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ANOTHER SUNNY SPRING day in Brooklyn. The
punks would be out in full force. Annie Corrigan sighed as she stared out the small square window from the office she shared with three other cops. One more report to write and then she'd be out there, arguing with her partner over their cruiser's temperature controls.
Her phone rang and she had to stifle a yawn before answering. "Sergeant Corrigan."
"Hey, baby, it's me."
She closed her eyes, her chest tightening. "What do you want?"
"Is that any way to speak to"
"Don't tell me." Her voice started to rise and she quickly lowered it. "You've been arrested again."
"Look, Annie, I was going to call you last week, maybe buy you some dinner, but I got busy. You know how it is."
Nothing changed. Nothing ever changed. Did he really expect her to believe more of his lies? "I told you not to call me at work." "See, the thing is, baby, I did get in a small scrape. But I swear to you, this time it wasn't my fault."
She shook her head. It never was. "I have to go." "Come on, baby, you aren't going to leave me locked up for the weekend."
"See you around, Pop," she said, and hung up. She stared at the phone for a long time, anger and resentment burning in her gut. The guilt that crept in made her even angrier and she had to force herself to breathe. How many times had she bailed him out? Used her hard-earned money or called in one too many favors? When had he ever been there for her? All he'd done was lie. About Annie's mother. About everything.
"Monday's the deadline and you haven't done squat." Lisa dragged a chair closer to Annie's clut-tered gray metal desk and adjusted her holster and gun before planting herself in Annie'sface. "What's up with that?"
"Not now, okay?"
Lisa's blue eyes clouded with concern. "What's wrong?"
Annie started to shake her head although she knew better. She knew Lisaher best friend, the sis-ter she never had and an incredibly pushy broad. "It was Larry."
"In jail again?"
Annie sighed. "Yep." "Don't you dare feel guilty."
"Me? Hell, no. I'm not the parent. He's the one who screwed up." Except she did feel guilty, because she hated and loved him at the same time. Especially hated him for her longing for family and love that she couldn't quite shake. "Let's talk about something else."
Lisa hesitated, obviously wanting to belabor the moot point, however her face brightened. "Like the detectives exam?"
Annie stared at her friend. Another annoying is-sue. "I haven't decided to take it yet."
"Why not? You'd ace it."
"It's the cool uniform. I don't want to give it up." Lisa laughed. "Yeah, guys think we're hot." Annie smiled wryly. Guys either really got off on the whole uniform thing, or they ran the other way. Not much happened in between. Which left Annie with going to the movies on Friday nights with Lisa and playing softball with the whole gang at the neigh-borhood park on Saturday mornings.
"I like where I am." Comfortable. Familiar. Safe. Everything Annie wanted in life. "What's the big deal, anyway?"
"Ah, gee, let me think about it. Hmm, what sounds better, Sergeant Corrigan, Detective Corrigan? Not to mention a huge pay raise." She gave Annie a flat look and then her trademark nasal, "Hel-lo." Loud enough that the few officers still hanging around the precinct turned to look at them.
"Why aren't you taking the exam?" Annie asked. "And embarrass my father? I barely made ser-geant. I couldn't even pass that the first time."
Old argument. Useless to say anything. Annie had never figured out Lisa's lack of confidence. Sure, her dad was a decorated police captain, but he and Mrs. O'Brien were encouraging and understanding, the kind of great parents every kid dreamed of. Annie knew firsthand, since she'd lived with them for half her teen years.
Of course, Great Aunt Marjorie had always been there for Annie, a shoulder to lean on, someone who always listened without judgmentmostly from long distance. She lived on a small ranch in Texas where Annie had spent a few summers when she was little.
"Seriously, Annie, you'd be crazy not to go for it. Sanders and Jankowski are both taking the exam." Lisa didn't bother to lower her voice when she added,
"Those morons can barely spell. You've seen their re-ports. A fifth-grader could do better."
"Lisa." Annie glanced around, hoping no one overheard, although everyone in the precinct pretty much felt the same way about the pair. "Look, you like being a beat cop, so why can't you understand that I like being a beat cop, too?"
"Because I know you better than that."
Annie made a point of checking her watch. "Your shift started three minutes ago."
Lisa gathered her dark blond hair back into a ponytail and secured it while getting to her feet. "Who's supposed to make dinner?" "Why do you always ask that when it's your turn?" Lisa grinned. "Just in case you forgot."
"O'Brien. This isn't a day at the spa." Rick Thom-as, Lisa's partner, motioned impatiently.
Lisa motioned back. It wasn't nice. Then she turned once more to Annie. "I'll probably bring home takeout tonight."
"Not cheeseburgers again, please."
Annie watched Lisa go, looking trim and sharp in her crisp blue uniform. Lisa was one of those disgust-ing women who ate anything yet never gained an ounce. And it was tough being her roommate because she tended to bring home junk food that was hard to resist.
Annie got up for more coffee, weaving between the desks that crowded the room, and trying not to yawn as she passed Captain Hansen's office. After working nights for almost five years, it was hard to get used to the day shift. But she needed the switch in order to take a couple of night classes she'd been lusting after. Sadly, continuing education was the highlight of her social life.
Annie cursed under her breath when she saw that someone had drained the coffee but hadn't started another pot. She measured out the grounds and filled the carafe with water. While she waited for the coffee to brew, she stared at the calendar that hung nearby on the wall.
Monday's date was circled, marking the deadline for the detectives exam. As if she needed the re-minder. Besides Lisa jumping down her throat, Mr. O'Brien had mentioned it, and her own captain had pointed out that she'd be foolish to pass up any more career opportunities.
So she'd missed the first sergeant's exam. Not on purpose. She'd been finishing her master's degree and had to study for a final. And why was everyone so worried about her career anyway? It was none of their business. If she wanted to stay where she was, that was her decision.
She stuck her head out of the coffee room and saw Lieutenant Potter standing at her desk, Annie's phone in his hand.
"Call for you," he said, and set the receiver down on her desk.
Annoyed, she grabbed her empty mug and headed for the phone. She hoped it wasn't another personal call, particularly from her father, even though every-one in the precinct already knew about her deadbeat dad. They knew about Steve Witherspoon, too, about how the scumbag attorney had used her. That stung more than anything else.
Hell, her colleagues seemed to know everything opera. That's why she mostly kept to herself or hung out with Lisa.
She picked up the receiver and barked her last name. "Annie?" The voice was shaky, but unmistakable. "Aunt Marjorie?" "Good heavens, girl. I hope you don't always an-swer the phone that way."
Annie sank into her chair, dread clawing at her chest as she glanced at the clock. Six-ten in the morn-ing, Texas time. "Is everything okay?"
"Right as rain." Her aunt hesitated. "Except for one small thing, Honey, you got any vacation time saved up?"
"What is it, Aunt Marjorie?"
"You know I wouldn't ask you unless it was im-portant."
"Please tell me."
Aunt Marjorie paused, her faint breath as weak as a fall leaf. "My doctor insists on me having some silly tests. Can't be done locally, of course, so I gotta go all the way to Houston."
Annie immediately picked up a pen and turned over a piece of used paper. "What kind of tests?"
"For my heart and lungs. Which are both obvi-ously working fine or else I wouldn't be here talking to you, would I?"
Annie smiled. Aunt Marjorie had always been feisty. She was close to eighty-five, a widow for fifty-one years and as stubborn as a woman who'd lived alone so long could be. Annie adored her. "The doc-tor had to have a reason, Aunt Marjorie. Would you mind if I spoke to him?"
"The thing is, honey, what I really need is for you to watch my ranch. Only for a week or so, until I get out of this place. I'm worried about the chickens mostly." "The hospital? You're there? Now?"
"Just got here," Aunt Marjorie said sheepishly.
"But don't go jumping to any conclusionsyou get your exercise some other way, young lady. I'm fine. It's the ranch I'm worried about. I don't want the an-imals starving."
"You don't have that many left, do you?"
"A few milk cows. About two dozen hens that are still laying."
"What about Chester?" Annie asked, who was al-ready planning to go straight to the hospital and not the ranch. Chester had been an extra pair of hands and a good friend to Marjorie as far back as Annie could remember. He could take care of the few animals that remained.
"Honey, his arthritis is bad and he's no spring chicken anymore."
Annie sighed. From what she could recall, the man was at least a good eight to ten years younger than Aunt Marjorie. "Look, I'm coming to the hos-pital and then I'll"
"Annie, listen. I need you at the ranch. Not here. Dang it." The beeping of medical machinery in the background made Annie's heart race. "I have to go now."
"No, wait. What hospital are you"
She heard a click and then a dial tone. Cursing under her breath, she reached for a phone book. First, she'd book a flight, then tell the captain she needed time off. Chester would know what hospital Aunt Marjorie was in. If not, she could ask Lisa to find out, even if she had to use official channels.
Annie's gaze caught on the piece of paper she held. An application for the detectives exam. Potter had apparently brought it over when he answered her phone. She exhaled slowly as she crumpled it in her fist and tossed it in the wastebasket. Aunt Marjorie was far more important.