UNDER THE GUN
By Lori L. Lake
a/k/a Lorelei, Bard of the Lakes
email@example.com -- www.LoriLake.com
THANKS: I am amazed that of all the people who have written and all the wonderful people who have beta-read this, no one but Hydraulic Woman has noticed a little error in Part I regarding musical notation. To be exact, a high C is two notes higher than B-flat. Oops! Thanks, Kristen. I'll fix that down the road.
I am dedicating this part to my wonderful Websister, Angela. Check out what a spectacular job she has done on my new website which is at www.LoriLLake.com. We still have a few details to correct, but she has most of it up and running just great!
REMINDER: This is a sequel. If you haven't read the first book, GUN SHY, you might want to.
Or you can purchase a copy of GUN SHY, published by Renaissance Alliance Publishing (Quest Division), at any bookstore or online bookseller. Also, I have another book just published, RICOCHET IN TIME, which has never been posted online. A good source for both books is at The Open Book.
The characters and the plot are original and mine. Please give me advice, feedback, and criticism. If something doesn't square up for you, go ahead and let me know. I won't bite. At least not very hard. This sequel is still about cops. It contains scenes of violence and/or their aftermath as well as one or two swear words here and there. The story depicts a love/sexual relationship between 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, either be very sneaky about reading this or else don't. I'm not your mother. Do what you want. J
UNDER THE GUN
Dez awoke the next morning to find that the Thomas Street fire had made the front page of the newspaper. There was even a small photo of Jaylynn, obviously cut out from her Academy graduation picture. Their quick thinking was credited with saving the boy and his three-month-old sister, both of whom had been left sleeping in the house alone while the mother ran to the grocery store. Dez suspected the mother would be doing some real fancy explaining-perhaps even some time in the workhouse.
Dez crept out of bed, leaving the rookie crashed, and dressed in shorts, running shoes, and a sweatshirt. Taking Jaylynn's car keys, she jogged the two miles to the station, using the time in the cool November air to think about the events of the last twenty-four hours. She realized she was still freaked by what had happened. When Jaylynn had gone up and over the windowsill, she had leapt up, trying to catch the rookie's foot before the smaller woman disappeared into the house. She just barely missed, falling back and landing heavily on the squad car. Maybe she missed grabbing the rookie, but she sure hadn't failed to notice how she landed and crunched in the roof of the cruiser, that was for sure. Thank God so many neighbors had shown up by then. When she yelled for help, some of them actually did.
It had felt like minutes before she was helped up to the window ledge. Even now, jogging down Dale Street, she still felt the same wash of relief as she had the night before when she visualized how the rookie came stumbling toward the window. She couldn't quite remember feeling that level of desperation-at least, not since Ryan had died. And then, a bit later, when the upstairs floor caved in . . . she shuddered. Try as she might, she couldn't get the images out of her mind. Fire, crashing timbers, smoke, the squeal of sirens. She had a hard time believing she had slept at all last night.
She reached the parking lot and, breathing hard, stopped next to the gray Camry. Despite the chilly air, she was sweating. She took a couple minutes to stretch out the back of her legs, then managed to jackknife herself into Jaylynn's small car.
The rest of the day passed in a blur of preparations, of meeting Bill, and of watching Jaylynn, keeping a close eye on the laughing blonde. Dez ran errands, picked up more odds and ends at the grocery store, and delivered Vanita and Luella to the party. Each time she left the rookie, she found herself replaying the fire scene over and over in her head. After a while, she became grumpy from the constant reminder and from hunger.
Things calmed down for her once the party was in full swing. She watched the antics with amusement from the corner where she leaned, a plate of lasagna in hand. She was on her third piece, though this one was smaller than the previous two. The tall cop skipped the lemon-butter green beans, the garlic French bread, all of the hors d'ouevres, the desserts, and the salad upone which Tim had worked so long, and she cut right to the steamy, fragrant, chili-pepper flavored lasagna. She chewed slowly as she leaned up against the wall in the living room near the door that led to the kitchen.
The light of her life was currently bent over with two hands on a large multi-dotted plastic mat, her cute tush in the air, and surrounded by Sarah and four big hulky Army men in various ridiculous poses. Dez took a bite and listened to Jaylynn laugh as the blonde tried to shove Bill aside and get her foot on a large red dot on the plastic mat.
They had tried to get her to join in the game of Twister, but Dez refused. It was much more fun to watch. In fact, it was even more fun to keep an eye on everyone else who was watching: Luella, her sister Vanita, Tim and Kevin, Shayna and Crystal, two other Army buddies, various young women who had come along with Bill's friends, and Bill's younger brother Jimmy who kept trying to hit on Jaylynn. Dez wondered when Jimmy would catch a clue. She hoped she wouldn't have to be the one to let him know that the blonde was very unavailable.
Sarah let out a shriek and slipped to the floor on her side, laughing so maniacally that it was infectious. Luella and Vanita sat on the couch in ring-side seats, and laughed so hard that tears ran down Luella's cheeks. Dez caught Crystal's eye and they grinned at one another. The dark-eyed cop got up from the piano bench where her partner, Shayna, sat. She sidled through the crowd hovering behind the couch, and came to stand by Dez. "Pretty good party."
Dez set the plate down on the corner of the table and wiped her mouth with a napkin. "Great food, too."
"Yeah, I noticed you pretty much polished off an entire pan all by yourself, chica."
Dez smiled. "Not quite." But she had hacked off two more pieces, wrapped them in foil, and hid them in the back of the refrigerator. She figured they would make a great midnight snack-and breakfast, too.
Crystal ran her hands through her short black hair and shook her head. "You know, I always have fun at these get-togethers with you guys, but this one really takes the cake. Look at 'em-playing a kid's game like crazy ass fools."
Dez agreed. She wouldn't be caught dead joining that game, not because it wasn't fun but because she didn't even know the Army buddies, and she'd only just met Bill. She figured it would take a lot more than the half glass of wine she'd had to loosen her up that much. "Notice there's no cops playing. I guess Army guys have lower standards."
A puzzled look came over the Latina's face as she looked into Dez's eyes. "What about Jaylynn?"
A slow blush crept up Dez's neck to her face. She didn't answer. It hit her that she didn't really consider Jaylynn a cop. Sidekick, yes. Helper on the shift, yes. Partner? Only as a lover-and one hundred percent in that capacity. But as a professional partner, the tall woman had to admit that the answer was no. As Crystal turned away to watch the ruckus on the Twister mat, Dez reasoned with herself silently. Just last summer she and the rookie had walked into a convenience store and been shot at by a robber. Dez took a bullet in the vest, and with excellent reflexes, Jaylynn had shot and killed the man. The rookie followed every rule, responding appropriately in every way. It had been ruled a clean shoot. Even after all that, after all the calls they had been through, after last night's fire, after all the work discussions and training, Dez was astonished to understand she did not want the young blonde to be a police officer, and didn't, in actuality, consider her a cop.
Unsettled, she picked up several plates and moved through the swinging door into the kitchen. It smelled like chili pepper and cinnamon, and someone had left a gallon of milk out on the table. She screwed on the green plastic cap and returned the container to the refrigerator, all the while wondering what this new observation meant.
She set the dishes in the sink, then turned around and leaned back against the counter with her arms crossed over her blue and white flannel shirt. She thought long and hard about her relationship with Jaylynn, but before she could get too far, something interrupted her train of thought. It took a moment to sink in that something in the timber of the party din had changed. It was still loud, but no longer joyous. She took a breath and listened, then strode across the floor and smacked the door open. Several people were shouting at once as they clustered around the couch. Before Dez could take a step, Sara separated from the crowd and headed toward the tall cop. At the same time, one of the Army men, a handsome black guy she thought was named Mike, peeled off in the opposite direction, ripped the front door open, and disappeared into the night, letting a blast of cold air into the house.
As Sara pushed past, Dez grabbed her arm. "What's going on?"
Sara slipped out of her grasp. "Gotta call 911! She's having some sort of attack."
"Who? What-" A vision of Luella came to her mind, and Dez took two long strides to the crowd of people. "Make room!" She jostled everyone aside as though she were on duty out on the street and responsible for separating bystanders. "Back up and let her breathe."
As people stepped back, Mike burst back into the house carrying an oversized duffel. "I've got the jump kit," he said in a loud voice.
Dez got a good look at the ladies on the couch. Luella was holding her sister. Usually the two of them looked a great deal alike, but not right now. Vanita's eyes were closed, her mahogany colored face was gray-brown, and her head lolled to the side. She had vomited down the front of her dress, and she didn't seem to be breathing.
"Get her on the floor," Mike commanded. He unzipped the duffel and grabbed something out that was wrapped in plastic. He ripped it open, dropping some latex gloves out which he pulled on and until they were snapped tight. Meanwhile, as though they had practiced the move over and over, Bill and his buddies lifted the limp woman and placed her gently on the carpet near the piano. Jaylynn was on the floor in an instant, her hands on either side to steady the elderly woman's head. Dez couldn't hear what she was saying, but it was clear she was talking to Vanita, even though the old woman was unconscious.
Dez pushed her way past the crowd and went down on her knees at Vanita's shins next to Mike who was pressing two fingers against Vanita's neck with his ear near her mouth. "What happened?"
He shrugged, looked past her. "Dave, Smitty, I need CPR here. Now! She's not breathing." He ripped open a plastic container, dropped a device out of it, and adjusted it over Vanita's mouth.
"Let me do that," Dez said.
He turned his head to look at her, his brown eyes piercing. "I mean no disrespect, but back off. Let my guys in."
Dave and Smitty squeezed past her and she rolled back onto her heels, then up to her feet. She was surprised at how shaky she felt. Go into cop mode. Come on-get a hold of yourself. But she couldn't do that. The lasagna felt like a giant lump in her stomach, and for one passing moment, she thought she might be sick. She glanced around helplessly, but there was nothing she could do.
Except go to Luella.
Her landlady huddled on the couch, one hand clutching a cloth handkerchief, eyes wide with fear. Dez pushed past two women-Dave's or Smitty's girlfriends she thought-and swung long legs over the back of the couch to slide down next to Luella. She didn't speak, just took two cold hands into her own and rubbed them.
Luella shook. Dez put an arm around her, alarmed that the silver-haired woman might have a heart attack from the stress. "Shhh.....it's okay, Luella."
Sara settled in next to Luella on the other side where Vanita had been sitting. "I got through to 911. Help is on the way now."
Looking past the old woman, Dez met Sara's eyes and could see the fear in them. She turned her attention back to Luella and patted her again. "It's gonna be all right, Lu," she said as much for Sara as for her landlady.
The three of them watched and waited as Bill's friends worked on Luella's older sister, the rhythm of the CPR commands almost musical in cadence. Mike rummaged in his jump kit and removed a stethoscope and a blood pressure cuff, which he applied to her upper arm. Dez watched his movements carefully, hoping that he knew what he was doing.
"Where is the ambulance?" Luella asked, a hint of anger creeping into her voice.
Dez checked her watch. "It's only been a couple minutes. Don't worry-any time now...they'll be here." She looked over at Jaylynn who still knelt at Vanita's head, and the rookie met her gaze with a worried expression. At that moment two things happened. The sound of a high-pitched siren whined into the room, and Vanita raised a hand into the air as if she were waving. Dave and Smitty stopped chest compressions.
Jaylynn caught hold of the fluttering hand and said, "It's okay, Van. Hold on. You're going to be all right. We're taking you to the hospital in a minute."
Mike pulled the CPR mask off Vanita's face and bent down close to her mouth. "She's breathing on her own!" In an excited voice he said, "Hold on, sweetie. Keep on breathing. Yeah, beautiful-that's the way!" He patted her leg, then smoothed the flowered dress down and left his hand on the motionless thigh.
At that moment, Tim clattered down the stairs with a thick wool blanket and helped to cover Vanita with it.
In minutes, two paramedics were in the house, taking vital statistics information from Mike and checking on the gray-haired woman. Before Dez could get Luella up from the sofa, the uniformed men had her sister packed on a gurney, hooked up to an I.V., and on the way out the front door. Dez rose, helped Luella to her feet, and called to Jaylynn for help. The younger woman was there in an instant, kicking the sheet of plastic from the Twister game aside.
Dez had one arm around the trembling silver-haired woman as she directed Tim and Kevin to lock up the house behind them. "Jay, let's take Luella in your car."
The rookie nodded and went to the hall closet to start handing coats around. Some of the women said they would stay behind and tidy up the house, and Jaylynn assented, quickly explaining that someone would call with news shortly.
As they made their way out the front door, Tim said, "I thought Bill's unit were all munitions experts."
"Not Mike," Sara said. "He's a medic.
At the bottom of the steps, Luella piped up with "And thank God for that."
It was a long night in the E.R. but it took little time to learn that Vanita had had a heart attack. They implanted a pacemaker, and toward morning, they moved her from the E.R. to Intensive Care where she was unconscious, partly due to the trauma, and partly due to the medications they had given her. Only two visitors were allowed in at a time, so Dez and Jaylynn took turns going into the room with Luella who sat in the one comfortable chair by Vanita's bedside, her own face nearly as gray as her sister's. With one hand she held onto her sister's forearm, stroking it lightly. It was one of the only exposed places on the old woman's body not covered with bandages or inserted with tubes.
Dez leaned cross-armed against the wall at the foot of the bed watching Luella. Her legs were tired and her feet sore as she had stood for most of the last nine hours, first outside the E.R., then in two different waiting rooms. There was no second chair in the hospital room, but she wouldn't have sat anyway. She preferred pacing or leaning.
She wondered how Vanita could get any quality of rest. The machinery monitoring her made so many clicking and beeping and whooshing noises that she knew she would never even be able to shut her eyes. Luella, on the other hand, was struggling with fatigue. The dark-haired woman stepped in front of her friend and squatted down before her. "Luella, I think you need to go home and get some sleep...come back in a few hours."
She shook her head emphatically.
"Doesn't matter. I can't do that."
"Sure you can."
Luella rose with great effort and Dez popped up to standing position. She patted her tall tenant on the stomach until she backed up to the wall.
Dez frowned. "What?" She put both of her big hands lightly on Luella's shoulders.
The silver-haired woman leaned into her young friend, her arms encircling the big woman's waist and her tired head resting against the solid breastbone.
Dez drew her close and in a choked voice whispered, "You're shrinking, old woman."
Luella leaned away and gave Dez the first smile she'd seen in nine hours. "It's from the major stress you put me through all of the time."
"I'll try to do something about that."
In a quiet voice, Luella said, "Listen, I don't want Vanita to hear this." She hesitated, taking a deep breath as she craned her neck up at the dark-haired woman. "If she were to die, I couldn't live with myself, knowing she passed on alone. I need to be here, Dez, even if I am exhausted."
"You could go lie down on the couch in the waiting room."
She shook her head. "Not good enough. I need to be here. If she wakes up, she'll need me, need some assurance. You're the one who should go home and get some sleep. You work today?"
Dez shook her head.
"Good. I'd feel bad if you had to work on no sleep."
"What about her grandkids? When are you going to call them?"
"What time is it?"
"Twenty to seven."
Luella nodded and stood thinking. Dez patted her on the back as she looked around the small room full of monitors and devices, hoses and tubes, flashing lights and beeping alarms. The silver haired woman pondered a moment longer, then sighed. "I hate to ask this of you, but I don't want to leave the room. Will you call Ardella? She can get a hold of her mother and brother and sisters. Once they get here-as long as the doctor says Vanita is doing all right-I'll go home and get a little sleep. How's that sound?"
Dez nodded. "Deal."
Luella let loose of her and shuffled back to the chair.
"Are you warm enough?" Dez, herself, was roasting in the heat of the room, but she knew that older people didn't have the same circulation she did.
"I'm okay. My feet never seem warm enough, but really, I'm fine."
"Okay. I'm sending Jay in, and I'll go call Ardella. I'll try to get her to leave the wild great-grandkids home."
"Tanishia's old enough to babysit her little brothers. Specifically tell Ardella to leave the boys behind. I'm not even sure they are allowed on this floor."
"And don't scare her, Dez."
"Of course not."
"You need to give her some details, but downplay it all. Make is sound sort of run-of-the-mill-not life-threatening."
Dez rolled her eyes. "Yeah, yeah. I think I can do that, Luella."
"I'm relying on you." She smiled in her regular mischievous way, and Dez couldn't help but smile back.
She left the room and headed to the waiting room. Jaylynn sat yawning near Kevin and Tim who were watching the morning news on a TV set with muted sound. Sara was snuggled in a ball on the vinyl two-person couch, Bill's arms around her, and both of them were asleep. When Jaylynn caught sight of her outside the doorway, she jumped to her feet. "Everything okay?"
With a toss of her head, she gestured to Jaylynn, and the blonde bounded up and to her side. Taking the tall woman's hand, she gazed at her with tired eyes.
"I'm calling Vanita's granddaughter now, and once that whole clan descends, Luella has agreed to go home and rest for a while. Will you go hang with her for a few minutes 'til I call?"
It was still another hour before they left the hospital, got Luella settled, then slipped into bed upstairs in Dez's apartment. The big cop fell into a dreamless sleep, then awakened less than an hour later. She lay in bed holding Jaylynn who slumbered so deeply that even Dez disentangling from her didn't cause her to stir. The tall woman pulled the covers up and smoothed them over the blonde, then turned over onto her side and looked out toward light shining through the small window in the bathroom.
She felt terrible for Luella. What would happen if Vanita did die? Neither one of them were going to last forever, that was for sure. They were both in their seventies. But somehow, both Luella and Vanita seemed timeless to her-sturdy, jaunty, resilient. She couldn't die...could she? Vanita was the last of Luella's generation, and if she died-or even became incapacitated mentally-Luella would be alone. Sure, she'd have the nieces and nephews and all their kids, but that wasn't the same as having someone there who'd fought and loved and shared every problem or secret from an early age onward.
And Dez knew what that was like, the loneliness of it. She hadn't spoken to her own brother for so long, she didn't even remember when last it was. Soon, it would be another Thanksgiving, another Christmas, another new year without her brother, without her mother. She knew what it was like to be isolated from others, and frankly, she thought it sucked. Rolling over on her back, she fidgeted, shifted once, then again. Without Luella and her family, she would have had an awful lot of solitary holidays. Maybe this Christmas would be different. She still had not talked to her brother for ages, but since last summer when she had been shot, her mother had been in contact more frequently. Her mother was also apparently living with one of Dez's former supervisors, Xavier Aloysius MacArthur, "Mac" to his friends and fellow officers. Mac had been one of the best watch commanders the St. Paul Police Department had ever produced. He had also been her father's very best friend, and her former mentor. Another person she had "lost" once she became an adult and struck out on her own.
She turned over again. What a mess my life has been. But it's been better since Jaylynn came into it.
She rolled onto her side and moved close to the slumbering woman. The blonde let out a sigh and nestled her backside into the bigger woman. Dez slipped an arm around the small waist. She hoped this would last forever...but could it? In all her life she had never felt such a combination of happiness and vulnerability. She was convinced that it wouldn't be long before Jaylynn would get to know more about her and push her away. How could she prepare for that? She didn't know the answer to the question, but at the moment, it didn't seem all that important. She closed her eyes and slept.
For the next twenty-four hours, it was touch and go for Vanita, but as Luella said, her big sister was "a strong-willed old cuss." Dez and Jaylynn spent quite a bit of time at the hospital Sunday and Monday, and neither one of them really wanted to work their shift on Tuesday afternoon, but they had no choice. They had both traded Tuesday and Wednesday so they could have Saturday and Sunday off for the party, and neither wanted to let down the officers who had switched with them. Besides, they were scheduled for another self-defense session with the Como Middle School kids on Tuesday. Fortunately, by the time Vanita was moved from Intensive Care on Monday, everyone knew she would be all right. The old woman was already complaining about the bland food and tasteless coffee, and Luella was making plans to care for her sister at home once Vanita was released. With a sense of relief, the two cops were able to turn their attention back to their jobs.
Wednesday rolled around, and it was Halloween, which was always a busy night. The two women rode in the squad car, both scanning the busy streets as the late afternoon sun slipped lower and lower. Everywhere they looked, children in little costumes scurried about. Most of them were accompanied by their parents. Once it got dark, the older kids would start to come out, and all the real action would begin.
Jaylynn's stomach grumbled loud enough for Dez to hear it over the crackle of the radio. "You're not hungry already?" The dark-haired cop said it as a statement and looked at her watch. It had been over three hours since they'd last stopped for lunch. She knew her partner would be hungry.
"How 'bout a nice deli sandwich, Dez? Maybe even two-one for now and one for the road for later."
"Yeah, fine by me. Shoulda said something three miles and fifteen minutes ago when we passed The Cutting Board."
"Didn't occur to me 'til now."
Dez reversed course and meandered through a residential section they hadn't patrolled yet. It had been a slow week all around. Oddly enough, the highlight had been working with the girls at the school the day before, and as far as Dez was concerned, it was still a big pain. Literally. She was sporting a big and painful bruise on the left side of her abdomen where that Amber kid had socked her. She shifted in her seat and ran her left hand over the spot. It hadn't hurt at the time, but she sure could feel it now.
"Dez, next week I leave for pursuit training. I had forty hours of good solid pursuit training, not to mention the bookwork about it, at the Academy. Why am I going to Pursuit 101 again?"
"It's not the same. You'll be simulating computer pursuits as well as doing driving courses."
"Like I said, we did that at the Academy."
"It'll be more than just car chases. You'll also learn more about roadblocks, stop sticks, different intervention tactics."
The rookie eyed her partner for a moment. "Dez, what's wrong?"
The big cop turned to look at Jaylynn. "Nothing. Whaddya mean?"
"You keep rubbing your stomach and wincing like you're in pain."
The dark-haired woman looked out her side window. She felt the blush rising up her neck. Some days she wished the rookie wasn't so damn observant.
"Dez! You're embarrassed. What's the matter?" She reached an arm out to the top of Dez's shoulder, kneading the muscle there. "Wait a minute...you're not sore from that punch you took the other day . . . oh, that's it, isn't it?"
"You can just drop it, Jay."
The blonde let out a cackle. "She nailed you a good one, didn't she? Miss Abs of Steel actually took a good shot-and from a seventh grader."
Dez stared daggers at her, then turned back to the road. "She's lucky as hell that I didn't bust her ribs when I flipped her to the floor."
Now Jaylynn was laughing to herself. Between giggles, she said, "I didn't realize she would pack such a good punch."
"Maybe it wouldn't have been so bad if she hadn't thumped me in exactly the same place where another bony little fist had just been. Now I have quite the bruise. Hurts more now than it did then. "
"Poor baby. I'll take good care of you tonight." She reached over and poked Dez in the right side. "I'll only tickle you on the sides-not in your middle."
Dez gave her a warning glance. "You touch my abs and you'll live to regret it."
The blonde went off into peals of laughter, and even Dez had to fight back a smile. She hated to admit it but this was one little squirt who totally had her number. She could be as tough, as threatening, as mean in tone and mood as she could muster up, and Jaylynn had a way of just worming her way around it and right up next to her heart-literally and figuratively. Nobody else had ever done that, not her mother, not her brother. Even Ryan had known to give her lots of space when she radiated this kind of surliness. Not so with Jaylynn. And she'd be damned if she could explain how the grinning blonde did it.
She let out a sigh and glanced to her right. The rookie had stopped chuckling and leaned against the passenger door, her face relaxed with a slight smile.
They pulled up to The Cutting Board, Dez's favorite place for deli sandwiches, barbecue, fried chicken, and pulled pork sandwiches. She put the car into park and was reaching for the key in the ignition when Dispatch came over the radio to send them to a call, an assault in progress.
Jaylynn gave her a tortured look, then responded. "Two-Five Boston, responding. ETA three minutes."
The dark-haired cop hit the lights and siren and threw the car into gear. She pulled away from the curb with a squeal of tires. "Geez. We shoulda called in our break quicker."
"We're a little short tonight, though. It's just as well."
"The address, Jay-isn't it for that frat house up by Hamline U?"
"I'm not sure...want me to check with Dispatch?"
"Nah. I'm pretty sure it is." She navigated around vehicles on Rice Street and passed the State Capitol. Traffic was picking up now that it was half past four. She hated drivers on four lane streets. Instead of everyone pulling to the right when they heard and saw an emergency vehicle, the left lane usually inched left and the right lane inched right, forcing her to barrel down the middle in the right lane. She never knew whether some idiot on the left was suddenly going to decide to slide over to the right curb. There'd been plenty enough fender benders in department cars in situations like that, though she had been lucky not to have it happen-yet. She'd come close though.
She turned on University and headed for the cross street, turned there, and sped down the avenue, arriving at the front of the rambling two-story house in less than the three minutes Jaylynn had estimated. Dez left the lights running, hoping that would discourage any early trick-or-treaters from visiting the house. They were both out of the car, up the walk, and on the porch in seconds.
"It's all yours," Dez said.
Jaylynn beat on the door. "Open up. Police."
The door was thrown wide, but the person who opened it disappeared, calling out in a high voice, "Come in and help me!"
Jaylynn grabbed the screen door handle and pulled it open. Both cops peered into the darkened front room. A slim woman knelt next to a figure lying on the floor in front of a brick fireplace. To their left, on a sofa along the front wall, a beefy-looking man with long blond hair sat, panting, his eyes wide with fear. His lip was split, half his face blotchy and red, and there was blood coming from a cut above his eye.
The kneeling woman looked back over her shoulder. "Help him!"
They entered the house. Dez moved toward the young man on the couch. The rookie strode swiftly to the young woman who was holding a terry-cloth towel to the back of the man's head. His eyes were closed and he muttered something she couldn't understand.
Jaylynn hit her shoulder mike and requested paramedics.
The woman shook her head and scowled up at the blonde-haired officer. "Forget that. I already called 911. I can't get this bleeding to stop. Help me."
"You're doing a good job, ma'am. Just hold the compress steady." She went down on one knee on the other side of the man, slipping on a pair of latex gloves. "It looks like more blood than it is. Just keep pressure on it. Help is on the way-you can hear the sirens coming. What's your name?"
Jaylynn took a pad of paper and a pen out of her pocket. All three people looked like college students, perhaps even underclassmen. The dark haired man on the floor shuddered. His eyelids fluttered open, and he groaned. His tan polo shirt was stained with blood, and there were dark, sticky patches on the brick of the fireplace.
Jaylynn rose and grabbed an afghan from a chair to the right of the fireplace and spread it over the shaking man. Inspecting the slim woman, she noticed a streak of blood on her cheek. She wasn't sure if it was blood from the man on the floor or if Violet was injured.
"Are you hurt?"
Pleading brown eyes rose to meet hers. "No, I'm fine. It's just Larry I'm worried about."
"Can you tell me what happened here?"
"I came downstairs. These two idiots were fighting, rolling around on the floor. I couldn't get them to stop. When they heard me yelling into the phone, screaming for the police, they broke it off. But Larry here couldn't leave well enough alone. He took one last shot at Daniel, and Daniel pushed him away...next thing I knew there was blood all over."
Jaylynn made notes on her pad. Behind her, she could hear Dez speaking to the man on the couch.
"I-I didn't mean-he was hitting me. I pushed him away and he just-just tripped backwards. If he's dead, it's my fault." His voice broke.
The doorbell rang, and Dez moved over. Jaylynn heard her say, "Sorry kids. Emergency here. Move on to the next house."
The paramedics chose that moment to arrive, pushing into the front room with their orange bags and bulky coats. Jaylynn rose to give them access to the man, then backed away to stand near Dez. Daniel stayed on the couch, his head in his hands. He looked up at them and held his shaking hands out. "You can cuff me," he said.
The dark-haired cop slipped her notebook into her shirt pocket. "That won't be necessary. First, I'd like the paramedics to take a look at you. You may need to go to the hospital, too."
Later, back in the squad car, Jaylynn could only shake her head. "Those young men have been in that frat house together for almost two years. I can't get over how brutal they were to each other."
"And all over a woman."
"I got the impression Violet had broken up with Larry quite some time ago. You'd think he'd be a better sport even though one of his good friends was now dating her. She seemed like a nice enough person."
"People aren't logical, Jay."
"And who knows what's going on with Larry. He could be certifiably insane. We don't know."
Jaylynn could only shake her head and sigh. "Can we grab a bite to eat, partner? I am about to faint from hunger."
"That's just where I was headed."
"I'm going to start packing snacks for when stuff like this happens. I can't take it being hungry at a crime scene."
Dez was surprised that the rookie would even think of food when they got a call. She rarely did. "It's not like I'd want to eat anything at a scene like that."
"No, but I need to do a better job of having regular food. My blood sugar must be at about zero right now. It's not good for me to feel light-headed."
Dez turned back onto the street where The Cutting Board was located. "And all this time I thought the lightheadedness was due to riding with me."
Jaylynn grinned at her as they parked. "That, too. But that's an entirely different type of hunger."
The big cop rolled her eyes and got out of the car, glad that the evening disguised the fact that she was, again, blushing.
Dez and Jaylynn walked down a long hallway, passing nurses and physicians, most of whom were dressed in pale blue or green scrubs. They were making their way toward the Cardiac Care Unit.
In a grouchy voice, Dez said, "How come this place is like a maze? They ought to hand out maps when you arrive."
Jaylynn wanted to reach out and take the tall woman's hand, but she knew Dez would be too self-conscious. Instead she moved closer and jostled her as they walked. "Actually, they do have maps up front. I think we can find our way though." She bumped the bigger woman again.
"You having trouble with your balance?"
Jaylynn grinned up at her and leaned into her again. "Not really. Just wanted to touch you."
Dez gave her the eye, even though she knew it didn't work very well on the rookie. Just then they reached Vanita's room.
"Hey Van," Jaylynn called out.
The gray-haired woman was alone in the room and watching a T.V. soap program, complete with dire-sounding orchestral music in the background. She summoned them in. "Can you believe this crap? Veronica's making the moves on Dirk-and she knows full well that she's three months pregnant by Robert."
Jaylynn moved over to the bed and gave her a gentle hug while Dez hung back. "I sure hope that hussy Veronica isn't causing your blood pressure to rise."
"Oh, no, of course not. Have a seat-go ahead. I finally got them to bring some chairs in-just in time for me to be leaving."
"Today?" Jaylynn asked.
"No such luck-but tomorrow is likely, least that's what they say."
The two women sat, and Dez listened as Jaylynn and Vanita gabbed back and forth about the T.V. program. Dez studied the older woman. Vanita's color had returned, and she didn't look nearly so haggard as she had even a day earlier. Other than an I.V. attached to the top of her hand, Vanita seemed back to normal.
At a break in the conversation, Dez asked about Luella.
"She's taking me home tomorrow."
"Hey, that's great," Jaylynn said. "Your place or hers?"
"I think mine, for the time being."
Dez said, "Do you two need a lift then?"
"My granddaughter, Ardella, is coming with her mini-van, so we should be fine. Thanks for asking. Hopefully she'll leave all the little ones behind. When Micah and Marcus were here yesterday, they crawled under the bed and unplugged everything. Thank the Lord that I wasn't on some sort of life support! Three-year-olds are just too much."
Jaylynn rose and patted Vanita on the arm. "We'll do grocery runs for you then. You'll let us know if-when-you need things, right?"
"Oh yes. Thanks so much, Jay, honey. And when I'm feeling better, we need to have a big party and invite all those young folks back. I still can't get over the fact that those sweet young men gave me mouth-to-mouth, and I wasn't even awake to enjoy it."
Jaylynn cracked up. Through her laughter, she said, "I hate to break the bad news, Van, but they used a plastic mask to do the CPR."
Vanita shrugged. "Still . . . you know, it was really something what they did."
Dez stood and Vanita craned her neck up to look at her. "All right then, you two've got better things to do than being up under a recuperating old lady. Go on now. Do some dancing or something fun. Life's short. You should enjoy yourselves as much as you can. Won't be long and you'll be old and decrepit like me." She smiled and shook her head. "Go live it up, girls."
She gave them each a goodbye hug and returned to her T.V. program.
Retracing their steps out to the parking lot, Jaylynn said, "You know what? She's right. We should go dancing."
"Yeah? Why's that?"
They reached the truck and Jaylynn crawled up into it. "Life is short. Anything can happen. We ought to do some fun things, in honor of Vanita. We haven't been out for a long time. Let's grab Crystal and Shayna and go have some fun after shift on Saturday night."
Dez started up the truck and backed out. She didn't mind dancing, but she hated the crowds. And the smoke and noise. But Jaylynn enjoyed it, so she agreed.
The tall, dark haired woman gazed around the nightclub, wrinkling up her nose at the smell of cigarettes. She stood with her arm across the shoulders of the shorter, blonde haired woman who was currently gazing up at her with a smirk on her face.
"Dez," the blonde said. "Are we ever going to dance?"
"I've been waiting for a decent song, Jay." As she spoke, one song ended and the next began. The DJ had been playing fast dance songs, one right after another, and occasionally he threw in a slower tune. They moved out onto the dance floor, warming up to an old Blondie song, "Call Me." And then he spun a quiet one, "Angel" by Sarah McLachlan.
Dez smiled. She leaned in and said, "This is the kind of song I was waiting for." Jaylynn moved close to her, and they gracefully fell into step with one another. While other couples tended to shift back and forth from one foot to the other, the two cops quickly glided into an intricate pattern.
In her partner's ear, Dez said, "I'm only letting you lead because you seem to be enjoying it so much."
Jaylynn tipped her head back and looked up into twinkling blue eyes. "Can't take a little direction, huh?"
"I can always take a little-not much-but a little. Be careful though, I could dip ya any time now."
"Ha!" The blonde let out a guffaw. She snuggled closer and continued giggling. After a moment she looked up again. "You really are a good dancer, Miss Fred Astaire. How'd you learn?"
Even in the dim light Jaylynn could see Dez blush. The taller woman said, "Well, Miss Ginger Rogers, I cursed my mother for it, but she made me take dance lessons in eighth and ninth grade."
"Why Desiree, you went to charm school?"
In a grumbling voice, Dez answered, "Something like that. I hated it. Had to learn to waltz, foxtrot, swing, square dance, polka-like I was ever gonna use any of it!"
"What a wise mother you had. She must have known the day would arrive where those skills would come in handy dancing in a nice lesbian bar. You're quite impressive, you know."
"You're not so bad yourself," Dez said grudgingly. "How'd you learn?"
"I loved dancing and took a few classes in high school and college." The last strains of Sarah McLachlan trailed off, and the DJ faded in a Gloria Estefan song with a medium beat. "Hmm," the blond said as they changed the tempo of their movements, "did you ever learn the mambo?"
"You know something like-like the cha-cha?"
Dez grinned. "Yeah. Why?"
"Think you can still do it?"
"Who's leading?" the big woman said mock seriously.
Now it was Jaylynn's turn to laugh. "We could both lead-but hey, really, that won't work. Go ahead-you lead."
"No," Dez said, with a sigh. "You probably remember the moves better than me."
"Okay, and I'll try not to step on your size 10's."
Dez scowled at her, then couldn't help but smile. "Yeah, all right. Let's do it."
The smaller woman expected there to be some knee-knocking-or at least awkwardness-so she was thoroughly surprised when they slipped into the syncopated rhythm without hesitation or problems. She found herself grinning, then bubbling over with jubilation. Who would have ever thought that dancing with the tight-lipped tall woman could be so much fun? Who on the force would even believe it? She eyed her companion, loving how she moved with an effortless fluidity, her long limbs coordinated and graceful. It made Jaylynn want to wrap her arms around Dez in a tight embrace and just squeeze.
The song ended and the head-banging beat from a hard rock song took its place. With just the slightest of glances, they simultaneously turned and headed off the dance floor with Jaylynn holding Dez's hand tightly. They stood in the throng at the bar counter, waiting to order a drink, and the blonde said, "That was a blast-totally exciting." She looked up at the dark haired woman, eyes shining, and said, "Ever notice how the best words all start with E? Exciting, elation, exhilaration. What great words!"
"Yeah? What about errors? Evil?" She frowned. "And embarrassment . . . or wait a minute, how 'bout executions?"
"Oh, Dez," Jaylynn said, a quirky grin passing over her lips. "What about electricity?" She moved closer. "How about elegance?" She reached her hand out and caught the bigger woman about the waist, pulling her until the two women were pressed together at the hips. She arched her back and leaned her upper body away, smiling up at the blue eyes above her. "What about energy ...or emotion?" Jaylynn reached up and cupped the bigger woman's face in her hands, confident that the strong arms wrapped around her would not let go. "Entertainment. Enthusiasm. Or hey-how about enjoyment?"
Dez leaned down and in a husky voice said, "Erotic embrace. Two for the price of one."
"Now you're in the spirit." The blonde thought a moment as she gazed up into intense dark blue eyes. "How about enraptured. Or even better, enthralled?"
"What about everlasting?" The low whisper came from lips right at her ear. A shiver ran through the shorter woman, and suddenly her heart pounded and her legs went weak. She tucked her head under Dez's chin and let her arms slip down around the brunette's broad back, then to her waist. She could hear the thundering heartbeat under her ear, which caused her to feel even weaker and more breathless.
Crystal's voice fluttered in. "You two gonna stand there all night?"
Jaylynn lifted her head but didn't let go of Dez. She angled her face to the side until she caught sight of the laughing Latina. Crystal reached over and socked Dez in the arm lightly. "Hey chica," she belted out over the loud music. "If I'd known you could dance my kinda dance, I'da had you to one of our family parties a long time ago."
Over the music, Dez said, "I've never seen you do the cha-cha."
"Not here, but with mi familia it's a different story."
In a loud voice, Dez said, "I can't imagine su familia enjoying the sight of you and me dancing."
Crystal frowned. "Well, guess you got me there. But there are a lot of men in my family who'd kill to dance with you."
Dez tightened her grip on Jaylynn in front of her. Looking down her shoulder at her friend she said, "My dance card is now full." This caused Crystal to go off into guffaws of laughter.
Shayna came up behind Crystal, shaking her head. From behind, she wrapped her brown arms around her partner's middle and rested her chin on her shorter partner's shoulder. "Is she bothering you two lovebirds?"
Dez pursed her lips to keep from smiling, but before she could say anything, Jaylynn piped up and said, "I think I'd pay money to see the two of you dancing at one of Crystal's family soirees. In fact, I'd pay to see the two of you dance now." She grinned up at Dez, then shared a conspiratorial look with Shayna.
Both Jaylynn and Shayna let go of their partners. Hands on hips, the two women looked back and forth between Dez and Crystal, who were both blushing and looking everywhere but at each other. The two instigators burst into hysterical laughter and fell all over each other, gasping for air as they cackled, out of control.
Dez and Crystal exchanged sympathetic looks with one another, then Crystal jerked a thumb toward the dance floor. "You 'n' me, kid," she hollered over the dance track. Without a look back, the two tough cops stomped out to the floor and into the squirming mass of bodies, leaving Shayna and Jaylynn startled.
Shayna draped an arm over the blond's shoulder and said, "Oooh, guess we hit a nerve on our girls."
Jaylynn smiled up at her. "Doesn't take much. You could only imagine what it would be like playing 'Truth or Dare' with either of them!"
They both laughed, then Shayna said, "Let's go rescue them from each other. I can see the top of Dez's head, and they don't seem to be moving much, so they're probably standing out there plotting against us." She ushered Jaylynn out to the floor, where they found the two women shifting back and forth from foot to foot as they stood close enough to hear one another. Jaylynn was fairly certain that they had to be discussing work, a thought that was verified when she heard Crystal say something about misdemeanor arrests. She sighed. Just once she'd like to forget about police work for a while.
Outside the Club Metro Bar, as his FTO watched, Rookie Officer Dwayne Nielsen handcuffed a drunken young man and supported him as he half-dragged, half-pushed him toward the squad car. "Come on!" the officer muttered. "It's bad enough that you're drunk as a skunk, but for chrissake! You pissed in someone else's car. Jesus, what an idiot you are. It's off to Detox for you, asshole."
Nielsen put a big hand on the top of the man's head to guide him down and into the squad car, then lifted the drunk's leg and shoved him into the rear seat. He slammed the door and turned to his FTO, Officer Alvarez. "Art, I gotta take a piss myself. I'll be right back."
Alvarez nodded and opened the driver's door as Nielsen strode quickly toward the club. The young cop took the stairs down two at a time and slipped through the open door as another man opened it to leave. The bar ran the length of the far wall, across from the entrance. The left half of the room contained tables and chairs while the right section was a dance floor, currently full of writhing bodies moving to the thump of the canned music.
Nielsen wasn't familiar with the layout of the bar-and, in fact, had never been in it-so he stood in the dimly lit room, letting his eyes adjust as he scanned for a restroom sign. To his right, he saw two men kissing passionately. His head whipped around, and he inspected the groups of people, men with men, women with women. Geez, this is a goddamn gay bar. Great. Hope it's safe to pee here with this bunch of perverts! His eyes skimmed along the crowd in front of the bar, then he did a double take, back to a figure a head taller than the gang surrounding her. A familiar woman stood facing the entrance, her lips turned up in a happy, smug half-smile that Nielsen had never seen before. Reilly! he thought. Dez Reilly. For Christ sake, I knew it. I just knew it!
Dez Reilly's arms were locked around a smaller, laughing figure topped with short white-blonde hair. The shorter person leaned away, but the dark haired woman tightened her grip, leaning down and whispering something that caused the two to suddenly stand still. Then the blonde wrapped her arms around the tall woman's middle and pressed the side of her cheek against Dez's chest.
Holy shit! Nielsen grinned with delight. It's Savage. For chrissake, it's Savage! This is going to be sweet. Sweet revenge.
The tall woman's head came up, and Nielsen could swear she caught sight of him. He stepped to the side, behind two men who had just entered the club, and breathed a sigh of relief when the dark haired cop's eyes swept past him. He skulked over to the side, ducking behind happy patrons and angling toward the men's room, but not before catching sight of Crystal Lopez, another cop who just so happened to have some woman Nielsen had never seen hanging over her shoulder.
Got 'em dead to rights, he thought gleefully. I'll teach those bitches a lesson this time.
On to part 4
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