken care of, and I've got the stuff in the roll call room drying out. I'll give you a ride after shift if you want."
"Now, go charge Mrs. Henderson. If you need inspiration, call me."
"You have to sign the statement of charges when it's done. I'll add if you want."
"I just can't wait to read this narrative." Chris shook his head.
"That was a subtle hint…I'm going." Nina took the box with her, and went to the jail. She finished the statement of charges in record time, loading it down with everything she could conceivably charge Mrs. Henderson with, and then drove to the hospital. She watched Vin change equipment belts, and noticed he carried Buck's backup piece in his holster.
They finished the blood kit, a test that would be administered by hospital personnel that would record the blood alcohol content of the persons tested, fully admissible in court for DWI charges. Finally, the group returned to the roll call room.
Vin sat next to Chris,
instead of his training officer, because Chris wanted them
to type their statements separately, without the
chance of seeing
the other's work.
Buck took advantage, using the terminal next to Nina, chattering while he typed.
Tanner finished first, since he did the least in the actual arrest. His other reports went quickly, since Chris taught him how to cut and paste the statement for the arrest and accidents onto what he was working on for the primary report.
It took some doing to get all the incident numbers straight, because each accident had to have its own incident number for the report tracking system, but it was all worked out.
Only the sound of keys clicking filled the large room. It was eventually broken as Josiah and Nathan came in after their shift.
"What a night." Josiah rubbed his hands together and blew on them. "Cold as the dickens."
"Tell me about it," Nina mumbled.
"So what happened?" Casey came in, having been relieved in Communications. Ladonna was with her.
"Yeah. Who wrecked?" Ladonna asked.
"Who didn't?" Vin snorted. "Mr. Henderson went first into the ditch."
"Drunk as usual?" Nathan asked.
"Yup," Vin answered.
Nina said, "Then Mrs. Henderson was driving drunk, saw Mr. Henderson standing on the shoulder, thought he was on the road, and slammed on the brakes. Hit him dead center in the chest and launched him." Her hands mimicked the action.
"He landed stuck ta a barbed wire fence, both arms stickin' straight out from his sides, and his legs caught in the barbs. Looked like a soused scarecrow." Vin shook his head.
"Followed by our questioning. I took Mrs. Henderson."
"Who swung at ya," Vin inserted.
"And we went rolling into the ditch. Dunking number one." Nina sighed. "She fought me all the way out of the ditch and onto the highway."
"Where your hero arrived and took over for you."
"My hero." Nina's hands clasped over her heart, and she batted her eyes.
Buck chuckled. "So I interviewed Bertrice, watched her seriously fail field sobriety, and she refused a Breathalyzer. Crash and Nina talked--"
"'EY! I ain't Crash." Vin glared.
"Now you are," Buck retorted.
"Keep going, will you? Aunt Nettie expects me home soon." Casey motioned for them to continue the story.
"Crash and Nina talked to the ambulance crew. They came up when I just finished with her, telling Bertrice she was still under arrest, and here comes the fire engine."
Vin took over. "Saw it was goin' too fast, and then it slipped. Smashed right the hell inta the back of Nina's parked car, and pushed that bad boy right at us. Bucklin dived away with Bertrice, and I took us the only direction we could go."
"The ditch." Josiah shook his head.
"Pushed us both, went in face first, and then dragged us up the side until we landed 'side the ambulance crew… soaking wet. Then we watched the car hit the water in front of us, turn over and land on its roof."
Nathan winced. "At least you weren't hurt."
"No, but we were wet." Nina sighed.
"Wet can be a good thing." Buck bobbed his eyebrows.
Nina punched him in the shoulder.
"Crash…and burn," Vin muttered to Chris, who burst out laughing.
"What happened to the fire engine?" Ladonna asked.
"Slid down the road, spun around, and came to a stop with the back bumper inches from the ditch," Buck said. "Miracle it didn't go over, but the front's pretty banged up."
"I got there," Chris said.
"Things were under control, then, right?" Casey looked at the officers involved.
"Nope." Chris shook his head.
"Naw." Vin waved a hand.
"Nuh-uh." Buck snorted in laughter.
"Sorry, no," Nina said.
"The rollback nearly took out my patrol car," Chris said.
"You're kidding!" Nathan said.
"No, he's not. Meaning it could have hit the fire engine," Josiah said.
Buck mimicked, "Missed it… by that much." He held his fingers a tiny distance apart.
"Anyone else nearly wreck?"
"No, but the moron in the salt truck stopped a ways away and sat there." Chris rolled his eyes.
"Sounds like a good cluster," Casey said. "Well, I'm outta here. I've got chores."
"Wait up, Case. I've got to give you that package." Ladonna hurried out with her dispatch partner and friend.
"Time for paperwork," Josiah said.
"Will it ever end?" Nina groaned.
The squad settled in. Josiah and Nathan completed their beat sheets and the reports for the calls they'd handled while the others had been tied up with their cluster.
Buck tried to whisper, but his voice carried. "Baby, you want to come over this morning? I'll warm you up."
Chris made gagging noises without looking up.
"I don't wanna hear this," Vin said, taking a piece of paper and folding it.
"Right now, neither do I." Nina looked right at Buck, the message clear.
"All right, darlin', just asking." Buck went back to his paperwork. A few minutes later, something hit him hard in the temple. "Hey!" He grabbed the offending object, finding it was a paper airplane. Inside, someone had written the words 'Crash and Burn.'
Buck flipped a bird at the creator.
A second airplane smacked him in the nose. It read, 'Ya can't do it.'
Buck and Vin exchanged glances.
Chris looked up and smirked, before returning to his eyes to his paperwork.
"Vin, you hit me with one of those paper airplanes, I swear I will make you pay," Nina said, never stopping her typing or moving her head.
"I won't. I hit what I aim for." The challenge sparkled in his blue eyes to the other man watching closely with his own dark blue eyes.
Buck mouthed, 'Watch and learn.' He started a neck massage, feeling Nina lean back. His fingers worked their magic, relaxing her, until he hit that one spot he knew would drive her nuts.
"Stop it." Her body shook in her seat, and then she punched him in the gut, her hand bouncing off the vest. Nina's eyes didn't leave her computer screen.
Buck pulled away, knowing he'd made some ground, but lost it when he went too far. He looked over at Vin, who took the paper airplane he was folding, held it level, and then sent it straight into a nosedive, stopping when it hit the table.
A few minutes later, Buck slid a paper where Nina could see it. He'd written her a note. Personally, he thought it was brilliant. He watched her read it, smile, and it looked like she was seriously considering what he wrote.
This time, Chris blew it for him. "Passing notes, Buck? Let me guess what it says: 'Darlin', you're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen, and I want to spend time watching your smile brighten your face, or drink myself intoxicated on the sweet wine of your lips.' Am I close?"
"Shut up, old man," Nina said.
"Oh! I'm right!" Larabee smirked.
"It's none of your business." The female corporal looked at her longtime friend and sergeant.
"But it's so much fun."
The rest of the squad watched, blatantly ignoring their paperwork for the free entertainment.
"Chris. Last warning."
"Or what, Nina? Oh, come on, scare me with a threat." He smiled.
"Don't make me do this," she warned.
A collective 'ooo' came from the rest of the squad, knowing that whatever happened next would be good.
She pushed her chair back slowly, twisting the swivel until she faced Chris. "Forty two."
Buck nearly spewed the coffee he'd just sipped all over the back of Nina's head, his hand barely catching it before it escaped. He swallowed and coughed. Once he regained his composure, he said, "That's low."
Chris rubbed his jaw. "Point for you, because that was low. But what about ninety-five?"
"You pig!" Nina yelled.
Buck waved his hands 'no' over her head, stopping when she turned to glare at him.
She asked in a dangerously soft voice, "You told him about ninety-five?"
"Well, uh, you see, darlin'…"
"Buck." Nina's eyes flashed.
Nathan said, "It's getting a little chilly over there."
"More like hot as hell for Buck, because he's burnin' up." Vin laughed.
"Will one of you explain the number system, so the rest of us can share the joke?" Josiah requested. "You seem to ignore my question every time that I ask."
They ignored him again.
Buck said, "Nina, I'll make it up to you."
"You bet your ass you will." She turned around and glared at the smirking Larabee, and then at the grinning Tanner. "And as for you, dear Chris, since you opened that door, I'll step right in there with … fourteen."
They watched Larabee's eyes widen, his face drain of color, and then turn bright red, followed by severe shaking. His hands clenched at his sides, and he swallowed repeatedly.
"Don't know what she said, cowboy, but looks like ya got pole axed on that one." Vin whacked his friend on the back.
Chris raised a finger, waving at her, his mouth opening and closing like a fish.
"You shouldn't have done that," Buck said in her ear.
"What's with the numbers?" Nathan asked. "Now I really want to know."
"A game," Nina said. "A game we used to play in Vegas when we lived there. But I'm not saying any more than that." She crossed her arms, a self-satisfied leer on her face.
Josiah sighed. "Well, that's more than I knew a few minutes ago."
"You're dead." Chris issued the threat in a low voice. "I'm gonna kill you, and they'll never find your body."
"Seems to me I've heard that threat before, Chris, and guess what? I'm still here." She blew a kiss to him. "Now I have witnesses."
"You folks done with your reports?" Lt. Halter, one of the two Shift Commanders in charge of everything on the night shift walked in. "Haven't been hearing the clack of keyboards, but have been hearing a lot of talking."
"We're working on them, sir," Nina replied.
"Good. Caswell, Tanner, you two okay?"
"Yes, sir," they answered in unison.
"Even better. Now I want to see your reports. That goes for all of you; it's almost time for the day shift to come and clutter up the place. Let's get out before that happens, please?" Halter walked back to his office just outside the roll call room.
After an exchange of 'I'll get you later' looks between Chris and Nina, everyone settled back into finishing their reports.
Nina reached over and wrote something on a piece of paper, slid it over, and then took Buck's note and tucked it in her pocket.
He read it: 'Rain check.' One hand ran down his face, and when he looked up, yup, there was Vin laughing at him again. He sighed. He'd stop trying for a date now, because if she agreed to go out with him, later, she might rescind that.
"How are you getting home? You need a ride?" Buck asked her.
"Chris is going to take me."
"You might not see her tomorrow." Chris grinned.
"You live in the other direction, Chris. It's out of your way."
"I'll do it, and take Vin too. It's just a bit farther from my place."
"I'm drivin' myself tonight," Vin said. "Since ya don't have a patrol car ta pick me up, Nina."
"I have another vehicle to drive, thank you. I just didn't expect my patrol car to be wrecked tonight."
"Safer in my own car," Vin retorted.
"Like hell! I can think of about fifteen citations I could write on any one of your 'cars'." Nina shook her head.
"Make a deal with you."
"You take her, I'll take him. That way no one kills their passenger, and the passengers don't kill each other."
"Sounds good, pard."
"Don't I get a vote?" Nina asked.
"No," Chris and Buck both answered.
"If yer gonna be that way, Josiah, will ya take me home?"
"Oh, come on." Chris rolled his eyes. "Josiah lives even further in the other direction than I do. That's just spite talking."
"Worked, didn't it? Got ya riled." Vin chuckled to himself.
"Folks?" Halter called from the doorway.
"Waiting for the printer, Lieutenant," Nina answered, pointing at the machine across the room.
"Fine." He walked away.
"Nice save," Buck whispered in her ear.
"Thanks." She got up, retrieved the pages, proofread them, and signed them. She handed them to Chris to read and sign before they went to Lt. Halter.
He scratched his name across them, giving them back with a smirk. "Now it's official. Vin has his first departmental."
"Nina!" Vin yelled.
"I didn't say you were at fault, Vin. I put in here you followed procedure perfectly, and that you had no control over the sliding fire engine."
"You get the blame." Chris grinned. "You were the last driver, Tanner. Whether or not you were in the car at the time, it's your accident."
"Yer all heart, Larabee." Vin rubbed his temples.
"Crash Tanner! Crash Tanner!" Buck grinned, ducking the paper airplane aiming straight between his eyes.
"Buck? You done, so I can go the hell home and forget this day?" Nina called over her shoulder, turning in her paperwork to the lieutenant.
"Yeah. Time to go." Buck pulled his pages off the printer, put them in front of Chris, who read and signed them. He also handed his collection to Halter, before escorting Nina out.
They reached the back door, and Buck asked, "So what do you want to do?"
"I want a shower and sleep, the former, hot, the latter, uninterrupted."
Buck held the door open for her, and they stepped out onto the back steps.
"Careful. These look pretty icy today," Nina told him.
Buck nodded, stepping in front of her, his back to the stairs. "Now, Baby, I can give you a relaxing, hot shower, followed by a long massage if you want. All you gotta do is say yes."
"Not this morning, Buck." Nina stopped a few feet from the edge, and less than a foot from Buck, who solidly blocked her path. She shook her head.
He leaned forward, whispering, "No Breakfast at Buck's?" One hand went around her to hold the railing to bring him closer to her.
Once his hand touched the railing, he realized his mistake. It was completely iced over, and the metal was slick. His hand slid backwards, taking the rest of his body with it. Since he was at the top of the stairs, he went down hard on his backside, followed by his feet coming over his head and flipping him over, and he rolled over one more time before landing at the bottom. . .on his bottom.
But he wasn't done. His backside had no traction on the icy sidewalk, so he slid down the slight hill, right into the side of the dumpster out back. Hitting the dumpster hard, it flipped him over, and sent him sliding on his stomach further down the hill, coming to a stop against the gas pumps. He rolled over onto his back while he could and gasped, "Ow".
It was too
much for Nina. Having spent the entire night
watching slides, this
one was just too good. She burst out laughing,
stop. When she finally drew a breath, it came in
pants, and she wheezed
That sent her into another fit of hysterical laughter, and she sat down on the steps, holding her sides, before she fell herself.
The rest of the squad rushed out the back door, drawn by the loud bang of Buck hitting the dumpster, and Nina's laughter. She just pointed to Buck, and then the direction of his fall with her hands, still panting for breath.
Chris raised the camera and snapped a shot of him, then carefully navigated the stairs to get a close up and check on his friend.
Vin laughed, joining Nina on the stair.
Josiah chuckled; he was content to stand where he was and watch.
Nathan stared at them. "Any of you fools want to go check on him?"
Nina waved him forward, now crying from laughing so hard.
"SON OF A BITCH! DAMN, THAT HURTS! OW! OH, HELL! DAMN! DAMN! DAMN! DAMN! OW! OW! OW! OW! OW!" Buck started screaming, and then pulled himself up, running for the huge snow bank at the end of the parking lot where the plows put the cleared snow. He dove into it, rolling around on his stomach, and smashing snow along his front.
captured it all on film. While he clicked the
camera, he yelled, "You
Buck stopped his frantic actions and turned wide eyes on his friend. Softly, he said, "My pepper spray broke."
Since most of them kept their pepper spray canisters on the front of their gun belts, at the top of the thigh, the bursting of the pepper spray meant the highly irritating contents spread across the skin, starting a burning sensation, on Buck's thigh and…
"OUCH!!!" Chris grabbed his own in sympathy.
Nathan ran over. "What happened?"
Buck looked at the squad's paramedic. "I'm in pain! Do something!"
"What did you hurt?"
Chris leaned over and whispered in Nathan's ear.
Nathan immediately cringed. "Okay, I'll go up and call an ambulance for you. Unless you want this on the air?"
"HELL, NO! No ambulance!"
"Procedure, Buck," Chris informed him.
"HELLFIRE AND DAMNATION!" Buck started smearing more snow on his front. "Oh, Lord, that hurts where a man shouldn't!"
Nathan jogged to the rear of the station, carefully mounting the steps.
Nina hiccupped. "He okay?"
"Gimme a second to get this done, and then I'll tell you. Probably have to treat you too." The tall man disappeared inside for a few minutes, and then came back out. "Nina, you have to control yourself."
"Oh, this oughta be good." Vin grinned.
"His pepper spray canister broke," Nathan solemnly informed them.
Vin crossed his legs.
Nina sang extremely loudly, and extremely off key, "Goodness gracious, Great Balls of Fire!" She then collapsed into hysterical laughter again, this time sliding off one step. Vin grabbed her before she went down the rest.
"Now my ears hurt! Thanks, darlin'!" Buck yelled back.
"So I guess Breakfast at Buck's is out, huh?" Nina sputtered, and then gave up, giving herself over to the fits of laughter.
Chris said, "I'll be right back." He jogged over and snapped a picture of Nina laughing, with Vin holding her, while his body was also doubled up with mirth. When he returned back to his friend, he caught Buck staring.
"She looks good that way, doesn't she?" A wistful note entered the romantic's voice.
"Then it's worth it."
"Getting pepper on your privates?" Chris stared at his friend. "Are you crazy?"
"This will go away, but she'll always smile when she thinks of this."
"Vin's right there with her, barely staying on the steps himself."
"Good. Those two are good for each other, and I'm glad she had him to lean on when she started over here."
"Must have been pretty hellacious before we got here."
"So I've heard. But the people here shut their mouths tighter than a suspect caught red-handed. I wonder if we'll ever know the full story. OW! Okay, note to self: don't move."
Nathan jogged back over, careful of the ice. "Got the ambulance coming, and those two are going to laugh themselves senseless. Had to make sure they kept breathing."
"It's okay, Nate." Buck smiled. "I'm doing all right. The worst has stopped."
The ambulance pulled up, letting out the paid dayshift crew. They quickly transported Buck to the hospital for a thorough decontamination.
Chris ended up having to fill out more reports, along with Nina, for the documentation of the accident. After a short discussion, Chris went home to bed.
Buck up at the hospital in Buck's patrol car,
driving the man home.
She helped him into his place, and into his
bedroom. The hospital
gave her his gun belt, badge, and hat, so she
placed them where she
knew they were kept while he was in the bathroom.
He came out after brushing his teeth. "Baby."
"Huh?" She looked at him.
"I just want a hug, okay? My equipment works, no problems there, but right now I want to hold you."
She met his pleading eyes. "All right."
"Without all the equipment."
"I'm not stripping."
"I just want to hold you, Baby."
"You don't want much, do you?"
"You know what I want." He gave her an intense look. "But I can't have it, so I'll make do."
"Don't." Buck shook his head. "We're starting over, okay? No past, and I'm going to have to convince you to go out with me all over again. Like it wasn't hard enough the first time."
Nina undid the lapel mike, followed by the gun belt, setting them on the bed. She unbuttoned her shirt, revealing the vest, and ripped it off. Her gray exercise t-shirt clung to her because the vest was still wet, but it was better than having the Kevlar and nylon combination rubbing directly against her skin. She walked over to Buck.
He enfolded her in his arms, and squeezed. "That's my girl. And don't say you're not my girl, because I'm working toward that again."
"It's been a rough night, hasn't it?"
"Not the way I would have ended it."
She started laughing. "But it was funny."
He pulled back to see her smile. "I love that smile, Baby. Hope to see more of it."
"Maybe you will." She kept it on her face.
"Can I convince you to cuddle sleep with me?"
"Uh, no. You need to work up to that."
Buck sighed. "I figured. I probably won't sleep well tonight anyway. Hey, how are you getting home?"
"No." Buck held onto her when she tried to wiggle away. "Take the patrol car, and pick me up tonight."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure. Now get out of here before I forget we're starting over and wrestle you to stay." He grinned.
"Going, going." She picked up her gear, putting the shirt back on without the vest, and reattaching the gun belt. Her hands held the radio, choosing not to connect it. The woman paused at the door. "Buck."
"Thanks." With a wave, she disappeared.
"You're welcome." After he heard the door close, he made sure to lock the deadbolt, and then stretched out on his bed. "Damn, this still hurts! A man ain't supposed to be in this much pain down there!" Buck punched the pillow, fruitlessly trying to go to sleep.
Buck up well before the start of shift, and they
went to the
station. When they arrived, they found Sgt.
Raphael Cordova de Martinez
sitting in the roll call room.
"Dulce! Bueno work last night." He came over and kissed her cheek.
"It was the Hendersons, Raphael." She hugged him.
"Oh, he gets a hug, and I get to watch you drive my patrol car." Buck rolled his eyes, watching the dayshift sergeant.
"That's because Dulce knows a good thing when she sees it, hombre." He grinned at Nina. "Don't waste your time with this heart stealer, when you could have a fine man such as me. Besides, are the medicos sure he has no ill effects from his…burn?"
"Shut up, Raphael," Wilmington growled.
Raphael laughed. "Burning Buck. I like the sound of that."
"Reckon that works fer me." Vin walked into the roll call room.
"Senor Crash! A pleasure."
"Ya already heard?" Tanner stared at the dayshift sergeant.
Josiah and Nathan came in quietly, calling quick greetings while they put down their paperwork.
"Well, now that you are all here, we can unveil the newest addition." Raphael rubbed his hands in anticipation.
"Chris! Get your sorry backside in here so I can kick it real hard!" Nina yelled.
A bellow came from outside the roll call room. "Busy, Caswell."
"Don't make me come after you."
"You would not have to chase me, Dulce."
"What exactly does Dulce mean?" Buck glared at Raphael. "You've been calling her that since you met her."
"It means sweet, like the smile on her lips, or the light of her personality." Raphael winked at her.
"Aw, Raphael." She turned to him with a smile. "You know just the right thing to say, most of the time."
"Yeah, right before he unveils the Wall of Shame." Chris leaned against the doorframe.
"You printed the pictures." Nina's head rolled back, and one hand massaged the back of her neck. "I'm not going to like this."
"Chief Travis likes the Wall of Shame. Says it keeps us humble," Josiah remarked, walking over to the far wall. He removed the covering over the bulletin board comprising about three feet of corkboard.
The enormous board was divided into six categories – one for each of the four patrol squads, one for specialty units, and one for everyone else. On it, pictures of various police-involved wrecks, compromising positions, and other embarrassing moments were pinned, along with captions. Along the top, bright letters spelled out "Wall of Shame."
"Hey, Vin, come over here and see your shame." Nina stepped forward to study it.
Tanner came over, standing behind her. "Aw, hell." He was tall enough to see over her head.
A collage had been set up under Squad One, and it was titled: "A Henderson Saturday Night – or the New Adventures of Crash and Burn." The first picture was of the two Henderson cars, and Mr. Henderson hanging on the fence. The caption read: "Mr. Henderson hanging out." Beside it was Mrs. Henderson, sleeping in the back of Buck's patrol car with her head pressed against window, and her mouth hanging open. The caption read: "Bertrice waiting patiently to go to jail." The next two were of the upside down patrol car and the dented fire engine. "Fire Engine vs. Patrol Car – Fire Engine won." In small print it said: "Introducing Vin 'Crash' Tanner, Driver. Nina Caswell, Field Trainer."
"Die, Larabee." Nina didn't even look away, her eyes scanning the rest of the collage.
Next was a series of three pictures that showed the tow truck that slid right beside the fire engine, another picture of the full scene, and finally one of the patrol car getting flipped over as it was removed from the ditch. "How a Cluster is Born – or How to Piss Off Your Sergeant," read the caption.
Continuing through, there was a shot of Buck lying on the ground after his fall, and then another of him frantically shoving snow down his pants, something the others could not see from the steps. The caption was simple: "Great Balls of Fire – what to do when your pepper canister breaks."
The last shot of the montage was a picture of Vin and Nina laughing hysterically on the back steps, Vin holding her from falling off. "Last Step – Release stress."
Chris walked over to Vin. "Welcome to the Wall of Shame, Vin. Now you're really one of us." He pointed to the picture of himself climbing out of his car in the middle of a muddy field, stuck to the top of the hubcaps. "We're all here, and now you are, too." Chris held out his forearm, and they exchanged a clasp.
"One entry's enough, Vin. At least while I'm training you." Nina tipped her head back and looked up at him. "Welcome to our joint shame, and Chris, I want a copy of that picture."
"You know," she answered.
"You're not getting the negatives."
Josiah pointed to the picture of a patrol car almost completely buried in hay. "Vin, you're in good company. See, this is where the hay truck lost its load right in front of me."
"Or when I had to choose between a telephone pole or a dog. Kids were watching so I chose the pole." Nathan tapped his wreck.
"Here's my shame." Buck tapped the patrol car that looked like a mashed in sandwich on both sides. "Parked it in an intersection to block traffic, and a little old lady didn't see it, so she drove right into one side. The drunk pizza delivery guy saw her wreck, and hit the gas instead of the brake, taking out the other side."
Vin studied the board. "Nina, I don't see any others of you up there."
"That's because I'm a careful driver," she replied.
"I know, Dulce," said Raphael. "You sure drive me crazy."
"Stuff it, Martinez." Buck grumbled.
"What's the matter, Burn? Been crashing lately with la senorita?"
Nina interrupted. "And just so no one here believes that I'm perfect, that lovely piece of completely trashed patrol car up there? The one without anyone around it? That's my car. It was parked on the side of the road, just like last night, when the tow pulled the four by four pickup up onto the rollback. We didn't know this, but the front bumper was homemade, and broke under the stress. The truck rolled right over my car."
Lt. Como walked into roll call. "Okay, people. Nina, grab a pool car and get lost. State Highway just stopped a bus full of drug runners, and most of them are females."
"Oh, yuck. Can't they call other female troopers out?"
"They are. There's sixty people on the bus, and thirty-seven of them are female. Most of which are prostitutes from Vegas for the bachelor party on wheels. They think it's connected to the new drug organization that's trying to move in here, so get as much intelligence as you can."
"On it." Nina went toward Larabee's office. "Chris, I'm taking a couple boxes of gloves with me."
"Fine. Just write down what you take."
Lt. Como called out to her retreating form, "Check in with me when you get back, Caswell, so I can go over roll call and last night's activities with you."
"Tanner, you'll ride with Wilmington tonight."
"Ay yi yi." Raphael shook his head. "That car will Crash and Burn tonight." The sergeant left the roll call room. "Dulce, wait up. It will be my pleasure to walk you out."
Buck turned away from the door. "Chris," he hissed.
"Whatever happened on their two dates makes them friends and flirt, but they don't follow through. They're friends, not lovers," Chris reassured his friend in a soft whisper. "You know her better than anyone else. Is she acting like she's interested?"
"No. I don't know why I'm even jealous."
"That doesn't even justify a response."
"Looks like your running days are just starting again, Stud." Chris gave his friend a playful shove.
"Thanks, Stud." Buck pushed him back.
"Can we get started, please?" Lt. Como cleared his throat in the front of the room.
Everyone settled in his customary seat, and Como started talking. He gave out the patrol sector assignments, the requests for police presence, and the noteworthy incidents for the day, finally looked hard at Buck and Vin.
"One final thing: no new adventures of Crash and Burn, please." He left before anyone could do more than laugh at the Shift Commander's rare joke.
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