Gun Shy by Lori L. Lake

gunshy
Artwork by Calli

Gun Shy
by Lorl L. Lake

PART 1

The gold and white squad car swung around the corner onto Como Boulevard, no headlights and little sound but the tires squeaking on the hot pavement. To the left was Como Lake, a small body of water in St. Paul only a half-mile in diameter. The street ran parallel to a walking and biking path that ringed the lake. To the right was a row of darkened homes set up on a slight slope and heavily shaded by huge elm and oak trees.

The police car paused four houses away from a white two-story stucco house. Officer Dez Reilly turned off the air conditioning and powered the window halfway down, staring at the house up the street. With a weary sigh she let herself listen for the night time noises over the engine of the car. The neighborhood was silent, almost too quiet. She should hear crickets, but all was still.
She cut the engine, picked up her flashlight and stepped out of the car, shutting the door so it clicked quietly. As she strolled along the sidewalk, the hum of night time insects started up, and she stood in front of the stucco house, waiting, listening.
Somewhere down the street came a faint bass thump of music as a car passed through the intersection and faded off into the distance. Otherwise, no one was out. Her eyes scanned the street and the houses with practiced speed. Nothing seemed out of place, but someone had reported the sound of a woman screaming and had pinpointed the noise as coming from the house in front of her. A string of residential break-ins had occurred lately in this area, and also, though the public had not yet been notified, a serial rapist seemed to be at work. She herself had been extra vigilant lately; she lived less than a mile from Como Lake.

Outside the air-conditioned car, the August humidity seeped into her pores through the short-sleeved blue uniform shirt, through the bullet-proof vest, through the white cotton t-shirt she wore, adding to her fatigue more than she thought possible. She took a deep breath of the dank air and felt herself sweating. August in St. Paul was no fun. At least the mosquitoes weren’t after her. Yet.

She was tall, lean hipped, and broad-shouldered with long black hair caught up in a French braid. She walked with a confident stride across a strip of grass, over the sidewalk, and up the cracked walkway to the house, pausing periodically to listen. There were six stairs to the porch, and the first floor windowsills were slightly above her eye level. The front windows were dark, but a shaft of golden light shone from an open second floor window around the corner of the house. Leaving her flashlight off, she strode around to the south side and paused for a moment. Now she could hear angry muttering, the sound of an urgent, high-pitched voice, and then a frantic scream quickly muffled.

Dez heard a ripping sound, and then deep-throated laughter. A male voice growled, “Stop it! Stop fighting or . . .”

“No, you stop it. Get out of here!” shouted a woman’s voice.

“Oh shit!” said the man. “You move, I cut her throat. Got it?” In a different tone, he hollered, “Get her!”

That was all Dez needed to hear. She touched her shoulder mike and called for backup as she ran toward the back of the house and around to the other side, visually checking the doors and windows until she found what she suspected: a sliced window screen leading into what she thought would be the dining room.

Hearing another scream, she flicked on her shoulder mike again and advised the dispatcher to hurry the backup team. In a hoarse whisper she reported, “This sounds bad. I think there are at least two male suspects and one, maybe two, female victims.” In the background she could hear far off sirens. Her skin crawled, and she felt an uncharacteristic compulsion to do something and do it now. A loud crash hit her ears, and she hit the shoulder mike again. “I’m going in. Tell ’em to follow quick as possible—north side window.”

Hooking her flashlight on her belt, she hoisted herself up over the windowsill headfirst and tumbled into the darkened house as quietly as she could. She scuttled across the floor on her knees, moving toward the faint light of the doorway. She peeked around the corner. Stairs, where are the stairs? She rose and inched around the corner out of the dining room as she grabbed the flashlight off her belt, the metal warm against her palm. She clicked it on and unholstered her gun.

****

Jaylynn Savage realized she was tired when her watch chimed eleven. She had spent the entire evening in the air-conditioned college library cramming for her summer term finals, and visions of Con Law danced in her head. She persisted for another ten minutes, then gave up. Running hands through short white-blond hair, she hoped the political theory exam would go well in the morning, but she just couldn’t study one more minute. Going over and over the material was no longer productive. Since the library closed at midnight anyway, Jaylynn decided to head home. She packed up her books, said hello to friends on the way out, and emerged into the musty air.

Jaylynn liked to say she was five-and-a-half feet tall, but that was only if she was wearing shoes with an inch tall heel. Her build was slender, and her lightly tanned skin and sun-bleached blond hair were evidence of time spent outdoors. Her face, framing hazel green eyes, was full of youthful innocence and of something else perhaps best described as contentment.

As she strolled away from the library, her legs felt strong, but fatigued from the five mile run she’d taken earlier in the day. She walked slowly from the library to the bus stop, going over first amendment issues. That’s one area of the exam that I’ll ace, she thought. I know that cold. She thought about how glad she would be to be done with this final class. Perhaps she’d have time then to write a few poems again.

The bus deposited her half a block from the rented house she shared with two friends. Cutting up the alley, she let herself in through the kitchen door. Jaylynn loved the old house she and Tim and Sara lived in. Not only was it situated right across the street from Como Lake, but it was enormous. Every room was spacious with tall ceilings, ornate woodwork, and walk-in closets. She shut and locked the door quietly so as not to awaken Sara. Her other roommate, Tim, wasn’t home yet. She could tell, because his beat-up red Corolla wasn’t parked out back. She tossed her keys on the table and crept up the stairs.

Sara must still be up, she thought as she turned the corner on the landing. The lamp in her roommate’s room cast a faint patch of light that slightly illuminated the top stairs. She thought of her friend sitting on the couch, studying in the spacious master bedroom. Jaylynn heard a thud and a ripping noise, and she paused on the stairwell, heart beating fast for reasons she didn’t understand. She eased up the last two stairs and peered into her friend’s room. Sara lay twisting on the floor in the wide space between the twin beds, her hands taped together. A huge figure in a dark gray sweatshirt and black pants straddled her waist, muttering and threatening. He held a knife in one hand and a silver strip in the other. Sara screamed as he tried to put the duct tape over her mouth. She shook her head furiously, whipping around her long brown hair and causing it to stick to the tape. Her assailant slapped the side of her face and she screamed again and struggled, tears running down her cheeks, as he forced the strip of tape over her mouth.

He said, “Stop it! Stop fighting or I’ll . . .”

Without a thought, Jaylynn pushed into the room, “No, you stop it. Get out of here!”

“Oh shit!” He rolled aside and spun around, grabbing the girl on the ground by the neck. “You move, and I cut her throat. Got it?” He wore a tan nylon stocking over his head, obscuring his face and making his features looked distorted and diabolical. He glanced across the room behind the door and said, “Get her!”

Jaylynn turned to see a smaller man, dressed like the first and also wearing a nylon mask. She screamed, a loud throaty bellow. He was no taller than she, but was much stockier and held a wooden bat in one hand. As she screamed again and backed toward the door, the smaller man grabbed her by the shoulder and arm. He dragged her onto the twin bed near the door and shoved her so hard that she bounced on her back when she hit the mattress. She saw the baseball bat coming at her face and rolled to the side to avoid it. It hit the wall with a resounding crash. As he dove toward her, Jaylynn got her feet up, knees to her chest, and kicked him in the torso, sending him sprawling against the opposite wall and to the floor. Before she could roll off the bed, he was up. He dove on her again, the bat in one hand and a hank of her hair in the other.

Jaylynn shrieked and growled, kicking at him and swinging wildly, some of her blows connecting. He stumbled back from the bed, panting. Getting a grip on the bat, he said, “I’ll kill you bitch!”

Footsteps on the stairs. A husky voice shouting, “Police!” A flashlight beam from the hall. Jaylynn’s attacker turned toward the doorway, and she saw him swing the bat. It struck a blue-clad arm coming low through the doorway and she heard a clatter. Jaylynn rolled off the bed. She yelped when her knees hit the floor, and then she looked up to see a blue-uniformed officer dive into the room and roll. Instantly the cop was back up.

Dez winced when she saw the bat descending, but it was too late to pull back. She felt an explosion of pain when the bat connected, and her hand involuntarily turned and opened. Her Glock flew from her grasp and skittered behind her. She knew she didn’t have time to find it in the hallway and instead burst into the room shouting in rage.

The big man with the knife let go of Sara and pulled himself to his feet. His partner with the bat rushed Dez, only to be met by her right elbow slamming a solid blow to his face. He dropped the bat and staggered back, cradling his face. Jaylynn took the opportunity to kick him behind the knee, and he screamed in pain and fell. She looked for Sara, caught her eye, and saw her friend’s look of terror. Jaylynn gestured, pointing toward the closet, but when Sara tried to rise, the big man pushed off her and knocked her down. The bound woman dropped back and slid halfway under the twin bed on the far side of the large room.

The big man came at Dez in a rush, but out of control. She got the flashlight up to block his thrust, then kicked at his groin with her steel-toed service boot. He yowled but kept on coming, managing to slice downward through her shirt to imbed the knife in her vest. She knocked aside his knife arm and gave him a right elbow to the chin, sending him off balance, then punched him in the side of the head with the flashlight. As he went down, the other man regained his footing and picked up the bat. He swung high and Dez ducked to a squat, then launched herself to head-butt him across the room. He hit the bedside table and smashed the lamp to the ground. Sara squeezed further under the bed to miss being landed on.

Dez extricated herself from the little man’s grip as Jaylynn sprang across the room and wrenched the bat from his hand. She whacked at his head. Though he raised his arms in defense, the blond woman nailed him solidly on the collar bone, feeling a surge of adrenaline when he roared in pain. She stepped back, tripping over the big man’s leg as he rose, cradling his bleeding head. Scrambling on all fours, Jaylynn crawled across the carpet, up and over the twin bed near the door, and dove into the hall. I’ve got to find the gun. Find the gun. Find the gun. It repeated like a chant in her head. She spotted it on the landing three stairs below and picked it up. Much heavier than she expected and she realized she didn’t know how it worked. Was there a safety? As she came back through the doorway, she saw the woman in blue whirl, graceful and deadly in the same motion. Every time an attacker came at her, she used quick left jabs and kicks to flatten one, then the other. The larger man wailed in a high-pitched voice and tried to get up. The cop nailed him in the side of the head with a vicious roundhouse, then kicked him in the chest.

“Stay down,” she shouted. The smaller man lay on his side, heaving with exertion. The officer handcuffed his wrist to the big man’s ankle, then jumped clear of them and with her left hand dragged Sara out from under the bed and toward the closet across the room.

Jaylynn stood in the doorway holding the bat and the black gun. “Here,” she said, offering the Glock to the police officer. She kept the bat for herself.

The tall, dark woman turned, her face white despite the exertion. She seemed enormous to Jaylynn—not fat, just solid and very powerful. Later Jaylynn would remember the feral smile of satisfaction on the cop’s face and consider that she might be a very dangerous woman. But at that moment, as she looked into steel blue eyes for a heartbeat, she felt as though she knew this woman. A thrill of recognition coursed through her. The blue eyes narrowed as they met her own, and for a brief moment, Jaylynn wondered if the woman recognized her. But of course she couldn’t know her. The cop hurried across the room and snatched the gun from Jaylynn’s hand.

Sara whimpered, and Jaylynn moved into the room saying, “Sara! Sara, are you all right?”

“Wait,” said Dez. She held the Glock in her left hand and stood over the two panting men. “Don’t move,” she said to them. “I’d be so very happy to shoot your fuckin’ heads off if you move a single muscle.” Dez could hear the sirens coming, their whining becoming more insistent as her backup drew nearer. She glanced at Sara and made a quick motion with her head toward Jaylynn. “Get her outta here,” she growled. “Now! Into the hall. And be sure to stay clear of these two jokers. Wouldn’t wanna have to blow their brains out, now would we?”

Jaylynn wanted to tell her it was perfectly all right with her if the cop emptied her gun into their sorry carcasses. Instead, she leapt to Sara’s side and helped her to her feet. She pulled her out into the hall where her friend sank to the floor sobbing. Jaylynn slowly pulled the duct tape off her mouth. She was still trying to loosen the twisted tape from Sara’s hands when the backup officers burst into the house.

****

The house was surrounded with spotlights, curious onlookers, sirens, police running in and out of the stucco home. A tremendous commotion, both inside the house and outside, engulfed the neighborhood with noise and light. After a few tense moments, Dez relinquished her guard role and let the backup cops take over. Once the suspects were properly cuffed, she stepped over and pulled the nylon masks off their heads. Two white males, early 20’s, neither very handsome—especially in light of the damage she was glad she’d inflicted. The big man was bruised and bleeding from three gashes in his brows. His ear bled a trail down his neck. The slimmer man bled profusely from a cut below his left eye. At the moment they were both sullen and angry and sat on the floor muttering and cursing her. The backup cops read the two men their rights and dragged them out of the room and down the stairs.

Dez’s right arm throbbed painfully as she eased down the steps, passing the emergency medical team coming up the stairs for the injured young woman. A stream of cops crowded through the front door to take a look at the two suspects, both of whom Dez suspected were responsible for the neighborhood’s recent rapes.

The living room, now flooded with light and activity, was furnished with overstuffed chairs, a fluffy sofa, an upright piano, and a futon couch. Four oak bookcases full of neatly ordered books stood along one wall. Movie posters covered most of the other walls: a black-clad Schwartzenegger from The Terminator, Jackie Chan in a flying kick, Geena Davis pointing a gun, Stallone hanging from a cliff. The dark haired cop walked through the room, past a Bruce Willis poster from Die Hard, and out the front door. As she stepped listlessly down the front stairs, a thin man, dressed in khaki slacks and a tan t-shirt ran up the walkway.

“Where’s Jay and Sara?” he asked her breathlessly. He ran his hand through his red hair.

“Inside. Who are you?”

“Tim Donovan—I live here too. Are they okay?” He started to push past, looking back at her for confirmation.

“Yup, I think so.” She stepped wearily down the last of the steps, suddenly feeling a bit sick to her stomach. As she moved down the walk, she tried to roll up her right sleeve, but it hurt too much. She looked at her watch: 11:58. In two minutes her shift would be over. She headed for the ambulance to have her arm looked at.

Tim took the stairs two at a time and blasted into the house just in time to nearly mow over the EMTs and his two roommates.

“Sara! Jay! What happened?”

“Oh Tim,” Sara cried as she fell into his arms weeping.

“Come along Miss,” said the EMT. “Let’s take you in for a little look-see and make sure you’re okay.” He helped Sara onto a stretcher and covered her with a blanket.

“I’ll go with her,” said Jaylynn.

“Only room for one, ma’am,” said the EMT.

Jaylynn said, “We need to close up this house too.” She looked around at all the open windows.

“Here Jay,” said Tim. “Take my keys. You can drive over, and I’ll go with Sara.”

“Wait, which hospital?” Jaylynn said. “How do I know where to go?”

A patrolman approached her and said, “I’m Officer Milton. I’ve got a lot of questions for the report. Why don’t you follow me over to the hospital?”

“There you go,” said Tim. “I’ll see you over there.” He disappeared through the door following Sara and the paramedics.

“I have to lock up the house,” said Jaylynn.

“Good idea,” said Officer Milton. “I’ll help you with the windows.”

Jaylynn collected her things and locked up the house. As Officer Milton escorted her through the yard, a white van pulled up, and two men piled out of the vehicle. One shone a bright light in her face while the other man held a microphone and shouted questions at her.

The reporters did a double-step on the lawn next to Jaylynn and the officer as he tried to hurry them down the walk. “Can you tell us what happened?” said one reporter in a breathless voice.

Jaylynn said, “I came home to find two men in our house attacking my roommate. They tried to get me too, but before they could, a cop . . . ” She stopped and looked around the yard, letting her eyes come to rest on the various police cruisers. “It was a woman cop. I don’t know who she is, but she nailed both of them, even without her gun. It was incredible, a sight to behold!” She looked up at Milton. “Who was she, Officer? Where’d she go?”

“Reilly,” Milton muttered.

“Who?” said Jaylynn, but the reporters had already heard.

“Desiree Reilly?” said one of the men. “Reilly was the officer? Oh, this is going to be a great story! What else can you tell us?”

“That’s it folks,” said Milton as he pushed past them. “You know the channels to go through.” He took hold of Jaylynn’s elbow and rushed her down the walk. Wordlessly he helped her into Tim’s Toyota, then got in his cruiser and slammed the door. He turned on his lights, but not his siren, and pulled around the other police cars parked haphazardly along the street, slowing to wait for Jaylynn to catch up with him. Jaylynn looked back at the scene. Neighbors stood in tight little bunches watching from the front stoops of their houses. She waved as she passed the couple on the corner, and they hesitantly waved back, not quite sure who she was.

****

Dez’s forearm swelled so quickly that before she even arrived at the hospital, the paramedic had to slit the seam of her sleeve. “It’s likely broken, you know,” he said.

“That’s what I’m afraid of.”

At the emergency room they led her through the crowded waiting area and toward an examining room. She didn’t want to look around, but couldn’t help herself. Last time she had been here was for Ryan . . . even now her eyes filled with bitter tears, and she bit her lip to try control her thoughts. She hated this place, didn’t want to be here. She considered turning around to leave, but before she could, the nurse on duty was at her heels ushering her into the ER and onto a table. The nurse helped her unbutton and remove the bloodied and tattered blue shirt, and Dez pulled at the velcro on the bullet-proof vest. The nurse picked up a pair of trauma shears.

Dez said, “Hey, no! These things are expensive.”

“Do you keep them if they’re sliced open like that?” The nurse pointed to the big cop’s left breast. Dez looked down, surprised to see an 8-inch gash.

“It’s easier to cut it away. Otherwise I might hurt you,” the nurse said, a question in her voice.

Dez shrugged her shoulders. “Don’t worry.”

The nurse put down the shears and ripped away at the velcro straps on the vest as Dez looked around.

The emergency room wasn’t all that big, with six bays, three on either side of an aisle that ran up the middle of the area. Her overall impression of the room was that it was filled with a lot of pipes and tubes and contraptions, and the dominant color of everything was white or dull silver. It smelled like some sort of cleaning fluid. Dez sat on the exam table closest to the door. In the back corner, furthest from the door, an elderly lady lay hooked up to oxygen and strands of other tubes. With eyes closed, the woman’s hands fluttered across the chest of her pink robe as a technician fussed over her. Heart attack, thought Dez. That’s what that looks like.

The nurse managed to get the vest loosened and off. She pulled at Dez’s t-shirt.

“It’s just my arm. No need to strip naked is there?”

“I need to be sure you’re not hurt anywhere else.” The nurse pulled the curtain around the bay.

Dez frowned. It occurred to her that if she hadn’t realized her vest was shredded, then the nurse probably thought she might not know about other injuries. “Here, check me over.” Dez lifted her shirt with her left arm and the nurse ran her hand across her back, down her abdomen. “I think I’m fine. Really. I’d tell you if I was hurt anywhere else.”

The nurse nodded as she helped pull the t-shirt back down. “Can’t help it, officer. They’d have my head if I missed anything.” She leaned down and untied Dez’s black oxfords and slipped them off. “Step out of the slacks, too. Stand up . . . here, I’ll help you.” She laid the blue pants over the exam table and checked the big cop over, then handed her a nearly translucent sheet to put over her bare legs. “Just sit back up there.” Once she was situated, the nurse got out a blood pressure cuff and strapped it on Dez’s arm, checked her pulse and heartbeat, shone a light in her eyes. The big cop bore the exam patiently.

“Okay, you’re doing fine,” she said as she removed the cuff. “Let’s go ahead and get you dressed again, and I’ll have the doctor come in as soon as possible.” They worked together to get her redressed as Dez cautiously held her right arm.

The nurse whipped open the curtain around the area and tried to catch the attending physician’s eye. When that failed, she sighed and her brown eyes looked tired.

Dez said, “Been a long shift, huh?”

“Yes, and I’ve only been here four hours. It’s been quite a night. As soon as he checks you over, we’ll get you across the hall to radiology.”

From the tiny box of a room where the x-ray machine was kept, Dez observed the arrival of the victims of the evening’s melee. Paramedics rolled a weeping Sara into the E.R. followed closely by the red-haired man who stutter-stepped alongside in order to hold the hand of the young woman. Moments later, Jaylynn came running in, Officer Milton at her heels. Not long after, a middle-aged woman appeared in the doorway and was ushered over to the partly curtained area.

When the x-rays were done, the nurse gave Dez an ice pack for her forearm, and she was led back into the emergency room where she eased herself back up on the exam table.

“Hey Milton,” Dez called out at her fellow officer as he finished talking to the young woman on the gurney and flipped his notebook closed.

He looked up and nodded, then strode toward her and smiled. “Reilly. You’re hurt, huh?”

“Arm. Guy hit me here.” She lifted the ice bag and gestured toward the middle of her forearm. “Think it’s busted—maybe I’ll get lucky and it’ll just be a bad bruise, but I have a hunch it’s broken.”

“Tough luck, but hey—you did good tonight.”

“Yeah, I’m glad for them.”

Their backs were to Dez, but she could see the red-haired man with his arm around the feisty blond. Dez’s face took on a puzzled look as she stared at the young woman. Where have I seen her before? She surveyed the lean legs and khaki shorts, the hot pink tank top and the well-rounded hips and shoulders. Short white-blond hair topped a long, regal neck. Dez wished the woman would turn around so she could study her more closely.

She couldn’t see the girl who had been attacked, though she could see an older woman she assumed to be the young woman’s mother leaning over her. Dez could hear a soft murmur of reassuring words being spoken to the girl. The doctor and another nurse swept past Milton and headed for the bay where the brown-haired girl lay. The nurse stopped for a brief moment and waved the two onlookers away. It was clear that the blond tried to protest, but the doctor reached up and pulled a curtain around the bay to shut them out. They stepped back and Milton called out, “C’mon people. Let her mom handle this for a bit. They’ll take good care of her. Come out and wait with me.”

Jaylynn and Tim looked disappointed, but they headed toward the door, both focusing on Milton. The blond glanced briefly at Dez and did a double-take. “You! It’s you!” She stopped in front of Dez, close enough to put her hand on the big cop’s knee and say, “What happened to you?” Behind her the red-haired man stepped up to peer over his friend’s shoulder.

Dez shrugged as she felt herself start to blush. She lifted the ice bag again to display her swelling arm, which was also beginning to show the pale outline of a wide bruise.

Puzzled, Jaylynn said, “How did you . . . how did that happen?”

“Little guy hit me with the bat when I first came in the room.”

“But—but, how did you do that—stop them, I mean—with your arm like that?”

Dez shrugged again and knew her face was fully crimson.

Jaylynn said, “Well, that was totally exhilarating! It was amazing to see! You were incredible.”

Dez mumbled, “Not really . . . actually you did half of it. If you hadn’t kicked them a few times, I’d’ve been in worse trouble.”

Dez’s nurse returned just then. “All right, all right,” she said. “Enough with the visiting. I’ve got work to do. Out. Out into the waiting area.” She shooed them out, waving at Milton too.

Dez put her hand on Milton’s sleeve to hold him back. “Before you go, what are their names?”

“Don’t know the young man yet, but I’m gonna question them now,” he said. He flipped open his memo book and thumbed down a few pages. “Her name’s Jaylynn Savage, and that one over there,” he nodded toward the bay in the corner, “she’s Sara Wright.”

“Thanks,” she said, and then the nurse demanded her attention to tell her the doctor would be in shortly to set her arm and have it casted. Broken it is, Dez thought. Now that’s just great. Three or four weeks of desk duty. Just what I need now. Shit.

****

Jaylynn and Tim settled into the waiting room among a conglomeration of sickly and unhappy people either waiting to be seen or waiting for some loved one.

“She didn’t look so good, did she, Tim?” said Jaylynn.

He fidgeted and said, more sharply than he meant, “Well, she just survived a beating and a near rape. What do you expect?”

“No, I don’t mean Sara . . . the cop, I meant the cop.”

“Oh yeah, her too.” He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a comb to nervously style his hair.

Jaylynn winced, remembering the dark-haired cop’s battered arm. And to think I didn’t even notice the injury happening! How could I have been so blind? I remember him hitting her with the bat . . . but now that I think about it, of course she wouldn’t escape unscathed. In bat versus arm, the bat always wins.

Tim put his comb back in his pocket and said, “I don’t know what would have happened if I had come home and found you both being raped. Oh god!” Shaking, he took a deep breath and put his head between his knees, messing up his hair.

Jaylynn draped her arm across his back and leaned down to speak in his ear. “That didn’t happen, so don’t even think about it. It’s all right, Tim.”

He sat back up and shivered. “Keep reminding me, okay?” He got his comb back out and repeated the styling, his hands shaking.

It took almost an hour before they learned the hospital would keep Sara overnight for observation. But until then, they sat in the waiting room watching wounded people being hauled in and scores of cops coming and going through the ER entrance. Jaylynn wondered if every cop in St. Paul had stopped by the hospital to check on Officer Reilly.

She turned the events of the night over and over in her head. What if she hadn’t come home when she did? What if Sara had been killed? She shuddered. What if both of them had been killed? What if the cop hadn’t shown up when she did? Too many what ifs. Jaylynn looked over at Tim. His head was tilted back against the wall, and he was asleep, his hand in hers. Just then the glass door leading to the exam rooms opened, and the woman cop emerged, followed by a nurse. She carried her blue uniform shirt and vest in her good hand. In the thin tank t-shirt, her broad shoulders were nearly as white as the cast that covered her right arm from knuckles to elbow. She and the nurse went to the main desk and spoke briefly with the clerk who handed her a white prescription bag. Jaylynn watched her as the dark haired woman tried to sign something with her right hand, then gave up, and switched to her left hand which she held awkwardly above the paper on the high counter.

Two patrol officers rose from the rickety waiting room chairs and strolled toward the woman cop. The male officer was young, his bleached white hair in a buzz cut, and he wore golden wire-rimmed glasses. He swaggered over, his bow-legged stride confident and sure. Taking shorter paces next to him was a smaller, wide-shouldered Latino woman. Her short-cropped hair was jet-black and she was probably in her late 30’s. The male cop came up behind the wounded woman and gave her a mock blow to the lower back, and she turned. A slow smile crossed her face, and she smacked him in the stomach with the back of her good hand as the shorter black-haired woman slid her arm around Reilly’s waist. She said something in the big woman’s ear which must have been serious because the tall cop looked down at her cast and nodded grimly.

That Reilly sure is tall, thought Jaylynn, a good head taller than the nurse and maybe six inches taller than the other woman cop. Without the bulk of the vest she looked slimmer than she had during the fight. Jaylynn admired her lean hips and very wide shoulders. From behind she was as broad shouldered as a man, except that with her brunette hair French braided so beautifully, it wasn’t likely she’d be mistaken for one. The big officer slung his arm around her, and as the three moved to leave, Jaylynn could see how tired the injured cop looked.

“Hey,” said Jaylynn over the low din in the room. She almost didn’t expect to be heard, but Dez looked at her and gave her a quick nod.

“Wait a minute,” Jaylynn heard her say to the two cops, then she strolled toward Jaylynn and the sleeping man. The blond stared at the dark woman’s angular, high cheekboned face and was captivated again by the bluest, steeliest eyes she’d ever seen, eyes that bored right through her. Her heart beat faster and she choked in a short intake of breath, tilting her head slightly to the side to try to take in the strange, almost disturbing glimpse of something familiar yet forgotten. Jaylynn extricated herself from Tim and rose to face the woman in blue. She reached out for Dez’s left hand saying, “Thanks for what you did,” and squeezed the bigger woman’s hand, then reluctantly let go.”

“No problem. It’s my job.”

Jaylynn smiled and gazed up into tired but warm blue eyes. “I hardly think getting your arm broken is in the job description.”

Dez shook her head. “Not usually.” She took a deep breath and turned to go. “Good luck to your friend in there, Ms. Savage. She’s going to need a lot of support.”

“We’ll take care of her,” said Jaylynn. “Thanks again.”

“Yup. See ya around.” Dez turned and made her way out the door as Jaylynn peered after her thoughtfully. Nice looking woman. And so familiar. . . .

Jaylynn and Tim finally got home after two a.m. The house was a little spooky to her, but she was so tired that she fell into bed, taking only enough time to set her clock for her 9 a.m. final. If her professor asked any questions about arrests or searches and seizure, she was sure she’d have some good examples from tonight.

****

Dez stirred awake the next morning to the thump-thump sound of her downstairs neighbor Luella beating a broom handle on the ceiling. She looked at her bedside clock: 6:40 a.m. She didn’t think three hours of sleep was going to cut it, but her landlady, Luella Williams, had given the signal, and from the warning, Dez knew she’d be on the way up the stairs. Luella lived downstairs in the two-story house, and she and Dez had grown close over the nine years Dez had lived there. Groggy from the pain pill she had taken in the middle of the night, she rolled out of bed, barefoot, still wearing her duty slacks and t-shirt. Her arm throbbed mercilessly.

She opened the apartment door just as Luella, in all her plump elderly blackness, rounded the newel post with newspaper in hand and turned to face her.

“Good lord Dez!” she said. “Sorry if I woke you. You’re on the news again. What have you done to yourself now?” She shuffled in, her pink bedroom slippers skiffing on the hardwood hallway floor, her flowered robe swirling around her, and her silver hair in wild disarray. What Dez liked best about her landlady was the indomitable spirit that animated her deep brown eyes. Luella had a good-hearted smile always full of love and compassion for her moody tenant.

Dez looked at her casted arm and shrugged. She pulled the door open wide and Luella entered. The dark haired cop sank down into a seat at the dinette table. Luella laid the folded newspaper on the table and moved over to the cupboard.

“What are they saying on the news?” Dez said as she watched Luella set the teapot in the sink and fill it with water, then put it on the stove to heat. Dez stood, and with her good arm, she reached to the top of a cupboard, took down a wicker basket of various teas, and set them on the table. Both women sat down and gazed at one another.

As Luella fingered the packets of tea, she said, “Channel 5 is calling you a hero. Channel 4 asks why the police didn’t catch the criminals sooner. Channel 11, as usual, did a more in-depth story. They say you caught two rapists—in the act, too.”

“Not exactly. I got ’em before that happened.” Dez lowered herself in a chair across from Luella, not sure what to do with her casted arm. She set it on the table, but that felt awkward and made it throb. She moved it to her lap. It still throbbed. Oh well. She was going to have to get used to that.

Luella picked up the newspaper and unfolded it to the bottom of page one. “Check this out. Already one of them stinkers has welched on his buddy, even told the cops that they’d done four other rapes, so it looks like this is a good collar for you. It’s a pretty decent story—see?” She handed the paper to Dez, who winced immediately upon seeing the headline: The Life of Reilly: Tragedy and Triumph.”

“Geez, what a stupid headline.”” Dez dropped the paper onto the table and looked away.

“You might not want to read it right now, Dez. They go into detail about, you know, about Ryan’s death and everything.” The older woman hesitated when she saw the pain in Dez’s eyes. “But according to the paper, this was a great collar. You captured two very nasty guys, and since they gave each other up already, I think it’s safe to congratulate you.”

Dez was relieved. From what she’d seen, she knew they had enough evidence to convict the two men of assault, but if they didn’t have criminal records, which she suspected might be the case, then they could have gotten off easily. Of course there was always DNA evidence from the other attacks, but sometimes that didn’t work out in court either. Much better that they’d turned against each other.

Luella gestured toward Dez’s arm. “Is that broken?”

Dez nodded. “One of the jerks hit me with a bat. I can’t believe I didn’t really feel it until later,” which was, actually, a lie. She had known immediately that something was wrong because she had no grip in her hand, but she decided Luella didn’t need to hear about that. “It’ll be a good three or four weeks, I guess, before I can go back on regular duty.” She shook her head in exasperation. “Just what I need now.”

Luella reached over and covered Dez’s good hand with her soft fingers and patted her. “A little bit of rest might be just what you need after what you’ve been through lately. You look exhausted, and you’ve been pushing yourself like there’s no tomorrow. Ever since Ryan’s . . .”

“Yeah, I know,” Dez said abruptly as she stood up to check the teapot, which was hardly warm yet. She leaned back against the counter and tried to cross her arms, but that sent a shooting pain up her arm, and she suddenly felt nauseous. She moved back to the chair and sat, allowing Luella to reach out again and stroke her pale arm with her soft mahogany colored hand and pink fingers.

Dez said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can take you over to Vanita’s house today.”

“Big deal. She can get off her fat butt and take a cab. You’re always running us around.”

“That’s no way to talk about your sister,” Dez said in mock seriousness. “Look at the bright side though, you won’t have to iron for me for a couple weeks.”

“No more chores for you for the rest of the summer either.”

“Not much summer left. Wish I’d mowed yesterday.”

“Oh don’t even worry about it. I can hire out the lawn,” Luella said.

With a sudden fierceness, Dez said, “For crap sake, I suppose I won’t be able to play guitar for weeks.”

Luella gazed at her grumpy friend and nodded. “Could be. You heal fast though.” Then she clucked and frowned. “But right now you don’t look so good, little missy.” An understatement. Dark circles under her eyes paired up with lines of pain across her forehead. “You look beat. And when was the last time you ate?” Luella accused.

Dez gave her a half smile and a shrug, then got up to set the teapot off the hot burner with her good hand. She took down two mugs one at a time and set them on the counter.

“Here let me do that,” said Luella. “You sit down there.” In the absence of protest from Dez, Luella got the two mugs of tea ready and shuffled back over to the table where she stood and added three spoons of sugar to hers. She lowered herself into the dinette chair, took a big sip, and said, “You’re nothing but skin and bones, Desiree Reilly. You need decent food to recuperate. I’ll be making up some good stuff for you today. It’s not like you’ll be able to cook. And besides, that so-called healthy stuff you eat isn’t enough to nourish a squirrel.” She reached for the sugar bowl and proceeded to heap another teaspoon of sugar into her lemon tea.

Dez had to smile. Luella was from the old school of red meat and potatoes, rich desserts, and three squares a day. Dez had long ago ceased to eat fatty foods, beef or pork, but she didn’t skimp. She ate plenty of grains, poultry, eggs, fish, vegetables and fruit. She certainly ate enough to keep 170 pounds on her muscled, six-foot frame.

“You’re going to let me help whether you want to or not,” Luella was saying. “I’m not going to stand by this time while you waste away. For once you’ve got to . . .”

“Okay.”

“. . . take better care of your—what?”

“I said okay. Whaddya got for breakfast?”

The speed at which Luella rose belied her 74 years. As she hustled toward the door, she said, “Fresh made jam and toast, pancakes, fruit. You want a little bacon or ham?”

“Everything but the meat sounds great.”

As Luella made her way down the hallway, Dez could hear her: “I’ll let you off this time, but you need good meat to heal. I think we’ll be having roast beef tonight. . .” Skiff, skiff, skiff. Luella’s arthritic knees navigated the stairs. “. . . and some nice roasted potatoes to go along with it . . . and fresh juicy corn . . . .”

Dez stood up and got out some protein powder and a shaker cup. She drizzled water into the cup with the powder and shook it vigorously with her good hand, then sat down to drink it. She knew she couldn’t ask for a better landlady. She and Luella had an arrangement that worked for both of them. Dez kept up the yard and lawn, fixed anything mechanical that she could, and helped with heavy spring cleaning. In return, Luella did her wash and ironed her uniforms, looked out for Dez, and served as a loving mother. The arrangement had evolved over the last nine years until Dez was as fond of Luella now as she would be her own mother, that is, if her own mother were still speaking to her.

****

Good to her word, Luella brought a tray of breakfast treats up. She sat drinking tea at the dinette table while Dez tried to eat. The food was excellent, but she had no appetite. After she ate what she could, Luella cleared everything away. She smoothed the hair off Dez’s brow and brushed her warm lips across her forehead. “You go get some rest, honey,” she said. “I know you haven’t had much sleep. Call me if you need anything.” She shuffled to the door balancing the tray carefully.

“I’ll get the door, Luella.” Dez stood and saw her out, then shut the door and turned to face the empty apartment. She was so terribly tired, but when she went to lie down, sleep would not come. She lay on her back, light slicing in through the small window high above the bed. Her mind raced, and she couldn’t help but think of all the violence she had witnessed lately. Over eight years she had been a cop, and she’d only been in minor altercations, usually just scuffles with people who didn’t want to be arrested. Those periodic chances to flex her muscles she had actually enjoyed, not minding busting a few heads if it was needed. But she had never broken a bone, never been seriously injured. Then all of a sudden in the last three months, Ryan had died and she’d been hurt by last night’s attackers.

The department shrink had told her after Ryan’s death that it was normal to be upset about these things, and Dez had eventually admitted she wasn’t sleeping well. The shrink gave her instructions: don’t go to bed until sleepy; if sleep doesn’t come within about 20 minutes of lying down, get up and do something else until sleepy; get up on time, regardless of whether she’d had enough sleep. She’d tried all these things with no success. When she mentioned that to the counselor, the word depression came up. The doctor spent time talking about it, which scared off Dez completely. She resolved not to be depressed, and the next time the topic came up, she told the shrink she’d finally started getting good sleep again. She attended the mandatory six sessions with the department psychologist, and that was it. She never went back.

But here it was nearly three months later, and still, no good sleep. Instead, her mind busily spun through traumatic events, tried to rewrite what actually happened, though she knew it was futile. The only good thing about last night was that she had enjoyed subduing the two rapists, had enjoyed the solid sound of her fist and feet on flesh. At least after this altercation she felt a sense of grateful relief—nothing at all like the feeling of helplessness she had experienced after shooting Ryan’s killer. She would have liked to have beat that man to death, make him pay for what he’d done, but she didn’t get the satisfaction. Ryan was dead, and that man was still alive. It made her angry to think about it.

She banished thoughts of Ryan from her mind, tried to breathe deeply, to let her thoughts float away. Instead, her monkey mind took a few more twists and turns and brought other painful images to mind: a tall, willowy red-haired woman with laughing eyes and a deep tan standing on a rock in front of the water at Lake Superior, sitting in the low light of a banked campfire in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, lying here in this very bed. The eyes, the smile, the presence. Karin. She put her out of her mind as best she could and turned over on her side, annoyed and restless. She tried to settle her cast somewhere comfortable and ended up placing it on a pillow, her arm tucked close to her side. She tried not to think of Karin, but the more she willed her from her memories, the more stubbornly the redhead stayed.

It was the oldest story in the book: older woman woos the younger, treats her special, gets her in the sack a few times, has fun for about three months, and then when commitment was at hand, it was “so long, been nice knowing ya.” Dez was totally smitten, ready to plan a life, move in together, spend the rest of her days at Karin’s side. The Day Of The Dumping, as she had come to think of it, she showed up at Karin’s place as planned. They had made plans to go out to dinner, but as usual, they skipped the plans and wound up in bed, a trail of clothing dotting the hallway from the front room to the bedroom. Karin was inventive, passionate, beautiful. Dez couldn’t get close enough to her. They lay in the brass bed after making love, and the phone rang. “No, don’t go,” said Dez. “Just let it ring.” She wrapped her arms tightly around Karin, laughing and teasing her.

Her lover struggled. “Let me go,” she said coldly. She pushed Dez away and struggled out of the bed, pausing to grab her robe, but before she could get down the hall, the answering machine clicked in. A woman’s voice, a husky, trash-talking woman’s voice, filled Dez’s ears. In the middle of the message, Karin picked up, and Dez didn’t hear the rest. She lay wide-eyed in the bed trying to understand why a woman was calling her lover, her Karin, and begging to come over for sex and shrimp cocktail.

Dez was shocked at the change in Karin when she returned to the room. She held a handful of clothes and tossed them on the bed. “It’s been fun,” she said, “but it’s over, Dez.”

“What?” The black haired woman sat up in the bed, pulling the covers around her to try to stave off the ice cold shock invading her body.

Karin began pulling on her own clothes. As she slipped on jeans, she said, “You had to know this wasn’t going to last forever.”

“But—but—but, I don’t understand. Why?”

Karin sighed and squeezed her eyes shut. “Dez, please don’t tell me you’re going to make this difficult. Get up and get dressed. Go home. The party’s over.” She pulled a sweater over her head and smoothed it down, then stood with one hand on her shapely hip, a look of disinterest on her face.

Dez was shaking too hard to get up. She reached over for her t-shirt and slipped it on over her head. “This was all a game for you?” She couldn’t keep the disbelief from her voice.

“No, no, it wasn’t a game. It was just—good fun. Like sports. A little action here, some fun times there.” She gave a jaded laugh. “Don’t tell me you ever thought this was something meaningful?” She laughed uncomfortably.

Dez fought back tears as she untangled her clothes and tried to make her fingers work to put them on. She stood and slipped on her jeans, then turned to face Karin. In a low voice, she said, “Yeah, I thought we had something good going here.” With an aching plea she couldn’t hide, she said, “Are you seeing someone else, that other woman?”

Karin let out a deep breath. “Of course,” she sighed. “I thought you knew. Never stopped seeing her. She’s not the jealous type.”

“How would I have known?”

Karin shrugged. “Just thought maybe someone from around the department would have said something. I may have a bit of a reputation.”

“No. No one said,” she whispered.

And how could anyone tell her anything? She had done all she could to distance herself from Karin, to hide from others the fact that she was a lesbian. Perhaps people might wonder, but she didn’t think so. It was a secret she kept to herself, and no one in the department would have known, except that Karin seemed to have had very effective radar. She’d played the seduction game to the hilt, and Dez had fallen for it completely. A wave of anger washed over her, then a feeling of physical revulsion. She grabbed her things and stalked out of the house.

The next six weeks were nearly unbearable. After a week, she didn’t care about Karin’s other lover. She went to Karin and told her she would look the other way, but Karin had laughed at her, said the break was final and that it was over. Every day at work, Dez had to see Karin at roll call. Every day was a misery.

Then two things happened. First, Ryan asked her to partner with him in a two-man car, and second, Karin accepted a position with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Out of sight, out of mind. With the woman gone, Dez could finally begin the process of sorting out her feelings. She had never considered herself a particularly violent person, but in this case, she found herself wanting to hurt or maim Karin. The images came to her in dreams: Karin, beaten and bloody, begging for forgiveness, falling off bridges to the rocks below, shot repeatedly. Dez was filled with a hatred so strong, she felt sick to her stomach at times. But slowly it abated. As the winter days grew longer and spring beckoned, the injury that had felt like a death-wound began to heal. After nearly seven years, she still bore the invisible scars, but she wasn’t dead. She had survived, and never again would she let that happen to her.

Ryan had brought light into her life, his laughing presence a balm to her pained soul. Without even knowing the kind of medicine he was dispensing, he had taken her into his heart and made her a friend. With Karin assigned across town at the BCA, the constant reminder of her smile, of her shapely legs, of the passion they’d shared, all of this faded into the background. Dez had dated a few other women since then, but no one that stuck, nobody who was particularly special. In the past year, even before Ryan’s death, she hadn’t wanted to go out with anyone at all. It didn’t seem worth the effort, and she tried hard not to think about there being an emptiness in her life. At one time she had wanted a partner, but she was younger and naïve then. These days she didn’t like to think about it.

Now Dez was left with those old images and memories only when she slowed down long enough that they could intrude, uninvited, upon her. Nothing like what occurred with Karin would ever happen again. Never again would she have to face her coworkers feigning good humor and pleasantness when deep inside, a pain festered and burned. A wall went up, a rule was made: all cops are off limits.

****

Jaylynn closed her second blue exam book and wrote her name on the front of it. She stifled a yawn as she set the little essay pad aside and opened the first blue book to go over her essays one last time before turning them in to the professor. Pausing to add punctuation where needed, she read carefully through her answers to all five questions. Satisfied, she closed both blue books, picked up her backpack, and got up to turn in the exam. The proctor took them without even meeting her eyes and stacked them in the corner of his desk.

She felt like she was sleepwalking her way out the door and across the campus to the parking lot where Tim was to pick her up. She looked at her watch. 15 minutes early. She stopped and sat on one of the many benches in the Commons, closed her eyes, and let the warm morning sun bathe her face. It was going to be another hot day, but at ten a.m. it had only just begun to heat up.

A honk sounded from the parking lot and she peeped open one hazel green eye and spotted Tim’s faded red Corolla. She rose wearily and made her way over.

“Hey there,” he said. “You’re early.”

“So are you,” she said as she dropped her backpack onto the front seat and slid in next to it.

“Yeah. I’ve seen you write—five miles a minute. So I figured you’d be done early, and I want to get over to the hospital and see when they’re gonna let Sara go.”

He gunned the car and sped off down the street. Jaylynn leaned back against the head rest and closed her eyes.

He said, “How’d the test go?”

Without opening her eyes she said, “Fine. I think. Nothing unexpected. Gotta get at least a B.”

“Ah, that’s nice.”

They rode the rest of the way to the hospital in silence, parked, and found their way to Sara’s room.

Sara was asleep, her brown hair splayed across the pillow and her face turned slightly toward the light streaming in the window. Tim and Jaylynn crept in quietly, but as soon as they neared the bed Sara awakened with a start, her eyes wide. “Oh!” she said. “God, you scared me.”

Jaylynn moved to the far side of the bed, and she and Tim both reached simultaneously for Sara’s hands. “Don’t worry,” said Tim. “It’s just us chickens.” He leaned down and gave her a kiss on the forehead.

Jaylynn studied her friend’s pale face as she leaned against the bed. She stroked Sara’s arm and squeezed her hand tight, then said, “So, how’re you feeling this morning?”

In a grouchy voice, Sara grumbled, “I didn’t get a wink of sleep. I can’t wait to get outta here. I’ve never been checked on and awakened so many times in my life. And when I did fall asleep—geez!—what rotten dreams. How bad do I look?”

Tim said, “You look beautiful, as usual.”

Sara shook her head wearily and turned to Jaylynn. “The truth now,” she demanded.

Jaylynn studied her friend’s face. “Double black eyes are on the way. Your chin is gonna be black and blue for days, and that wallop on your temple, oh girl, does that hurt?”

Sara reached up and touched her forehead. “They kept shining lights in my eyes all night. I guess they thought I had a concussion.”

“Where’s your mom?” said Jaylynn.

“She’ll be back at two when they release me. She stayed until about seven this morning, then went home to sleep a few hours.”

“Two!” Tim said outraged. “Damn. When I called this morning, they said you would leave sometime after ten.”

“Well two is sometime after ten, Tim,” said Sara. She gave him a playful poke to the stomach.

Jaylynn smiled and thought to herself what a good sport Sara was. She didn’t know how she herself would handle it if she were in Sara’s shoes. Then again, she too had been attacked . . . but somehow it wasn’t at all the same. How could she ever admit to Sara that the experience was completely different for her than for her friend? Already, since last night, she’d relived it in her dreams, and she had thought through it over and over during her Con Law exam. She kept seeing the intense and powerful officer in a flurry of kicks and punches. She remembered the heavy feel of the wooden bat swinging in her own hands, the weight of the black gun. So fast. It had all happened so fast, in a thirty second jumble of sounds and sensations. When she slowed it down in her mind and remembered the sequence of events, she was astonished at how much had happened. She couldn’t quite get her mind all around it.

Jaylynn stopped leaning against the bed and sank down on it, still holding Sara’s hand. Sara was saying, “When I get home, I want to sleep for about 15 straight hours.”

“No problem,” said Jaylynn. “I’m going to collapse in my room too.”

Sara winced and took a deep breath. “Jay?”

“Yes?”

Sara looked down at the covers and then squeezed her friends’ hands. “I can’t go back and sleep in that room . . . at least, not right away. I just can’t.” Tears welled up in her eyes.

Tim leaned his hip on the edge of the bed so that now Sara was flanked by two very concerned friends, both talking at once. She let them soothe her for a moment, then went on. “I’m wondering if maybe we could switch rooms, Jay?”

Jaylynn shrugged and nodded. “I’ll be getting the best part of the deal. I get a huge room, and you get the little one. It doesn’t have as much closet space, you know?”

“I’d give you my room—” said Tim.

Sara cut in, “No way. No thanks. I’m not sleeping in the attic. I don’t care if it is nice up there. It’s too creepy for me.” She squeezed his knee and made him jump. “Besides, you’ve got it set up so nice with all the lava lamps. I wouldn’t want to wreck your love nest.”

Jaylynn said, “As long as you don’t mind—just remember though, the phone won’t go that far. What about those long distance calls from Billy Boy?”

Tim said, “That’s no big deal. We’ll just get her a longer cord.” Glad to have something useful to do, Tim stood and with enthusiasm said, “We’ll go home and switch things, won’t we, Jay?” He looked at her for confirmation and when she nodded, he said, “A new room coming up in a jiffy.”

“One more thing,” said Sara. “We’ve got to do something about those downstairs windows.”

****

By the time Mrs. Wright brought her daughter back to the house, Jaylynn and Tim had switched Sara’s and Jaylynn’s rooms. Jaylynn’s queen-sized bed, dresser, bookcase, and computer desk went in the master bedroom with plenty of room to spare. Sara’s twin beds fit in the smaller room with no problem, but the couch couldn’t go, so Jaylynn found herself the proud possessor of a solid orange over-stuffed sleeper sofa.

Sara’s mother stayed for an hour or so helping her daughter get settled, then left saying she would be back later that night. Jaylynn slipped into a sweatshirt and shorts and fell onto her bed exhausted. She slept through the afternoon and into the early evening, and when she finally did awaken, it was only because of hunger pangs. She shuffled downstairs to the warm kitchen and ate two bowls of Wheaties as the final light of the day faded away and the cricket noises of the night began. She put the milk and cereal away and went back to her room.

As she lay down on her bed in the dim light, a muffled scream rang out. She was up and across the room in an instant.

“Sara!” Jaylynn took three strides down the hall and breathlessly smacked open the closed bedroom door. She found Sara sitting up in bed, a sheet tangled around her legs and her eyes wide. Tears ran down her face.

Jaylynn moved over to the bed and wrapped her arms around her friend. “What is it? Bad dream?”

Sara nodded. Jaylynn pulled the shaking woman closer and stroked her hair. “Shh. It’ll be okay. You’re safe now.”

“I don’t feel real safe.”

“That’ll pass. It’ll take a while. It hasn’t even been a day yet. Here, roll over on your stomach. Good God, it’s hot in here.” She rose and opened the window to allow the slight breeze into the stuffy room. Sara turned over and put her head on her arms. Jaylynn came away from the window and slid down on her side next to the brown haired woman. With her left arm supporting her own head, Jaylynn used her right hand to rub gentle circles on Sara’s back. Gradually Sara’s tears subsided, and she lay quietly, her head turned toward Jaylynn.

“When I was a little girl,” said Jaylynn, “I used to have a lot of bad dreams. Drove my mom crazy. It got even worse when my dad died. I bet I woke up at least twice nightly, night after night after night. Then my dad’s sister, Auntie Lynn—she and my dad are who I’m named for—anyway, she came to stay with us for the summer. She slept in my room right across from me every night for three months. The first time I woke up screaming, she crawled into my twin bed—pretty much just like this.”

Sara gave an embarrassed chuckle. “I’m sorry to be such a coward . . .”

“Oh no! You’re not at all.” Jaylynn smiled warmly at Sara and smoothed the hair out of her friend’s face. “That’s funny because what you just said is exactly the same thing I told Auntie Lynn. Here’s what she told me. You are a willing participant in your dreams. They come from you and they come to you. She asked me what I was dreaming about that was so scary.”

“Do you remember?”

“Oh yeah. I have several varieties.”

“Have?” Sara said incredulously. “You still have them?”

“All the time. I think I can remember three main kinds. In the first one, I am running and running, and every time I look back I see these terrifying wraiths chasing me and getting closer and closer. The faster I run, the heavier I feel until I just can’t run any more. I scream, and they just laugh and surround me, choking the life out of me.”

“Doesn’t sound like fun at all.”

“Just wait, there’s more. I have this other horrible one where I totally lose control of my body, and I am surrounded with fire and lifted up high in the air. I spin and spin. The fire is burning all of me, inside and out. . I feel totally helpless and violated . It’s awful. I scream and try so hard to get away, but I know that if it lets go of me, I’ll fall twenty or thirty feet and be dashed on the concrete slab below. I gotta say that’s about my least favorite dream. In the third one, I am falling. I’ve almost always been pushed off the side of a mountain by some sort of evil henchmen. There’s a stream of hot lava below. I grab for this rickety little bridge—which I have NO idea why I’m on since I am totally scared of heights. I scream and scream, and I always wake up just before I hit the lava at the bottom. Ew!” She shuddered.

“So how come you aren’t waking up screaming every night?”

“Auntie Lynn taught me something. She told me to think of a hero, someone to protect me, and then while I’m dreaming, call for help and they’ll come. We spent half the night listing out all the qualities I’d have in a hero and then she had me visualize her.”

“Her?”

Jaylynn laughed. “What can I say? Even at 12 I wanted a woman hero.”

Sara rolled over onto her back and scooted over a bit. Jaylynn did the same and the two roommates lay shoulder to shoulder on the twin bed, sides touching. Sara reached down and took Jaylynn’s hand. “If I was gay, I swear you would be exactly my type, Jaylynn. Sometimes I wish I was.”

“Oh, but Mr. Bill would be so very disappointed. Have you called him yet?”

“No. I will. I’m too tired right now. He’ll be upset. It’s the middle of the night in Germany anyway. I’ll wait until the regular time we talk tomorrow.” She gave Jaylynn’s hand a squeeze. “So tell me, after you created this wonderful woman, what did you do with her?”

“I was just a kid, and a the time, I was reading about King Arthur and mythology, and I was quite taken with Joan of Arc and the Amazons, too. I imagined this woman warrior. She was kind of a cross between a knight and an Amazon.”

“You mean with the arrows and the one breast sawed off?”

Jaylynn laughed. “No, you goofball. That’s all bogus. The Amazons never cut their breasts off! No, my hero was tall—or taller—than most men, broad-shouldered, strong, fierce, really resourceful. Pretty much the opposite of me at 12. She was dark and had long beautiful black hair that I could comb. She rode a horse, a pale yellow horse, the color of Old Yeller, and I rode a horse like Black Beauty. She had swords and knives and daggers and whips, and nobody crossed her. She’d kick their ass from here to eternity.”

“What was the point of this little exercise,” said Sara as she grinned and elbowed Jaylynn, “besides giving you something to fantasize about?”

“Well, it took many nights, but every time I had a bad dream, Auntie Lynn would get in bed with me, have me close my eyes, and then ask me to tell her what happened. As I told her about the scary parts, she’d ask me to imagine the Warrior Woman and how she could save me. So I’d lay there and visualize all these fantastic feats that she would do. And then Auntie Lynn would listen, maybe add a few suggestions, and then say, ‘Good. Now go back to sleep and dream that same dream again—only this time, call on the Warrior Woman. She’s a part of you. Use her.’ And Sara, it worked. It really works, even today.”

“Hmm. Interesting,” said Sara. “You really still do this, even now?”

“Cross my heart—maybe once or twice a week. Even though the dreams are scary, I don’t mind them so much any more because she always appears. She always rescues me. My dreams have truly become odd little adventures. Weird, but exciting too.” Jaylynn paused for a moment. “And there’s one more thing,” she said thoughtfully. “And anybody but you would think I’m crazy, but—that officer from last night, you know, Reilly? She fits the bill. Give her a tan and dress her up in armor and a sword . . . I’m telling you, she could be my Warrior Woman.”

Sara turned over on her side and leaned up onto her elbow. “How convenient,” she said dryly and tried to hide her smile.

“Hey! What’s that supposed to mean?”

“How convenient for you. But I can tell you for a fact, I would not be imagining some six foot Amazon Police Woman. I’d go more for the Antonio Banderas type. He could have a sword all right, and an Uzi for all I care, along with that sexy Zorro costume.”

Skeptically, Jaylynn said, “Are you serious? You sure you wouldn’t rather have that incredibly beautiful brunette Zorro fell in love with? Catherine Zeta Jones?”

“Oh no, no, no. Not my type at all. Antonio—now he would fit my bill.”

“You’d pick him as a hero?”

“Absolutely.”

“Okay, Sara. If you’re serious. Let’s talk through this.”

“You mean talk about what happened last night?” When Jaylynn nodded, Sara swallowed, took a deep breath, and said, “I’m not sure I can.”

“Yes, you can. I’ll stick with you. Let’s go over it step by step, and let’s rewrite it with Antonio coming in at every step to save the day. Trust me, this really works. I’ll be right here for you. Will you try?”

Sara nodded, a grave expression on her bruised face.

“Okay then, how did it start?”

****

Jaylynn sat on the couch cross legged, barefoot and in shorts and a t-shirt. At her friend’s request she hadn’t opened the main floor windows, but she had the oscillating floor fan on high. She munched on a bowl of salty popcorn as she watched a “Star Trek Voyager” rerun. It was after midnight when Sara crept into the house, and Jaylynn was waiting for her. She leapt up from her position on the couch and greeted her friend enthusiastically. Reaching down to pick up the remote and flick the TV off, she said, “How was your first night back at the video store?”

Sara double checked the lock on the front door and said, “Okay, I guess. They were all really nice. One of the guys stuck by me at the register a lot.” She plopped down on the couch and Jaylynn re-seated herself sitting sideways on the couch facing her roommate.

Jaylynn held out the popcorn bowl. “Want some?”

Sara said, “Nah—I’m not up for it right now. Maybe later.” She ran her hands through her hair and lifted it off the back of her neck. “I’ve never missed a whole week of work like that. It’s hard to get back in the routine.” She sighed and gave Jaylynn a puzzled look. “Something’s up. What’s your news?”

Exasperated, Jaylynn said, “How can you always tell?”

“I don’t know—I just can. You get this gleeful look about you, Jay, like something really cool happened.”

“Something cool did happen. You are looking at a proud—and probably successful—applicant to the St. Paul Police Academy.”

Jaylynn couldn’t help but laugh uproariously when she saw the look of disbelief and surprise on her friend’s face. “I know, I know it sounds incredible, but I went down to the Police Department today and talked to one of the Lieutenant Commanders, and he called the POST Board right from there.”

“What’s the POST Board?”

“The Police Officer’s Standards and Training Board. I guess they’ve had a tough time filling the last few classes of officers, and by the end of the year 2,000, they’ll have almost a third of the police force retire. And right now, employers are begging for workers, including the police. Since I have a college degree with solid law and psychology majors, I’ll probably get in. They’re starting background checks tomorrow.”

“But you were accepted to law school. I thought you wanted to be a lawyer?”

“I still may. But I think this will be great experience. And the surprising thing is that if they do expedite the paper work like they said they would, I’ll start the week after next! And after the initial orientation and screening, I’ll even get paid.”

Sara looked at her thoughtfully. “I have a hunch your mother is going to be very surprised. Are you sure about this?”

“Yeah. Why do you ask?”

“Well, Jay, it’s not like you to be quite so impulsive. I—I guess—I’m just really surprised, that’s all. You sure you want to jump right into something like this?”

“Sure, why not?” She gave her friend a puzzled look. “You don’t think it’s a good idea?”

“No,” Sara said forcefully. “I didn’t say that. I just wondered if you had thought it through. What possessed you to go down to the Police Department anyway?”

Jaylynn felt sheepish to admit it, but she told her friend the truth. “Actually, I wanted to talk to Officer Reilly.”

“Oh, I see.” A smile crossed Sara’s face, which she quickly stifled.

Jaylynn got a fierce look on her face and picked up the popcorn bowl from her lap and smacked it onto the coffee table. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing. Nothing at all.”

“Then get that smirk off your face!”

Sara started to giggle, and Jaylynn turned red. “It’s not what you think,” said the blond. “She tried to talk me out of it too. She even held up her cast and told me broken limbs were run-of-the-mill experiences.”

“And you didn’t believe her—or what?”

“Sara, I want to learn all about police work. After last week—well, it’s just fascinating to me, that’s all. I think it’s a career I’d enjoy. There’s excitement, but also structure. And if I find it isn’t perfect for me, then I’ve always got my deferred acceptance to law school. Plus it’d be a good job to have if I do go after a law degree. Either way, it’s a perfect solution, don’t you think? I was going to have to get a job sooner or later anyhow.”

“Gimme some of that popcorn.” Sara snagged the bowl when Jaylynn slid it down the coffee table. “If your heart is set on this, then that’s great. I was just curious. At least you look good in light blue.” When Jaylynn gave her a puzzled look, Sara went on, “You know—police blue? It’s a good color on you.
PART 2
The fall class of Police Academy cadets, 13 recruits, milled around the track oval awaiting the arrival of their instructor. They had started with 16 in the class, but already three had dropped.

The breezy and sunny autumn weather made it a perfect day for footraces. Jaylynn and her fellow rookies had been told to warm up by jogging the three blocks to the high school track, and they arrived in a pack. After running wind sprints in the center of the oval, Jaylynn sat on the grass and did some hurdler’s stretches.

“Hey, Savage,” said Dwayne Neilsen. “You gonna stop to stretch out when you chase after the bad guys?” He sneered at her, his rugged face affecting a look of superiority. The three other young men who had become his buddies in the first three weeks laughed along with him, and one of them said, “Sure hope you never have to lift anything heavy on duty. Probably have to stretch those pecs huh?”

Jaylynn smiled sweetly at the four men whom she had begun to call the Four Stooges behind their backs. They were all a bit above average in height and had indeed excelled at the weight-lifting component of the physical fitness tests. But here she knew she was in her element. Paula Marshall came to sit near the blond and stretched her legs out too. She rolled her eyes at Jaylynn when the Four Stooges weren’t looking.

Of the 11 men and two women, Jaylynn was the smallest. At 5’5″ she was at least three inches shorter than everyone else, including Marshall, but as she stretched her legs, she looked around and appraised the fitness of her cohorts. She decided some of them were likely to be fleet of foot, especially Mahoney and Schmidt. But none of the Four Stooges worried her. She just hoped Marshall would be able to keep up.

Their instructor, Sgt. Vernon Slade, finally strolled on the field. Like the rest of them he wore navy blue shorts and a gray sweatshirt that read SPPS on the front. Slade was a lean man in his late 20’s, with a gaunt face and piercing brown eyes. His brown hair was cut short on the sides, but it was longer on top and puffed to the side in the wind. In one hand he held a stopwatch. With the other he held a silver whistle, which he blew, one short, sharp shriek, and said, “Okay, listen up. I’m going to set a pace, and all of you will follow. This is not a race, but you all have to keep up. I’ll line you up, and each of you is to follow three yards from the person in front of you. Not four yards. Not two yards. How many yards?”

“Three, sir!” they said in unison.

“When I blow the whistle, the person at the end of the line sprints to the front and falls in behind me. Got it?” When everyone nodded, he called off the 13 names. Jaylynn found herself sixth in the pack with Marshall two behind her.

Sgt. Slade began an easy lope around the track. After a minute had passed, he blew his whistle and the man at the back cut outside the group and sprinted to the front where he dropped in behind the sergeant. The whistle blew again, and along came Neilsen, one by one followed by the others until it was Jaylynn’s turn. By then the group had traveled half a mile, and the blond’s legs were feeling warmed up and strong. She cut to the front and fell in, waiting patiently for her turn again.

By the time the group hit the fourth round of sprints, they had traveled nearly eight laps around the 400 meter track and had begun to lag and spread out. “Come on people,” Sgt. Slade hollered over his shoulder. “Get a move on!” Jaylynn admired the sergeant’s fortitude. He was obviously a regular runner. Only he and two men, besides herself, continued along without a lot of panting and groaning.

After the sixth round of sprints, Slade dodged out of the line and turned around, continuing to run backwards. “Mark my pace,” he said, as he slowed. The group gradually decreased speed and came to a stop. Jaylynn caught sight of Neilsen and his Stooges, bent over and gasping for air.

Slade said, “Everybody warmed up now?”

“Yes, sir!” they huffed.

“All right,” he said. “Next exercise.” A harmony of groans erupted. “Anybody here have a problem with that?”

“No sir!”

“Line up again in original order. On my mark, you will take off one at a time and run one lap. If the person behind you passes you, then you will run again.”

Tweet! The first man took off. Slade waited for five seconds to pass on the stopwatch, then tweet! The next man sprinted away. Five more seconds . . .five . . . five . . . five . . . and then it was Jaylynn’s turn. She followed a shy recruit named Oster, and she could see that he would never catch the man ahead of him. She ran smoothly, glancing back as she rounded the first turn. Mahoney was behind her, and she caught his eye for a moment. He shot a glance at Oster. She didn’t know why she knew it, but she could tell Mahoney wouldn’t push hard enough to catch her, and that meant that she could back off on Oster who was struggling. At the next turn she looked back again and no one was threatening to catch anyone.

One by one they each crossed the finish line and slowed up until the 13 stood waiting the next drill.

Sgt. Slade, a half grin on his face, nodded at the group. “I see,” he said. “Esprit de corp. Hmmph. Guess we have to raise the stakes.” He put his hand to his chin and considered for a moment. “Line up again. New rules: anybody who doesn’t pass the guy in front runs again. And if you get passed, you run again. Let’s go.”

“Sir,” said Mahoney. “What happens to the person running first? Denton, I mean. He doesn’t have anyone to catch.”

“Luck of the draw, Mahoney. If Denton can hold you all off, he’s done for the day.”

They lined up, and the sergeant whistled Denton off. At five second intervals the whistle blew, and then it was Jaylynn’s turn. She didn’t have any trouble catching up to Oster and passed him after the first turn. She ran loosely and effortlessly, not straining at all, but on the last turn Mahoney caught up with her. They ran abreast for the last 30 yards, and then he pulled ahead at the very last.

She concentrated on catching her breath and waited until the sergeant said, “Denton, Mahoney, Vell, Chin, and Sprague—you’re all out. The rest of you line up and be ready to go in sixty seconds.”

Jaylynn was still winded, but she was amused to see that only one of the Four Stooges, Sprague, had managed to get out of the next race. Then she spent the next minute focusing on her breath, letting her muscles relax. She shook out her legs and kept walking. She looked at Oster, lying on the grass gasping. “Oster,” she said quietly. “C’mon. You can do it.” The red-faced man looked up at her from his sprawled position, a pained expression on his face, and shook his head. She stuck out her hand. “C’mon. Just put one foot in front of the other.” He accepted her hand and let her help drag him up.

“On your marks,” shouted Slade.

The eight hustled over to their spots. Jaylynn was now fourth, and Marshall followed her. The Three Stooges brought up the rear. She easily caught and passed Oster and drew near Pike, but couldn’t quite catch him. She crossed the finish line well ahead of the remaining six, none of whom had managed to pass the others.

When the last runners stumbled over the line, Slade said, “Pike and Savage, you’re out.” He put his hands on his hips and faced the six other sweating, heaving runners. “What am I gonna do with the rest of you? Tell you what. You have a choice, each of you. You can either take four laps right now, or select any one of those who are out and challenge him or her to a race. Laps or race. Schmidt?”

“Laps.”

“Oster!”

“Laps, for sure, sir.”

“Marshall!”

“Laps, sir.”

“Neilsen!”

The Head Stooge directed his patented sneer toward Jaylynn. “Sir! I’ll take Savage.”

“You will, huh?” With a twinkle in his eye, Sgt. Slade said, “You sure about that?”

Neilsen smiled broadly revealing large white teeth. “Yes, sir.”

“What if you lose?” said Slade.

“Oh come on!” Neilsen said confidently.

“If Savage beats you, then you run the mile anyway.”

“No problem.” He turned to his buddies. “You guys up for this?”

Slade cut in. “That’s for me to determine.” He looked at Grainger and Fuller, but they were already assenting. “Okay then,” the sergeant said. “Line up.”

Jaylynn didn’t have long to get her head into the race. She had watched the entire interchange thoughtfully as she formulated a plan, which was something she had always attempted to do whenever she competed. Running another 400 meters full out didn’t appeal to her, so she decided to run smarter, not harder.

The three men slapped hands and lined up in lanes one through three, and she took the outside lane by default.

Slade said, “Stay in your lanes, people, until that white line outside the first turn. Understand?” When they all nodded, he said, “All right. On your marks . . . get set . . .” and he blew the whistle.

The three men took off gleefully, one of them even making a whooping noise. Jaylynn settled into a restrained pace for the 75 meters, and as she expected, she fell behind. When the three men came tearing out of the first 100 meter turn, Neilsen was narrowly in the lead and she was fifteen yards back. She made up ground on the straightaway though. She felt some fatigue, but she calculated that she still had plenty of strength for the final 200 meters.

Vaguely Jaylynn could hear distant shouts, but her eyes focused on the back of Neilsen’s legs while her mind played out the chant she often fell into when running a race: “I can do it I can do it I can do it . . . .” She could see the three men slowing slightly, their strides shortening and becoming more labored. Though she would have rather waited for the straightaway, halfway through the second turn she eased out of the inside lane to pass Grainger and Fuller. And then she was right behind Neilsen’s over-sized muscular legs.

“I can do it I can do it I can do it . . . .” She reached down and summoned up the fiery ball of energy which was sapping her breath and causing her legs to burn, and she willed herself into a strong kick. Thighs pumping, calves straining, arms flashing, she pulled past a startled Neilsen, and continued to chew up the last 50 meters, beating all three men by six seconds and at least 25 yards.

As she crossed the finish line she heard a click, and then she slowed, her legs flaming, and her lungs near bursting. For the first time of the day she was so winded that she bent over and gasped for breath.

Marshall took her arm as Sgt. Slade strolled over, a funny look on his face. “Savage,” he said, “you just broke the new recruit record for the 400 meters. 58.5. Not bad.”

A jubilant Oster smacked her on the back and said, “Afterburners—that’s all they saw.” She stood up straight and shook her legs out, still winded.

Neilsen, Grainger, and Fuller were also doubled over, wheezing. Slade blew his whistle. “Okay, all of you who selected laps, get going. You’ve got exactly ten minutes!” When the Three Stooges didn’t immediately move, Slade said, “Hey, you three—get a move on it!”

They looked up, shocked, but were gasping too hard to speak.

Slade said, “Get your rears in gear, gentlemen. Your ten minutes are ticking away.”

*****

Later in the locker room at the training center Marshall said, “Jaylynn, I hope you didn’t make enemies of those idiots.”

Jaylynn finished pulling on street clothes and reached for her hairbrush. “I don’t care.” She brushed her damp hair out of her face then waved the brush toward Paula Marshall. “They’ve been rude since day one, as though they have more right to be here than you or me. I refuse to let them win.”

Marshall picked up her gym bag and gave Jaylynn a serious look. “I hate to make enemies.”

“They were already your enemy, if you want to look at it that way. They’re selfish, mean-spirited, and juvenile. I’m not going to do any less than my best, even if it makes them look bad.” She tossed the brush into her own bag and zipped the top closed. “Think I should dry my hair? How windy is it out there?”

“It’s not bad,” said Marshall as she waited for Jaylynn to follow her. “Hard to believe it’s already October though.”

“No kidding. In a week we start our field training. Amazing how fast this is going.”

*****

Dez sat on the end of the locker room bench, her back against the far wall and one foot up on the bench. Fully dressed in her uniform, she held a hand gripper, which she squeezed together rhythmically. She considered how much the gripper resembled the handle of a hedge clipper without the blades. After 20 squeezes she stopped and rested her hand a moment, then did another 20 squeezes. And another.

Five full weeks had passed since she had broken the radius in her arm, and tonight would be the first time back on evening patrol. Relieved to be healed, she was more than ready to get back to the street. She stood and tossed the gripper on the top shelf in her locker, grabbed a bottle of water, then closed the door and locked up. With one last adjustment to her gun belt, she strode off and up the stairs to the roll call room. She knew she was good and early, but she was anxious to get back on the job. She decided desk duty was not something she wanted anything to do with again—not for a very long time.

She ambled down the long hall, by the main entrance, and strolled past the lieutenant’s office. The duty sergeant looked up. “Hey, Reilly,” he said.

“Hi, Belton.”

“Lieutenant wants to see you.”

“Why?”

Belton shrugged.

“Am I in trouble again?”

“Have you busted into any crime scenes lately without backup?”

“No.” She gazed at him intently.

The sergeant crossed his arms and grinned at her, his ebony face gleaming in the fluorescent light. “So go on in, Reilly. ”

She stepped past the beat up desk and poked her head in the open door. Lt. Malcolm looked up. “Afternoon, Reilly,” he said.

“Afternoon, sir. Heard you were looking for me.”

“Yeah, come in and sit down. Shut the door.”

Dez did as she told and sat in the ancient solid wood visitor’s chair. She shifted in the uncomfortable seat and put her elbows on the arm rests.

“We’ve got 13 new recruits coming our way, and God knows we need the new blood. How long we been running short on this shift?”

“Since way before I got injured.”

“Do you realize how many guys are retiring April 30th?”

Dez looked down at her hands. “Yes, sir. I think over thirty.”

“Forty-three, Reilly.” The lieutenant leaned back in his tattered leather chair and pulled at his mustache. “I want to see these new cadets trained properly, and you know the new Chief is expecting miracles. She’s going to personally watch this class of recruits—says she wants to be sure her new training protocol is followed.” He sat forward, put his arms on the desk, and picked up some papers. “I didn’t expect Stevens to go out on paternity leave, but his wife had the baby early and needs help for a while. So I want you to know I’m assigning you his Field Training Officer duties.”

Dez started to say something, but he cut her off. “Reilly, I know you haven’t been an official FTO before, but I really need you now. Tour III doesn’t—in fact, none of the shifts—have enough experienced vets, and we’re getting a bunch of these rookies in rotation. They’ve gotta ride with somebody, and you’re one of my best. Will you do it?”

With a sigh Dez said, “Of course, sir.” She wanted to roll her eyes, but instead kept a steady attentive gaze leveled at her superior.

“Thatagirl. Thanks. I’ll make sure you get a commendation for the extra work.”

Lt. Malcolm was only in his mid-40’s, not old enough to be her dad, but a little too old to be a brother. He had always been respectful toward the dark haired cop, and though some of the other cops made fun of him, she never minded his old-fashioned sayings like “thatagirl” and “okey-dokey.” She appreciated the fact that he had always treated her fairly and gave her a shot at many challenges. She said, “What’s the plan?”

“New bids are coming up for January. Between now and then we’re gonna cycle the 13 through the three Tours. I want you to ride with one from the first group, then the second group, then the third, and then I need you to stay with one of the ones who bid for our shift until he or she is settled in.”

Trying to hide her exasperation she said, “But sir, you’re talking months.”

“Yup. Maybe six or eight—at least until some of them can be trusted in one-man cars alone.” He nodded solemnly. “It’ll be worth it in the long run because they’ll get really good training. And I hear that this group is darn talented.” He tapped his temple with his forefinger. “Got some smart ones this time. Might not have gotten very many new recruits this round, but they’re supposed to be bright.”

“When’s this start?”

“Next week. In the meantime, here.” He tossed her a folder and a sheaf of papers. “Go over the protocol, memorize all the Chief’s new rules and regs, and check the folder to decide who you want to select.”

“You’re not assigning the recruits?”

“You pick who you want, Reilly. I’ll assign the rest.” He flexed his hands and began to systematically crack his knuckles, one finger at a time. “I’m giving you first choice . . . seems only fair since you aren’t getting any warning. All the other FTOs have been prepared for weeks. Besides, I know you’ve had it tough lately—just thought it was only fair to let you decide since I am asking this as a favor.”

Dez knew she wouldn’t have had a choice and that it really wasn’t a favor at all, but she was grateful for the respectful way the lieutenant coerced her into doing the extra duty. She rose. “When do you need this stuff back?”

“When shift starts?”

“Tonight?”

He grinned. “Yeah.” Looking at his watch, he said, “That gives you 17 minutes to make copies. Go on. I’ll see you in a few.” He spun in his chair and rolled backwards to his file cabinet. Leaving him pulling files, she headed toward the copier. While the machine auto-copied the eighty pages of training rules and regs, she opened the folder and shuffled through thirteen slim packets of paper. The information was filed according to who was performing best—on top of the stack—to the worst—on the bottom. Leading the pack was a 27-year-old named John Mahoney, then came Savage, Vell, Schmidt . . . . Dez stopped and flipped back: Jaylynn Savage. She didn’t forget many names. 24-year-old female, bachelor’s degree from the U of M, resides on Como Boulevard. Damn!

Dez hadn’t thought much about it when she got two phone messages from the blond spitfire who had helped with those two serial rapists. She hadn’t called her back but had, instead, passed the messages on to the Lieutenant. Then the young woman had shown up at the station, and Dez had taken exactly sixty seconds to discourage her from applying to join the force. The small woman had seemed energetic and intelligent, and the big cop didn’t believe she’d be all that interested in police work. Dez hadn’t thought she was serious. Surprise, surprise. The young woman had followed through after all. She thumbed through the report to see that Savage excelled at the written work and was leading the class in many categories, including basic law, investigative procedures, records/forms/reports, authority and jurisdiction, and communications. Her weapon work was not at marksman level yet, but showed steady improvement, and her unarmed self-defense appeared to be good and improving. Physically she was noted to be in excellent condition.

The copy machine finished the job and clunked to a halt. Dez lifted the cover and copied Mahoney’s dossier as well as Savage’s, then looked quickly through the rest. She reviewed the last recruit, the one rated thirteenth in his class. Oster. Average in the written work, average at weapons, slightly below average for a male in unarmed self-defense. His physical condition was noted as mediocre, but improving. In the area for notes, however, Dez read the following: “This cadet has a great deal of desire to join the force. He displays courage and esprit de corp. Though originally expected to wash out, he has shown remarkable fortitude and perseverance. V. Slade.”

Dez knew Slade to be a good teacher and a fine cop, and after a moment’s hesitation, she copied Oster’s paperwork, bundled the originals back in order in the folder, and returned to the lieutenant’s office.

He looked up and smiled at her. “Well?”

She said, “Mahoney,” and Lt. Malcolm nodded. “Savage.” He inclined his head again. “Oster.”

“Oster! Isn’t he the cellar dweller?”

She leaned against the doorframe with a slight smile on her face. “He is. I got a hunch about Mr. Oster though. Sounds like he should have washed out, but he hasn’t. If he should be kicked, then you know I’ll do it. But if he can grow, then he’ll be a worthwhile project.”

The lieutenant shook his head. “You’ve always got the dangdest rationale for things, Reilly, but go ahead. And thanks.” He looked back down at his paperwork, and she turned to leave. “Reilly!”

She glanced back. “Yes, sir?”

“Not a word about this, okay? I’ll have all the assignments made, your choices included.”

“Thank you sir.” She headed off down the hall with her sheaf of papers thinking to herself that she had a difficult task ahead of her and that there was no doubt it would be a giant pain in the ass.

*****

Jaylynn dressed in the required clothes for the night’s work: black oxfords, black jeans, a black t-shirt with POLICE emblazoned on the back in orange, and a dark blue patrol jacket with no insignia sewn on yet. Sgt. Slade had provided each of them with a black baseball cap, also bearing bright yellow letters spelling out POLICE. She looked at herself in the mirror and the first thought that came to mind was Cat Burglar. She strapped a bulging but compact fanny pack around her waist and got in Tim’s beater to drive down to the police department.

She was amazed at everything she had learned so far. They had learned to march, stand at attention, salute, and perform like a well-organized military unit. She knew First Aid and CPR, and she had training for how to deal with all sorts of catastrophes: gas leaks, explosions, live wires, broken water mains, radioactive materials, and toxic chemicals. She knew how to shoot, use a baton, search suspects, put on cuffs one-handed, and subdue someone much bigger than she was using the rudiments of judo, boxing and karate. She had memorized so many procedures and policies, statutes and ordinances that her head felt packed full of data. She was ready for the street.

At the end of the first six weeks in Police Academy, Jaylynn was aware of two indisputable facts. One: John Mahoney was a nearly perfect cadet and would undoubtedly be first in the class. And two: Dwayne Neilsen hated her guts.

She was nervous about the next stage of the training, but she was more bothered about being around Neilsen. She had now handily surpassed him in every classroom topic and nearly every physical fitness category. He could lift much more and carry heavier loads, but pound for pound, ounce for ounce, she was just as strong and fit. For her audacity of seeking to excel, he never stopped picking at her. He and his friends made sport of her every moment that they were away from the instructors. She was relieved to get a change of scenery, even if she was still likely to have to deal with him in the classroom three days a week.

From mid-October to mid-November, in addition to the classroom training three days per week, she’d have field observation on three weekdays with only Sundays off. After that, if she made the grade, she’d go into six weeks of Tour rotations for more observation and a gradual shift into taking on responsibilities. In January, the course work would be over, and she’d become a full-time St. Paul police officer on probation.

Her first two weeks of observation were on Tour I—the graveyard shift. She didn’t look forward to staying up all night. She’d never been able to stay awake much past two in her life, and during the entire five years she attended the University she’d never pulled an all-nighter to study. She didn’t have a lot of time to adjust to the odd hours, so the first night when she showed up at the main station house, she had managed to sleep only two hours in the early evening. She wondered if she could stay energized from nine p.m. to six a.m.

She arrived at the main station 45 minutes early, considerably before Vell, Chin, and Sprague appeared. Entering through the front door, she found the place brimming with cops and citizens coming and going, everyone talking at once. The entrance led into a large room with a high ceiling. A thirty-foot long counter spread out directly ahead. At one end on the far right there was a gate, but an officer was posted nearby, seated on a tall stool. In front of him was a plastic sign, “Information and Complaints.” The entire area was painted in two tones of blue with several framed landscape prints hanging on the walls. To the right and to the left of the entryway were long benches, resembling pews, upon which a variety of people sat waiting. Despite the obvious effort at creating a restful, pleasant environment, the station smelled musty, like a damp cave.

Jaylynn strode toward the counter and caught the eye of the officer at the complaint desk. He stared impassively as he watched her approach. His crew-cut hair and lack of a neck made her think he must have been a football player in his earlier days. She held up a plastic card. With a toss of his head, he directed her to the gate at the end and pressed a button somewhere under the desk to release the latch. Jaylynn pushed through and let the wooden gate slap shut behind her.

“Here, I’ll take that card,” the desk sergeant said. He opened a drawer behind the counter, fished around a moment, and then came up with a blue card. “Don’t lose this,” he said. “This mag card works out back at the staff entrance. If you do lose it, report it right away and we have to re-key everything. The brass does not take kindly to that.” He watched as she tucked the card into her fanny pack, then said, “This your first night?”

She smiled and said, “Yes,” and stuck out her hand. “Jaylynn Savage.”

He took her hand into his crushing grip. “Finch. Bob Finch. Nice to meet ya.”

“Thanks,” she said with a broad smile.

“Head on back to the briefing room—you know where that is?”

She nodded. Sgt. Slade had given them all the nickel tour earlier in the week, so she knew her way around. He pointed back over his shoulder and turned his attention to the desk where an elderly woman was now standing, demanding his immediate attention.

Jaylynn took her first walk alone down the hall, past the comm center, past the watch commander’s office, and to the stairs that led down to the briefing room, also called the roll call room. Beyond it lay stairs down to the department gym, outfitted with scads of excellent weight equipment she looked forward to using. Beyond the first set of stairs lay another smaller flight of steps that led down to the men’s and women’s locker rooms which were also connected to the gym. The blond moved slowly down the small flight of stairs to the locker rooms. She wouldn’t be assigned a locker until the middle of November when she went on rotation. Still, she went in to look around.

When she entered the large gray room, she saw that the rest rooms were to the left and around a corner. Five bright blue stalls sat in a row across from four sinks and an entire mirrored wall. Through a glass and metal door there were also two enclosed showers and a small sauna. The rest of the locker room was large and square with a main aisle running down the middle from the door to the far wall. On either side of the aisle four sets of over-sized bright blue lockers jutted, the only color in the otherwise gun-metal gray room, and there were backless wooden benchs, embedded into the concrete, sitting in front of each of the locker rows.

The room was unnaturally bright due to multiple rows of fluorescent lights. There were no windows whatsoever. At present, no one was in the room, and all Jaylynn could hear was a quiet drip-drip-drip echoing from the bathrooms. She went back into one of the stalls to use the facilities, and when she was done washing up, she went back upstairs to the roll call room and sat down. Seconds later, in walked Vell dressed identically to her.

“Hey Vell,” said Jaylynn with a raish grin on her face. “How’s it feel being dressed like a cat burglar?”

*****

The first two weeks of Tour I graveyard observation went well, though Jaylynn was exhausted by the third day. Despite sleeping from the moment she hit the bed in the morning until late afternoon, she could not get used to the night hours. It occurred to her that if she had to work that shift, she’d never make it—so much for her police career. She hoped to go on Tour III swing shift once her training was over.

Jaylynn also kept watch for the raven haired cop, but she hit the streets before Tour III ended, and her shift ended hours after all of swing shift had gone home. It wasn’t until she started riding days with Officer Felder that she ran into Desiree Reilly, literally. After she and Felder ended their tour early one day, they returned to the station. She pushed open the door to the police entrance only to find six feet of scowling electricity staring down upon her. Jaylynn came to an abrupt halt, stock still and tongue-tied.

“You’re in an awful hurry,” the tall woman said. Her police cap was tucked under one arm, and she had a paper sack in one hand and a quart bottle of water in the other.

Felder pushed the door open further and squeezed past the two of them. He said, “Afternoon, Reilly.”

She gave him a glance. “This rookie giving you any trouble, Felder?”

He stopped and smiled, running his thick hand through short brown hair. “Nope. She’s picking it all up nicely.” He turned and moved away. “See ya tomorrow, Savage.”

“Bye, Felder,” she managed to squeak out, but he probably didn’t hear her. She turned her attention back to the piercing blue eyes inspecting her face.

The big cop said, “Guess I’ll be seeing you week after next.”

“Oh?” Jaylynn said, a surprised look furrowing her brow.

“Yeah. You drew the short straw and got me for Tour III observation and then for field training. Didn’t the lieutenant tell you?”

“No, I think we’re getting information on a need to know basis. Are you sure?”

“Yup.” The cop slid a foot forward, and Jaylynn became aware of the fact that she was blocking the door. She stepped aside to let Dez Reilly pass.

“Hope you have a good night,” said the blond.

“Yeah. You too.”

Jaylynn watched as the long-legged woman ambled out toward the parking lot of police cruisers, reached a vehicle, and disappeared into it. The rookie let the door swing shut and restrained herself from running down the hall, screaming maniacally, but she did allow herself a happy grin as she went to sign off shift. Only a few more days with Felder, and then she’d do the two weeks of Tour III observation in the company of Desiree Reilly. And if she heard the policewoman right, she was planning on being Jaylynn’s FTO too. The blond could hardly wait to get home and tell Sara.

*****

The first thing Jaylynn noticed once she got in the passenger seat of the squad car was that Officer Reilly wore silver reflective sunglasses until the sun was down and it was so dim that the streetlamps clicked on. Only then, almost as an afterthought, did the dark haired cop slip the glasses off and tuck them into her shirt pocket. Out of the corner of her eye, Jaylynn noticed how the veteran’s eyes constantly scanned the area, intently examining every passing person, every car, every movement.

Jaylynn watched the early evening gradually shade from gray to darkness. The night life emerged like moles creeping out of deep holes. There were a lot of people out in the cool, crisp air. At present there was no snow on the ground, and though it was only 28 degrees out, there was no wind. With just a warm jacket, anyone out on the street would be comfortable tonight.

Jaylynn racked her brain for something to say to the taciturn woman beside her, but her earlier attempts at conversation had met a brick wall. The quiet FTO didn’t offer comments, and she answered any questions in the sparest of language. They’d been in the car for over two hours, getting out only three times so far to check on an underage smoking call and two reports of possible domestic disputes, both of which turned out to be unfounded.

Despite the calm demeanor, Jaylynn thought Reilly was like a tightly coiled spring, with waves of tension radiating from her. She was silent, though it was anything but silent in the car. In addition to the regular dispatch noise on the radio, the car’s AM/FM radio quietly played a top 40 station. Then the cell phone rang and Reilly picked it up and listened, her eyes narrowed, punctuating periods of silence with terse statements: “Yes, sir.” “Mmhmm.” “Okay, thanks.”

When she hung up she said, “Savage, our meal break isn’t until nine. Can you last that long?”

“Sure,” said Jaylynn. “I brought a couple snacks here.” She pointed to her fanny sack.

“Me too,” said the big cop, gesturing to the paper sack she’d set on the seat between them.

Dispatch came over the radio, and Reilly picked it up to respond. Jaylynn frowned. How had Reilly known to answer that call? She was too embarrassed to ask. Already she had relegated the two radios to background noise, but she could see that she shouldn’t do that—at least not the dispatch radio anyway. She needed to listen to it all the time, but how did she do that while conversing—if you could call what they’d just had a conversation. She also did not know what dispatch had been asking their unit, but it didn’t cause the dark haired woman to speed off to any call. They continued to drive down University Avenue, occasionally taking a side street and then coming back to the busy thoroughfare.

Jaylynn ventured forth a question, “How long have you been on the force?”

“Eight and a half years,” came the low response.

“And you like the job?”

“Yeah.”

The quiet officer turned off University down Thomas, slowing when she saw a glut of cars parked and double parked in front of a ramshackle house scattering streams of light from all windows. Small knots of people stood on the front porch and on the lawn, tiny points of orange light giving evidence to all the cigarettes being smoked. Other party-goers wended their way through gathering and up the stairs to enter the house. Reilly wheeled the car past, rolled down her window, and meandered on around the block casually. She approached the house again and parked across the street. From the passenger seat Jaylynn could hear the pounding of the bass. Looked like a really good party going on—probably a bunch of Hamline University students.

Reilly said, “Just follow me in and don’t say anything.” She got out of the car and Jaylynn hastened to open her door and get out too. She put her hands in her pants pockets and cut across the street, literally following the long strides of the big cop. Every step brought them closer to the shrieking, pounding sound of Metallica. The crowd quieted and parted when they caught sight of them, and three men in the front yard began to back off and sidle away. By the time the two women hit the top of the stairs, most of the occupants of the porch and yard had miraculously disappeared, leaving three women and a man who came up the stairs behind the officer and the cadet.

Before Reilly could ring the bell, one of the three women, a perilously thin person really no more than a girl, shouted over the musical din, “Can I help you officer?”

“Yeah, you can either turn the noise down or break up this party. Are you the owner of the house?”

She nodded. “I rent this place, yes.” The woman dropped her lit cigarette on the cement stair of the porch and ground it out with her foot. She pulled at the screen door to the house and stepped in, holding it open so that her companions and Reilly and Savage could enter. Letting loose of the door, she moved over to the stereo system and turned the music off.

The woman smiled brightly and said, “Would you like something to drink, officer?” She raised her eyebrows and leaned toward the kitchen. Meanwhile, behind them, Jaylynn heard the screen door open and close, open and close, as some of the party-goers quietly departed. Still, dozens of young men and women remained in the kitchen, on the staircase, and on the couch and chairs.

The dark haired cop narrowed her gaze and gave her a withering look. “No thank you, ma’am.” She raised her voice and said, “This is your one and only warning, people. If I get one call from dispatch, I’ll be checking IDs and arresting you.” She narrowed her eyes and looked at the owner. “You, Miss, you get the violation tag, the fine, and the report to the college that you disturbed the peace.” She paused a moment and breathed in, her eyes covering every square inch of the room. “And that better not be anything more than cigarettes burning in here. Got it?”

The thin woman nodded solemnly.

“We’re outta here then.” The big cop turned and ushered the cadet toward the door. Jaylynn grabbed the cool metal of the screen doorknob and turned it, bursting out into the crisp air. She bounded down the stairs and over to the car. When they got in, she was surprised when Reilly turned to her and said, “We’ll be back before the evening’s through. Just wait and see.”

“Why do you say that?”

The car roared to a start and Reilly pulled away from the curb. In a thoughtful voice she said, “Because she’s not the only occupant of the house. I don’t think she can control all those people. If it’s that loud this early—it’s only gonna get louder. Plus there’s too many kids coming and going. So she’s gonna end up getting tagged.”

It was the most information Jaylynn had gotten out of the woman all night, and she jumped on the information.

“So how many calls like this do you generally get?”

“Anywhere from two to twenty, depends on the time of year.”

“Because of the weather?”

“Nah . . . more the status of the students. Weekends, holidays, certain school events. There’s a lot of colleges around here.” She steered the car back onto University Avenue. “Hamline kids aren’t so bad. Saint Kate’s girls are pretty rowdy, but the worst by are the kids all around St. Thomas. Bunch of rotten troublemakers. Got plenty of money for drugs and alcohol, not to mention super sonic stereos, and a lot of them think they own the world.”

She followed a dented gray Chevy Nova that pulled into an Amoco convenience store/gas station. The Nova parked on the side of the store in the regular parking spaces, while Reilly parked at one of the four gas pumps.

“We need gas?” said Jaylynn.

“Nope. Get out.”

The occupants of the gray Nova hadn’t noticed the police car. They opened their car doors and staggered into the store. The veteran and the cadet strolled behind. Reilly moved up behind the young man and woman as they stood in front of the soda pop case. The man wore jeans, tennis shoes, and a red and brown plaid shirt under a jean jacket. The woman was dressed just the same, except her plaid shirt was green and blue. Both of them were close to Jaylynn’s height. The young woman reached into the refrigerator case and pulled out a liter-sized Mountain Dew, and the pair turned and halted, looking up at Dez with fear on their faces.

“Good evening, folks,” the tall officer said.

They mumbled greetings.

“You two been out partying?”

Jaylynn watched the thin man suddenly begin to quiver as he tried to shake his head no. She could see both kids’ eyes were vacant and glassy.

The big cop said, “You got any ID?”

The girl pulled a driver’s license out of her back pocket, but the boy shook his head.

“You better not be driving,” Dez said to him.

“No sir, I mean no ma’am,” he said.

In a low menacing voice, Dez said, “You better not be jerking me around.”

“No!” he said, a note of desperation in his voice. “Honest. I’m not.”

“What’s your name.”

“Arnie Jensen.”

“You go to school around here Mr. Jensen?”

He nodded. “St. Thomas.”

“And you don’t even have any school ID?” She handed the license back to the girl.

“Not on me officer.” His speech was slow, but he was trying hard not to slur. He swallowed and took a gulp of air. The girl tucked her license back into her pocket and stood sullenly holding the cold bottle of Mountain Dew.

Dez said to the boy, “Hmpf….I’ll bet you’re not 21.”

The boy did not respond.

“Where do your parents live?”

“Duluth.”

“You play any sports?”

“Hockey.”

“How would you like me to call up your parents and tell them that their son is stoned out of his mind and should be taken home? How would you like me to contact your coach and let him know about this little incident?”

The boy’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head. “I wouldn’t like that at all. Please, please don’t do that.”

Jaylynn marveled that the boy was still on his feet since his legs seemed to be shaking so badly. The contrast of his black hair against pale skin made him look unnaturally pallid. She looked up at the tall woman beside her and realized the cop was enjoying the confrontation. Her eyes sparkled and she seemed to be working very hard to maintain a stony face. She turned to the girl and said, “I would suggest you leave that car of yours right out there and either walk home or call for a ride. If I see you drive that car out of this lot, you’re goin’ downtown for a fun night in jail.”

Now the girl’s eyes nearly bugged out. She set the liter of Mountain Dew down on a stacked display of Valvoline motor oil. “Can we go?” she said.

The dark haired woman inclined her head slowly, nodding while she fixed a mean stare on the two. As if a starter’s gun had gone off, both plaid shirted kids bolted for the door, the boy looking back only once. Jaylynn saw them walk around the side of the building to the Nova. The girl reached in for something, then locked up, and without a backward glance, they took off down the street.

Dez picked up the sweating bottle of pop and returned it to the cold case. “I’ll be back in a second,” she said, and she disappeared around the corner to the rest room.

Jaylynn watched the boy and girl as they ambled away from the gas station. The girl’s gait was steady, but the boy lurched along. The second time he stumbled, the girl took his arm and leaned into him. They turned the corner and that was the last she saw of them. She hadn’t been one to get wasted in high school or college. She’d been a “good kid” and hadn’t gotten in much trouble—at least not trouble anyone had ever caught her at. She smiled thinking about all the small parties she’d been at where everyone had mostly sat around drinking beer or wine and playing Trivial Pursuit. She’d always enjoyed staying sober enough to converse—not to mention being lucid enough to laugh about intelligently funny things. She’d never liked hangovers anyway, and from what she could see, both those kids were going to feel rotten in the morning.

Dez reappeared next to her, startling her from her thoughts. The tall cop flashed a glance toward Jaylynn. “You want a pop or something?”

“Sure.” Jaylynn stepped to the cold case and pulled a glass door open. She snagged a Pepsi, then watched as Dez picked out a quart bottle of Chippewa Spring Water.

When they got to the counter, the big cop waved her away and pulled out her own wallet. “I’ll get this,” she said. “You can get the next round.”

In a pleasant voice the counter clerk, a grey-haired man with a significant five o’clock shadow, said, “You running my business outta here again, Reilly?”

“Yeah, can’t be helped. Buncha drunk college students. They’ll be back to get that car.” She pointed to the gray heap out the side window. “You’ll get some business from them then.”

He said, “Why don’t you go ahead and take that on-the-house?”

“Thanks, Mr. Fisher, but this is your livelihood.” She offered him some bills. He rang up the purchase, took two pennies out of the penny dish by the register, and handed her even change.

“Thanks for keeping an eye on this place,” he said.

“No problem. See ya later.” She twisted the cap off the bottle as she turned towards the door, her long legs eating up the distance in four steps. Jaylynn scooped up her Pepsi and strode quickly behind her. They got back in the car, and the rookie took a swig of her pop.

“No matter what,” said Dez, “pay for everything wherever you go. Some guys take stuff on-the-house. Don’t do it, Savage. It’s too short a step to being on the take.”

Jaylynn nodded. “Okay,” she said. “By the way, would you mind calling me Jaylynn—or just Jay, if you want. I’m still not used to everyone calling me Savage.” She giggled and said, “Makes me sound like a brute.”

“Okay,” said Dez. “Eat if you want now. We may not get much chance later.” She opened her paper sack and drew out an item wrapped in wax paper. Jaylynn unzipped her fanny pack and pulled out a package of Hostess chocolate cupcakes. She started picking at the cellophane as Dez’s wax paper opened to reveal a sandwich, thick with turkey or chicken. The dark haired cop saw her peering at the sandwich in the dark. “Want half?” she said.

“Oh no, that’s okay,” said Jaylynn. “I’ll just eat this.”

“A cupcake won’t stay with you long, Savage—I mean, Jaylynn. Here, have half. I’ve got three more in the bag.”

The rookie accepted the sandwich and said, “You brought four sandwiches?”

“I usually do.” She took a big bite and while chewing said, “I don’t always eat the bread, but I need the protein.”

Jaylynn nodded as though she understood completely, though she had no idea why Dez would need four sandwiches. She took a bite and found the turkey to be cool and moist, even if it was all too dry for her taste. “What’s on this?”

“Turkey. Nutty oat bread.”

“That’s it?”

“Yeah. You don’t like it?”

“No, no, it’s good,” she hastened to say. “The turkey is nice and tender.”

“I try to spice up the meat because I don’t put on mayo or anything like that.”

“I see,” said Jaylynn. “Want one of these cupcakes?”

“Sorry. Never eat sugars after six. But thanks.” She popped the last of the sandwich in her mouth and swiped her hands on her pants legs, then started the car. “Okay, let’s get back at it.” She pulled out of the parking lot and swung onto the dark street. “I think we should take a look at that little party over by Hamline again.” With gusto she said, “Won’t be long before we get to arrest a few people. That ought to liven up your night.”

From that moment on, Jaylynn noted that Dez’s demeanor toward her changed. All of a sudden, for no apparent reason, the dark haired cop began to talk—rather, she gave information, and lots of it. She explained what she was doing and why. She gave advice. She quizzed the rookie about procedures and laws. In short, she made the nights of observation fly by, and every day when midnight approached, Jaylynn was sorry to have to knock off and go home. By the time the ride-along observations were over, she was enthusiastic about getting into her regulation uniform and assuming her duties.

*****

The dark haired cop sat at a desk in the Reports Room putting the finishing touches on FTO reports for Oster, Mahoney, and Savage. They had performed adequately—or better—during their initial rotations with her, and she was recommending to Lt. Malcolm that all three be advanced to official rookie status after the first of the year. She slid open the metal drawer on the rickety desk and pulled out a stapler to tack the pages of each report. Rising, she scooped up her bottle of spring water and the reports and headed off down the hall to turn them in.

The watch commander’s office was next to Lt. Malcolm’s and as she passed it by, she saw it was decorated with red and white Santa mosaics, pictures of misshapen Christmas trees, and yards of red and green chains made of construction paper. Every year, Commander Parr’s five kids trimmed the office he shared with the other commanders, and every year Dez was amazed at the sheer volume of bad art.

The duty sergeant looked up from his report and greeted her. Belton, a slim black man in his 50’s, had always gotten along well with her. She gave him the stack of reports. He said, “Hi, Reilly. You working Christmas Eve?”

“Yeah. I took Christmas Day off, but I’ll be here tomorrow. And New Year’s Eve and Day too.”

He shook his head. “Glutton for punishment, huh?”

She shrugged. “What the hey. I’ll use the double time money for something special—maybe get myself a facial or something.”

He frowned and looked up only to see the twinkle in her eyes. He stifled a grin and said, “Try the pedicure. My wife swears by it.”

She nodded solemnly. “Pass these on to the Lieutenant for me, okay?”

“Will do. And Reilly?”

She paused. “Yeah?”

“Merry Christmas.

“You too Sarge. Hope you have a nice holiday.”

She turned away, catching a whiff of evergreen smell that reminded her of Christmas trees and reindeer. She headed off down the hall to the back entrance to get some fresh air, realizing she had grown to dislike Christmas. She paced outside in the late afternoon light, her hands behind her back. Don’t wanna be a grinch though, she thought. She didn’t hate the holidays, but she was grateful when they passed. The only thing that made Christmas bearable was Luella. Her landlady always had her clan of family and friends over starting Christmas Eve, and the celebration extended for several days after, with people coming and going, bringing presents, sharing holiday food. Dez lived upstairs in a small apartment at Luella Williams’ house, so she could get away when she needed a break or she could choose to hang around the pack of laughing, jovial people who showed up for the cheer and good food.

Other than Luella’s shindig, Dez attended no festivities. Her father was dead, she didn’t speak to her mother, and she had no idea how to contact her younger brother. Family had not been in her picture for a number of years, and she liked it just fine that way.

An old red Toyota rolled into the parking lot and stopped a dozen feet away, the occupants unaware of her leaning against the side of the building. She watched as Jaylynn and the red-haired man from last summer turned toward one another. Jaylynn leaned over and gave the man a brief kiss, then launched herself out the passenger door and hustled through the chilly air and into the back entrance.

Dez shivered. The red-haired man backed up the clunking car and made his way out of the parking lot, unaware that the big cop was staring daggers at him. She exhaled a big breath of air and watched as it clouded like smoke in front of her face. Full of tension, she stomped over to the door and went in, making her way downstairs to the roll call room.

The big cop sat on a metal folding chair near the back of the silent briefing room and took a long pull from her water bottle. Checking her watch she noted it was 19 minutes until roll call. She set the water bottle on the floor and closed her eyes. Starting with her feet, she began to systematically tighten and release her muscles until she sat motionless and relaxed. A tiny squeak caused her eyelids to snap open, and she saw Jaylynn standing uncertainly in the doorway.

The younger woman said, “Sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“You’re not interrupting,” came the low drawl. The big cop straightened up in her chair and stretched neck muscles that still felt tight.

Jaylynn strode into the room and sat in the chair next to Dez. “So you have big plans for tomorrow?”

“The usual.”

The rookie suppressed a grin with difficulty. Getting any personal information out of the dark haired cop was next to impossible. She’d already learned that prying didn’t work; the tall cop just retreated further underground. So far, the only tactic that yielded results was to overflow Dez with her own personal details and then occasionally the tall woman volunteered something.

Jaylynn said, “I guess I’ll have quite the phone bill this year. I’m staying in town, so I’ll have to call my family. Lucky I can go to Sara’s folks’, and of course Tim has the house decorated to the nines.” She paused, giving the big woman opportunity to speak. Out of the corner of her eye she watched Dez take a swig of her water. It occurred to her that the dark haired cop used those bottles of water like some people used cigarettes—as a distraction. Dez didn’t appear to be listening at all, so when the dark head swung toward her and penetrating blue eyes bored into her, she was taken aback.

Dez said, “Where does your family live?”

“Seattle.”

The tall cop nodded slowly. “Why don’t you fly out for Christmas?”

“There isn’t really enough time.”

“You could have taken some extra days. The sergeant would have worked it out.”

Jaylynn smiled warmly. “I wanted to stay. I didn’t want to miss any training. Besides, they’ll all be here over spring vacation in a few months, so I’m looking forward to that.”

Dez took another drink from the bottle. “You’re off tomorrow though, right?”

“Yeah, I think we’re planning on eating about six different meals at various places. I’ll be a couch potato by shift time, so I didn’t want to have to work.”

Just then Oster shot into the room. “Hey guys!” he said. “How you two doing?” He clapped a meaty hand on the rookie’s shoulder and sat next to her, two chairs away from Dez.

Dez tossed him a glance and nodded. Jaylynn said, “Things are going okay. What are you doing for the holiday?”

Oster crossed his arms across his chest and with a smug self-satisfied look said, “I’m givin’ my girlfriend the biggest diamond rock I could afford and hoping she will say yes.”

Dez watched as Jaylynn gasped and socked the smiling man in the arm. Then the rookie threw an arm around him and gave him a hug. “I am so happy for you, Mitch! I just know she’ll say yes. Who could resist you?” She sat back in her chair, eyes shining, and then gave the blushing man another punch in the upper arm. “Where you going on your honeymoon?”

“That’s totally up to her,” he said. “If she’ll marry me, we’ll go anywhere she wants. I think she’ll pick Hawaii though.”

Dez said, in a low tone, “Hope you’re packing away a ton of dough, Oster. Hawaii ain’t cheap.”

Oster leaned forward in his chair. “Ever heard of charge cards, Reilly?” He grinned as he sat back. “Jay, I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy in my life. I’ve got this great job that I really like, and I think I’m gonna marry Donna.” He did a little chair dance but stopped when a clatter of footsteps came down the stairs and some of the other officers filed into the room followed shortly by the duty sergeant.

Dez casually turned her attention to Oster, staring at him over Jaylynn and out of the corner of her eye. She frowned. For some reason Oster’s happy news had rankled her. She wanted to smack him. She turned away and focused on the sergeant’s updates.

Dez’s sour mood persisted through the shift, which was eventful, though routine. She and Jaylynn broke up the same kind of bar fights, arrested battling spouses for the same kind of domestic disputes, and answered the same kind of noise complaints as any other night. The only difference was the proliferation of seasonal red and gold and green splattered all over every home and business. By the time midnight rolled around she decided she did indeed feel like a grinch.

When they returned to the station, Jaylynn headed straight downstairs after signing out. Dez took a detour to the property room and dropped off a watch they had found on the street. Sooner or later perhaps someone would come looking for it. She threw her empty plastic water bottle in the trash in the hall and headed down the stairs, meeting Jaylynn coming up. The younger woman carried a gym bag and had changed into tennis shoes, blue sweatbottoms and a big bulky coat.

“Have a good day tomorrow,” said the blond in a tired voice.

“You too. See you Saturday,” Dez said glumly. She squeezed past the rookie and made her way into the locker room, unbuttoning her shirt as she drew near the locker. In front of her bright blue metal storage locker sat a small square package, wrapped in red, blue, and green striped paper and adorned with a golden bow no bigger than a walnut. She bent over and picked it up, hefting the lightweight present and recognizing immediately that it was a CD. She pulled a tiny card off the front, ripped open the envelope, and read it: Merry Christmas, Dez. Thanks for all your help during my training. I can never thank you enough. Love, Jaylynn.

She tore away the wrapping paper and uncovered a disc by someone she had never heard of: Lisa Stansfield. Crunching up the cellophane and gift wrap, she walked over to the garbage and tossed them in. She felt bad. This was a kind gesture from the rookie, and she knew she had been such a grump all night that Jaylynn couldn’t have enjoyed the evening. Oh well. It wasn’t her job to entertain the new recruits.

She changed clothes and gathered up her things and trudged upstairs to the lieutenant’s office. The duty sergeant was away from his desk, so she tapped on the frame of the open door, and Lt. Malcolm looked up, startled. “Hey, Reilly. You have an okay shift?”

“Yes, sir. Went fine.” She gestured at the compact disk in her hand. “My assignee, Savage, left me a Christmas present. I understand from the rules that FTOs aren’t supposed to . . .”

Waving his hand through the air, he cut her off. “Yeah, yeah, she mentioned it to me, and I gave her the okay.” He smiled at her. “Will a ten buck item cause you to give her a good recommendation if she doesn’t deserve it?”

“No.”

“That’s exactly what I figured. So don’t worry about it.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Have a good Christmas, okay? I’m off the next few days, so be good.” He smiled at her.

“No problem. Merry Christmas to you, too, sir.” She turned and hiked down the long highway and out into the icy air to her truck. It was snowing again, small frozen clumps, and the recently plowed streets were already covered over. She started the engine, then popped in the CD as she wheeled out of the lot. A funky bass and percussion beat began, and she listened to the smooth jazzy voice: I searched, I found and I lost love, now I’ve started all over, now not a day goes by when I’m not sure you’re the one, cuz you give me something, baby it’s a feeling I just can’t contain . . . She frowned. Happy music. Everybody’s so goddamn happy. She accelerated down Dale Street, her eyes taking in every movement, every light. I wake and feel you by my side and your touch is so tender, I’m so at home in your caress, in your arms . . .

She reached over and ejected the CD, one-handedly tucking it back in the case. The singer seemed to have a terrific voice, but she couldn’t take any more sappy happy stuff. Completing the rest of the drive home in silence, she parked in the garage out back and plodded up to the house which was alight, golden streamers of illumination causing the stucco house to look a little like a Christmas ornament. Dez didn’t notice. She plodded through the swiftly accumulating snow, climbed the back stairs, and with a weary sigh crept up to her apartment.

*****

Right on time, Tim was waiting for Jaylynn behind the police station. She tossed her gym bag in the back seat and climbed in front.

“How was your night?” said Tim.

“Not bad, not good, not really anything. Yours?”

He gave her a wide smile and peeled out of the lot. “The chef gave me a bottle of Cabernet and the boss slipped me a card with a hundred bucks in it.”

“Tim! That’s great.”

“And we have a new maitre de who started last week. Kevin. I just met him, and oh my, Jay, he is so sweet. Whoo-wee!”

She rolled her eyes. “Do tell.”

“Blond. Slender. Beautiful blue eyes. About 25. He looks fantastic in the tux. My heart skips beats just thinking about him.”

“Is he available? Hell, is he gay?”

“Oh yeah. He for sure registers on my gaydar. I invited him to come share the Cabernet with me, and he accepted! He hasn’t got any family here in the Twin Cities, so I hope you and Sara don’t mind if he comes along. Hey!” He reached over and turned up the radio. “Have you heard this new song? It’s just fabulous. Listen.”

A nice driving bass beat started and then a sultry female voice. She looks like she don’t care, smooth as silk, cool as air, ooh it makes you wanna cry. She doesn’t know your name, and your heart beats like a subway train, ooh it makes you wanna die . . .

Jaylynn couldn’t help but smile a bitter little smile. Sounded exactly like Dez. “Who is this?”

Tim said, “I couldn’t believe it—Blondie! Remember them from back in about grade school? I saw her—Deborah Harry—in a movie a while back and she’s older than my mom! But man, what a voice.”

Jaylynn agreed. Fool for love and full of fire, won’t come in from the rain, she’s oceans running down the drain, blue as ice and desire . . . I think I’ll be buying that CD, she thought. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat as they pulled up to the house. I wonder if Dez will like Lisa Stansfield? She was one of Jaylynn’s favorite musicians. She liked how the woman could go from jazzy tones to upbeat funk to solid love ballads. All three of her CDs were just so sexy and full of emotion. She couldn’t help but feel happy listening to even the saddest of the songs.

They got out of the car and she grinned as Tim nearly danced up the snow strewn walk to the back door. It was hard to feel sad or out-of-sorts around him. He had a way of cheering a person up without even knowing he was doing it. She decided there was no use mourning about things she had no control over. Smiling as she felt the cool snowflakes on her face, she took his arm, and they high stepped into the house.

*****

In the middle of the week following Christmas, Jaylynn had her final classroom meeting with Sergeant Slade and her fellow rookies. The tests were over, the rigorous physical regimen was complete, and all 13 recruits were scheduled to move on to the next phase of training.

Slade said, “You’re all done with the ‘grin and wave’ part of this training. Now you get down to the real thing. For the next six weeks you’ll all work closely with your FTOs, and you’ll be expected to perform with exemplary skill. Think about what you’re doing. Use your best judgment. Talk to each other and share information. And please feel free to call me or come by the western precinct any time. I have an investment in your successes.”

After class each recruit shook Slade’s hand and filed out, everyone talking and animated as they departed. Jaylynn hung back and waited for the others to leave. She shook Slade’s hand. “You’ve been an excellent teacher,” she said. “I’ve really appreciated what you’ve done for all of us.”

“Savage,” he said, “I know for a fact that you’re going to be a very good cop. You’ve got a lot of talent.”

“Thank you sir. But could I ask you a question?”
“Sure! Any time. My door is always going to be open for you. I hope to hear great things from you in years to come.” He looked closely at her face. “Hmm, what is it?”

She wasn’t sure how to put it, so the words just tumbled out. “I’m working with an FTO who’s like, perfect, sir. She can handle anything. She walks in a room and just by looking at people she can control the situation. She intimidates the hell out of anyone moving. I walk in the room and people don’t even notice. How am I going to be a good cop when I don’t have that kind of presence at all?”

He pursed his lips and squinted at her, then nodded. “Your FTO is Desiree Reilly, right?”

“Yes.”

“You’re right. She’s imposing. She’s a lot bigger than you. She’s gotta be what?—six, eight inches taller?”

Jaylynn nodded.

“Bad news, Savage. I don’t think you’re gonna grow any taller.” He grinned at her as she gave him a rueful look. “Seriously,” he said, “you’re never going to work a room like she does. You’re not the strong arm type, and you look far too sweet to be able to threaten and compel the way she can.”

Jaylynn let out a sigh of defeat and sat down in one of the desks. “That’s what I mean, sir. What am I going to do?”

Slade swung a leg over the desk chair in front of Jaylynn and settled down backwards, his arms resting on the chair back. “You obviously don’t realize that you have something Reilly will never have.”

Startled, she looked at him, her hazel green eyes intent. “Sir?”

“Use your own talents, Savage. You have a whole different set of skills, and they’re just as effective as Reilly’s tactics.”

Jaylynn was confused. How could she be as physically imposing, as daunting as her FTO without those same skills?

His brown eyes looked at her sympathetically as he reached a hand over and tapped her forehead twice with his forefinger. “Use this.”

“But Sarge, she’s also very smart. She’s got it all.”

At that, a hearty chuckle burst out of Slade. “Savage, it’s so apparent . . . hey, you’re totally overlooking the obvious. You’ve got a god given gift of quick wits and fast talk. Use your head. Use your mouth. You’ll never bully your way out of bad situations. You’re gonna talk your way out. And believe me, that’s every bit as effective. You go out on patrol now, and instead of thinking about all the ways you don’t measure up to Reilly—or anyone else for that matter—think about how you can use your own particular style. Be loud. Be flashy. Be yourself. Will you do that for me?”

Jaylynn sat feeling a little bit stunned. She felt like a dummy, but at the same time, a bubble of gleefulness rose inside her because what Slade was saying felt exactly right. All her life, what she lacked in stature she had always had to make up for in cleverness or perseverance or sheer dint of will. Why would this job be any different?

She rose from the desk smiling. “Thanks Sarge. You’ve given me a lot to think about.” She reached for his wiry hand, and when he stood up, she gave him a little half-hug too. “I’ll check in with you every so often.”

“You make sure to do that, Savage.”

She picked up her bag and with a smile headed out the door feeling lighter than she had for days. She didn’t look back, so she missed the shake of her instructor’s head and the bemused look of respect he cast her way before he gathered up his own things and got ready to leave.

*****

New Year’s Eve was always a hopping night, and here it was, the end of 1998. Dez figured it would be busy what with everyone on earth wanting to party til it’s 1999. She had reluctantly offered to let the blond drive, and to her dismay, the rookie had agreed with excitement. The big cop hated riding along, but she also knew Jaylynn needed experience behind the wheel, so she sat in the passenger’s seat, arms crossed, feeling exceedingly crabby.

The first six hours of their shift had been spent dealing, mostly, with drunks. Drunks on the street, drunks in bars, and drunken brawlers beating on their wives in their own homes. When Dispatch put out the next call—another threatening drunk— Dez snapped a reply at the Dispatcher, her temper frayed at the edges from the repetitiveness of the situation.

When they arrived in front of the Castlewalk Bar on University, another unit was already there. Neilsen, the rookie from Jaylynn’s class, was just getting out of the car with his FTO, Alvarez, with whom the rookie had ridden her second observational rotation. Two men stood blocking the doorway to the bar, but both appeared skittish. Another man, a scrawny mope in his late 60’s, stood several feet away from the bar door screaming to be let back in. His tan jacket was tattered, and his jeans, greasy with age, drooped on his hips. Dez exploded from the cruiser as Alvarez and Neilsen approached, and the three closed in on the screaming man.

Jaylynn got out of the car, shivering in the cold breeze. She was glad the streets were cleared of snow and ice. Even after five years, she still didn’t like to drive on ice. As she came around the nose of the car and stepped up on the sidewalk, Alvarez said, “Hey there, sir. Can we help you?”

The drunk wheeled around, saw the three huge officers, and fumbled in his jacket. All three cops pulled weapons, but not before the staggering man revealed a gleaming Bowie knife. He began to wave it out in front of himself as he teetered and lurched. “Get the hell ‘way from me. I had ‘nough of p’lice brut—brut—you know . . .” He took another step and shook his head from side to side as though he were dizzy.

All three officers trained their guns on the swaying man. They looked up started when Jaylynn shouted, “Wait! Stop! Yoo hoo. Hey Mister!”

This distracted him. He wheeled her way and squinted. Now the four officers formed a box around the drunk. She could see he was inebriated beyond the point of fully understanding what was happening. She opened her hands and held them up, palms out. “Sir. No need to be afraid of me. I won’t hurt you.”

“A little girl cop?” he said. He brandished his knife her way, his back to the other officers.

Jaylynn looked over his shoulder at the ice cold chips of blue and gave the dark haired cop the slightest toss of her head.

“Mister, I may look little, but I’m the boss of those three right now. Look at them.” He cast a nervous glance over his shoulder. “Officers, back up,” she said. “Give this man some room.”

The three officers took two steps back, though Neilsen had to be waved back by Alvarez.

“See,” she said. “They’ll follow my orders. Now listen. Nobody’s gonna hurt you, but you gotta give me the knife. Then how ‘bout you and I go get a nice nightcap?”

“Say,” the wobbling man said. “You’re kinda cute.”

“Thank you.” She gazed across the sidewalk and smiled at Dez who didn’t seem to be seeing any humor in the situation. Turning her attention back to the man, she said, “What’s your name?”

“Denny.”

“I’m Jaylynn. Glad to meet you Denny.” She stepped close enough to see tendrils of steam coming out of the man’s mouth and wafting around the steel glint of the knife. Her three coworkers tensed and stepped forward. She gave them a stern look. “Well?” she said. “Is that any way to treat a lady, Denny—waving a knife at me? Is that your style with the girls you date?”

“Oh no, I c’n be a gentleman,” he slurred. “I’ll put it away.”

“I’d like to get a better look at your knife,” she said suggestively.

“You would, huh,” he mumbled, leering at her. “Here.” He turned it in his hand so that the handle faced her, and she moved one step closer to accept it from him. Before she could pull it away, her colleagues had him. Neilsen cuffed him and shoved the old coot, screaming, over to his vehicle. Jaylynn handed the knife to Alvarez.

“Nice work, Savage,” he said. “It’s good to see you doing well.” He turned and walked toward his car. “See you later when the next drunk call comes in.”

Jaylynn stood near the car, feeling elation flood through her body. Slade was right. Maybe she couldn’t bully her way through a situation, but she could bluff and use bravado with the best of them. She hadn’t felt anger or uncertainty, and she hadn’t been a bit afraid just now. She had reacted, and it felt so natural that every atom in her body was alert and singing throughout the entire altercation. She felt wonderful.

And then Dez grabbed her sleeve and strong armed her over to their car. The tall cop opened the passenger side, gesturing for Jaylynn to get in.

“Hey!” said the rookie. “I’m driving.”

In a low voice, the big cop said, “Not anymore you’re not. Gimme the keys.”

The blond pulled them from her pocket and handed them over, stepping into the car, brow furrowed and her heart pumping faster now than it had during the confrontation with the drunk.

Dez went around to the other side, and in a whirlwind of motion started the car, threw it into reverse, and squealed away from the curb. Once the car accelerated to the speed limit she said in a stiff voice, “What the hell did you think you were doing?”

Jaylynn turned in her seat and looked at the side of Dez’s face, pale in the moonlight. “Let me get this straight. I just subdued a drunk, and you’re mad about it?”

“No,” she said in tense but measured tones, “you just put yourself at risk.”

“Oh come on! The three of you would have shot that man to death if he’d made the tiniest move. I’ve never felt so safe in my life.”

“I’m the senior officer. You take orders from me. You don’t tell a crazy drunk you’re in charge unless you are.”

Jaylynn knew she should feel cowed and put in her place, but she didn’t. Instead, a streak of stubbornness rose up in her. “I was in charge. At that particular moment, I was in charge, and it was appropriate. We four worked as a team. I never lost sight of him or any of you, and I never compromised anybody’s position, much less my own. It was by the book.” She twisted in her seat to face forward and crossed her arms tightly over her chest.

The dark haired cop didn’t respond at first. When she did finally speak up, she said, “You’re in training, Savage. There’s still a lot you don’t know.”

“You’re the Field Training Officer, but respectfully, I beg to differ. How exactly do I get any training if all I do is hang back and watch you handle all the calls? How do I gain your trust if I never show you I’m trustworthy?” When she got no response to that, she fired her last parting shot. “Fine. Go ahead and put it in your report to the lieutenant, and I’ll deal with it with him.” She turned away and looked out the window.

The dark haired cop lapsed into silence which was broken only by yet another dispatch for—what else—a fight at a bar. At that call and the remaining few for the night, Jaylynn hung back and let Dez handle everything, taking direction as it came and following the instructions precisely.

When they returned to the station at the end of Tour III, she couldn’t wait to get out of her uniform and go home, but before she could sign out and hit the stairs, Lt. Malcolm came around the corner.

“Hey Savage,” he said. “I hear you did a nice job tonight with some drunken pirate.”

She glanced over her shoulder at the glowering form behind her. “How’d you hear that, sir?”

“Alvarez gave you high praise.” He clapped her on the back. “Good job to both of you,” he said, including Dez in his smile. “Keep up the good work.” He started on down the hall then tossed over his shoulder, “Happy New Year, ladies.”

“Happy New Year to you too, sir.” Jaylynn couldn’t help herself. She turned and gazed pointedly at her FTO, only to find the blue eyes gentle and thoughtful. She cleared her throat, but she couldn’t think of a thing to say, so she stepped past the big cop and headed for the stairs.

Dez took a moment to sign out, stopping to think in the hallway before descending slowly down the steps. She hated to admit it, but maybe the rookie had been right tonight. If Jaylynn were Ryan and the whole thing had gone down the same exact way, wouldn’t she have congratulated him for his quick thinking? Hmmm . . . so why was it any different with the rookie? One hand on the stair railing, she paused on the last step and thought back to the night’s scene. She closed her eyes and remembered the crisp breeze in her hair, sensed the eyes of the two men standing at the tavern door. Knees bent, heart beating madly, she sighted down her arm, over the barrel of her gun, keeping the laughing hazel green eyes in her line of vision.

Fear. She had been afraid. The man waved the shimmering knife, and he was going to use it on Jaylynn. Some badly dressed loser drunk, stinking of booze and out of his mind, threatened her partner. From somewhere, deep in the far recesses of her memory, a vision of fire and pain leapt out at her. Not again. I can’t lose her again.

Dez opened her eyes and shook her head vigorously. She decided she must be even more fatigued than usual. Taking the last step down, she walked toward the locker room. This must be about Ryan more than anything. I feel she is under my protection—sort of like I was under his protection and he was under mine. She reached for the locker room door only to have it pull open away from her.

“Uh—hi,” said Jaylynn. “Sorry.” She opened the door wider and stepped back to allow the bigger woman to pass. She had already changed into jeans and was wearing a huge dark blue down coat. She held a pair of brown mittens in one hand.

“Hey, can we talk?” said Dez.

Jaylynn shrugged and waited for the taller woman to pass. Then she let go of the door and followed her over to the lockers. Dez removed her gun belt and hung it in her locker, then straddled the bench and looked up at the blond. She fell into searching hazel green eyes and felt her stomach drop right out from under her. Looking away, she discovered she was glad to be sitting down because she didn’t understand why her legs suddenly felt shaky. A feeling of dÈjý vu struck her, and from out of nowhere a thought popped into her head: she’s the one.

The dark haired cop pinched her eyes shut and shivered, gooseflesh rising on her arms. For the briefest moment, she felt sick to her stomach, but it passed and she looked back up at the younger woman. Taking a deep breath, she cleared her throat and tried to focus on a spot right over the rookie’s left shoulder. In a low quiet voice she said, “Listen, Jaylynn. I was too hard on you tonight. I questioned your judgment, and I shouldn’t have. You caught me totally by surprise . . . I – I was wrong.”

Jaylynn had a hard time keeping her jaw from dropping open in amazement. The great Desiree Reilly was apologizing. The rookie was so stunned she blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “You pulled rank on me.”

Dez winced a little and looked away. She nodded her head twice then returned her gaze to the young woman standing above her. “You noticed that, huh.” It was a statement, not a question. She nodded once more. “I’m not saying I won’t do it again, but I’ll try not to unless it looks like an emergency, okay?”

“I think you should let me drive for the rest of the month.”

Dez found a giggle pushing its way up from her diaphragm, but she stifled it. Holding back a smile, she said, “How about just tomorrow night?”

“Oughta be for at least a month!”

“Don’t push your luck.” With a twinkle in her eye, Dez said, “How about for the rest of the week?”

In her best Seven of Nine voice, the rookie said, “That would be acceptable.” She turned to leave, but Dez’s voice stopped her.

“By the way, Jaylynn, thanks for the CD last week. That was nice of you.”

The blond was flustered for a moment before she realized what the big cop was referring to. “Oh, you’re welcome. Hope you liked it.”

“Yup.” The dark haired woman turned back to her locker to finish changing.

*****

New Year’s Day found the two cops fatigued and bored. In contrast to the previous night, all was quiet. There weren’t even any good parties to bust up. When a call came at nine p.m. reporting a suspected shoplifter at work in the Target store, Jaylynn floored it and zoomed up to Hamline. She pulled into the parking lot and parked the car near the front entrance. As she stepped out of the cruiser, she heard a shout.

Dez reacted exactly as Jaylynn did. They both focused on the man just outside the glass sliding door who was shouting, “Stop! Thief! It’s him.” He pointed. A slender Asian man cut across the parking lot and headed for the street.

Jaylynn slammed the door shut and was off like a shot. Legs and arms pumping, she felt the adrenaline surge and hurdled the pile of snow in the parking strip. Her feet came down solid in the street, and she zeroed in on the fleeing man who was heading around the back of a large office building across the street. To her right and slightly behind, she heard Dez’s breath. “I’m left,” the rookie shouted, and peeled off around the front of the building, while the dark haired cop was in hot pursuit around the back.

The blond poured on the speed and passed the front of the office building just as the man came around the side, followed by the tall cop. Seeing the rookie, he veered away and headed down a grassy embankment toward the freeway. Jaylynn scampered down behind him, skirting a pile of snow and feeling warmed up and ready to fly. Now she turned on the speed and narrowed the distance. She knew Dez was close behind, and trusted that if she herself fell trying to get the guy, then her partner would clean up after her.

The rookie grabbed the sleeve of the man’s jacket and stuck a leg in front of his shin as she passed him. He tripped and fell hard, rolling once onto his side. He was panting as she turned around and jogged back, and then Dez was cuffing him and pulling him up. The tall cop patted down the wheezing man and removed a Walkman, four unwrapped CDs, and a pack of batteries from his pockets. She handed the merchandise to Jaylynn and jerked the man’s arm. “Let’s go, buddy boy.”

Jaylynn fell into stride with Dez, noticing that her partner was much more out of breath than she. The big woman looked down at her and said, “You never mentioned you were a sprinter.”

“Oh. Yeah. Why?”

“That was a good run, Jay.”

“Why thank you.”

Dez shook her head and turned away, dragging the young man along.

That was the most excitement that cropped up for the evening. The rest of the shift dragged along as they cruised darkened streets and listened to the radio. Jaylynn wasn’t sorry when midnight rolled around. She was more than ready to go home and catch some sleep.

The rookie didn’t even bother to change clothes. In a hurry she tossed her patrol jacket and hat in the locker, grabbed up her down coat, and bid Dez goodnight, heading out to the parking lot to wait for Tim. She passed through the rear police entrance, followed by Dwayne Neilsen. “Hey Neilsen,” she said, then paid him no attention as she scanned the parking lot for the beat up Toyota. So she was startled when Neilsen took hold of her arm and forced her another ten steps and around the corner into a darker area by the side of the building.

Still clutching her arm he said, “I suppose you think you’re pretty cute after last night with that drunk.”

“What? Take your hands off me.”

He tightened his grip and raised his right hand to shake his finger in her face. “You bitch. If you think I’m gonna stand aside and let you make me look bad . . . ”

“I’m warning you,” she spat out, “let go of me or I’ll report this. I’ve put up with your shit long enough, and now I’m—”

“You’ll what?” he said, venom in his voice. “Ha. I’m bigger than you and—”

A white hand appeared from out of nowhere and removed the finger shaking in Jaylynn’s face. A deep low voice she recognized said, “And I’m as big as you, asshole. Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” The grip on Jaylynn’s arm loosened. Surprised, she watched as the snarling man whirled and tried to free his hand. He kicked out at the tall woman. She neatly sidestepped, then nailed him in the forehead with an elbow. He dropped to his knees, and she twisted the hand she held in a death grip until it was behind his back and she stood behind and over him.

Grabbing him under the chin with her free hand, she tilted his head up so that she could see into his face. “Can you hear me?” she said.

He closed his eyes. “Yes.”

“This is gonna be reported. That’s a done deal. How I report it is up to you.” She jerked his neck and jammed her knee into his upper back, still kinking his arm upward so hard that he grunted with pain.

“Savage,” she said. “Stand in front of him and say your piece.”

Jaylynn didn’t know exactly what the dark haired woman meant, but she moved around in front of Neilsen and looked down at his flushed face, the veins on his forehead standing out in the dim light. “You’ve been nothing but rude and cruel. And for no good reason,” the rookie said. “I put up with the teasing, but this has gone too far. You touch me again or make trouble for me, and I’ll make sure you get fired.”

He choked out, “What are you gonna do now?”

Dez abruptly let go of him, and he fell face forward. He caught himself on his hands and rose to his feet, a look of hatred on his face. He towered over Jaylynn, but he was only about two inches taller than Dez. The big cop got right up in his face and stared him down. “I’ll tell you what we’re doing now. We’re all going back into the station and you’re gonna tell the Lieutenant you lost your temper with Savage, and then you’ll apologize. It’s that, or I’m writing you up.”

“You hit me,” he said. “I think I’m the one who should . . .” A withering glance from the dark woman shut him up. He brushed off the knees of his pants and ran a hand through his short hair, but he followed them in and did what Dez demanded, though not with much conviction. Jaylynn thought Lt. Malcolm was pretty savvy though, so she wasn’t surprised when he asked Dez to stay behind as the two rookies filed out of the room.

On the way out the door, Jaylynn said, “Dez, before you leave, may I have a word with you?”

The tall cop nodded. “I’ll look for ya in a few minutes.”

Jaylynn headed downstairs to the locker room, several strides behind a very angry Neilsen. She figured she had a couple of minutes, so she stripped out of her uniform and tossed the blue shirt and pants in the department laundry. Pulling on jeans, a t-shirt, and a sweater, she thought about what had happened. One thing she knew for sure, she’d never want to be the object of the tall woman’s ire. She was one ferocious fighter when she got mad.

The rookie didn’t turn around right away when she heard the locker room door open, but when she did, she found her protector standing cross-armed and lounging against a locker in a posture of arrogant confidence. Her black hair glinted under the fluorescent lights and her eyes shone bright blue.

Jaylynn smiled at her and said, “I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but I was handling things just fine out there.”

This obviously surprised the dark haired cop. She straightened up and frowned. “He was attacking you, Jay.”

“He was doing the same bullshit he’s been doing since day one at the Academy. I had it under control. He just needed to whine.”

In a menacing voice, Dez said, “He was threatening you. It looked like he was going to hit you.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Well, he’ll think twice about it in the future now.”

“Yeah, if you didn’t make it worse for me.”

“You won’t be seeing all that much of him. Lt. Malcolm is assigning him to the other sector from here on out.”

“Oh great! Now he’ll really be plotting to show me up.”

In a dangerous voice, Dez said, “He better not or I’m bouncing his ass outta here.”

“Don’t you see, Dez? He’s just an insecure jerk. But he really does want to be a cop, and he might turn out to be a good one—who knows?”

“Character is everything in police work. He doesn’t have any. Men who hit women don’t deserve to be cops.”

Jaylynn grinned. “What about women who hit men?”

“Nobody should hit anybody.”

“Spoken by the Perennial Pounder who just left a goose-egg the size of St. Paul on the guy’s forehead.”

Dez crossed her arms and gave Jaylynn a serious look. “You think I overdid it, huh?”

“Just slightly. Look, I’m not ungrateful. In fact, for a moment, I really enjoyed seeing him on his knees, unseemly as it is for me to admit it.”

Dez snickered. “You couldn’t have enjoyed it half as much as I did. I wanted to beat the crap out of him.”

“Thank you for not doing that.”

“You’re welcome.”

“I better go now. I’m sure Tim is wondering where I am.”

“I’ll go with you just to make sure Neilsen’s not hovering in wait for you.”

“No, no!” Jaylynn stomped her foot. “It’s fine, Dez. I’ll see you tomorrow.” The rookie turned and marched out of the locker room. Dez watched her go, a thoughtful look on her face, then sighed. She decided she still had a little too much energy, so she went back to her locker and unlocked it. Time to do some sprints, she thought. If she was going to keep up with a certain blond spitfire, then she had better put some effort into it. She pulled out her running clothes and changed.
PART 3
Dez worked out alone in the weight room. At midnight on a Friday night after Tour III ended, she usually had the place to herself, which was just how she liked it. After hoisting three 45-pound weights on each side of the leg press, she got down into the contraption. This exercise always made her feel like a turtle on its back. She took three deep breaths, forced her legs to press the weight up, and released the safety. Coupled with the 75 pound weight of the press carriage, she was lifting 345 pounds. She didn’t stop at 10 reps but kept straining, pressing the load up and down, until she could go no further without her lungs and legs exploding. She let the weight down with a clang and felt the misery of the burn fading away, then started another set, and another.

She punished herself. Every day. Once she had felt joy in working out. Now she worked her muscles to the point of exhaustion, hoping each night would find her so physically tired that sleep would attack her in the same way she attacked the weights in the gym. Each night she was disappointed.

It had been seven months since the death of her partner in June. She still had difficulty thinking of him as dead. Gone. Never to ride with her again. His absence was a vicious rip in the fabric of her every day life. She hadn’t been a cop long when he became her one true friend on the force, the only guy not the slightest bit upset that she was a better marksman, a black belt in karate, and more physically imposing than many of the men in blue. Though four inches shorter than she, Ryan had been five feet, eight inches of solid muscle. He wore health and good humor like a mantle about him, and she loved partnering with him in the two-man cars. She was just as surprised as most of their peers when he asked her, the quiet and dour rookie, to try riding with him after his partner retired. Later when she asked him why, he said he’d had a hunch that he’d enjoy working with her more than with the other male rookies who were cocky, wise-cracking showoffs. “I like riding with women,” he’d said. “A lot of the guys are fun, but after a while, I get tired of them talking sports and lying about sex all the time. Women bring up interesting subjects. It makes the shift go by quicker.”

But now he was dead at age 38, leaving behind a stunningly beautiful wife and two grade school aged kids, all of whom looked to Dez with such sadness and anguish that she could hardly bear to visit. Soon, she should go see Julie again, play with the little boy, Jeremy, who was also her godson. She would talk to the second grader, Jill, about horses and new songs on the radio—but the thought of it made her nearly sick with the weight of grief and responsibility. She’d been through this before at age nine when her police officer father died, but she found this was different. Somehow back then she had been better able to insulate herself from the pain. Strange that now she was older, she didn’t seem to have the fortitude she’d had as a child.

Dez extricated herself from the leg press and returned the weights to the rack, moving on to the calf raise machine.

It was Ryan who’d gotten her interested in weightlifting in the first place, the one area at which he could beat her—at least for a while. He spent many years bodybuilding and competing in local shows, and he told her she had a great physique. “Totally sculptable—you could win shows!” was what he’d said, embarrassing her to no end. She resisted at first, but he talked her into working out with him after their shifts, and she never regretted it. Most days after swing shift ended, they met in the gym to lift together. Whether they’d had a boring, frustrating, or exciting evening, hitting the weights at the end of the night was a good way to relax.

Not anymore.

Dez finished the calf routine and decided to call it quits. She flexed her forearm. It felt stronger—still stiff—but not painful. It would be a while longer before she regained the muscle she’d lost while in the cast, but she was pleased with the progress she’d made since August.

She toweled off as best she could and slipped on sweat bottoms and a baggy sweatshirt. Grabbing her sports bag she cut down the hall and past the Roll Call Room. She was surprised to see Jaylynn sitting there, feet up on the desk, reading a magazine. She almost passed by, but as she neared the doorway, the younger woman looked up.

“Oh hi, Dez,” said Jaylynn.

Dez paused and looked at her watch. They had been off shift for an hour and a half. “What’re you still doing here?”

“Tim’s tied up. I’m waiting for him to call.” She gestured to her cell phone. “I thought he’d be here by now. If I’d known it would take him an hour, I’d have taken a cab home.”

Dez hesitated a moment, then said, “C’mon, I’ll drop you off on my way.”

“But if he calls . . .”

“You’ll have the cell phone with you. Just make sure you leave it on.”

“Oh, right. Okay.” She bent down and picked up a backpack, put on her down coat, and followed Dez out to the parking lot.

As usual, Jaylynn shivered when the cold Minnesota air hit her. “Aren’t you cold?”

Dez hit the keyless entry for her Ford 150 pickup, and the interior lights popped on. “Not really. I’m so overheated from the workout. It’ll be half an hour before I cool down.”

“Must be nice.” Jaylynn stepped up into the pickup. “This is such a cool truck. Must be real new.”

“Yup.” It had been Ryan’s, a new purchase he had delighted in. He special ordered it with an oversized storage unit in the bed, a bench seat in the front, and the extra cab space so all four members of his family could ride with him anywhere. She bought it from Julie a few months earlier when she had learned Ryan’s widow was selling it. Sometimes when she wasn’t thinking of her old partner, she thought she could smell a faint whiff of his aftershave wafting through the truck. For that reason alone she was glad she’d bought the vehicle.

The rookie admired the interior, running the palm of her hand over the sturdy texture of the dark red seats. “Bet it’s great to have the extra cab. You’ve got lots of room for storage or extra riders.”

“Mmhmm.”

Under the parking lot lights, Jaylynn could see both the interior and exterior were a dark cranberry red, a deep, rich shade which matched Dez’s sweatshirt.

Dez drove directly to Jaylynn’s house and pulled up in front. Every light in the house was on.

“Having a party?” said Dez.

“No. Ever since the—the attack, Sara has been leaving all the lights on until Tim or I get home. She’s stopped parking out back—see, her car’s out here.” Jaylynn sighed. “She’s still having a very tough time, mostly nightmares and panic attacks. Actually, we’re worried about her.”

“What’s she gonna do if you and Tim move?”

Jaylynn looked perplexed. “We’re not moving, not any time soon anyway.” She reached to open the door. “Want to come in?”

“Nah. It’s nearly two. I better get home.”

“Okay, see you tomorrow.” The rookie got out, shut the door, and trudged up the front walk feeling those icy blue eyes at her back. When she got the front door open, she looked back, and sure enough, the Ford truck hadn’t moved an inch. She gave a little wave, and disappeared into the house.

*****

January in Minnesota is a cold, unforgiving time, with dangerous wind chills and low temperatures. No squad car could keep out the cold enough for Jaylynn. The rookie didn’t think it was any mistake that the North Pole explorer, Anne Bancroft, made her home in Minnesota. The rookie thought it might be possible that she herself could survive in the sub-zero North Pole weather after five years practice in St. Paul. She hugged her arms tighter around the front of her and retracted her neck deeper into the turtleneck she wore under her vest and shirt.

All night long her throat had felt scratchy, and she knew she was fighting a cold which she hoped to avoid. She’d taken extra doses of vitamin C and worn an extra layer of cotton long underwear over the silk long underwear she usually dressed in. Once shift was over, she planned to hunker down, swathed in blankets, in front of the TV, eat hot chicken soup and crackers, then sleep for about twelve hours. In the meantime, it was just a matter of staying warm and dry. She looked over at Dez, marveling that the dark haired cop never ever seemed to get cold. I need to find out how she does that, thought Jaylynn. Gotta get the recipe for whatever heat elixir she’s using. She smiled to herself and turned her attention toward scanning the snowy streets around them.

Dez pulled up in front of a squalid-looking restaurant called The Cutting Board. Despite the fact that it was nearly ten p.m., Jaylynn could see a horde of customers through the giant plate-glass surrounding three sides of the building. Four empty booths, of bright yellow vinyl that was cracked and split, sat near the front windows. The rest of the place was furnished in various shades of orange, gold, olive. The whole effect was one of near-neon proportions. Jaylynn said, “Kind of a 60’s throwback here, huh?”

“Yeah, but it’s good,” said Dez in a cranky voice.

They got out, and Jaylynn shivered in the winter wind, walking swiftly toward the restaurant. She hastened to push open a heavy brown door and join the crowd milling around inside. Moist warm air circulated, soothing the blond’s throat for the first time all day. The aroma wafting from the kitchen was heavenly, a spicy smell of meats and sauces and hot oil. A black man with wild gray hair like Don King’s stood shouting out orders and ringing things up. Through a window-sized aperture behind the cash register, Jaylynn saw at least four people hustling around in the kitchen. Periodically somebody hollered “Order up!” and an arm extended through the opening with a shopping bag stapled shut at the top.

“What do you want?” asked Dez.

“What have they got? Where’s the menu?”

“They make anything: deli sandwiches, barbecue, fried chicken, everything with side stuff. Actually, you never know exactly what you’ll get. It changes every day. If you fight your way up to the front you can see the list on the counter of what’s served for today.”

“What do you usually order?” She slipped off thermal mittens, and pulled a crinkled five dollar bill out of her pocket.

Just then a deep baritone voice resonated, “Well, good evening, Officer Reilly! Your usual?” Heads turned, and the crowd parted from the cash register all the way back to the officers.

“Yes, Otis. And something for my partner here. . . . ” She looked at Jaylynn, one eyebrow arched.

It seemed as though everyone in the restaurant was staring at her and Jaylynn felt a blush rise warming her face all the way to the roots of her blond hair. But she smiled and said, “Fried chicken. I’ll try that.”

Otis said, “White or dark?”

“Little of both please.”

“Coming right up.” In a rich, booming voice, he blasted out the order over his shoulder toward the kitchen. Jaylynn handed over the crumpled bill, and Dez strode forward through the gulf of customers and handed it to Otis along with two other bills.

“No need, Officer. Always on the house for you,” he said with a smile on his face.

She smiled back at him. “You’ll go broke at that rate. Your kid needs it for college, I’m sure.”

“In that case . . . .” The cash register went ching-ching, and he shoved the bills in and slammed the drawer shut. Dez turned and strolled back toward the booths, and Jaylynn followed her. No sooner had they gotten settled than a man in a white apron scuttled out and delivered two over-sized paper sacks. Dez lifted one bag, hefted its weight, then passed it over to Jaylynn. She ripped the staples apart on the other smaller bag, then tore it open and took out one bundle wrapped in wax paper. Meanwhile, Jaylynn began pulling out packages and opening them. She had a chicken breast, a thigh, coleslaw, a styrofoam cup of mashed potatoes with melted butter, two pieces of Texas toast, and some plank-cut fries. Dez was half done with her sandwich before Jaylynn even got all the items unwrapped.

“What have you got there?” Jaylynn asked.

“Sandwich,” Dez said with her mouth full.

“I can see that. What kind?”

“Third-pound turkey, lettuce, tomato on wheat, no spread.”

“Blech! Least they could have done is give you some mayo. You want some of my stuff here? I know I can’t eat all of this.”

“Didn’t want mayo. I like it just like this.”

“You and your bark and twig bread.” Jaylynn turned her nose up and shook her head a bit, and then ripped into her chicken. “Oh, this is great!” She closed her eyes. “Nice flavor.” Chew, chew. “Really moist.” She opened her eyes and took another big bite. “This is delish.”

Dez arched an eyebrow. “You can spare me the commentary. I’ve had it before, so I know how good it is.”

“Then how can you resist it? It’s just so—so—heavenly. And these fries!” She popped a plank in her mouth, chewed furiously, then gripped the plastic fork and took a taste of the mashed potatoes. “Wow! These aren’t fake spuds. And that’s real butter too.” She dug into the potatoes as Dez watched her with amusement.

“Are you aware that you eat food like most people have sex?”

“Food is the next best thing to making love,” Jaylynn said, her mouth full. She looked up at Dez. “Don’t you think so?” She gave the dark-haired woman her regular intent look and stopped fussing with the chicken to hear her answer.

Dez laughed nervously. “I never thought of it that way. Maybe.” She rolled up the wax paper and stuffed it in the paper bag, then crunched that up into a tight ball. Jaylynn went back to scooping mashed potatoes out with a plastic spoon while Dez sat patiently and stared out the window into the dark night.

*****

On Martin Luther King Day, the skies were dark and cloudy, but it never snowed throughout any of the festivities that took place across the precinct. Despite the holiday, the police were out in full force, making their presence known so that no hate crimes or crimes of stupidity were committed. Four years earlier on MLK Day, Dez remembered when pranksters had burned a cross on a black family’s lawn. It took 72 hours to run down the jokers, and for three days a very nice family of five existed in terror, worried that the KKK or some other white supremacy group had earmarked them. It turned out that the stupid youths who had committed the crime didn’t fully understand the significance of the burnt cross—which eased the fear and panic for the family and for the neighborhood.

Unfortunately, family troubles didn’t take a holiday, even on MLK Day. They spent almost 90 minutes out of the car taking four children, ages 6, 5, 3, and 2, to the juvenile authorities after another unit arrested the mother for driving while under the influence of drugs.

When they got back in the car, Jaylynn said, “God, that’s a lot of kids to have at age 20.”

Dez said, “I sure wouldn’t want four kids under age seven.”

“No, that’d be a handful. Just my two little sisters were a stretch for my mom. And I feel like I half raised both of them. I was 14 when Amanda was born and then almost 16 for Erin. After diapers and feeding and babysitting for them, I’m all mothered out. Maybe I’ll change later on, but I really don’t know. How ’bout you? Ever want kids?”

“Me? Nah. I’m sure not interested in giving birth.”

“Me neither. Pain is not my friend.”

Dez snorted, “Mine either.”

“You ever think about settling down, getting married?”

“Not much. I don’t see myself marrying.”

“No hot prospects on the horizon for me either.” Jaylynn sighed and looked away. Not unless they make a law where I can marry a woman, she thought as she winced out a smile.

“What are you smiling about?”

“Nothing. Just considering something.” She paused to think. “I grew up all my life wanting to find someone special who’d stick with me through thick and thin. Somebody I wouldn’t need to be married to because the commitment would be obvious to anyone who looked.”

“And?”

“I guess I’ve never found anyone that faithful.” She thought of Sandi in high school with whom she’d been madly, hopelessly, and platonically in love. Sandi, who was now married to the best middle-weight wrestler on their high school team. Then Dana, her first lover in college who’d gone off and slept with the first good-looking drunken basketball player on the women’s team—and she hadn’t been the slightest bit penitent. And Theresa: she was a whole other story. Theresa didn’t want anybody to know about their relationship, not even have the slightest suspicion, and she’d insisted on dating men, “just for appearances.” When Jaylynn learned she was sleeping with one of the guys, she flipped out, and that was the end of that. Since then, she’d avoided dating, preferring to focus on her studies, and hoping she’d find “the real deal” sometime, somewhere.

Dez looked over at the rookie who had suddenly lost her sunny disposition. “There are people who are that faithful,” said Dez. Not in her own personal experience, but she knew what Ryan and Julie had. And Crystal and Shayna. Luella and her husband before he died. In her own bizarre way, even her mother had been faithful to Dez’s father all these years. Maybe it wasn’t healthy, not the way her mother had held off kind and caring suitors, but maybe there was something to be said about being so in love with one person that no one else ever measured up. Could two people really commit to one another so wholly and totally that nothing and no one would ever come between them? Dez thought she herself could. It was other people who were the problem.

Jaylynn said, “I sure as hell hope you’re right.”

“If it’s true and you ever find that,” said Dez, “better grab on and hold tight. Somehow I don’t think it happens very often.”

Jaylynn didn’t argue with her.

*****

Early as usual, Dez sat at a round table for eight. The other thirty or so tables sprinkled around her were not yet occupied, though she could see several of her colleagues out in the foyer. She had chosen a spot in the center but toward the back of the hall, and she had seated herself immediately upon arriving, not trusting her nerves if she were standing out front with her peers.

The Fraternal Order of Police sponsored two major gatherings each year: a barbecue in the summer and a February banquet. Each event was a chance to honor retirees, celebrate family connections, and see the brass let their hair down. This year, however, it would also serve as a eulogy of sorts for Ryan Michaelson. The thought of that caused a stone of cold ice to expand in Dez’s chest, making her short of breath. She honestly did not know how she would make it through the evening, but she had promised Ryan’s wife, Julie, she would be there for Jill and Jeremy. It was her duty, so she sat on the hard chair and waited, trying to remember to breathe and wishing she had worn something cooler than the black wool blend jacket and slacks and long-sleeved silk blouse she had selected.

Officers she ordinarily saw in uniform began to trickle in wearing suits or sports jackets. She nodded at Felder as he, his wife and two sons seated themselves in a table nearby. She watched Lt. Malcolm as he spoke respectfully to Commander Paar near the rear door. One of the commander’s children, a girl of about four, held onto her father’s big white mitt with both of her hands and swung lazily from side to side, her head tossed back and brown hair dangling. She wore a black and white plaid jumper and white leotards with shiny patent leather shoes. Dez remembered wearing exactly the same sort of outfit when she was that age. The sight of the little girl and her dad made her wistful for her own father.

She caught a flash of white hair and blanched upon seeing a tall, regal looking man bearing down on her table. Taking a deep breath, she steeled herself and rose, trying to calm seriously frayed nerves. She met the man’s gray eyes with a level gaze. “Hello Mac,” she said.

He came to a stop at her table, his double-breasted gray suit crisp and handsome, the silver buttons shiny in the fluorescent light. Standing before her, hands clasped in front of him, was Mac MacArthur, one of the finest watch commanders the St. Paul Police Department had ever known, her father’s very best friend, and her former mentor. The burden of the history they shared weighed heavily upon her. She wished she could feel pleased to see him, but she did not.

“Dez,” he said kindly. “How are you?”

She nodded slowly. “Fine, Mac. Just fine.” She didn’t know what else to say to him and knew he felt the same toward her. It had been like this between them since she was age 22. He had been so proud of her when she joined the force, had taken her under his wing. He drilled her, offered reams of advice, and gave her assignments no woman usually got. She blossomed under his tutelage. She knew she was his favorite and that it rankled some of her peers, but he was like a father to her and she refused to apologize for it.

And then when she began dating Karin, her mother had, as Colette Reilly said, “spilled the beans.” Dez never understood why her mother had found it necessary to tell Mac she was gay, and things had never been the same since. Mac, an old school Irishman who’d attended 12 years of Catholic school, couldn’t reconcile the sexuality issue with the young woman he had very nearly raised after his best friend, Michael Reilly, died. He became formal, proper, withdrawn from her. In some ways the estrangement had been more painful than going through the death of her father when she was younger. She missed her father, that was true; but sometimes she ached to talk to Mac again the way they used to. But it was not to be. Despite the rift, he still had the grace and dignity to always greet her respectfully.

“I’ve thought about you often lately, Dez,” Mac said, fumbling for words. “I remember what it was like to lose your dad . . .” He paused, looking over the top of her head as though searching for a teleprompter. Tucking his hands in his pants pockets, he said softly, “I’m sorry about Ryan.”

The lump in her throat was so giant that she didn’t know how she did it, but she choked out, “I know, Mac. Thanks.”

He stood a moment longer, then removed both hands from his pockets and patted her gently on the shoulder. “See you around, kid.” Turning on his heel, he strode toward Commander Paar, and Dez watched him reach out and shake the other man’s hand, then squat down to see eye to eye with the little girl clutching her father’s leg. At that point, if Julie and the kids hadn’t appeared in the doorway, she would have fled the banquet and never looked back. But before she could escape, Jeremy caught sight of her and wormed his way through the people and past the white-draped tables to launch himself into her arms. Grinning gleefully, he wrapped his little legs around her waist and his arms around her neck. She held the squirmy body, taking in his clean, little boy smell, and feeling an ache in her heart that would not leave.

“Dez!” he said, cradling her face in his hands. He stared intently, his eyes twinkling. “You missed Valentine’s Day.”

“No I didn’t, sport. I sent you a present.”

“But you didn’t see the humongus heart I made for Mom.”

“I’ll have to come by soon and see it then, huh?” He nodded at her, his face ruddy red and happy. She looked into the bright blue eyes of the kindergartner, eyes so like his father’s. She felt the tears well up and willed them to go away. Glancing past Jeremy, she found Julie and Jill, hand in hand, had arrived at the table, and she saw that Julie was also struggling with tears. Setting Jeremy down, she forced a smile and reached a hand over to cup Jill’s pale face. “Hey, Jill. How are ya?”

“I’m good, Dez,” she said in a solemn voice. She looked up at her mother, a worried expression on her face, and the tall cop searched out Julie’s eyes. The slender woman let go of her daughter’s hand and enfolded Dez in a fierce hug.

“Hey,” said Dez gruffly, “we’ll get through this, okay?”

Julie nodded against Dez’s shoulder. In a choked voice, she said, “I’m glad you came. I didn’t want to either, but the kids . . . the kids need to stay connected.” She stepped back and smiled, blinking back tears. “All right. Let’s sit.” She gestured toward the table.

Just then, Dez saw Julie’s eyes widen with pleasure, and the big cop shifted to look over her shoulder. She was engulfed in a big hug from behind and knew instantly from the smell of Timberline aftershave that it was Cowboy. Wrenching herself around, she fake-pummeled the huge man with a series of punches to the mid-section. She said, “Charles.” Left punch. “Winslow.” Right jab. “Culpepper.” Left hook. “The Third.” She started a right roundhouse, but he caught her fist in his hand.

“Desiree Marie Reilly, The First, I could crush you in an instant,” he said, a huge grin splitting his face.

“You just try it, Mister,” she retorted. It was like a shot of adrenaline to see his happy face, and her spirits lifted even further when she spotted Crystal and Shayna heading her way. She pulled her fist from Cowboy’s warm hand and watched Crystal swagger toward them, dressed in a brown pantsuit and multi-colored blouse.

“Hey Chica,” said Crystal. “What’s up?”

“Nothing,” said the dark haired woman. “You’re gonna sit with us, right?”

“For sure,” said Shayna. “I don’t know most of the rest of these clowns.” She cast a skeptical look around the banquet hall, frowning as she scanned the crowd. She turned her attention back to the group and reached a hand out to Julie. “Hi there,” she said. Julie returned the greeting warmly and then helped Jeremy get his chair pushed in.

Dez always thought Shayna looked like a plump and cynical Oprah Winfrey. Slightly taller than Crystal, her dark hair was a mass of tight curls, and she always wore some sort of huge dangly earrings. Tonight she sported a pair of shiny golden disks, nearly three inches in diameter. In a serious voice, Dez said, “Hmmm . . . pretty,” and reached over to touch one.

In a dry voice, Shayna said, “Crystal, honey, your pal here is fingering the merchandise again.”

Cowboy hooted, and Dez’s face flushed as she attempted to defend herself. “I was just checking to see if those teacup saucers were as heavy as they look.”

“Light as a feather, hon.” Shayna gave Dez a droll look, then said, “So . . . is it a rubber chicken dinner or what?”

Dez shrugged. “I don’t know, but I’m not eating it. Whatever it is, you can have mine.”

“Ooh girl—then you can finger my earrings any time.”

Crystal reached over and took hold of her partner’s forearm. “Quit flirting,” said the Latina, her eyes shining with amusement. She looked over at Dez and said, “Can’t take her out anywhere anymore.”

Dez blushed some more as the group of them settled in at the table. Shayna had a way of keeping Dez totally off balance, and though it could be irritating at times to the big cop, tonight she was happy for it. She took her seat again between the kids, with Julie on the other side of Jill and Crystal, Shayna, and Cowboy rounding out the group of seven. The room had filled up, and Dez thought it was awfully warm. She reached up to slip her jacket off and sensed someone over her right shoulder. Turning, she heard him clear his throat.

“Uh, hi Dez,” came a tentative voice.

“Oster,” she said, surprised. He stood awkwardly behind her, wearing tan slacks, a crisp white shirt, and a tweed sport coat.

“Would you mind if I joined you?” Nervously, he gestured toward the empty seat between Jeremy and Cowboy.

Cowboy said, “Jump right in.” He rose, towering over the table, and stuck his hand out for the shorter man to shake. “I’m Culpepper—better known as Cowboy. Good to meet you, Oster. Us guys are probably going to need reinforcements what with all these pushy women.” He looked around the table with a smirk on his handsome face as Julie, Shayna, and Crystal all protested loudly.

Oster let go of the big man’s hand and said, “Call me Mitch.”

Cowboy nodded as he folded himself back down into the seat below.

Dez pulled Jeremy’s chair right up next to her own and reached over to pull the eighth chair out. “Here ya go, Mitch. I thought most of you rookies wouldn’t attend tonight.”

“Why?” Mitch said, his serious brown eyes looking at her quizzically.

“Oh, I don’t know. Savage and Mahoney were on duty tonight. Figured you would be too.”

“Nope,” he said. “Thursdays and Fridays are my nights off.”

She nodded, and then her attention turned to a small hand that tugged on the sleeve of her blouse. She leaned down so Jeremy could tell her about the rabbit he and his classmates were raising at school. Oster was on his own to present himself around, though he already knew Crystal. She heard Crystal introduce the rookie to Julie and Shayna, and then the brass were getting settled up at the head table. The Chief tapped the microphone and the noise in the room began trailing off. The evening program began with the Chief’s remarks. Dez whispered to Jeremy that it was time to listen, and the boy nodded, slipping his cool hand into her larger one and leaning against her side. And that’s the way she got through the evening: hanging on for dear life to a six-year-old.

*****

Saturday night a morose Dez got in the car, and Jaylynn could tell something was wrong. She tried to give the dark haired woman an opportunity to talk about it, but every conversation she started was met with noncommittal grumbles or curt answers. Jaylynn said, “How was the banquet last night?”

“Fine,” was all Dez said. Jaylynn gave up and sat quietly watching the afternoon light fade away into early evening. They patrolled for another two hours and then handled two citizen complaints before getting a more urgent call from dispatch.

“Shit,” said Dez.

“What?” Jaylynn wanted to kick herself for not paying close enough attention to the dispatcher. She hadn’t caught the details, though she had heard the address.

Dez hit the lights, sped up, and took the next corner at high speed. “It’s a rape call. I hate these calls the most.”

They arrived at an apartment four-plex and hustled up the walk to the security door. In the distance, a siren wailed.

“Ring the bell for number two,” said Dez. “Let’s get in there before the paramedics arrive and see if we can get any information.”

They buzzer sounded and Jaylynn pushed the door open. She led the way down the hall to the second door on the left. It was ajar. She banged on the doorframe loudly. “Police.”

A tiny whimper from inside said, “Come in.”

Jaylynn pushed the door open and eased her way in, her heart beating wildly. What she found shocked her. Facing her, a very young woman, maybe only 17 or 18, knelt between a ratty sofa and a coffee table clutching a phone receiver. She was dressed in a skirt and a ripped blouse with blood spattered on the front. Her hair was a mess and there was blood streaming from a cut along her eyebrow. Tears poured down her face and mixed with the blood. She set the receiver back on the cradle with a shaky hand.

Jaylynn drew near and knelt on one knee beside her, putting a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Hey,” she said. “I’m Officer Savage. You’re safe now. Can you tell us what happened?”

The girl glommed onto her leg and began sobbing wildly. “He raped me. He hurt me and hit me—he just kept hitting me!”

Dez’s low voice sounded from above Jaylynn’s head. “Who did this to you?”

“I don’t—I don’t know his—” she hiccuped, “I don’t know his name. He lives in the up—upstairs apartment.”

Jaylynn said, “What’s your name, honey?”

“Kristy South.”

“And how old are you?”

“Sixteen.”

“Where are your parents?”

“They’re at work,” the girl sobbed.

Jaylynn patted her back. “Shhh, it’s okay.” She felt tears come to her eyes, and she couldn’t will them away.

“What does the man look like?” Dez interrupted, as she made notes in her notebook.

The question brought on a fresh wave of tears.

“Hey, it’s all right,” said Jaylynn. “What do you remember about the guy?” The girl burrowed closer to her and pressed her face into Jaylynn’s chest, making a mess of her uniform front. Jaylynn paid no attention and said, “Tell us what he looks like and we’ll make him pay for doing this to you.”

“Brown hair, brown eyes, I think.”

“How old?” growled Dez.

“I don’t know . . . old like my parents.”

Dez said gruffly, “How tall?”

“Taller than me, but not much.”

“How tall are you?”

“Five-five.”

“His race?”

“White,” the girl said.

“What was he wearing?”

The girl looked up over Jaylynn’s shoulder and told Dez, “Jeans. Black shirt. And—and—Nikes, red and white ones. He had a brown bomber jacket.” She started to get up. “I need a tissue.”

Jaylynn got to her feet still holding onto the girl’s arm. “You sure you’re okay, Kristy? Here, you sit there on the couch. I’ll get you a tissue.”

On shaky legs the girl sat back on the rumpled sofa. Jaylynn crossed the room and grabbed a box of tissues off the bookshelf and brought them back. She took two herself and placed the box on the coffee table in front of the girl. She wiped her own eyes and blew her nose, then squatted back down in front of the girl and put a hand on her knee.

Dez hit her shoulder mike and reported in to dispatch, requesting backup.

The phone on the coffee table rang and the girl leaned forward to pick it up, then pressed a number and hung up. They heard a far-off buzz and then the clumping noises of the paramedics coming down the hall.

Dez asked quickly, “Kristy, how many apartments are there upstairs?”

“Two. Mrs. Leopold lives in one and the man just moved in the other.”

“Which apartment does Mrs. Leopold live in?”

“The one with the bird on the door.”

A knock sounded and Dez walked back to usher in the EMTs.

Jaylynn said, “The paramedics are going to take good care of you. You’ll be safe with them, hon. I need to call your parents. How can we reach them?”

“I already called my mom,” the girl wailed in a high voice. “She’s coming home from work now.” She grabbed more tissues from the box and pressed them to her eyes. Jaylynn stood up, tears on her face, and stepped away to allow the EMTs access to the girl. Just then, she heard a breathless voice down the hall calling out, “Kristy! Kristy!”

Dez stopped her at the door.

“I’m her mother—I need to see her,” the woman said wildly.

“Ma’am, she’s going to be okay.”

“Where is she?”

“Listen,” said Dez, in a low, authoritative voice. She made the woman look her in the eye. “You need to be calm now. You need to be strong for her. She’s scared, but she’s okay.”

The woman covered her mouth with her hand looking for all the world like she was going to burst into hysterics.

Dez said, “You can do this, can’t you? Because the paramedics are gonna take her to the hospital to be checked. They’ll probably let you ride in the ambulance with her if you’re very calm.”

Mutely, the woman nodded, her face pale and solemn. Dez led her into the apartment and the two officers watched as the young girl cried out for her mother. The woman went to her, held her in her arms, and then assisted the EMTs in putting her on a stretcher.

Dez took more notes, then slipped the pad in her pocket. “Savage,” she hissed under her breath.

With a start, Jaylynn looked away from the scene in the living room. Dez was red with anger. “Quit crying,” Dez whispered. “Wipe off the tears!”

A shudder of revulsion ran through Jaylynn, but she complied, swiping her face hastily along the sleeve of her blue shirt. The paramedics prepared to move the girl out to the ambulance followed by the mother who continued making a valiant attempt at calmness.

Dez was the last one out of the apartment preceded by Jaylynn. She flicked off the lights and pulled the door shut, then checked to make sure it was locked. Once the mother, daughter, and paramedics were through the front door, the big cop paused in the vestibule and grabbed Jaylynn’s arm. Bending down close to the rookie, she said angrily in a muted voice, “Cops don’t cry! The public expects us to be sympathetic, to be understanding, but we goddamn don’t cry! You understand? No tears on duty.”

Before Jaylynn could respond, the backup squad arrived, lights flashing, and pulled up on the parking strip. In the flashing lights Jaylynn saw two cops get out of the vehicle, but she wasn’t sure who they were. Dez went out the front door and down the stairs to confer with them briefly, then all three turned and moved up the steps toward her. Jaylynn opened the door for them. Without a glance at the rookie, the tall cop strode through followed by the two men. They all hit the staircase near the front door, taking them two at a time. Jaylynn followed in shock, feeling sick to her stomach. She was afraid she would start crying anew, but she forced herself to concentrate on navigating the stairs. When she got to the top, Dez was halfway down the hallway, waiting, gun in hand. So were the other two officers. Across the hall, the other apartment door sported a life-like stuffed cardinal perched on a skinny piece of wood.

“Are you ready for this?” the dark haired woman whispered accusingly, looking back at the rookie.

Jaylynn nodded and unholstered her weapon.

They stood on either side of the doorframe, backs to the wall, she and Dez on one side, the backup cops on the other. Dez rapped on the door with the butt of her gun. “Open up! Police.”

Jaylynn held her breath and waited. No noise. Then across the hall, the door opened a crack and a diminutive old lady peeked out. She saw the officers holding their guns and smacked the door shut. Jaylynn looked at Dez, and they both holstered their weapons.

Dez stepped over and tapped on the door. It opened two inches.

“Yes?” said a wavery voice.

“Sorry to bother you, ma’am, but have you seen the man who lives across the hall?”

“He went out some time ago. He came dashing down this hall, ran in, and then slammed the door on his way out. Why?”

Dez said, “We need to talk to him. If he comes back, will you please call 911?”

The old woman opened the door wider. She looked rattled, but she craned her neck upwards at the policewoman and said, “Why certainly Officer. What’s he done?”

“I can’t say, ma’am, but if he returns, stay in your apartment and don’t talk to him. Just call 911, tell them where you live, and explain that the man in apartment 3 has come back. They’ll send a squad car over. Do you know his name?”

“No, I don’t. He just moved in recently.”

“Okay, ma’am. Here’s my card. If you have any questions or any information about him, call and leave me a message. I’ll call you back.”

Mrs. Leopold took the card reluctantly and tucked it into the pocket of her housecoat.

Dez said, “Thank you ma’am. Oh, and one more thing: can you give us the phone number or address for the manager of this apartment?”

*****

Jaylynn said nothing all the way back to the car. She got in and sat silently as Dez called dispatch and reported what she had learned from the little old lady. Then the dark haired cop started up the engine and pulled away from the curb, giving a little wave to the other squad as they drove off the other direction. In the dim light of the dashboard, she wasn’t able to make out the rookie’s expression, but she knew Jaylynn was upset. She sighed. “Hey, should we swing by the station and get you a new shirt?”

Jaylynn said, “No, that’s okay.”

“That blood is going to set. You won’t be able to get it out.”

“I don’t care.”

Dez hesitated, then plunged in. “Jaylynn, rape calls are pretty awful.” No response. She shifted in the driver’s seat. “You think I’m cold and hard hearted.”

“Yeah. That about sums it up.”

Dez grimaced, struggling to decide what tack to take. “When you respond to a call like that, it’s—well, it’s not personal at all. You have to put all thoughts of your own feelings out of your head.”

“That’s inhuman.”

“No, it’s not. You have a job to do, a specific job. Of course you’re concerned with the victim’s health and safety, but after that, your job is to get information we can act on. Get descriptions, take note of the crime scene. What did you get for notes?”

Jaylynn shrugged and didn’t answer.

“We’re lucky the sergeant didn’t show up and check on us.”

“That girl needed more than two impersonal cops standing there interrogating her and making perfect notes.”

Gently, Dez said, “And that girl is getting that right now from medical and psychological doctors. That’s their job. Our job is to help catch the asshole who did this, and the way we do that is by gathering information as quickly as possible and then acting on it. I was harsh with you in there to shock you out of your feelings about that kid. When you go to these kind of calls, you can be mad. You can be furious. And of course you’ll be upset. But don’t show it. You can’t show weakness at a time like that. The victim is looking to you as an authority figure who will protect and help.”

“What about support? What about gentleness and kindness?”

In a frustrated voice, Dez said, “You can still be supportive and kind, but you just goddamn can’t cry!” In a much quieter voice, she added, “You cry later. Cry all you want.”

“Do you?”

Dez was taken aback. “Well . . . sure. Sometimes. Not so much anymore.” She sighed. “In nearly eight and a half years I think I’ve seen a version of just about everything. After a while you realize it’s the human condition. There’s misery and suffering and bad luck galore. I couldn’t possibly cry enough for everything I’ve seen.”

Jaylynn crossed her arms over the blood-stained uniform. In a soft voice she said, “I don’t know if I can do a job where I don’t get to have my feelings.”

“You can have your feelings, Jay. You just can’t show them under some circumstances.” Dez cleared her throat and hesitantly said, “By the way, you did everything else right tonight. You were supportive. You kept her calm. You got her to focus on telling us what we needed to know.”

In a tight controlled voice, the rookie said, “It’s good to know I wasn’t a total failure.

“Listen now, you’re taking this too seriously. Everybody goes through the same thing.”

“Okay, fine. Let’s not talk about it anymore. But you can’t stop me from going to the hospital to check up on her tomorrow.”

“Geez! I’m not an ogre, for god’s sake!” Dez hit her turn signal and took the next corner fast enough to cause the tires to squeal. “Listen to me. You act like you think I don’t care. Well, I do. It’s just that we’ve got a job to do tonight. As soon as we’re off duty it’s okay if we go back to being human beings.”

“It doesn’t seem right not to be a human being on the job!”

Dez didn’t answer. She remembered feeling much the same way when she first started, but unlike Jaylynn, she was able to mask her emotions much easier. “You wear your heart on your sleeve.”

“So?” Jaylynn said accusingly. “Tell me exactly what is wrong with that?”

Dez didn’t answer right away. She couldn’t figure out any other way to phrase what she thought without being blunt and offending Jaylynn. She thought about the fact that most of the job was all about control. It’s about exercising power responsibly.
It’s about keeping a tight rein on all emotions: anger, sadness, fear, even happiness. Emotions could be used against you. Neutrality and distance—those were the goals, neither of which the rookie possessed. It was clear to Dez that Jaylynn would impulsively jump into any situation, emotions charged and running 90 miles an hour. She didn’t know if she could train the young woman out of that response. As her FTO, she had to somehow succeed though, or Jaylynn’s days as a cop would be numbered.

Dez rolled the car window down and let in a blast of chilly air. She reached over and turned up the dispatch radio one notch. She clicked on the side lamp and double-checked the vehicle hot sheet.

Finally she said, “What time are you going to visit that girl?”

“Why?”

“Just curious.”

“Are you saying you would go too?”

“Sure. If it makes you feel better. But we’d have to go awful damn early. I’ll bet they’ll only keep her overnight and then send her home first thing in the morning. Tell you what, hit the sack right after shift. I’ll come by and get you at nine.”

“All right.”

Dez could tell the rookie was still unsettled, but there was nothing more she could do or say. She knew that it was these kinds of things that would either make or break a young recruit. She hoped Jaylynn would persevere. She remembered her first rape call vividly. She was in training with a male officer, Mickey Martin, who was more at loss than she. He expected her to take care of everything having to do with the woman—and she only had the book training on what to say, what to do. It was made worse by the fact that the woman was beat half to death, but conscious, crying, angry. Dez had been stunned and sickened by the physical violence visited upon the woman.

She looked out the window, her eyes constantly surveying the dark streets. She didn’t guess she had done much better helping Jaylynn through her first sexual assault call than Mickey Martin had done for her.

*****

Jaylynn didn’t feel well at all once she got home after the rape call. Her head hurt and her stomach was queasy. She desperately wanted to talk about what had happened, but Tim wasn’t home, and Sara was just starting to get back to normal after the events of last summer. She knew if she talked about the young girl, Kristy, Sara would have nightmares. So the blond put on her best face and tried to act like everything was fine.

As soon as she entered the kitchen though, Sara said, “Hey there, Jay.” She smiled at her friend. “Whoa! Bad night or what?”

Jaylynn shook her head. How did she always know? She was just thankful Sara only read faces, not minds.

“Just a long night.” She slipped out of her jacket and hung it on the back of the wooden nook chair, then sat down across from Sara who was eating buttered toast and drinking tea while studying.

“Tea water is still hot.”

“Okay.” Jaylynn moved about the kitchen getting a spoon, mug, tea bag, and some hot water. She set the full mug down carefully on the table and returned to her chair.

“Want to talk about it?”

Jaylynn put her elbows on the table and her chin in her hands. It occurred to her that it wasn’t only the poor young girl she felt bad for but also for herself. “This is a hard job sometimes. I like being able to help people and to sort out disagreements, maybe protect kids and old people. But then really bad stuff happens.” She put her head in her hand and gazed into the warm depths of the sympathetic brown eyes across the table.

“You didn’t see your first murder victim today, did you?”

“No. In a way I am more prepared for that than just for the daily indignities we come across. People can be so mean, so cruel to each other. It just hurts my heart.”

“I don’t know if I would want your job, Jay. I think I would find it depressing.”

Jaylynn took a sip of the hot tea, relieved when it warmed her stomach and instantly relaxed the tightness in her abdomen. “Most of the time it’s not really depressing. I’m starting to get to know shopkeepers and restaurant patrons and regulars at the bars. People are starting to remember me, too. Everybody knows Dez. I think most of the people we come across every day are not really all that bad, maybe just stupid idiots and petty crooks or people desperate for money—but not like murderers and rapists. I guess I can handle stupidity or bad decision-making, but calculated cruelty always gets to me.”

Sara listened intently, as she always did, and Jaylynn couldn’t help but feel a sense of gratefulness wash over her. She reached across the table and patted the brown haired woman’s hand. “Thank you for always listening.”

“At least someone in the household has an interesting life,” her roommate replied dryly.

Jaylynn tipped her head to the side. “How much time ‘til Billy Boy comes back?”

“October.”

“I thought you had it down to the exact days, hours, minutes.”

“I had to stop thinking of it that way. It was driving me crazy.” Sara looked at her watch. “With any luck, he should call in about an hour.”

“Look at the bright side—he’s done after October, and then you can get married.”

“Believe me, I can’t wait.”

The blond took a final swig of her tea, then rose. “I need to finish writing Auntie Lynn a letter, and I gotta get up early tomorrow, so I’d better head upstairs.”

“‘Night Jay.”

“Sleep well, my friend.”

*****

Jaylynn sat quietly in the police cruiser, her eyes watching the night life intently as she thought about things. She felt tired, mostly from sleeping poorly and then getting up so early to go to the hospital. She had been glad that she and Dez had gone to see the girl. Kristy South’s overwhelming helplessness from the night before had changed, overnight, to rage, and Jaylynn encouraged her to be mad as hell at the man who had raped her. Dez stood in the doorway and talked awkwardly with the girl’s father, a portly bald fellow who had a constant look of stunned disbelief about him. The mother and father were anxious about Kristy being released, and Jaylynn tried to reassure them that it always took the hospital more time than expected. She wrote her work voicemail number on a generic St. Paul Police Department business card and told the teenager to call her if she ever needed to talk.

The rookie wished she had gone home and taken a nap, but instead, she had cleaned house, made a casserole, and done laundry. The next thing she knew it was 2:30 and time to head to the station.

Now she sat in the chilly squad car and watched Dez out of the corner of her eye. She often marveled at how Dez’s eyes rarely stopped scanning. Any time the tall woman stopped scrutinizing the world around her and let her eyes come to rest on Jaylynn, the rookie’s stomach got butterflies. She was glad it didn’t happen all that often.

Dez turned a corner and rolled past the neon-lit street corner where they saw a dark-haired woman standing in front of a smoke shop. Tall and razor-thin, she was unseasonably dressed in a red mini-skirt, fringed halter top, and spangly red spike heels.

“Gotta be cold, huh?” said Dez. “Last I checked, the temp was only 38.”

Jaylynn shivered. Even with the heat on in the car, she continued to feel the cold much more acutely than Dez.

Dez turned at the next corner. “I think we’ll go around and check on Miss Thing one more time.”

As they approached again, they could see the hooker leaning into the window of a big white Pontiac. Dez flicked the overhead lights on and off. The driver of the white car suddenly floored it and took off down the street, nearly knocking the prostitute off her feet. She stumbled back on the sidewalk, pulled her skirt down with one hand, and proceeded to give the officers the finger. Dez eased the car up next to her and Jaylynn rolled down her window.

“You’d best go home, ma’am,” said Jaylynn.

In a slurred voice, the hooker said, “Well fuck you! He was a friend of mine.”

Dez leaned over toward the passenger side. “Yeah right. We’ve heard that one before.”

Jaylynn could see that the woman was much older than she looked from the distance. Despite her long, lanky figure, her face was tired and over-made-up.

“Ruined my night, you stupid bitches, can’t get any yourself . . .” Without warning the woman spat at Jaylynn, catching her in the face.

“Oooh, gross!” said Jaylynn as she wiped her cheek on her jacket sleeve.

Dez was out of the car before the prostitute knew what was happening. The big cop grabbed hold of the scowling woman and locked her arm behind her back, then forced her two steps back to the wall of the smoke shop and pressed the woman face-first into the brick.

The hooker let out a shriek. “Let me go, you bitch!”

“Is that any way to show respect for a police officer?”

“Fuck you,” she said, hissing like a cat. She squirmed and tried to kick Dez in the shins. The tall cop moved up close and anchored her firmly in place by pressing one knee between the woman’s legs and against the wall. It also prevented her from being stilettoed by the pointy high-heels.

“You just earned yourself a fun trip down to the station, lady.” The weight of the angry hooker suddenly sagged against Dez.

Once Jaylynn wiped her face satisfactorily, she got out of the car, flipping her handcuffs off her belt. “Do we really want to run her in, Dez?”

Before she could reply, Dez shouted, “Oh shit!”

Jaylynn pulled her weapon and held it steady on the woman.

“No, no,” said the dark haired cop. “She just peed on my leg.” Dez released the woman and stepped back only to see her stumble. The poorly dressed woman turned. Pulling at the fringe of her halter top with blood red fingernails, she gave them both a vacant-eyed look and slumped back against the brick wall, just barely keeping her footing in the high heels.

“She’s stoned,” said Jaylynn, as she holstered her weapon.

“I’ll say.” Dez looked down at the thigh of her uniform slacks. A dark wet spot had spread all the way down to mid-calf.

“And you’re gonna smell,” said Jaylynn, trying to suppress a giggle as she pointed at the dark steaming stain. Dez shot her a glare and stomped over to the squad car to call for an ambulance. By the time the paramedics arrived, the woman was alert and feisty, cursing and threatening as before. They had to strap her down on a gurney to take her away.

“Now that’s a first,” said Dez. “No adult has ever peed on me before.” She opened the trunk of the car and searched around until she came up with a ratty olive colored Army t-shirt. “I don’t know whose this is, but it’s mine now. Get in and let’s go.” She put the t-shirt on the front seat of the car and sat on it.

“You’re gonna ride around for—” Jaylynn looked at her watch, “three more hours in that stench?”

“Hell no.” She turned on the car lights and hit the gas. “I’m going home to change.”

“Why don’t you go back to the station?”

“Haven’t got any slacks there.”

As they neared Dez’s neighborhood, she asked Jaylynn to call them in for a break, and the rookie contacted dispatch.

Jaylynn had never been to Dez’s house and wondered what it would be like. She didn’t expect the neat, two-story stucco house they stopped in front of. Dez got out in a hurry. “Come on,” she said. “You can come up and wash your face.” She slammed the door and stalked away from the car.

Jaylynn followed Dez around to the back of the house and waited for her to unlock the door. They entered a hallway with a door straight ahead and a staircase on the right. Dez took the stairs two at a time. On the landing at the top, Jaylynn watched as Dez navigated the low ceiling with practiced ease. The staircase and landing were tucked in the eaves, so even the blond had to duck her head.

Dez unlocked a door, flipped a light switch, and stepped aside to let Jaylynn into a tiny kitchen, about twelve-by-ten feet square. The dinette table was just inside the door with a small CD player sitting on the side against the wall. To the left were a small closet, a refrigerator, a short counter containing a microwave with cupboards overhead, and a sink under a small window which was hardly bigger than a porthole. Across the room were more cupboards and a counter. A doorway to the right, straight across from the entry door, led into another room. Jaylynn looked around the kitchen and admired its compactness, so opposite of its owner. The vinyl flooring was pale blue and tan, the cupboards shiny light oak, and the counters navy blue. Everything looked new and clean, the only thing out of place being a cereal bowl and spoon on the sideboard next to the sink.

Dez tossed her keys on the table, removed her jacket, and hung it over one of the dinette chairs. Jaylynn did the same, then followed Dez through the doorway into another room not much deeper than the kitchen, but three times longer. Taking up the left half of the room was a double bed, two dressers, a valet chair, a wardrobe closet, and a small bedside table. On the wall beyond the foot of the bed sat a rolltop desk, closed up tight. Over the bed was another window similar to the one in the kitchen, though slightly bigger. In the right half of the room on the far wall were floor-to-ceiling shelves with a couch sitting not four feet in front of them. A low-slung coffee table sat parallel in front of the couch. Across the room on the opposite wall sat an entertainment system, and next to it on two metal stands were two guitars. One was a warm golden color steel stringed acoustic; the other a shiny red electric model with silver thunderbolts on the front. Beyond the guitar stands to Jaylynn’s right was another door. Dez pointed to it, “Bathroom’s right through there. Just grab any towel you want and throw it in the hamper when you’re done.”

Jaylynn went in and shut the door. At least the bathroom was roomy. On the right, the tub/shower was extra long and extra wide and included a whirlpool. Someone had laid out some cash for that, she thought. The beige toilet and sink matched the tub, and the blue and tan floor matched the kitchen floor. An open-front oak cabinet was filled with neatly folded towels, sheets, and washcloths. Next to it sat a narrow bureau, which was topped with a tray holding various colognes, deodorant, and spray bottles. Another of the porthole windows, much larger than the others in the kitchen and bedroom, let in light from the street lamp.

Jaylynn knew they didn’t have a lot of time, so she pulled out a royal blue towel, washed her hands and face, and dried off quickly, tossing the towel into the wooden hamper as she left. Dez rose from the couch barefoot and wearing a red terry cloth robe. She picked up her uniform slacks and held them at a distance. “Yuck.”

“You’re not gonna shower, are you?”

“You bet I am. I’m not spending the rest of the shift in this.” Dez paused in the bathroom doorway. “Make yourself comfortable. There’s iced tea in the frig, and you can turn on the TV if you want. Time me. It’ll take me less than ten minutes.”

Jaylynn went into the kitchen and opened the first cupboard to the right of the sink. Bingo. Glasses galore. She took one, opened the frig, and poured herself some iced tea, then took note of the contents of the refrigerator: a door-full of condiments, milk, orange juice, a plate of leftover roasted chicken breasts, and tons of fruits and vegetables. Not a can of pop in sight and no greasy snacks. Didn’t this woman eat anything sinfully delicious? Where’s the butter? The cheese? There weren’t even any eggs in there—just those little containers of liquid egg whites. She smacked the door shut and headed back into the other room and sat on the couch to marvel at Dez’s tiny home.

The entire L-shaped apartment was tucked into the eaves of the house, and she bet it wasn’t more than 700 square feet. There were closets and drawers built into the eaves, so there was probably a lot more storage than it appeared at first glance. Somehow she would have pegged Dez to live in a large rambling place with a couple of big dogs, or at least a cat or two. She guessed she would have to revise her assumptions. Though small, the apartment was cozy and warm, and Jaylynn liked the solid blues, maroons, greens, and tan accents throughout the room. The double bed headboard was dark mahogany, which contrasted nicely with the navy blue and forest green comforter. A matching quilt adorned the back of the wide couch. At the foot of the bed lay folded another quilt, this one maroon and blue. A freshly pressed pair of slacks were tossed partly over it. Dez’s vest and other clothes were piled on the valet chair near the closet.

She looked past the foot of the bed at the roll top desk and resisted the urge to go over and investigate. She wondered if she would find all the clutter of a lifetime packed in there? Or would each of the little cubbyholes be as neat and tidy as the rest of the apartment? She wondered if Dez had a computer. She certainly didn’t seem to live a very high-tech life.

Hmmm, the only thing missing here is anything at all of a personal nature. Where were the photos? None of the walls displayed any art, no pictures or knick-knacks. Jaylynn wondered if Dez had only recently moved in. It sure looked like it, otherwise how could she be so neat? Jaylynn remembered when she and Sara had moved into Tim’s rental house. Within two weeks the place was a mess, and it wasn’t until the three of them sat down and bargained out a system for cleaning and picking up that the place became the slightest bit organized.

She slid behind the couch and stood looking at the books, CDs, and videos on the shelves there. There were even about a hundred old vinyl record albums. Lots of nutrition and health books. Hundreds of CDs. She saw ones by artists she knew: Melissa Etheridge, Stevie Nicks, k.d. lang, Everything But the Girl, Billie Holliday, Etta James, Sarah McLachlan, Cris Williamson and more. She also noted unfamiliar names: Lucy Kaplansky, Cheryl Wheeler, Leo Kottke, Richard Shindell, Kristen Hall, David Wilcox, Dar Williams, Elizabeth Cotton, Michael Hedges. Eight of the Indigo Girls’ CDs—Jaylynn didn’t realize they had so many. She moved on and looked through a huge collection of videos, most of which Jaylynn had never seen. She pulled one out and read the notes on the back.

True to her word, Dez emerged in short order dressed again in the red robe. “I’m hurrying, so don’t worry.” She strode gracefully across the room to the valet chair and sorted through the clothes, picking up several items.

“I’m not worried.” Jaylynn took a sip of her tea. “Hey, you’ve got a lot of good videos. I’ve never seen some of these.”

“Go ahead and borrow any you like,” said Dez as she dressed.

Jaylynn turned away to give her privacy. “Thanks a lot. Maybe I’ll take you up on that sometime.” She couldn’t help looking over her shoulder, but when she caught a glance of Dez’s ivory-colored back, she turned away in haste, then busied herself reviewing the video she held. “Here’s one I always heard was good.”

“Which?” said Dez in a low voice as she pulled a t-shirt over her head..

“Truly, Madly, Deeply.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty much one of my favorite movies of all time. Bring a box of hankies though.” She picked up her vest and slung it around her shoulders, then fastened the velcro. She pulled on and buttoned her shirt. Adjusting her cuffs, she moved toward the doorway.

Jaylynn said, “I’d love to bring the box of hankies over some time and watch it.”

“Sure. Whenever. Come on, let’s get back out there.”

“You play guitar, huh?”

“Yeah, some.”

“You’ll have to play a little for me some time.”

When Dez didn’t answer, Jaylynn hastily returned the video and followed her to the kitchen. She set the empty glass next to the bowl on the drainboard, then put on her jacket and followed Dez out into the hallway and waited for her to lock the door.

That wasn’t so bad, thought Dez. No awkward questions. No muss, no fuss.

“How long have you lived here?”

Oh no, thought Dez. Now it starts. “Going on ten years.”

Jaylynn was ahead, moving toward the stairs, so Dez missed seeing her jaw dropping. “Wow, nine years. You sure haven’t accumulated much stuff.” Or many people, Jaylynn thought. That was definitely a single person’s pad.

“Guess not. I don’t need much stuff. I moved there right out of college, and I’ve just stayed. I like the place.”

“It’s very nice.”

“Thanks.”

They thundered down the steps, Jaylynn in the lead, and she stopped with a start when she reached the bottom of the stairs and found a silver haired black woman standing there, arms crossed over her ample bosom. She wore pink slippers, a flowered house dress, and a pink sweater around her narrow shoulders. Her silver hair was swept back and held in place with two silver combs. The twinkle in her eye was evident to Jaylynn, even if she’d never seen the woman in her life.

“You two sounded like a herd of elephants. How can two little gals like you make so darn much noise?”

From the bottom step Dez replied, “Sorry, Luella, but we’re in a hurry.”

“What’s the rush?” Luella said, then turned to Jaylynn, “She never slows down much—even mows the lawn at a breakneck pace. Do you have to run to keep up with her?”

Jaylynn glanced back to see the warm smile on Dez’s face. “Go ahead, Jay, tell her. I’ll try not to get mad about it.”

Jaylynn looked back at Luella. “Actually, I can beat her in a foot race. Maybe not for a long distance, but in sprints for sure. And the noise coming down the stairs was probably more my fault than hers. Sorry.”

Luella moved toward her. She reached a soft brown hand out and patted Jaylynn’s shoulder. “You must be her new partner, hmm? How long you been riding together?”

“She’s been training me in for about eight weeks, I think.”

Luella looked over Jaylynn’s shoulder and fixed a level stare at her tenant. “Well, Dez, nice of you to mention it.” She made a tsk-tsk sound with her tongue. “Were you going to introduce us, or just let the poor woman wonder?”

Dez sighed and stepped down the last two stairs. “Luella, I just haven’t . . .it’s not that I—” She shrugged and rolled her eyes. “Jay—Jaylynn Savage, this is Luella Williams, nosy landlady, chief cook and uniform washer.”

Luella flashed a mouthful of white teeth. “Chief cook. . . hmm. . . I like that. You eat the same gerbil food she does, Jaylynn?”

Jaylynn had no idea how to answer, so she was noncommittal. “I don’t—I don’t think so.”

“Good. When are your days off?”

“Mondays and Tuesdays one week—Monday through Wednesday the next week. For now. Same as Dez’s. Why?”

“Well, then, why don’t you just come for dinner Monday night and we’ll have a decent meal. You like au gratin potatoes?”

“Love ‘em!”

“How about steamed broccoli—maybe with a little cheese sauce?”

“Ooh, sounds yummy.”

“Can you come about six?”

“Sure. I guess. You want me to bring something?” She turned her head to look at Dez. Uh oh. Maybe that was the wrong answer. Dez didn’t seem any too happy.

“Oh no,” said Luella. “That’s not necessary. And Dez, if you could grace us with your presence, I might even make a baked chicken for you.”

Dez didn’t know whether to be mad at Luella or not. Why did they have to run into her tonight? She’d carefully avoided having any of the new trainees over. Things weren’t like they used to be, back when she’d invited Ryan and Cowboy and Crystal and any number of other cops over for a big feast every month or so. They always congregated at Luella’s and regaled the older woman with stories of their bravery and ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Dez hadn’t thought about it, but it suddenly occurred to her that the old woman might miss it. The one time Crystal had brought up their raucous get-togethers, Dez had cut her off and said she wasn’t ready for parties, not with Ryan so recently dead. Crystal had wrapped a friendly arm around Dez’s waist and told her to let people know when she was ready.

How many months had passed? It didn’t matter. She still wasn’t ready.

Luella insisted on giving Dez a hug, and she shook Jaylynn’s hand and saw them out the back door. They got back in the police car, the rookie shivering a little. Dez called and reported back on duty. She flicked the switch for the heater, even though she knew she’d be roasting in short order. Maybe she could turn it down a bit later when the smaller woman was warmer and not paying attention.

Jaylynn cleared her throat. “Dez?”

No answer.

“Dez, I’m sorry about that. I get the distinct impression you’d rather I had turned your landlady down.”

Dez pulled to a stop at a red light and with a practiced eye surveyed the area. She avoided Jaylynn’s eyes and said, “No, it’s okay. She gets lonely. It’ll be good for her. Forget about it.”

The light changed and Dez proceeded slowly through the intersection, keeping an eye on a car double-parked in front of the check-cashing outfit in the middle of the block.

The rookie said, “How come you have Luella do your laundry? I always see you hauling your uniforms out. I thought the department paid for that.”

“Yeah, they do,” she said in a grouchy voice. “But Luella does a much better job. Besides, she insists.” Actually, Luella always made a big deal about the maintenance Dez did around the place, and if she didn’t give her the laundry, Luella would cut the rent. Dez was well aware that her landlady already undercharged on the rent and that she couldn’t afford to take less. So the big cop did all she could to keep the house up, and in return, Luella did all the wash and ironing.

Her thoughts were interrupted when, out of the blue, Jaylynn said, “So. What are you doing Sunday night after shift?”

Dez frowned. “Sunday night?”

“Yeah, I was thinking we could watch Truly Madly Deeply. Since I’m going to Luella’s Monday, I know you’d be stuck with me twice in two days, but hey, I’ll bring the hankies and popcorn? You supply the iced tea and video?”

Dez felt a moment of panic and was glad it was dark in the car. “Oh, I don’t know, Jay . . . ”

The radio squawked as the dispatcher called their squad number and followed it up with information about an assault in progress and the address. Saved by the bell, thought Dez. She made an abrupt U-turn and sped away at a faster rate than she really needed to. Jaylynn picked up the radio and answered the call.

For the moment all talk of Sunday night was forgotten.

*****

Monday rolled around, and Jaylynn was excited at the prospect of going over to Luella’s. She hoped Dez would be there, but even if she wasn’t, the rookie looked forward to the visit with the older woman. Dez had told her not to worry about dressing up, so she had worn pressed blue jeans, a warm thermal shirt with a light blue sweater over it, and her light brown Doc Martens. It was still so cold out that she had on her thermal mittens and a huge down coat.

She drove over, having borrowed Tim’s beater, and arrived right on time. As she stood on the front porch her senses were assaulted with mouth-watering smells. She rang the bell, and Luella came to the door wearing pink slip-on slippers and a fluffy white apron over a belted dark blue dress. There was a splotch of red sauce staining the apron. She held a maroon mixing bowl in the crook of her arm, a wooden spoon poking out from some batter. “Well, there you are,” Luella said as she unhooked the porch’s screen door. “C’mon in. You can hang up your jacket right there on one of those hooks.”

As soon as Jaylynn moved through the porch area, stepped in the house and the door was closed, Luella resumed mixing the contents of the bowl and led her into the kitchen.

The rookie said, “Whatcha got there?” as she gestured at the bowl.

“At the last minute I decided I had a hankering for cornbread, so I’m mixing it up. Think we should have ‘em in muffin cups or little loaves?”

Jaylynn said, “Hmmm . . . either way would be great.”

“Maybe I’ll just make muffins. Then there’s a chance that fool friend of yours would eat at least one.” She set the bowl on the counter and bent down to open a low cupboard, then fumbled around until she got hold of a muffin pan and pulled it out. “Here, I’ll let you grease this thing up.” She gestured toward the can of Crisco on the counter. “Use one of those paper towels hanging there.” She pointed to the dispenser on the wall.

Jaylynn took the pan from her and proceeded to grease each indentation. “You know, it smells good halfway down the block. What are you making?”

“We’re having spicy pork ribs and those au gratins I promised you. I made some broccoli—with and without cheese sauce—and I have a little pie, too, for dessert.” She reached over and took the pan from Jaylynn, set it on the counter and spooned twelve dollops of batter into the cups, scraped out the bowl, and put the pan in the oven. “Those’ll be up in about 12 minutes, but until then, let’s go sit in the dining room.”

She slipped off the apron and hung it on the back of the kitchen door, then led Jaylynn into the other room where an elegant table was set.

“Ooh, what pretty plates,” said Jaylynn. Standing next to the table she bent over and traced the tiny rosebuds and violets on the white background. There were three settings at the large table, one at the head and two others to its right and left. The other half of the table contained four sets of hot pads, ready to hold warming dishes.

“These came from my mother and father,” said Luella as she pulled out a chair and sat. “Got ‘em in 1945, right after the war. I started out with eight place settings, but I’m down to about six and a half now what with bowls or plates or teacups being broken periodically over the years.”

Jaylynn sat. “At my house, we’re still eating off the Melmac plates I brought with me to college.”

“If you like beautiful dishes, I know a wonderful store reasonably priced. If you ever want to go buy a set, I’ll come help you pick ‘em out.”

“One of these days when I set up my own house, I’ll take you up on that offer.”

“Good girl.” She reached over to pat the young woman’s hand. “Now tell me all about you, about how you became a police officer, and how you’re liking it.”

Jaylynn discovered Luella very easy to talk to. The kindly woman listened intently, yet her attention did not feel at all intrusive. The rookie found herself telling her about growing up in Seattle, winning a four year track scholarship to the U of M, and moving to snowy Minnesota five years earlier. When the timer went off and they got up to take the cornbread muffins out of the oven, the blond woman was telling her about choosing law enforcement because it interested her. “I thought I might be able to make a difference,”she said, “like Dez has made a difference in so many people’s lives.”

Luella paused, holding the pan in her hand. “You think she does?”

“Well, sure,” said Jaylynn, surprised.

The silver haired woman set the pan on the top of the stove and closed the oven. “I wish someone would tell her that. I swear, no one is harder on herself than she is.” She moved to the corner of the kitchen and picked up a broom, then held it up in the air and banged on the ceiling with the end of it.

Before she could set the broom back in the corner, Jaylynn heard a clump-clump noise and looked toward the back hallway. The door opened and a dark head popped in. “Hi, I’m here.”

Luella said, “Come on in and join the party.”

Dez appeared in the kitchen, hands in her pockets. She was decked out in red, white, and blue: blue jeans—Levis to be exact—a bright red long-sleeved shirt, and brand new white Nikes. Her face betrayed no emotions other than curiosity as her eyes surveyed the kitchen, coming to rest on Jaylynn. She nodded and said, “What’s up?”

Before Jaylynn could answer, Luella said, “It’s about time you high-tailed it down here. Everything’s ready, so you two go get settled.” She shooed them out of the kitchen.

Jaylynn said, “Don’t you need a hand?”

“Nope,” said the silver haired woman as she grabbed her apron from the back of the door. “You two just clear out and let the serving expert do her thing.”

In the dining room they sat, and Dez said, “She really is a serving expert. Wait’ll you see what she trots out here with.”

Jaylynn licked her lips and grinned. “I can’t wait. I’m starving.”

“You know, Jaylynn, I’ve never met anybody in my life who was as hungry as you are all the time.”

“Yeah, right. And you’re not eating every three hours?”

“But I’m having totally healthy stuff.”

She smiled warmly at the cranky woman. “Whatever.”

Luella brought them each a glass of milk, then bustled in with a platter of pork ribs in one hand and a serving dish of seasoned chicken breasts in the other and set them on the hot pads. She went back and got a bowl of potatoes and a small container of brown rice. She carted in the broccoli which was in a double-dish, one side with melted cheese, the other plain. The two cops watched in amusement as she hastened back and forth, coming in last with a wicker basket full of hot muffins. She sat down and reached a hand out to each woman. Jaylynn took a soft brown hand into her right hand, then stifled a laugh when the older woman gave Dez the evil eye. “Let the circle be unbroken,” Luella said. In response, Dez sighed and reached her other hand across the table, surprising Jaylynn who realized with a start that she should take Dez’s hand.

Once the three women were clasping hands, Luella bowed her head and prayed, “Dear Heavenly Father, bless this food and bless these girls. May they both be kept safe in their daily work, and may the food before us refresh and fortify us all. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.”

“Okay, girls, eat up,” said Luella. “Jaylynn, you don’t have to even think about eating that boring brown rice. That’s for Miss Polly Purebred over there.” She stood and moved to the other end of the table where she could supervise the passing of the dishes. Once they’d loaded up their plates, she took her own plate and filled it, then took it over and sat down. “Ahhh,” she said. “I’m dang near famished.”

Dez rolled her eyes. “I have at the table two of the biggest exaggerators on the planet.”

Jaylynn laughed and almost choked on her first bite of au gratin potatoes. With her mouth full she said, “Luella, this is undoubtedly the best—no, the most stupendous—no, the most incredibly, fabulously, wondrous meal I have ever had in my 24 years on the planet.”

The old woman grinned back conspiratorially. “I have never in all my livelong years had so much fun assembling a meal, especially knowing how unbelievably thrilled you two would be to partake in it.” She looked at Jaylynn, smirking and giggling as she chewed, then kicked Dez under the table. “You got anything to add?”

“Good chicken,” said the tall woman as she calmly forked up a piece and guided it to her mouth. The other two went off in a fit of laughter. Dez said, “I can tell already that you two are gonna be a problem.”

“Why?” said Jaylynn innocently.

“At this rate, someone’s gonna have to apply the heimlich maneuver to one or the other of ya.”

This caused more laughing. “C’mon,” said Luella, “quit being so serious. What happened to your sense of humor?”

“Guess it’s on hiatus.” She took a bite of plain broccoli and gazed, deadpan, at her landlady. Luella met her gaze and narrowed her eyes to stare her down. A big grin spread slowly across the black woman’s face until Dez broke down and smiled back. Then Luella reached down under the table and squeezed Dez’s knee until she yelped. Dez said, “Guess it’s off hiatus now.”

“Good thing,” said her landlady. She picked up a rib and held it gingerly in her fingers. “Now Dez, honey, you never told me that Jaylynn was a track star.”

“You never asked,” came the low response.

“Now how would I know to ask?”

Dez shrugged.

“You didn’t know, did you?” said the older lady.

Dez glanced over at Jaylynn who was coloring nicely. “I know she’s a fast runner.”

Luella said, “She went to the U on a track scholarship. How come you never found out about that?” She didn’t ask accusingly but seemed to be trying hard to understand how Dez could have overlooked something so important. When Dez didn’t answer, she said, “Brag on yourself a little bit, Jaylynn. Tell Miss Oblivious here what you’ve done—you must have a few records, hmmm?”

Jaylynn set her fork down on her plate, her face flaming. “Well, I went to nationals three times, and placed in the top six each time, but I never was able to win, place, or show.”

Dez said, “What event?”

“400 meters, 200 meters, 1600 meter relay.”

“You went to nationals for all three?”

Jaylynn nodded solemnly.

“That’s good. What’d you have to do to get there—place in the top three in the state or what?”

“First.”

“Are you saying you’re the best sprinter in Minnesota?”

Jay chortled. “Not anymore, but I guess you could say I was back in my salad days. And I was never that great a sprinter—more middle distances.”

Dez nodded and scooped up a cornbread muffin, absently splitting it open and eating half. Jaylynn watched the landlady’s face light up in a smile, but the dark haired woman didn’t notice.

Dez said, “I used to run the 400 meters—I always called it the puke race.”

“I know what you mean . . . when you’re done, that’s exactly what you feel like doing.”

“I never could break 60 seconds—hit it right on a couple times, but never got below.”

Jaylynn grinned. “That’s why I got to anchor the relay. Every once in a while I nailed a 56 or 57.”

“Did you ever do any other events?”

“Oh, a little hurdles, some long jump, occasionally a little high jump, but those were never my specialties. Mostly I just ran my butt off. How ‘bout you—you do any other events?”

Dez nodded. “Javelin, shot put, discus. They wouldn’t let women do pole vault, but I liked it.”

Jaylynn leaned forward, putting her elbows on the table. “I bet you were good too. You’ve got some records yourself, don’t you? Come on, ‘fess up.”

Dez set her fork down, pushed her plate away, and sat back in her seat. “Just in high school. Well, I guess I had the conference javelin record in college, too, but I never went to nationals or anything. I might have done better my junior or senior year, but I quit.”

“You quit the team?”

“No, I quit college. I put in two and a half years, got bored with it, and applied to be a cop. As soon as I turned 21, I joined the force. So I never got my degree.”

Luella said, “I keep telling her to go back and pick up some night classes, but she says she’s not interested.”

“What were you majoring in?” asked Jaylynn.

Dez gave her a crooked smile. “Little of this, little of that. Mostly law enforcement related, sports, a few music classes. What’s your degree in?”

“I loved college. I took light loads during spring track season, but the rest of the year I loaded up and did quantity, not so much quality, so it’s not like I was an A student or anything. I’ve got majors in political science, psychology, and English.”

“Busy girl, weren’t you?” said Luella.

“I figured if they were paying, I may as well get all I could out of it. Of course it took me an extra year to finish, and my parents paid for that, but it was worth it, I think.”

Luella stood and cleared their plates. “You girls ready for some pie?” Before Dez could make a comment, her landlady said, “I know, I know. You pass, right?” When Dez nodded, Luella said, “Fine, but no whining when Jaylynn and I sit here enjoying two pieces of succulent and tasty apple pie with melted butter and cinnamon sugar on top.”

Dez looked at her in mock astonishment. “Who me? Whine? No whining from this quarter.”

When Luella ambled into the kitchen, Jaylynn leveled her gaze at the dark haired woman. “So, you took music classes?” When her question was answered with a nod, she went on, “What kind of classes?”

“Mostly guitar and music theory.”

“Mostly?”

“A little voice.”

“So you can sing! That’s great.”

Dez bristled. “I never said that.”

“If you can sing at all, you’re doing better than me. Sara has a beautiful voice, and she plays piano. Wish I could play an instrument. ” She picked up her fork and shoveled up the last chunk of potatoes on her plate. “Well, I guess I can carry a tune, but singing has never been my forte. Must be fun to be able to play and sing.” She swallowed the au gratins and set the fork back down.

Luella entered the dining room carrying two rosebud plates loaded with generous pieces of steaming apple pie. “Dez, you should go up and get your guitar. Come down and play us that piece you wrote for my 70th birthday.”

The tall woman’s face flushed scarlet. “Oh no.”

Luella lowered herself slowly in her chair. “Quit with the shy thing. I’m sure Jaylynn would enjoy it. Go. Get your guitar.”

Dez stood, pushing the chair back with her heel. “I’m not singing.”

Her landlady halted a big bite on its way to her mouth. “Fine. Then play me that nice melodic piece you’ve been working on.”

As she stalked out of the room Dez tossed back, “That’s not even finished.”

“We don’t care, girl. Just come back and entertain us.” After she left, she said to Jaylynn, “You ever notice she’s about as bull-headed as they come?”

Jaylynn smiled, her hazel green eyes sparkling. “No doubt about that.” They talked some more and ate the pie. “This is just wonderful pie! I don’t think I have ever had better. The crust is so flaky.”

“I learned to make it from my momma. She was a wonderful baker.” She spiked the last apple and popped it in her mouth. “I love pie, but who can eat a whole one? I’m so glad to have guests every so often so I can cook up things I never get to make for myself.”

“Thank you for this great dinner, Luella.”

“You’re welcome, sweetie. Hmmm. Where’s that ornery cuss got herself to? She should be back by now.” She got up and snagged the milk glasses.

Jaylynn rose. “Let me help you with these dishes.” The two women worked together and cleared everything away. Luella transferred the food to plastic containers while the blond rinsed and stacked dishes.

Luella said, “I just want to leave a lot of that to soak, so don’t worry too much.” She put her hands on her hips. “What’s keeping that girl so long?”

Right on cue Dez came down the hall toting her acoustic guitar. She stood uncertainly in the hallway looking into the kitchen. “I’ll just go play in the living room and you two can listen from in here.”

“Ah ah ah,” said Luella. “Not so fast.” She dried her hands off on her apron, slipped it off, and hung it on the door hook. “C’mon, Jay. Let’s go relax in the other room.”

They all trooped into the living room. Jaylynn sat in the wooden rocker. Luella lowered herself into the wing chair, and Dez perched on the edge of the couch.

“What do you wanna hear?” Dez said in a resigned tone.

Jaylynn decided to let her two companions duke this one out. She smiled agreeably and settled into a steady rocking rhythm.

The landlady said, “Play that one tune I always like so much—you know, the one where you twang the notes.”

“Bend? You mean bend the notes?”

“Yeah, that’s it.”

“Okay, give me a second. I have to go to an open tuning.” She quickly adjusted the tuning pegs and Jaylynn listened to the guitar make a wow-wow-wow sound as Dez changed the tone of three of the strings. She put her ear down close to the guitar, strummed it a few times, made one more minor adjustment, then closed her eyes. She began to pick out a melody with the fingers of her right hand while simultaneously moving her left hand over the strings on the neck of the guitar. Her fingers bent and hammered the strings at the neck in a way that Jaylynn had never heard. What emerged was a melancholy combination of notes that reverberated and rang in such a way that it sounded like two or more guitars playing complementary fugues. The song traveled through three different movements but kept coming back to the same theme.

Dez plucked the last notes and then let them ring out and fade away. Only then did she open her eyes shyly. “That the one you wanted?”

Luella said, “Actually, that’s not the one I was thinking of, but that surely was beautiful. Makes my heart feel full.”

Jaylynn sat silently, thinking to herself. Wow! She too felt her heart was full; in fact, she felt she could start crying. The piece was mournful, almost a lament. It brought to mind memories of her father, of being a little girl trying to understand why he had died and left her. On the verge of tears, she shook herself and rocked in the chair more with vigor. “That was remarkable, Dez. I liked it. What’s it called?”

Dez frowned. “Don’t have a name for it yet.”

“I know,” Luella hollered, “play that honky-tonk thing I like.”

The dark haired woman nodded knowingly. “I know exactly which one you’re referring to now.” She took a minute to tune the strings back up, then stood up and dug in her pants pocket to pull out a black pick. Closing her eyes she started strumming a rollicking, slapping beat that soon had both women tapping their toes.

Jaylynn listened and thought about the contradictory sides she had seen of this woman. Head bashing, rough and tumble versus sensitive guitar player. Suspicious and untrusting versus intensely loyal. College dropout versus canny, streetwise strategist. Moody and grouchy versus gentle and obedient toward Luella. She studied the tall woman. Her blue eyes were closed tightly, the tip of her tongue peeking out between the straight white teeth. One foot tapped out the beat, and when the Jaylynn closed her own eyes and listened very closely, she could faintly hear the tall woman humming the melody as her fingers flew over the strings. The rookie opened her eyes and looked at Luella who was slapping her knee and grinning widely. The old lady tipped her head from side to side in time with the music and let out an occasional “Oh yeah! Play it, girl!” which made the blond laugh.

Jaylynn glanced back at Dez only to find the tall woman staring intently at her. Eyes met and she felt the connection, the same exact gut reaction she had experienced the very first time she had seen the policewoman. It made her dizzy and short of breath. She blinked to shake off the light-headedness and Dez abruptly ended the honky-tonk tune and stood.

“Enough fun for one night.”

“One more,” said Luella. “C’mon sweetie. Just one more, okay? Play my anthem, why don’t you?”

Dez exhaled. She paused a moment, and then sat down again. “Okay, but you have to sing it.” She played a little intro and then nodded, and the old woman began singing in a true but quavery voice:

Lift every voice and sing

Til earth and heaven ring,

Ring with the harmonies of Liberty . . .

Jaylynn rocked contentedly to the even beat. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath as she enjoyed the song she had heard a few times before. Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies, let it resound loud as the rolling sea . . . . And then Luella slid into the chorus and unexpectedly, a second voice joined hers, a smoky contralto singing the alto line. Sing a song, full of the faith that the dark past has taught us. Sing a song, full of the hope that the present has brought us. Facing the rising sun of our new day begun. Let us march on till victory is won….

Jaylynn peeked one eye open and through thick lashes watched her hostess and the dark haired woman sing the next verses of the old spiritual in two part harmony. Amazement wasn’t even the word for her reaction. The word flabbergasted came to mind. She was totally flabbergasted—and filled with an intense longing so strong that her heart hurt. A lump rose in her throat and she fought back tears. In a way she envied the two women. They seemed so close. She longed to have met each of them much sooner, realizing now that there had been a gap in her life about which she had never even been aware.

The song came to an end and no one said a word as the notes from the guitar tapered off and faded out. Dez looked her way sheepishly, and to cut her apprehension, Jaylynn said, “You two could take that on the road!”

Luella smiled and said, “That’s always been one of my most favorite songs. My father sang that to me when I was a tiny little girl. Usually brings a tear to my eye. Desiree, my dear, thank you for singing it with me.”

“You’re welcome,” the brunette said as she rose, holding the golden guitar by its neck. “I’ll be back. I’m gonna take this upstairs.” And she turned and sped out of the room.

“Wow,” said Jaylynn, “she’s got some kinda voice, doesn’t she?”

“Yes, she does, and she doesn’t share it with just anyone. I’m surprised she joined in, but I’m glad she did.”

“Me too. I can’t get over it. Wow!”

The rest of the evening flew by as Luella continued to pry information out of the two of them, and suddenly it was after ten o’clock. Jaylynn looked at her watch and rose to say her goodbyes. She made her way out to the porch, took down her coat, and fished in the sleeves for her thermal mittens.

Luella stood in the doorway holding a large foil wrapped package. “You be careful driving out there,” she said. “Looks to me like it’s snowing.”

Dez stepped out on the enclosed porch and peered through the window. “That’s just flying around off the roof. The street’s clear.” She leaned against the frame of the porch window as Jaylynn slipped on her coat.

Luella grabbed the blond woman before she could zip up her huge coat. She snaked her arms into the coat and around Jaylynn’s waist to give her a big hug.

“Thank you for the wonderful dinner, Luella. It was a great evening.”

“God bless you Jaylynn. You’re a special girl. Let’s do this again soon.”

“Okay, sure.”

Luella handed her the foil wrapped surprise. “I know you’ll enjoy this later. It’s extra good for breakfast.” Jaylynn slipped the package in a roomy coat pocket, and the landlady took the big mittens out of her hands so she could zip up her coat. “These look nice and warm.”

Jaylynn said, “It’s like wearing boxing gloves—makes it hard to drive—but I hate it when I get cold.” She pulled her hood up. “Good night Luella. Good night Dez.” Dez opened the front door, and Jaylynn brushed by, smacking the tall woman lightly in the mid-section as she passed. “See ya Wednesday at work.”

“Will do,” the tall woman said in a quiet voice as she shut the door.

All the way home Jaylynn’s mind raced. She thought Luella was one of the nicest people she had ever met. And Dez was—well, Dez was Dez. She had her own grouchy charm. The blond pondered the attraction, for she could not avoid admitting it. She was attracted—totally smitten—with the dark haired cop. But she didn’t really understand why. Something like a magnetic force drew her to the tall woman, and she felt helpless in its pull. She had a sense of dÈjý vu, too, that was so strong, she couldn’t believe that they hadn’t grown up together or known each other at some time in their lives. But growing up on the west coast precluded her from ever having met. They could never have known one another. However, she wondered about dreams. How could her Warrior Woman so closely resemble the taciturn cop? She wished she had more control over her dreams because if she did, she would actually like to question her hero. She would ask, “Who are you, and did I make you up when I was little? Or are you real?”

When she arrived back at the house, she parked Tim’s Toyota and hustled through the frigid night air into the warm kitchen. She pulled her coat off and hung it over the back of one of the chairs at the table. She started to leave the kitchen, then suddenly remembered the treat in her pocket and reached in to pull out the foil wrapped package. She could smell what it was even before she unwrapped it. Apple pie laced with cinnamon and sugar. She smiled and took it up to her room with a fork and a glass of milk.
PART 4
Jaylynn thought that the old saying about March roaring in like a lion and going out like a lamb was true. She had thought January and February were cold, but today, the first of March, was colder than she could bear. It wasn’t so much the temperature, which was actually in the middle 30’s. It was the stop-and-go rain and sleet and the constant non-stop wind that blew down the collar of her coat and into every warm fold of her body. She felt that all she’d done all evening was shiver, even with the heater cranked up. She checked her watch: 11:10. With a little luck they’d make it through the last fifty minutes and head back to the station so she could go home to a nice warm bed and maybe some hot cocoa.

The dispatcher came over the radio reporting a car accident, and upon hearing the location, Dez hit the lights and siren. She pulled off onto a side street and reversed course. It was only a mile to the crash site and they arrived in short order. Jaylynn emerged from the car into a foggy, misty night where the cold bit through her clothes and made her shiver. The two lane road, on a rise, was wet and slick from all the day’s rain. A gravel shoulder on either side sloped down into wide fields where an occasional stubble of cornstalk poked up from wet ground. Even through the water, Jaylynn took note of the skid marks on the pavement which dug into the gravel and into the short cropped grass as the hill gave way to the field.

Another cruiser was already on the scene. One officer lit flares to redirect traffic while the other crouched down in the hollow below the road, trying to make his voice heard over screams coming from a car upside down in the wet gully. The crashed vehicle was sunk down in a muddy depression, and shallow moving water surrounded the car. Jaylynn and Dez scrambled down the embankment to join the other cop who acknowledged them with a nod.

“Hello Reilly, Savage.”

“Hey Coombs,” said Dez. “What’ve we got here?”

Coombs stepped out of the ankle deep water to drier land next to them and tucked his cold hands under his arms. “Single car rollover. Four door Ford Explorer SUV. Seems to be at least two occupants. I can’t quite tell. The car is sitting upside down in maybe three inches of water. I stuck my arm in, tried to feel around, but the roof is crushed in too much. No way to pull these people out.”

A piercing scream came from the car. “Help me! Help—oh God, help . . .” The voice trailed off into moaning and then all was silent.

Coombs shook his head. “I don’t know what else to do.”

Dez stepped back, then took three quick strides forward and abruptly leapt from the drier ground over onto the undercarriage of the overturned vehicle. Kneeling on cold metal, she leaned over the far side and saw that the driver’s side was mashed completely into the gully. She couldn’t even see the windows on that side. She turned and moved back to the side nearest her colleagues and squatted down. Leaning over the side, she kicked her legs back, and lay flat on the undercarriage, letting her head dangle over the side and into the broken out rear passenger window. “”Hey in there,” she called out.

“Help me,” came the plaintive cry.

“This is the police. We’re here. We’ll get you out.”

“It’s cold. Please. . . help me.”

“We’re working quick as we can. What’s your name?”

“Cassie.”

“Who else is in the car with you, Cassie?”

“Jordan and Francie.”

“Who’s driving?”

“Jordan.”

“I can’t see you very well,” said Dez. Actually it was so dark she couldn’t see anything in the car at all. “You’re in the back seat, right?”

“Yeah. And it’s cold.”

How to ask the next question without scaring the girl? Dez decided being direct was best. “Are you able to crawl toward me?”

“No,”” wailed the girl. “I’m stuck.”

“Are you upside down or not?”

“Yes, upside down.”

Dez slid further over, bracing herself by grabbing something that felt like the axle, so that she could peer into the rear passenger window. Still she couldn’t see anything. She pulled her flashlight off her belt and shone it on her own face. “Cassie.” No answer. “Cassie, can you see me?”

“Um hmm.”

“Okay, so you know I’m here, and we’re going to get you and your friends out as soon as we can.” She shone the light into the car and scanned the contents. The roof was compressed most in the front and on the driver’s side. Dez couldn’t tell for sure, but the two kids in the front seat didn’t look like they could be alive. She couldn’t see their heads at all, though she could see their torsos. There was no movement, and the roof was pressed into both bodies, so she didn’t hold out much hope for them. The section of the car with Cassie in it was less crushed, but she could see that the girl was resting upside down on her shoulder and neck in a painful looking position. A couple inches of water pooled around her, and rivulets of blood dripped down her neck and face and into the water. Too much blood, thought Dez. We need to get her out of there.

“Cassie?” No answer. “Cassie!

She stretched an arm in as far as she could and tried to grab the girl. She couldn’t quite reach her. She pulled her arm back out.

Using the flashlight Dez punched out the few remaining shards of glass in the rear window. “Hang on there, Cassie. Okay? You hear me?”

A quiet voice answered. “Um hmm. I’m . . . so . . . cold.”

Dez raised her head. Across the way on the bank stood several figures. “Savage! EMTs here yet?”

“Yes, just arriving.”

“We need blankets. We’re going to need the fire department’s jaws of life. Anyone call them?”

“Yeah,” said Coombs. “I just did.”

Two burly EMTs came over the rise and stumbled down into the gully carrying their tackle boxes of equipment. “Whaddya got there?” one shouted to Dez. A light rain began to drip into his face, and he wiped his eyes with a big paw.

Dez shifted from lying on her stomach to a kneeling position. She held up three fingers and said, “Three, I think, stuck in the car. We can only get to the one in the back seat.” She stood and jumped off into the pool of water surrounding the car and waved the paramedics over. “We need to get in there and pull her out. Soon.” She shone her flashlight in the window and gave a nod of her head. The first EMT peered in, then stood up and nodded.

“May have to wait for the Fire Department,” he said. “No way can I get in there.”

Dez said, “Me neither.” She looked up the hill, but figured Coombs was also far too big. “Savage! Get over here.” The rookie waded out into the water, cringing from the cold. She stepped on an uneven spot and staggered, but Dez grabbed her arm to help her regain her balance. “Sorry to do this to ya, but you’re gonna have to crawl in there.”

“Okay.”

“You’re gonna get pretty wet.”

Jaylynn shrugged. She looked up as drops of rain fell, scattered at first, and then more heavily.

Dez said, “I’m not even sure you can squeeze in through the window, but I know I won’t fit. I think you can do it if you get down to your t-shirt.”

“Okay. What do I do when I get in there?”

“Unhook her seatbelt, work her free from what’s holding her, and slide her out. If you get her close enough, we’ll pull her out as carefully as we can.”

Jaylynn took off her warm patrol jacket and handed it to Dez . She tried to hide the fact that her hands were shaking as she untucked her uniform shirt, unbuttoned it, and handed it over too, then removed her bullet-proof vest. Embarrassed, she pulled off her two layers of long underwear while Dez peered at her quizzically. That left only a scoop necked tank top. She unhooked her gun belt and set it on the car. Lowering herself to her knees, she winced as the ice-cold liquid hit her legs and saturated her uniform pants.

“I’ll help you in and out,” Dez said as she piled all the clothes on top of the gun belt.

The two paramedics stood on either side of the window. Dez climbed on top of the car and lay on her stomach on the undercarriage, her head directly over the window, with her arms hanging down. Jaylynn poked her head through the mishapen window frame and squeezed her shoulders in. She grabbed at something that had the texture of wet plastic and then pulled until she felt herself lifted slightly by the back of her pants belt. The frozen metal doorframe dug into her thighs. With another tug she was in far enough to feel the fabric of the car seat above her and the cloth of the jacket Cassie wore.

The cold water hit her chest and she nearly shrieked. Biting her lip, she pushed with her legs to leverage herself further into the opening and twisted halfway onto her side. She shivered as she fumbled around to locate the seat belt. Without warning the interior was suddenly flooded with light, and she squinted. The rookie saw the upside-down outline of her partner’s head in the window and looked back at the young girl, unconscious nearby.

Dez said, “Try to let her down real easy. Look, there’s the latch for the seat belt. Kind of get under her and cushion her when it releases.”

Jaylynn rolled onto her back, flinching from the chill of the frigid water. She squeezed under the girl’s torso, further soaking herself, then reached up and pressed the red button. Released from the harness, the girl slid onto Jaylynn, emitting a groan and a mewling whimper before going limp.

A deep male voice said, “Is she stuck on anything? Can we pull her out?”

Jaylynn replied, “Yeah, I think you can.”

Dez said, “Okay, you hang onto her, and we’ll pull you out, okay?”

“Yeah. Go.”

Jaylynn felt a vise grip on her ankles and she was dragged through the water toward the window. She clutched at the girl feeling the heavy weight.

She heard Dez’s muffled voice say, “Let her go now . . . ” and the girl drifted away from her as though by levitation. “Let’s get you out now, Jay.” She was lifted again by her belt as Dez powered her, face up, through the window. She felt the edge of the window frame scrape across her chest and she put her hands over her face to avoid any sharp edges. It was like doing the limbo once she got her feet back on the ground. She wiggled and squirmed her way out, into the cold rain, with the help of Dez’s strong hands.

Jaylynn said, “How is she?”

“We got her,” came a deep male voice. The rookie stepped away, her feet numb, and trembled as she watched the two men carry the girl away. Outside the car it was clear that Cassie was just a slender slip of a thing, hardly more than a girl. The burly men slogged through the water and up the embankment carrying the slight bundle and were over the top and out of her sight when she finally shook herself out of a daze and started toward dry land. There was a splash next to her and she looked up as Dez, holding her gun belt and shirts, took hold of her arm and guided her up out of the water. The big woman held out the silk long underwear shirt, then the cotton one. She slipped the velco vest over Jaylynn’s head and helped her put on her blue uniform shirt, then wrapped the insulated patrol jacket around her shoulders.

“Quick,” said Dez. “Zip this thing up.” Jaylynn fumbled with the zipper with hands of ice.

“Here. Let me do that.” Impatient fingers pushed Jaylynn’s hands aside and zipped up the jacket. Dez reached out and took the rookie’s hands into her own warm ones. “Geez, your hands are cold. We’ve got to get you into the car and get the heat on.”

Through chattering teeth the soaked woman said, “Aren’t you cold?”

“Yeah, freezing! But I’ve had my coat on and I’m not nearly as wet as you.” Keeping hold of one of the rookie’s hands, Dez pulled her up the embankment as firemen suddenly dashed past and down to the car, dragging ropes and equipment.

The ambulance doors were just shutting Cassie in, and as they hastened to their cruiser, the women watched it pull away, siren blaring.

“Uh oh,” said Dez. Lieutenant Andres stomped toward them, a rapidly wilting unlit cigarette dangling from his lips. He had the start of a day’s growth of beard and his bloodshot eyes snapped and flared at them. He held a hand up to stop them in front of the patrol car.

“Reilly! What the hell did you think you were doing? Who told you to effect a rescue?”

“Nobody, sir.”

Jaylynn watched as Dez’s face became cold and impassive, her eyes small slits.

Andres said, “If anything happens to that girl, the department could be liable.”

“She was bleeding to death, sir,” said Dez.

“You’re not an EMT—how do you know?”

“I’ve got enough training to know that, sir.”

“You patrol cops don’t know shit . . .” he said and continued to harangue them, emphasizing departmental liability. Dez knew Andres had never liked her and was probably squeezing his lucky rabbit’s foot with the hope that she made some sort of mistake for which she would be found liable.

After a couple of minutes, Dez glanced over at Jaylynn, then did a double-take in concern. Shaking with cold, Jalynn stood dutifully, her lips nearly blue. Dez unzipped her own jacket and slipped it off. “With all due respect, sir, Savage here is soaked through. She could go hypothermic if we don’t get her warmed up. In fact, our shift ends in just a few minutes. With your permission, I’m going to send her home to a hot tub.”

Grudgingly he stepped aside. “There’ll be hell to pay if you screwed up, Reilly.”

“Yes, sir,” she said as she opened the cruiser door and stuffed Jaylynn in. She covered the rookie’s legs with her own coat, then slammed the door shut, and practically ran around to the other side. She got in and started the engine, then pulled away in a spray of gravel.

“Fuckin’ asshole.”

“What?” said Jaylynn. Her teeth chattered and she was shivering from head to toe.

“It figures my least favorite Lieutenant would have to venture out duty tonight.” She cranked up the heat as high as it would go. Once she was several blocks away from the accident site, she turned on the siren and lights and floored it.

Dez said, “Maybe we should have had the paramedics look at you.”

Jaylynn shivered so hard, she was shaking. “I’m…okay…I’ll…be…fine.” She forced the words out.

Dez looked over at her, worried. She pulled up in front of the young woman’s house, wrenched her door open, and flew around to the other side of the car to help the struggling woman get out.

“I’m fine,” Jaylynn choked out. “Just need a hot bath.”

“No no no,” said Dez, as she steered her up the front walk toward the dark house. “You don’t get a hot bath. You have to be rewarmed slowly. You can actually go into shock if you’re hit with hot water—Jay? Jaylynn? Where are your keys? Your house keys?”

Jaylynn looked at her blankly.

Dez fished through the rookie’s jacket, patted her front pants pockets. “Jay!” She leaned down and tipped the blond woman’s face up so she could look her in the eye. The blond shook uncontrollably and stared, her eyes unfocused. Her skin was unnaturally pale, even whiter than Dez’s. “Jay, do you have your house keys?”

“In . . .my . . .locker.”

“Shit! You should have gone with the EMTs.” Dez banged on the door and rang the bell. She waited, then took Jaylynn’s arm and dragged her back to the car.

“I’ll just go—take a hot bath—.”

Dez paid no attention. She ripped open the passenger door and shoved the shaking woman in, not bothering to buckle her up, then ran back around to the driver’s side. She hesitated long enough to crank up the heat before she peeled away.

“Jay, listen to me. Don’t go to sleep. You’ll be warmed up soon. Come on, stay with me!” She reached over and smacked the trembling woman on the thigh. No response.

She screeched to a halt in front of Luella’s and got Jaylynn out of the car. Twisting Jaylynn’s arm around her own neck and with one arm around the smaller woman’s waist, Dez pulled her along. Jaylynn stumbled beside her in a daze. Dez went right up the stairs and beat on the front door. In a few seconds her landlady’s nervous face peered out the side window, and then the front door popped open.

She stood in her nightgown and fuzzy slippers, a pink wrapper pulled tight around her. “Why Dez—.”

“Emergency, Luella. She’s wet, probably hypothermic. I need your help,” Dez grunted out as she half-dragged Jaylynn into the house. Luella stepped aside to let them through.

“What do you need, honey?”

“Need to borrow your guest room.” Dez didn’t wait for an answer as she guided the lurching woman down the back hall. Over her shoulder she said, “And will you go make some hot cocoa or cider, something like that?”

“Sure,” Luella called out. “There’s extra blankets in the bottom drawers of the dresser.” She turned and headed for the kitchen. “Two mugs of warm cocoa coming up in a jiffy.”

Dez stumbled into the dark room and swatted an arm up the wall to flip on the lightswitch. A lamp on a bedside table blinked on and cast a warm glow on the pale tan walls, illuminating a small room, neatly organized with a full-sized bed, maple dresser, and kid-sized writing desk under the window. Dez moved the shaking woman over in front of the bed and steadied her. She wrestled Jaylynn’s zipper down and slipped her jacket off, stripped away the rumpled blue uniform shirt, then ripped off the velcro strips of the vest. The blond woman’s lips were blue, her eyes vacant and drowsy. She leaned back against the edge of the bed.

“Wait. Don’t sit yet. Help me out. Gotta get those wet things off.” She made Jaylynn stand, half-supporting her with one arm while she reached back and pulled the bed covers open. Dez pulled at the damp vest. She had to wrestle with it a bit, but she removed it and then tugged the other three layers over the rookie’s head, finally stripping off the blood-stained tank top last. She undid Jaylynn’s belt and pants, slid them down, and pushed her back onto the bed wearing only her bra and panties. Dez fumbled at shoelaces until she got them untied and pulled the shoes off, then socks. The smaller woman’s feet were like frozen blocks.

“S-s-s-so cold,” said Jaylynn as she shook uncontrollably.

“I know, I know. Lie down,” she said in a gruff voice. “We’ll get you warmed up soon.” Jaylynn tipped over to the side and Dez took hold of her ankles and swung her legs up on the bed. She pulled the covers over and tucked the smaller woman in.

Luella appeared in the doorway. She held an empty hot water bottle under one arm as she unreeled the long cord of a heating pad.

Dez moved closer to her landlady. In a low worried tone she said, “Maybe I should have taken her to the emergency room?”

“She’s still shivering,” said Luella, “so she’ll be all right. It’s when you stop shivering that there’s trouble.”

“Can you keep an eye on her for ten minutes, Luella? I have to return the squad car down and sign us out, then I’ll be right back.”

“No problem, dear. Hurry up.”

Dez disappeared from the room as the silver haired woman bent slowly and plugged the heating pad cord into the wall outlet, then opened the bottom dresser drawer and tugged two wool blankets out to spread over Jaylynn. She moved out into the living room to the thermostat and turned it up several notches. Returning to the guest room, she sat on the edge of the bed, humming to herself, her hand patting the shivering blond. Before Luella knew it, the tall cop was back.

“That was quick,” said Luella.

Dez said, “Speeding is one of the few benefits of driving a cop car.”

Luella stood and inspected her tenant. Hands on hips she said, “Are you as wet as she is?”

“No. No, I’m fine.”

“Don’t lie to me, girlie. I can see you’re wet. Look at those pant legs.”

“Well, just my legs are wet. The rest of me is pretty dry.”

Luella gave her a perplexed look and reached down to run her hand down to the knee of Dez’s uniform. In her bossiest voice she said, “You are too wet. Get those clothes off right now and crawl in there and warm her up. She’s not gonna warm up quick enough without help, you know.”

Dez said, “I was thinking maybe you could—”

“Are you nuts? I got the circulation of a penguin. Poor girl would probably freeze to death next to me. Go on. Get in. Here, toss these over the top of her.” She helped Dez spread the two blankets, then said, “Hot chocolate ought to be done now too.”

Luella picked up the empty hot water bottle from the top of the dresser and shuffled out of the room, leaving Dez to strip off her own clothes and shoes and then go around to the opposite side of the bed. Jaylynn lay curled up on her right side facing toward the door, her arms clenched over her chest. Dez slipped under the covers and turned to her right side and scooted over. Before her skin even touched Jaylynn’s, she could feel the chill radiating off, and she winced when the cold flesh touched the front of her legs. Jaylynn’s back was a frozen block against her stomach, but she resisted the desire to recoil. Putting her arm around the smaller woman’s middle, she moved as close as she could, tucking her head up over Jaylynn’s left shoulder. The blond trembled violently, her teeth chattering so hard they made clicking sounds.

Luella bustled into the room with a TV tray and set it next to the bed, then left and returned with two mugs half-filled with steaming liquid which she placed on the tray. She picked up the heating pad from the floor and went to the foot of the bed. “I’m going to tuck this under here on top of the sheet by your feet. I put it on high but it isn’t all heated up yet.”

Dez said, “Thanks Luella, you’re a lifesaver.”

“I’m going to go fill that hot water bottle too. How cold does her stomach feel?”

Dez shifted her hands to Jaylynn’s middle and, a little embarrassed, pressed the flat of her hand there a moment. She said, “She feels pretty cold all over—maybe not quite as cold there.”

“All right then. I’ll be back in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.” She bent slowly and gathered up the clothes on the floor.

“Luella, you can leave those. I’ll get them . . . ”

“Don’t you worry. Looks like some of this needs to be put to soak. I’ll take care of it.”

Jaylynn continued to shiver, but less violently, and Dez thought she could feel some warmth generating between them. Several minutes went by, and though Jaylynn wasn’t shaking as much, her skin still felt like cold jello. More time passed, and Dez began to worry. Quietly, because her lips were near Jaylynn’s ear, she said, “Hey, you feeling any warmer?”

Dez thought the smaller woman nodded, though she continued to shiver so she wasn’t sure.

“Jaylynn, was that a yes?”

“Um hmmm,” said Jaylynn.

“As soon as the shivering calms down some, you think you can drink something warm?”

“I’ll try.”

“Your legs and back are a little warmer now.”

Through gritted teeth, Jaylynn choked out, “Feels like I’ll never get warm again.”

“You will, just be patient.”

“Where the hell are we?” she groused.

Luella stepped in the room just then carrying a bundle wrapped in a towel. “So, my dear, you’re finally with it again?”

“Hi Luella,” she said miserably. “I think so.”

“Here, take this hot water bottle and hold it on your tummy.” She lifted up the edge of the covers and slipped the bundle under.

“Ohhhh, this is even warmer than Dez is.”

Luella said, “That girl’s like a furnace, isn’t she? Dez, are your feet warming up?”

“Yes, Luella. My feet are fine.”

“As long as you two are thawing, I may as well get together a little midnight snack. I’ll be right back.” She disappeared from the room before Dez could protest.

“Oh geez! She’s gonna show up with a pile of food ceiling high.”

In a muffled voice Jaylynn said, “Would that be so bad?”

Dez nestled closer and lifted her chin up over Jaylynn’s upper arm. “You’re not shaking as badly now. I guess you’re doing better, huh?” When Jaylynn assented, Dez said, “Think you could drink some cocoa?”

“Yeah.”

Dez slipped her right arm under Jaylynn’s neck and pulled herself up on her elbow. She snaked her left arm out from under the covers and hooked a mug. Carefully she brought it near. Jaylynn tried to reach for it, but Dez said, “No, just stay under the covers. I’ll hold it for you.”

Jaylynn lifted her head a bit and let Dez guide the mug to her lips. “Yum! “This is great.”

“Everything Luella makes is great. I’d weigh 300 pounds if I didn’t fight her off daily.”

Jaylynn let her head drop on Dez’s arm. She shivered slightly and snuggled deeper. “I guess I’d weigh 300 pounds then. I couldn’t refuse her.”

“You’d probably only get to about 250, with the smaller build and all.”

“That’s comforting.” Jaylynn pulled the covers tighter against her neck.

Dez set the mug back on the tray and picked up the other one, brought it to her lips and downed most of the hot liquid. “Whew, that is good. And it’s not instant. She makes it from scratch.”

“Dez?”

“Yeah?”

“Will you turn over?”

“What?” she said, confused.

“On your other side. Will you turn over? My back is feeling better now, but my stomach and legs are freezing.”

Dez flipped over and faced the wall. She flinched when the chilled skin touched her back, hips, and thighs, which made he break out in shivers. In a cranky voice she said, “How can you be so cold and not dead?”

Jaylynn said, “How can you be so warm and not melted?” She pressed a chilly cheek to Dez’s shoulder.

“Very funny.”

Jaylynn shuddered again. “I’d be warmer without these wet underwear on.”

“Yeah, me too.” Neither woman made a move to remove any more clothing.

Jaylynn slipped her right arm around the bigger woman’s waist, placing her forearm against a taut stomach. With warm hands, Dez rubbed the cold arm and hand.

“Where’s the hot water bottle?” said Dez.

“Leaning on my back.”

“Good. Here I’m going to get the heating pad . . .” She reached down and snagged the cord, dragged it up, and tucked it behind the smaller woman’s knees then pulled the covers tight over them again and lay back down.

“Ohhh, that feels good. I can actually feel heat now. What a relief.” An arm tightened around Dez’s middle, and her hand came to rest just below the dark haired woman’s breast bone. Dez looked down and realized she was beginning to feel heat she would not want to admit to. She swallowed and tried to still her beating heart. Glad she was not facing the chilled woman, she took a deep breath and resisted the urge to flee saying, “You should have told me before you got so damn cold.”

“I guess I didn’t really notice until it was too late.”

In a grumpy voice Dez said, “Now that you know what it’s like, pay closer attention next time.”

Dez felt a cold hand move down to the side of her stomach and pinch the muscle there. When she jumped, Jaylynn said, “I do believe you’re in a compromising position here Miss Big Shot Cop. Don’t go getting grouchy on me or I’ll have to tickle ya.” She poked into the muscle of the brunette’s stomach.

“Hey!” Dez yowled, but Jaylynn’s arm tightened around her before she could squirm away.

The blond said, “I’m not warm enough yet.”

Dez growled, “Be nice or I’ll unplug the heating pad and leave you with that tepid hot water bottle.”

“Yeah, right.”

Dez turned over on her back. “You should drink the rest of that cocoa. I’m sure the 5-course meal chaser is coming any minute.”

Jaylynn rolled onto her back, clutching the covers, and half sat up to grab the mug. She leaned on her elbow and sipped it. “I feel way better now, but I’m still cold. My feet are freezing.”

“Here, put the heating pad on ‘em.” Dez sat up and reached to the middle of the bed until she found it. The blankets fell away as she leaned forward, revealing muscled shoulders and smooth ivory-colored skin.

“Dez!” said Jaylynn, “you’re letting all the cold air in.”

“Whine, whine, whine!”

From the kitchen a warbling whistle trilled. Jaylynn set down her mug. As Dez settled the heating pad against her feet, Jaylynn said, “She’s not really making a 5-course meal, is she?”

From her seated position Dez looked over her shoulder, a scowl on her face. In the golden lamplight, Jaylynn couldn’t quite see the blue in her eyes. They actually looked dark and far away. “I guarantee you she is making some sort of full meal. I don’t know how she does it.” Dez sighed. “How are your legs and feet—you feel the heating pad now?”

“Yeah, but they’re sure not as warm as the rest of me.”

Dez stretched long arms under the covers and clamped hot hands on Jaylynn’s left thigh, then kneaded gently down to her calf and back up. “Getting any circulation now?”

Jaylynn was grateful for the dim lamplight because a surge of warmth branched out starting somewhere in the pit of her stomach—or perhaps lower—and radiated outward. And then she felt the blush come on exactly when Dez leaned over more closely to give the same treatment to her other thigh.

“Does that help?”

“Yep, I’m definitely warmer.” Jaylynn was relieved to hear the tread of the older woman in the hall. She rounded the corner into the room carrying two tall glasses of milk balanced in one hand and a pair of three-inch tall ceramic pink pigs in the other. Dez reached across Jaylynn and took the glasses from Luella’s hand and put them on the TV tray. Jaylynn frowned as she looked at the pink pigs.

“Salt and pepper shakers,” said Dez.

“Aren’t they cute?” said Luella. “I bought ’em years ago at an estate sale up the street. Two more minutes and I’ll be back with some goodies.”

“Nothing big for me, you know,” said Dez.

“Um hmm,” Luella said as she rolled her eyes and headed out of the room.

“Wait,” said Dez. “Can I borrow a robe or shirt or something?”

Luella paused. “Why?”

“I want to run upstairs and get us some dry clothes.”

Luella disappeared for a moment then popped back in the room. She handed Dez a worn green and red plaid wrap-around robe. “It was the mister’s so it ought to fit you.”

“Thanks. I’ll bring it right back.”

Jaylynn watched all of this with amusement. She wasn’t used to anyone, not even the duty sergeant, ordering Dez around. Even more amusing was how meekly Dez took it from the older woman.

“Back in a second,” said Dez. She threw the covers aside and stood, pulling the robe around her shoulders and tightening the belt before she turned around.

Jaylynn said, “I’ve still got the heating pad, but there’s definitely a chill in the bed now that you’ve gotten out.”

From the foot of the bed Dez glanced at her, a peculiar look on her face. “I’ll be right back.”

Jaylynn sank down under the blankets. She kicked her feet back and forth and felt the warmth of the friction from the heating pad and sheets. Even though her body was nestled in a toasty cocoon, she still felt chilled. She hadn’t been kidding when she’d said it wasn’t as warm without Dez. She looked around the small room she was lying in. Plain and simple. Hardwood floors with a multi-colored braided rug next to the bed. The maple dresser matched the headboard. The window shade was open and a lacy valance hung at the top of the window frame. On the desk sat an 8 x 10 photo in a frame, but Jaylynn couldn’t see what the photo was of. Two of the pictures on the walls were of flowers: daffodils and jonquil in one; roses and blue bells in the other. The third picture hanging over the dresser was of two sweet children walking across a rickety bridge with a benevolent looking guardian angel hovering over them. The wide golden frame highlighted the gold of the children’s hair and the angel’s halo. All in all it was a cozy room to warm up in.

True to her word Dez returned carrying an armload of clothes and the plaid robe. She had changed into tan-colored wool socks, flannel sleeping shorts, and a loose black t-shirt that had a pink explosion on the front and said “Cherry Bombs Attitude Gear.”

“Here,” she said as she stood over Jaylynn. “Put this on.” She handed Jaylynn a long-sleeved sleeping shirt. “Take off your wet things, okay?” She turned abruptly and sat on the edge of the bed facing away from the cocooned woman. Jaylynn sat forward and unhooked her bra, slipped it off, and then wormed her way into the shirt without ever taking the covers off. Over her shoulder Dez tossed a pair of red cotton shorts, soft and worn, and said, “Take the last of the damp stuff off and just wear these.”

Jaylynn was more than happy to remove the wet underwear and slip on the shorts. They actually felt warm against her skin.

“Socks,” said Dez. She stood and handed them to Jaylynn as Luella came around the corner bearing two plates.

“Now Dez,” Luella said. “You need to keep your strength up, so I went ahead and dished you up a plate too.” With fake menace in her voice, she said, “Get back in there where it’s warm.”

“All right,” Dez said in a resigned voice. She moved around to the other side of the bed, got in, shifted upward against the headboard, and rearranged the covers over her lap.

Luella set the two plates on the TV tray, then pulled forks out of her robe pocket and handed them to Jaylynn who passed one over to her glowering partner. Jaylynn paid no attention to her bed-mate. She was intent on plates filled with buttered carrots, turkey, mashed potatoes and a liberal splash of gravy covering half of each dish. Suddenly her stomach clenched, leaving her feeling weak. “I can’t believe how hungry I am,” she exclaimed.

Luella handed a plate to Jaylynn who passed it to a reluctant Dez, then accepted the other for herself. The older woman beamed, then went over and got the desk chair and dragged it next to the TV tray. With difficulty, she lowered herself into the chair next to the bed and then watched as the blond lit into her plate like she hadn’t had food for decades.

The gravy was succulent, spiced with pepper and something Jaylynn couldn’t identify. “This is so good!” She looked over at Dez who was dutifully eating the carrots.

“Now, are you girls going to tell me what happened?”

Between bites, the smaller woman told most of the story, though Dez took over for a while when it came to the parts Jaylynn was fuzzy about. After they’d explained, Jaylynn said, “I wonder how those kids are?”

In a low, flat voice, Dez said, “Probably all dead.”

Jaylynn drew a quick breath. “What do you mean?”

Dez shrugged. “The kids in the front were crushed, I’m sure. And the girl would be lucky to live through that. Between her injuries and the cold—look how it affected you—well, she’d be lucky to live.”

Jaylynn swallowed and sat back. “God, she was just a teenager. I hope she doesn’t die.”

Dez looked away and nodded. “Yeah. Maybe we got her out in time. Hard to tell.” She set her plate on her lap. The carrots and turkey were gone, but not the potatoes or gravy.

Luella said, “I’m sure you two did the best you could. That’s all anyone could ask. I’ll pray for the girl tonight and tomorrow and perhaps God will see fit to give her another chance.” She lifted her legs up to the edge of the bed and stretched them, leaning back in the chair. “Don’t get old,” she said. “Arthritis is just no fun at all.”

Jaylynn set her plate aside on the TV tray. “Do you take anything for it?” she said.

“Sure, but there’s only so much can be done for these ancient legs.”

A low voice said, “Couldn’t have anything to do with the high fat diet.” Luella ignored her.

Jaylynn elbowed Dez and pointed at her plate. “If you’re not going to finish that off, may I?”

Dez nodded, and the young woman snapped up the plate without a moment’s hesitation. “This is just the best gravy!”

With a sly grin Luella said, “Why thank you dear. It’s nice to be appreciated.” She squinted her eyes and gave Dez a mock dirty look, which the dark haired woman returned.

“Hey, I didn’t do so bad, Luella. The turkey was great, as usual, and I did break my carb rule.”

Jaylynn said, “What’s your carb rule?”

“No carbohydrates after six o’clock.”

Luella shook her head. “Don’t pay a lick of attention to her, dear. You go right on and eat like us normal folks.”

Jaylynn shoveled in the last couple of bites, then said, “I’m pretty warm now, so I suppose I should get home.”

But Luella wouldn’t hear of it. She leaned forward and touched a moist palm to Jaylynn’s forehead, smoothing back the white-blond hair. “You still aren’t all that warm. I think you should stay put. Besides, I’ve got some special breakfast goodies started. You need to stay and sleep. And you haven’t got any clothes to go home in until I finish your laundry anyway.”

“But it’s the middle of the night, Luella!” she protested. “I shouldn’t be keeping you up. And you don’t have to do my laundry!”

“Oh, goodness, that’s nothing. It’s not like I sleep well anyway. And it’s nice to have a little excitement every once in a while. Stop worrying yourself over it. I’m often up at this time.” She looked at the gold watch on her wrist. “At midnight that talk show comes on that I like to listen to.”

Jaylynn said, “Oh. What show?”

“I forget the man’s name. He’s somewhere in Colorado, and for two straight hours he talks to people about the government conspiracy regarding aliens.”

Dez said, “Illegal aliens or outer space aliens?”

Luella said, “Definitely outer space. It’s quite interesting.”

Dez arched an eyebrow, flicking a look over at Jaylynn before she said, “Luella, don’t tell me you believe in that stuff.”

“Of course not, you fool,” said the older woman with a chuckle. “But it’s a laugh a minute listening to all the looney tunes who do.” She ignored the teasing sigh of relief from the dark haired woman and lifted her legs off the edge of the bed, scooting the chair back. She stood, replaced the chair under the desk, then picked up the plaid robe from the foot of the bed. “You just wake up in the morning when you want, and I’ll fix you the mother of all breakfasts. You too, Miss Health Nut. I’ll make something you can eat, too. Now why don’t you both get some sleep.” She shuffled to the door and hit the lights and went down the hall.

Jaylynn lay in the darkened room letting her eyes adjust to the faint light coming in the window. In the compact double bed, she was close enough to Dez to feel the heat the bigger woman exuded. She would have loved to move closer to that warmth, but something held her back.

A low voice said, “I can go up and sleep in my own place if you’d rather.”

Jaylynn wasn’t sure what to say. She opted for honesty. “That’s okay. I’d like you to stay, Dez. You’re keeping me warm, you know. Even from over there.”

“Are you still cold? How about your feet and legs?”

“Not too bad. The food helped. I ought to be fine by morning.’

“All right.”

She felt the bigger woman turn away onto her side and rustle around trying to get comfortable. Very quickly Jaylynn felt fatigue coming on, and she wafted along half-awake for several minutes. Dez continued to toss and turn furtively. Finally Jaylynn put a hand out and found Dez’s hip. “Hey, if you’re uncomfy, you don’t have to stay. Do you need more room?”

“No. I just don’t want to crowd you.”

Jaylynn chuckled. “Oh please! I’ve got two little sisters who both crawl in bed with me every chance they get. I’m past the point of feeling crowded. Just relax, okay?” She turned on her side facing Dez, scooted over a few inches and snuggled into the bigger woman’s side, settling her head against a warm shoulder and pressing her knees up to a toasty leg. “Good night,” she said. No answer, but by then she didn’t care because she was already asleep.

Jaylynn awoke a few hours later. The sun had risen and was casting rays of light through the window. She felt a thrill of contentment to find Dez pressed close behind, an arm around her waist and their legs entangled. She was warm and felt entirely protected. Shifting from her side, she looked back over her shoulder. Even in sleep the bigger woman scowled. For some reason Jaylynn found that endearing. Settling back on her side, the arm around her tightened and pulled her closer. She took a deep breath and drifted back off to sleep.

Two hours later Dez awoke to the sound of pans clanking far off in the kitchen. She was not amused to find herself wrapped around the rookie. It was all she could do to keep from leaping out of the bed. Instead she wormed away from the sleeping woman and slipped out, shaking her head with relief that Jaylynn hadn’t realized she was being mauled. She wasn’t sure how she would have explained herself. As she tiptoed out of the room, Jaylynn woke and said, “Hey you.”

Dez stopped in the doorway. “You’re awake. You feel rested?”

Jaylynn stretched and yawned. “Haven’t felt this good in weeks. Bet my hair’s a mess though.”

In all seriousness, Dez said, “Yeah, you’re giving Alfalfa a run for his money.”

“Your braid is coming undone, too, so join the club.”

Dez reached up to undo what was left of the braid allowing her thick black hair to spill out over her shoulders. “I’ll be back with some clothes,” she said as she turned on her heel and disappeared down the hall.

Jaylynn grabbed the pillow from the other side of the bed, stacking it on hers, and reclined. She continued to snuggle in the warm covers. Being so cold the night before was almost like a bad dream, ethereal and hard to believe. In a few minutes Dez returned fully dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved cotton jersey. Her hair was neatly brushed in its usual smooth French braid.

“Hey, no fair,” said Jaylynn. “How’d you get tidied up so quick?”

Dez shrugged and tossed Jaylynn a pair of red sweat bottoms and an oversized blue and green wool sweater, then leaned against the doorframe with her arms crossed. Jaylynn pulled the sweater over her head. The waist was fine, but the shoulders bagged ridiculously. “Too bad you didn’t run this wool thing through the washer and dryer for me. Maybe it would fit after it shrank.”

“Sorry. Best that I could do.”

“One good thing though—it’s definitely warm.” She pulled the red sweats under the covers and wrestled them on, then pulled the covers back up and leaned against the pillows. “It smells fabulous in here!”

Dez nodded. “She’s in there creating sumptuous delicacies. Bet you’re gonna love this.”

“And you won’t?”

“Like I said, I’d weigh 300 pounds if I let her feed me regularly.”

“What’s she making?” Jaylynn said, an expectant look on her face.

“Oh, I can’t spoil her surprise. She’ll probably want to tell you herself. I’m not even sure how long she’s been at it.”

Alarmed Jaylynn said, “She hasn’t been up all night, has she?”

“Oh no. She can whip up these two thousand calorie snacks in less than 15 minutes. Just wait and see. Are you gonna lay there all day or what?”

Reluctantly Jaylynn tossed the covers back and swung her legs over the side of the bed. Dez glanced down at her feet. “You want some slippers?”

“Nah, I’m good in these wool socks, but thanks.”

Still slouching against the doorjamb Dez said, “So, no bad after effects from last night? You feel warm enough?”

“Oh yeah! But who wouldn’t with such a great furnace emanating heat all night.”

Dez stood up straight, trying to hide the blush that spread from her neck all the way to the roots of her hair. Before she could say anything, Jaylynn popped off the bed and put a hand on her forearm. “Desiree Reilly, that’s a good thing. I’m thankful you exude heat like a pottery kiln. Sure made my life less miserable.”

Dez ducked her head and shifted away, moving around to the other side of the bed. “You want to help me here?” She began pulling sheets and covers into place, smoothing the spread. Jaylynn took hold of her side and evened it up.

“How do I ever repay Luella?” said Jaylynn.

“You don’t. She wouldn’t think of taking money. She loves to entertain and cook for people, but she’s getting to the point where friends and relatives are old and infirm or dying off, so her circle is shrinking.” Dez arranged the pillows, then picked up one of the blankets to fold. Jaylynn took the other. “She’s a very social person, but all she’s got left is her sister Vanita who lives on the other side of the lake near you. Neither one can drive so I run them back and forth every so often. You’ll have to meet Vanita sometime. They’re like two peas in a pod.”

Dez opened the bottom drawer of the dresser and they put the two blankets away.

Jaylynn said, “She never had a family?”

Dez stood and pushed the drawer shut with her foot. “Yes she did.” She stepped back and picked up the photograph from the top of the little desk. Jaylynn stood next to her and looked at a black and white studio picture of two adults and two boys. A stately black haired, dark eyed man sat in the upper left corner of the picture. His smile was wide, an obvious twinkle in his eye. He wore a dark suit with wide lapels and a black tie, and he was balancing a laughing boy of about six on his right knee. The boy was a miniature version of his father and was also dressed in a handsome dark suit. To the man’s left sat a beautiful mahogany skinned woman, her hair coifed high. She wore a flowered dress and long white gloves on elegant arms, one of which was steadying another laughing child in her lap. The second little boy was a toddler dressed in light-colored slacks, a white shirt with a high collar, and red suspenders. His head was turned toward his brother and they seemed to be sharing a moment of total hilarity while their parents attempted to fight back laughter themselves.

Jaylynn leaned closer to peer at the photo Dez held. She put an arm around the bigger woman’s waist and leaned her head on her shoulder. “If that’s Luella, she was drop dead gorgeous!”

“Yes she was.”

“She’s still a good-looking woman now, but wow! Look at her.” She studied the photo a moment longer, then said, “I bet she was a corker of a mom. What happened to her husband?”

Dez sighed and nervously stepped away from Jaylynn’s embrace. She replaced the photo on the desk. “They all died in a house fire in the 60’s—smoke inhalation. Luella was staying at her sister’s to help with their new baby.”

Jaylynn gasped and said, “Oh, that’s terrible! Such a beautiful family.” She paused a moment. “Now I know one of the reasons she seems to take a person under her wing.”

“Wish I’d known her back then,” said Dez. “I don’t know how she ever got over it.”

From the doorway came a voice, “I don’t know how I got over it either.” Both women looked up, startled. Luella gazed at them thoughtfully as she said, “It was no doubt the worst thing that ever happened in my whole life. Every other rotten thing pales in comparison. But it happened thirty-five years ago.” She looked at Dez. “It does get better over time. I’d have to say you never quite get over it, never forget, but after a while it feels like less a burden.”

“Oh Luella,” said Jaylynn. “It brings a tear to my eye to think of it.”

“Mine too, at times,” said the old woman. “But we’ve still got lives to live, things God set us on earth to do. You keep on keeping on, that’s what you do.” She picked up the two mugs from the TV tray near the bed. “A body’s got to enjoy what the good Lord provides today because it may not be there tomorrow. I loved those little boys and their father, and I’m happy to have had them in my life, even if only for a little while. That’s how I feel about things nowadays. People too. They’re only in your life a while, so live it up while you can.”

She turned in the doorway and called back over her shoulder, “And speaking of living it up, come on in the dining room. As soon as the timer rings, apple panny-cakes will be on the way to the table, and you definitely need to see them all puffed up in their splendor and glory.”

Jaylynn wiped a tear from her cheek with the back of her hand. She looked up at the passive expression on Dez’s face, and when the tall woman met her eyes, Jaylynn said, “What?” She glared at the taller woman. “Are you making fun of me?”

Dez shrugged and Jaylynn punched her upper arm and said, “I can cry all I want right now—I’m not a cop at this moment.”

Dez protested. “I didn’t say anything!”

“Hmpfh . . . but you probably wanted to.”

“Let’s go try out her latest recipe,” Dez said as she led the way out of the small room.

She stopped abruptly in the hall and Jaylynn nearly ran into her. “Wait. You go on,” said Dez. “I’ll run down and bring the laundry up. There are a couple of items I”m sure you’ll eventually need.”

“Like underwear?”

“Yup.”

“Good deal. I was wondering where they’d gone.”
PART 5
Dez steered past the well-lit River Centre convention hall. It was ablaze with light because of a Self-esteem Psychology Conference taking place there. She and Jaylynn were assigned away from their regular sector due to all the activities in downtown St. Paul which included the play Jekyll & Hyde at The Ordway Theater at night and a dental convention during the day. She didn’t know why it seemed so apparent, but even without white coats and drills, she thought she could recognize the dentists out on the streets. They looked quite different from the rabid looking pack of people waiting outside the theater for Jekyll & Hyde.

Dez slowed and scanned the area past the theater and across the street at the private St. Paul Club. Walking away from her, she saw a tall slender young man dressed in a baseball cap, ratty jeans, and a light tan jacket. He was out of place, looking like he wouldn’t belong with the esteem attendees, the dentists, or the Jekkies. Her eyes narrowed as she slowed the car and concentrated on him, and she felt Jaylynn do the same. A man dressed in a suit and a woman dolled up in a wool coat and very high heels strolled toward the police car obviously headed for the theater. A football-sized purse trailed from the woman’s shoulder.

Jaylynn shot a glance at Dez and then back to the couple. “You know what . . .” she said, but before she could finish, the tan-coated man darted forward, snagged the dangling purse and took off.

“I knew it!” said the blond. She reached for the radio and reported what was happening, calling for backup, and giving a block by block account of their location.

Dez gunned the car engine and sped ahead to Kellogg Boulevard. The man cast a brief look over his shoulder and saw them. He tucked the purse under one arm, and, like a tight end, cut out across the street, dodged around a honking car, and raced to the left.

There was nowhere for him to go on the Boulevard but down the hill. He was penned in on the river side, along the bluff, and if he were to cross back over to the side he had just come from, he had to know the officers would be out of the car and on him. As long as he stayed herded on the wise sidewalk, they drove parallel on the street, lights flashing, waiting to reach the freeway overpass ahead. At the overpass, Kellogg Boulevard became a sharp incline. At that point he would surely run out of energy and they could capture him easily, especially since by then another unit would be heading toward them to cut him off. Every so often he craned his head around desperately looking for a safe exit.

“Where the hell does he think he’s gonna go?” said Dez.

“He could turn and run across the Robert Street Bridge,” Jaylynn replied.

“Unless he jumps, which I doubt, we’ll have no problem grabbing him there.”

“Hmm, there’s those warehouses up ahead.”

“But he’ll have to cross the street . . .” He chose that moment to cut across the boulevard. “Yippee-ki-yay! Our boy’s out of the chute!” Dez slammed on the brakes, and Jaylynn smacked open the door and peeled out of the car after him. Dez hit the siren and sped ahead intending to cut him off at the next street.

The man had a half block advantage, but he was slowing in fatigue from the eight-plus blocks he’d already run. He huffed and puffed up the side street next to a row of rambling, broken-down warehouses. He slowed to pull on a door handle, but no luck. Jaylynn was within yards of him when he grabbed another door, and much to his obvious surprise, it opened.

“Shit!” said Dez. She grabbed the radio and called in the address for backup.

Before the heavy metal door shut, Jaylynn had disappeared through it. Dez drove up on the sidewalk, threw the car into park, and got out of the car. She pulled out her gun, raced to grab the door handle, then went in low. Pausing for a heartbeat, she heard the clatter of footsteps on stairs and holstered her weapon, grabbing her flashlight in its place. She ran ahead, passing piles of trash, heaps of unrecognizable junk. The warehouse smelled foul and musty, like there were dead things present. She found the stairs and started up them two at a time.

“Jay!” She no longer heard footsteps and focused on powering her way up. After seven flights of stairs, her thighs burned. She rounded another flight and saw the steps ran out. Another door was just closing at the top. Hitting it with her shoulder before it clicked shut, she burst into a large cavernous room illuminated only by the streetlamps outside. Shafts of light shone in through tall casement windows, which stretched from Dez’s waist to near the top of the high vaulted ceiling.

Thirty yards across the warehouse floor, the man stood leaning against the far wall, doubled over and trying to catch his breath. Dead end. Jaylynn held her gun, braced on her left arm.

“Police,” panted Jaylynn. “Put . . . your hands up . . .turn around . . . face the wall. . . Don’t move, and . . . I won’t shoot.” She gasped the words out, but the man understood because he followed her directions. She advanced slowly, stepping cautiously across the old wooden floor. Dez kept her flashlight down and drew her weapon. When Jaylynn reached the middle of the floor, the big cop felt an odd vibration, then heard a cracking and a roar. Jaylynn disappeared. One second she was standing, crouched, her back to her partner; the next moment she vanished.

Dez’s vision was obscured by a plume of dust shooting up from the floor. She holstered her gun, dropped to her knees and scrambled forward. “Jay!” she shouted. She breathed in powdery dirt and choked back a cough.

She heard a sound, muffled and wheezing, but she recognized the voice. “Dez!”

“I’m coming! Keep talking so I can find you.”

“I’m afraid to move.”

“Stay still then,” came the gruff reply.

Dez crawled to the middle of the floor and pulled back just in time to avoid sliding into a gaping seam in the floor.

From below Jaylynn said, “I could almost jump up and grab the edge—but I’m not so sure how secure this is.”

Dez lay on her stomach and pulled herself to the edge to look over. “Definitely stay still. It doesn’t look secure at all.”

The fourth floor supports had rotted away and the brittle planking resting on them had broken creating a crease in the floor six feet wide that ran from one wall of the warehouse to the other. Jaylynn was perched at the point where some of the cracked boards met but hadn’t quite given way. Any minute, the entire jumble of timbers looked like they would go crashing to the floor below.

Dez was aware of the creaking sound of stressed wood separating. “Jaylynn,” she said in a low, level voice. “Can you see me clearly?”

“Your head, I can see that.”

“See my hand? I’m gonna reach down as far as I can. I want you to stand very slowly and grab on.” With her right hand, Dez gripped the edge of the hole, and with her left she reached as far as she could, angling her body a little to the side. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the hand, then felt it on her wrist. With strong fingers she clenched the smaller woman’s arm, felt cloth and skin, and then heard a crunching, crashing sound. The planks under Jaylynn crumbled. A shock of cold air and dust blew into Dez’s face, blinding her. She bore the weight of the smaller woman, feeling for a brief instant as though she’d dislocated her shoulder. But she held on and didn’t lose her grip. With a growl of exertion, the dark-haired woman rolled away to leverage the dangling woman upward. She grabbed Jaylynn’s belt with her right hand and practically threw the rookie across her body and away from the hole.

The two women scrambled away from the center of the room. Breathless and wheezing, they sat against the wall near the door by which they’d entered. Dez ran her hand over the back of her neck feeling grit under her palm. That was close, she thought, too damn close. She heaved a sigh and rubbed her eyes to clear the dirt from them. She drew her legs up and put her elbows on her knees, letting her hands relax out in front of her. “What happened to our runner?”

A voice sounded from across the room. “I’m still here. I’m not moving until I know the floor’s safe.”

In a menacing voice Dez said, “Don’t move a muscle. The whole floor is unsafe. It could fall in at any minute. I will instruct you when it’s safe.” Dez shook with silent laughter.

Jaylynn elbowed her and hissed, “I don’t think it’s very professional of you to laugh when I almost got my ass crushed.”

In a low rumble, Dez said, “I’m not laughing at you. It’s that idiot. He had all this time to split, and he’s sitting over there waiting for help.” She giggled helplessly, relief flooding through her.

“It is kind of funny,” Jaylynn said grudgingly.

“Are you hurt?”

“Not that I can tell. I landed on my butt, plenty of padding there.”

“Oh, yeah, your butt is so huge, right.” She craned her head to the side to find Jaylynn looking up at her, the hazel eyes serious and penetrating. It was like a jolt of electricity hitting the big cop in the stomach. She looked away, glad of the dim light, and wondered why the rookie kept having this effect on her. Get a grip, she thought to herself as she cleared her throat and tried to steady her breathing.

The quality of the light shining through the windows changed from a steady yellow glimmer to periodic red flashes. Backup had arrived. In seconds they could hear footsteps beating their way up the stairs. Dez stood and opened the stairway door. “Fourth floor, guys! Come on up!” she hollered. To Jaylynn she said, “Here comes the cavalry.” Jaylynn rose and attempted to brush off some of the dust and crud adorning her uniform.

“Don’t bother,” said Dez as she stifled a sneeze. “We’re both too filthy to worry about it.”

The backup cops, three of them, blasted around the corner and came huffing up the last set of stairs.

The tall woman said, “It’s Reilly and Savage here, guys. Be careful. The floor up here isn’t safe. Hey Harnish,” she said as the first officer’s face became recognizable. “How ya doing?”

“No, the question is: how are you doing?”

“A little worse for wear, but otherwise okay.”

“You look like you fell into a bowl of dirty flour.”

“Yeah, well, at least we’ve got our suspect cornered.”

The five officers stood inside the doorway, and Dez called out, “All right buddy, you gonna give us any trouble?”

“No ma’am.”

Dez and the other officers shone their flashlights in his direction. She said, “Stand up and face me. Now put your hands on your head. Wait! Pick up that purse and bring it with you, but keep your hands up. Good. Move to your right and ease your way along the wall until you reach the corner, then walk this way. Just hug the wall and you’ll be okay.”

In a deep authoritative voice Harnish said, “We’ve got enough fire power here to blow you away, so don’t even think of trying anything tricky.”

“No sir,” the man said in a resigned voice as he shuffled along the wall toward them.

Though her breathing had steadied, Jaylynn’s heart was still beating wildly. That was close, too close. I wonder how far I’d have fallen? She swatted at her pants legs again, raising dust that made her cough.

The runner materialized in front of the phalanx of officers.

“Savage, it’s your collar,” said Dez. “You cuff him, pat him down. Oh, and read him his rights.”

After they’d stowed the runner in the car and backup departed, Dez started to get in the vehicle. Jaylynn stood on the sidewalk, uncertain.

One leg in the cruiser, Dez stared over the top of the car and said, “What? What’s wrong?”

“My hat. I lost it.”

“So what. I’ll give you another one.”

In a voice too quiet for Dez to hear across the car, Jaylynn said, “And my weapon.”

“What? I didn’t hear that . . .”

Jaylynn frowned and shook her head. She hated to admit losing her gun. She knew that was rule number one: never lose your weapon under any circumstances. “I’ll be right back.”

“You don’t want to go back in—oh damn.” Dez leaned in and told the suspect to stay put, knowing full well he couldn’t get out of the locked back seat of the squad car. She slammed the driver’s door and stomped over to the warehouse door. Out came the flashlight again, and she went back up the flights of stairs to the third floor, through the doorway and around the corner into the main cavern. She found Jaylynn standing in the shadows against the wall. In the middle of the floor, the pile of planks that had fallen from above were strewn haphazardly, the wood broken and twisted. A gaping hole let a faint light shine down from above.

“Jaylynn?”

The smaller woman didn’t move.

Dez moved over into the shadows next to the rookie. “What’s the matter?

Jaylynn turned to her. “That’s a good 16 or 18 feet.”

“Yeah? So what?”

“I might have survived the fall, but maybe not. I might have been impaled on something. I could have broken my back, my neck . . .” She reached out and clutched her partner’s biceps. “If you hadn’t . . .”

“Don’t go there.” Dez took hold of both of Jaylynn’s forearms and squeezed gently. “Don’t think about that. Let’s just find your hat and get the hell out of here before this floor falls in.”

“That’s twice now.” Jaylynn’s voice quivered.

“Oh geez, Jay! Cut it out. It’s not that big a deal.”

“It is to me.”

“Look,” said Dez. She bent down, her hand on the rookie’s shoulder, and pulled Jaylynn closer so each woman could clearly see the other’s eyes. “Partners watch each other’s back. You’d have done the same for me.”

“As if I could have pulled you out of that.”

“You’d be surprised at what you can do if you have to. Ever hear the one about the woman lifting the Volkswagen off some kid who was trapped?”

“Now you’re probably going to tell me that was you.”

Dez gave a muffled laugh. “No, you lunatic.” She slipped an arm around Jaylynn’s shoulders and steered her over toward the heap of over-sized pick-up sticks. “You got about 30 seconds. Find your hat and let’s get outta here.”

“I don’t care about the hat. I want my gun.”

“Oh.” Dez rolled her eyes and sighed. “That’s different. When did you drop it—right at first or after you fell?”

“After I fell.”

Dez moved to the jumble of boards and started shifting them away. “It’ll be just our luck—it’ll be at the very bottom in the middle. Yuck. This is so filthy.”

“Here let me help.”

“Be careful! There’s nails and splinters—shit!”

“What?” Jaylynn said with alarm in her voice. She stood up and started toward Dez.

“Never mind. I’m fine. Just one of those splinters I was warning you about. I’ll get it out later.”

Together they shifted through the wood until they found the black .38 covered in dust.

“Guess that’ll need a good cleaning,” said Jaylynn. She stood, holstered her gun, and turned to leave. Out of the corner of her eye she saw something round several feet away from the pile. She went over and picked up her hat and swatted at it to dust it off. “Hey, what do you know—at least this isn’t as dirty.”

“Too bad. Then it won’t match the rest of your uniform,” came the dry reply as her partner led the way to the stairwell.

*****

Tim picked up Jaylynn after her shift ended, and they came home to the well-lit house. As they came up the back walk, Jaylynn heard the tinkle of the piano keys and both of them stopped on the back porch and listened. Sara hadn’t played the piano for months, and Jaylynn didn’t want to interrupt. They stood, wordlessly, and listened to the waves and crescendos of a moody classical piece . . . she thought it was Mozart.

They stayed on the porch for several minutes until they were both shaking from the cold. When she finally nodded her head, Tim turned and put the key in the lock. He flicked the kitchen light on and off and hollered out. The music stopped abruptly and Sara appeared in the doorway.

“Hi guys,” she said. She smiled, her large brown eyes shining.

“Nice tunes,” said Jaylynn as she shucked off her coat and mittens to hang them on the hook inside the door. Tim draped his coat over the top of hers and rubbed his hands together, blowing on them to warm up.

“Um hmm…” said Sara. “You guys look good and cold. Time for some hot tea, huh?”

The red-haired man said, “I think we should go straight for the brandy, for medicinal purposes, of course.”

Jaylynn laughed, and the three bustled around the kitchen getting tea bags and mugs and hot water assembled.

As they all settled at the wooden kitchen table Sara said, “Jay, you never said what happened to those kids in the car wreck.”

Jaylynn’s face fell, and she set down the sugar bowl with less grace than she should have, wiggling the table and causing her tea to slosh over the side of her over-full mug. She rose and got a rag from the sink, saying, “The two kids in the front seat—they died. I guess they were dead when we got there. Dez and I went to see the other girl who we pulled out, and she’s a mess.” The blond sat back in her chair and mopped up the spilled tea. She remembered the anguish in the face of the girl’s mother, a nondescript woman who looked no older than Dez. The rookie had hardly been able to contain her own tears when she saw the frightened faces of the two little brothers and sister in the waiting room. “I called the hospital again today, and she’s out of intensive care, but she’s going to be hospitalized a while.”

Tim reached over and patted her arm. He held up the brandy bottle. “You want a shot of this, Jay-o?”

She shook her head. “Nah. I’ll just have bad dreams.”

“From a little shot of brandy?” he said.

She nodded. “Lately I’ve had some weird nightmares—they’re out in full force.”

In a soft voice Sara said, “Tell me about it—me too.”

Jaylynn sprang on the opening. “Have you had any luck with that technique I told you about?”

“Not really. The only thing that seems to work is just not sleeping.”

“Oh Sara,” she said, “that’s not good. Just come sleep with one of us.”

Tim nodded and closed the top of the brandy, then got up and took it over to the cupbard to put it away. “You can always crawl into my bed.” He grinned devilishly, “And Bill can rest assured you won’t be ravished by the likes of me.”

Both women laughed, then Sara’s face turned serious. “I made an appointment at the college counseling center. I’m going to see someone. I know I have to deal with this.”

“Good for you,” said Jaylynn. She reached over and took Sara’s hand and gave it a big squeeze. “You just have to keep talking about it. Over time it’ll get better.”

“I hope so,” the brown eyed woman replied.

*****

The next day Jaylynn gathered up her courage again. They were patrolling the western sector in a residential area, and nothing was happening. A dull day, both in criminal activity and weather. The sky overhead was battleship gray and the wind out of the north cut through her every time she had to leave the car.

“So how about Sunday night after shift?” she said.

Dez knew exactly what she meant and had been hoping the topic would not come up again. “I don’t think I could watch that particular video right now.” She didn’t elaborate.

“Well, how about Shadowlands or The Evening Star?”

“Do you know what those are about?”

“Not really.”

“Maybe we could go with something a little lighter.”

Jaylynn sprang at her chance. “Oh, there are scads there I haven’t seen. Pick any of them, whichever you like. You got any you haven’t seen yet?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Well, we could rent something. Tell you what, I’ll skip bringing the box of hankies and bring the video instead—something not too heavy at all. How’s that?”

“All right,” Dez said in a low, resigned voice. How could she tell Jaylynn no when she sounded so happy and hopeful. She frowned. Now I suppose I have to be perky and cheerful when she’s there.

But she wasn’t perky or cheerful on Sunday night. Not when Jaylynn showed up at eight p.m. with an older video, gushing about how Debra Winger was one of her all-time favorite actresses. She’d rented Black Widow. Dez lied and said she hadn’t seen the movie, when in fact she’d watched it in the theater and liked it immensely. But did Jaylynn know about the lesbian undertones in the film? Geez, she’s young, thought Dez. Maybe she won’t even have a clue. Maybe the subtext will pass her by.

Dez nuked two packages of Orville Redenbacher popcorn and poured them into a big bowl, and they settled onto the couch to watch the show. Scooting near the middle of the sofa, Jaylynn slipped off her shoes and curled up close to the popcorn bowl. Dez slouched down, stretching her long legs out onto the coffee table and crossing them at the ankles. She crossed her arms too.

Jaylynn had also seen Black Widow, and she’d picked it on purpose hoping she could get some sort of reaction out of Dez. Was she or wasn’t she? The guys at the station treated her with respect to her face, but did she know they made comments about her sexuality behind her back? It seemed everyone assumed Dez was gay—just as they assumed Jaylynn was straight. Wouldn’t it be an ironic about-face if it were the other way around? But no, Jaylynn was pretty sure about the tall woman. It was that connection she kept experiencing, something about the way Dez looked at her. They hadn’t talked about it yet, but she was sure Dez had to feel it too.

An hour into the movie Jaylynn glanced over at Dez to find her fast asleep. She looked so tired that Jaylynn sat quietly and watched the remainder of the show alone. So much for gauging her reaction. After the movie ended, Dez gave no indication of wakening, so Jaylynn picked up the remote and flipped to an oldies station to watch an ancient black and white movie, The Thin Man Returns. When it ended at eleven o’clock, Jaylynn decided to call it a night. She turned the sound down a little with the remote and rose to leave. She took the popcorn bowl into the kitchen and collected up Tim’s car keys, then could not resist going back into the living room. Dez slept with a scowl on her face, chin tight to her chest, arms and legs crossed, folded up into herself. Jaylynn crept across the floor and brushed a tendril of hair away from Dez’s forehead, then leaned over and touched the lightest of kisses there. The sleeping woman didn’t stir.

Dez awoke with a start when she heard Jaylynn let herself out. The clock on the VCR read 11:05. Oh crap. I slept for two hours? Geez! She reached up and rubbed her forehead. Was Jaylynn kissing me a dream? Live or Memorex? She wasn’t sure. Probably wishful thinking. Wishful thinking? She took a deep breath and tried to put the smiling blond woman’s face out of her mind. She got up and undressed, dropped her clothes on the valet chair next to the bed and crawled under the comforter. But she didn’t sleep well for the rest of the night after all, and her dreams were frightening. What she remembered when she awoke was fire and blood, swords and pain, and screaming—sometimes her own, sometimes not.

*****

Jaylynn went home to a house ablaze with light. Oh good, she thought. Sara’s still up. She unlocked the front door and called out, “It’s me,” so that Sara would hear her loud and clear. The first thing that assailed her senses was the smell of cinnamon. She dropped her backpack by the front door and hustled down the hall to the kitchen.

Sara was putting a sheet of cookies in the oven. “Hiya, Jay,” she said over her shoulder. She shut the oven door and turned to face her friend. “Uh oh. You’re glowing again.”

Jaylynn blushed and put her hands in her jeans pockets, then leaned against the kitchen counter.

Sara said, “You’re blushing, too, my friend. Any salient details to share with your best bud?”

“Nah, nothing like that.” Jaylynn walked over to the kitchen table and dropped into a chair. “Whatcha making? Smells great.”

“Snickerdoodles.”

Jaylynn’s glance swept the room. “Well? Where are they? They smell so great—you couldn’t have already eaten a whole batch!”

“Of course not. I just made one to make sure the dough was right.”

“You are the only person I know who would do that. I’d just go ahead and ruin 12 or 15 cookies.” Jaylynn leaned back in the chair with a smile on her face. “So where is it?”

Sara pushed her brown hair behind her ear. “I guess you could say I did eat the whole first batch . . . even if it was only one cookie. You’ll have to wait about 12 more minutes.” She put her elbows on the table and rested her face in her hands. “So, tell me what happened tonight with Desirable Dez.”

Jaylynn blushed. “Really, truly—nothing. Nada. Zip.”

Sara’s face took on a sly look. “Ah, but you’re wishing.”

“Oh yeah. Guess I have to admit that.”

“What is it about her? The couple times I’ve had a glimpse of her, she’s just so—so—gee, how do I explain it?”

“Fascinating?”

“Actually, the word I think I had in mind would be cranky.”

“Oh Sara,” Jaylynn said earnestly, “she’s really not cranky at all. Fascinating, yes. Mysterious, yes. Sexy, oh my god! But not cranky. She’s just shy until you get to know her.”

“So what did you and Miss Fascinating do this evening to set the night on fire?”

“It wasn’t like that. We watched a video. Ate popcorn. She fell asleep. I came home.”

Sara stifled a laugh. “Some date that turned out to be! Unless something more intimate happened between the popcorn and the sleep, then I’d have to say BO-ring!” The timer went off, and Sara took the cookies out. “Mm-mmm. These are just perfect, Jay.” By then Jaylynn was looking over her friend’s shoulder hungrily. “But you’ll have to wait a minute or two til they set up a bit.” She waved the her friend away, and Jaylynn made a big show of sighing and rolling her eyes before she sat again at the table. Sara crossed her arms over her U of M sweatshirt and leaned back against the counter.

Thoughtfully, Jaylynn said, “She’s not a very trusting person, Sara. The fact that she fell asleep, well, that means she let her guard down around me. She hasn’t done that before. I take that as a good sign.”

Sara shook her head and smiled. “You got it bad, girlie. I am sure I would never stick with a guy I dated who fell asleep on me right in the middle of the damn date!” She turned and picked up the spatula, then scraped the cookies of the sheet and placed them carefully on a brown paper bag already laid out on the cutting board.

“But Sara!” she protested. “It wasn’t a date. Actually, it was more of a get-together between two friends. I’m not exactly sure how she feels.” Jaylynn frowned. “I know she likes me. She doesn’t let anyone else joke around with her, and when we’re alone on patrol, she loosens up a lot. But she is a tough nut to crack. I’ll admit that. I think she’s coming out of an awful time. When her old partner died, that really cut her deep.”

“I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“That’s not gonna happen! You worry too much.”

Sara scooped up the last cookie and walked to the table to drop it into Jaylynn’s hands. Jaylynn promptly broke it and devoured half in one bite. “Yum yum,” she said with a full mouth. “You do make the best cookies.” She popped the other half into her mouth and mumbled, “As Seven of Nine would say, ‘I require more nutrition immediately.’”

“You and your fantasy women!”

Jaylynn swallowed, then paused. “I’d rather have a real one.”

*****

Wednesday afternoon they met in roll call, and Dez gave Jaylynn a sheepish smile. Jaylynn chuckled and found a chair nearby. One by one other cops shuffled into the room and sat down until the duty sergeant gave out assignments. All the way to the lot Jaylynn kept looking at Dez through narrowed eyes and making tsk-tsk noises.

Once the two women got settled in the police car, Dez blushed and said, “I know, I know, I owe ya for the other night.”

Jaylynn laughed and punched her in the arm. “No you don’t.”

“Yeah, I do. I’m sorry.”

“Maybe I should feel complimented that you felt comfortable enough to zonk out and snore like crazy.”

“Oh pulleeze! I didn’t snore.”

Jaylynn punched her again. “No, actually you didn’t. I’m just kidding. You are fun to tease, girl. You take everything so seriously.”

Dez hit the gas and pulled out of the parking lot. “No, I don’t.”

“Oh, yes you do. Just look at your movie collection. Do you have a single comedy?”

“What’s your point?”

“That’s my point. You’re an awfully serious person.”

“Not always.”

“Most of the time,” said the blond.

“What? And you’re not a serious person?” She looked over at the warm, smiling green eyes and it occurred to her that she was definitely going to lose this argument. “Okay then, fine. Let’s try it again. This time you bring over something funny to watch. Something that’ll keep me awake.”

“When?”

“Whenever . . . after shift tonight if you want.”

Jaylynn paused thoughtfully. “Won’t work. I can’t borrow Tim’s car. Tomorrow?”

“I’ll take you home later—how’s that?”

Jaylynn nodded. “Okay, then you can come to the video store and help me pick out something funny.”

“All right, rookie, you got a deal.” Keeping her eyes on the road, Dez held out her hand palm up expecting Jaylynn to give her five. Instead, she was surprised to feel a warm squeeze. She let her hand drop, but Jaylynn didn’t relinquish her grip until their hands hit the seat.

*****

“I’m not so sure I like Woody Allen,” said Dez.

“Oh shut up,” said a smiling Jaylynn as she inserted the video into the VCR. “This is a thinking person’s funny movie. I don’t think you’re the slapstick type, are you?” She put her hands on her hips. “Did you want to get Police Academy or one of those Airplane shows?”

“Not really.”

“You’ll like this one. It’s quite entertaining.”

“But you’ve already seen it.”

“It’s worth a second watch.”

“OK, but if you fall asleep, don’t blame it on me.”

Jaylynn laughed heartily. “I won’t fall asleep, don’t worry.” She plopped down on the couch next to Dez and the popcorn bowl and waited for the credits to roll.

Dez groused, “Do you have any idea why movie makers these days feel the need to include 12 or 13 minutes of previews before the movie starts?”

“Sells more videos that way.”

“It’s irritating.”

Jaylyn plucked the remote out of Dez’s hand and said, “I’ll fast forward through them then.” She got to the beginning of the movie and leaned forward to set the remote on the coffee table, then settled back next to Dez, their shoulders just barely touching. The tall woman picked at the popcorn bowl, which she held in her lap, while Jaylynn munched away at on handfuls regularly.

Dez discovered that Jaylynn was right about Manhattan Murder Mystery. It was very funny and entertaining and never once did she feel like going to sleep. She sat cross-legged on the couch and laughed her head off during a couple of scenes. By the time the movie ended at 2:30, however, Jaylynn was obviously fatigued.

“Looks like you’re running out of gas.” Dez flicked the power off on the VCR remote.

Jaylynn yawned. “Guess so. I’ll perk right up if you give me something with caffeine in it.”

“Uh oh. Don’t think I have anything.”

“Nothing? What’s with you?” Jaylynn teased as she looked up at her. “No caffeine, you don’t eat donuts, I don’t think you drink. Don’t you have any vices at all?”

Dez shrugged.

Jaylynn put her hand on Dez’s knee. In a conspiratorial voice, she said, “Surely at least you eat chocolate? I’ll bet you have one whole cupboard loaded full of it, right?”

“Nope.” Dez cursed her telltale face. She could feel the blush rising, a warmth that began where the hand was touching her leg and generated heat that traveled from her knee all the way up to her face. Nonchalantly she said, “I should probably get you home then, huh? Won’t Tim be wondering why you’re so late?”

“Tim? Not a chance. He’s on a date with some guy he met at the restaurant. I’d be surprised if he even came home tonight.”

Now Dez was thoroughly confused and her face showed it. “Tim’s gay?

“Sure. I thought you knew that.”

“But—but—he’s always hugging you—you kiss him goodbye when he drops you off.”

“It’s a peck on the lips! That’s to keep those oversexed male cops from pawing all over me. If you’re not with someone, some won’t take no for an answer. Some sort of proprietary thing.” She patted Dez’s thigh. “If a woman says no, it doesn’t mean no, but if she says her boyfriend says no, that’s a whole ‘nother thing.” With her hand still on Dez’s knee, Jaylynn curled her feet up underneath her and shifted close enough to lean into the bigger woman. “You, on the other hand, aren’t the pawing type, are you?”

The brunette’s face blushed crimson, but their eyes met, and once again the rookie felt the strange rush of energy flowing back and forth between them. She sat riveted, her heart beating in her chest like someone was pounding on her breastbone with a sledgehammer. With great effort, she choked out, “You feel that too . . . don’t you?”

Dez didn’t reply, but she continued to fix her gaze on Jaylynn, her steely blue eyes reaching into the younger woman’s soul. Reaching up, the blond gently stroked the pale cheek above her. Dez continued to meet her eyes with an open directness that almost caused Jaylynn’s heart to stop. It’s now or never, she thought, and lifted her face to meet Dez’s lips.

Dez surrendered to the kiss. For a few brief moments she completely lost track of anything but soft lips and the scent of the woman next to her. She took Jaylynn’s hands into her own, then the rookie slipped her arms around the bigger woman’s neck. Dez pulled back, breathless, Jaylynn’s warm breath on her neck. As she shifted away, kind hazel green eyes drilled into her.

Dez looked away. “I can’t do this, Jay.”

Now it was Jaylynn’s turn to be confused, and then she felt a moment of fear. Maybe she’d judged totally wrong. Maybe Dez wasn’t . . . but hey, what about this response? Dez burned with desire and Jaylynn could feel it. “What do you mean?”

Dez said, “I don’t date cops.”

“No problem. We don’t have to do any dating at all.”

Dez held her own hands in her lap, balled up in fists. The blue eyes sharpened and peered into Jaylynn’s eyes. “I’m serious,” said Dez. “I mean it. I don’t date cops.”

“Fine. I’ll quit then.”

Alarmed, Dez said, “You can’t quit the force.”

“Why not?”

“Why would you wanna go and do that?”

“It’s just a job. There’s a million things out there I could do. But there’s only one you.”

“Look, you don’t have to quit the force . . . ”

With a little half-smile on her face, Jaylynn said, “Did I not hear you deliver an ultimatum?”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Sure it was.”

“No,” Dez said firmly. She paused as she struggled for her next words. “I’m your FTO, for chrissake. It would cause so many problems, so much talk, too many questions.” She looked down into her lap as her face went crimson again.

“Oh, and driving around every night pretending I’m not absolutely smitten with lust for you doesn’t cause problems?”

Dez shook her head and hesitated, then said, “Jay, how can you be sure about this?”

Jaylynn smiled and shrugged. “Don’t worry one bit. I never start anything I don’t want to finish.”

Dez let herself relax into the next kiss, feeling a hundred different sensations exploding inside her. Without breaking contact, Jaylynn shifted to her knees on the couch, then swung her leg over Dez’s lap so that she was straddling the taller woman’s legs. She sat back on Dez’s thighs and put her hands on broad shoulders. Jaylynn reached up and gently cradled the dark-haired woman’s head in her hands until Dez pulled her closer.

Without warning, apprehension arose and Dez caught her breath. How could she explain the sense of endangerment coursing through her, the alarm bells sounding in her head? There was too much to lose here. She hadn’t even been romantically involved with Ryan, and the pain she felt at his death still bit into her like a poisonous snake. And then there were the two relationships she’d had in college. Both ended badly. Worst of all: Karin. The pain she felt from each woman’s departure had made her gun shy and wary. To be in love again—why, she realized—it was absolutely terrifying. She couldn’t even maintain a cordial relationship with her own mother; what made her think she could satisfy Jaylynn?

Dez pulled away, bit her lip, and looked down, giving Jaylynn the opportunity to slide her hand between the buttons of her shirt. She slipped her arm behind Dez’s neck and leaned into her, unbuttoning the blouse the rest of the way. She pressed her lips against the pale white skin at Dez’s collarbone. “You’re frowning, Dez. You don’t seem to be enjoying this much.”

Breathless, Dez said, “You’re wrong.”

“No, I’m not. You’re awfully tense.”

“I can’t help it. I’m sorry.” She clenched her jaw in frustration.

“Stretch out,” said Jaylynn. “Go on, turn over.” She moved aside and guided Dez into a face down position on the couch, then pulled Dez’s shirt away from her back and slid it down her arms. After unsnapping the hooks on Dez’s bra, she ran her hands over the broad back, then straddled the lean hips. Considering how wide and muscular the tall woman was, her shoulders and back were surprisingly soft, the muscles warm and pliable. It was at her neck and along the shoulders where all the tension lay. Jaylynn kneaded and pressed mercilessly until her hands and arms grew tired. She lowered herself and spread out on Dez, her hands reaching around the dark woman’s rib cage. Dez rolled to her side, and Jaylynn slid down next to her on the cramped couch, teetering on the edge for a moment until Dez pulled her close.

“Thank you,” said Dez. “Felt good.” Her hands stroked Jaylynn’s back through her shirt. “I can’t do this. Not tonight.”

Jaylynn nuzzled against her neck. “I know.”

“I need time to think about this more.”

“I know. It’s okay.” She lay with her head near Dez’s chest, listening to the slow and steady beating of her heart. “Just hold me a little while, okay?”

“Um hmm.” In moments Dez was asleep. Jaylynn shifted to get more comfortable, and Dez’s arms tightened around her. Suddenly Jaylynn was as tired as she’d ever been. She pulled the quilt down off the back of the sofa and spread it over them, then closed her eyes and fell into deep slumber. She didn’t awaken again until sometime just before dawn when Dez cried out. In a hoarse voice she whimpered and shouted, “No!” then turned her head from side to side as she tensed her fists and shook.

Jaylynn sat partway up and brushed the dark hair out of her partner’s face. “Shhh,” she said. “It’s okay Dez. You’re safe. It’s just a nightmare. Shhh . . . .”

She shivered and rearranged the quilt over the two of them, then stroked the white shoulder and let her hand rest against the pale neck. The dark haired woman didn’t wake up. Jaylynn watched her settle and relax, then she pulled her closer and wrapped an arm around her middle. She lay back, pulling the quilt up further, and Dez nestled her head into her neck. Jaylynn’s left arm was pinned. With her right hand she softly caressed her partner’s back through the quilt. By the even breathing, she could tell Dez had slipped into a more comfortable sleep.

A feeble light shone in upon them from the porthole across the room over the bed. Jaylynn wondered for a moment what time it was, then drowsed, content. I could get used to this. Despite our differences in height, we fit together well. The last thing she remembered before falling back asleep was the scent of Dez’s hair, a citrus smell, like lemonade on a hot summer’s day.

*****

Dez awoke, startled to find herself shirt-less and cradled in the smaller woman’s arms. Her head rested on Jaylynn’s chest and one leg was thrown across her thighs. She craned her neck to see the VCR clock. Close to ten already. She was completely amazed she’d slept so long, and for once she actually felt rested. Carefully she extricated herself from Jaylynn’s grip, slid off the sofa, and padded into the bathroom.

She stood in the shower, her favorite place to think, and let the water run over her. She used to like the metaphor of washing away troubles, but lately no amount of water washed away her worries. What to do about Jaylynn? A relationship is the last thing I want. She’s so young and full of life . . . she deserves more than me. Why in the world would she even want me? It’s that older woman/mentor thing. She’s mistaken about her feelings, confused. This could only be a huge mistake.

She ignored the rising feeling of panic, stopping to stretch her arms under the hot water. I’m just tense from the heavy chest and triceps workout yesterday. She turned off the water and resolutely stepped out of the shower to towel off. Her muscles were sore in all sorts of places. Her stomach clenched. She shook her head and tried to ignore the aches and pains.

When Jaylynn awoke, she lay on her side, covered by the quilt, facing the closed bathroom door. She could hear the shower running. She couldn’t really explain why, but a feeling of foreboding spread through her. Though she felt rested, she remembered little wisps of dark and troubling dreams. She lay still, snuggled in the warm blue quilt, and waited for her partner to appear, which she did in short order. When Dez emerged, she wore a red terry robe and held a white towel, which she was using to dry her long jet black hair.

Jaylynn lay motionless and watched Dez glide slowly past her toward the bed, her head tipped to the side as she toweled dampness out of dark hair that looked so lovely in stark contrast to the red robe. She has no idea how beautiful she is, thought Jaylynn. She spends all her waking hours guarding her emotions, staying tough, keeping her feelings bottled up far too tightly. Even now she doesn’t look relaxed. She’s a shuttered and locked house, no admittance. For confirmation, she watched as Dez’s eyes came to rest on her and the look of surprise when the tall woman realized Jaylynn was awake and studying her. She also saw the grim look on Dez’s face as she came to stand next to the couch. Jaylynn sat up, still hugging the quilt.

Dez was direct. “This isn’t going to work.”

Jaylynn didn’t speak. She looked Dez in the eye and waited patiently.

“Jaylynn, think about this. I’m the first uniform you’ve spent any amount of time with.”

The blond shook her head slightly. “You’re not a uniform, Dez.”

Dez ignored that comment and went on. “We all tend to fall into—into—well, into all sorts of feelings for cops we partner with. I mean, I loved Ryan like he was a brother . . .like more than a brother.”

“But you didn’t want to sleep with him, right?”

Dez ran her hand through her wet hair and brushed it off her shoulder. “I didn’t need to sleep with the guy!” she said in an angry voice. “I felt closer to him than I have to anyone.” She half-turned so Jaylynn could no longer see her face. “Let’s forget about this and go back to the way things were. We’ll just chalk this up as a—a—we’ll forget it happened, okay? It’s just a period of adjustment you’re going through, you know, admiration for me and all that stuff left over from the attack on Sara.”

“Don’t patronize me,” said Jaylynn. “I know how I feel, and this is not childish hero worship.” She stopped abruptly and took a deep breath, closed her eyes and considered her options. She couldn’t think of any. This is a losing battle. She marveled at the fact that somehow she knew it before she awoke. “Dez, I’m confused. I don’t understand. I know how you feel. You may think you’re impervious to others, but I can see—hell, I can feel your emotions. I’m not getting the whole story here, am I?”

Dez looked away, then tossed the towel a few feet through the air onto the valet chair. She pulled the robe tighter and fidgeted with the belt. “I think I told you last night that I just can’t date cops. It never works out. It’s a rule I don’t want to break.”

“You don’t date cops? Or you mean you won’t date me?”

“C’mon Jaylynn. Don’t make this so hard.”

“I just want to know the truth.”

“That is the truth. I don’t date cops.”

“In 24 hours I can be an ex-cop. Would that change your point-of-view?”

Dez shuddered, then moved away from the couch, her back to Jaylynn. “You can’t give up your career.”

“But theoretically speaking, if I did, we wouldn’t be breaking your rule. So then, what would you say?”

Dez pulled the belt even tighter and turned to Jaylynn, her face a blaze of anger. “No,” she said. “I would say no.”

Jaylynn felt all the blood run out of her face, and she felt cold all over. “So it’s not about me being a cop—”

“Yes, it is.”

“No. It’s not,” Jaylynn said firmly. She slipped out from under the quilt and retrieved her running shoes from next to the coffee table. As she sat on the couch and tied her shoes, she said, “You’re lying to yourself and you’re lying to me. This isn’t about us being cops. Why don’t you tell me the truth? You think I’m too young to take it?”

Dez’s face was grimmer and whiter than Jaylynn had ever seen it. She crossed her arms over the blood red robe and in a calm voice said, “All right. Maybe there is more. My job is too important to jeopardize. I won’t risk it by having others find out I’m in a relationship with another officer—and a woman at that.”

Jaylynn brushed her hair out of her eyes and in a weary voice said, “Nobody cares. They already think you’re gay anyway.”

“The hell they do!”

“Wake up, Dez. Believe me when I say it’s a subject your fellow officers have discussed at length.” She let out a bark of laughter. “There’s even money on it.”

“Oh shit! That’s—that’s—don’t listen to that station-house gossip. It’s all bullshit!” Now her face flamed red, and fine veins in her forehead showed through. “Those jerks know nothing for sure, and I’m keeping it that way. I’ve worked too hard building a reputation, creating alliances. I’m not going to blow that now.”

Jaylynn’s anger surged in response. “You’d rather ride around alone in a patrol car, holding out your sterling reputation and keeping everyone at arm’s length than take a chance with me? Is that what you’re saying?”

Dez glared at her and crossed her arms around the red robe as though she were cold.

“Yes.”

“You’d rather ride all night alone than in a two-man car with a partner?”

“Yeah, that’s right. What do you wanna do about it?”

“Nothing, Dez. That’s your choice.” Jaylynn rose and tucked her plaid shirt into her jeans. In a spiritless voice she said, “I’m just sorry you feel that way, that it’s more important for you to keep up appearances than to care about other people.” She strode through the door and into the kitchen and grabbed her jacket.

Dez came to stand in the doorway. She looked uncertain. “Hey, let me get some clothes on and I’ll run you home.”

“Nope. That’s all right. I can walk.”

“Geez, Jay, it’s over a mile. I’ll take you. It’s cold out.”

In a voice as cold as ice, she said, “Thanks. But I’d much rather walk.” She opened the kitchen door, not looking back, and pulled it shut behind her, leaving Dez light-headed. The tall woman stumbled back into the living area and onto the couch. God, that went badly. I didn’t mean to hurt her. I didn’t mean for it to be so—so goddamn awful. She couldn’t control it anymore. Her eyes welled up with tears and she sat on the couch, her head in her hands, and cried bitter tears until she could cry no more.

*****

Jaylynn pulled her hood up and adjusted the snaps as tightly as she could. Despite the weak afternoon sun, it was cold. She tucked her hands deep into the pockets of her jacket, closed her eyes a moment, shook her head. That had gone so badly. That was a dose of stubborn Irish womanhood I never expected to see. But hey, I’m a realist, right? I should have realized she wouldn’t be able to handle it. I should have known. I blew it. God, I messed that up big time.

She took a deep breath and closed her eyes for a brief moment.

But does Dez really feel that way? That her career is more important than exploring a relationship with someone else? I can’t believe it. I don’t want to believe it.

She kicked every rock she came across, and as she walked, she became increasingly angry. What a chicken shit! A little voice in the back of her head tried to argue that Dez was probably still dealing with Ryan’s death, that perhaps she needed more time, but Jaylynn pushed the thought out of her mind. No sympathy allowed. Not until she forced Dez to work this out with her. Dammit, she’d listen to reason or else.

Jaylynn was chilled, but fuming when she reached the house. She was grateful that neither Sara nor Tim were home as she stomped up the stairs to her room. She undressed, got into the shower, and kept turning Dez’s words over and over in her head. How could she be so callous, so hard-hearted? I know for a fact that there is a heart in there somewhere. How can she deny herself love and pleasure and happiness? I don’t understand. She felt the tears burn in her eyes and fought them back. No tears, Dez said. Cops don’t cry.

Steaming hot water coursed over her, and she fought back the tears. No need to cry about this now. It’s not over.

*****

The days off on Monday and Tuesday dragged by for Jaylynn. A tiny fraction of her hoped Dez might perhaps call, but the phone never rang for anyone in the household but Tim. She tried to focus on a book, a video, tidying up her room, all the while trying to dissolve the awful feeling of doom that had sat on her chest since Sunday.

Finally on Wednesday afternoon she could take it no longer. Still upset, she’d picked over her lunch, not able to eat much. After the meal, she borrowed Tim’s beater and drove over to Dez’s place. She went around to the back yard and was surprised to find Luella out sweeping the light dusting of snow off the cement walk.

“Well, hello dear. How are you?” said the older woman.

“Hi Luella. I’m fine. Whatcha up to?”

Luella leaned on the broom. “Nothing much at all. I’ve got some excellent pork loin leftover if you—”

Jaylynn shook her head. “Thanks, Luella, but I ate a big lunch, and I just couldn’t. But thank you so much for offering. I still haven’t gotten over how wonderful those ribs were that you made the last time I was here!”

“Secret family recipe,” Luella said in a conspiratorial voice. “Someday I’ll share it with you.”

“Sounds good. So is Dez around? I need to talk with her.”

“You go on up honey. She’s been in hermit mode all day. Hope you can get her to come out, enjoy a few of the sun’s rays before it’s pitch black out. I swear she’s turning into a vampire—only comes out at night.” The old woman laughed at that and followed Jaylynn up the stairs into the house. “Go on. See if you can liven her up some.”

Jaylynn took the stairs two at a time and stood in front of the door a moment trying to compose herself. She rapped on the door and waited until Dez whipped it open and looked at her as though startled. “Uh, hi. What’re you doing here?”

“I was hoping we could talk before our shift.”

Dez was barefoot and wore an oversized faded blue t-shirt and baggy black sweatpants. She looked like she’d just awakened. She opened the door wider and stepped back to let Jaylynn into the tiny kitchen, then backed up to the counter and put her hands on the edge. She leaned her hips against it, legs crossed at the ankle. Jaylynn came in and shut the door behind her. She turned to face the taller woman. There was a tension about her, an edginess directed her way that Jaylynn wasn’t used to getting. How could Dez be so cold, she wondered, so distant?

Dez said, “I wish you’d called and told me you were coming.”

Jaylynn shook her head and laughed humorlessly. “I would have if I had known your phone number. I suppose you know you’re unlisted, right?”

Dez gave a slight nod.

“So could we talk about Sunday night?” Jaylynn said.

Dez glared over her shoulder, not meeting the rookie’s eyes, her face going from pale and tight to pink and impassive in the space of only a few seconds. “There’s really not much to talk about.”

Jaylynn tucked her hands into her jacket pockets and tilted her head a bit to the side, looking at Dez quizzically. “How can you say that?”

“I think we said it all already. Maybe this is one of those things where we have to agree to disagree.”

“And where does that leave you and me?”

Dez shrugged. She looked around the room, everywhere but at Jaylynn.

Jaylynn was glad she’d eaten so little because suddenly her stomach clenched and she felt like she couldn’t quite breathe. This was worse than she’d expected.

She made one last stab. “I don’t know if it helps to say this, but I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to push you or offend you or—”

“No, no, no.” Dez made a motion with her hand to cut her off. She straightened up and put one hand back on the counter, the other on her hip. “Forget about it,” she said sharply.

Jaylynn stepped back as though slapped. “Okay.” She took a deep breath. “All right then.” She grabbed hold of the knob and pulled the door open. This time she looked back. Dez had leaned against the counter again, her arms crossed over the blue t-shirt. She looked down at the floor. Jaylynn didn’t bother to pull the door shut. She made it to the stairs in four quick steps and hurtled down in a rush, grateful to hit the cold, clear air outside.

*****

Jaylynn arrived early for her shift only to learn that Dez had called in sick. “First time in a couple of years,” said the duty sergeant, “other than that broken arm thing last summer, but that don’t really count as a sick day.”

The rookie was assigned to ride with Officer Cheryl Pilcher, a seasoned veteran in her early 40’s. Jaylynn only knew her well enough to smile and say hi, but she did know Pilcher had recently had her twenty-year anniversary because some of the other cops razzed her about it. Pilcher was known to be quite a cut-up around the station playing practical jokes and hamming it up. The blond looked her over surreptitiously during roll call. A curvaceous woman at least three inches shorter than Jaylynn, Pilcher had sandy brown hair and brown eyes. She moved with confidence, a kind of strut of sureness that Jaylynn wished she herself had.

Jaylynn was nervous at first because Pilcher didn’t seem too crazy about the pairing, but once they headed toward the car, her temporary partner said, “It’ll be nice to ride with you tonight, Savage. I started out as Vell’s FTO, but then he got transferred to Tour I because they were so short. I’ve been on my own since my partner left for six weeks of paternity leave, and it gets kinda lonely out here alone. You wanna drive or should I?”

Jaylynn hesitated. “I don’t usually drive.”

“Oh yeah, that’s right. You’ve been riding with Reilly, and she hogs the wheel all the time. Here. Why don’t you take the keys and drive the first half of the shift. I’ll catch the second half after meal break. And don’t call me Pilcher. My name’s Cheryl.”

“And you can call me Jaylynn—or Jay.” She took the keys and got into the cruiser.

Jaylynn found Cheryl to be an entertaining partner. It wasn’t long before they were sharing stories of what had happened to each of them in their first few months on the job. After a particularly amusing story about one of the grumpier old guys in the division refusing to let Cheryl drive because of her “height impairment,” Jaylynn said, “Hey, it’s good to hear somebody else’s old war stories. This is a tough job at first, but I’m getting better at it.”

“How many other cops have you ridden with?”

“In training, I had two weeks each with Alvarez, Felder, and then Reilly. Since then, just Reilly so far. I’ve only been on the force for three months, you know.”

“You should ask around, talk to the other women. Some of them can tell you real horror stories. You won’t get any out of Dez Reilly though. She tell you anything about her first months?”

Jaylynn shook her head.

“Yeah, figures. She must have been born a cop. She’s like the golden girl of all the bosses. Never makes a mistake. Well, not until Michaelson anyway.”

Jaylynn eyed Cheryl with a puzzled look on her face. “What do you mean?”

“You heard about Ryan Michaelson, right?”

“Yeah, her partner who died.”

“He might be alive today if she had stood by him, gave him first aid.”

“I don’t understand,” Jaylynn whispered. “I thought he was shot by some low-life.”

“He was. She called for backup and the paramedics, then went off to chase the shooter—she got him, too—but Michaelson bled to death. I hear she’s real good at training in rookies, but I wouldn’t want to ride with her on a regular basis. Guess I’m just superstitious. Besides that, she acts like she’s too good for all of us veteran female cops. I hope she treated you well.”

“For the most part, yes, she did.”

“Wasn’t too hard on you, was she?”

Jaylynn hesitated.

“You know you can report anything to the Lieutenant . . .”

“No, no, there weren’t any problems.”

Jaylynn felt Cheryl’s eyes bore into her, and then the older woman said, “You know her nickname, don’t ya?”

“No.”

“The Ice Queen. Seems fitting, don’t you think? Personally, I think of her as Dez the Lez. She didn’t make a pass at you or anything, did she?”

Jaylynn snorted and shook her head. “No. That for sure never happened.”

“Well, an awful lot of us wonder if she’s gay, but hey, she’s the Ice Queen. What’s the chance of that when she’s so damn cold-hearted? You’ll probably ride with her again, and just remember, if she’s ever hard on you, you should report it.”

Cheryl rattled on about procedures for complaints, but Jaylynn wasn’t listening. Things clicked into place about Dez. The way she held herself apart from the other women, her reticence to get involved, the sadness around her so much of the time. No wonder she didn’t want to get close to me. She was probably planning on getting rid of the new rookie as soon as she could anyway. But what were those couple of kisses all about? Jaylynn felt a flush rise from her neck to forehead and was glad for the veil of twilight that obscured her features from the chattering passenger. Those kisses were for real. Jaylynn stopped to reflect.
Well, maybe not. Maybe I just got so carried away that I felt what I wanted to feel that I thought it was mutual. Still—she let me hold her all night . . . wasn’t that something? But that could be explained too. Dez had been so tired, exhausted really. Perhaps she just put up with it because she was overtired. She humored me. She was going to pass me on to someone else when her Field Training Officer assignment ended, and she was just being polite. That’s why she said she’d rather ride alone. I didn’t think it was true, but now I know it must be.

A call came over the radio, and Cheryl picked it up to respond. Off they went to a domestic call, and thoughts of Dez left Jaylynn for a short while.

*****

Dez arrived at work an hour early on Thursday and apologized to the duty sergeant, Belton, for her absence the day before.

“Gee, Reilly, you’re never sick. Don’t worry about it. Actually,” he said as he peered into her face, “you still look like shit. Sure you’re feeling okay today?”

Dez felt herself blush. She smiled. “Nah, I feel fine today, even if I don’t look so good. Is the Lieutenant in?”

“Yeah, and he’s in a good mood so don’t piss him off.”

“Never! Would I ever do that to you?” She smiled grimly and he winked back at her as she stepped past him. She passed the battered metal desk and tapped on the scarred wood trim outside Lt. Malcolm’s open office door.

He looked up. “Well, Reilly. How ya doing?” The Lieutenant was elbow deep in paper work, his suit jacket off with his dingy white shirt sleeves rolled up.

“I’m fine, sir. But I have a request to make about trainee assignments.”

“Yeah?” He sat back. “You wanna come in and sit down?”

“No thanks, this will only take a minute of your time. I think I’m ready to pass Savage on to one of the other FTOs.”

“Too late for that.”

“What?” Dez frowned, thoroughly taken aback.

“She and Pilcher already asked for reassignment yesterday, and I approved it. Now don’t tell me you girls went and had a big fight last tour?”

Dez sputtered. “No sir, we most certainly didn’t. I was out sick. I don’t know anything about . . .”

He laughed. “Calm down, Reilly. There’s no problem. I was just jerkin’ your chain a little. She said she was ready for a change, wanted the chance to ride with a variety of officers. She complimented you. Said you had taught her a lot.” He shuffled the pages in his hands. “Sure doesn’t happen very often that vets and rookies have the same sense of timing. Good job. You’re on your own for a while until the duty sergeant sets you up with someone else.”

“Thank you, sir.” She turned to go.

“Reilly?” he said. “I really do appreciate you taking the rookies out and showing them the ropes. You’ve done a good job, and I mean that.

“Thank you sir,” she said.

“Won’t be long though, and you’ll have to hook up with a regular partner when you work the East Side.”

She nodded.

“Otherwise,” he said, clearing his voice, “How ya doing?”

She knew what he referred to, but she wasn’t about to speak of Ryan or her feelings or anything else the department shrink had encouraged her to discuss with her superiors and peers. Instead she said, “I’m hanging in there, Lieutenant. Some days better than others. But I’m fine.”

“Good to hear,” he said heartily. “Nice job then. Go out and get ‘em, Reilly. Have a good shift.”

“Yes sir,” she said, but she’d only half heard him. Her head was busy trying to figure out why Jaylynn had jumped ship. Beat her to the punch was maybe the better metaphor, for she decided she felt like she’d been socked upside the head. She walked toward the women’s locker room in a daze and sat on the bench outside her locker for several minutes before standing up and unlocking it. Unlike her neat apartment, her locker was stuffed full of gear and clothes. In a fit of frustration, she hauled everything out and piled it on the floor in front of her, then sat back on the bench with her head in her hands. Tears threatened to fall again, and she looked around in alarm only to note that she was alone in the locker room. Pull it together, Reilly, she thought. Don’t be foolish. You can’t expect her to want to keep riding with someone who just rejected her. Can’t go back to holding hands. She gave a cynical laugh and began sorting through all her belongings and putting them in good order in the locker.

*****

Jaylynn arrived in the meeting room seconds before the sergeant called roll. Dez sat on the side, near the back in her regular spot, drinking water from a quart bottle. Jaylynn glanced at her and noted the impassive face, the cold eyes, the alabaster face. Dez eyes flicked toward her, not meeting the rookie’s gaze. Though the dark haired woman did give an almost imperceptible nod, she looked away and didn’t turn back. Jaylynn felt her knees shake and instead of sitting in the back near her ex-partner, she took a spot in the middle of the room a few chairs ahead of Dez.

As the sergeant started calling everyone to order, Cheryl came rushing in to join her. “Didn’t miss anything, did I?” she whispered loudly.

“No. He’s just starting.”

Jaylynn tried to concentrate on what the duty sergeant was saying. It was all she could do to keep from getting up and dragging Dez outside to talk. All she wanted to do was explain the switch, make her understand. But what good would it do? We can’t talk about it anymore, and as she said, we just disagree. What would be the use of forcing the issue again? It didn’t work earlier. What could I say now? She’s made her decision, and I’ll respect it. I don’t have to like it, but I’ll respect it.

With a heavy heart Jaylynn left after roll call ended, followed by Cheryl who laughed and talked with everyone on the way out the door to the parking lot. Jaylynn didn’t look back but she swore she could feel those chips of blue ice burning into her back.

*****

It was several days before Jaylynn felt like she’d regained her equilibrium. It was a trial each day to go to roll call, but she did it, hoping each time that it would get easier. It never did. She considered switching from Tour III, but she didn’t have enough seniority to bid onto Tour II days, and she sure didn’t want to work the Tour I graveyard shift. Besides, as much as it hurt, as much as it disconcerted her, she felt compelled to see the taciturn dark haired cop. Sara told Jaylynn she was a sucker for sucker punches, but she couldn’t help herself.

Cheryl worked Saturday through Wednesday, so Jaylynn rode with her part of the time, but on Cheryl’s days off, she rode with a variety of cops. Every Thursday and Friday Jaylynn went to roll call and tried to pretend to herself that she wasn’t hoping she’d get assigned to Dez. But as the days went by, it appeared it was never going to happen. One night she rode with a gray-haired black cop, Reed, who very kindly quizzed her on procedures and helped her to learn the radio codes more thoroughly. Another night she had a miserable time with a handsome officer named Barstow who thought he was god’s gift to the world. She chalked it up to experience. Eventually she was assigned fairly routinely to ride with Crystal Lopez on Cheryl’s nights off.

Every afternoon she found Dez in the back of the roll call room calmly sipping water, her face impassive. Was it her imagination or did the dark-haired woman’s face look more hollow and gaunt each day? Usually the blue eyes bored past her like cold icicles, not really connecting at all. Just one warm look—just one, thought Jaylynn. If just one time Dez would look even the slightest bit welcoming . . . but it didn’t happen. The words to a Stevie Nicks song kept running through her head at inopportune moments: No, I never got over those blue eyes . . . I see them . . . everywhere . . . And I miss those arms that held me . . . . She put the song out of her mind, but it kept coming back to haunt her.

One night after she’d worked with Crystal off and on for a few weeks, they got onto the subject of Dez Reilly. Jaylynn drove slowly through the Selby-Dale area, keeping an eye out for anything unusual. It was a quiet night, with lots of dead time for chatting, and she and Crystal had touched on the lives of many of their fellow officers.

“Can I ask you something?” said Crystal.

“Sure.”

“What’s up with you and Dez?”

“What do you mean?” said Jaylynn, holding her breath.

Crystal reached across the car and punched her playfully in the arm. “Come on, mi amiga, I know her well enough, and I’m getting to know you. She’s giving you that tough macha mean chick routine. She doesn’t do that unless you got under her skin. What’d you do to her?”

Jaylynn kept her hands on the wheel, but gripped it tightly. She stumbled on her words, not knowing how to explain. “I don’t know . . . I mean, I can’t say. It’s not that I did anything to her . . . it’s more that she doesn’t want to be around me.”

“That’s hard for me to believe. She likes you a lot. I can tell. She only said good things about you when she was training you. And believe me, once she’s your friend, then it’s for always. She’s very loyal. We had a big screaming fight one time . . . .” Crystal laughed heartily. “Let me rephrase that—she didn’t say much. We had a disagreement, and I bitched at her big time. We were really pissed at each other. The next night I found out my partner’s mother was deathly sick. I lived in a really rough neighborhood back then, so Dez came to house-sit and take care of the dogs so we could go to Louisiana. I didn’t even know she was allergic to dogs ‘til we got back. It was winter, and she basically slept on the three-season porch in a sleeping bag, but hey, she looked out for our house. She’s reliable, that one is. Even if she’s pissed at you, she’ll treat you fair.”

“What happened to your partner?”

“Nothin’. Why?”

“I mean where is he or she now?”

Crystal gave her a blank look. “She’s at home, where else?”

Jaylynn paused a moment. “So she doesn’t ride with you anymore?”

Crystal let out a snort of laughter. “Shayna wouldn’t be caught dead in light blue. Says she only looks good in orange and olive and autumn colors. Colors like that make me look sallow and dead.” She laughed again. “No, she’s not on the force. She never wanted to be a cop. Ever. She works at a craft store framing stuff, selling thread and needles and shit like that. And she’s my partner. My sweetie. Know what I mean?”

Jaylynn felt embarrassed for being so dense, but she grinned and made light of her misunderstanding. “Oh! Partner! Like a wife,” she said. “I gotta get me one of them.”

“Si senorita. Real good idea. You sure you’re the type?”

“Uh huh, though my mother will probably be disappointed.”

“No wonder you and I get along so fine,” said Crystal. “I should have known. But hey, I don’t assume. Bad idea, you know. So now you can tell me all about your life and loves. You with anyone now?”

“Nah, not since the first couple of years of college. Didn’t work out.”

“I know quite a few nice girls—single, I mean—I should introduce you to.”

“Oh I don’t know—”

“What?” Crystal reached across the car and punched Jaylynn playfully in the arm. “You’re young, you’re sweet, you got those nice hazel green eyes. I bet you look great in street clothes. I could set you up with a ton of good-looking chicas. You just say the word.”

“Sure. I’ll let you know.”

Crystal gave a sigh. “All right, why you holding back, Jay?”

Jaylynn grimaced. “My heart’s not in it right yet. Kind of a rebound thing.”

“You let me know then. We can go out to the club, meet some nice women. I’ll show you around. When you’re ready.”

Jaylynn nodded and smiled over at her, then turned left and headed north over the freeway overpass.

Crystal put her hand out and grasped Jaylynn’s forearm. “Let me give you a piece of advice about Dez. Don’t let her mean ass routine get to you. She just looks like that on the outside. On the inside she’s mush.”

When Jaylynn didn’t answer and only nodded slightly, Crystal watched her surreptitiously out of the corner of her eye, then shook her head and smiled a knowing smile. She nodded and leaned back, taking a few minutes to think before starting up another conversation about an entirely different subject.

*****

Crystal continued to badger Jaylynn about going out and about meeting new friends. Finally one afternoon toward the middle of March, the younger woman agreed to go out after their shift was over.

“All right!” said Crystal as she peeked around the corner in the locker room. “Lemme just call Shayna, and we’ll see who we can round up. I know Merilee will come, and maybe Marshall, that other new rookie. I don’t know her first name yet, but hey,” she said suggestively, “she’s pretty cute.” Crystal flashed her a wide smile and then disappeared through the locker room door.

Jaylynn shook her head. Pretty cute. Ha. That’s the last thing I need. Paula Marshall was just fine in Police Academy, and the rookie had liked her a lot, but not to date. There was no spark between the two of them. Paula might eventually turn into a good friend though. She finished buttoning up her blue shirt, tucked it in, and fastened her belt. She checked her watch and decided she had better get a move on. She hastened around the corner to the bathrooms and ran smack into 170 pounds of glowering Desiree Reilly.

“Uh, sorry,” she said as she rebounded off the solid form.

In response the scowling woman inclined her head, giving the rookie the slightest of nods, then looked away and hastened past. It occurred to Jaylynn that she must have heard the conversation with Crystal, and she wondered if that was why the tall cop was so abrupt—no, actually, she was rude. The blond went into the bathroom stall and found herself fuming. She doesn’t own me. She can’t pick my friends. If I want to go out and whoop it up, then dammit I will! She emerged from the restroom and took the stairs two at a time.

As she passed down the hall toward the roll call room, a clerk on the telephone gestured to her, and she stopped, puzzled. “Me?” she said, pointing to her own chest.

He nodded. “Yeah. Phone call here.”

She walked across the Comm Center and took the phone from him.

“Hello, sweetie,” said a kindly voice.

“Luella?”

“That’s me. Say, I was wondering if you’d like to come over for dinner again. I haven’t seen you for so long, I’m missing you.”

“Well that’s so nice of you! Sure I’ll come. When?”

They arranged to have supper the following Tuesday night, and then Jaylynn hung up the phone and hustled over to the roll call room. She was glad to hear from Luella. She had missed the old woman a lot.

*****

Jaylynn arrived at Luella’s house and parked her new Camry out front. She got out of the car and slammed the door, looking down with pride at her most expensive acquisition ever. She had been quite tired of relying on the bus and the vagaries of Tim’s schedule in order to get around and had been saving for three months. The previous day she had bought the modest gray Camry from a neighbor who’d upgraded to an Avalon. The bank loaned her the money without a problem, and now she was the proud possessor of a neat and tidy Toyota with less than 38,000 miles on it.

When she got into Luella’s house she proudly pointed it out, and the older woman surprised her by saying, “Well, hey! Let’s take it for a spin.”

“You wanna drive?”

“No, but you can be the chauffeur.”

“What about your dinner?”

“That’s the nice thing about casseroles. I’ll just turn it down a bit, and we’ll come back in fifteen minutes to a nice hot dinner.” After a quick visit to the kitchen, Luella returned to the porch and shrugged on her black quilted jacket. Today she wore a scarlet colored wool skirt and a long-sleeved ivory-colored blouse. She slipped out of the ubiquitous pink slippers and into a clunky pair of Nikes. “Wish I could still wear heels,” she said, “but these old feet just won’t allow it.”

Jaylynn pointed to her Adidas. “I’ll take tennis shoes any day. I don’t care if I ever wear fancy shoes again.” She took the older woman’s arm and they made their way down the stairs.

Luella said, “I always liked elegant shoes. Had a whole closet full when I was a young thing like you.” She sighed. “But times change. I’m just thankful to God that I can still get around at my advanced age.”

Jaylynn laughed. “I can only hope I am in half as good a shape when I get to be your age, Luella.” She opened the passenger door, helped the silver haired woman in and shut the door.

Dez watched from the upstairs bathroom window. She saw the laughing blond tuck the old lady into the car and then hurry around to the driver’s side and get in. As they drove off , Dez wondered where the car came from. She knew it wasn’t Tim’s. Maybe Sara’s? She backed away from the window and wandered into the living room and stood uncertainly for a moment. Luella hadn’t told her she’d invited the rookie over, and she wondered whether the old woman knew she and Jaylynn weren’t speaking. Sometimes she thought her landlady was psychic.

She cracked her knuckles and then shook her hands out before reaching down to snag her acoustic guitar. She went over and slouched down on the couch, one foot up on the coffee table. Checking the strings, she adjusted the tuning and started picking a pattern and playing various chords with it. Her mind wandered as she played. She thought about the friendship that had started to develop with the rookie and how it had been ruined. She wasn’t sure how she could have done things differently, but she knew she should have. It occurred to her that nothing ever made sense to her at a very quick rate. It took her so long to figure out what she was feeling that it was no wonder that she didn’t have any close friends anymore . . . not that she’d ever had many.

Stop feeling sorry for yourself, she scolded. What’s the point? She focused on playing the guitar and found herself moving through a series of minor chords and throwing in some C-majors and F-majors. A little smile came to her. This chord progression and melody was going to stick. Lately, every time she picked up the guitar it flowed out of her fingers, and every time it happened, she thought of Jaylynn. Guess I’ll have to call this “Jaylynn’s Song.” Maybe someday I’ll think of some words to go with it. She leaned the guitar against the couch cushion and got up and moved over to the roll top desk. Sliding the top open, she avoided looking at the pair of photographs on the inside desk surface and instead grabbed a pencil and a stack of lined paper, then shut the top.

She took the paper and pencil over to the coffee table and spent some time writing out the chord progression and the melody line for the song. In the middle of it, she heard the downstairs door slam, so she rose and looked out the bathroom window again. The gray Camry was once more parked out front.

A part of her wanted very much to go down the back stairs and drop in, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Up until the last few days, her pride would not have let her even think of such a thing, but it wasn’t her pride now preventing her from doing it. She didn’t think Jaylynn would appreciate the intrusion. It was obvious Friday afternoon in the locker room that the blond had moved on to other “cuter” friends. Besides, the rookie had made it perfectly clear that she wanted nothing to do with her, so Dez had no intention of upsetting her any more than she already had. She sighed and moved back into the living room, now feeling unexpectedly claustrophobic. Shuddering, she returned to the couch where she picked up the guitar and quietly played the chord progression that she couldn’t get out of her head.

*****

St. Patrick’s Day dawned clear and cold, but sunny. Jaylynn rolled out of bed in response to the clock radio blaring. She wasn’t happy to be going to work early, by eleven a.m., and working until at least Midnight. For one thing, that meant that she wouldn’t get a run in at all today. But it was also going to be an awfully long day. The old timers on the force had told her that St. Paddy’s Day was always fun because of the parades and festive spirits, but St. Paddy’s Night was hell with all the drunk driving and bar brawls. The pleasant March weather was likely to bring out a raft of people, though her colleagues had said it wouldn’t be so bad on a Tuesday night as it was when the holiday fell on a weekend.

The rookie showered, dressed, ate a big breakfast, and packed a variety of snacks to take with her to the station. She wasn’t used to arriving in the roll call room so early, and obviously, neither were her fellow shift members. Oster looked like he had rolled out of bed and forgotten to brush his short hair. Pilcher and Lopez sat in the folding chairs yawning and complaining. The rest sat in silence, waiting to jump start their day. Even the duty sergeant was crabby. Jaylynn sat down in a chair near Lopez, but not before noticing haunted blue eyes in the rear of the room. The big cop leaned back in her chair, arms crossed over her chest and feet up on a chair in front of her. If she didn’t know better, Jaylynn would have wondered if the Irish cop had already tied one on the night before. Instead, she suspected that she simply hadn’t slept enough.

The rookie listened carefully as the duty sergeant outlined their assignments. At 11:30, all of them were to be out in full force in downtown St. Paul to line the streets during the parade. The sergeant went through a long list of do’s and don’ts, then quickly shouted out which corners each would be assigned for the duration of the parade and its aftermath. Jaylynn knew she would be in front of the bank on the corner of 5th and Wabasha with Crystal down the block near the towering Landmark Center. Then they would go on patrol, have an early meal break, and be ready for things to start simmering as it grew dark out.

Crystal Lopez, still complaining, tossed her the keys and hiked out to the car with the blond. “I hate this holiday.”

Jaylynn gave her a big grin. “Sounds like exactly the same thing happens on Cinco De Mayo.”

“Yeah, but at least I get a little respect from the kids.”

“Hey, we could get you some nice leprechaun ears or something.”

“Thanks but no thanks. I like my ears just fine.”

In short order they arrived in downtown and parked in a tow away zone. One of the few benefits of police work was never having to worry about finding a parking spot or about getting ticketed or tagged. They headed down the block on foot, Crystal moving toward the castle-like Landmark Center which was across from Rice Park and the Library, and Jaylynn further down the street by the bank. The parade route was blockaded so there was no traffic, but as every moment passed, more and more people appeared and lined the parade route.

A tiny old lady, her face wrinkled in pink, dressed in a light green elf hat, green polyester pants, a bright green jacket, and olive green tennis shoes stopped the rookie to ask what time the parade began and where the best place would be to watch. The rookie explained that the marchers would come up the street and head toward the River Centre. She suggested that the woman cross the street and watch from a vantagepoint by the St. Paul Hotel because she could get up on the steps and see better. The old lady tipped her hat and moved jauntily across the street in the busy crosswalk. Jaylynn watched her until she made it safely to the other side, and then her roaming eye caught sight of her fellow officer standing on the far opposite corner in front of the new Pazzaluna restaurant.

Dez Reilly stood calmly, her reflective sunglasses glinting in the sunlight. Her head was turned slightly away, but Jaylynn had the distinct feeling that the tall woman was watching her. She let her hazel eyes focus on the mirrored lenses, as though she could see right through them, and with a start the dark haired woman turned away. Jaylynn couldn’t help but smile.

After a while the rookie glanced at her watch. It was after Noon now, and when she listened carefully over the talking and laughing of the crowd, she could hear the faraway the boom-boom of a bass drum, which gradually grew louder until she could also discern the tinny sound of horns. Before long, the band could be heard loud and clear, and she could see a bright green banner so wide that it went from one curb across to the other and required six people to hold it. Hundreds of people followed, some as part of civic groups, some parts of the various clans. The mayor and his entourage crawled along in a convertible, which said on the side “Provided by Chuck O’Leary Chevrolet.” There were shamrocks, and green hats, and curly-toed shoes, and green, green, green everywhere.

As the mayor’s car neared the intersection of 5th and Wabasha, Jaylynn caught sight of a quick movement. A young man on Dez’s side of the street suddenly drew his arm back to throw something light tan in color. His arm came forward. Jaylynn opened her mouth to shout, but before a sound escaped, the light tan object vanished and the man stumbled forward a step off the curb and into the street. A blue arm grabbed him from behind. He jerked back and disappeared from sight as the place where he had been standing filled in with the eager onlookers.

The mayor’s car passed. Jaylynn saluted, then in the vehicle’s wake, cut across the street toward the hotel. The next band coming down the street was playing “When Irish Eyes Are Smilin’” and she stepped to the beat of the song. She squeezed through the crowd lining the curb and peered over by Pazzaluna. From the St. Paul Hotel corner she could see the dark haired cop, no longer wearing the sunglasses, her right hand holding the tan object and her left grasping the material at the front of the young man’s coat.

The blond weaved her way through the people on the sidewalk and hustled across Wabasha. As she drew near the altercation, she saw Dez strongarm the young man up against the plate glass window of the restaurant, her fist under his chin and still holding his bunched up jacket. The brown haired man was a good six inches shorter than the big cop, but it was clear he wasn’t afraid of her. Jaylynn heard him say, “You can’t prove it. You don’t know.”

A low voice growled, “You’re under arrest.”

“For what?” he said.

“You were going to throw this at the mayor’s car.” She held up the object which, as Jaylynn drew nearer, she could see was a paper bag wrapped around a bottle.

Jaylynn reached over and said, “Here. Let me have that.” With barely a glance, Dez let go of the bottle. The rookie hefted it in her hand. It was at least half full, heavy enough to have done some damage to the car or to a person, if it hit right. Dez cuffed the man and read him his rights.

The tail end of the parade was passing by, and as it moved away, the people lined up along the street began to break up, too, looking curiously at the two cops standing with the suspect. Even though his hands were cuffed behind him, he pressed forward at Dez snarling and swearing. When he kicked out at the tall officer, Dez sprang back easily and moved into a ready stance. Jaylynn watched as a predatory look swept across the big cop’s face, her eyes alight with excitement.

In the crowd someone muttered, “Police brutality again.” Jaylynn looked up, startled, but she couldn’t see who had made the comment. The cuffed man called out, “Look at this, people. Asshole cops, arresting innocent people as usual.” Dez grabbed his arm. He jerked away.

Jaylynn reached out with her free hand and gripped the man’s ear. He winced and let out a squawk. “Listen up, Mister,” she said. She raised her voice for the benefit of the milling crowd. “I saw you try to throw this at the mayor’s car.” She held up the bottle in the bag. “Quit whining and come along.”

She pulled his ear and, with his head turned to the side, he shuffled beside her protesting, but docile, like a small child in trouble with his mom. She said, “You should be ashamed of yourself. There was no reason to be so unpleasant. Come on now.” The crowd lost interest and dispersed. When she and the man reached the corner, Jaylynn glanced over her shoulder. “Reilly, where you parked?”

The big woman gave the rookie a quizzical look and tossed her head toward Kellogg Blvd. “Round the corner there.” She trailed a few steps behind, watching the younger woman dragging the sputtering man, and suddenly it seemed very comical. Minutes ago she had wanted to beat the hell out of this half-drunk moron, and now—well, now it just didn’t matter. She watched as the rookie continued to scold the man, her hair shining like white gold in the cold March sun. Dez was struck with a sense of familiarity, as though she had done this before, had followed the blond down scores of other streets hundreds of times. It brought a smile to her lips, though, upon reflection, she had no idea why she felt so happy.
PART 6
Jaylynn was happy to see the end of March and the beginning of April, though in her household, April Fool’s Day was always a chore. Last year Tim had put green rubber garter snakes in Sara’s and her beds and had duct taped the refrigerator door shut. This year Jaylynn decided to get back at him, so she had soaked his toothbrush overnight in white vinegar. She also hid his car keys and emptied out the coffee can of all the grounds. She knew she would be home when he woke up, so she figured after he groused for a while, she would confess and have a good laugh.

The funny thing was that Kevin, who had apparently spent the night, was the recipient of two of the three jokes. He went to use the toothbrush, and from her room, Jaylynn heard the response to that quite plainly. He was also the one to discover there were no coffee grounds. That kind of took the fun out of it since Tim was the real target. Jaylynn gave Kevin a clean toothbrush and got out the coffee for the poor guy. She put the car keys back out in plain sight. She was amused to discover that Tim completely forgot about April Fool’s Day, which was just fine with her.

She went back to her room and turned on her CD player, selecting an Enya album for background music, then flopped down on the couch. She picked up a letter she was writing to her Auntie Lynn in Seattle, but after rereading a bit of it, she put it down. Arranging the couch pillow behind her head, she kicked her feet out on the cushions and slumped down. She picked up the book of stories she had been reading, The Worldwide Church of the Handicapped, and tried to focus, but she couldn’t. She let the book fall next to her and closed her eyes.

The face that came to mind, as usual, was one she did not want to think about. She couldn’t avoid it. Dark hair, arched eyebrows, high cheekbones, liquid blue eyes, and an occasional smile. Jaylynn hadn’t seen that crooked half-smile for weeks. She was tired of riding with a variety of officers. She wanted her old FTO back—under any circumstances. She missed the tall woman desperately, and it occurred to her that police work was all drudgery lately. Face it, she thought to herself, I joined the force because of her. I couldn’t admit that to anyone, but if anyone asked, I’d have to be honest. Maybe it’s ridiculous, but it’s the truth. Am I an idiot or what?

Suddenly full of nervous energy, she stood and went over to make the bed. Looking around the room she decided it was time for a good spring cleaning. In three days her mother and sisters were due for a visit, so she figured she had better get things organized. It was going to be close quarters for five days with her mom sharing the double bed and the girls on the hide-a-bed couch in sleeping bags. She couldn’t wait to see them.

*****

“Is this it? Is this it?” Two perky little girl voices warbled away excitedly from the back seat as Jaylynn pulled into a parking space and put her Camryin park. The two sisters opened the back doors and prepared to tumble out.

“Wait, girls,” said Jaylynn. “Leave the toys there in the car. You can’t bring those Barbies in with you.”

After carefully setting their dolls down on the seat, two compact little girls emerged from the gray Camry. They looked a great deal like Jaylynn: hazel eyes, long legs, twitchy with nervous energy. Only their hair was different from their older sister’s. Both little girls had a shock of straight sandy brown hair like their father’s, while Jaylynn’s short hair was blond like her mother’s.

Their mother, a slender woman in her middle 40’s, picked up her purse and got out. Jaylynn waited for the girls to slam their doors shut, then pushed the auto-lock. She looked admiringly at her new car, which her mother had eagerly approved. It was so nice to travel in a clean vehicle, unlike Tim’s which was always packed full of newspapers and candy wrappers and styrofoam containers from McDonald’s. She was glad she’d been able to buy the car before the girls’ spring break. It made it much easier to show them around town.

“Amanda,” their mother said, “tie your shoe. And you there, quit acting so squirrely.” In excitement, Jaylynn’s youngest sister, Erin, bounced up and down on the balls of her feet. She paused. When her mother looked away, she resumed her determined bouncing.

“This way, Mom,” said Jaylynn, and she led the three of them to the front entrance. The mid-afternoon sun slanted down upon them, but it shed no warmth on this breezy April day.

Erin pushed past Amanda and took Jaylynn’s hand. “Will we get to see your gun?” she asked.

“No, sweetie, my gun is locked up in my locker. Police work isn’t about guns, Erin. It’s about helping people.”

“Not on TV,” chimed in the worldly-wise Amanda.

“This is definitely not TV,” said Jaylynn. She pushed through the front door and led them into the police station.

With a whine in her voice, Erin said, “Do we at least get to meet our hero?”

Jaylynn and her mother looked at one another over the top of the girls’ heads and rolled their eyes.

Their mother said, “I don’t know why you two insist on this ‘Our Hero’ business.”

“She is our hero, Mother,” said Amanda in the patient voice of a 9-year-old who knows adults are not always aware of what is important. “She saved Jay and Sara and everything. We can’t wait to see her.”

Jaylynn interrupted, “There’s always a chance she won’t be here, so don’t get your hopes up.” In fact, Jaylynn didn’t expect Dez to be around for another half-hour, saving her the discomfort of being in the harsh woman’s presence. In a way, she did want her mother to meet Dez, but she was also acutely aware of the awkwardness she’d feel.

Amanda and Erin skipped through the halls. They both wore white tennis shoes and blue corduroy pants, but Erin’s jacket was pink with purple trim while Amanda’s was a solid forest green. They giggled their way along, asking questions, stopping to greet every police officer they saw. Once when they saw a dark-haired female cop, they asked, “Are you Desiree? We’re looking for our hero.” Erin pronounced her name oddly: Desert-RAY with the emphasis on the last syllable. Jaylynn’s mother shook her head as she tried to herd the rambunctious girls down another hall while Jaylynn apologized to the perplexed officer who was definitely not Dez. As they moved through the building, she pointed out the Complaint Desk, the Comm Center, and the Property Room.

After telling the girls not to bother anyone, especially if they were changing clothes, Jaylynn led them down the stairs and pushed open the door to the women’s locker room. The girls skipped through the door and paused at the first row of lockers, followed by their mother and big sister. Jaylynn winced when she heard Amanda say, “Hi there. Are you our hero? We’re looking for Desiree.”

A low voice answered. “And who’s asking?”

In unison the girls said, “We are.” They stood at the end of the locker room bench, looking up, waiting.

The tall woman smiled. “And who might you be?” She finished buttoning her shirt and slammed her locker shut as Jaylynn and her mother came around the corner and stepped up behind the girls. Ah. I should have figured this out, Dez thought to herself. The little girls resemble Jaylynn, and all three of them look just like their mother.

Dez met the eyes of the older woman and stood for a moment stunned. Why, she’s beautiful. What a great figure. If Jaylynn looks like that in twenty years, she’ll be beautiful too. Her eyes shifted to take in the rookie, and she was even more amazed to realize that Jaylynn was, already, quite a looker. She had rarely seen the rookie out of the boxy, blue uniform or workout sweats, and the few times Jaylynn had worn street clothes, Dez had to admit she hadn’t paid much attention. Today the younger woman wore tight black jeans and a form-fitting white scoop-necked sweater that revealed her to be shapely. She had a soft tan leather jacket over one arm, and a gold locket on a chain rested in the hollow of her throat. Her face looked worried.

Erin looked up over her shoulder at Jaylynn. “Well? Is this her or what?” she said in exasperation. She turned back to the tall woman.

Jaylynn gently placed her hands on Erin’s shoulders. “Yes.”

Amanda and Erin both let out a cheer. “Yay! It’s about time we found her!” Erin started her bouncing routine until Jaylynn’s hands squeezed her shoulders to settle her down. She knew her face was crimson, but Jaylynn took a deep breath and said, “Desiree Reilly, these are my sisters Erin and Amanda. And this is my mother, Janet Lindstrom.”

Jaylynn’s mother reached out and shook hands with the tall woman. “I am so happy to meet you. I’ve heard a lot of good things about you from Jaylynn.”

In an excited voice, Amanda said, “We think we might want your autograph.”

Dez frowned and gazed over at Jaylynn with a quizzical look on her face. She arched one eyebrow, then turned back to Amanda and said, “Why?”

Jaylynn’s mother started to answer but before she could get a word out, Erin cut in. “Because you’re our hero. You saved our sister from the bad men, and now she’s a policeman saving other people from the bad men.”

Dez nodded. “Actually, she’s a police woman.”

The girls nodded in unison.

Janet sighed and said, “It’s a good thing they’ve finally met you. I swear it’s all they’ve talked about since we left Seattle. They got this notion in their heads about you, and you know how eight and ten-year-olds are. I think they expect you to be able to fly or astral project or something like that.”

The girls protested, and Dez laughed.

Jaylynn’s mother went on, “But seriously, how’s your arm? Jaylynn told me you broke it in the ruckus.”

“Oh,” Dez said, surprised. “It’s just fine.” She flexed her right hand. “No problems at all.”

Erin said, in a small plaintive voice, “Can we see your gun?”

Dez sat down on the bench so that she was eye-to-eye with the girls. “No, I’m sorry, but it’s not a toy. I only take it out of the holster for two reasons. Do you know what they are?”

Amanda said, “To shoot someone?”

“No, I get it out if there is a threat and think I might have to use it. I also have to clean it and make sure it always works right, but other than that, it stays right here snapped shut in the holster.” She patted her hip.

Erin said, “How many people have you killed so far?”

Jaylynn, who had been bearing the interrogation with great embarrassment, piped up and said, “Erin! I told you: zero. The police don’t go around shooting people.”

“Listen to your sister,” said Dez. “She’s right.” Dez’s amused eyes met Jaylynn’s, and it happened again, that sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. Hastily she turned and snapped shut her locker. When she turned back she avoided the rookie’s eyes though she smiled and said, “When you told me you had two younger sisters, it didn’t connect that they would be grade-schoolers.”

Jaylynn’s mother said, “Third and fourth grade—and quite a handful.” She smiled, and Dez was struck by how friendly the woman was.

She nodded in understanding, then turned her attention to the two girls staring up at her. “Well,” she said, “why don’t you two come up and have a tour with me. Then we’ll see the roll call room. I’ll introduce you to all the guys and you can hear how we get assigned our night’s work.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Jaylynn protested.

“I don’t mind. I’ve got plenty of time,” said Dez. “Shift doesn’t start for—” she checked her watch, “forty-two minutes.”

As if they’d known her forever, Erin and Amanda both reached up and took a hand. Dez smiled at Janet and led the two girls past and out the locker room. The two women followed. In a quiet voice Janet said, “She’s seems very nice, Jaylynn. She’s not at all what I expected. You never mentioned that she’s seven feet tall.”

“Oh, mother.”

“She’s . . . well, she’s really tall, hon.”

*****

For the first time since joining the police force, Jaylynn went back to work reluctantly. She hadn’t wanted to say goodbye to her mom and the girls when they’d left the day before, but of course she did, trying not to cry at the airport as she watched them move away from her down the long ramp to the plane. She was filled with such contradictory emotions. On the one hand, after five days of little girl energy, she was ready for a break, but on the other hand, she wished it wouldn’t be months and months before she saw them all again.

She was glad Sara was home when she got back from the airport, and they went to see a movie, Life Is Beautiful, which she decided might be one of the most wonderful films she’d ever seen, despite the Italian subtitles. Then she spent a quiet evening reading in her room, went to bed before midnight, and slept until nearly ten in the morning. She awoke feeling groggy, remembering violent, scary dreams. By the time she got to work in the middle of the afternoon, she decided she was feeling more chipper, but still, she was out-of-sorts.

Fortunately, the shift with Crystal went by swiftly, and when midnight rolled around, Jaylynn parked the cruiser and the two women strolled toward the station. With a twinkle in her eye, which Jaylynn missed in the dim midnight light, Crystal said, “Hey, how ’bout we stay an hour or so and lift some weights? We’ve been on our butts so long, I feel like I need a bit of a workout.”

“Sure. Good idea.” Jaylynn took off her police hat and tipped her head forward to stretch her neck. “I feel pretty dang stiff from all that sitting.”

They went to their lockers and changed into shorts and t-shirts, then reconvened in the gym. The dim overhead lights cast weird shadows on all the equipment, and the reflection of the mirrors ringing the room multiplied the odd light into strange specters. At 12:15 a.m., all was quiet.

Crystal said, “You wanna work out together or just go at it alone?” She held her arms out to the side and stretched them, rolling her neck in circles.

“Together,” said Jaylynn. “I’m still learning stuff, so it’ll be good to watch you, okay?”

“Muy bueno, chiquita. I’m doing chest and maybe triceps today. That all right?”

Jaylynn nodded and followed Crystal to the bench press.

“What weight do you start with?” asked Crystal.

“I’m only up to 65 pounds max. I’ll do some light stuff and work up to that.”

“Okay, you start then, and I’ll add weights when it’s my turn.”

Jaylynn laid down on the blue bench and situated herself. She said, “Let me warm up a bit with just the bar.”

“Yeah, then I’ll slap on the weights for you.”

Jaylynn lay on her back and gripped the 45-pound bar, lifted it off the rack, and let it drop slowly to her chest, then pressed it up ten times. She racked it, and Crystal slipped tens on each end and stood over to spot for her. After a brief rest, she repeated the ten reps and replaced the bar. Crystal slipped a 25 on each end and changed places with Jaylynn.

“That’s real good,” said Jaylynn. “I’d die doing 115 pounds.”

Crystal gripped the bar. “Have you ever seen Dez do 185?”

Jaylynn shook her head.

“Well, she can. Makes it look easy too. And you know what? She can leg press six plates on a side over there, you know, like 600 pounds. Spot for me now, okay? I’m trying for eight reps. I might need help at the end.” Crystal pressed the bar up and began her set.

Jaylynn watched Crystal closely from where she stood above, ready to help if needed, so she didn’t notice Dez enter the gym, then stop abruptly when she saw the two cops. The tall woman wore tight black shorts, black shoes and socks, and a heavy-duty black sports bra with criss-cross straps on the back. She hesitated for a moment, then shrugged and pulled on a pair of soft leather Ocelot workout gloves, cinching them around her wrists. Moving to the lat pull-down bar she adjusted the weights to warmup settings, then got a wide grip, sat on the seat and tucked her knees under the pad, then pulled the bar. She warmed up slowly, keeping her back arched and pulling the bar down to her chin, letting her back and shoulders get used to the motion. After she did two sets of 15 light reps, she let the bar back up and stretched her arms and neck. Readjusting the weights to a heavier setting, she got situated to pull down the heavier weight.

Crystal racked the weights she was bench pressing and sat up. She looked back at Jaylynn and was amused to see the young woman watching Dez intently. She cleared her throat. “Guess it was lucky I didn’t need your help on that last one, huh partner?”

Jaylynn shook herself and blushed. “I’m sorry. I got distracted.” She jerked her head toward Dez and in a whisper said, “Crystal, will you look at her? How does she do that?”

As Dez pulled the bar down, the muscles in her broad back and shoulders bulged and rippled smoothly. Each lat pulldown revealed muscle definition Jaylynn had never before noticed on a woman.

Dez set the weights down and let go of the lat bar, and Jaylynn took that moment to stride over and lock eyes with her in the mirror. “How did you do that, Dez?” She came to a stop directly behind her, crossed her arms, and waited demandingly.

“Do what?” came the low drawl.

“Get such incredible muscle definition in your shoulders and back? How in the world did that happen?”

The pale skin of the dark-haired woman’s face went from white to pink to crimson in the few seconds it took her to answer. “I—well—I just worked at it hard. Ate right. You know, stayed at it. It just happened.”

“How long did it take for that to ‘just happen’?”

Dez spun on the seat to face the smaller woman. “I don’t know . . . couple years or so.”

Jaylynn continued to stare at her, fascinated, completely oblivious to Crystal who sat on the bench behind them and watched with an amused expression on her face.

“How did you learn what to do to build up like that?” said Jaylynn.

“Books. Magazines. And from Ryan. Mostly Ryan. He pretty much coached me.”

“Can you teach me?”

Dez shrugged. “I guess,” she said, doubt in her voice.

“You don’t think I could learn?”

Dez smiled a full smile, her white teeth twinkling in the low light. She shook her head. “No, I don’t think that at all. I just didn’t think you’d be interested. You’ve got a lean runner’s body. And you’re fast. Wouldn’t you rather work at wind sprints and cross country type stuff?”

“No, not really.”

Crystal sidled up to the two of them. “Are we gonna get a back lesson from the master? ‘Cause if we are, then I’m gonna stop working my chest right this minute.” Both women stared at her blankly. Crystal observed that the air about her fairly crackled with energy. Ooh baby, she thought. Any fool can see these two got it bad for each other. She looked at her dark haired friend, then at the new recruit and back to Dez again. She wanted to laugh but forced herself not to. “You know, on second thought, my back has been bothering me. I think I’ll just do a quick chest routine and be on my way.”

Crystal returned to the bench press and sat watching the two women as Dez grabbed the lat bar and began to explain something, a serious look on her face. Crystal couldn’t quite hear what was said, but Jaylynn nodded and asked questions, watching closely as Dez demonstrated.

Crystal lay back on the bench and gripped the free weights. She managed to eke out 7 reps before racking it again. When she sat up, she noticed that now the rookie was seated at the lat pull down station holding onto the wide bar with Dez standing behind her, hands patting Jaylynn’s shoulders as the tall woman explained something intently. Neither woman paid Crystal the slightest bit of attention. She wondered if she should feel hurt, then decided that the two women needed very much to patch things up. She continued with her presses, moved on to dumbbell flyes, did some push-ups, and decided to call it a night. When she exited, she looked back to see Dez squatting next to Jaylynn as the smaller woman worked at the seated row. Neither woman gave any indication that they noticed Crystal leaving.

*****

Jaylynn arrived for roll call right on time, and as usual, Dez was already perched on a chair in her regular back corner. They nodded at one another, and Jaylynn sat in a seat in the middle of the room and waited for the flow of cops to settle so the sergeant could start.

Cheryl entered full of vigor and excitement. “Hey, Jaylynn,” she hollered across the room. “Guess what? Stevens is back to work. I didn’t expect him until next week, but his wife’s doing so well, he’s back tonight.” She helped herself to a doughnut and came over to sit in the chair next to the rookie. She leaned over closer and said quietly, “He also said he’s up every night with a crabby wife and baby anyway, so he may as well get back to work.”

The duty sergeant stomped into the room and hollered at everyone to listen up. In the daily updates, he brought up the latest rash of burglaries. “You all know about the Bat Boy Burglaries from this morning’s paper. There’ve been six break-ins in six weeks, usually on Saturday or Sunday evenings. Witnesses ID them as kids with baseball bats. They knock—if no answer, they whack in a window and take money, jewelry, small items of value. Keep an eye out for three white boys dressed urban style. So far all the burglaries have taken place in the Selby-Dale neighborhood.”

The sergeant called roll and made assignments. Jaylynn was paired with someone she didn’t know at all named Calvin Braswell who didn’t often work their sector. After roll call Cheryl gripped her forearm and leaned over to speak in Jaylynn’s ear. “Good luck tonight. He’s a dinosaur, that one,” Cheryl whispered. “You’ll have to put up with some bitchin’ from him. He despises women cops. I rode with him a couple of times, and he’s a disrespectful, foul-mouthed jerk.”

“Great,” said Jaylynn. “Just what I need.”

Cheryl said, “Maybe you’ll have better luck charming him than I did.”

Cheryl slid past and headed out the door with Stevens. Jaylynn rose and fell in line behind the rest of the cops. She sauntered up to the front where Braswell, a rotund sandy-haired man with 1970’s sideburns, was engaged in a heated conversation with the duty sergeant. She saw Dez pause behind Braswell, and by then Jaylynn was close enough to hear for herself.

Braswell was saying, “I’m not riding with some fresh-faced punk—specially not a female one. What a pain in the ass. Rather ride alone!”

“Why don’t you do that, Braswell,” said Dez in a deep voice over his shoulder.

He jumped and half-turned. “Jesus Christ, Reilly! Whatchu doing sneaking up on a guy like that?”

“Since it offends your masculine sensibilities so much to ride with a woman, I’ll take Savage tonight. Okay, Sarge?” she said as she nodded toward her superior officer.

“No skin off my nose,” he replied. “I’ll just update it on the roster and let the Lieutenant know.”

Dez turned to Braswell. “You oughta buy me lunch or something though.”

“Bullshit! You girls should stick together, leave us guys alone.”

“Yeah, right.”

Dez turned with a twinkle in her eye to find Jaylynn behind her wearing a puzzled look on her face. Dez said, “Let’s go, Savage. We gotta make sure we don’t get the car with the broken heater.” Loudly she said over her shoulder, “I hope Braswell snags it and freezes his fat ass off.” She took off out the door, her long legs beating a staccato sound on the tile as Jaylynn raced along behind her.

Dez picked up the keys and loped out to the parking lot. She slid into the driver’s seat and Jaylynn got in and buckled up. She waited for Dez to say something, but after they’d traveled a good mile she couldn’t take the silence anymore. “Why did you do that?”

“Why not?”

Jaylynn pondered for a moment. She wasn’t satisfied with that. “I’m serious. Why?”

Dez said, “You woulda hated riding with Braswell. He’s a sexist mean-spirited asshole. Also not a very good cop. You can’t trust him with your back. I just figured you didn’t need the kind of grief he’d put you through.”

“And?”

“And what?” said Dez, irritably. She pulled her sunglasses out of her breast pocket, flipped them open, and put them on.

“And what else? What do you care if I have to ride with some old dinosaur?”

Dez hesitated, then shook her head and looked over at Jaylynn. “All right. I’ve been thinking maybe it’s time we put this cold war behind us. Call it a gesture of good will and concern.”

Jaylynn frowned, then looked away. She caught sight of something out the window and did a double take. “Dez, you see ‘em?”

“Yeah,” said Dez. “Do they match the description or what?” Two slender white boys and a fatter tall boy, all in mid-teens, walked away from them down the alley between Selby and Victoria Street. They wore over-sized sweatshirts and huge baggy jeans. One skinny kid carried a cardboard box in his arms, and the tall boy was juggling two awkward-looking grocery bags. The third boy held two shiny aluminum bats. Their baseball caps were pulled down low and they looked around constantly, surreptitiously checking out the houses along the row.

Dez hit the gas and circled the block. “This has gotta be too good to be true.” When she arrived at the mouth of the alley, the boys looked up, surprised, then dropped the bags and box and ran.

“Oh great, they made us,” said Jaylynn. She wrenched her door open and decided on a hunch to go after the biggest kid, hoping he might not be as fleet of foot. Dez grabbed the radio to report as the two skinny boys split, one going through a yard on the left of the alley, the other through a yard on the right side. The big kid turned and ran down the alley. He cut through a yard, struggled over a waist high chain link fence, stumbled, and then fled out onto Ashland Street. Dez saw Jaylynn vault the fence in one fluid motion and start to gain yardage.

The dark haired cop hit the siren and lights and followed down the alley issuing descriptions over the radio to dispatch. Once Jaylynn and the kid veered off into the yard, Dez lost sight of them. She gunned the car forward and drove back onto the avenue, hoping to pick them up on Laurel Street. Wrong direction. The rookie and the boy were nowhere to be seen. They must have crossed another street and run through more than one yard.

She wheeled the car back around the block and up to the next street. As she turned the corner she caught sight of Jaylynn bolting away from her and across the pavement, just yards behind her quarry. Dez couldn’t help but smile. Perfect sprinter’s form. The blond hardly looked fatigued. The fat boy was ready to have a heart attack and from all appearances, the rookie wasn’t even warmed up yet. Dez accelerated and drove up onto the parking strip, then leapt out of the car in time to see Jaylynn grab the back of the kid’s sweatshirt and drag him down with a nicely executed tackle. She had his arms behind his back and the cuffs on before he could even get his face out of the grass. Dez leaned against the door and grinned, then radioed in to report to dispatch.

There were sirens close by, and Dez hoped they’d snag the other two boys. But with just this one, they would likely get the names and information they needed. She’d bet money the Bat Boy Burglaries were over. As she stood watching, neighbors peeped out windows or came out on their porches to watch.

Jaylynn hauled the kid up. He staggered, but she kept hold of his arm, dragged him over to the cruiser and stuffed him in the back seat. Then she leaned back against the car’s rear panel and put her hands on her knees to catch her breath. If you didn’t count her shirt coming partly untucked, then she had escaped the chase with only a grass stain on one knee. After a moment, she was aware of Dez’s gaze. She looked up to see the older cop smiling, her bright blue eyes merry. Dez stood facing the rear of the car, one foot in the car and one on the ground with her right shoulder draped over the open door. “Couldn’t have done that better myself,” she said.

“Let’s go back and get the goods,” she said. With a satisfied look on her face, she said, “That ought to be a good collar for us.”

“No,” said Dez. “That one’s all yours. You spotted them first, you took him down on your own. It’s yours. And you know what that means?”

“No, what?” Jaylynn stood up and tucked her shirt in.

“You also get all the paper work.” Dez laughed and got in the car.

*****

Processing juveniles always took longer, and it was well over an hour before they got back to the car again. By then it was eight o’clock, and Jaylynn was desperately hungry.

“Where do you want to go for meal break?” said Dez. “Burger King? Mickey D’s? Taco Bell? Your choice.”

“Let’s hit the The Cutting Board and get some of those sandwiches.”

“Oh, I can swing by there later. Pick where you want to go.”

“That is where I’d like to go,” said Jaylynn. “I don’t eat fast food anymore.”

Dez was surprised. “You don’t? Why?”

“I hate to admit it but you were right. I can’t sit around on my butt in a squad car night after night and expect to maintain my girlish figure. I could tell I was putting on weight. So I took your advice before I had an ass the size of Mankato.”

Dez laughed heartily. “And you’ve been working out too.”

“Yeah.”

“No wonder you were flying earlier. You looked so—so effortless. Just think what would have happened if you’d been paired with Braswell tonight for that.” Dez started laughing. “You’d have made Mr. Pot Belly look really bad. I almost wish I could have seen that.”

Jaylynn looked at Dez out of the corner of her eye and found herself wondering what the hell had gotten into her. This was hardly the taciturn, distant woman of the last several weeks. Why the change? “Hey, I’m starving here,” said Jaylynn. “You gonna drive or do I have to?”

“Should I put on the siren?”

“I hardly think my meal warrants a code red. Just get a move on,” she said hiding her smile of happiness.

*****

Jaylynn didn’t know what to expect when she arrived for work the next day. Riding with Pilcher had been okay, and she liked when she got assigned with Crystal, but some of the other cops were not fun. She couldn’t avoid admitting to herself how much she preferred Dez. She had forgotten—no, she’d chosen on purpose not to remember—how enjoyable a shift could be. The evening before had flown by. It took no time at all for the two of them to slip into an effective work rhythm. Little needed to be said. On calls, a quick nod or hand gesture, maybe a raised eyebrow, and they knew what the other was thinking. Two domestics and three noise complaints kept them busy until midnight, and when shift ended, she’d felt a twinge of longing for the night to go on and on. But she was Cinderella at the ball, and at the stroke of twelve, it was all over. She laughed ruefully at herself for comparing Cinderella’s tribulations to hers. At least I don’t have to wear high-heeled glass slippers. Or a skirt with a giant hoop.

She arrived nearly 45 minutes early because she needed to see the Lieutenant, then went to the locker room to change into her uniform. She dressed hastily. Sitting on the bench in front of her locker, the back of her knees pressed against the rickety wood, she worked at threading her wide belt through the loops on her pants. The locker room door opened. She didn’t look around until she realized someone loomed behind her, someone very tall with long black hair.

“Oh hi,” Jaylynn said. She willed herself not to blush, but it didn’t work.

Dez didn’t seem to notice. She sat down on the other even more rickety bench across from Jaylynn’s back. In a low, soft voice she said, “We need to talk.”

Jaylynn swung around, lifting her feet over the bench to the other side, and faced the bigger woman. Not looking up, she finished buckling her belt. “What about?”

“Us.”

Jaylynn’s head came up swiftly and her eyes met shards of smouldering blue. She waited, not trusting her voice to speak.

The dark haired woman looked away, her face grim but determined. “I think I’ve been sort of hard on you lately.” She leaned forward, put her elbows on her knees, and looked down. Quietly she said, “I just want you to know that you’re developing into a damn good cop, and I’d like to go back to riding with you—whenever you want, that is, if you want to, I mean—”

“I accept.”

“What?”

“Your apology. I accept.”

Dez looked confused. “I wasn’t aware I was apologizing.”

“Well, you shoulda been,” Jaylynn said with a great deal more vehemence than she intended.

Her face now a carefully guarded mask, Dez rose to full height, towering over the rookie. She gave Jaylynn her most merciless stare. “Now see here, you’re the one who asked out—not me.”

Jaylynn stood up, too, and all five and a half feet of her met the tall cop’s gaze with unflinching firmness. “You gave me no choice. Besides, can you stand there and tell me you weren’t going to pass me off anyway?” Dez made a gesture with her hand, but Jaylynn interrupted, “Don’t lie to me to make me feel better. You didn’t want to ride with me anymore, did you?”

Dez glared at her. This discussion was not what she’d had in mind when she’d begun it. She had felt better during last night’s shift than she had in a very long time. It felt—right. Like all was right with the world. And she had thought of nothing else all day, had debated back and forth whether she should even approach Jaylynn, and now she was sure she should not have. “What do you want from me?”

Abruptly, Jaylynn sat down and put her head in her hands. “Nothing. Really. Forget it.”

Dez stepped over the bench and squatted in front of Jaylynn. She tapped the blond haired woman’s knee with her fist. “Hey. Let’s not be so serious, okay? If you’d rather not ride with me, that’s okay.”

“No, Dez, that’s not it. I like riding with you. A lot.” She looked up and saw the guarded look on the other woman’s face. “But what about your reputation?”

“Whaddya mean?” Dez rocked back on her heels and stood up again.

“You’ve got a reputation to uphold. You told me that before. You sure you want to partner with the lesbian rookie? Believe me, enough people know now.”

“God! Why are you making this so hard?” Dez tightened her fist and smacked it into the palm of her hand, making a growling sound in her throat. What she really wanted to do was pick up the lockers and throw them out the window—but upon further examination she realized this was the basement and there were no windows. She sat on the bench again and squeezed her eyes shut. “All right then. I apologize.”

“For what?”

It was all Dez could do to keep from screaming. She shut her eyes, drew a deep breath and held it, then expelled it forcefully and opened her eyes. She looked into Jaylynn’s hazel eyes and saw a trace of amusement. Suddenly, inexplicably, she relaxed. What did Ryan use to say? In the face of female adversity, either run like hell or throw in the towel. She’d already run like hell and that hadn’t worked. She wondered how good her towel tossing skills were. She cleared her throat. “What I’m sorry about is that everything I said and did hurt you. I didn’t mean to hurt you, Jay. Can you accept that?”

“Okay.”

“And I’d like us to go back to riding together again. I’ll keep teaching you what I know if you’ll forgive me for being such an oaf.”

“Okay.”

“So, should we go talk to the Lieutenant?”

“No,” said Jaylynn.

Exasperated, Dez groaned. “Why the hell not?”

“I went to see him when I first got here and already put in the request. All you have to do is okay it.”

Dez got to her feet and loomed over the smaller woman. “You made me go through all of that?”

Jaylynn tipped her head back, and with a smile of satisfaction said, “Yup. And it was worth it.”

In mock anger, Dez grabbed Jaylynn’s collar and tugged her to her feet. “You are the most pig-headed woman I’ve ever met.”

“You looked in the mirror lately? Maybe you should have someone introduce you to yourself.” She shrugged Dez’s hand off and straightened her collar.

In a grumpy voice, Dez said, “Very funny.”

The locker room door swung open and in came Cheryl. “Hey there girls.” She launched into an account of her fabulous day. Dez took the first opportunity to slip away, leaving Jaylynn listening intently to Cheryl’s rambling. What Dez didn’t realize was that although on the outside Jaylynn appeared to be listening; on the inside, she was still talking to Dez, still with Dez, totally immersed in happiness.

*****

After shift that night Jay was still wired. She’d been full of energy for nine straight hours. They got back to the locker room and she called out over her shoulder, “Are you lifting weights tonight, Dez?”

“Nah, day of rest from lifting.”

“Too bad. I feel like I need to work off some of this nervous energy.”

“Let’s take a run then,” Dez said, as she wrestled off the bullet-proof vest.

“Very funny. Just jog up and down the halls of administration or what?”

“No. I’m serious. We take off and run down to the river and back. I do it all the time.”

Jaylynn started to pull off her t-shirt, then paused. “Do I need to remind you it’s after midnight?”

“I strap my weapon on over my jogging clothes, and presto—no problem. Nobody ever bothers me.”

“I’m not running with a gun flapping at my side,” she said, but she pulled her t-shirt back down and got out a pair of sweat bottoms.

“You don’t have to carry. I don’t think we need more fire power than what my weapon offers,” Dez said dryly. “I’m used to it anyway. So are you game?”

Jaylynn swung around on the bench and waited as Dez pulled on her socks and shoes. Jaylynn was already dressed in leotards under blue sweats and three layers of shirts: t-shirt, long sleeved jersey, and an orange sweatshirt. Dez pulled on black sweats and a heavy gray sweatshirt with the St. Paul Police Department logo on it. The big cop finished tying her shoes and fished through her locker until she found a neoprene sport holster. She pulled up her sweatshirt and velcroed it around her waist, secured her gun, and turned it so the gun was at the small of her back.

“Hey that’s cool,” said Jay, “but that’s not your Glock is it?”

“No, it’s a .38 I like to carry when I run or ride my bike.”

She reached over and tugged Dez’s sweatshirt up to examine the holster. “It’s like scuba dive material.”

“Yeah, so it keeps my middle warm, that’s for sure.” She tucked some money and her license in her sock and faced Jay.

They went out the building into the cool night air. “So what’s the route?” said Jaylynn.

“You want, say, a mile down and back, or the long route?”

“How long is long?”

“Maybe four miles.”

Jaylynn stopped to think for a moment. “Let’s go long then.”

By now they were out on the empty avenue, the street lamps shining down on Jaylynn’s hair and making her look as though a halo reflected around her head. Dez’s face was shrouded in shadow. Jay walked next to her and looked up, trying to see her eyes, but it was dark enough that they were obscured in the gloom.

“Okay,” said Dez, “let’s go down Jackson, under the train overpass, across Warner to the river, and then run on that path for a mile or so. Then let’s come back up and go through Rice Park. It’ll be a nice loop.”

Jaylynn nodded and they took off into a slow jog, gradually stretching their legs further, speeding up, until they found a steady rhythm that suited them both. For the first mile they heard only the rasp of one another’s breath and an occasional far-off siren. They reached the river and ran side-by-side on the path. Jay said, “I like—those lights—on the water.”

Dez looked out across the Mississippi. Reflections from the buildings on the other side cast wavy golden light on the surface of the water. “It’s pretty.” The path was well-lit by lamps placed every thirty feet or so, and a waist-high bright blue metal fence ran beside the path between them and the drop down to the river. When the weather improved, there would be flowers and plants galore alongside the footpath.

Soon they reached the end of the river path and turned around. With a sly grin, Jaylynn said, “I’ll beat you to the boat mooring sign . . .” and she took off. Dez accelerated after her, long legs beating staccato on the cement. She gained slowly on the blond and drew next to her. Now it was a battle of wills since their legs were fatigued and tiring. Jaylynn fell into a familiar rhythm: knees up, hands loose, breath even. Her peripheral vision slowly narrowed until she was focused only on the sign 70 yards, 60 yards, 50 yards ahead. . . .

With her longer, stronger legs, Dez pushed herself, tenaciously remaining alongside the fleet-footed woman. She was determined to stay with Jaylynn, maybe not beat her, but at least reach the sign simultaneously. Her breath was ragged, and she could feel her lungs burning. 40 yards, 30 yards, so close, so close.

They blew past the sign, abreast, and slowed gradually until they both came to a stop next to the fence along the path. Panting, they bent over and tried to catch their breath.

“Good speed there,” gasped Jaylynn, “for an old lady.”

Dez reached out and whacked the blond woman’s shoulder lightly with the back of her hand. “Easy for you to say,” she choked out. “You aren’t . . .packing a . . . heavy gun.”

Jay squealed with laughter. “Oh right . . . that’s a good one. . . . want me to take it . . . . and we’ll try another. . . . 400 yards or so?”

“Nah, that’s okay . . . I concede to the . . . superior sprinter.”

Jay looked up at her in mock horror. “Oh my god . . . what a day. Apologies . . .and concessions . . . all in one night!”

Dez could finally breathe better and started walking along the path, still taking deep breaths of the cool night air. “That’s where you’re wrong. It’s after midnight . . .a whole new day. Yesterday was apologies. Today is concessions.”

Jaylynn fell in beside her walking swiftly. “What will tomorrow bring?”

“Who knows, confessions? Maybe I’ll divulge a few long-lost secrets.”

In a droll voice Jay said, “Ooh, can’t wait to hear that!”

“This is not a race now, but let’s pick it up now that I can finally breathe again.”

They shifted into a slow jog and struggled up the hill to Kellogg toward Rice Park. The ornamental street lamps shone brightly all around the one block circumference of the park. Two cement paths formed an X from corner to corner of the block, and in one quarter of the X was a beautiful fountain, ringed by a wide, waist-high marble retaining wall which enclosed a pool of dark water. The fountain was not operating, and all was quiet in the park. The two women jogged up to the wall and stopped. Jaylynn proceeded to stretch out her hamstrings on it. At the center of the pool of water was a 10-foot-high iron statue of a woman. She looked downward, her head cocked slightly to the side. She had powerful arms and legs, a narrow waist, and long hair. Her face was mysteriously passive and hard to make out in the murky night light.

Dez leaned back against the wall, pulled herself up, and balanced on the wide edge. The cement was cold against her legs, but she disregarded it.

Jaylynn stopped stretching and shook her legs out. She could keep running. She wasn’t yet tired, though she thought she should be. Instead, nervous energy coursed through her limbs. She glanced up at Dez and found thoughtful blue eyes already on her. In two steps, she could put her arms around the bigger woman’s waist, her head against her middle. She willed herself not to think about that. She’d be damned if she’d make a fool of herself again. The mischievous side of her was even tempted to push Dez into the pool, and she gave a strained laugh and leaned her elbows on the wall a safe two feet away from the dark form perched nearby.

“What’s so funny?” came the low throaty voice.

“You’re in a mighty vulnerable position. If I wasn’t such a nice person, you could be doing the backstroke right now.”

“And you’d have joined me, count on it.”

“Hmm, I’m not going to see if you’re right. Especially since I see a squad car coming our way now.”

Dez turned and looked over her shoulder. Sure enough, a car was slowing on the street. The cruiser’s spotlight illuminated and a streak of light shone their way. Dez jumped off the wall and faced the cops, raising her hands out and above shoulder level. “Hey,” she shouted. “Who is that? Patterson? Bentley?”

The spotlight went out and the driver’s door opened. “Reilly? Is that you?”

“Yeah,” she shouted. “Bentley?”

“No, Patterson.” A tall skinny form moved toward them, stepped over a low brick wall, and came around the side of the fountain. “What the hell are you doing out here this time of night? And who’s this?”

“Savage and I went for a run.”

“Jesus, Reilly, it’s almost two-fucking-o’clock in the morning.” He was close enough now for them to see his tired face.

Dez said, “Best time to run. There’s no roller bladers competing for the jogging path.”

“You gals might not be safe, you know. I wouldn’t be out this time of night.”

“Patterson, you are out this time of night,” said the tall cop.

“But I’m working. What if somebody came along, hassled you, attacked you?”

“You worry too much. I’m packing.” She turned a bit so he could see her holster. “Nobody messes with me. But if it makes you feel any better, we’re on the way back up to the station.”

“Okay. Whatever.” He peered at the blond. “I haven’t met you Savage. Heard your name. I’m Gus Patterson.” He stuck his hand out and she told him her first name. He let go and turned toward the tall woman. “Hey, Reilly,” he said. “I hear you’re competing in a couple months. Is that right?”

There was a long pause. “Yeah, I am.”

“Well, I’ll come and root you on. It’s for a nice cause. So good luck.”

“Thanks Patterson,” came the quiet answer.

“See you two girls around. Just be careful.” He spun on his heel and moved away from them.

“Don’t worry, Patterson,” Dez called out confidently. “Anybody messes with us, I’ll shoot ‘em. And if I miss, Savage here can just run away.”

His voice came back faintly, “Yeah, yeah. Don’t call me to take the report.” He got back in the car and drove off.

Jaylynn looked at Dez quizzically. “What competition was he talking about?”

“Nothing. Never mind.” She moved away from the wall. “Let’s head back up—”

“Wait.” Jaylynn grabbed her forearm. “Tell me. What was he talking about?”

Dez shook her head. She spat out the next words. “I didn’t want everyone and their brother to know about this, but apparently they must.”

“I’m not everyone and their brother, Dez.” Jaylynn was getting mad and trying to keep it cool. She still gripped the taller woman’s arm and felt warmth and moisture through the cotton sweatshirt.

Dez gave a sigh. “I’m in a bodybuilding competition in four months, and I pledged the proceeds to Ryan’s memorial fund, for the kids’ college. If I place, that is. It might not be a lot of money, but it’s something. Come on. Let’s walk.”

Jaylynn let go of her arm, and they silently moved out of the park. “You weren’t going to tell me?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe tomorrow. It’s a day early for confessions you know.”

Jaylynn looked over at her, startled, then realized she was kidding. “I think that’s a really good thing to do. I hope you win.”

Dez shrugged. “I guess there’s a pool going with some of the officers too. Some betting for, some against me. They’ll probably raise a couple thousand dollars that way.” Dez lengthened her stride, and Jaylynn picked up her pace to keep up.

“Where is it? I want to come.”

Dez stopped. “This is going to be hard.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll give you moral support.”

“It’s not that . . . Geez, I don’t know! Ryan’s wife will be there. His kids . . . it’s going to be . . . I don’t know why in the hell I agreed to do it.” She shuddered. “Except that I’d give every dollar I’ll make for the rest of my life to have him back.” Her shoulders slumped and she shook her head. In a soft, bitter voice she said, “But I know that’ll never happen, so the best I can do is help out Julie and his kids.”

It was all Jaylynn could do to keep from throwing her arms around the dark-haired woman. She reached out hesitantly to pat her on the back, but Dez was already swinging into action, loping along the street in a slow jog.

*****

The entire month of May blew by and Jaylynn hardly knew where it went. She spent one entire week doing in-service training with the twelve other rookies and a number of the officers hired in the previous 24 months. They focused further on records and forms, report writing, court testimony, note-taking, elements of proof, and ethics. She was careful to avoid Dwayne Neilsen, though every once in a while she caught him glowering at her. When she stared back, he would return to his own paperwork.

Dez was gone for a whole week at an in-service training for Field Training Officers, so Jaylynn only saw her once, in passing. She rode with Crystal every day that week.

On Monday, the first of a three days off cycle, the rookie rose early, ate a light breakfast, and got ready for a run. She wore a lightweight t-shirt with a gray U of M sweatshirt over it, her favorite Adidas, and light blue pair of nylon shorts over a pair of soft running leotards. Strapping on a waist pack containing her wallet and house keys, she stepped out into a crisp sunny morning, 50 degrees and rising. She stretched her limbs a little and then set out at a leisurely pace to warm up.

She was so glad winter was finally over. All along the roadway she saw buds blooming and little shoots of plants inching up out of the dark Minnesota soil. Children were out in full force, milling around on corners waiting for their schoolbuses. A few brave souls were even wearing shorts and Jaylynn saw one coatless boy standing dismally, his bare legs quivering in the cool air while he clutched a backpack to his t-shirt clad chest. Bet his mother didn’t see him out the door, Jaylynn thought. She waved as she ran by and called out to him, “Jump up and down . . . Move around . . . You’ll stay warmer that way.”

She continued down Lexington Parkway and decided on a long run all the way to Minnehaha Falls Park, a twelve mile round trip. She didn’t love to run, but after a couple of miles she always fell into a smooth pace and her legs carried her forward, nearly effortlessly. It felt good and gave her mind time to wander. She thought about how she used to write in her journal a lot, but lately, she hadn’t been able to. Of course she never rode the bus anymore, so some of her journal writing time had disappeared. She was lucky if she even got a letter off to her folks or Auntie Lynn once a month any more. She needed to make time for her journal. It seemed like she lost track of herself when she didn’t record things occasionally.

She had no idea anymore what was happening with her life. Where once she felt self-directed and certain about her goals, now she found herself drifting along in a holding pattern. Since she and Dez had patched up their differences, work had been much steadier—less stressful—but she still found herself often on edge. For one thing, she didn’t really know where she stood with the taciturn cop with whom she so often rode. Nothing had changed for the rookie. Every time Dez fixed a razor-sharp gaze on her, the blond felt the same exact butterflies in her stomach that she’d always had. Fortunately, they spent most of their time staring out the windshield of a squad car or dealing with squabbling people. When their eyes met outside the car or while on the street, it was usually to communicate about the altercation they were involved in and nothing else.

Jaylynn cut through a grassy schoolyard, feeling the springy soil beneath her feet. She felt strong today, like she could run forever. She wished she could run more often with Dez. Lately they had been lifting weights every night after work, but since the middle of May, the big cop hadn’t wanted to run any distances anymore, saying she wouldn’t be able to until after the August competition. She said it was too hard on the muscle she was trying to preserve. Soon, Dez had told the rookie, she was going to have to go on an even stricter diet. Jaylynn wondered how her partner’s food intake could get any more severe than it already was. She’d have to ask about that later.

They’d both been on their best behavior for weeks, and if she was honest with herself, Jaylynn had to admit she felt a little stressed because of it. How much longer could she continue to be so cautious? And they had never talked about what had happened when she had spent the night on the couch in the tall woman’s arms. She never would have thought she could kiss someone like that and then turn around and pretend it never happened—but apparently that was what was expected of her. Nothing was resolved. With a passion, Jaylynn hated things left hanging.

She arrived at the entrance of Minnehaha Falls Park and jogged over to the waterfall. A cascade of fresh water poured off a small rock shelf, fell thirty feet, and splashed with a roar in a wide pool. Many of the trees were still bare, but some were starting to bud out, and three immense evergreens provided plenty of green to enjoy. She watched the water churn until she caught her breath, then put a leg up on the back of a park bench overlooking the pool and stretched out each of her hamstrings. The park was silent and peaceful, and she liked the fresh smell of water and leaves as she stood alone on the dirt path surrounding the waterfall. She stretched some more, still feeling plenty limber, and then let her eyes scan the area until she found a water fountain and strolled over to it. She turned the knob and a burst of water sprayed up, catching her in the face. Brrr! It was cold. Wiping her face on the sleeve of her sweatshirt, she tried the knob again, this time not leaning in until she had the stream of water under control. She drank her fill, then went to sit on the bench.

Her thoughts went back to Dez Reilly, and she asked herself a series of questions she hadn’t yet dared to ask. Can I go on like this, indefinitely, feeling the way I do? Is it enough to be with her every night, maybe occasionally at Luella’s or with others? If it’s not enough, whatever do I do?

She slouched on the bench, her arms spread wide across the top of the bench, and tipped her head back, looking up to the peak of the evergreen tree overhead. She had never been much for ultimatums, but part of her wanted to confront Dez and deliver a big one. She decided that was why she felt like she was walking on eggshells so much of the time. She was deathly afraid she would just blurt out her feelings and challenge the dark haired cop to deal with them.

Fat lot of good that would do. In her heart, she knew confrontation was not only unwise, but unfair to Dez. Just because she didn’t return the rookie’s feelings in the same way didn’t mean Dez needed to be hit over the head with it. This is my problem, thought Jaylynn. Even though she may be attracted to me, it doesn’t mean she can love me, and she’s got enough class not to act on purely physical feelings. I’d rather she actually fall in love with someone and be happy than just “love ’em and leave ’em.”

Maybe over time our friendship will deepen and strengthen. So—I guess we can never be lovers. I have to accept that. I must. I’ll be the best friend I can, and I will be satisfied with that and only that.

She stood up and shook her legs out, stretched her arms and shoulders, and jogged away from the falls, looking back once to see the cold, clear water splashing persistently, ceaselessly, over the rock rim and falling to the bottom. I’ll be as steady as that waterfall. I’ll just keep on, and no matter what, I won’t think of her anymore as anything but a friend.

She picked up the pace as she exited the park and continued the long run back to her house, still feeling strong.

*****

Dez woke up the morning of June 7th knowing immediately that it would not be a day just like any other. She got out of bed and padded over to her desk and rolled the top back. She sat in the desk chair in her t-shirt and boxer pajama shorts and made herself look at the two 4″x6″ framed photos sitting on the wood surface. They contained pictures of the two most influential men in her life.

The one of the left was a photo of her tall father in full dress blues. The laughing little dark haired girl wrapped around the policeman’s leg was gazing up at him, a look of adoration on her smiling white face. She wore a red corduroy jumper over a white turtleneck. White leotards and brown and white saddle shoes completed her outfit. They stood in the front yard, a low-slung rambler in the background. His black hair was cropped short and blue eyes stared directly at the camera with only the slightest trace of a smile on his smooth face. Circa 1975, her father peered back at her as if to ask why she had locked him away for so long.

The photo on the right was of a grinning blond man, obviously on a sunny day at a picnic. He wore light blue shorts, and no shirt. His bare chest was golden tan, his abdomen tight and rippled with muscle. He looked like he had just arisen from a picnic table, and in one hand he held a cob of corn which he appeared to be ready to use as a club on the picture taker. Dez picked up the photo and peered closely at it. She had avoided looking at it every time she got into her desk, but today—today was the one-year anniversary of Ryan’s death. This morning she should look at his face, remember him, honor his memory. She set the picture down and turned away. Tears sprang to her eyes, but she did not want to cry, didn’t want to start feeling something that would escalate and get out of control.

After she took a shower and ate breakfast, she called Julie and spoke to her for a while. Ryan’s wife hadn’t adjusted well to her husband’s death at first, but today Dez could tell the woman was trying very hard to make peace with it. They managed to make it through the conversation without breaking down and crying, so Dez considered it a success. Now if she could just get out of the house before Luella got a hold of her.

She looked out the window and saw it was beautiful outside: sunny, breezy, no clouds. A day suitable for a picnic, just like the day in the photograph had been. It was a day, she decided, when she needed to keep busy. She didn’t want to slip into sadness, didn’t want to think of Ryan while being sullen and blue.

On an impulse Dez dialed Jaylynn’s house and was surprised when the rookie answered the phone. In a low voice, she said, “Hey, it’s early. What are you doing up?”

Jaylynn said, “You expected me to be some sort of lazybones lounging around? I’ve got things to do, places to go, people to see.”

“Oh.”

“Why? What’s happening?”

“Nothing. I’ll let you go.”

“Wait a minute! To tell the truth, I was just getting ready to take a walk around the lake. Want to join me?”

“Is this really a walk or some kind of a puking sprint?”

“A nice brisk walk—that’s all! I’ll meet you at the east end in what? 15 minutes?”

Dez thought for a long moment. She liked the lake on weekdays. There were usually few people there compared to Saturdays and Sundays. “Okay. I’ll see you by the stone arch,” she said, then rang off and changed into running shoes, lightweight shorts, and a tank top. She paused long enough to apply some sunscreen to her neck, shoulders, and arms, then grabbed a Twins cap and headed downstairs. Sure enough, her landlady lay in wait with the back door open.

“Desiree Reilly, what are you up to today?” She came to stand in the back doorway, a smile on her face.

“I’m meeting Jaylynn at the stone arch for a walk around the lake.”

“Well, that’s a good idea. How you getting there?”

“Why Luella, I’m walking. It’s only half a mile.”

“So it is. Bring her over for lemonade later if you want.”

“I’ll see what she wants to do. See ya.” She jammed the Twins cap over her dark hair and scooted out the back door.

She was surprised that she beat Jaylynn to the meeting place. It was only about two blocks for the blond. When the rookie finally appeared, she came running up in very tight nylon shorts and a white t-shirt. Dez quickly stifled her admiring glance and said, “Hi, Slowpoke.”

“Hey,” said Jaylynn as she slowed to a walk. “I had to have a snack, and then I had to change from my jammies.”

“Ah ha! So you were lazing around in bed.” Dez fell into step next to her.

“But of course. But I’ll have you know I was awake—just remember that.” Neither woman made a move to walk briskly. They ambled away from the stone arch on the path in the bright sunlight for a couple minutes before Jaylynn said, “I know today is an important day, Dez.”

“Yeah. Unbelievably, it’s been a whole year. Seems like less though. Seems like just yesterday . . . ” She looked away and out across the lake. An entire flotilla of ducks floated along one side in the shade.

“I can’t imagine what it’d be like. The only thing I have to compare it to is when my dad died.”

“What? When did that happen?”

“He died when I was 11.”

“But—but you always talk about your parents.”

“My mom remarried when I was 13, and my step-dad has been just like a father to me. I call him Dad. He’s a real good guy. I’ve been lucky to have three good parents.”

“What happened to your father?”

“He was killed in a semi accident. He was an over-the-road trucker.”

“My father was a cop. He died on duty—heart attack. I was 9.”

“Well that’s a strange thing we have in common, both losing our dads that young.”

“Yeah. That’s true.” They continued along the cement path under the canopy of elms and oaks, but after another minute, Jaylynn said, “I wish I’d known Ryan. He must’ve been quite a guy.”

“That he was.”

Gradually they increased their walking pace, Jaylynn taking three steps to Dez’s two, until both were sweating freely. As the sun shone down upon them and glared off the water, they circled the lake with the rookie chattering about various subjects.

During a quiet moment, Dez abruptly said, “Do you have any hobbies?”

Jaylynn looked up at her. “You mean like collecting tea cups and saucers?”

“Not really. Like fishing or boating—or wood carving, you know, hobbies.”

“Can’t afford a boat, never liked to hurt the poor fish, and wood carving? Do I look like an artistic person?”

“Sure. Why not?”

“I can’t draw worth beans. Haven’t you noticed what horrible crime scene sketches I do?”

“You’re not that bad.”

The blond scoffed at her. “Stick men are embarrassed to have been drawn by me.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

“About hobbies? Okay.” She tucked her short hair behind her ears and thought a moment. “School has been my hobby, I think. I mean, it took me so long, and I was so busy with it that I didn’t have time for much else. I like to run, so I guess you could count that. I love music and to read and write in my journal. I’d like to get into photography but haven’t been able to afford a decent camera until recently. I’d also love to travel. I like going to the movies, the theater, to concerts. But I guess I don’t really have any actual hobbies. Do you?”

“Weight lifting. Playing guitar. Guess that’s about it.”

They continued walking in silence and soon they were back at the stone arch for a second time. Jaylynn said, “That’s about three miles.”

“Wanna quit?”

“Yeah, I suppose.”

They slowed from the swift walk and to a saunter. Dez said, “Luella asked if you wanted to come by after we’re done and have lemonade.”

“At your house?”

Dez arched an eyebrow and said, “Well, that is where she lives.”

Jaylynn socked her in the shoulder, made a face, and said, “I’m all sweaty!”

“She doesn’t care.”

They headed over to the house, strolling along in companionable silence in the sunlight as the sidewalk heated up beneath them. Luella was glad to see Jaylynn and insisted on giving her a hug, ignoring her protests about sweat. They sat in the coolness of the dining room swigging lemonade while Luella stood over them with the pitcher.

“So what have you girls got planned for today?” said the silver haired woman.

Jaylynn shrugged as Dez said, “I’m getting out all the gear and painting the back hall finally.”

Luella said, “That sounds like a lot of work. Why don’t you two go do something fun today?”

Dez said, “It needs doing. I’ve been meaning to work on it for a long time.”

“You want some help?” said Jaylynn.

“Nah, it’s a lot of work,” said the dark haired woman.

The older woman sputtered, “Isn’t that what I just said?” She smacked the pitcher down on the table, crossed her arms over her purple housedress, and proceeded to give Dez the evil eye.

Dez turned and gazed at her landlady, her face expressionless. “It’s work for her, pleasure for me.”

Jaylynn rose and moved to stand next to Luella. She put an arm on the older woman’s shoulder and with a challenging look on her face said, “How do you know it’s not pleasure for me?”

“Yeah,” said Luella. “She’s gonna get a real good lunch out of it, aren’t you honey?” She wrapped an arm around the blond’s waist.

Dez sighed and shook her head. “I give up. I bow to the greater powers.” She rolled her eyes. “If you really want to stay, Jay, you’d better take my truck home for painting clothes.”

Jaylynn eagerly accepted the keys to the Ford. She’d never driven such a big truck. Once she got the seat moved forward about a foot, she found that it was easy to maneuver and even easier to see out of, which she liked a lot. She returned a short time later with a change of clean clothes and wearing a pair of very short but shabby gray shorts, a baggy Minnesota Twins t-shirt stolen from Tim, and her oldest pair of tennis shoes. She found Dez, wearing much the same outfit, setting up a ladder in the back hall. She had already spread newspaper over the floor and hung drop cloths on the hardwood at the foot of the stairs. Luella stood in the back doorway, an apron over her housedress. When the rookie opened the screen door and stepped inside, the old lady said, “You got your choice, Jaylynn, chicken or roast beast?”

She thought for a minute. “Chicken, I think.”

“Baked or fried?”

Jaylynn glanced over at Dez. As if reading the tall woman’s mind she said, “Baked.”

“What else strikes your fancy?”

The young woman stood thinking for a minute. “Everything you make is great. Surprise me.”

“Okay. A bevy of surprises coming right up.” The silver haired woman disappeared into the house and soon the two women could hear the clatter of pans.

Dez bent to open one of the cans of paint, and Jaylynn saw it was a creamy yellow. “That’s a nice color, Dez. It’ll look good in here.”

“Luella picked it out. She didn’t like this pale gray. It does look pretty miserable, doesn’t it?”

Jaylynn nodded.

“Roll or trim?” said the big woman, holding a roller rack in one hand and an angled paint brush in the other.

“Trim.”

“Good. I hate trimming.” Dez handed the brush over.

“That’s lucky because I never liked rolling. I’m not good at it, and it always seems to turn my hair into a sticky mess.”

“Ah. You gotta know the trick of always keeping the roller in front of you.” The dark haired woman screwed an extender onto the end of the rack, then picked up the can and poured paint into the metal pan. As Dez finished pouring, Jaylynn bent automatically with the brush to wipe away the drips on the can.

Jaylynn said, “I’ll stick with the detail work, thank you. That way my hair will survive the ordeal.” She picked up the paint can and poured a shot into a plastic butter container, then said, “Where do you want me to start?”

“Wherever. On crews we found that if the trimmers follow behind the rollers, we tend to stay out of each other’s way. I’m starting here over the door and working toward the kitchen.” She stepped up on the ladder and began to roll the first stripe across the high ceiling.

“Okay.” Jaylynn moved to the left of the door and began to paint along the edge of the door molding. “What crews were you talking about?”

“Oh, in college I did a lot of painting. That’s basically how I supported myself. I worked for a couple of companies.”

Jaylynn finished the edge as Dez came down the ladder, loaded up her roller again, and slid the ladder further down the wall. She watched the dark haired woman step back up the ladder and systematically apply the paint, very quickly settling into a rhythm.

“Can I borrow the ladder for a minute to do above the doors?” the blond said.

Dez stopped rolling and pointed over at the hall closet. “Open that door. There’s a step stool in there that’ll do.”

Jaylynn followed her instructions and pulled out an aluminum mini-stepladder. “You know what we need, Dez?”

The tall woman stopped rolling and gazed at her, no expression on her face.

“Tunes. We need some good tunes.”

“Fine, go up and move the little CD player off the kitchen table. The cord’ll stretch into the hall up there. Then just pick out whatever you want, crank it up, and we’ll deafen Luella.” The brunette stepped down off the ladder and refilled the roller with more pale yellow paint.

Jaylynn put her paint container on the stair and carefully set the paintbrush over the top of it. She checked her hands for stray paint and wiped them on her shorts, then jogged up to Dez’s apartment.

It had been a long time since she had been up these stairs. The door to the kitchen was open, and everything looked the same as before. She stepped inside and headed into the living room toward the entertainment center. Scanning through the CD titles, she grabbed four, then turned to leave the room, but the open rolltop desk caught her eye. She hesitated, then couldn’t resist. Striding quickly to the foot of the bed, she stood in front of the desk. The pigeon-holes were neatly filled with pads of paper, envelopes, a stack of small notebooks, a stapler, and various folded papers. On the desk surface an electric bill sat on top of some sheets of paper, and holding it down was a flat clay paper weight, about six inches across and olive green in color, with a small child’s handprint in the middle of it. Embedded in the clay, someone had scratched DEZ. Squinting to look closer, Jaylynn noticed that before the pottery pancake had been fired, someone had written “Jeremy 1997” at the bottom.

Flanking the clay creation were two photos. Recognizing Ryan immediately, she took note of the man’s clean cut good looks. She’d seen pictures of him at the station, but not with his shirt off. He had really been built—no wonder he won bodybuilding competitions. The other picture struck her so strongly that she set the CDs down and picked it up. She was amazed by how much Dez resembled the dark haired man, and she could see where the tall cop got her height and build. He was a nice looking man. But what struck her most was the leggy little girl in red hugging her father’s leg. Her black hair was shoulder length and wavy, and her upturned face displayed rosy cheeks and an irrepressible smile.

Jaylynn was filled with a strange longing. She wanted to go back in time and know this little girl, reach out to her, protect her from the impending loss she was soon to experience. She didn’t want the elfin smile on the girl’s face to be marred by sorrow. The feeling was so intense that she abruptly set the photo down and backed away. Confused, she turned to leave, then caught sight of the stack of CDs and reached over to pick them up. She heard the scrape of the ladder on the floor downstairs, and with a guilty start, hustled over to the doorway and back to the kitchen.

Dez situated the ladder and climbed up to the third rung. She rolled the paint right up to the last corner, and now the ceiling was done. She wasn’t used to working overhead, and already it had tightened up her neck muscles. Since her shouldersand traps were already tight from the workout the day before, she was glad to be done with that. She heard Jaylynn out on the landing up above and then a percussion and synthesizer beat started up. The blond clonked down the stairs as a smooth voice began singing.

Dez frowned. The voice was familiar, but she didn’t know why. She listened to more of the song as she started rolling the far wall. After a minute of puzzling, she said, “Who is this?”

“Lisa Stansfield. Isn’t she great?”

Oh, the tall woman thought, it’s that CD she gave me for Christmas. “Yeah. She’s got a really nice voice.”

The next song started and Dez listened to the words. Never mind the stars in the sky, never mind the when and the why, got a feeling higher than high, this is the real thing . . . She got down off the ladder another time and got more paint. It occurred to her that she should have listened to this CD again since Jaylynn had given it to her, but in truth, she had forgotten about it. She couldn’t recall why she hadn’t liked it before . . . she wondered about that, but she couldn’t remember. Now she listened to the soulful voice and decided she liked her very much. Never mind the rain and the storm, we’ll keep each other warm, we got something stronger than strong, this is the real thing . . .

Jaylynn said, “Are we going to paint up the stairs and around the landing above there too?”

Dez paused on the ladder and fixed her with cool blue eyes. “No, we stop at the foot of the stairs right there. And I’ll get done rolling way before you ever finish trimming, so I’ll get another brush and help.” She paused and fixed her gaze on the younger woman. “You don’t have to do this you know.”

“I wasn’t complaining. Just wanted to get an idea of the flow here. I’ve got the doors done and I’ll do along the floorboards next, okay?”

“Sounds good. On to the walls for me.”

They worked away in companionable silence for several more minutes, listening to Lisa Stansfield’s expressive voice. Then Jaylynn’s favorite song on the CD began. The very thought of you, the very mention of your name, Babe I’m caught on you, I just wish you felt the same . . .

She had played this song over and over in her room until Sara had asked if there was something wrong with her CD player. She hadn’t listened to it for several weeks though, and now she realized why. Turning away from Dez’s line of vision, she sat cross-legged on the hardwood floor and tried to focus on the paint strokes, but the song evoked too many feelings. She was faced with two contradictory sets of emotions. With one set of emotions she just enjoyed being with Dez, talking to her, getting occasional unexpected responses about things from the dark haired woman. She liked riding with her, feeling protected by her tough partner, continually haggling over any number of subjects throughout the course of each shift. In the last two weeks, ever since her resolution at Minnehaha Falls, she had relaxed, and so had Dez.

But despite the resolution, the other set of emotions proved harder to repress than she had hoped. She went home alone every night burning so bright with attraction for the big cop that she was surprised no one else noticed. She purposely tried to keep a safe distance from the tall woman because when she got too physically close, she was overwhelmed with a longing that she truly couldn’t explain as merely sexual. The very thought of you, it sees me through it keeps me going. Babe I’m caught on you, you’re all I see and all I know. Can’t you see just what you’re doing to me, baby. The very thought of you’s enough to drive me crazy, and the very thought of you is keeping me alive . . .

The rookie had never felt so miserable in her life while feeling good at the same time. But she knew full well that unrequited love was a huge downer. She’d had her fill of it with Sandi in high school. She didn’t know how much longer she could go on repressing her feelings. Even though things were definitely going better, it got harder and harder every day to ignore the emotions.

Jaylynn was grateful when that particular song ended. The next tune, which was fluffy and mindless, made her feel a little less desperate. Leaving the paint container on the floor, she set the brush on it, rose, and stretched her lower back.

Dez said, “You having trouble with your back lately?”

Surprised Jaylynn said, “Why?”

“You’ve seemed uncomfortable. You stretch it a lot like you’re in pain.”

“It’s not so much pain . . . but my lower back is tight. It loosens up when I’m off duty, then I’m back cooped up in the car with all that gear on. It’s just bugging me.”

“It’s the belt.”

“What?”

“The duty belt. They’re designed for men. Mine fits me fine because I have no hips, but you do.”

Jaylynn grinned up at her. “So, what you’re saying is that as long as I have a big fat butt my back is going to bother me?”

“No! That’s not what I meant. And you do not have a fat butt.” She shook the paint roller in the air for emphasis, then descended and pushed the ladder to the side. She set the roller in the paint pan and rubbed her hands on her shorts, then came to stand in front of Jaylynn, her hands on her own slim hips. “Where does the duty belt hit you?”

“What do you mean?”

“Where does it rest?” She gestured at Jaylynn’s middle. “Up here closer to your waist, more over your hips? Where?”

Jaylynn put her hands on her waist. “It kind of sits about here.”

“Yeah, that’s the problem. It’s not balanced for your build, Jay. You need one that’s molded and cut to fit around a woman’s hips instead of sit on them like men’s belts do. You want it to sit here . . .” She bent slightly and brought her hands to the blond’s hips where she firmly pressed on either side. “That’d be about right.”

Jaylynn blushed. “Or I could just lose some weight.”

“What? Are you kidding? That’s your natural shape—totally normal. Even if you did lose weight—which you don’t need to do—you’d still have the same problem because your waist is slim here.” She moved her hands up and made a karate chop motion on either side of the rookie’s waist, then stepped back. “You can get a much better belt at the uniform store. They’ll measure you and even special order for ya. They’re kinda spendy, but you won’t have your back bugging you.”

“Okay, I’ll do that sooner or later.”

“Let’s take a break and get some more lemonade,” said Dez. “Haven’t heard anything from Luella for a while. She’s probably fallen asleep. Let’s go wake her up.” She arched an eyebrow and started tiptoeing into the house. Jaylynn followed quietly, relieved that Dez’s back was now to her so that she could take a minute to recover from the tall woman’s touch.

Later, after an excellent meal courtesy of Luella, they worked on the finishing touches of the painting. The sun was high in the sky, and it was humid in the back hall. Wet paint didn’t make it any better. Jaylynn felt the sweat dripping off her back. She wiped her forehead with the back of her arm and resumed trimming. A minute later when Dez caught sight of her, the tall woman laughed out loud, pointing at the rookie.

“What?” said Jaylynn.

“You got the biggest smudge on your forehead. It’s practically as big as a playing card.”

“Yeah, right.”

“No, really.” She set down her paint and brush, picked up a damp rag and came to stand in front of Jaylynn. Palming the back of the smaller woman’s head with her left hand, she scrubbed away at the paint with her right hand until it came away.

Jaylynn looked to the left of Dez’s shoulder, holding her breath. She felt the blush start and was grateful when Dez said, “There. Now you don’t look like you’ve been branded.” She stepped away and tossed the rag to the side.

The rookie let her breath out in a rush and turned away. She squatted down and slapped some paint in the corner near the floorboards, then cursed silently when it dripped. She set the plastic container down, licked her thumb and wiped the drip off the hardwood, then ran her thumb and fingers across the chest of her shirt until they were dry.

From behind her she heard, “Now I see why you look like this wet rag here while I continue on in pristine splendor.”

Jaylynn stood up and turned, and it occurred to Dez that the blond woman could effect a wicked look quite well. The smaller woman advanced upon her, her eyes narrowed and lips pursed, and Dez backed up, a grin spreading across her face. “Wait a minute . . . ” She stuck her arm out only to have the younger woman grab her wrist and push her back against the closed closet door. “I could wear this shirt again . . . I—”

Jaylynn smacked Dez’s midsection with the flat side of the brush, then grinned devilishly as the big woman extended her hands wide, looked down, and said, “Hey, do I deserve—”

The rookie drew a line diagonally from one broad shoulder down to the other hip, managing to smear a dab of paint on Dez’s shorts before the tall woman decided enough was enough. She gave the smirking woman her most fiendish look, then suddenly snatched the paintbrush from her hand.

Weaponless, Jaylynn backed up toward the screen door. In a mock serious voice, she said, “Careful. That thing’s loaded.” Dez didn’t stop advancing upon her. “Hey! Hey!” said the rookie. “We just painted all these walls. Don’t be messing—” The blond turned the handle to the screen door and darted out, followed by a laughing maniac who chased her around the back yard. In a flat out run, Jaylynn might have been able to outdistance Dez, but in the backyard the big woman proved to be quite agile. Before the blond could reach the fence, the Dez had a hold of the back of her shirt. One handed she pulled the shrieking rookie around in a half hug and lifted her in the air, holding her there while she applied a pale splotch of paint to the hip of the already smudged gray shorts.

“I was going to wear these again,” said Jaylynn in a sorrowful voice as Dez set her down. The rookie looked down as she gripped the edge of her shorts. She tried to give the big woman a recriminating pout but ended up laughing instead. “Gimme that paint brush. I have to go finish that final corner, you big lug.”

Dez sheepishly handed her the paint brush. Big mistake. Jaylynn used it immediately to swipe another line from the opposite shoulder to hip, leaving the dark haired woman with a giant X across her shirt. The rookie burst out laughing and dashed away. “You’ve been marked with the yellow X,” she shouted as her feet hit the stairs and she scrambled inside through the screen door.

The big cop stood grinning in the hot sun. She looked down at her paint stained t-shirt and suddenly experienced an easing of worries she hadn’t even known she was holding. This was the old Jaylynn: the lighthearted, hopeful, confident, sometimes comical, and occasionally irreverent young woman she had first met. It had been some time since the “real” Jaylynn had shown herself, but sure as she herself was now marked, Dez knew that she had just seen the relaxed and happy version of the blond. She strode toward the house, up the stairs, and through the screen door. Jaylynn was down on one knee finishing the last of the trim.

“Thank god we’re almost done,” said the rookie. “This stuff is drying and getting tacky.” She stood up and smiled Dez’s way. “Lovely outfit by the way. I hear it’s all the rage in Paris.”

Dez grinned back. “That’s me—Designer Dez.”

Luella chose that moment to clear her throat. “If you two are done horsing around, I’d like to know if you need a snack.”

The two women exchanged glances. Dez said, “I’m still stuffed from lunch. What about you, Jay?”

“I couldn’t eat another thing for at least two hours.”

Dez said, “How ’bout we all go to the movies then?”

“What?” said Luella and Jaylynn simultaneously.

“Yeah, I’ll even buy,” said the big woman.

“Nonsense,” said Luella. “You girls just worked like dogs. I’ll buy. But what would we see?”

Dez said, “That’s easy. You’ve been wanting to see that new Entrapment flick.” She pointed over at the silver haired woman, but looked at the rookie as she said, “She’s got the hots for Sean Connery.”

Luella pointed at Dez, but looked at Jaylynn and said, “She’s got the hots for that Zeta-Jones woman.”

The dark haired woman blushed. “Luella!”

“Excuse me,” said the rookie, “but I’m just vain enough to be concerned about my attire, and you—” She pointed at Dez. “I’m sure Luella would be embarrassed to be seen with you in that outfit. I know I would.”

“Even though you created it?” Dez said, dryly.

“Especially.”

The rookie gazed up at the tall woman and they both smiled warmly. For the first time in a long while, Jaylynn could meet the big cop’s eyes without reservation.

Luella said, “Well? What are we all waiting for?” She slapped Dez on the behind and said, “Get your skinny butt upstairs and make yourself presentable. And you—” She gestured to Jaylynn. “Come with me and get into those clean clothes you brought.”

Dez took the stairs up to her apartment two at a time, pulling her t-shirt off as she reached the top. The apartment was warm and muggy, almost moist against her damp skin. She ducked into the bathroom and stripped off all her clothes, then stepped into the shower for a quick rinse. After toweling dry, she moved back into the living room and dressed. Seated on the couch, she slipped on her Nikes and double-knotted the long laces. She rose, and her eyes came to rest upon the two photos on her desk. She walked over and stood for a long moment studying the picture of Ryan, then closed the roll top desk and headed downstairs.

Continued in Part 7

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