Inspector Sledge Hammer had heard that it was darkest just before the dawn. He wasn't sure he believed it though. Each day he rose before dawn, showered, got dressed and then set out for a nearby park. Every day, even the days he managed to be a few minutes early, the darkness seemed just about the same.

Later in the day, that park would be the destination of choice for numerous joggers, bicyclists, and others out for a bit of exercise or even those just looking for a relaxing stroll. That would be then, this was now. Now, just before dawn, Inspector Hammer thought of it as his own private fishing hole; stocked with all manner sea urchins, scum suckers, and other bottom feeders, with some occasional pieces of driftwood thrown in for variety. By hitting the park trails in the darkness, before the public showed up, and doing his very best imitation of fish food, Inspector Hammer knew he would land several prize specimens.

Most mornings Inspector Hammer would arrive at the booking desk, smiling happily and whistling the theme from "Snow White" by 8:00. He would bring along with him a string of merry miscreants, all neatly linked together like a group of four year old children so no one would get lost. To ensure that they were merry, he insisted that they all join in on the chorus.

Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go ….

Inspector Hammer knew how the system worked. He knew the felons he reeled in today would be put through the booking process, they would make their phone calls, and by noon their lawyers would start trickling in. After a bit of legal manoeuvring, some calls to bail bondsmen and after all the relevant paperwork was completed and filed, they would likely all be out in time for dinner that evening. Catch and release some called it. Inspector Hammer called it "Daycare". It kept the fishing hole stocked with plentiful mature specimens so that tomorrow morning's fishing would be just as good as the morning before, and the morning before that.

Several times he'd offered suggestions he was certain would make the process more efficient. The easiest solution, he thought, would be to allow him to take all of his charges directly to holding cells, dispensing with unnecessary bureaucracy and paperwork. Failing that, access to photocopier so that he didn't have to fill out the same forms every morning. No one listened; no one ever listened.

So, by the time he had finished explaining, patiently, to the booking officer the charges against each of his "catch"; by the time all of the necessary forms had been completed; by the time the last fish was in the tank and Inspector Hammer was able to report to work officially, he knew he would be, again officially, about half an hour late.

It wasn't that Hammer intended to arrive at his desk late; in fact, if you counted his hours in the park, he was early, not late, each morning. He'd tried, but so far failed, to get Captain Trunk and his partner to see that perspective. But, Inspector Sledge Hammer was an optimist, so he looked for a bright side to the situation. Half an hour was enough time for his partner to finish her first cup of coffee and get any morning gossip out of her system before he arrived. Half an hour gave Doreau time to finish whatever it was she did on her computer, so that they could get down to the serious business of making the streets safe. And finally, after half an hour, Captain Trunk, who was so anxious to see him in the office, couldn't wait to see him out again. Yes, mornings were worth looking forward to.

Most mornings, but not this morning, he thought sourly. Hammer had spent the night cruising the nearly empty city streets all through the early morning hours. He hadn't been home; he hadn't showered, or shaved. He had missed his early morning troll in the park. Instead, he was at his wits end. And a dead end. Literally, it appeared. The sign now leaning against the hood of his car said so.

Well, if I can't go forward

Moving the gear selector to the reverse position, he depressed the gas pedal, which had the immediate effect of causing the sign to topple the rest of the way into the street, making a loud crashing noise as it did. Almost immediately he felt himself thrown hard back against his seat as the car again stopped, with an accompanying loud, solid sounding bang! He checked the rear-view for any obvious obstacles. Seeing nothing but a fountain of water, he changed gears again, this time steering his St Regis towards the main road. As he did so, he had a clear view of water spraying violently from what was clearly a defective fire hydrant.

You'd think people would notice something like that and report it to the city, he thought, wondering why he was the only one who noticed such details..

By the time the first lights were coming on in houses surrounding him, and sleepy voices were wondering aloud what all the ruckus was about, he had reached the main street once again and turned west. At least he thought the sky looked brighter in the other direction, so he was pretty sure this was west. He needed the night to last as long as possible.

For hours on end he had crisscrossed the city, visiting all of Gun's favourite haunts. The gun shop. The firing range. The little pastry shop where they let Gun help make donut holes. They were all closed. He didn't understand it. If you could rent a copy of Dancing with the Stars – Season 9 at 3:00 in the morning, why couldn't you buy .44 magnum ammunition? Or help make pastry with perfectly centred holes – a personal favourite? At each location, he'd taken Gun from beneath his jacket, hoping that the familiar surroundings would elicit some response. Each time he was met with bitter silence. At least he thought the silence sounded bitter.

He'd even tried to get Gun a hot oil massage. For a while it had looked like he might succeed, until it became clear to the young lady in the out of the way alley that by "gun" he meant Gun. Even though moments before she had been all "anything you like for 50 bucks", she had abruptly changed her mind, and had actually run out into the street in front of an SFPD patrol car, making ridiculous claims about a pervert in a green car propositioning her. Pervert? Shish, she was the one with her mind in the gutter. He had a badge. What was a badge, if it wasn't a permit to carry a gun? And when had proper gun care become a perversion? The patrol officer had nonetheless held him for a full 20 minutes carefully checking his badge number, his driver's license, and his vehicle registration with Dispatch before letting him go with a stern warning to deal with the eight parking violations that turned up on his car registration. Eight? Pffft! The volume discount didn't kick in until he reached a dozen.

Normally Hammer would have approved of the young officer's attention to detail. The main reason so many genetic mutants were loose on the streets, he thought, was because someone hadn't paid attention to details. That, and poor aim. Still, over the course of 20 minutes Hammer gradually began to wonder if you could have too much of a good thing, especially when you were the detail.

Driving westward, as the sky gradually brightened, the streets gradually took on a more familiar appearance. Suddenly recognizing his location, Hammer turned at the next cross street, and pulled to the curb in front of the precinct building. The car stopped smoothly, without a crashing sound or a jolt. Something didn't feel right. He put the car in reverse, backing up a few feet before stopping again. Still not right, he thought. Then it came to him, there were no other cars on the street; nothing at all to provide a tactile sense of where his parking space was. He shrugged his shoulders.

It would have to do, he thought, getting out of the car and preparing to cross the street.

He checked both directions first of course. According to captain Trunk, he was the only officer who used warning shots to discipline errant pedestrians, but it never hurt to be cautious.

Inside the building a sleepy looking security guard stopped him, insisting on seeing his ID before allowing him to proceed.. For the second time that morning Hammer fumed as he searched through his jacket pockets, finally finding his badge in the last one. And for the second time that morning he found himself to be the object of a detailed inquisition. Apparently the semi-conscious guard had nothing better to do at this hour than inspect his ID. He kept up a steady stream of one sided conversation while comparing Hammer's badge number and photo ID to a list on his desk.

"Pretty early, isn't it Hammer?" "Don't see you much at this time of day Hammer." "Everything OK Hammer?" "Need any help Hammer?"

Even half awake, this guy was twice as chatty as Doreau at a wedding. Which made him four times as annoying to Hammer.

"Where's your partner Hammer?"

The last question he found particularly grating. After the debacle with Lionel Dashman, Doreau had changed apartments, and had so far resisted all his efforts to determine her address or phone number. So, he quite literally had no idea where she was, and even less idea why that fact seemed irksome. He told the guard the first part while keeping the rest to himself.

Meanwhile, the guard continued following him to, and for a moment Hammer was afraid into, the elevator. Only after Hammer exclaimed in a stage whisper that he thought he saw a dust bunny making a break for the street, and punched the "Door Close" button, was he able to escape.

As he rode the elevator up, Hammer reflected on the unusual position he now found himself in; that of being the first officer to arrive his desk on a Monday morning. Or any morning for that matter, as far as he could remember. He had not had an opportunity to take his regular morning target practice. The sun wasn't even fully over the horizon yet. He hoped he could find the light switch.

At least I should have privacy, he thought. And time to think.

The unnaturally loud chime of the elevator as it reached his floor had him instinctively reaching for his sidearm, until he realized that it was only the eerie stillness that made the noise seem so loud. His footsteps on the floor echoed down the empty hallway, further emphasising the fact that, at this time of day, the normally bustling bullpen area was completely deserted. He was, as far as he could see, completely alone. Even the normally humming fluorescent lights were turned off and silent. An eerie chill began to creep up his spine.

How many times have I sat in a darkened theatre, wondering what sort of idiot would walk into an apparently empty, darkened room, not knowing what lurked within?

Hammer's left hand searched along the darkened wall until he found the light switch. He hesitated, reaching inside his sports jacket until his hand closed on the familiar grips of his magnum. Then, in one smooth motion, he flipped the light switch while simultaneously drawing his magnum and stepping forward into a crouched position.


The room was deserted, but he found the white antiseptic glare from the overhead lights was suddenly welcome, comforting. Glancing around he confirmed that no officers were sleeping at their desks, ready to take him by surprise. Captain Trunk's office was clearly visible and similarly unoccupied. Feeling slightly self-conscious, he slid Gun back under his jacket and shrugged, to no-one in particular, as he glanced at the clock. It would probably be another hour before the first officers would begin to stream in, and the floor assumed its normal state of controlled chaos. He realized he was holding his breath and exhaled – slipping into his chair as he did so.

For a moment he paused, confused. Recently he'd grown accustomed to letting Doreau, whom he still thought of as his junior partner, do the thinking, while he concentrated on the action items. He shrugged. He'd made Inspector before he met her, and although he knew there were some jealous people who thought he'd simply shot his way to the top; he knew it had taken more than just marksmanship. It took a moment, seated alone at his desk, before old instincts kicked in. He needed to get organized. He opened his desk drawer, looking for a pad of paper and a pencil. All he found was a collection of World War II cartridges, and his spare grenade.

So that's where I left it.

He carefully checked the paper clip he was temporarily using while he searched surplus stores for a replacement pin. The grenade looked safe, but it was too small to write on, even if he had a pen. Seeing nothing else useful in his current situation, he closed the drawer gently. Then he realized his problem had a simple solution.

Glancing around and assuring himself that no one would see him, he rose, slipped quickly around to Doreau's side of the desk, and liberated a pad and a pencil from her drawer. Feeling only slightly guilty, he returned to his chair and sat, silently contemplating the blank paper and his equally blank mind.

Where should he start? He wondered. Describe the problem. That's a good place to start, he told himself.

"Problem", he scrawled across the top of the page, and then continued. "Gun".

From the time he had first strapped on a holster, Gun had been the one constant in his life. His one confidant. The only one he shared innermost thoughts with, in spite of Doreau's nosey attempts at meddling. The one time they had been separated, his life had fallen apart. His self-confidence had been shattered, his ability to function as a police officer placed in doubt. He knew that there were others, like Captain Trunk, who doubted his abilities as a police officer all of time, but normally he did not share their concerns. He knew he was a cop, and that was all that mattered. Well, that and his gun – those were all that mattered.

Through all of their time together, Hammer realized, he had never encountered a situation like the one he found himself in now. Hammer had experienced occasional bouts of silence during his previous marriage. From time to time his current partner chose not to speak to him. Hammer found those moments to be peaceful bliss. Hammer was even used to Captain Trunk telling him to shut up. This was completely different. For the first time in their relationship, Gun was refusing to speak to him. In spite of his best efforts, his pleading and driving all over town, Gun was still silent. Hammer had no idea why and worse, he had no idea how to make amends.

What did I do? He wondered. What had gone wrong?

Hammer had never been one to reflect on his past. It was past, he liked to think. Last night, his ex-wife, his ex-partner now rotting in jail, his high school, all of it was the past and he wished it would stay there. Something to be endured, like his prom night, remembering how at one point he had thought, somebody cut my head off with an axe – just put me out of my misery. Enough sentimentality. He still felt that way.

Well, it's all coming back to me now, he thought, wondering if Jim Cogan was somehow responsible for his current mess.

Hammer shrugged. It didn't matter; if he was going to find the reason for Gun's current silence, then he had to review the events of the last few days, however painful that process might be.

Gritting his teeth so hard he bit the eraser off the pencil he was holding, Hammer let his mind drift back in time. Although he knew when it had started, he hoped he didn't know why. He needed to recall recent events, hoping to find something, anything else that could explain Gun's behaviour. If there was another explanation, whatever clues there were had to be there, somewhere in his recent past. He swallowed hard, and nearly choked. Suddenly remembering the eraser, he spit it into his garbage and tried to focus.

When had it started? Two, no three, days ago?

Hammer had begun the morning – like every normal morning – with a routine that was akin to a military drill. He showered; he carefully wiped Gun's frame and cylinder clean and dry, paying particular attention to the grooves in the grips where dirt could collect. He brushed his teeth; he carefully removed each bullet from Gun, polished it, and set it back in its place. After flossing his teeth he then flossed carefully between Gun's cylinder and the frame. He did thirty minutes of calisthenics then, much to his neighbours' dismay, gave Gun a quick workout, rousing everyone in the building. He was pretty sure there had been nothing out of the ordinary. Gun had given him a cheery click, click, click as he spun the cylinder before placing it snugly into the split leather holster under his arm, and heading off to the park.

Fishing in the park had gone exceptionally well. Along with the regular catch of minnows and small fry, Hammer had managed to hook something large enough to grill himself. He had known as soon as he saw the man carrying a bag of knitting needles that this one wasn't getting away. Dominic Tauber, aka the Voodoo Killer, had stumbled into Hammer's grasp.

Ignoring Dominic's requests for a lawyer and a phone call, Hammer had locked him in Interrogation before taking the rest of his miscreants to central booking. All during the boring routine process that followed, Hammer had been salivating at the thick, juicy fillet o' fish waiting to be BBQd in the interrogation room. Gun was hoping to help, too. Neither one of them had counted on Doreau's curiosity.

Puzzled by the locked door to interrogation, she had started asking questions. Discovering that Hammer had a suspect in the "Voodoo Murders" locked inside she had pulled the case file and all of the evidence. By the time Hammer got back to interrogation, Doreau was waiting for him. Worse, she was having Majoy replace the burnt out light. Hammer preferred the tactical advantage conferred by darkness but Doreau insisted, as she always did, on being by the book. She also insisted that Dominic had rights. He had a right to a phone call. He had a right to a lawyer. Yadda, yadda, yadda. All Hammer had a right to was a stupid doll.

Too many cops spoil the interrogation he always said. Sure enough, Meat Loaf's lawyer had shown up before Hammer was able to get him to sing. The lawyer turned out to be an old high school buddy, Scott Grable. It was sad to see that one of his old classmates had ended working on the wrong side of the law. Oh well, the economy was tough, and people were taking work where ever they could find it. Scott had been his friend; they'd actually been close in school; maybe he wasn't beyond redemption. Maybe, if he tried, he could at least convince him to be a prosecutor rather than a defendant.

Hammer shook his head, staring at the still blank sheet of paper. He was certain that there was nothing to that point to upset Gun. Sure, thanks to Doreau, they hadn't gotten a single shot off, but Gun seemed upset with him, not Doreau. Hammer sighed; not only was the justice system flawed, karma didn't seem to be on his side either.

Hammer resumed chewing on his pencil. Normally, when he came to an impasse like this, Gun was able to help him find an alternative course of action. If conversation didn't do the trick then a few rounds at the range, fired without ear protection, usually cleared his head. Today, he didn't have that option; in fact he didn't have any options. He needed a clue, and the only place he would find one was in his past, no matter how distasteful the search might be.

Enough reality, he thought.

Hammer eventually left the precinct and joined Scott, Doreau and Captain Trunk, and a few of his fellow officers at their regular bar. A lively game of table hockey was in progress, which Hammer was successfully ignoring until someone tossed the puck across the room like a clay pigeon. Instinctively, he had shot it out of the air before it could hit anyone.

Just like a bunch of kids, he thought. It's only funny until someone loses an eye.

About then, Hammer's conversation with Scott was interrupted by a call on his new police radio. A "215" at Third and Grande – nothing promised fun like a carjacking with fast moving targets. That also gave him an idea; maybe if Scott saw seedy underbelly of the city from Hammer's point of view, it would help him turn his life around. It was worth a try.

It hadn't worked. In fact, after they chased down the carjacking creeps, Scott started handing out his cards to what he insisted on calling "carjacking suspects". Hammer had been forced to whisk him away to his apartment, before the situation became embarrassing.

They had passed the rest of the evening with pizza and Hammer's old high school yearbook. They had each other's backs during high school and had shared several interests, track and field events among them. Hammer was still thrilled remembering how everyone had run and jumped excitedly whenever he had fired his pistol. Even if it was only blanks …

In spite of himself Hammer enjoyed spending time with Scott. Yeah, Scott still had a few things to learn about marriage, but give him time. Maybe at dinner tomorrow night, Doreau would be able to get through to him.

The next day had begun innocently enough. Doreau always had that innocent demeanor when she was trying to get him to open up about something. What had she been going on about? Lawyers, stereotypes, friends, relationships and something that sounded like "na, na, na, num de dum"; it all seemed to run together until, finally, a Dispatch call ended her nattering. Remarkably, it turned out to be an opportunity to re-arrest Dominic Tauber, and enrol him in the Sledge Hammer daycare program. The vermin was robbing a store to get money to pay his lawyer for bailing him out the day before. Unbeknownst to Doreau, Hammer had booked Dominic under a nom de plume, so this time Scott was going to have to work for his money.

Inspector Hammer paused and made another notation on the page. He distinctly remembered now the brief conversation he'd had with Gun after Scott had left the apartment. Gun had even agreed that Scott seemed like a great guy. He searched his memory of that incident but could recall nothing unusual about the moment. Gun had seemed entirely normal and, more importantly, Gun had still been speaking to him.

Is it possible that Gun is annoyed with me for using a bowling ball to arrest Dominic?

No way! Hammer rejected the idea. Gun enjoys a comic moment as much as I do. Besides, everything was still fine at dinner that night, he thought remembering distinctly how Gun had been celebrating.

Clues, Hammer told himself. I need clues, not fond memories.

Hammer wasn't certain what he had expected when he'd suggested that he and Doreau meet Scott and his fiancée for dinner, but he had not been expecting his ex-wife. Gun had agreed with him, enthusiastically, firing off a parting shot.

The next morning Doreau was busy spreading rumors about their meeting; Scott was busy springing Dominic from jail again; and Hammer was wondering how much more happiness he could take. Then Scott asked him to be best man, and his happiness knew no bounds. Not happiness for Scott, who was obviously bent on making the biggest mistake a man could make; happiness because he finally had a way to prevent Scott from making a huge mistake. He simply arrested the entire party. Gun applauded his plan excitedly.

Hammer's plan was succeeding, too, until his ex-wife put in another appearance. Apparently bruising his ego earlier had been insufficient; she had to bruise his jaw as well.

That was when Doreau had crossed the line. Doreau was a woman, so, when she'd gossiped about his remarkable restraint in the restaurant with Captain Trunk, Hammer was willing to make allowances. He'd made similar allowances when she'd stood by and let his ex-wife nearly broke his jaw. Hammer winced at the memory.

I didn't know Susan could hit like that, perhaps Doreau hadn't known either. Wait a minute; am I making excuses for her?

Hammer shrugged it off. He couldn't shrug off what followed.

However she had done it, somehow Doreau had ended up in his apartment. The only other times she had managed that feat, they had, technically at least, been working on a case. Once, his apartment had even been the crime scene.

How cool was that?

This time though, he didn't have that excuse and he could, therefore, make no allowances. There was no way to deny, or excuse, the fact that they were alone, together. Doreau, he remembered, had seemed determined to make the most of the opportunity. Determined and persistent. And this time she wasn't on a case, she was on his case.

Doreau, saying that he should be happy for his friends. Doreau, saying he should go to the wedding and have a good time. Doreau, saying that she would be there for him, if he would just let her in. Doreau …

For some reason she refused to let the matter drop. The only thing she'd left out was the home cooked meal. Maybe she had seen that his jaw hurt too much to think about dinner. Why couldn't she also see that she was in, but that where he wanted her to be was somewhere else? Didn't anyone understand that he'd already been to one too many weddings? Hammer actually thought he'd succeeded in discouraging her. She seemed to have given up, and turned to walk away.

Something in her last backward glance before she left had almost made him reconsider.

Hammer sighed in resignation. What was it about Doreau …?

The sheet of paper in front of him was still nearly blank. He really needed to be concentrating on discovering what had upset Gun, not thinking about …

Doreau … Ever since she had been assigned as his partner, Doreau had tried every ploy in her feminine arsenal on him.

"Sledge, let me into your life." "A home cooked meal Sledge." "Let's just spend some time together, Sledge."

In his mind he mimicked her phrasing and tone. He'd successfully rebuffed all of her attempts, keeping her on the periphery of his life. Although she more or less pulled her own weight in their partnership, it was still his responsibility, as the man on the team, to protect her. Doreau might be good looking, and intelligent … and good looking … but she was still a woman, and therefore by definition the weaker link. Besides, he had learned the hard way the dangers of letting anyone get close to him. His first partner had betrayed his oath to uphold the law, forcing Hammer to arrest him. His wife had left him, and now was marrying his best friend. Hammer knew firsthand what it was like to let someone into his life, and then lose them. Hard things were easiest to deal with when there were no personal attachments to make them harder. So, while he had become accustomed to working with Doreau, and could even grudgingly admire her skills on the job, outside of the office they only met at the little bar where their fellow officers gathered to let off steam when they were off duty. Hammer was determined that they would never share more than a root beer and a job description. That he would never …

He hesitated, unable … or unwilling … to complete that thought. He wondered briefly which, before deciding that it didn't matter.

My problem is with Gun, not Doreau. I'm only reliving these events in search of clues, he reminded himself. Hammer discovered he wasn't even listening to himself.

Whether Doreau was pursuing a case, or trying to break down the defenses he had erected around himself, she was the most determined, persistent individual he had ever encountered. He could almost admire her for it. Except when, like the rookie cop from earlier this morning, her focus was Hammer. Then it wasn't determination, or persistence, it was nagging.

Had he let her constant nagging finally get inside his defenses?

This was exactly the sort of situation where he valued Gun's advice …

With Doreau gone, finally, from his apartment, he had turned to Gun, hoping for understanding and, perhaps, some consolation, not advice for the lovelorn.

"Well, amigo, it's just you and me." He remembered his words clearly. He remembered Gun's response just as clearly.

"Doreau was right, you know, you should be happy for them. You should go to the wedding, at least to keep an eye on her. She is your partner. What if she meets up with some single, liberal, do-gooder like that piece of earwax, Lionel Dashman? Who will protect her if you aren't there?"

Hammer had felt his teeth clenching at the mere thought of another Lionel Dashman taking advantage of Doreau.

But if I change my mind now, Doreau will think she was ri … rig …

He tried to change the subject.

"You'll never leave me", he said, playing to Gun's sense of duty.

"Captain Trunk has a point, too. This will finally put an end to those ridiculous alimony payments. You'll have more money and we can spend more time at the shooting range, at the ammo shop, and maybe you could even treat me to a better grade of gun oil. Gunpowder, by any other name, would smell as acrid …"

For some reason, Gun was ignoring his entreaties. Hammer wanted to cover his ears with his hands and sing na, na, na, na, num de dum. But this was Gun, not some woman like Doreau he could ignore.

"You're all I've got …," he pleaded.

"Scott is a lawyer, you know. We should be sure there aren't loopholes in the vows, shouldn't we? Besides you haven't ever taken me to a nice wedding …

a nice wedding …? Something in Hammer seemed to snap. He lost his temper.

ENOUGH ANNE LANDERS! His mind screamed as he pushed Gun away.

He'd never been physical with Gun before, and was instantly sorry for his actions. He could fix the wall with some plaster and a bit of paint, but Gun was not that easy. Gun could be temperamental. And explosive.

"Fine." Gun said in a stainless steely voice. "If you don't want to listen …"

"… GET OUT!" Gun barked.

Hammer pondered that moment, as he sat alone in the precinct bullpen. Something in that choice of words nagged at him. Something in the tone with which they were delivered nagged at him. He'd heard those words, and that tone, before, in another context. Gun was upset, he was certain, but something in the tone and phrasing suggested more than that. He made a brief notation on the pad in front of him.

Finally … possibly … a clue.

Then he let his mind drift back to that evening.

Hammer had been taken aback. Gun had never spoken to him in that tone before. Deciding it was best to let Gun cool off, he left. The safest places he could think of for an unarmed man were either Canada or a church. Since Canada was a two day drive, he ended up at a church; the same church, it turned out, where Scott and his ex-wife were getting married.

When he entered, the Minister had just uttered the words "speak now or forever hold his peace". They were followed by silence. The kind of silence you get when everyone in the room, collectively, holds their breath anticipating something.

What did they think he was going to do, steal somebody's gun and shoot up the church? Shish, I don't steal.

He had felt just a little uncomfortable and a bit off balance without Gun at his side and it was nice of them to be concerned, but it was nothing for them to get upset about. He told them to get on with it.

Doreau made room for him beside her on the pew. She looked concerned, too, at first, but seemed to accept his explanation for leaving Gun at home. He had not stopped to wonder how he had come to be in the last place he wanted to be, with the last person he expected to be there with.

It wasn't long before Hammer began to regret leaving Gun at home alone. He was starting to fidget before the ceremony and by the time it was over the urge was beyond his ability to resist. It no longer mattered that Gun had been the one to insist that he get out. Hammer needed to be with Gun.

So, even though he had attended the wedding by himself, Hammer insisted on stopping by his apartment before going to the reception. As soon as he was inside and alone, he scooped up Gun and gave the cylinder a quick spin. He had expected Gun to be happy to see him again, but instead of the normal cheery click, click, click, what he heard was withdrawn, almost moody, click … click … click. Hammer double checked the safety andresolved to keep Gun under homicide watch for the next few days. Then he tucked Gun into the split bull hide holster under his left arm, and headed downstairs to meet Doreau. Just having that familiar weight at his side made Hammer feel better. He was sure Gun would feel better, too, once the festivities started.

If Doreau was upset that he had gone back for Gun she said nothing. She had acted a bit strangely though. Usually independent in her thoughts and actions, tonight she'd waited for him to hold her chair, and had asked, several times, for him to freshen her drink, even though it was perfectly obvious to Hammer that she was capable of doing both for herself. Still, his mother had raised him to be a gentleman, and so he had complied. After the party had broken up, along with several fellow several officers, they had drifted to the local bar. Somehow they found themselves in their familiar places, seated together. He remembered being concerned that too many root beers might impair his judgement.

I must have been mixing my drinks, he thought. Root beer and milk have given me nightmares before. Like the one I'm having now.

Except this was no nightmare. OK, it was a nightmare, but not the dreamy sort. The taste of freshly chewed wood in his mouth and the solid tap, tap the pencil made against the top of his desk confirmed that this was reality and not reality TV. Given the absence of clues in the events he had reviewed so far, Hammer found himself with only one remaining possibility.

He remembered sitting at the bar, idly stirring his drink – milk, he was certain – alcohol clouded his judgement and he never drank coffee this late. He recalled Doreau saying something about Captain Trunk and the stag, but his mind was elsewhere.

He had been thinking about the conversation he had with Doreau in his apartment, about his earlier confession to Doreau; about Scott and Susan finding each other had made him aware of just how alone he was; about how he was actually afraid that he might spend the rest of his life alone.

How could I open up like that? Especially to her. And why?

The conversation haunted him. That last, backward glance over her shoulder before she had left haunted him. He remembered wondering if there was the possibility of something more. That haunted him, too. Her words seemed burned into his mind.

"Not if you don't want me to. Sledge, let me into your life."

Hammer tried to focus his memory on those few moments, trying to remember everything, hoping that somewhere in the details would be something he could use as an excuse. It wasn't easy. If her words were burned into his mind, then his words would probably haunt him forever.

Face it, you're a haunted man, he thought wryly.

"Doreau, since I went to that wedding I've come to a … kind of a … realization. I've given this a lot of thought. I don't want to live my life alone. I want … a living, breathing human being to share my life. The good times and the bad. So ... ah … this isn't… ah … an easy thing for me to ask … so I'm just gonna go ahead and say it, … will you marry me?"

Yes, those were his words, although he couldn't remember why he had spoken them. Women were supposed get all sentimental and mushy over weddings, not men and certainly not Sledge Hammer! He remembered seeing Doreau react, her eyes growing wide with … what? Shock? Awe? Instead of her usual exaggerated eye roll, she just … stared … at him, as though trying to make up her mind. Just as it looked like she was getting ready to say something …

Gun spoke, for the first time since the incident in his apartment. Hammer found he could remember this part clearly. It was strange how no one else seemed to hear Gun. Hammer heard the words, demanding his full attention, as clearly as if the voice had been inside his head.

"Shouldn't you have asked me, first?" Gun hissed.

"No." He tried to keep his voice as low as possible, hoping that only Gun would hear his response.


Hammer had already turned his attention back to his partner. Patiently, he waited for her to respond. Instead of saying anything, Doreau just dropped her head onto the bar, cradling her head in her hands.

Now, safely behind his desk at the precinct, Hammer had time to consider her reaction again.

What did that mean? Hammer thought. Did I miss something? Did Doreau hear me talking to Gun?

Nah. Doreau never hesitated to chide him for talking to Gun, and she had not mentioned it. She hadn't rolled her eyes in disbelief either. She had only dropped her head into her arms.

Gun, on the other hand, had definitely spoken. But the tone behind the words was unlike anything Hammer could remember being used before. Usually Gun offered him advice. Occasionally, Gun would be non-committal. This time Gun's tones carried a hint of something else – accusation? Jealousy? Hammer wasn't certain exactly what the tone meant, but he did not have a good feeling about it at all.

What was the last thing Gun had said? "Fine"?

Except it wasn't – obviously.

Hammer remembered the embarrassing silence that stretched between himself and Doreau. He remembered taking out his wallet and dropping a twenty on the bar to cover their drinks and tip. He was only partially aware that Doreau had picked up her purse, and started for the door without waiting for him. When he turned back, he saw her already at the door and, briefly, he worried about his partner. It was late, and a woman probably shouldn't be alone on the street he thought, even one as capable as she was. Felons sometimes travelled in packs. He hurried to catch up.

When he came out of the door and onto the street, he saw that she had already hailed a cab. Relieved of that concern and not wanting to embarrass himself further, he turned the other direction, looking for a little privacy. Pulling Gun from its place beneath his jacket, he tried to explain. That was when he discovered the real problem. Gun wasn't speaking to him.

Hammer pleaded. He begged. He didn't care who saw him, his attention was wholly focused on his silent partner. He even opened the emergency first aid kit he kept in a jacket pocket. He placed a drop of the specially scented oil he had obtained from a Hindu mystic on a Q-tip, waving it under Gun's muzzle. Nothing elicited any response. Gun might as well have been inanimate.

Hammer found that he was unable to return to his apartment, he didn't want Gun reminded of the conversation with Doreau, or their fight. He drove the streets of the city, his city, as aimlessly as one of its poorer homeless, and probably carless and gunless as well, denizens, seeking refuge from the thoughts that plagued him. He didn't find that refuge but the trail of destruction he left behind eventually led to the precinct offices. At least this was a place to get out of the chill that seemed to grow deeper as the night wore on.

Hammer felt like he'd been kicked in the ribs. From both sides. On the one side, it was pretty clear what Doreau had not meant when she had said "You've got me". She was probably just confused by his logic. He could deal with that – in fact dealing with his feelings alone and in private was something he had plenty of experience with. On the other side he still had no idea what Gun meant, at all. And Gun wasn't offering any clues, only the same cold shoulder his ex-wife had always given him whenever he had won one of their arguments. Mentally, Hammer shrugged. It was a woman thing, something he was certain he would never …

Hammer's thought processes bore superficial similarities to his driving. Proceed straight ahead until something blocked your path. Then run into it. Maybe it would get out of your way. Hammer had the distinct impression that he had just run into something that wasn't going to get out of his way.

It was a woman thing … Was it possible? Through all their years together had Gun been concealing the fact that it … she … was a woman?

Until that moment, Hammer had not given a moment's thought to Gun's gender. Gun was Gun, and that was all that mattered in their relationship. "Don't ask, don't tell" had worked just fine for both of them – up until now. As he considered the matter further though, he realized that there had been subtle hints of a concealed truth. He began mentally checking off points that confirmed his conclusion.

Gun had always insisted on sleeping beside him in his, or was it their, bed?

Gun didn't like it if he went out alone.

Gun had seemed – moody – after Doreau had implored him to attend his ex-wife's wedding. Even though he had rejected the idea, Gun had argued with him afterwards until he had lost his temper. When Gun had told him "get out", the phrase was delivered in exactly the same tones his ex-wife had used to tell him everything was "fine".

"Fine". That was also the very last word Gun had spoken to him. He'd almost missed it.

Hammer began to consider the possibility more seriously. He knew other men thought of their boats, and even their cars, as being female. Hurricanes, he remembered, had once been exclusively female. That was before some liberal peony in the weather office decided they could be male, too.

Probably only a matter of time before someone decided they had a right to get married, he guessed, pushing that premise to the limit of rationality. Come to think of it, I've already heard of some whirlwind romances.

Hammer flipped back through his notes as he considered these facts. There, beside the last words Gun had spoken, he had written the word "jealousy?" Hammer realized that if Gun was a woman, she was the most dangerous of her kind, a jealous one.

But why, he asked himself, would Gun be jealous?

Panic filled Hammer. The horrifying truth about his actions that night had suddenly become completely apparent. If Gun was in fact, female, he had proposed to Doreau in front of her.

"Shouldn't you have asked me, first?"

Initially, Hammer had thought that Gun had meant Hammer should have asked for advice before posing his question to Doreau. Now, in light of the mounting evidence, the statement took on another meaning.

Gun wanted to get married! And I said "No".

Hammer's heart was too busy pumping blood to sink, but his stomach apparently had some spare time and fulfilled the role in more than adequate fashion. Hammer glanced at his watch. 7:15. He was a bit surprised to note that Doreau had, so far, not arrived. He had the impression, even though he had never personally witnessed it, that Doreau was usually among the earliest arrivals. For just an instant, he actually hoped that she might not arrive today. He wasn't up to dealing with two emotional females this morning. Especially since, he now suspected, one of them might want him dead.

At that moment the elevator chimed its arrival again, and almost immediately Hammer recognized the familiar clicking of his high heels. Doreau was coming! Swiftly, he opened several of the files in front of him, using them to strategically cover the notes he had been making.

The clicking stopped. Hammer judged that Doreau had reached the entrance into the bullpen area, from where she would have a clear view of the desk they shared. He felt her eyes on him, searching, and kept his head down, pretending to be studying the case file. The moment stretched, as Hammer held his breath, suspense building inside him. Could she really see right through him, as she had sometimes claimed? Hammer supressed the urge to shrug his shoulders. The incriminating evidence was on his desk, under the file folder, not on the back of his chair, so it didn't matter.

Still, his chest was beginning to burn when, thankfully, the clicking resumed, and she approached her side of the desk. He resisted the urge to look up. Some animal instinct warned him against meeting her eyes. The last thing he needed right now was those blue eyes, distracting him from the issues at hand. When her footsteps stopped again he was certain she had reached her desk. The sound of her chair being pulled back, of her purse being hung over the chair back and the rustle of her clothes as she sat down confirmed his assumption. Only then did he consider the fact that she had not spoken either.

Although he often chided her for being "chatty", or "a gossip", or for her "nagging", the truth was her cheery, if irrelevant, "Good morning" had become a part of his daily routine. This morning everything seemed turned around somehow. Hammer started to say something and then bit back the words. What if she asked how his Gun was? What if she wanted to talk? About last night? Now, if front of Gun? He didn't see how that would help to resolve the issue he had with Gun, and right now, that was his priority. It was, he decided, best for him to remain silent, and concentrate on his real problem. He was a cop! He could work without talking to his partner if he had to, but not without his gun.

He heard desk drawers opening across from him, and case files landing with deafening "whump" on the desktop. There was a pregnant pause and then the sound of a chair being moved. Doreau stood and her angry footsteps receded.

What has her all wound up? He wondered, finding himself distracted from his task by her endless commotion.

The footsteps returned, still angry at something. More chair shuffling and then silence. Hammer hoped it would continue. It was hard enough to think without all the unnecessary fidgeting.

Other officers would soon start to filter in. Captain Trunk would arrive. One thing would lead to another and before you could say, "Hammer, get in my office, right now!" he would find himself out on the street with Doreau, expected to solve the city's social ills without the aid of his firearm.

Captain Trunk chose that moment to arrive. Hammer had no idea how, but he knew Captain Trunk was in the doorway. The Captain seemed to always be keeping Hammer under close scrutiny, and Hammer had developed a sixth sense alerted him to when he was being watched. Usually. Okay, he admitted, occasionally.

On any other morning, he would have taken this opportunity to brief Captain Trunk on his latest theory of proactive policing. Some nerdy science type had discovered that there were actually thirteen astrological symbols, not the traditional twelve. Clearly, Hammer reasoned, anyone born under that thirteenth sign would lead a very unlucky life and sooner or later would be drawn into a criminal lifestyle to compensate. Hammer estimated that incarcerating all people born under the sign of OPHIUCHUS should reduce crime by 7.69%. Tempting as it was to bring Captain Trunk up to date on these developments, Hammer hesitated. Even if the Captain agreed, without cooperation from Gun how many arrests would he make today?

Just as Hammer decided against pursuing the issue further, he became aware that Trunk was moving again. The sound of his footsteps receded towards his office, and Hammer heard the door click shut. Hammer's thoughts returned to Gun.

If Gun is female, how can I make up with her? He wondered. Unfortunately, the only two examples he could recall were his ex-wife, now remarried and on her honeymoon, and Doreau, whom he was constantly pushing away. Neither instance offered him any inspiration. It was probably just as well. If Gun was jealous, asking another woman to help him out would probably make the situation worse.

He was aware that Doreau still had not spoken a word to him, but decided he knew the reason. It made sense, after all – usually the first thing she would say in the morning was something teasing him about being late – again. Since he had arrived before her this morning she was probably at a loss for words.

Maybe she could help without saying a word!

After all, he'd seen guys try to hit on his partner all the time. What did they do to try to get her attention?

Peonies, he thought. The flowers or the guys? Both, he decided. Thinking about it, Hammer realized that he didn't know if Gun even liked flowers. He was, however, pretty certain that Gun would not keep them watered, and that it would fall to him to look after them. And Hammer knew that he loved looking after flowers.

Almost as much as he loved pizza faced, yogurt eating punks.

What if they could find some metrosexual guys to chase around the financial district after work? Now that was the sort of activity that might get Gun's interest! For the first time all morning, Hammer smiled to himself. Finally he was making progress. And if it wasn't progress, at least it promised to make the evening entertaining.

What other things do guys do for Doreau that might appeal to Gun, he asked himself?

Doreau did have a weakness for cologne, he knew.

Would Gun have a similar weakness, too? What fragrance, he mused, would appeal to Gun?

He was pretty sure he could narrow it down, but did Channel or Givenchy make eau de cordite? He'd check later, he thought. No point in making a scene by barging in before the store was even open.

Hammer suddenly realized that the office was now filled with other officers, all going about their morning duties. Which brought up another problem. While he needed, desperately, to find some way to penetrate the barrier of silence Gun had erected, he needed to do it without alerting the entire precinct to his predicament. He couldn't let any of them think that he had a problem. They all thought he was crazy for talking to his sidearm; they would definitely call in the Department shrink if he told them that Gun wasn't talking to him any more. Hammer shivered, remembering the last time he'd been forced to visit the Department shrink, and then pushed the thought aside. He needed to do this quietly.

As Hammer continued to wrestle with his thoughts, he was unaware that two others were watching him, suspiciously. Unaware that two pairs of eyes watched him, surreptitiously; one pair from across the desk and one pair from Captain Trunk's office. Two sets of eyes watched; two different minds pondered the same question.

What is wrong with Hammer?