GUN SHY

Part 3 of 11

By Lorelei, Bard of the Lakes
lorelei-bard@juno.com

 

DISCLAIMERS: All the characters in GUN SHY (except the gods) were dreamed up out of my bizarre little noggin and are mine, mine, mine, with the exception of any characteristics Dez and Jaylynn possess that belong to my partner, who is also mine, mine, mine. So the bottom line is: please don't steal my characters without permission. I wrote this for fun and fame, not profit, so please be kind when you critique me.

VIOLENCE WARNING/DISCLAIMER: This novel does contain scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. The protagonists are cops, and they live in a sometimes dangerous, sometimes gritty, always frustrating world. This story contains scenes where there are assaults, shootings, car accidents, arrests, domestic disturbances, and the aftermath of one rape. If you get queasy watching "Law and Order" or "Xena: Warrior Princess," you might not want to read this. However, I would put the level of explicit violence at about PG-13. Oh yeah—there’s also a little swearing here and there.

LOVE/SEX WARNING/DISCLAIMER: This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state/country where you live, you should move to Minnesota where we have human rights protections and a new governor, Jesse Ventura, to beat up anyone who's mean to us.

HURT/COMFORT WARNING: I've never totally understood what this means, but yes, indeed, each of the main characters (and some of the minor characters) do get hurt in more ways than one, and there is comfort afforded to each here and there—hmmm, just read the novel to see what I mean, okay?

SUBTEXT: There is no subtext whatsoever—it's all maintext. While there are no overly graphic scenes (apologies to those of you who were hoping for that and are now sadly disappointed), there are love scenes, and the theme of two women falling in love runs throughout the story. If this bothers you, click BACK PAGE and go immediately to the Jerry Falwell v. Tinky-Winky claymation slugfest scheduled for tonight.

SPECIAL THANKS: Couldn’t have done this without my trio of true blue beta readers: one scientist, a doctor, and a police officer. To Erin, Buff, and Joy—you are the BEST! And many blessings to MaryD, Web Goddess Extraordinaire, for encouraging me and keeping me on track. Lastly, to MaryAnn, Linda D, and Susan who listened ad nauseum about this and read parts in the early stages and never stopped cheering me on.

DEDICATION: This one’s for Diane, because she had to live with an obsessed madwoman while it was being written. Not only that, she had to read and make sense of it—three times, in fact—and not at all in any reasonable semblance of order. She deserves a medal.

Any and all comments are welcome, and I am curious about what people think, so you can e-mail me at: lorelei-bard@juno.com. This is part 3 of 11, and I’ll post regularly so you won’t be left hanging. J

SPECIAL NOTE: I’m on vacation for a few days, so part 4 probably won’t show up until the week of the 28th. But I’m giving you this part which is extra long and leaves you on a good note. J

 

PART 3

Dez worked out alone in the weight room. At midnight on a Friday night after Tour III ended, she usually had the place to herself, which was just how she liked it. After hoisting three 45-pound weights on each side of the leg press, she got down into the contraption. This exercise always made her feel like a turtle on its back. She took three deep breaths, forced her legs to press the weight up, and released the safety. Coupled with the 75 pound weight of the press carriage, she was lifting 345 pounds. She didn’t stop at 10 reps but kept straining, pressing the load up and down, until she could go no further without her lungs and legs exploding. She let the weight down with a clang and felt the misery of the burn fading away, then started another set, and another.

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

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

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

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

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

Not anymore.

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

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

"Oh hi, Dez," said Jaylynn.

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

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

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

"But if he calls . . ."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Mmhmm."

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

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

"Having a party?" said Dez.

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

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

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

"Nah. It’s nearly two. I better get home."

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

"What do you want?" asked Dez.

"What have they got? Where’s the menu?"

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

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

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

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

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

Otis said, "White or dark?"

"Little of both please."

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

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

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

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

"What have you got there?" Jaylynn asked.

"Sandwich," Dez said with her mouth full.

"I can see that. What kind?"

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

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

"Didn’t want mayo. I like it just like this."

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Me neither. Pain is not my friend."

Dez snorted, "Mine either."

"You ever think about settling down, getting married?"

"Not much. I don’t see myself marrying."

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

"What are you smiling about?"

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

"And?"

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

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

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

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

Jaylynn didn’t argue with her.

 

*****

 

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

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

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

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

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

"Dez," he said kindly. "How are you?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Hey Chica," said Crystal. "What’s up?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Uh, hi Dez," came a tentative voice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

*****

 

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

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

"Shit," said Dez.

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

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

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

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

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

A tiny whimper from inside said, "Come in."

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

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

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

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

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

Jaylynn said, "What’s your name, honey?"

"Kristy South."

"And how old are you?"

"Sixteen."

"Where are your parents?"

"They’re at work," the girl sobbed.

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

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

The question brought on a fresh wave of tears.

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

"Brown hair, brown eyes, I think."

"How old?" growled Dez.

"I don’t know . . . old like my parents."

Dez said gruffly, "How tall?"

"Taller than me, but not much."

"How tall are you?"

"Five-five."

"His race?"

"White," the girl said.

"What was he wearing?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Which apartment does Mrs. Leopold live in?"

"The one with the bird on the door."

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

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

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

Dez stopped her at the door.

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

"Ma’am, she’s going to be okay."

"Where is she?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaylynn nodded and unholstered her weapon.

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

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

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

"Yes?" said a wavery voice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

Jaylynn said, "No, that’s okay."

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

"I don’t care."

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

"Yeah. That about sums it up."

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

"That’s inhuman."

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

Jaylynn shrugged and didn’t answer.

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

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

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

"What about support? What about gentleness and kindness?"

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

"Do you?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Why?"

"Just curious."

"Are you saying you would go too?"

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

"All right."

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

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

 

*****

 

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

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

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

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

"Tea water is still hot."

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

"Want to talk about it?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"October."

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

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

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

"Believe me, I can’t wait."

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

"‘Night Jay."

"Sleep well, my friend."

 

*****

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Ruined my night, you stupid bitches, can’t get any yourself . . ." Without warning the woman spat at Jaylynn, catching her in the face.

"Oooh, gross!" said Jaylynn as she wiped her cheek on her jacket sleeve.

Dez was out of the car before the prostitute knew what was happening. The big cop grabbed hold of the scowling woman and locked her arm behind her back, then forced her two steps back to the wall of the smoke shop and pressed the woman face-first into the brick.

The hooker let out a shriek. "Let me go, you bitch!"

"Is that any way to show respect for a police officer?"

"Fuck you," she said, hissing like a cat. She squirmed and tried to kick Dez in the shins. The tall cop moved up close and anchored her firmly in place by pressing one knee between the woman’s legs and against the wall. It also prevented her from being stilettoed by the pointy high-heels.

"You just earned yourself a fun trip down to the station, lady." The weight of the angry hooker suddenly sagged against Dez.

Once Jaylynn wiped her face satisfactorily, she got out of the car, flipping her handcuffs off her belt. "Do we really want to run her in, Dez?"

Before she could reply, Dez shouted, "Oh shit!"

Jaylynn pulled her weapon and held it steady on the woman.

"No, no," said the dark haired cop. "She just peed on my leg." Dez released the woman and stepped back only to see her stumble. The poorly dressed woman turned. Pulling at the fringe of her halter top with blood red fingernails, she gave them both a vacant-eyed look and slumped back against the brick wall, just barely keeping her footing in the high heels.

"She’s stoned," said Jaylynn, as she holstered her weapon.

"I’ll say." Dez looked down at the thigh of her uniform slacks. A dark wet spot had spread all the way down to mid-calf.

"And you’re gonna smell," said Jaylynn, trying to suppress a giggle as she pointed at the dark steaming stain. Dez shot her a glare and stomped over to the squad car to call for an ambulance. By the time the paramedics arrived, the woman was alert and feisty, cursing and threatening as before. They had to strap her down on a gurney to take her away.

"Now that’s a first," said Dez. "No adult has ever peed on me before." She opened the trunk of the car and searched around until she came up with a ratty olive colored Army t-shirt. "I don’t know whose this is, but it’s mine now. Get in and let’s go." She put the t-shirt on the front seat of the car and sat on it.

"You’re gonna ride around for—" Jaylynn looked at her watch, "three more hours in that stench?"

"Hell no." She turned on the car lights and hit the gas. "I’m going home to change."

"Why don’t you go back to the station?"

"Haven’t got any slacks there."

As they neared Dez’s neighborhood, she asked Jaylynn to call them in for a break, and the rookie contacted dispatch.

Jaylynn had never been to Dez’s house and wondered what it would be like. She didn’t expect the neat, two-story stucco house they stopped in front of. Dez got out in a hurry. "Come on," she said. "You can come up and wash your face." She slammed the door and stalked away from the car.

Jaylynn followed Dez around to the back of the house and waited for her to unlock the door. They entered a hallway with a door straight ahead and a staircase on the right. Dez took the stairs two at a time. On the landing at the top, Jaylynn watched as Dez navigated the low ceiling with practiced ease. The staircase and landing were tucked in the eaves, so even the blond had to duck her head.

Dez unlocked a door, flipped a light switch, and stepped aside to let Jaylynn into a tiny kitchen, about twelve-by-ten feet square. The dinette table was just inside the door with a small CD player sitting on the side against the wall. To the left were a small closet, a refrigerator, a short counter containing a microwave with cupboards overhead, and a sink under a small window which was hardly bigger than a porthole. Across the room were more cupboards and a counter. A doorway to the right, straight across from the entry door, led into another room. Jaylynn looked around the kitchen and admired its compactness, so opposite of its owner. The vinyl flooring was pale blue and tan, the cupboards shiny light oak, and the counters navy blue. Everything looked new and clean, the only thing out of place being a cereal bowl and spoon on the sideboard next to the sink.

Dez tossed her keys on the table, removed her jacket, and hung it over one of the dinette chairs. Jaylynn did the same, then followed Dez through the doorway into another room not much deeper than the kitchen, but three times longer. Taking up the left half of the room was a double bed, two dressers, a valet chair, a wardrobe closet, and a small bedside table. On the wall beyond the foot of the bed sat a rolltop desk, closed up tight. Over the bed was another window similar to the one in the kitchen, though slightly bigger. In the right half of the room on the far wall were floor-to-ceiling shelves with a couch sitting not four feet in front of them. A low-slung coffee table sat parallel in front of the couch. Across the room on the opposite wall sat an entertainment system, and next to it on two metal stands were two guitars. One was a warm golden color steel stringed acoustic; the other a shiny red electric model with silver thunderbolts on the front. Beyond the guitar stands to Jaylynn’s right was another door. Dez pointed to it, "Bathroom’s right through there. Just grab any towel you want and throw it in the hamper when you’re done."

Jaylynn went in and shut the door. At least the bathroom was roomy. On the right, the tub/shower was extra long and extra wide and included a whirlpool. Someone had laid out some cash for that, she thought. The beige toilet and sink matched the tub, and the blue and tan floor matched the kitchen floor. An open-front oak cabinet was filled with neatly folded towels, sheets, and washcloths. Next to it sat a narrow bureau, which was topped with a tray holding various colognes, deodorant, and spray bottles. Another of the porthole windows, much larger than the others in the kitchen and bedroom, let in light from the street lamp.

Jaylynn knew they didn’t have a lot of time, so she pulled out a royal blue towel, washed her hands and face, and dried off quickly, tossing the towel into the wooden hamper as she left. Dez rose from the couch barefoot and wearing a red terry cloth robe. She picked up her uniform slacks and held them at a distance. "Yuck."

"You’re not gonna shower, are you?"

"You bet I am. I’m not spending the rest of the shift in this." Dez paused in the bathroom doorway. "Make yourself comfortable. There’s iced tea in the frig, and you can turn on the TV if you want. Time me. It’ll take me less than ten minutes."

Jaylynn went into the kitchen and opened the first cupboard to the right of the sink. Bingo. Glasses galore. She took one, opened the frig, and poured herself some iced tea, then took note of the contents of the refrigerator: a door-full of condiments, milk, orange juice, a plate of leftover roasted chicken breasts, and tons of fruits and vegetables. Not a can of pop in sight and no greasy snacks. Didn’t this woman eat anything sinfully delicious? Where’s the butter? The cheese? There weren’t even any eggs in there—just those little containers of liquid egg whites. She smacked the door shut and headed back into the other room and sat on the couch to marvel at Dez’s tiny home.

The entire L-shaped apartment was tucked into the eaves of the house, and she bet it wasn’t more than 700 square feet. There were closets and drawers built into the eaves, so there was probably a lot more storage than it appeared at first glance. Somehow she would have pegged Dez to live in a large rambling place with a couple of big dogs, or at least a cat or two. She guessed she would have to revise her assumptions. Though small, the apartment was cozy and warm, and Jaylynn liked the solid blues, maroons, greens, and tan accents throughout the room. The double bed headboard was dark mahogany, which contrasted nicely with the navy blue and forest green comforter. A matching quilt adorned the back of the wide couch. At the foot of the bed lay folded another quilt, this one maroon and blue. A freshly pressed pair of slacks were tossed partly over it. Dez’s vest and other clothes were piled on the valet chair near the closet.

She looked past the foot of the bed at the roll top desk and resisted the urge to go over and investigate. She wondered if she would find all the clutter of a lifetime packed in there? Or would each of the little cubbyholes be as neat and tidy as the rest of the apartment? She wondered if Dez had a computer. She certainly didn’t seem to live a very high-tech life.

Hmmm, the only thing missing here is anything at all of a personal nature. Where were the photos? None of the walls displayed any art, no pictures or knick-knacks. Jaylynn wondered if Dez had only recently moved in. It sure looked like it, otherwise how could she be so neat? Jaylynn remembered when she and Sara had moved into Tim’s rental house. Within two weeks the place was a mess, and it wasn’t until the three of them sat down and bargained out a system for cleaning and picking up that the place became the slightest bit organized.

She slid behind the couch and stood looking at the books, CDs, and videos on the shelves there. There were even about a hundred old vinyl record albums. Lots of nutrition and health books. Hundreds of CDs. She saw ones by artists she knew: Melissa Etheridge, Stevie Nicks, k.d. lang, Everything But the Girl, Billie Holliday, Etta James, Sarah McLachlan, Cris Williamson and more. She also noted unfamiliar names: Lucy Kaplansky, Cheryl Wheeler, Leo Kottke, Richard Shindell, Kristen Hall, David Wilcox, Dar Williams, Elizabeth Cotton, Michael Hedges. Eight of the Indigo Girls’ CDs—Jaylynn didn’t realize they had so many. She moved on and looked through a huge collection of videos, most of which Jaylynn had never seen. She pulled one out and read the notes on the back.

True to her word, Dez emerged in short order dressed again in the red robe. "I’m hurrying, so don’t worry." She strode gracefully across the room to the valet chair and sorted through the clothes, picking up several items.

"I’m not worried." Jaylynn took a sip of her tea. "Hey, you’ve got a lot of good videos. I’ve never seen some of these."

"Go ahead and borrow any you like," said Dez as she dressed.

Jaylynn turned away to give her privacy. "Thanks a lot. Maybe I’ll take you up on that sometime." She couldn’t help looking over her shoulder, but when she caught a glance of Dez’s ivory-colored back, she turned away in haste, then busied herself reviewing the video she held. "Here’s one I always heard was good."

"Which?" said Dez in a low voice as she pulled a t-shirt over her head..

"Truly, Madly, Deeply."

"Yeah, that’s pretty much one of my favorite movies of all time. Bring a box of hankies though." She picked up her vest and slung it around her shoulders, then fastened the velcro. She pulled on and buttoned her shirt. Adjusting her cuffs, she moved toward the doorway.

Jaylynn said, "I’d love to bring the box of hankies over some time and watch it."

"Sure. Whenever. Come on, let’s get back out there."

"You play guitar, huh?"

"Yeah, some."

"You’ll have to play a little for me some time."

When Dez didn’t answer, Jaylynn hastily returned the video and followed her to the kitchen. She set the empty glass next to the bowl on the drainboard, then put on her jacket and followed Dez out into the hallway and waited for her to lock the door.

That wasn’t so bad, thought Dez. No awkward questions. No muss, no fuss.

"How long have you lived here?"

Oh no, thought Dez. Now it starts. "Going on ten years."

Jaylynn was ahead, moving toward the stairs, so Dez missed seeing her jaw dropping. "Wow, nine years. You sure haven’t accumulated much stuff." Or many people, Jaylynn thought. That was definitely a single person’s pad.

"Guess not. I don’t need much stuff. I moved there right out of college, and I’ve just stayed. I like the place."

"It’s very nice."

"Thanks."

They thundered down the steps, Jaylynn in the lead, and she stopped with a start when she reached the bottom of the stairs and found a silver haired black woman standing there, arms crossed over her ample bosom. She wore pink slippers, a flowered house dress, and a pink sweater around her narrow shoulders. Her silver hair was swept back and held in place with two silver combs. The twinkle in her eye was evident to Jaylynn, even if she’d never seen the woman in her life.

"You two sounded like a herd of elephants. How can two little gals like you make so darn much noise?"

From the bottom step Dez replied, "Sorry, Luella, but we’re in a hurry."

"What’s the rush?" Luella said, then turned to Jaylynn, "She never slows down much—even mows the lawn at a breakneck pace. Do you have to run to keep up with her?"

Jaylynn glanced back to see the warm smile on Dez’s face. "Go ahead, Jay, tell her. I’ll try not to get mad about it."

Jaylynn looked back at Luella. "Actually, I can beat her in a foot race. Maybe not for a long distance, but in sprints for sure. And the noise coming down the stairs was probably more my fault than hers. Sorry."

Luella moved toward her. She reached a soft brown hand out and patted Jaylynn’s shoulder. "You must be her new partner, hmm? How long you been riding together?"

"She’s been training me in for about eight weeks, I think."

Luella looked over Jaylynn’s shoulder and fixed a level stare at her tenant. "Well, Dez, nice of you to mention it." She made a tsk-tsk sound with her tongue. "Were you going to introduce us, or just let the poor woman wonder?"

Dez sighed and stepped down the last two stairs. "Luella, I just haven’t . . .it’s not that I—" She shrugged and rolled her eyes. "Jay—Jaylynn Savage, this is Luella Williams, nosy landlady, chief cook and uniform washer."

Luella flashed a mouthful of white teeth. "Chief cook. . . hmm. . . I like that. You eat the same gerbil food she does, Jaylynn?"

Jaylynn had no idea how to answer, so she was noncommittal. "I don’t—I don’t think so."

"Good. When are your days off?"

"Mondays and Tuesdays one week—Monday through Wednesday the next week. For now. Same as Dez’s. Why?"

"Well, then, why don’t you just come for dinner Monday night and we’ll have a decent meal. You like au gratin potatoes?"

"Love ‘em!"

"How about steamed broccoli—maybe with a little cheese sauce?"

"Ooh, sounds yummy."

"Can you come about six?"

"Sure. I guess. You want me to bring something?" She turned her head to look at Dez. Uh oh. Maybe that was the wrong answer. Dez didn’t seem any too happy.

"Oh no," said Luella. "That’s not necessary. And Dez, if you could grace us with your presence, I might even make a baked chicken for you."

Dez didn’t know whether to be mad at Luella or not. Why did they have to run into her tonight? She’d carefully avoided having any of the new trainees over. Things weren’t like they used to be, back when she’d invited Ryan and Cowboy and Crystal and any number of other cops over for a big feast every month or so. They always congregated at Luella’s and regaled the older woman with stories of their bravery and ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Dez hadn’t thought about it, but it suddenly occurred to her that the old woman might miss it. The one time Crystal had brought up their raucous get-togethers, Dez had cut her off and said she wasn’t ready for parties, not with Ryan so recently dead. Crystal had wrapped a friendly arm around Dez’s waist and told her to let people know when she was ready.

How many months had passed? It didn’t matter. She still wasn’t ready.

Luella insisted on giving Dez a hug, and she shook Jaylynn’s hand and saw them out the back door. They got back in the police car, the rookie shivering a little. Dez called and reported back on duty. She flicked the switch for the heater, even though she knew she’d be roasting in short order. Maybe she could turn it down a bit later when the smaller woman was warmer and not paying attention.

Jaylynn cleared her throat. "Dez?"

No answer.

"Dez, I’m sorry about that. I get the distinct impression you’d rather I had turned your landlady down."

Dez pulled to a stop at a red light and with a practiced eye surveyed the area. She avoided Jaylynn’s eyes and said, "No, it’s okay. She gets lonely. It’ll be good for her. Forget about it."

The light changed and Dez proceeded slowly through the intersection, keeping an eye on a car double-parked in front of the check-cashing outfit in the middle of the block.

The rookie said, "How come you have Luella do your laundry? I always see you hauling your uniforms out. I thought the department paid for that."

"Yeah, they do," she said in a grouchy voice. "But Luella does a much better job. Besides, she insists." Actually, Luella always made a big deal about the maintenance Dez did around the place, and if she didn’t give her the laundry, Luella would cut the rent. Dez was well aware that her landlady already undercharged on the rent and that she couldn’t afford to take less. So the big cop did all she could to keep the house up, and in return, Luella did all the wash and ironing.

Her thoughts were interrupted when, out of the blue, Jaylynn said, "So. What are you doing Sunday night after shift?"

Dez frowned. "Sunday night?"

"Yeah, I was thinking we could watch Truly Madly Deeply. Since I’m going to Luella’s Monday, I know you’d be stuck with me twice in two days, but hey, I’ll bring the hankies and popcorn? You supply the iced tea and video?"

Dez felt a moment of panic and was glad it was dark in the car. "Oh, I don’t know, Jay . . . "

The radio squawked as the dispatcher called their squad number and followed it up with information about an assault in progress and the address. Saved by the bell, thought Dez. She made an abrupt U-turn and sped away at a faster rate than she really needed to. Jaylynn picked up the radio and answered the call.

For the moment all talk of Sunday night was forgotten.

 

*****

Monday rolled around, and Jaylynn was excited at the prospect of going over to Luella’s. She hoped Dez would be there, but even if she wasn’t, the rookie looked forward to the visit with the older woman. Dez had told her not to worry about dressing up, so she had worn pressed blue jeans, a warm thermal shirt with a light blue sweater over it, and her light brown Doc Martens. It was still so cold out that she had on her thermal mittens and a huge down coat.

She drove over, having borrowed Tim’s beater, and arrived right on time. As she stood on the front porch her senses were assaulted with mouth-watering smells. She rang the bell, and Luella came to the door wearing pink slip-on slippers and a fluffy white apron over a belted dark blue dress. There was a splotch of red sauce staining the apron. She held a maroon mixing bowl in the crook of her arm, a wooden spoon poking out from some batter. "Well, there you are," Luella said as she unhooked the porch’s screen door. "C’mon in. You can hang up your jacket right there on one of those hooks."

As soon as Jaylynn moved through the porch area, stepped in the house and the door was closed, Luella resumed mixing the contents of the bowl and led her into the kitchen.

The rookie said, "Whatcha got there?" as she gestured at the bowl.

"At the last minute I decided I had a hankering for cornbread, so I’m mixing it up. Think we should have ‘em in muffin cups or little loaves?"

Jaylynn said, "Hmmm . . . either way would be great."

"Maybe I’ll just make muffins. Then there’s a chance that fool friend of yours would eat at least one." She set the bowl on the counter and bent down to open a low cupboard, then fumbled around until she got hold of a muffin pan and pulled it out. "Here, I’ll let you grease this thing up." She gestured toward the can of Crisco on the counter. "Use one of those paper towels hanging there." She pointed to the dispenser on the wall.

Jaylynn took the pan from her and proceeded to grease each indentation. "You know, it smells good halfway down the block. What are you making?"

"We’re having spicy pork ribs and those au gratins I promised you. I made some broccoli—with and without cheese sauce—and I have a little pie, too, for dessert." She reached over and took the pan from Jaylynn, set it on the counter and spooned twelve dollops of batter into the cups, scraped out the bowl, and put the pan in the oven. "Those’ll be up in about 12 minutes, but until then, let’s go sit in the dining room."

She slipped off the apron and hung it on the back of the kitchen door, then led Jaylynn into the other room where an elegant table was set.

"Ooh, what pretty plates," said Jaylynn. Standing next to the table she bent over and traced the tiny rosebuds and violets on the white background. There were three settings at the large table, one at the head and two others to its right and left. The other half of the table contained four sets of hot pads, ready to hold warming dishes.

"These came from my mother and father," said Luella as she pulled out a chair and sat. "Got ‘em in 1945, right after the war. I started out with eight place settings, but I’m down to about six and a half now what with bowls or plates or teacups being broken periodically over the years."

Jaylynn sat. "At my house, we’re still eating off the Melmac plates I brought with me to college."

"If you like beautiful dishes, I know a wonderful store reasonably priced. If you ever want to go buy a set, I’ll come help you pick ‘em out."

"One of these days when I set up my own house, I’ll take you up on that offer."

"Good girl." She reached over to pat the young woman’s hand. "Now tell me all about you, about how you became a police officer, and how you’re liking it."

Jaylynn discovered Luella very easy to talk to. The kindly woman listened intently, yet her attention did not feel at all intrusive. The rookie found herself telling her about growing up in Seattle, winning a four year track scholarship to the U of M, and moving to snowy Minnesota five years earlier. When the timer went off and they got up to take the cornbread muffins out of the oven, the blond woman was telling her about choosing law enforcement because it interested her. "I thought I might be able to make a difference,"she said, "like Dez has made a difference in so many people’s lives."

Luella paused, holding the pan in her hand. "You think she does?"

"Well, sure," said Jaylynn, surprised.

The silver haired woman set the pan on the top of the stove and closed the oven. "I wish someone would tell her that. I swear, no one is harder on herself than she is." She moved to the corner of the kitchen and picked up a broom, then held it up in the air and banged on the ceiling with the end of it.

Before she could set the broom back in the corner, Jaylynn heard a clump-clump noise and looked toward the back hallway. The door opened and a dark head popped in. "Hi, I’m here."

Luella said, "Come on in and join the party."

Dez appeared in the kitchen, hands in her pockets. She was decked out in red, white, and blue: blue jeans—Levis to be exact—a bright red long-sleeved shirt, and brand new white Nikes. Her face betrayed no emotions other than curiosity as her eyes surveyed the kitchen, coming to rest on Jaylynn. She nodded and said, "What’s up?"

Before Jaylynn could answer, Luella said, "It’s about time you high-tailed it down here. Everything’s ready, so you two go get settled." She shooed them out of the kitchen.

Jaylynn said, "Don’t you need a hand?"

"Nope," said the silver haired woman as she grabbed her apron from the back of the door. "You two just clear out and let the serving expert do her thing."

In the dining room they sat, and Dez said, "She really is a serving expert. Wait’ll you see what she trots out here with."

Jaylynn licked her lips and grinned. "I can’t wait. I’m starving."

"You know, Jaylynn, I’ve never met anybody in my life who was as hungry as you are all the time."

"Yeah, right. And you’re not eating every three hours?"

"But I’m having totally healthy stuff."

She smiled warmly at the cranky woman. "Whatever."

Luella brought them each a glass of milk, then bustled in with a platter of pork ribs in one hand and a serving dish of seasoned chicken breasts in the other and set them on the hot pads. She went back and got a bowl of potatoes and a small container of brown rice. She carted in the broccoli which was in a double-dish, one side with melted cheese, the other plain. The two cops watched in amusement as she hastened back and forth, coming in last with a wicker basket full of hot muffins. She sat down and reached a hand out to each woman. Jaylynn took a soft brown hand into her right hand, then stifled a laugh when the older woman gave Dez the evil eye. "Let the circle be unbroken," Luella said. In response, Dez sighed and reached her other hand across the table, surprising Jaylynn who realized with a start that she should take Dez’s hand.

Once the three women were clasping hands, Luella bowed her head and prayed, "Dear Heavenly Father, bless this food and bless these girls. May they both be kept safe in their daily work, and may the food before us refresh and fortify us all. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen."

"Okay, girls, eat up," said Luella. "Jaylynn, you don’t have to even think about eating that boring brown rice. That’s for Miss Polly Purebred over there." She stood and moved to the other end of the table where she could supervise the passing of the dishes. Once they’d loaded up their plates, she took her own plate and filled it, then took it over and sat down. "Ahhh," she said. "I’m dang near famished."

Dez rolled her eyes. "I have at the table two of the biggest exaggerators on the planet."

Jaylynn laughed and almost choked on her first bite of au gratin potatoes. With her mouth full she said, "Luella, this is undoubtedly the best—no, the most stupendous—no, the most incredibly, fabulously, wondrous meal I have ever had in my 24 years on the planet."

The old woman grinned back conspiratorially. "I have never in all my livelong years had so much fun assembling a meal, especially knowing how unbelievably thrilled you two would be to partake in it." She looked at Jaylynn, smirking and giggling as she chewed, then kicked Dez under the table. "You got anything to add?"

"Good chicken," said the tall woman as she calmly forked up a piece and guided it to her mouth. The other two went off in a fit of laughter. Dez said, "I can tell already that you two are gonna be a problem."

"Why?" said Jaylynn innocently.

"At this rate, someone’s gonna have to apply the heimlich maneuver to one or the other of ya."

This caused more laughing. "C’mon," said Luella, "quit being so serious. What happened to your sense of humor?"

"Guess it’s on hiatus." She took a bite of plain broccoli and gazed, deadpan, at her landlady. Luella met her gaze and narrowed her eyes to stare her down. A big grin spread slowly across the black woman’s face until Dez broke down and smiled back. Then Luella reached down under the table and squeezed Dez’s knee until she yelped. Dez said, "Guess it’s off hiatus now."

"Good thing," said her landlady. She picked up a rib and held it gingerly in her fingers. "Now Dez, honey, you never told me that Jaylynn was a track star."

"You never asked," came the low response.

"Now how would I know to ask?"

Dez shrugged.

"You didn’t know, did you?" said the older lady.

Dez glanced over at Jaylynn who was coloring nicely. "I know she’s a fast runner."

Luella said, "She went to the U on a track scholarship. How come you never found out about that?" She didn’t ask accusingly but seemed to be trying hard to understand how Dez could have overlooked something so important. When Dez didn’t answer, she said, "Brag on yourself a little bit, Jaylynn. Tell Miss Oblivious here what you’ve done—you must have a few records, hmmm?"

Jaylynn set her fork down on her plate, her face flaming. "Well, I went to nationals three times, and placed in the top six each time, but I never was able to win, place, or show."

Dez said, "What event?"

"400 meters, 200 meters, 1600 meter relay."

"You went to nationals for all three?"

Jaylynn nodded solemnly.

"That’s good. What’d you have to do to get there—place in the top three in the state or what?"

"First."

"Are you saying you’re the best sprinter in Minnesota?"

Jay chortled. "Not anymore, but I guess you could say I was back in my salad days. And I was never that great a sprinter—more middle distances."

Dez nodded and scooped up a cornbread muffin, absently splitting it open and eating half. Jaylynn watched the landlady’s face light up in a smile, but the dark haired woman didn’t notice.

Dez said, "I used to run the 400 meters—I always called it the puke race."

"I know what you mean . . . when you’re done, that’s exactly what you feel like doing."

"I never could break 60 seconds—hit it right on a couple times, but never got below."

Jaylynn grinned. "That’s why I got to anchor the relay. Every once in a while I nailed a 56 or 57."

"Did you ever do any other events?"

"Oh, a little hurdles, some long jump, occasionally a little high jump, but those were never my specialties. Mostly I just ran my butt off. How ‘bout you—you do any other events?"

Dez nodded. "Javelin, shot put, discus. They wouldn’t let women do pole vault, but I liked it."

Jaylynn leaned forward, putting her elbows on the table. "I bet you were good too. You’ve got some records yourself, don’t you? Come on, ‘fess up."

Dez set her fork down, pushed her plate away, and sat back in her seat. "Just in high school. Well, I guess I had the conference javelin record in college, too, but I never went to nationals or anything. I might have done better my junior or senior year, but I quit."

"You quit the team?"

"No, I quit college. I put in two and a half years, got bored with it, and applied to be a cop. As soon as I turned 21, I joined the force. So I never got my degree."

Luella said, "I keep telling her to go back and pick up some night classes, but she says she’s not interested."

"What were you majoring in?" asked Jaylynn.

Dez gave her a crooked smile. "Little of this, little of that. Mostly law enforcement related, sports, a few music classes. What’s your degree in?"

"I loved college. I took light loads during spring track season, but the rest of the year I loaded up and did quantity, not so much quality, so it’s not like I was an A student or anything. I’ve got majors in political science, psychology, and English."

"Busy girl, weren’t you?" said Luella.

"I figured if they were paying, I may as well get all I could out of it. Of course it took me an extra year to finish, and my parents paid for that, but it was worth it, I think."

Luella stood and cleared their plates. "You girls ready for some pie?" Before Dez could make a comment, her landlady said, "I know, I know. You pass, right?" When Dez nodded, Luella said, "Fine, but no whining when Jaylynn and I sit here enjoying two pieces of succulent and tasty apple pie with melted butter and cinnamon sugar on top."

Dez looked at her in mock astonishment. "Who me? Whine? No whining from this quarter."

When Luella ambled into the kitchen, Jaylynn leveled her gaze at the dark haired woman. "So, you took music classes?" When her question was answered with a nod, she went on, "What kind of classes?"

"Mostly guitar and music theory."

"Mostly?"

"A little voice."

"So you can sing! That’s great."

Dez bristled. "I never said that."

"If you can sing at all, you’re doing better than me. Sara has a beautiful voice, and she plays piano. Wish I could play an instrument. " She picked up her fork and shoveled up the last chunk of potatoes on her plate. "Well, I guess I can carry a tune, but singing has never been my forte. Must be fun to be able to play and sing." She swallowed the au gratins and set the fork back down.

Luella entered the dining room carrying two rosebud plates loaded with generous pieces of steaming apple pie. "Dez, you should go up and get your guitar. Come down and play us that piece you wrote for my 70th birthday."

The tall woman’s face flushed scarlet. "Oh no."

Luella lowered herself slowly in her chair. "Quit with the shy thing. I’m sure Jaylynn would enjoy it. Go. Get your guitar."

Dez stood, pushing the chair back with her heel. "I’m not singing."

Her landlady halted a big bite on its way to her mouth. "Fine. Then play me that nice melodic piece you’ve been working on."

As she stalked out of the room Dez tossed back, "That’s not even finished."

"We don’t care, girl. Just come back and entertain us." After she left, she said to Jaylynn, "You ever notice she’s about as bull-headed as they come?"

Jaylynn smiled, her hazel green eyes sparkling. "No doubt about that." They talked some more and ate the pie. "This is just wonderful pie! I don’t think I have ever had better. The crust is so flaky."

"I learned to make it from my momma. She was a wonderful baker." She spiked the last apple and popped it in her mouth. "I love pie, but who can eat a whole one? I’m so glad to have guests every so often so I can cook up things I never get to make for myself."

"Thank you for this great dinner, Luella."

"You’re welcome, sweetie. Hmmm. Where’s that ornery cuss got herself to? She should be back by now." She got up and snagged the milk glasses.

Jaylynn rose. "Let me help you with these dishes." The two women worked together and cleared everything away. Luella transferred the food to plastic containers while the blond rinsed and stacked dishes.

Luella said, "I just want to leave a lot of that to soak, so don’t worry too much." She put her hands on her hips. "What’s keeping that girl so long?"

Right on cue Dez came down the hall toting her acoustic guitar. She stood uncertainly in the hallway looking into the kitchen. "I’ll just go play in the living room and you two can listen from in here."

"Ah ah ah," said Luella. "Not so fast." She dried her hands off on her apron, slipped it off, and hung it on the door hook. "C’mon, Jay. Let’s go relax in the other room."

They all trooped into the living room. Jaylynn sat in the wooden rocker. Luella lowered herself into the wing chair, and Dez perched on the edge of the couch.

"What do you wanna hear?" Dez said in a resigned tone.

Jaylynn decided to let her two companions duke this one out. She smiled agreeably and settled into a steady rocking rhythm.

The landlady said, "Play that one tune I always like so much—you know, the one where you twang the notes."

"Bend? You mean bend the notes?"

"Yeah, that’s it."

"Okay, give me a second. I have to go to an open tuning." She quickly adjusted the tuning pegs and Jaylynn listened to the guitar make a wow-wow-wow sound as Dez changed the tone of three of the strings. She put her ear down close to the guitar, strummed it a few times, made one more minor adjustment, then closed her eyes. She began to pick out a melody with the fingers of her right hand while simultaneously moving her left hand over the strings on the neck of the guitar. Her fingers bent and hammered the strings at the neck in a way that Jaylynn had never heard. What emerged was a melancholy combination of notes that reverberated and rang in such a way that it sounded like two or more guitars playing complementary fugues. The song traveled through three different movements but kept coming back to the same theme.

Dez plucked the last notes and then let them ring out and fade away. Only then did she open her eyes shyly. "That the one you wanted?"

Luella said, "Actually, that’s not the one I was thinking of, but that surely was beautiful. Makes my heart feel full."

Jaylynn sat silently, thinking to herself. Wow! She too felt her heart was full; in fact, she felt she could start crying. The piece was mournful, almost a lament. It brought to mind memories of her father, of being a little girl trying to understand why he had died and left her. On the verge of tears, she shook herself and rocked in the chair more with vigor. "That was remarkable, Dez. I liked it. What’s it called?"

Dez frowned. "Don’t have a name for it yet."

"I know," Luella hollered, "play that honky-tonk thing I like."

The dark haired woman nodded knowingly. "I know exactly which one you’re referring to now." She took a minute to tune the strings back up, then stood up and dug in her pants pocket to pull out a black pick. Closing her eyes she started strumming a rollicking, slapping beat that soon had both women tapping their toes.

Jaylynn listened and thought about the contradictory sides she had seen of this woman. Head bashing, rough and tumble versus sensitive guitar player. Suspicious and untrusting versus intensely loyal. College dropout versus canny, streetwise strategist. Moody and grouchy versus gentle and obedient toward Luella. She studied the tall woman. Her blue eyes were closed tightly, the tip of her tongue peeking out between the straight white teeth. One foot tapped out the beat, and when the Jaylynn closed her own eyes and listened very closely, she could faintly hear the tall woman humming the melody as her fingers flew over the strings. The rookie opened her eyes and looked at Luella who was slapping her knee and grinning widely. The old lady tipped her head from side to side in time with the music and let out an occasional "Oh yeah! Play it, girl!" which made the blond laugh.

Jaylynn glanced back at Dez only to find the tall woman staring intently at her. Eyes met and she felt the connection, the same exact gut reaction she had experienced the very first time she had seen the policewoman. It made her dizzy and short of breath. She blinked to shake off the light-headedness and Dez abruptly ended the honky-tonk tune and stood.

"Enough fun for one night."

"One more," said Luella. "C’mon sweetie. Just one more, okay? Play my anthem, why don’t you?"

Dez exhaled. She paused a moment, and then sat down again. "Okay, but you have to sing it." She played a little intro and then nodded, and the old woman began singing in a true but quavery voice:

Lift every voice and sing

Til earth and heaven ring,

Ring with the harmonies of Liberty . . .

Jaylynn rocked contentedly to the even beat. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath as she enjoyed the song she had heard a few times before. Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies, let it resound loud as the rolling sea . . . . And then Luella slid into the chorus and unexpectedly, a second voice joined hers, a smoky contralto singing the alto line. Sing a song, full of the faith that the dark past has taught us. Sing a song, full of the hope that the present has brought us. Facing the rising sun of our new day begun. Let us march on till victory is won….

Jaylynn peeked one eye open and through thick lashes watched her hostess and the dark haired woman sing the next verses of the old spiritual in two part harmony. Amazement wasn’t even the word for her reaction. The word flabbergasted came to mind. She was totally flabbergasted—and filled with an intense longing so strong that her heart hurt. A lump rose in her throat and she fought back tears. In a way she envied the two women. They seemed so close. She longed to have met each of them much sooner, realizing now that there had been a gap in her life about which she had never even been aware.

The song came to an end and no one said a word as the notes from the guitar tapered off and faded out. Dez looked her way sheepishly, and to cut her apprehension, Jaylynn said, "You two could take that on the road!"

Luella smiled and said, "That’s always been one of my most favorite songs. My father sang that to me when I was a tiny little girl. Usually brings a tear to my eye. Desiree, my dear, thank you for singing it with me."

"You’re welcome," the brunette said as she rose, holding the golden guitar by its neck. "I’ll be back. I’m gonna take this upstairs." And she turned and sped out of the room.

"Wow," said Jaylynn, "she’s got some kinda voice, doesn’t she?"

"Yes, she does, and she doesn’t share it with just anyone. I’m surprised she joined in, but I’m glad she did."

"Me too. I can’t get over it. Wow!"

The rest of the evening flew by as Luella continued to pry information out of the two of them, and suddenly it was after ten o’clock. Jaylynn looked at her watch and rose to say her goodbyes. She made her way out to the porch, took down her coat, and fished in the sleeves for her thermal mittens.

Luella stood in the doorway holding a large foil wrapped package. "You be careful driving out there," she said. "Looks to me like it’s snowing."

Dez stepped out on the enclosed porch and peered through the window. "That’s just flying around off the roof. The street’s clear." She leaned against the frame of the porch window as Jaylynn slipped on her coat.

Luella grabbed the blond woman before she could zip up her huge coat. She snaked her arms into the coat and around Jaylynn’s waist to give her a big hug.

"Thank you for the wonderful dinner, Luella. It was a great evening."

"God bless you Jaylynn. You’re a special girl. Let’s do this again soon."

"Okay, sure."

Luella handed her the foil wrapped surprise. "I know you’ll enjoy this later. It’s extra good for breakfast." Jaylynn slipped the package in a roomy coat pocket, and the landlady took the big mittens out of her hands so she could zip up her coat. "These look nice and warm."

Jaylynn said, "It’s like wearing boxing gloves—makes it hard to drive—but I hate it when I get cold." She pulled her hood up. "Good night Luella. Good night Dez." Dez opened the front door, and Jaylynn brushed by, smacking the tall woman lightly in the mid-section as she passed. "See ya Wednesday at work."

"Will do," the tall woman said in a quiet voice as she shut the door.

All the way home Jaylynn’s mind raced. She thought Luella was one of the nicest people she had ever met. And Dez was—well, Dez was Dez. She had her own grouchy charm. The blond pondered the attraction, for she could not avoid admitting it. She was attracted—totally smitten—with the dark haired cop. But she didn’t really understand why. Something like a magnetic force drew her to the tall woman, and she felt helpless in its pull. She had a sense of dj vu, too, that was so strong, she couldn’t believe that they hadn’t grown up together or known each other at some time in their lives. But growing up on the west coast precluded her from ever having met. They could never have known one another. However, she wondered about dreams. How could her Warrior Woman so closely resemble the taciturn cop? She wished she had more control over her dreams because if she did, she would actually like to question her hero. She would ask, "Who are you, and did I make you up when I was little? Or are you real?"

When she arrived back at the house, she parked Tim’s Toyota and hustled through the frigid night air into the warm kitchen. She pulled her coat off and hung it over the back of one of the chairs at the table. She started to leave the kitchen, then suddenly remembered the treat in her pocket and reached in to pull out the foil wrapped package. She could smell what it was even before she unwrapped it. Apple pie laced with cinnamon and sugar. She smiled and took it up to her room with a fork and a glass of milk.

Continued in Part 4


Return to The Main Page