Authors: Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy
Whatever burdens he carried, they were heavy,
and he bore them hard.
ached to take the sadness from his eyes and to
relieve his obvious pain.
grief and guilt were two of the demons haunting him, but until he opened up,
there wasn’t much she could do to ease him.
So far, their shared Sunday had been
fantastic, although some of the joy faded when he spoke of secrets he didn’t
want to share.
had feared the day might go sour, but when she kissed him, he
to let go of the darkness.
When the rain showers ceased and the sun came
out, it apparently moved him as much as it had her, maybe more.
As they strolled away from the ocean toward
the well-known hot dog stand, he had regained most of his composure.
His grins were back, along with a generous helping
of his good-natured wit.
At Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs, her
appetite roused as she inhaled the delicious aromas.
Callahan leaned over. “You do like hot dogs,
“Yes, of course I do.”
“If you don’t, they’ve got clam chowder
and burgers and chicken…”
him. “Hot dogs are fine.
I think I’d
like a chili cheese dog.”
“Good choice. They’re great. I’m having
two, I think.
You want some fries or
“Fries, please, and a soda will be
“Okay. Do you mind if I get a beer?”
“No, don’t be silly.”
grab a table, I’ll get the food,” Cal said.
Despite the rain, the place was crowded.
She pointed to a vacant table for two,
and he nodded. “Go get it.
Pick up some
napkins and straws on the way, will you?”
took a chair so
she could watch Callahan at the counter.
She enjoyed ogling him, but when he headed for the table with their
order tucked into a cardboard box, she schooled her face to be bland.
As he had before, he spoke the simple
blessing she knew, and she joined him.
Hard to believe I just met him yesterday
I feel like I’ve known him for
a long time.
Whatever this is, wherever
it leads, there’s some kind of bond between us.
When she tasted her first bite of the
chili cheese dog,
knew she’d reached a new
level of delight.
“Wow, it’s fantastic,”
Callahan grinned. “Yeah, Nathan’s are
the best, but you
eat ‘em here.
The ones from the supermarket, they’re good,
but not like this.”
Throughout most of the meal, he sat in a
relaxed pose, and after he’d finished, he drained the rest of his beer in a
They talked about Coney Island, and he
shared a few memories from childhood.
noticed that when he spoke of his brothers, Aidan and
Anthony, his eyes darkened and his smile faded, so she wondered if they were
part of his burden.
The stories he told,
though, were amusing and delightful.
“This one time, see,” Cal told her.
He wore a bemused grin. “All three of us were
on the Wonder Wheel, and the ride jockey walked off.
We were the only ones on the ride and I think
he forgot about us.
Maybe it was lunch
break or he wanted to have a smoke or something, but we were on the ride for
more than forty minutes.
At first it was
fun, but after a while I got scared, and Anthony did his best to calm me down.”
“How old were you?”
Cal shrugged. “Six or seven, I
Anthony was the oldest, Aidan the
youngest, and I was in the middle.
Anthony had to be fourteen or fifteen, but he did his best.
It was after our dad had passed away, and he
tried to fill his shoes.”
Callahan’s expression had sobered a little, but so far he still wore a smile.
“So did he get you to chill out?”
He chuckled. “Yeah, he made me recite
the alphabet and then do it backward.
had to stop and think, so it took my mind off the fact we were stuck on a ride
that wouldn’t quit.
When the ride guy
came back, he stopped it and laughed off the fact we’d been on so long.
He told us we got a freebie so we shouldn’t
I don’t think we ever told Mom
“Wasn’t she with you?”
“Nope, she must have been working.
Anthony brought us, paid for it out of the
money from his part-time job.
Wonder Wheel, he bought us all hot dogs and lemonade, then let us splash in the
ocean for a while before we went home on the subway.”
“Sounds like fun.”
noticed he used the past tense when he talked about his brothers, but she
wasn’t sure why.
Although curious, she
determined not to ask, unwilling to sink his mood.
“It was,” he said. “We had a few good
times growing up.
It wasn’t all bad.”
“I’ve got two sisters, one older
He’s in the Army, stationed in
Texas after two tours of overseas duty.”
“What’s his name?”
answered. “My sisters are Josette and Annette.
We call them Jo
They’re both married, and
Annie has a little girl, Sophie.”
His face lit up, so he must like kids.
“You’re an aunt, then.
I’m an uncle.”
can be fun.”
They laughed together, and she finished
the last bite of her hot dog.
blotted her lips with a napkin and wondered where the restroom might be
When she glanced up, Callahan’s
smile had vanished, and he gazed toward one corner of the restaurant.
Something in his solemn expression sent a
little shiver down her spine.
“How long did you say you’d been here in
New York?” The question seemed casual, but his tone wasn’t.
“I moved here in August,”
“Have you ever visited before?”
“I came out in late May for my job
interview but other than that, no.
Is something wrong?”
Cal’s dark eyes locked with hers. “I
I hope not.
over there, and they keep staring at you.
Maybe they just think you’re pretty or something but I think there’s
more to it.
It’s like they know you from
someplace. Don’t whirl around, but when you get a chance, take a look and see
if you know them from anywhere.”
Alarm flared within. “They must be doing
more than staring at me.”
“Call it cop intuition.
Yeah, they’re staring, but they’re talking,
too, and something feels off.”
“You’re scaring me.”
He reached out and grasped her hand in
his. “I’m not trying to, doll.
never saw them before, it should be okay.
Maybe they’re just curious, or I’m paranoid.
Working in law enforcement makes a guy get
We all see a lot of shit, but
either way, I’ll protect you.”
His promise made her a little less
anxious. “I know. So what should I do?”
“Drop something and then when you pick
it up, take a look.”
opened her purse.
She dug around, dropped a coin purse in the process, and after a moment,
she bent down to retrieve it.
straightened up, she glanced over.
recognition must have shown because Cal said, “You know them?”
“Two of them have been my students.
The tall one likes to be called ‘Bull’ and he
finished his time in
last week. I haven’t seen
him since. His buddy is his cousin, Simon, I think.
He goes to high school in the Bronx but not
one of the schools I visit.”
As in a big,
mean, male cow?”
“Bull, as in short for ‘bully’,” she
said. “Simon likes to be called ‘Shoe,’ although I don’t know why.”
“I don’t suppose you remember their real
names?” He sounded like a cop in search of knowledge.
“Give me a minute.
I probably do.
just so many
kids to keep straight.”
As she sifted through all the students
in her mental file, Callahan sighed. “Would it happen to be Marsh or Marshall?”
His suggestions clicked in her head.
“Yes, I think it is Marsh.”
“Yeah, it’s one of the names they use.
The third one, with the long ponytail, he’s bad news.
He’s Bull’s older brother.
They call him ‘Snake’ on the streets.
He just graduated from a three-year stretch
on Riker’s Island for rape and aggravated assault.
He’s a suspect in a homicide investigation,
but there’s no evidence to nail him. He’s got juvenile priors, too, but I don’t
know what they are.”
The calm way he spoke about criminal
records provided insight into his daily duties.
Callahan spoke in a flat monotone, and if she hadn’t been able to see
his eyes, she might’ve thought he didn’t care.
They burned, though, with a powerful fire, and the way he drummed his
fingers on the tabletop in restless rhythm proved his anxiety. “Are you sure?”
“Totally,” he said. “I’m the one who
arrested him on the charges that sent him to Riker’s.
That’s why I didn’t know if they’re staring
at me because he’s told them, or if they’re giving you the eye.”
which would be worse.
“So what can
Callahan spread his hands wide in a
Either they think they can intimidate me, or
they think you’re pretty.
scenario, they try to start something, but if they do, I’ll shut it down
I doubt they will, not here.
I don’t imagine Snake wants to go back to
prison this soon.”
“Should I be afraid?”
He hesitated for a long moment, enough
thought she probably should be. “No,” he
said. “Like I said, I’ll keep you safe, and besides, it’s just a fluke we ran
It’s a big city, doll, and
the odds on seeing these guys again are astronomical.
If you’re ready to roll, let’s get out of
“Okay.” She put her purse across her
chest bandolier style and stood up.
linked her arm through Callahan’s.
At the same moment, the trio across the
restaurant came to their feet and strolled toward them.
“Cal,” she whispered.
“I got it, baby,” he replied.
His use of the endearment thrilled her
because it seemed more personal than “doll.”
He draped a possessive arm around her shoulders.
Bull stared, mouth open,
said, “Hey, teacher, how goes it?”
“Fine,” she replied. She used her best
classroom voice, bright but no nonsense. Shoe dipped his head in a brief nod,
but the one Callahan called Snake paused. “I heard about you, teach,” he
His tone lacked any respect, and
his eyes glittered with hatred. “You should’ve stuck with books and all that
shit instead of assholes like this piece of shit law dog fucker.”
Her heart pounded faster, and her chili
dog soured in her stomach.
hadn’t been beside her, his steady arm providing support,
thought she might have trembled or collapsed onto the floor.
Beside her, Snake’s words didn’t faze
Callahan. He returned the malevolent stare with an unblinking one, hard as
pavement. “Beat it,” he said.
second, she thought Snake or Bull might react, but instead they slunk away,
heads down like scolded animals.
looked back but
watched them until they headed
down the sidewalk toward the beach.