Fortitude Smashed

By: Taylor Brooke
1

A ROUTINE TRAFFIC ACCIDENT AT a gas station turned out to be a drug bust. Naturally, the patrol officer phoned Shannon, who looked at his half-eaten plate of curry and gave an unsatisfied sigh. The station was quieter than usual: an undertone of hushed conversations, rushed fingers tapping on keyboards, and file cabinets opening and closing. Simple brown desks littered the square room, and offices lined the back wall next to a holding cell. It wasn’t a big station, one of the smallest in Orange County. Shannon didn’t let its size deter him, though, and had spent many sleepless nights buried in his studies to get there. He set the takeout box on a stack of manila folders and adjusted the bronze placard next to his laptop.

Detective Shannon Wurther—Laguna Beach, California

How long had it been? A year, almost, since he’d passed the entry exam and was promoted from officer to detective. It’d taken too long, he thought. After three years as an officer, another spent studying, finally he’d done it. He was twenty-five years old, the youngest detective in Southern California and the first to pass the exam in one attempt in more than five years. Shannon ran at things full speed. What he’d done in three years, most officers hadn’t done in six, and still, he was sure it’d taken too long.

“Cruz, we’ve got a call.” Shannon peered around the edge of his computer. Karman de la Cruz sat across from him at their conjoined desk, separated by two laptops and a mess of files. Her long unruly curls were bundled into a braid. She wore rich brown lipstick, three shades darker than her skin, and her thick eyebrows were penciled in, perfectly arched. She was also eating curry—green opposed to Shannon’s red—and frowned around a forkful of rice.

“Who called it in?” she mumbled, searching out the straw in her iced tea with her tongue. “It was Barrow, wasn’t it?”

“Of course it was.” Shannon snorted a laugh. He closed the container of his mediocre dinner, stood, and slung a messenger bag over his shoulder. “It’s the gas station off Main. Do you have to pick up Fae?”

Karman shook her head as she shoved another forkful of rice into her mouth. “She’s staying at a friend’s house tonight. They’re working on one of those solar system diagrams together. I thought they were a little young for planetary assignments but…” She finished with a shrug. “Drinks after we wrap up?”

“Sounds good to me. Is your car still in the shop?” He dug in his bag for his keys, and then patted his waist to make sure his badge was snug on his belt and his gun was holstered alongside it.

Even after five years of police work, he still wasn’t used to the weight of a sleek black gun on his hip. He’d grown up accustomed to hunting rifles, the smell of horses, fresh cream, and peach trees. Sometimes the West Coast still overwhelmed him with its mysteries and majesties laid out for all to see. Sometimes Shannon prayed he’d never have to use his gun.

Karman groaned, keeping pace as they walked out the back door. “Yeah, I guess there’s something wrong with the transmission now. I need a new car, man.”

“I’ve been telling you that for two years, Cruz.”

“Yeah, yeah. Well, when you have to pay for private school and violin lessons, we’ll talk all right? Cars are expensive; six-year-olds are even worse.”

The Jeep Cherokee’s doors squeaked, and the engine thrummed to life. A twinge of pity squirmed in his gut as he glanced at Karman’s hands folded casually in her lap. She worked hard for her daughter and herself. No one waited for Karman at home; there was no help to be had, or breaks to be given. Her index finger rubbed back and forth over the top of her right thumbnail. It was a nervous habit, one she’d had since he met her. The translucent tint beneath her fingernail was an eerie reminder of her Rose Road and how she’d lost it.

On his own hand, wrapped tight around the steering wheel, glowing numbers counted backward, second by second, a flicker beneath his thumbnail. Tonight, mere hours from now, Shannon’s Camellia Clock was going to time-out, and he would face his Rose Road. He’d waited his whole life for fate to make up its mind, and sometime tonight he’d find out what it decided. The numbers marched: 3:28, 3:27, 3:26.

Karman cleared her throat. “Green light, Wurther.”

He tucked his thumb behind the steering wheel. The inevitable wasn’t worth worrying about.

A four-lane road snaked through the middle of the city and merged into the Pacific Coast Highway on the north and south ends. Dark roads spun away to wind through quiet coastal neighborhoods where beaches stretched between apartment buildings, high-end resorts, and reservation-only restaurants. Laguna Canyon cut a path inland, home to the summertime art show Sawdust Festival, and Pageant of the Masters’ outdoor theater, surrounded by the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park’s sprawling rural hills. It was an easy place to live, safe and manageable, with a median income of a hundred grand, a downtown full of good food, and enough artistic charisma to woo Monet. But even “safe and manageable” had its crime, and crime was something Shannon was good at. Dealing with people, uprooting their secrets, getting the truth: those were all things he did too well for comfort. They were in his blood.

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