Sergeant JT Sanborn: But you realize every time you suit up, every time we go out, it's life or death. You roll the dice, and you deal with it. You recognize that don't you?
Staff Sergeant William James: Yea ... Yea, I do. But I don't know why.
Staff Sergeant William James: I don't know, JT. You know why I'm that way?
Sergeant JT Sanborn: No, I don't.
JT Sanborn came back from Iraq only to discover that you can't really go home again.
You can't spend 365 days and some change as part of EOD and then come back to your beat up little Toyota and your 8 to 5 shift down at Home Depot and think that it's all going to click. Or that the girl you left behind spent the year in some sort of time capsule and the two of you will just pick up exactly how you left off.
Life just doesn't work like that.
Hell, JT even considered re-upping just to be back around people who got it. What it was like to put your life on the line, day in, day out, not really being sure if what you did was making things any better.
That didn't happen.
What did happen was one night as he took Treana and their new puppy out for a walk (because JT still wasn't 100% certain he wanted to be a father and figured that a puppy might quiet Treana's baby rabies down until he got it figured out) they stumbled across a home invasion robbery in progress. As Treana called 9-1-1 on her cell, JT didn't think twice, just acted.
KTFO'd the driver with a hard right, took his pistol, shot the tires out, and ambushed the robbers as they ran out the front door to see what all the shooting was about.
When the police showed up, they found the three bad guys, face down on the lawn, with JT, Treana, and the homeowners standing guard over them.
He got his picture on the front page of the local paper and a commendation from both the Sheriff and Mayor.
And as JT recalled the words of the first officers on scene, praising him for how calm, cool, and collected he'd been, for putting himself in to danger to save others, it dawned on him that he might actually make a decent cop. If nothing else, he'd be around co-workers who got it.
The academy and the first year on patrol broke him and Treana up. Some women could handle the odd hours, long shifts and the uncertainty of a police officer's life. She'd had enough of that with him in Iraq.
A year after she left him for good, he packed up his little hoopty Toyota and drove west to Los Angeles. The transmission died a month after he got there, so his very first paycheck as a member of the LAPD went to putting a down payment on a gently used Buick Regal.
Two years later, due in part to his experience in Iraq, he earned a place on the SWAT team.
Brady Matteo was a man with an axe to grind. It started with, of all things, the Post Office, but had since expanded to include any form of governmental authority. So, when it came time to serve a search warrant for illegal weapons, because he had a long history of resisting arrest and was believed to be armed and dangerous, SWAT got sent to his compound to serve it.
"Compound." Not a word anybody wanted to hear. The only good news was the location, a neighborhood of mostly abandoned warehouses and dilapidated industrial buildings. Not only would it mean no civilian casualties, but the lower profile would mean less media interference, if any.
The high, double-thickness cinder block walls topped with concertina wire, and the heavy wrought-iron gate with the plywood riveted to it gave JT a bad feeling the moment he saw it. This crazy asshole had prepared for an invasion.
Buzzing the intercom and asking him to open the gate only resulted in an obscenity filled rant about Matteo's rights as a sovereign American citizen, one free to bear arms, one protected against unreasonable searches and seizures. JT's sergeant went through the motion of explaining how their warrant made it a reasonable search, but it was just so much pissing into the wind.
Command thought they would have to bring in the armored vehicle, or even a bulldozer, but JT noticed that Matteo hadn't hung his gate right -- the loony peckerwood had left the hinges exposed -- all they needed was a cutting torch and they were in like Flynn.
That was the last easy part.
The building was an abandoned marine engine factory. Hulking machines squatted on the ground floor and assembly lines snaked between them. Conveyer belts brought parts down from upper floors and catwalks crisscrossed everything.
And Matteo had made several "improvements" to the floor plan. He had a nearly infinite number of places to hide now.
The Officer In Charge called for the negotiator to see if they could bargain Matteo out, but JT seriously doubted he would listen to sweet reason.
And then Billy Jonte stumbled over a tripwire.
The stumbling and falling flat on his face saved his life. The explosion meant to take his head off sailed clean over.
When the bomb squad arrived on scene almost an hour later, Matteo welcomed them by playing the Star Spangled Banner over the PA at a volume calculated to make teeth grind. Ordinarily, JT liked Jimi Hendrix, but not this loud, and not on an endless loop.
Matteo also had a jammer that rotated through a huge number of frequencies at random. JT and the rest of the SWAT team never knew when the coms were going to turn into white-noise crackle, or for how long it would last.
Midway through dealing with the next booby trap the team discovered, the bomb tech growled during a moment of clear com channel, "This thing's a fucking nightmare. No way to get the robot in to take care of it. Plus, I think it's got a motion switch wired to the fuse."
"Get me Psycho Billy," the head of the bomb squad said.
"Isn't he still on administrative leave for insubordination?" another member asked.
His superior hawked and spat. "Not any more he's not."
"Hendrix. Cool." JT heard the voice of "Psycho Billy" before he saw the speaker and it sent a corkscrew up his spine. He turned, and stared, jaw slack. No ... it couldn't be.
Several years had passed, but William James still had those guileless blue eyes and baby face.
"Hey JT," he said he said as soon as he saw him, not missing a beat, as if it had been yesterday and not half a planet away since they last saw each other.
The OIC's eyes flicked between them several times. "You ... know each other?"
JT sputtered, but the words wouldn't come out. He'd served with Staff Sgt. James for about a month, and to this day, all of his most vivid memories of his time in EOD centered around those 30 or so days under James' direction. Psycho Billy -- the name said it all.
James didn't miss a beat. "Yeah, he covered my ass over in Iraq. EOD. There's nobody else I'd rather have on my twenty."
JT groaned inside. Covered my ass. The man never could resist playing games, even if nobody else here would pick up on the double meaning of those words.
He'd fucked James more than once back in Iraq. Fucked him so he wouldn't frag him.
He had worked so hard to put all of that behind him, but you didn't get rid of William James that easily.
He pasted a smile on his face and held out his hand. "Will. Good to see you."
Then again, it was. Because Psycho Billy was probably the only man on the LAPD Bomb Squad just bug fuck brilliant enough to deal with all of Matteo's little surprises and come away smiling.
True to form, James said no to the "hurt locker" suit. It's too big, too clunky, for the tight spaces he would find himself in. He took a helmet with a visor, a bullet-proof vest, his tool bag, his pistol, and nothing else.
Oh, and he asked negotiator if she'd ask if Matteo was taking requests. Like the rest of Hendrix, or perhaps some Ministry if he had any.
She was not amused.
JT killed Matteo two hours later when he crept onto a catwalk and took a shot at James. It missed, but the ricochet pinged wildly between the machines.
James instantly whipped around, pistol in hand, but JT didn't need a second shot to locate the madman.
One shot. One kill.
"Y'know, we're probably going to get a medal for this," James said several hours later, slurring the words a little, but Wild Turkey did that to a man.
JT loomed over him, looked meaningfully at their surroundings -- his kitchen -- and shook his head. "Don't think so, James."
James laughed at the joke. "At least we won't face a court marshal and a dishonorable discharge for this." His eyes slitted, their expression intense. "You still a wild ride, JT? Or are you going to leave me hanging here, 'cause you got a case of whiskey dick?"
JT positioned himself and said, "Ain't never had a case of whiskey dick in my life."
The next morning, as they nursed their pounding hangovers -- and James's stiff and sore shuffle wasn't entirely due to how they ended up crashing together on the love seat -- James's bleary eyes met his and he croaked, "Someday, JT, someday, I'm going to figure out why I am the way I am." He shook his head, lit a cigarette, and dragged deeply.
JT smiled wryly back and sipped his Alka-Seltzer. "You do that, James."
And then you tell me, because maybe it will help me figure out why I'm one kind of man with everybody else, and a different one with you.