"You've been with her again, damn you!" Susan Walters all but screamed at her husband.
"For the one-hundredth time, I have NO fuc... no clue what or whom you are talking about." Dennis Walters shot back. He made an effort to control himself. "And for God's sake, keep your voice down. If you want to wake up the neighborhood, again, that's up to you. But the kids are asleep."
"I don't care," she went on loudly. "Let them wake up. Let them know what an asshole of a supposed man they have for a father. You've been cheating on me for months now and they damn well should know it."
Dennis gave up. The three months of innuendo and subtle questionings had finally given way to shouting and out-right accusation of infidelity. The moment he had walked in the door she had flown at him, claws outstretched. She had been drinking, but what in God's name had brought this on? He should have gone out for that beer with his partner. He was so mad at her that he would have to leave to avoid striking her. So he did, snatching his keys and jacket from where he had put them by the back door.
Susan followed him right out the back door, still shouting. "You're going to her now. I know it. Let me tell you, I've HAD it. You're going to be sorry you ever took up with that little tramp!"
Dennis slammed the car door and all but screeched out of the driveway. He stopped at the end of the street, managed to light a cigarette with fingers that still trembled and then smoked until his shaking calmed down enough to let him drive.
What the hell was going on? He and Susan had been married for almost 6 years. Right out of high school he had joined the Army. After his discharge he and Susan had married, having dated each other since the 9th grade. He had passed the exam for the Police Department and she had worked for a short period as a secretary until they decided to start their family. Stan was four now and Julie was two. Susan had returned to work last year. Even with Day-Care bills, the extra money had allowed them to buy a house.
There had been a few problems, of course, every couple has them, and when one member is a cop those problems are aggravated. She disliked his rotating shift work that changed his schedule each month. It had put a crimp in their sex life, when he was working nights and getting home just when she was getting up and leaving. And he admitted that when he worked afternoons he tended to stop by Muldoon's and have a beer or two with the other cops before coming home. But they had worked things out, he thought, and had made extra efforts to do things together, as a family and as a couple on his days off.
Then a few months ago, Susan had somehow picked up this idea that he was having an affair. At first it had only been probing questions. Where had he been? Whom had he been with? Over the last few weeks it had become out-right accusations. At the same time, her drinking had begun to increase. And, damnit, so was his because he tended to spend more time with his buddies before going home to face the inquisition. It was driving him crazy.
Sighing to himself, he pulled up to Muldoon's, parked his car and went in. Like most cop bars, it was festooned with memorabilia of the PD, the Sheriff's Department and the State Patrol. A low cloud of smoke filled the room. Dennis lit another cigarette, almost in self-defence.
"Hey partner," came a contralto yell. "Over here!"
Dennis grinned and worked his way through the crowd of cops, cop-groupies and cop-wannabes. He collapsed into a vacant chair at the little table were his partner sat. She looked at him and pushed her beer bottle to him.
"Damn, partner, you looked like you've been through the wringer. Don't worry, the bottle won't give you anything, I just got it." She caught a passing waitress by the apron and grinned at her. "Dina, be a darling and bring us three more."
"You got it." The black haired waitress grinned and headed for the bar.
Dennis looked with fondness and exasperation at his partner of six months. Officer Pat Morrison stood a little under 5 and a half feet with dirty blonde hair, an easy grin and a dark tan. She wore her usual tight jeans and leather jacket, which concealed her snub-nose .38 caliber "Chief's Special" she wore off-duty and as a back-up weapon. Her body was well rounded but a little bit more muscular than Dennis thought attractive in a woman. He shrugged mentally. Hell, she WAS cute but he had never been interested in her, even assuming she had wanted to reciprocate.
"God, you and Susan have been at it again, haven't you?"
Dennis brought the bottle to his lips, tipped it back, and drank the entire thing in one long swallow. Slamming it down on the table, he nodded.
"Damn it Pat, I just don't understand it. Its getting to be every night now. I can't say or do anything to make her change her mind. Its become so grooved in her mind that its now Holy Writ." He looked at the table, drawing circles with the base of the beer bottle. "Tonight she was completely wild. She started screaming the moment I walked in the door. And here I went home right after shift so we could spend some time together."
Dani plunked down three more long-necked beers, one in front of Dennis and two in front of Pat. He reached for his wallet, but before he could pull it out, Pat handed a bill to Dani and winked at him.
"Better let me pay. Otherwise Susan will think you're after Dani." She held up a hand as he opened his mouth. "I'm sorry Dennis, that was uncalled for. I don't know why she thinks you're having an affair but I'm sorry she does. Hell, when would you have time? I know where you are every minute on duty, and pretty much anytime you're off-duty and not with your family. Do you think it would help if I went to talk to her?"
"I wish, but after the last time..." his voice trailed off.
"It was a bad scene," she admitted.
A few weeks after Dennis and Pat had become partners, Dennis had confided that he had tickets for a touring Broadway Show that was appearing in a nearby city. They were to be a surprise to Susan, but the baby-sitter he had arranged for had fallen through. Pat had volunteered.
That night had gone wonderfully. In fact, it had been about the last bright spot in the last few months. He and Susan had a wonderful time. Two months later when he tried to repeat it, Susan had thrown a fit the moment Pat walked in the door. Surprised, she had immediately retreated and had not been back to the house since then.
"So," Dennis made an effort to change the topic. "How's things at home for you?"
"Not great," Pat admitted. "We seem to be drifting apart. The hours are all wrong. I spend too much time at work, too much time with the other cops." She sighed. "Hell, we also had a fight tonight, which is why I'm here. At least we're not screaming at each other. Maybe that would be better though, get things out in the open. I bet my sex life sucks as bad as yours. I Dunno." She gulped half her beer before her eyes fixed on the door and widened. "Uh-oh, partner. Here's Trouble with a capital 'T' that rhymes with 'P' but it don't stand for 'Pool'."
After Dennis had slammed out of the door, Susan had another drink and got madder. Then another drink followed and she had steam blowing out her ears. How dare that son-of-a-bitch take that air of injured innocence and then go right out to see that hussy? Well, she wasn't going to take it anymore.
She fumbled for her car keys and fortunately couldn't find them. She finally called her best friend. When Ethel came over from two doors down, Susan asked her to drive her to Muldoon's.
Ethel tried to calm her drunken friend down. Susan had confided her certainty that Dennis was having a affair but never revealed who "That WOMAN" was supposed to be. For her own part, Ethel thought Susan was on a wild-goose chase. She tried to shift the conversation by pointing out that the children were asleep and couldn't be left alone.
Regardless of the alcohol and anger, Susan was too good a Mother to do that. Instead, when Ethel went to make some coffee, she called a cab. When it announced its arrival with a loud honking, Susan headed out, calling over her shoulder to her astonished friend, "Watch the kids, I'll be home soon."
When they arrived at Muldoon's, Susan told the cab driver to wait, she wouldn't be but a minute. Since he was familiar with the bar and most of the patrons, the cabbie shrugged and waited. He figured he could always find someone to pay the fare.
Susan reeled in through the door. She shot a look around the room, settling on her husband and his partner. Making a tremendous, but unsuccessful, effort to walk in a straight line, she headed towards the pair with blood in her eye.
"Susan, what the hell are you doing here?"
"I TOLD you I wasn't going to put up with this anymore; you lousy, two-timing piece of cheating trash. I've had it with you! I'm going to settle this right now and then I'm kicking your ass out of my house."
"Whoa, Susan, calm down for heaven's sake," Pat attempted to sooth her partner's furious, and obviously drunken, spouse. She took Susan's arm and attempted to guide her to a seat at the table. "Now you know that Dennis isn't cheating on you. My God, about the only time he's out of my sight is when he's at home..." Pat's words faltered as her attention was diverted to another new arrival.
Susan jerked her arm from Pat's grip. "I know that, you Goddamn home wrecking slut." She took a wild swing that caught the female officer off guard and knocked her sprawling.
A hush fell over the room, only to be broken by a soprano voice. "You BITCH!"
Susan turned, catching a blurred picture of another female, just before that same female slapped her hard. Susan reeled back, to be caught by Dennis. He wrapped his arms around her, as much to keep her from doing anything else as to support her.
Susan stared in disbelief. The third woman was a tall, slender blonde, stylishly dressed and completely out of place in the cop bar. She dropped to her knees, showing a great deal of leg as her conservative gray skirt rode up. She pulled Pat into her arms, cuddling her. To Susan's complete astonishment, the woman then began to kiss her husband's partner. On the lips!
"Oh baby, are you okay? I'm so sorry I yelled at you." She rocked Pat in her arms. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. You know me, I get stupid. Please come home. I love you so much." Still holding the female cop closely, she helped her up, cooing the entire time, and walked her to the front door. She looked over her shoulder, giving Susan a poisonous glance and then the door banged behind them.
Dennis spun Susan around. "That's a good idea. We're going home right now ourselves." He took her hand and pulled her through the gathered crowd.
Susan, just about sobered by the slap and what she had witnessed, followed meekly. As Dennis fumbled at the door, she looked around at the sea of faces that were all watching her, mostly with amusement.
"Oh, shit," she moaned. She had just made a complete ass of herself in a way that she could never have imagined. She knew by the next day the story would be all over town.
Dennis paid off the cab driver and hustled Susan into his car. She sat silently all the way home. When they got there, Dennis thanked Ethel profusely and escorted her home. When he walked back in, Susan raised her head from her hands.
"So am I," replied Dennis. "Its late and I'm tired. Go to bed and we'll talk about this tomorrow."
The next morning Susan staggered into the kitchen well after daylight. She sat at the table, holding her head in an effort to make the tiny little gnomes stop wielding their hammers inside her skull. The sudden appearance of a steaming cup of coffee under her nose startled her. She took it and drank, feeling the hot liquid cut through the fuzzy lining of her throat. For one desperate moment she thought she wasn't going to be able to hold the coffee down, then her stomach warmed and she drank the rest of the cup.
"More?" asked Dennis.
"Please," Susan croaked.
Dennis waited until Susan finished her second cup and had some toast.
"Now then, let's talk about last night. Ethel was kind enough to come over and take the kids this morning so we're by ourselves."
Susan hung her head, more from embarrassment than the subsiding pain in her head. "Did I really..." she paused, groping for words.
"Yes. You really stormed into Muldoon's, drunk as a lord, slapped my lesbian partner for having an affair with me and got smacked by her girlfriend. Quite a show. I think its high time that you told me where and how you came up with the idea that I was having an affair."
Susan groaned. "It started a couple of months after Pat was assigned as your partner. You know that cop's wives hang around together almost as much as you all do. Well, it was Deana Filbright who began it. 'I'd never let MY husband work with a female officer'. 'I bet they're doing more than police work'. And of course, the cap to the whole thing, 'Honey, I heard from someone that they're doing it for sure!' Then the others would chime in and I'd sit there and nod my head like an idiot. So I would have a drink to calm down. It became a vicious spiral."
She lifted her head and looked at her husband. "Looking back, I think they sort of hoped that Pat was starting each morning by jumping you and everyone else on the shift. If Deana is that unsure about her husband, that's her problem. It shouldn't have been mine. I'm the one that let it go to obsessive lengths. I'm sorry."
David shook his head. "I am too." When she looked at him in surprise, he hastily added "Not that I ever really even thought of having an affair with Pat. But the other guys were just as bad. Giving me the old elbow nudge and grinning while they asked if I was 'getting a little on the side'. After a while I got tired of denying it. They were going to believe what they wanted anyway, I knew that. You can't stop rumors like that and I'm sure some of them, Ted Filbright in particular, ran right home and told their wives. I should have headed the whole thing off at the pass and told you myself about the rumors. Instead, I just hoped they'd go away."
Susan leaned against Dennis. "How do I make it up to you? And to your partner?"
"I thought about it. Not some 'making up' thing, but next weekend is the department formal dance, the good old Policeman's Ball. We'll go, and you simply be nice to her and demonstrate to those other wives, and other cops, that you respect her and trust me."
Susan winced. A time that close meant her actions in Muldoon's would still be the talk of the department. But, so be it.
Nervous as she was about seeing the other wives, Susan looked forward to the ball and was excited. She bought a new long gown in black, sleeveless with a plunging neckline. Dennis whistled when she came down the stairs. She smiled happily and twirled around.
"Definitely hot," her husband nodded approvingly.
"You look pretty good yourself, buster." In fact he did look handsome in his best uniform.
At the hotel where the event was taking place, they entered the ballroom and did their best to ignore the whispers that sprung up when they passed. At first Susan wanted to crawl in a hole, but then decided to herself that she wouldn't give anyone the satisfaction. Dennis' Sergeant and Captain and their wives greeted them cordially, allowing Susan to relax a bit. Looking around, neither of them saw Pat.