30 Days


A look at the partnership, 30 days in. Written in September 2014 for the 30th anniversary of the pilot of Hunter. 

Rated PG.

Hunter slouched in a half-broken chair in the conference room and tried to stay awake as he waited for the official shift change. Should’ve picked up a coffee, he thought as he rubbed his stubbled cheek. Pulling the occasional double shift was the only way he could make his non-partner-partnership work, but it was murder on the body.


Fellow officers filtered in and took the seats around him, although they knew enough by now to leave the one at his side empty. He was saving it for McCall so they could do their daily partnership show for Cain, but she was a no-show thus far. He craned his neck around to look at the door, but she wasn’t one of the officers walking through it. In two minutes, Cain would be striding in with his clipboard, and they would be very busted.


Hunter’s leg started to twitch as he kept checking the door. Where the hell was she? They were looking at a week’s suspension without pay if they got caught working separate cases again. Finally, at last, there she was, and he heaved a sigh of relief as she wove her way into the room.


She had come straight from the streets, that was clear, with her leather miniskirt, fishnet stockings, over-teased hair and a thick sheen of makeup. She was also carrying two Styrofoam cups of coffee. Bowers let out a wolf whistle as she passed him. “Hey, baby, want to ride with me today? We could compare handcuffs.”


Hunter turned to glare. “I think you’re forgetting she outranks you,” he said hotly.


Bowers grinned. “Hell no, Hunter, that’s part of the charm.”


McCall didn’t give Bowers a backwards glance as she handed Hunter one of the coffees. “Thanks so much,” she muttered to him.


He raised his eyebrows and pointed at himself. “Me? You’re pissed at me? He’s the one—”


“You can’t give them any sort of acknowledgement,” she said as she took her seat. She frowned in Bowers’s direction. “You’ve just bought me another two weeks of that crap, easy.”


“Sorry. I guess I didn’t read the policewoman’s handbook.” The coffee was black with two sugars, just the way he liked it. He gave her a sideways glance as Cain entered the room. He had no idea what she liked in her coffee, and he didn’t particularly plan to find out. Nothing personal – she seemed nice enough – but he wasn’t looking for a real partner, and he definitely wasn’t looking for a new friend. She could keep her coffee order to herself.


After roll call, he shuffled out alongside her so they could look like they were leaving together. The caffeine had perked him up a bit, and now he was itching to get back to the Cash Converters pawn shop, where rumor assured him Big Tony Mandesi would be showing up any minute to collect his $700 guitar.


McCall looked up from reading her messages. “You want to get some breakfast across the street before we head out again?”


“Breakfast?” First the coffee, now they were supposed to be sharing meals together? He had to put a stop to this before it got out of hand. “Look, I appreciate the offer and everything, but I just want to get back out there before Big Tony shows up.”


She shrugged, her eyes once again on the pink slips in her hand. “Suit yourself,” she said as she tossed the messages back onto her desk. “I just thought you might want something more filling than the vending machine fare you keep in your jacket pocket.” She glanced him over once as she picked up her purse. “See you back here in eight.”


As he watched her leave, he reached into his pocket to touch the bag of salty, stale peanuts he’d added that morning. Half the time when they were together, she was busy either adjusting the knife in her boot or the six pounds of mascara around her eyes. He had no idea she’d spared him a second thought, much less tracked his eating and drinking habits.


They didn’t chitchat about their weekends. He hadn’t shared his home address or phone number. Really, he thought he’d drawn a pretty clear boundary between them, and McCall had seemed fine staying on her side of the line. Except, apparently, there were things she knew about him that she’d noticed from where she was standing.


He made a little mental note to try to notice her back, just a little. Just enough to rattle her the way she’d unnerved him.




Unfortunately for his plan, Big Tony showed as scheduled, and he was willing to plead down the time on his one count of aggravated murder in exchange for three counts on his sometime-friend Kevin Sharkey. Hunter and McCall actually had to work together for a couple of days to find independent witnesses to back up Tony’s story, and then bring Sharkey in. It was a big bust, and even Cain was grudgingly pleased with them for at least a few minutes. Everyone was going out for drinks to celebrate.


“You guys are in, right?” John Trejo passed their desks on his way out the door.


“Yep,” Hunter said, folding up his newspaper and putting his feet back on the floor. “And you’re buying.”


Trejo grinned but didn’t correct him. “Dee Dee? You too?”


“Another time,” she said. “I have plans. Thanks, though.”


Hunter narrowed his eyes at her as Trejo left the station. This was a lie, he could smell it.  At last, something to put in his mental file: Dee Dee McCall was a bad liar. Gotcha, he thought, and he almost grinned because here was his chance to rattle her. “It’s safe to go, you know,” he said, keeping his voice casual as she gathered up her things. “If any of ‘em get too handsy, just point them out to me.”


She rolled her eyes. “Thanks,” she said flatly. “I can handle it.”


He held up his palms. “Just being partnerly.”


“We aren’t partners, remember?” Her gaze flickered over him. “Not really.”


“Shh, keep it down, will ya?”  He sprung from his chair and fell into step beside her as she walked toward the door. She sure didn’t seem rattled yet. “So what are your big plans?” he asked. “Hot date?”


“Sure,” she agreed, not even slowing down. “Hot date.”


He frowned, because clearly this was not the real answer. “No, seriously,” he said as they hit the parking lot. “We made a big score today. What could be more important than that?”


She ignored him, so he needled her the best way he knew how.


“Listen, McCall, if you ever want to be accepted as one of the guys—”


“I don’t,” she cut in, fixing him with a look. They had reached her car, and she paused at the driver’s side door. “Go,” she told him. “Have a good time. I’ll see you tomorrow at eight, okay?”


“So what’s the big secret? Or are you really not going to tell me.”


She gave a resigned sigh. She knew he would never let it go. “The dentist, okay? I have to see my dentist. There is your huge mystery solved. Now, if you’ll excuse me…” She waved for him to get out of the way.


He backed off, his brow furrowed. She’d just given him another lie. He stood there in the fading daylight, watching her car pause at the exit.  A couple of guys walked behind him, already whooping it up. Someone slapped his back. “See you over there, Hunter.”


“Right,” he said. Her car pulled into traffic.


Hunter squinted for a second. Then he did the only thing a smart cop could do when he suspected his partner was lying to him: he got into his car and followed her.


He was practiced at tailing a suspect, but McCall was a fellow detective, so he hung back a bit farther than usual. This was almost a problem when he got stuck at a light and she didn’t, but he caught up with her several blocks later. He followed her toward her neighborhood, and for a little bit, he thought she might just be going home. Probably she just doesn’t want you crashing her bubble bath again, he thought to himself with a bit of a grin.


But no, she wasn’t going to her apartment building. Instead she pulled into the parking lot for an Episcopal church. It was unassuming, with a brick face and a small white steeple.  Hunter pulled over and checked his watch. What kind of church held services at 7:30 on a random October Tuesday night? Puzzled, he watched the building. A few more people trickled in, but it didn’t seem like any sort of big gathering.


This was it – the big secret? She was churchy and didn’t want to say so? He blew out a breath. Organized religion wasn’t his thing, but as long as she wasn’t running around trying to convert anyone, he didn’t see what the big deal was. Plenty of cops had religion. He shook his head and went to start the engine again.


Why, cops liked God almost as much as they liked donuts. Or beer.


He froze as the thought hit him. Alcohol. A.A. That was certainly something that would be taking place in a church basement on a Tuesday night.  He frowned at the building, but it gave nothing away. Shit, he thought, as he leaned back in his seat. Her reputation had said she was unorthodox, willing to take chances. There was nothing about a problem with booze. He never would have approached her otherwise.


He waited the full hour, waiting for her to emerge again, as though this could explain everything. He didn’t want it to be true; he definitely didn’t want to have to be worrying she was hung over, or God forbid, loaded on duty. He had never smelled any trace of alcohol on her. Maybe her problems were in the past. The trouble was, experience told him that cops had a harder time than most staying on the wagon. You needed something to wash away the stink of the day, and orange juice or iced tea just wasn’t going to cut it.


It was dark by the time McCall appeared again, and he noticed with grim satisfaction that he’d absorbed some things about her: he could pick out the shape and movement of her from forty yards away, even when she was walking with several other women.


They stopped to talk for a moment, and then McCall hugged one of them as they said good-bye. It sure looked like A.A. to him. Great. Just great.


She got back into her car, and he could see the taillights in his rearview mirror as she drove back up the street. This time, he did not follow.




He kept closer tabs on her in their limited time together, literally sniffing her for clues on occasion, but all he ever smelled was her perfume. Her eyes were clear. Her speech was never slurred. If she had a drinking problem, it did not seem to be an active one. The meetings must be working, he thought. At least for now.


He felt a little guilty that he knew this huge secret about her, and she didn’t know he knew. Whatever tidbits she’d gleaned about his odd culinary habits couldn’t compare to the magnitude of the dirt he had on her now. Occasionally, his covert knowledge made it hard to keep eye contact with her. It was just as well they were working separate cases.


Or, at least they were working separate cases, until the banger he was looking for showed up with an unexpected little brother – and the brother had a knife. The alley was dark, and Hunter didn’t notice there was a second one until he caught gleam of the blade coming down out of the corner of his eye. He jerked away at the last second, but the tip of the knife sliced deeply into his forearm.


His gun fell to the cement and clattered into the shadows. Ruiz and his little buddy tore ass out of the alley, leaving Hunter to try to staunch the blood with his hand as he kicked through loose garbage for his gun. When he located it, he shoved it back in his holster, took off his jacket, and wrapped the jacket around his arm as best he could.


Then he discovered Ruiz & company had used the knife to puncture his right front tire. He bit back a curse, got in the driver’s seat anyway, and picked up the radio. McCall was supposed to be on stakeout ten blocks away. At least the radio in her car was guaranteed to work.  He grit his teeth, braced his injured right hand on his leg, and used his left to make the connection.


Thank heaven, her voice crackled through the line. “What is it?” she asked. She sounded faintly annoyed.


“I need your help with a 219,” he said.


“A 219? Weren’t you tracking Dominic Ruiz?”


“Yeah, and I found him. Just get over here, will you?”


“I’m en route.”


He leaned back with relief. The pain wasn’t too intense, but he was starting to get a little concerned about the size of the bloodstain seeping through his clothes. Two minutes later, he heard her siren, and soon she pulled up behind his car.  The red light spun around inside his darkened cabin, making him dizzy. “Okay, I’m here,” she said as she reached his window. It was conveniently missing.  “Where’s the vic?”


“You’re looking at him,” he said, holding up his mangled arm.


Her eyes went wide. “Hunter! My God, what happened?”


“Told you,” he said through clenched teeth. He started easing his way out of the car. “A 219.”


“You need medical attention.”


“No kidding. Take me someplace and bandage me up – feel free to run the siren on the way.” He nodded at her car. “Your place is closer.”


She gaped. “My place? You need a doctor.”


“It’s not that bad,” he said. She frowned and didn’t budge. “Seriously – what’s the saying? It’s just a flesh wound. Couple of band-aids and an aspirin, and I’ll be all set. Come on, let’s go.”


“We can go, all right,” she said, moving at last. “To a hospital.”


“McCall. If I go to a hospital, there’s going to be a record of this. We’ll be caught working separate cases again, and that means an automatic suspension and probably reassignment. Is that what you want?”


“And no hospital means your arm could fall off from tetanus or diptheria or whatever the hell else was on that knife. Is that what you want?”


“For right now? Yes.” He set his jaw, determined. They glared at one another for a second before she shook her head and relented.


“Get in,” she said as she opened her door. “And try not to bleed on the upholstery.”




On the way to her place, she radioed them in as off-duty, and he did his best not to stain her passenger seat. He gave her a quick sketch of what had happened in the alley. “Two against one, huh?” She glanced at him. “Not great odds.”


“Hmm. Are we there yet?”


“Yes,” she said, sounding resigned as she pulled into her apartment complex. “Come on, Hunter. Let’s go play doctor.”


Despite the pain, he grinned.


Inside, they stood together in her tiny bathroom while she examined the oozing wound. “Ouch,” she said, wincing on his behalf. She helped him hold his arm under the running water for a minute, but the blood kept coming. “I don’t know, Hunter. I think you may need stitches.”


“You got any thread?”


She rolled her eyes. “I don’t sew.”


“What are you talking about? All girls sew.”


“I took metal shop instead of sewing, okay? So unless you’d like me to weld your arm shut…”


“Okay, I get it. Can’t you just...I don’t know, tape it or something?”


She blew her bangs out of her eyes. “I will try,” she said with exaggerated patience, and she opened the first aid kit.


They both watched as she carefully closed his wound with a mish-mash of gauze and adhesive tape.  She might have taken metal shop, but her touch was gentle and efficient. He spared an affectionate glance at the top of her head and congratulated himself again on picking the right partner.


“The bleeding seems to have stopped,” she said as she assessed her handiwork. “But without stitches, you’re definitely going to have a scar.”


“Scars create character,” he told her.


She put her hands on her hips. “I think you have more than enough character as it is.” She reached into her medicine cabinet and pulled out a bottle of aspirin. “You’re going to want these,” she said, and handed him a glass along with the bottle. “As for me, I’m getting something stronger. I think I’ve more than earned it.”


He trailed after her, remembering The Secret. He stood in the doorway of her kitchen as she opened the fridge and pulled out a beer. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” The words were out before he could think about them.


“Best one I’ve had all day,” she said, popping the top. She took a sip and then stopped as she noticed he was staring with disapproval. “What is your problem?” she asked.


“It’s not my problem that I’m worried about.” 


He gave her a meaningful look, but her expression was blank. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said.


The jig was up. “I saw you the other night,” he said. “You know… at your meeting.”


“My meeting?” Her face registered confusion as she took in his words. Slowly, she caught on to what he was saying, and her expression registered horror instead. “You followed me?”


“You were lying to me,” he replied. “I had to find out why.”


“Oh my God,” she said to herself. Then she fixed him with a glare. “Oh my God, Hunter! I can’t believe you followed me! You had no right to do that, none whatsoever. I don’t owe you any sort of explanation of what I do on my own time.”  She shook her head, disgusted with him. “I think it’s time you were leaving.”


She stalked past him, and the air actually vibrated with how angry she was. “Look, I had no choice,” he protested as he followed her back to the living room.  She stood as far away from him as possible, her arms folded. “We’re partners now, and if you’ve got some sort of problem with alcohol…”


“I don’t,” she informed him hotly.


“McCall…” He shifted uncomfortably, doubt niggling at him for the first time. “I know what I saw.”


“No, apparently you don’t. I’m not in A.A. -- it wasn’t that kind of meeting. That beer came from a six-pack I bought a month ago, and there are three cans left. Or maybe you’d like to check that out for yourself.”


“No. No, that won’t be necessary.”


The fury that flashed in her eyes said, ‘damn right it won’t be necessary.’


He was beginning to think he’d interpreted the evidence incorrectly. He cleared his throat. “I, uh, I guess I got the wrong idea. Sorry.”


“Very wrong,” she said evenly. “Huge. And if you do this sort of thing again, even one time, you’ll be looking for a new partner. I don’t care what the consequences are.”


“Sorry,” he said again, because he noticed she hadn’t accepted his apology the first time. She didn’t look any more impressed with this go-round. “I was wrong,” he added. “On several levels.”


There was an uncomfortable silence while his words just hung out there between them. Finally, she blew out a long breath. “I don’t have any secrets,” she said, “but I do have a private life, and you are not entitled to it.”


“Right,” he agreed with vigor.  “Got it.”


She narrowed her eyes at him to see if he was B.S.-ing her the way he automatically answered “yes, sir” to the Captain when he really meant the opposite. He kept his face neutral and let her look. She must have been satisfied, at least somewhat, because she heaved a sigh and shook her head.


“Come on, I’ll take you home.” She eyed him again. “Presuming you’re willing to divulge your address.”


He winced inwardly. There it was again, the part where she just read him like an open book, even when he thought he was hiding. “I’ll give you the address,” he said.


She retrieved her purse and led him to the door without another word. He cast a look around at her things, wondering if indeed she would ever let him back in.




They drove in uneasy silence for a while, and he could feel she was still angry with him.  “I forgot to thank you,” he said, holding his arm out toward her. “For patching me up. Thanks, it’s feeling a lot better now.”


“Don’t mention it,” she said curtly, her eyes on the road.


He bit his lip and looked out the window. They’d been kind-of-sort-of partners for thirty days, and of course he didn’t know her, not really. What they had in common is that neither of them gave a damn what other people thought. So he was surprised to find he cared about her opinion.


 “Look,” he said, taking a deep breath. “About the other thing – I am sorry. I was over the line. I’m, uh, I guess I’m not used to having a partner I can trust.”


She glanced at him but said nothing.


“Been burned a few times in the past,” he continued. There was a reason he hadn’t been looking to latch himself to anyone new.


“I guess so,” she replied. “I mean you were clearly willing to just assume the worst about me with no real evidence to go on.”


He felt heat color his cheeks and was thankful for the cover of darkness. It’s not like he had wanted it to be true. “No, I—” The words ‘I like you’ got stuck in his throat. He tried again. “I think what we have going on is working – don’t you? I think we’re actually good partners.”


They had reached his building, and she parked out in front. “Partners,” she said, as if trying out the idea for the first time. “You mean for real?”


 “You pulled my bacon out of the fire tonight. I think that seals the deal, right?”


She was quiet again, and he wondered what more he could say. He was about to just wish her goodnight and hope things were back to normal in the morning, when she spoke again. “It’s a support group,” she said, not looking at him. She ran her fingertips along the steering wheel. “For people who lost a spouse.”


God, now he really did feel like scum.  “Oh, I, uh…”


“I don’t go very much anymore,” she said quickly, as if to justify herself or to cover his awkwardness. “It’s just that I…”


She hesitated, apparently deciding how much to trust him. He knew he’d gambled that away but was keen to earn it back.  If he wanted a partner he could trust, he’d have to be one in return. “What?” he prompted gently.


It was dark, after midnight in a parked car. Nothing she said could be held against her anyway. Still, she made him wait.


“I met someone,” she confessed finally. “A guy. We’ve been out a few times, and I...I like him.” She broke off with a self-conscious shake of her head. “It feels a little weird, I guess. I never expected to be dating again.”


“Yeah,” he said softly, although the very idea of marriage seemed alien to him.


She shifted and looked at him. “You know, I always forget that you knew Steve. The two of you live in such different places in my head. It’s odd to think of you together.”


“We only worked together a few times,” he said. No big deal.


“Right.” She took a breath. “Anyway, I guess I’ve just been wondering what he would’ve thought of it all…”  She trailed off, her gaze focused on the steering wheel again.


This was where he was supposed to say that Steve would be happy for her, that he would want her to move on and find someone else. But if she didn’t know this for herself already, there was nothing he could say to change it. He barely knew the guy. Maybe Steve would be pissed at the thought of her with someone else. As it was, Hunter had known her only a month, and he already wasn’t pleased with the idea of sharing her time with some unknown man.


“Steve...” He halted, looking for words. He could feel her waiting. “He was a good guy,” he finished lamely. He patted her knee as he said it, hoping it would amount to something helpful.


It seemed to be enough, because she smiled, a real one. “He was,” she agreed.


The moment lingered, and her skin warmed his palm through the thin barrier of her stockings. He jerked his hand away, and she cleared her throat. “It’s pretty late,” he said, squinting up at his mostly darkened apartment building. “But you could come in, if you want, and have that beer. I mean I guess I owe you that much.”


“Oh, you owe me way more than a beer,” she said as they got out of the car. “I’m thinking a steak dinner with all the trimmings, and that’s just for starters.”


He grinned as he let her into his apartment. He went to grab the beers as she looked around at his sparse furnishings, his rack of law enforcement handbooks, and the old family pictures on his wall. No doubt she was cataloging him again, just waiting to spring some bit of arcane insight on him when he least expected it. This time, though, he found he didn’t mind so much.


He handed her a beer, and they stood together in his narrow kitchen. She lifted her bottle toward him. “Partners, then?” she asked, but there was still a hint of uncertainty in her voice.


He considered for a long second. “Friends,” he said at last, and clinked his bottle with hers.



© syntax6 2015