by Jenna M. Fox
Release Date: September 29, 2013
Genre: Contemporary Romance
(previously released with Melange Books)
13th Precinct. Midtown Manhattan
Detective Chuck Hollis’s dark brows shot upwards as his deep train of thought suddenly derailed. The white blur of a folded paper plane sailed into his line of vision. It struck him in the chin before falling to his desk. He peered up from his papers to find his partner, Randy Wilkins, rising from behind his desk and snatching his coat from his chair.
“We gotta go, Chuck.” Randy was already heading for the door.
“Are you kidding me? It’s freezing out there!”
“Adillo was just identified as the shooter in last night’s robbery. We got a location on him.”
“Adillo? Son of a bitch! What does this make, huh? The second or third time he’s gotten out of jail free?” Chuck climbed out of his chair, covering his long-sleeved t-shirt and shoulder harness firearm with his brown tweed jacket. It belonged with a pair of dress pants, but he had grabbed it by mistake as he left his apartment that morning. He knew, as he shrugged it on, it would not prevent him from freezing his ass off.
The two headed for their car. Wilkins, as usual, drove, giving his partner time to light up.
“You know,” Randy began as he started the engine and pulled out into the street, “When I joined the force, I did it to help people. Now, all I want to do is live to see retirement.”
The 42-year-old Chuck agreed. “I know what you mean. You got a lot longer than I do. Odds say I’ll make it. If I don’t quit first.”
“Not you! Not the hero!”
“Cut the crap.”
“You are a hero, my friend!”
“Yeah? Well, tell that to the store owner lying in his own body fluids.”
“Look Chuck, you got Adillo. What happened after that was not your fault. Between the lawyer pleading him down and the judge going along with it, hell, he was bound to get off with hardly any time. We put them in and the lawyers get their raggedy asses out. But, you got him.”
“Don’t mean shit tonight.” Chuck stared out into the freezing rain. The night felt sleazy, the city seemed to ooze and belch nastiness, making the falling white snow just a part of the gray slush once it hit the streets. From pure to poisoned. Chuck continued to stare out into the shiny slick streets, thinking of his small apartment and the puny little Christmas tree waiting to welcome the hero home. No family, no pets, just a bottle of Jack Daniels and a half a carton of Chesterfields, and that poor little fake drug store tree with its strand of multi-colored lights. It was amazing how it cheered the place up. With all of the apartment lights off, he could sit back, put his feet up, listen to Dean Martin singing Christmas tunes, and for a while, almost forget that he was alone. “Did I ever tell you about Slivovitz?”
“Slivovitz,” Randy tried the name out. “Was that a bust?”
“No. He was this cop from my old neighborhood. One day we were all out playing in the yard, me and my buddies, and this police cruiser pulls up across the street. Well, this little old lady lived there and her cat had gotten up a tree and she was having a damn fit. Well, Slivovitz came waddling up, looked up the tree, and began to climb it. Me and the guys were laughing our asses off, watching this fat ass cop dragging his girth up this tree. Never occurred to us that we could have climbed up there and gotten the cat. No. We just stood there laughing at his fat ass. It was his job after all.”
“Well, he got the cat and he made it down. We were laughing, talking about how lame he was, hoping he would split his pants. It wasn’t pretty, but he made it down.”
“Good for him.”
“Anyway, we were laughing and shit, and he hands that cat to that old lady and the look on her face, man. I’ll never forget it. She had tears streaming down her cheeks, hugging her damn cat. It was pissed. It wanted down. Then she hugged Slivovitz. And it hit me. I mean, he could have fallen out of that damn tree and broken his damn neck. But, he climbed up anyway. He did it and he made a difference in that old lady’s life. And I never forgot the look on that little old lady’s face. You would have thought he was Superman, you know? He was a hero that day, and we laughed at him. He retired a week after I joined.”
“Wow. Break out the tissue box, will ya?”
“What made you think of Slivovitz?”
“I don’t know. He made a difference that day.”
“I thought maybe you wanted to go join the ASPCA or something.”
“Nah. Hell no. I was just thinking.”
“Reminiscing is a sure sign of old age.”
“So is dreaming of retirement. What’s your point?”
“Just wondering what happened to your ten year plan. You told me you were going to have it all by the time you reached forty. Family, kids...”
“You’re my family.”
“No, Chuck. You were going to have a wife and kids. What happened? You just give up on that dream?”
“I’ll get around to it.”
“I’ll bet that’s what you said ten years ago.”
“What are you, my mother?” His gaze trained ahead towards a corner convenient store. His focus grew intense, fighting the almost blinding fluorescent red words that blinked above a small group of men, advertising cold beer. Three men stood huddled on the corner before the store. The trio looked suspicious, but tonight, only one held any interest for him. “Hey, over there. Mr. Corn Rolls. Isn’t that our guy?”
“Adillo. That’s him. Another store.”
“Let’s get this son of a bitch.”
Jenna stood on her front porch and looked out. The battle was finally over. She could no longer hear the rumble of cannon fire, or the yells of soldiers running to their deaths. All that was left now was an eerie silence that sent chills down her spine.
The sun was setting over the trees and an orange glow was cast on her land. Jenna gazed out, surveying it for damage. Some trees were fallen, and the fields in the distance had been trampled. The majority of the battle had taken place closer to town, so Jenna’s land had been spared.
Jenna turned to go back into her house when she saw him.
A man lay contorted over by the trees. She squinted, unable to tell what color his uniform was in the dying sunlight. Was he dead? He didn’t appear to be moving.
Jenna lifted her skirts and headed over to the body. As she approached she realized he was a Confederate soldier. She hesitated. He was her enemy. For a moment all she could think of was his uniform color. Gray.
But then he groaned, and instinct took over. Realizing he was alive and likely terribly wounded, Jenna rushed to his side. There had been too much death around her already. She couldn’t bear to see another person die. So many county boys she’d grown up with were already dead, and she’d seen so many families lose their loved ones. She herself had lost her Pa and childhood beau Thomas to the war. Perhaps even her brother, although she didn’t know for sure where he was.
She knelt down beside him and tried to get a response from him. She could barely see the curves of his face in the fading light.
“Sir, can you hear me? Where are you hurt?”
He just moaned in response.
Jenna swallowed hard. She knew she had to help him, but how? She looked around. Her father’s slaves were gone. There was no one to help her, so she was going to have to drag the Rebel with her bare hands.
She pulled him by his legs, across the yard, and noticed the trail of blood he left behind. She sighed; frustrated that he was leaving a mark. She stopped where she was and dropped his legs. He groaned, and mumbled something incoherent. She then proceeded to rip parts of her dress and wrap it around his wounds.
“There,” she said softly, “now all you’ll ruin is my dress.”
When she finally got him to the house she was exhausted. It had been a lot more difficult than she’d imagined, dragging the scrawny, weak soldier across her yard and up her porch. She opened the front door and dragged him in, and finally laid him out in the front room.
With hands on her hips she wondered what to do next. She had never nursed anyone to health before. She had never been on her own like this before. There was always someone else to turn to for advice. Now she was faced with a dying man with no guidance to direct her. And she knew time was precious.
After retrieving a cup of water from the pump, she lit a candle on the table and bent down beside the soldier. She held his head up, and slowly, carefully, poured water down his throat. He coughed at first, and then slowly began to drink. He opened his eyes and looked at her. His blue eyes were intense, and she was surprised when her heart skipped a beat. Why, he almost appeared angry, she thought to herself. And here she was, saving his darn Confederate life! She sighed, deciding he was probably in incredible pain, and that was why his eyes looked so cold.
She soon realized he had a fever. His body kept shaking and he was tossing and turning, mumbling unintelligible phrases. She became more nervous that he would die. She decided to put a cool rag on his forehead, but it did not help the delirious man. The rag quickly warmed, and she realized he would need much more to cool his body.