check her out before we entrust our prized possessions to her.’


Agent Ren Bryce sat at her desk in The Rocky Mountain Safe Streets Task Force, a violent-crime squad of eleven based in Denver. It was Saturday night, and everyone had gone to the bar, except the boss, Special Supervisory Agent Gary Dettling, and Cliff James, Ren’s big-bear buddy. Cliff was ex-Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department. At fifty-three, he was the eldest of the team, and at two-hundred pounds, the most huggable. Cliff and Ren, along with blond, kind, grandma-friendly Robbie Truax and arrogant, short-ass numbers-guy Colin Grabien, had become a mini-squad of movable parts. The arrangement of their desks and the maneuvering of two filing cabinets could create a subtle break in the squad’s bullpen that was more psychological than visible. Otherwise, their boss would have done something about it. If he could have only thrown Colin Grabien out into the general population, that would have worked for Ren. The book was The Three Musketeers. Not The Three Musketeers and the Dickhead.

Ren’s cell phone rang, and the screen flashed with a photo of her older brother Matt — her best friend, therapist, and moral conscience rolled into one. He was thirty-nine — two years older than Ren — and lived in Manhattan with his wife, Lauren, and their three-month-old son, Ethan.

‘Finally,’ said Matt when Ren answered.


‘You’re alive,’ said Matt.

‘Yes, I am,’ said Ren.

‘Just, you didn’t text back,’ said Matt. ‘And … did you get my voicemails?’

‘Sorry, yes,’ said Ren.

‘Are you OK?’ said Matt.

‘Yes!’ said Ren. ‘Why wouldn’t I be?’

Pause. ‘Um … maybe because last month, you could barely make it from the bed to the sofa? And you phoned me several times bawling your eyes out. In the middle of the night-’

‘I’m so sorry,’ said Ren. ‘I know that’s hard with Ethan and everything …’

‘You can call me any time, you know that,’ said Matt. ‘I’m always here, but … that’s not the point. You dropped off the face of the earth.’

‘I’m sorry,’ said Ren. ‘I didn’t mean to worry you.’

‘You never do,’ said Matt.

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ said Ren.

‘Exactly that. You never mean to. Next time, keep me posted, that’s all.’

‘Fine.’ Jesus.

‘So … what have you been doing?’ said Matt. ‘Are you OK? What changed? I was so worried. Ever since Helen …’

Ren was bipolar, unmedicated, and shrink-free. Her beloved psychiatrist of two years, Helen Wheeler, had been murdered four months earlier, and Ren and her FBI undercover past had been painfully entangled in her death.

‘Positive thinking!’ said Ren. ‘Talking to you really helped that last time, Matt. You cheered me up. And when I got off the phone, I just said, OK, what can I do? So I went online, looked at positive thinking websites, ordered some positive thinking books on Amazon. I looked up psychiatrists in Denver, printed off a few names … and I just told myself, get a grip.’

‘And did you find a psychiatrist?’ said Matt.

‘No …’

‘Ren … you’ve been very down for … months.’

‘I’m OK now,’ said Ren. ‘I’m feeling much better.’

‘Well, I’m glad to hear that,’ said Matt. ‘I really am.’

‘And,’ said Ren. ‘I met this amazing guy.’


‘Matt?’ said Ren. ‘Are you there?’

‘Yes,’ said Matt. ‘When did this happen?’

‘Two weeks ago-’

‘Which might explain the radio silence …’

Ugh. ‘Anyway, I went out with work, then the guys all went home, I stayed on with Colin Grabien’s girlfriend, Naomi. The woman is nuts. Anyway, next thing, I met this really cute guy-’

‘And off the radar you go.’ His tone was flat.

‘I wasn’t off the radar,’ said Ren. ‘I was in work.’

‘I got one text from you weeks ago, then nothing,’ said Matt.

‘You sound like mom …’

‘Your worst nightmare. We’ve been through this before, Ren. This is not an on/off thing: you can’t call me all upset, then drop off the face of the earth when everything is OK. I didn’t know everything was OK.’

‘Well, I would have called you if I was going to jump off a cliff …’ Ren laughed.


‘So … how’re things with you?’ said Ren.

‘Exhausting,’ said Matt.

‘You don’t sound yourself,’ said Ren. She could hear him sigh.

‘So,’ said Matt, ‘are you going to call one of the psychiatrists?’

‘Yes …’ said Ren.

‘Once more with feeling.’

‘I will. It’s Saturday night …’

‘Ren … Monday morning, please do.’

‘Yes, OK. Jesus.’

‘Enjoy the rest of your weekend.’

‘You too.’

Ren put down the phone.

Well, that was depressing.

Ren turned to Cliff.

‘I’m taking advantage of Colin’s absence,’ she said. ‘To ask you this question — is he serious about crazy Naomi?’

‘I think he has found The One,’ said Cliff, smiling.

‘Hmm,’ said Ren. ‘I’m not sure she feels the same way. I really like the woman. I do. But … remember I ended up staying out with her a couple of weeks back? We had a lot to drink, but she was … behaving like a single lady. All the single ladies.’

‘All the single ladies,’ said Cliff. He put his hand up.

‘She zoned in on this guy at the bar, like it was her mission to bag him,’ said Ren.

‘And did she?’ said Cliff.

‘No, but … I was right there — she was hardly going to disappear with him.’

‘Maybe she’s just insecure,’ said Cliff, ‘or competitive, or …’

‘Hmm,’ said Ren. ‘She’s like those women who other women love … until they see them around their man. She’s a girl’s girl, and a man’s girl, but … you get the feeling she’s distracting you with her high-larity, while she’s got her hand on your boyfriend’s ass.’ Ren paused. ‘I’m safe for girlfriends and wives. I’ll laugh or joke with yo’ man, but I don’t want him, he’s all yours. I think I make that clear. I’ve never taken someone’s man. Naomi … I think … she does want to take other men.’

‘And I thought you didn’t care about Colin …’ said Cliff.

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