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though she be a tiny dancer (she's fierce)

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Sister Bernadette said she’s going to be a star someday. Rosa had the attitude, she said, all of the drive that such a position required; she was brilliant, well-mannered and excellent at taking orders. The physical grace she sported was just a bonus feature, the mechanism that might make her a good dancer.

Sister Bernadette’s suspicions was confirmed when Rosa’s solo dance during the second grade winter pageant stole the spotlight. It wasn’t much when she choreographed it – some hops and bows that any six year old might be able to tackle. But Rosa made them look special. When it was over she slid a recommendation to Rosa’s mother in the form of a business card, suggesting that the girl take classes with Miss Miriam. It was a blessing – a gesture that sent the girl on her way, on to bigger, better things.

Things that eluded Sister Bernadette when she found herself peeling Rosa off the back of a sixth grade boy who had called her a name, but things that the girl was destined for.

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“Spaghetti spine!” the words made Rosa snap into a tall, straight position – she extended her arms and tilted her chin skyward. But that earned her no quarter from Miss Miriam, whose ruthless eyes seemed to find her every flaw. “What do you call that?” the teacher asked, pointing to Rosa’s weak arms, her loose stance. She poked at the girl’s inner elbow. “Tighten up or you’ll pull another muscle!”

Rosa bit her bottom lip, extended her feet. On the tips of her toes she could walk forever, marching to the beat of Tchaikovsky, the sound of tin soldiers marching by engraved on the back of her mind.

Ballet was about discipline; about deep knee bends and aching muscles and the ache in her chest after a practice. It was also about mastering her stupid body, getting it to bend to the rules, teaching it to jump when she demanded it move. She was getting better at it – her leg extensions were supurb as far as she knew. She didn’t know it, but Miss Miriam thought she was her star pupil – was planning on recommending her to the American Academy, if she kept her grades up and continued along this path. But her expression didn’t change at all as she pirouetted across the floor; she bit back her praise. She didn’t want the girl to get soft – not that someone like Rosa might ever grow dull-edged and let the word roll over her.

The music stopped; the tune changed; a new flock of girls stepped forward to consume her instructions. “Better,” Miss Miriam said, directly to Rosa, as the girl backed toward the barre and closed her eyes with a happy sigh.

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The girl was a nightmare. Talented to be sure, but a social disaster, fearless, violent and proud. Too aware of her own blue collar background, her immigrant grandparents, her middle class roots. She was going to be trouble for sure, and everyone seemed to know it.

Miss Terry tried to stem the flow of violence. She distracted Rosa with lessons, with long drives and shopping trips, and theatre tickets. But something in the girl was born to fight; she would not let go when she was insulted, could not seem to understand that the pettiness of others could not be controlled with her fist. But Rosa seemed primed to collide with fate no matter which way Miss Terry tried to divert her attention.

Then the finale ultimo happened abruptly; a fight in the mess hall where Rosa had ripped out a girl’s hair, broken the arm of another and bruised a third’s face. The school promptly expelled her, leaving her teacher devastated by her loss of potential.

She would often send the girl clippings at the secondary school she was sent to, but Rosa rarely if ever wrote back.

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Lou Castorini had seen thousands of recruits pass through the halls of the academy during his time with the force. Some of them quit a few days into the process; some cracked bones or nerves along the way. Only the very best stuck with it and became a part of New York’s finest.

This Rosa Diaz girl was clearly one of the finest he’d ever had the privilege of teaching.

It was the toughness in her – no doubt about it – that kept her running and fighting to the top of the class. She could take pain and keep ticking like some kind of Terminator, and she had no fear. One scenario required the recruits to crawl belly-down through a (fake) smoke-filled warehouse to rescue a stuffed hostage; Rosa was the only one who didn’t get lost, who made the run in minutes. She was a beast; born to kick ass, take names and make the force look good while doing it. Maybe it was that ballerina training of hers (the training she hated to have mentioned), but it was something spectacular.

Now the Peralta kid, he needed some polish; had the skills but the ego was getting in the way. He’d have to ask around, find him the right kind of partner.

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Ray Holt eyed the resumes laid out before him. Many of them were incredibly impressive; he had never seen a finer –or more unusual – number of officers, all of them willing to serve and protect in the name of the law.

And then there was Rosa Diaz, who once threw a trashcan through two double-reinforced plate glass windows to reach her perp.

Something about the woman frankly scared Holt, but in, as Kevin would say, a spine-tinglingly transcendent way. She would be something great, something interesting, in a way that nobody expected or could fathom.

He immediately rubber stamped her request to be moved to the vice squad division. She would be tested, first, but he had an idea that she’d pass every single one with flying colors. She had grit, she had mettle, and she had toughness.

The vulnerability might need a bit of work, but that wasn’t anything time with the squad wouldn’t teach her.