Flash Fics


Rated: PG


elements: Season One ... Florida. Hunter, McCall, Kitty, Sporty, prostitutes. Weedwackers, margaritas, and Mickey Mouse. 

It was a hell of a day to die, mainly because the sizzling August temperatures made Los Angeles feel like a pretty good approximation of hell, or at least that’s how it felt to Dee Dee McCall when she was forced to leave the cool confines of her automobile and step out back into the brick wall of summer heat. She’d had enough time to grab her own car but not her own clothes; however, for once she was grateful to be wearing the quintessential streetwalker ensemble of a miniskirt and sheer, sleeveless top. It was cooler than her usual office attire.


Hunter was already on the scene, standing over the dead woman like she was just another part of the tawdry alleyway scenery, like he’d seen a hundred of her before and knew he’d see a hundred more. McCall knew him well enough by now to recognize it was an affected posture. Sure, he’d look bored and remote at the scene, but behind those shades, his eyes were taking in every last detail. His car didn’t have working door handles, let alone A/C, so he’d rolled up his sleeves and removed his tie.


He tilted his glasses down briefly to look her over as she approached and then pushed them back up his nose. “How embarrassing,” he remarked, with just the hint of a flinty smile. She could see a fine sheen of sweat on the side of his neck.




“You and the D.B. are wearing the same outfit.”


She looked down out of reflex and saw he was almost right: she and the victim had both selected a snake-skin patterned miniskirt for the day, but McCall’s top was red while the dead girl’s blouse was fuschia and, more importantly, tattered from slash marks. The poor woman looked like she’d been attacked by a weed-whacker. “Funny,” McCall replied to Hunter. “Have you been out here working on your one-liners or did you bother to gather any actual evidence?”


“Nothing to gather,” he replied as he ambled away down-wind from the garbage-strewn alley. “She was killed elsewhere and dumped here overnight. Anonymous 911 caller phoned it in about an hour ago.”


“Let me guess: nobody saw nothing.”


“You win the washer-dryer,” he replied as he reached down through the open—broken?—window on his car and withdrew a bottle of water.  The afternoon sun beat down on them like a stick, and she watched hungrily, practically swallowing along with him as he drank down the remnants of the water.


“Any ID?” she asked him, trying not to squint as she raised her gaze to his.


“Nothing so far.” He capped the empty bottle and tossed it into the nearest dumpster. “Prints have got to be in the system, though.”


“You want me to run it down?” She hoped he’d say yes. Yes meant she could shower, change her clothes and sit in an air-conditioned stationhouse all afternoon.


“Yeah, do that. Let me know what you find.”


She paused, waiting for him to fill in the rest. What was he going to do? Was he even going to tell her? This partnership thing was new for the both of them, and half the time, she still had no idea what he did with his days.  Maybe his big plan was to make her do the grunt work while he took the rest of the afternoon off.  After all, a dead hooker was going to be no one’s priority, and the other thing she already knew about Hunter was that he was always chasing a bigger, badder case with a bigger, badder criminal behind it. A working girl who got into an argument with her pimp…well, that could be solved by anyone.

Hunter didn’t seem inclined to elaborate on his afternoon itinrary as he yanked open his car door and climbed inside.


“Well?” she asked finally, her hands on her hips. “What’s your move here?”


He leaned out the window. “This whole thing with the dead hooker, the knife wounds…the dump and drive…it all feels familiar to me. I think there might have been a similar case over in Hollenbeck last year. I’m going to track down Kitty and see what she knows. Failing that, I’m gonna check with Sporty.”


Her brow wrinkled at his crazy sounding monologue. “I’m sorry--Kitty? Sporty? These are names of people who might have information relevant to a homicide investigation?”


Hunter grinned at her. “One of ‘em is even a cop,” he said as the engine sputtered to life. “Catch you later, partner.”


Partner. The word rang in her ears as she watched him go. They had solved a half-dozen cases so far, more together than apart, but she wasn’t sure they were really partners in anything more than name only, and she still wasn’t convinced she would want them to be. She’d had plenty of partners already, all of them men who had years more experience than she did and weren’t afraid to make sure she knew it. Men who wanted to explain police work 101 to her, like she’d somehow ended up rolling with them after watching three episodes of “Dragnet” or something.  They had ignored her, belittled her, condescended to her and, without fail, hit on her.  Then they took the credit for all of her ideas and slapped her ass on the way out. No, thank you.


Hunter did none of these things, which was a relief, but also made her a little suspicious because to her, the term “partner” always meant a certain type of relationship, one where she got the shaft, and she kept waiting for him to try to put the screws to her, literally and figuratively.


So, no.  No, thank you. She could do very well on her own, no partner necessary.




It was after eight but still hot when she met Hunter to exchange information at a place he called “Lucy’s,” which turned out to be “Lucia’s Taqueria,” a dimly lit but blessedly cool hole-in-the-wall restaurant that held all of ten tables. They were all full, though, which was a hopeful sign; that and the aromatic smell of carne asada wafting from the kitchen.


Hunter flagged her down with one hand, because he was holding some sort of fruity-looking cocktail in the other. There was a basket of chips and a dish of salsa already on the table, as well as a second round of whatever Hunter was drinking.  “That’s for you,” he said, nodding at the martini glass as she sat down. “It’s a margarita.”


“I don’t like margaritas.” She felt her stomach begin a familiar clench—it had taken him a while to get there, but Hunter had the same old script going now, with the low lighting, alcohol, and a late night supper far from the station.


If Hunter felt her shift in mood, he didn’t reflect it. “You’ll like this one,” he told her confidently. “It’s spicy peach.”


She made a point of shifting the drink away from her so she could put the folder she’d brought along onto the table between them. “I have an ID on our victim,” she said. “But it took some doing. Turns out she was not in our system.”


Hunter’s eyebrows raised in interest. “No?”


“No. But she is in the system in Orlando, Florida.” She pulled out the records that the Orlando PD had kindly faxed her just an hour or so earlier. “Her name is Janice Donnelly, age 22, originally from the Orlando area. She has a string of solicitation arrests going back to the time when she was sixteen.”


“That’s excellent work,” he said, sounding like he actually meant it. He studied the file she gave him. “How’d you track her down?”


She smiled. “Mickey Mouse tattoo,” she said, pointing at her own chest where Janice’s fanciful bit of ink had sat. Hunter’s gaze flickered to the spot too, and she felt her cheeks warm as she realized she had just invited him to check out her breasts. She cleared her throat and grabbed for the drink, hiding behind the large glass as she took a cooling sip. “Anyway,” she continued with a deep breath when she had placed the drink down once more, “when the search came up empty here in California, I figured Orlando was a good next bet. She has a mother and a sister still in the area, so we can talk to them, maybe find out more about her.”


“Yeah, definitely.” He stretched back and his long legs bumped hers under the table. He drew back so quickly the tabletop jumped, sloshing both their drinks. “Shit, I’m sorry,” he said, fumbling for a napkin.


“It’s okay,” she replied as she moved to help him mop up the mess. Clearly he was not here to make any moves on her, and she let herself relax again.  “What did you find out from…um…Kitty and Sporty?” She wasn’t entirely convinced that these were actual people and not cartoon characters.


“Mmm, right,” he said as he picked up a chip. “Kitty said they’ve had not one but two murders that fit the general M.O., both within last year and both are still unsolved. She’s going to send us over a copy of their files.”


Her face warmed again, this time at the word “us.” This wasn’t some two-bit investigation; this was a possible serial murder, and it didn’t seem like Hunter was planning on ditching her to run his own separate, more high profile investigation. “We should contact Rampart and Hollywood too,” she said, “to see if they have open cases matching the same description.”


“I was thinking the same thing.”


Their eyes met, and she felt a new kind of tingling, one of a shared purpose, the thrill of the chase, a sense that they were sitting there together at a tiny table barely big enough to hold the both of them, and yet they were at the precipice of something much, much bigger. She took up the drink again and put it to her lips, taking in the complex mixture of salt, alcohol, chile pepper and ripe peach. Hot. Sweet. Totally surprising. She never would have picked it for herself in a million years, but she had to admit, it wasn’t bad.


Hunter leaned forward, almost crowding into her space. “Well? What do you think of the margarita? I told you it was different.”


“I think,” she said, and paused to consider. “I think that maybe I like it.”



elements: Season 3, Hunter, McCall, Ambrose, Charlie, The Nurse with the long, curly blonde hair seen at the end of "Shades" (and I think a couple of other episodes), a bottle of Southern Comfort and a deck of cards

Anastasia Annabelle Moldarski always picked the wrong man. She certainly always did have her pick; from the time she was thirteen and her boobs came in, boys lined up from far and wide for the chance to ask her out. Staci just always seemed to choose the wrong ones. It had started with Mickey Hill back in the eighth grade, when she thought he took her to the spring dance because he liked her and they were going to go steady, when in reality, he just wanted to grab her butt in front of Holly Parker to make her jealous. Since then, there had been a dozen different Mickeys, the latest one a blue-eyed charmer named James Willoughby who tucked her under his arm and swore he’d take care of her. He’d taken care of her bank account instead, using her own money to buy her presents at first, and then later bags of weed and a $700 leather jacket for himself.


She vowed to do better next time. She would not be drawn in by a cute smile, toned body and lots of talk about the rosy future. She was going to find a man who was willing to make her a priority, someone with kind eyes, a good heart, and his own car.


It was Friday night, the end of a long shift, and she had been planning to go home for a long hot soak in the tub, alone. But alone wasn’t something she was really good at—it’s not like she’d had a lot of practice—and the concept stretched endlessly in front of her. If she was alone tonight, what about tomorrow? Or the day after that? Suppose she never got a date again? So instead of going home to her lonely shadowed apartment, she found herself drifting back to room 303, the one with the injured police detective in it.


Rick Hunter. Now there was a man’s name. A man with a job. He probably had his own car too, she reasoned, and more importantly, he didn’t have a wife. Not only did he not wear a ring, but he’d been here for five days now, and there was no sign of a wife or girlfriend in sight. The only woman in his orbit seemed to be his female partner, a dark-haired woman whom Staci had glimpsed a couple of times but had never encountered live and in the flesh. From the way Detective Hunter had been flirting shamelessly with her at every opportunity, though, Staci figured he had to be available. Probably. The trouble was, he was going home in the morning, and he had yet to ask her out.


She upped the odds by stopping in the restroom first to fluff her best asset—her long, curly blonde hair—and apply a coat of pink lip gloss. The door to Rick Hunter’s room was closed, and she froze with her hand poised to knock when she heard multiple male voices emanating from the other side. Maybe they were talking about a murder or a robbery or something. But then they all laughed, and the thought of going home, alone, to her microwave dinner, made her push forward. She knocked.


“Come in,” he replied, and she stuck her head in the room.


The place smelled like alcohol and cheap suits. Rick was sitting up in bed, looking like he didn’t really belong in a hospital, with his strong, tanned arms and that itty bitty bandage on his head. There were a couple of other men in the room whom Staci did not recognize, as well as the woman she knew had to be Rick’s partner. They all had plastic cups filled with some sort of booze and various playing cards spread out in front of them, the kind with Betty Boop on the back, winking suggestively for her audience.


“I don’t mean to interrupt,” Staci said from the doorway. “I’m just headed off shift and I thought I would just check to see if you needed anything before I go.”


“I need a good luck charm,” Rick replied, waving her into the room. “I’m laid up here in the hospital and all these people came to try to take my money.”


As Staci moved into the room, she could see there was a pile of dollar bills and coins at the foot of Rick’s bed. The other two men straightened up and cleared their throats as Staci entered, puffing themselves up the way that the male species always did when she walked past. The woman didn’t move at all from her place on the other side of Rick’s bed. She had her stocking-covered toes curled into the edge of Rick’s bedspread just like this was a thing that happened every day.


“Staci, this is my boss, Captain Charles Devane, and that’s Lieutenant Ambrose Finn, and my partner, Sergeant Dee Dee McCall. We’ve got a game of ‘cops and robbers’ going on, only they’re playing both sides.”


“Really? It looks like five-card stud to me,” she replied.


“See?” he said to his friends. “She’s beautiful *and* observant. She recognizes a stud when she sees one.”


“Quit stalling and play,” his partner said, nudging him with one foot. “Are you in or out?” Rick grumbled a bit more but eventually threw in a handful of coins and a dollar bill.


One of the other guys, the one with the suspenders, shook his head and put down his cards. “Too rich for my blood.”


The Captain sighed heavily, his potbelly rising and falling. “I’m out too.”


Rick looked at his partner and then at his cards and back again. “Looks like it comes down to you and me, McCall.”


“It usually does,” she replied, deadpan.


Dee Dee was pretty. Staci noticed this because ‘pretty’ was her main commodity, and she was used to measuring it wherever she went; she wasn’t allowed to forget it even if she wanted to, because the world reflected it back at her in ways that were both bad and good. Men opened a lot of doors for her, but she wasn’t ever sure they were paying much attention to what she said once she’d walked through. She knew that if she were to keep a man, a good man, longer than two months, it was going to take more than her wide, dark eyes, blonde hair and great set of tits. She just hadn’t figured out how to get the guy to see her as anything else.

This woman, Dee Dee, seemed to have cracked the formula, though, because here she was surrounded by a bunch of seemingly nice guys who treated her like she was just regular, like one of them. 

At that moment, Dee Dee was contemplating her cards. She had a pair of jacks with a six kicker.  On the other side, Rick’s cards showed a whole lot of nothing: a nine, an eight, and a six. Dee Dee put in a simple raise, apparently expecting Rick to back down. Instead, he pushed in all of his remaining money. The suspenders guy let out a low whistle. “Bold move,” he said, stroking his chin. “Very bold.”

The Captain held up a bottle of Southern Comfort. “How much of this have you had, Hunter?”

“Let the man play,” Dee Dee replied with a gleam in her eyes.

Rick arched an eyebrow. “I played already,” he said, indicating the pot with a nod of his chin. “Are you going to match me or are you going to cry ‘uncle’?”

Dee Dee laughed and put her feet on the floor. “You mean am I going to call the enormous bluff you have going on?”

“I never bluff,” Rick replied, but from the way Dee Dee rolled her eyes, Staci wasn’t sure about the truth of his statement. 

“You’ve got nothing. In fact, your hand aspires to reach the heights of ‘nothing.’ It lies awake at night wishing it might someday be fancy enough to be called ‘nothing.’”

Rick folded his arms. “Now who’s stalling?”

Dee Dee put her feet on the floor. “Fine,” she said, and added all her money to the pot. “I call.”

“You going all in with me, McCall?” There was a flirty tone now, one Staci had only heard before with her. Careful, careful, she warned herself. You’re never as special as you think you are.

Dee Dee smiled in reply. “Time to show ‘em if you got ‘em, Big Guy.”  She turned over the remainder of her cards, and there was a third jack.

“You’re toast,” the suspenders guy said, but he sounded kind of happy about it.

“Nah,” Rick answered as he flicked over his cards all at once with a nimble twist of his wrist. “I live for long odds.”

Staci let out a gasp: he had a straight.  He turned and grinned at her. “Seems you were extra lucky,” he told her with a wink. “Thank you.”

“You cheat,” his partner said, wagging a finger at him. “No one is that lucky.”

He turned serious as he regarded her. “I don’t know. I’m still here, aren’t I?”

Her expression went from fond exasperation to surprised tenderness. “Yeah,” she said, patting his lower leg. “You’re here.”

“He lives to cheat another day,” Mr. Suspenders said as he stood up and grabbed his suit jacket.  The Captain did the same. “We’ll see you back at the ranch soon, okay?”

“But not too soon,” the Captain said.

“Yeah, thanks. Thanks for coming by. I’ve been going out of my mind here.”

The men left and Staci bit her lip as she watched the door fall closed behind them. “Maybe I should get going…”

“No, wait a second.” He touched her arm briefly, and the sensation sent a shiver over her whole body. She stayed.

Dee Dee had cleared away the plastic cups and was busy straightening the covers at the foot of his bed. “Hey,” he said to her, but she didn’t seem to hear him. “Hey, Florence Nightengale. You’re off duty now, okay?”

Staci backed up a step. That was usually her nickname.

Dee Dee was still smoothing the blankets with her hand, and Rick grabbed her arm gently to stop her. “It’s fine,” he said. “I’m fine.”

“You’re sure?”

“I was sure yesterday, and the day before that.” He was teasing her, but she seemed fretful, not amused. “How many times do I need to say it?”

“I guess until I can believe it.”

He shifted then, sliding their fingers together in a warm, intimate gesture that made Staci’s ears burn. She didn’t want to be standing there, watching them hold hands, palm-to-palm, but she couldn’t seem to look away. “You’re coming to get me tomorrow, right?” he asked.


“Good. We can get lunch. I’ll buy.”

“You’ll buy?” She sounded suspicious again.

“Yeah, with your money.” He grinned and used his free hand to hold up some of the cash he’d won.

Dee Dee gave a little laugh and shook her head as she pulled free. There was no kiss. They weren’t lovers. Staci let out the breath that had somehow gotten trapped in her lungs.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Dee Dee said. “Try to get at least some rest, hmm?” She let her gaze linger on Staci in an appraising fashion. “He’s all yours,” she murmured as she took up her coat and left the room.

*All yours.* Staci’s heartbeat picked up as Rick turned the force of his full attention on her. His smile was crooked, showing off his dimples, and his eyes were rich with invitation. “Now where were we?” he asked, reaching for her hand.

She swallowed and let him pull her closer. She should turn around and leave, she knew she should. He was funny and nice and listened to her when she spoke, but he was never going to hold her hand the same way. “I…I should go.”

Rick had retrieved the liquor bottle and a fresh cup. “Stay for one drink, at least?” 

She felt herself being drawn in, sitting on his bed, letting him pour her a drink. Letting him put his hand on her knee. 

Anastasia Annabelle Moldarski, she always picked the wrong man.


elements: Hunter, McCall, Charlie; Camping grounds, night time, possibly undercover? A tent, a flashlight, a banana, handcuffs, and a campfire. 

As darkness fell, quenching the shafts of light that had filtered in on the ground, Hunter went to the front of the tent to peer through the flap. McCall had no choice but to follow. “What do you see?” she whispered.

“One of ‘em is gone,” he whispered back. “We should move now.”

“Move how, exactly?”

He frowned at her. “It’s two on one—the math isn’t likely to get any better if we wait around for his buddy to get back from dinner or the john or wherever it was he went to.”

“I can count. The problem is the one has a very large automatic weapon, and the two have this little problem going on.” She held up her right arm, which was handcuffed at the wrist to his left one. 

Hunter had been sent to rescue her from Miguel Alvarez and company, but he’d just ended up imprisoned right along with her. Now they were both tired, dirty, and hungry—trapped in an empty canvas tent with armed guards outside—with no way to radio for help. If radios even worked this far up into the mountains. 

Hunter paced the earthen floor, at least as much as he could when he was attached to her arm. She yanked it back. “Quit that.”

“Helps me think.” 

“Yeah, well, think about how much I’d like my arm to remain attached to the rest of me.”

He halted and looked down at her. “What we need is a weapon.”

“Sure,” she said agreeably, “and a phone and a car… and hell, throw in a pony too as long as we’re wishing. There’s nothing in here but dirt.”

He put his hands on his hips, rattling her chain again. “That’s not true,” he said, a gleam in his eye. “We have this.” He held up his hand so that her arm had to come along for the ride.

“My arm? Hunter, I think we just covered this…”

“Shh, just listen.”

He explained his plan, and it sounded pretty crazy, but she was about ready to embrace crazy at that point because Avalrez himself would be returning soon, and she was reasonably sure he’d just have them shot point-blank with no further discussion. So she held her breath and crept outside, where the night mountain air was instantly cooler. Their guard was perhaps five feet away, having a smoke. She could smell him better than she could see him. 

As they got closer, Hunter put his free hand up to signal the countdown. One, two, three. She closed her eyes and jumped. Together, they managed to get the chains of the handcuffs around the front of the guy’s throat, and he made a few soft gagging noises while Hunter choked him into unconsciousness. Her arm was essentially along for the ride, the hard metal edge of the cuffs biting into her wrist, almost down to the bone, but McCall held back her cry of pain.

She heaved with relief as the guy fell to the ground, her heart still pounding in her ears. Hunter was breathing hard too. “Get his stuff,” he said as he took the strap of the rifle from around the man’s neck. “Anything we can use.”

McCall patted him down quickly with her free hand, and she found a pocket knife, a canteen, a pack of cigarettes and a banana. 

“Let’s go,” Hunter urged, already on his feet, dragging her with him.

“Which way?” It was dark. Everywhere was trees.

“I think…I think that was where the vans came in.” He pointed off to the left.

“I think it was that way.” She pointed to the right. “The road has to be in the direction of the coast, right? Well, the sun went down over there.”

“Okay, okay, I’m convinced. Let’s get out of here, huh?” 

They slipped into the dense trees and disappeared from camp. Hunter flicked on the pen light he’d lifted off their captor, but its meager glow did nothing to penetrate the thick night. There was no trail here, just Hunter picking his way through the branches and her following carefully behind, trying not to get scratched across the face when the twigs he pushed aside came whipping back in her direction. They moved as fast as they could through the forest because time was their only advantage. Alavarez had a dozen men who could track them in multiple directions if he cared to authorize it.

“Think they know we’re gone yet?” she asked, scrambling to keep up with his much longer legs. The ground was uneven and invisible. It was like walking an obstacle course blindfolded.

“I think we have to count on it,” he said. “The only question is how much they care. If it’s a choice between running after us or running away from the trouble we’re going to bring back on them, Alvarez may be smart enough to pick the second one.”

It was nice, she thought with a shiver, that he was so confident they were going to make it to safety and bring back the cavalry with them.

They tromped on steadily for at least another hour, with only the sound of each other’s footsteps for company. The night had grown colder, a mist rising in the woods, numbing her fingers, nose and toes. The metal bracelet had eroded most of the skin on her wrist but she kept silent as Hunter tugged her onward. 

“What was that?” She halted at a sudden rustling in front of them.

Hunter shone the tiny beam around and then shrugged. “I don’t see anything. Let’s go.”

She remained where she was, so he had to stop too. “What if it was a bear?”

“It’s not a bear.”

“It could be a bear.”

“It’s not a bear,” he said patiently, “and even if it was, he wouldn’t want anything from you. It’s not like we’re carrying a bunch of food with us.”

“I think, to a bear, we are the food.” She went wide-eyed as the rustling happened again. “There! You don’t hear that?”

“Probably just a racoon or something. Trust me, as long as you don’t have a picnic lunch on you, you’re fine.”

“And you know this how? Some extensive bear survey of the greater California area?”

“Yeah,” he said, as if daring her to disagree. He yanked her forward, just a bit, and reluctantly, she fell into step behind him.

“Wait.” She skidded to a halt again. “I have a banana. What if he smells the banana?”

Hunter heaved a sigh of exasperation. “Fine. If it makes you feel any better, I will hold the extremely dangerous, bear-baiting banana.”

She handed him the fruit and they continued walking. Now she kind of wanted the banana. Her stomach rumbled at the very thought, but she bit her lip and kept quiet. If she mentioned the banana to Hunter again, a bear would be the least of her problems.

They had hiked at least another mile when it was Hunter’s turn to stop. “Wait here,” he said abruptly, and moved to duck behind a tree.

“Wait here? What do you mean ‘wait here’? Where you go, I go, remember?” She jiggled their shared arms for emphasis, and he peeked back out from behind the tree.

“Yeah, and I have to go, so unless you want to watch, I suggest you wait there.”

“Oh.” Heat flooded her face, the first warmth she’d had in hours. She let him stretch her arm as far as it would go, ducking her head and trying to imagine herself anywhere but where she was. God, did his zipper have to sound so incredibly loud? She hummed a bit to herself to cover the noise and hoped like hell they found civilization before she encountered this particular problem herself.

After what seemed like an eternity, Hunter emerged from behind the tree. She squinted as he aimed the flashlight at her. “I found something back there—a trail.”

“Thank God,” she said as they started forward again. “It can’t be much farther then, can it?”

But an hour later, they were still trudging through the woods, sticks and leaves crackling beneath their feet. “I swear we’ve passed that stump before,” she grumbled at him.

“You want to lead?” he said. 

“I just want to get out of here.”

“And that’s what I’m trying to do.” He sounded as tired and out of patience as she did. 

She grabbed awkwardly for his hand, the one that was joined with hers. “Let’s find somewhere to rest a minute, huh? Maybe make a plan.”

“This was the plan,” he said, but he started scouting around for a place to stop. “I see a small clearing up there.”

The clearing turned out to be a semi-official one, with two logs to sit on and a makeshift stone fire pit between them. They had to share a log because the handcuffs made it impossible to arrange themselves in any other fashion. McCall dragged his arm forward to hold her palms over an imaginary fire. “What I wouldn’t give for some real warmth,” she said. Her fingers were so cold she could barely move them.

“Hmm,” he said. “Maybe that could be arranged.”

“If you can make a fire, Hunter, you’re my hero.”

He stopped in the process of standing and leaned back down into her personal space. “I’m already your hero, remember? Who’s the guy who came to rescue you?”

“You mean the guy whose handcuffs I am currently wearing?” she replied, holding up their joined arms for emphasis. 

“Right. Let me find some sticks.”

“I’ll come too,” she said with a sigh, because it wasn’t like she had a choice.

They gathered some twigs and dried leaves and piled them around the partially charred logs that were already in the fire pit. Hunter handed her a rock. “You hold this one, I’ll rub this other one on it to create a spark.”

“That actually works?”

“Sure it works,” he said, but he didn’t sound too sure.

Somewhat awkwardly, they knelt together and placed the rocks near the twigs and the leaves so that any spark might have a chance to catch the tinder and start a flame. Hunter gamely rubbed the two rocks together, but it only made her hand sore from the repeated pounding.

“Here,” she said, leaning further down. “Try again.”

Hunter rubbed the rocks furiously, creating a burning smell if nothing else, and she blew gently in the vicinity of the impact. A moment later, the leaves began to smoke. “Ha ha!” Hunter cried. “Do it again!”

She blew once more, and the barest hint of a flame quivered to life, curling the leaves in on one another as they burned. She sat back in relief and satisfaction. They hobbled their way to the logs again as the fire slowly began to grow.  McCall shivered, paradoxically even more freezing now that she was looking at a fire that had yet to be big enough to generate any warmth. Hunter hunched closer to her.

“It’ll be warmer in a minute,” he said.

She nodded, hopeful, and raised her eyes to the sky. The trees had parted to reveal a twinkling array of crystalline stars, sprinkled like sugar in a kettle. “Wow,” she said with soft amazement, and he looked up too. “You forget—you forget what’s out there. You can’t see hardly any of this back in the city.”

Hunter looked thoughtful. “Maybe we need it that way,” he said after a moment. “Maybe we create all that noise and light down here to convince ourselves we’re the center of it all. So we don’t feel so small and insignificant.”

She looked at him, amused. “You? Feel small?”

He dropped his head with a wry grin. “All the damn time.”

The fire had picked up in intensity, crackling and sparking, creating enough glow that she could clearly see his face for the first time since they’d left camp. He looked as tired as she felt. Together, they held all four of their hands over the warmth of the fire. 

“Turns out the rumors are true,” he said eventually. “You and I generate heat.”

She laughed, feeling less frozen by the minute. “If only we could generate a compass and a map,” she replied.

“We’re on the trail,” he said. “It’s got to lead out of here.”  Then something caught his attention, and he leaned forward to squint at her wrist, the one with the shiny metal encircling it. “You’re bleeding,” he said, turning her wrist over with his free hand.

She leaned down to inspect along with him. “So are you.”

The handcuffs had rubbed them both raw during their bumpy journey up the mountain. She hadn’t felt it happen because she’d been numb from cold and fear, but she saw now that they both had deep scrapes and abrasions—blood from one or both of them smeared the cuffs, his wrist, and hers.

“Looks like we’re blood brothers now,” he said. He twisted his wrist carefully until he could grasp her fingers in his, and he squeezed her hand lightly. “You’re stuck with me.”

She humored him, and the moment, with a smile, but the truth was they had already shed so much blood for one another over the years that a few more drops wasn’t likely to make a bit of difference. “Sergeant Hunter,” she said, leaning into him with her voice low, “is that a banana in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”

He let out a surprised laugh. “McCall, you should know by now I’m always happy to see you,” he said as he dug around between them. “But that’s definitely a banana.”

“Yeah, that’s what I hoped you’d say.” She plucked it from his hand, peeled it, and offered Hunter half. They followed up the banana with some water from the canteen.

“We should throw some dirt on this thing and get out of here.” He stood up, and so she rose too. “Oh, wait just a second,” he said, and bent down to scoop up one of the palm-sized rocks they had used to start the fire. “Maybe these things have another use.”

“We could throw them at the bears,” she replied with a grin.

“No, here.” He guided her down so that the chain of the handcuffs was atop one rock, at which point he used the second rock to smash at the links. It took a half-dozen tries, but at last, the chain gave out, and they were free.  “Better?” he asked her.

She rubbed her arm and nodded. “Better. You just know the Captain’s going to bill us for the cuffs, though.”

“He can put it on my tab.” 

Hunter gathered up dirt to silence the fire, and she blew on her hands, trying to keep the faint warmth. The stars shimmered in the metal around her wrist, reflecting back the ages past in tiny pricks of light. Maybe they were just two bumbling humans, lost in the trees, but as long as they were together, she didn’t feel insignificant, and he was never small.

They started for the trail together, but he quickly outpaced her now that they were no longer yoked together. She heard his footsteps ahead, and his voice floated back to her. “Come on, let’s go…”

She felt blindly at the space in front of her. “I can’t see you.”

His hand came out of nowhere, closing over hers. “Here,” he said, and he held on tight this time, tugging her along with him into the unknown.


elements: Hunter, McCall, midnight swim, heatwave, Jaws

It was late on a Saturday night, and the rehab center was quiet, probably because most of the clientele were past social security age and were in bed by 9pm. In McCall’s room, the lights were off, partially in deference to the midnight showing of Jaws that was playing at a low volume on her TV, and partially to cut down on any further source of heat. Temperatures outside had been nudging the hundred-degree mark for three straight days, or at least that’s what the news told her, and the elderly air conditioning units at the center shuddered and wheezed as they struggled to keep up.


The humid air made her T-shirt stick to her ribs and her leggings cling like a second skin. The ends of her new, severe haircut curled up from her shoulders and beads of sweat tickled the back of her neck. It didn’t help that she was stuck surrounded by the tangled bed clothes, but she didn’t have the manual dexterity to get them out from under her own stupid body, and damned if she was going to ask Hunter for help. She wasn’t speaking to him, not really, only he did not seem to have noticed.  At first, she had kept quiet to give him the chance to tell his news, the beans Charlie had spilled during his visit earlier that afternoon, but as time wore on and Hunter still didn’t say anything, her silence had simmered into irritation.


“This is a good part,” he said from the chair next to her. He looked totally untouched by the heat, sitting there in his usual jeans and T-shirt, with a bowl of popcorn in his lap and his enormous bare feet propped up on the end of her bed.


On the screen, a young woman was swimming in the sea, laughing with delight. She was going to be shark bait at any moment.


“It’s funny how you don’t even see the shark, right?” Hunter continued. “There’s just some shadows and music and screaming, and it’s still completely terrifying. It’s like Spielberg knew the audience would just imagine the worst and he played right into their fear. What you can’t see—that’s what scares you the most.”


“The shark didn’t work,” she said—her first words in an hour.


“Hmm?” He was still absorbed in the story, the white light and shadow flickering over his features as he watched the TV.


“The mechanical shark.” She enunciated each word carefully. “I read in an article that they couldn’t get it to work, so they had to shoot around it. That’s why you don’t see the shark.” She was not going to have him ascribing genius perfection where there was none. Not here, not now.


“Well, whatever,” he replied, unperturbed by her mood. “It works.” He shoveled in another handful of popcorn.  “You sure you don’t want any of this?”


“No, I don’t want any of that.”


“Soda? Candy? I can hit the vending machine down the hall…”


“Hunter. I don’t want anything to eat, okay? I don’t want any more magazines or books or flowers. I don’t want you sauntering in here, whistling, acting like it’s just another night and we’re sitting around watching some old movie together.”


He set the bowl aside and sat up. “Well then, what do you want?” he asked finally, scratching behind one ear. “You may as well tell me because I can’t guess anymore.”


"What do I want?" Her hand shook, and she brought it to her face to try to stop the trembling. “What I want, I can’t have. I want my life back. I want to be able to walk, to dress myself, to be back in my own house with my old clothes and my job and everything I had before. And you can’t give me that…because no one can give me that. All these doctors, they say the same thing—good prognosis, no guarantees—no one can promise me anything. Meanwhile, I sit here with a lump of blankets under my ass that is making my leg go numb because I can’t even move enough to fix it, and I’m wondering: is this how it is from now on? Maybe everyone’s wrong. Maybe this is as good as it gets. Sure, I lived: but my life is over.”


The anger and anguish she’d been holding back for days was all at the surface now, but her eyes were dry. She had not cried, not even when it was just her and the pain, alone together in the middle of the endless night. Maybe her tears were gone forever too--one more thing she lost in the storm.


“Dee Dee…” Hunter’s voice was full of sympathy, but she didn’t want it.


“Don’t,” she said, warning him off with an unsteady hand as he moved to try to help her with the blanket. He could change a million little things in her drab hospital-style room, but it would still be a prison. He could not fix what really mattered.


Hunter sank back into the chair and scrubbed his face with both hands until his hair stood on end. “I’m sorry,” he said finally.


“Don’t do that either.” She huddled back against the pillows. “Don’t be sorry for me. Just be honest.”


He spread his hands, looking exasperated.  “What if I’m honestly sorry? Is that allowed?”


She waited a beat, giving him another few seconds to tell her the truth, but he just sat there, blinking at her. “Charlie was here today,” she said finally, resigned at having to be the one to say it. “He said the department is head-over-heels for you right now, on account of the way you saved my life, solved all the murders and didn’t make a stink when they tried to have you charged with Big Jack’s homicide. They want to give you the Medal of Valor and a promotion—but you said no.”


She fixed him with her gaze, daring him to deny it, but he said nothing.


“Charlie thought I knew,” she continued. “He seemed to want me to explain your reasoning, to get you to reconsider. I had to admit I didn’t know what he was even talking about.“


At this, Hunter pushed out of the chair and stalked to the window. He scissored open the blinds with two fingers, peering out at the dark parking lot. She’d spent hours looking at that parking lot herself: if he was hoping to find answers there, she could assure him there were none.


“Were you even going to tell me?” she asked.


He turned around with a shrug. “Nothing to tell. Like you said, I turned it down.”


“But why?” She might be stuck forever in this new life, pinned like a butterfly by the bullet in her spine, but he didn’t have to stay here with her.


“I don’t need a big fuss and a medal for doing my job. I just want to be left alone to do it. I want…I want things back the way they were.”


She bowed her head at his words. He was screwed like her, then, because that was the one thing they couldn’t have.  “You’re crazy not to take the promotion,” she said thickly, emotion clogging her throat. “You pass it up and they might not offer it again, and then you’ve made this grand sacrifice--for what? For me? I get shot so you get paralyzed too? If you’re waiting for me to come back, I think you should admit to yourself that may never happen.”


“It’ll happen,” he said with determination. “It just takes time.”


“It’s been weeks! I can’t write my name yet, let alone drive a car or hold a gun. I barely even leave this room!”


"Oh." Hunter’s brow furrowed. “Well. That’s one problem I can fix.”


She leaned back against the pillows and closed her eyes, the fight draining out of her. “It’s one in the morning,” she said. “You can’t fix anything right now.”


He held up one finger. “Just a sec,” he said as he flashed her a grin. “Don’t go anywhere, okay?”


“And just where would I go?” She glowered in his direction, but he missed it because he was already out the door.


He returned a few moments later and pushed her wheelchair close to the bed. “Okay, it’s all clear. We’re going.”




“Come on, let’s get on with it. I haven’t got all day.”  He tugged the offending blankets aside and started urging her toward the chair, but still she resisted.


“You don’t have to do this. A spin in the chair and a peek at the outside world is nice and all, but it doesn’t change a damn thing, and you know it. I end up right back here in this bed and you go back to work without me.”


Hunter folded his arms. “If it doesn’t make a difference, then you should have no problem coming with me, then.”


She waited, but he didn’t budge. “Fine,” she said with a heavy sigh. She shifted to maneuver herself into the wheelchair, and Hunter helped her the rest of the way. “Where are we going?”




“Swimming?”  Her voice came out overly loud in the quiet corridor.


“Shhh,” he warned, pushing her down the hall.


“Hunter, I can’t swim,” she whispered back to him. “I can’t even walk.”


“Neither can fish, and they swim just fine.”


They reached the door to the pool, and it was shut tight, locked up with the lights off inside. “We’re not supposed to be here,” she said. “We could get in trouble for this.”


“What are they going to do—arrest us and put us in geezer jail?”


He tried the door and confirmed it was locked.  “If you’re thinking I can pick that, you’re crazier than I thought,” she said darkly, her arms crossed. “I can barely hold a fork.”


“Not to worry, I’ve got it covered.” He pulled out a set of keys from his pocket, and she looked at him wide-eyed. “Found these at the front desk,” he explained.


“Found them. Right.” For an enormous man, Hunter could turn seemingly invisible when he wanted to; it was one of the more maddening things about him. He opened the door and wheeled her through it.


Inside, the room was cool and smelled like chlorine. Light from the streetlamps outside shone in from the large, high windows, glinting on the pool below. The filtering system hummed and the water lapped gently at the white tiles lining the sides. Hunter pushed her over toward the deeper end, far from the door where they might be seen through its window.  “If I get in there, I’ll drown,” she said.


“Like I would let that happen,” he said as he put the brakes on her chair.


“I don’t have a suit!”


“You have other clothes, right? I think these ones would dry. Come on—we can just sit on the edge if you want.”


Sitting. She could manage just about that much, she supposed. She was about to give her consent when Hunter started shucking his jeans. “What are you doing?” she blurted in surprise.


“I don’t have other clothes,” he replied, pulling the jeans down on off. It was dim, but she could make out the outline of his boxers. Thank heaven for small favors. “Now are you coming or what?”


“Or what,” she said, still morose, but she started shifting so that she could get out of the chair. Hunter helped her out and she scooted over to the poolside edge. She hesitated when it came time to put her feet in, however.


Hunter sat down next to her and stuck his long, bare legs down into the water.  “You need help?” he asked her after a moment.


“No.” When push came to shove, she just couldn’t make herself put her legs in when she was still wearing pants. She sighed and hooked her thumbs into the edges of her leggings. With the oversize T-shirt she had on and the cover of darkness, it’s not like he could see anything anyway. Hunter sat there patiently for a few minutes while she tried to wrestle with her clothes.


“Are you sure you don’t need help?” he drawled as she painstakingly dragged the material down to her knees.  “I’m really good at taking of women’s pants, you know.”


“Oh, I know.” She was a bit breathless, shaking from the effort, as her leggings finally came free.


“Okay. I just want you to know: I am here for all your pants removal needs.”


“I’ve got it, thanks.” She elbowed him as she stuck her legs in the water. It felt good, almost normal, even though they didn’t usually hang around together in their underwear.


Her legs were buoyed by the water, floating and free from the heavy, useless feeling they carried with them all the time now. She swished them around gently and ripples started across the pool—little gleaming waves in the otherwise darkened room. Her foot brushed Hunter’s leg, and she gasped, then giggled. “Oops, sorry.”


“Sure you are. I’ll show you sorry.” He kicked some water back in her direction, and she laughed as it sprayed up into her lap.


“Okay, okay! Truce.” She was never going to win this war, so discretion was the better part of valor. They sat in companionable silence, swishing the water between them, but she wasn’t quite ready to let their conversation drop. If it was her permission he was looking for, he could have it, free and clear. “You’ve earned it, you know,” she said, and he turned his head toward her. She nodded at him. “The medal, the promotion—all of it. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you.”

“I don’t want it.” He squinted out at the water. “You being alive, here—I could celebrate that all day long. But the rest of it is just the brass trying to paint a happy picture over the whole damn mess. Forget all those girls who died and no one really noticed or cared because they were just a bunch of hookers. Forget how you’re still stuck here, with that chair. Let’s put me up in front of the cameras and tell the press a nice yarn about how the good guys won after all, right?” He shook his head. “No way. I want no part of that. Besides,” he said, glancing at her, “the press would come sniffing after you, too, to get your story. You don’t need that right now. You have to focus on getting well.”

She shivered at the words. “Well,” she repeated. “Yeah, right.”

He nudged her. “Look it. I know you don’t see it, but I do. You have way more mobility with your hands than you did even five days ago. Your balance is better. The rest of it will come in time. A a couple of months from now, you’ll be good as new and sitting right across from me just like always.”

She tried to conjure the scene, with the ringing phones and endless surrounding chatter; the smell of the burning coffee and Hunter chewing a pen cap and muttering to himself. It felt familiar but far away, a place she had found in a dream once but could no longer return. As far as she was concerned, her future was a big, dark hole, and Hunter was right that the scariest things were those that lurked unseen. “I want to believe it,” she told him. “I do. I just can’t imagine it yet.”

He smiled and elbowed her gently. “That’s why you have to stick with me.” He reached behind his head and yanked off his T-shirt in one smooth motion, and then jumped into the water, splashing her in the process.

“Hunter!” She held up her hands to block the spray.

He ducked under and came up sputtering. “Come on!” He called to her from the inky darkness. “Jump in.”

“I can’t!” The depth was around six feet, definitely over her head.

“Sure you can. I’ll catch you. Come on—think of it as a leap of faith.”

More like a leap to her death, she thought. “Uh-uh, no way.”

She heard him splashing around, could just make out his shadowy form, like a merman from the depths of the sea. “Don’t you trust me?” he said.

“I trust you.” It was herself she didn’t trust. She had so little control over anything right now, not even her own body; even if she launched herself in his direction, she’d probably miss and wind up at the bottom of the pool. Plus, she had a bullet hole in her. No matter that it was closed; she imagined herself taking on water and then spurting out again at the neck like a child’s bath toy.

“Come on,” he cajoled her. “The water is fine.”

She blew out a long breath. “You’re not going to let this go, are you?”

“Nope. I’ve got all night.” He splashed some water in her general direction. 

“Okay, fine…but I am not jumping.” She surveyed the murky territory in front of her with some trepidation, and then cautiously began easing herself over the side. The water level rose higher, up to her hips, but then her elbows started to shake from the effort and her left palm slipped out from under her. She plunged in with a sharp cry, but she didn’t get very far: Hunter caught her under her arms and prevented her from hitting bottom.

“See?” he said. “It’s all right. You’re okay.”

She clutched his shoulders, nodding and coughing.

“Okay?” he asked.

“Yeah. Yes.” She had steadied herself with her back against the side of the pool and her hands solidly on Hunter. His hands were holding her gently around the ribs, which was helpful because it prevented her T-shirt from floating up, up, and away. The water was cool but not cold, and as her body adjusted, she found the sensation was actually quite pleasant. Some of her aches and tension faded as she didn’t have to work so hard to keep herself upright; Hunter and the water had her well supported.  

“It’s going to be okay,” he said in a low voice, trying to meet her eyes.

She nodded again, trying to believe him. This was a start, at least. She realized she should probably let go of him now and get back out of the pool, but she had used up her remnants of energy getting in, and Hunter didn’t seem to be in any hurry to let her go. They had several inches of watery space between them, enough to maintain decorum, but his thumbs had started a slow caress against her back. He’d been touching her more often since the shooting, pats and hugs and pecks on the cheek. It might have seemed romantic except she’d awoken last week to what she’d thought was the feel of him holding her hand, when really it had turned out he was checking for a pulse.

“Sorry,” she murmured, running a careful hand over his shoulder. Her thumb grazed his bullet wound, which was well ahead of her on the healing curve. 

“Sorry for what?” He leaned his forehead on hers.

“I know this is hard on you too.” He had to work her half of the cases too now.

“Don’t worry about me. I’ve got the easy end of this. My job is just to keep things from falling under until you get back.”

“Until I get back and write up the paperwork, you mean.”

“It’s possible there are some folders on your desk. A few.”

She snorted a laugh. “Now we see the truth about why you don’t want a promotion—no partner to write up all your reports.”

“No,” he said slowly, encircling her tighter, drawing her closer. “I don’t want to do this job without you, not one day more than I have to—so don’t make me, okay?”

She went still in his embrace, stunned by his honesty and the sentiment. She realized then that he was literally trying to be that future he’d talked about, and he was just waiting there for her to catch up. “I’m trying,” she told him. “I am.”

“I know.” He brought his hand up and traced the tender skin under her left eye. “You’re not sleeping, though.”

Of course he would know. They’d been down this road together once before. His touch was gentle but wet, and when he drew back he left a trickle of water on her cheek: the tears she could not cry.  She shook her head, mute. The dreams were the worst part, the part that made her feel crazy. She had no memory of the shooting at all, but like Hunter had said: given just a suggestion of terror, the mind fills in the rest, and her mind had plenty of ready-made images to supply.

“It, uh, it doesn’t make a lot of sense,” she said, her breathing becoming high and rapid. She felt trapped suddenly, caught between him and the cement ledge of the pool, but she didn’t have the capacity to flee.

“What doesn’t?” he asked softly.

“The dreams.” She looked everywhere but at his face. “I, uh…they’re the old ones, from before.” She squirmed but he held her fast. She felt him parsing her words, knew the instant that he got it.

“Before,” he repeated. “From the rape?”

She shuddered at the word but nodded. “Crazy, right?” She felt crazy when they happened, crazy and scared because she hadn’t had these nightmares in months, and yet here they were again in full-on, terrifying Technicolor memory. That awful moment when she woke herself up, gasping for breath, when she still felt pinned under his body, when she discovered her eyes were open but she couldn’t move…

Hunter drew a long breath. “Well, maybe not,” he said at length. “I mean it doesn’t seem crazy to me. Both times someone hurt you—both times, you could’ve been killed.” He paused as they both felt the weight of the words. It was the first time either of them had acknowledged the plain truth out loud. “I know, uh, I know from my end it kind of feels the same. So no. I don’t think that’s crazy. I think it’s probably pretty normal.”

“Yeah?” She sniffed hard a couple of times.

“Oh, yeah. Sure. Normal.”

She sighed and dropped her chin to her chest. “Just once I’d like to be not normal—like above normal. Super normal.”

“But not paranormal,” he supplied, and she let out a laugh in spite of herself. He hugged her closer then, and her legs floated around his hips of their own accord. He didn’t seem to mind.

Hesitantly, she touched his face. “It really feels the same to you, too?”

He tightened his hold on her as a spasm of emotion went through him. “Yes,” he said hoarsely, his head resting on hers. “The same.” He took a couple of short, quick breaths. “There’s not much I can do to help here, either.”

“You’ve helped. You’ve helped a lot.” She tried to hold him but he pulled back a bit, shaking his head. “What?” she said softly. “You’re not super human either, you know.”

“I know, I know. It’s just…”

“Just what?”

He looked at the ceiling. “Anita gave me a whole bunch of pamphlets and stuff. I read ‘em all, cover to cover, and tried to figure out if there was anything in there I could say or do. Maybe some of it was a little bit of help, I don’t know…” He broke off, shaking his head. She ran her hand down his arm until she found his free hand, which she squeezed as best she could. He squeezed back—hard—and when he spoke again, his voice was roughened with emotion. “The thing is, it said…it said, ‘If you love her, tell her you love her. Tell her over and over.’”

Her chest went tight and her eyes watered. “Rick, I…”

He cut her off, seeming determined to get the rest of it out. “I didn’t say it,” he said steadily. “I couldn’t figure out a way to make it clear, to make it feel separate from everything that had happened…so I—I didn’t say it.”

“You did,” she said, drawing him closer, hugging him fiercely. He buried his face in her neck. “You said it over and over,” she told him as she stroked his head. “I promise.”

Her heart thundered wildly as they gripped each other, holding fast to what was almost lost. She knew exactly what he was talking about because she’d felt the same way when she’d awoken in the ICU and realized how thin, how painfully razor sharp, the line had been between her life and death. All the words she had never said, all the things she’d never done—they were beautiful, tantalizing impossibilities. She could say the words to him now but then they would always be about this moment, and she was determined, finally, to have more than that.

They had drifted away from the wall and held each other in a perfect, watery embrace. Her arms rested around his shoulder and his lips were hot on her neck. This was a dangerous moment for them, because he was desperate to make her feel better and she really wanted to let him. He could lift his face and they could kiss and it would probably feel amazing—she was really, really ready to feel amazing again—but then they would never know if it was for real or a fairytale, if he was just like Prince Charming trying to wake Sleeping Beauty from her long, slow death.

So when he raised his head, she put her palms on his shoulders and pushed away, releasing them both into the open water. She couldn’t swim but she could float, weightless and free, her eyes closed as she imagined a kind of future, not far off. Maybe she could thank him and make him see how very much he meant to her, now and always. She could take him fishing. Or to Catalina. Or fishing off of Catalina. Maybe he’d say the words. Maybe she would. Maybe together, they’d catch a big one. It was a bright future, this one, full of salty sea air and hot, squinty sunshine, so sparkly that she couldn’t quite bring it into focus.

But it was out there somewhere, just beyond her fingertips, and for sure, she knew this much: he was there, and so was she.


© syntax6 2015