by Pat Marinelli

Officer Peter Jannelli called dispatch for the third time. “Where’s my backup?”

He heard the female dispatcher choking back laughter. “Help’s on the way. Can’t handle a couple of cows, huh?”

“These animals are huge, and they out number our entire police force. He stood at the driver-side door of his police cruiser parked on the shoulder on Route 202 and stared at the three cows surrounding the hood. Two more peered in the passenger window. Another dozen moseyed around. Several others wandered onto the highway.

Jannelli shook his head. He’d left the city to serve and protect in suburbia, but it never occurred to him that a herd of cows would block the major highway during morning rush hour. This was a traffic nightmare.

The drivers of the vehicles heading east were lined up for half a mile. They’d all be late for work if he didn’t do something. News helicopters swarmed overhead. Most of the drivers milled around either pointing to the eye in the sky or the cows, laughing while Jannelli had horrific visions of appearing as a cow-chasing law enforcement officer on the nightly news. He hoped the reporters couldn’t track down his name. He’d hate to add national notoriety to the hazing he’d face back at the station. These kinds of situations made for a life-long reputation he’d never live down.

Glancing to the westbound lane where only two cars waited, he spotted an unmarked vehicle that pulled off the road and parked. A woman slipped from the car. At his six foot two, she stood almost eye-level with him.

He met her as she opened her car’s trunk. “Detective Parker,” he said. “I can’t believe they sent a robbery/homicide detective. Where’s Animal Control?”

She offered her hand. “Sorry, Officer, I’m the closest unit available for support. Walk with me.”

“Walk? We gotta get these cows off the highway.”

This wasn’t the first time he’d worked with her. He’d been the first officer on the scene at a home break-in and when she showed up, he’d fallen in love. He wished he’d gotten the courage to ask her out. Only his position had stopped him. She outranked him.

“You have boots in that cruiser?” Detective Parker asked, jamming her feet into an ugly pair of knee-high, black rubber fishing boots. Then she put on a long denim duster, reminding him of a stagecoach bandit in an old western movie.

“In the trunk. Why?” he asked, as she headed for his vehicle.

“We have to round up this herd. You need boots to walk in cow pastures. Come on, Officer, don’t tell me you don’t know we have to walk these cows home?”

“Hey, I’m a city guy who knows little about animals and nothing about cows.” He pulled his boots on while she hustled a cow from sniffing inside the cruiser’s trunk.

“Well, trust me, I grew up with them.” The Detective circled his car and the cow that wanted to check out the trunk followed her. She petted another cow lounging its chin on the car’s hood. “I think this one’s in love, Jannelli.”

“Don’t tell the reporter. It’ll make the evening news.”

Parker laughed. He loved the sound of her laughter. The second cow joined the first. Finally booted up, Jannelli joined her crossing the highway into the field. Applause sounded behind them. Jannelli glanced back to see drivers wave and then get back into their vehicles as the rest of the cows continued into the muddy pasture. “I can’t believe they’re following us,” he said incredulously.

“Works every time.” She smiled. “Get the first to go and the rest will follow.”

Later that night Officer Jannelli and Detective Parker sat in the sports bar sharing pizza with most of their shift. Their fellow officers whooped and cheered at a news reporter broadcasting while showing the chopper’s tape of Jannelli, in full uniform, chasing after the duster-clad figure leading cows off the road.

“I’m glad I can’t hear what the anchor is saying,” Jannelli said quietly.

“Oh, they got your name.” Detective Parker grinned. “Saw it the first time they aired it.”

Jannelli winced. “I was hoping to avoid that. But I guess I have to look at the bright side.”

“There’s a bright side?”

“Sure, we had our first date — a walk in the field.” He ticked off with his fingers. “And … it was on national television. And … no one at the station even knows we’re dating.”

“We’re dating?” she asked.

“Yep.” He pointed to his plate and grinned. “Pizza is our second date.” He gestured toward the TV. “If you stretch it a little, that’s almost like watching a movie, our third date.”

“Wow, three dates in one day.” Parker laughed and placed her folded hands under her chin. “I can’t wait to see what you’ve planned for the fourth date.”

Jannelli slid his chair closer. “I’ll tell you this much, it won’t be on TV and there won’t be any cows around.”

Pat Marinelli, a 2011 Philadelphia Writers’ Conference finalist in the romance category, lives in central New Jersey.

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