Most people had already left for the day, their offices dark and quiet, but Tess and Dicky remained behind, arguing the recent cases.
“You can’t keep doing this,” Tess signed. “The tough cop attitude might work on the street, but it’s making my job a lot harder.”
“I don’t mean to,” Dicky replied. “But when lowlives like Mike Russell tick me off, I can’t go with the dainty approach you like. I don’t have it in me.”
“The rules are there for a reason. You came this close to stepping over the line today, and when you do, I may end up having to throw out an entire trial.”
“Well, good thing I reined myself in today, then!” Dicky yelled, throwing his hands in the air.
Tess watched him in silence, waiting.
“I wouldn’t risk a case,” Dicky said, trying to calm himself down. “Not for anything. I know where to draw the line.”
“I worry about you. Not just the cases. You. Sooner or later, some angry perp will come after you. It could have been today. Mike Russell is unhinged.”
“Yeah,” he admitted. “It’s a good thing bail was denied.”
“What about his accomplices?”
“What about them? We’ve caught Parker, Jones is an idiot, and that brother of his is just a kid. We’ll get them in no time.”
Tess’s lips thinned, and Dicky signed, “Relax. Please.”
“I’m right, you know,” she said out loud.
“Maybe,” he said. ”But it’s my life.”
It occurred to Dicky that the late hour might have something to do with their joint crankiness, and if so, prolonging the quarrel would do neither of them any good.
“I’m hungry,” he said. “Chinese good for you? Or pizza?”
She replied right away: “Chinese.”
“Great.” He picked up the phone, grateful that she’d let it go so easily. Not that he had any illusions that she wouldn’t pick up the argument again, some other day.
Once the takeout arrived, they took a break from all conversation and both concentrated on the chow mein, kung pao, and fried noodles. Dicky felt the tension melt away, settling into the warm and comfortable combination of a full belly and a tired mind, and he suspected Tess felt much the same.
Which was when Gold entered. “Oh, you’re still here,” he said. “Both of you! Good. Tess, I just found out that guy Becker wants to plead nolo contendere on the vehicular manslaughter. No skin off my nose, and a lot less work for you, but you should probably have a chat with his lawyer tomorrow just in case, make sure that idiot - sorry, client - knows what he’s doing.”
Tess, having followed the diatribe with Dicky’s supplementary signing, bit her lip. Hard. She looked about ready to burst into massive laughter, which surprised Dicky, who was leaning more towards shoving Gold out the door head first.
“No problem,” she signed. “Tomorrow.”
Though Gold seemed puzzled not to have a verbal response, he didn’t press the issue after getting Dicky’s translation. “All right, then,” he said. “You have a good night.”
The moment he was out the door, the laughter Tess had been holding back broke free.
“I think he can still hear you,” Dicky warned.
Tess’s attempts to get control over her mirth were so futile Dicky had to ask, “Is there some punchline I’m unaware of?”
“Ignore me, I’m tired,” she signed between the giggles, but admitted after a moment, “and your fingerspelling is awful.”
“I was caught unprepared!” he protested, slightly affronted, though seeing her in such a good mood made up for some of it.
“M-s-n-a-l-s-h-t-e-r isn’t a word. Except maybe as the name of some second-rate Irish whiskey.” She was more or less serious-faced now, though the occasional snort still escaped.
“You’re just being picky. I’d like to see you, at the spur of a moment, signing something like ’synchronous diaphragmatic flutter’.”
She frowned. “What?”
After a second’s thought, she spelled, “S-y-n-c-h-r-o-n-o-u-s d-i-a-p-h-r-a-g-m-a-t-i-c f-l-u-t-t-e-r,” and then asked, with a beatific smile, “Did I get it right?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea.” Dicky ran his fingers through his hair. “Jesus. I guess maybe it’d be better if you stuck to professional translators.”
“Don’t be silly! You make my boss sound like a dumb jock. I love it!”
“A dumb jock? Thanks.” Even though he knew she was only ribbing him, the words struck a chord that brought out a tad too much steel in his voice, and probably his face as well, since she seemed to catch onto it.
“I didn’t call you a dumb jock,” she pointed out. “You say smart things - for the most part - in okay signs and terrible fingerspelling. He says annoying things, and thanks to you, they’re garbled as well.”
“Hm. Glad to be of service, I guess.”
She watched him closely, then offered, “The rest of your signing is fine. And you don’t actually have to spell out all the legal terms. Use the short forms. I can give you a list, if you want.”
“Won’t that spoil your fun?” he asked drily.
“Sure. But for a friend, I’ll cope.”
After Ray Russell pulled the gun on him, the first thought that came to Dicky’s mind was that Tess had been right. Something that might possibly not make her so happy, if he ended up getting himself killed because of it.
His second thought was that he’d be damned if he’d let himself die like this, shot by some miserable teenage punk while taking out the trash.
The backyard was empty, and all windows closed, which left little in the way of witnesses. Too bad. Ray was lanky and nervous, easy enough to take down for a trained cop, except nervous also meant twitchy, and twitchy in combination with a gun was never good.
”Come on, Ray,” Dicky said, trying to sound reasonable. ”This is stupid. Even you have got to know this is stupid.”
”Shut up!” Ray cried, his voice breaking into a furious falsetto. ”You don’t get to talk!”
”You really think your brother is worth all this? Killing a cop? Do you have any idea how long you’ll serve for that?”
”No one will care. No one likes you. Even the other cops don’t like you! That’s what my brother said, that’s why you’re working with her.”
That was unfortunately true, Dicky had to admit. The neighbors, on the other hand, did like him. Now why couldn’t one of them… not walk out into the backyard, that would be dangerous, but open a window and call down? It might make Ray jumpy enough to run away.
Or jumpy enough to shoot, which of course wouldn’t be good at all.
Sweat was pouring down Ray’s face. In over his head, Dicky thought. He couldn’t be that hard to take down – all Dicky had to do was time it correctly.
And then the gun wavered, and a voice called out, ”Dicky!”
He’d know that voice anywhere. Fear brought the taste of metal to his mouth. What was she doing here? She should be at work, or at home, or anywhere but in his backyard, subjecting herself to danger.
Ray was standing close enough to Dicky that to a casual observer they might seem engaged in no more than a heated argument. But Dicky knew that Tess’s observations were anything but casual. His thoughts raced, trying to reach a conclusion. Any moment now, Ray might decide to cover his ass and shoot them both.
So far, though, he seemed more distracted and agitated by the interruption than anything else. Maybe Dicky could work with that.
Turning slightly towards Tess, he called over his shoulder: “Hey, Tess, wait for me upstairs, will you? There’s something I got to take care of.” But behind his back, in better view for her, he spelled, “Go forward left. Draw his attention.”
As soon as he saw her expression shift to determined understanding, he turned back to Ray, waiting for the moment to arrive.
Ray’s eyes flickered, but the gun remained in place, at least... there, he started to move it towards the new threat, and as soon as the muzzle was aimed away from any vital parts, Dicky made a grab for it.
The bullet stung the outside of his arm on the way past and lodged in something hard and metallic behind him - a garbage can, probably. By the second shot, Dicky had wrenched partial control of the gun, and the bullet hit the ground between them.
There was no third shot. Dicky held the gun firmly aimed at Ray’s temple and yelled, “Hands on your head! Hands on your goddamned head or I’ll...”
Ray obeyed, shaking and crying. Stupid kid. Stupid crazy kid.
It took Dicky a moment to see Tess, even though she had come to stand right next to him.
“You okay?” she asked out loud. “You’re bleeding.”
Glancing down, he assessed the wound. He was still too worked up to feel the pain, but he guessed he would soon. With any luck, it’d take enough time that he’d already have painkillers on hand. Still, he probably shouldn’t drive - and letting Tess into a car with this punk was out of the question.
“I’m fine,” he said. “Get Mrs. MacNamara on the first floor. Tell her to call the police, have them send over a car.”
They had already handed Ray over to the squad, and Tess was driving Dicky to the ER, before he finally remembered to thank her for the help.
“You’re welcome,” she said, glancing quickly sideways at him, but then her eyes returned to the road, and he supposed that was that, as far as sentiment went.
Until they reached the hospital and she pulled over, watching him in silence instead of opening the car door.
”We’re supposed to leave the car now,” he said. ”Aren’t we?”
”Did it occur to you,” she asked, ”that by drawing his attention I also drew his fire?”
”Sure it occurred to me,” he said. ”But I figured, if I didn’t do anything, he could have ended up shooting us both. So my way was actually safer.”
She nodded, her expression unusually hard to read.
He cleared his throat. ”Sorry to put you in harm’s way.”
”It’s okay. Definitely worth it, to have you in one piece.” Her gaze drifted out the window, and she continued, without looking at Dicky, ”He was willing to throw his life away. Over that awful brother, who bullied him and called him names, and forced him into trouble.”
Dicky didn’t respond. There was nothing to say, and Tess clearly didn’t expect a reply.
After a few moments, she shook off her thoughts, stepped out of the car, and bent down to tell him, ”We should go. We don’t want your fingerspelling to get even worse.”
”Oh, don’t you start that again,” he protested. Getting out of the car too, he told her, ”I’d like to see you sign behind your back at gunpoint. And no, don’t do it just to prove you can.”
She smiled and softly patted his good arm, telling him, ”S-t-t-e-n-m-o-n isn’t a word.”