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       Burning Water
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             Page Four

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From: Patti Keiper <>
Date: Sat 5/27/2017 7:18 PM
Subject:  Teeth

Dennis Becker looked at Vince Howard as a volunteer crew loaded up the fire horses
into a vet's van. "Where are they headed?"

"Same place we're going. To their barnyard. Believe it or not, they're the last ones to
have seen Mike Stoker. We're going to poke around property for signs of him. Are you
up to doing a little searching?"

"With the city closed down, I've nothing pressing." Dennis shrugged. "I'll ride in with
you. We don't get the fire department channels in our cars."

"Hop in." Howard said, opening the passenger door of his black and white squad car.
"Put this on. Doesn't matter tonight if people know you're an undercover officer.
There's too much fire in the area."

"In more ways than one. Thanks for the ballistics vest. I have a bad feeling we're
going to need it." Lt. Becker sighed.

The two officers elected to follow the assigned U.S.A.R. unit to the address they had
received from L.A. to play it safe. Flames from the canyon fire that the gun happy
arsonist had started, was beginning to lick the edges of brush alongside the outer
fences of the distant downtown neighborhoods.

"Ah, d@mn. I hate it when Mother Nature gets in the way of an investigation." Dennis
mumbled. "Wildfires don't leave much left behind."


Jim Rockford pulled up alongside a city pay phone next to a gas station that was
still in a safe zone marked by the fire department.

"What are you doing, Jimmy?" Martin asked from the back seat. "I've still got a ton
of pictures to take of the wildfire."

"Aw, Angel, I'm not here to play chauffeur to your photography session. We were
ordered to evacuate." the P.I. moaned tiredly. "Sorry your plans got smoked, but
we've had a really rough night. All I wanna do is go home, with one detour."  he
said, getting out of the car and deftly taking up his car keys so they were out of
reach of Martin.

"Who are you going to go call?" Sara asked.

"My Dad. He's being discharged in a few minutes from the hospital and I'm his ride
home. It's morning already, see?"  he pointed to the pale copper beginning to stain
the east horizon.

Angel's eyes bugged out, "Oh my G*d. Are you sure that isn't another branch of the
fire flanking us?"

"Yes, Angel, I'm sure. That direction's the ocean and towards the sunrise. Check your
compass." Rockford said sarcastically. Under his breath, he muttered. "Too bad your
common sense compass doesn't work so well."


"Nothing. Did you find out your answer? Maybe you'll settle down a little afterwards."
Jim said, running a few fingers through his sweaty and fire smoke soot dusted hair.

Reflexively, the hyper Portuguese man did so, from a big, fat old style Navy one
from the inside of his shirt pocket. "Hey, that glow is east."

"And downwind. Fire doesn't ever suddenly appear as a small, steady glowing ball and
start rising straight up into the sky." Jim shared. "Excuse me while I make a phone

"Here's a dime, Jim." Sara said, handing him one from her blue jean's pocket.

"Thanks, doll." Rockford winked at Sara. Then he picked up the phone receiver on the
outdoors wall shelf unit and dialed."Hi, Dad. How are you feeling?"

**Like the china shop the bull ran through. How long are ya going to be? That Dixie
gal wheeled me down to the main lobby over an hour ago!**

"Sorry, Dad. Ran into a few delays." Rockford admitted.

**Do you mean to tell me you're on another date?**

"Shh! She'll hear you.  Yes, we were, but that was hours ago. We ran into a few
issues on the way to Rampart."

**Oh, yeah, like what? I'm freezing my butt off in these new fangled P.J.s. It's
not fun at all waiting like this.**

"Try a fire and a sniper. My car got wrecked by a bullet."

The kindly old white haired Rocky crossed his legs in the waiting chair next to
the nurses desk. He immediately uncrossed them when an ugly old lady sitting across
from him suddenly started smiling and staring up his patient gown.  **Serves you
right, Jim! I told you to buy car insurance. But did you listen? No..**  Then he
mumbled in a softer tone. **Glad you're not hurt, sonny.**

"I'm always careful." Jim replied.

**Not always. Sometimes the bad guys do nail ya. Look at me. I got hurt and there
were no bad guys in the equation at all! Now where's the one who shot at you?  
Are you and whoever's in your company going to go after him after you abandon
me at the trailer?**

JIm's sighed and studied the cement cracks glowing in the water the fire
department had left on the sidewalk. It took a lot to not blow up at his father's
brutally glib comments.


From the car, Angel perked up as he and Sara watched Jim hide his conversation
in vain. "Oh. I know that look of his, Sara.We're going hunting! Just you, Jim and I."

Sara shook her head, wiping off some of Johnny's blood from her fingers with a
water bottle's flow and a rag she found in the glove compartment. "What makes
you think we're going to go heading back straight into danger?"

Angel Martin met her gaze seriously.
"Because I know his father, Rocky, Sweetcakes. It's a father/son honor thing
going on between them right now over there." Martin told her. "You see, Rockford's
a pushover when it comes to always doing what his old man wants. It's a guilt trip
he can't possibly ignore. It's all because his Dad was bad once, and he straightened
up and began to fly right. Decades ago. And Jim knows that he can't ever live
up to that. Not in a million years."

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"Do you mean my new boyfriend's still acts like a criminal?"

"Only in self defense. His dander gets up thoroughly whenever somebody tries to
kill him. I've seen this before. He's exactly like his old man." he said, gesturing
at the range of dark expressions they could see running through different moods
on the P.I.'s face. "It's a natural reaction he gets whenever the nasty folks find
out that they're being targeted by him, in his line of work." Martin said.

"But this particular bad guy doesn't even know us. He's an arsonist. We just
happened to have been at the wrong place at the wrong time last night."

"Oh, that baddie knows you all right. You're both witnesses to his whereabouts,
darlin'. That's good enough. But you don't worry. Jim'll get him in the end before
he gets anybody else. He always does. He's saved my life more than a dozen times
when the bad guys came after me."

Sara chuckled uneasily, mentally questioning her companion's morale fiber. "Oh,
so glad Jim only commits murder after letting himself get winged first. Makes
me feel a whole lot better." she said, sarcastically. But then her little smile
returned at his puppy dog eyes which were getting self defensive under his
unhappy dad's phone tirade. "He's so cute."

"What about me?" Angel muttered.  "Am I as attractive as are

"Huh?" Sara said, looking up, completely missing his question for the hearts in
her eyes for Jim.

"Uh, nothing." evaded Martin, looking out his car window at the advancing fire.
"I think something just crashed and burned over there."

"What was it?" Butler asked, still watching Jim judo verbally with his father
through the telephone wire.

"It was... nothing major."  Martin never wanted to crawl under anything and
hide so badly, as he did right then.


Mike Stoker wanted to hide. Immediately. He had an idea of about how long
he had been unconscious from the angle of the morning sun's rays which had
awakened him forty five minutes ago. It hadn't taken long at all soon afterwards,
when he found himself playing cat and mouse with a crazy man and his rifle,
for his life.

"Did you hear that horse scream, fireman?  Squealed like a stuck pig when I
shot him. That felt goooood." came the manic, cracked voice of a person driven
beyond their normal faculties.  "So where are ya, hose jockey?! I'm not gonna
shoot you. You're human. I only get my kicks from killin' furry things."

Mike Stoker had done the only thing he knew would work to keep safe from
the shooter. He had crawled into the deadly reach of the canyon fire.  It
was taking all he had not to gasp and choke from the slowly disappearing
oxygen levels underneath the burning pine tree canopy. That kind of un-natural
sound would be heard instantly, and get pin pointed. ::That would probably mean
my death, with a few bullets to the back of the head. :: he thought. ::Not that
that would matter very much, soon..::

The wounded engineer could see and hear, but not feel himself dragging on
hands and stomach, towards the lake and its far cooler, concealing waters.  
In the back of his mind, Stoker wondered if he would bleed to death from his
internal injuries, before he got there. ::Why doesn't it hurt?:: Another part of
his thoughts whispered back to taunt him. ::Because you're in deep shock.
You're very far along the path of actually dying, mister.::  

**It's called ischemia, Mike.** Gage's voice whispered in his head. **All
your organs' circulation is getting cut off by swelling and poor perfusion. There's
nothing, short of a lightning strike, that can kill faster than that. People are
usually dead within an hour of it beginning.**  

"Johnny?"  Mike sobbed, still imagining Gage's voice. "I really need a helping
hand here. R-Remember my p-perfect record of... never getting banged up
while in uniform?" Stoker tried to suck in a bigger breath to stop feeling
suffocated in the blistering heat surrounding him. "Well, that went to
sh*t today. Never thought--- Ahhh!!" he groaned as a building, intense
pressure in his abdomen grew with each throb of his heartbeat.

PhewwwWWwwwff!  came the whine of a bullet. Mike cried out again as
a sharp thud hit his left pinky. The near grazing tore the fingernail off in
a shower of gore.

"There you are, to my left, boy!" came the arsonist's cry. "There's no use
trying to hide!"

CrackKKK!!!  A whole burning tree top snapped completely off of its trunk,
falling earthwards above the two men. In seconds, the heavy flaming mass
fell on top of them, pinning them both to the smoldering beach and under
the shallow water.

There was no time at all to scream before it happened. Then moments
later, there wasn't any room to breathe. Time had run out.
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