Kansas City Cop(2)

By: Julie Miller

A difficult upbringing was part of the common ground they shared, and had helped solidify their working relationship and understanding of each other. Gina gave the sarcasm right back, whispering so her great-aunt couldn’t hear. “Do we really have to?”

Derek grinned and directed her back to her phone. “Tell Aunt Lupe hi for me, okay?”

“I will. Tia Mami, Derek says hi.”

“You teach that young man to say hola, and bring him to dinner sometime.”

“I’m working on it.” Gina continued the conversation with appropriate responses while her great-aunt rattled on about other concerns she’d have to deal with once she got home. While Lupe talked, Gina concentrated on the scenery as they drove past, partly because it was her job to observe the neighborhood and take note of anything that looked suspicious or unsafe, and partly because she’d already heard the same worried speech too many times before about fast cars and traffic accidents, young men who didn’t come to the door to pick up a date and Uncle Rollo’s deteriorating health.

Now there was something different. Gina lifted her chin for a better look. A tall man in silver and black running gear came around the corner off Pennsylvania Avenue and ran down the narrow side street. A jogger in this neighborhood was unusual. Maybe he was one of those yuppie business owners who’d opened an office in this part of town for a song, or he’d bought a loft in one of the area’s abandoned warehouses, thinking he could revitalize a little part of Kansas City. Not for the first time, she considered the irony of people with money moving into this part of the city, while the natives like her were doing all they could to raise enough money to move out.

But irony quickly gave way to other thoughts. The runner was tall, lean and muscular. Although the stocking cap and wraparound sunglasses he wore masked the top half of his head, the well-trimmed scruff of brown beard on his golden skin was like catnip to her. Plus, she could tell he was fit by the rhythmic clouds of his breath in the cold air. He wasn’t struggling to maintain that pace and, for a woman who worked hard to stay physically fit, she appreciated his athleticism.

As they passed each other, he offered her a polite wave, and Gina nodded in return. Since he already knew she’d been staring, she shifted her gaze to the side mirror to watch him run another block. Long legs and a tight butt. Gina’s lips curved into a smile. They probably had a lot of scenery like that in the suburbs. A relationship was one thing she didn’t have time for at this point in her life. And no way did she want to tie herself to anyone from the neighborhood who might want her to stay. But there was no harm in looking and getting her blood circulating a little faster. After all, it was only twenty-two degrees out, and a woman had to do whatever was necessary to stay warm.

Gina glanced over at her partner. Derek was handsome in his own way. He, too, had brown hair, but his smooth baby face was doing nary a thing for her circulation.

“Do we need to take a detour to your house and have a conversation with your sister? I’d be happy to um, have a word, with that boyfriend of hers.” He took his hands off the steering wheel to make air quotes around have a word, as if he had ideas about roughing up Bobby on her behalf. As if she couldn’t take care of her family’s issues herself.

Since the car was moving, Gina guided one hand back to the steering wheel and changed the subject. She covered the speaker on her phone and whispered, “Hey, since things are quiet right now, why don’t you swing by a coffee shop and get us something hot to drink. I haven’t been able to shake this chill since that first snow back in October.”

Although the remembered impression of Sexy Jogger Guy made that last sentence a lie, her request had the desired effect of diverting Derek’s interest in her family problems.

“That I can do. One skinny mocha latte coming up.”

Distracted with his new mission, Derek turned the squad car onto a cross street, plowing through a dip filled with dirty slush as they continued their daily patrol through the aging neighborhood. With houses and duplexes so close together that a person could barely walk between them, vehicles parked bumper-to-bumper against the curb and junk piling on porches and spilling into yards, this was a part of the city she knew far too well. Add in the branches of tall, denuded maple trees heavy with three months’ worth of snow arching over the yards and narrow streets, and Gina felt claustrophobic. As much as she loved Kansas City and her job as a police officer, she secretly wondered if she was the reincarnation of some Central American ancestor and was meant for living on the high, arid plains of her people with plenty of blue sky and wide-open space, without a single snowflake in sight.

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