four corners pd

By: Cin and Heidi

Day two: Friday

Part Five

Just After Roll Call

Lieutenant’s Office

“Chris, sit down,” Lt. Halter directed his sergeant.  Larabee settled in the chair across from the Lieutenant and waited.  The shift commander started, “I understand you wanted to talk to me last night but I got tied up with the reports for the use of force from the dust-up at Olympus.  I apologize.”

Chris waved that off because he filled out his own stack of paperwork justifying the multiple uses of force by the squad.  “It’s all right, sir.  I wanted to talk with you about Tanner. We received new information with pretty serious consequences if ignored.”

This immediately caught Halter’s complete, focused attention; having one of his men under and with the rest of the squad watching and worrying, anything involving Vin he wanted to know about.  One frustration he had was that he did not feel the Task Force was keeping them informed enough of their activities.  It was a situation he feared could lead to problems.  Therefore, he presented a blind eye when Larabee listened because both would rather know than fumble around blindly.  The lieutenant liked the quiet Texan and believed him one hell of an officer; he would hate Vin to come to harm.  Especially if it was caused by an errant mistake by his own people. “What’s going on?” he asked.

“Caswell discovered that they will ask Vin for a loyalty test soon, proving he’s aligned with them.  No one knows what it will be.  In addition, the group is now looking for fully automatic guns.  They hint at the weapons on the tapes.”

“Shit,” grumbled Halter, an uncharacteristic expression for him, precisely summing up his sentiments.  His eyes hardened as they calculated the potential damage this news brought.

Chris scowled and leaned forward with his arms resting on his knees.  His frown deepened as he continued, “My feelings exactly.  We can’t pull him because he’s the only one in and we don’t know what they’re going to ask him to do.  With the new information regarding guns, it’s gone to a whole new level.  I told Nina not to do an intelligence sheet because of the distribution in case of leaks.  We do not want to tip them off.  I’ll make sure our squad knows but no one else will.”

Halter nodded his agreement.  “All right.  I’ll apprise Lt. Como and the Chief but we’ll keep it in-house for now.  You hear anything else, you let me know.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Be careful out there.  I don’t like this.”  An uneasy feeling settled in the pit of the shift commander’s stomach, perhaps a warning of things to come.   

“You and me both.”  Chris stood and left the Lieutenant’s office for his own smaller space, collecting his gear and some paperwork he needed to drop off at the front desk on his way out. 

Just After Roll Call


Nina left Roll Call aiming straight for Communications.  She knocked on the door and the two women waved her in.  More specifically, Ladonna motioned her in while Casey fumed. 

The corporal saw the aggravation and the amused partner.  She said,  “Hi, ladies.  How are we tonight?”

That was all it took.  “Men!  How can anyone stand them?” exclaimed Casey.  

Ladonna turned her head away and hid her smile.

Nina replied with a shrug, “They’re a part of life.  We have to tolerate them.”  She noticed Mackie’s quick check of his watch followed by a slight droop of his shoulders.

Casey screwed up her courage before talking.  “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”  Nina dropped into a vacant chair and saw Mackie roll his eyes in her direction as he left for the bathroom.  Her lips twitched; sometimes Mackie learned and suffered through more than he bargained for sitting in the office for twelve hours.

“What makes men so stupid?”

Nina dove for the obvious answer.  “Other than their brains hanging between their legs?” 

Ladonna lost control and started laughing. 

Casey faced Nina, her mouth quivering with a smile aching to burst forth.  “Ignoring their brains,” she started only to have Nina interrupt.

“Now that can be their most interesting part!”

The dispatcher shook her head while Ladonna gasped for air and held her sides.  Casey tried again, “Why must every male that comes out of the Academy think he knows it all?”

Caswell barely paused before answering.  “Do you want the list or the short version?”  Her mind brought up a picture of two arrogant, know-it-all NHP patrolmen tormenting a fresh from the Academy new girl.  A nostalgic smile crossed her face because she thought she knew everything.  Boy, did they take pleasure in proving her wrong rather spectacularly.  Casey’s question applied to both genders but Nina figured Casey did not want or need to hear that right now.    Strangled breathing shook Nina from her memories.

“Nina, stop.  You’re killing me here!” wheezed Ladonna.

“Okay, Ladonna.”  She looked at Casey, the girl she considered a younger sister or niece before saying,  “Casey, let’s get to the heart of it before the Sarge has a hissy cow and tosses my big old butt out of here.  Did JD ask if you went to the Academy?”

The harsh scowl crossing the cute young woman’s face answered the question.  “I told him I’d help him with his radio demeanor ‘cuz after last night we know he’s a screamer and he copped this attitude with me, asking me how I knew.”

Nina tried her best not to laugh.  It clicked.  All of it, every misunderstanding and what must have happened next. God willing, Casey stayed this innocent for a long time to come.  Caswell uttered her next question without her voice breaking once.  “And what did you say?”

Casey thought about it and replied,  “I teased him.  Told him he squawked like an angry hen.”  She still believed she said absolutely nothing wrong but as she checked Nina’s face in front of her, Casey saw the corporal working hard at keeping her composure.  Now second thoughts plagued her about how she handled the situation.

“And his response?” came the strangled reply.

“Told me he was speaking loud and it was beside the point, because I’m in here and he’s actually out there.”

 Nina thought of a suitable solution that also brought her considerable enjoyment because of the collateral effect.  “Well, if it was me, there’s only one thing to do, Casey.”

“What’s that?”

“Tell him where to go,” advised Nina. 

Ladonna caught on Nina’s implied suggestion immediately and offered her radio time over to her partner.  “Case, you want the radio now?”

“You serious?”  Casey started liking this idea.

“Oh yeah.  Who am I to deny you the opportunity to teach the rookie the first unwritten rule?”

Nina, Casey, and Ladonna chorused, “Don’t piss off your dispatcher.”

Corporal Caswell wore an evil grin when she stood and looked at the two women exchanging places.  “Now, do you want my professional opinion as a training officer?”

Casey grinned and said, “Uh-huh.”  This could be a fun night after all.

“As a training officer, I feel the rookie needs to be exposed to everything and handle as many reports as possible for the experience.”  She winked.

Ladonna said, “I completely agree with you.”

Nina asked hopefully, “Does this mean I’ll have a light night?”

“We’ll see what we can do for you,” Casey replied as the telephone rang.  “No promises.” 

“Last thing: poker at my house tomorrow afternoon at three.”

“Thanks, but I’m getting my hair done tomorrow.”

“Oh.  Have fun, Ladonna.”

“I will; I’ve only been waiting three weeks for this appointment.”  She answered the telephone with a brisk, “Four Corners Police, Recorded Line.”

Nina shifted to the other woman.  “Case?”

“I’m helping Aunt Nettie around the ranch tomorrow.”

“Oh,” said Nina. 

Ladonna disconnected with an eye roll at the telephone before adding, “Thanks for the invite, though.”

“Yeah, thanks, Nina.  Maybe next time?”

Mackie limped back into the room and knew he walked into a Girls Only conversation.  “Don’t be saying anything I don’t want to hear, okay?” said the long-suffering officer.  He cut off at the arrival of a visitor he buzzed through.

“Hello, ladies!”

The three women looked up to see Mackie let Mary Travis into the room, handing her a visitor badge as she passed his desk.  She nodded her thanks and smiled at the lone male in the cube.  Mary served as a news editor for the local paper and was the daughter-in-law of the Chief of Police, Orin Travis.  She made friends with all of Squad One, especially since the young widow started dating Chris Larabee a very short time ago.

“Hey Mary,” Nina greeted the new arrival.  “What are you doing out so late?”  The corporal referred to Mary’s daytime hours because of her senior editor status.  Usually the woman could be found at home in the evenings with her son Billy.   

“Reporters never rest.  You know that Nina,” Mary laughed.  “Always chasing a story.”  Her eyes twinkled with her last remark, a subtle in-joke between the two women. 

“I’ll leave that alone and ask what story would that be?”  Nina’s own humor-filled eyes reminded Mary of their loud and vocal debate regarding members of the media listening to the scanner and going directly to the scene during a major incident. 

Their debate occurred at the Saloon on a Saturday afternoon and quickly escalated to a shouting match.  Both women firmly believed their point of view and refused to budge until Chris and Ezra, the two unlucky closest souls elected unanimously in their absence, walked over.  The dust settled with Chris and Ezra wearing the women’s sodas and the two debaters walking out arm-in-arm to pick up Billy from his sports practice. 

Mary learned quickly not to show up at scenes with this squad and warned her reporters to do the same after one nearly suffered an arrest.  The reporter failed to obey an order from Chris Larabee.  Of course, the reporter kept crossing the crime scene tape and the arrest threat was one hundred percent justified but it did not make relations any easier.  That reporter received reassignment to the people, places, and entertainment section.   Her own worst experience with them resulted in her locked alone in the back of Larabee’s car with the windows up and no one around while the radio played music he knew she hated.

“I think you should have been the reporter,” Mary quipped. 

“We ask all the same questions, who, what, when, where and how,” Nina pointed out.  “It’s what we do with the information that’s different.”

“Very true and if you ever need a job . . .”

“She might if she doesn’t get her tail in gear and hit the street.”

Mary’s reply cut off midstream by the growl from the menacing blond Sergeant that entered the room to stand behind the Corporal.

“Oh hi Sarge,” Nina drawled innocently.  She noted his thunderous visage and nearly frowned herself.  Sometimes she wished he would loosen up a bit more, be more like he was when she first met him.  Well, okay, the arrogant obnoxious asshole part she could do without but the sense of humor and insulting banter she enjoyed.  He was getting better but he did not need to be so moody now especially with Mary around.  Chris needed to smile more and frown less or those lines would make permanent grooves in his face.  If Mary could not brighten his outlook, Nina wished she could find some way.  “I was just leaving.”  She turned and winked at Mary as she headed for the door.

“I bet,” Chris mumbled under his breath as he handed some paperwork to the other male in the room.   Mackie hit Enter on the computer before taking it.  He suffered through this desk duty because of a healing knee injury inflicted by a suspect resisting arrest.  Having to share the office with the women gave the officer a new perspective but he longed to be back with his male dominant squad.  With those thoughts in mind, Mackie shared a male bonding smile with the sergeant who passed him a look of understanding. 

Chris raised an eyebrow at the display on Mackie’s screen.  It showed Buck being bumped up on the ‘community service volunteer list’ to handle the next three upcoming canine demonstrations. 

Mackie shot a ‘don’t ask’ look and Chris nodded.

If Buck pissed Mackie off, Buck paid the consequences.  Besides, Buck still owed Chris for covering his last two ‘volunteer’ services two months ago for what’s-her-name with the ‘killer body’ that moved to California with aspirations of being an actress.

“Oh,” Mary called after Nina, “I have some news for you.”

“Really?”  Nina stepped back into the room.  “What is it?”

Mary cast a wary glance towards the blond sergeant and shook her head.  “I’ll call you later.” 

Caswell nodded then stuck her tongue out at Larabee’s back, working the kinks out of an imaginary tail and fixing a halo on crooked horns.  Mary stifled a laugh while the dispatchers hid their faces.  

Chris did not have to turn around and look in order to say, “No hope for the halo, Caswell, and no hope for you if you don’t hit the bricks.”

Nina ran over to the wall just outside Communications and smacked it.  “Okay, Sarge, I hit the bricks.  What now?”

He wheeled on one foot to face her and calmly replied with absolute monotone, “If you did what else I think you did, that’s a violation of HR1.”  The glare he leveled on her caused her to back up to the doorway leading downstairs and put one hand on the knob. 

“Um…Mary can handle that for me.  I don’t think you’ll mind, Chris.  By the way, Mary, poker at my house tomorrow afternoon if you can make it.” Nina issued the invite as she opened the door.

“Sorry,” Mary shook her head.  “Billy has baseball practice.  And what can I handle for you?”

Nina’s eyes lit up and she grinned wickedly at Chris standing behind Mary. 

Chris aimed twin green death daggers at his long time friend but stopped the second Mary turned around to look at him. 

“Chris can tell you, and next time for poker, and uh, see ya!” Nina waved goodbye as she noticed Chris non-verbally promising pain at her over Mary’s head.  The black twister started forming telling Nina she needed to leave immediately before it sucked her in. 

The reporter acted the part of the tennis spectator turning from one to the other while the dispatchers, having long since mastered the art of watching two things at once, smiled broadly. 

Mackie shook his head and mentally counted again the number of days he had left in the booth before he could return to the road. 

Nina gave Chris a saucy wink and nodded at Mary, grinning as his scowl turned deeper and the familiar green fire increased in intensity.  The female corporal bailed as an index finger sliced across Larabee’s throat.  Okay, she told herself, I should have left while I was ahead.  She hustled to the back parking lot. 

Mary turned back to face the Sergeant in time to catch his angry frown and see his hand drop.

“Mary, nice to see you again,” he greeted her politely and properly while trying to soften his scowl.  He’d kill Caswell nice and slow this time.  He’d pictured it a thousand times over the years but this time he’d actually do it.  Prison sentence be damned; he considered it justified.

Mary shook her head at his formality but knew how professional he tried acting while on duty and dealing with her.  “Actually, I was hoping to catch you before you started your shift.”

He quirked an eyebrow at her in surprise and led her to the door out of Communications.  “Night ladies, Mackie,” he waved to the others, receiving waves in return.   “I have a few minutes, Mary, if you want to walk out with me.”

Mary nodded in agreement and moved ahead of him into the hallway.  “I just wanted to do a follow up on the fight the other night at Olympus.”  They reached the closed door at the bottom of the stairs and she waited, liking the idea of being alone with this powerful man.

“I’m sure you’ve picked up all the details off the blotter already,” Chris dryly intoned.  She may keep her reporters away from the scene until the very end, but that blotter and press release better be ready when asked for by The Clarion’s representative.  This arrangement worked well for both parties and often let The Clarion scoop the local television stations. 

Mary rolled her eyes.  This man infuriated her like no other . . .well, honestly, like no one since her husband.  “I hoped for a more personal reaction from you.”

“That’s nothing you’d be able to print.”

She gaped at him then noticed the small half grin.  Mary shook her head again.  First, he’s scowling and growling like a bear then he’s teasing her.  “Well, can you tone it down a little and give me just a little something?”  She pressed for a tidbit from this man, someone who served as a community leader even though he did not choose that role for himself. 

"We were happy that there were no serious injuries.  We hope the campus administration will look into curtailing the fraternity and sorority parties that lead to this kind of violence.  In the meantime we will continue to provide the best service possible to all our citizens, students included.” 

Mary blinked at him, unsure what to think as she listened to the dry recitation and scribbled on her pad.  Then the smirk of a half smile he was trying to keep contained broke through.  "You’re impossible,” she exclaimed with a smile.

“Impossible, no, just hard to get,” he joked.

“Oh, really?” muttered Mary, moving closer with a different look in her eyes. 

He leaned down to whisper softly in her ear.  “Yup.  Maybe I’ll show you one day just how hard I can get it.”  Chris checked her face and straightened, opening door on hallway.  “For now, I’ve given you all I’m going to.”

She wanted to kill him.  Her nerves sang, her skin tingled, and he knew it, damn him, shutting her down after starting her up.  Swallowing hard, she went for safety in the familiar.  “So I don’t get my story?”

“I think you better go talk to Lt. Halter for any official statements,” Chris said seriously leading them to the intersection toward the lieutenant’s office and Roll Call.  “He’s our Shift Commander and anything outside the press release has to come from him or the Public Information Officer.”

Mary nodded, still not moving off, wanting to ask him something but not knowing how to broach the subject.

“Just ask it, Mary,” Chris finally stated, reading her unease.  He improved at seeing when something bothered her and she did not know how to approach the subject.  Larabee hoped it did not deal with their budding personal relationship because he was not prepared to answer questions about that now or on duty.  That particular discussion stayed in the off hours for his peace of mind. 

“Is Vin okay?” Seeing his exasperated sigh, she quickly went on.  “Off record.  You know I wouldn’t do anything to compromise his safety; he’s my friend.”

“You know I can’t say anything.”

Mary nodded sadly and shrugged, “I was just thinking you might have seen him.  I was also curious if he heard the news?”

Larabee frowned, “What news?”

The reporter stared at the fierce countenance and reconsidered her inquiry.  She stammered, “I was going to tell Nina.  I was just . . .I didn’t know . . . I wanted to know if he knew Lucas James was killed?”

Larabee’s frown deepened.  The name sounded familiar but he couldn’t place it at the moment.  It sounded familiar, like something that happened before he came to Four Corners.  His mind rapidly ran through possibilities.

“He’s the man . . .”

“That killed your husband.”  Larabee finished the statement, suddenly remembering where he’d heard the name before.

“We think so,” Mary nodded slowly, fighting back the tears as the memories came rushing back to her again.  “And another woman here in town although he always denied that.  He was only convicted of killing Gloria Potter’s husband.”  She sighed.  “Vin helped a lot during that time.”  She did not want to go on and looked to him for understanding.

“More of that stuff that nobody wants to talk about,” Larabee ran an angry hand through his hair and lost himself in a memory.  Chris remembered a time when the squad went out for a celebration at the Saloon for Josiah winning ‘Cop of the Year’.  Everyone attended – every member of the squad, including a still assigned to patrol Vin, Rain, Casey, Mary, Chief Travis, Nettie, and a few friends and citizens along with various officers that popped in throughout the night. 

At one point, Rain again expressed her opinion about how someone like Josiah deserved the honor especially after all the hard work he put into the community.  A community, in her humble opinion, that did not appreciate everything he did considering all that happened in the past.

Chris watched as Vin’s face changed to thoughtful while exchanging a long look with Nina.  Nettie put her hands on both Vin and Nina and the three held each other for a second.  Chief Travis squeezed Mary’s shoulder and Casey grew quiet.  Buck sensed the rising tensions and changed the subject when he asked Inez – again – if she would go out with him.  Her yelled response from across the room lightened the mood.

The blond leaned over and whispered to Vin, “So what happened here before?”  He never received answers from Nina and hoped Vin might share.  Giving him an unreadable look, the Texan left the table and went outside.  Chris followed thinking his friend might tell him.  He waited in silence, a serious expression on his face.

Vin stared off into the distance for a few minutes before saying, “Leave it alone, Chris.”

Not getting answers frustrated Larabee.  He smacked the wall once.  “Why won’t anyone talk about it?”

“A man’s past is his own and I’m askin’ ya ta respect that.”  The intense eyes met his and he saw the pain and anger brewing in them.

“I do respect that, Vin, and you know that.  Hell, I’m damn protective of my own past but I want to understand why everyone gets so quiet and hurt when it comes up.  If I understood, maybe I could help.”

Tanner gave him a heartfelt request, reflected entirely in his body language and in those soulful blue eyes.  “Stop askin’, Chris. It's over and you can't help now.”

“Vin,” Chris pressed, aggravated in his ignorance.

The rejection of his request angered Vin.  Slowly, he unclenched his fist and shoved his hands in his pockets.  “This ain’t negotiable, cowboy.  Iffen ya were anyone else, I’d slug ya right now.”  Tanner walked inside, passing Nina in the hallway.  He saw the question in her eyes and realized she heard the entire conversation because the door never securely shut.  Vin nodded he was okay and kept walking, figuring she’d say something to Chris to maybe pacify him, keep him off their backs for awhile.  He felt he knew the man but sometimes having a friend with a long history helped settle things peaceably.

Just as Chris came in to follow his friend, a hand clamped on his arm and steered him none-too-gently back outside.  He went along with Nina, figuring she might tell him something, anything, that he desperately wanted to know. 

As soon as the air struck his face, he found himself with his back firmly slammed against the wall from a particularly hard throw.  “He may not hit you, but I don’t have that problem,” Nina hissed in his face. 

“What?” he asked while gently pushing her away.  The physical attack took him by surprise.

Not to be ignored, Nina got right back in his face.  “I’ll deck you if you kept asking questions.  Each question you ask drives another nail into a wound that’s not healing.  Every time you open your mouth about this one of us gets hurt.”

Chris grew defensive, not realizing the pain he inflicted with his questions.  “I’m not hurting anyone.”

“Bullshit, you arrogant prick.  Every damn one of us suffered and lost something special during that time, and all you do is remind us of that.”  Her finger jammed into his chest repeatedly. 

His temper flared and he grabbed her finger, whipping it off to the side.  “And who the hell are you to tell me what I can and cannot do?”

“The bitch that lived here through it.”  She pushed him against the wall again with more force.  “Without you or Buck giving a damn, and you know what?  I’ll kick your ass if you keep it up.”

He knew her emotions ran high because of the red flush to her cheeks.  This conversation struck home hard so he tried softening his tone.  “Lived through what, Nina?  What did you lose?  How can I stop asking when no one will tell me shit?”  Chris changed tactics.  “Or is this another one of those damn secrets you keep?”

She refused to budge.  “You’re missing the point.  Stay out of it.  It’s best for all of us if you do.”  Her finger speared him hard again in the chest.  Nina paused before saying, “And to answer your question on what I lost, I lost my soul.”

Her words startled him into searching her face and eyes for confirmation.  He did not look into the eyes of friend or someone just plain angry; he saw rage in those haunted blue depths.  Chris peered into that darkness and felt unimaginable pain and hate radiating back at him.  He involuntarily drew back and wondered kind of events made her like this.  The Nina he knew; hell, he corrected himself, the Nina he remembered was not capable of these dark emotions.  Or was she and he never knew her at all?   What did she mean about losing her soul?

At that moment, he realized that whatever happened it best remained buried.  His desire to know paled against the pain the apparent horrific memories the past inflicted on those he started caring about.  And in the case of the irate, enraged female in front of him, someone he found and started caring about again.  He finally understood exactly how much time he lost, how much of life and friends had passed him by.  Knowing what he suffered through during those years just after losing his family, and if the signals radiating off Caswell gave any indication of her own demons, he felt it would be unwise to try to delve into that unwelcome territory.  He swallowed once but she was not done.

“You weren’t around, Chris, and can you say you knew where I was and what I was doing for that first year I was here?  I came here suffering from losing my family too, but it only got worse, Larabee, worse than you could ever imagine.  And guess what?  No one cared, and no one wanted to know about anything around here.  Except for a select few people who gave a damn, and all of them paid a heavy price for caring.  I paid right along with them in ways that your darkest, deepest demons could not handle.  Where were you, Chris?”

He fell silent and swallowed; a sense of shame filled him for wallowing in his own misery while people suffered around him. 

Unabated, her verbal assault continued.  “I knew exactly where you were – in the bottom of a bottle.  Took Buck forever to drag you out and I’m sure both of you did things that neither of you want to talk about.”

He flushed, knowing she spoke the truth.  His mouth opened to say something and she cut him off.

“Truth is I don’t care right now.  Give us the same respect we give you by not prying.  We don’t talk about some things here.  It’s a bleeding sore and you’re only making it worse.”  Once she saw her message got through, she backed away.  All the rage and hatred disappeared when she stepped back, as if she stepped away both physically and emotionally spent. 

Her shoulders sagged and she slumped, leaning heavily against the door.  The lost little girl Chris met on her first day at NHP appeared.  “Please.  If you’re my friend, leave it alone.  That’s all I ask.”  With those soft words, she disappeared inside the bar.  He followed a few seconds later to give her time to compose herself before rejoining the group.  Lost in his memories, he did not hear Mary’s response and felt her staring at him in the hallway of FCPD.  The present returned with a rush.  He cleared his throat.  “I’m sorry; what was that?”

“It’s just too many bad memories, Chris, and a terrible time around here overall.  Vin helped me and I want to be there for him if I can.”  Mary sighed.  She lost her husband and a part of her heart then and only started recovering with this new relationship.  With all the pain in both their pasts, they took each step forward together slowly, probably slower than other couples.  Neither cared about public opinion because it seemed right to them.  The reporter hoped he accepted her silence because thinking about it only depressed her. 

Chris looked regretfully at her knowing there was not much he could do.  “It’s out of all our hands, Mary, and you know that.  He’s okay though . . .for now.”  He added the end with a mumbled breath and silent prayer.  “Orin could probably tell you more.”

Mary shook her head; a frown of worry appeared on her brow, she did not like this.  “Orin has not received a report from the Task Force in awhile.  And he’s been so busy in meetings, I don’t think he’s had a chance to think about it.  They’ve started the budget hearings and it seems lately that some sort of neighborhood group or business committee demands his attention with one complaint or another.  He’s dancing to their tune to get what you need on the street and keep them out of your way.”  She stopped and looked up at him. 

The woman balanced precariously on a tightrope with her profession and then her relation to the Chief of Police.  Sometimes it seemed worse than being a stockbroker with insider information.  She knew things she could not print and tried desperately to hang onto her ethics.  Many times she wanted to bend the truth or change things to make the public more accepting of the police, but the newspaper articles required facts, not opinions.  Those she spouted frequently in the editorial pages.  It hurt her deeply when they, her friends and father-in-law, shut her out completely because of her job, especially if it involved one of them.

Now she feared she overstepped those bounds, overbalancing herself and revealing too much of her insider knowledge.  Nevertheless, she worried about all of them: her father-in-law, Vin, the Squad, and the town for that matter.  She heard rumors about things not going well in town, but she could not pin down the problem and she did not think the police department could either. 

“Orin knew this would be a hard task when he chose to take this town on and build this department.”  Chris rested a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

Mary shook herself out of her mood; she knew this was not the time or place to talk about her worries, not that Chris would be able to offer any help in that area anyway.   With him on duty it made it worse because the uniform represented another barrier between them.  She sighed and plastered on a cheerful face.  “It’s okay, just one of those moments.  I’m going to let you get to work and I’ll obtain a statement from Lt. Halter.”

Chris smiled sadly, “Yeah I’ve got to go ride herd on that crew, make sure certain ones aren’t goofing off or creating paperwork for me.”

Mary let her lips stretch into a pretty beam, “Heaven forbid.  Off record, do you think you can come to dinner on one of your days off this week?”

This time his smile reached his eyes with a special glint in those green depths just for her.  It had been awhile since they’d had a chance to be together; too long, in fact.  “I think that could be arranged.”

“Now, what’s HR1 and what can I handle for Nina?”

Chris felt his smirk grow.  “I’ll show you later,” he said.  “Drop it for now.”

Mary decided she wanted to find out from him what HR1 was and figured the anticipation would do her good.  No need to pester others and ruin the moment.  Of course, he did not need to know that.  “Okay.  Chris, will you please tell Nina about Lucas James for me?  I’d rather she heard it from a friend than on the news or from a stranger.”

Surprised, he nodded and said, “Sure.”

She continued, “Regarding HR1, don’t wait too long…I do have sources.  I’ll call you.” She surprised him by winking at him as she moved off down the hall.

Damn, now he had to spend time trying to figure out what she meant by that.  Women, he snorted, then remembered a certain corporal needed some ‘personal’ attention and intense instruction on proper respect for rank and behavior.  There were also violations of HR1, or House Rule Number One…don’t stick it out unless you plan to use it.

Part Six

After Roll Call

Back Lot By Pool Vehicles

Buck steered JD over to his patrol car with one hand on his shoulder.  When they arrived, he asked his rookie, “Okay, where would you normally find the checklist?”

JD answered, “It should be in the glove box if not laying on the front seat.”  He remembered that from the stack of FCPD policies given to him when he first started in the Academy.  Fascinated by his new career, he memorized as much as possible as not to appear too much of greenhorn. 

Wilmington nodded, reached into the car, grabbed the clipboard, and handed it over.  He said, “Right.  Now, your most awesome training officer brought you a blank one to fill out on my car.  Get to it.”

JD stopped to read it.  Instead of immediately working on it like most rookies,

“Haven’t you ever seen one before?”  Midnight blue eyes shot heavenward.  With a trace of exasperation, the rogue incredulously wondered if the Academy did more than teach the rookies how to do push-ups.

The rookie fired an annoyed look at his trainer before explaining, “I’ve seen it before, sir, but I’m reading it again before I try anything.  Unless you want me to be stupid, just start punching buttons, sir, and possibly break something?”

“I knew you were smart,” replied Buck.  He bestowed another none-too-gentle approving whack upon JD's back.  “We’ll get you on your own real quick with that attitude.”  Wilmington felt pride in Dunne for thinking before he acted; well, Buck admitted to himself, most times he did.  Just needed to work with the Kid about not charging into the middle of things and planning.  Forget Buck did that himself; hell, he’d be happy with thinking ahead.  Kid already had a good start on that but reinforcement never hurts.

JD mumbled under his breath, “Looking forward to it.”  A pretty girl honked as she drove by on a nearby street and Buck immediately turned away to wave.  The rookie rolled his eyes then stopped when he realized he already picked up that habit from his trainer. 

“What was that?”  Buck did not hear that comment because he was checking out the girl, finding her good looking but a little too young for him.

“Getting started on it,” Dunne improvised, waving the checklist.  He began his inspection with the trunk, double-checking the fastenings holding equipment down, taking special care with the shotgun.  He moved on to test each of the lights, then all of the doors, worked the cage, and finally the windows.  The rookie performed a visual inspection of the exterior of the car checking for marks and not finding any in his thorough search.  Buck kept his patrol vehicle spotless outside and the interior relatively clean.  When JD opened the hood just to peek, the engine practically sparkled.  “Whoa.”

“Nice, huh?”  Buck steam cleaned his engine every so often to make sure the car worked when it counted like doing over seventy-mph responding to a call.  He had nothing against the mechanics contracted to work on the vehicles but he always felt better doing it himself. 

“Very.”  Even JD’s brand-new motorcycle engine did not shine like that.

“Keep it clean, she’ll run better.  Let me show you something.  I’ve added a bunch of strobes and you need to know where to find them.”  Buck situated JD in the driver’s seat and walked him through the operation of the additional lights in the vehicle.  Just as the trainer finished that and they started on the modifications in the trunk, Buck heard an indignant boast from the other side of the parking lot; a boast that he absolutely could not let stand.


After Roll Call

Back Lot, FCPD

Nina practically bounced when she reached the parking lot going immediately over to Nathan and Josiah by the gas pumps.  Her smile stretched from ear to ear.

The two men exchanged alarmed glances – they both knew that look – it meant trouble for someone. 

Nathan warily asked, “What’s going on?”

She assumed an innocent expression that immediately activated their self-preservation radar. 

While they waited for her to share, Ezra eased to a stop as Josiah moved his vehicle forward so the K9 officer could fill his truck.  Ace stuck his head out the window and received his greetings.  Nathan and Josiah each gave the lab some attention before stepping back and leaning against their vehicles. 

Nina took her turn.  “Hello, baby.  How’s my Acey-Wacey today?”  She scratched behind his ears and rubbed noses with him while he licked her face repeatedly. 

Ezra complained, “Must you do that?”  The childish, baby talk tone annoyed him, combined with the fact his dog loved it and played along vexed him to no end.

“Oh, there’s Daddy complaining again about the way we talk to each other,” she said, all in that particular tone.

Ace howled.  Ezra shot his eyes heavenward while Nathan and Josiah laughed at the disgusted handler.

Inside the truck, the tail of the lab waved excitedly back and forth. 

Nina told Ace, “When you wag at me, I know you mean it.”  She gave a significant look at Ezra then turned back to Ace.  “That’s my boy.  We talk to each other just fine,” she finished.   Ace continued begging for the attention that she happily gave him.  Part of it was to reinforce her backup handler position and the other part just to annoy Ezra.

“I’ll show you what I mean,” Ezra muttered under his breath.  “We’ll see who’s begging then.”

“What?” asked Nathan.  “I didn’t hear that.”  He waited for Ezra to repeat himself.  From the dark look on the southerner’s face, the comment probably was not a compliment. 

Ezra shook his head no while Nina continued babying his highly trained police dog.

Josiah asked, “Nina, what’s going on?”  He changed the subject for the obviously uncomfortable canine handler. 

“Hmm?”  She looked over her shoulder with Ace’s head firmly nudging the center of her chest.  “Why do you think anything’s going on?”   The corporal gave them that innocent expression again.

Ezra narrowed his eyes.  Her innocent face worked as well on him as his did on her. “You have that look, my dear.  The look of trouble for someone else.” 

“I’m sweet and innocent,” protested Nina in a loud voice that carried across the parking lot.

Nathan looked away before he choked and Josiah rumbled with mirth.  Ezra only raised a disbelieving eyebrow. 

“Bullshit!” Buck’s yell echoed back from the other side of the parking lot making his wide-eyed trainee jump.  This brought even more chuckles to the assembled officers. 

“Well, I was before I met you.  You and Chris corrupted me!”  Her hands landed on her hips and a twinkling in her eyes showed she was teasing.

“That’s a bunch of hooey!” Buck yelled back with a big smile.  He did not mention the money exchanged between him and Chris as they bet on who could make her do outrageous things. 

“Hooey?” repeated JD.  “What kind of word is hoo-ey?!”  He emphasized the syllables in a fair imitation of his training officer.  His facial expression mocked Buck, sending the others into gales of laughter. 

Buck pointed a finger at the rookie.  “You stay out of this.”  Wilmington turned back to the others missing the face JD made at his back. 

“Hoo-ey,” Nina gave the word the same emphasis JD did.  “Or not, you two better hit the road.  Got a feeling you’ll be busy tonight.”

“What else do you expect, darlin’?  It’s Friday night.”

She waved insincerely at him with a fake smile.  “Nothing else, Buck.  Get lost.” 

“Only if you come find me!” he answered, tipping his hat to her before climbing in the passenger side.  “JD, get your scrawny butt in here so we can leave.”  JD also tipped his hat – he loved doing that – before entering the vehicle and pulling smoothly away. 

A straight slew of muffled giggles came from Nina’s hand-covered mouth as they left.  Nathan finished with the gas nozzle and moved his vehicle forward so Nina could fill hers.  Both Sanchez and Jackson stuck around because they wanted to know what was going on.

“All right, give,” Nathan began the grilling.  He crossed his arms and waited.

“Give what to who, where, when and for how much?”  She said this with a shake of her head side-to-side and feigning confusion.

Ezra drawled, “Ms. Caswell.”  His impatience showed in wanting to know the information she withheld but continued to tease them with.  The woman kept secrets so well he found it impossible to get her to share unless it was her choice.  She was almost – but not quite – as good as him.

“Mr. Standish,” replied Nina with just as much polite impatience in her tone.  “Allow me to say that I do not believe any of us present will be getting any Central calls tonight unless we’re called as backups.”  The men exchanged confused looks.  Central calls usually split along sector lines; if the sector car closest to that part of Central was free, that sector car took the call unless someone else was closer.  Dispatch also based Central assignments on who handled the most calls and reports to keep them as evenly divided as possible. 

Ezra started putting pieces together and asked a leading question, “Does this relate to Mr. Dunne and Mr. Wilmington’s near lateness?”

She rocked back and forth, one hand scratching behind Ace’s ear.  “It does.  Seems our rookie said exactly the wrong thing to Casey.”

Josiah only shook his head at the foibles of youth and sighed; he could just imagine what the rookie said to enrage the normally unflappable Casey Wells. 

Nathan cringed at what he thought it could be and Casey’s reaction to that.  Her earlier behavior in the break room started making sense and explained her state of agitation.  He asked a question to confirm his suspicions.  “He asked her about going to the Academy, did he?”  

“Yes, he did, Nathan, and Casey’s pissed.”  Nina drew out the word pissed with a sideways shake of her head and a large smile. 

“Thought he was smarter than that,” replied Nathan.  Unless, he thought, there was something starting between the two.  Hmm.

Ezra ran his thumb down his cheekbone.  “May I presume from that information and your boisterous attitude that those two will receive the bulk of the menial labor tonight?”  After replacing the nozzle, he closed his gas tank cover.  Next, he wiped his hands clean and wished for the bygone days of full service pumps.  He reached up and rubbed that spot just under Ace’s chin to hear the paw rap repeatedly on the seat and the neck arched to give him better access. 

“Oh yes,” confirmed the corporal.

Josiah thought Nina sounded entirely too smug and pleased with herself.  With suspicion in his voice, he asked, “Sister, how much of this was your suggestion?” 

Ezra found himself impressed with the wounded expression covering her face.

One hand flew over her heart, her mouth dropped into an ‘o’ shape, and her eyes feigned hurt feelings.  “I made no such suggestion, Josiah.  How could you think that of me?  I offered my professional opinion as a training officer for their knowledge to use or lose as they saw fit.  Casey’s a bright young woman and she knows that rookies need exposure to as many calls as possible for seasoning and for training purposes.  Now, is that wrong?”  Nina gave the three men her best ‘you must agree with me because I’m justified and you know it’ look. 

“At times, my dear, your devious mind amazes me.” Ezra smirked and wondered what else she planned for tonight.  He rarely saw her act like this but when he did, he enjoyed it immensely.    

“But it’s not wrong,” she defended, her lips quirking upwards. 

Josiah finally laughed and Nathan reluctantly admitted her logic with a tiny nod.  Ezra gave her a polite golf clap.

The radio broke the moment, as it was wont to do.  “FC, 11-07, copy theft from vehicle.”

Nina started laughing and making an imaginary tick mark in front of her as if saying she was right and one point went to her. 

“11-07,” answered JD.

Casey said, “Will be in Central, 1418 South Market, 1-4-1-8 South Market; contact Dana Briton reference theft of cell phone; no suspect; occurred sometime today.”

The rookie acknowledged with, “10-4.” 

The three men glanced at each other; South Market bordered Nathan’s territory and the lovely voice did not belong to Ladonna whom they heard earlier.  The tall medic asked, “What’s Casey doing on the radio?  I thought tonight was Ladonna’s turn?”

Nina explained, “They switched tonight.  Ladonna felt it would be cathartic for Casey.”  With her hands behind her back, repeatedly swaying left to right, and shuffling one foot back and forth, years dropped off her face and she resembled an excited girl. 

Josiah translated, “You mean giving her the satisfaction of giving out the calls.”

“That too,” Nina agreed with a bounce on the tips of her boots.  Someone caught her eye and her grin grew devilish.  “Uh-oh; here comes the old man Sarge; or should I say Loverboy?!  Oops, gotta go!”  She yelled this loudly across the parking lot, earning herself another lethal glare.  Quickly, she replaced the nozzle, capped her tank, closed the door, climbed in her vehicle, and drove away.  He almost broke into a sprint to catch her.

“Not so fast, Caswell.  Keep your butt right there,” blared through her radio on the talkaround channel.  The tone was less than thrilled with her and the speaker magnified it.

She keyed up on the same channel saying, “My butt’s moving right now.  I’m hitting the streets like you asked.  Catch me if you can, old man.”  Her taillights winked twice as she tapped the brakes on her way out.

Chris gave them a mild scowl as he reached them.  He dryly asked, “And the rest of you are here why?”

“Just finished getting gas, Chris,” replied Nathan.

“You’re done.  Beat it.” They all knew one of Larabee’s pet peeves was loitering on the back parking lot after roll call.  The sergeant fielded too many smart-aleck citizen comments about the other shift’s officers always being at the station instead of on the road and refused to allow his squad to become one of them.  He waited until they complied, Ezra last of all because of his wanting to agitate the sergeant further.  With a slow smile and tip of his finger on his cap, the canine officer drove off to patrol the outskirts of the University.


Nina’s cell phone rang as she drove south.  Still laughing, she answered it with a chuckle in her voice and absolute certainty on the identity of the caller.  “Caswell.”

“Park your ass at the next intersection before this old man assigns you Outer everything for the rest of your time here.”  Click.

“Yes, sir,” she smartly replied to the dial tone and stopped in the closest business.  As always, the Larabee vocabulary consisted of using as few words as possible to get the point across.  Chris pulled his unmarked beside her in the closed bank’s parking lot.

His voice pitched low and threatening as he growled, “Who do you think you are calling me an old man?”

“Your better?”  Her impish grin brought out a slight twist of his lips. 

“In your next lifetime,” he retorted, finally chuckling. 

“Wow!  A smile from Chris Larabee - wait!  Mark the calendars!  Call the presses…and how is Mary, anyway?  Take care of that problem for me?”

“Nina,” he said her name softer and lower in warning.

She smacked the steering wheel.  “Damn!  You’re still not getting enough.  ‘Course, knowing you, twice everyday is not often enough!”  Nina exaggerated her claim with big winks and waggling eyebrows. 

“Don’t make me hurt you.”  He presented her with a smirk inviting her to do just that.

“You and what army?” she scoffed.  “You needed Tanner to kick my butt last night, old man.”

His eyes narrowed and he exited his car, leaning in her open window and giving her a feral smile.  His hand reached in for her keys to keep her there until he wanted her to leave.

Ring.  They exchanged looks as she leaned back away from him, and answered it, “Caswell.”

“What the hell were you bouncing for?” asked Buck.  His voice carried so loud through the receiver that it forced her to hold the small machine away from her ear and right into Larabee’s, Nina silently blessing Buck for that bellowing tone. 

After wincing, Chris glared at her and promised payback for that.  “None of your business, Corporal,” Chris yelled back into the mouthpiece.  “Get your ass to your call.”  He mouthed ‘hit End’ and she disconnected as both dissolving into chuckles, Chris pulled out of her car purposefully forgetting the keys.  “Your mood’s contagious.  I’m blaming you.”

“I don’t know why, Chris, but I feel like laughing today.  So watch out, world, because Firecracker Nina’s here.” 

This Nina made him feel better; this Nina acted more like the one he knew before Sarah and Adam died and their lives separately fell apart.  Since he came back into her life, or her into his depending on perspective, she wore a new layer of seriousness that suffocated her frivolous nature and chaotic good moods.  He also guessed at a great deal of the pain buried beneath the seriousness if he believed some of the rumors he ferreted out about what happened here before Chief Travis started the PD.  “Go ahead; just don’t piss me off in the process.”

Her cell phone rang again and just as she lifted it to answer, he yanked it from her hand and barked into it, “Quit calling and get your sorry ass to work before I come and teach you about obeying orders.”  He stopped speaking and turned a bright red.  “Ma’am, I’m sorry, ma’am; no, I didn’t mean that to you.  Here’s Nina.”  Chris tossed her the phone quickly and tried hiding a flush spreading through his cheeks.   He climbed back in his patrol car and waited for the inevitable teasing.

“Hello?  Hi, Miss Nettie.  Yes, I’m fine.  Yes, Chris meant that for Buck.”  She laughed at her friend’s discomfited expression and shook her index finger at him.  “You can?  Are you sure?  I really appreciate it.  Tell me how much I owe you and…no, I’m paying you for this.  Miss Nettie…” Nina banged her head against the seatback.  “Yes, ma’am, thank you.  I’ll see if Chris will let me; okay, here he is.” 

Chris stared suspiciously at the telephone and hesitantly answered, “Yes?”  He listened then nodded.  “All right.  You know you don’t have to do that; let me…all right, later tonight as long as we’re not busy.  Thanks.”   Chris disconnected and handed her telephone back.  “Permission granted.”  With two words, the Larabee standard, he informed her she could pick up the platter and drop it off at her house. 

Nina nodded her appreciation.  “It’s nice of her to make a platter for tomorrow; I can cook but…”

“You like your sleep and I don’t want food poisoning.”

“Ha ha ha.  You’ve eaten my cooking and enjoyed it before.”  She reminded him of the times she invaded the kitchen in Buck’s tiny apartment before he moved into her suite of rooms at her grandfather’s casino.   

“All right.  I admit you have some skill.”  He held his fingers a small ways apart.

She shrugged and figured that was the extent of his admission about her cooking ability.  “Thank you.  Now, before you become a killjoy and ruin my mood, what do you need?”

“Killjoy?”  He repeated, cocked his head her way, accompanied by disapproving green eyes.  Chris did not like that descriptor for himself.

Nina emphasized, “Yes, killjoy.  As in suck the humor out of everything with that black twister over your head.  You know what?  I’ll bet you can’t make it through the rest of the shift without yelling, glaring, or generally being a sourpuss.”  The look he gave her sent her into giggles.  “Oh, you can’t do it.”  Telling Chris Larabee he could not do something invited him to try it anyway, usually no matter the consequence.  During their years-long friendship, she discovered that challenging him then telling him he could not do something bought her survival from many Wilmington/Larabee ideas cooked up to get her to do something outlandish. 

“Bullshit,” he automatically replied.  He hated it when she said he could not do something making him feel compelled to prove her wrong.  Every time he agreed to her suggestions, he eventually regretted it, but still never learned.  His macho pride kicked in before his brain. 

Nina thought it time to sweeten the pot so she taunted, “Fifty bucks says you can’t.”

He already knew what he wanted as the stakes and she would not see this coming.  “Not money.”

“What do you want?”  She managed a straight face for one second before laughing at him.  He probably wanted her to do some stupid stunt like wearing Buck’s uniform for a day again.  Even Nina admitted to herself that was funny but not this time; no stupid stunts for her.

“How adventurous do you feel?” he asked, already knowing the answer.  Just bring her in a little closer, he thought.  Come on, Nina, take the bait. 

“Bring it on, baby.”  What’s the worse he could do that she had not already done at his and Buck’s hands?

“I’m going to hit you where it hurts,” he warned.  He knew this would make her stop and think but he knew her curiosity would win out.

Two disclaimers?  Hmm.  Time for a little insurance to see how committed he was to this venture.  “As long as I get to name the stakes if I win.”

Okay, Larabee, give her the easy one first.  “Fair enough.  For the period of one month, when I win, you are not allowed to call me Sarge or old man.” 

She nodded.  “I can do that.”  Not too bad, she thought, but he planned something else.  What’s next, Larabee?  That’s not adventurous at all.

Chris snorted with disbelief about her not using the nicknames then dropped his bomb.  “And you’re not allowed to sleep with Buck.”  He smirked at her with his coup de grace, wishing he thought to have his camera ready to capture that look on her face forever.  A few copies would look nice all over the PD, especially with that huge hole in her face and bug eyes. 

“What??!!”  Nina made a conscious effort in not catching flies with her open mouth.  She shook her ahead at his audacity.   

The feral grin grew more infuriating.  “Said I’d hit you where it hurt.”

Bullseye, Larabee, she thought, then made a face and started her denial.  “Oh, like that’s an everyday occurrence, Chris.  We only get together every once in a long while.”  She emphasized long.

Good try, Caswell, but I know better, he thought before smugly saying, “I’m talking about sharing a bed without having sex too; completely alone, no ‘teddy bear’ to hold you while you sleep.”  The knowing look narrowed her eyes.

How much did Chris really know?  That was supposed to be a secret.  Damn it, Buck, can’t you keep your mouth shut?  Another question popped into her head.  “What are you planning?”  She knew him well enough to see the wheels turning in his mind.

“11-07’s 10-23,” their radio squawked while they stared at each other.  The terrible two arrived at their call.

“10-4. Have one pending when you clear.”

“Direct,” JD answered.

Chris picked up the conversation as if not interrupted.  He used a habit learned in law enforcement everywhere.  “Let’s just say a month’s empty bed for you means almost the same thing for him; he’s gotten pretty picky lately.”  He chose not to mention the drunken night the two friends shared last week talking about their love lives like they used to years before. After they finished the second bottle, Buck finally admitted that he wanted to settle down and maybe have a couple kids because the dating scene bored him lately. 

Oh, he dated, and he would be the first to admit that, but it did not really mean anything anymore and he wanted something more tangible, more concrete.  Too many tragic circumstances had slammed home to him just how short life could be and now he felt a piece of his was not complete.  The problem was he felt torn between Nina, who was dead set against marriage along with their tortured history, and Inez, who would not go out with him.  It took a very long time to regain Nina’s trust after he moved here and longer still to win Inez’s faith in him.  The secret Buck told Chris about his sleeping arrangements floored the sergeant; no wonder his friend, the poor guy, lived in a state of confusion.

Chris eventually shared his thoughts about him and Mary in the future then clamped down on that because he was afraid of caring too much and losing her like he lost Sarah and Adam.  He confessed that he did not believe himself strong enough to endure that pain ever again and he too shied away from commitment. 

Nina brought him back to focus on her.  “You’re hooking him up with Inez, aren’t you?  Take me out of the picture, make him work a little harder?”  The idea really did not bother her…well, not too much.  As long as they were happy.  She already had her chance and screwed it up royally; she did not expect another.  With the state of things right now, she felt a little guilty and thought she might be giving Buck false hope.  Then there was that little mumble he made…she clamped down on that recent memory hard.  Then again, she never thought she would trust him again, much less sleep with him occasionally when he or she felt particularly lonely.   

He feigned innocence and dodged her question with a comment.  “I’m not meddlesome like some people I know.”  Chris gave her a significant look.

She snorted and repeated his one word response.  “Bullshit.”

“Then you can’t do it?  Buck’s got you that dependant on his,” he leered at her, “services?”  Chris knew her anger would make her agree to his bet. 

Nina about shot out of the car to pummel him so he started laughing at her and her attempts at control as a vehicle drove down the street, the occupants staring at the two police officers.  “Temper, temper, Corporal.  I still outrank you.”

Blue ice shooting shards from her eyes froze him in place as she said, “No, I am *not* dependant on Buck Wilmington or his dick.  I think I’ve already proved that, thank you very much.  So I accept.” 

“Good.”  Bingo.  He thought, damn, you’re good, Larabee.

“Fine.”  I’ll show him, she told herself.  He won’t last an hour if I have anything to do with it. 

He smirked at her; he knew just how to manipulate her.  Having gotten what he wanted, he felt magnanimous.  “You want to give me my terms on the remote chance you’ll win?” 

She thought about it for a minute and gave him a slow grin. 

That scared him. 

“First, these are non-negotiable.” 

He gave a brief nod and braced himself. 

“You, my boy, have to:  (1) take Mary *alone* to my Las Vegas suite for a weekend and become the most romantic man on earth; and (2) cook me that dinner you promised me and never got around to making.”  He was not the only matchmaker around; it did her heart good to see him finally interested in another woman.  Nina loved Sarah but she knew Sarah would kick his ass from now until doomsday for mourning her this long. 

“No.”  No way in hell would he agree to those terms.  The dinner, yeah, he could do that, but romance for an entire weekend?  Like hell.  Who did he look like? Buck?  Ezra with his fancy ways?  Like hell. 

Nina pressed, “You don’t agree?” 

He gave her that look again. 

She sighed theatrically saying, “Okay, sourpuss.  Then the bet’s void.  If you want to be a crotchety, grumpy man, a big old fart, that’s your choice.  Don’t come crying to me when you go prematurely gray.”

Her remarks hit his ego hard.  He was only in his thirties, damn it, and did not consider himself crotchety.  As for the gray hair, he would never admit he looked every day.  He started his own denial, “I am not old or crotchety.”

“Yeah, right.” She snorted and mumbled, “Wus.”

“What did you say?” Chris growled at her.

“Wus.  WUSSY DOG!” she bellowed at him.  “WUS WUS WUS WUS WUS!”  With a friendship as long as theirs, she knew how to push his buttons too and danced the cha-cha on the one marked ‘Larabee Male Pride’.

“Done.”  His mouth opened before his brain kicked in. 

“You accept?”  He nodded.  Her hand flew out the window and they shook before either lost their nerve, realized they acted stupidly, or their minds finally worked properly, whichever came first.  “11-08, FC.”

“11-08,” Casey answered.

“10-36.”  Nina asked for the correct time.


“10-4.”  Nina faced Chris and sucked in a huge lungful of air.  “You have until 7:08 tomorrow morning, twelve hours, Larabee, to go without scowling, frowning, growling, barking, sniping, snarling, glaring, evil eyeing, insulting, bitching, whining, offending, angering, roaring, bellowing, yelling, slurring, slighting, or generally being a stick-in-the-mud, pain-in-the-butt, grumpy ass grouch or I win.”

He laughed at her recitation and figured he needed Valium to not do any of those things.  Of course, she never said anything about when he was alone; he could get it out of his system alone and be (shudder) *nice* to everyone he came in contact with for a whole day.  Maybe if he treated them like he treated Billy Travis, Mary’s son, he would be fine. 

Nina changed the subject.  “Now, as to the real reason for your visit?”

His smirk fell away.  “Serious business; the Lieutenant knows what you told me and I want you to keep your ears open.”


“Mary gave me a piece of news; she said she was going to tell you.  Figured I’d see you first so she asked me to pass it on.”

Nina quirked an eyebrow in fascination. “Really?  What.”

Remembering the volatile conversations they had in the past couple of years, he wanted to make it clear the information was volunteered to him and he was not fishing for information.  “She wanted to know if you and Vin heard that Lucas James was killed in prison.”

The striking blue eyes blinked several times in surprise.  She was stunned not only at the news, but that Mary mentioned it.  Maybe they were all beginning to heal a little.

“You okay?” Chris asked.

Nina plastered on a slight smile.  “Sure, just surprised.”

“Is that news going to be trouble?”  The smile looked a little too forced in his opinion.

Caswell shook her head.  “If anything, good riddance.”  Privately, she knew the James family caused the town of Four Corners plenty of grief.  Stewart and his family believed they ran the town and did in every illegal sense of the word.  No one dared stop them because then he held the Sheriff in his hip pocket, and those who did dare met with grave circumstances.  When evidence grew against the younger James and he was imprisoned for murder, the Sheriff was finally run out of town.  It seemed the whole world heaved a sigh of relief for the town.  Catching Larabee’s penetrating stare, Nina simply said, “I don’t think so, just a bit of closure.”

Larabee only nodded.

The dark haired woman was even more surprised by this reaction.  “What?  No third degree?”

Chris smiled, “I learned my lesson.”

Nina laughed, “I guess you have.  Anything else?”

“Yeah, what in the hell is going on with JD?”

The innocent expression rose again and fell on a disbeliever.  “Whatever to you mean?”

He smiled and asked, “JD pissed Casey off, didn’t he?”

“And you guessed this how?”

“The hostile anti-male glares I got in Communications.  I feel sorry for Mackie having to suffer in there like that.”

“Then that would be correct and Mackie can hold his own.”

Chris ignored the second half of her statement.  “Academy comment?”


“Then he needs a rotation in there sooner than scheduled?”

“Oh yeah.  A busy night.  Next week during Olympics would be good.”

His instincts told him she held information back.  “And?”

“And what?” Her eyes widened and she batted them at him.

“Give.”  Yup, she knew more. 

“Nope.  Was that an order?”

“No.”  Taking a deep breath, he said, “Neen.” He used his best neutral face, almost growling and losing the bet at the very beginning. 

She studied him for a second then asked in a sing-song tone, “What’s the ma-gic wo-rd?”

At this point in previous conversations, he usually threatened her.  She knew that and tried tricking him into an automatic response.  He told himself to be on his toes around her and this time, because of the bet, it did not work.  He nearly gritted his teeth as he said, “Please.”

She heaved another theatrical whole body sigh.  “Well, if you must know,” Nina sucked a bigger breath and said the rest in one big long run on sentence.  “Casey’s interested in JD and I think JD’s interested in Casey but he said something absolutely stupid when he misinterpreted something she said, so it’s neither listening to the other, more him than her because he’s a man, and now they’re both pissed off at each other, he’ll get all the calls tonight, and she’s on the radio for revenge, plus Buck’s going to run his ass off tonight because of it, and I find that very funny.   Did you catch all that, old man, or is the hearing going too?”

Silently he fumed.  Chris said, “What did he misunderstand?”

“Said he was a screamer.”

Chris started laughing with complete comprehension of what happened.  JD thought she meant in his personal life and not his radio demeanor and immediately got defensive, sending him into the wrong argument to take with a dispatcher.  That kind of argument usually earned the offender every possible call until he or she learned that hard lesson and apologized to the dispatcher for demeaning the importance of the job he or she does.  Having Central up for grabs and a Friday night, Buck and JD would get all of them along with the calls in their own East sector.  They looked at a very busy night and no breaks.

JD’s voice paused the conversation again.  “11-07’s 10-8, Code Robert.”  Code Robert meant a report.

“10-4.  11-07, Copy Civil Dispute.” 

JD still sounded professional to his credit.  “Go ahead.”

Casey said, “16 West Spring Drive, Number Sixteen West Spring Drive, Cross streets of East Spring and South Spring, contact Henry Harkins regarding his neighbor’s dog trespassing on his yard.”


Nina started laughing and Chris actually grinned himself.  Both of them knew Mr. Harkins; he called in a complaint every time anyone touched his property and even roped off his sidewalk so that no one could walk on it.  “That will be fun; maybe I should ride along to watch.”

Chris knew she joked about Mr. Harkins and his desire to have a neat, orderly world for himself and everyone else in it.  Mr. Harkins tended to interrogate the ones he saw on a routine basis regarding the officer’s personal lives of because he liked to know them instead of just having a name and face he recognized.

Two years back, Buck made the mistake of telling Mr. Harkins that Nina was his girl.  For fun, Nina backed him up on the claim and every time he saw either of them, Mr. Harkins encouraged marriage between them over any other arrangement. 

Since then, Buck always blamed Nina for not committing to marriage to Mr. Harkins.  Nina told the older gentleman she was not quite ready to settle down and how could she, as a Catholic, enter marriage when she was not sure?  A marriage was forever, she intoned, before again offering condolences on the earlier loss of Mr. Harkins’ beloved Harriet.

‘Henry and Harry’, as Mr. Harkins fondly said, enjoyed their fifty plus years of marriage.  He harangued Buck on convincing Nina, often giving him pointers.  Nina received advice on taking a calculated risk because everyone could plainly see the affection between the two. 

Chris saw right through what she planned; having both there at the same time would give the older gentleman the perfect opportunity to try and convince them to marry.  Buck usually received the worse end of it and politely forced into taking it.  JD did not need to be exposed to that, nor did Buck need the reminders.  Especially with what Chris planned for his friend’s future. 

“Maybe you should go find somewhere to make yourself visible,” he suggested in all seriousness.

She grinned at him.  “I can do that.”


Nina teased, “You want me to find trouble too?”

“Try to behave yourself; no pretending you’re a football,” he returned with a straight face.

“I can do that too, but remember, Sarge, you have to be nice!”

He pasted on a smile as she pulled away.  It fell off immediately, once she disappeared out of sight.  Fun and games aside, he seriously contemplated the shift ahead.  He figured he’d patrol the Outer areas while it was slow and start with East first, since Buck was going to be in Central all night.


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