[Author's Note: This takes place in early 1990 after the episode, "Stand by Your Man," of season 4.]
After three months of sitting behind a desk, I wasn't sure if I was ready to get back out there. When the Captain called Harry and me into his office, my stomach clenched. My hands shook and my palms became damp.
I'm a detective, for goodness' sakes. I shouldn't feel like this. But ever since Evan Roberts raped me…
"Hoffs?" Captain Fuller fixed me with his penetrating, trademark stare.
"Yes, I'm listening." I sat with my back straight and my gaze glued to the spot on the wall just past his head. "Hanson and Penhall need back up."
"Not just that," he continued, "but another set of eyes and ears. The social divide is worse than we thought. There may be more students involved and faculty, too. "
"How many?" Harry made notes as he listened.
"Ten to fifteen students. Possibly one or two teachers. I'm going in as a substitute teacher. You'll be students." He gave them each a manila folder. "Here are your covers. Study them."
"Thanks, Captain." I clutched the folder to my chest and edged toward the door.
"And guys?" he added. "Wear your vests."
Harry's jaw tightened. "They don't always work."
Fuller nodded as he met his officer's stare. "I know, but it's better safe than sorry."
Harry, the Captain and Judy joined the case today. I saw Judy in the hallway before classes. God, she looked tense and scared, like a deer in season. When the bell rang, she jumped. I wanted to go to her, hold her in my arms. But knee-deep undercover, I couldn't.
Sometimes, I hate this job.
I caught Hanson staring at me. We were between classes. He was with the suspects and I was trying to blend in as a new student. His brown eyes shook me and comforted me simultaneously. I kissed Penhall once, but there was something rock solid between Tom and me.
That something scares the hell out of me.
"Got anything?" Ioki asked, joining me as I entered the cafeteria.
"Just some underlying racial tension." I grabbed two trays and handed him one. "Do you feel the same?"
"A little. See that group over by the column?"
I looked. A table of five or six white teenagers sat huddled together. They hissed as a black student walked past them. The boy rushed to a table halfway across the room. He sat alone with his back to the wall. Even from this distance, I saw his hands shaking.
"I'll talk to him." I paid for my lunch of yogurt, an apple and chocolate milk. "Coming with?"
Harry shrugged. "Might as well. We minorities had better stick together."
"Harry's too close."
"What?" Doug gave me a quizzical look.
Damn! Did I say that out loud?
"Nothing," I mumbled. I made a show of pulling apart my sandwich before I ate it. Anything to get Penhall off the subject.
"What about Harry?" He twisted in his chair.
The cafeteria was full. Judy and Harry sat on the other side of the room. I hoped Doug wouldn't spot them.
"Hey." Chad Marlin, one of our suspects, pulled up a chair.
The kid's timing couldn't have been better.
Doug turned around and dug into today's special of spaghetti and mystery meatballs. "Hey, Chad."
"Warning. We have a sub in American History," Chad said. "If I were you, I'd cut class."
"Why?" I forced myself not to look in the direction of Judy and Harry. Besides, it wasn't any of my business where Ioki put his arm. I shouldn't be irritated if he and Judy looked like a couple.
"Because of that." Chad jutted his chin toward the doorway.
Fuller stood just inside the cafeteria. He scanned the room until he spotted a table of teachers and headed in that direction.
"He's the sub?" Doug asked around mouthfuls of pasta.
"If you wanna call it that," Chad said. "I remember when all they did around here was mop the halls and clean the toilets. It's bullshit, man."
"So, what do we do about it?" I asked.
Tell us something to seal this case. Please.
"Do about what?" Jay Crockett, another suspect, joined us. He opened his carton of milk and gulped.
"The enemy taking over," Chad said. His gaze lingered on Fuller.
Jay looked toward Fuller and then at the other non-white students and faculty. "That's easy. Take 'em out. I've got just the right ammo for it. Yo, Hamilton, you're gonna eat that?"
I handed over my sandwich and glanced at Doug. My partner nodded. Our first break in the case.
Home at last.
I slammed the door shut and locked it faster than the speed of light. With that chore done, I breathed a sigh of relief. Once upon a time, my nerves didn't unravel at sudden noises and I didn't double check locked doors and windows. Ruth, my rape counselor, promised that the uneasiness would lessen in time. So far, that time hadn't arrived, yet.
Tom and Doug got a break today. Harry and I did, too, of sorts. The kid we sat with at lunch, Jimmy Montgomery, filled us in on an underground group. Kids who'd been bullied had banded together to fight the intolerance. Jimmy promised to see if we could be included at their next meeting. Being that he was only a freshman, he didn't have the necessary pull to get us an invite.
Fuller took the information in stride. He didn't have too much to report. The teachers were fairly tight-lipped. He hadn't expected to get in with them on the first day. By the end of the week, he hoped to have something, too.
I trudged through the motions of taking a bath and pulling on sweats. Was undercover work always this tiring? I remember feeling invigorated. Where did that feeling go? Did Evan take that away from me, too?
The sofa and television beckoned. Before I reached them, a knock sounded on the door. Resisting the urge to grab my weapon, I moved to the door.
"Who is it?" I deepened my voice, opting for fierce and tough.
"Me," came the familiar, masculine tone. "Tom."
"Oh, okay." The unmistakable sensation of exhilaration coursed through me. I unlocked the dead bolts and unhooked the chains. As I pulled the door open, I noted how his dark brows drew into a frown. He probably heard the commotion. I shrugged. "Come in."
"I come bearing gifts." He carried a box of pizza and a six-pack of Diet Coke. He set both on the coffee table before falling onto the sofa's center.
"Great." I grabbed napkins and plates from the kitchen. "What kind is it?"
He tilted his head in that way only he could. Puppy dog brown eyes turned on me. "Your favorite of course."
My eyebrows rose. "Sausage, pepperoni, pineapples and olives on a hand-tossed crust?"
He nodded. "Did I do good?"
I couldn't stop the grin from spreading across my face. "You did great."
I sat beside him. Our thighs almost touched. He didn't move away. Neither did I.
"What's the special occasion?" I put slices on our plates while he popped the tops on our sodas.
The dark red color started at his neck and rose to his cheekbones. But he held my gaze as he answered, "You are. Welcome back."
I looked away from the understanding in his eyes. "Tom." I set my plate on the table and grabbed a napkin, twisting and turning it into odd shapes.
His hand closed over mine, stilling my nervous movement. "I didn't mean to upset you."
"You're a bad liar," he said quietly. "It's hard getting back into the game. My time in prison…and then going back undercover. It's just not an easy transition is what I'm trying to say, but it is cause for celebration."
He hit the nail on the head. I gave him a sheepish smile. "So, where's everyone else?"
"They weren't invited."
Well, I did it. No, it wasn't a formal move on her, but it was something. I wasn't sure if she's ready for more. She'd been through a rough time. Pushing her was the last thing I wanted.
We ate pizza, drank Diet Coke and talked. About nothing. About everything.
Finally, I asked her, "How are you holding up?"
"I don't know. " Her brown eyes got that faraway look and I wondered if I had gone too far. Then, she added, "I'm just hanging on, I guess. That's all I can do."
"Jude, anytime you want to, you can hang on me." I held my breath, waiting.
She focused on me and graced me with her mega-watt smile. "Thanks, Tom."
She took my hand. Our fingers laced together without much prompting from either of us.
I sighed as I looked down. The differences--light and dark--weren't a big deal. And hanging on had never felt so good.
21 Jump Street ©Stephen J. Cannell
Hanging On ©niklovr
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