A ROOKIES story by Carla Keehn

This story is written for entertainment purposes only, not profit, and is not meant to infringe on any existing copyrights

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Officer Terry Webster glanced up at the battered tin thermometer on the wall just above his head. 95 degrees . . . The temperature in the small diner had gone up ten notches in the past half-hour.

His nerves on edge, Webster's eyes once again scanned the surroundings.

The small diner was old, a 1950's aficionado's dream with yellow tabletops and tiled floors. Forgotten in the decay that had claimed the neighborhood around the abandoned chemical factory nearby, the diner was a mockery of what it once was. Terry's eyes continued to flicker around the room, taking in the grease-splattered walls and pitted floors. Overhead ran a precarious jumble of frayed electrical wiring. He drew in a shaky breath of stale air.

A bullet bounced off the floor close by, interrupting Terry's thoughts.

He eyed the youth crouched down behind the counter warily. Caught red- handed in the act of robbing the diner, the teenage gunman had not only killed the owner of the diner but also had Webster and his partner pinned down.

Terry swallowed hard. The rancid smell in the air was making his stomach churn. Then there was the heat . . . the tension . . .

There was little else that Terry could remember at the moment. What had started out as a routine day shift had quickly degenerated. Maybe it was the full moon . . . or the record breaking heat . . . whatever the cause, the young rookie police officer had found himself to be short tempered and unprepared as he responded to calls that normally would not have pushed his patience to the limit.

Be honest, Terry . . . he chided himself gently. Neither the heat or the full moon was responsible for his frayed nerves. It's my partner . . . Webster uneasily glanced over at the blond haired man bent down next to him. Partner . . .A painful subject, of late, one that Terry had actively tried to avoid dealing with.

Another spray of bullets shattered the eerie silence of the room.

They couldn't wait the kid out much longer, not in these conditions, not in such close quarters. The beads of sweat pricked at him. Terry hunched his shoulders, trying to wipe the salty perspiration away from his eyes.

An amplified voice cut shook him out of his lethargy.

"Look son," Lt. Ryker's voice boomed through the bullhorn. "We've got the place covered, front and back. Put down the gun and surrender yourself - no one gets hurt."

Terry tried to clear his thoughts. Was it only a couple of hours ago that he and Ryker had exchanged angry words at the precinct? The rising temperature was making it hard to think. His mind kept drifting back to the heated conversation that took place that morning. You're wasting your time, Webster . . . I have no intention of assigning you a new partner - not now, not later . . .

The words still grated against Terry. And fueled his resolve. He'd confront Ryker everyday, if necessary, until the lieutenant gave in and assigned him to ride with Mike Danko.

Another voice intruded on his thoughts. "Got any ideas of how we're gonna get out of this?"

Webster's grip on the gun tightened. At the moment he wasn't in the mood to discuss anything with his partner. Of late, frustrating shifts at the precinct had led only to more frustrating hours on his time off as Terry tried to pinpoint what exactly it was that bothered him about Chris.

It was over dinner the night before that Mike had pointed out to him that, all things considered, Chris Owens wasn't a bad cop. He was competent enough and seemed to be taking anything that was thrown at him in stride, even when Ryker had chewed him out for a minor infraction at roll call.

Even so, he and Chris couldn't seem to agree on any subject. Terry let out a labored breath. Things were so different before from when Willie was there. Close friends as well as partners, the two men had worked so well together that they often knew what the other was thinking without speaking.

There was a trust between the two friends that wasn't there now . . . A trust that, no matter how hard he tried, Terry couldn't find with his new partner . . .

Terry forced his thoughts to take a more practical turn. Waiting for Ryker to handle the confrontation in the diner was getting them nowhere. From his limited advantage point, Webster eyed the youthful gunman warily. The kid was growing more wide-eyed with fear with each passing moment. Not good . . . he reasoned. That only increased the chances of none of them getting out alive.

Finally, he answered his partner in a voice that was barely audible.

"I'll handle it - -"

Absorbed in his thoughts, Terry didn't see the look of protest forming on Chris' face. "Wait a minute, what are you doing?"

Terry ignored his partner's reply and moved forward from behind the cashier's alcove.

Caught unprepared, Owens hastily shifted his position in an attempt to give Webster some protection.

As Terry moved closer to the gunman, he could see the kid's trigger hand was visibly shaking. Overcome by fear, the youth was shooting wildly.

His eyes flickered down at the body that lay at a twisted angle beside the teenager. Webster's grip tightened on the gun. "Drop the gun -- slowly . . ."

The world exploded into nothingness after that. Suddenly a spate of gunfire exploded around Terry followed by the pain, a pain that branded into Webster like a hot poker.

And then came the darkness . . .

"Terry . . ." The voice was faint.

Webster swallowed hard, willing himself to remain still.

"Terry!" The voice clamored, more insistently. "C'mon, man, wake up!"

Maybe the voice would stop nagging at him if he responded. Webster shifted painfully in the hospital bed, his eyes opening slowly. Mike Danko was next to him, concern evident in his face.

Danko broke into a grin. "You sure gave us a scare."

Webster managed a weak nod. "Sorry . . ."

Mike's expression changed. "No sweat, man, but it's not going to be as easy to smooth things over with Ryker. He's been pacing around like a caged animal since we brought you in, waiting for a chance to talk to you."

"Not now . . ." He choked out the words. The dryness in Terry's throat made it hard to speak.

Mike shook his head ruefully. "There's no way to get out of seeing him. Even Jill couldn't get him to leave." Danko's eyes lit up at the mention of his wife's name. "What went on in that diner, Terry? I overheard Chris tell Ryker that you took off without even giving him a chance to cover you." Danko's eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "Is that how it went down?"

Webster swallowed hard as he sifted through the hazy images that clouded his thoughts. The pain and the drugs in his system were making it hard to think.

Another voice broke in. "Interesting question, Webster. One that needs answering."

Terry glanced up. It was Ryker. The lieutenant entered the room quietly. Danko moved aside, giving Ryker better access to the injured man's bedside.

Mike's troubled eyes met Webster's. "I guess that's my cue to leave . . ."

Ryker shook his head. "No, I think you should stay, Danko - - after what happened today, the three of us are overdue for a talk --"

The tension between them was obvious. In the past, the rookies had disagreed with Ryker any number of times but the lieutenant had always given them a fair shake, listening first and then judging each situation on its own merits.

A sinking feeling washed over Mike Danko. There was no question that the rookies had disregarded the rules before. But never under conditions that had yielded such disastrous results. If Terry had taken the situation in the diner into his own hands, Danko knew that Ryker wasn't going to be as open-minded about the incident as he might have been in the past.

"Whatever you say, Lieutenant," Danko replied reluctantly.

Ryker gave him a curt nod before returning his attention once again to the injured man.

"Well, I'm still waiting for an answer to Danko's question."

Terry sucked in a labored breath, searching for the words that he needed. Stubbornly, he decided that there was little point in answering, not after the Lieutenant's earlier refusal to assign him a new partner.

Ryker continued his voice heavy with impatience. "All right, Webster. Let me answer it for you. If Gillis or Danko had pulled a stunt like you pulled this morning, you would have been ahead of me in line to jump on them about it!"

The tirade continued. "You keep reminding me that you and Danko are a new breed of cop - well maybe it's time you started acting like one - -"

"Now wait a minute, Lieutenant, that's not fair, " Mike protested, rising to Terry's defense.

"No," Ryker interrupted, "you wait a minute, Danko. The Department's had to make a lot of changes to accommodate your new breed of cop - not just in how it does things, but in the way it thinks as well. And I'll be the first to admit that not all of those changes were made willingly." His manner softened. "Gillis was a good cop - - and a good friend. But he's not here." The lieutenant gave the two men a critical look. "You expected changes to be made for you - well now it's your turn to follow the Department's example and make some adjustments, no matter what your personal feelings on the subject are."

Webster swallowed hard. There was an ocean of differences between him and his new partner - vast differences that Terry wasn't even sure could be settled.

He and Mike had discussed those differences many times over the past few weeks, with no resolution, as far as Terry was concerned. There's more to being a cop then just following the rules . . .

It had been impossible to make his partner understand that. As far as Terry was concerned, there had been too many times in the past weeks, that he'd found himself at odds with Chris, trying to explain that the world wasn't just made up of shades of black and white - there were gray areas to consider that had a major impact on issues and more importantly, people.

"Look, Lieutenant," Danko said, breaking the awkward silence in the room. "Just let Terry and I ride together temporarily - until things settle down - -"

Ryker shook his head. "Out of the question, Danko," the Lieutenant replied adamantly. "If I do that, then the two of you will never work out anything with Owens." That said, the Lieutenant's tough fa├žade faded away to be replaced by the older man's true, more paternal, feelings for the two rookies. "Look, all I'm asking you to do is to stop comparing Owens to Gillis - if you do, then I think that you'll realize that any differences you have aren't as serious as you think they are."

The Lieutenant paused; his knowing eyes Terry's. "As far as what happened this morning, I've been giving that a great deal of thought. Being laid up in the hospital with a bullet wound seems like disciplinary action enough for breaking procedures during a crisis situation." Ryker gave the man a critical look. "Professionally, you're off the hook this time, Webster, but that doesn't take care of any problems that your actions today might have caused between you and your partner."

Terry nodded gratefully, relieved that his decision in the diner wouldn't result in any official action on his record as a police officer. On a personal level though, Terry agreed that things had become more complicated. The absolute trust that needed to exist between him and his partner had been breached by his actions in the diner. Given the nature of their job, the two men's lives hinged on that trust.

The pain continued to prick at Webster's insides; his body hurt and, more than anything else, he was tired of thinking.

Terry continued to struggle through the jigsaw puzzle of thoughts in his mind. The older man's honesty battered against Webster. With Ryker's refusal to assign him a new partner, Webster realized that he had no choice but to forge some kind of working relationship with Chris. Both of their lives depended on it.

He let out a labored breath. "You win, Lieutenant," Terry's painfilled voice finally answered.

"I knew you'd see it my way, Webster." The lieutenant's professional demeanor returned. "Well, I've said all that I had to say. I think that it's time for me to leave and give you gentlemen some time alone," he said gruffly. "Don't stay too long, Danko."

"I won't, Lieutenant."

As Ryker headed towards the door, Terry sighed. There was no point in delaying any longer. If there was any rebuilding to be done with Chris, it had to start now.

He glanced at Mike. Danko's head bobbed slightly, in affirmation of Terry's thoughts.

"Lieutenant," Terry's voice rasped suddenly.

Ryker paused at the doorway. "Yes, Webster?"

"Send . . . my partner . . .in." The words felt forced. Terry wondered how long it would take before it would feel natural to talk about Chris like that.

Ryker nodded. "Sure thing, Webster."

As Owens passed through the doorway, Terry noticed for the first time how worn out Chris looked. Reluctantly, he realized that he'd been so concerned about his own feelings that he hadn't given much thought to what the new rookie might have been going through for the past couple of weeks.

Ryker closed the door quietly, listening to the low murmur of voices that he heard begin to quietly converse in the room.

It's a start . . .He thought, stabbing at the elevator button. Certainly it was more than he'd hoped for initially. It would take time for the three men to find some mutual ground but Ryker had confidence in his men - they'd find way to put the events of the morning and the past few weeks behind them and build a relationship from it.

The door snapped open. Ryker stepped into the waiting elevator, satisfied with the day's work.

The End