Detective Doreau sat at her desk, wearily flipping through the pages of yet another case file. Although never a particularly exciting facet of her job, it was something that had to be done and she normally accepted it as such, without complaint. This morning it was just one more reason to be irked at her good for nothing "partner".

How many, she thought? Five? Six?

She cast a quick glance at the pile beside her and was discouraged to note that, in fact, this was just her third. She heaved a mental sigh and tried, once again, to focus on the page in front of her in what she hoped was the appearance of deep concentration. It was no use. She glanced up again, this time at the clock on the bullpen wall. 8:36:52 she noted, with an even heavier mental sigh. Time flies when you're having fun. She sank lower in her chair, losing her normally erect posture.

It was all his fault!

She tried to rekindle some of her earlier anger. That didn't work either. The tsunami of emotions that had flooded through her earlier had abated, leaving her high and dry and feeling thoroughly drained. Anger, despair, fear; all the primal emotions that had flooded her veins with adrenaline earlier had faded leaving behind cold, limp flotsam that felt like yesterday's sodden newspaper.

It didn't help that all the files in front of her seemed to all be rather ordinary purse snatchings. For an entire stack of such cases to have found their way to her desk could only mean one thing – budget cutbacks. The street cops usually dealt with these, mostly by just keeping their eyes open and nabbing the perpetrators when they repeated their offense – which they always did. Purse snatching just wasn't lucrative enough to have an early retirement plan. She and … that officer at the next desk … normally only took cases like these when things were slow. Sure it was hard chasing fleet-footed scum suckers while dressed in the Granny costume Hammer insisted that she wear, but she had learned several new ways to use a cane so that she was able to maintain her fair share of the arrests. In spite of herself, her lips twitched into the beginnings of a smile. Sledge did have a way to add interest to the most boring cases they worked on together.

Us? Together? Maybe it was time to start planning a career change?

The adrenaline surge of anger might be gone, but her pain wasn't. Once again it threatened to well up inside her and come flooding out. She stabbed her pencil hard into the desk, breaking the point. She stared at the broken tip in annoyance and frustration; then stabbed it into the sharpener on her desk and spun he handle, grinding a pristine new point. The activity achieved her objective, distracting her attention from self-pity and turning it something more productive.

Blame Hammer! It was all his fault!

Heaven knew she had done her best. She had arrived early, desperately hoping to draw a veil of normalcy over the morning; to sweep last night into a dark recess and close the door firmly, forever. It was unthinkable that on this, of all mornings, he would somehow manage to arrive first, but there he was at his desk when she arrived. Somewhere between the first steps she took towards her desk and reaching her destination the anger she felt at his latest betrayal turned to fear. Fear of what he might say. Fear of what he might not say. Fear of how she would react to whatever he said, or didn't say. Fear of her own fear …

She had gone about her normal morning routine, doing everything … normally. After making a fresh pot of coffee and filling her cup, she had returned to her desk with new pad of notepaper and a new pencil, which she proceeded to sharpen to a perfect point. Blowing lightly at the tip, she had turned her attention to the case files stacked neatly on one side of her desk. Methodically, she had selected the file on top of the stack, opened it, and had begun reading, just as she would on any other normal morning. But as the minutes passed by, ever so slowly, and Hammer remained seated at his desk, unspeaking, unmoving, seemingly staring off into empty space, her detective instincts kicked in and with them came the first faint glimmering of curiosity. Gradually, as the minutes ticked away, she became more curious and her reading became a cover for another purpose – spying on Inspector Sledge Hammer.

For the most part that had turned out to be just as boring as the contents of the case files. Her furtive glances had gotten more frequent and perhaps just a little less furtive as the morning wore on and Hammer showed no sign of noticing, much less acknowledging, her presence. So, she happened to be looking right at him when it happened … he blinked.

Panic surge through her. Quickly, she dropped her eyes to the file in front of her, feeling her cheeks flush in embarrassment. He must have noticed! She held her breath, fearing the worst. Seconds ticked by. A minute, and then more minutes, passed. Somewhere along the way she realized she had started breathing again. Still, she had finished reviewing two complete case files before she got the nerve to cast another glance Hammer's way. Only to discover … nothing at all. Hammer still appeared to be gazing off into the distance, not moving or speaking. She could almost believe that he had fallen into some deep trance, but something in his eyes betrayed him. There was still a smoldering intensity to his unfocused gaze – a warning that the wild eyed fanatic she come to know still lurked within.

So, weary as she was, Detective Doreau was still trying to concentrate on the case files on her desk. Her earlier moment of terror was still fresh in her mind. That was a rookie mistake, she berated herself. But, it was also a reminder that other eyes might be watching and that office rumors could start for the most innocent of reasons.

She reminded herself again that Hammer was also unpredictable. True, he didn't seem particularly observant this morning. True, he often failed to notice anything that was not related to criminal activity. She still needed to be wary of Hammer's uncanny capacity for counter-intuitive leaps of illogic; connecting the most innocent and mundane activity with violations of the penal code and making it unsafe to assume that he was as oblivious as he appeared. She resolved to be more cautious and determined not to repeat her earlier lapse in caution.

It would help, she thought to herself, if these cases were just a little more interesting. Instead, they all sounded just about the same.

She paused in her reading. What did you expect? How many ways are there to snatch a purse? Was there really a lot of room for originality in that field? She shrugged.

Surreptitiously, she stole another quick glance at Inspector Hammer. Still no change! Other than that one blink of his eyes Hammer seemed intent on not reading the file in front of him and not making notes the pad of paper before him – my missing pad, she fumed. It was like watching a still life. Still. Very, very still.

Clearly, he was only pretending to be reading. He hasn't even noticed it's upside down. So, if he's not reading the file and not making notes, what is he doing?

Curiosity nibbled at her. A part of her was wanted to know what, or who, could have put Sledge into this state. A part of her was afraid of the answer. A part of her told her that she already knew the answer. Another part of her just wanted to stand up, slap the file out of his hands and demand that he just grow up. How many parts do I have? She wondered. Doreau gathered all her parts and focused their attention, at least for the moment, on the open file on her desk.

Case files always followed the same general format. The top sheet on the left side held a case summary, completed by the Officer taking the victim's statement. Other official reports from the medical examiner or forensics would get filed beneath that summary, but for a case like this there were none. The summary was also sparse, listing the name, address and contact information for the victim; the location where the crime had occurred; the names and contact information for any witnesses; and a description of the item(s) taken and the approximate value. In this case, a purse. Well, surprise, she thought, it is, after all a purse snatching. Then she saw the value, and caught her breath. $900!? This thief had taste.

She turned her attention to the right side of the file which contained the witness and victim statements. This, she thought, might at least be entertaining. For the first time all morning, she was not disappointed.

According to the various witnesses, the suspect was between 5 feet 4 inches and 6 feet 2 inches in height and could be between 18 and 55 years of age. According to one, he was a heavy set Latino wearing a windbreaker and ski mask. Another described him as, "medium build, tanned Caucasian, wearing a dark hoodie" while according to a third witness she was looking for a "thin, black man wearing a winter parka with the hood up". Doreau frowned and checked the address of the third witness. Of course, a tourist, vacationing from northern Canada! That explained it; anyone with a tan would look dark to them. The witnesses seemed to agree on only two points … the suspect was male and had fled on foot.

Well, I've worked with less, she mused as she made a few brief notes and set the file to one side. As she reached for the next file, Doreau found herself wondering if she was any more reliable than the witnesses she found so entertaining. Could she trust her own observations on Hammer, for instance? Or was she too close to be a reliable witness?

She flipped the file open but, instead of reading on, she let her mind consider a different question: What was normal when it came to Sledge Hammer?

Well, for one thing, he could seldom sit still for even a few minutes. Hammer kept a selection of live munitions in his desk that he used to pass the time until a case came their way. His activities ranged from "Put the pin in the grenade", to lining up .50 calibre ammunition and knocking it over like dominos, to "spin the mortar round", a game he only played when Trunk made him choose between multiple suspects, rather than arresting everyone en masse.

Normal, for Hammer, was arriving at the precinct half an hour late, with some fanciful scheme for reducing criminal activity and a burning desire to share it with everyone unfortunate enough to cross his path. Ideas like tearing up the Interstate and replacing it with two lane gravel road, both to reduce speeding and to bring back the "good old days" when chain gangs spent the day "making little ones out big ones". Most of the officers in the precinct had learned not to engage Hammer in casual conversation but, since she was his partner, Doreau often found herself the target of Hammer's ramblings. Unless he encountered Captain Trunk first. Yet, this morning, Captain Trunk had walked right past Hammer's desk without Hammer saying a word.

At the thought of her superior her eyes flicked involuntarily in the direction of Trunk's office. An indistinct form moved on the other side of the nearly closed blinds. On the other side of the window, Trunk was pacing, she surmised. It was, she knew, his way of dealing with stress of the job. She had tried to teach him her deep breathing exercises but, for some reason, although he could inhale calmly, each time he exhaled, it came out as "HAAAMMMMEER!" and only increased his tension and blood pressure. He found the repetitive rhythms of his pacing calming in the same way that she found the rhythm of her breathing exercises relaxing. That he was pacing already was a clear indication that Captain Trunk was on edge this morning, too.

Maybe this has nothing to do with me, she mused, feeling that somehow she had stumbled on a key fact. That train of thought derailed before anything could come of it, leaving her to once again contemplate the wreckage of her morning..

Hammer's favorite activity, of course, involved cleaning and oiling his gun. Once he had his Amigo in pristine condition, he would load it carefully, spin the cylinder and then go through all the motions of a fast draw from his shoulder holster. Repeatedly, to the consternation of any fellow officers or civilians who might suddenly find themselves serving in the role of "target".

That gave her three clear examples of how Hammer's behaviour this morning was anything but normal; four if you added the fact that he was early today. In fact, as she thought about it, she realized that there was another example, too. By now he should be badgering me about how "real" police should be outside making the streets safer, not inside studying case reports from other officers.

Although her reasoning left her confident that her assessment of Hammer was correct, Doreau felt that she was further than ever from understanding the cause of Hammer's behaviour. Strangely, the possibility that last night wasn't what was bothering him had done nothing to make her feel any better. In fact, it felt vaguely insulting if somehow last night wasn't the issue.

Realizing that she had hit a dead end and that further speculation about Hammer without some additional facts would get her nowhere, Doreau once again turned her attention to the case file.

She frowned. Something was bothering her. She'd argued more than once with Sledge about whether it was attention to proper procedures or "gut instincts" that made a good cop. What she hadn't told him is that she, too, occasionally found herself trusting her instincts over procedure.

Like right now. I'm missing something. What is it? What was I doing when this feeling started? Thinking about Hammer? Hammer doesn't own a purse. Hammer doesn't think any normal man ….

NORMAL! I was thinking about what was normal for Hammer! Maybe I should be asking what was normal for a purse snatcher …? The felon picks out a vulnerable target … waits for an opening … grabs the purse and runs. We usually find the purse dumped a couple of blocks away with any valuables missing.

With any valuables missing …, she repeated under her breath.

Suddenly feeling like a detective for the first time all morning, she retrieved the last file, flipped it open and re-read the summary to confirm her memory. Yes, the only item listed as missing was the purse! Mentally, she checked off a list of other things that should have been in the purse when it was stolen: cash, credit cards, keys, ID, perhaps a cell phone or iPod. Why were none of those items listed?

Certain that she had discovered something crucial she turned to the other side of the folder and began flipping pages looking for one in particular – the victim's statement. Four lines in she found what she was looking for: "The thief dumped the contents of my purse on the ground and ran off".

Why steal a purse and immediately dump the contents? Thieves usually grabbed the cash, at least, before dumping everything else. But why would a thief target just the purse? Even it was expensive and high end, he would still have to sell it or fence it and cash still seemed the better option. It sounded almost like a prank, or maybe a sorority initiation stunt.

Doreau started making notes feverishly as different motives occurred to her. Perhaps a fetish of some sort? Or a distraction? She added that to her notes, and then paused. Was this a single incident, or were there more? If there were more, perhaps she could find a pattern. She forgot about Hammer as she spread the files across her desk and began reading them with a purpose firmly in mind.

Most mornings, Captain Trunk dreaded hearing his office telephone ring. That first phone call of the day was pretty much like pouring several gallons of fresh blood into a shark tank, where the sharks all wore badge number 470 and answered to the name "Inspector Sledge Hammer". Hammer always wanted the first case of the day, and would do anything to make sure he got it. Once, and only once, Trunk had denied Hammer a case. His office was trashed, and his desk destroyed, in the ensuing mayhem. All in all, he had decided, it was generally better if Hammer wreaked havoc on the outside world rather than in Trunk's own personal space. At least outside the office there was the possibility that the criminal element would be collateral damage.

This morning was different though. This morning Captain Trunk found himself willing the phone to ring. He needed an excuse to call Hammer and Doreau into his office. If only it was just Hammer, he thought, I could make up any excuse and get away with it. But Doreau will see right through anything that transparent. Or would she? She was acting strangely this morning, too. That thought was even more troubling.

It made no difference what Captain Trunk wanted, or needed. Each time he turned back towards his desk, his phone stubbornly refused to ring. The only thing that changed was the position of the hands on his clock. Tick by tick they slowly advanced, and Captain Trunk's impatience grew.

There was no point in trying to push the matter from his mind and work on anything else either. He had tried. He tried completing his quarterly performance review and found himself on the verge of demoting himself before coming to his senses. He then tried reading the latest department analysis for crime trends, but not even a stupefying statistical analysis of the types of trash being discarded by city litterbugs was able to numb his mind to the crisis he perceived outside his door. Eventually he gave up and returned to pacing. Movement somehow felt less useless than simply sitting still.

So, it was actually a relief when the phone on his desk finally rang. At the very least it should provide a welcome distraction from pacing and wondering. Anything to take my mind off the crisis that had occupied him all morning, with no sign of resolution, he thought. At best … could he hope for a solution?

Grabbing up the phone hastily, he listened with increasing interest as the voice on the other end relayed the initial details of an incident in his district. A fire, possibly arson; a ransacked shop, probably a robbery; and most interesting of all, a body, a potential homicide.

Meanwhile, back in the bullpen, Hammer tensed, suddenly aware that his gut had said something. Somebody, somewhere, had just reported a murder, he was certain. That wasn't particularly interesting. Someone, somewhere, Hammer knew, was murdered about every minute. But the hairs on the back of his neck were also standing up, and the combination suggested that this one was nearby, and that was interesting.

Normally, he would have jumped to his feet and headed directly to Captain Trunk's office, calling to Doreau to forget the paperwork, they had police work.. Today, he hesitated. His earlier notes were still on his desk, hidden beneath the case files he had hurriedly scattered over them when he had heard Doreau's footsteps in the hall. He felt certain that his ruse of reading a case file had successfully kept her from noticing, so far. But who knew what might happen while he was away from his desk?

What if Doreau took it on herself to tidy his desk while he was with Trunk? What if Daley decided to do some filing while he was out? He couldn't take the chance. Should he take them with him? No, too obvious. What then?

This is taking too long, he decided. What if the Captain gives a nice juicy murder case to someone else? Gun might be cooped up in the precinct all day, and might slide even further into withdrawal. I need to do something now!

Making up his mind, Hammer did the one thing that he could think of; he pulled his desk drawer open, and began sweeping the papers from his desk top inside. It was a tight fit. Several boxes of magnum ammunition for Gun, his grenades, a mortar round and a selection of high calibre military ammo already occupied most of the available space. It took some creative cramming, but he finally succeeded in getting the desk drawer to close. With a sigh of relief he stood up and marched towards Trunk's office, taking out his sunglasses and putting them on as he did.

Doreau was aware of the change as soon as Hammer's body tensed, and was instantly alert herself. Has he noticed me watching him? No, he was still clueless, she believed. She held her breath, wondering what to expect next. She was startled when Hammer opened his desk drawer. She sat frozen as he began sweeping files inside. Then, as he began cramming loose papers in as well, she suddenly realized that the case files had concealed other papers. Papers covered in notes that Hammer had apparently made before she had arrived.

How long has he been here? She found herself wondering in shock. What had he been working on? I'm supposed to be a detective; how could I miss something like this?

Doreau was so occupied by her speculations that when Hammer suddenly stood up and headed for Trunk's office, she was totally unprepared. Quickly, she tried to slip her shoes on, but in her haste she kicked one, causing it to skitter away into the dark recess under the desk. Cursing under her breath, she pushed her chair back and knelt, searching frantically.

"There's no way I'm letting you out of my sight," she muttered to herself, as her hand finally found the object of her search.

"Dori, who are you talking to?" Officer Daley's voice sounded behind her.

Doreau started, bumping her head on the underside of her desk. She hadn't seen Daley approaching. Backing out from under her desk, she stood up, and faced her fellow officer's questioning gaze.

Out of the corner of her eye, Doreau caught sight of Hammer pushing open the door into Captain Trunk's office. If she was going to catch up with Hammer and Captain Trunk before the door closed, she had no time for explanations.

"No one," she mumbled, doing a half step, half hop as she struggled to pull her shoe on and follow Hammer at the same time. Finally succeeding, she raced toward Captain Trunk's office.

"It's OK Dori, I talk to my shoes, too," Officer Daley called after her.

Suddenly realizing that everyone in the bullpen was looking at her, Officer Daley returned to her office rounds with a self-conscious flush.

Perfect, Trunk thought, as he hung up the phone and headed to his office door! A homicide; the perfect case to assign to Hammer and Doreau. Better still, a perfect excuse to call both Hammer and Doreau into his office, where I can observe them both at close range.

He almost made it.

As he reached for the door, it was suddenly flung open from the other side, striking him squarely in forehead. Trunk staggered, as Hammer pushed past him and into his office. Recovering slightly, rubbing his head and letting his gaze follow Hammer, he stepped into the now open doorway. His mouth opened.


His yell was cut off as Doreau collided with him. This time he fell to the floor.

Who could possibly have run into me this time?

"Sorry, Captain, I didn't see you there."

Doreau apologised immediately, flushing and offering her hand to assist Trunk from the floor. She had been intent on following Hammer, but still preoccupied with what she had seen as Hammer had cleared his desk before heading in the direction of Trunk's office. Now she was puzzled, preoccupied and embarrassed.

Doreau?! What in the world was going on this morning?

Warily, Captain Trunk picked himself up off the floor, ignoring Doreau's outstretched hand. His head throbbed, but he ignored it, too. Very deliberately, he closed the door to his office. He walked in silence back to his desk before turning to face both of them. From that vantage point, a point of authority he hoped, he let his gaze rest briefly on each of them in turn, all the while remaining perfectly silent.

On the surface, the room seemed fairly normal. Hammer occupied his usual position, closest to the door, and perhaps half a step farther away from Trunk's desk than was necessary. Hammer's position forced Doreau slightly to one side, and while she faced Trunk, she was turned slightly so that she could watch Hammer from the corner of eye. She waited expectantly, politely, for Trunk to begin.

Doreau is definitely keeping a close eye on Hammer this morning. She must suspect something is wrong, too. What has she noticed and what was she looking for?

As for Hammer, who knew what he was looking at from behind those infernal sunglasses? I'll get to those later, he decided. For now, let Hammer think he could continue to hide.

Perhaps Doreau realized that Captain Trunk was assessing both of them, trying to evaluate their facial expressions and body language. Hammer suffered from no such awareness.

"Look, Captain, I can solve cases a lot faster if you don't make me guess where the body is …"

In spite of himself, Trunk knew his face registered surprise.

How did Hammer know that a new homicide had just been called in? Maybe he has a bug on my telephone?

Trunk resolved to have his office swept at the earliest opportunity. Meanwhile, he needed to focus on the case at hand, and on studying his two subordinates.

Captain Trunk decided to come straight to the point.

"I just received a call from the San Francisco Fire Department."

Deliberately, he kept his voice low and even.

"Earlier this morning they were called to a location in the Hayes Street Shopping District. A warehouse attached to a clothing store at had been set on fire. Deliberately."

Bor-ing. That is why they call themselves the Fire Department, they deal with fires, Hammer thought to himself.

Hammer's mind drifted; considering the myriad fun things he and Gun could be doing at a real crime scene, and wishing Trunk would get to the point.

Blah blah blah (comma) blah blah (full stop). He heard. Blah blah (semi colon) blah blah (full stop). He was pretty sure it was a semi colon. Hammer prided himself on his punctuation; on being particularly good with exclamation points. Of course Gun normally helped out, by providing extra emphasis. Trunk was continuing. Blah blah blah HAMMER, ARE YOU LISTENING TO ANYTHING I'M SAYING?

With those words, Hammer was brought back to the present, and gave his full attention to the florid face which was now approximately three inches in front of his own.

"Of course, sir. Every word, sir." Hammer responded.

He thought he heard a stifled snicker coming from Doreau's direction. He didn't have an opportunity to wonder about his partner's uncharacteristic lack of manners though. Captain Trunk had barely paused for breath before continuing.

Trunk also thought he heard a stifled sound from Doreau's direction and glanced her way. She had turned slightly, as if self-conscious at the prospect of being present as Trunk disciplined her partner.


Ah, Trunk is almost ready to get to the point. Hammer thought, removing his sunglasses and blinking as his eyes adjusted to the suddenly too bright outer office light. Daylight is way over-rated.

Trunk regarded Hammer the same way a dog regards another dog's bone. Looking for any sign of weakness, any opening he could use to his advantage. Even with the sunglasses off, Hammer remained inscrutable. Maybe Doreau would be more revealing, Trunk mused as he shifted position slightly in order to place her in his line of vision.

"Okay, Hammer, if you were listening, what did I just say?"

"Uh … 'Take off those stupid sunglasses, Hammer.'

Trunk closed his eyes and covered them with one hand, determined not to let Hammer get the better of him.

"Before that, Hammer! What did I say BEFORE I told you to take off your sunglasses?"

Hammer prided himself on having an i … ei … eid, well the kind of memory that never forgot anything. He knew he could relate the entire one sided conversation word for word.

"Blah blah blah, blah blah. Blah blah; blah blah. Blah blah HAMMER ARE YOU LISTENING TO ANYTHING I'M SAYING?"

Hammer repeated the entire one sided conversation, verbatim, including the nouns, adverbs and punctuation. He was certain he even had the emphasis correct. He was also certain that he heard Doreau snicker, again. What is with her this morning, he wondered? Enough strangeness.

Doreau had heard the entire exchange between Captain Trunk and Hammer. She always felt a little uncomfortable at times like these and found herself looking away as if to distance herself from a conversation she felt should be private. Still, at this sort of volume, it was impossible to ignore them completely. Hammer's response to Trunk caused her to snort involuntarily and cast an incredulous glance their way.

Hammer was clearly even more distracted than usual. Hearing his response to the Captain's question she found herself pondering exactly how Hammer's mind processed conversation. Did he listen to anything anyone said? Did he hear anything I had said last night? Or had he simply heard "blah, blah, blah" while his mind was off on some spelunking trip of its own?

Trunk also heard Doreau's involuntary reaction, and was positioned to see her glance in Hammer's direction. He observed her surprised expression and saw it replaced by a more introspective look as if she was analysing a case.

Trunk had no time to consider that matter more fully; now that he had Hammer's attention, he was determined to keep it. He continued his briefing, circling Hammer as he did.

"As I was saying Hammer, after the fire was out the Fire Department found a man in the upstairs apartment."

"Finders, keepers, Captain. I have better things to do than babysit some sea urchin who doesn't have enough sense to leave a burning building." Hammer replied, hoping that was not the reason the Captain had called him in.

"HAMMER!" Trunk was growing exasperated. "The man couldn't leave because he was dead. Of something other than natural causes, Hammer! Do you know what THAT means, Hammer?"

Trunk stopped circling, just behind Hammer's right ear. He realized he could no longer observe Doreau from this spot, but he wanted to get into Hammer's personal space; to get him off balance.

"Do you?"

Trunk barked the words, and noted with satisfaction that Hammer started visibly. Apparently he was getting through this time. He waited for Hammer to respond.

Hammer opened his mouth to respond, but then paused. It sounded like a trick question. Trunk had said the death was not natural. That eliminated fire, stabbing, beating, poisoning and gunfire. It was perfectly natural for people to die of those things.

"Aliens killed him?" Hammer questioned, genuinely puzzled.

"NO HAMMER!" Trunk could feel his temples starting to throb. Another migraine was coming, he knew it. Attempting to forestall the inevitable, Trunk took a deep breath and lowered his voice. "Aliens did not …"

It was Trunk's turn to pause. Do I know the cause of death? Then how can I say for certain that it wasn't …?

Trunk held his head with both hands. How does this happen? Somehow Hammer has me questioning my own sanity.

THAT IS NOT WHAT IT MEANS!" It means that this is a HOMICIDE …

Simple words, Trunk told himself, simple words, two syllables at most

"This is a murder, Hammer!" Trunk concluded.

Why did Captain Trunk always save the best for last? Hammer wondered. If he'd just started with that information, Gun and I could be at the crime scene by now.

"Captain, you really should improve your communications skills. If you … you know … got straight to the point …"

"Let me see if I can communicate this," Captain trunk growled menacingly. "I need to assign someone from this office to in-ves-ti-gate, Hammer. You do know what investigate means, DON"T YOU HAMMER!" Trunk switched tactics. "Of course, if you aren't interested Hammer, I'll get Mayjoy or Daley to accompany Doreau …"

Trunk continued to address his remarks to Hammer, but his attention was actually on Doreau as he spoke. This was the point where she would normally come to her partner's assistance ...

That got Hammer's attention, he noted with satisfaction. He caught Doreau's sudden startled glance. And hers as well if I'm not mistaken …

"Captain, you know how I …" Hammer began, before Trunk interrupted.

He had expected Hammer's protest, and was prepared for it; in fact he could have cut him off even more quickly than he had. He had waited the extra moment to see how Doreau would react.

Now he definitely had something to think about. Not only had he startled her, too, but she had failed to come to Hammer's defense. Could it be that she was actually considering the option?

That isn't like her at all.

"Hammer, I am assigning you and Doreau to this case. That means that I want the two of you to get over to 380 Gough Street and find out how this man was murdered; who murdered him; and gather evidence so we can arrest the scum suck…, the perpetrator. DO YOU THINK YOU CAN DO THAT HAMMER?"

Hammer was used to Captain Trunk's tirades. He had become adept at leaving just enough soap and water from the morning shower in his ears to diminish the volume ofTrunk's vocal histrionics to a bearable level. Having missed his morning shower, however, he was also missing the usual attenuation this technique provided. Everything Trunk said sounded just plain loud, making it difficult to determine exactly when Captain Trunk's tirade had reached its climax. He was starting to understand why the captain had so many headaches, in fact, he thought he could feel the beginnings of one himself. However, as the pause became more pregnant, it seemed to invite a response. He took a chance. Short, simple answers seemed best when the Captain was in this particular mood.

"Uh, yes Captain." He remained motionless, in case the Captain had something more to add.

"Then get out of here and get to work, Hammer!" Trunk dismissed the Inspector.

Hammer needed no further encouragement to be on his way. Doreau, on the other hand still seemed lost in thought.

"DOREAU!" Captain Trunk spoke sharply, in a tone usually reserved for Hammer. Seeing her jump and look up, clearly startled, Trunk felt a twinge of remorse.

"Is there something on your mind, Detective?" He asked in a more conversational tone.

"Uh …" She glanced around, a startled expression appearing as she realized she was now alone with Trunk, in his office. "Yes, sir …", she continued, clearly at something of a loss. "I mean, no, sir," she corrected herself, as if Trunk's question was just registering. She started to back out of the office, then turned and bolted, as Trunk watched, his concern rising exponentially with each passing second.

Doreau headed for her desk in the bullpen area in a state of near panic. For the second … third? … forth? …time that morning she wanted to kick herself.

What was I thinking? Had Captain Trunk noticed …? Of course he had. What would he think? How much does he know? Was he serious?

New questions assailed her. The prospect of being assigned to a new partner was just starting to register. Sure, she had wondered about her partnership with Hammer. Yes, the idea of exploring her options had crossed her mind this morning. She hadn't seriously expected that it would happen, at least not so soon. She was totally unprepared when Captain Trunk had actually suggested …

On top of her confusion, her ears were still ringing. She had not been prepared for the sheer volume in Captain Trunk's tirade. She was, of course, used to their superior's shouts of frustration but today the Captain had outdone himself.

Something, she thought, has him wound up even tighter than usual. He hadn't even spoken to Hammer before that moment, and Hammer had barely said anything at all.

Had Hammer found a way of getting to Trunk before they even met this morning?

"Oooo, ooo; ooo ooo. Ooo oo;. ooo ooo." Her mind chanted at her. "You didn't believe in paranormal phenomena when Hammer thought he could kill with his thoughts, so why are you thinking that way now?"

She dismissed the thought as worthy only of science fiction drama. The challenge with Hammer was usually to keep him quiet enough to focus on his job rather than chasing off after some insane crime fighting scheme. Usually, when he had a particularly "good" idea, like waterboarding babies in a Pavlovian attempt to condition them against future criminal career choices, he couldn't wait to share it with everyone. Usually, the more insane the scheme, the harder it was to prevent him from sharing it in detail, no matter how disinterested his fellow officers tried to appear. Hammer was clearly acting strangely this morning. His silence this morning was definitely out of the ordinary, and she found it disturbing. Trunk probably did, too. That would explain the extra volume as well as the questions. The Captain was simply trying to shake Hammer out of whatever funk has him so preoccupied.

So why is he taking it out on me?

For a moment, it felt as though her world spun. She paused to consider the thought.

Maybe I'm being too sensitive; taking it too personally, she reasoned.

Liar! The voice inside her head accused her. You've been just as distracted as Hammer. You didn't even notice when Trunk finished talking and dismissed you both. Do you think Captain Trunk didn't notice that, too? Do you think he's not wondering why?

She shook her head again, determined not to drawn into another vortex. It doesn't matter what they think; either of them, she thought fiercely. I need to be professional about this. I really need to move on. Starting with this case.

Doreau reached her desk. She turned her computer off and reached for her jacket. Pulling it on quickly, she left the buttons undone and reached for her purse. As she slung it over her shoulder she turned.

Where was Hammer?

Hammer had come to the precinct earlier to be alone, to consider his problem with Gun in solitude. Somehow, reviewing the past days and making notes on events that might be significant, he had lost track of time. The hours had passed quickly; much more quickly than he had realized. His fellow officers had started to trickle, and then flood in. Before he knew it, the precinct was filled with people, including Detective LeNez … er, Doreau.

Feeling their prying eyes on him every moment, Hammer felt more and more like a caged animal. As the minutes stretched out, tension bubbled inside him, with no outlet. If he started to pace, Doreau would know that something was bothering him, and would start asking annoying questions. His desk was too covered in paperwork to play with his grenades; no one knew better than he did the difficulty of searching for a grenade pin in a stack of paperwork. He considered firing Gun into the ceiling, but found himself paralyzed by performance anxiety. What if Gun didn't fire? In front of Doreau?

So, Hammer had sat nearly motionless, hoping to go unnoticed, for most of the morning. Until, finally, Trunk's phone had rung. Hammer had made sure that he was first in line for the case, not actually caring what it was as long as it provided a reason to get outside. It had taken what seemed like forever to pry the details out of Trunk, but now he had an address and a murder to investigate. He was actually excited, and certain that Gun would share his enthusiasm. So, once outside of Captain Trunk's office he made a b-line for the elevators. He couldn't wait to get out of the precinct, away from prying eyes, and he was determined to let nothing delay him. He was so happy he had to supress the urge to whistle.

Whistle? I never whistle, he scoffed as he instinctively made his way down the corridor, turning right and then right again into the elevator lobby. Absently, automatically, his extended finger stabbed the "down" button, causing it to light.

As Hammer waited for the elevator to arrive, he was was planning how to approach the crime scene to achieve maximum excitement for Gun. He had several options, he decided. He could charge in, with Gun leading the way. Gun sometimes enjoyed being on top of the action. But, there was something to be said for anticipation; keeping Gun in the dark, inside his jacket, while he let the excitement build slowly, slowly, before finally whipping Gun out for the climactic moment of release. Sometimes Hammer even liked to pretend that he was a naïve young detective; that he was unaware of what was going on, letting himself get drawn deeper and deeper into danger until, at the last possible instant, Gun could come to his rescue.

"Hey, Hammer, you want this elevator, or the next one?"

Mayjoy's voice brought Hammer abruptly into the present. The "ding" of the arriving elevator must have been camouflaged by the ringing in his ears.

"Enough sarcasm," he mumbled, trying to cover his distraction as he entered the elevator car, pressing the ground floor button. Only as the doors began to close did he realize something was missing.

Where is Doreau? He thought. Trunk told us to get over to the crime scene, and while he hadn't specifically said to take the elevator, this is the way we always go.

Doreau bolted for the corridor.

Was it possible that she had missed hearing his normal, perfunctory, 'Come on, Doreau'? Her ears were still ringing … how long ago … how far ahead is he?

Doreau had barely started down the corridor when she heard the "ding" of the elevator arriving, and knew she was too far away to catch up.

I don't even remember the address of the crime scene, she suddenly realized.

Desperately, she pushed open the door into the stairwell and quickly slipped her shoes off.

This should be faster than waiting for another elevator, she thought, starting down two at a time. She mentally kicked herself for getting distracted.

Why wasn't I paying attention in Trunk's office? Why did I let Hammer out of sight? Why am I blaming myself?

Why didn't he wait for me? He must have noticed that I'm not with him. Of course he has. I should have expected this. He didn't want a partner; he especially didn't want me. He's been ignoring me all morning. Now he has an opportunity to ditch me and work this case on his own.

Doreau's mind spun as she began to circle her way down the stairwell. Fortunately, she was in excellent shape. Thanks to her martial arts exercises, she was also remarkably agile. And right now she was motivated.

Men, and their stupid egos. You either had to kiss it better for them, or they kissed you goodbye. Clearly, after last night he really doesn't care whether I come along or not. He never really wanted me along, anyway. I'm not taking it anymore! As soon as this case is over …

It was only three flights to the ground. The stairwell opened directly to the outside, because of fire code requirements, letting her bypass the lobby, so she should easily beat him to the street. It didn't answer any of her questions, but the exertion cleared her mind, and she felt better …

She reached the bottom, and slipped her shoes back on, reflecting that the concrete had not been kind to her nylons at all. She'd need to replace them, but that would have to wait until later. She pushed the door open and stepped outside.

Inwardly she still seethed. For two years she had put up with his chauvinistic, self-centred misogynistic attitude. She even thought she had seen him change. Clearly it was all wishful thinking. He hadn't changed; he wouldn't change; he couldn't change.

She looked up and down the street for Hammer's car. The dented, scraped, shot up silhouette was usually easy to spot.

Where could it be? Ah-ha! There it was, on the far side of the street. Odd … the cars in front and behind appeared undamaged.

Smiling grimly to herself as she crossed the street against traffic, she felt a surge of exhilaration at her victory and thought that new nylons would be a small price to pay. Quickly she approached the passenger side of the car, saying a silent prayer. She didn't think she'd ever seen Hammer lock his car, but nothing about him seemed to fit with her expectations any more.

It was unlocked! She realized she had been holding her breath, and now let it go with a sigh of relief. Then she opened the door, and quickly slid inside, chancing a quick glance at the building entrance as she did so. Still no sign of … him. Deliberately she started placing "him" in a generic category of "other" men no longer in her life. After the way he had abandoned her upstairs she was no longer certain he thought of her as his partner, and she was determined to take nothing for granted. She focused her gaze straight ahead, and waited. Whatever game Hammer was playing, she was determined to out think, out play and out last anything he could come throw at her. She was determined to survive.

With still no sign of his partner, Hammer reached instinctively to block the closing doors. Desperate as he was to get away from the precinct and resume his efforts to reconnect with Gun, he already had enough problems without giving Doreau something to nag him about.

What was the matter with her this morning? Not only is she giving me the silent treatment, she was snickering in Trunk's office, and now she is pulling a vanishing act right after being assigned a new case. She always sticks close to me when we get a new assignment; almost as though she was afraid I'd bolt for the car, leaving her behind.

Casting a quick glance outside, Hammer failed to see her anywhere. Mayjoy was starting to look at him like a suspect. He shrugged.

Who knew what went on in a woman's mind? If only they thought more like men, then they wouldn't be so difficult to understand. Well, I don't have time for games now; Captain Trunk made it clear he wanted me at the crime scene immediately.

Where ever she has vanished to, it isn't my problem, he decided. I need to find a way to revive Gun, and that isn't going to happen while I stand around waiting in an empty elevator. If we solve a homicide in the process, and get the Captain off my case as a result, that was a bonus.

He removed his hand from the door, letting it close just as the warning beeps began. He reached for Gun, his first instinct being to silence the mechanical annoyance. Then he remembered the look on Captain Trunk's face earlier, and reconsidered.

As he rode the car down alone, Hammer fumed at his partner's lack of sensitivity this morning.

She's the one always nagging me about being more sensitive. Why couldn't she take her own advice and cut me a little slack? Can't she see I have important things on my mind? How could a partner miss seeing that?

He wasn't sure. He wasn't even sure why he was wasting time wondering about Doreau when clearly his real problem was with Gun. The best chance he could see of setting things right between them was to treat Gun to something special, soon. The elevator arrived at its destination, and the doors opened.

Hammer scanned the lobby for any sign of Doreau. Nothing.

Where had she gone?

He fidgeted nervously, checking his watch repeatedly as another elevator, and then another arrived. Precious seconds were slipping away.

This is taking so long that Norman will have the case solved before I get there.

At that thought, Hammer's mind was made up. Crime waits for no woman, and neither do I, he thought, spinning on his heel and heading for the exit.

As he stepped into the street, Inspector Hammer instinctively scanned the street for any sign of crimes in progress. Opportunity lurked everywhere, he knew, and he knew better than to look a stolen horse in the mouth. The thief could be escaping while you practiced equine dentistry.

The street was clear, but Hammer was astonished to see that someone was seated in his car.

What scum faced, pizza sucking sea urchin pollutes the seats in my car?

Ordinarily, a simple misdemeanor arrest right outside headquarters would have made Hammer drool. Minimal paperwork and he wouldn't even have to give the meandering miscreant a free ride downtown. Today he was in a hurry though and didn't want to waste any more time. Still, he couldn't let the obvious trespassing infraction go unpunished. Deciding that there was only one time efficient course of action, he pulled his magnum and took quick strides toward the vehicle. He would wound the reckless wrongdoer and leave him at the curb for later pickup. Maybe, he reflected, Doreau could take care of him whenever she got around to coming outside. At least her entire morning wouldn't be totally wasted.

Then recognition hit him, and he froze. Checking that no one had noticed, he slipped his gun back inside his jacket, and tried to appear calm and nonchalant as he walked to the driver's door. He knew that hair; he knew that erect posture; he knew that profile. He'd ridden with her for the last two years, every day, how could he not know? Without a doubt, Detective Dori Doreau was already in the car, waiting for him.

How did she get here so fast? Did I black out or something? He wondered. Could this problem with Gun be affecting my expert observational skills? Na, no way, I'm impervious to that sort of thing …

Still, it was one more reason to find a solution as quickly as possible, preferably before Trunk started to question his abilities. He had no time to be concerned with Doreau's silence, or prestidigitations. In one quick motion he entered the car, started it, and without even a glance over his shoulder, pulled into traffic, to the blare of offended horns.

The drive to their destination took twelve and a half minutes. Neither of them spoke a word the entire time. Both of them knew why the other wasn't talking.