Olive Garden breadsticks bouquet.

Officer Cooper settled his hip atop Marley’s desk and took a long sip from his coffee mug before answering her question. “Well, I put in for the airport detail but, then again, so has every other officer here, so it’s unlikely they’ll send me there. But the captain assured me that they’ll find a light-duty position for all of us leaving Communications, except for the guys here on disciplinary action—they’ll most likely be reassigned to the field.”

Sitting nearby, Inga joined the conversation: “When does the great exodus of officers begin?”

Cooper pulled the pack of Marlboros from his shirt pocket and withdrew a cigarette. “Sooner rather than later,” he said, as he lit his smoke. “The powers-that-be wanted us out of here yesterday, but I don’t see it happening until this current crop of civilians completes the twelve-week training, so you’re stuck with us for another few weeks.”

“Well, I for one, will be sad to see you go,” offered Marley as the light bars at the front of the complaint room began to light up like a Christmas tree.

Cooper looked at the flashing lights and raised himself from Marley’s desk, then drawled over the chiming of the bell: “Why, thank you, Ma’am. Training you was an honor.” Giving Marley a slight bow from the waist, he smiled down on her: “But, between you and me, I’ll be glad to get the hell out of here.”

Not one to be rushed, not even by the flashing lights or chiming bell, Cooper ambled back to his desk. Behind him, Dee rushed into the complaint room and slipped into an empty workstation, ready to start her 10 a.m. shift.  Her arrival did not go unnoticed. As soon as the lights and chiming stopped, a mob of coworkers set upon her with concerned hugs and delving questions.

“I’m alright, everyone,” she assured them, sending her worried coworkers back to their respective desks before addressing Marley and Inga, who awaited their chance to express their own concerns for Dee.

“I can’t believe how calm you are, considering all you’ve been through,” said Inga.

“Well, it’s either put on a brave face or completely fall apart. For Tad’s sake, and to get through the workday, I have no choice but to hold myself together.”

“I don’t know if I could,” said Marley.

“Officer Dawes has been very helpful through all of it.”

“Officer Dawes?” asked Marley.

“One of the officers who responded to the call at my apartment. He was the first on the scene and the one who caught my attacker. He’s been babysitting Tad and me ever since. I don’t know if I could’ve gotten through all this without his support. He found us a motel room after the break-in, helped clean up the huge mess in my apartment—the broken glass, fingerprint dust…everything.”

“Wow. A literal knight in shining armor,” said Inga.

Dee’s face softened and her eyes began to brim over. “He is.”

“Is he single?” asked Marley.

Dee hesitated. “Separated for the past year. He’s filed for divorce, but he’s not ready for another relationship, not until his divorce is final. He says his life is too complicated right now, what with his custody fight with his wife and all. For now, he just wants to be friends.”

“He’s got kids?” asked Inga.

Dee nodded. “Two young boys.”

“Ugh. Custody battles can get vicious. Trust me, you don’t want any part of that.”

“He’s so good with Tad, though. He took us to Farrell’s at Chris-Town Mall last night for dinner and doted on Tad like he was his own—unlike Eli, who hardly pays Tad any notice.”

“Have you heard from Eli? Since the break-in?” asked Marley.

“Haven’t seen or heard from him since last Friday night. I called the Community Services division Saturday and left a message on his extension telling him what happened, but I still haven’t heard back from him. Probably too busy with his other girlfriend, ‘Bambi’. It doesn’t really matter. I’d already decided to end it with Eli, even before I’d met Cornel. This only confirms it was the right decision.”

“Maybe things will work out with your new officer. Look at Faye and her secret sergeant—things have worked out for them, in spite of having to wait for his divorce,” said Marley.

Inga started shaking her head. “Yeah, but her secret sergeant doesn’t have any kids. Why either of you would want to get involved with men who’ve already got kids is beyond me…”

Dee looked at Marley with surprise. “You, too?”

Marley nodded, somewhat embarrassed.

Inga filled in the details. “Two sons—fourteen and eighteen—almost grown. Hell, the oldest one isn’t much younger than you, Marley.”

Dee’s look of surprise turned to shock. “How old is he? Who is he?”

Sheepishly, Marley admitted to her budding relationship. “My ride-a-long officer, Officer Muenster.”

“You mean the old, fat one with the girlfriend? The one you swore was not your type?” cried Dee in disbelief, eliciting an outburst of stinging laughter from Inga “So what happened to his girlfriend?”

“Probably dumped her the minute he laid eyes on Marley,” snapped Inga.

“No,” said Marley. “They only recently broke up. He said it was a mutual parting of the ways.”

“I’ll bet,” scoffed Inga. “I just don’t get it. He’s almost old enough to be your father, and you’re so much better looking than him. You could do tons better.”

Marley was quick to defend herself, and Muenster. “What he lacks in looks, he makes up for in kindness. He’s a really nice guy and treats me like a princess. He even made me lunch on Saturday.”

Dee nodded. “Kindness counts for a lot. Unlike that jerk Lina dated, Officer Tampon. Such good looks, but apparently a real douchebag.”

Inga and Marley were suddenly all ears; it was the first they’d heard of Lina’s date with her devastatingly handsome Officer Tampon. “What happened?” they both asked.

“I don’t know exactly but, when Faye asked her how their date went, she burst into tears and ran to the bathroom; so something went catastrophically wrong. Needless to say, I don’t think she plans to see him again.”

“I knew it!” said Inga. “Didn’t I tell you the good looking ones are the worst?”

Marley nodded in agreement, inwardly confirming her reasons for choosing Muenster. Muenster aside, Dee’s mention of their former shift mates made her sigh. “I really miss Lina and Faye.”

“Me, too,” said Inga. “We should plan a get-together, if we can figure out a time when we’re all off work at the same time.”

Dee perked up. “I can check with them when they get in.”

“Where should we go?” asked Inga.

Marley’s eyes twinkled, “My sister-in-law told me about this place on the outskirts of town. It’s kind of out in the tulies, way out on Cave Creek Road. It’s a male strip club—Arizona’s very own version of Chippendales—a place called ‘Cheeks’.”

Both Inga and Dee cracked up and Inga shook her head. “I was thinking more along the lines of Olive Garden. Give me a breadstick over a bunch of naked men any day.”

“Speak for yourself,” said Dee, who then turned to Marley: “Count me in!”

~ ~

The day buzzed by—another busy Monday on the Crime Stop phones—and before Marley knew it, Lina and Faye had arrived, like the cavalry, ready to relieve her and Inga from their tethered servitude. Upon seeing Dee, however, both Lina and Faye rushed in to give Dee hugs and words of support. The hug between Lina and Dee was especially long—both holding onto one another’s trauma and shared experience. “How are you doing, really?” asked Lina.

“I’m hanging in there,” Dee assured her, giving her hand a knowing squeeze.

“We should get together over a bottle of wine and talk,” said Lina, squeezing Dee’s hand in return. “Seriously…”

Inga, unplugging from her desk jack, interrupted Lina and Dee’s moment: “Speaking of getting together, Dee, don’t forget to talk to Faye and Lina about scheduling our night out.”

“What night out?” asked Faye.

“Dee will fill you in on the details,” said Inga. “C’mon, Marley, let’s blow this joint.”

As Inga and Marley departed, Marley called back to Dee: “And see what they think about that place, ‘Cheeks’.”

The shift change complete, Lina and the other Com Ops buckled down to clear the queue of waiting calls. All the while, Lina could feel Sergeant Baylor’s eyes on her, boring a hole through her as he sat at the complaint room’s duty desk, his hard, rueful stare rattling her so much her hands began to tremble. The familiar click of an incoming call sounded in her ear. “Phoenix Police,” she answered. There was no response, just the sound of someone breathing in her ear. Lina looked at her phone, startled to see the incoming Crime Stop line was unlit.

The breathing continued, growing heavier. Finally, a voice whispered into her ear. “You can’t get rid of me that easily.”

Lina whipped her head around and stared at the duty desk. Baylor was crouched low over the desk phone, receiver to his ear. He met Lina’s stare with cold, unblinking eyes as he whispered again into the receiver, “You’re making me so hard right now.”

Lina whipped back around and yanked off her headset. Baylor’s intrusion had so unsettled her, she could hardly breathe. It wasn’t just her hands that trembled, but her whole body.

Faye glanced over to her, aware something was amiss.

“What’s wrong?”

Lina wiped the beads of sweat from her brow with a shaking hand. “Nothing. I’m fine.”

Dee was now noticing, as well. “Are you sure? You look like you’re about to be sick. Are you coming down with something?”

Lina punched out of her phone line and leaned over her desk, motioning Faye and Dee to move in closer. She cupped a hand to the side of her mouth and whispered: “It’s Sergeant Baylor. He keeps staring at me, and he just…” Lina shuddered, unable to divulge the despicable thing Baylor had just done.

“Why’s he staring? What’s his problem?” asked Faye.

Lina hesitated, unsure if she should confide in her friends or just keep Baylor’s indiscretions a dirty little secret.

“Promise you won’t say anything…to anybody.

Faye and Dee nodded, a look of complete seriousness on their faces.

“He’s been calling me at home. A lot.

“Why’s he calling you? What does he want?” asked Faye.

Lina gave Faye an eye-roll and a sarcastic look that said, What the hell do you think he wants?

Faye and Dee caught on immediately, both reciprocating with their own exaggerated looks—looks of disgust and revolt. “Oh, crap,” groaned Faye, “He’s old enough to be your father…”

“I told him that.”

“Isn’t he married?” asked Dee.

“Very. And he has kids. He called me Friday night after work, drunk, begging me to meet him at some bar. Told me how unhappy his marriage is and that he’s in love with me. He started crying.”

With each new revelation, the looks of horror on Faye and Dee’s faces grew exponentially. Faye was especially disgusted. “Crying? Oh, for fuck’s sake!”

“What did you do?” asked Dee.

“I said I wasn’t interested in him that way, and told him to stop calling me.”

“And has he stopped?” asked Faye.

“Yes, but now, the way he keeps staring at me is making me feel really creeped out. And he just cut into my phone line and said…” Lina shuddered again. “I can’t even repeat it.”

“Well, you know what Inga would do,” Faye advised, giving a subtle nod toward the Lieutenant’s office. “It got rid of Sergeant Sleazy.”

Lina glanced toward the Lieutenant’s office and in doing so, locked eyes momentarily with Sergeant Baylor, who was still staring daringly at her. Lina jerked back around to her friends.

“I know. And I plan to talk to the Lieutenant but I’m waiting until Baylor takes a break. I don’t want to have to pass by him on the way.”

“Well, don’t wait too long,” said Dee. “The longer you let him continue harassing you, the harder it will be to explain to the Lieutenant why you waited so long to complain. I wish I had complained about Sergeant Hook a whole lot sooner.”

Lina nodded. “I’ll do it today, before our shift is over.” Lina punched back into her phone, anxious to end the discussion of Baylor and move on to a new subject. “So, Dee, what’s this ‘night out’ that Marley and Inga mentioned?”

“Inga proposed we all get together, a reunion of sorts, with a fun night out somewhere–she suggested Olive Garden. Marley suggested a place called ‘Cheeks’, a male stripper bar.”

Lina and Faye’s mouths dropped open. “Sweet, shy, little Marley suggested a stripper bar?!” cried Faye.

Dee nodded as she laughed. “I know, I know…”

“Sounds good to me! How soon can we go?” teased Faye.

“I’ll have to check on their days and hours so we can coordinate a night that works for everyone.”

“Well make it soon, before my sergeant’s divorce is final,” said Faye.

“How many more days, Faye?” asked Lina.

“Fourteen!” screamed Faye, the anticipation of day zero killing her.

“Is everything still good?” asked Dee, a little jealous, and thinking about her own situation with Cornel.

“It gets better every day. I can’t imagine my life without him now. I think he’s going to ask me to move in with him once the divorce is final,” replied Faye.

“That’s a big commitment. It must be serious,” said Lina.

“Oh, it is,” replied Faye. “He’s definitely the one, and he told me I’m the love of his life.”

Lina bemoaned her own, hapless situation. “I’ll never find anyone; well, not anyone decent.”

“Yes, you will,” said Dee, firmly. “Did you hear that even shy, little Marley has a love interest?”

“Marley? Really? Who?” both Lina and Faye asked.

Dee cracked a smile, trying hard not to laugh as she divulged the identity of Marley’s love interest. “Her ride-along officer.”

“The one she said was old and fat?” asked Faye.

“And divorced with two teenaged sons,” added Dee.

“What happened to his girlfriend?” asked Lina.

“Probably dumped her the minute he set eyes on Marley,” guessed Faye.

Dee laughed. “That’s exactly what Inga said.”

“Poor Marley. She’s too nice and way too pretty for some fat, old geezer,” said Lina, who couldn’t help but think how her words just as easily applied to her own situation with Baylor.

“Well, they’ve only just started seeing each other,” said Faye with a jaundiced optimism. “Maybe she’ll find someone better at Cheeks…you, too, Lina.”

Lina adamantly shook her head. “No way,” she said, stealing a glance back at Baylor before adding:

“I don’t want anything to do with men. Not for a long time.”

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