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Chapter 34: A Very Good Thing

All right, I’m ready for roll call. Since the meeting was early, I’ve got about twenty minutes to kill. This is the first time I’ve worn my uniform since the night Harper got shot. It took forever to get all of the blood off of my leather gear, and since I still haven’t gotten my boots back, I’ve got the new ones on. I’m not sure I want my old ones back. They were so badly stained that I don’t know if I could ever clean them off. Frankly, I’m not sure I ever want to see them again. I can still see them getting splattered in the emergency room when they stuck that tube in Harper’s chest. It’s bad enough I have that image stuck in my head. I don’t need a reminder every time I look down at my feet.

I guess I’ll try to take it slow tonight. I won’t have a partner, and as much as I really want to get back out there, I don’t think I’ll be going up against any dope dealers by myself. Lieutenant Hagan showed me a picture that the shooting team took of that hiding place where Ricky had his gun. They were right: he put a lot of thought into it. It wasn’t something he just rigged up. It was a special thing designed to hold a pistol underneath a table or something like that, and it was so well-hidden that if I’d looked right at it in that dim light, I probably wouldn’t have seen it. Fucking Ricky! He always was street-smart. I have to believe that he’s not the only one in this sector who is.

So now there’s a power vacuum on skid row. Somebody’s going to fill it. I don’t know who, but I know it won’t last. Ricky was responsible for a lot of the dope in our sector, and somebody’s going to have to pick up the slack. The junkies and the crackheads will go ape shit if they don’t. We might see a real uptick in the crime rate until things even out. Jesus, is that even possible? How could there possibly be more crime in this sector than we’ve already got? I’m not sure I want to know the answer to that.

I swear, the station feels weird tonight. I guess it’s because Harper’s not here. Midwatch is a very tight watch, and when one of us is missing, you feel it. I sort of feel like everybody’s looking at me. That happens when you’ve been in a recent shooting. Contrary to what you see on TV, shootings aren’t a regular occurrence. They’re a big deal. Everybody wants to know what happened. Some people even envy you; at least until they get into a shooting themselves. That’s not like you see on TV, either. But this one was different. My partner got shot. My partner got shot and I didn’t. I have no doubt that a few people around here have already started rumors. You know, the “Hey, that’s what happens when you have to work with a female officer” bullshit. Yeah, that’s par for the course. I’m sure they’ll get back to me sooner or later. I don’t really care. I know who’s got my back around here, and those are the people whose opinions matter to me. Still, I can do without the rumor mill. I think I’ve got enough on my plate as it is.

Hey, there’s Officer Loomis. What the hell is he still doing here? He’s on Daywatch. Too bad they couldn’t have me work with him tonight. From what I’ve heard, he’s a Central Division legend. The boots say you learn more from him in one day than you do in three months with anyone else. With all of the shit I’ve still got to learn about this division, I’d really like to work with him. Well, at least until Harper’s back on his feet.

“Officer Loomis? What are you still doing here? Did you get something good?”

“No such luck. I had a meeting of some of the local business owners. When you’re a Senior Lead, you have to do that crap from time to time. How are you holding up, Dani?”

He’s calling me Dani? I guess Midwatch isn’t the only one who thinks I’ve passed muster. Good. I like the idea that Loomis thinks I’ve earned a place in the division.

“About as well as can be expected.”

“I’m glad you weren’t hurt. One officer in the hospital is one too many. And I don’t want to see any more pictures go up in the wall of the lobby. There’s too many of them already.”

In case you didn’t know, he’s talking about the pictures of the officers who were killed in the line of duty in Central Division. In each station, the pictures of the officers who were killed there are on the wall of the lobby. Some divisions have more than others. Central Division’s got a shitload of them. I had horrible visions of being at the ceremony where they put Harper’s picture up there. Thank God that didn’t happen.

“You and me both. Harper’s doing a lot better. He can’t wait to get back. Of course, he’ll be wheeled out of here when he does.”

“I’ll be sorry to see him go. He was one of my best boots. He’s a good cop. So are you.”

Coming from Loomis, that’s high praise indeed. I didn’t know I’d earned it from him.

“I appreciate that. I really like it here. Honestly, this is the best division I’ve ever worked.”

“In my experience, it takes a special kind of cop to realize that. But I want to tell you, I’m a little worried about you.”

He’s worried about me? He hardly knows me. What’s he talking about?

“I’m holding up just fine. But I appreciate the concern.”

“That’s not what I’m talking about. You said you like it here. I’m worried that you like it too much.”

“Are you going to start telling me that I’m living for the job too much? Because I already get that from my mom.”

“That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about this division. Central’s not like other divisions. And I’m not talking about the skyscrapers of the Emerald City. I know you work Sixteen. That’s skid row. The worst of the worst. I’m not sure that’s a good place for you.”

“I get that from my mom, too.”

“Your mom doesn’t know what I know. Dani, that place…it’s a whole other world. It’s not like any other place in the city. Being a cop there isn’t like being a cop anywhere else. That craziness can really suck you in. It can take over your life. It can make you reach a point where you feel like you don’t belong anywhere else. You’ll reach a point where you’re physically uncomfortable anywhere else. You won’t want to be anywhere else. It’ll take you over body and soul. I know. I’ve seen it plenty of times. And I’m afraid that you might be a prime candidate for it.”

Damn, he is good! That’s exactly how I feel about this place! How the hell did he know?

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel that way. I love it out there. I’ve never seen anyplace like it.”

“And you never will. It’s a rat circus, and it draws you in. It’s as addictive as any drug on the street. And if you get hooked, then you’re done for. It’ll destroy you. It’ll eat you alive. You need to be on your guard. You need to make sure that doesn’t happen to you. I’ve got to tell you, I think it’s already started. And if you’re not careful, you’re going to become just a part of what’s out there. Just like the zombies and the alleys and the junkies and everything else. Don’t let that happen to you. Because if it does, it’ll be the end of you. And it won’t be a pleasant end.”

Haven’t I heard this from a few people already? But the way he’s saying it…I don’t know. It’s like he’s deadly serious. It’s like he knows something that I don’t. What’s going on?

“I don’t think I’m going to end up wandering the alleys at night, if that’s what you mean.”

“Dani, you’re already doing that. You just do it on-duty. Don’t become a part of this place. Work here, but leave it in your locker when you go home. You have no idea how this place and all of that insanity can draw you in. And if it does, then you’re fucked. There’s no cure for it. Once you cross that line, there’s no coming back from it. Talk to some of the homeless. The old-timers. They’ll tell you: you reach a certain point and beyond that, you’ll never get out of here. You can’t come back from that. I don’t want that to happen to you. I’ve seen it happen to cops who’ve worked here. And some of them are just as dead as if their pictures were hanging on the wall of the lobby. They just don’t know it. Well, most of them don’t.”

“And the rest of them?”

“There’s something you discover when you’ve got as much time on the job as I have: for every picture on that wall of the lobby, there’s at least two others who aren’t up there, but they should be. This place ate them alive and either they lost their minds and drowned themselves in a bottle, or they put their departmental piece in their mouth and blew their brains out. For God’s sake, don’t let that happen to you. And don’t think that it can’t. It can. It will, if you let it. I don’t want to see that happen to you. And I’m a little worried that you’re already on the way there.”

I can’t deny what he’s saying. This is Officer Loomis: the best cop in Central Division. He’s been working here since before I was born. He worked with guys who are still legends. Guys who left a mark that’ll never go away. He knows what he’s talking about. But why is he saying this to me? And why now?

“If you don’t mind my asking; where is all of this coming from? Why are you telling me this? Is it because of what happened to Harper?”

“It’s got nothing to do with that. I’m saying this for your own good. I see it in you, Dani. I can see it in your eyes: you were tailor-made for this place. You were tailor-made to be a cop on skid row. That’s a rare thing, but it’s also a dangerous thing.”

“You still didn’t tell me why.”

Something’s eating at him. I can see it. This is making him very uncomfortable. Why?

“Dani, you remind me of someone I used to know. She got caught up in the craziness out there. She was different, like you’re different. There was something about her. You and her are like two sides of the same coin.”

“She worked Central Division?”

“No. She didn’t work here. She lived here. She lived out there, on the street.”

Oh, great! He’s comparing me to some skid row zombie! Thanks a lot, Loomis!

“So you’re saying that I remind you of some homeless zombie?”

“She wasn’t a zombie. Far from it. She was one of the smartest, most insightful people I’ve ever met. She caught a few bad breaks and she ended up out on the street. But no matter how bad things got – no matter how bad she got – there was always something special about her. She had a soul, even though she used to wish she didn’t. I think it made living on the street even worse for her. And she was every bit as caught up in the craziness out there as you are. She was just as blown away by it as you are. And it destroyed her. It killed her. I don’t want to see that happen to you.”

Damn! Who was this woman? And do I really want to know?

“I don’t think any of that is going to happen to me. But I appreciate the advice.”

“I just hope you take it to heart, because you won’t know what happened to you until it’s too late. You got Ricky. Not the way you wanted, but you got him. He’s gone. Maybe you should take a step back for a while? I don’t mean stop doing the job. You don’t have to become a drone. I just mean take a step back. Think about it, will you?”

I don’t know what to make of this shit, but if he’s that serious about it, then it can’t hurt to consider it. Loomis knows this division better than anyone. Maybe he knows something about it that I don’t? And since I’ve been hearing the same shit from at least two other people, then maybe there’s something to it?

“All right, I’ll give it some thought. I’m not really sure what you’re trying to say, though.”

“Good. If you understood it, it would probably be too late.”

OK, that was definitely weird! I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Everything about this division is weird. It’s one of the things I like about it. It’s never the “same old-same old.” All right, I’ll think about it. I don’t exactly know what I’ll be thinking about, but I’ll think about it. How’s that for weird?

Roll call. My first one on Midwatch without Harper. My first one without a partner. I have to admit, I’m a little nervous about going in there. I’m not really sure why. I just am. Oh, well. I might as well get it over with. Here goes!

And everybody’s here already. That figures. What are they doing? They’re all standing up. Are they…oh, my God! They’re giving me a round of applause!

“Welcome back, Dani!”

“Way to go, Dani!”

“We missed you, Dani!”

“It’s good to see you again, Dani!”

Jesus, if they don’t all shut up and sit down, I’m going to cry!

“Thanks, everybody. Harper says hello. He’s doing a lot better.”

Come on, Sarge! Make them stop before I lose it and make a fool of myself!

“All right, Midwatch! Let’s all sit down! Lynott, take your seat. Welcome back, by the way. You were missed. Harper’s still missed. But we’ve got a lot of work to do, so let’s get to it. It’s still hotter than hell out there, though the weather report says that starting the day after tomorrow, it’s going to cool down a bit. In the meantime, the Watch Commander is Lieutenant Hagan. I’m Forty Central. The position of Sixty Central is still vacant, and will probably remain so for the rest of the DP. Ruiz and Rosen, Eight Central. Lynott and Harper…Jesus, I’m sorry, Lynott!”

“Don’t be, Sarge. I understand.”

“Lynott, you’re Sixteen Central Delta. Try to keep a low profile. I know that’s not likely, but try just the same. Kursteff and Vinell, Twenty-Two Central. Goren and Signolo, Forty-Four Central. Does everybody have a job?”

I don’t know about the rest of them, but I’ve got a lot more than a job. I’ve got a home. I’ve got friends. I’ve got a family. And it feels really, really fucking good!

Out on patrol. Well, technically, I’m just out and about. I’m not supposed to be on patrol. Jesus, I haven’t driven a police car since the day I started working with Harper! I definitely can’t get around as fast as I did with him. He knows this place like the back of his hand. I’m getting there, though. I’ve backed on a couple of calls, but nothing major. Well, nothing major unless you count the gigantic fucking tunnel job burglary that Kursteff and Vinell got. Somebody dug a hole through the side of a building wide enough for three guys to walk through shoulder-to-shoulder. The rolling blackouts knocked out the alarm, so we didn’t find out about it until some passerby reported it. Whoever did it made off with a shitload of copper pipes. That shit’s probably in a furnace in the industrial district by now. I just can’t figure out how they carried it out of there. That load must’ve weighed at least five hundred pounds!

I’ve been purposely staying away from the Big Lot. I don’t think I’m ready to go back there just yet. Goren and Signolo said they’d keep an eye on it for me, and so far, there’s nothing going on down there. Detective Cardozo was right: there aren’t any candles or other shit to commemorate Ricky’s demise. They say it’s a ghost town. That won’t last. Somebody will start dealing in there in a day or two. They have to. The place is junkie central. Somebody has to pick up the slack. They’re still dealing in all of the other hot spots. They’re doing a hell of a business in the Brickline Alley. I told Ruiz and Rosen that we should set up on the place later. I don’t know if they’re up for it. I think everybody’s a little protective of me in the wake of the shooting. Still, I need to get back in the game. I’m not looking for another shootout, but I’m not going to let the possibility of one scare me off of doing my job.

So I’m over by Grand Alley right now. There’s not as much dope activity in there, but boy, is it ever packed with people! If you ask me, they’re out of their goddamned minds! Don’t they know that jamming that many people into an enclosed space just makes it even hotter? Some of those guys are clearly wiped out from the heat. They’re stripped down to their shorts, and they’re sitting along the walls and fanning themselves with whatever they can find. When you’ve got no air conditioning and it’s hotter than hell, what else can you do?

Oh, shit! Would you look at that! A shiny new Lexus, right near the mouth of Grand Alley! Stand out like a sore thumb, much? Who the hell would be down here in a fancy car like that? Buying dope? Not likely. There are a lot of better places to buy dope than Grand Alley. Delivering dope to a dealer? That’s more likely. Grand Alley’s a major landmark on skid row. Everybody knows it. Maybe we’ll see a handoff? God, I wish Harper was here right now! I really want to see who this is!

“Sixteen Central Delta to Eight Central, Ruiz? Are you out there?”

“Eight Central to Sixteen Central Delta, roger that, Dani. What’s up?”

“Guys, I’m just east of the edge of Grand Alley on 5th Street. I’ve got a very nice black Lexus stopped just shy of the alley, and it hasn’t moved since I got here. The windows are tinted, so I can’t see who’s in there. Could you guys come by here and back me on a stop? I want to find out who’s in there and why they’re here.”

“Damn, Dani! You just can’t stay out of trouble, can you? We’re en route. ETA is one minute or less.”

“Roger that. Standing by.”

Once they get here, we can just do a traffic stop on the vehicle. Since they’ve been stopped for a couple of minutes in a “No Stopping” zone, it’s a violation. It’s chickenshit, but it’s probable cause to find out who’s in there. Of course, I could just wait another fifteen minutes and let the carnage begin. I figure that’s how long it will be before twenty homeless guys descend on that thing and strip it right down to the frame. They could get some serious scratch for that much high-end metal down at the recyclers. And in this heat, that buys a lot of cold beer.

Nobody’s going up to the car, which makes me think it’s not a dope dealer. Then again, why would any dope dealer want to draw that much attention to himself? A smart dealer would’ve parked that thing in one of the secure parking buildings on Meridian and walked over here to do business. That guy hasn’t even come out of his car. I can see at least one person in it, but that’s all. There could be four or five guys in there. I’m definitely not taking any chances by myself. Not after what happened the other night.

Here comes Eight Central. Good. I’ll let them take the lead and light the car up. The minute they hit their lightbar, most of the homeless guys in the alley will scatter. That’ll give us room to work. I just hope we won’t need it.

“Sixteen Central Delta, Ruiz? That’s it, right up ahead.”

“Roger that. We see it. You were right: that thing’s seriously out of place!”

“I can see at least one guy in the car, in the driver’s seat. That’s the best I can do from here.”

“No problem. We’ll get behind him and light him up. You offset behind us. We’ll get everybody out. We’ll light him up as soon as you’re behind us.”

And here we go! All right, pull in behind their car and wait for the signal. Please, God! No problems! No shooting! No stupid suicidal asshole dope dealers! Please!

There goes the lightbar! They’ve got him lined up! And it looks like Ruiz is going to use the P.A. to order the driver out. Good. That should let the guy know we’re not fucking around.

“You in the black Lexus! Shut off the engine and throw the keys out the driver’s side window. Then put both hands out the window. Don’t try anything! We’re not in the mood for it!”

Yeah, that’s the understatement of the fucking millennium! All right, it looks like the guy’s doing it. The keys just went out the window, and there go his hands. This guy’s being way too casual about this. That tells me he’s been through this before. More than once.

“Driver! Open the door from the outside and exit the vehicle with your hands in the air! Do it! Nice and slow!”

And there he goes. Yeah, he’s definitely been through it before. He knows the drill. Male black, about six feet or so, and for some reason, he’s smiling. He looks genuinely happy about this. That’s weird.

“Driver! Drop to your knees and keep your hands above your head!”

And down he goes. All right, I’ll back Rosen while he clears the car. I hope to God this isn’t some sort of set-up. I’m not letting my guard down. No fucking way.

“Rosen, I’ve got your back. Let’s clear the car.”

“Roger that. Stay with me.”

I hate, hate, hate tinted windows! They’re a cop’s worst nightmare! You can’t see shit through them until you’re right on top of them and you shine your flashlight through them!

“All clear, Dani! There’s no one else in there!”

Thank God for that. All right, let’s check the driver and make sure he’s not carrying a weapon. Jesus, he’s still smiling! What’s he so happy about? I’ve taken a lot of people out of cars at gunpoint, and I can tell you for a fact that none of them were happy about it. What’s with this guy?

“Ruiz! Anything?”

“Negative, Dani. No weapons. He’s clear.”

OK, but now for the sixty-four thousand dollar question: what the hell is he doing on skid row in a major dope spot? He’s sure as hell not asking for directions. I’ll let Ruiz ask the questions. They’re the two-man unit. Let them take the lead.

“All right, guy. My name’s Officer Ruiz. This is my partner, Officer Rosen. What brings you down to dope central after dark?”

He’s still smiling. He’s a big guy. Broad shoulders. He’s not tensed up. He’s got a real ease when he moves, like an athlete. He’s way too comfortable with this. That’s not a good sign.

“I’m not here about dope, Officer Ruiz. Actually, I’m glad you stopped me.”

“Uh-huh. And why is that?”

“You saved me a lot of trouble. You see, I’m here because I’m looking for her.”

Me? He’s looking for me? Oh, shit! Red alert! This could go to shit in a hurry! Watch yourself, Ruiz!

“Is that a fact? Why would you be looking for Officer Lynott? Do you even know her?”

“Are you kidding? Everybody knows her. She’s the one who killed Ricky.”

“What’s that to you?”

“I was sent here to thank her.”

Is he serious? What the fuck is he talking about? I think I’d better get in on this. We need to know what this guy is up to.

“Hang on, Ruiz. All right, you say you’re looking for me. Well, you found me. You know my name, but I don’t know yours.”

“My name’s not important. Who I work for is.”

“Uh-huh. Let me guess: you work for a guy who calls himself Shiloh. Am I right?”

And there goes that fucking smile again! Yeah, he’s one of Shiloh’s guys. So what the fuck is he doing, looking for me?

“You’re good, Officer Lynott. That’s exactly who I work for. Shiloh wanted to say thank you for taking care of his problem. He couldn’t very well shoot Ricky himself. He wanted to, but you know how it is.”

Translation: if he’d killed Ricky, there would’ve been too much blowback. Ricky’s Mexican mafia connections would’ve taken it out of his ass. This way, there’s no repercussions.

“We shot Ricky because he was trying to kill us. We didn’t do it for your boss.”

“That doesn’t really matter, now does it? You did him a big favor. He wants to show his appreciation.”

“And how does he plan to do that?”

“Let’s just say he owes you. He could make it worth your while. In fact, he’s willing to do that on a regular basis. It seems there’s a…how should I put it? A vacancy in this territory.”

“Yeah, and I’ll bet Shiloh plans to fill it.”

“Right again! You’re sharp! Now, Ricky wasn’t very smart. He was what you’d call ‘confrontational.’ That’s no good for business. That’s no good for anyone. It’s better for everyone if we all just get along, don’t you think?”

“And how does your friend plan to get along with us?”

“Think of it as…supplemental income. The police are seriously underpaid. It’s a tragedy. But if we could reach an agreement, then it wouldn’t have to be that way. Not for you, and not for anyone else who’s willing to see the light. Like your friends, here”

“That sounds expensive.”

And now the smile’s gone ear to ear! Yeah, this guy’s a real piece of work!

“Oh, that’s not a problem! Ours is what you call a lucrative business, and it’s about to get a lot more lucrative. New territory, new business opportunities, new sources of revenue; there’s plenty available for everyone. And we’re not talking about nickels and dimes, either.”

“It sounds like your boss put some thought into this.”

“He always does. It’s just the cost of doing business. We understand that, even if Ricky didn’t. You and your fellow officers? You could all share in our good fortune. I think my boss would like that. He likes what you call ‘win-win’ situations”

Wow! Two bribery offers in one DP! And this guy’s offering to bribe the whole watch! Imagine that! So are he and Shiloh insane or just incredibly stupid?

“And all we have to do is what? Look the other way?”

Oh, God! Again with the smile! This guy is so full of himself!

“Right again! Nobody’s going to ask you to…violate your oath. It’s not about asking you to do anything. It’s about asking you to not do some things. That’s easy enough, isn’t it?”

I’d like to zap this guy in the balls with a Taser and leave it running all night long! He’s got the nerve to say this shit while Harper’s lying in the hospital? Does he really think any of us would go for it? He’s even dumber than I thought!

“Sure, that’s easy enough. Almost as easy as it would be to put a bullet right through your fucking head and leave you in this alley. But we’re not going to do that, either. We arrest criminals; we don’t work with them. And we sure as hell don’t work for them. You tell your boss he’s got no friends in this division. None. Zero. We just paid dearly to get rid of the last asshole dope dealer, and we’re not going to go through that shit again. If your boss tries to set up shop here, he’s going to get his ass kicked all the way back to Mid-City. And then he’s going to prison for the rest of his life. Are we clear?”

And suddenly the smile disappears. Gee, what a surprise!

“I just carry the message, Officer Lynott. I’ll tell him what you said. But I think you’re making a mistake. All of you. Why don’t you guys think about it for a while? We’ll be in touch.”

“I’m sure you will. In the meantime…Ruiz? Hold this asshole against that wall! I want to take his picture. I’m sure Narcotics Division will want a copy. Oh, and grab his wallet and see if he’s got any ID on him. They’ll want that, too.”

“Roger that, Dani! You heard her, asshole! Up against the wall!”

Oh, now he gets pissed! Gee, what a surprise! But he’s not going to try anything. Not with three of us and he doesn’t have a weapon. Certainly not after one of our own nearly got killed. He knows all too well what would happen to him if he did. Oh, and I don’t give a shit if it’s against policy to take his picture; I’m taking it anyway. We’re going to need to know Shiloh’s players if he’s planning to send them into our sector. This guy is a good one to start with. Something tells me we’re going to have a bunch of pictures by the time we’re done with Shiloh. I plan to make sure that most of them are booking photos. Lots and lots of booking photos!

Home again, and I’m wiped out. It’s been something of an emotional rollercoaster for me in the last twenty-four hours. I’m amazed I didn’t fall asleep as soon as I sat down on the couch. I haven’t had a lot of sleep in the last few days. Well, my first night back was relatively quiet for me. I did get to back on a few hot calls, but I tried to stay out of trouble like they said. And Ruiz was right: it was as if every dope dealer on skid row was on vacation. They really are running scared right now. It won’t last, but it’s nice to see it. It’s proof that sometimes we can make a difference out here. I just wish the price hadn’t been so high,

This whole thing was a real eye-opener for me. It gave me a lot to think about. I guess I’m really not on my own anymore. That comes as quite a shock, but it’s a good shock. I spent a year thinking that it was pretty much me against the world, but not anymore. For the first time in a very long time, I’ve got people on my side. Good people. People who had nothing to gain by standing up for me, but they did it just the same. Not because they owe me or because I begged them to do it, but because they knew it was the right thing to do. Captains and lieutenants and sergeants and detectives standing up for a patrol officer who was getting screwed over – who would have thought it possible? But it was. It happened. I don’t have to go through it alone anymore. And even more important, I’ve finally got someone in my life that I’m crazy about. Oh, who am I kidding? I’m in crazy in love with him. I can’t remember the last time I said that. I was probably about sixteen. I didn’t think I’d ever be saying that again, but it’s true. Now I realize that that’s why I got so mad at him when I thought he wasn’t taking care of himself in the hospital. I can’t believe it: I finally found a guy I love who loves me and actually likes the fact that I’m a damned good cop. He’s not threatened by it the way so many other guys are; even other cops. And he’s not trying to compete with me because he doesn’t have a thing to prove to anyone. Sergeant Gellar was right: Harper and I are made for each other. If someone had told me that a guy like that even existed – let alone that I’d ever meet him and manage to snag him for myself before someone else grabbed him up – I’d have said they were crazy. But here he is, and he’s all mine. How did I manage to get so lucky?

I spoke to Harper before the end of my shift, and he said he’s coming home in a couple of days. I didn’t believe it, so I called the nurse at the desk and she said it was true. Harper said it was his superhuman strength and the fact that he’s a Marine that enabled him to recover so fast. Yeah, right! The nurse I spoke to said he was being a total brat about getting out of there, so they decided to kick him out at the earliest possible moment because he’s driving them crazy. That’s the exact word she used: “brat!” Just wait until I hit him with that one! Harper the little brat! I can believe it: he’s actually going to be out of there in a few days. I can hardly wait. He’s probably being an idiot for rushing to get out of there so soon, but to be perfectly honest, he and I really are cut from the same cloth. I would’ve done the exact same thing. I’ll have to plan something special for when he gets here. Oh, he’s not going back to his apartment. I won’t let him. He may be Captain America, but he’s going to need some help getting around for a while. Besides, I’m planning a very special kind of physical therapy for him. A whole lot of it. He’s going to enjoy it a hell of a lot more than the regular kind. We both will.

I know it’s a horrible hour of the morning, but I really feel like I should call my mom. I haven’t called her today, and I promised I’d call every day. If I don’t, then you’d better believe she’ll be on the first flight out here. I know she’s worried sick about me, so she’s probably not sleeping too much. Maybe a call from me would help her sleep? When I called her that night in the hospital, I was an emotional wreck. I couldn’t stop crying. I thought the whole world had just come to an end. I thought it had literally come to an end for Harper. Jesus, I probably sent her into a panic! But now I know that Harper’s going to be fine, so I feel like the weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders. I know I’ll sound a lot better than I did that night. I’ll sound a lot better than I have since then. I haven’t been a wreck the last few times I’ve called, but I definitely sounded like I was in mourning. I think hearing from me like this will do mom a world of good.

“OK, Zephyr. I need to call my mom. You sit there and stuff your face. I’ll say hello for you. I hate calling at this hour, but I should’ve called earlier. The sooner I do this, the better it’ll be for both of us. If she comes out here, she’ll insist on staying with me. In this little place? That means she gets the bed and you and I end up sleeping on the couch. We definitely need to avoid that.”

I hope I don’t get her voicemail. Wasn’t it just a couple of days ago that I was praying I’d get it? My, how things change! I hope I don’t wake her up. She’ll say she doesn’t mind, but I’m her daughter, remember? I know exactly how much she minds when somebody wakes her up too early. I’ve felt the wrath on several occasions. It ain’t pretty, folks!

“Hello? Mom? It’s me, Dani. Don’t worry, everything’s fine. I just wanted to call you because I promised you I would.

“That’s all right, Dani. Why are you calling so late? Is something wrong?”

“No, nothing’s wrong. Far from it. I just got off of work. My first night back. I knew you were worried about me, so I wanted to call you right away and let you know that things are a lot better.”

“You sound a lot better. How’s Harper?”

“He’s good. He’s really good. He’s going to make a full recovery. That’s not just wishful thinking on my part, either. The doctors said so.”

“That’s good news, Dani. I was praying for him. For both of you. Did you go to see him today?”

“Yeah, I’ve seen him a few times. It’s really amazing how fast he’s getting better. His parents were here, too. I met them. They’re nice people.”

“I’m so glad to hear that. How are you doing? You sound a lot better.”

“I am. They tried to throw me a few curves, but…”

“Do you mean about that business from last year?”

Mom always hated calling it the Reid shooting. She’s uncomfortable with the fact that we have to shoot people sometimes, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. And Reid didn’t need to be shot, so that one was a hell of a lot worse.

“Yeah, it was about that. That same asshole commander I told you about before. But this time, I had a lot of good people on my side. They really stood up for me. The captain, the lieutenant, Sergeant Gellar, even a couple of detectives from Narcotics. It seems I’ve got a lot of friends now. Good friends. Only one month in the division? I can hardly believe it.”

“You don’t know how happy I am to hear that, Dani. I’ve been so worried about you being alone out there. I know how you like to cut yourself off from everybody. That’s not good for you, you know that.”

“I know it now, and I don’t think I’ll be doing it in the future. I’m in a good place. I didn’t realize how good until recently.”

“Well, it’s great to hear you have such good friends, but I don’t think you’re in a good place. I was watching a documentary about people on skid row and it was just awful! They’re on drugs, they have mental patients running around and they’re not getting their medicine, they have so many terrible diseases; it was just horrible!”

Oh, here we go! See what I mean? It’s the whole “Rottweiler eats family of five!” thing all over again! I really wish she wouldn’t do this. Just you watch: she’s going to start e-mailing me every God-awful story about skid row that she can find!

“Well, I can do a lot of good there, mom. I already have. I’m not going to change the world, but I can make a difference here and there. But I wanted to tell you that I think you’re right: maybe I have been living just for the job too much? One of the old-timer officers at the station was telling me essentially the same thing that you’ve been saying. I’m not sure I understand what he was trying to say, but I know he’s a great cop, so I figure I should listen to him. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’ve come to see that there’s more to life than just catching bad guys.”

“That’s what I’ve been saying, Dani. You’re a wonderful young woman. You need to have a life beyond your job.”

“So you’re saying ‘I told you so?’ That’s all right. You can say it.”

“Well, in that case, I told you so!”

Mothers love to say that to their daughters. I guess I couldn’t deprive her of the chance to say it this time. She earned it. Not that I’ll ever hear the end of it.

“Yes, you did. And you were right.”

“Well, I’m glad you finally came to see that. The question is, what are you going to do about it? You need to make some changes in your life, Dani. And you can start by getting out more.”

“Zephyr says I don’t spend enough time with him as it is.”

“Dani, Zephyr’s a cat. He doesn’t say anything.”

“You’ve obviously never met him. He gets his point across loud and clear.”

She hates it when I do this, but it’s fun. Mom’s definitely not what you’d call a pet person.

“Then buy him a girlfriend and start looking for a boyfriend for yourself.”

Oh, boy! Way to tee that one up for me, mom! Here’s where she gets to say “I told you so” twice in one conversation! How am I ever going to live this down?

“That won’t be necessary. I think I’ve got that one covered.”

“Are you saying you met someone?”

“Yes, I met someone. Someone great. The truth is, I’m crazy about him. It took a while for me to figure that out, but I’m sure of it now.”

“Are you saying you’ve known this person for a while and you’re just telling me about him now?”

“No, mom. In fact, I’ve told you plenty about him already.”

“Dani, the only person you’ve told me about is…wait a minute…are you saying it’s Harper?”

“Yes, it’s Harper. I’ve never met anyone like him. I guess I just…I don’t know. Something just clicked.”

“Does he know? Did you tell him? Dani, you have to tell him!”

Gee, mom, I’ve been fucking his brains out for a few days now, including once in his hospital bed. Yeah, I think he knows. Oh, sure! Like I’m going to tell her that!

“He knows, mom. He knows.”

“How does he feel about you?”

“I can honestly say that he feels exactly the same. Lucky me! I didn’t scare him away! So you can breathe easy. We’re officially a couple.”

Well, it’s not official until he’s officially off of probation, but you know what I mean.

“That’s wonderful! I could tell you liked him from the first time you told me about him. He sounds like a very good man.”

“He is, mom. He’s great. I didn’t expect it to happen, but somehow it did. And I’m glad it did. I’m a lot happier now. You were right about that, too.”

“I told you so!”

“See? You got to say ‘I told you so’ twice already. Don’t say I never did you any favors.”

“I won’t. It explains why you were in such an awful state when he was hurt. Something told me that you were worried about more than just somebody you worked with. That must have been terrible for you, Dani. I can’t imagine.”

“Well, I think it was worse for him. He’s the one who got shot four times.”

“Good Lord! He was shot four times?”

Oh, hell! I never did fill her in on the details, did I? I didn’t mean to do that. Oh, well! In for a penny…

“It was seven times if you count the three bullets that hit him in the vest, but those just bruised him up pretty bad. Two of them hit right over his heart, but the trauma plate stopped them pretty good. The bullet in his chest hit his collarbone and went downward and missed his heat by less than…”

“Dani, I don’t want to hear about that! My God! The thought that it could’ve been you!”

“Actually, mom, it couldn’t. Harper never would’ve let that happen. I understand that now. That’s why he threw me out of the way and stood between me and the shooter.”

“He must love you very much.”

“Well, maybe not as much as I love him.”

Jesus, did I really just say that to her?

“Dani, I haven’t heard you say that about a boy since you were in high school.”

“I know. I can hardly believe it myself. I guess I finally found the right guy.”

“He sounds fantastic. I’m so happy for you. For both of you. You’ll have to send me a picture of him.”

“I’ve got a good one of the two of us. I can send it to you.”

“You do that as soon as we’re done talking. I mean it!”

“I know you do. And I think I can do you one better than that. I was talking to Lieutenant Hagan tonight, and he said they have to put me on vacation next DP. I’ve got too much vacation time banked. It’s use it or lose it. I was thinking: would it be OK if I came home for a while?”

“Dani, of course it would! Oh, I’d love to see you!”

“I’d love to see you, too. I’ve been through the wringer, and I think I need to get away from this place for a little while. I’ll be bringing Harper along, if that’s OK.”

“Good! I want to meet him!”

“I figured you would. And of course, I can’t leave Zephyr at the kennel. He’ll be coming, too.”

“I’ll have a full house.”

“You don’t mind?”

“Of course not! Dani, I want you to come home. You need a vacation. I’ve been telling you that for over a year. When can you come home?”

“Well, Harper’s due out of the hospital in two or three days…”

“That fast?”

“Yeah, he’s being a total brat about being in there, so they’re kicking him out. At least, that’s what I was told.”

“That sounds like someone I know.”

See? We really are cut from the same cloth. Even my mom knows it.

“There’s a little over a week left in the DP, so after that, I’ll get a flight home. Harper should be able to fly by then. I’ll have to ask the doctor.”

“How long will you be home?”

“I don’t know, mom. Maybe a week or two? Like I said, I’ve really been through the wringer in the last few days. It’s taken a lot out of me. I think I just need to get away from the insanity for a while. As long as it takes, I guess.”

“As long as it takes, then.”

That’s right, mom. As long as it takes. I understand that now. I understand a lot of things now. And that’s a good thing. It’s a very good thing.

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