Midwatch

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Chapter 27: Crossing the Line

The Jail Division infirmary. God, I feel like I’m going to keel over! At least I can sit up, now. How long have I been in here? An hour? Two hours? It feels like forever. Thank God the examination’s done. If they told me to try to lift my arm one more time, I think it would just fall off! God, I hate this place! I know they change the linens in here regularly, but when I think of all the skanky skid row zombies who’ve laid on this exam bed, I feel like I’ve got bugs crawling all over me! Haven’t I been through enough tonight?

“Lynott! Are you in there?”

Only Lieutenant Hagan sounds like that. The voice of God, right before he throws a lightning bolt at you.

“Yeah, it’s safe to come in, lieutenant. I’ve got all my clothes back on.”

“Damn! And I came down here hoping for a show.”

“Yeah, you could’ve seen them wipe the puke off of me.”

“How are you doing, Lynott?”

“Well, let’s see: I ache, I puked, I bled, I feel like shit, I look like shit, and I’m totally humiliated. How’s that sound?”

“Pretty bad. Are you going to be OK?”

“Always. I’m sorry you had to come down here, sir.”

“Don’t be. One of my officers gets hurt; I go where they are.”

“I’m sorry I fucked up, sir.”

“You didn’t fuck up.”

“Yes, I did. I never should’ve stepped in front of that asshole on the stairs.”

“He sucker-punched you. It could’ve happened to anyone.”

“Actually, he sucker-kicked me. Twice. Right down the goddamned stairs.”

“It wasn’t your fault, Lynott. There’s no way to guarantee your safety on this job. You do the best you can, but the assholes are always going to find a way.”

I don’t care how many people tell me that; we all know it was entirely my own goddamned fault. I made a rookie mistake and that asshole damn near killed me for it! I feel like such a fucking idiot!

“Hey, lieutenant? Did you know there’s no handrail in that stairway to grab onto?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Neither did I until I went face-first down the stairs. I’m going to write a strong letter of protest to the city.”

And here comes the doctor. Here’s where he tells me I’m fucked.

“Doc, how is she?”

And here we are: the moment of truth. Do I have any broken bones? Am I going to be sidelined for the next eight weeks? Do I have to wear that stupid neck brace for a month? That would be a fate worse than death!

“She’s pretty good; all things considered, lieutenant. It was definitely a bad fall, but it could’ve been a lot worse. I’m amazed she doesn’t have any fractures. We were worried about a possible neck fracture, but there’s no serious injury to her neck. A head laceration, a concussion, a tweaked shoulder, and a banged-up right knee. That was one hell of a crack she took. She must have a head like a rock.”

“Oh, don’t we all know that!”

Did he really say that while I’m lying on this fucking table?

“Hey! I’m injured, here! Have a little sympathy!”

“Doc, does she need any stitches?”

“We put eight in the laceration on her forehead. You’re lucky, officer. As pale as your skin is, you probably won’t even have a scar.”

“Yeah, lucky me. I’m just glad you didn’t have to shave my head.”

“Well, you lucked out. It was right by your hairline. Those stitches will have to come out in about a week. Be very careful when you’re brushing your hair until then. You don’t want to accidentally pull them out.”

“I’ll be careful.”

“Last question, doc: is she going to the hospital?”

“It isn’t necessary. She can go home tonight, but only if there’s someone there with her. I’m afraid you can’t sleep through the night, officer. You’ve got a concussion. That’s nothing to take chances with. You’ll have to wake up every thirty minutes or so. Otherwise…”

“Yeah, I know: coma, brain-dead, vegetable. I know the drill.”

“Officer, I want to be sure you’re taking this seriously. Look at me. You could have died back there. With the way you went down those stairs, you’re lucky you didn’t break your neck. People get killed in falls like that. Now, is there someone there at home with you? Because if you don’t have anyone to stay with you, then I’m sending you to the hospital. There’s no way you can be alone tonight. Not with a concussion.”

I guess Zephyr doesn’t count. He’ll wake me up, but not on a schedule. But there’s no way in hell I’m spending the night in a hospital. No fucking way. So I’ll just lie to them and stay up all night. It’s not as if they’ll let me come to work tomorrow anyway. I can sleep in the morning.

“Yeah, I can have my neighbor come over. She’s just next door.”

“Are you sure she’ll do it?”

“Of course. We’ve been friends for years.”

“All right, then. And no driving. You aren’t to get behind the wheel of a car for at least twenty-four hours. That’s non-negotiable. Lieutenant, can you make sure she gets home?”

“We’ll get her a ride home. That’s not a problem.”

“Then she’s good to go. Officer Lynott, I’ll give you something for the pain. Do not under any circumstances take it with alcohol! No alcohol for at least three days. Do you hear me?”

“You don’t have to worry about that. I don’t feel like drinking.”

“Yeah, well, I’m a doctor and I know cops, so I’m telling you: absolutely no alcohol while you’re using the medication. This is powerful stuff. Plus, you don’t want to be drinking with a concussion. Do you understand?”

“Noted. Anything else?”

“Don’t eat anything for at least eight hours. If you do, it’ll probably come right back up.”

“I don’t feel like eating anything. And I’ve done enough puking, thank you very much.”

“All right, then. I’ll finish the paperwork and get you your pain medicine. After that, you’re free to go. But remember what I said. You’re in no shape to be walking around or doing anything on your feet. Are we clear?”

“Roger that.”

“Then you’re good to go. You were lucky, Officer Lynott. Damned lucky.”

“Thanks, doctor.”

Thank God! I couldn’t take the idea of staying overnight in a hospital. And I am not spending the night wearing a paper tablecloth with my ass hanging out the back!

“Lieutenant, where’s Harper?”

“Right outside. He refused to leave until he knew you were OK. I wasn’t about to try to convince him otherwise. I saw what he did to your suspect.”

“He’s a good partner.”

“Can I bring him in here? There’s something he needs to hear.”

“Sure.”

Oh, I don’t like the sound of that! Are we in trouble? I know I fucked up royally, but Harper didn’t do anything wrong.

“Harper, come in here.”

“Yes, sir. Are you feeling better, Dani?”

“Yeah, thanks to you.”

“I’m just sorry I couldn’t have prevented it.”

“It wasn’t your fault. Don’t beat yourself up about it. That’s an order.”

“OK, both of you, listen up. There may be some blowback form this one. I want you to be ready for it.”

What the hell is he talking about? Even Harper looks taken aback by that.

“Blowback, sir? Forgive me for being a boot, sir, but I don’t know what that means.”

“Yeah, me too, sir. What he said.”

“Harper, this is your second major use of force in a week, and it’s another critical injury to the suspect. And this time, the suspect was handcuffed.”

“He attacked my partner, sir!”

“I know. And I don’t have a problem with what you did, Harper. I would have done exactly the same thing. But we’ve got a suspect in the hospital with a skull fracture, a broken nose, and four broken ribs. Not to mention his face-print on the wall, back there. And from the looks of your knuckles…”

“I didn’t have a nightstick, sir.”

“I know. But we have to admit that it’s pretty dramatic, and some people aren’t going to like it.”

“With all due respect, sir, they can go fuck themselves! You saw what that asshole did to Dani!”

“And that is exactly why you’re going to let me handle it! I don’t want you popping off to the investigators. Or to anyone else, for that matter.”

“Investigators, sir?”

“All use of force incidents involving serious injury to the suspect are investigated the same as an officer-involved shooting. They’re going to want to interview you about this one and the last one. Showing up on their radar twice in one week is not going to look good. Now, let’s get something perfectly clear: you did the right thing. Hell, I’m amazed the son of a bitch is still breathing. If it were up to me, he wouldn’t be. So you didn’t do anything wrong. I know that. But let me handle it. The rules say you can postpone the interview for seventy-two hours, so if they say they want to talk to you tomorrow, you postpone it. Do you understand?”

“Dani?”

“He’s right. Let him handle it. It’ll be all right. Besides, I don’t think anyone’s going to shed any tears over Ricky’s cousin.”

Whoa! That definitely got Lieutenant Hagan’s attention! I thought he already knew.

“Excuse me, Lynott? Are you telling me that asshole is Ricky’s cousin?”

“Yes, sir. We found out just before he sent me flying down the stairs. His fingerprints confirmed it. I had the printouts, but I don’t know where…”

“I’ve got them, Dani. You should see his record, sir. This guy’s a fucking psychopath. He’s worse than Diego.”

“Jesus Christ! No wonder he attacked you! All right, make sure I get them before you two leave tonight.”

“Roger that, sir.”

“We’ve had another unit take your car back to the station, so you’ll ride back with me. You guys are done for the night. Don’t worry about your log, or your reports, or anything else. I’ll have another unit handle everything for you. And Lynott, don’t you even think about coming near the station for two days! You too, Harper. You guys are benched. Both of you. There will be no discussion. Got it?”

Normally, I’d throw a fit. But there’s no way I can work until my concussion’s gone and this pain in my shoulder lets up. Two days should be enough. At least, I hope it is.

“Yes, sir. But if I’m cleared for duty after that?”

“Then you’re back. As simple as that.”

“Fair enough. Hey, Harper? Can you give me a ride home? They won’t let me drive.”

“You got it. Anything you need, Dani.”

“Then that’s it for the both of you. And Lynott: don’t beat yourself up over this. It could’ve happened to anyone. He got the drop on you, that’s all. Sometimes it happens that way.”

“Don’t remind me.”

“Well, for what it’s worth, your suspect is in a lot worse shape than you are. Believe me, I know. I saw him when they were carting what was left of him away.”

“Then there is a God.”

“You guys did a good job. This doesn’t change that. And before you start whining about having to stay home for a couple of days, Lynott; let me remind you that you two have done more this DP than most cops do in a year. Don’t think we haven’t noticed. We’re damned proud of you both. So for God’s sake, take a rest for a couple of days. You’ve earned it.”

“Roger that, sir.”

“Thanks, Lieutenant.”

“Grab your gear and let’s get out of here. I hate this goddamned place. It stinks of Lysol.”

God, I feel like crap! But I feel better than I did in that stairwell. I still feel a little sick to my stomach, though. I don’t think it’s the concussion. I think it’s because I feel like a fucking idiot! I’m supposed to be better than that! God, this is embarrassing! As soon as this gets back to Ricky, he’s going to laugh his fucking ass off! I feel like a complete fool! At least Harper got that son of a bitch good. I’m just glad he wasn’t hurt, too. He really came through for me back there. I’ll be honest: I was getting scared until he grabbed hold of me. I don’t know what I’m going to do when he leaves the division. I don’t even want to think about it.


Central Station. I barely made it up the stairs to the locker rooms. Insisting that I could make it on my own was really stupid! I almost fell down twice, and this one has a handrail! Oh, I am fucked up! That little piece of shit really did a number on me!

Oh, God! Here comes Ruiz! Get ready for the jokes!

“Hey, Ruiz.”

“Jesus, Dani! I heard about what happened! Why the hell aren’t you in the hospital?”

That’s weird. He called me Dani. Only Harper calls me Dani. It’s a cop thing: almost everybody calls everybody by their last names.

“So suddenly I’m Dani, now?”

“Yeah, I think it’s more fitting. Besides, you’re the only woman on the watch. I think we’re all going to start calling you Dani after tonight.”

“Why? Because I got my ass kicked?”

“Look, I want to apologize for something. Actually, all of us do. You see, we’ve been kind of…you know, keeping our distance. None of us knew you before you got here, and what with the bullshit from the shooting…I guess we were a little nervous about you.”

“That’s understandable. You don’t have to apologize.”

“Yeah, I do. All of us do. You’re one of the best cops I’ve ever seen. The shit you’ve done since you got here? It’s pretty fucking incredible.”

“Including getting my ass kicked?”

“Everyone gets their ass kicked sooner or later. Harper said you really held it together. Your head was busted open and you still kept your shit together. And the way you jumped in the fight with Kursteff and Vinell the other night? That was some stand-up shit. You’re every bit as good as Harper says you are. I mean that.”

Harper’s been talking about me to the guys? I didn’t know that. Boots don’t usually talk to veteran officers about their training officers. A lot of veteran officers won’t even allow boots to talk to them. It’s stupid, but it’s a fact of life for probationers.

“Harper had a few good things to say about me?”

“Are you shitting me? Dani, you’re all he ever talks about. Well, you and his Camaro.”

Now that, I can believe. If that Camaro were a girl, I think Harper would marry it.

“He’s probably just fishing for a good rating.”

“Like hell! Dani, the guy’s in awe of you. He hasn’t shut up about you since the first night the two of you worked together. Every night in the locker room, it’s ‘Dani this’ and ‘Dani that.’ And I’ve got to admit, it’s justified. You’re always right in the middle of the shit. You don’t back away from anything. And you’ve come up with the kind of capers we all dream about getting into. We want to start getting in on them, if that’s OK with you.”

That’s got to be the highest praise I’ve ever gotten from the guys I’ve worked with. I’m not kidding, either. Coming from a first-rate cop like Ruiz, that’s like saying I walk on water!

“I’d be glad to have your help. God knows I need it.”

“I don’t know if you need it.”

“Ruiz, look at me. It took me five minutes to get up the stairs! I need all the help I can get!”

“I hear Harper really fucked that guy up big time. Good! He should’ve killed him!”

“Go look at that dent in the wall of the stairwell over at headquarters. I think he was trying.”

“At least that guy won’t be fucking with anyone for a long time. Vinell says he’s in traction. Harper beat the living shit out of him. He really looks out for you, you know. He wouldn’t let anybody say any shit about the shooting. If anyone so much as says a bad word about you, he’s right in their face. That’s pretty ballsy for a boot. I’m not a PIII, but I’ve trained my share of probationers. None of them ever went to bat for me like that. You’ve got to be something else to rate that kind of loyalty.”

Just when I think Harper can’t surprise me anymore, I hear this. It’s a good thing he’s not here right now. I’d probably kiss him right on the lips for it.

“I just got lucky they assigned him to me. He’s the one who’s something else.”

“Yeah, he’s probably our sharpest boot. And now you two have something in common: you both fucked up your leg. You should see the scar he’s got from the war. It’s pretty nasty.”

“I’ve just got a big bruise. The doctor said I won’t even have much of a scar from this gash on my head.”

“That’s good to know. Listen, none of us ever thought you or the others were responsible for what happened in Woodlawn. You were there; that’s all. Wrong place, wrong time. Yeah, I know some people around here think you’re a jinx or something. Fuck them! You’re a great cop, and I want you to know you can count on us. All of Midwatch. We’ve got your back, Dani. Because we all know you’ve got ours.”

You know, I’ve been dreaming of hearing a patrol cop say that to me ever since that nightmare began. There were times when I thought I’d never hear it again. If I had to get the shit kicked out of me just to hear that, then it was worth it. It was totally worth it!

“That means a lot to me. Look, I’m benched for the next two days. Lieutenant Hagan’s orders. But as soon as I get back, we’re all going to start working this thing with Ricky. We’re going to put his ass out of business. And I want you guys in on it. Does that sound good?”

“That sounds great! You’re calling the shots on this one. Whatever you say, however you want to play it, you just let us know. We’ll make it happen.”

“That sounds really good. In the meantime, the guy who rearranged my face was Ricky’s cousin. He…”

“You’re shitting me!”

“Nope. We found out when his prints came back. I think that’s why he went off on me. Anyway, he’s got to be a major player in Ricky’s organization. With him and Diego out of action, Ricky’s going to be getting desperate. You guys watch yourselves. Ricky hates all of us. Not just me and Harper.”

“We’ll keep the pressure on him while you’re off. And don’t rush to get back to full duty! Ricky can wait. He’s not going anywhere. You take as much time as you need to heal. I’m serious, Dani. We need you back one hundred percent. As long as it takes.”

“Roger that. Thanks, Ruiz. I mean that. It’s been a hell of a year for me. What you said just made it a hell of a lot better. I owe you for that.”

“Are you going to be OK in there by yourself?”

“Are you offering to join me in the women’s locker room?”

“Uh, I don’t want to take a thirty-day suspension! I’m just asking…”

“I’ll be fine. Thanks again.”

“Later, Dani. Good work tonight. As usual.”

“Thanks.”

“Hey, Dani? There’s something I heard, and…I don’t know, but I just…are you really a witch?”

“Oh, for God’s sake! Don’t listen to everything Harper tells you!”

“Roger that! Good night, Dani. Take care of yourself. We need you around here.”

Well, what do you know about that? Unless you’re a cop, you can’t understand how much something like that means. As much as I’m glad that my superiors have my back, it means even more to know that the guys on the watch do, too. I think that was my official initiation to Midwatch. I’m one of them, now. Brothers and sisters in blue. Well, seven brothers and I’m the sister. But I’m one of them. And that’s all I ever wanted to be.


On the way home. We’re almost there. At least my vision cleared up. It was really blurry at first. That had me worried for a while. I’ve been cracked on the head before, but not like that. I landed right on my head. I remember that part. I’m not even sure how I fucked up my shoulder. And my knee is what’s really killing me now. I don’t know how the hell I’m going to get up the stairs. I had enough trouble getting out of the lieutenant’s car at the station. And yes, some of the guys were definitely laughing at me! Oh, they thought I didn’t see them, but I did! Maybe I’m lucky I’m not going in tomorrow. After what they did with the toilet paper and hand sanitizer, God only knows what they’d do to me over this one. I’ll probably find out soon enough.

And now I finally get to ride in Harper’s classic Camaro. It was nice of him to give me a ride home. This thing really is sweet, but you realize how much more comfortable today’s cars are than the ones made back in the sixties; even ones that have been completely restored. I can’t get comfortable in the seat for some reason. Oh, I know! It’s because some asshole kicked me head-first down a flight of concrete stairs! Yeah, that must be it. Still, when you’re used to riding around in an old four-cylinder Honda, a monster V8 with rear-wheel drive is quite a change. This thing must have some serious horsepower under the hood.

“Harper, how long did it take you to restore this thing? Just the work, I mean.”

“A little over a year. I got it in high school. When I got out of the Marine Corps, I took some time off and spent most of it restoring it.”

“You did it yourself?”

“Most of it. My dad helped me a little. He’s the one who taught me how to restore cars. It’s his hobby.”

“If police work doesn’t pan out for you, you’ve got a career waiting in auto restoration. This thing is cool.”

“Glad you like it.”

“Can I drive it?”

“Absolutely not! No one drives this thing but me. Besides, you heard what the doctor said.”

“You’re no fun, do you know that?”

“I’m loads of fun. But you’re still not driving.”

“I’m your training officer, remember?”

“Not for the next two days. We’re off-duty under pain of death per Lieutenant Hagan.”

He’s right. So much for my authority over him. I guess I don’t get to drive it.

“Turn left, over there.”

“That’s your apartment building?”

“That’s it. Turn left when you go in the driveway. Second to last building.”

I’m actually getting home early. Zephyr will be happy about that. Thank God I don’t have to take him for a walk when I get home. I guess there are definitely some advantages to having a cat. You know, like when some asshole kicks you down a flight of stairs and you can’t walk too well by yourself.

“Nice place.”

“It is as long as they don’t keep jacking up the rent. Park right there, in front of the building. That’s my spot.”

“Door to door service.”

“Thanks for the lift, Harper.”

“Oh, I’m not leaving. You told me you live on the second floor. You can barely walk across the parking lot as it is. You’re going to need help getting up there.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“Yeah, I do. And I don’t want to hear any bullshit about it. I’m getting you up those stairs.”

I was really hoping he’d say that. The truth is, I don’t want him to leave. I don’t know if it’s the crack on the head, but I’ve been having some very inappropriate thoughts since I got in this car. And now that we’re here, they’re getting worse.

“OK. Thanks.”

“And I want to meet the cat.”

“I don’t know if he’ll come out to see you. He doesn’t always meet me at the door.”

“That’s unacceptable. You’re his mom. You need to straighten him out.”

“You don’t know much about cats, do you?”

“Nothing at all.”

Hey, I was just as naïve when I got Zephyr. I thought he’d listen to me just like a dog. Was I ever wrong!

“Hold, it, Dani! Don’t try to get out! You’re all banged up. I’ll give you a hand. You stay there.”

“I’m not helpless, you know.”

“I don’t care. You stay there. I’ll help you out. That’s an order.”

“You’re giving me orders now?”

“I am tonight. Come on, give me your hand and lean on me. Don’t put your weight on that leg.”

“I can do this.”

“Fine. Let’s see it.”

Oh, fuck! That hurts! That really hurts!

“OK, you’re right: I can’t do this. Give me a hand.”

I really hope my leg loosens up. I don’t want to spend the rest of the night hopping on one leg. My neck feels better, and my head doesn’t feel like it’s going to explode anymore. That’s something, right?

“Which shoulder did you bang up?”

“The left.”

“Good. Put your right arm around me, and we’ll take it slow. Ready?”

“Let’s do it.”

Shit! This is harder than I thought, and I’m putting almost all of my weight on him. Why do I have to live in an upstairs apartment?

“Almost there. Just a few more.”

I’m hanging on for dear life! The last thing I want to do right now is fall down another flight of stairs. It would probably kill me.

“We’re there. You made it. See? You’re not helpless.”

“Thanks, Harper.”

“Hey, I’m not finished. I want to meet the cat, remember?”

“I’m not going to get rid of you, am I?”

“I’m afraid not, partner. Let’s go. Open the door.”

“Fine. But no cracks about the mess! That’s an order!”

“Got it.”

Hey, it wasn’t like I was expecting company tonight. I just hope there’s no cat shit on the rug. That would be embarrassing.

“Zephyr! Mom’s home! She’s kind of fucked up because some asshole kicked her down the stairs! No, it wasn’t this guy!”

“That’s a great introduction. Are you sure he’s not going to kill me?”

“What can I say? I’m hurt and I’m out of practice. Help me over to the couch, OK?”

“Easy does it…down you go!”

“Oh, thank God!”

“Stretch out. Get that leg up there.”

“You don’t have to tell me twice. It really stiffened up in the car. Oh, there you are, Zephyr! Zephyr, meet Harper. He’s the guy I told you about. He’s my partner.”

“Hey, Zephyr!”

“Harper saved my ass tonight. Come on, sit down, Harper. I don’t get many visitors. So what do you think?”

“It’s not what I expected.”

“Really? What did you expect?”

“I don’t know. A giant Red Sox banner, maybe a Yankees dart board with a few bullet holes in it?”

“A Red Sox fan doesn’t wear her allegiance on the wall. She wears it in her heart. But I like the idea of a Yankees dart board. Do you know where I can get one?”

“I’ll look into it.”

“Harper, I really want to thank you for what you did back there. You really helped me out. I know I let you down. I fucked up, but you…”

“Don’t even start with that shit. You didn’t fuck up. It’s like Lieutenant Hagan said: the guy got the drop on you. It could’ve happened to anyone. It wasn’t your fault. Don’t you dare blame yourself.”

“Thanks for saying that.”

I fucked up, I got my ass busted up, I left him to handle a combative suspect by himself, and all he cares about is what happened to me? I know boots who would shred their training officers for that! But he’s just worried about me? Why do you have to be a boot, Harper? Right here, right now, why couldn’t you be off probation already?

“So you really trashed Luis, huh? Let me see your hand.”

“It’s all right.”

“Like hell, it is! You’ve been hiding it since we let the infirmary. Let me see it! Damn! You really scraped up your knuckles!”

“I kind of punched him in the face a couple of times.”

“I know. I meant to thank you for that.”

“I wanted to kill him.”

“Well, from what the lieutenant said, you came pretty close. I appreciate that. I mean it.”

“He attacked my partner. No way was I going to let that slide.”

I just wish I could’ve seen him do it. God, I hate that motherfucker almost as much as I hate Ricky!

“I never should’ve gotten in front of him. That was stupid. I know better than that.”

“Dani, it wasn’t your fault.”

“How about we agree that it was his fault?”

“Done. How’s your head?”

“A lot better, actually. It’s weird: I can’t even feel this cut.”

“They stitched it up pretty good. It’s right near your hairline. You can hardly see it.”

“I guess I’m going to look like Frankenstein for a while.”

“Are you kidding? Dani, you look fantastic.”

“You’re a terrible liar. I’m a fucking wreck, and I know it.”

“I’m not lying. You’re a wreck, and you still look fantastic. I’m not making that up. You always do.”

“You really know how to flatter a girl, Officer Harper.”

“It’s not flattery. It’s true.”

OK, my bullshit detector isn’t going off. He means it. I’ve been dying for him to say something like that, but damn! If this is his idea of looking fantastic, maybe he’s the one with the head injury?

“Sit there and play with the cat. I’ll be right back.”

“Where are you going?”

“It’s past midnight, it’s ninety degrees out there, and I’m sweating to death. I’m going to change out of this shit.”

“Are you OK to do that?”

God, I want to tell him “No, so please come in here and help me take all of my clothes off!” But of course, I can’t say anything of the sort.

“I’ll be fine. I’ll be right back.”

It hurt too much to take off my uniform back at the station. God knows I tried, but all I could get off was my shirt and my vest. They were covered with puke, too. But it’s too damned hot to sit here in my uniform pants and combat boots. This is definitely t-shirt and shorts weather, though not this t-shirt. Jesus, I’ll bet I could ring it out! It’s drenched! It’s also got plenty of my blood on it. Ouch! Changing your clothes when you can barely bend your knee and your shoulder feels like it’s been popped out of the socket is a lot harder than you’d think. There! That’s more like it! God, my feet are sore! Walking on one leg really messes with your feet. I’ll bet this is what it feels like when you get hit by a car.

I wonder what’s going through Harper’s mind right now? He knows I’m stripping off my clothes. I wonder if I’m putting any racy images in his head? I know I shouldn’t do that, but the truth is that I want him to think that. I want his head full of images like that right now. God knows I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m really glad he’s here, but I want him to do a lot more than just be here. I was afraid this would happen if I let him in the door, but I at the same time I was praying he’d come in with me. The way he was hanging onto me in that stairwell, I just wanted to…what am I doing? God, I’ve got to keep my head straight! I don’t want to fuck things up between us. I’ve ruined more than a few good things in my life. I sure as hell don’t want to ruin this partnership. And he’s a boot! They’d crucify me if they found out! But I can’t stop it! He’s right here, and all I can think about is how much I want him to wrap his arms around me the way he did in that stairwell! Oh, who am I kidding? I just want him to fuck my goddamned brains out right now! And I want him to know it! I can’t, but I want him to! I can’t just come out and say it, but maybe this will do the trick? My hottest pair of little come-fuck-me shorts and a V-neck that shows off my rack. Yeah, I’m wearing these just because it’s hot and they’re light and comfortable. That’s all. I’m not trying to turn you on, Harper. I’m not trying to put any racy images in your head and hope to God you’ll act on them. Yeah, right! I’m practically praying that he sees right through that. He can almost see right through these shorts. Good! I want him to! What am I doing? I’m hoping he gets the message, but I’m risking ruining everything! What if he doesn’t feel the same way? What if he doesn’t have any feelings for me? I’ve never been the best judge of these things. And what if he does, but can’t bring himself to make a move on his training officer? He’s a straight arrow, and he knows the rules. This is crazy! I should just stop this now and throw him out before I make a complete fool of myself and ruin everything between us! But all I can think right now is: God, please just let him get the message and go for it! Because I want him to do it! What the hell is wrong with me? Is it really the concussion, or have I just completely lost my goddamned mind?

“Oh, yuck!”

“Dani, what’s wrong?”

What’s wrong? My knee’s practically purple!

“Look at this bruise on my knee!”

“Let me see.”

Actually, that’s not where I’d like you to look, Harper. But go ahead and check out the bruise first. Then check out the rest of me.

“Yeah, that’s a big one.”

“And it’s going to be bigger tomorrow! That fucking asshole! I should go over to the hospital and shoot his ass!”

“If you want, I’ll drive you.”

“No, Lieutenant Hagan would kill us both. I’ll have to settle for the beating you gave him. Can you help me back to the couch?”

“You got it. Put your good arm around my shoulder. Just take it easy.”

Come on, Harper. You’re like a foot taller than me. From there, you can look right down my shirt. Go on, take a look. Take a good look!

“Down you go. Watch your leg.”

“Thanks. I feel a lot better than I did.”

“You look better.”

Yeah, but do I look desirable to you? That’s the big question here. Are you interested, Harper? Or am I making the biggest goddamned mistake of my life? This is wrong and I know it! Just stop! Don’t do this! Forget it! Stop this before you fuck everything up!

“Your cat’s really friendly. I knew he had to be a black cat. No self-respecting witch would have anything but a black cat.”

“Yeah, they’re standard-issue to us Salem witches. He’s just excited to meet someone new. I don’t get a lot of visitors. Actually, I don’t get any. Especially in the last year. That’s to be expected when the whole world thinks you’re a monster.”

“Come on, Dani. I don’t believe that.”

“It’s true. I’m a hermit. Just me and the cat, like the witches of old Salem.”

“That’s not possible! I call bullshit on that one!”

Am I missing something here? Is he flirting, or just being nice to me? What should I do now? Who am I kidding? I know what I should do, but it’s not what I want to do.

“Harper, are you trying to find out about any guys I might be bringing home?”

“No! I just mean that…”

“Because the answer is none. You’re the first guy who’s been in here in God only knows how long.”

“Really? I’m honored. Completely amazed, but honored.”

“The truth is, I’ve never been very sociable. I guess I’m not what guys are looking for.”

“Dani, speaking for the red-blooded, straight male of the species; you’re exactly what guys are looking for.”

In that case, would you please just grab me and kiss the living shit out of me? Just do it! I want you to do it! God, I suck at this when I’m sober! Too bad I can’t down a few drinks right now. That would give me all the courage I need! Oh, God! I have to stop thinking things like that! This can’t happen! I know better!

“That hasn’t been my experience, partner.”

“Then you’ve been hanging out with the wrong guys.”

I’m beginning to realize that. Unfortunately, the right kind of guy is sitting right in front of me, but he’s my boot and I can’t get involved with him. That sounds like my kind of luck. I’m sitting here wearing as little as possible and trying to plant an idea in his head, and I’m kicking myself for being stupid enough to do it! What the hell is wrong with me? That crack on the head must have really fucked me up!

“Thanks, Harper. That means a lot. You know, you don’t have to be so nice to me. This isn’t how you expected to spend your evening: taking care of your crippled partner.”

“You’re not crippled. And there’s no place else I want to be right now.”

Did he really say that? Did he really mean it? You keep talking like that and I’m going to start tearing your clothes off, Harper!

“I appreciate that. And I’m so sorry I let you down tonight. I tried to get up. I swear, I tried to get back on my feet, but I couldn’t even…”

“Dani, don’t apologize! I saw you go down those stairs. God, I thought you broke your neck! I was scared to death!”

“I’m sorry for that, too.”

“You’ve got nothing to be sorry about. My God, even after you got your head busted open, your knee almost broken and your shoulder damn near torn out of the socket, you still had the presence of mind to tell me to secure the suspect and get help! You didn’t flinch! You didn’t miss a beat! Most people couldn’t hold it together like that if they were hurt only half as bad! You were fighting through a concussion! You amaze me, Dani! You always do. I was damned proud of you. I always have been. And I always will be.”

“That means a lot to me.”

“You’re the best cop I’ve ever seen, Dani. Tonight was just more proof of that. And I know damned well that if I hadn’t taken out that asshole fast, you would’ve crawled up those stairs blind to jump in the fight! Don’t tell me you wouldn’t, because I know you would! And don’t you dare think any less of yourself for what happened, because I won’t stand for it! No way in the world, partner. That’s just not going to happen.”

God, I think I’m actually going to start crying! That’s it, Harper! You’re not getting out of this apartment without me fucking your brains out! It’s a done deal! I’ll cuff you if I have to!

“Look, Harper, I appreciate everything you did tonight. Probably a lot more than you know. But it’s late, and I know you’re tired, and you don’t have to babysit me. I’ll be all right.”

That’s it, Dani. It’s the right thing to do. Let him off the hook before you ruin everything with him. Don’t risk screwing up a good thing. He’s off-limits, and that’s how it has to be. You can’t do this no matter how much you want to. Don’t ruin it. Just let him go.

“I’m not going anywhere, Dani. I’m staying right here. All night, if I have to.”

Did he really just say that?

“You don’t have to do that.”

“Yeah, but I want to. Besides, somebody has to stay with you to make sure you’re all right. And there’s no way I’m walking out on you, now.”

“I appreciate that, but I can call…”

“Oh, don’t even give me that bullshit! I knew you were lying when you said that to the doctor! Your friend Carol isn’t coming over here. She doesn’t even live here! I can tell when you’re running a con, sweetheart! I’ve seen you do it in the field, remember? Face it, Dani. You’re stuck with me tonight.”

Did he just call me sweetheart? Maybe he was being sarcastic? Was he? Am I just reading everything wrong because my head’s cracked?

“Harper…”

“Look! Zephyr thinks it’s a good idea! See? You’re outnumbered, two to one.”

I think he’s right. I think Zephyr does want him to stay. He looks really happy to have a new friend.

“I can’t ask you to stay up all night. You must be exhausted.”

“Then don’t ask. I’m going to do it anyway.”

He’s not kidding. It’s not my concussion screwing up my brain, either. He’s serious. I’ll bet you couldn’t pry him out of here with a crowbar. And I don’t want him to leave. Jesus Christ! This shit is driving me fucking nuts!

“You’re serious about this?”

“You’re going to go in there and lie down, and I’m going to check on you every half hour until sunrise, at least. That’s the end of it. You’re not getting rid of me.”

“I don’t want to get rid of you.”

Oh, God! Tell me I didn’t say that out loud! Oh, shit! I did say it! Oh, no! Well, it’s out there now, for both of us to see. That’s right, Harper: that was my feeble attempt at a come-on. Now just check out my rack or my ass and decide that you want me as much as I want you. Oh, God! What the hell am I doing?

“Great! Then we’re all agreed. Now come over here and sit down beside me. I mean it!”

“You win. Move over. I have to stretch my…oh, shit!

“Dani!”

Fuck! I almost fell right on my face! God, that hurts! I think my knee locked up! Thank God he caught me! I would’ve landed face-first on the coffee table!

“I’ve got you! Just take it easy! Here, sit down. I’ve got you.”

So much for looking hot and appealing. God, he must think I’m a total klutz!

“Nice save, Harper. I thought I was doing better.”

“That’s what partners are for.”

“You’re a lot more than just a partner, Harper. I’ve had a lot of good partners, but I’ve never had one like you. I really hit the jackpot when they assigned us together.”

“Funny, I feel the same way.”

God, how I hope you do, Harper! I really hope you do!

“When I first met you, I was afraid you’d be disappointed.”

“Why would you think that?”

“Because you’re a great cop, and I thought you might not want to finish up your probation with a female training officer. Especially one with my not-so-stellar history.”

“Oh, give me a break! Everyone said you were a great cop and I was lucky to get you! Not only did I finally get to Midwatch, I got the best cop in the division for a partner! You want to know something? I was practically jumping for joy when I got the word.”

“Liar!”

“I swear, it’s true! The other boots were envious of me. Hell, some of the veteran officers were envious of me. They said so.”

“All right, I think I have to call bullshit, here.”

“It’s true. OK, Goren was envious of me because he thinks you’re really hot. But everyone else was envious because you’re a great cop and you like to work.”

“Goren said I was hot?”

Please tell me I didn’t just say that! Oh, I’m a fucking idiot! I actually said that to him!

“Dani, every guy says you’re hot. How could they not? Have you looked at yourself?”

Oh, please let that be a come-on and not just a compliment!

“I wonder what they’d think of me now?”

“Well, with that t-shirt and those shorts, they’d think you were even hotter. The uniform doesn’t do you justice. Face it, Dani: you’re a babe. Deal with it.”

OK, he mentioned the outfit. He’s definitely been looking. Damn it, Harper! Do more than just look!

“Well, if we’re talking about looks, then I have to tell you that more than a few of the female officers said pretty much the same thing about you.”

“Now you’re the one who’s making shit up.”

“No, I’m not. I think Bridget has her calendar marked with the day you get off probation. After that, it’s open season on you, as far as she’s concerned.”

“Bridget? Isn’t she married?”

“Well, not to spread idle gossip, but that’s never stopped her before.”

“Yeah, I heard the rumors. I just didn’t know if they were true.”

“The rumors don’t even begin to tell the truth. But you didn’t hear that from me.”

“I’ll take it to the grave. I promise. Hey, as long as we’re not trading idle gossip; why do they call Valerie Shockley the Black Widow?”

“Oh, God! You heard about that?”

“Who hasn’t? So the horror stories are true?”

“Tragically, yes. The title is well-deserved.”

See, this is the thing nobody ever believes about cops: while everyone knows that a lot of the guys are total horn dogs and a few of them are even borderline sexual batterers, they don’t realize that there’s no shortage of female officers who are every bit as bad. But it’s true. Believe me, I could tell you stories.

“Well, Dani, I’m glad I got you and not one of them.”

“So am I. I mean that, Harper. You’re a great partner. And you’re a really great guy, too. That’s a double rarity.”

“I can say the same thing about you, only you’re a great girl. Jesus, I can’t believe you’re single.”

That’s it. Keep going, Harper. You’re on the right track. I’m single because the only guy I want is you!

“I must be doing something seriously wrong, huh?”

“More like the guys you were with were doing something seriously wrong.”

God, I can’t stand this! All I want to do is grab him and kiss the living shit out of him, but I can’t! This is fucking killing me! Just because he’s a boot! I hate that you’re still a boot, Harper! But if I don’t walk away right now, I swear, I’m going to start tearing your fucking clothes off!

“Look, I’ve got to take these pills and try to lie down.”

“Good. Get in there. If you fall asleep, I’ll wake you up in half an hour.”

“OK. Thanks, Harper. For everything.”

“Any time. Can you make it on your own?”

“I think so. I’ll try.”

“Just take it easy, OK?”

“Will do. Here I go. See? Standing up was easy enough.”

Actually, it wasn’t. I feel a little dizzy all of a sudden. I think I stood up to fast.

“Are you going to be all right, sitting there tonight?”

“Sure. I’ve got the cat to keep me company.”

“Yeah, he’s good company. Good night, Harper. I’ll see you in half an hour.”

“I’ll be here. Are you sure you can make it?”

“So far, so good.”

I felt a hell of a lot better when I was lying on that couch. It’s only a few feet to my bed. My leg feels a little better. I think I can…

“Harper!”

“Jesus! Dani!”

Fuck! So much for making it on my own! I damn near crashed into the table again!

“I’ve got you! Just hold onto me!”

I am holding onto you, damn it! I’ve wanted to do it since you got in here! And now I’m holding you a lot tighter. A lot tighter than I have to. And I’m betting the look on my face right now is telling you everything I want to say but can’t bring myself to say. I’m making a complete fool out of myself in front of you and I know it, but I don’t give a shit! I don’t know if it’s the concussion, or…oh, what the hell? My head’s cracked, my brain’s been scrambled, and I’m doped up with pain medication. If I make a fool of myself, it’ll make for a great excuse! Go for it!

“Harper?”

“Yeah?”

Now! That’s it! Just kiss him! Oh, hell! That’s it! I did it! There’s no turning back now! I really laid that one on him! Oh, God! I fucking crossed the line with that one!

“I’m sorry. I just…I’ve wanted to do that all night.”

“That’s all right. So did I.”

Wait a minute! Did he just say what I think he said?

“You did?”

“Are you kidding? I’ve wanted to do that for a while! It was all I could do to keep my hands off of you the minute we got in here.”

“Really? I mean, I don’t want you to think I did that because I’ve got a concussion, because...”

“I hope it’s not just the concussion.”

“It’s not the concussion.”

“That’s a relief. Can we try that again?”

“Absolutely.”

This is the one thing I swore I’d never do, but right now, I don’t give a damn. Right now, I can’t believe I waited this long to do it. Oh, shit! I’m falling down again!

“Harper!”

“I’ve got you!”

“I guess I’m not ready to stand up on my own just yet.”

“We’d better sit back down. Are you OK?”

“Oh, I’m way better than OK, now!”

I’d better kiss him again before he goes into protective mode and starts worrying about my fucked-up knee. That’s it! Yes! This is even better than I thought it would be!

“You’d better not try standing up again for a while. Give your knee a rest.”

“Don’t worry. What I’ve got in mind doesn’t involve standing.”

“Are you sure you’re up for this?”

“Of course. The doctor said I had to stay awake tonight. I know the perfect way to stay awake.”
“I was really hoping you’d say something like that.”

“I’ve wanted to say it for a while, now.”

“So did I. I just didn’t want to…”

“Me, neither. But right now just seemed…

“I know what you mean. I’ve been going absolutely crazy for the last few days.”

“Me, too. I just didn’t know how I should…I mean, I didn’t know if…”

“Me, neither. I’m glad you did, though. It’s funny. I was hoping maybe you’d cast a spell on me? You know, so I’d be sure you felt the same way.”

“Jesus, Harper! Isn’t that what I’ve been trying to do?”

“You have?”

“Abracadabra, partner!”

And now I don’t feel any pain at all! I guess it really is magic! And I’m pretty sure it’s about to get a lot more magical in a few minutes! I don’t care if this is against the fucking rules! It feels too damned good! I’m not going to regret this. I won’t let myself. I won’t do that to myself. Not tonight, and never, ever again! I’ve kicked myself enough in the last year for ten lifetimes. Never again!

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