Above the Paw by Diane Kelly is the 5th book in the Paw Enforcement series (Available December 6, 2016).
When a rash of college students falls seriously ill after ingesting Molly, a “club drug” also known as ecstasy, Officer Megan Luz and her K-9 partner Brigit are tasked with tracking down the dealers. Going undercover at the university leads Megan closer and closer to infiltrating the drug trafficking ring. But when the investigation implicates her former partner and workplace nemesis, Officer Derek Mackey, Megan’s powers of discernment are put to the test.
Thwarted when the Feds seize control of the investigation and frustrated by the lack of attention the DEA is putting into the case, Megan continues her own unofficial investigation with Brigit’s help. But when the trail leads them in an unexpected and dangerous direction, Megan and Brigit find their own lives at risk. Can the K-9 team take down those in power? Or are some criminals simply above the law―and paw?
BUSINESS, BUT NOT AS USUAL
“Things aren’t looking too good for you, are they?”
God, how he’d love to wipe that smirk off the prick’s face. Instead, the Dealer offered a shrug. “I’m not worried.”
The prick snorted, clearly not buying it. “You should be.”
The two locked stares for several moments. He was sick of demands, sick of threats, sick of people like the man sitting in front of him. Acid churned in his gut, threatening to eat its way through and dissolve him on the spot. But he’d be damned if he’d show any sign of weakness.
“Look,” the guy said, the smirk softening a bit. “I need you, you need me. We help each other out. That’s how this works.”
That might be how it worked, but there were lines the Dealer had never crossed before. Lines he would never cross. There was too much at stake, too much he could lose. He looked the prick in the eye. “No deal.”
THE PRICE OF FREEDOM
Fort Worth Police Officer Megan Luz
Hell couldn’t be any hotter than Fort Worth, Texas, on the Fourth of July.
My polyester-blend police uniform stuck to my sweaty body as if I’d been shrink-wrapped. It didn’t help that the darn thing was dark blue. The metal badge on my chest had heated in the sun, like a branding iron trying to sear my skin through the fabric. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, either. Relief would only come when the relentless sun fell below the horizon in another hour or two. I only hoped I’d last until then.
I glanced down at my furry, four-footed partner, Brigit. “How you holding up, girl?”
The large shepherd mix looked up at me, her tongue hanging out of her mouth as she panted. Her weary eyes said what her mouth couldn’t. This stinks.
The two of us had been assigned to work the Independence Day celebration at the Panther City Pavilion. The full-day festival included pony rides, bounce houses, and face painting for the kids, as well as tubing on the adjacent Trinity River and live music for the adults. Of course the fireworks display scheduled for later tonight was for everyone.
To ensure the event was as family-friendly as possible, the chief had scheduled extra patrols to work the crowds, pulling officers in from other divisions throughout the city. Just as the police department had reported en masse to cover the various Independence Day events throughout the city, as well as to deal with the inevitable drunks the day would bring, so had the fire department beefed up its head count to deal with fires caused by errant Roman candles and accidents caused by the inevitable drunks.
Given my partner’s olfactory capabilities, she and I had been assigned to work the entry gate. While I greeted attendees with a smile and a “How are you doing today, folks?”, Brigit performed a sniff test on each of them, scenting for illegal drugs. Our mission was to prevent any such things from making their way into the venue.
While the heat was stifling, at least Brigit and I were in good company. Having appointed the subordinate members of his team to other duties, my boyfriend Seth worked the gate with us. He sported a pair of black boots, dark cargo pants, and a fitted T-shirt identifying him as a member of the Fort Worth Bomb Squad.
With broad, hard shoulders and powerful pecs, Seth was quite a sight to behold. Several women and a couple of teenaged girls in the vicinity were doing just that—beholding him. Yep, those hours spent perfecting his butterfly stroke in the city’s swimming pools had certainly paid off. With his gorgeous green eyes, a strong jawline, and a sexy chin dimple that drew your eyes to his mouth, a girl could do much worse.
But what made him even more attractive was that he wasn’t exactly model perfect. His ears were a little too big and his right cheek was tainted by a faint pink lemon-sized scar, a burn mark earned during his days with an army explosives ordnance disposal unit in Afghanistan. That scar wasn’t the only one he’d earned in the army, and he’d gotten plenty before joining the military, too. But those scars were on the inside, invisible yet unhealed.
Seth worked now both as a firefighter and a member of the explosives unit for the city’s fire department. So did his partner, a yellow lab named Blast who was sniffing the people coming through the gate for fireworks or explosives while Brigit sniffed them for drugs. They were a tag team in dog tags. Sniff-sniff. Sniff-sniff.
When a couple with a toddler in a stroller passed muster, I waved them in. “Enjoy yourselves.”
The parents gave me a smile, while the kid pulled its fingers out of its mouth and reached for Brigit, giving her a friendly pat that resulted in a fur-coated hand. She held the hand up in front of her face, looking at it quizzically, too young to understand how her hand had suddenly sprouted hair.
Crouching down, I picked up the cooler I’d brought and poured more chilled water into Brigit’s bowl. While I ran a hand over her neck, she furiously lapped up the liquid with a slurp-slurp-slurp. Blast shoved his face into the bowl next to hers to get at the water, too.
Seth held up a hand to stop the line of people streaming through the gate. “Give us just a second, folks.”
Once the dogs had drunk their fill we resumed our duties.
Blast alerted on a group of five boys who appeared to be around twelve or thirteen, just old enough for their parents to send them to an event like this on their own.
Seth rewarded Blast’s efforts with a “good boy” before turning to the bad boys. “You boys got fireworks on you?”
“Yeah,” one said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of Black Cats, opening his palm to show them to Seth.
“Sorry, buddy,” Seth said. “I’m going to have to take those.”
Fireworks were illegal within the city limits and anyone caught with them faced a hefty fine. Of course the department tended to go easy on minors, merely confiscating their stashes and educating them on the law.
“Aw, man!” the kid complained. “I bought those with my lawn-mowing money.”
“I feel you, kid,” Seth said sympathetically. “But you gotta keep them outside the city limits. That’s the law. They cause too many fires and injuries. We had one kid yesterday who blew half his finger off.”
The boys exclaimed in unison, half disgusted, half intrigued by the carnage. I wasn’t sure if Seth’s story was true, but even if it wasn’t, it could be.
“Tell your parents, okay?” Seth added. “They could be fined a lot of money if the fire department finds y’all with fireworks again.”
“Okay,” the kid muttered.
All of the boys emptied their pockets and Seth added the take to the fireproof bin he’d brought to collect the contraband.
“Cool dogs,” one of the boys said, eyeing Brigit and Blast, his resentment evaporating as fast as his adolescent sweat.
Seth reached into a pocket on his cargo pants and pulled out a trading card that featured a photo of Blast and some details about him. He held it out to the kid. “Would you like one of Blast’s trading cards?”
The boy took the card. “Cool!”
The others clamored for cards. “I want one! I want one!”
Seth distributed cards among the boys. I, too, had a pocketful of cards made with Brigit’s photo and details on them, including the fact that she’d been recruited from the city pound after impressing her first handler with her high energy and intelligence, two traits critical for a successful K-9. The card also noted that she’d graduated at the top of her training class. Valedogtorian. The boys left without their fireworks but at least they now had souvenirs to take home with them.
A few minutes later, a bosomy woman with hair the color of canned peaches approached. She was dressed in her trademark pink, all the way from her straw sun hat, down to her fitted knit dress, and ending at her wedge sandals. Trish LeGrande was a reporter for a TV station in Dallas. Though she’d worked her way up from PTA carnivals and charity bake sales to report on bigger stories, she still handled the occasional fluff piece. Her cameraman trailed along behind her, his equipment resting on his shoulder.
“Hello, Miss LeGrande,” I said as she approached.
She stopped and tilted her head just so. “Have we met?”
“Several times,” I said.
Though Trish and I had met when she’d reported on earlier cases I’d been involved in, she never seemed to remember me. It could be an honest mistake. After all, she surely met hundreds if not thousands of people when working her stories. Then again, she could just be a bitch.
She made no apology for failing to recognize me, which had me leaning toward bitch. Instead, she eyed Seth, running her eyes over his broad, well-muscled shoulders and firm pecs under the thinly veiled guise of reading his BOMB SQUAD T-shirt. She gushed in her breathy voice, “I’d love to get some footage of you.”
I bet you would.
I stepped back to allow Trish and her cameraman to make stars of Seth and Blast. Who was I to stand in the way of their fifteen minutes of fame?
Trish scooted up next to Seth, draping a hand over his shoulder and smushing her boobs against his upper arm. Yep, definitely a bitch. Her cameraman stepped into place and gave a signal.
“Hello!” Trish purred at the lens. “I’m here at Panther Pavilion for the fabulous Fort Worth Fourth celebration! As you can see, we’re in very good hands here. To ensure no illegal fireworks make their way into this family-friendly event, the bomb squad has its best two-footed and four-footed team members on duty.” She bent down next to Blast. “Isn’t that right, boy?” With that, she reached out and ruffled the dog’s head. He looked up at her with gaga eyes and wagged his tail. Damn him. Returning her attention to the camera, she stood. “Stay tuned for more footage throughout the day. Happy Fourth, everyone!”
She turned to Seth. “Thanks. You two will play great on screen.”
“Anytime,” he replied.
Damn him, too.
As soon as Trish and her cameraman were out of earshot, I stepped back into place next to Seth and mocked him in a cartoonish voice, “Anytime.” I shook my head. “Pathetic.”
Seth cut a look at me. “Jealous?”
I scoffed. “No.”
He nudged me with his elbow. “Yes, you are.”
I fingered the handle of my gun. “Don’t make me shoot you.”
A soft smile skittered over his mouth. “I like that you’re jealous. It means you like me.”
“I’ve let you see me naked. Of course I like you.”
I scratched Brigit behind the ear. “Almost as much as I like my dog.”
He dipped his head in acknowledgment. “I’ll take it.”
While Seth and I continued to welcome newcomers with smiles and verbal greetings, our dogs continued to stick out their noses and scent the air as the people slowly passed by. The crowd ebbed and flowed, at times arriving in small packs of one or two, other times congregating in large numbers at the gate. A half hour after Seth had confiscated the fireworks, a trio of twentyish Caucasian men approached, two with brown hair and one blond. All wore cargo shorts and T-shirts, but while the brown-haired boys wore tennis shoes the blond wore a pair of flip-flops. The blond elbowed the one to his right and pointed to a group of girls wearing skimpy bikini tops, short Daisy Duke shorts that barely covered their butts, and sandals. Yep, there was a lot of skin on display here today, much of it sunburned. One of the girls poured water from a bottle over her chest to cool herself off, providing the young men with some live soft-core porn.
Brigit plunked her butt down on the ground and raised her back leg to scratch her shoulder, the movement catching the blond’s eye. The arm that had only recently been elbowing his friend now flew out reflexively to hold his friend back and the word “Cops!” sprang from his mouth. The three turned on their heels, hightailing it away from the entrance, the flip-flops living up to their name as they made their signature flip-flop-flip-flop sound. Real subtle, huh?
“We’re up, Brigit.” I unclipped her lead from her collar, gave her the order to stay by my side, and my partner and I headed out after them.
The one who’d spotted me cast a glance over his shoulder, his eyes widening in alarm when he saw me and Brigit in pursuit. Without a word to his friends, he took off running. Flip-flop-flip-flop! By the time the friends looked back, I was on them. “Stay right here!” I shouted, pointing to the ground as I sprinted past.
I continued after the blond. Given that he hadn’t spent the last four hours being broiled by the sun, he had a distinct advantage. Still, I would’ve expected his footwear to slow him down. Those shoes were made to be an easy-on, easy-off option, not for running. Flip-flop-flip-flop! Nonetheless, his fear fueled him, overcoming his poor choice in shoes.
“Stop!” I shouted after him.
He didn’t stop. Instead he ran toward the Trinity River, cutting left and right around the people coming up the riverside trail. Flip-flop-flip-flop! As he darted around a stroller with a drooling toddler in it, his right shoe came off. His feet now gave off a flip-flop sound broken by a split-second pause as his bare foot hit the ground. Flip-flop … flip-flop … flip-flop …
“Stop or I’ll deploy my dog!”
He made no move to slow down. Flip-flop … flip-flop … As he ran alongside the riverbank, he pulled something that looked like a small piece of trash from the pocket of his shorts and flung it as hard as he could out over the water.
“Last chance!” I hollered.
Still he ran on.
He couldn’t say he hadn’t been warned. I gave Brigit the order to take him down. She looked up at me as if to say Really? You expect me to run all-out in this heat? But she obeyed and took off after him. In seconds, she’d leaped onto his back and taken him down to the ground, the back of his tank top still gripped in her teeth.
I caught up with the two and issued the order for her to release him. She sat down and continued to pant, drool dropping from her lips and saturating the young man’s back.
“On your knees,” I ordered. “Hands behind your head.”
Cursing, he pushed himself up from the dirt and attempted to eviscerate me with his gaze. Luckily for me, his eyes weren’t laser beams. He put his hands behind his head, seeming to realize the jig was up.
I pushed the button on my shoulder-mounted radio to call for assistance. “Officer Luz requesting backup at the river just west of the entrance gate.” I looked back to where I’d told the other two to wait, but they were gone. Ugh.
Yanking my cuffs from my belt, I secured them around the guy’s wrists. Click-click. By this time, a crowd had gathered around and the current was carrying the item he’d tossed into the river downstream. I issued Brigit the order to watch the suspect and take him down again if he tried to flee.
I nudged the boy with my toe. “Try to run and she’ll tear you apart.”
He glanced at my dog, who sat rigid just three feet away, her brown eyes locked on him. Nope, he’s not going anywhere.
Scurrying over to the bank, I crouched and reached for the baggie, stretching my arm as far as it would go. Just another inch … another inch … oh, crap! Physical laws kicked in and I fell forward into the muck. Spluck.
I stood, my knees muddy and the front of my uniform soaking wet, but at least I’d retrieved the baggie full of pills the kid had tried to ditch. I took off my sunglasses to better inspect the contents of the bag. Inside were three dozen or so pills and tablets in various shapes, sizes, and colors, a virtual candy store for someone looking to get high. Or dead.
Xanax, a drug designed to treat anxiety but sometimes mixed with other drugs in what some dubbed a “Xanax bomb.”
Light green pills that said CIBA on one side, 3 on the other, what I recognized from my training as Ritalin.
White capsules that, if I had to hazard a guess, were what users would term Molly.
The quantity of pills told me that the kid wasn’t a casual user. He was a dealer.
As I looked at the bag, a snarky male voice called, “Jesus, Luz! Did you fall in the river?”
I turned to find that my backup had arrived in the form of Derek “the Big Dick” Mackey, a cop who’d been my partner before Brigit. Derek was tall, broad, and as obnoxious as they come. He had rust-orange hair cut in a buzz cut, ruddy skin, and a close personal relationship with the chief. During the time when he was supposed to be training me, he’d taught me little other than how to be a crude, arrogant, and self-important ass. When he’d made one lewd comment too many, I’d somehow ended up with my Taser in my hand, delivering fifteen hundred volts to his genitalia. I claimed temporary insanity.
Fortunately, while his personal relationship with the chief usually worked only in Derek’s favor, in that instance it worked in mine as well. Knowing I could paint a very colorful picture of just how offensive he’d been, Derek realized reporting me to Internal Affairs might end my law enforcement career but that his would take a hit as well. Instead, he’d taken the matter directly to the chief, who didn’t want to see his golden boy in hot water and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse—partner with Brigit or turn in my badge.
At first, the thought of being partnered with a K-9 sounded like a punishment, a burden. She wouldn’t be able to help with paperwork or evidence, or question suspects. She wouldn’t be able to engage in conversation during the dull moments on our shifts. Heck, she wouldn’t even be able to open her own door! I’d be responsible for her while on duty and have to deal with her disgusting poop, not to mention the fact that proper bonding required that the dog live with its partner so she’d be mine 24/7, like a conjoined twin of another species.
Oh, how wrong I’d been.
Brigit proved to be incredibly smart and capable. While she couldn’t open her door, she could sniff for drugs or disturbances, making searches much more efficient and productive. When a suspect led me on a foot chase and I ran out of steam, Brigit was there to pick up where I left off, continuing the pursuit until she caught the lawbreaker. She might not be able to engage in conversation, but she communicated quite well nonverbally and was a good listener when I needed to vent. I won’t sugarcoat things. Having to feed and water her, and deal with all the fur and poop was no picnic. But she more than made up for it by providing me in return with free home security services and amiable companionship.
Brigit cast a glance at Derek. The dull look in her eyes, as well as the fact that her tail wasn’t moving, told me she felt the same way about Derek as I did.
As Derek ripped a bite from the mustard-covered corn dog he was holding, I held up the plastic bag of pills and jerked my head to indicate the young man in cuffs. “He threw this in the river. I had to retrieve it.”
“Let me see that,” Derek said with his mouth full, treating me to a stomach-churning view of half-chewed animal innards, cornmeal, and mustard. As he snatched the bag from my hand, the sun glinted off his silver badge, burning a temporary white stripe across my field of vision. Derek examined the bag before swallowing his food, turning to the guy, and pointing an accusing half-eaten corn dog at him. “Bet you don’t have a prescription for the Xanax and Ritalin, do ya?”
The scowl on the young man’s face was his answer. Nope. No Rx. Looked like a judge would soon be issuing him a prescription for some jail time and probation.
A drop of mustard fell from the corn dog to Derek’s shoe, leaving a bright yellow dot. He stuck his foot in Brigit’s face. “Hey, dog. Clean that up.”
Brigit gave Derek a look that said My name isn’t “dog” and, unless you want to share that corn dog, you can clean your own shoe, dumbass.
When she turned her head away, he barked a laugh and wiped his shoe on the grass. Taking another bite of the corn dog, Derek manipulated the bag, more closely examining its varied contents. “What are these white pills? Is this Molly?” He looked to the young man for an answer.
The answer he received was, “I’m not telling you shit!”
Molly, short for “molecule,” was the seemingly benign name for methylenedioxy-methamphetamine or MDMA, also otherwise known as ecstasy. The drug simultaneously boosted three brain chemicals—serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. As I’d learned during training, the drug first surfaced as a club drug in the eighties and nineties, when it was known more commonly as XTC or X, but had had a recent resurgence in popularity, especially among the younger crowd and college students.
While the drug produced feelings of warmth, euphoria, exhilaration, affection, and unity, users paid the price for this high with nausea, chills, sweating, muscle cramps, involuntarily clenched teeth, and blurry vision. Users had succumbed to dehydration, seizures, and loss of consciousness. The drug caused restrictions in blood vessels, and could lead to heart attack or stroke. A stimulant, Molly increased the user’s blood pressure and heart rate, which led to many becoming severely overheated, which in turn led to organ failure. Overdose cases with body temperatures of up to 107 degrees had been documented. And these were just the short-term problems with the drug. Depression and memory loss were more long-term complications. It was a big price to pay for a high that lasted only a few hours.
As with other unregulated street drugs, Molly suffered from a severe lack of quality control. While buyers might think they were getting pure MDMA, such was often not the case. The drug was often impure, cut with other drugs such as methylone, a related stimulant, with the end product varying wildly. Other times it was cut with flakka, a drug that was chemically related to bath salts, highly addictive, and had resulted in dozens of horrific deaths in south Florida, where a virtual epidemic was under way. Users could never be certain exactly what they were getting.
It seemed every time we turned around we heard reports of another Molly-related tragedy. While single-victim incidents were common, in one instance eleven students of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, had been hospitalized after taking the drug. And Molly wasn’t just filling the news, it was filling the morgues, too. The problem with the drug came to a head after a string of deaths, including two at a New York City music festival, another at a concert in Boston, and yet another in Washington, D.C. Four deaths had been reported in Britain from the sale of a drug with a Superman logo. While the drug was purportedly Molly, it contained a lethal dose of another substance. Federal government reports indicated that over ten thousand people had ended up in emergency rooms for Molly-related health issues in a recent year. This kid wasn’t offering his customers a good time. He was offering them the chance to unknowingly commit suicide. And while it might have been easy to write the victims off as stupid or reckless, many of those who’d succumbed had been otherwise good kids who’d simply made a poor decision. They didn’t deserve to die.
Derek cut me a look of disgust and muttered, “You realize the street value of these pills is more than you and I earn in a week?”
I shrugged. “Nobody ever got rich being a cop.” Not unless they were crooked. Those who joined the force did so for reasons other than the compensation. In my case, I’d joined to be an instrument of justice. Of course I hadn’t realized when I’d signed up that justice was such an elusive concept. I stepped into place to pat the guy down. “Is there anything sharp in your pockets?”
“No,” he snapped.
I patted him down, finding only a wallet in his pocket. According to the driver’s license inside, the guy was twenty-one years old and named Graham. Appropriate name for a drug dealer, given that it was a homophone for gram. Still, he looked much more like the boy next door than the stereotypical drug dealer from the streets. Of course that was the problem these days. More and more everyday people had gotten into the drug game, and there was no stereotypical dealer anymore.
Per the license, Graham’s last name was Hahn. Another card in his wallet indicated he was covered for health risks by his parents’ Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance policy, while a third card showed he lacked only a single punch to earn a free haircut at Snippy’s, a discount barbershop. A purple and white student ID pegged the kid as a student at Texas Christian University, or TCU, a local university that sat within the confines of my usual beat, the Western 1 Division. Go Horned Frogs!
I held out the wallet to Derek. “You’ll take him in for me?”
While Brigit was great at taking suspects down, the fact that her special K-9 enclosure took up the entire backseat of my cruiser meant there was no room for transporting the suspects we apprehended. We had to turn them over to another officer. On the bright side, that meant we didn’t have to deal with all of the paperwork that came with processing an arrestee and any evidence collected.
“A Molly dealer?” Derek snorted. “Hell, yeah, I’ll take him in.”
In 2012, Fort Worth police arrested seventeen students from TCU. The students, who included a number of football players, were charged with selling marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine, and prescription drugs. Since then, stopping the flow of drugs on campus and to the students had become a priority not only of Fort Worth PD, but of the university’s police force, as well. With an enrollment of over ten thousand students who were constantly turning over, it wasn’t an easy job keeping tabs on drug activity at the college. The arrest of this student would earn me and Brigit some gold stars. Of course I had no doubt that Derek would try to claim those gold stars for himself. The guy was nothing if not a narcissist.
While Derek polished off what remained of his corn dog, I read Hahn his rights. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you?”
The kid snickered. “No hablo inglés.”
I wasn’t sure whether the kid was just being a turd in general, or whether the crack was intended to be more personally directed to me. While my first name was derived from my mother’s Irish roots, my surname—Luz, which was on the name tag on my chest—came courtesy of my Mexican-American father. My lineage also boasted some Cherokee. Like my mixed-breed partner and most of the American population, I was a typical mutt, a little of this, a little of that, and none of it having much to do with who I really was.
I ignored the jibe, instead putting a hand on his arm to help him up. “On your feet.”
He jerked out of my grasp, nearly falling to the side as he attempted to stand. No easy feat when you couldn’t use your arms for balance. He should’ve let me help him. Oh, well. His problem, not mine.
Derek wiped his mouth with a napkin and looked around for a trash can. Seeing none, he shoved the napkin into his pants pocket along with the baggie of drugs. As for the corn dog stick, he waved it in the air in front of Brigit. “Fetch, bitch!” he called to Brigit, hurling it toward the river.
Brigit made no move to retrieve the stick, instead tossing Derek a look that said Bite me.
As Derek hauled the suspect away, I walked toward the river to retrieve the wooden stick. Derek seemed to think being a cop meant he was above the law. Maybe I should’ve pressed the point by issuing him a citation for littering.
Brigit and I made our way back to rejoin Seth and Blast at the entry gate, where we continued to serve as a welcoming—or unwelcoming—committee, as circumstances dictated.
“Have a fun time.”
“Sorry. No coolers allowed.”
As we continued to work the gate, which sat near the law enforcement parking area, I saw Derek leave with both another corn dog and Graham Hahn. He returned without either an hour and a half later. Derek climbed out of his cruiser, shutting his door with far more force than necessary—SLAM!—and stormed toward me, looking as pissed off as I’d ever seen him.
“Everything all right?” I asked. “Corn dog give you heartburn?”
He ignored me, charging past as if I didn’t exist. Whatever.
Seth cut his eyes to Derek’s retreating back. “You ever get the urge to Taser that guy again?”
“All the time.”
“I could arrange to turn a hose on him,” Seth offered. “I can make it look like an accident.”
“Thanks for the offer. Any more of Derek’s BS and I just might take you up on it.”
A few minutes later our shifts ended and other K-9 teams arrived to relieve us. Brigit and Blast exchanged butt sniffs and tail wags with the Belgian Malinois and black Lab that were taking over. The male officer with the Mal gave me a nod in greeting. “We’ll take it from here. Go find some shade.”
Shade? Heck, I’d rather see if the staff at one of the food trucks would let me sit in their freezer for a few minutes.
“Thanks.” I raised a hand in good-bye as we headed off.
Seth did the same for his counterpart. “Later.”
Beyond parched, we aimed straight for the concessions.
I spotted a sign up ahead with a yellow lemon on it. “A frozen lemonade would taste darn good about now.”
“Let’s do it.”
Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one who’d had the thought. A dozen people stood in line at the booth. Blurgh. I hoped they’d spot me and Seth in line behind them and give us cuts. After all, we were public servants working to protect them while they enjoyed the day. But no. The only person who turned around was the woman in line right in front of me, and she gasped and backed away when she saw Brigit and Blast. Not a dog lover, evidently. So much for catching a break today.
Inch by inch, we made our way forward, finally reaching the front of the line, where Seth placed our order. “Two frozen lemonades, please.”
While he paid the woman at the counter, I grabbed a couple of spoons from the bin. We turned away from the booth, ripping off the lids and digging into the frozen concoction. The icy treat hit my taste buds and I cringed, both from the tart taste and the brain freeze. Owww!
Seth had a similar grimace on his face.
Once our instant migraines subsided, we set off again. Rather than fight the crowds and risk Brigit’s and Blast’s paws being stepped on, we stuck to the perimeter of the grounds, making our way along the fence until we reached the Trinity River at the northern border. Spotting a couple of ducks on the water, Blast went still, looking up at Seth for permission to give in to his instincts as a Labrador retriever and to round up the ducks.
Seth unclipped his leash. “Go for it, boy.”
Blast leaped from the bank, belly flopping into the water, and took off swimming after the ducks he had no hope of ever catching.
Brigit dragged me closer to the riverbank, excitedly rearing up on two legs and barking up a storm. Woof! Woof-woof-woof!
Might as well let the dog have some fun and cool off, right? I reached down and freed her from her lead. “Go on, Brig.”
She dashed into the water, swimming after Blast. When the ducks took off faster than the dogs could ever hope to swim, they aborted their mission, instead swimming in circles around each other and playing chase.
Seth stepped to the edge of the water, bent down, and scooped up a handful of river water, playfully sending it up in the air over my head, the resulting shower providing some welcome relief from the heat. Meandering through both the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, the Trinity was far from the cleanest river around, but as far as I knew nobody had contracted cholera or dysentery from its waters.
I stepped to the edge of the river and raised my arms out to my sides for maximum exposure. “Splash me again,” I begged, desperate to cool down.
“Okay,” Seth replied. “Just remember you asked for it.” He obliged, this time using both of his strong arms to scoop two generous handfuls of river water in my direction.
I turned my head skyward, closing my eyes. Instead of sprinkling down on me, the water hit me square in the chest. I lowered my arms and skewered Seth with my gaze. “Your aim was a little off.”
A grin played about his lips. “No it wasn’t.”
A voice on my radio interrupted our conversation. “Officers requested to the stage. VIPs en route.”
Darn. “Gotta go. Duty calls.”
“Can you meet up to watch the fireworks?” Seth asked, cocking his head in question.
I raised my palms. While both police work and firefighter duties involved a significant amount of downtime, it was impossible to predict how a shift would go. A calm, quiet shift could turn on a dime, becoming a shit storm with no warning. I’d learned not to count my chickens. “I’ll do my best.”
I called out to Brigit, issuing the order for her to return to my side. She gave me a scornful look similar to the one she’d given Derek not long before, but nevertheless obeyed, climbing out of the river, her wet body looking scrawny compared to how fluffy she was dry. When she reached my side, I stuck a hand into my pocket and retrieved one of her favorite liver treats as a reward for her behavior. “Good girl.”
I tossed a second treat to Blast, who remained in the water. He managed to snap it out of the air. “See you two later,” I called as Brigit and I headed off.
Copyright © 2016 Diane Kelly.
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Diane Kelly is a former state assistant attorney general and tax adviser who spent much of her career fighting, or inadvertently working for, white-collar criminals. She is also a proud graduate of the Mansfield, Texas Citizens Police Academy.