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Urban Shaman
by Lyn Gala

Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
Description: New York City cop Miguel Rassin's life is going downhill fast. He's got a spotty record from the Army, a one-night stand who won't go away, and a flock of reporters trying to crucify him for shooting a civilian waving a toy pistol. Now kids are turning up missing in the Bronx, and he's partnered with by-the-book Detective Rob Jackson, a man with problems of his own. Their first suspect is a local shaman, Nikolai Adelman, who is either the strangest holy man ever or a con working his own angle. Miguel's trying to navigate a baffling case that has more questions than answers, caught between a surprising physical desire for Nikolai and his new partner's suspicions about a shaman who claims supernatural forces are at work. Miguel has always tried to avoid relationships out of guilt and fear, but Nikolai sees the darkness in Miguel's heart--and the fortitude Miguel has hidden deep inside, a strength that will help him solve the case and reclaim his life.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2010 2010
eBookwise Release Date: May 2010

eBookeBook

37 Reader Ratings:
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Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [393 KB]
Words: 90808
Reading time: 259-363 min.


A wonderful story! A captivating plot and slow build up of tension between Miguel and Nikolai. Highly recommend! Hope there will be a sequel... by Melanie Blystone


Chapter One

Miguel balanced his coffee on top of a pile of papers while he cleared off the notes and messages that had been left overnight. He hated mornings, which was why, ironically, he always got to work early. He needed more time to sort the papers that wandered their way to him: reports that needed filing, forensics memos, messages from dispatch, and just all the random crap that needed daily attention. Mornings were his time to wake up slowly with a strong cup of coffee before the rest of the shift showed up.

Well, he usually got in before the rest of the shift, but today, Gina was already in. From the sound of her phone conversation, her car theft case had started heating up. Miguel tuned that out as he sorted papers and drank his coffee. A pink "Missed Call" slip caught his attention. Fuck and more fuck. Charlie. He'd been good--great, even. They'd actually made it to a second night. But Miguel wasn't looking for a relationship, and Charlie clearly wasn't getting that message. Dispatch hadn't written anything, but the "request return call" box was checked. Miguel crumpled the small paper and tossed it in the trash.

Closing his eyes, Miguel imagined the horror if the press caught wind of Charlie. The press hated him now, but if they found out that he was gay... and not the steady, stable, 'in a committed relationship that heterosexuals would envy' kind of gay, either, but the sort of gay man who rarely had sex with the same man twice and picked up his dates in a bar... well, that would not go well. They wouldn't care that Charlie had been his first in almost six months, they would just jump on one more piece of evidence that he was some piece of crap the department needed to scrape off the bottom of its shoe.

Pulling open his top drawer, Miguel grabbed for the aspirin before he filed his first report of the morning.

He hadn't even worked his way through half of the pile before the first call came in: a child missing from a tenement on Tremont. As the newest detective, Miguel knew he should take a partner with him if he responded to the call. Peter and Rob weren't in yet, Gina was clearly busy, and Justin Milovich... Miguel considered the man for half a second. He was weeks from retirement, and the whole department wished those weeks were over now, because he had mentally retired already. With the press calling for Miguel's blood, he needed someone with clean hands to file the reports. Milovich was lazy, worn out, and obsessed with brochures from sunny vacation spots, but technically, Miguel should ask him along on the case. Hopefully, the missing child would turn up in the basement laundry room, because Miguel would rather get a tongue-lashing from the captain than deal with Milovich.

Grabbing his keys, he threaded his way through the crowded desks. Gina held her hand over the mouthpiece to the phone as he passed her. "Hey, watch your back. They've got some judge in booking and the place is crawling with cockroaches from the press."

"Thanks." Miguel gave her a smile before heading for the stairs. She nodded, already going back to her conversation on the phone. It sounded like one of her suspects had pissed off his girlfriend last night, and Gina was using her united-girl-power speech to get her to give up the chop shop's location. Any second now, she would probably break into the 'all men are slime' version of the speech. He'd heard variations on that theme twice, and both times, she'd slipped him a wink in the middle, appreciating the humor of going all girl power in the middle of the male-dominated bullpen.

It was odd. Before he'd joined the Army, he'd had some illusion about soldiers being moral, ethical warriors on the side of truth, justice, and the American way. Before he'd become a cop, he thought cases were solved by tough interrogations and hard-nosed investigators threatening the suspect with life in prison. Both times, he'd been spectacularly wrong. He was actually pretty talented at being wrong.

Noise from the first floor rose to greet him before he hit the second floor landing. A couple of uniformed officers leaned against the banister, watching the shifting crowd in the public area below.

"I hear they brought some judge in," Miguel said, studying the crowd.

"They're about to." The younger one had a bounce to him suggesting he was new enough on the job that this was all still very exciting to him. "Judge Ellison blew a .16 blood alcohol level, and he took out a parked delivery truck. The press is going to eat him alive."

Miguel didn't answer, but a little part of him thought that the judge probably deserved to get eaten. He certainly deserved it more than Miguel did, and if the reporters had a good enough distraction, maybe they would forget about him. A rail separated the lobby area where members of the press mixed in among family members waiting to post bail, and the hall to the parking lot was on this side of the rail. It meant he should have a clear escape; however, Miguel knew they would be on him the second he showed his face.

Maybe others could blend in. Hell, Sean Carroll--one of the cops who'd shot Amadou Diallo forty-one times--he could vanish into a crowd of accountants and never be seen again. However, Miguel knew he wouldn't be that lucky. He'd inherited two things from almost four years in the service: a hatred for the Army and a face scarred badly enough to stand out in any crowd. Reporters didn't even need to have a picture; their papers told them to look for a Hispanic man with a burn scar going down his left temple and cheek, so close to his eye that the wrinkles at the corner vanished into the puckered skin, and that was all they needed.

"You going down?" the other uniform asked, looking at Miguel curiously. Maybe he was offering moral support, or maybe he was just curious to see what a media feeding frenzy looked like; Miguel didn't take time to try and figure it out.

"Yep." He trotted down the stairs fast enough to make it clear he had somewhere to go, but not so fast that he looked like he was running. No way in hell was he going to run. He made it to the bottom and two steps down the hallway before the first call came.

"Detective Rassin! Detective Rassin, do you have any comments about the DA's decision not to press charges?" Miguel ignored the question and kept his gait steady as he walked toward the parking lot. Yeah, he had a comment. The chicken-shit lawyers should have made that call weeks ago before his life had turned into a circus. But they'd hung him out to dry while his mandatory leave expired, and he'd been left dangling in front of the press like meat for the hyenas. He didn't say any of that, though; most days he liked his job, and a statement like that, while honest, would pretty much end it.

"Any words for Williamson's widow?" Miguel recognized the voice of the Post reporter--the most aggressive of the piranhas. "Have you apologized to her for murdering her husband?" Miguel struggled to keep his shoulders straight. He wanted to turn around and shove the man's face into a wall. He wanted to take the toy gun Carl Williamson had been waving in that alley, and he wanted to shove it right down the guy's throat until he choked to death on it. Or, hey, to avoid contaminating evidence, he could just strangle the reporter with all the lies he'd printed in his crap paper. Miguel could imagine himself shoving newsprint in the man's face until he turned blue. Actually, he was pretty proud of himself for resisting that temptation.

"Detective Rassin! Any comments?" Flashes went off behind him, and Miguel breathed a sigh as he finally reached the corner and turned to head down the back hall. Voices followed him. "Detective! A former member of your army unit called you a nutjob, any comment?"

Miguel clenched his jaw and kept walking. Oh, he had plenty to say to that. A lot of the men he'd served with were dead, but if any of the survivors wanted to call him a nutjob, he'd.... Miguel could feel his anger fade into a more familiar weariness. He'd let them call him names. He'd earned worse names than that, but maybe he wasn't the only one who didn't want to go dragging the past back into the light of day.

He met Rob Jackson in the hall, Rob's sprawling stroll taking up at least three-quarters of the room in the hallway.

"Rassin," he greeted Miguel without even pausing long enough to look at him.

"Jackson," Miguel returned, moving to the far side to let him pass. Rob stopped a couple of feet past him.

"Why are you going out?"

Miguel turned around. "Missing kid on Tremont."

"Missing kid?" Rob waited for details, but Miguel didn't have any.

He shrugged his ignorance. "Parents can't find their kid."

That seemed to make Rob lose interest fast. "I wish parents would fucking keep track of their own kids. We're not a babysitting service. Social services should put the fear of God into a few of them, except they have kids as fast as social services can take them away."

Miguel opened his mouth to offer some sort of defense for these people, even if a little part of him agreed that Rob was right at least some of the time. However, before Miguel could point out that those parents were in the minority, Rob had turned and headed back into the precinct. The crowd noise swelled, shouts echoing down the narrow hall, and Miguel figured the good judge had just learned what it felt like to have the press eat him alive.

"Better him than me," he muttered before he turned and headed for the parking lot.

* * * *

Chapter Two

When he got to the right address on E. Tremont Ave., Miguel pulled his truck behind a patrol car and got out. Several cars had responded to the missing child call and traffic was backed up, leaving drivers to shout curses as they tried to edge past the illegally parked patrol cars and Miguel's old truck. Clearly the message he'd gotten had left out a few details, because dispatch didn't send this kind of response every time a parent lost their kid in the laundry room and hit the panic button.

The minute he stepped out onto the sidewalk, cold fingers ran up Miguel's spine even though the city was still buried in the heat and humidity of summer.

For half a second, Miguel could feel an enemy gaze on him, like he was back in Iraq and he had a split second to find the target or the target would take him out. His fingers twitched, and then the moment passed. The red and blue lights clashed against the vivid graffiti splashed across the tenement walls, and an old woman watched out a third story window, clutching something in her hands. Nothing here should have triggered that sort of gut-level fear, but the hairs on his arms were still standing up.

A uniform started walking toward him, the look on his face making it pretty clear that he was getting ready to chase Miguel off. The cheap suit should have been enough to tell him that Miguel was a detective, but Miguel's dark skin, fire-scarred cheek, and tattooed neck sometimes led people to make assumptions that Miguel didn't appreciate.

The scars were from the military, but the tattoo was from his first drunken weekend after getting discharged. The tribal pattern crawled up the side of his neck and curved in toward the burn. Miguel wasn't sure what he'd been drinking to make that seem like a good idea, but he believed in living with his mistakes. Besides, he'd gotten his first job with the NYPD by lying and saying the tattoo was part of a religious ceremony. Normally the department didn't allow tattoos unless they were covered during work hours, and Miguel couldn't exactly wear a paper bag over his head.

But the personnel department had bought his excuse. While he had no idea where his father had come from, it must have been from somewhere exotic, and that had probably helped the story. Miguel's high cheekbones and narrow chin made him look foreign, so the department had bought the tribal religion story back when he couldn't afford to get the tattoo lasered off, and he wouldn't get rid of it now. So instead, he lived with the Chakotay jokes. Pulling out his gold badge, Miguel flashed it, and the uniformed officer offered him a nod before focusing his attention back on the street. A driver laid on the horn, and the sound echoed off the brick buildings and mingled with colorful curses in at least three different languages.

"Miguel!"

Miguel didn't answer immediately, caught by surprise at the sight of Captain Jack O'Keefe striding through the sea of uniforms. Jack was one of the tallest--and most Irish--captains on the force. His red hair made him stand out like a beacon, except on St. Patrick's Day, when he dyed it a florescent green. Miguel hadn't been in his new precinct long enough to see Jack in all his green glory, but several of the detectives could pull out wallet-sized pictures of Jack in a leprechaun hat and spiked green hair. Jack wasn't anything like Captain Frost at Miguel's last precinct, but like all the captains in the NYPD, he spent his life locked in an office with piles of paper. Jack might get out more than most, but that still meant he rarely got out at all.

"Problem?" Miguel asked, scanning the crowd of uniformed officers and spectators, looking for any trouble that might have brought Jack out. Hopefully, the press hadn't caught wind of the call; even a mundane case could turn ugly if he had to wade through reporters who were still rabidly intent on crucifying him. Another ripple of unease slid over him, but he couldn't see anything other than wary New Yorkers and even more wary patrol officers. There weren't any reporters crushing themselves against the barrier or internal affairs detectives sniffing around. Those were the two quickest ways to bring Jack to a scene--something Miguel could testify to.

"Seven missing kids' worth of trouble," Jack agreed. That made Miguel stop. He looked at Jack with a growing sense of horror.

"Seven, sir?" Miguel's stomach dropped. The call had said one... and dispatch had implied it was a low-priority case. But seven missing children.... Even if this was one of the darkest and most neglected corners of New York, that deserved a little media attention; only the media was in short supply.

Jack got a sour look on his face. "You heard me. It turns out that kids have been turning up missing for three weeks, but the parents haven't reported it."

Three weeks. Whoever was taking kids, they'd had three weeks to do whatever they wanted, and the parents hadn't even bothered to call the police. For the briefest moment, Miguel wished he could walk up those stairs and knock some sense into the parents. Unfortunately, he'd lose his badge if he did what he wanted--which included hanging some negligent parents out a fifteen-story window.

"Miguel, we have some help on this, and if we end up needing more, I need you to play nice." Jack kept his voice low before he jerked his head toward a six-story apartment building with a few broken windows and laundry hanging off the top floor fire escape. Miguel took the hint and followed his captain toward the building.

"When do I not play nice?" Miguel flashed his best smile and pretended not to notice the glare that Jack gave him. Oh, Miguel knew how to work with others. Generally, he did it adequately, if not well, but lately, his feelings of disgust for everyone around him just kind of oozed out. However, he was ready to work with anyone who might be able to help. Hell, if his idiot commander showed up, he'd even give the lieutenant a shot at the case, because seven missing kids was a God-awful mess. Not finding out about them for three weeks qualified as an official disaster.

"I'm going to pretend you didn't say that," Jack said as he walked with Miguel up the crumbling front steps of the run-down building. The tenants had clearly tried to keep the place in some order--the corners weren't littered with used needles and newspapers and tinfoil left over from drug users--but the paint was peeling from the walls in long strips, and water stains made the walls and ceilings look like one of those psychology tests with the abstract shapes. The smell of musky paper and mold made Jack sneeze. He grabbed for a Kleenex and blew his nose before dropping a verbal bomb. "I'm partnering you with Rob Jackson on this case."

Miguel stopped in the middle of the stairs. After about four or five more steps, Jack figured out he was alone and turned around. "I don't have a choice on this."

"Jack, let me work with Gina or Peter."

"They have other cases. Rob cleared his last homicide, so he's free."

"He's a sledgehammer. You want to send him in here?" Miguel gestured toward the building. Rob wasn't racist; he just hated people in general. And unfortunately, in this neighborhood, that was going to attract all the wrong kind of attention. Hell, Miguel was a big fan of swinging a sledgehammer around and just generally pissing people off when you had stupid politicians and lawyers and even other cops on the other end. He'd happily dig into a reporter if he wasn't afraid of ending up on the front page again, but Rob... he swung at everyone. Suspects, witnesses, victims... Rob Jackson seemed to feel that verbal evisceration and humiliation provided the most accurate information. Miguel didn't agree.

Jack took a second to study the wall in silence before answering. "He's got a clean record."

"You mean with the asshole press? You're putting me with Jackson because I made a choice... the only choice I could have made?" Miguel could feel his jaw ache as he bit back all the angry words he wanted to throw like grenades that would blast all this shit to tiny little pieces that he could walk all over.

"Jackson gets positive press. Look." Jack paused. "I know that was a good shoot, but a lot of people are looking at you right now."

"Ready to call me the racist bastard who shot the poor black man?" Miguel demanded bitterly, but he bit back the rest of his retort. He'd been called too many racist names himself to find this even a little fair. He'd earned his ticket to the middle class with his blood in Iraq and his years in the service and his dedication to the job, and now people just pointed fingers and expected him to roll over and die. Miguel did a lot of things well, but rolling over had never been one of them.

"No, you're the cop who shot a man with a cap gun. It was a good shoot; IA cleared you. We just need to keep things calm for a while, and the best way to do that is for you to work with Rob. The press loves him, so let him run interference for you on this."

Miguel curled his fingers around the metal railing and pressed his thumb into a sharp edge where a big piece of paint had been chipped off. "I'd rather work with the FBI," he said as calmly as he could.

Jack snorted in undisguised surprise. "You hate him that much?"

"I hate the way he bulldozes people."

Jack leaned against the railing, and the entire section sagged dangerously. "He closes cases."

"And inspires the need for therapy in everyone he interviews. Do you really want him around a kidnapping case?" A small voice in the back of Miguel's brain reminded him that he was the new kid on this block. He'd been in the bag as a uniformed officer for three years, and he'd been a detective for all of eleven months, which made him the rookie at the precinct. Even more importantly, he had zero credibility with the press or with One Police Plaza. But the fact was that Miguel had never been very good at listening to his own common sense. He didn't want to work with Rob--plain and simple.

Instead of pointing out all the reasons Miguel should just shut up and follow orders, Jack sighed. "No. I don't. I'd rather have him just about anywhere but near this case. The people around here don't have much use for police already, and Rob is not going to improve that. But I'm counting on you to keep Rob's less charitable nature from doing too much damage to the families. At the same time, I expect him to keep you out of the press and to close this case. I also think he's our best chance to find these kids. His sledgehammer approach offends the shit out of people, but it works."

Miguel snorted. It worked because Rob was huge and physically intimidating, and he had a certain body language that suggested that if he hadn't become a cop, he would have enjoyed breaking legs for a living. If he really thought Jackson would bring the kids home, he'd not only partner with the guy but offer to let Jackson top. He just didn't see that happening on this case.

"They won't like him. They'll like him even less than they'll like me, and if any of them have read that shit the papers have been saying about me, they're going to hate my guts."

With a wry grimace, Jack shrugged his shoulders. "They're going to hate whatever cop shows up at their door. Hell, they've spent three weeks trying not to tell us that kids have been going missing, so I don't think your recent fame is going to make any difference to them. The only reason they've agreed to talk to us without lawyers or Amnesty International or some other bleeding heart group is because a professor from New York University talked them into it. So, when Rob shows up, get him up to speed and make sure he plays nice." Jack's voice trailed off, and then he sighed. "Just make sure he doesn't put anyone into therapy, okay?"

"Yes, sir." Miguel didn't like the order, but he'd follow it. "So, someone from the university's here?" Miguel looked around, wondering why someone from the university would be in this part of town. The eggheads usually tried to stay on their neat little university campuses. Jack kept going up the stairs, and Miguel followed.

"Dr. Adelman is an expert on shamanism, and the people around here consider the doc their shaman. I need you to make this work, because the people in this neighborhood don't have a lot of faith in us."

"You don't say." Miguel watched an elderly woman slam the door shut the second he glanced her direction.

"Just put on your best manners and pretend that you aren't thinking about dropping someone off the roof of the building," Jack whispered before he stepped up to an open door that led into a cramped apartment. A dark-skinned woman with red-rimmed eyes sat on a faded couch mottled with various stains, weeping softly. A half-dozen children clung to the shadows and watched as if he and Jack were bogey monsters. A woman was kneeling in front of the mother, her thick, straight, black hair pulled back and held by a silver talisman that looked vaguely familiar. It was some sort of lizard done in a stylized tribal form. The lizard and the colorful tie-dyed shirt didn't exactly scream "university professor," but Miguel didn't see anyone else who qualified as Dr. Adelman.

"Dr. Adelman," Jack said warmly. He stepped forward and offered his hand, but when the woman turned around, Miguel was shocked. The woman was a man... a young one. If he'd seen this kid on a university campus, he would have guessed he was an undergraduate, and he would have thought that Adelman had watched far too much Highlander growing up, because no one wore their hair like Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. No one except Adelman, who didn't seem too bothered by the fact that he was an odd collection of unfashionable decades.

His hair had an eighties look, but the vest screamed late sixties and his heavy tribal jewelry included a huge claw hanging from a leather thong that was something Miguel expected in cartoons of cavemen. There was something almost birdlike in the man's movements--quick and tightly controlled, like a hawk bracing his muscles before taking off. Miguel wasn't sure why that image came to mind, but it did. Maybe it was the fact that Adelman's features were a little too delicate for his large nose, giving the impression of a curved beak.

Adelman smiled and took Jack's hand, but his eyes held a guarded fury that made Miguel vow not to turn his back. He was good at judging which victim was about to turn on the cops and which family member might, out of grief, take a swing at the detective who came to give a death notification. And Adelman had that sharp edge to him--like he might explode.

"Jack. I really appreciate you taking care of this personally. There's a whole lot of suspicion around here, you know? And that nafkeh of an officer who came up here first? He was so not helping."

Miguel had no idea what a 'nafkeh' was, but from the look of disgust on the doctor's face, it wasn't good. Growing up, Miguel had seen enough racism to know that cops didn't always treat people the same, so he knew that sometimes cops got out of line. But Dr. Adelman also seemed to be ignoring the fact that these people had let weeks go by before calling for help. Even the most even-tempered cop would resent that. In his book, as long as no parents actually got dropped off the roof, Miguel would count it as a win for the parents.

"I understand that, Dr. Adelman." Jack actually sounded sympathetic.

"Just Nikolai. I'm not here as a professor. I'm here as a member of the community." Adelman looked around, and his dark, quick gaze reinforced Miguel's impression of him as both birdlike and oddly predatory. The hairs on the back of Miguel's arms stood up, and he shifted to the side so that he could see all of Adelman and really study him. Adelman was short and thin and olive-skinned, and as he finally let his gaze settle on Miguel, his startling green eyes caught Miguel's attention.

This kid didn't look like he was a member of the community. Oh, he was clearly pretty comfortable standing in a tenement that smelled faintly of urine, but something about him just screamed "uptown," and Miguel trusted his instinct on that one. One of Adelman's hands was still resting on the mother's shoulder. One of the children, a little girl with either dirt or chocolate streaked across her cheek, slipped forward and grabbed onto Dr. Adelman's other leg, and his free hand settled on her shoulder.

Jack reached up to touch Adelman's arm briefly, and Adelman finally looked away from Miguel. Until that point, Miguel hadn't realized he had started holding his breath, but once Adelman looked away, he gulped in oxygen. "Nikolai, I appreciate you getting them to call us. I know they don't have a lot of reason to trust us," Jack offered.

"No problem. I know they're nervous, because where they come from, police are rarely, if ever, out to help anyone, but I keep telling them that the police here are more like the tribal warriors of mythology. You know, the defenders of justice and children. I really hope you're the defenders of children, because this is all fercockt, if you know what I mean. Seven kids. No way have seven kids just wandered away. And the families have searched every room in the tenement and half the neighborhood looking for any sign of them or whoever took them."

"Curandero," the woman muttered. Miguel frowned as that word teased at some memory that he couldn't quite catch hold of. Nikolai comforted her with a pat on the shoulder.

Jack pointed toward Miguel. "Nikolai, this is Miguel Rassin, one of my best detectives. He'll be handling this case."

Miguel nodded to the man, but the look he got in return could have stripped the paint from the wall. Almost immediately, Miguel could feel a headache start to pound. He simply would not lose his temper with these people, no matter how much they deserved it.

"Hopefully he'll do more than the homicide detective who investigated that murder last month." Nikolai crossed his arms and glared until Miguel felt like a child getting scolded. It was a strange feeling, especially considering this man didn't look old enough to be out past curfew, while Miguel had stared down both drill sergeants and suspects with aplomb. This Nikolai, though; he had a grandmother glare on him that could make any man squirm.

"I do my best for every case," Miguel defended himself. He was already starting to understand why Jack had warned him to be nice, because sixty seconds into meeting Dr. Adelman, he wanted to either escape the room or slam the man into a wall for suggesting he wouldn't do his job. Neither would help him find the missing kids, so Miguel tried to quiet his growing unease and indistinct anger. "Right now, I need to question the parents, and I need a little privacy."

"No way," Adelman immediately cut him off.

"Nikolai." Jack stepped in, "I admire your commitment to these people, but we need to consider how to protect any prosecutions once we find who did this. If you're involved in the questioning, any defense attorney would use that to call the witness statements into question."

Adelman's body stiffened with anger, and Miguel figured he was about to explode, but Jack held up a hand to stop him. "I don't think you'd influence the witnesses; I just know a defense lawyer would make it look suspicious. I also know you don't want to do anything to make our job harder."

"Curandero?" the woman on the couch asked, her dark eyes red and swollen. She had to be Hispanic. In the military, his unit had been unofficially stationed at Eloy Alfaro airbase in Ecuador before getting shipped out to Iraq, and Miguel had heard locals use the word to mean "witchdoctor." Miguel had just never heard of a college professor playing witchdoctor before.

Dr. Adelman knelt down in front of her. "You have to talk--hablar--to the police. They're guerreros and ayudantes." Adelman was massacring Spanish, but the crying mother still looked at him with an impossible hope that surprised Miguel, who was more used to weary resignation and pain in these dilapidated buildings. With a crucifix dangling from her dark hand, she clutched at Adelman's arm.

"Please. Just talk, okay?" Adelman begged, his voice cracking in a way that suggested he was struggling to hold back his own tears. He pulled the little girl closer, clutching her like a parent who is afraid of having another child stolen, and then a shudder went through his back. This wasn't some do-gooder making himself feel better by playing savior in the slums, and Miguel watched the worry on Dr. Adelman's face as he looked at the mother, willing her to help. While Miguel had seen his share of defense lawyers and community volunteers who put in their time as if helping the poor was some painful duty to be endured so they could go home and congratulate themselves on being incredible human beings, Miguel rarely saw them share the raw pain of the families. Adelman's face looked pained. Finally, the mother nodded, and the little girl now let go of Adelman's leg and climbed onto the couch to put her head on her mother's arm.

Adelman gave her a strained smile before he stood up and turned around. "Try to show her some respect, and not act like a pig," he hissed as he passed Miguel. The moment of admiration Miguel had felt for Adelman's compassion pretty much evaporated.

"Play nice, Rassin," Jack warned quietly before Miguel could answer. And then the good doctor was gone.

Miguel glared at his captain, but Jack's face was utterly emotionless. Clearly, Miguel did not have permission to go slam Adelman into a wall and teach him a few manners.

"I'll interview the mother," Miguel offered, turning his attention to the crying woman.


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