Chapter 1

The First Goosebumps

Greg Parker leaned back in his chair and laughed. Again.

Dean laughed easily beside him, finishing his narrative with obvious enjoyment of his father's amusement, though he wasn't telling it for Greg's benefit.

The intended audience, Craig Masterson, threw back his head and guffawed at the story's climax, joined in merriment by the two Parkers. The twinkle in Masterson's eyes made him look much younger than his gray hair implied.

Other restaurant patrons glanced over at them with mildly curious smiles, but they seemed to have decided long ago that the conversation at that particular table was going to run the emotional gamut. They politely ignored most of it.

"Oh my, oh my, that's wonderful," Masterson chuckled, shaking his head. Then he grew just slightly more serious, or perhaps he was just squinting at the ray of noontime sunshine that broke through a cloud just then. "I hate to see this interview end, I really do. I had had high hopes for it, but you both exceeded them." He looked straight into Greg's eyes, and then into Dean's. "You are inspirations, both of you, and I know that 'Canadian Cop' magazine is going to love this story! My hope is that it will be only the first in a whole series of 'Parent-Child Cop' stories that will help establish 'Canadian Cop's' place in the world of police-related magazines. Thank you so much for this!"

"It was our pleasure," Greg replied with a warm smile. Dean echoed the sentiment, and Masterson turned his attention entirely to the youngest Parker in return.

"One last question, Dean, if you don't mind. You have dual citizenship, as we've already established, and your American home is in a very large, famous metropolis. So what was it that has made you choose to enter the academy in Toronto instead of Dallas?"

Dean shrugged. "It was a no-brainer, really. First of all, I've known from the day I decided to become a cop that I would want and need my father's help. I can't imagine not having him right here to help me through it...and, of course, Sergeant Lane, and Officer Scarlatti, and Officer Braddock, and all of the others. They're my heroes, my mentors, and my friends. Why would I enter an academy that's a thousand miles away from them?" He held up a cautioning finger. "But I don't want to give the wrong impression. By 'help' I don't mean anything like riding my father's coattails. I'm determined to carry my own weight and earn my own way. I'm thinking more of help with learning the ropes and dealing with the difficult emotional side of it all."

Greg put an arm across his son's shoulders and nodded thoughtfully. I hope I'm up to it, Son. This job is going to hurt you so much more than you can imagine!

Masterson nodded as well. "That makes a lot of sense. But I got the impression that there was more to your decision than just that."

Dean shrugged and smiled with just a hint of embarrassment. "Well, it's just that Toronto allows people to enter the academy at age eighteen, and I would have had to wait until I was nineteen-and-a-half, and get sixty hours of college credit before I could enter the academy in Dallas. So I guess you could say it was impatience."

Masterson chuckled. "That works for me!" Then he turned to Greg. "What do you think of that, Dad?"

Both Parkers chuckled a little to hear him call Greg that.

"It's got to be hard for you to think of the danger and heartache that your son is going to face as a cop, right?" Masterson prodded.

Greg sighed deeply. "Yeah, absolutely. I mean...he already knows a lot as the son of a cop...but he's only lived with me off and on for a few years. He doesn't really know...not firsthand." He held up a cautionary hand. "Now...he does know firsthand pain from the perspective of a cop's loving relative, I would never deny that, but not the firsthand pain of having to take a life, or actually seeing a dead child, or any of the other heartbreaking things we see. He knows the theory, but the practice is going to be much harder than he can imagine. I've told him that many times, but I can see that he doesn't quite believe me yet."

"Is that true, Dean? Do you believe him?"

Just then, Greg's phone rang. He grimaced. "I'm sorry. I had set it to 'silent' mode for 2 hours, but I guess we've exceeded that. And it's Ed Lane's ringtone, so if you don't mind, I'm going to take it."

"Sure, go for it. I think you and I are through here."

As Greg hobbled off to a polite distance, leaning on tables in lieu of his cane, he heard Masterson and Dean reiterating their plans for this evening. They were to meet up with Clark Lane at a different restaurant, near the harbor, and do a "sons only" interview.

That should be interesting. A son who decided to become a cop, and a son who would rather drop dead than be one. He hit the "answer" button and held the phone to his ear. "Hey, Buddy, what's up?"

"Greg...I hope I'm not interrupting anything..."

"No, we were wrapping up our interview. What's on your mind?"

"I'm hoping you can help me figure something out...maybe put my mind at ease."

"Oh?" Greg's stomach tightened a bit. Ed was a big boy in a world of big boys. The one the other big boys looked up to. If something was worrying him, it was probably not a good thing.

"Yeah, call me crazy, but I've got the feeling that there's something that's just...it feels threatening, and I can't quite make out what it is. I don't have any solid facts...aww, I can't explain it over the phone! Can you come to headquarters?"

"Absolutely, anything I can do! I can leave now and be there in about 20 minutes. Will that work?"

"Oh man, I really appreciate it. Hopefully we won't get called out before you get here."

"How far into your shift are you?"

"Just started. But this is something that has been going on for weeks, and it's making my stomach turn. I can't explain why, though. Cop instinct."

"Buddy, your instincts are good enough for me. I'll be there in twenty." Greg hung up without a goodbye.

He hobbled back to the table where Dean and Masterson still sat. "I'm sorry, but I really need to go to headquarters and talk about some things with Ed...Sergeant Lane."

"Is something wrong, Dad?" Dean's worried brows matched his concerned tone.

Greg grabbed his cane. "Not sure. Just going to put my head together with Ed's and see if we can figure something out." He extended a hand to Masterson. "It's really been great to meet you, and I wish you and your magazine all the best."

"Thank you."

"Wait, Dad, do you have time for me to take my own quick picture of the three of us? It will only take a minute."

Greg glanced at his watch. "Yeah, okay."

Dean quickly leaned his phone against the ketchup bottle, framed up the shot as best he could guess it, and hit the delay button. When the flash went off, all three were arranged into a nice pose.

"That'll be a nice one. Send me a copy, okay?" Masterson asked.

"Doing it now." Dean was already fiddling with his phone. "Sending it to you too, Dad."

"Thanks. Gotta run. Nice to meet you again." Greg gave a polite wave and headed off.

"I'd better be going now, too," Dean said behind Greg's retreating back. "I'll see you this evening."

"I look forward to it," Masterson replied.

Dean's healthy young strides overtook Greg's in just a few seconds. "Seriously, Dad, what's going on?"

"Ed doesn't even know. Just something making his instincts goosepimply. He's hoping I can help him sort through what he's feeling."

"Sounds like something I'd love to listen in on."

"I know, but you've got class, right?" He tousled Dean's hair. "Mister-I'm-old-enough-for-Toronto-PD?"

Dean grinned. "Yeah."

"All right, then."

Dean opened the door for him, as Greg knew he would. They walked toward their cars together, and shared a hug before parting ways.

Greg activated his hands-free texting option and sent a message to Marina as soon as he was underway. "Great interview. Stopping by SRU to talk with Ed about something. See you when you get home."

She didn't respond, so she was probably in a meeting at work. No matter.

He arrived at the station a few minutes later than he'd hoped, but the lunchtime crowd had all been driving back to work at the same time, it seemed.

Winnie greeted him with a smile and a hug, as she always did if she wasn't tied up with dispatch duties when he arrived. That hug, and the buzz of nearby voices, told him the team was still here.

"Hey," he hollered toward the invisible voices, "why are you lazy bums just hanging around here? Can't you go roust somebody, or harass some honest citizens?"

Team One rushed him instantly with hugs and smiles, two things he could never get enough of from this particular group of much-loved colleagues.

Ed's smile was as big and genuine as usual, but Greg searched his eyes and found the concern he'd expected to see there.

"Okay, team, Sergeant Parker is right. Rappelling drills, right away. Jules, you're in charge. I have to talk to Greg about something."

The team responded with general groans and protests, all except for Jules, who instantly stepped into her leadership role with playful bossiness.

"C'mon, does anybody believe that Ed's got something important to talk to Sarge about?" Spike complained.

"Sure, he's got to talk to him about how funny it is to watch us sweat while he sits on his backside and watches us!" LeClerc responded.

"That's what I'm thinking," Spike replied, but the whole crew was well on their way by then, and soon Greg and Ed were alone. The two friends still smiled from their team's lighthearted banter, but the seriousness in Ed's eyes soon overtook everything else.

"What's bugging you, my friend?" Greg asked.

"Ah," Ed scoffed at himself. "I'm probably crazy. I haven't mentioned it to anybody else because of how crazy it sounds. I haven't even put a lot of serious effort into figuring it out. But it's not going to give me any peace until I deal with it, and I figured you were the person to tell..."

"...because I already know you're crazy," Greg finished with a grin.

"Yeah." Ed's easy grin flashed quickly, and he gave Greg a hearty thump on the back...but not nearly as strong of a thump as he once would have given, back when Greg had two good legs.

"Well, let's sit down to talk about it. You know this leg of mine." Greg started for the briefing table in mid-sentence.

"Yeah, I'll be there in a minute." Ed walked over to the dispatch desk. "Winnie, where's that stuff I asked you to pull together?"

"Right here." She handed him a folder.

"Thanks." He tapped it on the counter a few times by way of acknowledgment, and then headed for the briefing room where Greg awaited him.

"So, what have we here?" Greg nodded toward Ed's folder.

"It's all the details of a series of swatter calls we've gotten over the past several weeks."

"Oh?"

"Yeah, way more than usual."

"Let me guess...the prankster electronically distorted his voice and used an untraceable phone..."

"Of course. Spike hasn't been able to figure out who it is...in fact, he can't even prove it's a single person. Sometimes the accents are very different. But I think they're all the same person or group. And I think he - or they - are in it for more than the joke."

"Well, we've certainly had swatter calls aimed at us for sinister reasons before, but not over a period of weeks like you're talking about."

"I know." Ed opened the folder and spread each of the reports out on the table in front of Greg. "Like I said, I haven't actually looked at all of the paperwork together like this yet, myself. But I've sure chewed on this a lot. And the feeling I get is like how you feel when you've seen a face, and you can't figure out why you recognize it." His hand made a sweeping gesture over the spread of papers. "Somewhere in here is a pattern that makes a face, and I need help seeing whose it is. Because whoever it is, he's giving me the creeps."

Next: Chapter 2, "Puzzle Pieces."