I opened my mouth to say, The hell I will, but Perry gave a small shake of his head. I kept quiet. He had a plan, better than what I had.

"I don't take orders from no nigger detective."

"Jealous," I said.

"What?"

"That he's a big city detective and you're not."

"I don't have to take crap from you, either, bitch."

"Ms. Blake, please, let me handle this."

"You can't handle shit," Aikensen said.

"You've been totally uncooperative and rude, you and your sheriff. You can call me all the names you like, if that makes you feel better, but I can't let you point a gun at one of our people."

A look passed over Aikensen's face. I could see the thought flicker into life. Perry was a cop, too. He probably had a gun, and Aikensen had his back to him. The deputy whirled, bringing the gun up as he moved. His hand flexed.

I went for my gun.

Perry's empty hands were held out from his body, showing he was unarmed.

Aikensen was breathing hard. He raised the gun to head level, two-handed, steady, no hurry.

Someone noticed us and yelled, "What the fuck?" Indeed.

I pointed the Browning at Aikensen's back. "Freeze, Aikensen, or I will blow you away."

"You're not armed."

I clicked the hammer back. On a double-action you don't need to do that before you fire, but it makes a nice dramatic sound. "You didn't frisk me, asshole."

People were running towards us, shouting. But they wouldn't get here in time. It was just the three of us in the psychedelic snow, waiting.

"Put the gun down, Aikensen, now."

"No."

"Put it down or I'll kill you."

"Anita, you don't need to shoot. He's not going to hurt me," Perry said. It was the only time he'd ever used my first name.

"I don't need no nigger protecting me."' His shoulders tensed. I couldn't see his hands well enough to be sure, but I thought he was pulling the trigger. I started to squeeze the trigger.

A bellowing voice yelled, "Aikensen, put that damn gun down!"

Aikensen pointed the gun skyward, just like that. He hadn't been pulling the trigger at all. He was just jumpy. I felt a giggle at the back of my throat. I'd almost shot him for being twitchy. I swallowed the laugh and eased off the trigger. Did Deputy Numb-nuts know how close he'd come? The only thing that had saved him was the Browning's trigger. It was stiff. There were a lot of guns out there where a tiny squeeze was all you needed.

He turned towards me, gun still out, but not pointed. Mine was still pointed. He started to lower his weapon to point it back at me. "If that barrel drops another inch, I'm going to shoot you."

"Aikensen, I said put the damn gun up. Before you get somebody killed." The man that went with the voice was about five foot six and must have weighed over two hundred pounds. He looked perfectly round like a sausage with arms and legs. His winter jacket strained over his round little tummy. A clear, grey stubble decorated his double chins. His eyes were small, nearly lost in the doughiness of his face. His badge glittered on his jacket front. He hadn't left it inside on his shirt. He'd pinned it outside, where the big city detectives couldn't miss it. Sort of like unzipping your fly so company could see you were well-endowed.

"This nigger..."

"We don't hold with talk like that, Deputy, you know that."

From the look on Aikensen's face you'd have thought the sheriff had told him there was no Santa Claus. I was betting the sheriff was a good ol' boy in the worst sense of the word. But there was intelligence in those beady little eyes, more than you could say for Aikensen.

"Put it away, boy, that's an order." His southern accent was getting thicker, either for show, or because he was getting teed off at Aikensen. A lot of people's accents got stronger under stress. It wasn't a Missouri accent. Something further south.

Aikensen finally, reluctantly, put up the gun. He didn't snap the holster closed, though. He was cruising for a bruising. I was just glad I hadn't been the one to give it to him. Of course if I'd pulled the trigger before Aikensen had raised his gun skyward, I'd never have known he wasn't pulling his trigger, too. If we'd all been cops with Aikensen as a criminal, it would have gone down as a clean shoot. Jesus.

Sheriff Titus put his hands in the pockets of his jacket and looked at me. "Now, miss, you can put your gun away, too. Aikensen here isn't going to shoot nobody."

I just stared at him, gun pointed skyward, held loose. I had been ready to put the gun away until he told me to do it. I'm not big on being told anything. I just stared at him.

His face still looked friendly, but his eyes lost their shine. Angry. He didn't like being defied. Great. Made my night.

Three other deputies gathered at Titus's back. They all looked sullen and ready to do anything their sheriff asked them to do. Aikensen stepped over to them, hand hovering near his freshly bolstered gun. Some people never learn.

"Anita, put the gun away." Dolph's usual pleasant tenor was harsh with anger. Like what he wanted to say was shoot the son of a bitch, but it would be hard to explain to his superiors.

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