It wasn't the same anymore between them. The trust had gone, on John Cooper's part at least. He could no longer look on Jessica Tang as his partner; she was just the cop he rode with now. She had betrayed him when he had needed her to stand by him and even though he was man enough to accept it had happened, it had destroyed their previous friendship.
There was no intention on either part to make the atmosphere in the cruiser strained but somehow that was how it had become. Tang was very aware she had failed to provide the support Cooper had needed when he had been at his most vulnerable and her guilt was palpable even as she insisted she had done the right thing. They didn't argue about it; in fact they had not discussed it since. But it still hung between them, that unease.
Cooper had no intention of addressing the issue. He knew Tang was too proud to admit she had been wrong. So that was how they left it. They shared a cruiser for twelve hours; they ate lunch together; they took care of each other on the streets. And when watch was over, they went their separate ways without a goodbye. No more texts, no more Asian culinary hotspots, no more post-watch beers in O'Malley's.
It was not the way a partnership was supposed to be. But it was the only way two stubborn cops could deal with what had come between them.
X X X
When the call for officer assistance came through, they were parked up sipping coffee and staring out of their respective windows, avoiding conversation. Tang was tapping away on her iPhone as usual; Cooper was timing how long he could go without blinking out of sheer boredom. Fortunately his mirrored shades saved him from looking like a PCP psycho.
"We buying that?" Tang asked at the radio announcement that juveniles deep in Avalons territory were getting out of hand.
"Always like to knock a few teenage skulls together." Cooper snagged the handset. "6-A-57, show us as back-up."
"Raiding the corner?" Tang wondered as she weaved the speeding car in and out of Boulevard traffic.
"Patrol probably just saw the goods being exchanged." Cooper unhooked his seatbelt, got his nightstick out in preparation. Adrenaline flowing at the prospect of a good brawl.
The street they arrived in was surrounded on both sides by project housing. The corner had been abandoned by the teenage drug-dealers who were charged with operating it. They were in the middle of the road, a group of seven or so, raging battle with the four units that had already arrived.
Cooper didn't wait for Tang to stop the car before he piled out. Smashed straight into one baby banger who was swinging punches at a struggling uniform. Sent the kid crashing to the ground and continued on without pausing.
Two teenagers had decided to make a run for it. Cooper lunged, brought one stocky body to the ground in a tackle that knocked the air out of the runner. The other was too fast, cutting away from Tang's attempt to grab him with a graceful agility that, even in the chaos, caught Cooper's attention. A young cop stepped in his path to try a takedown but the kid merely lowered a shoulder and charged like a NFL blocker, sending the smaller officer flying.
Arms pumping, legs lengthening into an effortless sprint, the teenager was off. The tackled cop scrambled to his feet and set off in pursuit as Cooper wrestled his fallen perp into submission and secured the cuffs.
"Damn, that fuckin' kid's got game," a P3 cursed, his own prisoner already cuffed and spread-eagled against a U-Boat trunk.
"You get after him, then," Cooper said.
"Hell no, that's the boot's job. He likes running."
Cooper snorted a laugh and dragged his perp to his feet, patting him down roughly. "Hey, who's your friend? Marcus fricking Allen?"
"Fuck you, dude, I ain't no goddam Raiders fan."
The gathered cops laughed loudly at that statement, then hollered even louder when the young boot reappeared, frog-marching the handcuffed speed demon in front of him.
"Boot, I almost take back everything bad I ever said about you!" his TO declared.
"He din't catch me," the runner spat. "Fuckin' car clipped me, bitch."
"Technically he tried to vault a moving car and fell flat on his ass," the rookie clarified, to much hilarity.
Cooper handed his prisoner over to an empty unit, happy to avoid the paperwork. Tang had wandered off to chat with another female cop who had yet another teenage gang-banger on the ground with her foot pinning his head down.
A quick headcount revealed seven handcuffed juveniles, all being loaded into waiting cruisers. Cooper returned to his car, reached to grab the log-sheet, began scribbling down the details.
As the last teenager, the enviable runner, was hauled to a cruiser, he stopped fighting the officers restraining him long enough to look back at Cooper.
"Yo, man, I know you!" he yelled.
Cooper threw him his best hard stare and snorted. "Shut the fuck up, kid."
"I'm serious, man, I know you! You picked me up when I was a 'lil kid, when I was smashin' up my momma's apartment. You don't 'member me?"
Cooper stopped writing, looked up sharply. Realised he did indeed recognise the youth. In the attitude-filled features, the vestiges of a young, abandoned boy's face stared at him. "Richard?"
He tossed the logsheet back into the car, started across the street. Never taking his eyes off this long-limbed, lean-muscled teenager he remembered as a small, scared child trying to deny the fear of what lay ahead of him. He was a big kid now and strong judging by the defined strips of muscle straining against the tight grip of the two cops holding him.
"Coop, we gotta get him outta here," one said as Cooper approached.
"Just gimme a sec, bro." Cooper stood face-to-face with the handcuffed teenager. Noted he was only a couple of inches shorter than his own impressive height. "This your life now, Richard? This the choice you made?"
Silence. Cooper snorted again and turned away.
"He's all yours, guys."
"Yo, man, no!" Panic raised the kid's voice an octave. "C'mon, don't jus' walk away."
"What'd you want me to do, kid?" Cooper demanded. "Want me to sit you in an interview room and play PS3 with you again? Tell you everything's gonna be alright 'cos it's okay to sell crack?"
Time was up and the boy was being forcibly bundled into the backseat of the cruiser. Yelling in protest, his words flying at Cooper.
"Fuck you then, man! Do what you did last time. Just fuckin' leave me."
Cooper felt his shoulders tighten, his stomach drop. Those words hit home. Similar words to the tearful shouts that had followed him when he had painfully walked away from a scared little boy because he'd been too screwed up to help.
He slid his sunglasses back over his eyes. Drew himself up to his full height and walked slowly back to his own cruiser.
He didn't look back.
X X X
"Why we back here?" Tang demanded as Cooper killed the engine and stepped out into the station parking lot.
"So you can go to the bathroom without getting a disease and I can talk to someone for five minutes."
"Who you gonna talk to?"
"No one you need to worry about. Meet you in ten, okay?" Cooper was already walking away inside, not waiting for her to join him.
Storing his gun and taser in one of the gun boxes, he leant against the bars of the booking-in desk.
"Got a kid called Richard just been brought in?" he asked.
"Hey, Coop. What's your call on the Raiders and Broncos game?"
Cooper wouldn't be distracted for once. "The kid been processed yet or what?"
"He's not getting charged. Gangs are comin' over to talk to him about some shit they got on their books so we gotta keep him here. He's in Interview 2." A frustrated sigh. "So, Raiders or Broncos?"
"Raiders," Cooper said out of loyalty rather than belief.
"Damn, man, I got fifty on the Broncos."
"Gangs gonna mind if I talk to the kid for a minute?"
"No one's gonna mind if you get the little shithead to shut the fuck up. He hasn't stopped hollering since Hernandez and Fletcher brought him in."
"I'll shut him up," Cooper promised.
He could hear the angry shouts of a hormone-driven teenager even as he walked down the hallway, yelling threats and protests and curses whilst completely oblivious to the fact no one cared enough to listen.
Cooper stopped at the glass door. Stood perfectly still, let the kid notice his presence in his own time. The hollering stopped. The teenager went motionless, watching warily. His right arm, handcuffed to the edge of the table, was taut as he clenched his sizeable fist, but his face showed no aggression.
Cooper walked into the interview room expecting to be told to fuck off. Instead he was met with a curious gaze of recognition, no hostility apparent.
He leant a shoulder against the wall, folded his arms across his chest. "You remember me, huh?"
A quick nod but the teenager didn't speak. He was studying Cooper intently.
"Wanna talk to me for a minute?" Cooper asked.
A shrug, the homeboy attitude returning at the prospect of a cop conversation. "Do I got a choice?"
Cooper sat down opposite him, rested his elbows on the table. The teenager sat back in his seat, trying to escape the proximity in a way that told Cooper his outward arrogance was not entirely real.
"You got a street name?" he asked.
The kid smirked. "Pitbull. 'Cos I fight like one."
"You asked, man."
"Remind me of your surname, Richard."
"Rico." A hard stare. "They call me Rico now."
"Surname, Rico." Cooper was unimpressed by the bluster.
"Ellis." Said reluctantly.
"How old are you now?"
"And you bang."
It was a statement rather than a question but the kid answered anyway, lips curling in another smirk. "Avalons, man." Said with pride.
"Go to school?"
Another momentary silence as refusal to answer was considered. "Carter."
Cooper nodded. Looked the kid over. "You run like a fricking tailback," he announced. "There's NFL guys that can't charge like you can."
Just for a second, pride gleamed in the tawny eyes. "I play football. Wide receiver, though."
"You must be pretty good."
"Yeah, I'm a'ight. Football be the only thing I go school for."
"Least you're still in school. It's not all lost."
The kid tilted his chin up, regarded Cooper for a minute. His lips relaxed and he lost some of the sullen teenage look.
"You even remember my name?" Cooper asked.
The eye contact didn't waver, no glance at the name tag, and there was no hesitation in his reply. "Officer Cooper."
"So you haven't forgotten being that scared kid I brought back here and played video games with."
There was a long moment of silence. Rico's gaze settled on his feet, his shoulders taut. He had reached out to Cooper in recognition of what the big, tough cop had meant to him on that terrifying day but already he was trying to fight his reaction. He was a kid of the streets now and in the urban rulebook, that meant Cooper was no longer on his side.
Finally his head came up. "What's yo' real name, man?" he asked.
Rico kissed his teeth derisively. "Yeah, a'ight, you get to ask me any questions you want and I can't even ask you one 'lil thing?"
Cooper held his gaze. "My name's John. Everyone calls me Coop."
The kid nodded. "Cool."
"I hear you're not being charged with anything."
"They ain't got nothin' to charge me with."
"You were running pretty hard for someone with nothing to be charged with."
"Check wid your boys, man, I din't have nothin' on me. No drugs, no gun, nothin'. They jus' keepin' me here 'cos fuckin' Gangs think they gonna get info'mation outta me."
"Guess they'll be wasting their time."
"So what were you doing on the corner if you weren't dealing?"
"Jus' hangin' wid ma boys. I don't sell crack. Dat's their job."
"You got a different job?"
A swift headshake. "I ain't tellin' you dat."
There wasn't much Cooper could say in response to that. So he just stood, quietly pushed his chair back under the table.
"Stay alive, kid."
"I don't have time to sit around listening to you talk shit all day." Cooper made for the door.
"Yo, Officer Coop." Just a moment, fear surfaced in Rico's voice again. "You gonna come back?"
The kid didn't know how to reply. Eventually he just shrugged but his eyes said what his mouth could not.
Cooper stopped, hesitated for a moment. The biggest part of him, the rough vet of the LA streets, was telling him not to waste his time with this baby banger. But John Cooper had a good heart that he hid behind brusqueness and sarcasm and that was a part of himself he could not entirely ignore.
He looked back at the teenager. The events of not so distant times had softened him somewhat. Not to extremes, of course; he was still a sarcastic hard-ass who loved a good brawl, but he found himself empathising more these days.
"I'll come check if you're still here when I finish watch," he eventually said.
A quick check to confirm Cooper's eyes were honest, then a nod. "A'ight."
"Don't be giving anyone shit, okay?"
"Yes sir." Reluctantly, barely said above a whisper.
Cooper couldn't prevent a smile. "Looks like there is still a part of a decent kid left in you after all."
He didn't get a response, didn't expect to, but as he closed the door behind him, he swore he saw the edges of Rico's mouth curve.
X X X
Tang was waiting for him as he stepped out of the interview room, curiosity written all over her face. He didn't acknowledge her; walked off down the hallway. She trailed after him, followed him all the way back out to the parking lot. Didn't even remember to protest when he took the driver's seat.
"So?" She eventually cracked as Cooper pulled out onto the street. "Who is he?"
"I know that. I mean who is he to you?"
Cooper shrugged, deliberately avoided looking at her. "I used to know him a few years back."
"And…?" she pressed.
"And nothing. I just wanted to see how he's doing."
"He runs with the Avalons?"
Cooper gave another shrug and was rewarded with a frustrated huff from the passenger seat.
"That's all I'm gonna get out of you?" she demanded.
He allowed a smile then. "I met him when he was turning thirteen. His mom had sent him to his friend's house for the night, packed up and moved on. Left him to come home to find the place empty."
"Yet another great mother."
"He was a nice kid back then. Happy to talk; scared but trying not to show it. Just one of those kids that you take to, y'know?"
"And what happened to him?"
"He went into the system, what'd you think happened?" Cooper shook his head, suddenly angry at the memory of his actions. "He asked me to take him home with me."
"Did you consider it?" Tang asked carefully, looking directly at him. Clearly aware that Cooper's temper was firing.
"No," he said shortly. "How the fuck could I take on a messed-up projects kid?"
"Exactly. So why you getting involved with him again?"
"I'm not getting involved."
"I saw the look on your face when you were talking to him, Coop."
"I was checking up on him. That's it."
"You sure about that?"
Cooper concentrated on the road, felt his jaw tighten, his shoulders tense.
"What I do is my business, Jess."