"Whats this about my daughter and jujitsu?" Nelson asked the minute Reese walked into the station house at the end of her shift.
"She talked to you already, huh?" Reese said with a faint smile. Bri was eager, and that was encouraging.
Nelson nodded. "I stopped home at lunch to see how she was, and thats all she talked about. You really want to do this?"
Reese settled one hip on the corner of her desk, regarding him intently. "She seems serious, Chief. Its a great way for a kid - for anyone, really - to learn self-confidence and self-control. And it never hurts for a woman to know how to protect herself. Im willing to teach her if shes willing to put out the effort. Its not easy, and it requires a real commitment over a long time."
Nelson walked to the front windows and stood staring out. Reese recognized this as a habit of his when he was working something out. She waited silently. He didnt look at her when he spoke.
"I found her out under one of the piers about six months ago with some kids from a couple of towns over - kids wed had trouble with before. They were fooling around with drugs. Bri swore to me that she hadnt done anything, but it scared me pretty good. Shes smart, and she always did real well in school, but this past year - somethings changed. She doesnt get along with any of her old friends, shes skipped school some. Nothing real bad yet, but the signs dont look so good. She doesnt talk about anything; in fact, she hardly talks to me at all. This is the first thing shes shown any interest in in a long time. I cant pay you much, but itll be worth it if you think it might help her."
Reese chose her words carefully, not wanting to offend him. "Nelson, teaching your daughter something I love is not a hardship for me. It helped me when I was her age. Sometimes I think it kept me from going a little crazy. I dont need you to pay me, but I will expect Bri to help me out in the dojo. Theres still a lot of work to be done."
Reese grinned. "Well, right now its my garage."
"Ill see that she understands thats part of the arrangement."
Once home, Reese changed into sweats and a tee shirt and went in search of Sarah James, the crew boss of the women she had hired to finish the renovations on her house. The previous owner had left many things uncompleted, or in some cases, had done the work improperly.
"Hows it going," she asked the small blond when she finally located her in the basement.
Sarah grimaced. "Save me from do-it-yourselfers! The plumbing to the master bath is a nightmare. No shut off valves anywhere you could use them, of course. And dont get me started on the wiring!"
Reese smiled at Sarahs exuberant display of distress, then asked seriously, "Can you fix it?
"Oh, sure. I might need a week more than I originally thought though. Is that okay?"
"Fine - just tell me where youll be working and Ill try to stay out of your way. If you need me to, I could move out for a while?"
Sarah shook her head. "Not necessary, but there will be some additional costs. Im sorry - I underestimated the state of things here. No one's lived here for quite a while, and there was some water damage and other -"
Reese interrupted her. "Dont worry about it. Just do whatever needs to be done. If you need another advance for materials, just let me know."
Sarah looked at the other woman appreciatively. God it was nice to work for someone who didnt think you were trying to rip them off all the time. And such a good looking woman at that. Sarah had been considering asking her out, but she couldnt get a clear read on her. As friendly as Reese was, she was personally unapproachable. She never discussed any thing other than business, and never gave a hint of sexual innuendo. Sarah wasnt a hundred percent sure the sheriff was gay. Just because she had a rock hard body that looked impossibly good in a uniform and a face so androgenous it belonged on a Greek statue, didnt necessarily make her a lesbian. But Reese Conlon was turning womens heads all over town, and they couldnt all be wrong!
Sarah realized with a start that Reese was waiting for her reply. She blushed and assured Reese that she would keep her appraised of the work schedule.
"Great. Ill get out of your way then," Reese said.
Sarah watched her take the stairs up to the kitchen two at a time, uncomfortably aware that just talking to her had turned her on. She shook her head, deciding that the gorgeous cop was too dangerous to fool with. If a simple conversation could do that to her, who knew what might happen if they actually touched. She wasnt ready for anything that serious, and something told her everything about that one was serious.
Oblivious to Sarahs lingering glance, Reese grabbed her gear and walked the mile into town to the gym. Three or four times a week she worked out at the woman-owned facility in the center of town. Usually she had the place to herself. Most of the tourists were sunning or shopping in the late afternoon, and the regulars tended to work out in the morning. Reese nodded hello to the owner and headed for the free weights. She placed her gym bag against the wall within easy reach. The Chief had informed her that he expected her to carry her weapon with her at all times. Their force was small, and though serious trouble rare, they did have recurring problems with drug use and the violence that accompanied it. Nelson said he wanted her to be available at short notice, especially since she was second in command. Reese didnt mind - she was used to readiness as a way of life. Her gun and her beeper were as much a part of her life as her car keys. That she was essentially always on call didnt bother her either - she didnt really have a personal life beyond her job and her training. She worked, she worked out, and she trained in the dojo. That was the life she knew, the one she had built since the time she was a teenager, and one she was content with. She lifted the barbell over her head and began to count.
Marge Price, who owned the gym, leaned against the counter leafing through a magazine and watching the quiet one work out. Thats how she thought of her - "the quiet one". She knew who Reese was of course. Something as exciting as a new deputy sheriff, especially a good-looking female one, didnt go unnoticed in a place this small. Marged been watching her for a couple of weeks now. Moderate weights, high reps - an occasional heavy set thrown in. The sheriff was obviously working for strength, not mass, though from the stretch of her tee shirt across her broad chest and the muscular tone of her thighs it was obvious she could have done heavy lifting if shed wanted. Bulk clearly wasnt her goal, and the ease with which she stretched after every work out revealed how flexible she was. Marge admired her as an athlete, and was intrigued by her as an individual. She was always polite, considerate, focused, and completely remote. Marge wondered if she was so calm because she wasnt easily disturbed, or if there simply wasnt anything in her life to disturb her. If you avoided involvements, you usually avoided much of lifes turmoil, and Marge had never seen the quiet one with anyone. In fact Marge hadnt seen her anywhere around town unless she was in uniform working, or in the gym working out.
What does she do for enjoyment? Marge mused. If she were younger herself, she might be tempted to try unsettling that one a little bit. Something told Marge that if you got her started she might surprise you. That rare flicker of a smile of hers hinted at the heat of a fire long banked and ready to flare.
At that moment, Reese approached, asking, "Can I get a bottle of water?"
"Sure," Marge replied, reaching into the small refrigerator under the counter. She wiped the condensation off the plastic container with a towel before she handed it to Reese.
Reese took it gratefully, asking as she twisted off the top, "How much do I owe you?"
"On the house," Marge answered.
"Thanks just the same, but Id rather pay," Reese said, no hint of censure in her voice.
"A dollar then," Marge said. She regarded the other woman seriously. "Were not looking for any favors you know, with the little handouts people are probably offering you. You do a job we all appreciate. Our businesses are our lives, and if the community isnt safe, tourists wont come. Without them, we starve. In two days this place will go crazy, and your life will get complicated."
Reese drained the bottle dry. "I know that, and Im grateful for your appreciation. But its my job to keep order and see that the streets are safe. I dont need any extra thanks for doing what Im getting paid for."
Marge stared at her. Reese looked back at her with a steady, unwavering gaze. "The boy scouts really lost out when you turned out to be a girl," Marge stated without a hint of a smile.
"What makes you think I wasnt a boy scout?" Reese rejoined just as seriously.
Marge laughed in surprise, and Reese joined her. As they were both catching their breath, Marge asked impetuously, "How would you like to have dinner with me one of these nights after you finish your workout?"
Reese was momentarily uncertain. She wasnt used to casual social encounters, especially with people she didnt know well. But there was something so comfortable about this woman that Reese didnt fear the intrusiveness she experienced so often with strangers.
"So how about tomorrow," Marge persisted. She had a feeling this one was shy, and she didnt want to give her a chance to change her mind. She couldnt say exactly what there was about the younger woman that appealed to her, but she simply liked her.
Reese nodded after a moments thought. "Ill be here."
Tory glanced toward shore as she stroked rhythmically through the water at six a.m. in the morning. There were a few anglers out, hoping for a jump on the other fishermen, and there on the drive off, the police cruiser. It had been there every morning for a week, and she felt sure she knew who it was. She almost waved, then stopped, chiding herself for her foolishness. There was no reason to think that Reese Conlon was there to see her. She hadnt heard from the sheriff in over a week, since the day she had showed up with Brianna Parker in her patrol car. Tory had to admit she had hoped Reese might call with news of her investigation. Tory found herself looking for the police car each day when she kayaked, her pulse racing a little when she saw it.
A wave took her by surprise, rocking the small craft and reminding her to stop daydreaming. She glanced once more toward shore, trying to make out the profile of the driver, then turned her mind to the sea and the soothing cadence of her strokes.
Reese drained her coffee cup as she watched the red dot disappear around the corner at Race Point. She sat a bit longer before she started the engine. Those few minutes each morning watching Tory glide across the horizon were the most peaceful moments of her day. She couldnt have said exactly why, but she knew what she felt, and had no reason to question it. She pulled the cruiser around toward Route six, settled and ready to work.
She drove east to the town limits, then turned right toward the harbor to complete the circuit back down Commercial Street. At this hour, there was almost no traffic except for the delivery trucks double-parked along the narrow one-way street, their drivers servicing the many businesses densely crowding the thoroughfare. Bikers and roller bladers claimed the road that would be filled with tour buses and tourists on foot by eleven am. By the first day of Memorial Day weekend there would be a steady stream of cars crawling slowly through town until well after midnight. She looked forward to it despite the Chiefs gloomy predictions of chaos. Chances were shed be working twelve hour shifts, but that didnt bother her. Shed have to make adjustments in her workout schedule but that was her only concern. Most nights after the gym she spent completing the renovations to the garage, getting her dojo ready. By nine oclock she was usually in bed with a book. Up at four, she ran five to ten miles on the beach, then showered and was ready to leave the house at six for work. She kept military hours, the same hours she had kept since she was fourteen years old. Her life was orderly, routine, and predictable. Her work as a peacekeeper, first in the military, and now here, provided her with a sense of purpose and satisfaction. Her martial arts training challenged her body and calmed her mind. The absence of close personal ties was not something she questioned or gave any thought to. This was the life she had always lived, and on the whole, she was content.
She waved to Paul Smith as she pulled into the small lot behind the Municipal Building. Paul was one of the young officers who worked the night shift, and they knew each other only well enough to say hello.
"Quiet night?" Reese called.
"Yeah," he said as he unlocked the door to his Dodge truck. "Couple of drunks needed an escort home. I swung by the clinic a few times like you asked. The doc left at midnight - after that it was like a tomb. Its not warm enough for much action in the dunes yet."
The Park Rangers patrolled the dunes during the day, but at night they left it to the Sheriffs department. Soon the three miles of sand along Herring Cove would be packed with bathers and would-be lovers. The dunes above the beach and along Route Six were favorite areas for rendezvous. The police kept people out of the dunes to protect the habitat as much as to deter the sex and drugs. Reese didnt particularly like the duty, but it was part of the job.
No one was in the office, so she took advantage of the quiet to finish time schedules, make up duty rosters, and to peruse recent crime reports from nearby townships. Sooner or later whatever trouble the other towns had would filter down to her community. She was about to brew another pot of coffee and was starting to contemplate lunch when the scanner picked up a 911 call to the EMT station in Wellfleet.
"A guy fell out on the Long Point jetty," an anxious male voice reported. "It looks like his leg is twisted in some rocks and hes bleeding all over the place-"
Reese was up and through the door before the passerby finished giving the information to the dispatcher in the town fifteen miles away. She was two minutes from the scene. Long Point jetty was a long finger of rocks that formed a protective arch between Provincetown harbor and the Atlantic Ocean. It stretched a good two miles and was a favorite tourist attraction. Unfortunately, people often underestimated how treacherous the huge slabs of rock could be, especially when still wet from high tide. A crowd was visible as she swung around Bradford Street, angling her cruiser across the road to prevent access to more curious onlookers. People parted for her rather reluctantly as they pushed out onto the jetty, jostling for a better look. All Reese could see was another crowd milling about several hundred yards further out on the rocky causeway, presumably the site of the accident. She started toward them as quickly as she could, her progress hampered by the poor footing on rocks which were slippery with the debris left by the receding tides. The jetty was comprised of angled blocks of stone piled adjacent to one another, forming a discontinuos walkway. There were large gaps between some slabs, requiring her to jump from one uneven surface to the other. She had gone about a hundred yards, moving as rapidly as she could, when she overtook Victoria King, who was cautiously making her way toward the gathered crowd.
Reese was having trouble keeping her own balance; navigating this surface with a cane and a leg brace was suicide! Reese slipped her hand under the doctors elbow to guide her down the steep surface she was descending, saying as she did, "You shouldnt be out here, Doctor."
Torys temper flared as she looked up at the taller woman. The angry reply died on her lips when all she found in the blue eyes that met her gaze was a quiet concern. There was no condescension, and thankfully, no trace of pity.
"Youre absolutely right, Sheriff - but here I am."
"Why dont you let me go up ahead and see what the situation is. The EMTs should be here in five or ten minutes," Reese suggested.
Tory put her hand on Reeses shoulder to steady herself as she pushed up onto the next rock face. "Why dont you go up ahead and get that crowd under control so Ill have room to work when I get there," she rejoined. "I need to be sure that whoevers trapped down there isnt bleeding to death. I made it this far - Ill be fine."
Reese knew the plan made sense. She wasnt sure why she didnt want to leave the doctor alone, but some instinctive desire to safeguard her made Reese want to protest. Stomach tight with tension, she yielded to reason. Her training was too ingrained to allow individual concerns to interfere with logic.
"Right. Just be careful, will you?"
"Yes - now go."
By the time Tory reached the scene, Reese had enlisted a few of the onlookers to keep the others back away from where a man lay twisted among the boulders. His leg seemed to disappear into a crevice between two angled sheets of stone. Reese was kneeling, her back to Tory as Tory inched her way down the rockface toward them. Tory gasped when Reese glanced up at her. The sheriffs face and shirt were streaked with blood.
"Are you hurt?" she questioned anxiously as she slid the last two feet.
"No, its his," Reese grunted with effort as she inclined her head toward the man who lay wedged in the rocks. Blood welled up from the wound in his leg, a gaping tear which Reese was attempting to hold closed with both hands.
"Open tibia fracture," Tory assessed as she searched for the pulse in his neck. It was faint and thready. "Hes pretty shocky. We need to get this bleeding stopped." She pressed two fingers into his groin over the femoral artery and the steady stream of blood from the open wound slowed to a trickle. "Reese, theres a towel in my knapsack. Tear it in half and wrap the wound closed as tight as you can."
Reese let go of her hold on the injured mans leg. "EMTs are here," she said as she finished the compression bandage. A siren signaled the rescue vehicles approach.
"Good," Tory gasped. "My arm is fatiguing."
"Want me to take it?" Reese offered.
"No, youd better go give them a hand. We need their equipment out here. And tell them we need the hydraulic jaws to shift these stones."
"Ill be right back," Reese said, unable to keep the concern from her voice.
"Im fine," Tory assured her.
The few minutes it took for Reese to return carrying one of the equipment cases seemed like hours as Tory crouched awkwardly in the cramped space, afraid to move lest she lose her tenuous hold on the artery beneath her fingers. She was starting to develop spasms in her own injured leg from the bent position she was kneeling in. She gritted her teeth and cleared her mind, focusing only on the next thing she needed to do.
"I need to start an IV," she said as Reese dropped down beside her. "Can you get the line and the bag ready, then take over the compression?"
"One minute," Reese said as she tore the plastic wrapper off the tubing and saline bag with her teeth. Behind her the two EMTs were trying to find a place to wedge the hydraulic jack between the rocks. "Okay," she said, placing her hands on Victorias, following her fingers down to the artery. She pressed inward so Tory could let go.
Tory reached behind her for the emergency kit, pulling out a length of soft rubber tubing and wrapping it around the mans upper arm. She found a large bore IV needle and expertly slid it into the antecubital vein in the bend of his elbow. She attached the tubing Reese had readied and allowed the saline to run in at top speed.
"How much longer?" Tory called to the techs, a worried frown on her face. "This guys in trouble. He needs blood, and if I dont get the fracture at least partially reduced he could lose his foot."
"These rocks are going to shift all over the place when we activate the jack," the taller of the two female paramedics warned. "Its not safe where you are. Youre going to have to get out of there."
Tory looked at the steady trickle of blood from the compound fracture in her patients leg and shook her head. "Weve only got this partially controlled as it is. If we reduce the compression, he may bleed out. Let me get back in there, Sheriff. Ill keep the artery tamponaded."
Reese looked up over her shoulder at Tory. Her face showed no trace of strain. "Hes going to need you a lot more than me when they get him out of here. Youd better climb back out of the way. Im staying with him."
The fear took Tory by surprise. She had a sudden image of Reese pinned under tons of rock, and something close to panic clutched at her throat. She didnt want Reese to be the one in danger when that jack started.
"No!" she started to argue.
"This is my call to make, doctor. You worry about keeping him alive. Now climb up out of here."
Tory knew there was no other way, and no more time to argue. "For gods sake, be careful," she murmured as she carefully pulled herself up the steep rockface to safety.
"Are your legs clear?" one of the EMTs called.
"All clear," Reese responded.
When they activated the power jack, bits of stone chips and sand filled the air, clouding Torys view of the chasm where Reese and the victim were wedged. As the grating noise from the shifting rocks subsided, she peered anxiously downward. She could just make out Reeses tall form hunched over the injured man.
"Are you okay?" she cried.
"Yeah," Reese gasped. "But hes slipping down into the crevice. I need a harness of some kind - fast!" Her arms were straining to hold up his dead weight, and she was afraid she might lose him.
One of the EMTs threw her a harness and a guide line, and moments later they had the victim up. They secured him to a backboard while Tory adjusted an inflatable splint over the mass trousers they applied to improve his blood flow.
"Take him to the heliport in Dennis," she said. "He needs to be air-vaced to Boston. Run two IVs wide open, and give him whatever plasma substitutes you have. Give him a loading dose of Ancef, too."
As soon as they left she turned worriedly to Reese, who was bent over trying to catch her breath.
"Let me check you out," Tory said.
"Im okay," Reese panted. "Just a little winded. I almost lost him there at the end."
"Well, you didnt," Tory replied as she ignored the sheriff's protests and quickly examined her. "Youve got a lot of small cuts on your hands, but I think we can forego stitches today."
Reese held up her hands tiredly, looking at them as if she were seeing them for the first time. "Just little nicks from the stone chips," she noted with a shrug.
Tory nodded. "Are you ready for the hike back?"
Reese got to her feet, her strength returning. "Im ready when you are," she said.
Tory took one step and grimaced. She wasnt going to make it without help. The muscles in her injured leg were strained from the arduous and unaccustomed climbing, and beginning to cramp. She didnt think she could trust her balance.
"Im in a little trouble here," she admitted.
Reese searched her face in concern. "What can I do?"
"If I lean on you, I should be able to make it."
Reese slipped one strong arm around Torys waist, holding her securely. "Lets just take it slow," she said, guiding them over the treacherous rocks.
When they finally reached the end of the causeway, they both sank gratefully onto a stone bench provided for sightseers.
"Thank you," Tory said quietly. She hadnt needed nor sought assistance from anyone in a long time. She was surprised it didnt bother her more. There was something about the implacable deputy sheriff that made accepting her help easy. Reese radiated strength and self-assuredness, but there was also a simplicity about her that was captivating. She saw a problem, she dealt with it, she made no judgements. Despite her competence and air of command, there was never a hint of superiority or condescension. Tory couldnt remember ever having met anyone quite like her. Certainly no one had ever made her feel so safe without making her feel diminished.
"Youre getting to be indispensable around this town, Sheriff," Tory added sincerely.
Reese shrugged. "Id like to think Im earning my pay." She looked at Tory thoughtfully. "That took real courage for you to make it out there today. That guy doesnt know how lucky he is that you were there. Howd you know?"
Tory blushed at the compliment and spoke hurriedly to cover her embarrassment. "You forget that this is Provincetown! Probably everyone in town knows that I swim at the Inn on my lunch hour! Its just across the street, so when someone ran in to make the 911 call, the manager came to get me. I would have gotten to him a lot sooner if it hadnt been for this damn leg!"
"You did a great job," Reese remarked. She sighed, stretching her stiff muscles. "Can I buy you some lunch?"
Torys tried to ignore the racing of her heart. She was certain Reese was just being friendly. "Thanks, but Im already late for the clinic. Im going to be backed up all evening at this rate."
Reese nodded. "It was good working with you, Dr. King. Im going to head on home to change into a uniform that isnt filled with sand."
"Youve still got sutures that need to come out," Tory reminded her.
Reese fingered the row of nylon stitches in her brow. "How about if I come by the clinic later?" she offered.
Tory smiled ruefully. "Im sure Ill be there. Tonights my late night anyhow."
Reese stood looking down at her, her face partially shaded by the brim of her hat. She was an imposing figure outlined against the clear blue of the sky. Tory had to work not to stare at her taut, sleek body.
"Ill be by," Reese informed her.
"Good," Tory said as Reese strode away. Tory couldn't resist watching her go. She moved with a fluid self-assuredness that suited her vigorous personality. There wasnt a single thing about her that wasnt attractive, and that was enough to warn Tory to be on her guard. Every unattached woman in Provincetown, and not a few of the married ones, would be taking a second look at this new addition to the scenery. That was exactly the kind of woman Tory needed to stay far away from!
Marge greeted Reese with a grin when she walked into the gym that afternoon after work. "I thought you might not make it," she said.
Reese glanced up at the clock behind Marges head. It read five-thirty, exactly the same time she arrived for her workout every evening.
"How come?" she asked in surprise. "I said Id be here."
Marge shrugged elaborately. "Silly me! I should have known that was as good as a guarantee!!"
Reese just shrugged at the gentle chiding and set about her routine. She finished three sets of leg and back exercises in ninety minutes, then went to the locker room to shower. She put on pressed tan chinos, a navy blue denim shirt, and a light beige blazer that covered the holster she secured under her left arm in a shoulder rig. She checked the mirror - the gun didnt show - and went out to meet Marge.
They walked down Commercial Street toward town and turned in at the Cactus Flower. It was still too early in the season to worry about reservations, but that would change within the next few days. They got a good table at the front windows overlooking the street, so they could watch the slow stroll of passersby as they dined. They both ordered margaritas while they looked over the menu.
"This isnt a date, you know," Marge announced after they had given their orders to the waitress.
Reese sipped her drink - it was strong and tart, and gazed at the woman across from her calmly. "It hadnt occurred to me that it might be."
Marge laughed. "This is Provincetown, Sheriff! When one woman asks another woman out to dinner, its usually a date."
Reese nodded solemnly. "Then why isnt this a date?"
Marge stared back, totally nonplussed. The startling handsome woman across from her was impossible to figure out. She gave nothing away in her expression, or her voice. Nothing seemed to surprise her, or throw her off stride. Marge wondered what, if anything, could shake her calm control. She also wondered what price that kind of control exacted.
Reese seemed completely without pretense, and Marge answered in kind. "Its not a date for two reasons - my expectations, and my intentions."
"How so?" Reese inquired. She voiced no challenge, only honest interest.
"Id be a fool to think youd be interested in me. For one thing, Im twenty years older than you-"
Reese smiled at that, shaking her head. "Hardly," she said, studying Marges tanned, well-developed form.
"Close enough," Marge grunted.
Reese waited while the silence grew. "And the other reason?" she asked quietly.
Marge blushed as she said, "Youre too damn butch to go for an old jock like me. I figure your tastes run more to the femme type."
Reese leaned back while the waitress slid their plates in front of them, contemplating Marges words. Marge was the second person in as many weeks to say that to her. She had never thought of herself as butch, and tried to imagine how she appeared to others. It was something with which she had no experience. Up until this point in her life, her rank had determined how others related to her, and how she related to them. The rules of conduct, including who you could "fraternize" with, were clear. They were frequently circumvented, but not by Reese. It wasnt that she agreed with the rules so much as she had no reason to challenge them. She had spent her life either preparing to be, or being, an officer. Her professional and personal life was one and the same.
"Im not so sure about the butch thing, but Im pretty sure I dont have any particular "type" of anything," she said after a moment.
Marge snorted as she busied herself with her food. "Trust me on this, Sheriff - if you go in for the politically incorrect terminology, you are as butch as it gets. Dont let it bother you."
Reese smiled. "Well, whatever you call it, it comes naturally to me. So - this is just a friendly dinner then?"
"Since were being all revealing here," Marge continued, "howd you end up in our little town?"
"I needed a job, and this was the right one for me," Reese remarked.
"So you didnt come here looking for love?" Marge asked half-seriously.
Reese smiled a little ruefully. "Not precisely."
"And you didnt leave anybody behind? No attachments?"
"No," Reese replied. "I dont have any attachments."
Marge shook her head. "You are definitely something of an oddity around here. Most people come here to find someone, or to escape something."
"Im not all that different. Its just not what youre thinking."
"And I dont suppose youre going to fill me in?" Marge prodded gently.
Just as gently, Reese replied. "Not tonight."
They finished their dinner in easy conversation. When Marge saw Reese glance at her watch for the second time, she asked, "You have to be somewhere?"
"The clinic," Reese replied. "Im supposed to stop by there and have some stitches removed. The doctor said shed be there until ten."
"Dont rush. Shes always there late. I live just down the road. She doesnt seem to do much except work!
"It must get pretty busy, especially when youre the only doctor in town," Reese commented, remembering Victoria Kings resolute determination to make that dangerous journey over the rocks to aid the injured man. Her dedication was clear, and admirable.
"Sure its tough, especially if you use it as an excuse to avoid a social life! Dont you think there are plenty of doctors who would just love to live up here during the season and work for her?"
Reese regarded her silently. She felt a strong desire to come to Victorias defense, and a strange surge of anger at Marges criticism. Both responses confused her.
Marge didnt miss Reeses sudden withdrawal. "Hey, I like her," she said seriously. "I always have. Shes a great friend to the people of this town, and there are more than a few who would like to know her better, if shed let them." She shrugged as she reached for their check. "She doesnt seem to trust anyone to get too close, and thats a damn shame."
"Im sure she has her reasons," was all Reese said.
Randy was on his way out the front door when Reese walked up.
"All through?" she asked the receptionist.
"I am," he said petulantly. "The last patients are in rooms, but at the rate shes going it could take her another hour. She can barely walk, and it serves her right - traipsing out on that jetty like some macho superhero! I wouldnt be surprised if she isnt on crutches tomorrow! And it wouldnt be the first time either!!"
His obvious distress belied the criticism in his voice. He was clearly worried about Tory, and Reese immediately liked him. He continued to fuss while he unlocked the door for Reese.
"Do you think shed let me cancel patients just because she needs to be in bed? Of course not!" He held the door open as he spoke. "You might as well go back to her office and wait. Its more comfortable there, and shell find you when shes finished. She insisted that I go home on time! Could do without me, she said. Ha! Wait until she sees that appointment book - good luck! Then well see who doesnt need me!"
Reese had to smile at the slender, attractive young mans tirade, but her thoughts were of the woman who had made a selfless gesture despite the cost. She was suddenly very anxious to see her.
"Ill go on back. Thank you."
Reese settled into the chair before Victorias desk, rested her hat on her knee, and let her eyes wander over the photos of the previous Olympian. Eventually she heard the approach of slow footsteps, and turned to greet the doctor. Victoria looked pale and drawn, but her eyes held a smile.
"Have you been waiting long?" Tory inquired as she eased herself into the leather chair behind her desk. She tried to hide a grimace as another spasm clamped onto her calf, forcing her to gasp.
"Not very," Reese said quietly. "Is there anything I can do?" Victorias pain was obvious, and watching her struggle with it made Reese feel helpless and uneasy.
Tory looked at her in surprise. "God, you get to the point, dont you? Why is it that my "handicap" doesnt seem to put you off the way that it does most people?" She was too tired and in too much pain to hide her bitterness.
"You have an injury, Doctor. "Handicapped" is not a word I would use to describe you," Reese remarked as she moved boldly around the side of Victorias desk. "Now, what needs to be done here?" she finished softly.
"I need to get this damn brace off," Tory said through gritted teeth, "but if I do Im not going to be able to get to my car."
"Well worry about that later," Reese said as she knelt down. She pushed up the leg of Torys jeans and studied the hinged metal device that extended from just below her knee to the arch of her foot. Her face was expressionless as she took in the criss-crossing of surgical scars and skin grafts over the damaged atrophied muscles. "Doesnt look too complicated," she said evenly. "May I?"
Reeses actions had taken Tory completely by surprise. She stared into the deep blue eyes that searched her face, suddenly terrified that she might cry. She was so used to fighting the endless discomfort and awkwardness alone, that the straightforward offer of help almost overwhelmed her.
"Please," she whispered, her throat tight.
Reese released the velcro bindings and gently eased the brace off. Victorias leg was swollen from the calf down, and her ankle was beginning to discolor. Tory gasped with pain as Reese softly massaged the injured tissues, bringing a sudden rush of blood to the area.
"Im sorry," Reese murmured. "We need to do something about this swelling. Ice?"
"Theres a cold pack above the sink in the treatment room," Tory managed, struggling with the physical pain and the unexpected emotional turmoil Reese had unwittingly provoked.
Reese retrieved the pack, snapped it open, and wrapped it around Victorias ankle with an ace bandage she had found. "I think thats the best I can do," she said apologetically.
"Its more than enough," Tory replied gratefully once she caught her breath. "Were you a medic in the Marines?"
Reese laughed as she leaned against the edge of Torys desk. "Military police - before law school. We had our share of minor injury calls."
"Just give me a minute, then Ill see if I can get the damn thing back on again."
Tory regarded Reese solemnly. Reese was so damn easy to talk to, and the scary part was that she wanted to. She wanted to admit just once that she couldnt take it any more, that she was just too damned tired. Realizing just how much she wanted to trust those blue eyes holding her own so steadily made her wary. Something this compelling could get out of hand.
"I cant walk that far without it," Tory replied, trying to laugh.
"How much do you weigh?" Reese asked.
Tory did laugh at that. "My god! Have you no sense at all? Dont you know thats a dangerous question to ask of a woman whos not entirely in control of her faculties?"
Reese buried her hands in her pockets, and answered with a straight face, "I must have missed that in basic training."
Tory could tell by the determined glint in Reeses eyes that this would be an up-hill battle. Graciously she acquiesced. "A hundred and thirty pounds."
Reese nodded. "Not a problem. Grab your brace." As she spoke she slipped one arm behind Torys shoulders and the other under her knees. "Hold on," Reese said as she straightened, cradling Tory securely against her chest. Torys arms came around her neck.
"Okay?" Reese asked.
For the first time all day, Tory wasnt aware of the pain in her leg. What she was aware of was even more disconcerting. A cascade of sensations assaulted her - hard muscles, a slow steady heartbeat, the light sweet smell of perspiration. Reese was an intoxicating combination of tenderness and strength, and Torys response was automatic. She flushed at the surge of arousal, and drew a shaky breath, hoping that the woman who held her could not feel her tremble.
"Yes, Im fine," she murmured, allowing herself the luxury of resting her head against Reeses shoulder.
Reese made her way easily to her patrol car and settled Tory into the front seat. "Where to?" she asked as she started the engine.
"Straight out six A toward Truro. Im just a mile outside town."
Within minutes Reese pulled into the drive of a single family home that overlooked the expanse of Provincetown harbor. As she stepped from the car a dark shape came hurtling through the night toward her.
"Whoa!" she cried as a huge dog planted its front feet on her chest.
"Jed! Get down!" Tory yelled as she tried to extricate herself from the car. At the sound of her voice the dog immediately dropped to the ground and raced to her.
"Is it safe to come around?" Reese called as she eased toward the passenger side of her vehicle.
"Hes perfectly safe," Tory called as she thumped the dogs massive chest in greeting. "Hes just excitable."
"What is it?" Reese asked as she leaned down and lifted Tory from the seat.
"Mastiff. Thats Jedi - Jed for short."
"That must make you Princess Leia then," Reese remarked as she walked up the sidewalk toward the wide deck that encompassed the rear of the house.
"What makes you think Im not Luke Skywalker?"
"Just a hunch."
Tory laughed and settled herself more comfortably within the circle of Reeses arms. Reese held her while Tory slipped her key into the door, suddenly conscious of the soft swell of Torys breasts pressed against her chest, and the subtle fragrance of her perfume. In the dim light of the moon, Torys face in profile was timelessly beautiful. From out of nowhere, Reese began to tremble, and an unfamiliar warmth suffused her.
"Let me down," Tory said firmly, "youre shaking."
Reese lowered her gently, keeping one arm around her waist for support.
"I guess Im not in as good shape as I thought," Reese said a little uncertainly. She couldnt remember feeling this light-headed after a twenty mile forced march in full packs. She wasnt sure what was wrong with her, but she was acutely embarrassed.
"Nonsense," Tory replied as she pushed the door open. "Youre in superb shape, but enough is enough." She reached for the light switch by the door, illuminating a large living room facing the water.
"Just steer me over there," she said, indicating a large sectional sofa fronting the wall of windows and sliding glass doors that opened onto the deck. "Half the time I fall asleep down here anyway. One more night on the couch wont kill me."
"More ice?" Reese asked as Tory propped her leg up on several pillows.
"Not just yet. But Id love a drink, and youve certainly earned one. If you wouldnt mind pouring me a scotch, Id be grateful forever."
Reese brought her the drink, and a light beer for herself. "Gratitude is not necessary. You more than deserve this after the day youve had."
Reese sat on the sofa, stretching her legs out to accommodate Jed, who had pushed himself against the entire length of the front of the couch. When he raised his massive head and rested it on her thigh, she began to stroke him absently. She still felt oddly agitated.
"Brianna Parker came by the clinic today," Tory remarked. "She said that you insisted I clear her before she could start training with you."
"Is she okay?" Reese asked, grateful for something to take her mind off her own sense of disquiet.
"Shes fine. Its a good thing youre doing for that girl," Tory added, watching Reese closely. The sheriff seemed distracted, and even more remote than usual.
Reese turned to her in surprise. "How so?"
Tory sighed. "I guess you probably know that Briannas mother died three years ago. Thats awful enough at any age, but its especially hard for a teenager. I gather from what Nelsons said that Bri has been getting a little wild. It sounds like working with you may be just what she needs."
"I hope it helps," Reese said at length. "I know what its like when your whole world seems to change overnight. It can be a dangerous time."
"Was it for you?" Tory asked softly, wanting a glimpse of what lay beneath this formidable womans steely exterior.
Reese gazed out over the moonlit water, thinking of herself at that age. She remembered how she felt when her mother left - the uncertainty and the anger. Her father loved her, and he taught her the things he knew - he taught her about responsibility, and discipline, and honor. He taught her the way he had been taught, the Marine way. He expected the best from her, and he got it. In return he provided her with a life that was orderly, dependable, and predictable.
"It might have turned out differently for me," she mused half to herself. "My parents divorced when I was fourteen. My father is career Marine, and he raised me to follow in his footsteps. Ive spent my entire life in the Marines, one way or the other. Its true what they say- its made me what I am, but those first few years until I was old enough for ROTC and college were hard."
"I imagine all of it was hard," Tory ventured, beginning to understand why Reese seemed so controlled. The Marine Corp undoubtedly produced fine soldiers, but at what cost?
"Dont misunderstand. I loved the Marines, I still do. Im still in the reserves. But when I was Bris age it wasnt easy. Sometimes it got pretty lonely -" Reese stopped, suddenly self-conscious. She never talked about herself, and she had no idea why she was now.
"What about your mother?" Tory probed gently.
Reese unconsciously squared her shoulders in that military gesture that was becoming familiar to Tory as she replied flatly, "She wasnt in the picture."
"Im sorry," Tory said, "Im prying."
Reese smiled, that fleeting breathtaking smile. "I didnt notice."
Tory laughed. "I doubt theres anything that escapes your notice!" Suddenly serious, Tory added, "Youve been more help than I can say today, Reese. Im not sure how I would have managed without you - this morning on the jetty, or tonight." Even though she meant every word, she didnt want to think too hard about why she was admitting her need now, when she had refused to for so long. She didnt want to think too hard about how different Reese seemed than anyone she had ever met, or about how easy it had been to accept her help. She didnt want to think about how deeply she had been touched by Reeses calm, unwavering presence. "I - I just wanted to thank you -"
Reese shook her head, halting Torys words. "Doctor King-"
"Please! Its Tory!"
"All right," Reese amended almost shyly, "Tory- it was an honor, and my pleasure. So please dont thank me for something I was glad to do."
Tory looked into Reeses intense, penetrating eyes and something visceral stirred in her. She caught her breath, moved by the simple honesty of Reeses words. Her voice was thick with emotion as she replied, "Its more than a job to you, isnt it?"
Reese flushed, but she held Torys gaze. "You may not believe this, but I took an oath to serve and protect, and every day Im glad I did."
"I do believe you. Ive seen you in action," she said quietly. She thought that Reese had to be the most straightforward person she had ever met, and at the same time the most complicated.
"Good," Reese said as she stood. "Then you wont object to me coming by to take you to the clinic tomorrow. Remember, you dont have a car."
"You dont leave much room for argument, do you?" Tory remarked ruefully, realizing that Reese had once again made help impossible to refuse.
"That is a skill I learned in officers training school!" Reese rejoined, her eyes laughing.
"Then I accept, Sheriff," Tory teased lightly.
Tory watched her as she strode gracefully to the door, smiling at the quick salute Reese tossed her as she left. She settled back against the couch, blaming the effects of the scotch for the sudden rush of heat that stole through her.
"Its open," Tory called, glancing at the clock. She smiled when she saw it was exactly six a.m.
Reese entered, carrying two paper cups of espresso.
"Thought you might need this," she said, sliding onto one of the black and chrome stools in front of the kitchen bar counter. "Its a double."
"Its a start," Tory groaned, leaning on her cane as she reached with her free hand for the coffee.
"I could make some more," Reese suggested, pointing to an elaborate espresso machine nearby.
"Sit," Tory commanded. "Im up already, and Ill be functional in just a minute." She sipped the rich brew, noting that Reese looked fresh in her crisply pressed uniform shirt and pants. "I suppose youve already run ten miles or something else equally obnoxious."
"Havent you noticed its raining outside?" Reese asked mildly. "I only ran five."
Tory stared at her, beginning to smile when she caught the barest flicker of a grin on Reeses handsome face. "I could learn to hate you," she replied.
Reese laughed. "God, I hope not!" She paused, then asked, "Hows the leg?"
Tory looked away for a second, then met Reeses questioning gaze. "Hurts like hell, but its been worse."
"I guess staying home is not an option?"
"You do like to live dangerously, dont you?" Tory asked softly, amazed that Reeses concern did not rankle her the way it did coming from others. For some reason Reeses attention did not make her feel less than whole.
"It wouldnt do for you to be out of commission," Reese said seriously. "The town needs you too much. So if its a question of one day off to prevent a bigger problem, Ill risk suggesting it."
"Thanks," Tory said. "But Im used to these episodes, and I can tell if theres a real problem."
"Good enough," Reese said.
"Its really just my ankle. The nerve is severed, so I cant flex it. Its either the brace or an ankle fusion."
"Wouldnt the fusion be less painful?" Reese ventured carefully, appreciating that this was a sensitive issue for the independent physician.
"Probably," Tory admitted. "But Id also be less mobile. Im still good in the water without the brace, and I can work out with an air cast if Im careful. Besides, Ive always hoped-" Her voice trailed off as she looked away.
"Hoped what?" Reese urged gently.
"That Id row again. Id never be able to get into the cleats if my ankle were fused."
"How long has it been since youve rowed?" Reese asked quietly.
"Since the day of the accident - almost ten years. I guess its pretty ridiculous to keep hoping, isnt it?"
Reese shrugged. "If its something you want that much, it makes sense not to close any doors. You know how much pain you can take - and if its worth it."
Tory looked at her gratefully. "Thanks. My friends and family might not agree with you. They think I should have let them do it when I was in the hospital the first time."
"The first time?"
Again Tory dropped her gaze. "There were problems - infection, some muscle necrosis. It took the surgeons a few tries to get it cleared up."
Reese regarded her steadily, revealing none of her churning disquiet. Her training had taught her not to personalize pain, nor to be distracted by another soldiers injury, because even a split seconds loss of focus could mean the loss of more lives. But the knowledge of Torys suffering penetrated that shield and Reese had to consciously dispel the vision of Tory in a hospital bed, fighting to keep her leg. Tory would not have wanted her pity then, or her sympathy now.
"Does the kayaking help?"
"Some - Im on the water, the rhythm is good. The damn shell is so heavy, and of course, my body is restrained. Its nothing like the feeling of being alone in a scull," she cried, her frustration evident.
Reese remembered the needle thin sculls from the pictures in Torys office, no more than a sliver between the rowers and the water. She also remembered the long, clean line of Torys legs as she pulled through her stroke. "Im sorry," she said softly.
Tory laid her hand on Reeses forearm, squeezing gently. "Hey, its okay - really. I only get morose when the damn things acting up. Believe me, most days Im just glad its there. But thanks for not saying Im being a fool."
"You said you still work out?" Reese asked.
"Yes, Hapkido, remember?"
"I dont usually forget when someone humiliates me!"
"I cant imagine anyone getting the best of you!" Tory laughed. "As you saw, I do mostly weapons work, with the cane - which fortunately for me is a traditional Asian weapon."
At Reeses nod of understanding, she continued, "With a light air cast I can stand long enough for self-defense drills, and mat work is not a problem. The only things I really cant do anymore are forms. The katas are too much of a strain."
"So, would you be willing to teach me the cane?" Reese asked.
"If youd be willing to work on the mat with me," Tory countered immediately.
Reese smiled happily. "Absolutely. I havent had a training partner in a long time. Just let me know when your leg is better."
"Give me a week," Tory replied just as enthusiastically. "Now wed better get out of here before were both late for work!"
Reese looked at the clock over the stove, amazed to find it was close to seven. She couldnt remember the last time she had lost track of the time.
Randy was just unlocking the front door when Reese pulled into the lot. He watched with raised eyebrows as Reese walked Tory to the door.
"Well! Good morning," he crowed with exaggerated emphasis, looking pointedly from Tory to Reese.
"Sheriff Conlon needs her stitches out, Randy, if you could manage to let us in?" Tory said, frowning at his innuendo.
"Oh, of course, Doctor! Right away Doctor!" he continued with a grin, his tone lightly mocking.
"Cut it out, Randy," Tory muttered as she passed him.
He managed to follow them down the hall on the pretense of opening the exam room doors. He leaned against the door of the treatment room while Tory removed the sutures from Reeses brow.
"Just keep it clean. It should be fine," she said as Reese stood to leave.
"Sure thing. Thanks, Doctor," Reese said. She nodded to Randy as she brushed past him into the hall.
Randy craned his neck to follow her progress toward the door.
"Oh my, what a butch thing she is!" he announced once she had gone.
"Randy!" Tory said in exasperation.
"Oh, come on now, Doctor King, what would you call her?"
Tory grinned at him. "An incredibly stunning butch thing!"
Randys eyes widened in surprise. He couldnt ever remember his solitary employer commenting on a woman before. He had given up nagging her to get a date when he saw the pain in her eyes whenever he teased her about it.
"And just what was Sheriff Heartthrob doing driving you to work?" he persisted, curious and hopeful that someone had finally managed to capture Torys attention.
Tory looked suddenly serious. "She drove me home last night - I couldnt."
"Damn it Tory! I would have stayed! Why didnt you ask?"
She sighed. "I know. Im just not used to asking."
"Then how come you asked her?"
"I didnt. She didnt give me any choice."
Good for her! Randy thought, but had the good sense not to say. It was about time someone refused to be intimidated by Victoria Kings staunch reserve. Then again, remembering the commanding air of the woman who just left, he didnt imagine anyone intimidated her.
"So-o-o..?" he questioned suggestively.
"So nothing!" she replied curtly. "She would have done the same for anyone. Thats just the way she is."
Right, Randy muttered as he watched Tory move stiffly away down the hall.
Reese entered the office whistling, much to Nelson Parkers amazement.
"Do you mind telling me whats so wonderful about the first day of Memorial Day weekend?" he asked grumpily.
"Excuse me?" Reese asked, perplexed.
"Never mind!" he snapped. "Youre on seven to seven today, okay?"
"Sure," Reese responded. "No problem."
"And youve got traffic detail at the pier from one to five."
He looked at her closelyshe was relaxed, smiling faintly, and, if he didnt know better, not totally present. In the two months he had known her, he had never seen her the slightest bit distracted. His curiosity was more than piqued.
"So what gives, Conlon?"
"What do you mean?" she asked, genuinely confused. "Not a thing." She glanced at him as if he were acting strangely.
"Never mind," he muttered. "Anything new on the clinic break-in?"
Reese shook her head. "No. The things that were missing are impossible to trace. Unless were lucky, well never know. Theres too much traffic in and out of there to making finger printing valuable. Not much to do but keep an eye on the place."
"Well, youd better swing by there a couple of times a shift for the next few weeks. I hope that will discourage any repeat break-ins By the way, nice job out on the jetty yesterday. I heard the guy was a mess."
"I didnt do much. If Tory hadnt been there, I think the guy would have bled to death before the EMTs got him out. She deserves the credit."
"Chances are youll have plenty of work for the doc before this summers over. We spend half our time dealing with accidents, overdoses, and minor brawls - and all of them end up at her place."
"Thats a heavy load for one doctor," Reese commented, remembering how exhausted Tory had seemed the night before.
"Dont remember her ever taking a vacation in the three years shes been here," Parker noted.
Something about discussing Victoria made Reese uncomfortable-she had no idea why. She shook off the sudden urge to drive by the clinic. Impatiently, she grabbed her keys.
"Im going out for a tour before I start the traffic detail," she announced. Maybe that would dispel the odd anxiety.
"Sure," the Sheriff called to her departing back.
Reese traveled out Route six to Truro, then circled back to town along 6A, purposefully avoiding the turn onto Bradford that would take her past the clinic. She stopped instead across the street from her mothers gallery. She sat with the engine idling for a few moments, wondering why she had come. For the first time in her life, she didnt feel entirely sure of herself. Impulses were not something she had ever been prey to, and yet here she was. She cut the engine and climbed from the car before she had any more time to think.
"Reese!" her mother exclaimed when she opened the door.
"Bad time?" Reese asked uncertainly.
"Not at all. Its wonderful to see you. Come on back and have some coffee."
"Sure," Reese replied, following the other woman through the house to the kitchen.
"How are you?" her mother inquired.
"Im fine. I was just passing by, and-" Reese faltered, not able to explain.
"Reese," Kate said softly, "you dont need a reason to come by. Being able to see you is a miracle."
Reese looked away, then faced her mother directly. "It was part of the agreement, wasnt it? That you not see me?"
Her mothers distress was palpable. "Yes. I wouldnt have agreed, but twenty years ago, a lesbian mother had no rights at all. And I couldnt fight it. Your father had pictures."
Reese grew very still. "He had you followed?"
"Yes. We werent very discreet. Jean and I were young and terribly innocent. It didnt occur to either of us that loving each other could be wrong. Im so sorry, Reese! I was selfish, I know, but I was so unhappy for so long! Not with you! You were the best part of my life! And then I met Jean, and I felt alive for the first time!" Her eyes were wet with tears as she looked at the woman her daughter had become. "I am so terribly sorry!"
Reese shook her head. "You chose life. If you had stayed, I can only imagine it would have been worse for all of us eventually. I dont blame youif I ever felt what you felt for Jean, Id do the same."
Kate studied the tightly controlled, perfectly contained features of her daughters face and asked boldly, "And have you ever? Felt that way for someone?"
"No." Reese looked past her mother to the smooth water of the harbor, looking inward to a life she never examined. "Im like him, you know. I was happy in the military, and Im happy now. I love the order, and the duty, and the responsibility. I dont need anything else."
"You have your fathers best qualities, Reese. I can see that. You remind me of why I married him - seeing you in that uniform - not a wrinkle, not a fold out of place. It reminds me that he represented something decent and honest and admirable. Or so I thought. Your father never made room in his life for love, Reese. I hope that wont be true for you. If it finds you, dont turn your back."
Reese smiled ruefully. "Im not sure I would recognize it."
Her mother laughed, squeezing Reeses hand gently. "Trust me - youll know."
Reese spent the next four hours directing slowly moving cars and hordes of weekend arrivals through the congested, narrow streets in the center of town. Tour buses crowded the pier, disgorging packs of mostly elderly people who milled about uncertainly, seemingly oblivious to the cars passing within inches of them. Lesbian and gay couples of all ages and description poured into town for the first gathering of the summer season. Commercial Street was wall to wall pedestrians, interspersed with vehicles attempting to navigate around them. Reese greeted Paul Smith, her relief, with a grin.
"Welcome to bedlam, but I guess you expected it!"
Paul looked up and down the street, shaking his head. "Yep, looks about like I thought. Once the sun goes down, most of the out-of-towners will leave. Then all well have are the gays - until two or so."
He looked harried, and Reese remembered that his young wife was pregnant. "Whens your baby due?"
"Any second. Cheryls so big now she can hardly sleep, and shes getting really spooked about being home alone at night," he said worriedly.
Reese looked at her watch, then said, "Listen - how about I relieve you at midnight? I can duck home now and sleep for a while."
He looked at her hopefully. "Youd do that?"
"Sure - its only for a few days. Just let the Sheriff know, okay? Ill be home if you need me."
She waved away his attempts to thank her, walking off to retrieve her cruiser. The enthusiasm and holiday spirit of the people surrounding her was contagious, and she doubted that shed be able to sleep much. She might as well work. Besides, she was anxious to see the Provincetown that only came to life at night.
At ten minutes to midnight, Reese pulled her squad car into the small lot behind city hall, across the street from the Pilgrims Monument, and one short block from the center of town. She found Paul and sent him home. Standing with her back to the pier, she looked up and down Commercial Street. It was nearly as crowded as it had been at noon, but the entire atmosphere had changed. There was a Mardi Gras energy in the air, as same sex couples of all ages, styles, and garb strolled the sidewalks and spilled out into the street. Men in impossibly revealing shorts, leathers, and spandex passed singly or in groups, openly appraising each other. Women, mostly in couples, and occasional knots of youths were very much a presence as well. They held hands or draped their arms about each other, delighting in their visibility. Reese had never seen so many gay people in one place before. It was clear that Provincetown was every inch the mecca it claimed to be.
She started west along Commercial, toward the Coast Guard station that marked the end of the most populated walk in Provincetown. For the most part, the crowds were congenial and controlled, parting like the sea for the bicyclists and rollerbladers who dared navigate the packed one way street. Reese took her time, glancing in the shops she passed, most of which were still open and would remain open eighteen hours a day until after Labor Day. The merchants of Provincetown had a very short season, and worked nonstop during the three months of summer. The restaurants and many bed-and-breakfasts were also dependent on a heavy tourist trade during the summer migration of gays and lesbians in order to survive the near desolation of the empty winter months.
Reese walked down to the entrance to the Provincetown Gym and stuck her head inside. Marge was behind the counter, piling tee shirts and sweats onto the shelves behind her. Marge smiled a greeting. "Hey, handsome! I thought this was Paulies shift!"
"It is, but hes home with his wife, waiting on the baby. Im filling in for a few days."
"Aint it beautiful out there?" Marge remarked with a grin.
"Everything Ive been told is true. Its changed overnight," Reese agreed.
"And it isnt even busy yet!"
It was hard not to catch the enthusiasm that pervaded the small fishing village. Reese nodded, knowing that the hardest three months of her year were in front of her, and not minding a bit. This was the reason she was here - to make sure that the town and its people were safe and prosperous through another cycle.
"Ive got to get going. I just wanted to say Hi."
Marge waved her on, saying, "How about dinner again soon?"
"Sure," Reese agreed. "How does September sound?"
"Oh, come now, Sheriff," Marge teased, "youve got to find some time to enjoy the goings on around here. Ill take you to the tea dance!"
"Deal," Reese acquiesced, "as soon as I get a day off."
"Its a date!"
Reese raised one eyebrow. "Oh really?"
Marge laughed, "Get out of here. Go make our streets safe for the younguns!"
Reese smiled to herself as she rejoined the throngs in front of Spiritus Pizza, the central gathering place for the dozens of men and women who sat on the curb, occupied the benches, or leaned against the light poles to watch the spectacle of life passing by. There wasnt much in the way of public drunkenness, or obvious drug use. Generally someone in the gathering managed to keep the heavy partyers under control or off the streets. Reese was glad of that. She didnt want to spend her shift hassling people over fairly harmless substance use, but shed have to if it became too publicly blatant. She was paid to enforce the law, and she would, but she reserved the right to use her own judgement as to what constituted a real violation.
She glanced down the alley next to Spiritus and noticed movement in the shadows at the far end. It was dark enough that she pulled out her flashlight, playing over the ground ahead. Two people, wrapped in an embrace, pulled apart as she approached. Her light flickered over the face of a pretty blond teenager. The girl looked like any of the leather-clad youth who crowded the streets. She had the requisite multiple piercings along the edge of her ears, a small silver ring through the rim of her left nostril, and a tattoo showing along the inner aspect of her left breast. The lace up vest she wore with nothing under it was still open to the waist from what no doubt had been an interrupted caress. A typical teenage rendezvous, except this girl was holding tight to Brianna Parkers hand, trying to look defiant. Brianna stepped forward, her shoulders braced, obscuring the girl from Reeses view.
Reese spoke before Brianna could. "Its not safe down these alleys. You two head on back to the street."
Neither of them said a word as they sidled past her, hurrying toward the end of the alley. Reese took her time, giving them the opportunity to disappear into the crowd. She glanced at her watch. It was one-twenty in the morning. She was willing to bet that Nelson Parker did not know that his seventeen -year-old daughter was out on the streets, or what she was doing there. She was glad it wasnt her daughter. She was positive she would make a mess of handling what didnt have to be a problem. As she walked east back to city hall, she thought about herself at seventeen. She had never had the desire to sneak out to be with anyone, male or female, and for the first time in her life, she wondered why not.
Reese pulled up the short driveway to the rear of her house at six-fifteen a.m. The night had passed uneventfully. By two-thirty the streets of Provincetown had been deserted. The bars had closed at one, and for the next hour the street in front of Spiritus Pizza was a mob scene. Predominantly men, the crowd swelled as those who had yet to find partners for the night cruised each other. There were also a fair number of men and women who just wanted to partake vicariously of the sexual energy that literally filled the air. The party-like atmosphere would be sustained for the next twelve weeks, as new vacationers and week-end visitors flooded into town, carrying the excitement of being openly gay and unafraid, perhaps for the only time all year, with them. Periodically Reese walked down one of the narrow alleys between the crowded establishments to the harbor beach, checking that no one decided to sleep off too much alcohol on the sand. High tide was at five-forty, and by then the waves, still vigorous even in the secluded harbor, would be up to the pilings of many of the buildings. Already the decks behind the Pied and the Boatslip, two of the most popular lesbian and gay bars, were surrounded by water. Reese didnt intend to have any drownings on her watch. She knew that the shadowed areas under the piers were favorite spots for quick sexual encounters, but she wasnt interested in busting two adults for a fast grope in the dark. She was on the lookout, however, for groups of teenagers hanging out on the beach. Nelson Parker had warned her that drug use, and distribution, was becoming more of a problem with the youth of the small community, and that many of the suppliers seemed to be teenagers from neighboring townships on the Cape.
Reese hated drugs, and especially those who provided it. Too often, the kids who tried it were simply acting out of the normal rebellious, unfocused discontent that seemed inherent in the nebulous world between childhood and adulthood. Unfortunately, they became trapped by the very real physical and psychological seductiveness of the drugs, and the drug culture, without meaning to. That they were victims, she had no doubt, and the perpetrators of the crime were the suppliers, not the addicts. She was determined that Provincetown would become a very unpopular place to commit that particular crime.
Reese pulled to a stop, cut the engine, and sat for a moment looking at the person huddled on her back steps. Brianna Parker stared back at her, her gaze steady and defiant.
"Youre early," Reese commented as she approached. "Class doesnt start for forty-five minutes." Reese could tell by the look of surprise on Briannas face, a flicker of expression quickly masked, that Brianna had not been thinking of their seven oclock appointment for her first jujitsu class. "Come in the kitchen and wait while I shower and change," Reese said as she passed the teenager, fitting her key into the back door as she spoke.
"If you havent eaten, theres bread for toast and juice in the fridge," Reese said as she tossed her keys on the table. She continued through to her bedroom, leaving the youth to sort things out for herself. When she returned in a clean white tee shirt and crisply ironed gi pants, she was pleased to smell coffee brewing. There was a plate of toast sitting in the middle of the breakfast bar. Reese gabbed a piece to munch on as she poured a cup of the welcome coffee.
"Thanks," she said as she leaned against the counter facing Brianna, who was perched on one of the high stools that flanked the counter dividing the cooking area from an eating area large enough to accommodate eight at the glass and chrome table.
Bri stared at the woman facing her, impressed by the taut muscles outlined under the tight tee shirt as well as her piercingly direct gaze. Reese presented an awesome figure. Bri took a deep breath.
"I came to talk to you about last night," she managed to say without a hint of the unsteadiness she felt.
"I thought you came to train," Reese responded.
"Maybe you wont want me to now," Bri said, a slight quiver in her voice.
Reese raised an eyebrow, her eyes never leaving the troubled teens face. "How so?"
Bri shrugged. "I I came to ask you not to tell my dad."
"I wasnt planning to. But you should."
"Yeah, right," Bri snorted. "Like he wouldnt kill me."
"Hes got to know sometime. Maybe you should give him a chance," Reese suggested mildly as she refilled her coffee cup. "I dont know him real well, but he seems to be okay about the gay thing."
"Oh, sure - its okay with him, maybe, for some other kids - but not for me!"
Reese looked at Brianna, then nodded. "Youre right. Theres no way to tell how hes going to react. But he for sure is going to be a lot better about it if he hears it first from you."
"I will tell him! Just not now!" Her fear broke through and her eyes filled with tears. "Im only seventeen, he can keep me from seeing Caroline if he wants to. And if her father finds out, hell kill her!"
The girls anguish was palpable, and Reese suddenly realized how many additional terrors being gay added to the already tumultuous world of adolescence. It was something she didnt know much about, and in a town like Provincetown, she needed to. She decided that, for the moment at least, she didnt know enough to make a good decision, or to offer meaningful advice.
"Im not going to say anything to your father, and if I decide its necessary at some point, Ill tell you first. You can decide then whom he hears it from. In the meantime, I want your word that you and your girlfriend will stop meeting in dark alleys, or under the pier."
Bri tried to cover her surprise. How did she know about the pier?
"Its dangerous, Brianna, especially for two women." Reese raised her hand against Briannas protest. "Theres no point in pretending that you and Caroline could stand up to a bunch of guys. Thats not sexist - thats reality. One way a woman defeats a man is to use her brains - first to avoid the fight, and then if she must fight, to win the fight. Dont stack the odds against yourself."
"Theres no where for us to go," Bri muttered, knowing the truth of Reeses words. "Thats why I need to learn to fight."
Reese crossed the kitchen into the hallway beyond and returned with a folded bundle which she handed to Brianna.
"This is your uniform, your gi. It is only to be worn in the dojo, when we train. I leave for work at seven. If you are here at five forty-five, any morning, we will train for an hour. It will take time, and patience, and work, but I will teach you to defend yourself. Is that still what you want?"
Bri reached for the uniform. For her it represented her first steps toward self-determination. "Yes."
"Then lets get started."
After Bri changed into the uniform Reese had provided her, she followed Reese through the breezeway to the garage. She copied Reeses actions, bowing at the threshold before entering the thirty by forty-foot space, then removing her shoes and placing them beside the expanse of mat covered floor. She waited uncertainly as Reese crossed to the center of the mat and knelt, her hands resting gently on her thighs.
"Kneel and face me," Reese said. When Bri complied, Reese continued, "It is customary for the student to bow to the teacher, or sensei, at the beginning and end of each class. This is not to show obeisance, but to convey respect and to offer thanks for the opportunity to train. I will also bow to you, to honor your commitment to learn."
After the initial ceremony was completed, Reese stood and motioned Bri to her feet. "Basics first. You need to learn how to fall before I can teach you to throw; you need to learn how to block before I can teach you to punch and kick; you need to learn to move out of the line of attack before I can teach you how to counter an attack. These are the foundation for all that you will learn in the months, and hopefully the years, to come."
Bri nodded her understanding, eager to begin, and anxious to prove her serious desire to learn. In the hour that followed, Reese introduced her to the fundamentals of jujitsu, demonstrating forward and backward rolls, proper fighting stances, blocking drills, and the first joint locking technique. Bri was young, supple, and athletic. She made good progress. She concentrated on Reeses every move, trying to imitate the way her teacher stood, turned, and rolled. It seemed impossible to her that she would ever be able to attain the grace and power that Reese manifest with every move, but she was determined to try.
"Grab my lapel," Reese instructed. As Bri complied, Reese said, "Kata dori," indicating the Japanese term for the attack. Reaching up, she trapped Bris hand against her shoulder, turned her wrist, and with both hands applied a wristlock. Bri gasped slightly at the pain in her stretched wrist, but held on wordlessly. As Reese leaned slowly toward her, the pressure in her wrist forced Brianna to her knees.
"Kata dorinikkyo," Reese named the defensive maneuver.
When Bri stood, Reese grasped her jacket. "Now you."
Bri repeated the movements exactly as she remembered Reese had done, and was awestruck as Reese went to her knees before her.
"Very nice," Reese commented. Bri flushed with pride. "These techniques are powerful, and potentially devastating. They are only to be used here, in the dojo, or on the street when you have no other choice but to use them."
"Yes, sensei," Bri answered quietly.
Reese turned away with a smile. She sensed that Brianna would be a good student, and she had enjoyed the chance to teach her.
After they had bowed to each other, and Reese had knelt to carefully fold her hakama, the black skirt-like garment worn by experienced practitioners, Bri lingered uncertainly at the door. Reese looked over to her, a question in her eyes.
"Can I come tomorrow?" Bri asked softly.
"I am here every morning at quarter to six. If you come, we will train."
Bri smiled and bowed slightly, naturally. "Thank you."
Reese smiled and bowed back, watching as Bri walked away down the drive. She remembered how she had felt, when she first began nearly twenty years before, and how her life had been enriched by her training. She hoped she could provide that, in some small way, to this young woman. At the moment, however, there were more pressing things to consider. And more that she herself needed to learn.
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