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Car Keys

Another Officer Vetter

September 2002
last modified October 6, 2002

by Amy R.

PG.  Please see the endnote for disclaimers, credits, and all that good stuff.  This fanfiction is a tribute to the television series Forever Knight.


1990  Toronto


        Barbara leaned back in the long lawnchair and tried not to think too far beyond the moment here on her back patio, under the rustling leaves on a sunny summer Sunday.  She folded one hand over a book she wasn't really reading and trailed the other along the little tray table supporting her special iced tea.

        Her husband Richard was out golfing again, or so he said.  The house seemed airy and empty in a time-stopped way, as years ago when Richard had been driving patrol and Tracy, their only child, in school, while Barbara waited here alone for their return to her.  She sipped her drink, slowly, since time was not passing on its own.

        A squirrel dashed across the small, flat lawn cut into the hillside backing the house, hesitated at the concrete patio, then scampered up the birch tree immediately overhead, his cheeks bulging with seeds.  He had secured what he needed most in multiple caches all over the yard.  Even if one went astray, he'd never be left alone, with none.  Wise squirrel.

        But Tracy had taken that business analyst job after all, thank goodness, going full time right after graduation this spring.  A nice, safe, promising, office career.  So what if it bored her baby out of her mind?  Tracy would get used to it.  Surely anyone could get used to it.  Yet, the Vetter itch did stalk Tracy through nature and nurture alike, with her grandfather, father, uncles and two of her cousins all in law enforcement.  Richard had always assumed Tracy would join them.  Barbara wholeheartedly wished she would not.

        Society only grudgingly acknowledged the hard, dangerous sacrifices her husband the peace officer laid on the altar of the public good every day.  And Richard, in turn, only obliquely acknowledged the sacrifices she made, in long, lonely nights as he took care of the rest of the world, and in harsh, hollow days as she wondered if that morning's good-bye kiss would be their last.  Grin and bear it.  Suck it down, suck it up, suck it in.  Serve and protect.  Why should she offer up her daughter, too?

        Barbara sipped her drink and turned over the book.  Had she read this one before?  It was hard to tell, when they all seemed so much the same.  But the afternoon sun came warm and gentle through the birch leaves, shifting shadows on her taupe slacks and sandal-bared toes, and it didn't really matter.

        The mismatched courses with which Tracy had filled her college years -- pre-med, pre-law, computers, one new taste after another -- had finally yielded a bachelor's degree.  Tracy had done well enough in every course she tried, and Barbara had hoped each time that this was it, this was the path less traveled than the Vetter destiny.  If only Tracy would dream a new dream!  Her bright, beautiful daughter was her accomplishment in life, and she didn't even get to sign the work in her own name.

        But Tracy had taken the analyst position, Barbara thought with satisfaction.  And Richard had barely even objected, confident that she would "come around soon," as he said.

        "Dad?  Mom?"  A faint echo of the front door's opening preceded Tracy's voice straight up the split-level stairs, through the dining room and out the screen door to the patio.

        At the sound, Barbara left her book on the lawnchair and strode into the kitchen to refill her tea just from the pitcher.  She brought her freshly darkened drink as she met Tracy on the staircase.  "You're early for dinner," Barbara teased, looking directly into her taller daughter's blue eyes as she stopped one step above, taking in the standard weekend uniform of jeans, t-shirt and tennis shoes.  Tracy so rarely came home on the spur of the moment, and never without reason.

        "I can't stay, Mom.  John's out in the car and I have to drop him off.  I just wanted to, um, tell you something."  Tracy tossed her feathered blonde hair nervously.  "Dad isn't at work, is he?"

        "Even newly-appointed Police Commissioners do generally get Sunday afternoons off," Barbara agreed.  "No, he's golfing again -- with your cousin Chris, I think."

        "Chris?"  Tracy looked nonplussed.  "I thought Chris was staying with Uncle Sonny while Aunt Carol went on that church retreat thing?"

        Barbara shrugged and sipped her drink.  She hadn't known Carol was away.  But Richard had never yet failed to have an explanation.  A plausible, verifiable, incontestable explanation.

        "Golf takes forever.  I wonder who Dad found to stay with Uncle Sonny while they're out?"  Tracy fretted.  "Maybe we should call."

        "Never mind, honey.  I'm sure your dad has it under control."

        "Yeah.  Still--" Tracy sighed, but seemed to let it go.  Then she wrinkled her nose.  "Um, Mom?  How about I go whip you up some of that iced coffee I was telling you about?  It's a great summer drink, and it'll take just a sec."

        "No.  Thank you, baby, but I'm fine."  Barbara gestured widely, coincidentally pulling her glass out of Tracy's reach and blocking the stairs up.  "What's going on with you?"

        "Well, I'd thought Dad would be here, but . . ."  Tracy turned and descended to the front room, a beige and white extension of the entrance foyer, a showcase impossible to grace with the word "living."  Real family living used to happen downstairs in Richard's den or upstairs in Barbara's kitchen, rarely in this formal no-man's-land on the landing between.  Barbara followed, and watched Tracy seat herself stiffly in the middle of the pillowless sofa, rather than her usual perch in a corner.  "I've got some news," Tracy continued.  "Good news!  I mean, to me it's good, and I hope you and Dad, too, um, on average . . ."

        Barbara took the armchair cornering the couch and set her drink on a coaster on the glass coffee table.  Concerned but not worried, she remembered when Tracy confessed to trying out for high-school cheerleading without a permission slip, wanting to present both parents a fait accompli, half so neither could push her into something else, and half so neither could be disappointed in her if she failed.  "Well?"

        Tracy pulled two keys out of her pocket and placed them on another coaster on the coffee table.  "I'm returning the Toyota."


        "I bought a car."

        "Oh, honey."  Barbara caught her breath.  Delighted but dismayed, she didn't know what to say.  Richard had given that red Toyota to Tracy when she entered college -- still registered in his name.  Like many of his gifts, the car came wrapped in such tight strings that you were more likely to get tied in them yourself than untangle them from the present.  Tracy was cutting this string.  Richard would be furious -- and so confused.  He remained oblivious to how he wound them all in to himself, and what it took to pull away.

        Pointing at the surrendered keys, Tracy explained, "It's parked out front -- on the street, by the hedges, not blocking Dad's garage side.  Mine's across the way.  When I said John was waiting for me in the car, I meant my own, new car.  It's a done deal," Tracy asserted watchfully, as if she half expected an override.  Then she turned persuasive.  "It's a Ford Taurus, anti-lock brakes, dual airbags, excellent safety, ten kilometers per liter, five-year financing . . .  I got a good deal.  Really."

        Barbara recognized Tracy's attempt to sway her to her side.  It was brave, deciding and acting something of this magnitude without Richard, but Tracy wasn't any more used to it than Barbara herself.  Richard really did know so much about so many things, and he truly did want what was best for them, so it had always been their way to let him choose the way.  Barbara leaned forward and stretched her arm to briefly press her daughter's hand.  "Tracy, this is wonderful.  You know your dad will . . .  But I think it's wonderful.  Can we go look?"

        A grin lit Tracy's face.  "Come on!"  She leapt up and sprinted through the still-open front door.

        Barbara stood, looked out the plate-glass windows, and spotted the new blue sedan parked across the street.  The dark-haired young man standing next to it -- John? -- looked unobtrusively ordinary in black jeans and a white dress-shirt.  Barbara followed Tracy out and down the steep driveway.

        "Mrs. Vetter," the young man nodded politely.

        "Pleased to meet you," Barbara nodded back, suppressing a smile and shudder alike at the exotic tattoos she could now see snaking up under his cuffs and around his neck.  Where did Tracy come across these people?

        "Oh," Tracy realized.  "John, this is my mom, Barbara Vetter.  Mom, this is John Mercier, Yuki's boyfriend."  Yuki was Tracy's new roommate, since Jody moved out.  "He drove my Taurus over so I could bring Dad's Toyota and leave it here.  So, what do you think?"  She stepped back and self-consciously gestured at the car, not unlike a spokesmodel on a game show.

        Barbara politely looked all around the vehicle as Tracy displayed an automotive expertise she'd never expected, and the relentless precision she knew very well.  Half-proud, half-pleading, Tracy extolled cargo capacity, explained wheelbase width, and justified the above-baseline V-6 engine for the otherwise unavailable ABS.  Barbara wondered if Tracy secretly hoped that she could reconvey this all to Richard, convincing him, or at least softening his inevitable objections.  When Tracy insisted she try the driver's seat, Barbara finally found things on which she could comment knowledgeably in the dual cup holders under the central armrest, and the floor brake Tracy insisted freed so much interior space, compared to a traditional hand brake.  But when Tracy moved to open the hood, Barbara gently declined.

        "I wouldn't even know what I was seeing, honey."  Barbara stepped up onto the sidewalk.  "I do believe you know, though, if you had any doubts."

        "Thanks, Mom."

        "You've done tremendous research, and it does sound like an excellent deal, as far as I can tell.  And I'm so happy -- and proud -- you're doing this on your own.  I really am."  She hesitated.  Good decision or bad, Tracy's willingness to make it heartened Barbara, spinning fantasies of other decisions, made the way Barbara most wished.  But.  "You are going to have to come back and show your dad.  For all it's still in his name, you know he didn't think of the Toyota as a loan."

        "Yeah.  I know."

        John coughed lightly.

        Tracy looked at her watch.  "Oh, wow.  Mom, John's too nice to say it, but he's already practically late for picking up Yuki and getting to his parents' for a family dinner.  We've got to get going . . . um, I did have one more piece of news."  She smiled nervously and sought out Barbara's eyes after a covert glance at John.  Almost placatingly, Tracy began, "This will help ease up the car thing with Dad, if he doesn't already know.  You can tell him he was right.  Mom -- I've been accepted to the Academy."

        "What?"  No.  No, no.

        "The Police Academy.  Mom, I've really thought about this.  It's almost all I've thought about this summer.  This is the right choice for me.  I know it.  The analyst job was just . . .  They've accepted my resignation.  I'm leaving at the end of the month, and I'll go into the Academy with the next class, which gives me a week off between.  Mom?"

        Barbara could not find anything to say.  Her ears pounded.  She stared up at her daughter.  Castles in the air crumbled.

        "I'll be a good cop, Mom."

        You would have been a good anything, Barbara did not say.  "I know you will, baby."

        Tracy hugged her, fleetingly and awkwardly, then drove off with John.  Barbara patted the discarded Toyota on her way past, retrieved her glass, and emptied it in the sink on her way to a refill.  She skipped the iced tea entirely this time.

        The sun had not moved noticeably before Richard came into the dining room and dropped a quick kiss on her forehead where she sat at the foot of the empty table.  Of course, as slowly as the sun flowed in summer, hours passed like minutes and minutes like hours.  Sundials belong on the equator.

        "I saw Tracy's car out front and thought maybe I'd forgotten some event," Richard began quietly, "but then I spotted these on the coffee table."  He slid the keys across the polished wood to clink lightly against her glass, now empty.  "And you're in here with . . .  What’s going on, Barb?"

        "Tracy's fine," she said.  That was the first thing, the most important thing.  Tracy wouldn't become a police officer for quite some time yet.  She might still change her mind.  Please let her change her mind.

        After a silent moment, Richard disappeared through the swinging kitchen door.  A faucet gush and button click signaled coffee starting.  "Did you argue?"  Richard prompted, still quietly, as he returned to the dining room.

        "No.  Nothing like that.  Tracy just had some news for us."  Barbara looked up at him.  "Good news and bad news.  Could you close the back door for me, dear?  It's chillier than I thought."

        "What news?"  Richard didn't move.

        Barbara reluctantly stood, then crossed the room and slid the glass door shut herself.  She pulled the curtains over it, clasping the wrong cord on the first try and accidentally opening them wider before sealing off the view.  "Tracy bought a new car.  So she doesn't need the Toyota anymore."

        Richard absorbed that like a punch, first leaning slightly forward, then drawing himself up to his full six feet one inch and crossing his tanned arms over his green polo shirt.  "What kind of new car?"

        "A blue Ford sedan.  It seems very safe, and a very good deal -- special for new graduates, you know."

        "You don't know anything about cars, Barb!  For goodness sakes.  And neither does Tracy.  What was she thinking?"  He began pacing along the sideboard, muttering about lemon laws, and shooting off rapid-fire financial and automotive questions Barbara couldn't answer.  She watched him gather himself to charge right over to Tracy's apartment unannounced, determined to save her from herself.  Suddenly, he stopped.  He let his arms drop to his sides.  "Why didn't she come to me?  If she wanted a new car, why didn't she just ask me?"

        Barbara immediately came over and let him enfold her.  "I'm sure she didn't mean anything by it," she assured him.  "I think she only wanted to surprise us.  She did an awful lot of research, dear, really."  Barbara didn't point out that their daughter was at least theoretically an adult, and surely free to make her own decisions; Tracy would have to raise that argument herself.

        "I suppose we just have to let them make their own mistakes sometimes."  He let out a long breath as he pulled back from the brief embrace.  "Like when she went out for cheerleading instead of track in high school.  What a waste.  Is there anything else I should know before I call to see what I can salvage from her little adventure?"

        Barbara didn't want to make it real by putting it into words.  So, instead, she asked, "Who stayed with Sonny while you and Chris golfed?"

        "Oh, Sonny came with us."

        "What?  But the doctors said --"

        "Not this again, Barb!"  Richard stalked away toward the kitchen.  "It was just a heart attack.  People have them every day.  My brother is going to be fine."

        "Of course he is," Barbara soothed.  Sonny had heart disease, they had recently discovered, and was still convalescing from a double bypass.  He would indeed be fine, if everything went well, but there were a lot of things that had to go well over which none of them had any control.  Her husband couldn't stand that.  Sonny and his wife seemed to find some strength in their faith; Barbara wished she understood how that worked.  Richard preferred a holiday sort of religion that stayed out of his way in the everyday business of life.

        "He didn't play, you know," Richard said abruptly.  "I rented one of those carts with the sun shades, and carried my car phone, all charged up.  Sonny stayed in the cart and kept score."

        "Did you all have fun?"

        "Yeah."  Richard relaxed and smiled.  "Yeah, I had a good afternoon, and here you were, stuck getting upsetting news from Tracy.  Hardly fair.  I'm going to give her a call, pour us some java, and then get Chinese food delivered, all right?"  He stepped through the swinging door into the kitchen, wafting out the scent of dripping coffee.

        Barbara sat back down at the table and buried her face in her hands.  The thunderous whoop of sheer joy identified precisely when Tracy gave him the other news.  The Vetter tradition continued, stronger than her, stronger than her daughter.  Nothing stopped it except death.  Of course that was always a possibility.

        With Richard out of the room, Barbara refilled her glass.





  • Disclaimers

    • James Parriot and Barney Cohen created the fantasy television program Forever Knight.  The Sony Corporation owns it.  It sometimes airs on the SciFi Channel in the USA and the SPACE Channel in Canada.  I intend no infringement Please support Sony, SciFi and SPACE in all their Forever Knight endeavors!

    • All characters and situations in this fiction piece are entirely fictional.  Any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.

  • Citations

    • "... pre-med, pre-law, computers: anything but another Officer Vetter." -- Tracy, "Blackwing"

    • "Maybe that's why I always used to run to my dad for advice.  I couldn't make decisions, 'cause he'd never let me learn how." -- Tracy, "Strings"

    • "You know how much trouble the drinking caused you and Dad?"
      ". . . [I]t wasn't because of my drinking that your father wound up in bed with. ...  I wanted something else for you, something better.  I didn't want to worry about you, too.  I was sick with worrying."
      "So you drank and made yourself sicker."
      "... You like to think you're your own person, don't you Tracy?  Well, you are not.  And you never will be.  You are your father's person.  That's why you're a cop, Tracy.  He made you what he wanted you to be.  And you never had a choice." -- Tracy and Barbara, "Avenging Angel"

    • Tracy drives a blue Ford Taurus with "dual airbags, ABS" and "great mileage" that she "picked" herself (Vachon, "Black Buddha").  According to Jim Mateja of the Chicago Tribune (11/27/89), Ford first introduced the Taurus in 1985; in 1990, Taurus added an ABS option in its GL and higher models, and became the top-selling car in the Chicago market.  Unable to pinpoint the canonical model year of Tracy's car, I assigned it 1990 for this story's purposes.

  • Credits

    • My thanks go to my test audience members for their generous assistance.  Mary vigilantly checked the first draft's canon with her third-season expertise.  Shelley made time to read and respond to it when I was going crazy for lack of audience.  And Elisabeth challenged the story to substantive improvement in the final draft, for which I thank her even more than for her indispensably meticulous proofreading.

    • Please do not archive, post or distribute this piece.  Please just link to it on my own site, instead.  I wrote "Another Officer Vetter" in August and September 2002.

    • Thank you for readingI always appreciate comments and constructive criticismPlease email me or comment on my LiveJournal or Dreamwidth.

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