“You failed your proficiency again,” Hal Shaw said.
“By five goddamned points.” Brian Swift paced back and forth in front of the chief’s desk.
“Five or fifty, I still can’t put you back on active duty.” Hal leaned back in his chair and tapped his pen. “There are other options, Brian. I need someone to head up Cold Case. You’ve got great attention to detail, and Christ knows you’re relentless when you’re working a case. It’d be a good fit.”
“Cold Case? That’s a desk job, Hal.” Brian stopped and slammed his right hand down flat on the desk. “I want field work. Put me back into Homicide.”
Hal looked at the hand. “Careful, Swift. I know you’re angry, but this isn’t the place to get out of control. And stop calling me Hal.”
“Why? Because you’re behind that desk?” Brian threw himself into one of the brown leather chairs. “I’ve got to call you Chief, even when we’re alone? I’ve always called you Hal. What the hell is this crap?”
“You need the practice.” Hal’s voice was measured. “I can’t have a detective yelling at me and calling me Hal. It’s insubordinate.” He shook his head. “You’re still a discipline problem. If you’d get your temper under control, you could be looking at getting promoted to captain someday.”
“At least you’re telling me I’m still on staff.” Brian tried to calm himself, but it didn’t do much good. Inside, he was cooking like an oven set to 500 degrees.
“Of course.” Hal frowned. “No one’s even talking about placing you on permanent disability. But you’ve got to face facts. It’s been four months, and you can still barely hold anything in your left hand, let alone a gun.”
“I’ve worked damned hard at that firing range. How many other guys have you got who can even come close to my score when they’re forced to switch hands?”
The corner of Hal’s mouth quirked. He shook his head. “No one.”
Brian glared at the chief. “Then put me back on duty.”
“No. You still couldn’t react quickly enough in an emergency.”
“I managed to arrest Sean Hastings with my arm in a sling.”
Hal sighed. “I realize that, but he was a basket case junkie who weighed forty pounds less than you.” His pen tapped more forcefully. “Do I really need to remind you his father had the drop on you and almost took you and Kaylen out before Sean shot him?”
Hal was getting exasperated, Brian thought warily. Pissing off the chief would almost certainly shut down any further discussion. He rubbed his right hand over his face to give both of them a moment to lower the intensity and possibly redirect the debate. He felt the scratchy texture of the beard he’d allowed to grow because it was easier than shaving and tried employing the deep breathing technique that Dr. Fleming, the psychologist he had been forced to consult, had maintained would help control his hair-trigger temper.
He figured it was time to test out the most reliable of the hokey relaxation tricks Fleming had insisted would work better than giving in to the outbursts that had alienated Brian’s coworkers at Miami-Dade Police Department as well as intimidating witnesses. Brian could see the benefits of controlling his anger within the department, but he thought the guy was completely off the mark in counseling his interrogation techniques. What did a shrink know about getting a confession out of a suspect?
He truly hated his sessions with Fleming. The man was, Brian grudgingly acknowledged, insufferably astute. He was also unwavering in his demands. After Brian took a boat charter instead of attending one of their preliminary meetings, the psychologist had told his reluctant patient that if he truly wanted to return to active duty at any time in the foreseeable future, then he’d better plan on attending every one of his remaining sessions. He’d also have to complete all homework assignments and evidently, along the rocky and treacherous path to the shrink’s concept of enlightenment, confront every demon he had firmly shut away deep in his psyche.
The day Fleming laid down that demand, Brian had slammed out of the doctor’s office planning never to return. He’d take a different career path; join his friend, Jim, as a private investigator. Fuck the department.
Three people intervened. Hal tore up his resignation and called him a goddamned idiot, Jim advised him to reconsider with quiet words of reason, and Kaylen’s unwavering support and common sense finally curtailed his rashness. He put the brakes on ending his career with MDPD, despite his feelings about the department’s choice of psychologist and his methods.
At the thought of Kaylen, tension flowed out of Brian. She’d urged caution and patience when he became frustrated over the requirements for his return. Her caring concern had stopped him spiraling deeper into the depression that had dogged him since his injury.
But neither his brother Tim’s death nor the extended leave from Brian’s career could hold a candle to the potential horrors of returning to confront the demons of his childhood. He had long ago bolted the door on those nightmare memories, only to have them dredged up in the weeks following Tim’s disappearance and murder.
The last thing he wanted was another trip down memory lane, returning to Baton Rouge and the trauma of those years. Maybe he hadn’t healed more than the physical effects, but he damned sure didn’t want to reopen the psychological wounds. He was secretly afraid he’d lose not only his career, but his burgeoning relationship with Kaylen. He didn’t deserve her, he knew, but dammit, he wasn’t going to risk losing her because Fleming insisted on opening Pandora’s box, either. Cool and detached were workable. Any alternative definitely wasn’t.
Brian took a sip of water and leaned back in his chair, another of Fleming’s tricks. Incredibly, it seemed to work, too. He felt the tension flow out of not only his shoulders, but his back. “Give me a break, Hal,” he said, listening for any hint of the Louisiana drawl that still surfaced when he lost control. “I’d recently been released from the hospital.”
“Fair enough.” Hal sighed again. “You’re right. We don’t need to rehash the mistakes of that night.”
“No,” Brian said. “We definitely don’t. I learned my lesson.”
“Did you?” Hal’s expression looked about as dubious as his voice sounded.
Brian knew he hadn’t presented his case in anything close to a convincing way. Fleming might have some merit, he thought grudgingly. Maybe his emotions were still on the ragged side. Maybe he did need to work on better coping skills in his private life. But he knew he could handle the demands of his job. He’d done so successfully for years. It was the interpersonal skills that were lacking. The sudden insight surprised him. Fleming again, the bastard.
“Yes,” he said. “And I’ve got a clean bill of health, except for this arm. I’m still going to outpatient P.T. twice a week. I’m running three to five miles a day. I’m taking boat charters…”
“Why in hell are you taking charters?” Hal’s tone was uncharacteristically sharp. “You don’t need to work at anything except regaining the full use of your damned arm.” He started frowning again. “I know as an adrenaline junkie you’ve got to be bored out of your skull, but for Christ’s sake, can’t you try for once in your life to relax and put all your energy into getting well? I know you’re serious about coming back to the department— that’s never been in doubt. But the bottom line is, and continues to be, you’re not ready.”
I’m stifled, Brian wanted to say. Every day I have to force myself out of bed.
But telling Hal the truth was too painful. Too humiliating. Way too revealing.
He reluctantly cracked open a door. “I need my job. I can’t go on dealing indefinitely with charter clients or worse, Tim’s fu…friggin’ tenants. They’re driving me crazy.”
Brian carefully placed the water bottle on the table, watching for any sign of shaking. He knew Hal was looking for it, too.
“Listening to those people in Tim’s buildings with their constant complaints about leaky plumbing and peeling paint,” he said, the pressure cooker inside him heating up again. “Then going out on charters and having clients tell me I’m going too fast or too slow, or I haven’t gotten them to the best fishing spot, or it’s too choppy and they want their money back because all they’ve done is get seasick…”
Hal leaned forward, about to interrupt him. Brian refused to stem the tide of his semi-controlled outburst. “I’m a detective,” he said. “Not a travel coordinator or a goddamned landlord. Working for the department’s been more than a career to me; it’s been my life for the past fifteen years. It defines me.” He felt a surge of pain as his left hand cramped harder than the knot balling in his gut.
“I know.” Hal’s voice was quiet and horrifyingly sympathetic. “But I can’t and won’t let you come back until you’re physically and mentally ready to handle any situation. Until that happens, you need to hire a manager for those buildings and keep yourself busy helping Jim out with the PI business, as long as you’re taking phone calls or doing research. No field work.”
Brian heard pity in Hal’s voice. Shit!
“I’m not asking for a favor,” he said, determined to clarify his position. “If I didn’t think I was ready, I wouldn’t be here.”
Hal shook his head. “You never know your own limit. Your biggest fault, and mine for not recognizing it before Tim’s death. I’m not going to make the same mistake again.”
“Give me a chance, Hal…Chief. I won’t blow it.” Brian swallowed his pride, and it went down like bile. “Please.”
Hal pointed to the proficiency test. “Bring your skills up to passing or take the Cold Case position.”
“This is bullshit.” Brian gave up, at least for that week. He got to his feet and walked over to the door.
“Don’t slam it on your way out this time,” Hal cautioned. He turned to his computer, effectively ending the meeting.
Brian felt like taking the door right off its hinges. Instead, he closed it quietly behind him and watched Hal’s secretary, Alicia Solis, avert her eyes as he walked past her desk.
Copyright 2017 Heather Ames