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The One That Matters
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      Page Four

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##I'm....not dumb...enough to...tell you that. I... I just called in order to
have someone to talk to... Only you.....aren't him...Why couldn't you have
been him? To...tonight ..of all nights..## said the unseen,
groggy sounding girl. "Oh,... I feel sick.... I shouldn't've-" There came
the sound of vomiting and it was a fairly long time before Dixie heard
the sounds of the girl's difficult breathing again.

Dixie didn't waste time reestablishing dialogue to dig for information.
She opted on delaying long enough for a trace to be successful.
"Who's him? Can you tell me his name? Hello? Who's the one you
wanted to speak to tonight?"

Johnny mouthed two words. "Stall her." and threw his hands apart
in a growing expanding gesture.

Dixie nodded in an exaggerated, irritated, I know that already move.

They could both hear Cap on his private office line with the phone
company, setting up a trace to their kitchen phone's number echoing
quietly through the vehicle bay and a twin voice from Lopez, setting up
the slower second trace via L.A.. over the station's alcove mic.

##...Mike..... Mike Stoker..## sighed the weak voice answering Dixie's

Dixie's eyes flashed panic.
..Should he get on the phone?..
she wrote in a panic.
..Where is he?..  

"I know him. He's a good friend of mine.
And yes, he's still here.....working.." Dixie told the girl. "But
he's out of the room. Can you hold on a moment while I find

Gage wrote back on a pad that Chet gave him from his pocket.
..He went to move the engine into the driveway to run her hot if
we can trace this call and find out where she is.. He'll be right back..

##No tricks.. What's

"Dixie. What's yours?" she tried again, while Johnny hugged his
head near hers to listen in.

##Uh uh. No clues. I'll only talk to him... I know him.... See?" gasped
the girl. ##Put him on... Now..## demanded the short of breath caller.
## I...I don't think I have much....time left..##

Gage scribbled a furious suggestion. ..Tell her he's hanging hose
and that it'll be a few minutes while he climbs down for the phone..
It's dark outside..

Dixie told her.

##Ok,... I'll wait ...those couple of... minn.. utes..  But no more! I don't you, yet, Dixie...*gasp* Only him..##


Morton sat still and contemplative next to Roy where they were at
the little writing desk in the bunkroom. The tiny lamp was on
and an HT was in Roy's lap already connected to Cap's in the office.

And he was listening intently. He had already unscrewed the talking
microphone in the mouthpiece of the dial out phone receiver
so that he and Dr. Morton wouldn't be overheard by Dixie or the girl.

"Does this happen very often?" Morton asked DeSoto.

"Not very often. This is maybe the third time it's happened since I
started in the department. And all three of those calls came to this
station. Enough for us to develop our own game plan on how to try
and handle it..." said a paling Roy. "It's ironic though."

"What is?" asked the Rampart doctor. "You okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. It's just that Johnny and I were going to take our new
"suicide call to the station" protocol ideas to the fire department
board of directors tommorrow on our mutual day off. So we could
fine tune things for just this kind of worse case scenario."

Morton nodded in sympathy. "She sounds bad.."

"Yeah. There's no denying that this isn't real. Do you think it's pills?"

"No. She's speaking too lucidly for that. Dixie can't seem to trick her
into releasing any information here."

"Natural gas?" Roy guessed again, grasping at straws.

"No, we're not hearing any hissing in the background. Anyone who
wants to die that way usually sits in the same room as the source.
Besides, that bird singing in the background would've asphyxiated
long before she'd even START to feel the effects of that."

"The minehole canary idea?"

"My modern day version of one.." Morton remarked darkly.

"I don't think I like the way your mind thinks, doctor. It's too morbid."

"Sorry, I was trained to think clinically, using symptoms. And right
now, her symptoms are too vague to pin anything on." Morton
said. "I'm stuck with pure suppositions."

"Let's concentrate here. Maybe her breathing pattern'll match
something. We know she's already vomited enough to sound

"A chemical irritant..." Morton agreed.

"Right. With no head injury. Ruled out and refuted. Again,
due to the current level of her talking ability. So no gunshot
wounds there or ...." Roy thought hard.

"But what about a knife? She could be bleeding to death.."
Morton asked. "Slashed wrists? Could she be a cutter?"

"Nah, bleeders never vomit, not until near the end." Roy said.

"Now who's getting morbid?"

"Doctor, let's keep our Sherlock Holmes/ Dr. Watson observations
to ourselves and start paying closer attention here. This girl's
life's in danger."

"I haven't forgotten that for a moment, Roy. Let's keep listening and
see what Johnny and Dixie can come up with.."

Subject: Birds Of A Feather.....

Dixie was beside herself physically, but emotionally, she
instilled false calm into her voice, an ability born only of
long years spent working in the medical field. "Can you tell
me how you're feeling?"

##Why should you care? You don't even know me..##

"I'm here at the fire station." Dixie countered. "If I didn't
care about helping people, why would I stay here to
answer the phone even a single day?"

But backward logic seemed lost on the suiciding girl
and growing beyond her. ##What?!## and she screamed
in overwhelming pain. To Dixie, it sounded like someone
who had crippling abdominal pain.

##Hey! Tell me what's wrong.. Is it because of something
you ate? Maybe I can do something for you!##

##You'll only tell mom and she'll tell my shrink and then I'll
end up in the hospital again with a bunch of people who get
paid trying to figure out what's going on inside my head.
I know you nurses she panted. ##You only
push paper and ....give shots and never ever do you really
get to .....know the people you treat. Oh!## the girl wailed.
## I hurt.!! It's not supposed to hurt this ...bad.##

"Tell me. What did you do?"

There was no reply.

"Hey, listen to me. Are you alone?"

Again, came only the sound of shuddering half breaths.

"Is there anybody with you?" McCall asked.

##No one to care...## sighed the pain wracked girl. ##Just
Raphael..and he always cheers me..*gasp* Do you hear him?
He's my ....dearest pet. ## she said through a slurred haze. ##Mom
travels.. you see, and she's never home for me when I need her.
I hate being alone by myself in such a big house...## she wailed.


Captain Stanley met Detective Crockett at the door, who asked.
"How long has she been on the line?"

"Just under five minutes. She's on the payphone in the kitchen."
Hank replied.

"A payphone, huh? That's gonna make things a little more
difficult for the phone company to trace. Public communications
cabling has checks and balances and other security systems to thwart
just exactly what we're trying to do here." said Crockett. "It's not anything
that was planned for in the designs. It just turned out that way because
the phone companies are now out to protect themselves and their
businesses these days."

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"My man, Roy, one of my paramedics, has an open HT to a voice
pickupless speaker phone in the bunkroom. They've been listening in..."
said Cap and he turned up the volume of his handy talkie.

"Have you been able to determine the method she's using?"
the African American police detective wanted to know.

Hank's face fell. "No. Not yet. Whatever she's doing. It's bad enough."

The two men froze, listening to Dixie's desperate dialogue with the
troubled, isolated girl and caught the scream that made both of
them wince in horror.

"Ok, captain. Me and my men will take it from here. You get your man Stoker
talking to her as soon as possible. Make him use her payphone only.
As we learn clues, I'll put out squad cars in a grid around the immediate
neighborhood. That way we might get close by enough to respond in time
to reach her." said the man. "Increased numbers is the idea.."

"And buy us time to get there with our rescue squad once your officers
find her. Ok.. What do you want us to do?" asked Stanley.

"Listen close, here's the plan..." said Crockett.


"So you live in a big house. What is it? A mansion? Or simply a big
split level bungalow?" McCall plugged.

##Definitely...a ...bung.. An- and the only thing I here is... that
Raphael can watch the sun come up every morning because we're so
high up..##


Crockett snapped his fingers as Cap turned the volume down low again.
"She sounds close. Within a couple of miles or so. Camden Bluffs is the
only house neighborhood I know of in your area that's on clifftops."

"Mike Stoker would know more about this. He lives out that way.." said
Cap. Hank shouted. "Mike, front and center!"

A pale, worried Stoker ran in from the driveway. "I pulled up the squad,
too, Cap."

"Good. Now get ready. Yes, you're gonna be talking to this girl. From
the kitchen. But first, tell us about Camden Bluffs. How many houses are
up there?"

"Is that where she says she's from?" Stoker asked.

"Not specifically."answered Crockett. "We're just guessing. She sounds
very near. There isn't the usual city static sound of distance on the line.
She doesn't sound tinny. Not even a little bit. We think she's in the vicinity
of the Camden neighborhood because she says she lives in a bungalow
high up."

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"There's around sixty houses up there. I live on the outskirts on the east
side..." said Mike.

"East, did you say?" broke in Crockett.

"Yeah, why?"

"This girl said that the view was the only thing she liked about her
house, because Raphael could watch the sunrise from the window."

"Who's Raphael?"

Crockett gestured absently.. "Oh, just a family pet..."


What does she do?" Dixie asked the girl. "Your mother..."

## Her job's......not im--p portant. Dixie, I thought you said...
th-- I was.##

"You are, hon. Please don't forget that already. Your mother
might not be there but know that I am, ok? Tell me what you
like to do...." McCall stalled.

##Where's Mike..? Y-You promised that he'd be there. Or did
you lie to me?!## she gasped.

"He's here! Don't hang up. I'll get him to hurry up... Mike!
I need you on the phone, now!"

Mike Stoker ran into the kitchen at a jog. His face was gray
with fright and in his hand, he held an HT with Stanley's name
on it.

Dixie showed Mike her notes with her last question asked
written on it , encircled thickly with ink. Stoker took the phone
from Dixie and repeated it.  "Tell me what you like to do."

##Is that you, Mike?##

"It's me." he said simply.

##Oh,..I'm so...glad. * cough* I was too chicken
to talk to you directly earlier ....t-today..##


Cap looked up in shock. "Mike had her on the phone
this afternoon?!"

"Did she speak for long? The phone company may have
a recording of it. They always record what calls go into
fire stations, for obvious reasons." the policeman said.

"No, he said that he heard no voices. That it was a hang up."

"About what time was that?" Crockett asked.

"Oh, about five minutes before we got the high school
leg injury call."

"That's a lead! I'm on it. Is your man Marco still on the air with

"Yes. I told him to stand by with a live channel in case we
needed to patch in to this girl remotely." Hank answered.

"Ok, get set for the next stage. I'm going to find that recording's
calling number's imprint.. Give me three minutes.."

"That's up to her.." sighed Cap as the passionate
detective left his office at a dead run.


##I make...things. the garden.## sighed the girl.

"Ah, do you mean you bake from it?" Stoker asked shakily.

##No, silly. Don't you remember? I craft from it. J-Jewelry and
stuff. Didn't you get my present? I ....sent it through the mail
to your .....stationhouse. ##

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Like a heavy shot to the heart, Mike remembered. "Gage."
he hissed. "There's a package from her that I got yesterday.
I haven't opened it yet. It's sitting on the wall over my bunk.
I moved it to get it out of the way for a nap and forgot all about it.
It's got to have an address on it at least!"

Johnny ran.


Dr. Morton and Roy were still listening for clues when Gage
burst into the room and skidded out on the floor tiles onto his

"Johnny! You ok?" DeSoto shouted. Together he and Morton
got him to his feet but he quickly broke out of their double grasp.

"I've got to get to it."

"Get to what?" Morton asked.

"Mike's package. The girl on the phone sent it to him! It's right


Mike Stoker heard the sound of wretching and it was followed by
the sounds of a short seizure. "Hey.. are you ok? Talk to me..."

The thrashing ceased.

"Talk t--"

##I' here. But I'm sooo scared, Mike. It's got blood in it.." she

"What does? From what you threw up?" Stoker asked.

"No, the ....other way..." and she began to cry.


"Yeah. And I can't ...go anymore. I haven't for two hours.." she cried.


Morton and Roy met in close conference over the bunk desk,
thinking. "Renal failure? Intestinal blood?" DeSoto listed her

"It's got to be an organic poison of some kind.." Morton guessed.

Johnny Gage slammed the box down and snatched for the mail
opener. "There's no postmark or return address."
He grabbed Roy's HT. "Mike? I'm opening it!" he yelled into it.

He got a clickback in return.

The two paramedics and doctor quickly pulled off the neat brown
wrapping and got to a white paper box, hand drawn in colored
marker, filled with ornate designs of garden flowers
and butterflies: a child's work. Then they got down to tissue paper
and a carefully wrapped bundle that was meant for the engineer.

Gage ripped it open and a necklace made of natural materials
fell into their laps.

Morton snatched it up, staring. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking,

"Yeah,... aren't those seed pods on that string castor beans?"

Gage held his breath. "Oh, that poor girl. Ricin! Her mother must
have some adult plants growing in the garden. If she's bitten into
even one of those seeds..."

"Let's go tell the others.." Morton commanded.

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"They couldn't get it. She wasn't on long enough for them to
trace from the recording this afternoon." Crockett told Cap
when he had returned from the receiving alcove.

"Let's check and see how the others are doing then, shall we?"
Hank said. "I refused to believe that we are plumb out of options.
Things just don't ever work out that way."


Morton, Roy, Johnny, Cap and Detective Crockett all
got into the kitchen as rapidly as they could. They entered fast
but quietly, so as not to disturb the trembling Mike, who was
still on the phone with the still living soon to be dead girl if
they didn't find out where she was located in time.

"Beans.. Ask her about the beans.." Morton told Stoker
with no preamble. He waved the necklace in front of his face.

Stoker noticed that the doctor wasn't holding the necklace
with his bare hands. He had it clutched in a pillow case to
protect his skin. "I will.." he squeaked.

Captain Stanley noticed. "Doctor, are those dangerous to us?"

"No, the poison only causes local skin reactions in this form.
It can only spread by being inhaled, injected or ingested. Mike,
find out how many she swallowed..."

Dixie added. "Oh, no..these have no anti-toxin.."

"Then what do we do once we get there?" Johnny asked intently.

"Treat the symptoms and wait it out. A stomach pump would
be more than nice.  Are you fellows issued one?" Morton


Crockett spoke up quickly. "Don't worry. You'll have one yesterday.
I'll radio one of my officers and get one from Rampart immediately.
Whereever we all end up, he can just meet us there with it. " and Crockett
ran out of the room back to Marco Lopez's dispatch radio to get it done.
"Give me the hospital's exact address. I may know where it is
but that officer might not know it."

"1000 West Carson Street, in Torrance!" Captain Stanley shouted
after him.

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Mike Stoker was about to ask the girl about the pods she
had taken when a beautiful canary burst out into full voice on
the phone at a flare of heat lightning that flashed both
over the station and over the girl's clifftop house.

His face went white as a sheet.
"A canary?  Is Raphael a pet canary?"

##.....yes....he's so beautiful.. He's my yellow angel. Always
there to keep me saf---## the girl broke off when she slipped
into another convulsion.

Stoker shoved the receiver back into Dixie's hands.
"Cap, I think I know where she is! There's a white house above
mine to the left about a quarter of a mile. I swear to G*d when
the wind is right, I can hear a canary in the mornings. And

"Can you take us there, pal?" Hank asked.

"In a heartbeat.."


Station 51, with a vanguard of two squad cars, one bearing
Crockett, the other bearing a stomach pump and nasogastric
tray from the hospital soon wailed through the night towards
a fourteen year old girl on the brink of death.

Mike Stoker was beside himself so Cap did one thing more
while his engineer drove fast, breaking the speed limit
with permission. "L.A., Engine 51. Patch my station's live phone
through to my HT unit three, priority band one, over all units.
Notify Battalion of the override! Clear all frequencies on Tach
5 at 101.8 ! We need an immediate link to our suicide attempt."

## 10-4, Engine 51. You have the band now at 20:07... Mark.##

L.A.'s soothing baritone left the air and soon, the joyful canary's
confused song over the lightning, returned. Chet Kelly held
the HT over Mike's mouth as he drove the Ward towards
the block above his house.

"Hey,.. listen to me." Stoker shouted over the engine's sirens, until
Cap flicked them off. The two flanking squad cars and the
preceding rescue squad, holding Morton, Roy and Johnny
were more than enough to ensure their safety
on the dark road in front of them. "Are you still there?"

## ...*moan* It's...over soon, Raphael. We'll show mom that
it's never..... ever..right to abandon me at home for ....weeks at
a time. I'm so...lonely now. It's nice to know you're there, Mike.
But..I think....I'm ...going to...die....##

"No you won't." Mike promised. "We're coming! What's your
name? At least tell me that." he begged her.

There was no reply for long moments, until Dixie's voice
on the payphone cut in. ##Listen, honey. Do you want a new
pet to care for? I know people haven't proven to be any
good for you but listen... can you hear her?##

The sounds of whimpering and puppy talk filled the cab of
the rushing engine.

## We can bring her to you, just as soon as we can. All you have
to do is tell us your name.## repeated the shaken nurse.

Crockett, in his speeding car, leaned into the scanner, with
a pen from his pocket poised over his notebook.

Silence reigned over the air wave. And Mike was oh so
aware of how many breaths he was breathing in the
stretching interval that follow. He was about to burst,
so he blurted out. "She's my puppy. Born a few hours
ago. I'd like you to have her in exchange for that secret
necklace you gave me. Please, will you tell me? I want to
know what to call you before.." Stoker broke off, overcome.
"...before it's too late."

##....promise....  ?...? ## came the softest whisper.


They all heard the sound of a door opening to the storm
growing outside and the sound of a body dragging across
textured concrete. And the sounds of lightly wind stirred waves
as they rippled along the edges of what could only be a
a closeby swimming pool. And the haunting wind chimes
that Mike had mentioned earlier.

##It's Soledad...." the girl sighed. "Soledad Martin.. Ah, Raphael..
Keep singing. Keep singing until I can no longer.......hear you...##
whispered the seed poisoned artist girl who admired a firefighter
from afar.

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The phone line issued a terrible splash and the HT fuzzed into
a piercing signal lost squelch when its transmissioned channel
snuffed out as the girl's body fell intentionally into the deep end
of the pool.

"No!!" yelled Mike, even as Chet whipped away the radio so Mike
couldn't hear her struggles anymore. He briefly grappled with him
to get it back.

Cap grabbed his arm firmly. "Keep your mind on the road! We'll get
there just as fast as humanly possible, Mike. But we have to get
there in one piece first. Understood, pal?" he said, his eyes weeping.
"You've got eleven tons of fire engine sitting under your butt and you're
driving. Hold it all together until we get there!"

Mike Stoker nodded blindly, his eyes wet with  
incredibly fresh grief of his own. "Ok, Cap.." he sobbed.
"I hear you."

Cap then beckoned for the radio from Kelly. "Dixie,.. let us know if
you hear any more sounds. Any at all." he said grimly. "We're three
minutes away at the very least!"


Crockett was practically eating his microphone. "Madeline! I want
the address of a Soledad Martin, a female minor living in Camden Bluffs
and I want it NOW! She's just thrown herself into a pool to drown and
we're nowhere near enough to save her yet!"

The frightened police dispatcher finally gave the information as fast
as she could push it from between her lips.


They found her at the very bottom, drifting almost peacefully under
the water.

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Captain Stanley wouldn't let Mike Stoker anywhere near
her as they worked to get a clear airway and later, to get a dried off
chest for an EKG reading on the pulse they had recaptured on her using
the manual defibrillator.

Dr. Morton let Roy and Johnny establish an ET first before he
threaded an NG to extract the offending seeds that Soledad had
consumed. Six beans spat out into the collection jar. And to his
immense relief, all of them were unbroken and entirely free of bite

Mike Stoker began to weep. "She swallowed them whole, doctor?"

"Looks like it. If she manages to last three to five days, that'll see
her over the worst of it."

"How can you treat a poison that can't be cured?"

"You wait it out. Her condition appears young and strong. She seems
to have kept herself well fed from what the police found in her refrigerator
in spite of being left to her own devices." Morton replied as they watched
Roy and Johnny package up the girl even while they breathed for her.

"Those d*mned plants are everywhere. Glad you pointed them out to me,
Dr. Morton." said Cap, stepping near. He was putting on his jacket again
after having been the one to be Soledad's chest compressor for her CPR.
"I'll know what to watch out for in the ornamentals around houses on
unknown child down calls from now on. They just might be these, then.
Pretty things, aren't they?"

"That's the trap..Grownups cultivate them in their gardens and kids
find them irresistable." Morton sighed, holding up the jar of deadly
beans he had taken from Soledad's stomach. They glistened in the
moonlight, beautifully coated with an appealing speckled seagreen
and maroon. "Kids and crafters everywhere like to make them into
jewelry. And they wrongly think that just because castor oil is safe,
that the plant's beans are, too."

" does the toxin work, doctor?" Mike Stoker asked as he
watched the slight girl get wheeled away and rushed to Rampart
by his coworkers.

"Just one milligram of ricin, one of the main toxic proteins in the plant,
can kill an adult. The ricinus lectins act by inhibiting protein synthesis
by destroying a cell's ribosomes. The seed is only toxic as the outer
shell is broken or chewed open. Or baked and glazed as they usually are
to make top selling jewelry for all the art shows. People are dumb enough
to be ignorant and they buy them. Then the many children playing with
these homespun necklaces get sick and die after they eat the attractive
seeds, thinking they are actually the candy pieces they appear to be."
Morton said sadly. "Early symptoms are the gastric upset and later
there's kidney and circulatory failure along with seizures and acute
respiratory distress syndrome, if not complete apnea in all cases
after severe exposures."

Crockett sighed and folded his arms together. "I know of at least one
man who's been killed by ricin." he said thoughtfully. "He's on all
of our books and his death is now a subject to be taught about at
the police academy.. Bulgarian Georgi Markov, was
a communist defector working for the BBC World Service, last year.
He wasn't considered a popular man by his countrymen because
he was a playwright and satirist who had broadcast scathing accounts
of Communist high life to Bulgaria abroad. He was killed by a poison
dart filled with ricin that was fired from an umbrella in London last spring,
1978. Markov's assassination was detected only because the pellet
carrying the poison had not dissolved as expected properly into the
muscles of his thigh. It took him four days to die and he developed a
very high fever and the most hideous symptoms. That's why I became
so distressed when I learned that the girl had taken some of this in the
form of castor beans."

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"I don't know what horrifies me more, doctor. The fact that ricin is so
deadly or the fact that Soledad knew about them from her mother
and tried to take some to end her life.." Mike said, stroking the
brilliant brass cage that housed a now silent Raphael.

The brief summer storm had long since passed without spilling a
single drop of rain and that explained the bird's sudden quiescence.

There was no more lightning for him to mistake for a rising dawn.

Stoker smiled. "And this little guy, deserves a reward. He saved
her life you know. I never would have put two and two together if
he hadn't've burst his heart out when he did."

"Miracles do happen." Chet Kelly grinned, picking up all the paper
wrapping from the medications and stimulants that they had used
on the girl. "Seems like us crew of Station 51 got a real
good quality one today.  Man..." he puffed, stretching like a cat.


"What, Cap?"

"Make yourself scarce."

Kelly missed nothing and realized that a conversation never meant
for his ears was about to take place. But that was ok in his book
because he knew that fire captains sometimes needed private
times to talk and sort out problems with the men under him. Mike
didn't look happy, but that was ok, too. Chet would fix any ruffled
feathers he found on him later, when they were alone. "Ok.." said
Chet and he disappeared back into the house to help the police
locate information on the whereabouts of Soledad's mother.

When he was gone, Cap turned to his engineer and met his eyes.
"What are you going to do now, Mike? I mean, when she comes
back home again, you'll still have your secret admirer problem
looming over your head." Cap asked with a faint smile.

"I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. But you know, I think we
both should become friends anyway, Cap."

"Why? You know how obsessive types usually get with us. We usually
have to get a restraining order to keep them away from the station."
Hank said matter of fact.

"I know. But she's young. Only fourteen. I don't think she'll get
too bad. Not with state psychologists chaparoning all our visits
together. And I think that she'll be able to teach me how to love dogs
again through that pup I'm giving her as much as I can show her
how to love other folks again. Maybe we can learn a lot ...
....from each other."

"Admirable, my man, simply admirable.." grinned Detective
Crockett with a large smile. The policeman's face lit up the
night sky like a beacon. "Outta sight."


Episode Twenty Three

 The One That Matters  


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