The flashing lights of the emergency vehicles bounced off the snow, blinding in their intensity. He struggled against the snow drifts, but his feet were weighed down as if encased in cement. He squinted against the smoke-laden wind, his gaze glued to the burning pile of metal and rubble a few yards away.
If only he could—
A woman’s voice. Mamá?
No—it couldn’t be. He was inside the dream.
“Dez!” This time his name was accompanied by a slap on his forearm.
He pried his eyes open.
But not his condo.
He blinked at the blurry figure beside him as memories filtered in.
Meeting Tiffany at Vinyl nightclub. Tiffany and her friends popping Ecstasy. Him driving them all back to her place…
“Your alarm keeps going off,” Tiffany whined.
Suddenly wide awake, he jerked his wrist close to his face and tried to focus on the small hands of his service watch. 8 a.m. He was going to be late for his shift at Reno Fire Station Three.
Tiffany groaned and clasped a pillow over her head.
He’d wanted to take her straight to the bedroom; instead, there was more drinking and those little blue pills Tiffany talked him into taking. Dancing on the balcony until the neighbors threatened to call the cops—
His stomach rebelled as he rolled himself to a sitting position. He was shirtless but still wearing pants, although the belt was undone and they were half-way down his ass.
Collapsing on the couch. Hugh and Steph grinding, putting on a show. Tiffany kissing him. A different pair of hands undoing his belt buckle. Him stopping the hands. “I gotta use the bathroom.” Blow jobs weren’t as satisfying if you had to pee, after all…
His wallet was on the nightstand (thank God), and he rifled through it. Some of the cash was gone, but that was no big deal. The credit cards were all there, as were the condoms.
Stumbling to the bathroom. Too dizzy to stand. Sitting on the floor—
“Aw, man, he’s fucked up.”
He glanced at Tiffany, who’d already gone back to asleep. She was mostly clothed. There’d been no sex—or blow job, for that matter. Maybe that was a good thing.
He stood up, shimmied into his pants, and shoved his wallet into the back pocket. He grabbed his shirt off the floor, ignoring the pulsing in his temples that his EMT training told him was most likely the result of dehydration.
In the bathroom, he used the toilet, finger-brushed his teeth, and drank an entire glass of water. He would have to change and shave at the station; there was no time to go back to his apartment in Reno.
He stared at his reflection in the mirror. He looked like crap and felt only slightly better.
El estúpido. This is why I don’t do Ecstasy.
He dragged a hand over his three-day stubble. He needed caffeine, and lots of it. A stop at Clair’s Coffee Shop was in order, STAT.
A quick peek in the other bedroom showed Hugh and Steph asleep in the bed. In the living room, two women were passed out on the couches. What were their names? He grabbed the blankets off the back of the couches and covered their scantily-clad bodies.
As he turned to go, he paused at the sight of the white powder residue on the coffee table. Had he done a line? He didn’t think so—that was a hard limit for him—but yesterday had been an especially shitty day.
He shook it off. Whatever he’d drunk, swallowed or snorted, he wasn’t feeling it now. He was sober and good to go.
Fifteen minutes later, he was weaving his way down State Route 23 in his Tesla, a cup of black coffee in one hand, the caffeine working its magic already.
He pushed out a breath. He’d survived The Anniversary. He could tuck Pepper and his parents back into his memory box, close the lid, and get back to saving lives.
He went to set the coffee in the console and bumped the shift. Dark liquid spit from the opening on top, burning his hand and splashing on the side of his leg.
He managed to get the coffee cup into the holder, then grabbed a couple napkins from the glove compartment where he kept them. He wiped off his hand, then attempted to blot the spot on his thigh—to no avail—all while negotiating the curvy mountain road.
He’d given up with the napkins and was just about out of the canyon when flashing red and blue lights lit the interior of his car. He glanced down at the speedometer and groaned.
Great; another speeding ticket.
He pulled to the side of the road and dug his wallet out of his pocket. He carefully worked the coffee cup out of the holder and took another sip as he watched the officer approach in his side mirror.
When the officer reached him, Dez rolled down his window. The cold March air slapped him in the face as if to make sure he was fully awake.
“Can I see your license, sir?” the officer said.
Dez handed over his license.
“Do you know why I pulled you over, Mister Andrews?”
“I assume I was speeding,” Dez said. “Go ahead and write the ticket; I deserve it.” The quicker he got the ticket, the sooner he could be on his way.
“Not so fast, Mister Andrews.” The police officer stepped back. “Would you step out of the car, please?”
Dez frowned. “Look, officer, I’m a Reno firefighter and I’m on shift in—” He glanced at his watch. “Twenty-five minutes.”
“Step out of the car now.” The officer’s voice had gone hard.
Dez tamped down a surge of annoyance. His olive skin gave away his Hispanic ethnicity and, combined with the gold hoops in his ear (which he’d have to remove before his shift), occasionally caused an issue with authority figures who were more familiar with lawbreakers and gang members who looked like him.
With a sigh, he pushed his door open. As he stepped out, another police cruiser pulled up behind the first one. What was going on?
“Do you know what a field sobriety test is, Mister Andrews?” The first officer said.
Dez glanced at the officer’s name tag: Adams. “Of course,” he said.
“Then you’ll cooperate with Officer Jenkins, who will conduct one.” Adams pointed to the officer who’d gotten out of his cruiser and was now approaching them.
“On what grounds?” Dez said.
“On the grounds that you couldn’t seem to stay in your own lane of traffic,” Adams snapped.
“That was a coffee mishap,” Dez said.
“If that’s true, you have nothing to worry about,” Officer Jenkins said.
Unease pinged in Dez’s chest. “And if I refuse?”
“Then we’ll be forced to suspend your license,” Officer Adams replied.
Dez ground his teeth. There was no way they could know about the Ecstasy unless they took a blood sample, and they had no reason to do that. Being without a license would be a serious hassle; it was quicker and easier to comply with their request, even though it was bullshit. “Fine,” he said. “But like I said, I’m a Reno firefighter on my way to my shift, so let’s make it quick.”
“Step to the other side of the car, please.”
With his back to his Tesla, Dez followed the officer’s instructions to follow his pen light from one side to the other with just his eyes.
“Now I need you take nine steps, heel to toe, following this white line exactly, while keeping your arms at your side,” the officer said. “When you get to nine, turn around on one foot and return to me the same way.”
Dez managed not to roll his eyes as he started the steps. He’d just made the turn when the first officer called out, “Hey, Jenkins, check this out.” He tossed something across the car roof.
Dez finished his steps (with no impairment, thank you very much) to find Officer Jenkins looking at him with one eyebrow cocked.
“What?” Dez said.
Then he looked at what Jenkins held in his palm: a clear plastic bag containing little blue pills.
Dez’s heart flipped over.
“Blue dolphins, if I’m not mistaken.” Officer Adams reappeared at Dez’s side. “Clearly visible in the back seat of your car.”
In my car? Not possible. Unless… Tiffany!
“I wonder how many grams that is?” Officer Adams sneered.
Dez’s blood ran cold. It didn’t matter how many grams those pills were; possession of Ecstasy was a felony in Nevada. “Those are not mine!” he said.
“That’s what they all say.” Officer Adams’ hand closed around Dez’s shoulder. “Turn and face the car and put your hands behind you.”
Dez was so stunned he didn’t resist the officer’s shove. Surely they weren’t actually going to—
Cold steel slapped around one wrist. The officer grabbed his other arm and brought it behind him.
The snap of the handcuffs sounded like a bomb going off. The whoosh of blood in Dez’s ears made the officer reciting the Miranda Rights sound like he was a long way off.
This can’t be happening.
The officer yanked on his arm, guiding him toward the police cruiser.
Dez clenched his jaw. Stay calm. This was all a misunderstanding. He would clear things up, get a slap on the wrist and be on his way.
He straightened as best he could with both hands behind his back. “What about my car?”
“Don’t worry about your car, Mister Andrews.” Officer Adams was enjoying this way too much. “It’ll be waiting for you in the impound lot.”
Then he forced Dez’s head down and pushed him into the police cruiser.