Driller had no idea of the far-reaching consequences of that night… he was assured that things would be investigated and that everything was straightforward. At the time, he thought that it would be over in the blink of an eye, even as his ears still rung with the thunderous report of the gunfire he’d exchanged with the suspect.
Of course, that wasn’t how these things went. Not when they reached the court of public opinion… which landed him in a very real courtroom in the fight of his life.
Teresia didn’t want to be here, let alone on such a high-profile case, but ‘responsibility’ was her middle name and she took that responsibility very seriously. Who knew that voting for what was right to the letter of the law would see the system fail her so spectacularly?
The danger was supposed to be over, but it’s only just beginning – the unlikeliest way for a love story to begin, that is if everyone can survive.
I didn’t much feel like celebrating.
Was I relieved? Fuck yes, but nothing about this warranted a celebration.
Still, the guys and their women wanted me at the 10-13 and I didn’t want to dampen their moods or whatever. What I did want was out of this fuckin’ monkey suit and onto the back of my bike. So I took my ass home with Narcos and Everleigh.
Once inside the door, my longtime partner and brother from another mother turned to look at me. I was tugging on my tie, trying to get the stranglehold it had me in loosened up, but somehow, even though the tie got looser, my throat got tighter with the look Narcos was giving me.
He stood staunch and silent, and just opened up his arms. I hugged him tight, pounding him on the back even as he rattled my fuckin’ ribcage with the blows he landed on mine.
“Fuck, I was scared shitless, bro. Not gonna lie.”
“You were scared?” Everleigh’s voice was soft but thick with tears from nearby us. I sidestepped just enough and opened up one side between me and Narcos for her to burrow in and make three sides to our little triangle.
It was the best I was going to get for now, but I needed her softness right now.
Her lithe, lush body fitted to my side and her slim arms went around my waist. She tucked her head against my shoulder. I looked to Narcos, who smiled wryly and said, “I think you two might need a little while alone. I’m going to go grab a shower and a change of clothes. I expect if you’re still going, I’ll join you.”
“Right on,” I muttered, transfixed by Everleigh’s green eyes framed by all of her wild auburn hair.
She stood on her toes and put her lips against mine and I obliged her, devouring her mouth like a starving man. It hit me then, how I’d been so close, this close, to never tasting another woman again. How if things had swung the other direction, I’d be in an orange fuckin’ jumpsuit and headed to Oz’s jail in chains right now. Awaiting processing… then prison… fuck.
Everleigh jerked back as my breath hitched and she looked around to make sure that Narcos was out of sight.
She nodded at me and whispered, “It’s okay. You’re home now. You’re safe now.” She wrapped her arms around me. I buried my face in her hair and breathed her herbal, flowery scent in, and I mean my breath heaved as the panic swept through me and I tried like hell not to fall apart.
“It’s okay,” she soothed, her hands smoothing over my back. “You’re home now, with us. Everything is okay.”
It wasn’t, though, at least, not really.
The illusion was pretty much shattered for all of us. Any of the boys in blue really, but especially me…
We were on our own out there. The brass didn’t have our backs, and it was one split second, barely any time at all, that things could, and would, turn on a fucking dime and we’d be taking a perp walk of shame like I had. That all of this, everything I’d built with these two, could be ripped away. I had been so close, so fucking close to losing it all, to losing any chance I had of finding a pretty princess of my own.
“Ms. Ehrling, I’m Detective Stahl. I’m your protective detail,” he said, and he sounded… bored.
“You’re my what?” I asked, as it took a moment or three to register just exactly what that meant. But to be fair, I’d just been through a lot.
“I said I’m your protective detail,” he echoed. “And while I’m at it, I might as well get your statement if someone hasn’t done it already.”
“I’m sorry?” I stammered, the enormity of what he was saying crashing into me.
“Your statement,” he said, pulling out a notepad and a pen from the back pocket of his jeans.
“You don’t know what happened to me?” I asked, stalling for a little time to get my scrambled brains around things.
“I have other patients,” the doctor, who had been arguing with me that I needed to stay put, said. He buried his hands deep into the pockets of his white coat and looked from me to Detective Stahl, to me, and back to Stahl before taking a step back from my bedside, going around Stahl and batting the curtain aside to go out onto the rest of the floor to do whatever.
That left Stahl and me to just stare at each other.
“There wasn’t time to get the full story from my captain. It was kind of imperative that I just get here. I was informed they were treating you for smoke inhalation and that was about it.” He put a hand down on a stool and wheeled it up to the side of the bed and took a seat. “The city is in chaos. Shit’s gone crazy out there. The force is a little disorganized as a result. Some apologies for that – now, has anybody taken your statement?” he asked.
“No,” I said, and I felt as though I spoke into a vacuum. Like the word should somehow echo in the ringing silence that hung between us.
He clicked the button on the back of his pen and let the nib hover over the page in his black leather-wrapped notepad.
“What can you tell me?” he asked. “Take it from the top.”
“This is all your fault,” I whispered, horrified, and I could swear something flashed in his eyes.
“What happened, Ms. Ehrling?” he asked me, and his tone was… I don’t know… cold somehow.
“I want somebody else,” I said, and he shook his head.
“We don’t get to choose,” he said. “Like it or not, it’s me or nothing and nothing isn’t an option given that you’re here right now,” he said, glancing around the hospital bay. “You don’t have to like it, but I’m your huckleberry.”
I was angry, and he was… he was a convenient target for my helpless rage at the situation. I sniffed, eyes brimming with tears I was just so overwhelmed with emotion, chief among them fear and anger but as much as I wanted to scream at Detective Sam Stahl to get out, get out, get out!
“Uh, we were finishing up the day’s baking. I went up front to…” my voice shook and I sniffed. “I went up front to fill the case with some stuff from the back.”
“Okay, then what happened?” he asked, scribbling in his notebook.
“The glass on of the door of my bakery shattered and a person – I couldn’t tell you if it was a man or a woman – came through with a big bottle, rag sticking out and on fire. They threw it at me.”
“Shit.” He looked up at me. “You, okay?”
I stared back at him. I mean, did he really just ask me that? Sitting in the hospital, my gran… my mom…? Fresh anger welled up, and I bit the inside of my cheek.
“Do I look okay?” I demanded, the rest of the story pouring out of me in a biting, angry tirade. He stared at me the entire time as I railed at him and finally, growing angrier by his stoicism, I snapped, “…and it’s all your damn fault!”
He cocked his head and didn’t say anything despite the flinching around his eyes at the jab.
“You’re upset. Emotional – and with good reason!” His voice rose, cutting off my protest. “I get why, believe me, and no matter what you think about me – I’m here to do my job and to help, Ms. Ehrling. So, after you put out the undetonated Molotov, what happened next?”
Undetonated Molotov… I shuddered at the thought. I hadn’t really looked at it with that particular perspective. You know? I mean, I’d literally just survived an attempt at burning me to death, by people throwing Molotov cocktails at me through my business windows, all because I legally couldn’t convict the man sitting in front of me.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” I uttered as the sweat prickled my forehead and that funny metallic taste flooded my mouth – the precursor and first warning sign that my stomach was about to rebel.
He snatched an emesis bag from the holder on the wall; you know the ones, blue with a blue plastic ring to hold it open, and I threw up into it. He calmly pressed the button on the side of my gurney to call a nurse and tried to comfort me, putting a hand on the back of my shoulder. I jerked it forward out of his grasp violently as I heaved again into the bag.
There wasn’t much to come up, and I absolutely hated how my eyes watered.
I didn’t want him to think I was crying.
“Just take it easy,” he said. “Take your time.”
I rolled my eyes, unsure that he could see them as my stomach clenched again.
The nurse came, and she called for the doctor and tried to soothe me and clean me up where I missed, kicking the detective out of the bay and kindly telling me that enough was enough. She was going to see about the doctor giving me something to calm my nerves.
They put it through my IV that they’d given me fluids to ward off shock when I’d arrived. I’d been wholly resistant to taking anything mind altering up to this point, but I had to admit defeat. I absolutely abhorred throwing up. It was the actual worst, and I didn’t want to do it again.
I was given a fresh gown, the nurse spotting me as I changed into it, and the blankets were whisked away and fresh ones brought from the warmer.
I was calmer, the Ativan or whatever they’d pushed through the IV taking effect and smoothing things out. I would have been unhappy about it but good ol’ benzodiazepines, they were a great chemical lobotomy when the occasion called for it.
I tried not to think about my father or my brother right now. I didn’t need my misery compounded any more than it was by the family crazy.
They let Detective Stahl back in and he retook his seat, asking, “Better?”
I managed a scowl at him and he gave a nod.
“We can continue this later,” he said, closing his notebook, and I laid my head back and closed my eyes.
“Everything you could possibly want or need to know about it is probably on your 9-1-1 recording anyway. Go check with your dispatch or whatever,” I said coldly. I got the sense by the rustling sound of his clothing that he leaned back some or nodded.
“I’ll do that,” he said. Then he said at the soft tread of the nurse’s sneaker on the linoleum, “About when do you think she’ll be getting out of here?”
“Not until I see my mother and my grandmother,” I said as sternly as I could manage.
“Where are they?” he asked, before the nurse had a chance to speak.
She sighed out and said, “They’re being admitted, fourth floor. They’ll be sharing a room. Just overnight for observation.”
“She being admitted too?” he asked.
“I don’t know. I’ll check with the doctor.” I opened my eyes to the nurse fiddling with buttons on the IV stand.
“I won’t be admitted,” I said. “I’m going home.”
“We’ll see what the doctor says,” she said kindly, and I raised an eyebrow.
“Doesn’t matter what he says,” I said. “I’m not a danger to myself or others and you have no reason to put me on a seventy-two-hour hold. There’s nothing physically wrong with me, and I want to go home.”
“Okay.” The nurse gave a nod. “I’ll let him know.”
“Thank you,” I said.
She left, and it was just me and the detective after that.
Text Copyright © 2022 A.J. Downey
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
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