Midwatch

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Chapter 24: Partners and Then Some

It’s a beautiful afternoon, save for the temperature being 114 degrees. At least I can wear shorts and a t-shirt. Finally! We got a day off! It seemed like the last couple of days were never going to end. I’m a little bit surprised that we haven’t heard back from Commander Hillel. There’s no doubt that my comments and my attitude crossed the line into insubordination, but if you ask me, the son of a bitch had it coming. In fact, I don’t know how anyone below the rank of commander can talk to that asshole without being insubordinate. And it’s not just me that thinks that about him. Ever since I’ve been on the job, there’s been a joke about him: why does Hillel drive a two-seat car? Answer: so that he and all of his friends can go for a ride! Frankly, I’d be amazed if he has enough friends to fill that other seat. Maybe he should buy a motorcycle with a single saddle? No, he doesn’t have enough guts to ride a motorcycle. They don’t make them with training wheels.

So what does Dani Lynott; free-spirited, vivacious, single woman in the sort-of-big city do with her day off? Cue the sad and tragic music! I’m at the academy shooting range in a lethal heatwave, practicing and trying to shoot even better than I did last time. Hey, I finally got my Expert medal. Now I want my DX medal. Too bad only one score per month counts toward DX, but my Expert score broke 384, so it counts. But I want to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. Oh, who am I kidding? It wasn’t a fluke! I’m a damned good shot, and thanks to Harper’s coaching I’m a better one, now. I know I kicked ass on that last relay! I’m hoping to beat my last score. God knows I’ve been practicing. I’m also supposed to meet Harper here. Now, don’t get the wrong idea! It’s official business. He swears he’s going to ace the course and get his name on the PSC board. I have no doubt he’ll do it one of these days, but he seemed pretty confident that he’d do it today. I wonder what charged him up all of a sudden? He definitely seems…I don’t know, more fired up about something lately. And the guy’s been pretty fired up since the day I met him, so that’s saying something. It’s probably the fact that he’s now an official underground street hero with the junkies. Hey, how many cops can say that? Junkies and cops don’t exactly mix. Anyway, I’m looking forward to seeing him shoot. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for him. I don’t think any boot has ever done it. It would be a real feather in his cap to be the first. But even if he isn’t the first, it’s a real feather in anyone’s cap to shoot a perfect score.

“Hey, Dani!”

“There you are! I just shot the last relay. Are you ready to make history?”

“How so?”

“Well, you said you were going to ace the course today. If you do, you’ll be the first boot ever to do it.”

“Nope. Neil Reese was the first. Sixteen years ago. The shooting instructors told me about him.”

“Damn! I was hoping you’d be the first!”

“It’s not about making history. It’s about doing it the best it can be done.”

And that sound you heard in the background while he said that was the Marine Corps anthem playing. Harper’s all Marine. More so than any other Marine I’ve met.

“Spoken like a true Marine. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.”

“You won’t be cheering me on?”

“Sorry, I didn’t bring my pom-poms.”

“You have pom-poms?”

OK, the way he said that was way too serious! Does he really think I was a cheerleader in high school? I’m the woman who got kicked off of the department’s softball team for throwing the bat at a pitcher! Imagine what I’d do to some smarmy cheerleader!

“No, I don’t have pom-poms! Do I look like a cheerleader to you?”

“Well, maybe not dressed like that, but actually, you could definitely…”

“Fine! I’ll cheer for you! Hoo-rah! There! Now go shoot a 400! The pride of Central Division rests upon your shoulders!”

“Let’s see how you did first.”

If it turns out I choked, he’ll never let me hear the end of it. But I’m positive that I didn’t choke. Hell, I was on fire! I know I did well! I just don’t know how well.

“Scores are up. Let’s go see.”

“I’m sure you did just fine. I guess I don’t have to ask if you’ve been practicing?”

“You don’t, and I have. That ‘flash sight picture’ thing you showed me the other day isn’t easy, though.”

“I didn’t tell you at the time, but that’s a very advanced technique. Most shooters never get that far along.”

“Seriously?”

“Most shooters never learn it. I knew you were serious enough, so I showed it to you. And don’t worry, it takes a lot of practice. Even the Special Ops guys have to work on it constantly.”

“Is that where you learned it?”

“I can’t tell you that. It’s classified. If I told you, I’d have to kill you.”

Uh-huh! What did I tell you? Total Marine!

“You are so fucking full of it!”

“Are you sure about that?”

Now that he mentions it? No, I’m not sure. There must be Marines in Special Ops. Maybe Harper was one of them? He’s certainly sharp enough. I’ll have to pry the truth out of him one of these days. That actually sounds pretty interesting.

There’s the Range Master with the scores. Let’s see how I did. Some of the shooters don’t look too happy with their scores. Hey, in this heat? I’m amazed this many people showed up at all.

“Number six! Who shot lane number six?”

That’s me. The moment of truth arrives.

“I did. Lynott.”

“Not bad, Lynott! Three-ninety-three!”

“You’re kidding!”

“Nope! Damned good shooting! Number seven! Who shot on lane number seven? Three-sixty-two! Better luck next time, sucker!”

I can’t believe it! That’s not only the best I’ve ever shot, it’s seven points short of a perfect score! Yes! I am definitely on my way!

“Congratulations, Dani! That’s outstanding!”

“Oh, I am psyched! I want to shoot again!”

“Down, girl! You know you can only shoot for score once a day. Besides, you shouldn’t try to best that in one day. Hey, do you know how long it took me to shoot that high?”

“Gee, a whole three days?”

“Uh, a little longer than that. Seriously, congratulations.”

“Thanks. And thanks for the coaching. It makes a difference.”

“Yeah, I can see that. Three-ninety-three kicks ass!”

“Now you go and ace the course.”

“You’ll keep your fingers crossed for me?”

“You got it. And yes, I’ll cheer for you if it’ll help! Now, go! Make us all proud!”

I wonder what you get when you ace the course? I’ve never seen anyone do it, and I spend a fair amount of time here. That should tell you just how rare it is. Now that I think of it, the highest score I’ve ever seen was Harper’s three-ninety-nine. I’ve never seen anyone else shoot that well. Oh, plenty of people ace the combat qualification. That’s the one you have to do every other month just to stay in the field. It’s easy. I’ve aced it lots of times. But that’s a hell of a lot easier than shooting for score, and we’ve got some people shoot this course with custom-made race guns that practically shoot themselves. I wonder why Harper doesn’t have one of them? He’s certainly good enough, and I know he competed in the Marine Corps. Maybe it’s the money? Those things cost a fortune. I know. I saw one for sale at a gun shop once. It was used, and they wanted eighty-nine hundred bucks for it! Imagine what it cost new!

Here they go. Harper’s aced the first stage, which is no surprise. If he throws one, it’s probably going to be in the fast phase. You know, I should’ve brought my binoculars. It’s hard to see the hits on the targets from here; especially with the heat mirage screwing with your vision. It looks like he’s doing fine. There it is: the fast phase. This is what screws me up. I have trouble keeping a good sight picture as I move between the targets. I usually move too much and throw a shot or two. It looks like Harper shot it clean. I need to learn to move like that. See, that’s something they didn’t teach us in the academy: zero wasted movement. Harper says to move only as much as you absolutely need to. I’ve been trying, and it definitely makes a difference, but it’s not easy. It takes a shitload of concentration. I’ll nail it eventually, though. He looks good at the fifteen yard stage. No wasted movement there. Fast reload, no problems getting back into battery. I think he’s right: he’s going to ace the course this time! And in this heat! They should give him extra points for that! Damn! I guess I’ll finally see someone shoot a perfect score! Last phase. I can’t really see the shooters from here. They’re standing beneath the overhang. I might as well go wait for them to post the scores. I hope he pulled it off. He’ll be disappointed if he didn’t. Not as disappointed as I’d be if I were in his place, though. Harper’s got a good grip on his emotions. If I came that close and blew it, I’d throw a major tantrum. I know. I’ve thrown some nasty ones when I’ve shot like shit. Of course, I wasn’t with anyone at the range those times, so most of the people didn’t know who that psychotic woman with the incredibly foul mouth was. That’s probably a good thing.

All right, here they come. Keeping my fingers crossed!

“You looked good out there, Harper. As far as I could see, you aced it.”

“I felt good about this relay. My technique was good. I didn’t rush anything. The wind wasn’t a factor.”

Oh, would you listen to him? Jesus Christ!

“Would you stop being Mister Cool about this? Fuck! I’m more nervous about it than you are!”

“I’m just fucking with you, Dani. But I know I shot well, and the conditions were good. I think I nailed it.”

“You’re about to find out.”

It was a full relay, but Harper was on lane eight, so he won’t have to wait long for his score. Here they come! Hey, that’s the SRM. That’s Senior Range Master, in case you don’t speak cop. He’s one of the Top Dogs. They don’t usually hand out the scores. Being the resident gods around here, SRMs think that’s beneath them. That’s what their poor, berated minions are for. No wonder most of our shooting instructors are always in a sour mood.

OK, some of the early scores are clearly not what the shooters expected. Some of those guys look seriously pissed! Hey, this is a big deal for some of us. I think it should be a big deal for all of us, but I seem to be in the minority on that one. All right, this is it!

“Number eight! Officer Harper! Was that you?”

“Yes, sir!”

“All right, all of you shut the fuck up right now! Listen up and listen hard! Officer Ryan Harper! Lane number eight! A perfect four hundred! Congratulations, Harper! You are now a member of the Perfect Score Club! You’re one of us, now! One of the elite! Did the rest of you pathetic assholes hear that? And he’s still a fucking boot! The rest of you should be ashamed of yourselves! You are all absolutely fucking worthless compared to him! You have no right to share my range with him! You are not fit to gather his empty brass! If you want to go kill yourselves, feel free to shoot yourselves under the tree near the loading bench! That is the designated suicide area for those of you who can’t shoot for shit! Just don’t shoot my fucking tree while you’re doing it! Congratulations, Harper! Your name will be on my wall of honor by the end of the week for all to see and grovel in shame before it because their sorry asses will never appear on it! You are a true expert marksman, and you are welcome on my range at any time! The rest of you maggots, go away! You are all fucking pathetic! Your embarrassing scores are on the score sheet on the door! Read them your fucking selves! That is all!”

Yep, that’s a Senior Range Master for you. And yes, they’re all exactly like that. Every day of the week.

“You did it! Congratulations! You aced it!”

“I’ve been going for this since they issued us our pistols in the academy. Finally!”

“Finally? Harper, you’ve been out of the academy for a year! Do you know how long I tried to shoot Expert before I made it?”

“Don’t knock yourself. You would have shot Expert a long time ago with the right instruction. You didn’t get it in the academy, and you didn’t get it during the divisional training days. You always had it in you, and you had the drive. That’s the most important part: you’ve got the drive. If you’ve got that and you’re willing to listen, then you can shoot like an Olympic champ. I guarantee it.”

“I’ll hold you to that.”

“See that you do. Come on, lunch is on me.”

“Are you kidding? This is your big day. It’s on me. Where do you want to eat?”

“How about the Chinese place across the street?”

“You’re on. Grab your gear. We’ll clean and reload, then head over there.”

“Thanks for cheering me on.”

“What are partners for? Seriously, Harper, that was incredible shooting. I’ve never seen anyone do that before.”

“Me, neither. I’m just glad I finally did it.”

“I never doubted you for a minute.”

The idea that someday I could shoot like that makes me want to sneak in for another relay. But this is his moment. And besides, I’m really hungry. We didn’t eat last night, and I haven’t had anything all day. That’s what working Midwatch does to you. I’ve never known anybody who worked Midwatch who didn’t have a strange eating schedule, at least on working days. And if I go home and eat, I’ll end up giving some of it to Zephyr. I swear, that cat eats like a pig. I should ask the vet if there’s anything I should worry about? I don’t want him to end up as an internet sensation. You know, one of those “Stupid Woman’s Enormous Cat Weighs Ninety Pounds” kind of things. That would really suck.


The Chinese Restaurant. I can pronounce the name of this one: China Palace. It was nice of them to pick an easy one. This place is one of the many Chinese restaurant/cop hangout places around here. One thing I like about this place: they don’t skimp on the food in favor of the garnishes. There’s a Chinese place near my apartment and I swear, half of what they give you is inedible shit that’s just there to make the dish look good. I never understood that. I mean, it’s not like most people take pictures of their food, right?

“Hey, Dani? I was wondering about something. The other day, in that meeting with Commander Hillel?”

“Are you sure you want to talk about him while we’re eating?”

“Well, maybe not. I was just wondering about what he said. About that little riot, I mean.”

“What about it?”

“He said he heard a different account than the one we gave him. I was thinking about it later on, and he sounded a lot like Sergeant Morton. Do you think Morton’s the one who told him?”

“Not likely. Sergeants don’t call commanders. It’s not done. Not unless the sergeant is the commander’s kid.”

“Do you think maybe Sergeant Morton is Commander Hillel’s kid?”

“Oh, God! Don’t even think that! That would actually make me feel sorry for Sergeant Morton!”

“Yeah, I guess I’d feel sorry for him, too.”

“And I don’t want to feel sorry for him! He’s almost as big an asshole as Hillel!”

“Almost.”

“He needs a few more years of asshole training to get that far.”

“How did Hillel ever make it to commander in the first place?”

Jesus, how does anybody that fucked-up make it to commander?

“I assume he’s got compromising pictures of some very powerful people.”

“I’m serious!”

“So am I. What else could explain it?”

“Maybe he sold his soul to the devil?”

“Even the devil wouldn’t give him ten cents for it. And that’s assuming he’s got a soul in the first place. I’m betting he doesn’t.”

“That would suck. If he doesn’t have a soul, that means he can’t burn in hell like he’s supposed to.”

I really like Harper’s logic. He sees these things so clearly! It’s a real gift. Hey, speaking of gifts…

“Harper, have you got your phone?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“You asked me to send you these.”

“Are those the pictures?”

“Yeah. Sorry it took so long. I had to take them off my camera. They came out a lot better than a cell, phone picture, that’s for sure.”

“Let me see. Those are great! Perfect! Thanks!”

“The one of you will look great on your ‘I Love Me’ wall.”

“I’ve already got a space picked out for it.”

Uh-huh. What did I tell you? We’ve all got them, and we lavish attention on them. Even boots.

“What else have you got on that wall?”

“Just stuff from the Marine Corps. I haven’t been on the job long enough to earn anything yet.”

“What’s on it from the Marine Corps?”

“Pictures, medals, a couple of trophies from shooting competitions.”

It never occurred to me that Harper might have medals from his service. Now that I think about it, of course he’s got medals! A guy like him? How could he not?

“What kind of medals do you have?”

“No big deal.”

“Can the modesty, Harper. I want to know. What do you have?”

“Silver Star, Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, Iraq Service, shit like that.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? You’ve got the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart? Holy shit, Harper! Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It’s no big deal.”

“Yes it is! It’s a very big deal! You were decorated twice for bravery, and you were wounded! That’s a huge fucking deal!”

“I was just doing my job. A lot of guys were decorated. Not enough, if you ask me.”

“You know, I bared my soul the other night because you said I needed to talk about it. I didn’t want to, but you made me do it, and you were right. It occurs to me that you never told me what it was like in Iraq. Did you ever talk about it?”

“Sure. Lots of times.”

“You told me you lost some friends over there. Is that why you’re being so damned nonchalant about being a genuine hero?”

“I’m not a hero.”

“Yeah, you are. You volunteered to go to war, and you’ve got the medals to prove it.”

“Medals don’t make you a hero.”

“And losing your friends doesn’t mean you should feel bad about having made it back.”

“I don’t feel bad about having made it back.”

Oh, shit! Now I’ve done it! Please, God! Don’t let me try to analyze this guy! I have no fucking idea what I’m talking about!”

“Sorry. I wasn’t trying to analyze you.”

“I know. And I’m not one of these guys who clams up about what happened in the war. Yeah, it sucks that some of my friends didn’t make it back. It sucks that some of them came back without arms and legs. But that’s war, and we all knew it when we signed up. It’s just like being a cop. We all know the risks. They’re not as high as in war, but they’re there. It’s just…”

“Just what?”

“I saw guys do things every day that should’ve gotten them the Silver Star or even the Navy Cross, and they didn’t get shit. They didn’t get shit because there were so many of them and they can’t give medals to everyone for everything, even if they deserve it. And we all know that. And yeah, I’m proud of what I did to earn those medals. But it’s kind of hard to get all psyched about a medal when you know fifty guys who were just as brave and did just as much as you did and they don’t have one. I know that’s how it works, but sometimes…”

“It’s a little hard to take. Believe me, I know. I don’t need to be a Marine to know that much.”

“You’d make a damned good Marine, Dani. You’ve got the heart, the mind, and the guts. More than anyone I’ve ever met who isn’t a Marine.”

“Thanks. So do you. That’s why I like working with you.”

“Ditto.”

“So how did you get wounded?”

“Uh, the enemy wounded me.”

“Harper! I’m serious! What happened? Were you hurt bad?

“I wasn’t hurt good.”

“Oh, come on! You know what I mean! What happened?”

“I know. That’s sort of an old joke. No, it wasn’t too bad. It was an IED.”

“Improvised explosive device?”

“You know your acronyms. Yeah, we were in a Humvee. I was in the front passenger seat. The blast hit the left side of the vehicle. It blew the Humvee about five feet to the right, and blew me right out the fucking door. I ended up with a big piece of shrapnel in my left leg, right below the hip.”

“Ouch!”

“Tell me about it. But I was lucky. The driver and the guy sitting behind him were both killed.”

“I’m sorry.”

I’m not going to be stupid and ask him if he knew the guys. Of course he knew them. They were his friends and they got killed. I know better than to pick at that wound.

“They were good guys. They deserved better.”

“I don’t doubt it. They were friends of yours.”

“Yeah, they were my friends. We all went over there together. I was their sergeant, and they…”

“Wait a minute: you were a sergeant?”

“Yeah, my second tour, they bumped me up to sergeant.”

“God, that must be hell! Going from being a sergeant to being a boot!”

“It’s not so bad. A lot of people do it. I mean, everyone’s a boot in the beginning. And I’ll bet it’s a lot easier to make sergeant in the military than it is on the police department.”

“Oh, don’t bet on that. I know some sergeants who didn’t do shit except pass the test to get where they are.”

“You know, now that you mention it, I’ve heard some people made sergeant awfully quick. You can do it after three years, right?”

“Three years and one second and you’re eligible. One of my classmates made sergeant with three years and three minutes on the job.”

“You have to have three years to take the test, right?”

“Two years and six months if you’ve got a four-year degree. You have to have three years on the job to be promoted. And he took the test on the day he was eligible. He did his probation in Westminster Division, in the valley. He told me that in the entire time he was on probation, he drew his gun maybe six times. Now, how is that even possible? Shit, I drew my gun twice in the first thirty minutes of my ride-along!”

“So did I.”

“Anyway, he took a job at headquarters as soon as he got off probation. Media Relations. Can you believe it? He never worked the field after that. And he’s a sergeant! He’s still in the building, but he’s a sergeant! Hell, he’s probably on the lieutenant’s list by now!”

“Some people shouldn’t be sergeants.”

“You have no idea.”

“Who’s the worst?”

“You mean the worst sergeant I know?”

“Yeah.”

“Good question. I don’t know if I could pick one, but I can tell you the one who least deserves to be a sergeant: Sergeant Disney.”

“You’re kidding, right? There’s a sergeant named Disney?”

“No. Of course not. That’s not her real name. That’s what everyone calls her. She works juvenile in Northside.”

“I’m almost afraid to ask: why do they call her Sergeant Disney?”

“Because she took the whole juvenile thing a little too far. So she wouldn’t frighten the little tykes, she put these Disney stickers all over her nightstick. She even put them on the grip of her gun.”

“You’re shitting me!”

“I wish I were. And not every juvenile up there is some ‘aw, shucks-type’ minor delinquent. She talks to hardcore gangbangers like she’s on Sesame Street! It’s almost painful to watch.”

“What do the gangbangers do?”

“They just laugh until they can’t breathe anymore. Someone took a shot at her car when she was on patrol, and when the responding units got there, she was hiding behind a truck, yelling ‘Children! How could you? How could you?’”

“No way! You’re making that up!”

“Nope.”

“No fucking way!”

“Yep.”

“Holy Mother of God!”

“See what I mean?”

“Remind me not to go to Northside!”

“You don’t have a choice. They send you where they send you. Did they ask you for your three choices when you get wheeled?”

“Yeah, I said Woodlawn, Mid-City, and Atlantic Avenue.”

“Those are jumping divisions. Unfortunately, they send you wherever they want.”

“Yeah, I heard that. OK, favorite division?”

“Central, of course.”

“What’s the busiest division?”

Well, Mid-City has the most radio calls. It’s also pretty violent. That’s because it’s the most densely-populated area of the city. Woodlawn is officially the most violent, but that’s because they have the most gangs. I think Central is more violent, but the bean counters don’t care about homeless zombies, crackheads, or junkies.”

“All right. Now, here’s a question I don’t know if you can answer. When I worked Graveyard with Officer Hoekstra, he said he had the most shootings of any cop in Central division. Is that true?”

“I think it is, unless you count Lieutenant Hagan. From what I’ve heard, Hoekstra’s had six shootings in eleven years.”

“Damn! OK, so what cop holds the record for the most shootings?”

“On the whole department? And not way back in the day, but recently?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh, then that’s an easy one: Mike Kantrell!”

“Where does he work?”

“He used to work Woodlawn. He was there forever, it seemed like. He retired a few years back.”

“How many shootings did he have?”

“Kantrell had at least thirty-seven years on the job, and he had twenty-eight kills. Not twenty-eight shootings, mind you. Twenty-eight kills! God only knows how many shootings he had! I heard it was something like forty.”

“Are you shitting me? And he worked patrol?”

“His entire career. There’s no one on the SWAT team that has that many kills. No one on the K9 unit that has that many. Maybe someone at SIU, but they don’t talk about that shit.”

“Was he a psycho or just really unlucky?”

“He was definitely a little crazy, but basically, he was the world’s biggest shit-magnet. I’m serious. Some of the old-timers were afraid to be near him out in the field. He could be walking down the street on the quietest Sunday afternoon in history and someone would jump out of a car and start shooting at him for no reason. Believe me, it actually happened a few times. I know he got into two shootings while he was eating lunch. Some crazy bastards tried to rob the restaurant while he was eating. They saw him and just opened fire. And that happened twice!”

“The brass must have loved him!”

“Oh, the social workers with badges over at headquarters hated him! They wanted to get rid of him for years!”

“But they couldn’t?”

“It’s kind of hard to get rid of someone who’s won every medal for bravery at least twice.”

“Seriously? Every one of them at least twice?”

“Three Medals of Valor, Six Combat Crosses, Three Police Medals, two Wounded Officer Medals, a bagful of Meritorious Service Medals, and God only knows how many others. Not to mention the fact that he had so many written commendations in his jacket that if you wanted to look at his file, they had to bring it in in a shopping cart! It was amazing. When we’d fall out for our annual inspection, the brass would see that tin shop on his chest and pull the captain aside. They couldn’t believe he was authorized to wear all of those medals. But he was.”

“He must have been some cop.”

“He was something else. He really stood out in the division. I mean, Woodlawn is about eighty percent black, and Kantrell was sort of a good ol’ boy. He had a pretty noticeable southern accent. I think he was from Georgia. He didn’t have anything against black people, mind you. He really liked everybody. But I guess a lot of people down there thought he was a redneck.”

“Did he drive a white pickup truck?”

“Oh, yeah! And he wore this ratty straw cowboy hat off-duty.”

“That’s pretty redneck for the south end.”

“That was nothing. I’ve seen a few died-in-the-wool rednecks on the job. I had a training officer named Tommy Buell who insisted we skip lunch and work out in the weight room instead. I didn’t mind that so much, but while we were in there, he’d play this unbelievably redneck country music at full blast! I’m not talking mainstream country. I’m talking about that Adirondack jack-off music! Real washboard-and-jug band stuff!”

“Music to sleep with your sister to?”

“Exactly! God, it was awful! I don’t know where he found it. I can’t believe they have music like that on iTunes.”

“That must’ve been fun.”

“Trust me, it wasn’t. Then there was Neubauer. He was an old dinosaur who carried a revolver, and he had these ivory grips with a rebel flag scrimshawed on them.”

“I thought that was unauthorized?”

“It is. He got away with it for a long time, though. Some citizen finally complained and he took two days for it.”

“Now that’s an ouch!”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Did you ever take any days?”

“Oh, sure. I took three days for motherfucking some asshole who pissed me off. And I took a day for unauthorized code three driving.”

“You’re kidding! They gave you a day for that?”

“Did I mention that I wrecked the car?”

“OK, that makes sense.”

“Hey!”

“Well, I only meant…”

“It’s OK. I know what you meant. Remember: good cops wreck cars…”

“Good cops shoot people, and good cops take days.”

“Words to live by. Just don’t take too many days. It really makes it hard to pay your rent. When I was relieved of duty, I pretty much ended up selling everything I owned.”

“That must have been hell.”

“You have no idea. And I hope you never do.”

“Well, I’m glad you made it through. I’d hate to think I wouldn’t have had a chance to work with you.”

That’s weird. I was thinking exactly the same thing. I’m really having a good time, here. What’s wrong with me? I spend all night with this guy in the world’s biggest shithole, and the most fun I have when I’m off-duty is with him.

“Me, too. I guess everything worked out all right for both of us.”

“It sure did.”

“OK, so now I’ve got to ask the big question: how did you get to be called Dani instead of Danielle?”

“I can’t tell you. It’s classified. If I told you, I’d have to kill you.”

I had to throw that in. What goes around, comes around. And the story really is highly classified Salem witch stuff. What? Don’t you believe me?


Home again! Air conditioner! Now! Before I keel over! Well, that was a good lunch. I really enjoyed that. Like I said, hanging out with Harper is the closest thing I’ve had to a date in over a year. I didn’t go on a lot of dates before then, mind you. Like I told you before, a lot of guys can’t handle the fact that their girlfriend carries a gun and deals with serious assholes on a daily basis. And most of the guys I’ve met on the job leave a lot to be desired. The good ones all seem to be married already. A day late and a dollar short, I suppose. But to be honest, I’ve never had as much fun on a date as I have hanging out with Harper.

Oh, shit! There I go again! I really need to stop doing this! He’s a boot! I can’t think about him that way! Yeah, right! That’s why I’ve got that picture of him hanging on the wall. I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t bring myself to take it down. I don’t want to take it down. I wonder if he’ll put that picture of me on his wall somewhere? It really was a good picture of me. I think I was trying to get his attention with that pose. Shit! I need to stop this right now! This can’t happen! No fucking way! All right, time to change the subject. Think about something else.

“Zephyr! I’m home! Where are you? Don’t tell me you shit on the rug again!”

So far, so good. No turds in the usual places.

“There you are! No, I didn’t bring you any food. Sorry. You’ll have to make do with regular cat food. You’ll be happy to know your mom shot her best score yet! Actually, you probably couldn’t care less, but it’s a big deal to me. And guess what? Harper shot a perfect score! That’s right! Your mom’s partner is the deadliest shot in the division! That should make you happy. It means nothing bad’s going to happen to me. If someone tries to kill me, Harper will shoot them right between the eyes! Yes! Your home and food are assured!”

Every time I mention the word ‘food,’ his face lights up. He really is part dog.

“OK, lunch time. It’s a little early, I know. But I’m not working tonight, though I sort of wish I were. You know how much I like it out there. It’s gotten to the point where this place is the only place other than skid row where I feel comfortable anymore.”

I wonder what’s going on tonight in the division? It’s probably going to be busy as hell. This heatwave is still going strong, so the people on skid row are no doubt going out of their minds – what’s left of them, anyway. I hope I don’t miss anything good.

“Mom had lunch with Harper. It was fun. I really like him. I never thought I’d say this about one of my boots, but I wish he wasn’t a boot. Mom would get in big trouble if she went got involved with a boot. She’s not allowed to get involved with boots. It’s against department policy. It’s a stupid policy, but I don’t get any say in the matter. In fact, I really shouldn’t be talking about this with you. I shouldn’t be saying things like that out loud.”

Holy shit! I’m doing it again! Oh, this is not good! I can’t keep doing this! I can’t think about him that way! What the hell is wrong with me? I know better! I sure as hell know better than to get personally involved with one of my boots! It’s against the rules, and it can only lead to disaster. I’ve got the best partner I’ve ever had. I don’t want to fuck that up. I can’t fuck that up! And in two weeks, he’s going to get wheeled out and I’ll never see him again. He’ll get on with his life and his career and in no time at all, he’ll have a girlfriend. One who isn’t his partner or his training officer. Someone who doesn’t outrank him or have ten years’ time on the job over him. Someone who hasn’t fucked up every relationship she’s ever been in. He deserves that. I have never, ever been attracted to one of my boots before. Why now? Oh, who am I kidding? Harper’s smart, he’s funny, he’s got his shit together, he’s really cute, and he’s a great cop. That pretty much covers all of the bases for me, doesn’t it? God, I shouldn’t think about this. It can’t lead to anything but trouble. And I’m sure he thinks of me only as his partner. He doesn’t think about me that way. I should just drop this. Don’t let myself think about it anymore. It’s for the best.

“So what are we going to do tonight, Zephyr? It’s not like I’ve got a date, so you’re pretty much stuck with me. You’re my date tonight. When you finish pigging out, you can join me on the couch. I was telling Harper about how I had to sell damned near everything I own when I was relieved of duty. I guess I’m lucky my couch isn’t worth shit, huh?”

When I first moved out here, mom offered to send some of the furniture from the house so I could furnish the place. I’m really glad she didn’t. I didn’t feel right about her doing it, and that furniture is really good stuff. It’s from New England, so it has to be, right? I would’ve ended up selling it. The craziest thing is that once I went to my board of inquiry and was cleared, I got all of the time I was relieved in back pay. I’m actually pretty flush right now. I’ve been planning to wait until next month when we get our twice-yearly deductions-free check and then buy a new car. The old Honda has definitely served me well, but it’s way up there in miles and it’s time for a new one. Thank God I can finally afford it. Hell, I won’t need to finance even half of it. Small car payments! Hallelujah! I’m definitely looking forward to that!

“What kind of car should we get, Zephyr? I know you don’t like riding in the car, but assuming you did, what kind of car should we get? Dad always said get something reliable. He was a big believer in that. He said one of the reasons he was so successful as a contractor was because he didn’t skimp on his trucks. His trucks always worked in the winter when every other contractor’s trucks were giving them trouble. So I guess a sexy red sports car is out of the question? I could get a new Camaro and challenge Harper to a race. No, with the way he drives, I wouldn’t stand a chance. I guess it’s the Hyundai Genesis. I really love that car, and it’s pretty sexy. Don’t you think so?”

Good God! I’m asking a cat if a car is sexy! Maybe I’ve been working skid row too long? No, that can’t be it.

“Do you want to watch mom play Halo? You seem to like it when she gets blown up and uses all those filthy words. How about it?”

Sometimes I think he actually roots for the enemy. It’s like it reinforces his belief that he’s the boss around here. Considering the fact that he gets everything he wants out of life and doesn’t do a lick of work, he’s probably right.

“Well, I’m going to play anyway. And you’d better root for me! I’m the one who feeds you and puts a roof over your head! Let’s see a little cat gratitude for a change!”

OK, that’s it: he definitely thinks I’ve flown the coop. I can tell by the look on his face. When your own cat thinks you’re nuts, you probably need to do some serious self-examination. Maybe I do spend too much time on my own?

“OK, mom’s definitely lost it a bit. Don’t tell anyone!”

Yeah, mom’s a basket case. She talks to a cat because she doesn’t have anyone else to talk to. I guess it’s hopeless.


Central Station. Roll call. No practical jokes on me this time. Good! I’m still hearing chuckles from the last one!

“All right, Midwatch! Roll call! The Watch Commander is Lieutenant Hagan. I’m Forty Central. Sergeant Alfaro is Sixty Central. Ruiz and Rosen, Eight Central. Lynott and Harper, Sixteen Central. Vinell and Kursteff, Twenty-Two Central. Signolo and Goren: Forty-Four Central. Does everybody have a job?”

We sure do! Back at work! Good! I can’t wait to get out there! You know, I used to look forward to having a day off every now and then. Now all I want to do is be here at work. That’s probably a sign that there’s something seriously wrong with me. Bu that’s for later. Let’s see what’s in store for us tonight.

“Lynott! Welcome back! How were your days off?”

“Fine, Sarge.”

“Are you all rested?”

“Raring to go, Sarge.”

“Good. Because it’s been fucking crazy these last two days! As some of you know, we’ve had two more shootings of dope dealers. One fatal, and the other one is still circling the drain. This dope dealer war is the real thing, and it’s only a matter of time before one of us winds up in the crossfire. Everyone be careful! Watch your backs when you’re anywhere near a dope spot!”

Which is pretty much the entire division, save for the police station and the five-star hotels on the west side.

“We still don’t have a line on the shooters, but the descriptions we’ve got suggest that we’re looking for the same two male Hispanics that Lynott and Harper got a line on last week.”

I see Kursteff’s taking notes. Good man. Knowledge is power.

“Sarge? Are we still going on the assumption that they’re Ricky’s boys?”

“That’s affirmative, Kursteff. We don’t have any evidence, but it’s the only thing that makes any sense. Somebody’s moving in on his territory, and he’s fighting back.”

I suppose I should tell them what Detective Godfrey told me. I don’t want only Harper and me to know what’s going on.

“Sarge? The guy’s name is Shiloh. At least, that’s what he calls himself. We don’t know his real name. He’s a Mid-City dealer. That’s what Harper and I got from Narcotics.”

“All right, everyone remember that. If you hear this Shiloh guy’s name mentioned by anyone out there, I want to know about it. Make sure everyone knows about it!”

I want to find these guys. Someone out there must know something. If there’s one thing I know about junkies, it’s that they’re keenly aware of everything having to do with dope. It’s a survival thing for them. They may not have their names, but they know about these guys. They probably know where they are, too.

“Does anyone have anything?”

And that’s my cue to trumpet my partner’s accomplishment!

“Yes, sir. I have an announcement.”

“Let’s hear it, Lynott.”

“Harper shot a perfect score the other day. He’s now officially a member of the PSC.”

“For real? Congratulations, Harper! That’s no easy feat.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“And I taught him everything he knows, sir.”

“I think it’s the other way around, Lynott. And on that subject, why the hell don’t I see shooting medals on the rest of you? I wasn’t kidding about that! You’ve got two weeks before the DP is over! God help the one who doesn’t show me they can shoot!”

It’s always nice when you’ve already accomplished what they demand. Yay, me! And Harper, of course.

“Don’t forget that the city says the rolling blackouts might start today. Some of the surrounding cities are already doing it. The heatwave is really kicking the power company’s ass. We haven’t had any yet, but that doesn’t mean they won’t start in five minutes. It was a hundred and thirteen fucking degrees this afternoon, so we’re probably not going to be spared much longer. Be ready for it! This is Central Division! When the lights go out, the loonies come out! Is that it? All right! Go to work! And watch yourselves!”

More dope shootings. This is getting ridiculous! And you’ll notice how the media doesn’t pay a damned bit of attention to it. As long as it’s assholes killing assholes, it just doesn’t count. It’s not newsworthy. How’s that for being sensitive and inclusive? Hypocritical bastards!


Gearing up in the parking lot. I see the mechanics got a couple of those gigantic fans they use when the station’s ventilation system breaks down. Jesus, those things are powerful enough to knock me on my ass! But if they keep you cool, why not? It’s almost a matter of life and death out here.

Hey, we got one of the new cars! I wonder if it’s the one that got trashed in the riot? If it is, they did a nice job of fixing it.

“You scored us a nice ride, Harper. Good job.”

“I grabbed it before anyone else did. Maybe we’ll get in a pursuit tonight?”

“God, I hope not. I told you, I don’t find pursuits as exciting as everyone else does.”

“I noticed you never want to drive. Why is that?”

“Because you know the division a lot better than I do.”

“No, it’s more than that. You don’t like driving, do you?”

“Actually, no. It’s never been one of my strong suits. And I was told a while back that if I wreck one more car…”

“Wait a minute! Exactly how many cars have you wrecked?”

Uh-oh! Now I’ve stepped in it!

“Do you mean wrecked, or totaled?”

“Jesus, Dani! How many have you totaled?”

“In my whole career? Four.”

“Four! You’ve totaled four cars!”

“Well, two of them were when people hit me!”

“Yeah, but still!

“Shut up and get in the car!”

I knew I shouldn’t have told him that! I’m going to be hearing about this all night! So I’m not the greatest driver on the department! Hey, there’s a lot more to being a good cop than driving a car!


Driving eastbound, down 7th Street. Damn! We’re two minutes out of the chute, and already they’ve sent us five radio calls! This is going to be a busy night!

“They’ve already loaded us up, Harper. Tonight’s going to be a busy one.”

“It’ll be worse if they start the rolling blackouts. What’s first on the list?”

Oh, shit! I think the radio calls might have to wait!

“Uh, Harper? What’s that beige building in the middle of the block, down there?”

“Nothing. It’s abandoned. The homeless sleep there. Why?”

“Because it’s on fire!”

“Oh, shit!”

“Sixteen Central, show us code six at a building fire, Colton Street, south of 7th Street, mid-block. We need the fire department. Fast!”

“Sixteen Central, roger. We just received a call of a fire at that location. Fire department is en route.”

“Make it fast! This thing is big!

Fuck! It looks like the whole damned building is on fire! They’re not going to save this one! That thing’s going to be an empty patch of ground!

“Dani, there are probably people in there!”

Yeah, that’s what I was afraid of when he said the homeless sleep in there!

“Grab your flashlight! We’re going in after them!”

“Right with you, partner!”

God, I hate fires! I never had any desire to be a fireman, but here I am, running into a burning building to save a bunch of fucking zombies! I must be crazy!

“There’s no entrance out front! How the hell do you get in here?”

“They usually get in through the windows on the side!”

“Then that’s where we’re going! Stick close! Do not get separated in there!”

“Roger that!”

“And turn up your radio full blast! It’ll be hard to hear in there!”

“Why not use the earphones?”

“Do you want a piece of plastic melting in your ear if you get too close to the flames?”

“Good thinking! That’s why you’re the training officer!”

Harper was right: the windows are broken out and the boards have been pulled off! Who the fuck starts a fire when it’s a hundred-plus degrees outside? These people are out of their goddamned minds!

“Harper, we’ve got a way in! We can get in here! Stay with me!”

“Right here, boss!”

We’re in! Shit! I can’t see much! The place is filling up with smoke! It looks like the fire is at the far end of the building. Maybe everybody got out already? God, I hope so!

“Dani! Three o’clock!”

“Oh, hell! I see them!”

So much for it being empty! It looks like five or six people. The smoke is getting pretty bad in here. Shit! We’re running out of time!

“You guys! Over here! Now!”

They’re not moving! I know they can hear me! They can’t be deaf! Fucking idiots!

“I said over here, you fucking idiots!”

“Dani, we’ve got to drag them out!”

“Oh, shit! Let’s do it!”

I was right. Five guys. Five fucking idiots!

“Let’s go! All of you! Do you want to burn to death? Move!”

Look at them! Some of them are too stupid or too drunk to do anything! Fuck this!

“Harper! Grab them and drag their asses out!”

“You got it! Come on! On your feet! Move it!”

Now they’re starting to move! Jesus, if I find out one of them set this fire…oh, shit!

“Harper…”

“Dani! The roof’s starting to come down!”

“Yeah, I see it! Let’s go!”

All right…pull! Lift! Jesus Christ! These guys are heavy! Harper’s dragging two, and another one is at least staggering on his own. If one of these other two doesn’t start walking on his own, I’m going to have to leave one of them! Fuck! What the hell is wrong with these assholes? Don’t they know they’re about to burn to death?

“I said move it! I’m not going to carry your asses! Go! Now!”

That’s better! A couple of pokes with a nightstick got their attention! At least now they’re both staggering on their own. We might actually save these idiots!

“Out the window! Now! Harper, throw them out if you have to!”

“You heard her! Move your goddamned asses! Out the window! Now!”

It’s working! Three down, two to go!

“You’re next! Move it!”

One left! It figures it’s got to be the fat one! No way can I lift him! He’d better be able to walk on his own!

“Get your fucking ass out that window! This whole place is coming down! Move it!”

What the fuck is this? Is he getting stuck? God almighty! Is this fat fuck getting stuck in the window? Am I going to die because this asshole is too fucking fat to get through a goddamned window?

“Harper! Push his ass through! Kick him if you have to!”

There he goes! It’s a good thing Harper’s a lot stronger than me! There’s no way I’d get that idiot through there!

“He’s the last one, Dani!”

“Are you sure?”

“Roger that! We can’t stay in here! The roof’s going to come down on us any minute!”

“Then let’s get the hell out of here!”

God, I hope there’s no one else in here! Please don’t let us leave anyone behind! All right, that’s it! We’re outside! Now we’ve got to get clear of this place before we choke to death on the smoke!

“Dani! The fire department’s here!”

“Not a moment too soon! Let’s get everyone clear!”

“You heard her! Move your asses out into the street!”

It’s like herding zombies! Can’t they move any faster? Hurry, guys! Good! They’re clear! And here come the firemen!

“Officers! Over here!”

Now it’s up to the fire department. Thank God for them! This is way out of my league!

“I think that’s everyone, guys. We didn’t see anyone else.”

“Are you saying you two went in there?”

“We had to make sure everyone got out.”

“So you went in there without any gear? Are you out of your goddamned minds?”

“I’m beginning to wonder that myself.”

“You’re fucking nuts! Both of you!”

I’m not going to argue with him. It’s too hard to breathe.

“It’s all yours, guys. We’re done. I need a second. I need to…I need to catch…”

“You need to catch your breath because you’re suffering from smoke inhalation, lady! You two get your asses over to the truck! You’re taking oxygen, and I don’t want to hear any shit about it!”

That’s probably a good idea. Hey, where’s Harper?

“Harper! Where are you?”

“Right here, partner. Are you OK?”

“I’m all right. It’s just…it’s just the smoke. I’ll be fine.”

“Come on. I’ve got you. Let’s get you some oxygen.”

“You first.”

“Negative, partner. You’ve got smaller lungs. You need it more than I do. Move it!”

Most training officers would be embarrassed to have their boot help them across the street, but I feel like shit and I appreciate the assist. I just hope I don’t get any shit from the other guys for it. They’re still ribbing me about getting that crazy woman’s shit on my hands.

“Here you go, Dani. Easy does it.”

I hope they don’t get on my case for sitting on their fire truck, but I need to sit down!

“Are you OK, Harper?”

“Yeah. Just a little smoke inhalation. No big deal.”

“Here, take it! You first!”

“No way. You first. That’s an order.”

“You’re giving me orders, now?”

“On this one, yeah! I am! My lungs are bigger than yours. Put that mask over your mouth.”

“Yes, dear.”

The truth is, I really need this. It’s like I can barely get any air in my lungs. I guess that shit about women having a smaller lung capacity than men is true. Who would’ve thought it?

“Feeling better, Dani?”

“Yeah. But why does oxygen have to taste so terrible?”

“Because it’s good for you. Keep breathing it.”

He sounds like my mom.

“Guys? Bring another one of these for my partner!”

“Way ahead of you, officer. Here you go, pal. Breathe deep.”

“Sit down, Harper. We’ve done our good deed for the day. We’ve earned it.”

Oh, great! Here comes Sergeant Gellar! Now we’re going to get it! Sergeants hate it when we go inside burning buildings and the roof’s about to cave in. They’re weird that way.

“Lynott! Harper! Are you two trying to get yourselves killed?”

“No, sir.”

“Then what the hell did you think you were doing?”

“Protecting and serving the public, sir.”

I see my sense of humor is lost on him. Too bad.

“That’s not funny, Lynott! You could have been killed in there! Both of you!”

“Those guys would’ve been killed, Sarge. We’re not supposed to let that happen.”

“Are you bucking for the Medal of Valor, Lynott?”

“No, sir.”

“Good! Because this ain’t a movie…”

“And we ain’t John Wayne. Yes, sir. Well, Harper’s Captain America. He’s got an excuse.”

“I’m Captain America? When were you going to tell me?”

“I just did. Congratulations, partner.”

I hope Captain America brought his shield, because Sergeant Gellar looks like he’s about to shoot us both!

“You two are going to give me a fucking aneurism! Are you trying to give me a fucking aneurism, Lynott? Because you’re doing a damned good job of it!”

He is really pissed! I don’t know if it’s because he cares, or because he’s pissed about all the paperwork he’d have to do if we died.

“Maybe you should try some of this oxygen, sir?”

“Put that thing back on your face before I cut out your fucking tongue!”

OK, it’s definitely not because he cares. And now he’s giving Harper the death look. Yeah, we’re fucking toast!

“Are you laughing, Harper? Are you laughing at me?”

“No, sir!”

“Good! Because I’ve got half a mind to throw the both of you back in there and let you roast!”

“But I shot a perfect score, sir. You wouldn’t kill me after that, would you?”

“Lynott! Do you see what the fuck you’ve done? You’ve turned him into another you! It’s bad enough I have to deal with one of you! Now I’ve got to deal with two of you? Jesus fucking Christ!”

“Yeah, and he’s almost off probation, Sarge. I guess the damage is done.”

“I’m afraid so! There’s no fucking hope for him, now!”

“Does that mean he can stay here after he’s off probation, sir? I really don’t want to lose him. He’s a great partner.”

“Oh, just kill me now! Fucking kill me now! Assholes! Both of you! Do you have any idea how much the department has invested in the two of you?”

“A lot?”

That was my best guess. Math isn’t my strong suit.

“God damn it, Lynott! Contrary to popular belief, it’s not easy to replace two of my best cops! Now you listen to me, both of you! You are not to get killed! Do you understand? You shall not get killed under any fucking circumstances! Got it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Repeat after me: We shall not get killed!”

“We shall not get killed, sir.”

“Harper? Did that fire make you deaf? Say it!”

“We shall not get killed, sir.”

“You’re damned right you won’t! You have been warned! Got it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good! Now that the official ass-chewing is complete, are you two OK?”

“Yes, sir. Just a little smoke inhalation. We’re fine.”

“Good. That was a hell of a thing you did. Both of you.”

Well, what do you know? He does care! It’s like the Grinch at the end of the story!

“Does this mean we get the Medal of Valor, Sarge?”

“I’ll take it under advisement.”

Yeah, sure he will.

“That means no, Harper.”

“Damn!”

“Can you two finish your shift? No bullshit. Do you feel up to it?”

“Absolutely.”

“Yes, sir. We’re good to go.”

“All right. Have those paramedics give you the once-over. If they say you’re good to go, then OK.”

“Will do, Sarge. Thanks.”

“Don’t thank me, Lynott. I’d just hate to drop the car tonight.”

“You really know how to sweet talk a girl, you know that?”

“God, I hate having fucking women on the job!”

“Yeah, I love you too, Sarge.”

“God almighty!”

There’s a reason why firemen get thousands of hours of training and all sorts of fireproof clothes and breathing gear to do things like this: running into a burning building is an incredibly stupid thing to do. It’s not like you see on TV, and there’s about a million and one ways you can get killed doing it. So let that be a lesson to you: stay the hell out of burning buildings! You have been warned!

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