A Taste of… Winter’s Redemption
Tala Delosreyes outlived her mother’s dire predictions.
At only ten, Tala’s mother had wholeheartedly believed she’d never survive childhood. Even as a very young girl, she was too fearless and headstrong. An adrenaline junky, many had claimed. Tala rode BMX bikes all the way into her late teens, even racing in a Red Bull competition, and never broke a bone.
After surviving her teens and early twenties, Tala’s mother’s optimism didn’t increase. She tearfully claimed that her daughter would die young if she joined the New York Fire Department at the ripe old age of twenty-five. Tala survived 9/11. And not only that, she was one of the lucky few firefighters to experience no devastating health effects in the years after that terrible day.
Even then, Tala’s mother warned her that she’d never live to see forty if she joined the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Force. At forty-one, Tala was awarded a Medal of Valor for preventing an active shooter incident near the Washington Mall. The President of the United States personally presented the award as her mother sobbed into a tissue beside her.
Tala’s mother stopped making predictions after that.
She shouldn’t have.
* * *
“Got any plans after work?”
Braeden Carpenter never seemed to take no for an answer, but not in a creepy way. He was too cute to be creepy, with those big brown eyes and that earnest face. But, unfortunately for Braeden Carpenter, Tala had what she’d always considered a very firm rule. She didn’t date co-workers.
But the man in front of her was tempting.
“No plans that involve you, Brae.” Tala shot him a bright smile to take the sting out of her words, putting on her heavy coat. She tugged her thick braid out of the back and picked up her purse. “I have a date with my mom. She’s luring me home with beef kaldereta. Says I don’t have enough time for her lately.”
Braedon picked up his own bag and followed her toward the doors of the station. “I’m pretty sure I like beef kaldereta,” he said, hope in his voice.
Tala laughed, the sound snatched up by the December wind and flung away. “You wouldn’t know kaldereta from kawalie, and you know it.”
He grinned, unashamed. “Maybe I’m an expert in Filipino food.” She raised a skeptical eyebrow, and he laughed, lifting a shoulder in an easy shrug. “I know it’s got beef in it. Besides, if your mother makes it, I’m sure it’s great.”
“Maybe next time,” Tala promised, realizing after she said it that she’d meant it. “My mother is afraid of change. I’ll have to ease her into the idea that I might bring a man home to dinner.”
She reached her aging Durango and pulled her keys out of her pocket with fingers that already felt numb. The nighttime temperature had dropped into the low thirties, but the wind made it feel colder. Brae was parked next to her, but he made no move to go to his truck. He stepped closer so that his broad shoulders blocked the chilly gusts.
“Maligayang Pasco, Officer Delosreyes,” he wished her in Tagalog, butchering the accent adorably.
He gave her the cute, dimpled grin that had been making her toes tingle since he joined her unit in June as he leaned forward to kiss her. She didn’t have time to back away or question whether she wanted to kiss him. She was too busy noticing how warm and firm his lips were. And remembering how long it had been since she’d broken up with Josh. Two years ago? Three?
Brae’s lips only touched hers for a moment before he backed away and winked. “Maybe when you’re back from vacation, we can talk about that dinner.”
“Maybe we can,” she responded, feeling a little out of breath. “Merry Christmas.”
Some co-workers, Tala thought on her way home, maybe weren’t such bad dating prospects. She had a feeling that even her mother would agree when it came to Braeden Carpenter.
I wandered around the apartment, getting a feel for the gal who lived there. I took my time, enjoying myself, but there was a pep in my step that hadn’t been there for a while. A certain anticipation. Coming out of retirement had been a good idea.
I picked baby Jesus up from his little cradle in the crèche and held him up so I could see him better with my bifocals. His porcelain face was perfect and serene. Children had such purity. The boy ones, anyway.
The blue eyes of the Lord’s son looked back at me, and I didn’t see any judgment there. He knew that I was on a mission. I knew he approved.
I set Jesus down in his cradle and moved on. No Christmas tree, I noticed, but a police officer’s schedule likely didn’t allow for very much time spent at home. Maybe she had family nearby. She had a pretty place, but it didn’t look like a home. There were a few pieces of tan-colored furniture, a TV, and a coffee table. None of what my momma would have called knickknacks or personal things. Except the crèche.
That meant she was probably religious. Not that that would save her.
I wandered down the hallway, running my gloved fingers down along the wall. No family pictures. But I knew the gal was a loner. I’d been watching her for a couple of days now. Learning her habits. Getting a feel for what she was like.
The joint in my shoulder snapped and popped as I reached up to the cheap apartment light fixture and unscrewed the globe. The LED bulb inside took just a couple of twists before it was loose enough so that the light went out. Working by feel, I screwed the plastic fixture back into place.
Then, I headed to her room. That was where all the joy would happen. I couldn’t wait to unbraid all that gal’s pretty dark hair and spread it out on her pillow. I wanted to see if it was as soft and shiny as it looked. “But if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head,” I preached to the woman’s picture sitting on the nightstand. Then looked away. Religious or not, she was a sinner. Just like the rest of them.
And just like the rest of them, she would pay her retribution.
I dropped the old canvas tool bag I’d slung over my shoulder on the floor and sat down on her bed. It was all covered up with a nice, colorful quilt. I gave the mattress a couple of test bounces. It was built so solid that the headboard didn’t even bang on the wall. How many other men had this knowledge too?
Sinners. I was so tired of them.
It had been a while since I’d baptized a sinner. My old pecker wasn’t what it used to be, but at least the neighbors wouldn’t hear me when I gave it the college try. “Smite them with my sword,” I murmured as I unscrewed her bedroom lightbulb. “Baptize them with my holy water.” Even knowing the good Lord wouldn’t approve of such musings, I chuckled at my humor, but only for a moment.
The scrape of a key drew my attention. I was glad my eyes had adjusted to the darkness of the apartment, and I stepped into an even darker corner as the slight squeak of the door told me it was being opened.
My heart jumped up into a double-time beat, and to my dismay, I actually got a little nervous. It had been so long since I’d fulfilled one of my missions, but I didn’t like the feeling of insecurity running through me. I didn’t like it at all.
I sat down on a nearby chair, the wood only creaking a little underneath me.
Having the calling was like riding a bike, I reminded myself. The know-how would all come back to me as soon as I got started.
The buttons on the gal’s security pad beeped as she punched in her code. I grinned. She’d probably paid a boatload out of her measly cop salary to get the thing installed. But when the person breaking into your place had worked for twenty-six years as a security alarm technician, all the keypads and buttons and cameras in the world wouldn’t do you any good.
I pulled my pistol out of my tool bag and set it on the nightstand next to me. I wouldn’t need it unless she’d changed up her routine in the last day, but it wouldn’t hurt her none to see that I had it.
That done, I waited for her to come to me.
Listening hard, I heard the rustle of her coat and a click that was probably the door of the closet closing where she hung up her cold-weather things. The thunk and clatter of her belt hitting the table. I’d watched her for a couple days now. She was a creature of habit, always dropping her work things at the door before she came in the bedroom to change into something more comfortable.
Today was no different.
I pictured her opening the fridge. Heard the clatter of bottles. Inhaling a calming breath, I could almost see her leaning over to grab a beer.
I’d punish her for that later. It was unladylike for a woman to drink alcohol.
She drank Miller Lite. The same brand as me. When I’d seen her making the purchase at the local grocery store, I’d known she was to be my next target. It was just another sign. Just like that pretty dark hair she wore in a braid. She was meant to be punished, and God had chosen me to do it. He wouldn’t have put her in my path if that truth wasn’t so.
The fridge door closed. I closed my eyes in response, inhaling a noiseless breath. I heard a hissing pop as she opened up the bottle. She’d be taking a long, thirsty drink right now, that dark head tipped back. But it wasn’t her tanned, slightly foreign-looking face I was seeing in my mind.
It was Winter’s. My girlie’s.