PART TWO

Officer John Cooper knows the role he is supposed to play when he puts on his uniform. But sometimes things get under a cop's skin and no matter how much they try, they can't always ignore them.

X X X

When you first set eyes on him, with his expensive haircut, in his shiny new uniform buttoned to the neck, you see Beverly Hills written all over a clean-cut young face that doesn't quite manage to hide the anxiety. The long sleeves will have him sweating in minutes; department-issue polyester is a bitch in the heat. He doesn't look like he's graduated high school yet and he's scared; the worry is clear in the bright blue eyes.

He's not big but you can see his body is gym-honed, trying to give himself some beef. He carries it well, looks solid in the uniform even though he doesn't have your natural size. You note the strut he's trying to put into his walk and hide a smile.

When you later discover he's got a background in karate, you're not surprised. He has that compact power all martial artists have. And he uses it well. You will quickly find out it doesn't matter that he can't boast your stature; he can hold his own physically and he doesn't fear doing so.

"I'm John Cooper," you announce and watch him almost falling over his own feet to follow you as you stride out the door, pump-action in hand.

The kid calls you 'sir' in every reply for the first day, even though you haven't demanded he do so. You're not big on formality. Finally he relaxes enough to mostly abandon the 'sirs' and you take the opportunity to introduce him to his new name. A frown creases his brow as he learns he'll be known as Boot from now on, but he shrugs and looks away as you give him your legendary hard stare. You get the feeling he isn't used to being ragged on. He'd better learn fast if he's gonna ride with you.

X X X

When you sit him down on those steps, his eyes never leave yours and he's looking at you like he thinks you will make everything in his world all right again. You see trust glimmering behind the fear; he already understands that you will keep him safe in this terrifying game he has just entered into. And you think you see a spark of hope. Like he desperately wants to believe every word you say. As if you can save him.

You feel him latch on to your own intensity. Your adrenaline is pumping and at that moment you couldn't possibly love your job more. You want him to feel that and from the way he stares at you, not even realising his mouth is hanging open, you think he does.

And when you call him a pussy, trying to knock him out of the shock he's falling into, you see his jaw harden and his body tense. He eyeballs you, tries to give you a hard stare. He cares what you think of him. He wants to prove himself.

You back off then. The kid's been through enough for one night.

At the end of that first day, you're not convinced you'll see him again tomorrow. At the end of the second day, you take him for a beer and tell him he doesn't need to call you 'sir'. By the end of the third day, you decide you like the kid. Not that you'll admit that.

X X X

Like it or not, this pretty boy is now your responsibility. Your stripes and star are not just there to look nice and start conversations at parties. You can't help but like the kid for having the balls to turn his back on everything he'd ever known for a blue-collar job.

He's got good instincts; he's green as hell but he learns fast and you find you don't have to tell him things twice. He's also a speed demon, runs like a damn greyhound and isn't afraid to put in a hard hit on a fleeing gangbanger. When he's in full flight, he's at his most confident, because he knows he can outrun almost anyone and you see glimpses of the cop he will become.

For the first week, he takes every jibe you throw at him to heart. Especially the ones about his hair. After that he relaxes and lets them just flow over him, even tries to toss a few back at you after he's taken ten minutes thinking about it. Mostly just gives that wide smile that makes him look like a Labrador puppy wagging its tail.

The way he grins in embarrassment and blushes when attractive female suspects flirt with him amuses you. He's a good kid and he's trying to be a good cop. You know he'll get there. He's got what it takes. It's just too early to let him know that yet.

He's a hard one to figure out though. Has built up a protective wall around him and he guards it fiercely, not willing to reveal too much of himself. For a tough guy, you're pretty open and you like to chat as you ride around waiting for some action. You gotta bring the kid out of himself before you go crazy from lack of diversion.

You quickly discover the way to do this is to needle him, rag on him until his frustration explodes and he blurts out whatever it is he's keeping hidden. At times you feel guilty for having done so when you learn more of his past. Who'd have thought life in Beverly Hills could be as rough as that. Kid's been through a lot. It's fucked him up pretty good and he's still trying to deal with it.

X X X

You're forty-one years old and you've been in this job for twenty years. You've seen it all. Trained rookies a lot stupider and a lot less competent than this kid. The words you wrote in his day book were true; you have high expectations that Ben Sherman will be a hell of a cop.

He's opened up a lot in these months, relaxed his guard and allowed some of his personality into the uniform and into the cruiser. But he is naturally quiet, self-contained and prone to long periods of reflective silence. Presumably the result of his childhood. He's learnt it was better not to be seen or heard. Not like you who fought like a pitbull against everything you considered unfair. He's smarter than you like that.

A lot of the time when he spills it, lets you in on his darkest thoughts, you end up throwing a wisecrack just to lighten the situation. Because you know when it's getting too deep for you both to be able to do the job properly and you know how dangerous that can be. He usually shoots back at you, telling you this is why he doesn't want to tell you stuff, but the next time you ask him what's going on in his head, you know he'll answer you eventually.

When he admits he's been studying his map book, you can't help but smile. Glance out of the window quickly so the kid doesn't see you're proud of him. He's turning out well. You enjoy the amusement of cruising casually along in the squad car while he sprints after a runaway suspect in cuffs. Enjoy it even more when the dumbass falls flat on his face at the sound of your sardonic yell. Sherman doesn't seem to find it quite as fun as you but no matter.

Gradually, he learns to jibe back at you, enjoy the moments of free-flowing insults and wisecracks volleying between you. Teases you about going Eminem-style on him when you reminisce about fighting for your mere existence at your first high school. You laugh more easily than you have done in weeks at that moment; take the chance at carefree banter with this hotshot who has just proved himself so strongly to you. Then MR PCP Psycho decides to fly out of the ambulance to take a ride on your hood. You're pissed off at him for interrupting the fun.

This partnership is beginning to feel right.

X X X

As the pain starts to tighten its relentless grip on you, you want to trust Sherman. Because he's becoming less like your rookie and more like your partner. But you can't. Not yet. You have too much to lose.

Laurie is still the only person you really trust, the one you turn to when it gets really bad. And you know that you're hurting her every time you show up at her door. And you also know she loves you enough not to turn you away.

She still wants you to father her child. Because she knows you're a good man, a man of morals and steadfast beliefs in right and wrong, despite what issues you're going through. But you can't. You don't want another kid growing up with an absent father like you did.

You dwell on the issue for a long time. You had never considered having kids when you were married but you are good with children and you know you would be a better father than yours ever was. But what state are you in to take responsibility for another life? You can hardly take care of yourself. How many nights have you sat in your kitchen, drinking whisky until finally the pain dulls enough for you to snatch a few hours of sleep?

No, you can't give Laurie a child. It would be wrong to bring a kid into this world to a screwed-up father and a mother who is lonely and desperate for love. You know Laurie hates you for your refusal but you cling on to your belief that every child needs a family.

And that's one thing you can't provide.

X X X

It takes a long time before Sherman tries to fight back. When he stands up to you, warns you off hazing him, you consider letting him have both barrels. His face is taut with anger, jaw set, and you know he wants to smack you one for being such a goddamn asshole. For a moment, you're tempted to grab him.

But you understand he needs to know why you're so hard on him. So you hold your temper and you tell him how it is. You don't pull your verbal punches and you see him clench his jaw tight, but he is listening and you see his anger calm as he realises what you are saying.

You know in 90 days he will be on his own out there on those streets; there will not be someone for him to rely on the way he still relies on you. His new partner will not be like you; they will expect him to step up to the plate in a way you do not. In your partnership, you're always in charge. You're always the one who will protect him. Soon he will be in a partnership where the responsibility is equal and you're not about to send him out there unprepared.

And if you have to haul his sorry ass across hot coals ten times a day to make him learn the lessons of being a good cop, you will do so. And you will not regret it. Because if he gets shot to death in 100 days' time, you will live with that destruction for the rest of your life if you do not do everything in your power to educate him against such an event ever occurring.

You've heard about boots you've trained being killed in the line of duty. Not many, but enough. Years and years after you were responsible for them. But you know none of them have hurt you as much as it would if Ben Sherman were to ever lose his life carrying the badge.

So you take the hard line. You give him hell when you need to. You do it for his own good and you hope one day he will realise that.

X X X

Your dad looks smaller than you remember. You're not sure if he's shrunk or if you just weren't as big as you thought you were last time you saw him. Back then, he was a huge, hard-muscled man raging at a fifteen-year-old boy. Now his power has gone but you can barely bring yourself to look at him.

When you speak, you do so from the deepest part of your heart. You keep the emotion out of it but you feel the anger burning and it's all you can do to keep it under control. You mean every word you say. You feel nothing but contempt for this man who sired you. Every beating he ever gave you seem to be sweeping over you once again. It's almost like physical pain spreading throughout your body and you know it has nothing to do with your very real injury. Just being in the same room as him is killing you and the relief you feel when you're finally out of those gates again is almost overwhelming.

When finally it does overwhelm you, on that lonely desert highway, and you allow yourself to cry like you haven't done in countless years, it feels like your soul is about to shatter. Like nothing can ever heal this despair. And as the sobs rack your aching body, you can sense your careful control slipping away from you.

And there's nothing you can do to drag it back.

X X X

When the news goes round that Nate Moretta is close to death in the ER, the cop brotherhood bands together and you all head for the hospital. It has been a tradition forever and no one is willing to break it. You and Sherman have just gone off watch but you explain that when a cop is taken out, he cannot be allowed to depart this world without a guard to watch over him. That's just how it is. Even if you don't know him well, you must join the rest of West Bureau in that hospital waiting room.

You arrive minutes after the news of Nate's death is announced. Tears stream down the face of Sal Salinger as he paces the room like a caged tiger, shaking with rage. Sammy Bryant breaks into agonised sobs, punching the plaster as if it's his partner's murderer.

Everyone else seems frozen, shock and horror rendering their instincts useless. You step forward before Sammy can hurt himself, grabbing him tight and dragging him away from the wall. He's still fighting you even as he collapses into your embrace, letting out a howl filled with such anguish your hair stands on end. Your arms are the only thing keeping him from dropping to the floor as he buries his face in your chest, screaming Nate's name over and over, and your back is about to explode with pain but you hold him tight against you and try to tell him it will be all right, even though you know it will never be all right again.

Sherman moves up behind Sammy, makes eye contact with you as he wraps his arms around Sammy's heaving chest, gently easing his body weight from you. He guides him back to Nate's crying wife, lets him drop into her embrace. You see the emotion blazing in Sherman's eyes, halfway between pain and anger, and you understand why he's shaking because you are feeling exactly the same. And it feels like the right thing to do, to throw your arm around his neck and let the solid weight reassure him that this terrible night will not break him.

He doesn't look at you, afraid you will see he is close to tears, or trying to keep face in front of the other older cops. But you feel the shaking gradually diminish until he steps away from you, holding his head up high.

And when it's finally time to leave the hospital, you walk together to the nearest bar. And you sit side-by-side long into the night, emptying bottle after bottle without even noticing. Considering just how much this job can cost you.

X X X

You call him Boot out of habit now. A nickname, no longer a label. He used to be pleased when you told him to call you John; now he's comfortable enough to call you Coop like everyone else.

He's trying to be his own man now. You enjoy letting him step all over his dick for a while, just to prove to him that he's not as good as he thinks he is. For a whole week you address him as Superboot until he finally accepts that he's not ready to teach the whole of West Bureau who the job's done.

The day you decide to try and save the abused boy you found in the park, Sherman banishes the Superboot tag for good. Proves himself to you once and for all. When he leans over the roof of your car, holds your eye contact and tells you he'd rather get fired for doing the job right than walk away, that he chooses to stay by your side, your pride in him is intense. The young rookie you took on is fading away. This man on the other side of the Challenger is your partner. Of that you now have no doubt.

X X X

And when it all falls apart and you commit the ultimate sin, the guilt you feel is immense. It almost hurts more than the pain that is slowly tearing you apart. You let your partner down. You didn't look out for him.

You broke the promise you had made.

Ben Sherman could have turned you in. He could have destroyed your career. But he didn't. He did what you hadn't done; he protected you. He did what every good partner must at some point do.

He saved your life.

And you're so grateful you can never really explain it to him. Never tell him just how much it meant to you that he cared enough to help you when you thought there was nothing that could make it better.

Without Ben Sherman, you would have died. Not on the street in a hail of bullets. Not a hero's death. But one night in your bathtub, with the empty pill bottle beside you and a bottle of whisky in your lifeless fingers. It was inevitable and you know it. You accept it.

And now it's all over, now you're slowly getting your life back together, you wish you could tell him everything. But you can't. It's too late.

X X X

You worry when you hear he's going to be paired up with Sammy Bryant. You know Sammy and you know the kind of maverick he's become since Nate Moretta's death. He will do nothing to control Sherman's explosive temper; in fact you fear he will set light to the fuse just for the excitement of it. He's a good cop, Sammy, and you like him, but he can be a dangerous guy to be around now he has no semblance of self-control. Sherman is not yet mature or experienced enough to keep himself in check if Sammy is cranking up a situation.

You know he's not your partner anymore; he's no longer your boot. But your instinct is still to keep him safe.

END