During his years as an all All-Conference defensive back in college, Wally had earned a reputation for being fearless.
Despite being undersized by NFL standards, Wally never hesitated to put his smaller body between an onrushing opponent and the goal line. He had easily taken down receivers who were half a foot taller, and had leveled running backs who outweighed him by seventy-five pounds. There were even rumors of a certain Heisman Trophy contending quarterback who had refused to scramble in games against his team because he had feared Wally would torpedo him and end his chances of playing professionally.
Whenever Wally watched that QB play on a Sunday, he snickered because he knew he’d put the fear of God into a man who was now an All-Pro and earning eight figures.
An opposing coach had once infamously declared in a halftime interview during a game in which Wally had sent two of his star players to the hospital: “That Wainwright kid inflicts way too much pain for someone his size.”
His fearlessness had earned him the nickname Asteroid because, as his teammates loved to explain, his impact always left a crater. Sometimes that crater was in the field, and sometimes it was left in the body of the offensive player that Wally tackled.
Wally secretly worried about the day that Bruno found out about that nickname and made his life a living hell moving forward.
That gridiron fearlessness had served him well on the police force. Wally never backed down from any situation, nor did he ever cower when he’d faced the wrath of the grumpy detective with whom he was often paired.
The one situation, however, where Wally’s legendary lack of fear abandoned him was when it came to disagreeing with or defying Michelle. He loved her, but he was also scared to death of getting on her bad side.
If Michelle had been a planet, Wally’s seemingly indestructible asteroid would have avoided it at all costs. Better safe than sorry.
So when Bruno told Wally to go against Michelle’s wishes and interview their friends aka “the suspects” before the FBI arrived, he thought about fleeing the hospital rather than doing something that could make his personal life miserable.
Then again, if he didn’t do what Bruno ordered, his professional life would be a nightmare.
Wally wanted to bang his head against the wall of the stairwell, but even if he got lucky and knocked himself unconscious, he’d have to deal with both Michelle and Bruno when he regained consciousness.
Instead, Wally stared at his cell phone and cursed Bruno for being too busy with his top secret case to come to the hospital and handle the situation. After all, he was the famous detective and Wally was just the sidekick. The second fiddle wasn’t supposed to have to deal with the meat and potatoes of the case. He worked strictly in the side dishes as he preferred.
And what was this other case that Bruno refused to discuss with him? Wally felt like they were regressing to the old days when Bruno didn’t fully trust him. Not that the “old days” were so long ago, but Wally had been certain they’d moved past that crap.
Just like he used to do on the football field, Wally psyched himself up for action by jumping up and down a few times and punching himself in the chest.
Once that was done, he opened the door to step back into the hallway and accept his fate.
He was going to do what Bruno asked, but not because he feared him more than Michelle. The deciding factor had been that Michelle did not have a gun, while Bruno did and had more than once threatened to shoot him with it.
Michelle greeted Wally with a cautious smile when he reappeared. She was happy to see him, but uneasy about the way this case made her feel. Michelle was incredibly ambitious, but would never climb the career ladder on the back of her friends.
“Is Bruno coming?” she asked anxiously as she fell in step next to him and they walked back towards the room.
“No,” Wally mumbled with a shake of the head. “He’s working on that other case.”
Michelle nodded as she processed how this piece of information was going to affect the way she moved forward.
“Has he told you anything about that case?” she asked even though she already knew the answer.
“I’ve been told it’s none of my business,” he replied with a hint of ager. “He works it himself except when he’s in the Captain’s office talking about it behind closed doors.”
“Maybe I can ask Maggie about it,” Michelle brainstormed.
“Good luck getting her to break Bruno’s wall of silence,” he quipped.
They walked the rest of the way in silence. Michelle used the time to come up with a plan of attack, while Wally used it to conjure up some courage.
Michelle paused at the door to the room, however, and turned to him with a smile.
“How about we get Chinese for dinner tonight?”
She definitely had his attention now. General Tso’s Chicken was Wally’s comfort food of choice after a rough day, but Michelle frowned upon ordering it because it was supposedly so unhealthy. Wally had never understood why health and comfort had to work hand in hand.
“That would be great,” he responded with a smile of his own.
At that moment, Wally regained his fearlessness. If Michelle was willing to relent on Chinese food, then she would be okay with his disobeying her orders from her boss.
Champ was still out of sorts in his bed, but he had stopped demanding to stare at his reflection. Now he had something else on his mind.
“Champ wants to hear the rest of the angel song. Can you sing it?”
Tex groaned from his bed. “How many times do I have to tell you it’s not a song about angels? I’m in no mood to sing. I’m still recovering from almost dying. Give it a rest!”
“Champ thinks that someone who had a brush with death would want the angels on his side!”
Tex opened his mouth to reply, but Aspen patted him on the shoulder to signal that he should simply drop it. In no mood to fight, Tex heeded her advice.
Now that there was silence, Wally pounced. “I just spoke to Detective Bruno…”
“Is he on his way?” Champ asked with urgency as he shot up in his bed. “Champ definitely thinks we need to talk to Detective Bruno!”
Wally did his best not to react to the comment which seemed like an indictment of his ability to make them feel safe.
“No, he is not coming,” Wally broke the news. “He’s dealing with another case, but promised to use his connection with the FBI to see how he can help here.”
“What’s more important than his friends almost being killed?” Tex grumbled.
Michelle decided it was time to give Wally some back up. “You’re in perfectly good hands with Wally, and I’m here as well. If Detective Bruno says he’s going to smooth things over with the FBI, then I think that’s a much better use of his time and more of a help to you.”
Champ mumbled something no one could make out, and flopped back down onto his bed.
“What we’re going to do now is take your statements,” Wally began.
Michelle shot him a look, but didn’t say anything.
“I know Michelle was given orders to wait until the FBI arrives, but Detective Bruno and I agree that this would not be in your best interests. I’m hoping that ADA Ambrose can see the benefit in defying her boss’ order and getting a jump on the Feds on this high profile case.”
Wally didn’t even have to look over at Michelle to know that the wheels were spinning in her head. Going against the commands of her boss, the man she would be running against for District Attorney in the next election, always had a certain appeal for her.
“Fine,” she relented. “But Bruno better be able to deliver on his promise for help with the FBI because I have absolutely no authority to poach a case that they want to lead.”
Wally beamed at her words of support. “When has Bruno ever let us down?”
No one was able to cite an example, so Wally decided to move forward with his interrogation.
“I need to know exactly what happened tonight,” he explained. “Don’t leave out anything pertinent, but at the same time, skip over the unimportant details. We don’t know how much time we have before the FBI arrives, and I want a solid understanding of the events before they get here.”
“And if you want to slow them down later with a muddled retelling of the tale, then by all means go for it,” Michelle suggested with a sly smile.
No one said anything at first. It was like a game of interrogation chicken.
Finally, Champ broke the silence. “Champ wants to go on record as saying that while he didn’t agree with the plan, he went along with it because you never let a friend go into a fight alone.”
Wally appeared slightly confused by the comment which wasn’t at all a succinct version of the events of the evening, but he just smiled and hoped someone else would start talking.
Tex slowly sat up in his bed. “Look, this is all my fault. We wouldn’t be in this situation if I’d just been able to keep some punk from stealing a crappy bike I’d swiped from my friend.”
Wally threw up his arms in frustration.
“Okay, I don’t think you are grasping the concept of giving me all the details quickly and concisely,” Wally pleaded. “Can we try this again?”
Aspen sighed and climbed out of Tex’s bed.
“This was all my idea and I happen to think the night was a rousing success despite opinions to the contrary. I mean, who’s ever made an omelet without breaking a few eggs?”
“I like the way she thinks,” Michelle stated upon sensing a kindred spirit in the young woman she really didn’t know. “I vote that she tells the story.”
Champ and Tex had absolutely no opposition to that.
Aspen dragged a chair into the middle of the room and sat in it. She made sure all the eyes in the room were focused on her before she spoke.
“I’ve wanted to plan the perfect heist for years,” Aspen confessed. “And the thing I really looked forward to, maybe even more than the job itself, was the part where I explain exactly how I pulled it off to the confused members of law enforcement…”
TO BE CONTINUED…