St. Martin's Press
Fort Worth Police Officer Megan Luz
My rusty-haired partner lay convulsing on the hot asphalt, his jaw clenching and his body involuntarily curling into a jittery fetal position as two probes delivered fifteen hundred volts of electricity to his groin. The crotch of his police-issue trousers darkened as he lost control of his bladder.
I’d never felt close to my partner in the six months we’d worked together, but at that particular moment I sensed a strong bond. The connection likely stemmed from the fact that we were indeed connected then—by the two wires leading from the Taser in my hand to my partner’s twitching testicles.
* * *
I didn’t set out to become a hero. I decided on a career in law enforcement for three other reasons:
1. Having been a twirler in my high school’s marching band, I knew how to handle a baton.
2. Other than barking short orders or rattling off Miranda rights, working as a police officer wouldn’t require me to talk much.
3. I had an excess of pent-up anger. Might as well put it to good use, right?
Of course I didn’t plan to be a street cop forever. Just long enough to work my way up to detective. A lofty goal, but I knew I could do it—even if nobody else did.
I’d enjoyed my studies in criminal justice at Sam Houston State University in Hunstville, Texas, especially the courses in criminal psychology. No, I’m not some sick, twisted creep who gets off on hearing about criminals who steal, rape, and murder. I just thought that if we could figure out why criminals do bad things maybe we could stop them, you know?
To supplement my student loans, I’d worked part-time at the gift shop in the nearby state prison museum, selling tourists such quality souvenirs as ceramic ashtrays made by the prisoners and decks of cards containing prison trivia. The unit had once been home to Clyde Barrow of Bonnie and Clyde fame and was also the site of an eleven-day siege in 1974 spearheaded by heroin kingpin Fred Gomez Carrasco, jailed for killing a police officer. Our top-selling item was a child’s time-out chair fashioned after Old Sparky, the last remaining electric chair used in Texas. Talk about cruel and unusual punishment.
To the corner, little Billy.
No, Mommy, no! Anything but the chair!
I’d looked forward to becoming a cop, keeping the streets safe for citizens, maintaining law and order, promoting civility and justice. Such noble ideals, right?
What I hadn’t counted on was that I’d be working with a force full of macho shitheads. With my uncanny luck, I’d been assigned to partner with the most macho, most shit-headed cop of all, Derek the “Big Dick” Mackey. As implied in the aforementioned reference to twitching testicles, our partnership had not ended well.
That’s why I was sitting here outside the chief’s office on a cheap plastic chair, chewing my thumbnail down to a painful nub, waiting to find out whether I still had a job. Evidently, Tasering your partner in the cojones is considered not only an overreaction but also a blatant violation of department policy, one that carried the potential penalty of dismissal from the force, not to mention a criminal assault charge.
So much for those noble ideals, huh?
I ran a finger over my upper lip, blotting the nervous sweat that had formed there. Would I be booted off the force after only six months on duty?
With the city’s budget crisis, there’d been threats of cutbacks and layoffs across the board. No department would be spared. If the chief had to fire anyone, he’d surely start with the rookie with the Irish temper. If the chief canned me, what would I do? My aspirations of becoming a detective would go down the toilet. Once again I’d be Megan Luz, aka “The Loser.” As you’ve probably guessed, my pent-up anger had a lot to do with that nickname.
I pulled my telescoping baton from my belt and flicked my wrist to extend it. Snap! Though my police baton had a different feel from the twirling baton I’d used in high school, I’d quickly learned that with a few minor adjustments to accommodate the distinctive weight distribution I could perform many of the same tricks with it. I began to work the stick, performing a basic flat spin. The repetitive motion calmed me, helped me think. It was like a twirling metal stress ball. Swish-swish-swish.
The chief’s door opened and three men exited. All wore navy tees emblazoned with white letters spelling “BOMB SQUAD” stretched tight across well-developed pecs. Though the bomb squad was officially part of the Fort Worth Fire Department, the members worked closely with the police. Where there’s a bomb, there’s a crime, after all. Most likely these men were here to discuss safety procedures for the upcoming Concerts in the Garden. After what happened at the Boston Marathon, extra precautions were warranted for large public events.
The guy in front, a blond with a military-style haircut, cut his eyes my way. He watched me spin my baton for a moment, then dipped his head in acknowledgement when my gaze met his. He issued the standard southern salutation: “Hey.”
His voice was deep with a subtle rumble, like far-off thunder warning of an oncoming storm. The guy wasn’t tall, but he was broad shouldered, muscular, and undeniably masculine. He had dark-green eyes and a dimple in his chin that drew my eyes downward, over his soft, sexy mouth, and back up again.
A hot flush exploded through me. I tried to nod back at him, but my muscles seemed to have atrophied. My hand stopped moving and clutched my baton in a death grip. All I could do was watch as he and the other men continued into the hall and out of sight.
Blurgh. Acting like a frigid virgin. How humiliating!
Once the embarrassment waned, I began to wonder. Had the bomb squad guy found me attractive? Was that why he’d greeted me? Or was he simply being friendly to a fellow public servant?
My black locks were pulled back in a tight, torturous bun, a style that enabled me to look professional on the force while allowing me to retain my feminine allure after hours. There were only so many sacrifices I was willing to make for employment, and my long, lustrous hair was not one of them. My freckles showed through my light makeup. Hard to feel like a tough cop if you’re wearing too much foundation or more than one coat of mascara. Fortunately, I had enough natural coloring to get by with little in the way of cosmetics. I was a part Irish-American, part Mexican-American mutt, with just enough Cherokee blood to give me an instinctive urge to dance in the rain but not enough to qualify me for any college scholarships. My figure was neither thin nor voluptuous, but my healthy diet and regular exercise kept me in decent shape. It was entirely possible that the guy had been checking me out. Right?
I mentally chastised myself: Chill, Megan. I hadn’t had a date since I’d joined the force, but so what? I had more important things to deal with at the moment. I collapsed my baton, returned it to my belt, and took a deep breath to calm my nerves.
The chief’s secretary, a middle-aged brunette wearing a poly-blend dress, sat at her desk typing a report into the computer. She had twice as much butt as chair, her thighs draping over the sides of the seat. But who could blame her? Judging from the photos on her desk, she’d squeezed out three children in rapid succession. Having grown up in a family of five kids, I knew mothers had little time to devote to themselves when their kids were young and constantly needed Mommy to feed them, clean up their messes, and bandage their various boo-boos. She wore no jewelry, no makeup, and no nail polish. The chief deserved credit for not hiring a younger, prettier, better-accessorized woman for the job. Obviously, she’d been hired for her mad office skills. She’d handled a half-dozen phone calls in the short time I’d been waiting and her fingers moved over the keyboard at such a speedy pace it was a miracle her hands didn’t burst into flame. Whatever she was being paid, it wasn’t enough.
The woman’s phone buzzed again and she punched her intercom button. “Yessir?” She paused a moment. “I’ll send her in.” She hung up the phone and turned to me. “The chief is ready for you.”
“Thanks.” I stood on wobbly legs.
Will the chief take my badge today?
Is my career in law enforcement over?
I turned the knob and stepped into the doorway, a dozen eyes on me. Two of the eyes belonged to Chief Garelik. The other ten were lifeless glass spheres inserted into the various animal heads mounted on the wall, including a sixteen-point buck, a mountain lion, and an enormous gaping trout. Given the abundance of wood paneling and taxidermy, the room looked more like a hunting lodge than a government office. Two long windows looked out on to downtown Fort Worth, the clock tower of the Tarrant County Courthouse visible a block away. Situated between the windows was a bookcase boasting framed snapshots of the chief in camouflage coveralls crouched next to a fresh, bloody kill. In another, the chief held a dead duck by the neck while the Big Dick stood next to him, his red burr cut flaming in the sunshine, his arm draped over the chief’s shoulders.
No doubt about it. The chief was a man’s man.
I’d met Chief Garelik only once before, at the induction ceremony for the officers in my training class. After administering the police officer’s oath, he’d made his way down the line, shaking hands, pinning badges on uniforms, giving each new officer a stiff salute. Today he sat in an oversized leather chair behind an enormous oak desk, a collection of hunting rifles mounted in a rack behind him. The chief was broad and bulky, with a complexion best described as Spam-like, red and ruddy, with visible lines of broken capillaries on his cheeks and around his nose. High blood pressure would be my guess. Serving as police chief in a city of three-quarters of a million people wasn’t exactly a low-stress job.
He ran a hand through his silver hair and locked his steely eyes on me, shooting me the same look one would give an aluminum siding salesman who’d appeared uninvited on the doorstep. “Get your ass in here, Officer Luz.”
Not exactly a polite invitation, but I was in no position to take offense. I stepped into his office, closing the door gently behind me. The latch caught with a resounding click, as if sealing my fate.
He gestured to one of the wing chairs covered in genuine fake leather courtesy of the city’s taxpayers. The stretched-out fabric on the seat evidenced decades of butts’ having perched on the chair. My ass was obviously not the first that would be chewed out here.
Before I could even settle in he snapped, “Good God a’mighty, Luz! What the hell were you thinking?”
No working up to the subject. No pussyfooting around. Then again, the chief was a busy man with no time for niceties.
“I guess I w-wasn’t thinking, s-sir,” I said, disappointed to hear the stutter in my voice. I was a cop, dammit. I needed to sound professional, tough, competent. Instead, my voice sounded feeble and fumbling, the way it had back in school when a teacher called on me in class.
I’m not going to let myself down.
I can do this.
“I’m sorry. I lost my t-temper.” Carefully choosing my words and using as few as possible, I explained to the chief that Mackey and I had arrested a woman for driving under the influence. “We found a bag of what appeared to be crystal meth in her car.”
I’d cuffed the woman, turned her to face the cruiser, and patted her down. Mackey had suggested I perform a body cavity search, further proposing I lick my finger first, not only to make insertion easier but also “to make things more fun” for the woman. The perverse comment had been bad enough, but when he offered to lick my finger clean afterward it was the last straw. I had put up with his disgusting, sexist bullshit all day, including him positioning his erect baton between his legs and rubbing it up and down while making moaning sounds.
Grrr. An uncontrollable rage had seized me. An instant later Derek lay twitching on the asphalt, his hands cupped over his crotch, his eyes rolling back in his head, and drool oozing from his mouth. Then came the urination, as disclosed earlier.
Repeating the exchange was embarrassing. But I had to tell the chief the filthy things Mackey had said. I had to defend myself.
When I finished, the chief shook his head. “Mackey’s a prick. You’ll get no argument here.”
I wasn’t sure whether to be offended by the chief’s vulgar language or to be glad he was treating me like one of the guys. I didn’t want him to treat me differently because I was female. I wanted the same respect—or disrespect—he gave the male officers.
The chief sat back in his chair and exhaled loudly. “Ironically, the fact that Mackey’s a prick is what makes him valuable to this department.”
Mackey not only had a reputation for being a sexist pig, but he was also known for his extreme, bordering-on-insane bravery. He’d recently rescued a woman dragged into her apartment by an abusive boyfriend who’d already taken several shots at officers with a sawed-off shotgun. While the other cops shielded themselves behind their cruisers and waited for the SWAT team to arrive, Mackey had snuck up the side staircase, kicked in the door, and stormed the place. Of course Mackey claimed afterward that he’d never have risked his life if the woman didn’t have such a “ginormous rack” and “smoking-hot ass.”
The chief put his feet up on his desk and his hands behind his head. A good sign. He’d be in a more formal posture if he was going to fire me, right?
His chair squeaked as he rocked back. “You shouldn’t have Tasered Mackey. Especially in the balls.” He cringed involuntarily, as if the mere thought caused him pain. “But he had it coming.”
Frankly, when considering what the Big Dick deserved, electrified gonads was a drop in the bucket.
Chief Garelik wagged a hairy-knuckled finger at me. “You’re lucky Mackey brought this to me rather than Internal Affairs. I’m going to keep this incident off your record and let you slide this time.”
“But only this time,” he added. “You’ll be booted off the force and face criminal prosecution if you pull a stupid stunt like that again. You hear me?”
I swallowed hard, forcing down the lump that had formed in my throat the instant the word “stupid” registered with my ears. I was not stupid. Impatient, sure. Short-tempered, hell yeah. Maybe even impulsive.
But not stupid.
My jaw clenched so tight my teeth threatened to crack. “Understood, sir.”
The chief retrieved a paper pouch of chewing tobacco from his breast pocket, pinched a bit from the package, and slid it into his mouth between his cheek and gum. He returned the pouch to his pocket and picked up a Diet Coke can, putting it to his lips and expelling tobacco juice into it. Puh-ting. I tried not to show my revulsion.
“I’m assigning you a new partner.” The chief’s eyes gave off a wicked gleam, like the glint from a freshly polished revolver. “She’s a real bitch. You two will get along great.”
I ignored the implication that I, too, was a bitch. Unlike stupid, though, being called a bitch didn’t really bother me.
“A female officer?” Teaming with a woman could be fun. Mackey had kept the cruiser’s radio tuned to a sports channel all day. With a female partner, we could listen to NPR or a book on tape, maybe a good detective novel. A female partner would smell better, too. Mackey was a big guy, producing sweat by the gallon in the Texas heat. By the end of each shift, our cruiser became a BO gas chamber. Of course the jerk never seemed to be bothered by his own stench.
The chief retrieved his handheld radio from his desktop and squeezed the talk button. “Send in Sergeant Brigit.”
So my new partner was a sergeant, exceeding me in rank. Typical, as rookies like me were generally paired with a more experienced officer. But Brigit? It sounded more like a first name than a last name.
A jangle sounded outside the door, likely Sergeant Brigit’s keys or handcuffs. The door opened and she walked in.
The chief hadn’t been lying. My new partner was a real bitch. As in four paws and eight tits. Huge, too, with thick fur in black and tan. The jangling came from her tags, a city license and a rabies tag, hanging from a studded black leather collar that made the bitch look butch.
A cry of, “No!” spurted involuntarily from me. Remembering my manners and the fact that I was in the chief’s office, I turned back to him. “I mean, no, sir. I c-can’t partner with a dog.”
The chief cocked his head. “You allergic?”
“Then she’s yours. You’ll be responsible for caring for her after hours, too.”
No. No way. I didn’t want that kind of responsibility. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I had anything against dogs. Problem was, as I was the oldest of five children, any jobs my parents couldn’t handle had been outsourced—or should I say down-sourced?—to me. I’d been responsible for dressing, feeding, and generally riding herd over my brothers and sisters. The only thing my parents had never asked me to do was tutor my siblings.
Things had been no better when I went off to college. I’d gone potluck for roommates in the dorm and the computer had paired me with one irresponsible roommate after another, girls who partied every night, forgot to set their alarms, left their dirty panties and socks all over the floor. They counted on me to wake them for class, to maintain a stock of tampons and rolls of quarters for laundry.
When I’d moved back to Fort Worth after college graduation last May, I’d immediately signed up for the fall police academy and rented a tiny apartment in an older complex in East Fort Worth. It wasn’t much. Three hundred square feet with worn blue industrial carpet and a tiny rectangle of rippled linoleum in the kitchen nook. But, as management loved to remind disgruntled tenants, the place came with free cable television. Most important, though, I’d been finally free of responsibility for anyone but myself. I didn’t even own a houseplant.
Someday I’d want a husband, kids, maybe even a cat or dog.
But not yet.
The handler holding the dog’s leash ordered the animal to sit. The dog obeyed, turning her big brown eyes on me in what could only be described as a death glare. She seemed no more excited about being partnered with me than I was about being partnered with her. It was almost as if she’d understood what I’d said, that I didn’t want the responsibility of taking care of her.
But a dog wouldn’t be smart enough to understand that, would it?
I tried to think of another viable excuse. I glanced over at the dog. The beast had to weigh close to a hundred pounds. I turned back to the chief. “I drive a smart car, sir. She won’t fit inside.”
He waved his hand dismissively. “Sure she will.”
He still wasn’t biting.
“My apartment management doesn’t allow pets. They’re forbidden by my lease.” Good thinking, Megan. He’s head of the city’s law enforcement. He can’t argue with the law.
“We called the property manager,” the chief shot back. “He said he’d make an exception for a police dog. Figured it might reduce crime at the complex.”
The place had suffered a rash of vehicle burglaries lately. Nonetheless, “I—”
Chief Garelik cut me off with a raised palm. “No more excuses, Officer Luz.” The chief spit another gooey blob of tobacco into his soda can. “You messed up good and I’ve gotta make some cutbacks. You either partner with Sergeant Fluffy-butt or you’re off the force.”
Copyright © 2014 by Diane Kelly
Diane Kelly is a former CPA and tax attorney, who had several brushes with white-collar criminals during her career. When she realized her experiences made excellent fodder for novels, her fingers hit the keyboard and thus began her Special Agent Tara Holloway romantic mystery series. A recipient of the 2009 Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Award for Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements, she has received more than two dozen RWA chapter awards. Diane’s fiction, tax, and humor pieces have appeared in True Love Magazine, Writer’s Digest Yearbook, Romance Writers Report, Byline Magazine, and other publications.