Excerpt of Rookie K-9 Unit Christmas

"For he shall give his angels 
charge over thee, to keep thee
in all thy ways."
Psalm 91:11


Sean Murphy hated to close his eyes. A terrifying past waited for him in sleep, a past that sometimes invaded even his waking hours. Love for his six-year-old son, Patrick, was what kept him sane, kept him battling to return to normal. Patrick needed him, now more than ever. All they had left was each other.
The St. Louis apartment Sean had rented upon his return to The States was small but adequate for the present. The future would take care of itself. At least Sean hoped so. There had been a time when he'd believed God was guiding him through life. Now, he felt adrift.
Fog of sleep dulled his senses but not so much that he failed to hear a strange sound in the dark. He froze. Listened intently. Heard nothing more. Sighing, he wished he knew how to stop being so jumpy. Every creak of the old building brought irrational fear. 
A cadence of soft steps followed. Sean sat bolt upright. "Patrick?" 
The sound ceased. Sean slipped out of bed, wishing he still had his rifle and full battle gear. This might not be Kandahar but that didn't mean there was no danger. Yes, his emotions were raw. And, yes, chances were that he was merely imagining a threat. There was only one way to find out. He must see for himself.
Since Patrick's near-drowning accident in the swimming pool at his maternal grandparents' estate, the boy had been having trouble with speech as well as motor skills. Therefore, he sometimes sought out his daddy without explanation. That was probably what Sean had heard. Still, he refused to disregard an instinctive warning. 
Barefoot, he tiptoed to the open bedroom door and waited in the shadow from the nightlight in the hallway. A low mumble reached him. How could Patrick be talking in his sleep when he had so much trouble doing so awake?
Sean pressed his back to the jamb and slowly eased forward. The voices cleared. For an instant he wished they had not.
"I ain't killin' no kid. You got that?" one person grumbled.
"We aren't supposed to. Just the father."
"Fine. What if the kid sees us? What then?"
"Nobody'll know we're here if you shut your yap," the other prowler whispered. "Come on."
Sean tensed. He was strong, ready to defend himself, but anything might happen if Patrick awoke. The boy's most frequent utterance was a high-pitched squeal of fright and frustration. If he began to carry on like that, the attackers might change their minds and harm him, too.
Going on offense was the answer. Sean grabbed the junior baseball bat he'd bought to help Patrick regain coordination and braced himself. 
The first man led with his pistol, giving Sean a one-time chance of disarming him. Wood in the child's bat cracked as Sean brought it down on the assailant's wrist. The man dropped the gun, doubled up and howled. His partner didn't wait for him to recover. Instead, he fired blindly in the dark, then turned tail and ran.
Sean dove for the gun and connected. Its owner leaped onto his back and tried to wrest it away. He might have succeeded if he'd had both hands in working order - or if his cohort had stuck around to help.
The two men continued to struggle within the confines of the narrow hallway. Sean felt his temple connect with a doorjamb. Flashes of light, like exploding mortar shells, blinded him. Noises of war filled his ears. The acrid smell of gunpowder and the stench of death were everywhere. 
A trickle of blood wet his close-cropped, light brown hair as survival instinct locked his fingers around the cold metal in his hands. At that moment, nothing could have pried open his grip.
There was a muted crash, then a tinkling, rustling sound. Reality returned enough to suggest that the first man had stumbled over the Christmas tree he and Patrick had just decorated.
A child screamed. Patrick! 
Lunging, Sean knocked the second intruder aside and struggled to his feet, gun in hand. That was enough. The injured man scrambled away, rounded the corner into the living room and disappeared.
Sean wanted to follow. To capture at least one of the thugs who had declared their intent to kill him. But he didn't. Patrick needed him more. The child came first. Always had. Always would.
So, now what?


Police officer Zoe Trent had recently graduated from Canyon County Training Center in Desert Valley, Arizona, with her Belgian Tervuren, Freya. Being partnered with a specialized K-9 had been a goal of hers ever since completing the Police Academy. Now that it was time to return to her regular assignment in Mesa, Arizona, however, she knew she was going to miss the new friends she'd made during the twelve week K-9 training program. 
Wishing there were an easy way to keep in touch, and knowing they would surely drift apart as normal life resumed, she'd struggled to fall asleep. A Christmas carol ring tone on her cell phone startled her awake. 
Freya barked to accompany her muttered, "Hello?"
"Yes." Coming alert she raised on one elbow. 
"It's me. Sean Murphy."
Instant worry infused her. "Sean? What's wrong? You sound awful. Have you had another flashback?"
"It's worse than that."
Her dark eyes narrowed and she raked stray tendrils of long, brown hair away from her face with her free hand. "How can it be worse? It's not Patrick again, is it?"
"He's okay, so far. There's nobody here I can trust and I need your help. Somebody's trying to kill me."
"What?" How could she express doubt without jeopardizing their friendship? "Are you sure? I mean, you told me you'd been a little confused since your medical discharge."
"I know what you're thinking," he countered. "I had the same misgivings. I've been awake for hours since this happened, trying to figure it out. Two guys broke into my apartment and I fought with one of them."
"Did you call the police?"
"Of course. You know how it is in a big city. If the prowlers had succeeded in shooting me I'd have gotten more attention."
"The men were armed?" She hoped she wasn't imagining the assuredness in Sean's tone when he said, "Yes. One is now sporting a broken wrist, I hope. I disarmed him and he ran. So did his partner."
Zoe paused to choose her words carefully. "Okay. You had a break-in. What makes you think these guys had murder on their minds?" 
"I heard them say so." He hesitated, then added, "I know I wasn't hallucinating because of what happened next. When I hit one on his gun hand, the other fired and left a bullet in the ceiling. The cops took all the evidence. Since nothing was stolen and nobody got shot, they acted like they didn't hold out much hope." 
"Unless the ballistics match another case," she said. "Do you think these assailants might have been old friends of Sandra's?" Zoe hated to bring up his late wife but felt compelled to ask. After all, the woman had overdosed while her innocent son was floundering in the deep end of a swimming pool.
"I can't see why drug dealers would have it in for me," Sean said. "Their business was with Sandra." 
"Agreed. So, how can I help you?"
"You can get me into that service dog program you mentioned when I was first discharged."
"Okay. I'll see the director, Ellen Foxcroft, and put your name on her waiting list."
"That's not enough. Not after last night."
Zoe could tell from his tone that he was approaching an emotional crossroad and wished they were face to face so she could judge his condition more accurately. "Are you and Patrick out of danger now?"
"Temporarily. I threw some clothes and stuff into the pickup and I've been driving around, thinking, ever since the police left. I can't take him back to the apartment. Whoever came after me last night may try again."
"What about going to your in-laws? They have plenty of room for both of you, don't they?"
"I'd rather hole up in a cardboard box on the street than rely on them," Sean said. "The Shepherds were so concerned with excusing Sandra's addiction and transferring blame, they laid it all on me."
"Okay. Tell you what," Zoe said, hoping her growing concern was masked, "why don't you come on down to Desert Valley to visit me? I was going to head back to Mesa soon but there's no hurry. I don't start my new assignment until after the first of the year."
"What good will a few weeks do?"
"It'll give you a chance to chill out, for one thing. Besides, once Ellen meets you and Patrick and realizes how special your needs are, maybe she'll make an exception and work you in."
The quiet on the other end of the line troubled her. The Sean Murphy she'd met in college was nothing like this traumatized widower. Coming home from combat with PTSD was bad enough without having to face the death of his spouse and near loss of his only child. 
When Sean said, "All right," she could have cheered. Instead, she said, "I'm looking forward to it. And to meeting Patrick."
Silence again. Then finally, "He's not himself yet. He may never be. Doctors keep reminding me there are no guarantees."
"That doesn't matter."
Anger tinged his reply. "Of course it does."
"No," Zoe told him tenderly. "It doesn't. He's your son and you love him. That's enough for me."
Although Sean's goodbye was terse she could tell he was touched by her total acceptance. She didn't have to see the boy to know he merited a good life with the parent who was willing to sacrifice anything to help him. Everyone deserved a fighting chance at happiness.
Even babies who are born imperfect, she added, blinking rapidly. She had not wept for her nameless baby brother since she was five years old and a stranger had taken him away. Mama had cried then but Daddy had stood dry-eyed, staring at the tiny bundle in a blue blanket. 
That was the last time Zoe had been permitted to talk about the absent baby. It was as if he had never been born, which was apparently exactly what her parents had wanted. 
The sense of injustice that had led her into law enforcement had begun then and had built throughout her formative years. She didn't trust easily but she did have a soft heart for the downtrodden. 
Like Patrick. And like his daddy.