This was my first comission, given to one Hallan.
I need to stop taking my breaks so late.
Every Saturday night I end up at the same dirty truck stop, with the same dirty tables and the same dirty slot machines in the corner. The same dirty old man runs the same dirty old register behind dirty bullet-proof glass. It’s not that I want to be here – hardly the case. It’s either this or the bars, and a cop can’t drink on the job.
Too bad a lion can’t break the rules.
The truck stop is an island in the night, and I am merely a traveler, dropping my sails for a spell before I'm back on the sea in my patrol car, scouring the coves and ports, driving through lone alleys and pothole-ridden roads in search of the scourge of the sea. Inside I’m alone; the dirty old man takes my money and points me to the coffee cups, then disappears behind the glass, doing whatever it is that dirty old men do on graveyard shifts at truck stops..
I sit at my usual table and look at the phone on the wall. Dirt and grime cover the receiver, a mess that probably hadn’t seen a rag in years. Sipping at my coffee I consider calling one of my old friends. (“Daniel,” I hear those people reply, “how’s our favorite hero?”) Try as I may I just can’t work up the courage to pick up the phone. It’s been so long since I’ve talked to them – night shift did a nice job of cutting my social life to nothing.
The phone stays on the hook. Sighing, I sip at my coffee and stare out the window, past the phone and the dirty truck stop. In five minutes I’d be back in my speed trap on some unnamed stretch of highway between milemarkers twenty and thirty, radar gun in hand. Such is my “heroic” life as a police officer.
My tail swishes behind me, disgusted. Everyone’s a critic.
Through the window I see the edge of the truck stop island, nothing more than a halo of light shimmering on Gas-n-Go’s turn-in. An economy car parks at the shoreline. Hatchback. The female rabbit that pops out of the driver’s side door fits the car perfectly. She holds her purse close to her chest and half-hops with all the caution a scared little lapine like her should show. Her nostrils flare as she moves away from the car: slowly, at first, but her pace quickens with each passing step.
Then, from the deep abyss of the darkness, two shadows surface and surround her. Wolves. She tries to scream but the sound catches behind long, slender, well-kept teeth. One carries a knife; the other, a semi-automatic pistol.
My mind goes blank. I rise from my table and head toward the door, my hand on the pistol’s grip, not exactly sure of what I’m going to do, or how I’m going to do it. Backup? rational thought asks, but my heart is too wrapped up in the moment to take notice. There is no time!
The pistol-man turns his gun on me as soon as I stepped out onto the asphalt sands; that is more than enough to pull me from my hero frenzy. Suddenly I’m calm, pushing the door open with my shoulder, my pistol sights centered on the man with the gun. This is very real danger, stemming from very real muggers pointing a very real gun down my muzzle. I could die out here, alone in the cold autumn air of Denver, an unsung hero for an unsung rabbit woman. We’d be two column-inches in the local paper, perhaps, and nothing more.
“Stay out of this,” the gunman tells me. “We just want the bag.” He readjusts the ski mask fitted over his muzzle. Lupines, I mumble to myself. Mangy. Desperate. My eyes skim the pair, trying to find any qualities that might help I.D. these guys when they walked away with the woman’s purse.
The rabbit trembles with fear, just out of my reach. She grips the handbag so tightly that her knobby knuckles jut from under her auburn fur. One of her muggers is running his knife down her arm with all the care of a passionate lover, pushing just enough to score the silk of her blouse. He sniffs the arm as he cuts, brushing up close against his victim, eyes burning bright with desire, even under the ski mask.
“I want some more of this bunny!” the dog groans. His hand finds its way to her puffy tail and he gave it a squeeze; the rabbit winces and tried her best not to move.
I try to move towards her, but the gunman shakes his pistol at my chest. “Best not try anything funny,” he says to me. I smell doubt on the air; the kid hadn’t touched a gun in his life. They’re two boys trying to score quick cash.
“Leave her alone,” I yell to the other mugger, ignoring the gunman. “Just take the purse and go.”
“But I don’t want the purse anymore. I want a little bun-bun in my bed.”
Highway patrolman, I tell myself. I’m just a highway patrolman on break. I give speeding tickets and arrest drivers too drunk to think straight. I’m no hero.
I’m the rabbit’s only hope.
Before I can second guess myself, I take a step toward the gunman. “Put the gun down,” I tell him, as if it’s going to do any good. The bulldog starts to quiver a bit, finger uneasy on the trigger. “You don’t want to shoot me.”
“Don’t come any closer,” he says. The gun shakes madly in his hands. He tries steadying himself before adding “Stay away from me.”
“Tell your friend to get away from the girl.” Another step.
I spring into action before I realize the bullet’s entered my thigh. Return fire. Two to the shoulder, one to the knee, and the gunman’s hand goes limp, letting the pistol fall to the ground. A quick pivot and I’m on the knife-wielder. “Let her go,” I tell him.
He clings to the girl like a girl and her security blanket. “I’ll slice her,” he screams at me. “You come closer and I’ll slice her good!”
“Then I’ll shoot you.”
“Put down the gun!” he screams at me, the knife pressing against the rabbit’s jugular. I comply. “Now step back.” I comply.
Any time now.
Desperation flashed in the boy’s eyes as he dove for the gun. I was on top of him before he could get his fingers through the trigger guard. I felt his knife slide into my gut; the bolt of pain turned my vision red. My claw slashes across the wolf’s chest, and I feel bones give under the swipe.
The wolf hits the asphalt screaming.
The kid screams his lungs out before I try to move again; when I do I feel the cold of blood on my fur. The leg gives way and I find myself collapsed on the ground, teeth gritted in agony. “You okay?” I manage before white-hot flashes of agony took my mind by storm.
“I’ll be fine,” the rabbit tells me. “How about you?”
“I should probably get some backup,” I say. Then I laugh, but the motion sends another surge of pain through my body. “What’s your name, miss?”
I smile, pause to let the next moment’s anguish sweep over my leg, then reply, “It’s nice to meet you, Hope. I’m Daniel. If you wouldn’t mind going inside for me, I think they’ll have a first aid kit in back.”
“Great.” I nod and turn my attention to the radio on my shoulder. “Shots fired at Gas-n-Go. Officer and two perps injured. Requesting ambulance sent to my location.” Seconds later I get the reply in a static-riddled, half-intelligible “Roger that.”
I look up and Hope is still standing over me. “Are you okay?” I ask her. “Did they cut you or hit you? I need to know so I can put it on the report.”
“No, no… I’m fine.” She looks sheepish for a moment, then manages a smile with her bright, shining buckteeth. “What you did was very... brave. Thank you.”
“It’s what I do for a living,” I say simply. “After
all, if the cops don’t show valor, who will?”