Backstory 1: Big Guys and Guns

"Hold it right there, mister!"

I saw the gun first. My world contracted around – revolver, six-shot, four-inch barrel, Smith & Wesson – it.

Then I saw the eyes behind the gun. Huge pupils, pale irises, blond lashes, impossibly young, scared. Patty!

Another second passed before I saw what was connecting the eyes to the gun – the dark blue uniform of an LAPD officer. The sight of the shining badge centered me, calmed me. The gun – S&W Model 15? Model 19? – and the scared eyes kept me motionless.

"Easy, officer, easy," I said. "I'm a fireman with L.A. County. My name is Mike Stoker. I have some identification in my wallet."

"Don't move!" The cop had blond hair so light it was almost white.

"I'm not going to move until you tell me to, officer. Just take it easy, okay?"

Hurried footsteps in the hall. Patty's voice. "Mike!"

"Patty," I said calmly, "stay where you are. Officer, this is my friend Patty, she lives here. She can tell you who I am, too."

"Don't. Move." I hadn't moved at all but I concentrated on not moving a bit more diligently.

"Easy, now, I'm not going to move."

"Stoker?" I flick my eyes to my right and see a familiar face, then return my gaze to the man with the – LAPD-issue Smith & Wesson K-38 Combat Masterpiece Revolver Model 15, modified for double-action only – gun.

"Hey, Jim." Since I'm being more diligent about not moving, I stop myself from nodding to him as I usually would. I was keeping a close eye on the fair-skinned kid's face, not sure if he was naturally that pale or not.

"Stand down, Freston," LAPD Officer James Reed told the trainee firmly. "Malloy and I know this guy. He's alright, Tims." The kid looked over at Reed for confirmation, received it, and started to relax his stance, gun sights slowly moving off me.

As for me, well, I stayed right where I was until he'd holstered his weapon then slowly let out my breath. Now I could see Reed's partner Pete Malloy come forward, releasing Patty's arm from his already-loosened grip as he did. "Okay if I get up now?" I asked as Patty hurried to me.

I could feel Patty's hand grip my shoulder, her thumb touching the back of my neck. It was a strong confirmation of what I'd said to Officer Freston – I was supposed to be there – but I waited until Malloy nudged the guy into responding to me. "Oh, sure, yeah. You can get up," Freston said. "Sorry about that. Guess I, uh, overreacted."

I reached up and gave Patty's hand a squeeze before replying, relieved she was okay. "No need to apologize." I felt like I had been sitting for days as I started to get on my feet. "As for overreacting, well, that would be for your, uh, partners here to say." I knew they were trainers more than partners at this point – new guys had the same look whether they were boots or cops – but it wasn't the kind of thing I figured I should bring up.

I didn't share my first thought, either.

"Here, Stoker, let me give you a hand," Malloy said. He stepped past Freston, nudging him closer to Reed, and pulled me the rest of the way up. Patty's hand slipped off my shoulder as I stood up, trailing lightly down my back.

"Thanks, Pete," I replied. "What's going on?"

"A 211 armed robbery suspect was seen entering this area about, oh, twenty minutes ago now. We're checking the neighborhood. White male, 5'7"-5'8", medium build, brown and brown, wearing tan pants, green shirt, and a dark gray jacket."

I straightened to my full six-foot-four-inch height and glanced at the rookie with my blue-gray eyes. Pete's lips twitched and the corner of Jim's mouth turned up. "Guess that lets me off the hook then," I said mildly.

"This time, Mikey," Reed teased me and I smiled, despite the 'mikey' he tossed in there. I heard Patty chuckle beside me and smiled over at her.

At this point, chaos broke out.

Both the cat – the one I'd been nose-to-nose with a few minutes before, the one who'd startled me into falling off the couch thus alerting the police to my presence – and Officer Timsen Freston suddenly turned to look out the patio doors. "Did you hear – ," the rookie began but was drowned out by the angry screeching and hissing of the cat-cum-demon.

"Chief? What's wrong?" Patty asked, moving toward the big orange-and-white feline spitting at the glass door, bending down beside him, trying to soothe him.

"Hold it, Tims," Pete murmured softly, hand resting lightly on the kid's arm. "Let's see what we've got before you do any more runnin'." He nodded to Jim who had stepped over to get a better look. I'd turned as well, the feline's renewed caterwauling causing the hair on my neck to rise.

"There's someone out there!" Patty exclaimed and reached for the cat. At the same time Reed shouted, "That's him! He's still got the shotgun, Pete." He pulled the patio door open and took out after the guy, heading to a low stone wall on the back side of the patio for cover, then bolting across the lawn. Malloy hauled Freston toward the front door with him, telling the kid to call for back-up and then follow.

I took two big steps, put one arm across Patty's back, thrust the other behind her knees, and swung her up into my arms, cat and all, in one smooth motion. Three more steps and I had a couch between us and the patio doors. I eased her down, just like I would a victim from a fire or an accident. "Easy, now, easy," I said automatically, squatting low beside her.

I could hear Reed's foot pursuit of the suspect through the backyard, including the jingly clang of a chain-link fence being scaled, then the returning silence. Certain they were gone, I looked down. Patty's rapid breathing and wide green eyes made me aware I'd gone way beyond the pale. I was looming over her, invading her space, scaring her; I pulled back carefully, giving her space and time. I could just imagine Reed's jibe: Geez, Mikey, overreact much?

"Whoa," she said, after a moment. "What a ride, eh, Chief?" Patty asked the cat still in her arms and smiled at me a bit unsteadily. I chuckled when the cat gave a heartfelt meow in response and stalked off, flicking its tail. The look still on Patty's face dried up my amusement.

"Let me help you up," I said quietly, offering my hand as I stood, allowing her to control her own ascent instead of just pulling her up like I might have done in other circumstances. After she was on her own two feet again, I gently held onto her hands for a moment more. "Forgive me?" I asked softly.

"For what, specialist?" she asked, a curious smile on her face, her breath still a little uneven. I hesitated for so long she prompted me: "If you think there's that much to forgive, maybe you should just hit the highlights."

"I fell asleep on you." Patty raised an amused eyebrow. "The police busted into your home because of me." Me and that cat, but she knew what I meant. She cocked her head at me, not impressed with my sins thus far.

And, …." I stopped then, because I really did feel bad about what I'd done to her. This was more than inconvenient. The unacceptability of my behavior had been drilled into me since I was, oh, fourteen or so. A growth spurt – six inches and almost forty pounds over the course of a year or less – and a fight at school had prompted my parents to give me the Responsibilities Of A Man speech. You probably know the one I mean – the bigger and stronger you are, the more responsibility you have to use your strength properly.

Even if you had nothing to do with it, there's nothing quite like having your mom point out a bone fracture on her own x-rays to drive the point home.

I realized I was squeezing Patty's hands and let go, rubbing my palms down my jeans to occupy them.

"And what?" she prompted. Even though I knew I hadn't hurt her, I couldn't help but feel – .

"And," I said with a big sigh, "I'm sorry I manhandled you, Patty, really. I didn't mean to frighten you. I just reacted, uh, overreacted I guess." – dumb as a boot.

"Nothing to be sorry for, Mike." She paused, then smiled more naturally. "In fact, I should be thanking you for protecting me." Patty leaned forward to give me a friendly thank you hug; I pulled her close for just a moment then released her, relieved by her graciousness. "Now, for the record, you," she poked me in the chest to emphasize her point, "didn't scare me and you can manhandle me to safety," she wrinkled her nose up in a charming smile over her own phrase, "any time there's a stranger with a shotgun in my backyard. Really, whenever anyone's pointing a gun at – ." She stopped, cold.

I saw it hit her then. Automatically I steered Patty toward the front of the couch so she could sit and crouched in front of her on one knee to evaluate her.

"He was pointing a gun at you," she mumbled, tears threatening. "He could have shot you."

The guy with two sisters in me immediately figured out what was needed and waved my internal fireman away. I moved up to the couch, eased her into my lap like I would with my nieces, and wrapped my arms loosely around her for support, letting her lean into me. "It's okay, Patty, it's okay," I murmured, stroking her head and back gently with my big strong hands, doing my best to make her feel protected and safe. I felt her relax slowly and just held her, kissing her tenderly on the forehead like she was one of my sisters.

As my father had pointed out years ago, being equipped to soothe upset females of any age is one of the advantages of being a big guy.

I do this for fun not profit; the characters (with the exception of Patty) are not mine but the mistakes (without exception) are.

Additional sketches will be forthcoming but I make no promises regarding the timing.