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Nothing kicked off Emmaline Neal's weekend like using a Taser.
Okay, okay, she hadn't used the Taser yet and she probably wouldn't get to (dang), but the tiny thrill of anticipation didn't lie. If indeed there was an intruder in the Mcintosh house, it would be deeply satisfying to apprehend him. Barb Mcintosh suspected a sex offender, and, if she was right, Em knew exactly where she'd target the electrodes.
Granted, Barb had already admitted to being addicted to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit ("That Christopher Meloni! So handsome!"). But she'd heard strange noises in the utility part of her basement, and her grandson, the notoriously creepy Bobby, wasn't home.
"Approaching cellar stairs," Everett Field whispered.
"Yeah, I can tell that, Ev, since I'm right behind you," Emmaline said. "And there's no need to whisper."
"Roger that," Everett whispered.
Despite the fact that Emmaline had only been on the job for nine months and Everett was more senior, they both knew she was a better cop. Ev wasn't the crunchi-est chip in the bag.
"You sure Bobby's not here?" Em asked Barb over her shoulder.
"No. I called him on the phone and yelled down there, so
"Roger that," Everett said, reaching for his holster. "Alert for incoming hostiles."
"Get your hand off that gun, Everett," Emmaline said. "And where do you get this language?"
"Call of Duty."
"Great. Just calm down. We're not shooting anyone." Taser at most, and only then if there was a struggle.
The crime rate was pretty low in Manningsport, New York, population 715, a tiny town at the base of Keuka Lake. Everett and Em made up two-thirds of the police department; their boss, Levi Cooper, was the other third. Traffic patrol, the occasional DUI, vandalism, parking tickets
That was about as exciting as it got around here. Em ran a group for at-risk teenagers, of whom there were four. In the summer and fall, when the tourists came to taste wine and swim and boat on Keuka Lake, they were busier, but this was January, and things were quiet. In fact, this was their first call in three days.
Something thumped, and Everett squeaked. Chances were that it was a malfunctioning furnace. Possibly a raccoon. Levi always said if you heard hoofbeats, expect to see horses, not zebras.
They were in the cellar now; in front of them was Bobby's apartment; to the right was the door to the other half of the cellar, which housed the furnace and water heater and, Barb had told them, several dozen jars of pickled vegetables she'd put up this summer.
Okay, something was in there.
"It's probably an animal," Em murmured, taking the Maglite off her belt. The utility room wasn't accessible from the outside, so a person would've had to come in through the house. And Barb always locked up (again, the mighty influence of Law & Order).
Everett put his hand on the doorknob and looked at Em, who nodded. Then he flung open the door, and Em flashed the light, and something moved inside, and Everett screamed and, before she could stop him, drew and fired.
Damn! The noise slapped her eardrums hard.
"It's a cat! Everett, it's a cat!" she yelled. "Holster your weapon!"
Everett obeyed. As he did, a ball of black and white leaped on him, hissing, and sank its teeth into his thigh. Apparently Puss in Boots didn't appreciate being shot at.
"Officer down, officer down!" Ev yelled, swatting at it. "Ten double zero, officer down!"
"Shut up," Em ordered. "You deserve it." He'd missed the kitty, of course. The guy was a terrible shot.
She lifted the cat gently by the scruff of the neck and pulled it off Everett's leg. All of a sudden, Everett was grabbed around the throat by Bobby McIntosh, who apparently was home after all.
"Why did you shoot my cat?" he yelled.
"Bobby! Let go of him!" Emmaline said.
"We don't have a cat!" Barb said from upstairs. "Bobby, did you bring a cat home?"
Everett was sputtering and red-faced. Em sighed. "Let him go, or I'll have to use this," she said, taking her Taser off her belt. "It hurts."
He hesitated. She cocked an eyebrow, and, with a sigh, he released her partner.
Drat. "Thank you, Bobby," she said. So close.
"Bobby! What were you doing down there?" Barb said. "I called you and you didn't answer! Where did you get that thing, anyway? I hate cats."
"I love them," Bobby said. "I got it from the shelter."
"Okay, so we're good here," Emmaline said. Everett's eyes were wide. "Come on, Evlet's go. You're gonna have to file a report for discharging your firearm, you know."
"I thought it was a sex offender," Everett said, his hands shaking.
"It wasn't. You're safe now, buddy," she said, patting his arm. "Come on. Back to the station."
"You shot a cat?" Chief Cooper said fifteen minutes later, staring at Everett.
"I'm sorry." Ev stood there like a chastened kid.
"He missed," Emmaline said. Now that the ringing in her ears had faded, it was hard not to laugh. "The suspect was quite fast." Levi gave her a look.
"File the report, Everett. The incident is under review, which means you just increased my workload."
"Sorry, Chief. Um, Bobby McIntosh attacked me."
"Because you shot at his pet."
"Not really," Emmaline said. "The cat was the one acting in self-defense."
Levi bit down on a grin. "Your mother won't be happy about this, Ev."
"Do you have to tell her?"
"She's the mayor. So, yes."
"Shit." Everett heaved a sigh. "Anything else, Chief?"
"No. Fill out the report and get out of here."
Everett left the office and swiped a cookie from the desk of Carol Robinson, their newly hired administrative assistant, who'd been shamelessly eavesdropping.
"Thanks for not letting Bobby kill Everett," Levi said to Emmaline.
"I was kind of hoping to use the Taser."
"Could've used it on Everett," he said. "But good to see cooler heads prevailed."
It was about as high praise as the police chief gave, and Emmaline felt a small rush of pride. Granted, it had been an idiotic call in the first place, but still.
Levi, who'd been a year behind her in high school, stood and picked up a bouquet of red roses wrapped in green florist paper and tied with a white ribbon. His look warned her not to say anything.
"Aw," she said. "Flowers for the wife? You're such a snuggly teddy bear, Levi."
"Inappropriate, Officer Neal," he said, giving her his famous "I tolerate you because I have to" look. "By the way, about that crisis negotiations class. I got you a grant. You start in two weeks."
"You did? Oh, you're the best! I take back every complaint I ever filed about you."
"Very funny," her boss said. "I'm going home. Maybe I'll see you at O'Rourke's later."
"Maybe. Tell Pregnita I said hi."
He smiled and left the office, stopping to say something to Carol before he left the station.
It was hard not to feel a little jealous. Levi and Faith had been married a little over a year and had a baby on the way. Seemed like everyone was getting married these days; Em had been to three weddings over the summer. In fact, she was considering marrying herself, just so she could register for the fun housewares.
Well. Time for her to go home, too. The O'Keefe Emergency Services Building, which housed the fire, police and ambulance departments, was about five minutes from town. Em drove past Hastings Farm, past the high school and into the Village part of Mannings-port, three blocks around a small green at the edge of Keuka Lake.
Emmaline lived on Water Street, right next to the library, and often parked the cruiser along the green where the good people of Manningsport could see it and reconsider any bad decisions, like driving under the influence. O'Rourke's Tavern, the only place in town open year-round, glowed warm and bright. Maybe she'd eat there tonight, since she didn't have any plans. But first, home to the Wonder PupSarge, her recently acquired German shepherd puppy, who'd need a walk and some exercise, despite his doggy door to the backyard.
She got out of the cruiser, her breath fogging in the cold, clean air.
"Hey, Em!" called a voice. Lorelei Buzzetta and Gerard Chartier waved as they went into O'Rourke's, and Em waved back. Gerard was a firefighter and paramedic. Em saw him nearly every day at work (and also saw Lorelei, who owned the bakery and could make the angels weep with her chocolate croissants). The two had started dating a while back.
Through the windows, she could see Colleen O'Rourke, now Colleen Campbell, kissing her gorgeous husband, Lucas. There was Honor Holland and her husband, the lovely Tom Barlow. Paulie Petrosinsky and Bryce, who ran the animal shelter and had fixed her up with her puppy just two weeks ago.
Seemed like couples' night at the pub.
Maybe she'd stay in tonight. She and Sarge could watch YouTube videos of hostage negotiators, eat Kraft Mac & Cheese (don't judge, it was delicious). Maybe binge-watch The Walking Dead. She had a stack of books from the library, too. Or she could call around the Bitter Betrayeds, the name her book club had given itself, and see who else was climbing the walls.
Suddenly, the weekend spread vast and empty in front of her. No shifts till Monday. No plans other than a hockey game on Sundayshe played in the town league. She could do laundry and clean. Um
maybe buy some new towels. Go to the shooting range. That'd be fun, if solitary.
Her feet were getting numb. Time to get moving. Still, she stood there on the tiny town green, looking into the cheerful pub.
Maybe she'd drive to Penn Yan and see a movie, but it was a half an hour away, and there was more snow in the forecast. And after the big accident, everyone was feeling a little wary about winter driving.
Speaking of that, there was Jack Holland.
He stood outside O'Rourke's, staring at the building as if he'd never seen it before. Maybe she should check on him. They played hockey together, and he was her boss's brother-in-law and an EMT, so it wasn't as though she didn't know him.
He didn't move, seeming to be trying to decide whether or not to go inside the bar.
Em crossed the street. "Hey, Jack," she said.
He didn't answer.
"Hi, Jack," she said again. He jerked, then looked at her.
"Hey, Emmaline," he said, forcing a smile. "How you doing?"
He was so not great that her heart ached, looking at him stalled there, dead in the water.
Poor choice of words.
But he was clearly not great.
"You going in?" he asked, aware perhaps that too long a pause had elapsed.
"No. I'm headed home. I just got a puppy. Sarge. He's a German shepherd. Very cute. Hopefully he hasn't pooped on the floor."
Oh, yeah, the babbling thing. See, in addition to all the above, Jack Holland was ridiculously gorgeous. As in, Hi, I've just dropped down from Mount Olympus. How you doin'? Tall and blond with eyes that were so clear and perfect and pure that they made a person think of all sorts of ridiculous synonyms for blueazure and cerulean and aqua. His smile stopped traffic and made trees burst into flower and all that crap.
So yes, he rendered women stupid. Even women who were slightly prejudiced against very, very good-looking men. But everyone, including Emmaline, also knew that Jack was a tremendously nice guy.
"Jack? You okay?"
"Yeah!" he said too quickly. "Sorry. Just a little tired. You take care, Emma."
No one called her that. More than likely, Jack Holland had just forgotten her name. He opened the door to the pub. There was a roar of "Jack!" and "Hey! The hero!" and general cheering. The iron bell behind the bar clanged; the O'Rourke twins rang it in times of celebration. Poor guy.
Emmaline knew that the good folks of Mannings-portand Americahad been quite dazzled with what Jack Holland had done. So had she. How many people could have done what he did, after all? It was dazzling.
Which didn't explain the look on Jack's face.
Well. He had a big family and a lot of friends. Everyone loved the Hollands. He'd be well taken care of.
With a deep breath of the frigid air, Emmaline went around the corner to her house, a little bungalow. She'd left a couple of lights on for the puppy, and her little house fairly glowed with welcome.
Emmaline wasn't a Manningsport native, but she'd gone to high school here, living with her grandmother in this very house. Nana had died four years ago and left the house to Em and her sister, Angela, who lived in California. But to Em, the bungalow meant more than just homeit was where she'd found refuge and normalcy back in the day
and again when she'd moved here three years ago. She'd kept a lot of Nana's furniture, bought some of her own, painted here and there, and the result was a pleasing mix of old and new, no real style per se, but comfortable and cheery, and it never failed to make her smile.
She scooped her mail from the little brass mailbox, unlocked the door and got down on all fours. "Mommy's home," she said.
The scrabbling of paws and yips of joy were happy music of the soul.
Sarge ran to her, Squeaky Chicken, his favorite toy, in his jaws as an offering.
Emmaline gathered the puppy into her arms and kissed his furry head. "Hello, puppy," she said. She resisted the strong urge to indulge in baby talk to the dog to preserve his dignity and her own, but she couldn't help laughing as he licked her face, wriggling like a little otter.
She stood up, did a few twirls, since he loved that, then encouraged him to go outside before he peed on the floor from excitement. He galloped out, chasing a leaf across the small, fenced-in backyard.
Em flipped through her mail. A flyer for a discount on heart-shaped cookies and cupcakes at Lorelei's Sunrise BakeryValentine's Day preorders now accepted. No need to save that, unless she wanted to buy herself some goodies (which she did, though her uniform pants seemed a little hostile these days). A bill from the cable company. A postcard from her sister. Saluti da Milano! Right. Flawless Angela had been in Italy at, yes, an astrophysicists' convention.
Em flipped the card over. "Hello, sis! Hope you're doing well. I haven't been able to see much of Milan yet, but I hope to squeeze a few days of holiday after the convention. Hope to catch up soon! Love and kisses, Angela."
That was nice. Her sister, younger by four years, was incredibly thoughtful. She was Daughter 2.0, adopted from Ethiopia when Em went away to high school. The kind of daughter Dr. and Dr. Neal hoped to have, though they never said anything like that. Angela was brilliant, kind, cheerful and also stunningly beautiful with her glowing brown skin and enormous, expressive eyes. She'd modeled in college, even. If Emmaline didn't love her so much, it'd be really easy to hate her.