Yet Another Reason

By K. F. Garrison

Author's note: This story takes place in early season four, after the episodes Extortion and Million Dollar Buff, but before The Grandmothers.

"Oh, officer, please, you must do something! I am at my wits' end! I'm a nervous wreck! I can't sleep! I can't go outside! I feel like a prisoner in my own home! The man is destroying my life!"

LAPD Officer Pete Malloy bit back a sigh and put his most longsuffering, patient look on his face. He felt much more like bursting out in laughter, but he felt sure that the distraught middle-aged woman standing before him would become very angry if he did so. Or she might completely go to pieces. She's close to the edge right now.

"Mrs. Langston," Pete said, measuring the tone of his voice very carefully, "I can understand that you're upset, but I'm afraid that I can't do anything to help you. This is a civil matter, not a criminal matter."

"Not a criminal matter!" Mrs. Langston's face flushed to match the vibrant red housedress she wore, and she stopped wringing her hands together long enough to hold her palms up and gesture toward the house next door. "You don't call…that … criminal?"

Pete looked over at the house next door to Mrs. Langston's and once again had to purse his lips to keep from laughing. He completely understood why the poor woman felt the way she did, but it was just so darned funny. "Mrs. Langston, I'm sorry, but there's no California law that says a man can't paint his house purple and gold and decorate it with tigers."

"Well, there ought to be!" Mrs. Langston cried, rather melodramatically. "Just look at that hideous tiger head on the side of the house! It's…it's…evil! The eyes follow you wherever you go! It's like they bore right through you!" The hand-wringing started up again. "I…I don't know what I'm going to do!"

"How long has the house been…like that?" Pete asked. He couldn't help but admire the detailed artwork of the ferocious-looking tiger head. Looks like it could jump right off the side of the house and maul you.

"Mr. Whatever-his-name-is - it's so hard to pronounce - Goat something or other - moved in about three months ago -- right after the first of the year," Mrs. Langston almost moaned. "After about a month he started painting the mailbox purple, and then the house. I thought he was nuts then! But about six weeks ago he started on the tiger heads. And then all the other ball game rituals started up, and I'm telling you, I'm about to lose my mind!"

That Pete had no trouble believing. "Have you tried talking to him?" Pete asked. He glanced sideways at the enormous tiger head painted on the side of the neighbor's house that faced Mrs. Langston's home. "Have you told him how much the tiger head bothers you?"

"Yes, officer, I told you I've talked with him, which is no easy task, let me tell you. I don't even know what kind of an accent he has. It's like he doesn't even speak English! But no matter -- he doesn't care that I'm upset! All he cares about is that stupid team of his! Basketball, football, baseball…it doesn't matter! It seems like there's some kind of game he's celebrating every other day!"

Pete thought Mrs. Langston might tear her hand from her wrists if she continued to wring them so.

"I thought maybe if the police talked with him, he might listen," Mrs. Langston continued.

"Ma'am, my partner's over there now, but…"

"I know, I know. There's no law against painting your house purple and gold. But isn't there a law about disturbing the peace?"

"Yes, ma'am, there is. How is he doing that?"

"Every time there's a ball game, he plays a recording of tigers growling. Loud, horrid, growling and screeching!" Mrs. Langston shuddered and hugged herself. "All that growling and howling with those hideous eyes…and then Mr. Goat-whatever screams and yells and hoops and hollers himself! I have to take a Valium every time he starts that up!"

I think you need one now, lady. "I'll speak to him about that, Mrs. Langston. If he plays his recordings too loudly, or yells too loudly, he can be cited for disturbing the peace. But I can't do anything about the paint job."

Mrs. Langston sighed. "All right, officer, I understand. Maybe if he just stops the growling sounds I can shut my eyes and pretend there isn't an eight-foot tiger's head facing my bedroom window."

"I'll go speak to him about the recordings," Pete said. "And if he doesn't comply, you can call us when he's being too loud and we'll come back and have another chat with him." Pete paused and gave Mrs. Langston his most sincere look. "I'm sorry, but that's all I can offer you."

Mrs. Langston sighed again, and nodded. "It was worth a try, officer, and I thank you. Do what you can, please." She forced her hands down to her side and took a deep breath. "I'm going inside and try to relax."

"That sounds like a good idea, Mrs. Langston," Pete said. "Have a nice day."

"Never again, probably," Mrs. Langston moaned, as she slipped back inside her home.

Pete waited until she'd closed the door behind her before he turned on his heel and walked toward the neighbor's home. Halfway there, he stopped to study the garishly painted house. With its bright purple exterior and screaming gold trim, the otherwise typical California-style Spanish ranch house certainly stood out in stark contrast to the other buildings on Conquistador Drive. And then there was the tiger head. More specifically, four tiger heads. According to Mrs. Langston, one head adorned each side of the home, one was painted on the back side of the house, and the fourth, somewhat smaller head decorated the double doors in the front of the house. That one he had seen when he and his partner had pulled up in front of Mrs. Langston's home. Pete shook his head and finally gave in to the oddball humor of the situation by chuckling.

The artwork is amazing. Those tigers are really lifelike. And she's right. Those eyes do follow you everywhere. I wonder if this guy did all his own work, or if he hired it out. I should have asked Mrs. Langston.

Pete angled around a small stand of hedges to get to the front of the house, where his young partner, Jim Reed, stood talking with the owner. Jim and the owner seemed to be getting along famously - both men had big smiles on their faces, and appeared to be carrying on a lively conversation. In fact, Jim looked downright tickled as he nodded his head intermittently. Whatever the guy is saying, Jim seems to be agreeing with him. Pete noted that Jim had pocketed his notebook, so he figured Jim had all the information he needed for their report.

As Pete approached, Jim looked up and motioned him over, favoring Pete with one of his patented blinding grins.

"Pete Malloy, meet Deuray Gautreaux," Jim said, his blue eyes reflecting a good dose of amusement and perhaps some devilment as well. "Mr. Gautreaux, this is my partner, Pete Malloy."

Pete extended his hand to the dark-haired, wiry man, who grabbed it and pumped it vigorously.

"Good to meet ya'll, hear," Gautreaux said, mangling the English language in an accent Pete couldn't quite place. It sounded somewhat southern, and the "y'all" supported that conclusion, but no southerner Pete had ever spoken with talked so quickly. And the inflection of his voice didn't quite ring true with a typical southern drawl. "How y'all are today?"

"Nice to meet you, Mr. Gautreaux," Pete said, extricating his hand as quickly as he could without seeming rude. "This is, ah, quite a place you've got here."

"Tank you, I do tank you, yea, it's quite a place," Gautreaux grinned. The grin made Gautreaux's weathered face look a bit younger than Pete's original estimate of thirty-five.

"Mr. Gautreaux is from Houma, Louisiana," Jim said. Pete could see that his young partner was having a hard time keeping a straight face. "He's quite a sports fan. He follows Louisiana State University. Their mascot is a tiger, you know."

"So I see," Pete said drily. He had no idea where Houma, Louisiana was, but he now guessed the accent to be Cajun, and figured he'd find Houma in the bayous of south Louisiana. "Mr. Gautreaux, do you do your own artwork, or did you have this…commissioned?"

"Oh, I did dis all myself, sir, I did, sir," Gautreaux said, beaming like a proud papa. "Dis my livelihood, sir, it is, yea."

"Your…livelihood?" Pete gave his partner a quizzical look, then turned that same look on Mr. Gautreaux.

"Oh, yea, sir. I work for West Coast Outdoor Advertising. Paint billboards, I do."

"I see," Pete said. "Well, Mr. Gautreaux, you're obviously very good at what you do. I have to say, I'm … impressed by the tigers."

Mr. Gautreaux continued to beam. "Dey real beauts, no?"

"Yes, they are," Pete said. Following Mr. Gautreaux's syntax proved to be difficult. Now I know what Mrs. Langston meant.

"Your podna here says that gaga from next door make de misere on me because of my art work." Mr. Gautreaux frowned.

"Uhhhh," Pete said, completely nonplussed at the unusual vocabulary used by Mr. Gautreaux. Gaga? What the heck is a gaga? "Mrs. Langston is a little upset by the tigers." Pete turned a helpless look to his partner, who just continued to grin. I'm glad he thinks this is so funny.

"Poo-yee-yi! That gaga is always make de misere for me." Mr. Gautreaux scowled over Pete's shoulder toward Mrs. Langston's house.

"You have to admit, your paint scheme is a little unusual," Pete said.

"Los Angeles is chock-a-block of unusual. I don' see why she's upset. Moodee woman," Mr. Gautreaux muttered. "It agin de law here to paint de house bright colors?"

"No, sir," Pete said. He felt a headache coming on. It took all his concentration to interpret what Mr. Gautreaux said. He hoped he was getting it right. And Jim standing there grinning like a fool didn't help. I'll get him for this later. "But she did mention that you play recordings of tigers during ball games, and they're very loud."

"Ahn! Loud? I don't make de poutain! She's just a couyon, and dat's for true!"

Pete had no earthly idea what Mr. Gautreaux said. Pete could have understood as much if the man had been speaking Swahili. Jim cleared his throat and made a strangled sound that sounded like an aborted laugh.

"Mr. Gautreaux, I'm not exactly sure what you just said," Pete sighed, giving Jim a bit of a sharp look, "but if you play your…sounds…too loudly, especially late at night, that's against the law. It's called disturbing the peace, and you can go to jail for it."

Mr. Gautreaux shook his head. "If I don' play de sounds, it'll put de gris-gris on LSU."

"I beg your pardon?" Pete asked. "Gree, gree?"

"Yea. De gris-gris. De curse. I should put the gris-gris on that gaga over dere." Mr. Gautreaux scowled at Mrs. Latimer's house again.

Jim spoke up finally. "So you think if you don't play your tiger sounds, then LSU will lose their games?"


"Well, can't you just play them more quietly?" Jim asked.

"But de tigers must roar loud!"

"You're going to have to keep it down, Mr. Gautreaux. Mrs. Langston will have every right to call us again if you get too loud," Pete warned.

"Hey, man, I understand you have your rituals and that you miss being able to get to the games," Jim said, with real sympathy. "I played ball myself, and I always had my little good luck rituals. But you're going to have to just do it a little quieter. You really don't want to go to jail over this."

"No, de jail no place for Deuray," Mr. Gautreaux sighed. "I will play de sounds more on de quiet."

"Thank you," Pete said. He flashed Mr. Gautreaux a tight smile.

"But I dink I will call my Nanan and she send me de doll for the gris-gris jes' in case."

Pete cocked his head. "Doll?"

"Yea." Mr. Gautreaux narrowed his eyes and lowered his voice conspiratorially. "You know…de voodoo doll. My Nanan, she of de old school…she knows dose dings. She make many cunja in her day."

Jim made another strangled sound and coughed to cover it.

Pete scowled at his partner, then turned back to Mr. Gautreaux. "Well, just make sure you keep the volume down." And even though Pete Malloy held no stock whatsoever in curses or voodoo, he did want to warn Gautreaux not to do anything violent. "And don't do anything to harm or terrorize Mrs. Langston."

"Ol' Deuray won' touch a hair on dat gaga's head, I swear."

"Good. Have a nice day, Mr. Gautreaux." Pete nodded to him, then headed for their cruiser. He was more than ready to say goodbye to Mr. Gautreaux. The lack of clear communication between he and the unusual man had started to remind him uncomfortably of the state of his relationship with his current girlfriend, Alice. I think she's speaking a foreign language sometimes, too.

"Good luck with your team, Mr. Gautreaux," Jim added.

"Thank y'all," Gautreaux called after them.

Pete pushed thoughts of Alice out of his head as he headed for the car. He had to walk around a large purple and gold sign to get back onto the sidewalk so that he could reach the cruiser. On the sign, Mr. Gautreaux had lettered the words, "Geaux Tigers." Pete shook his head and slipped into the driver's side of Adam-12 feeling like he'd been trapped in an episode of The Twilight Zone. He tossed his hat in the back seat and put his baton in the door holder. What a way to start off the day.

As Jim did the same thing on the shotgun side, Pete narrowed his eyes at him.

"What?" Jim said with a grin, as he finally caught Pete's disapproving look.

"Don't 'what' me. Maybe I'll put the 'gris-gris' on you," Pete growled.

"Me?" Jim couldn't keep a laugh out of his voice. "What did I do?"

"You stood there laughing and grinning like the Cheshire Cat while I was talking to Mr. Gautreaux, that's what. He was your assignment."

"At least you got to talk to someone who knows the English language," Jim said. He ran his fingers through his dark hair, something he always did after he'd removed his hat. "I'd been over there listening to him while you were talking to the lady. I probably understood one out of every ten words he said. I finally gave up and just started smiling and nodding. It was like he was speaking Greek or something."

"I think he's Cajun," Pete said, cranking the car.

"No kidding," Jim said. "I figured that out. But I didn't realize they spoke another language. He must be from deep in the bayous."

"Did you get all his information? How do you spell that name, anyway?"

"I got something. I just hope I got it right," Jim fished his notebook out of his pocket and flipped to where he'd written the information. "Let's see. I wrote down G-A-U-T-R-E-A-U-X."

"You're kidding."

"No." Jim scowled. "At least, that's what I think he spelled. And it matches the sign."

"Sign? You mean that sign?" Pete jerked his head toward the purple and gold "Geaux Tigers" sign. "Gee-awks Tigers?"

Jim laughed. "Not 'gee-awks,' Pete. I asked him about it. It's like his name - it's pronounced 'go.' That sign means 'go tigers.'"

Pete just looked at Jim.

"It's a joke, Pete," Jim said. "You know, Cajun, 'go'…"

"I get it, I get it," Pete said. He put the car into gear. "Clear us and let's g-e-a-u-x ourselves."

Jim picked the mic off the radio, but had to reign in his laughter before he could choke out, "1-Adam-12 clear."

"1-Adam-12 clear," the dispatcher responded.

"That was funny, Pete," Jim said, his grin still wide as he hung the mic back on the radio hook.

"I'm glad you thought so," Pete said, watching traffic and avoiding Jim's face.

"The whole caper was a hoot," Jim continued. "Have you ever seen a house painted up like that before?"

"Can't say that I have."

"I wish we had a camera. The guys at the station'll never believe it. Mac will think we hit the sauce after roll call."

"All they have to do is look up the address and drive over," Pete said. "Which makes me wonder why we haven't noticed it before. I know we've patrolled here recently."

"Yeah, but we've been on morning watch for six weeks, remember? When we've come by it's been in the dead of night, and there isn't any street light near his house."

"That's true," Pete agreed. "Well, after this report hits the station, I predict Conquistador Avenue will become the most patrolled street in the division for a while."

Jim laughed. "You're probably right. Good thing Mr. Gautreaux isn't married. I mean, Jean would flip if I tried to paint our house in my school colors."

"Yet another reason to remain single," Pete said, turning the unit onto another, busier street. "Add that one to my running list."

"Oh, come on, Pete, that reason doesn't count," Jim countered. "You surely would have more sense than to want to paint your house like that."

"That's not the point," Pete said. A confirmed bachelor, Pete often found himself in the position of defending his bachelorhood to his happily married partner. Those discussions had happened frequently in the year and a half Jim Reed had been his partner, and they always ended up the same way - neither man budging from their respective viewpoints.

"And what is the point?"

"The point is, that I could paint my house that way if I wanted to, without having to 'get permission' from a wife. That is, if I had a house."

Jim shook his head and sighed. "Of all the reasons you've given me for not wanting to get married, that one takes the cake."

"Reason number 101," Pete said. At least.

"Pete, for every reason you give me, I can give you two reasons why you should get married."

"Oh, I have no doubt of that," Pete said. "I've been listening to you extol the virtues of marriage now for a year and a half."

"I've been talking, but I don't know how much listening you've been doing," Jim said. He'd turned his head to watch the streets, but Pete could hear the frustration in his voice.

Pete didn't respond, hoping Jim would simply let the topic drop. Normally, Pete would play along with Jim, and even deliberately egg him on, just to see how far he'd go. But not today. Not after last night.

"You don't know what you're missing, Pete," Jim said after several beats of silence.

I knew he couldn't just let it drop. Pete opened his mouth to speak, but Jim charged ahead.

"I mean, take Jean and me. We're having a ball together. I've got a beautiful, wonderful woman to go home to every night. Someone to share things with. Someone to care for me, to…"

"Spare me, Jim," Pete put up a hand to stop Jim's speech. "I know you and Jean are happy, and believe me, I'm happy for you. But I'm really not in the mood for this discussion today."

"All right, Pete," Jim said. The expression on the younger man's face switched in a heartbeat from lightheartedness to concern. "Rough night?"

"I didn't say that."

"No, but I did notice you weren't in a very good mood today," Jim said.

"You did, huh?" Pete repressed a sigh. Now Jim was going to bug him about his mood. As much as Pete liked his partner, sometimes his insistence on discussing every aspect of life got a little grating.

"You had a date with Alice last night, didn't you?" Jim asked.

"Yes, I had a date with Alice last night," Pete said.

"And you had another fight, didn't you?"

"No, Mr. Know-it-All, Alice and I did not have a fight," Pete said, not taking his eyes off the road. It wasn't really a fight. More of a…difference of opinion. Lack of communication. And if I admit to anything, I'll never hear the end of it.

Jim made a little noise.

"What?" Pete asked.

"Nothing," Jim said, still watching the streets.

I know that tone of voice. He doesn't believe me. Pete felt a twinge of guilt for stretching the truth a bit, but he really didn't want to talk about marriage, or Alice, or anything concerning relationships at the moment.

"Everything's okay, partner," Pete said, again feeling guilty for stretching the truth. Now that he was out on patrol, he was okay, at least for the next eight hours.

"All right, Pete," Jim said, but the tone of his voice hadn't changed.

He still doesn't believe me, and now he's got his feelings hurt because he thinks I'm lying to him. But I don't want to get into all the gory details of it all until I sort it out for myself. He'll just have to forgive me on this one.

Pete made a left turn onto another residential street and slowed the speed of the car. Cherry Blossom Lane had always been one of his favorite streets to patrol in Adam-12's district. The wide, tree-lined street held neatly manicured lawns and well-maintained middle-class homes. Children and dogs played in the yards and there always seemed to be neighbors out walking or talking over the hedges between the houses. Something about the neighborhood always buoyed his spirits. He knew Jim enjoyed the street as well. For one thing, they'd never had a call on this street. Everyone seemed to get along here, apparently they kept their houses locked, and no one painted their house purple and gold.

But today, the street seemed unusually quiet. As was his partner. Pete glanced over at Jim, who appeared to be intently studying his side of the street. Yeah, he's ticked. I see that muscle working in his jaw. I'd better do something before he breaks a molar.

But before Pete could say anything, Jim sat up straight and snapped, "Hold up, Pete! I think someone's breaking in that house there." He reached for the radio mic.

Pete hit the brakes and steered their cruiser to the side of the road.

"1-Adam-12, show us code 6 at….476 Cherry Blossom Lane," Jim said, as Pete strained to see what Jim had seen. "Possible 459 in progress."

"1-Adam-12, roger."

Pete saw it even as Jim hung up the mic - a pair of black-trousered legs sticking out of a small window at the side of number 476. On the ground underneath the legs, a large black bag that looked like a gym bag sat, bulging with - what?

"See that?" Jim asked. He reached for his hat and baton.

"I see it." Pete grabbed his own hat and baton, and opened his door.

Both officers pushed their respective doors closed quietly, as to not alert the apparent burglar to their presence. Then they walked side-by-side, stealthily approaching the flailing legs.

As they drew closer, however, something began to tickle the back of Pete's brain. The would-be burglar didn't seem to be making any progress into the house. Instead, the legs just kept kicking wildly. And as Pete studied the situation more carefully, he could see that the shoes on the suspect's feet were high heels. A burglar in heels?

Pete reached out and touched Jim's arm. "I'm not sure this is a burglar, Jim," he whispered.

"Never seen one wear high heels on a caper before," Jim answered. Apparently he, too, had taken note of the unusual footwear.

Still, they approached with caution. When they got to the window, they could hear muffled screaming and crying. The legs gyrated about five feet off the ground, right below their shoulder level.

Pete quickly evaluated the situation now that he could see the "suspect" close-up. The legs did, indeed, belong to a woman. A very overweight woman. The flailing legs attached to a very fleshy bottom, which was quite obviously stuck in the tiny window. Thank God she's wearing pants. He quirked an eyebrow at Jim, who returned the gesture with a shake of his head and rolled eyes.

"I guess we'd better get her out," Pete said quietly.

"What if it's a female burglar with a weird MO?" Jim whispered.

Pete couldn't tell if Jim was serious or not. "Well, if it is, we still have to get her out to arrest her, right?" Pete whispered back, not sure why they were still whispering.

"Should we touch or yell first?"

"I don't think she can hear us over the screaming she's doing. Tap her on the foot."

Jim sized up the situation and looked back at Pete. "I've got to catch it first."

"Use your baton," Pete suggested. "That way you won't get kicked in the head."

"Thanks," Jim said sarcastically. But he pulled out his baton and, standing at arm's length, gently tapped the woman on a fleshy calf.

The flailing stopped. And so did the muffled screaming.

"Ma'am!" Pete yelled out. "Can you hear me? This is the police."

Pete strained to hear an answer. He heard some response, short but muffled and incomprehensible. The woman's body so packed the window space that no clear sounds could come through. Our day for bad communication.

"What?" Jim asked.

"Let me try again." Pete raised his voice a decibel. "This is the police! We can't understand you. If you can hear me, kick your legs again."

The legs immediately kicked wildly.

"Good thinking," Jim said, with an appreciative grin.

Pete shrugged. "Ma'am, we want to help you. We're going to try and pull you out. Is that okay?"

The muffled crying started up again, and Pete could make out a couple of words by pressing his ear against the wall near the window jamb. He made out "stuck" and "hurt." But besides sounding muffled, the voice also sounded strained. I guess she's not breathing so good, being stuck like that. Probably why I can't understand her well. Better keep her calm.

"Calm down, ma'am. Calm down," Pete yelled.

"Maybe we should call the fire department," Jim said, still keeping his voice pitched low. "They might have to cut her out."

"We need to at least try first," Pete said. "I think she's jammed in there so tight that she can't breathe. She might be hurt, too. I heard her say something about hurt."

"Okay," Jim surveyed the lower end of the stuck woman, and both his tone of voice and his expression conveyed considerable doubt about the success of their attempt.

"Ma'am!" Pete yelled again. He spoke slowly and distinctly, with his face pressed close to the window - but not too close. "We're going to pull you backwards. If that's okay, wiggle your legs."

The legs obediently wiggled, and Pete heard a strained and muffled, "Hurry!"

"All right, ma'am. Get ready." Pete looked over the woman's derriere and legs to Jim. "You take one leg and I'll take the other."

"Where am I supposed to grab on?" Jim asked, his face clearly showing his considerable distress. "I mean, we can't just yank her by the ankles and anything else is getting a little personal, don't you think?"

"Well," Pete scratched at his head through his hat and surveyed the black-clad appendages, "I think if we grasp the thighs just above the knees, and grab the waistband of her pants, we'll have enough leverage and not touch anything…"

"Okay, okay," Jim said.

The legs began to wiggle violently, and the muffled yelling started up again.

"I think that's a hint to hurry," Pete said. "Okay, ma'am, sorry!" Pete yelled. "We're going to touch your legs now."

Pete took his right hand and grasped the woman's left thigh underneath and nodded for Jim to take a similar grip on the woman's right. Her thigh was large enough so that he couldn't get a firm hold, and one look at Jim's face told him he encountered the same difficulty. This will have to do. "Can you reach her waistband?"

Jim snaked his long arm up and gently probed around the woman's waist. He had to fiddle with the bottom of her blouse, and he looked as though any minute some creature might rear up and bite off his hand. His face flushed pink, but after a moment he nodded. "I got it," he said.

"Okay, you hang onto the waistband. I'm going to try and get a shoulder up under here to raise her up a bit. So I'll need my other hand to balance her."


Pete ducked down enough to get a shoulder under the left leg, and he then was able to wrap both hands around it. "Okay Jim, on three. One, two, three."

Pete shifted upward and pulled, and Jim pulled on his side. Pete felt the fleshy woman's weight start to shift and the woman squealed. Just as he thought he was making progress, he heard a ripping sound. Jim yelped and the squealing from the inside took on a new tone and urgency.

"Whoa, whoa, Pete, stop!"

"What?" Pete kept his grip but looked up and saw the problem. Oh, great. Going from bad to worse.

Somehow, Jim had managed to rip the woman's pants, and Pete got an unwanted view of some lacy red undergarment as Jim desperately tried to put the material back without touching the woman's derriere. Jim's face flamed as red as the undergarment.

"This isn't working!" Jim stated the obvious as the woman began flailing her legs again. "I vote for the fire department."

Pete stood up straight and sighed. Jim managed to get the woman's modesty secured - well, mostly - but he'd now lost any leverage from her clothing, and Pete wondered if the fire department might be the best option. Or maybe I could go kick the door and go in the front. But I don't want to damage the house if I can avoid it.

"Ma'am," Pete yelled. "We could call the fire department, and…"

The legs flailed wildly and the screaming got louder. Pete clearly heard her say "No! Too long!"

"Okay, we'll try one more time," Pete hollered.

"Pete, I'm not touching those pants again," Jim declared.

"Okay, just calm down," Pete said, a little surprised at Jim's squeamishness. "I think the shoulder underneath was working. If we both do that, I think we can get her out. Just duck down and get your shoulder under the thigh, and then you can use both hands." Pete demonstrated, and Jim followed suit. "You ready?"

"Past ready."

"Okay, on three. One, two, three."

Both men lifted up and pulled. At first, nothing happened, but then, the plan worked too well. The woman popped out of the window as if shot out of a cannon. The sudden swing in weight and momentum caught Pete off guard. His right leg, which he'd been using for bracing, slipped, and Pete went down to one knee. That, of course, shifted the load his direction.

Jim yelled something, but Pete had a face full of black polyester and didn't understand. His hat went flying when something - presumably the woman's arm - whacked him aside the head. The next thing he knew, Pete found himself sitting on the ground with an armful of ample woman in his lap.

The woman panted rapidly as she fanned her purplish-red face. "Thank you, thank you!" she wheezed. She stopped fanning long enough to throw her arms around Pete's neck.

"Uh, no problem," Pete said, almost as breathless as the rescued woman. He quickly moved her arms out from around his neck. It was his turn to flush from embarrassment.

"Did I hurt you?" the woman asked.

"No, ma'am," Pete said, but he wasn't quite sure he was telling the truth.

"Ma'am, are you all right?" Jim asked. He came quickly to Pete's rescue by gently tugging on the woman's arm and helping her get to her feet. Pete noticed that his partner never looked at the woman, but kept his eyes up looking at the sky.

"Yes, yes, I think so!" the woman rubbed at her abdomen with one hand and clutched at her torn pants with the other, trying to keep herself modest. She turned her backside toward the house and wrestled with the loose fabric. "Though for a minute there… I thought I might actually… die! I could hardly…. breathe!"

Pete got up and brushed himself off. "Would you please tell us how you managed to get yourself stuck like that?"

"This is your house, isn't it?" Jim asked before she could answer.

"My house, yes," the woman nodded. Her breathing began to slow and her coloring began to look more normal. "I'm Beth Harvey. Oh, thank God you came along when you did!"

Now that she stood normally, Pete could see that while overweight, the woman wasn't quite as big as he had originally thought. I guess she stuffed herself in that window so hard it just made her look bigger.

"You locked yourself out?" Jim asked. He moved around next to Pete, obviously trying to distance himself even further from the woman's rear and another glimpse of red lacy undergarment.

"Yes, like an idiot! My husband is out of town on a business trip, and I'd just put my kids on the school bus. I ran out the door and slammed it shut, thinking I had my keys in my gym bag, but I didn't."

"Your gym bag?" Pete questioned.

"Yes, that bag there," Mrs. Harvey turned and pointed to the black bag on the ground.

"What's in the bag?" Pete asked.

"Why, my workout clothes, of course. And toiletries. I was on my way to the gym to work out," Mrs. Harvey explained.

Pete and Jim exchanged a look.

"I'm trying to lose weight," Mrs. Harvey continued, sounding a little irritable. "I joined a gym just last week. I had to run some errands first, so I was going to change at the gym. I thought I had jammed my purse and keys in there along with everything else, but then when I tried to find them, I couldn't."

"Do you have any identification in that bag?" Pete asked. "We really do need to determine your ID before we just let you loose."

Mrs. Harvey frowned. "Well…why?"

"Because," Jim said calmly, "you could be a burglar with a very good story and a lot of bad luck."

"Officer, do I look like a burglar?" Mrs. Harvey asked, flushing again.

"No, ma'am," Jim said. "But try to understand. In our business, we can't ever take things at face value."

"All my identification is in my purse. In the house. With my keys." Mrs. Harvey pointed to the house. "But my last name is on the mailbox."

"I can check that," Pete said. "But then again, you could have read the name when you decided to rob the house." He paused as Beth Harvey rolled her eyes. "Do you think there's a neighbor at home who could identify you?"

"Mrs. McElroy, two doors down, is probably home. But she's elderly and semi-invalid. I hate to bother her."

"How about showing us what's in the bag," Pete said.

"Well, okay, if you think that'll help," Mrs. Harvey started to turn and get the bag, but Jim spoke up.

"Just stay there," Jim said, holding out a hand to stop her. "I'll get it."

Jim walked over and picked up the bag. He brought it back to Mrs. Harvey. "Open it, please, and show us what's in there," he said.

"Yes, officers." Mrs. Harvey opened the bag and held it up for their inspection. "See? My tennis shoes, tights, leotard, towel…"

"Yes, ma'am," Pete said with a nod. "We can see it's exactly as you said."

"Now do you believe me?" Mrs. Harvey asked. She closed the bag and dropped it to the ground.

"Yes, ma'am," Pete said again. "We're sorry we had to put you through that, but as my partner said, we can't take things at face value. Some people are very convincing liars."

"I understand, officer. I really do appreciate your help."

"I'm glad we were here and able to help you," Jim said. "If we hadn't come by, you might have very well been seriously injured. You should be more careful." He paused. "And I'm, uh, sorry that, I, uh, tore your pants."

Mrs. Harvey smiled. "A small price to pay for my freedom," she said. "Although I must say you weren't seeing my best side." The woman began to laugh, almost hysterically, Pete thought, but Jim started to flush again.

"Why did you choose that window, Mrs. Harvey? It's the smallest one on the house," Pete pointed out.

Mrs. Harvey sobered quickly. "Well, officer, it was the only one unlocked. I try to keep all my doors and windows locked, just like you tell us at the neighborhood meetings. I thought I could make it through, but I got stuck, and I couldn't go forward or back. I really thought I was going to suffocate." Mrs. Harvey rubbed at her belly again.

"Is there a neighbor that has a copy of your house key? Or do your children have one you can get from the school?" Pete asked.

Mrs. Harvey shook her head. "No officer. My husband wouldn't allow me to give a key to any of the neighbors. And we don't have one stuck outside anywhere. You police discourage us from doing that."

Pete nodded. "That we do."

Mrs. Harvey looked from Pete to Jim. "I hate to impose, but I'm going to need help getting in my house."

"I realize that. And we really are going to need to see your id before we leave. You want us to kick in your door?" Pete asked.

"Kick my door? Oh, no, officer! Please don't do that. My husband would have a fit!" She paused. "One of you should be able to fit through the window, don't you think?"

"Yes," Pete said, with a pointed look at Jim. "One of us could."

Jim unbuckled his equipment belt and handed his hat to Pete. He quirked an eyebrow at Pete, but kept any irritation he might have felt off his face. "Where are your purse and keys, Mrs. Harvey?"

Beth Harvey smiled sweetly at Jim. "It should be right on the dining table in the front room. It's a beige clutch. You know, small."

"Yes, ma'am, I know what a clutch is."

"He's married," Pete explained.

"I see. Officer, be careful going in. It's kinda a long drop to the bathroom floor," Mrs. Harvey warned.

"I'll be careful," Jim assured her. He gave Pete a look, then hoisted himself up into the window.

Pete watched as Jim wriggled the upper part of his body through the window. Jim had trouble getting the rest of his body through, even with his slim build, and Pete found himself wondering how Beth Harvey managed to get as far as she had. It took several seconds of slithering and wiggling, but soon Jim's legs disappeared through the window. Pete heard a small crash and a grunt from Jim.

"Reed, you all right?"

"Yeah," Jim appeared in the window. "I just knocked over the garbage can is all. I'll meet you at the front door."

Jim would probably claim he was okay even if he had a compound fracture of the arm. I'll double-check him when he opens the door.

"Thank you, officer!" Mrs. Harvey called. She retrieved her gym bag, got a tighter grip on her torn britches and she and Pete headed for the front of the house.

Pete had to sidestep a bicycle with training wheels, a basketball, and assorted other toys on the front steps to make it up to the porch. Seeing the children's toys reminded him of last night and his ruined evening. He bit back a sigh. Last night keeps popping into my head. Guess I'll have to deal with it soon. I'll call her after shift is over and we'll get it straightened out.

Jim had the door open by the time they got to the top of the steps. He had Mrs. Harvey's beige purse in his hand, so Pete pushed his irritable thoughts from his mind and focused on Beth Harvey.

"Here you are, ma'am." Jim sidestepped a couple of toys scattered on the porch and handed the bag to her.

"Wonderful!" Mrs. Harvey took the purse and opened it, still struggling with her drooping pants. She pulled out her wallet and triumphantly retrieved her driver's license. "See, officer, it's me!" Mrs. Harvey said, handing the ID to Pete.

Pete looked it over, checking the name, address, and photo. "So it is, Mrs. Harvey." He fished his notebook from his pocket and started copying the information down.

"What are you doing?" Mrs. Harvey asked.

"We'll have to file a report on this," Pete explained. "I just need to pull your information."

"Do I need to sign anything?"

"No ma'am, since you didn't call us, there's nothing for you to sign. We just have to explain to our supervisor what we've been doing for the past twenty minutes."

"I see," Mrs. Harvey said. "Do you have to put in the part about the torn pants?"

"I'm afraid so," Pete said. He glanced up at Jim, who frowned back at him.

"Figures," Mrs. Harvey sighed.

"I suggest that when you're running your errands today that you have an extra copy of your house key made and keep it in your gym bag," Jim said. "Just in case."

"I think I'll take that suggestion," Mrs. Harvey said, then looked over her shoulder toward her backside. "That is, after I change my pants."


"1-Adam-12, clear," Jim said.

"1-Adam-12, clear." Dispatch acknowledged.

Jim hung the mic back on the rack. "I tell you what, Pete. I'll write up the purple and gold house report if you write up this one."

"You're the one who tore her pants. I think you should write it up."

"Pete, please don't remind me of that," Jim said. He flexed the fingers of his left hand a few times.

The motion didn't escape Pete's notice. "You sure you didn't hurt something going through that window?"

"I'm sure. It's just stinging a little." Jim held up his hand and flexed his wrist and wriggled his fingers. "See, everything's working."

Pete grunted. "Well, everything from the neck down, anyway."

"Ha-ha." Jim said. "Just for that, I think I'll let you write both reports."

"Don't forget who the senior officer is around here."

"I don't think you'll ever let me forget it," Jim said. After a brief pause he continued, "We're two-for-two in the weird call department today. It's not even nine o'clock and we've had two for the books."

"That's for sure. Let's hope this is bad as it gets today."

"Speaking of bad, you should have seen the inside of Mrs. Harvey's house."

"What was bad about it?"

"Well, she's not going to win any Good Housekeeping awards any time soon. One of the reasons I knocked over the garbage can in the bathroom was there were so many clothes on the floor, my hand slipped when I put it down. And it was like an obstacle course stepping over the clutter in the hallway."

"There were toys scattered outside, too," Pete reminded him. "Apparently Mrs. Harvey is a little behind in her housework."

"Hey, toys! I forgot to ask - what'd you get my son for his birthday last night?"

Pete looked over at Jim and tried to keep his face neutral. He would ask. This is gonna open the biggest can of worms… "Well, partner, I didn't get him anything."

"You didn't?" Jim looked surprised. "I thought you and Alice were going to prowl the toy stores and find 'the perfect gift.'"

That had been the plan. I wanted to find that perfect toy for my godson's first birthday. Something special from his Uncle Pete. And then everything came unraveled. I've gotta distract Jim from this somehow. "Well, we didn't get the chance to go shopping," Pete said. "I'll go tonight. You got any suggestions?"

When Jim frowned at him, Pete just knew his partner would start asking questions that he didn't want to answer, but Jim surprised him.

"Suggestions, huh? How about a Ferrari?"

"Oh, that's funny," Pete said.


Pete took his eyes off the road long enough to impale Jim with a glare.

"I'd take really good care of it until he turned, oh, say, thirty."

"Reed, you're not helping," Pete growled.

"Okay, sorry. Let me think a minute." Jim fell silent for a few beats, then said, "How about a ball?"

"A ball? I can't get my godson a ball for his first birthday!" Pete exclaimed.

"Why not?"

"For one thing, he's got a ton of 'em already."

"I guess he does at that."

"And besides, that's not a special first birthday gift. Think of something else."

"Okay." Jim looked out his window and didn't speak for several minutes. "I think I've got it," he finally said.


"A savings bond."

Pete didn't quite glare at him again. "A what?"

"A savings bond. You know, you…"

"Jim, I know what a savings bond is," Pete said, completely exasperated. Leave it to practical Jim Reed to suggest a savings bond for a one-year-old boy. "And forget it. Jimmy would never forgive me if I gave him a savings bond for his birthday."

"Pete, he won't even realize you did it. And when he's 18 years old and trying to buy books for his freshman year at Stanford, that savings bond will come in handy. And he'll thank you."

"I don't want him hating me for 17 years first."

"A savings bond is a generous and thoughtful gift," Jim said, a bit defensively.

Jim, you're hopeless! "Think of something else."

The dispatcher intervened. "1-Adam-12, 1-Adam-12, meet 1-L-90 on Tac 2."

"I'll get back to you," Jim said, as he reached for the mic. "1-Adam-12, roger." He flipped the radio to TAC 2. "1-Adam-12 to 1-L-90, go."

"Malloy, Reed," the voice of the watch commander, Sergeant MacDonald, crackled over the airwaves, "I've got a special assignment for you."

Pete looked at Jim and they traded a wary look. Great. These special assignments usually turn out to be anything but special.

"Yeah, Sarge, go ahead," Jim said.

"I just got a call from the principal at Eisenhower Elementary. They're having a special fund-raiser today - a spring carnival type of thing with games, food, you know. They're having some local celebrities there, too, and a big name musical act. Apparently a lot of folks are trying to get in and traffic is a mess. I need you to get out there work traffic until it lightens up."

Jim ducked his head before clicking the mic button. "Roger, Sarge."

"If you think you need some back up, call it in," MacDonald instructed. "But I'm having a hard time imagining traffic being that bad."

"Roger, Sarge," Jim repeated. "Switching back to Frequency One."

"Gotta love those special assignments Mac drags up for us," Pete said with a shake of his head. "Put us Code Six at the school."

Jim did so, and Pete steered Adam-12 toward the largest elementary school in their district. Located smack in the middle of a neighborhood of middle class homes, Eisenhower Elementary served children in kindergarten through 6th grade. Pete figured the school's population to be about 800 kids and faculty. He and Jim had visited the school many times, both on routine patrol, and as representatives of the "Policeman Bill" program run by the department. They'd always had pleasant experiences with the faculty and administrators.

Pete tried to picture in his head the exact layout of the streets immediately surrounding the school and, like Mac, had a hard time imagining those wide, quiet streets being so clogged with cars that they needed cops to direct traffic. Probably just having trouble fitting all the cars into the lot and the grounds. We'll be in and out of there before too long.

As if having read Pete's mind, Jim broke the silence. "I can't believe there's a traffic jam around the school," he said.

"Maybe the principal's exaggerating," Pete said. He turned off the main road into the neighborhood that contained the school. "Or maybe there's a fender-bender somewhere she doesn't know about." Pete stopped at a four-way stop and made the final right turn that would take him straight to the school, three blocks away.

"Or maybe there really is a problem," Jim said, as before them there bloomed a sea of vehicles, taillights glaring red, horns honking, and looking completely gridlocked.

"What the…?" Pete exclaimed.

"A traffic jam," Jim said. "In this neighborhood."

"Unbelieveable," Pete muttered. He braked the unit. "We can't go that way. Maybe we can drive around and come in from the other side."

"Probably just as bad the other direction," Jim sighed. "Look at that."

"I'm looking. And I'm not believing it."

Jim reached for his hat. "I might as well get out and try to unravel this knot."

"You are the traffic directing maestro," Pete grinned. He'd never forget the first time he watched his young partner direct traffic. Arguably a patrol officer's most hated routine task, directing traffic was often tedious, hot and even dangerous. But Jim Reed had somehow managed to raise the task of whistle-blowing and orchestrated arm-waving to an art form. He'd even managed to make the dreaded duty entertaining.

"Huh," Jim grunted. He opened his door, grabbed his baton, and got out of the unit, wincing as the sound of the honking horns intensified. "This isn't gonna be fun," he muttered.

"I'll circle around the back way," Pete said, before Jim closed the door. "If it's this bad the other direction, I'll probably call in for back up."

Jim nodded. "I'll walk up this direction and see what I can do." He shut the door and jogged off.

Pete backed Adam-12 past the first clear cross-street and drove parallel to the traffic jam until he could make it around the worst of the clogged streets and drive up from behind the school. He found a similar situation on the streets behind the school, but at least the traffic seemed to be moving somewhere, albeit at a crawl. When he reached the back of the traffic logjam on a long, somewhat winding residential street that led to the rear entrance of the school, he looked around for any avenue of escape or a place to park the unit so he could get to the crux of the delay.

As he debated on what to do next, Pete noticed that a wide sidewalk lined this particular street, so he decided to jump the curb and drive the unit past the bumper-to-bumper creeping traffic. I don't think a back up is going to help. Just make things worse!

"Is Elvis here or something?" Pete muttered to himself as he slowly took the cruiser down the sidewalk, mindful of the occasional pedestrian or garbage can placed a little too close to the walkway. He'd gone about a block and a half, with irritated drivers giving him looks ranging from disgust, to pleading, to outright anger, when a car blocked his path. A woman sat behind the wheel of an older model chevy, apparently trying to back out of a driveway.

Pete stopped the unit, and started to tap the horn for her to move up so he could ease by, but the woman caught sight of him and got out of her car, waving to him. She couldn't have heard my tap over the din out there, anyway. Pete noticed then that the woman wore a white nurses' uniform. He put the cruiser into park and got out to meet her as she hurried towards him.

"Officer! Officer, am I ever glad to see you!" The middle-aged woman approached him, looking harried and upset.

Pete glanced at the nurse's name plate pinned to her uniform. Lola Upton. "Yes, ma'am," Pete said, loudly enough to be heard over the noise.

"You've got to move this traffic out of here! I've been sitting in my driveway for a half-an-hour and I can't get out!"

"That's my plan, to move the traffic," Pete said mildly. "But I'm trying to figure out where to start. If you could move you car up, I could get by and maybe unravel this mess."

"Can't you just stop it right here long enough for me to get out? I've been called into the hospital - I work at Sunnybank - and we've got several nurses out sick on this shift and women in labor, surgeries scheduled, and…"

"Whoa," Pete held up a hand to stop the nurse's run-on narrative. "I understand," Pete glanced at the nurse's left hand and saw a plain gold band on the third finger, "Mrs. Upton. But this traffic's gridlocked. Nobody's moving anywhere until I get up to the school and see where the bottleneck is."

"How long is that going to take?" Mrs. Upton asked, quite obviously frustrated. "I'm really needed!"

"I don't know, ma'am," Pete told her honestly. "It could be another half-hour or more."

Mrs. Upton blew out a loud breath. "And then another thirty for me to drive to the hospital," she said. "It'd be faster if I started walking!"

"I'm sorry," Pete apologized. He truly understood her frustration. "There's a bus stop just a few blocks over. You might get there faster if you took public transit."

"Maybe so, but the point is, I shouldn't have to. Those people at the school should have had a better plan for all the traffic than this!"

"Yes, ma'am," Pete agreed. One phone call to the station yesterday could have solved this problem. We should probably do a better job of communicating to school officials we're here to help with things like this. I'll mention it to Mac.

"Too bad I just can't fly out of here," Mrs. Upton said with a humorless chuckle.

"Yes, ma'am," Pete said, and even as he responded, an idea came to him. "I've got an idea, Mrs. Upton. You can't fly out, but there's no reason why you can't do what I just did. You can use the sidewalk until you get to the clear cross-street and then you can get out."

"Drive on the sidewalk? That's not legal!"

Pete grinned. "No, ma'am, but I consider this a bit of an emergency. If you'll pull up, I'll move my unit to your other side, and you can back out and drive slowly down the sidewalk. About a block and a half, and you'll be at a side street that's in the clear."

Mrs. Upton laughed. "Are you sure?"

"Yes, ma'am. It worked for me."

"Well…" Mrs. Upton looked at the traffic, at her watch, then back to Pete. "Okay, what the heck? You'll probably have to help me get straight on the walk."

"I will. Now move your car up a bit."


Mrs. Upton scurried around to her car and Pete opened his door. Before he could get in, however, a man yelled at him from the line of traffic.

"Hey, officer!"

Pete turned and spotted the man, a young, tall, lanky red-head, standing outside of his brand-new, jet-black Mercedez-Benz, drumming his fingers on the shiny hood.

That's some ride. "Yes, sir?"

"What the hell's going on here?"

"That's what I'm trying to figure out, sir," Pete said loudly.

"I'm just trying to get to the school. I'm supposed to work in the dunking booth. I've been stuck here for over thirty minutes!"

"Yes, sir. We're working on it. Try to be patient a few more minutes." Pete gestured toward the nurse's car as he saw it move forward in the driveway. "This lady is a nurse with a medical emergency. I'm going to let her out on the sidewalk, and once she's gone, I'll get this cleared up as fast as I can."

"Maybe if we all got on the sidewalk, we could get out of here."

"That wouldn't be a very good idea," Pete said. "This is an emergency. Just get back in your car and be patient."

The man shrugged, but got back inside his car.

Pete slid into the driver's seat and moved Adam-12 up enough so that Mrs. Upton could back out and get turned onto the sidewalk. He briefly considered calling for another unit, but held off. I don't really know what the problem is yet. Jim might already have it solved. He got out without making a call, and motioned for Mrs. Upton to back her car out.

In the distance, he heard the sharp whine of a whistle - Jim's police whistle - over the cacophony of horn honking and other noise. He heard one, long blast, followed by a couple of short tweets. Pete smiled to himself. Jim's on the case. I know you can't tell emotions from a whistle, but it sure sounds irritated.

Pete helped the nurse get her car situated on the sidewalk by giving her hand motions. Once she had the car in the correct position, Pete motioned her forward. "You're set to go," he called to her.

Mrs. Upton rolled down her window and chuckled nervously. "Are you sure I can do this?"

"Just drive slowly. You'll be fine," Pete assured her.

"Will you walk with me, please? I'd just feel better."

Pete bit back a sigh. He really didn't have time to baby-sit this woman, but he didn't have time to stand and reassure her, either. "All right."

Pete walked around the woman's car and positioned himself in front and to the side of the large chevy. He kept up a brisk pace, and the woman inched along behind him. They finally reached the clear cross-street, and Mrs. Upton eased her car out onto it. She gave him a smile and a wave, and then drove off.

Pete returned the wave, then turned and sprinted back to Adam-12. He slowly rolled the unit until he reached the end of the street, where he could go no further due to a solid line of traffic wrapping around the street that circled the school. He parked the black and white on the sidewalk beside a stop sign, turned on the reds, grabbed his hat and baton and secured the car.

He managed to squeeze between a couple of cars as he donned his hat, which put him behind the chain-link fence that distinguished school property from the city easement. This area behind the school held the playground with the typical swings, slides, and monkey bars, a smaller paved basketball court, and then an open area used for playing softball, baseball, and other field activities. Usually children filled this area playing their myriad of games, but today brightly decorated tents, wooden booths, and chairs occupied the space. To the right side of the playground, there was a stage set up with a drum set and a couple of microphones. Two young men worked on the stage, connecting wires to the microphones.

Pete also noticed a lot of empty space in that area - space where cars could be placed, even if it was temporary, to get the traffic moving again. He looked around for a gate, and noticed one across the yard on the front side of the fence. Standing in front of the gate was a woman, talking rather spiritedly with someone on the other side.

"I think I see the problem," Pete said to himself. "Or at least one of them."

Pete didn't waste time running around to the gate. Instead, he scaled the fence, reached over it, grasped the chain-links and flipped himself over just like he'd been taught in the academy. He jogged towards the woman, and as he got closer, he could hear the heated argument going on between her and the angry man on the other side of the gate.

"Just open the gate, lady! Look at all this room in here!"

"I'm not supposed to let any body back here!" the woman answered, her voice holding just as much heat as the man's.

"Says who?" the man roared.

"Says my boss, that's who!"

"Okay, okay, let's everybody calm down," Pete reached the battling duo and stood next to the woman. He held out a hand to silence the man.

"Officer, thank goodness you're here," the man sighed. "Can you talk some sense into this woman? We're all stuck out there and they won't let us park anywhere!"

"Yes, I realize that," Pete said.

"That other officer is trying to straighten things out, but he's running out of room!"

"Officer, I'm not allowed to let cars park in here!" the woman said.

"Officer, please…!"

"Just be quiet a moment, sir," Pete said, again holding his hand up to silence the man. He turned to the woman. "Who are you, ma'am?" Pete asked.

"Anne Martin. I'm a teacher here. And the principal told me not to let anyone in except those people setting up for the musicians!"

"Your principal is Mrs. Molina, correct?" Pete asked.

"Yes, sir, that's right."

"Look, Mrs. Martin, I'll take responsibility for this, but I'm going to have to agree with the gentleman here. This gate's wide enough to let cars in, and we can park them around the edge of the fence. If we can just get enough in here to get the traffic moving, we can straighten out this mess in the neighborhood."

"But I'm not supposed to…"

"I'm declaring a state of emergency," Pete said, dead-pan. He reached out and gently moved the woman aside. "I'll square it with Mrs. Molina."

"See that you do," Mrs. Martin huffed. "I don't want to lose my job!"

"It'll be all right," Pete assured her. He looked at the gentleman, who had a smug grin on his face. "Go back to your car, sir, and my partner and I will clear this right up."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, officer." The man gave Mrs. Martin a triumphant look, then jogged away.

"Are those the only people coming to set up for the musicians?" Pete asked Mrs. Martin, jerking his head in the direction of the stage.

"They're the set-up guys. They said there'd be one more vehicle with a little bit of equipment."

"All right. I'll make sure we pack these folks in there with plenty of room for the other vehicle. I've done this lots of times," Pete said, hoping to reassure the obviously doubting Mrs. Martin. "Trust me."

Mrs. Martin sighed. "Okay, officer. I'll go over and tell the crew."

"Thank you. I'm going to let my partner know what's happening, and I'll be right back."

Pete opened the gate wide, then followed the sound of Jim's whistle to let him know what he had in mind. He had to make his way through a front yard full of brightly decorated booths, with people milling around, either busily trying to finish preparations for the carnival or waiting around for something to start.

Pete saw his partner standing at the street entrance to the front drive of the school, whistle stuck in his mouth, long arms pointing and directing cars into a very tiny space of grass in the front not covered with people or booths. He might get six cars in there if he's lucky. He then noticed that Jim had already apparently double-parked some cars into the already-packed faculty parking lot. He's probably not real popular right now, either. But the traffic looks a little thinner.

Pete moved to within shouting range of his partner and caught his attention. "Reed, I'm going to park some cars inside the playground. Send cars around to the side and I'll bring 'em in from there."

Jim hardly broke rhythm of his directing as he nodded and gave Pete a "thumbs-up."

Pete returned the gesture to his partner, and then headed off to take care of business.

It only took the two of them another fifteen minutes to make short work of the traffic jam. Pete packed cars into the playground area like sardines in a tin can, while still leaving everyone space to get out if needed, and also leaving room for the musician set-up and the spectator's space. He hadn't lied to Mrs. Martin when he assured her that he'd done this many times before, starting back in his boy scout days when he used to park cars for ball games. Now he still did it frequently, only the ballgames were much bigger, and people no longer smiled at him and offered him tips in thanks.

Hands on hips, Pete surveyed the streets, satisfied that traffic had been brought under control. He saw that Jim had moved across the street from the school and had struck up a conversation with some man at the end of a driveway. Hope it's not an angry homeowner. I guess I'd better go find Mrs. Molina and make sure we're not going to have a repeat performance at the end of this thing. Probably need to have a unit out here when it breaks up. Whenever that is. I hope it's not…

"Mr. Poweeseman?"

A tiny voice and a big tug on his pants leg brought Pete quickly from his musings. He looked down into a little boy's elfin face whose deep blue eyes puddled with unshed tears. A small fist kept a chokehold on Pete's uniform pants, and the tell-tale quiver of the boy's lips told Pete he had a lost child on his hands.

Pete smiled down at the boy, blond, lean and well-dressed, and estimated his age at around four. In his kindest tone, he spoke to the lad. "Hello there, young man. What can I do for you?"

"I'm losted," the boy announced, obviously trying very hard to be brave.

Pete knelt down to put himself at the youngster's eye level and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. "You're lost, huh?"

The boy nodded. "And my mommy and daddy says poweesemen are suppos' to help losted boys."

"That's right, we are. What's your name, son?"

"Ricky Wee Patterson."

Pete figured "wee" should be "Lee," and gave the boy another smile. "Well, Ricky Lee Patterson, my name is Pete. Did you come to the school for the carnival, or did you wander away from your house and wind up here?"

"I camed with my mommy and daddy," Ricky Lee said. "And my big sister."

"I see. Does your sister go to school here?"

"Uh, huh. She's this many." Ricky Lee let go of Pete's pants leg long enough to hold up seven fingers.

"And how many are you?" Pete asked, smiling.

"This many," Ricky said proudly, taking away three of the fingers.

"Four years old. You sure are a big boy, Ricky Lee. How come you lost your mommy and daddy?"

Ricky Lee hung his head and scuffed at the ground with his toe. It took him a few seconds to confess, "I runned away from Susie."

"Is Susie your sister?"

"Uh, huh."

"And she was watching you and you ran off?"

"Uh, huh. I wanted to see the cwown, and Susie didn't." Ricky Lee raised his head and looked at Pete with sad blue eyes. "So I runned away. But when I stopped runnin', I couldn't see the cwown either."

"You know you shouldn't run away like that, don't you?" Pete asked. He tried to be stern, but Ricky Lee Patterson's deep blue eyes and his shock of dark blond hair reminded him too much of his much-cherished godson, and he couldn't find it in his heart to fuss too much. In fact, it made him feel even more protective of the lost waif, and stung his heart with the desire to see little Jimmy Reed.

"Uh, huh. I'm sorry, Mr. Poweeseman." Ricky Lee's tears finally spilled over. " I want my mommy, now. Pweese help me find her."

"Hey, now, don't cry," Pete said. He squeezed the boy's shoulder gently, then patted his back. "We'll find your mommy, don't you worry."

A sunny smile broke out on Ricky Lee Patterson's face, and helped chase away the tears. "Let's go," he said, tugging on Pete's shirt sleeve.

"All right," Pete laughed. He took the boy by the hand, and they walked toward the front of the school, which had now become inundated with people of all sizes and ages. Apparently there had been a lot of people in those cars in the traffic jam, and now they all milled about the front of the school, where even more booths, tents and tables littered the grass beneath a stand of oaks.

How's the best way to go about this? I wonder if they have a PA system set up, and we could make an announcement? There's gotta be nearly a thousand people around here!

"Ricky Lee, do you remember where you were when you ran away?" Pete asked.

"Uh uh," the boy replied. "but there were too many gurws there."

"Too many girls, huh?" Pete couldn't help but laugh. "You don't like girls?"

"Gurws are yucky!" Ricky Lee declared. "They got cooties!"

Pete laughed out loud. "Well, Ricky Lee, you'll change your mind about that soon enough."

"Uh, uh," the boy said. "Don't want cooties."

"I don't blame you." Women may not have cooties, but they sure act weird sometimes. You'd think, as many women as I've dated, I'd have figured them out by now.

Pete tightened his grip on the boy's hand as they reached a large mass of carnival-goers. "Let me know if you see your family," he told the boy.


Pete looked for the principal of Eisenhower Elementary, Mrs. Molina, as Ricky Lee Patterson looked for his family. He also looked for Reed, but he couldn't see him either due to the throngs of people milling about. I need to find the command post here! Surely they have a central information center. Maybe even a lost-and-found. This sure isn't working, because Ricky's too small to see anything. But maybe I can do something about that.

"Hey, Ricky, how about I put you up here on my shoulders and you can see better?" Pete asked.


Pete reached down and gripped the boy by the waist and, as he did so many times with his tiny godson, set the much larger four-year-old on his shoulders. The action was yet another reminder of that precocious bundle of energy that was little Jimmy Reed. But unfortunately, thinking of his godson brought back the unpleasantness of the previous evening with Alice Burkhalter, and that was a place Pete didn't want to return to. At least not for a few hours.

"I wike it up here!" Ricky said with glee. "I can see everything!"

"You hang on tight," Pete instructed, glad that the youngster had pulled him from unpleasant thoughts. "If you see your mommy or daddy or your sister, let me know."


Pete decided to head to the front doors of the school, in hopes of finding someone in authority, a public address system, or a central information point. He also hoped someone would recognize Ricky Lee Patterson, and could help locate his parents.

"Oooh, there he is! There!" Ricky shouted and started bouncing up and down on Pete's shoulders.

"You find your daddy?"

"No! The cwown! There's the cwown!"

Pete sighed. "Ricky, we're looking for your family. I thought you wanted to see your mommy."

Ricky mimicked Pete's sigh. "Okay," he said.

Pete reached the front doors of the school before Ricky spotted any of his family. He snagged a harried-looking woman passing through wearing a teachers' name badge. "Excuse me, but can you tell me where the information center is for this event? Or where I can find Mrs. Molina? I have a lost little boy here."

"There's a table at the far corner of the building we're using as a catch-all crisis center," the woman said breathlessly. She pointed in the direction opposite of where Pete had just come. "Lost kids, first-aid, ticket sales. And if you find Mrs. Molina, I'd like to talk to her, too. Somehow, somewhere, this little event has gotten out of control and taken on a life of its own." She rolled her eyes. "It's times like these I wish I had every school board member, every city councilman, and every state legislator doing what I do. Maybe then we'd get the funding we need to run a school and we wouldn't have to do this insanity to buy textbooks!" The frustrated woman pressed on past Pete and went into the building.

"Uh, thank you," Pete called after her retreating back. "Come on, Ricky Lee, maybe your mommy is waiting for you over there."

Pete dodged a few other teachers moving in and out of the building, along with assorted parents and children and made his way toward the table designated as the "crisis center." As it came into view, Ricky Lee started bouncing up and down again.

"I see Mommy! I see Mommy!"

Thank God. I sure didn't want to walk all over the grounds looking. I bet that's her - the one wringing her hands and pacing by the table. I've seen that look on a hundred mothers' faces. "Great, Ricky. Is that her in the blue sweater?"

"Uh, huh! That my mommy! Mommy! Mommy, up here!"

The woman in the blue sweater looked up, a mother's finely tuned ears apparently hearing her child's cry over the din of the crowd. When she caught sight of her son, her worried frown turned into a smile of joy. She jumped up and down like her son continued to do, waved, then ran towards them.

"Oh, Ricky, Ricky! Mommy's so glad to see you!" She held her arms up and Pete deposited Ricky Lee into his mother's embrace. She hugged her boy tightly for a moment, then looked up at Pete with tears in her eyes. "Thank you, officer. Thank you so much."

"I didn't find him; he found me," Pete said with a grin. "He knew he could trust a policeman when he was in trouble."

"Speaking of trouble," Mrs. Patterson said, pulling her child away far enough so she could pin him with a look, "young Mr. Patterson and I will have to have a talk about running away from his sister."

"I'm sorry, Mommy," Ricky Lee said, giving his mother a hang-dog look.

"You should be," Mrs. Patterson scolded, but again, she pressed her boy to her breast and kissed the side of his cheek. "You scared your daddy and I to death! He's looking for you right now."

Pete reached over and ruffled Ricky's hair. "Your mommy's right, Ricky. Next time, you promise you'll stay with whoever is in charge of you."

"Okay," Ricky said. "I promise."

"Good boy," Pete praised.

"Thanks again, officer," Mrs. Patterson said.

"Any time, Mrs. Patterson." Pete nodded to her, then continued on his way to the "crisis table." He lucked out a second time, because he spotted Mrs. Molina standing right beside the table. She was involved in a conversation with someone, so Pete stood by until he could catch her eye and motion that he needed to talk to her. She nodded, managed to extricate herself from the conversation, and walked over to join Pete.

It seemed that every time Pete had occasion to deal with Mrs. Molina, she seemed harried, busy, and distracted. This time was no exception. I guess it's just the nature of her job; I wouldn't want to ride herd over 800 kids every day. And this on top of it…

"Officer Malloy," Mrs. Molina greeted him, sounding breathless. "Thank you for taking care of the traffic problem."

"Glad to help, but it would have been better if it had never happened," Pete said. "When you know you're going to have an event like this, just give the department a call and we'll have a unit come out and give you a hand."

"I realize now I should have done that," Mrs. Molina said. "But I never dreamed it would get this crazy."

"That seems to be the general consensus around here," Pete said wryly.

"I won't assume, next time."

"When is this event supposed to end?" Pete asked.

"Officially, it's over at 2:00. That gives us time to clear out people and get the buses in here to take the kids home. But I'm thinking the biggest part of the people will be gone by 1 o'clock."

"I'll let my sergeant know, and he'll probably dispatch someone out here to keep things flowing smoothly. But if you need us in the meantime, don't hesitate to call."

"Don't worry, I will." Mrs. Molina extended her hand to Pete. "Thank you again."

Pete took her hand and gave it a shake. "Any time, Mrs. Molina."

"Now, if you'll excuse me, I have another five places I need to be in at the same time," the principal said with a grin. She gave him a jaunty wave as she moved off to her next duty.

Pete grinned and shook his head as she scurried past him. He started walking in the opposite direction, toward where he last saw his partner talking to someone in a driveway. Pete had to continue to thread his way through more people than he ever imagined would show up at an elementary school fair. He smiled and nodded at children who shyly waved at "the policeman," and he dodged more than one errant balloon that managed to escape the clutches of some now-heartbroken youngster.

Pete finally maneuvered into a space with a clear view of the driveway in which he last saw his partner. He's not there. Great. Pete stopped and surveyed the general area, hands on hips, but he caught no sight of Jim Reed. He could be here, looking for me and never find me in this sea of kids and parents. Maybe he went back to the car. No, Pete, he didn't know where you LEFT the car. Pete couldn't stop a frustrated sigh from escaping. "Well, I know where I left the car," he said aloud. "And that's where I'm going. I'll find him somehow."

Pete pushed his way through the crowds again, retracing his steps back to the cruiser. He noted that the musicians had arrived in the playground area and seemed oblivious to the cars he'd parked around the perimeter, if the cacophony of their warm-up was any indication. He had to re-scale the fence to get off the grounds, but once free of the press of the crowd, he made good time. More than once he wondered if making a proposal to the brass about keeping cc units in the cruisers would do any good. I know it'd be expensive, but it's so frustrating being unable to communicate with your partner.

Pete drew in a sharp breath as that thought brought back memories of last night with a less-than-pleasant jolt. My job and my life have a lot in common all of a sudden. He pushed the thoughts of Alice out of his mind, and broke into a jog, suddenly wanting to get back to the routine of his job.

As he rounded the corner of the street where he'd left the black-and-white parked on the sidewalk, he stopped, surprised to see his partner leaning against the fender of the car, arms crossed in front of him, looking decidedly put-out. Uh, oh, that look means trouble.

"I see you managed to find the car," Pete grinned as he approached Jim.

Jim raised an eyebrow. "Little thanks to you."

Pete spread his hands in a "what-can-you-do" gesture. "I went back to where I last saw you and you were already gone. How'd you figure out where I left it, anyway?"

Jim got off the fender and walked around to open his door. "I am a cop," he said, with an irritable bite to his tone.

"Oh, brother," Pete breathed to himself. Now he's really set off.

Pete eased himself into the driver's side of Adam-12 and risked a quick look at Jim.

"Are we done here?" the younger man asked.

Pete grinned and gave a crisp nod. "Yup."

Jim grabbed the mic off the stand - a bit roughly, Pete observed -- and cleared them. It took Jim two tries to get the mic clipped back to the radio properly, after which he blew out a breath rather theatrically and ran his hand through his hair.

"Feel better?" Pete asked.

Jim glared at Pete, but only briefly. Then he shook his head and shrugged, chuckling humorlessly.

"Sorry, Pete. It's not you. I just had my ear bent by a man who lives across the street from the school about how much he hates that school, and those kids, and all their noise, and there oughta be a law against stuff like the fair, and kids are such a nuisance…" Jim paused for breath. "You get the idea."

Pete nodded. "Yeah." And knowing how you feel about kids, that really rankled. Come to think of it, it would have irritated me, too.

"I know kids aren't everybody's bag. But he lives across from a school. What does he expect? I mean, kids are our future. He ought to be glad they're being educated. He doesn't have to love kids or anything, but how about a little tolerance?"

Pete took a breath, but the words to an answer stuck in his throat. Here we are, right back at the place I don't want to be. How does he always do that?

"Just ignore me, Pete," Jim laughed again, this time with more humor. "You know how I am once I get on a soapbox. And kids just happen to be a big soapbox with me."

Pete managed a tight-lipped smile. "Tell me something I don't know."

"And speaking of kids, we were discussing Jimmy's birthday before we got put on that school detail."

"Uh huh," Pete pulled out onto one of the main avenues of their patrol area.

"We'd ruled out the red Ferrari and the savings bond."

"Definitely," Pete said, relieved that Jim's good humor had returned. "What are the grandparents getting him?"

"A swing set. Remember I told you that Jean's dad and I are going to have to put that thing together before the party."

"Oh, yeah. How could I forget that?" Pete chuckled. "I'm coming over to supervise. Or referee, as the case may be."

"Referee? We don't need a referee. But we probably will need another pair of hands. You're nominated."

"Gee thanks."

Jim cut his eyes at Pete. "That is, if you're free on Friday night after shift."

"Oh, I'll be free."

"What about Alice? No date?"

Pete lifted a shoulder in a half-shrug. "Dunno yet. I think she might be working. We can go late if we need to, though."

"Are you bringing her to the party Saturday?"

Pete pretended to be busy avoiding traffic while he debated on the safest answer to that question.

"Jean'll need to know," Jim appended when Pete didn't answer. "You know, how much food to make and all that."

"I'll have to get back to you on that, if that's okay."

"Sure." Then, after a brief pause, "But as soon as you can, okay?"


"You never told me why you didn't buy anything for Jimmy last night." Jim's voice sounded casual, but Pete clearly heard the curiosity there.

"Yeah, I did. I said we just didn't get the chance, remember?"

"Why not? She get tied up on a job?"

Alice worked as a window stylist for several department stores in Los Angeles, a job that often required her to work odd hours in preparation for a reveal of a new display.

"No, no problem with that. Things just, well, they just didn't work out the way I planned." Pete held the steering wheel with an iron grip; he hoped that Jim didn't notice.

"I'm sorry," Jim offered.

"Yeah, me, too." Boy, am I ever sorry. And I'm getting sorrier by the second.

Between Jim's questioning and his own churning thoughts, Pete couldn't keep the unpleasant conversation he and Alice had exchanged the previous evening out of his mind any longer. As much as he wanted to keep telling himself he'd misunderstood, a voice in his head said otherwise. Pete bit back a sigh as Alice's response to his request to shop for a birthday present for Jimmy echoed in his mind with a vengeance. In his mind's eye he could see her scowl, and he could still hear the angry pout in her voice as she responded.

"Pete Malloy, if you think for one second that I'm going to waste time on a date prowling around toy stores, you've got another think coming."

"Aw, Alice, honey, it won't take long. We'll get it done fast,1 hour, tops. Then we'll have a great dinner, and a late movie…"

"You aren't listening to me, Pete. People don't go on dates to toy stores. *I* am certainly not going to go to a toy store on a date. You can pick up something for that br…baby… some other time."

"'That baby' is my godson."

Alice rolled her eyes. "I know. Believe me, I know."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means that this conversation is getting boring awfully fast. Kids just aren't my thing. Especially crying babies with smelly dirty diapers. You ought to know that by now." Alice tapped her foot and put her hands on her hips, her green eyes narrowed. "Now, are we going to dinner, or are you going toy hunting alone?"

In the end, Pete had given in to his date's wishes. He'd had a miserable evening, too. He pretended to enjoy Alice's company, but the exchange had put a pall over everything. His shrimp scampi had tasted like sawdust and the wine like stale water. He had been glad to get to the movie so that he didn't have to talk with her for a couple of hours. Pete couldn't even remember what the movie had been about. Their goodbye had been short and strained. But she'd asked him to call her again, and he'd agreed. What is it about her, anyway?


Jim's voice, quiet and concerned, cut through his musings. Pete looked over at Jim quickly, hoping he hadn't committed any traffic violation.

"What?" Pete asked, a little more harshly than he intended, a guilty flush creeping up his neck.

"You're a million miles away. And you look miserable."

Pete shook his head. "Sorry."

"I wish you'd talk to me. And don't say there isn't anything to talk about, because I know that's not true."

This time Pete did sigh, realizing he could no longer sidestep his inquisitive partner. "Jim, this isn't the time or the place."

"Then let's take an early seven."

"No," Pete said, his voice flat. "I can handle it."

Jim made a noise and threw his hands up. "Pete, you take the cake, you know that?"

"Did we just get a call?" Pete asked, motioning toward the radio.

"No, that was for 1-Adam-20. 459 follow-up. Don't try to weasel out of the conversation that way."

"All right then. I'll 'weasel out of it' this way - I am not going to discuss it with you. Period."

Pete stopped at a traffic signal and looked at his partner. As he expected, Jim's jaw worked back and forth, as it always did when the younger man was trying to keep a lid on his temper. Pete thought he could hear Jim's teeth cracking with the strain. Boy, I've really done it now. This is just a lose-lose situation. There's no way I'm telling Jim what Alice said. No way. He'd never forgive me for dating someone who can't stand his boy!

The light changed to green, and Pete turned his attention back to driving, desperately trying to think of a way to placate Jim without having to divulge any of the incriminating conversation. Why can't we get a call? ANY call?

Jim stared out the window, and it was obvious to Pete that his partner was making a heroic effort to stay quiet. Jim had turned so that Pete couldn't see his face, but Pete detected a slowing in Jim's breathing, and his fists were no longer clenched in his lap.

After only a few minutes of silence, Jim turned back to him, so suddenly that it startled Pete. The senior partner flinched and shot Jim a quick look. Instead of a thundercloud covering Jim's face, Pete saw Jim's dark brows drawn together, and a look of almost - trepidation -- in his partner's eyes.

"What now?" Pete asked, returning his gaze to the road.

"If you aren't going to talk, can I say something?"


"Two minutes."

Pete groaned.

"Okay. Sixty seconds."

Pete repeated the groan, but made a theatrical type move bringing up his left arm to reveal his wristwatch. He glanced at it, then said, "Go. You're on the clock, pal."

Jim blinked once, apparently surprised Pete had caved so quickly.

Maybe I should have held out for thirty seconds…

"Pete, Alice is a gorgeous gal," Jim said, his voice serious, and pitched low. "She's beautiful, smart, independent and has a great sense of humor. I completely understand why you're attracted to her - physically, that is." Jim paused for just a beat. "But you can't go for two weeks without a major row of some kind."

"That's an exaggeration," Pete objected.

"No, it isn't, and don't take away any of my time. For the past six months, I've watched your relationship go up and down. One minute you're fine, the next you're fighting. Broken up, even. And then suddenly, you're back on. It's making me dizzy."

"It's not…"

"I'm not done, and I still have forty seconds," Jim cut Pete off. "Every time you fight with Alice, you get so miserable. Heck, you've been miserable with her more than you've been happy. Just like you are right now. You're upset, and not yourself. I keep thinking you're going to wise up and let her go, but you just keep going back.

"So I'm going to point something out to you that I think deep down you know, but you don't want to admit to it. The reason you and Alice fight so much is because you don't value the same things."


"You don't value the same things. I'm not saying she's a bad person, because she's not. And I'm not talking morals, either. But your vision for your life, and her vision for her life--they don't match. You do fine when you're out dining and dancing and having fun, but you can't build a stable relationship on that. And when the rubber meets the road, my friend, you and Alice are on different highways. Just think about the times you've fought. What's it been over? What does it all boil down to? What you value. I guarantee it. And I just wonder why you're spinning your wheels, wasting your time with that relationship when you could be in one that actually makes you really happy."

"Your time is up. In fact, I think you went over." Pete put a growl into his voice.

"So sue me." Jim paused, took breath, and Pete could feel his partner's gaze boring into him. "You realize that I only said those things because…well…"

Pete held up a hand. "I know."

"So no hard feelings?"

" 'Course not."

"Good. 'Cause its no fun when you're so miserable." Jim turned back to watching the streets out of his side window.

Pete had to force himself to concentrate on the road. He felt like Jim had punched him in the gut. He hated it when Jim made him think about things he really didn't want to think about. How did a kid like Jim get so perceptive anyway? And just what else is he NOT saying? Does he know something I don't know he knows? Pete had to shake his head at that bit of contorted thinking as he braked for another traffic light. A bit of anger surged through him, born of frustration. What does it matter, anyway? HE'S not dating Alice, I am. And I'll date her if I want to. She IS beautiful. And funny. And talented. A great dancer. Passionate. Those are all good things and I'm not ALWAYS miserable. Just occasionally. Like now…

"Uh, Pete?"

"What?" Pete snapped, tearing himself away from his thoughts. Somewhere behind him, a horn honked. Loudly.

"The light," Jim said quietly, motioning toward the traffic light that now glowed green.

Pete scowled and tapped the accelerator, trying to think of a way to blame his partner for that embarrassing lapse. He stole a quick look at Jim, but the younger half of Adam-12 had turned toward the passenger window. Pete took a deep breath and purposefully pushed all thoughts of Alice into the deepest part of his mind. Unfortunately, he couldn't rid of himself of that churning in his gut that seemed to be agreeing with what Jim had just said.

"1-Adam-12, 1-Adam-12. A 415-domestic dispute. 945 Evergreen Street, Hightower Apartments. See the manager out front. 1-Adam-12, handle Code 2."

"1-Adam-12, roger." Jim acknowledged the call, placed the mic back on the radio and looked at Pete. "Hightower Apartments. I hate that place."

Pete nodded once, his own thoughts echoing his partner. "You're not alone." They had been on some really nasty calls there.

"I wish the city would condemn that building. I can't believe it's still standing. I can't believe it meets code."

Pete made a noise. "I'm sure it doesn't. But I guess the building people are as busy as we are."

"More than likely." Jim paused, then said, "Domestic dispute. Could be anything."

Pete knew that the domestic dispute weighed even more heavily on Jim's mind than did the almost-derelict condition of the apartment building. Heck, domestic disputes weighed on his own mind pretty heavily. Domestic disputes, as Jim had said, could be anything, and that anything could be ugly and dangerous. And at the very least, unpleasant.

After two more traffic lights and a few turns down narrow side streets, the depressing hulk of Hightower Apartments loomed before the officers of Adam-12. Broken windows, chipped or missing bricks, massive areas of walls sporting spray-painted graffiti, and doors that didn't quite close highlighted the exterior of the six-story building. In the parking lot, trash, junk, and cars that didn't run littered the broken pavement, where raggedly-clothed, dirty children played in and around those hazards. It was as depressing a place as existed in Los Angeles.

Pete parked the unit, then grabbed his baton and hat. I really hate this place. Pete stole a quick look at Jim, who looked grim. As the younger man jammed on his hat, Pete couldn't help but notice the taut jaw muscle and clipped movements.

"Let's see the manager," Pete said, pushing his baton into the ring. He looked to the front of the building and spotted an older black man, with a graying, scraggly beard, and an equally graying afro, limping toward them, cigarette in hand. "There he is," he said with a nod in the man's direction.

"Off'crs, you gotta do somethin'!" The manager began speaking before they even reached one another, gesturing with the hand that held the cigarette. "I don' know what the hell's goin' on up there, but it souns like a bad one."

"Yessir," Pete said, stopping as the manager limped up to them, somewhat winded. "Tell me what you know."

"It's the Nguyens," the manager spat in disgust. "They been livin' here only about six weeks, but I dun had to call the po-leese twice already. They fight all the time. Screamin' and hollerin' and throwin' things….trash. Jus' trash."

"They're fighting now?" Pete asked.

"Of course they are. Do you think I'd call the pol-leese if they wus quiet? All that noise, and the baby a' cryin'…"

"They have a baby?" Jim interrupted. "How old?"

The manager shrugged. "Little un. Two, three months, tops. It was jus' born when they moved in."

"That the only child?"

"Yeah. Look, why you standin' here gabbin' when theyse up there tearin' up my apartm't?" The manager demanded, swinging his cigarette dangerously close to Pete's face.

"We'll go talk to them and get it straightened out," Pete said, giving the manager a hard look. "What's the number?"

"Talk to 'em?" the manager said with a laugh. "You can't talk to 'em, off'cr!"

"And why not?"

"They don' speak English! They fresh off the boat from 'Nam!"

Great. Just great. Pete exchanged a look with his partner, whose eyes had gone a bit wide. "We'll work it out," he said. "What's the number?"


"Let's go, partner," Pete nodded to the front doors, but he needn't have bothered. Jim had two strides on him already.

The two men made their way up the five flights of steps, avoiding stray toys, trash, and the occasional resident who sat there, smoking a cigarette or just staring vacantly into space. None of the people even spared them a glance, acting instead as if two police officers charging up the stairs was a common occurrence. Pete thought that it probably was common.

Jim reached the fifth floor landing first and opened the fire door. Pete expected to hear the loud noise of an argument, but other than the rusted creaking of the door, and some muffled music, all seemed quiet. Jim paused, giving Pete time to catch up.

"I don't hear anything," Jim stated the obvious. "I don't know if that's good or bad."

"You're the optimist in the car," Pete reminded him a bit breathlessly. I need to get back in the gym.

"Yeah." Jim stepped through the door and Pete followed.

They walked past a few apartments, verifying by faded, and sometimes hand-scratched -on numbers, that they headed in the correct direction. Apartment 505 occupied the last spot on the long, dimly lit hall. The only sounds that they had heard on the way down to the end was a variety of noises common to any apartment complex - music, TV sounds, people talking, children crying or giggling. However, as they reached the door of 505, they heard the sounds of a woman crying, an angry voice of a man, and a fretting baby coming through.

The two officers exchanged a look and then took positions on either side of the old wooden door. Like most of the other doors, its brown paint had either chipped or formed spider-web patterns from cracking. Unlike most of the other doors, the black iron numbers declaring it as number 505 hung straight and intact. Jim took the far side near the corner, and Pete took the spot closest to the doorknob. The noise in the apartment picked up in volume a bit, so after another shared look, Pete lifted his hand to knock.

Pete rapped on the door with a firm, bare-knuckled knock. He didn't call out immediately, but waited for a response. The noise inside died down until only the fretting of the baby could be heard, but no one came to the door. After a short stretch of time, when near-silence still reigned, Pete knocked again, harder this time, and barked out, "Police Officers! Open the door!"

This time, the response was immediate, violent, and loud. A crash, followed by the woman's shrill scream, the baby's frightened wail, and the angry male voice, screaming in a language neither officer could understand, broke the silence in a strident symphony.

Pete flinched at the suddenness, but stopped Jim's move toward the door handle with a shake of his head. "Wait," he mouthed. He wanted to be as certain as he could be that when they went through the door, they wouldn't be greeted with a bullet. But could he ever really be sure?

The woman inside screamed again, and began to wail along with the baby, punctuating her distress with a loud stream of words that sounded both threatening and pleading at once. The male voice got louder and edged toward hysteria, while the baby's cries became more high-pitched and rose in volume.

Pete knocked again. "Open the door! Police Officers!"

When the cacophony of sound only got worse, and no one responded to his demand, Jim reached across for the doorknob again. "Pete!" He hissed.

This time, Pete nodded, and Jim gripped and twisted the handle. It obliged him by turning in response, and Jim pushed the door open.

Pete had a direct view into the apartment when Jim opened the door, and what he saw made his mouth go dry.

The apartment looked as if a whirlwind had been through. Hardly a stick of furniture stood upright, and broken glass littered the floor. Articles of clothing hung limply from the overturned furniture or lay haphazardly around the floor. The disarray, however, was not the focus of Pete's dismay, but rather the people who stood, frozen in place at Pete's appearance in the doorway.

A tiny woman with distinctly Asian features stood in profile to Pete, brandishing a knife that looked at least the size of a machete toward an Asian man who stood with his back to an open window. The man held a baby - a very small, red-faced, loudly screaming baby - in front of himself, obviously using the tiny child as a shield. Both adults still screamed loudly at each other, even though they did not move. Meet the Nguyens. Lovely.

"Holy…" Jim whispered, joining Pete in the doorway.

Pete swallowed and directed his words to the woman. He forced himself to speak calmly, but firmly, even though his insides churned. "Lady, put down the knife. Put it down." Pete pointed to the object, then made a show of lowering his hand to the floor. "Down," he pointed.

The woman shook her head and, with tears streaming down her face, yelled out something, and gestured with the knife toward the man and baby. At her gesture, the man responded by stepping back toward the window and holding the baby out in front of himself. He yelled incoherently, then followed up with a stream of angry, fearful words.

Pete held his hand up in a placating manner and took a step toward the man, while Jim inched around slowly toward the woman. "Careful, Jim," Pete warned, his voice low. "She's on the edge."

"So's the baby," Jim hissed back.

"I know. Lady," Pete addressed the woman again, as she half-turned toward Jim, waving the large knife between Jim and the man, who Pete assumed was her husband, "Mrs. Nguyen. Down. Put the knife down." Again, Pete gestured to the floor.

"Naaaaahhh!" the woman cried, still waving the weapon. With her free hand, she pointed toward her husband and the baby and babbled in her native tongue some more. She jabbed the knife toward Jim, as he apparently moved too close for her liking, and he backed up in response.

"Please, Mrs. Nguyen," Jim said, copying Pete's calming tone of voice and gesture, "Put the knife down."

"Think of the baby," Pete said. He placed his arms together in the universal symbol for holding a baby, and moved them in a rocking motion. "Baby. Help your baby." He pointed to himself, then to the screaming infant, then smiled and nodded his head in a "yes" motion. "I will help your baby."

Mrs. Nguyen pointed the knife back in the direction of her husband and screamed again. She continued to cry and yell, as Mr. Nguyen returned her words, matching her volume and intensity. The baby screamed along, as the man dangled the child in front of himself. The young baby's head lolled from side to side, apparently unable to support it. Mr. Nguyen took another step backwards, which placed him right up against the open window frame. He took a quick glance behind him, then renewed his screaming.

Pete felt his stomach heave with a new wave of fear. This was going nowhere fast, and he feared for the safety of the infant. I don't like the look in that man's eyes. His mind whirled. Was there anyone in the department who spoke Vietnamese? Could they get here in time to help? Maybe someone else in the building? But who's going to get that help? Both of us are needed here. No, no options! No time! I have to make her understand! What mother doesn't want to protect her child? Doesn't she see that she's only making it worse? What can I do?

"Ma'am, put the knife down," Jim spoke again, bringing Pete out of his mental calculations. The younger officer had not moved from his last position, but he reached out toward the woman, hands up, fingers curling toward himself. "Give me the knife. Please."

The woman stepped away from Jim, crying and pointing her free hand to her husband. She shook her head "no," still babbling in her native language.

The man answered her babbling with an angry outburst, then turned to the open window. In a terrifyingly swift move, he took the baby, grabbed it by a leg and dangled it out of the open window, still facing the woman. He resumed his angry invective, looking determined and defiant. His wife screamed and broke into even more hysterical sobbing.

"No, don't!" Pete cried, involuntarily moving toward the man, his arms held out in supplication. Horror at the sight of the baby dangling five stories up, head down, screaming in fear, overwhelmed him. He felt the blood draining from his face.

The woman wailed even more loudly as the baby screamed its torment, and Jim whispered "Dear God," as he froze in place.

"Easy, now," Pete said, for the benefit of everyone in the room, including himself. His heart trip-hammered in his chest and he found it hard to breathe. But he knew that he had to take control, now. He looked straight at Mrs. Nguyen and gave her his best pleading look. "The baby. Help your baby. Put down the knife!" Pete jabbed his hand toward the floor.

Mrs. Nguyen looked at Pete, sobbing and screaming, then at Jim, then finally turned back toward her angry husband, who callously dangled the infant out the window. He had stopped his ranting, and now glared angrily at the woman, chin stuck out in defiance.

Pete dared not move, and Jim seemed frozen as well. Both officers waited, ready to move, but either wanting that movement to be the one that sent an innocent infant hurtling to its death. For an interminable amount of time, everyone stood still, looking at each other. The screams of the baby and the sobbing of the woman provided the background noise. No one spoke.

After a bit, Mrs. Nguyen seemed to crumple slightly, and her voice lowered as she looked at the man and nodded her head "yes," as she repeated a single phrase over and over in her native tongue. The woman's hold on the knife faltered, then she changed her movement with it, turning it toward herself. She raised it as if to strike herself in the chest.

Jim launched himself at Mrs. Nguyen then, grabbing her tiny waist with one hand and the knife hand with the other. His momentum sent them both spinning away from the man and hanging infant. Jim's foot caught on the leg of an upturned chair, and he fell backwards, taking the woman with him. She landed atop Jim's chest, screaming and crying, and Pete heard Jim grunt with the impact.

Pete kept his eyes on the husband and baby, sparing only a brief glance Jim's way to make certain he had the woman subdued safely. He heard a clatter as the giant knife hit the floor, and then Jim's voice, firm, but calm. "Easy, lady, easy. I'm not gonna hurt you. Stop struggling."

Pete trusted his partner to have it all under control, so he concentrated on Mr. Nguyen, who watched the byplay between the woman and Jim dispassionately now, the look of anger abating, replaced by one of triumph. He still held the baby in a one-handed grip, oblivious to its terrified screams. Pete thought he'd seen it all in the eight-plus years he'd been on the force, but he'd never seen anyone quite this callous in dealing with an infant. Especially his own child. It made him sick. Who could treat a child like this? Use it as a pawn in an argument so blatantly?

"Sir, please," Pete spoke, holding out his hands. He forced himself to calmness. "The baby. Bring in the baby. Please." Pete again made the "baby" symbol, and then pointed to the child. "Please, Mr. Nguyen, give me the baby."

The man made no move to comply, and his attention turned to his wife and Jim. Out of the corner of his vision Pete could see Jim struggle to his feet, bringing the woman with him. She hung almost limply in Jim's grasp, sobbing and still babbling, but her words were barely audible.

Mr. Nguyen looked at Pete, pointed to the woman, and made a gesture towards the door. He yelled something in a tone that sounded to Pete's ears to be a tone of contempt. He finished with a sneer and another gesture to the door.

"Jim, get her out of here," Pete snapped quietly, never taking his eyes off the man. "Take her out."

"Right," Jim reached over and picked up the vicious-looking knife before he herded the now compliant, crying female out the door. Pete didn't see the worried look on his partner's face, but he knew it to be there, all the same.

Once Mrs. Nguyen was gone, the man turned his gaze back to Pete. He still looked defiant and half-crazed with contempt.

"The baby," Pete repeated. "Bring me the baby." He held out his hands expectantly. His world narrowed to just himself and the man. This was a battle he would not lose. I won't lose this baby.

Mr. Nguyen glanced at the baby, then back at Pete. He said something to Pete, his tone still contemptuous, but the volume lower and calmer.

"The baby is innocent," Pete said. He knew the man couldn't understand him, but he couldn't just stand here and do nothing. "Baby - to me, please." Pete pointed to the child, then to himself. "I'll help. The baby hasn't done anything. Please, Mr. Nguyen, give it to me." Dammit, understand me! I just want to help!

The man said something else, his tone easing a bit. The arm holding the wailing baby moved and the baby lowered. Pete sucked in a breath.

"Please, no!" Pete risked a step toward the man. "Please, give me the baby. Please."

The man then pointed to himself, then to the door. He repeated this gesture.

He wants me to let him go. I can't do that. But the baby…if I can save the baby…I can always get him later. Is taking this guy in now worth this baby's life?

"Bring in the baby. We'll talk. Baby. Please." Pete made the appropriate motions to his worlds. It rankled him to even consider letting scrum like this get away, but he had to save this child.

The man repeated his pointing to himself, then the door. He then said, in broken English. "Ba-by," then pointed to Pete.

"Yes, baby," Pete repeated. He moved sideways, giving the man a wider berth. He hoped that would encourage the man to bring in the baby. "Give it to me. The baby." Pete pointed to the child and then to himself. All this pointing and gesturing! It's maddening.

Slowly, so slowly that Pete thought it would take the rest of his life, Mr. Nguyen pulled the hysterical baby inside and held him in both arms. Pete felt his legs weaken in relief, but only half the battle had been won. It could still end badly. Patience, Pete. Be patient.

Once more the man spoke in his broken English. "" He pointed to Pete.

"Yes. Give me the baby." Pete extended his arms again.

The man looked at the open door, then took two halting steps toward it, still holding tightly to the crying child. He took one last look at the door, then dashed past Pete in a dead run.

No! So close! Pete whirled to follow the man, and had only taken one hopping stride over a fallen chair when the man turned and tossed the child into the air, toward Pete. Pete leaped forward and caught the infant, just inches from the floor. He cradled the baby to his chest patting the baby's back and cooing to it over and over. All thoughts of the fleeing man were forgotten as Pete held the precious bundle close to him.

"It's all right, little one. It's all right. You're safe now. I've got you. I've got you. It's going to be all right." Pete rocked slowly back and forth as he continued to reassure the child. I'm not sure who needs comforting more right now -- me, or this baby. Somewhere in the background he heard a metallic clang, and realized Mr. Nguyen had probably fled down the stairwell. Right now Pete could care less. He had the baby, and it was safe.

The baby's cries began to still, and it started hiccupping for air, as it shuddered in Pete's arms, desperately trying to calm itself. Its tiny hands were clenched into fists, and it tried to stick one in its mouth, but couldn't find the mark.

Pete remembered that when Jimmy Reed was this young, that sometimes Jim or Jean would stick their pinkie finger his mouth and the child would suck or chew on it to calm himself. He'd never offered little Jimmy his pinkie, but this child certainly needed something comforting.

"I don't know how clean it is," Pete whispered to the child, "but if you want it…" Pete stuck the tip of his pinkie finger into the child's mouth, and it responded instantly by voraciously sucking on it.

"Whoa," Pete laughed to himself, feeling giddy and on the verge of a quiet breakdown. "I guess it helps." He continued to gently rock back and forth and let the child suck on the proffered finger.

A sudden movement in the door caused Pete to look up. Jim stood in the door, holding firmly to Mr. Nguyen, who now sported a new set of handcuffs.

"You got him!" Pete said.

"How's the baby?" Jim asked with a curt nod.

"Just fine, best I can tell," Pete said with a grin. "Though a trip to County General should confirm it. Where's the woman?"

"Brinkman has her," Jim nodded back toward the stairwell.

"Brinkman? How?"

"Apparently when Mr. Nguyen here," Jim gave the man a slight jerk, "held the baby out the window, a second call was made to the station. They sent a back up. Thirty-four was in the area and they got here fast. I gave the woman to Brink, and came back here to help. I met him," Jim glared at Mr. Nguyen with narrowed eyes, "in the stairwell on the way back up. It was no contest."

Pete looked at Jim and noticed he looked a little sweaty and disheveled, but none the worse for wear. And Jim seemed in control and calm, despite the tense situation. "I'm sure of that," Pete agreed.

"I had Brink call for a social worker and officer from McLaren Hall to get out here." Jim continued.

Pete gave Jim a weak grin. "Good work. I hope they make it fast."

"I'll have Woods and Brink take them both in and start the booking process," Jim said. He pulled on Mr. Nguyen's arm and scowled at him. "Let's go, buddy. Oh, Pete?"


"You look real natural, there. I wish I had a camera so Jean could see this."

Pete tried to scowl at his partner, but found it hard with an armful of baby. "Just see what's keeping that social worker, how about it?"

"Right." Jim and his prisoner disappeared from sight.

The baby gurgled around Pete's finger, and its tiny hand found a hold on the digit. Pete looked down into a set of dark eyes that stared back at him, guileless, innocent, and pure. He wondered what would become of this little one and realized he didn't even know if it was a boy or a girl. But it didn't matter. Somehow, looking into those innocent eyes, all the ugliness of the world, and his job, and the turmoil in his life faded into insignificance. He held the future in his hands and he knew with certain clarity that no matter what this child's future held, he had a part in giving it a chance to realize that future. And that was important. Damned important.


Pete entered the break room at the station and took a quick look around. Relieved to find it empty, he headed to the coffee pot and took two styrofoam cups from the collection stacked next to the brew. He fished in his pocket and found a quarter, so he flipped it into the kitty and proceeded to pour two fresh cups of Joe.

Pete and Jim really needed that coffee. It had been a long, trying two-plus hours following up on the domestic dispute with the Nguyens, and both officers were still working on their backed up paperwork. He'd left Jim struggling over how to best write up the incident with Beth Harvey and the red underwear and had come to the break room to grab them both a new cup of coffee.

Pete bit back a sigh as he dressed both cups with two packets of sugar and stirred them. He still felt a bit jittery, even though the Nguyen's were in custody, and the medical exam on the baby had revealed no serious injury and she was safely in housed in McLaren Hall. He knew Jim felt the same way, because Pete had noticed his partner brooding ever since they'd returned to the station and had learned the story behind the Nguyen's argument.

Mac had somehow located a man who spoke Vietnamese - literally pulled from a neighborhood market down the street -- and gotten him to translate the questioning of the couple. It turned out that the argument was over the baby - a girl named Trinh. Mr. Nguyen had suspected that the girl was not his biological child, and he had been trying to get his wife to admit it. It had come to a head today, and Mr. Nguyen had used the threat of killing the baby to force Mrs. Nguyen's confession. That's why Mrs. Nguyen had taken the knife - trying to keep her husband away from the baby. Apparently the distraction of the appearance of himself and Jim had been enough for Mr. Nguyen to grab the child. When Mrs. Nguyen had crumpled in Jim's arms had been when she had admitted that the baby, indeed, was not the biological child of her husband. It had been a sad explanation to a terrifying and seemingly inexplicable situation.

Funny, though, how something so frightening and dramatic had caused Pete to turn his thoughts to his own life. Somehow, the incident had served as a filter, causing Pete to be able to weed out unimportant details and focus on facts. His thoughts had boiled down to the incident with Alice last night and, and also on the mini-lecture that Jim had given him in the car about her. As much as it galled him to admit it, Jim had been right. He and Alice were definitely on different highways. It hadn't taken Jim to point that out to him - he'd known it soon enough after they'd started dating.

Pete could pinpoint the exact time he'd figured out the fundamental difference between he and Alice. It had been during a nice excursion to the park for a picnic with the Reed family that Pete had first been made aware of Alice's dislike of children. The day had been beautiful, especially for late November, and there had been plenty of food and laughter. Jimmy had just started walking with confidence and the little tyke had made good use of his new skill, "escaping" from their picnic area only to have Jim or Jean or himself chase after him, grab him up and tickle him and return him to the blanket. Jimmy had laughed delightedly, enjoying the game immensely. The adults had enjoyed it too - except for Alice, who barely cracked a smile the whole day, and had spent most of her time rolling her eyes in exasperation. Little Jimmy had once even toddled over to Alice and offered her a bite of a cookie he had grasped in his hand, but instead of acknowledging the sweet overture, she had recoiled, and Pete had stepped in quickly to pick up his godson and take a bite of the cookie. Pete knew that Jim and Jean realized Alice's discomfort, but they had both graciously ignored it and continued to treat Alice with their usual courtesy.

It had been after that picnic that he and Alice had had their first argument. They'd worked it out, though, at least for a while, because Pete did acknowledge that not everybody was into kids, especially a person like Alice who had grown up as an only child and had never had to baby-sit as a teen to earn money. And that was another fundamental difference between them. Although Alice worked hard at her job, and wasn't lazy by any means, her attitude towards money was reckless and she spent it coming and going. She also expected Pete to reciprocate, and on a cop's salary, that wasn't always easy. That had led to a couple of other arguments. While Jim sometimes jokingly disparaged Pete's fiscal policies, Pete behaved like Scrooge compared to the free-spending Alice.

But for all the other reasons Jim had mentioned today - Alice's physical attributes - as well as those private reasons Pete held, he just hadn't been able to let go of Alice as a girlfriend. He just had too good of time with her when they were clicking on all cylinders. They just plain had fun together.

You can't build a stable relationship on that. Jim's words stung. They stung not only because it was true, but because Pete knew it to be true and didn't do anything about it. And they stung because he felt guilty because he had so much fun with a girl who couldn't stand his beloved godson.

Pete had known last night, after this girl he had so much fun with wouldn't even sacrifice an hour of her time to help him buy a gift for that godson, that he couldn't sanction staying with her any longer. He had known it, and still had been reluctant to take action. He should have broken up with her last night and been done with it. But he couldn't do it. Was he that weak? That shallow?

No! I'm not. I just enjoy having a good time. What's wrong with that? I'm really not ready to settle down. I like playing the field, meeting new people, spending time with different women. I'm not shallow. I'm not weak.

Pete did sigh, after that line of thought. No, he was neither shallow nor weak. But just maybe, he was a little bit…afraid. Just maybe he liked playing the field and being with different women because he was afraid of commitment. But he wasn't afraid of commitment in the typical sense of the word - he was afraid of making a mistake.

When he'd first met Jim Reed and they'd had their early discussions on marriage and family, Pete truly had had no desire to settle down to such a life. But after getting to know his young partner and his wife, and especially after Jimmy entered the picture, Pete had begun to soften his attitude. Now, he found that he really did - someday not too far off - want that for himself. But he didn't want it just for the sake of having it. He wanted true happiness and a relationship like Jim and Jean had. Even though Jim and Jean had their trying moments, Pete knew they had a deep love for one another and the desire to work through any difficulties. And that's what I want, too. A woman that will stand by me, and work with me, and love me, and give me a family.

Alice definitely wasn't that woman. And oddly enough, maybe that's why I stayed with her. I knew she wasn't the one, but if I stayed with her, I wouldn't have to worry about making a move, a mistake. She was safe. But safe is a compromise, at least in this case. And I'm NOT a person to compromise my own values. I wouldn't be cop if I were. So no more playing it safe. I'm letting her go. Tonight. For good. I know what's important to me. And Alice doesn't fit in the picture of what that is anymore.

Pete picked up the two cups of coffee and eased his way out of the break room, feeling much less jittery now that he'd finally made a firm decision. He'd tell Jim that Alice wasn't coming to Jimmy's party on Saturday, and that he'd be there Friday night to help him assemble the swing set. As to the rest of it - well, what Jim didn't know he couldn't bug him about. Pete smiled to himself.

Poor Jim. He doesn't realize that he's inadvertently given me yet another reason to stay single a while longer. So the marriage-versus-single game goes on. Pete's smile grew a little wider. After all, I can't let Jim know he's winning…not for a while yet, anyway.

Author's note: A very special thanks to Cathy, our heroic Madame Editor, for all her hard work and for kindly maintaining the site while writers have been somewhat…well…inactive. Thanks! Also thanks to Susu, who always offers support, and to Susan in Montgomery who prodded me to finish!

A special note about the first call to the LSU-painted house - I used to live in New Orleans, and that was based on a real home that I used to pass on the way to the Lake Forest Mall in New Orleans East. I was always so grateful that I didn't live next door to the purple and gold house with tigers painted on it, especially since I'm an Alabama Crimson Tide fan - ROLL TIDE! J As for Mr. Gautreax's dialect - you can consult a good online Cajun dictionary to get the literal meaning of words like "gaga," "poutain," and "couyon."

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