Thursday, September 1, 2011

Light Duty - a short story


“Wyatt light it up, she’s just went into respiratory arrest.”

“You got it, Nick.” Wyatt Pickering flipped on the lights and siren. He updated their transport status with the San Varlin fire dispatcher.

Not too far away, a truck driver on the tail end of a haul from Dallas to Sacramento had cut his mandatory rest time down to shorten his drive time. Russell Greer had his radio turned up as loud as the dial would allow. It was too cold to have the windows rolled down.

The truck driver was tired, his eyes blinking rapidly as he struggled to stay awake. His head started nodding. He pulled off the freeway in to San Varlin, hoping to find a truck stop or a coffee shop. He ran the stop light coming off the freeway, narrowly missing two cars. The truck kept going weaving between the east and west bound lanes. Coming to a major intersection, the driver didn’t hear or see the San Varlin Fire Dept. ambulance, nor did he see the stop light showing red for his direction. Russell’s eyes opened too late to stop, but he made the effort just the same, slamming his feet on the brakes.

Nicholas Owain braced against the gurney with his steel-protected work shoes as he worked on the patient. He was reaching for a suction tube when the accident happened.

“Fuck! Brace yourself Nick!” was the only warning Wyatt was able to give before the semi hit them on the passenger side of the ambulance.

Chapter One

San Varlin’s Communications Center handled police, fire, and EMS for the city, with roughly 250 officers, 10 fire stations, and 40 Public Safety Dispatchers. On this particular night, Dispatch Supervisor Chris Glenville filled in the shift assignment board. Writing in the last name, he let out a sigh.”One comes back and one goes off.” Chris was pleased Rosalyn McDonald was due back tonight from her four-week vacation; too bad Kacie Girshney was going out on a four month family leave to have her baby at the same time. The only saving grace was the light duty firefighter-paramedic, Nick Owain starting the shift that very night. Nick had just completed a modified training program on call-taking and fire dispatching. Both the Police and Fire Chiefs agreed the staffing holes in dispatch would best be filled by light-duty field personnel. Jacqueline Bromquest, the Communications Center Manager, only agreed to the plan provided the field personnel learned two phases of the job.

Nightshift personnel began to filter in, taking seats in the briefing room. Except for the Supervisor Chris, and the firefighter sitting in a chair close by, the dispatchers were dressed in similar uniforms: dark blue work pants, light blue uniform shirts with a Communications patch over the left shoulder, a silver name tag over the right pocket, a silver badge with their shield number over their left pocket, black belts, and black shoes. Chris wore a white shirt instead of a blue to designate his supervisor status. Nick wore his firefighter uniform.

Chris watched the perennial screw-up rush through the door, five minutes late. Jean Crenshaw started to give her latest excuse until he shook his head. The woman tossed her two bags on the floor by the nearest empty seat, trying to smooth out her rumpled uniform shirt. That woman could live in a mobile home in the squad car parking lot and still be late! Chris thought to himself.

“Now that we’re all present, let’s welcome Rosalyn back from her vacation.”

A muffled chorus of half-hearted ‘hi’s’ and ‘great to have you back’ responded to Chris’s comment. “That’s nice, folks…As we spoke about the last couple of shifts, Firefighter/Paramedic Nick Owain starts with us tonight. For the benefit of Rosalyn, who hasn’t been here, Nicholas will work the fire radio, and he will back up phones only if he doesn’t have units out on calls. I expect all of you to help him out if you see that he needs it, or if he asks. The rotation is up on the board. Patrol reports a series of car thefts in the south end. They’ll be focusing an extra unit in the area tonight.”

“D’Arcy, hold on a moment.”

An African-American woman with long extensions and a good-natured expression stopped and turned around. “Chris?”

“Would you go through the nightshift routine with Nick? I’ve scheduled you to break him out: you two can decide amongst yourselves on the times.”

D’Arcy set Nick up at the fire radio, which was positioned next to the police radio. The warrants channel was set farther off down the room. A dividing wall ran across the dispatch center to separate the call-taking positions from the radio ones. The Supervisor position was at the end of the call-taking room, on a raised platform so he/she could keep an eye on the activity if necessary. D’Arcy ran through the nightshift routine, including breaks. Before she left, she made sure he knew how to select and listen to the main police channel, to follow the activity should he wish to do so.

Nick set his crutches aside, taking a seat. He found a comfortable position for his broken left leg. He checked the status on the Computer-Aided-Dispatch (CAD) screen after he logged in. It was clear with no calls in progress, and no units out on the air. Good, I can set up my cheat cards before I get in over my head. He dug in his backpack, pulling out his notes. Once Nick was ready to go, he wasn’t sure what to do next.

Nick turned the unselected audio up just a bit, to hear what the cops were doing. The radio traffic was non-stop. Rosalyn McDonald was answering them and firing back with information & directions without missing a beat. Her fingers flew over the keyboard. Nick was amazed; he could barely keep up with what was going on over the radio just by listening. He stared at her as he listened. She turned to him and said something, and then went back to looking at her screen.

A beep on his computer terminal alerted him to a call flashing. An assault victim needed an ambulance at Market and MacNeil: the scene was secure.

D’Arcy peeped around the door, watching to see if Nick acknowledged and dealt with the pending medical call. Pleased that he was on top of the action, she went back and sat down as Nick followed his notes to a ‘T’. He toned the paramedic and engine at the stations, providing the basic information over the phone. Nick’s hand shook a bit, as he dispatched the units over the radio. The first call of the night, and it had to be his station. Nick smiled, he could do this!

When the ambulance pulled back into quarters, the phone line to fire dispatch rang. Wyatt Pickering was on the other end, Nick’s regular partner.

“Hey man, how ‘ya doing? I heard they were going to stick you in dispatch, you poor bastard. We’re passing a sympathy card around the shifts for you. We looked at sending one of those big flower wreaths, but you wouldn’t believe how much they cost!”

“Wyatt, tell the crew I appreciate the thought. It’s not so bad here. I have Saturday and Sunday off, and I’m on nights, but it’s only until my bones heal and I get cleared by the Physical Therapist. I’ll be back where I belong in a couple of months. Meanwhile, don’t screw up my rig, and tell Diego to leave my shit alone. My CD’s had better be there when I get back!”

Laughter on the background let Nick know Diego Fernandez had heard his comments. “Don’t worry you just try to stay sane up there in the nuthouse. Before I hit the sack, you are coming to breakfast on Saturday morning, right?”

“I wouldn’t miss it buddy. Goodnight!”

“It will be if you let us sleep through it…”

Rosalyn tried to ignore the latest short-timer sitting at the fire console. Why bother learning his name, when he’d be gone in a few months? At least he paid attention to CAD, getting right on the call she sent him. He spoke in a quiet voice to his fire fighter buddies on the phone. Rosalyn could only imagine what was being said on the other side of the conversation.

When her relief, Ian walked in, she quickly briefed him on the activity. Picking up her backpack, she unplugged and signed out, allowing Ian to quickly sign in. The entire process took less than a minute.

Before Rosalyn took over a call taking console, she went back to the break room. Tossing a Tupperware container in the microwave, she pulled out book. Hardly missing a beat, she marked her place her in book as she stood up to stretch before going over to pull out her dinner. Rosalyn didn’t hear the door open, nor did she turn as Nick hopped in on his crutches.

He glanced down at the paperback she had set down. Parzival? Not the usual trashy romance novel I’ve seen most of the others read.

“Do you want to read the book when I’m done?”

“Excuse me?”

Rosalyn taped her left foot with irritation. “I asked you if you wanted to read the book when I was done. It seemed appropriate since I saw you engrossed in it. Or, was I just mistaken?”

Nick was embarrassed. He tried to backpedal, “I wasn’t prying. I halted by the table, not wanting to crowd you. I’ve actually read the book already, and enjoyed it in case you’re curious. If you enjoy the story, try Ivanhoe. He pulled out a chair. “Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude, but my leg’s hurting. I need to eat before I take my meds.”

He set a lunch bag on the table. Not wanting to be any trouble, Nick pulled out his lunch, and a book of his own.

Rosalyn returned with her own meal. She finished eating, put her book away, and wiped up the table. Before she left the room, she sized up Nick. “Don’t forget there is a flipchart of guides to answering calls and dispatching fire and police units at every console…just in case Cora didn’t go over that with you.”

“Thanks, she did but I was bombarded with so much information, I must have forgotten that.”

“Yeah, they throw a lot at you in training. It’s a lot of information in a short amount of time, and your training was a fraction of what we need to know.” She turned and walked out.

Nick didn’t know what to say. Was she being sarcastic or sympathetic?

At the end of the night, Nick felt wiped out mentally. Who knew answering the phones and talking to folks on the radio was so demanding? By the time Nick pulled in to his driveway, all he wanted to do was change clothes, take his meds, and go to bed. He gulped down a cold glass of milk, ate a banana, and swallowed his pills. Dragging his tired body to the bathroom, he brushed his teeth. The circles under his eyes gave away the exhaustion. Making it to bed, he disrobed, not bothering with any pajamas. He winced as he carefully lay down. His ribs were still sore, the breaks to the bones almost healed; nonetheless, he took a bit to get comfortable.

“Fuck this hurts! I hope they throw the book at that truck driver. Asshole needs to get locked up. I guess I should be thankful I came out of the accident with nothing more serious than a concussion, a couple of broken ribs, and a badly broken leg. The patient died. Wyatt had his seatbelt on - he came out of it with only a couple of cuts and bruises. Dammit, I want my life back! I don’t want to be a dispatcher…”

Using the remote, he turned on his TV to a movie channel and set the timer. Reclining back, he let his mind wander. Except for Chris, Ian, and Brian, the dispatchers were all female. Cora told him the majority of the women were married, or in serious relationships but she warned him about the harassment factor from the “girls” as she called them. “That’s all I need,” he told her, “I’m not here to find a girlfriend or wife. I just want to put in my time until I’m healed and cleared back to my station. I don’t want to cause any trouble.”

According to Cora, the only two single women on nights were Jean and Rosalyn. Jean was a train wreck, chronically late, guaranteed to call in sick at least once a week, and an average dispatcher at best. Rosalyn, on the other hand, made him curious. Cora spoke highly of Rosalyn, as both a co-worker and of a trainer. “She trained me on the police radio, and you can ask any of the officers: they’d prefer her over just about any of our dispatchers. I bet once you hear her voice, you’ll recognize her, too.”

Rosalyn appealed to him with her dark blonde hair and her deep brown eyes. He couldn’t tell what she weighed, due to the standard uniform. She can’t be more than 130, tops, and I’d swear she can’t be taller than 5’3. She did her best to blend in to the background, but when she was on the radio, she came alive. I wonder what she would look like with civilian clothes on? Rosalyn didn’t talk much. Cora mentioned that Rosalyn used to work in the field, but not what she did or why she transferred to Dispatch. Rosalyn invaded his mind as he drifted off to sleep and dominated his dreams.

Chapter Two

By the end of her first week back, Rosalyn was eager to start on her weekend. The rookie cops had been extra active, reminding her of a pack of hound dogs let loose at a cat show. Those officers ran after anything that moved. Thankful the policemen on duty on her Friday were veterans on the cusp of their weekend; Rosalyn knew none of them would be too anxious to stir up too much trouble. She usually started the police desk first half, and then transferred over to fire for the second half of the shift. Tonight Rosalyn was starting the police radio, D’Arcy worked Warrants, Mary on phones, and Chris covering breaks and phones.

“Five is not enough on a Friday, but last minute call-offs have put us in a bind. I’ve already advised Patrol to try and give us a break if they can.” Chris told them at briefing.

Rosalyn was in her zone, working the channel. Nick was busy, not unusual for a Friday night. He was doing okay, keeping up without any problems. She watched him out of the corner of her eye. The other dispatchers were volunteering to work the police channel on the nights he was on duty. It was pathetic how they drooled over him and flirted shamelessly. Rosalyn wouldn’t admit to them how good-looking he was, since it seemed to be a prerequisite to be a firefighter at San Varlin. He had thick brown hair that curled at the ends, dark lashes that a model would die to have, hazel eyes, and full kissable lips. His body was tight, no fat to be seen. When he smiled or laughed, he lit up the room. All the girls whispered about him. I wouldn’t mind a session with Nick in bed – even more reason I need to keep my distance from him. I can’t be the stereotypical dispatcher chasing after a yummy fireman.

At 0230 hours, just after the bars had closed, the quiet exploded. “8A16, in pursuit of a green Ford truck, no plates, involved in a hit & run JP,” the officer’s voice was a notch higher than normal. “We’re northbound MacKay from Todd St, 50 mph.”

Rosalyn punched the marker button as she acknowledged and took action, entering the call into CAD. “Copy, 8A16 pursuit, NB MacKay from Todd, green Ford Truck, code 33; 8B14, 8B10 respond on pursuit, 8M4, 8M2 to accident scene, 8S1, 6L1 copy?”

“8A16 now McKay crossing Grover.”

“8B14 Control, I’m with 8A16 calling it.”

“8B14 with 8A16 NB McKay past Grover.”

“8S1 responding”

“8S1 10-4”

“L6 responding.”

“8B14 NB McKay crossing Basin, no now WB Basin crossing Dozer.”

“10-4 WB Basin crossing Dozer, 8C22 respond SB approach from Goldline with caution.”

“8C22 10-4.”

“8B14 Shots fired! Shots fired! Suspect on passenger side gray hoodie, silver handgun.”

“10-4 all units 10-0 suspect passenger gray hoodie silver handgun shots fired.”

“8A4 responding.”

“8B10 10-97 behind 8B14.”

“8A6 responding.”

“8S2 10-97.”

“8C24 responding”

“Code 33, units clear air for units on pursuit, only advise when 10-97.”

Nick turned up the volume slightly to try and follow the activity. He used the “look only” command to pull up the CAD event. He was amazed. Rosalyn wasn’t missing a word said over the radio. She was transcribing the conversations.

“8B14 the vehicle’s stopping in front of Plantain and Goldline.”

“8S2, challenging! Hold all radio traffic.”

Rosalyn leaned forward, her fingers poised over the keyboard, waiting…

Seconds turned into forever until the phones started ringing about the same time the radio silence broke with field units warned and snapping back with comments to one another.

“Shots fired!”

“Watch that one on the driver’s side.”

“8A4, I have him in my sight.”

“He’s got a piece!”

“I see it…shots fired! Shots fired!”


“8A6 and 8A4, 8S1, get over here now!”

Rosalyn waited, praying to herself, as all dispatchers did when field units were in a dangerous situation.

“L6 Control, we need fire and EMS now for two victims to Goldline and Plantain. Advise them the scene is secure, but keep the code 33 until I advise otherwise.”

“L6 10-4.”

“I’ll need each of you to ride with the ambulances to take declarations. Don’t worry about your vehicles, leave the keys with me.”

Rosalyn sent a call for 2 GSW victims to Nick. He was waiting, and was on it immediately. She could hear Chris’s supervisor cell phone ringing. What happened? Who was hit?

A few minutes later, the Lieutenant came back over the air. “L6 Control, send another ambulance to our location, code 3. If you haven’t already, put a case number on this event, and on the vehicle accident that was called in at the start, the hit & run. Confirm CSI is enroute?”

“L6 affirmative.”

“L6 Control, code 34.”

“Copy, Code 34 at 0400 hours.”

Chris called from the back. “Hit and run’s taken care of, patient’s being taken to hospital, 8M4 is handling it, 8M2 assisting. I’ve referenced all police & fire calls to one another.”

Rosalyn called back, “Thanks, Chris.” A feeling of doom was settling over the Communications Center. She stared at her computer screen as she heard Nick parrot back a code 3 code blue transport. The second ambulance started out code 3, but halfway to the hospital it, too, changed to a code blue response. That meant the hearts of both patients had stopped with CPR being administered. Please don’t let any of the victims be one of ours! A short while later, the third ambulance transported a patient to the trauma center, also code 3.

Nick scooted back in his chair. He hated this waiting; the not knowing what was going on. He turned to look at Rosalyn. Her demeanor was showing cracks: Nick could swear she was pale, as she rapidly tapped her fingers on the console desk.

Field units kept transmissions short, voices serious over the radio.

Time ticked down on the clock. The radio had gone silent. Before the dispatchers knew it, a half hour had gone by.

Chris’s cell phone rang. Everyone in dispatch tried to key in on the conversation, but the supervisor didn’t give any clues away. “Right, Lt. Thanks I’ll pass the word.”

Chris stood up. “I know you’re all listening, so there’s no reason to beat around the bush. Officer Sean Iorwerth was pronounced dead from a gunshot wound to the neck fifteen minutes ago. There will be a mandatory debriefing scheduled for all on-duty personnel, that includes all of us here tonight. You will be informed as to the exact day and time. Let me remind you not to talk to any media regarding the incident tonight. If anyone needs it, I have the confidential number for the PEERS counseling team.” Chris’ face showed the strain as he passed on the message. “Oh, both suspects are also 10-10.”

Mary and D’Arcy started crying.

Rosalyn pounded the console with her fist, letting out a loud “Fuck!” She stood up and kicked the metal side of the console desk letting another stream of expletives out as she did.

Nick jumped in his seat at the sound of Rosalyn’s outbursts.

Chris walked up to the radio. He put a hand on Rosalyn’s shoulder. “Rosalyn, I’m sorry. I’ll relieve you from the channel. Go take a walk.”

Her voice cracked a bit as she struggled to hold off tears, Rosalyn shook her head. “No, let me keep the channel. I’m fine. I got back on the horse…before. I can handle this now.”

“Alright, but if you feel you need to get off the radio to just go somewhere for a bit, promise you will ask for relief?”

“I will.”

The end of shift couldn’t come quick enough for the Communications Center. The dispatchers left exchanging hugs and sympathies with co-workers as they left the building. A media circus was already gathering in front of the main station entrance, waiting for the Chief to make a statement.

Nick was happy to leave the circus. Nick met his firefighter buddies at Brownlin’s Bar & Restaurant, the local firefighter & ems hangout.

A chorus of greetings mixed with shock & sympathy rang out as Nick found the long table where the off-duty men of station six sat, sipping on various beverages. Wyatt pulled out a chair.

“Glad you made it. I have your favorite waiting.” Wyatt pushed a tall mug over to Nick. “Only without the alcohol as requested.”

Mocha sounded good. “Thanks man.”

Darnell Jones leaned around Wyatt. “Now that you’re not on the phone, fess up. Some fucked up night, huh? And you had to be in the nuthouse instead of where the action was taking care of the patients.”

“Yeah, it was a messed up, Darnell. We lost a guy last night. I gotta admit dispatching is harder than it sounds. It’s not just keying a mike and saying 10-4. Each of you should come up and hang out for a bit, maybe plug-in and listen with a police dispatcher. I’ve been blown away by what they do. In the first week, I’ve listened to them talk a guy out of killing himself, set up block covers to catch a burglar, and the dispatcher on duty when the officer was shot was amazing. You could write your report from what she put in her CAD event. Even after she was told the officer died, she still kept on working, because the City still needed units to handle calls.”

Darnell sat up straight, he shrugged his shoulders. “Sorry man, I was just kidding.”

Nick took a drink of his mocha. “I’m sorry, too; I didn’t mean to come on so strong. It really was a difficult shift for us all. The Comm Center staff was devastated by the officer’s death; they all know each other at the PD, just as we do on each shift. No hard feelings?”

“Sure, we’re cool.” Darnell said. The guys hung out for a while, eating a big breakfast. The talk focused around the job, but no one said anything more about that night’s line of duty death. The topic was carefully avoided. When the food was gone, the men chipped in to pay the bill, including a generous tip for the server.

Wyatt followed Nick to his car. “Nick, I wanted to ask you, all kidding aside. Are you okay? I mean, if you need anything, give me a call. We’re not just partners, we’re friends.”

“Thanks, Wyatt. I’ll keep your offer in mind. I’m doing better.”

“Good, ‘cause Diego and I are okay for a short time thing, but between you and I, I’m going to strangle him if you don’t come back. He’s pissin’ off the shift with his holier than thou attitude.”

“Don’t give up on me. Just like our Governator, I’ll be back.”

Wyatt chuckled. “You keep trying, but you can never get that accent right…catch you later man.”


Rosalyn tried not to look at the grief stricken officers as she left the building. Just one more person stopping to pat her on the back or offer a hug, and she’d lose it – and the last thing she wanted to do was to burst into tears. Once the waterworks started, she knew she’d not be able to stop crying. Buckling the seatbelt of her green Ford Escape, Rosalyn went on automatic pilot for the drive home. Pulling in her garage, she felt like staying in the car, but Billi, her orange tabby cat, would be hungry. Dragging her feet, Rosalyn found her way inside to take care of her furry companion.

After taking care of Billi, Rosalyn poured a glass of orange juice with a shot of vodka, chugging it down. She took care of a few chores before hitting the sack. Billi joined her, rubbing his furry face against hers, purring as if to say he felt her pain. Rosalyn tossed and turned, hearing the transmissions replaying in her head over & over again, going over the incident, second guessing her actions. “I should have sent more units. Perhaps if I’d had set up a felony stop, the outcome would have been different? Christ, I should have seen this coming! If I’d called the sheriff or CHP for back-up, they might have seen that shooter before he took out Sean.” The water-works started again.

When she finally fell asleep, it was in to a tear drenched pillow.

Four hours later, she woke up. Unable to all asleep, Rosalyn threw on a pair of sweats. She spent her day cleaning, from the bottom of her home to the top. The sun was sinking below the horizon when she wiped down the last counter and folded the last load of laundry. She poured a screwdriver. Walking over to a group of photos set in frames on a display cabinet, she raised her glass to one in particular. “Here’s to you, Pete.” Pete, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed man wearing a white uniform shirt & black pants with a stethoscope around his neck, had his arm around a younger Rosalyn, also wearing the same type of uniform. They were both standing in front of an ambulance – grinning like fools. “Who knew you’d be dead and I’d be in intensive care six hours later?” She took a long drink.

“Pete, look out for Sean, okay?”

She finished her drink in one long gulp, remembering her long ago friend. Putting the glass down, she grabbed her keys and the walkman on the coffee table: time to hit the treadmill.

Chapter Three

The weekend flew by too quickly for Rosalyn’s taste. Stepping quietly through the squad room on her way to Dispatch, she mumbled hellos to personnel she passed. A few said hello in return. The first to arrive for her watch, Rosalyn picked a chair, furthest from the entry door. The shift assignments were posted – she was working warrant channel first half, police channel the second. Chris made his appearance, followed by Darcy and Nick. Kacie, Jean, and Ian weren’t too far behind.

The Supervisor read a memo written by the Chief. “The mandatory debriefing for all police, fire, and dispatch personnel on duty and involved in the fatal shooting of Officer Iorwerth will be held this Wednesday morning, at 0800 hours, at the Lewis Johnston Community Center at 1215 Main St. All personnel attending will be paid for the session, see your supervisors for the time coding.” Chris took a breath. “The funeral arrangements are not finalized yet; we’ll be advised when the date, time, and place are fixed. Admin is arranging for the Communications Center to be covered by dispatchers from surrounding agencies, just as the officer’s positions will be covered to allow all personnel to attend the funeral. Send an email to me so I can put a list together of who wants to go. We’ll be riding with officers and/or firefighter in the department vehicles: that means wearing uniforms as a mark of respect. Take a mourning band and put it around your badge just like I have on mine.” Chris passed a box of elastic mourning bands around for those who weren’t already wearing one.

Excusing his staff, Chris watched them leave to take up their assigned positions. Instead of the normal bantering and teasing, no one had said much tonight. Healing took time, he knew, more so for some than others.

Monday and Tuesday went by in a blur, no major incidents came in, and the police officers initiated activity was dramatically reduced from what it had been two weeks ago. It seemed no one was up to chasing drug dealers or pulling over cars. The time came to show up at the debriefing session.

Upon entering the Community Center, a small sign was posted pointing the way to a conference room reserved for the San Varlin Public Safety meeting. Men and women shuffled inside, finding a place to sit on chairs set up in a wide circle. A long table with a selection of hot & cold beverages, Danishes & fruit was laid out for self-service. Rosalyn crept in the room, dismayed when she couldn’t find a chair at the back of the room. She picked a spot next to Chris, only because it was closest to the door out of the room. She did what everyone else was doing, peering at the others and wondering how long she had to stay before she could sneak out.

At the appointed start time, all but two seats were occupied. A couple entered the room, an African-American man and a Caucasian woman, both dressed in casual attire. They both remained standing.

“Thank you for showing up today. I’m Nancy Gallwood, and this is Curtis Redmond. We’re CISD certified Peer Counselors and are here to help you through this difficult time. First, a few rules… Curtis if you please?”

Curtis held up a stack of cards. “Let me begin by expressing our deepest sympathies for your loss. I will be passing out cards with our phone number on them; we are part of your City benefits. Should any of you wish to speak to a counselor in private, please call the number listed on the card. Now, to the rules: it doesn’t matter what happens, what is done, what is spoken, the subject matter, or who is here – nothing leaves this conference room. I want to assure you that everything from the moment you walked through that door until you leave is confidential, and will never show up on any personnel record, medical record, or evaluation. Once you leave here today, it is over. The only reason it was made mandatory was that we found too many personnel weren’t coming for the very reasons I stated, and later told us they wished they had attended.”

Nancy nodded her head. “Curtis is correct. As for what to expect; talk about the incident, how you felt about then and now. No one is to point fingers or attach blame. Talking is good. If you let out tears, we’ll hand you a box of tissues – we have plenty. If you need a hug, our arms are wide. We carry on as long as necessary. As many of you have taken advantage of, there are refreshments by the wall and bathrooms across the hall. Anyone care to start by talking about that night?”

The two counselors took their seats.

No one said a word.

“Okay.” Nancy said to the group. “Let me ask some questions. Have any of you questioned how you handled your job that night? Maybe you think you could have turned left instead of right or covered Sean from a different angle. Perhaps if you’d put the line in a little faster he’d have made it? Or sent an extra back-up it would have made a difference?”

The flood gates opened when one of the officers spoke first. “I feel like I could have covered Sean better by being farther to his left. If I had been, I’d have seen that bastard getting ready to pull the trigger.” The officer broke down, tears rolling down his cheeks, “I could have taken down that asshole before he shot Sean…”

“Maybe and then maybe he would have shot you first.” Lieutenant Rensen said, “Then we’d be mourning two dead coworkers, not one.”

“We tried our best to save him. I keep seeing his face as he asked me to say goodbye to his family for him, and I can’t help but think what I’d say to my girlfriend in the same circumstance. I keeping thinking, if we were only there a few minutes earlier, would that have made any difference? As fast as we pumped in fluids, he bled out. It’s made me so angry.” Diego said with a choked voice. “I can’t sleep very well. I keep seeing his face…it’s never bothered me before losing a patient. Why now?”

D’Arcy wiped her eyes. “The worst part of that night was the times between the announcements of the shots fired, the send ambulance request and the phone call telling us Sean was dead. We knew that there were victims but not who they were, and it was the unknown that kept us on edge. Three patients were taken away to the trauma center, two of them code blues. We knew from the radio transmission of two men in the suspect vehicle. Sure, it was possible there could have been more. Nonetheless, I think the stress level was on maximum overdrive until the call came in to Chris.” She broke down in tears. Caitlin Johnson, a firefighter enveloped D’Arcy in a hug.

“I have tried not to listen to the news, but I can hardly avoid it. The media is making us out to be the bad guys. None of us there wanted to shoot those jerks. We didn’t go to work with the intention of killing two men. Sean didn’t leave his house that night thinking it would be the last time he saw his family. So why is it okay for two criminals in a stolen vehicle to hit a car, seriously hurting an innocent guy on his way home from work, and then shoot & kill an officer? Both of them had criminal records a mile long. But their families are crying buckets of water, have engaged a fancy lawyer, and are now claiming their sons weren’t doing anything wrong! Are you kidding me? Where’s the justice for Sean and the poor guy in intensive care with head & spinal injuries?” asked George, one of the first units on scene of the incident.

Wyatt sighed. “Media only cares for the sensational story. They’ll get in the way, blow our cover, and even interrupt patient care in the pursuit of a story. I can’t tell you how many times they’ve shown up on a run filming & interviewing folk and later I read about it in the paper and I swear it was a different call together. The facts get so distorted, quotes are picked apart and we’re made out to be villains; you can’t believe what’s in the media anymore.”

More people spoke, boxes of tissues were passed around, as most of those gathered shared their thoughts. About half-way through the session, Mary looked towards Roslyn. “I’d like to say that I think Rosalyn did one hell of a hell on the radio. She kept her emotions under control and took care of business.”

A chorus of agreements chipped in.

Rosalyn’s angry response made everyone else quiet down. “What the fuck did you say Mary? You think I did a good job? I only do my job when every field unit comes home at the end of the shift, EVERYONE! That night I failed, because one man didn’t go home to his family. I can barely look at myself in the mirror.”

Mary shook her head. “You’re wrong Rosalyn this wasn’t your fault…Oh my God. I know what this is all about.”

Rosalyn stood up. She glared at her friend as her voice lowered. “Don’t go there Mary, leave the past alone.”

Mary slowly rose up from her chair. “Why not Rosalyn, since you brought it up first? You can’t bring Pete back. His death wasn’t your fault either, and now you want to add the burden of Sean’s on top of Pete’s? Let your partner rest in peace. It’s been what, ten years, no twelve years now and you’re still blaming yourself.”

“Mary, I was sitting here quietly, putting in the time when you had to involve me. You have no idea what went down back then; you weren’t there.”

“And you refuse to put the past behind you, Rosalyn. Someday, if you don’t let all that pent up emotions out, you’ll self destruct.”

“Well, maybe I should just borrow a piece from one of our officers sitting here and blow my brains out now and save us all the hassle!” Rosalyn stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her.

A stunned group sat in silence, staring at the door where an angry Rosalyn had left.

Curtis whispered in Nancy’s ear. He stood up to address the group. “Our time is not up yet, but I think we need to take a 15 min break.”

Mary started to go after Rosalyn, but Chris stopped her. “Let Nancy and I go after her. You stay here.”

After the Dispatch Supervisor and the counselor had left the room, curious eyes started at Mary. Finally, an officer spoke up. “All right Mary, what was that all about? I’ve heard the rumors, as have anyone who’s been around the Department for 10 years that Ros worked in the field until a tragedy of some kind. We’re all under a gag order once we leave anyone. Tell us what you know.”

Mary suddenly felt two inches tall. She pushed Rosalyn to talk about the past knowing she wanted to keep it hidden, and here she was, getting ready to spill Rosalyn’s secrets. “It was twelve years ago. She was a paramedic in Oakland, Pete was her partner. The two of them were dispatched to a code 2 medical call. Instead of a patient with the stomach flu, they found a patient who’d been stabbed. While they were working on the victim, the suspect returned with a gun. He started shooting: hit the patient, Pete and Rosalyn. The original patient died immediately, Rosalyn called in an emergency help request over the county radio as she tried to help Pete: she didn’t even know she was shot twice until help arrived. Pete died enroute to the trauma unit. She spent three weeks in the hospital.”

“Mary, did OPD get the bastard who killed her partner?”

“I don’t know. She refuses to talk about the incident. Most of what I know I remembered from newspaper articles.”

Now some of her comments to me make sense. Nick felt sorry for Rosalyn. She watched a partner die, and that had to be devastating.

Chris and Nancy found Rosalyn in a room off the main hall. She’d just punched a hole in the drywall; her bleeding hand was proof of that. She stood staring at the damage she caused.

“Rosalyn, can I see your hand? It may be broken.”

“Chris, it’s not broken, it’s just cut up. I’m sorry about the hole. The City can take the repair bill out of my pay.”

“Honey, what you said back in that room, I am very concerned.” Nancy stopped short of Rosalyn’s personal space.

Rosalyn turned around. “I apologize. My words were said in anger. I’m not about to kill myself. I don’t own any weapons at all. Just forget about it, okay?” I’m going to the bathroom to wash my hand. I’ll meet you in the conference room. Thanks for checking on me.” She walked by them without another word.

The rest of the day went by without any major problems.

Chapter Four

The Department funeral took place on Monday. The flag draped casket was preceded by a formal-dressed bagpiper. After the speeches, the Chief had one of the officers turn on his radio to allow a San Varlin dispatcher to give Sean a final call for off duty. With a few exceptions, the majority of the Department staff participated. Law enforcement personnel from across California, and many other states, as well as fire departments and ems, joined the procession to the cemetery.

When it was over, Rosalyn escaped the crowd, thankful she didn’t have to go to work that night, between off-duty personnel and other agencies volunteering to cover the shift. She stopped at a generic restaurant half-way home. The waitress told her to pick a seat. Tossing a menu at her, she asked Rosalyn what she wanted to drink, and taking her order, she scurried off.

Still perusing the menu, her silence was interrupted by a familiar voice.

‘I hate eating alone. Do you mind if I join you?”

Rosalyn peered over the menu to see Nick standing at the end of the booth. He’d changed out of his dress blues, and was wearing a San Jose Sharks T-shirt and a pair of Levi’s, with one leg slit to accommodate the cast. Damn, he looks good enough to eat. I love the way his T-shirt stretches over those sleek muscles.

“Yeah if you want, I may not be the best company today. If you want drinks, you’ll need to flag down the waitress. I haven’t ordered food yet.” And I’m not holding back on anything just because you’re here.

“No problem, I’m not drinking alcohol.”

Rosalyn handed Nick the menu.

The waitress returned with Rosalyn’s rum & coke. They both ordered hamburgers & fries.

Rosalyn took a sip of her drink. “How’s the healing going, Nick. I was on duty the night that truck hit your rig.”

He shrugged. “The bones are knitting on schedule according to my doc.”

“That’s good, Nick.” Her sips became long drinks. She felt nervous around him.

“Why are you staring at me?”

“I wasn’t staring at you, you just happened to sit across from me.”

“I never had the chance to thank you for the help you’ve given me. I do appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome. I’d do the same for any other newbie.”

“That’s not what I’ve heard.”

“Don’t believe the gossip. I help when it affects field personnel or public safety. If it’s a major problem, you can bet your ass the Supervisor will hear about, though.”

“Why don’t you train probies? Take charge and make sure they know how to do the job properly?”

“There was a time when I was very involved with training. I just became tired of fighting the system. Admin kept trying to cut the training time, pushing to have recruits work positions before they were fully trained, and when the few of us that knew it was wrong spoke up…well, let’s just say I was better off giving up a CTO spot.”

“Wow that would never happen in the field. Tell me, how did you end up as a dispatcher? You are very good at your job.”

She looked at the table, swirling the ice with the straw. “I didn’t plan on becoming a dispatcher; I stumbled on to the position. After my ems career was cut short, I had to find another job. I was given the chance to learn radio work at the ambulance company. We were all surprised at how easy it was for me. When I saw the dispatcher job posted for San Varlin, I applied and here I am.”

“What happened before you went into dispatch?”

Rosalyn chugged her drink down. She motioned for the waitress to bring her another. “Dragnet version: I was working as a medic: one day we were sent on a code 2 medical for abdominal pain. The pain was caused by a stab wound. The criminal element knew if they called in with a miscellaneous complaint, they’d get a code two bus instead of the code 3 fire, ambulance, and PD if they told the truth. Dealers, addicts, crooks, and gangs preferred to avoid police presence whenever possible. We arrived, loaded the up patient and were on our way to the rig when the suspect came back to finish the job with a gun. The asshole starting firing: the patient died, my partner took a fatal shot, I was wounded too, but I survived. Now I dispatch. End of story.”

“I’m sorry. That is terrible.”

“Shit happens, and sometimes people die.” She answered flatly. The empty glass was exchanged for a full one just before the food arrived. “Tell me about yourself.”

Between bites of food, Nick chatted. “I’m the oldest of three, a brother and sister. My brother Daniel still lives in Minnesota close to my folks, where he is a firefighter. My sister Rachel lives in New York, where she works in the fashion industry. I’ve always wanted to be a firefighter, just not in the snow. I’m doing the medic bit as part of my resume. I’m studying for my Apparatus Operator test. I’m still single, own my home, and my favorite sport is ice hockey.”

“Ice hockey?”

He grinned. “Yep, can’t help it. I grew up in Minnesota. My folks are big hockey fans, and it rubbed off on me. What about you?”

“Nothing exciting. I have a big brother, James, who lives in Los Angeles, where he practices Internal Medicine. He’s married with two kids. My sole companion is my cat, Billirubin, or Billi for short. I try to take a decent vacation somewhere in the USA every year. Someday I want a home where I can have a garden. The other stuff is minor.”

“Billirubin? How did you come up with that name?”

“At the time I was adopted by him, I was still keeping my medic cert active. The day he showed up at my door, I was working on a liver toxin CE. It just fit him, billirubin – orange – unusual name I know. My vet still chuckles each time I take Billi in for his check-ups.”

Nick laughed. “I’d never have thought of that before.” Despite the funeral, Nick was having a good time. He kept up the banter back and forth, asking questions and talking about life in general.

Rosalyn had a third drink, not paying attention to the fact that she had gone over her regular limit of two when she was driving. When it was time to leave, she stood up and the room moved with her.

Nick immediately saw the problem. He couldn’t let her drive home and risk a DUI. “Sit down, Rosalyn, and have a drink of water. Let me pay for lunch.” He pulled out his debit card, sliding it in to the bill folder. When the waitress came by, he spoke quietly to her. She whispered back and walked away to settle the account. The woman came back to give him his card and she told him where to park his vehicle per the manager. Thanking the waitress and including a generous tip, he gave her his vehicle information.

“Give me your keys; I’ll drive you home in your car.”

“I’ll just call a cab. Thanks anyway.”

“No, I want to make sure you get home safe. I’ll take a cab from your place back here. I’ve received permission to leave mine here for a while until I pick it up. Please, let me have your keys.”

The logical part of Rosalyn told her to accept Nick’ offer; still, accepting his offer put her on his debt. “Okay, but I owe you one for this.” She handed him her car keys.

“Meet me by your vehicle; I’m going to move mine to a better parking spot.” He followed her outside.

Rosalyn leaned against her Ford Escape, the liquor kicking in. She felt great, the liquor dulled the pain. She spotted Nick coming her direction, his forearm muscles bulging as he used the crutches to move towards her.

He unlocked the doors with the remote, she slid inside. They both buckled up. He adjusted the mirrors and seat. Before turning the engine on, he waited a minute. Looking at her, he finally asked, “I need your address to take you home.”

She laughed. “Oh, sorry, 1457 Greenridge Drive, at Mountaincrest.”

“I know exactly where that is, the blue townhouses with tan trim?”

“That’s right. After you enter the complex, go all the way back, turn left, mine is the corner unit.”

She enjoyed the luxury of being a passenger for a change, watching the houses and businesses pass by. Nick pulled through the security gate and followed her directions. He hit the opener, halting to allow her to get out.

“Do you want to come in and meet Billi, or are you in a hurry to go? Either way, you can use my phone to call a cab. I’ll pay for it, since you drove me home, leaving your car behind.”

“I’m in no rush; I’m off tonight because of the funeral.” He followed her through the front door. He briefly saw a tabby cat, which catching sight of him, high tailed it to a hiding space.

“Make yourself at home. I’ve water, juice, soda, beer, coffee, or tea.” Or me?

“Water please.” She pulled out bottled water for Nick and a poured a plain OJ for her. When she brought the beverages out to the living room, Nick was staring at the photographs. She set the drinks on the coffee table.

Rosalyn pointed at the one of her and Pete, her voice slightly slurred. “He was a great partner. His girlfriend, Josie was already in nursing school. Damn, I miss him…he taught me a lot. Pete was one of those old-timers, had been around a long time. He started in the field back before corporations ran ambulance companies. He used to say he forgot more than most new medics ever learned. He would have made one-hell of a doctor.” The tears started to fall. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to cry. I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable.”

Nick pulled her against his chest. “Can we take this to the couch?”

She didn’t hesitate. “Oh, your leg, I forgot.” She sniffed, “I guess Sean’s death brought out some shit I thought I’d long buried.” She sat down. “I don’t mean to dump on you. I just don’t like stirring up memories of that day.”

“I can see why that would hurt you.”

“I really meant what I said, you know, the part about bringing everyone home safe at the end of the shift. I see field personnel as my family. I was glad those officers shot those men, and even happier that the suspects died.”

She bent over the table to hand Nick the water bottle. “Here you go. No need to make you bend the wrong way.”

“Thanks. This is a nice place you have.”

Rosalyn smiled. “You really think so? I don’t have company over very often. I’m not even sure what to do…” she laughed, partly due to the alcohol in her system.

“Have any more embarrassing photographs? I love looking at family pictures.”

“No, you don’t want to look at photos, do you?”

“Sure I do.”

“Okay Nick, I’ll get my album, don’t say I didn’t warn you ahead of time.” She tossed him the TV remote. “Here, in case you get bored.” She held on to the railing as she bounced upstairs.

Nick watched her, a burning need building up inside him. Is this just a response to the events of recent days, or is this a real attraction? He decided to play it cool and see what happened. After all, he still had to work with her for at least two months in close quarters.

Rosalyn brushed her teeth. Deciding to take a chance, she quick changed, pulling off her T-shirt. Rosalyn went back to the first floor, hoping her guest was still there.

Footsteps heralded her return. Rosalyn carried two binders, but it wasn’t the binders that caught Nick’ attention. She had exchanged her regular t-shirt for a tank-top. She carefully put them on the coffee table. “You can back out, I won’t be offended.”

“I asked to see them.” Nick tried not to stare at ample chest displayed by his host. Damn, I’d like to get my hands on those babies.

Rosalyn reached for the first binder. Scooting closer to him, she opened the album. Going through pages, she went through pages, reminiscing and explaining about each photograph. They had a good time, laughing over the memories in the first book.

“Is that a toy ambulance in your hand?”

“Yes, I had a huge toy ambulance collection. From the age of 13, I knew I wanted to work on an ambulance, just like you and the fire service.”

“Do you mind if I check out the other album?” When she didn’t protest, he grabbed the one on the table. He flipped through the pages, asking about various shots that intrigued him. When Nick was through he started to put the book back when he moved wrong, his neck muscles cramped. He tried to stretch the cramp out himself.

“Let me help.” A pair of warm hands started kneading the muscles to out the cramp. She positioned her body slightly behind him, letting her breasts rub up against his back on purpose. Her nipples hardened instantly.

Nick sighed, “God, Rosalyn, your fingers are magic; that feels heavenly.” He let her continue, encouraging her attention with appropriate remarks. When she stopped, Roselyn stayed close. As she started to move back to her spot on the couch, Nick put a hesitant hand on her thigh.

“Stay here.” When she moved back, he cupped her face. He moved in close, hoping she wouldn’t slap him and order him out, or worse call 9-1-1 to report him as a rapist.

Rosalyn held her breath, waiting to see what Nick did next.

He took a chance, pushing his advantage. His mouth covered her lips. It felt right, that he’d come home. His tongue invaded her mouth. He pulled Rosalyn on top of his lap, wrapping his arms around her waist to hold her steady.

Desire burned through her body as Rosalyn kissed Nick. She lost all conscious thoughts. Mindful of his broken leg, she shifted slightly in his lap, trying to get as close to him as she could.

“Sugar, you need to stop that squirmin’; it’s downright cruel to tease a man so.” Nick warned in a hoarse voice between kisses.

Suddenly cognizant of what he referred to, Rosalyn purposely wriggled her butt. “You mean I shouldn’t do this?” She said giving him a wicked laugh. She then moved in, pressing her chest against him.

“Darlin’, you’ve been drinking. I want you to stop and think. Do you really want me, or are you just curious? Because I can go so far before I reach the breaking point. You’re playing with fire, Rosalyn, and I like it hot.”

“I normally don’t invite men to my haven, and I’m not a girl who goes for the one-night stands. This isn’t the alcohol talking, Nick. I know this is crazy not really knowing one another, but I like you. We’ll just take this a day at a time, and at work, we’ll keep it status quo.” She pulled off her shirt leaving just her jade green bra on. “No more teasing.” She pointed to a drawer in the table. “There are condoms, not that I need them that much, but Mama told me to always have some available just in case. We can go upstairs to my bedroom if you want. It’s definitely more comfortable, and I’ll set the alarm so we don’t sleep too late. We’ll go pick your car up later. I don’t have to go in tonight, so I’m not in a big hurry either.”

“Upfront aren’t you? I love a woman who isn’t afraid to wear sexy lingerie. White, black, and beige are so boring. Tell me, do the panties match?”

She kissed him. “That’s for you to discover.”

He kissed her hard in return, slipping his hand down the front of her jeans. Popping the button open, Nick unzipped the front, seeing a peak of coordinating material. He released Rosalyn with one word. “Upstairs.”

She stood up, offering a hand to help him stand up. Grabbing her discarded shirt, Rosalyn led the way. Nick appreciated the view as he followed Rosalyn. She gave him a wicked ‘come hither’ crook of her finger and smiled as she peeked over her shoulder after making to the top of the stairs. Sprinting ahead, Rosalyn called out, “Be with you in a minute. Meet me in bed!”

“That’s one of the best invitations I’ve been given in a long time.” He didn’t take long to find the den of delights. He stripped down, folding his clothes in to a pile and placing them by the bed. He did as she asked, turning down the sheets, scooting in. While he waited, he glanced around. She had decorated the room in a classic style: rich mahogany furniture, a couple of Kincaid prints, and matching linens/drapes in a soft floral print.

“Are you still up for a bit of fun?” Rosalyn asked as she stepped out of what could only be a walk-in closet, dressed in a lacy black half bra with matching panties, garter belt, and sheer stockings. “I thought I’d slip into something more comfortable.”

Nick swallowed hard at the vision approaching him. “Oh, good Lord, are you trying to kill me? Come here, gorgeous.”

Chapter Five

An urgent call woke Rosalyn up from a sound sleep. She had a headache, a mild one, but still it was enough to require a couple of Tylenol. “Ugh, how much did I drink?” Covering her eyes against the sunlight coming through the crack between the blinds and drapes of her sliding door to the balcony, she slowly sat up. The bra was cutting into to her chest. She blushed, remembering the events of the afternoon. Had Nick left, or was he still around? How am I going to handle this at work?

Sound of tinkering downstairs solved the mystery of whether he had left or not. She jumped out of bed, changed into a T-shirt and jeans, and headed downstairs. Nick was making coffee, his wet hair proof that he’d taken her up on her offer to utilize the bathroom to its fullest.

“Hi Nick, I’ll have a cup of that, too.” She wasn’t sure what else to say.

Nick leaned against the counter. He held out a pair of Tylenol. “You’ll want these, too.”

“I’m not even going to ask how you knew I’d want them.” She took the capsules from his hand trying to ignore the electric jolt she felt when her flesh touched his. I didn’t dream about that amazing sex last night. The coffee finished dripping. She pulled out two mugs. “We need to talk. How about we sit down and have our caffeine? I’ll bring yours over after you set it up the way you like it.”

“Sure thing.”

“Nick, I don’t normally date guys from work. With that said, what happened between us was incredible. I don’t mean to put any pressure on you, and certainly, if you don’t want to go further, please speak up now. I want to blame the alcohol, but really, I didn’t drink that much. I knew what I was doing. Okay, so we are virtual strangers in person, but we’ve been talking back and forth for a couple of years as part of our jobs.”

“Rosalyn, I want more of what we shared this afternoon, and I’m not just talking about the sex, although I’ll admit I thoroughly enjoyed that part. I loved seeing your family photographs. I look forward to the day when this plaster shell doesn’t impede my making love to you.” Nick took a long sip of coffee. “I agree on the work aspect. As for now, we keep treating one another the same way we have since the beginning. I’d rather not let on to our co-workers we’re seeing each other.”

Rosalyn let out a relieved sign. “Good, because if, and I mean just in case ‘if’ this doesn’t work out, I’d rather no one knows about us. At least not right now, maybe later, if we both agree the time is right. I’d like to see you more. No pressure, though: let’s just go one date at a time and see what happens.”

Nick set the empty coffee cup on the table. “I’m glad we see eye-to-eye. I think we should keep things casual for now. I don’t want to jump into an exclusive relationship yet. If you don’t mind, I’m going to take off. I’ll call a cab.”

“No, I’ll give you a ride. Where did you set my car keys?”

“I put them on the shelf, over by the Windsor Palace replica.”

Nick started to make his way to the door. Rosalyn found the keys, and snatched her purse. Unplugging the coffee pot, she quickly caught up to Nick. He stopped her just as her hand went to open the door.

He pulled her close one more time, capturing her lips for a deep kiss. “If I didn’t have prior commitments tonight, I’d stay in bed with you.”

“When we get to the restaurant remind me to give you my phone number. I have a few more outfits to model I think you might like, especially one in red with fishnet stockings. Firefighters like the color red, don’t they Nick?”

“You are an evil woman, Rosalyn. I’ll be thinking of the possibilities until we have the chance to be together again. I won’t be able to look at you without seeing you in your black lace or a multitude of red ones. Can you say raging hard-on?”

She gave him a wicked smile. “I’ll bring plenty of ice packs to work.”

Later that night, just thinking about Nick aroused Rosalyn. “Should I call him, Billi?” she mused out loud as she brushed her cat. Billi purred kneading her lap with this front paws. “You silly boy.” She said fondly. “As long as I feed and pet you, that feline brain of yours doesn’t care what I do, does it?” As if to agree, Billi meowed. “Ah, Billi, I’ve never fallen for a guy so fast. I’d swear Cupid shot me with one of his deadly arrows. I don’t know if I’m the victim of lust or love. It’s sure going to be tough, being the bitch queen to him at work.” Billi batted at her hand, his signal that he was done with the brushing. The tabby jumped off her lap.

“It’s too quiet in here. How come I never noticed it before?” She turned up the sound on the TV, channel surfing until she found a movie she hadn’t seen before. Before she knew it, Rosalyn had dozed off to sleep. When she woke up, the cable box showed it was 0200 hours. Trying to keep her routine, Rosalyn went upstairs to her computer. She checked her email, paid a few bills, and played some games. Before she knew it, the sun was up. Rosalyn stayed awake for a couple of hours before going back to bed, as she normally did, Nick on her mind as she drifted back to sleep.


Trying to pretend she didn’t care a bit about Nick was proving more difficult than Rosalyn thought. When the other women flirted with him, Rosalyn had to ignore her impulses to slap each one in turn. Three weeks into the dating, both Nick and Rosalyn spontaneously stopped dating other people. Nick treated Rosalyn the same he did to all the dispatchers, talking about the job, keeping the humor light. He even answered the phones without being asked, to keep busy.

Nick surprised the Communications Staff when he showed up without his cast on a Thursday. He walked with tentative steps, still using crutches for another week, but the hated cast was gone. He was greeted with congratulations, and a few moans. They knew his time with dispatch was limited. D’Arcy was scheduled on police the first half, Rosalyn the second.

Nick was busy all shift with a general alarm multi-storey apartment fire. Rosalyn backed him up, making calls for mutual aid and recalls for staff to cover stations. Making a quick switch with D’Arcy, Rosalyn took over the police channel while D’Arcy took over phones. Jean and Ian switched warrants and phones, Ian backing up Nick on fire. With officers maintaining perimeter &crowd control and assisting in evacuations, Rosalyn kept busy. The Incident Commander declared the fire under control at 0615, with all units still at scene. Nightshift was never so glad to see the dayshift take over that morning.

Rosalyn changed before she headed out home, preferring not to be in uniform as she drove to & from work as some of her co-workers did. After all, she had a locker, why not utilize it? As she walked to her car, her cell phone rang. It was Nick.

“Any plans this morning?”

“Feeding Billi, eventually getting sleep, otherwise no unless you have some.”

“I do. I’ll meet you at that restaurant we had our first meal. Go home, feed your beastie, and bring an overnight bag with you. You can follow me in your car from there.”

“Where are we going to?”

“My place; I’ll make sure you get up in time to swing by and feed Billi again. I’ll supply the towels.”

Rosalyn’s mind pondered what Nick had planned as she drove to her place. She put out a bowl of dry food for Billi, not his preferred choice of food, but with a large dish of water, it would see him through the next twenty-four hours. She changed in to her new fire-engine red corset that tied in the back and secured with hook & eyes in the front. It took a bit of squirming to get the restraining device on, but holding her breath and laying on the bed, she managed it. A matching thong with Cuban-style red and black stockings completed the outfit. Rosalyn threw on a misleading T-shirt, jeans and ankle boots. Tossing a change of clothes & toiletries in a duffel bag, she headed out to meet Nick.

Nick casually leaned against his car, sunglasses on, waiting for Rosalyn. The moment he saw her vehicle pull in the parking lot, he wasted no time getting in to his car. The drive didn’t take long. Rosalyn pulled in Nick’s driveway.

Locking her car, she admired the landscaping: a small bit of lawn edged with roses and a medium-sized birch tree for shade. He held the door open for her, locking it as she stepped inside. The décor was masculine, but tasteful in earth-tones. A display cabinet with autographed sports memorabilia was the focal point in the den.

“Go ahead and set your bag down. Are you hungry?”

“No, but I wouldn’t mind a drink, what’s on the list?”

“For my lady’s pleasure, we have orange juice, Bud, Coke, water, or Mudslide.”

“That’s a tough choice. I think I’ll have a Mudslide.”

Nick fixed her Mudslide. While she sipped on her beverage, Nick went to freshen up. He didn’t take long. He grabbed a beer before joining Rosalyn on the couch. “Come here baby, I’ve missed you.”

Nick took his time, wooing her with long, slow, deep kisses. He wanted to Rosalyn begging for his touch, pleading for his loving, and more importantly, swearing that he was the only man that she could love. His kiss took charge, his hands drawing her close enough to meld them as one.

“Nick, can we take this to your room, where we could spread out better?”

He nuzzled her neck. “In a little while…” She wasn’t quite there yet, but his plan was working. Soon, she would be putty in his hands.

“Nick, I need you. Must I get on my hands and knees to convince you? You’re the only man for me, Nick.” Rosalyn was on fire, she knew no one but Nick could satisfy her.

He smiled in triumph. “No more teasing, sugar. Let’s go to my bedroom, where I’ll take care of you properly.”

Rosalyn’s heart rate increased as she climbed the stairs. Walking through the door to Nick’s bedroom, she halted, waiting for directions.

“You can set your bag by the nightstand, next to the bathroom side. If you are feeling shy, you can change in the bathroom.”

“I have a surprise for you.” Rosalyn teased Nick.

“I love surprises.” He said with a sly grin.

Rosalyn had a wicked thought, “If I said I wanted you to take off my clothes, would you?”

“Hell yes.” He didn’t waste any time coming over to her.

“Wait, remove yours first.” She ordered. “Then you can peel off mine.”

“What the lady wants, the lady gets.” Nick shed his clothes, a piece at a time, until he was naked.

Rosalyn gave him an appreciative look, licking her lips. “Very nice; okay, now you can take off mine, starting from the bottom to the top.”

“I think I’m going to enjoy unwrapping my little surprise.” Nick took her face in his hands, drawing Rosalyn close for a kiss first. “Did I tell you that I always take my time unwrapping gifts? I like to savor the experience.”

Chapter Six

“9A4, Control.” Rosalyn waited briefly for the police unit to respond. After 30 seconds went by, she called the unit a second time. “9A4, Control, clear for traffic?” When she didn’t receive any response back from the officer Rosalyn starting swearing under her breath. She tried calling the officer one more time, her voice slightly louder, and with more authority. “9A4, Control,1158?”

“9A2, 9A3, 9A7, and 9A12 start to 23467 Carter Way. I need you to start checking for 9A4 on a grid search.”

The four units acknowledged Rosalyn.

“9A2, take east-west streets starting from south end of beat 4.”

“9A2 10-4.”

“9A3, east –west streets from the north end.”

“9A3, 10-4”

“9A12, take north-south from the east end.”

“9A12 copy.”

“9A7, north-south streets starting from the west.”

“9A7 10-4.”

“Control, 9S2 enroute to Carter Way, send a message to his MDT, and if he has a cell phone, give it a call, and give us a code-33. What was he on last, and how long ago?”

“9S2, already tried cell, message was sent after third call over radio. 9A4 was on code 7 last contact 0100 hours. It’s been 1 hour and 45 minutes since he went out – he did advise he would be working on paper from his vehicle. Attention all units, code-33 for missing officer search.” Unkeying the microphone, Rosalyn swore out loud, “Sonofabitch! He had better be sick! If he fell asleep, he’s in a world of trouble. I’ll kick his ass for this, because I don’t need this stress!” Her hand shook as she waited for word from the field staff on the missing officer.

Nick had the police channel volume turned up. “Hey, calm down Ros, I doubt the guy went out tonight with the intention of pissing you off.”

She whirled to face Nick. “Don’t be condescending with me, Nick. By now, you know how much I care about these guys, but some of them do stupid shit and they don’t think about how their actions affect us, or the other officers. I get tired of the ‘Oh I’m sorry’ excuse. Now, I get to sit back, my blood pressure shoots up, and my stress goes out the roof. And folks wonder why most dispatchers never make it to a retirement age.”

A half-hour into the search, the Sergeant called it off. “Control, 9S2, we’ve found 9A4. He’s C4. I’ll 10-21 dispatch with the information. All units are 10-8.”

“9S2, copy C-4, code 34 at 0330 hours. Resume normal traffic.” Rosalyn heard the phone ring, and Ian taking to Sgt. Redcliffe. Ian disconnected the phone. He walked in to the radio area.

“Dumbass turned down the radio and had the music station turned on while he was writing his reports. His MDT was covered with papers. He even had his cell on vibrate because his girlfriend had kept calling him, and he’d gotten tired of her bugging him. He never heard you calling him, didn’t hear the radio traffic, and couldn’t see the message on the computer screen. He didn’t think the quiet was unusual due to the time.”

“He didn’t think to call in he was clear his code 7?”

Ian shook his head. “Nah, Sherlock Holmes figured you’d call him if you needed him. Needless to say, he’s on his way to the Lt’s office to explain his actions.”

“Dammed jerk, this is the third time in two months he’s done this. He’s on my shit-detail list! I won’t have him screwing up like this again.”

Ian grunted in a noncommittal manner. “Whatever, I’m here to relieve you.”

“Thanks, everyone’s status is up to date.” Rosalyn logged out as Control, gathering her personal items and unplugging. She huffed as she left the radio area.

The Communications Center was thankful the rest of the night passed by uneventfully. Nick tried to talk to Rosalyn just before she left, but Rosalyn was not in any mood to discuss her actions. She curtly told him to mind his own business, since he knew nothing of law enforcement policies & procedures. She stormed off, leaving him stunned at her cold behavior.

Nick changed, not wanting to attend his PT in work clothes. He had two hours to kill before his appointment. Taking an easy walk to his car, he was surprised to see Rosalyn still in her vehicle, sitting still.

He approached her Ford Escape, curious to see if she was just too tired to drive or if the was another problem. When he was close, Nick saw Rosalyn staring at the steering wheel. How long had she been there?

Nick tapped on the door to get her attention. It took three tries before she noticed him and rolled down the window.”Rosalyn, is there something wrong? Do you need a ride home?”

She appeared confused, her eyes slightly glossy. For a moment, she looked as if she didn’t recognize him. “Pete? What are you doing here?” She rubbed her eyes. “No, wait a minute forget that, he’s not here, isn’t he? Oh God, I don’t know if I can take this… I hoped Officer Marshall would come by. It’s not right, so soon after Sean, you know? Damn him for putting me, for putting us, through that search when the wounds are still raw. I just wanted to tell him that it’s fucked up.”

“Rosalyn,” Nick said softly, “let me take you home.”

“No, Nick I’m okay. I’m just tired. I haven’t been sleeping very well: except when I’m with you.” She gave a bitter laugh. “Not even a drink or two before bed is helping. I know you have physical therapy. Don’t let me hold you up. You have, what two weeks left, and you’re back in the field? I envy you.” She took a long breath. “Nick, I don’t think we’re working out. I have too much baggage. I’m going to piss you off sooner or later; you don’t need my screwed up head. I’m sorry.” She started her car. “Good-bye, Nick.” Driving off against his protests, she let the tears finally flow.

“Fuck!” Nick swore in anger. A jogger passing by almost stumbled when he thought Nick was cursing at him. The man sped up to get to the next block. Nick walked to his vehicle; he didn’t want to be late for physical therapy. Now, more than ever, he needed to focus on getting back to his real job.

That night, Nick waited to take his lunch break until after Rosalyn had hers. She was working the warrant channel the second half, so he felt comfortable he wouldn’t be interrupted. He found Chris in the back office.

“Chris, do you have a moment?”

The Dispatch Supervisor saved the file he was working on in the computer. “Sure, come in and shut the door.”

“I want to pass on some information, and I’ve been debating whether or not I should. After yesterday, my conscious has gone ten rounds.”

“You’ve gotten my attention. Go ahead.”

Nick looked Chris straight in the eye. “This needs to be confidential. I only going to tell you because I want to head off potential problems towards the field staff and the person involved.”

“It must be serious. As long as I feel there is no danger to personnel, I’ll keep the information to myself. If I think, even for a moment, that there is a threat to staff, or the public, that choice is out of my hands.”

“Yeah, I understand. I’d expect, and do, the same if I was back at the firehouse. Anyways, I’m concerned about Rosalyn. She’s not been sleeping and she admitted she’s started drinking, not heavy, just one or two drinks at night to try and sleep. Last night, she went off verbally towards the officer who went missing. I swear she was one step from tracking him down at the station after he went off duty and chewing him out. When I went to my car, I found her almost catatonic in her vehicle, mumbling about her partner. That’s when she admitted she was having problems. Chris, I’m worried about her. I can’t check on her, because she broke up with me at the same time. I wanted someone else to know how fragile she is right now.”

Chris listened to Nick, surprised to hear the firefighter had been dating Rosalyn. He hadn’t heard any rumors, which in that place was very unusual. The emotional issues were a different matter all together. “Nick, I appreciate you coming to me with your concerns. I have noticed her outbursts, and have been monitoring her. I’ll continue to keep a close eye on Rosalyn, and if she gets worse, I’ll step in. I’m sorry to hear that she broke up with you. Most of all, I’m sorry to see you leave us. If you ever decide to quit, or out of necessity, you can’t work as a firefighter/medic any longer you will be welcome as a full-fledged dispatcher. We’ll make sure you get through the complete process. Good luck.” Chris held out his hand.

Nick took Chris’ hand to shake. “Thanks, on all accounts.”


“Hi Nick, have any plans for Saturday night?”

I did until she dumped me. “No, Wyatt, I don’t. What did you have in mind?”

“One of Julie’s high school friends is in town. We were going out, but Julie doesn’t want to Ericka to be the third wheel. She wondered if you’d be willing to come along. Julie swears Ericka is a hottie.”

“What the hell, sure I’m game. Why don’t I come over to your place, just name the time.”

“1600 hours, and go casual. We’re just going over to SF. We’re going to take one car, if that’s okay.”

“Alright, I’ll be there.” Immediately after hanging hung, he wanted to call Wyatt back and bow out. “Two more shifts and I won’t have to face Rosalyn anymore.” He walked effortlessly to the bathroom to get ready for work. Staring at his reflection in the mirror, he imagined the stereotypical angel and devil sitting on each shoulder with Rosalyn standing next to him – a disapproving glare on her face. “Dammit woman, don’t look at me like that! You gave up on me. Am I supposed to live like a monk now? Should I be the one to crawl back, begging forgiveness?” He pounded the vanity surface in frustration.

Thursday came and went without a hitch. Nick was antsy he wanted the final shift to be over. Rosalyn treated him with professional courtesy, speaking to him no, or no less, than she did any other of her coworkers.

Walking out of dispatch, Nick thanked those he wouldn’t see his final shift that night. On the way home, he turned up the music station, singing out loud to Van Halen. Even the hurt of Rosalyn couldn’t dampen the excitement of returning to his station on Monday.

Chapter Seven

Rosalyn’s hands shook as she applied a dusky peach blush to her cheeks. A quick touch of mascara went on next. A part of her heart screamed at the other to fall at his knees and ask for a second chance. “I miss you, Nick. I was a fool to toss you away so casually.” After tonight, she’d have to make do with hearing his voice over the radio or phone. She’d contributed to the pot with the other dispatchers on nightshift. Chris took the money and purchased a get-out-of-dispatch gift for Nick, food & beverages.

She held tears, not wanting to ruin her make-up. If he’d only called her, she would have apologized. “Get a grip. He had nothing to say sorry for – I pushed him away – Nick only did what I told him to do.” Rosalyn went downstairs to feed Billi. Maybe, just maybe, he would give her the chance to make things right before he drove off in the morning.


“I’d like to say thanks to Nick for his help. He’s one of the few field personnel who’s been willing to do more than just work the designated radio position.” D’Arcy said.

“True,” chimed in Jean “and his calls are complete. That’s a big help. I don’t have to worry about asking him to call back and get more information.”

Amazing you can recognize a decent call, since you can’t take one. Oh Nick, stay here, working next to me. But she knew that was impossible. “Nick’s not leaving he’s just going back to the field, folks. Who knows, maybe he will grace us and work an occasional OT shift? Don’t take that to mean I won’t miss you, Nick. You can always stop by and say hello.”

Chris smiled. “As you can see, your presence will be missed.” He reached behind the podium, to pick up a wrapped box. “As a token of our appreciation, this is for you. The food and beverages will be put out once swing shift goes home.”

Nick took the gift unwrapping it with all of dispatchers’ eager encouragement. He pulled out a glass decanter, engraved with the San Varlin Public Safety Dispatcher’s emblem. Underneath the replica of the patch were the words “Nick Owain, FF/PM/PSD 2010”. Nick was overwhelmed. He had never expected this display of recognition from the group of dispatchers. Taking a minute to gathers his thoughts, he could have easily been on the stage in Los Angeles, accepting an Academy Award. “I don’t know what to say. I never expected this…you’ve all been great. Thank you. I’ll have this decanter in a place of honor in my home.”

“Alright then, shall we let swing shift go home?” Chris suggested. The silence broke as everyone started to chatter, picking up personal items and moving out of the room.

Nick carefully placed his gift back in the box. He followed the crew through the door to the main dispatch room. He couldn’t help noticing Rosalyn’s bright face. She looked good enough to eat. She went to the warrants desk. Why had Chris changed her routine? He checked the assignments board. Chris had placed Rosalyn on the police desk for the second half of the shift. This was going to make for a long night.

Rosalyn took a lull in radio requests to call Chris. She asked to get switched from police to call-taking for the second half. A pregnant pause made her think the phone had been disconnected.

“Hello, are you still there?”

Chris didn’t sound pleased. “You’ve never requested an assignment change before unless you were sick. Rosalyn, you didn’t look ill in the meeting. Give me a good reason why I should shuffle personnel around when the schedule has been posted. Do you have a problem working next to Nick? Has he exhibited inappropriate behavior or said an inappropriate comment to you?”

“No, nothing like that, I just would prefer not to be next to him.”

Then why tease him with the make-up, Ros? Are you just being a bitch, or are you hoping he ask you to come back to him? “Sorry, unless you can give me a specific reason, I’m not going to change the assignments for tonight. It’s his last day. If you have a personal concern, and don’t wish to reveal it on a taped line, you can have Mary cover for you while we speak in my office.”

Rosalyn’s end of the line was quiet for a moment before she answered. “No, forget it. It’s his last day. I can handle one more night.”

“Rosalyn, seriously, if you need to talk, I’m here.”

“Yeah, Chris, I know. Thanks. I’m being called on the radio, gotta go.” She hung up the line.

When it was time to rotate, she walked the distance to the police desk, trying not to look at Nick. To his credit, she was glad when she settled in, that he kept himself busy reading continuing education articles and munching on food. When day shift came in, they both took off as quickly as possible.


Wyatt met Nick at the door, an infectious grin on his face. “I’m glad to see you made it, partner. Ericka and Julie are upstairs putting the finishing touches on their make-up. Come on in.”

The two guys took a walk to the back yard, where Wyatt showed off his new double-grill gas Bar-B-Que. “Just wait, as soon as the weather improves, I’m having the entire shift over for a cook-out to break in this bad boy.”

“Sounds, great, Wyatt. So, where are we going?”

“Ericka has never been to SF, so we’ll do the touristy bit. She wants to visit the wharf, the pier and Golden Gate Park. Don’t groan, at least I talked her out of Coit Tower.”

“We’re ready.”

“Okay, I was just showing Nick my new toy.” Wyatt rolled his eyes.

Nick mouthed “pussywhipped” at his friend & partner, ignoring the finger Wyatt gave him in response.

Nick was determined to have a good time. Ericka gave him a nervous hello, standing close to her friend, Julie. Before Rosalyn, Nick would have been all over the woman. Ericka was about 5’6, medium build, with blonde hair and green eyes. She had a decent bust. She was almost everything he could have wanted in a woman, except she wasn’t Rosalyn.

Nick played nice, treating Ericka with kid gloves. He laughed at the right times, opened doors, and filled in lulls with small talk. At the end of the day, he said his goodbye. Wyatt followed Nick to his car, leaving the girls inside.

“Spill it, man, Ericka is hot, single, and better yet only here for a little while. She’s the perfect date and you blew her off. That’s not the Nick I know. Who’s the woman?”

“It’s over, so it doesn’t matter. Drop it, Wyatt.”

“Obviously it’s not over in your mind, if you can’t even kiss a pretty girl goodbye. What’s the problem?”

Nick stood staring at the ground.

“Come on, how long have we been friends?”

“She’s one of the dispatchers. I hooked with her not too long after I started there. She’s amazing, smart, pretty, and she dumped me about the time I had my cast taken off.”

“Did she say why?”

“She was working the radio the night Officer Iorwerth was killed. Not long after that incident, another officer pulled a stupid disappearing stunt: it took a half hour to find him. She wigged out over it. It brought back some bad memories from when she was a medic. She, the patient and her partner were all shot. She was the sole survivor. She has a bad case of PTSS. She told me I needed someone without baggage – her words, not mine.”

“Let me guess…your stubborn ass let her walk away without a fight.”

“It was her decision, I’m not about to force any my attentions where they are not welcome.”

“She never gave you any chance to convince her otherwise?”


“Nick, you can be the dumbest asshole when you put your mind to it. She wanted you to after her or at least call. If you had, she would have fallen apart, cried, and begged forgiveness. You could have told her you would go back only if she’d agree to seek help. PTSS is curable, for God sakes, you know that! Now you are miserable, and she’s even worse for missing you in top of it all.”

“Oh shit, I was stunned by her kiss-off, and in a hurry to get my work clearance, I never thought it through. Where were you two weeks ago? Tell Ericka and Julie I’m sorry. I’m going to stop by Rosalyn’s place and hope she’s home.”

“Good luck, you can tell me about it Monday.”

Nick drove to Rosalyn’s townhouse, going over the possible scenarios in his mind of what could happen when she opened her door. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best, please baby, answer your doorbell. Stopping at the security gate, Nick entered the code. He found a parking space, staying in his vehicle to settle his emotions.

Rosalyn channel surfed, finding nothing of interest to watch. She finally stopped on a sports channel finding a hockey game on. “I wish he were here, Billi.” She picked up her cat, scratching behind his ears. Billi meowed. “You miss him, too?” The tabby purred as she stroked his back. Rosalyn started to nod off.

A musical chime startled Rosalyn awake. She looked at the cable box: 9:00 P.M. “Who would be at my door at 2100 hours?” She walked over to the front door, where she peeked through the hole.

“Nick?” Rosalyn unlocked and opened the door. “Nick, what are you doing here? Is something wrong?”

“Rosalyn, may I come in?”

She couldn’t speak, tongue-tied at the sight of the man she wished for suddenly standing at her entry way. “Sure, come in.” Was it possible for a guy to get better looking in a couple of weeks, or was it her hormones kicking in? She locked the door after he walked inside following Nick as he sat down on the couch.

Nick heard Wyatt’s advice in the back of his head. “Rosalyn, I can’t get you out of my mind. I’m sorry for not supporting you. I want to give us another chance.”

“Oh my God, Nick, I’ve been in agony these past two weeks. I was an idiot that day. I spouted off in frustration, and lashed out at you. I was wrong. Yes, I want to try again. I’ll do whatever it takes.”

Wyatt was right, she’s putty in my hands now. “Okay, I want you to make an appointment with one of those counselors to talk about the line of duty death of Officer Iorwerth.”

Rosalyn nodded. “I’ve already started seeing one.”

Relief swarmed through Nick’s body, she had already made the first step. “That’s great. There is no shame in seeking help. I would like to ask one more condition. This one you can refuse. Tell me about the day you were injured and Pete was killed, and I don’t want to hear the dragnet version this time.”

Rosalyn let out a long breath. “Whew, you’re not pulling any punches today, are you Nick? Fine, but first, I need something to drink. Are you thirsty?”

“If I drink, I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.”

“No problem.”

“Do you have any beer?”

“Yep, I’ll bring you one.” She grabbed Nick a beer and ale for herself. “You’ve seen the photo of Pete and I on the shelf? It was taken the day he died. Pete was going to school while he worked, he’d finished pre-med classes. He received his letter of acceptance from Stanford that day. He was so excited…” She took a swig of her ale. “Half-way through our shift we were dispatched on a code 2 medical for a stomach pain. Code 2’s didn’t get fire or police units dispatched with the ambulance. When we arrived, it was this old decrepit apartment building: you know the type, bad lighting, no elevators, wooden stairs, and used needles in the yards: just a real dump. Well, we found the patient on the second floor. He had been stabbed in the abdomen. We called it in, requesting Oakland PD. No surprise, hell half of the code 2 calls in the projects were drug deals gone bad or gang fights.”

“I’ve heard about that from guys who’d worked in Oakland and Richmond. They said a lot of the EMS crews wore Kevlar and some even carried Saturday Night Specials.”

“Yeah, some of my partners did have guns, completely illegal, but who could blame them? I mean, we were first in on crime scenes on a daily basis. The County continued to send us in to areas by ourselves that the cops wouldn’t go to without back-up units. So, there we were, packaging up the patient and getting him downstairs. The family is pulling the usual fuss, asking if he’ll make it, yelling & praying, and bitching at us for how long we took to get there.” She stopped to take another long drink.

“We just made it outside and were almost to the bus.” Tears started to leak from her eyes. “Damn, if I’d only seen the asshole a few seconds sooner, we could have taken cover, but I was checking the IV line. The family scattered. That should have been a clue. I heard the pops and saw Pete collapse.”

“I rushed over to him, completely forgetting our patient. When I did glance over to the dude on the gurney, his head was half gone. I can’t remember if I yelled or spoke calmly, but I called in a request for emergency help on both our channel and the County Mednet frequency. I felt a shove as I reached Pete to check on him…” She started trembling.

Nick wrapped his arms around her. “You don’t have to tell me anymore.”

“Yes I do, I need to get this out. Nick was hit in the chest. He knew he was hurt bad. He pulled me down close, so he could talk.” Rosalyn buried her head in Nick’s chest the pain of that day still haunted her. Nick’s warmth was healing.

“I can do this…I did my best to help him: you know, starting a line…As he bled out, I told him to hang on, that help was on the way. I didn’t even know I was hurt until help arrived, I was soo focused on helping Pete. He told me how much he loved me.”

Rosalyn slammed down the rest of her drink, almost gagging herself.

“Honey you need to slow down before you choke on that alcohol.”

Rosalyn’s hands were shaking. “I need a refill, please would you be a dear and make me one while I go on. I have to fill you in on what happened the day before.”

“Is it really that bad?”

“Yeah, and I’ve never spoken of this to anyone else.”

Nick gave Rosalyn a quick peck on the cheek. “Okay, but after this, I think you need to lay off the alcohol. I think you have been using it as a crutch, and we both know that can lead to alcoholism.”

“I know, believe me. I promise. The day before, Pete & I were coming off our days off and he wanted to throw a party. I questioned why he didn’t do the bash on his first night off as he normally did, to let us have a recovery day before work. Nope, he was insistent on the night before. Go figure. A bunch of ems folks, firefighters, and cops all showed. You know how that is – we all go one another’s deals. So there we were, having a good time. Sheryl, Pete’s girlfriend showed up with her friend Anna. They only stayed for a couple of hours. Sheryl looked pissed off when she left: she never did well with our parties.“

Rosalyn took a sip of her drink. “As the night went by, the crowd thinned out. I had my fill of drinks, we all did. The place was still packed, so I went out outside and found a chair in the backyard. Marsha and Jamal joined me. They were a couple of medics that worked for the same company Pete & I did. We drank our beers and gossiped. Marsha said she was going for another beer, asked Jamal & I if we wanted a refill. I said yes. Jamal winked, said she was done for the night and he’d take her home. He offered me a ride, but I said I’d call a cab. I really meant to.”

She played with her glass, twirling the fluid around making the ice clink against the tumbler. “I lost track of time sitting outside watching the stars. I finished my beer and went to get another. I must have been a hell of a lot drunker than I thought I was. I surprised Pete in the kitchen.”

Nick didn’t need a fortune teller to see where her story was going.

“Everyone else was gone. I asked him for my car keys, but he refused to let me have them. He said I was too intoxicated to drive. You need to know, back then I always kept a spare set of clothes and a clean uniform in my car. At least every other shift I’d have to change or I’d get a call for last minute OT and since we weren’t paid a lot, I’d always take the OT. He talked me into staying at his place overnight.”

“Let me guess, he sweet-talked you into his bed.” Nick guessed from her long face.

“Yeah, he did. The worse part, I could have said no, but I wanted him as much as he did me. Pete told me he’d broken up with Sheryl that she had only come by to bring the engagement ring back to him. He said it was his fault, something about his calling her by my name when they were in bed.”

“Ouch, that had to be an ugly scene.”

“No kidding, she didn’t believe Pete when he said that there was nothing between us.”

“And there you were at the party, having a good time, completely clueless to the drama between them.”

“At least Sheryl acted civil. I do think she knew he was telling the truth, but still it had to hurt. Anyways, back to the next day. Pete loses consciousness on me just as I started getting light-headed and everything became fuzzy just as I heard the first siren.”

Nick was horrified at hearing about the call. No wonder she was having a difficult time with the officer’s death.

“When I came to in the ICU, I asked how Pete was doing. The faces told me the truth long before anyone would admit he was dead. It is my fault he’s dead. I couldn’t save him. Even worse, I missed his funeral. Sheryl came to visit me along with Pete’s family. I lied and told them his last words were all about them.”

“Darlin’ you need to let Pete rest in peace. I’m going to say this, whether you want to hear it or not. Pete took advantage of you at his party. He may have been intoxicated, you definitely were, but he had no business making a pass at you. He obviously knew what he was doing. I have no doubt he planned his seduction – Rosalyn, you said it. Pete would usually have his parties on nights when he didn’t need to get up the next morning. Why that night? I’ll tell you why. He was planning on you staying over. You shouldn’t carry the guilt over the events of that night or the next day, and especially not over Pete’s actions. As for telling his family that Pete spoke of them in his last minutes, I’d have done the same thing. That’s called compassion.” Nick kissed Rosalyn’s forehead. “I’m happy you have shared your grief with me. I’ll be here with you, for you. I promise.”

Rosalyn thought about Nick’s words. “Oh my God, you’re right, Nick. He said he broke up with Sheryl a week before. The party was planned only four days before he died. He was always finding an excuse to kiss me: what he called legitimate reasons, Christmas, New Years, birthdays. He would get all of the women, not just me, but he made damn sure mine went beyond the friendly guy co-worker pecks. I’m such a fool.”

“Losing a friend, a partner, is tough. You’ve allowed yourself to carry the burden for too long, Rosalyn. Let that terrible day go, and remember Pete as the good person he was.”

They cuddled together, neither saying another word until Rosalyn began to yawn. “Nick, would you stay with me tonight? I don’t want to be alone.”

“I’ll do anything you ask of me, except leave you again.”

Chapter Eight

Rosalyn leaned up against the mirror, making sure her eye-liner was just right and her mascara hadn’t smudged. Her dark blue corset was a perfect fit, accenting her curves as well as pushing up her breasts. Happy the stockings were run-free Rosalyn rolled up a spare set in a baggie and placed it in her clutch purse. Rosalyn pulled on her black slip, edged in a delicate lace. Before she squeezed in to her dress, she picked out her accessories: a delicate gold chain with a diamond tipped heart pendant given to her by Nick on her last birthday and a set of sapphire earrings from her parents for Christmas after the shooting incident. She sat down to put on her three-inch heeled, blue velvet shoes. Only then, did she slide on the formal gown: made of dark blue satin & velvet: the deep V-neck hugged her curves, showed off her bosom, and flared at the hemline just enough to be flirty.

“Oh yeah, he’s gonna love it.” Rosalyn said. She threw her lipstick in the clutch, along with the stockings, her coin purse with her ID, a little cash, her debit card, a comb, the cell phone, and her keys. “Other than feeding Billi, I’m ready.” She grabbed a day bag with a spare set of clothes, holding the handrail, she carefully walked downstairs. Nick should arrive any time to pick her up for the annual San Varlin City Firefighter’s Christmas Ball.

After putting out ample food and clean water for the cat, she sat down to wait. It didn’t take long before the doorbell rang.

Rosalyn expected Nick to be dressed up as she was, but not in a tuxedo. She moved aside to let him in, gushing over him as they both spoke at once…

“Oh my God, Nick, you look incredibly handsome! The other women will be green with envy.”

“Sugar, you are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen!”

They both started laughing as they met for a kiss. When they separated, Nick cupped her face “Damn, I’m afraid to take you out. I’m going to have to beat other guys away from you with a stick. We have a few minutes before we need to leave. Can we sit for a moment?”

“Sure we can.” She led him to the couch.

Nick wasted no time, drawing Rosalyn close for another kiss. When he broke free, he held her hand. “Rosalyn, I love you. I can’t imagine my life without you in it. I wonder what it would be like waking up to you in the mornings, taking care of you, raising our children, and growing old together. Before I met you, I was just going through life, now I’m alive and look forward to each day. I can only hope you feel the same as I do. Rosalyn, will you marry me?” He reached into a pocket and pulled out a ring.

Rosalyn was speechless. She had never expected a proposal from Nick. “Nick, I never expected a marriage proposal from you. You’re everything I have dreamed of in a man. Yes, yes I accept. I love you.” Her eyes started to well up with tears. “Quick! Get me a tissue, so I don’t ruin my make-up!”

“Don’t move, I don’t want your make-up ruined.” He flashed Rosalyn a grin and raced over to the bathroom. He came back. “Let me.” He dabbed at her eyes, “There, just perfect.” He slipped on the engagement band, leaning over just enough to kiss her. “Now, we can leave for the Ball. You can show off your new ring.”

She picked up her purse and cashmere shawl, letting Nick guide her outside. Locking the door, Rosalyn floated to his car. On the drive to the Ashleigh Hotel in San Varlin hills, she alternated between holding Nick’s hand and staring at her new engagement ring. He chose well: the one carat solitaire diamond in a Princess cut sparkled with a rainbow of brilliant colors.

Nick pulled up to the valet parking. He walked around to help her out, pocketing the parking tag at the same time. “Are you nervous?”

She smiled. “For what: being in a room full of San Varlin firefighters who mostly know me by my voice, or being with you as your fiancé?”


“I wasn’t until you mentioned it.” She said with a laugh.

Nick kissed her. “Don’t be, you’ll do fine; use that visualization technique of imagining them as puppies.”

Rosalyn took his arm as they walked along the sidewalk to the entrance. “Honey, you have that wrong. I think you’re supposed to see the audience in their underwear.”

“The only man I want you to see in his underwear is me, and I have been reconsidering my promise to my station to stay for the Chief’s speech since you opened your door.”

“We better stay, I want to dance. Do you know how much trouble it is to put on this make-up?”

He chuckled. “You would good great in sweats, but I concede. My sugar wants to dance, we will stay.” His voice deepened with need. “After which, I plan on keeping you busy all night.”

Following the signs, and a steady stream of co-workers, Nick led Rosalyn to the Benjamin Franklin Ball Room.

The Franklin Room was decorated in a Colonial Style in floral maroon wallpaper and a dark oak floor. The tables had dark red tablecloths with gold & white china with white & red carnation center pieces highlighted by a gold candle. The wood floor in front was set aside for dancing.

“I see my crew, let’s claim our seats. Afterwards we can mingle, or stay and chat. It’s your choice.”

“Why don’t we claim our seats and then mingle? You can introduce me to people I’ve only talked to over the radio, as your fiancé.”

Nick gave Rosalyn a quick kiss. “I love your idea. Want a drink first?”

“I’d love a mimosa.”

“Fancy stuff for my lady. You desires are my mine.”

Reaching the table where station six, “A” shift sat, Nick pulled out a chair for Rosalyn. His gesture of chivalry immediately started a round of teasing.

TJ McPherson, the engineer of the truck, was the first. “How much did she pay you to act civilized tonight?”

Kobe Meyers, the station Lieutenant, chimed in with his two cents. “It had to be a hefty amount.”

“I bet she’s a relative, a distant cousin, because only a relative would go out with a caveman like him.” Joey Franklin said with a twinkle in his eye.

Nick took the ribbing as it was intended, a little teasing with no offense meant.

Ryan, the newest member of the crew shook his head. “Naw, you lot have it all wrong. She’s doing him a favor. It’s a pity date.”

Caitlin Johnson leaned over her husband, Tony, to introduce herself. “Hi, I’m Caitlin Johnson; I know we’ve talked over the phone.” Caitlin introduced her co-workers to Rosalyn.

Rosalyn smiled and gave a polite hello to each person. “Now that I’ve heard your voices, I recognize some of you. In case you don’t know me by my voice, I’m Rosalyn McDonald, one of the nightshift dispatchers for San Varlin. I’m sure I’ve had the pleasure of waking you up a few times in the past, but if you would each take a turn and grumble or whine, it would help me to know who is who.”

The table was silent as the men sized her up. At first, Rosalyn thought she had made the men mad with her comment, but one-by-one smiles broke the stony faces. They couldn’t hold back their laughter any longer.

Will Kinsley, who sat in the chair next to the one Nick would sit in, reached over to hold out his hand. “Rosalyn, nice to meet you in person; I’m the guy who complains about almost walking in to walls when I wake up.”

Taking his hand, Rosalyn replied “Nice to meet you Will. Did your request for the guide dog ever get approved?”

Manuel Chavez elbowed Kobe Meyers. “Oh yeah, I know her now: that’s Rosalyn…hey chica, it’s good to finally meet you in person!”

Nick walked up with two drinks in hand. “Manuel who are you calling chica? It had better not be my girl!” He set Rosalyn’s drink on the table. “Miss me?” he whispered as he leaned down to kiss her.

“Always.” Rosalyn answered back.

Nick sat down. He sipped on his drink, with a grin on his face.

Kobe couldn’t stand it any longer. “What’s up Nick, I can tell by the expression you’re dying to tell us something.”

Nick took Rosalyn’s hand in his. “I wouldn’t tell you lot the name of the lady I was dating to protect her, just in case we didn’t work out. I don’t have to worry about that any longer. Before we left her home, I asked Rosalyn to marry me and she said yes.”

To help to prove his statement, Rosalyn held up her hand with the engagement ring.

Well wishes erupted from every man and woman at the table.

Darnell turned to Wyatt, “Did you know about this?”

“I knew who Nick was seeing, but nothing about the proposal.”

After the speeches, Nick made good on his promise, dancing with Rosalyn until she whispered it was time to go. The more they slow-danced, the deeper her desire built to feel his skin against hers.

“It’s time to leave.” Nick whispered to Rosalyn. “I want you.”

On the drive to Nick’s house, he pushed the speed limit, helped by the presence of Rosalyn’s hand rubbing his thigh. Nick groaned. “Unless you’re trying to distract me enough to wreck the car, I suggest you remove your hand.”

Rosalyn removed her hand as requested with a throaty laugh, “No, I don’t want to be in any traffic accident. There are better ways to spend our time tonight.”

Nick made the turn to his home street. He pulled in to the driveway, hitting the automatic garage door.

Rosalyn kissed him. “I am sorry you were hurt, but I am soo glad you came to our shift for light duty.”

Nick kissed her back. “Not as happy as I am, my love.”


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