Vendetta

by Talaran

Part 4

(www.talaransrealm.com)

Disclaimers: This is my first attempt at fan fiction. It is Uber fiction and it is set in the current time in the fictional city of Larson (think similar to Boston, but a little smaller scale.)

The two main characters, and I think you know who they remind us of, meet under difficult circumstances. Eventually they succumb to the strong bond that they share. There will be sexual interactions in this story as it unfolds. If this type of material disturbs you, you may wish to read something other than this story.


Part 4

Sunlight streamed through the small slit in the window curtain, tracing a direct line across the bed, where Carly slept soundly. The cat, still in the same position, was snuggled firmly next to the small blonde. The ĎDo Not Disturbí sign on the door knob kept the maids away from the room and since only the hospital knew they were there, there was little chance of the phone waking them.

Meeoow. Meeoowww. Nic woke with a start. She bolted up in bed, darting her head left, then right in search of the sound. She turned her head back, seeing the small, black cat on the other side of her roommate. Wiping her sweaty brow with the back of her hand she got of bed and padded into the bathroom. Drawing a cool glass of water, she downed it, then refilled it and downed another. After closing the door, she flipped the light on and peered at her reflection. "Man, Nic, youíre losing it!" she said to the mirror image. The nightmare she had was a replay of last nightís attack, but this time she was not victorious. She shuddered at the thought and tried to force it from her mind. But the image wouldnít recede. CarlyÖlying in a pool of blood, two gunshots in her chest. Nic closed her eyes as the image took hold of her mind. She shook her head, violently to eradicate the picture. Her eyes shot open. Turning on the cold water tap she splashed handfuls of water on her weary face. A knock on the bathroom door almost made her jump out of her skin.

"Nic, is everything all right?"

Nic ran her hands through her hair and dried her face before poking her head out of the door. "Yes, Iím fine."

Carly eyed her suspiciously, "Are you sure?"

"Yes, Carly, Iím sure. What time is it anyway?" Nic folded the towel and casually sauntered out of the bathroom.

Standing by the closet with her arms folded, Carly still wasnít convinced Nic was okay. "Itís nearly ten. Why donít we call the hospital?"

"Good idea. Iíll do that now. Go ahead and jump in the shower if you want." Nic picked up the phone and dialed the number.

Carly had the feeling that Nic was hiding something, she just wasnít sure what. She seemed a bit agitated. Carly studied her while she gathered her bathroom necessities. Nic played with the ring on her thumb, sliding it on and off, while she waited on the phone. The ring was a beautiful silver band with a black flame-like design that covered it entirely.

"Okay, thanks for the information." Nic hung up the phone. "Jimmy is doing fine. He awoke in the middle of the night, briefly. Right now he is still sleeping. Though the nurse said she suspected he would be awake soon."

Carly let out a sigh, "Thank God! I canít wait to talk to him." Carly walked to the bathroom door, "I wonít be long. Do you want to order some breakfast?"

"Yeah, sounds good. Anything special?"

"Surprise me," she replied, smiling as she entered the bathroom.

Fifteen minutes later Carly emerged from the steamy bathroom pleased to find Nic lounging on the bed perusing the Sunday paper. "And just where did you get that?"

Nic looked at her smaller companion. She was wearing a white, terry cloth robe and her head was wrapped up in a peach colored towel. Rosy cheeks, from the heat of the shower, gave her a healthy glow. Nic gulped. She had relaxed considerably while Carly showered, but now the site of this woman caused her heart to race. Suddenly the dream she had been having prior to last nightís attack came swiftly back to her mind. They were in Nicís hot tub. Carly looked amazing, her blonde hair damp and clinging to her neck and shoulders. Her cheeks red and her eyesÖthose mesmerizing green eyes, were dark with desire. Carly wasnít wearing anything and neither was Nic. Then Carly slowly closed the distance between them. There were mere inches between them and Nic felt like she would die if she didnít touch Carly. Just when she was about to do what her heart ached her to do she awoke to a cat on her chest. Now that image was back.

"Nic, did you hear me?"

Nicís eyes fluttered, "Oh. Sorry. Guess I was lost in thought. What did you say?"

"I asked where you got the paper from?"

"They left it outside the door. I saw it when I went to remove the ĎDo Not Disturbí sign." She forced her eyes back to the paper. A knock on the door signaled the arrival of breakfast. Nic got up. "Iíll get it. Why donít you take Harley into the bathroom."

"Okay," Carly agreed, picking up the cat, which was quite busy cleaning every inch of itself.

Nic surveyed the breakfast before dismissing the waiter and rapping on the bathroom door to signal Carly. Nic had every hope that Carly would get dressed while she was in there, but that hope faded when Carly padded out with her bathrobe still on. Damn, Nic thought, now I have to try to get through breakfast.

********************************

Frank Torelli knocked on the door to the library and waited. He adjusted his tie and flicked some lint from the shoulder of his black suit. Finally he heard his boss respond so he entered. Victor Marcone was pacing on the balcony, which overlooked the grounds. A cool breeze filtered into the cavernous room. The sun was inching its way into the sky, painting the few clouds that hung on the horizon a pale pink.

"Well?" Victor halted his steps and stared into Frankís eyes.

"Iím afraid there still is no sign of him. Weíve hit all the known locals, but itís like he vanished."

Victor clenched his jaw, then resumed his pacing. Back and forth, back and forth. Frank stood by and awaited instructions. It had been a long time since he had seen his boss this upset. Victor stopped mid-stride, "That little shit has to be somewhere and I want him found!" Frank flinched at the angry fire in Victorís eyes. When Victor was this angry no one was safe. "Do you hear me Frankie? I donít care how many men it takes. I want that fuck brought to me! Now go!"

Frank bobbed his head in acknowledgment and quickly retreated from his bossís wrath. Before he made it to the door he heard a flowerpot crash to the floor. He decided heíd better tell the maid some major cleanup would be required up here later.

*************************************

Paul Mahoney reluctantly opened a bleary eye and groped the nightstand for the source of his irritation. The voluptuous body sprawled next to him didnít stir, completely oblivious to the ringing of the telephone. "Mahoney," he stated, gruffly.

"Paul, itís Tom." He straightened up upon hearing the tone of concern in his partnerís voice. Paul knew he wasnít calling to setup a racquetball game. He noted the clock read nine fifteen. "Listen, somebody tried to whack Stone last night."

Hearing this Paul pulled himself from the bed. "Who? When?"

"I donít have the specifics, yet. A Lieutenant Crandall at the 45th notified me. Seems that Raimes contacted them, informing them that if anything happened at Stoneís residence to inform us about it."

Paul paced back and forth, rubbing his eyes with his free hand. "Well, I take the person wasnít successful, right?"

Tom Sanders cleared his throat, "Yeah, right, they werenít. >From what I heard there were two perps, one got away, the other one is dead."

Paulís lips slid into a slight grin. He wondered what had prevented Stone from killing them both. Her reputation was well known throughout the department. She was a damn good cop, but a little on the reckless side. If you went up against her winding up dead was a real possibility. "Has the body been identified?"

"Well thatís where we come in. There was no ID on the body so we need to get somebody down to the morgue to run the prints, ASAP."

"Terrific," Mahoney sighed. He looked down at the brunette. The bed sheet exposed one long, well-toned leg. He swallowed hard. Oh, well, duty calls, he thought. "Where is Stone, now?"

Sanders finished the last of his morning coffee and placed the mug in the sink. "My guess would be at the hospital. Iíll be by to pick you up in ten minutes." Sanders disconnected, leaving Paul no other option than to trudge off to the bathroom.

 

*************************************

The Sunday morning traffic was light, allowing Nic to navigate the normally busy streets easily and make it to the hospital in fifteen minutes. Breakfast had been a quiet affair. Nic had tried her best to keep her mind off of the dream she had last night. She knew Carly was aware that something was wrong, so she made several attempts at small talk, none very successful. Nic wasnít sure herself, what was going on inside her. Too many things, big things, had happened in too short a period of time. She needed to clear her head and concentrate on who was after her and Jimmy. As the pair exited the elevator they spotted Doctor Austin leaving Jimmyís room. They caught him before he slipped into the next room. His report relieved them both. Jimmy was making good progress and he would be moved from ICU sometime on Monday or Tuesday. Carly was so happy she hugged him, taking him quite by surprise, though he did return the hug with a warm ĎYour welcomeí.

Entering the hospital room they were both grinning like fools when Jimmy opened his eyes. Carly couldnít suppress the tears of joy that gushed forth at seeing him. Placing her hands on Carlyís shoulders Nic eased her further into the room. Jimmy blinked several times, wetness appearing in his own eyes. Then he looked at Nic and smiled a silent Ďthank youí and Nic knew what he was thanking her for.

Dabbing her eyes, Carly placed her hand on Jimmyís arm, rubbing it gently. "Jimmy, you scared the hell out of usÖbut I am so thankful that youíre going to be all right." She brushed back his sandy brown hair with her hand, letting it linger on his brow for a moment.

His throat was so dry he croaked when he spoke, "Sorry, squirt."

Carly poured some water into a cup and held it to his lips. He managed a few sips before laying his weary head back down. "Donít you be sorry about anything. You just get better."

Nic struggled to keep her emotions in check. Even when the doctor had told them yesterday that Jimmy would recover, she still had a fear that they might lose him. An old wound, she thought long healed, now seemed as fresh as ever. "Hey, partner, how are you feeling?"

"Like someoneÖ ran over meÖ with a dump truck." He lifted his head, indicating he wanted more water, which Carly immediately gave him. "Did you catch the guy?"

Nic mulled over the response she should give him. "No, not yet, Jimmy, but Sanders and Mahoney are working on it." There was no need to let Jimmy know about last nightís attack, especially when she had no proof the two incidents were connected, though she knew they had to be. The man she shot was certainly involved, but she didnít know if he was the triggerman. It could have been the bastard that knocked Carly to the floor. "Jimmy, did you see anything that night? Anything at all?"

His brows knitted as he tried to remember that evening. It was all too foggy. He shook his head slowly. "I donít remember anythingÖ past saying good night to Vinny."

"Síalright, Jimmy, weíll get him. Just rest, now."

A nurse bustled into the room and tapped her wristwatch. "Iím afraid thatís got to be it for now. This young man needs his rest."

Reluctantly the pair exited the room after Carly kissed her brotherís forehead. Back in the hallway Nic spoke with the cop on duty and was informed that the previous evening had been a quiet one. He hadnít seen anything unusual. Satisfied with this Nic invited Carly to join her in the cafeteria for a cup of coffee, which she quickly accepted.

The cafeteria was mildly busy for a late Sunday morning. Several of the kitchen staff were shifting into lunch mode. After getting their coffee they managed to find a quiet table near the large windows that looked out onto the grounds behind the hospital. A rabbit, brown with a fluffy white tail, peeked out from under a nearby bush and twitched its tiny pink nose. Carly spotted the creature first, then eagerly directed Nicís attention to it. Once satisfied that it was in no imminent danger it hopped out and sniffed at the sun soaked grass.

Nic took a drink of her steaming coffee, enjoying the taste, as well as the warmth. "Carly, we need to talk about a few things."

Carly, her hands wrapped around her own coffee mug, looked into Nicís pale blue eyes. "Sure, what about?"

The dark haired woman, having a feeling Carly would not be too enthusiastic about her idea, averted her eyes back to the tabletop. "Well, because of what happened at the house last night you know it wonít be safe for either of us to stay there, at least not until I get an alarm system installed." Carly nodded. "And now that they, whoever they are, have come after me, Iím going to need to do some investigating," she looked into the jade eyes, "soÖI would like you to stay with a couple of friends of mine." There she got it all out. Now all she had to do was wait for the rebuttal.

Carly brought the mug to her lips, never taking her eyes off of Nic. She took a long, slow sip and contemplated the proposal. "Nic I donít need babysitters."

Here we go, Nic thought. "Thatís not what this is."

"Isnít it? You donít think Iím capable of taking care of myself."

Nic clenched her jaw in frustration. Taking a deep breath she regarded the young woman who sat across from her. In some ways, she reminded Nic of Jessie, her younger sister. "Carly that is simply not true. I just donít want anything," she looked deeply into those jade eyes, imploring them to listen, "anything to happen to you. I couldnít live with myself if it did."

Carly held the clear blue eyes with her own. She wanted to know if Nic felt this way simply because she was Jimmyís kid sister or if she cared about her well being because she, too, was starting to feel the same unexplainable attraction. She bit her lip. Decisions, decisions. "Is that only because Iím Jimmyís sister?"

Nic looked like sheíd just been stabbed, the pained expression so clearly etched on her face. "No. Itís not just because you are Jimmyís sister. I like you, Carly. I donít make friends very easily, but the ones that I have, I value." Sheepish eyes gazed at her.

Dropping her head Carly closed her eyes. God she felt like an insensitive ass, but on the flip side she did get the response she was after. Nic did care. She could see it in her brilliant eyes. Tentatively she slid her hand across the table and captured the strong fingers of her companion. "Iím apologize for that Nic. That was completely uncalled for." She studied Nicís hand. A few short hours ago this hand had saved both their lives. "Iíll stay wherever you want." Carly rubbed her thumb lightly over the back of Nicís hand. "I wonít pretend that I like the idea, but if you think it is best, Iíll go along with it." Looking up she returned the smile she was getting.

"Thank you." She gave Carlyís hand a squeeze. "You probably arenít in any danger, but I donít think we should take any chances. Can you keep Harley with you? I canít keep hiding her in hotel rooms."

"Sure. And just where will you be staying?"

Nic took comfort in the contact. The closer they got the more electrifying it felt. "Since they are after me Iím not too sure. Iíll probably change locations frequently, but Iíll still see you here at the hospital."

"And what makes you think they wonít try something here?" Blonde brows rose.

"I think the chances are good that they wonít, at least not during normal hours. Thatís the whole point of having Jimmy under twenty four-hour guard. If they try something, itíll be when there is less staff and visitors around."

Carly continued rubbing her thumb over the back of Nicís hand. "So are you at least going to tell me your friendsí names?"

A smile formed on Nicís face. Carly wondered if Nic knew how beautiful she was, especially when she smiled. "I suppose I can divulge that information," she replied, getting a smile in return. "Susan Blaine and Liz Chandler. Susan and I have been friends since college."

"Is Liz her roommate?" Carly inquired, releasing Nicís hand and picking up her coffee mug.

Nic was not sure how to handle that so she just went with plain old honesty. "Liz is Susanís significant other." Nic eyed Carly trying to gauge her reaction. She didnít know if Jimmy had ever mentioned her sexual preference to his sister. Carly didnít even look surprised by the statement.

"How long have they been together?" Carly had the feeling she was being tested on her responses.

"About four years. Iíll give Sue a call when we get back upstairs."

"Sounds good. I canít wait to meet them." Carly noticed the raised eyebrow across from her. Just what is going through your mind, Nicole?

******************************

Returning to the ICU waiting room, Nic excused herself to go check on the scum ball they put in the hospital Friday night. He has been moved to a private room on the fifth floor and was still in a coma. Though he was not on life support, other vital functions were still being monitored. An older police officer sat outside his room and perused the morning paper. Nic flashed her badge as she approached. The officer informed her that no one, other than the nurses and the doctor had been in to see Gato. She talked with the duty nurse and discovered, to her regret, that the scum ball could be in a coma for God knows how long. Hell, he could wake up in five minutes or five years. Thanking the nurse for her time Nic slipped a piece of gum into her mouth and started chewing. Spotting a phone on her way to the stair well she decided to give Susan a call. After several rings someone finally picked up.

"Hello." Nic instantly recognized Lizís voice.

"Hi, Liz. Itís Nic."

"Hey, Niki! Howís it going?"

"Well, letís just say Iíve had better weekends."

Her friendís tone worried Liz. "Why, whatís been happening?"

Nic furrowed her brows, "Havenít you been reading the papers?"

"Actually Sue and I just got back. We took the train to Philadelphia Thursday morning. I still canít believe I got Sue to take a couple of days off."

"Well that explains why I havenít gotten a call from you two." An orderly passed, pushing an empty gurney.

Liz wondered just what had been going on. "So fill me in."

Nic thought about where to begin. "WellÖletís seeÖlate Friday night, after Jimmy and I busted up a drug deal going down in a warehouse on the south side, Jimmy was shot."

Liz was so stunned she nearly fell into the chair that sat next to the phone stand. It took a few seconds for the statement to register. "Is he all right?"

"Heís in the hospital," Nic replied. She ran her fingers through over her forehead and through her hair. "He took two bullets, but the doc says heís gonna make it." She heard the relieved sigh. Nic proceeded to recount the previous eveningís activities to a startled Liz. After hearing the disturbing account Liz readily agreed to come to the hospital and pick up Carly. Sue had gone to the office against Lizís protests, so Liz would come alone. Nic thanked her and returned to the waiting room to find Carly engrossed in an episode of the Cosby show.

Carly didnít even see Nic enter the room so she noticeably jumped when Nic deposited herself next to her on the loveseat. She admonished Nic with a light slap to the leg. "Donít scare me like that!"

A smile curled Nicís lips. "Well, donít get so involved in what youíre watching." She snapped her gum in emphasis.

The scent of cinnamon hit Carly. "Hmph!" She eyed her tall friend for a moment. "So did you get everything done?"

"Yeah, more or less. The guy that we busted Fridays is still comatose and I talked to Liz. Sheíll be over in an hour or so. Have you gone back in to see Jimmy?"

"No. The nurse said we could in half an hour."

"Well, fill me in on what Iíve missed, since it seems that Iíll be watching it." Carly looked into sparkling blue eyes and smiled.

*************************************

 

Liz navigated the early afternoon traffic with ease. With only a little more than a month before Christmas the holiday shoppers were starting to get serious. She parked her cherry red Celica in the lot and immediately spied the black Xterra parked a few spaces away. Though she didnít care much for SUVs the Xterra was a sharp looking beast, with its sleek black exterior, and it was a perfect compliment to its owner. Liz was eager to meet Carly, especially when she detected the change in Nicís voice when she talked about her. Liz usually had a sixth sense about these things. She pondered their earlier conversation as she made her way to ICU.

The ICU waiting room was nestled just down the hall from the elevators on the fourth floor of St. Peterís hospital. A small television set, currently tuned to a MASH rerun, sat on a TV stand in the corner of the room. A sofa and loveseat, in matching blue leather and two straight back chairs offered visitors a view of the TV or the spacious grounds at the rear of the hospital. Nic heard the distinctive walk of one perky redhead before she saw her pass the waiting room headed straight for the nursesí station. "Liz!" Nic shouted, a bit louder than she wanted.

The redhead turned, flashing a brilliant smile. Approaching with her arms out, Nic rose to greet her. "Ohhh! Niki, Iím so glad youíre all right." She squeezed Nic fiercely and Nic returned the affection. She knew better. "Sue said to give us a call later so you two can talk."

Nic stepped back and nearly bumped into the now standing Carly. "Oops, sorry. Liz, this is Carly Jamison. Carly, Elizabeth Chandler." Carly extended her hand, which the woman grasped with both of hers.

"Itís very nice to meet you. I am sorry it is under suchÖdisturbing circumstances, though."

Carly regarded the slender woman, who was roughly her height. She wore a pair of dark blue Leviís and an oversized gray wool sweater. A serious pair of hazel eyes checked her out as well. "Me, too. But Jimmy will get better and thank heaven nothing really serious happened to Nic last night."

"Yes, Nic mentioned the excitement you had last night. It must have been awful?"

Carly glanced at Nic. "Yes, it was," she admitted. "I was so afraid for Nic." Carly grasped Nicís forearm, Nicís immediate smile not going unnoticed by Liz.

"Sheís something isnít she?" Liz swatted Nic in the mid-section. "And Carly, please call me Liz."

Carly smiled in agreement.

"Okay, why donít we go see Jimmy again before you too head out of here?" Nic placed her hands firmly behind the young women and guided them into the hallway.

***********************************

Paul Mahoney and Tom Sanders sat in Carl Rhinebergís office at the morgue and waited for the finger print results on the body that was retrieved from Nicole Stoneís house the previous evening. While they waited they perused the police report that had been filed on the incident.

Sanders tossed the file on top of the cluttered desk. "Not much to go on in there."

"So what else is new?" Mahoney quipped, sipping his coffee while he gazed out of the window at the beautiful day that was forming.

Carl Rhineberg waddled into the room removing the rubber gloves from his pudgy hands with a snap. He slid a folder out from under his left arm and handed it to Sanders. "Here you go, boys." Dropping into the chair behind his desk he selected a chocolate glazed doughnut from the box on his desk and started eating. "I took the liberty of pulling up the whole file on your guy, to save you some time." Chocolate morsels fell from his mouth as he spoke.

Mahoney came over from the window and looked over Sanderís shoulder at the opened file. "Thanks a lot Carl." The partners scanned the document. The body in the other room used to be Salvatore Linetti. He was born in Brooklyn in 1957 and the last known address was Secaucus, New Jersey.

"Now all we have to do is figure out where he might have been staying while he was in our fair city." Sanders closed the folder and stood. "Sorry we had to drag you in here this morning, but if we donít get somewhere on this case fast, Raimes is gonna have our hides."

Carl bit into a jelly doughnut, squirting some of the berry contents onto his lab coat. He waved his hand at the retreating duo, "Donít worry about it. Anything I can do to help."

Back in the car, Sanders turned the engine over. "Letís go back to the station and make a copy of this photo. Then weíll hit some of the local joints and see if anybody recognizes him."

"Sounds like a plan," Paul agreed.

*******************************

Liz and Carly traveled eastbound on Highland Avenue. Having a tendency to drive fast, Liz made the Celica zip in and out of the two-lane street with ease. Carly had barely said a word since they left the hospital a few minutes ago. Liz knew she was worried not only about her brother, but about Nic, as well. She had given Nic a hug demanding that she call Susan later to let them know she was okay. In the years that she had come to know Nicole, Liz never remembered her being so willing to accept affection or give in to demands, as she seemed to be with this young woman. She glanced at the blonde who was staring out the window at the passing brownstones. Nicís cat was snoozing on Carlyís lap.

"So, Nic tells me youíre a photographer."

Carly blinked several times, returning herself to the present. Her thoughts had drifted back to last night and the lovely dinner her and Nic had shared. She was concerned for her new friend. "Yes, for National Geographic."

Lizís eyes widened. "Wow, thatís a plumb job I bet."

"It has its ups and downs like any job."

"Yeah, but you get to travel a lot, right?"

"Iíve traveled some, yes. As a matter of fact I just flew in from Australia."

Liz looked at her with serious eyes, "So might I ask, what are the so-called Ďdownsí?"

Carly chuckled, "Well, there are some, believe me." She thought for a moment. "Like when you spend all day on a boat trying to locate a pod of whales and then you find them with little daylight left, so you know youíll be back out the next day doing it all over again."

Liz sped the car up to beat a changing traffic light, only to be forced to stop at the next one. "I guess that would qualify."

"So what do you do?" Carly asked, rolling down her window to let some of the warm afternoon air into the car. For November, it was a gorgeous day. The temperature had to be around seventy. A slight breeze was blowing with a handful of puffy white clouds were scattered across a bright blue sky.

"Iím a computer programmer. I work for an electronics company here in Larson."

"That sounds interesting," Carly admitted. "What type of programming?"

"All types, really. I do both front end and back end stuff, usually in C++, though I prefer front end."

Carly held up her slender hand, "Whoa, you lost me already. Whatís front end and back end?"

Liz grinned, "Front end is the stuff a user would see, like when you are running an app like Microsoft Word, or Excel. Back end is whatís going on behind the scenes, whatís actually making the thing work. In my companyís case back end is when we are working with external equipment, specifically."

"Oh, I see," Carly nodded.

Liz pulled the car into the driveway of a two-story town house. "Well, here we are."

Carly emerged from the car and surveyed the area. The yard was average in size and nicely landscaped. A newly planted birch tree was tied in place on the front lawn. Beige siding covered the exterior with dark brown shutters accentuating the windows. "This is a nice place you have here."

"Thanks, we like it. Come on Iíll give you the two-cent tour." Liz grabbed one of Carlyís bags while Carly handled the cat, which was not too thrilled at being disturbed.

********************************

The black Xterra drove slowly down Krenshaw, its driver searching for a parking space along the crowded street. Several small shops and a few bars occupied the street, along with the Arcadia Hotel, a run down establishment that catered to individuals with questionable reputations. Many a time Nic and Jimmy had spent casing this place, waiting for a suspect in the dark hours of the morning. Parking the vehicle a few doors down from the hotel entrance, Nic activated the car alarm and strolled up the sidewalk, scattering leaves with every stride. It had gotten so warm, she had removed her leather jacket, which was now flung over her shoulder. Her faded blue jeans and Polo shirt made her feel quite comfortable in the unseasonable heat. She passed ĎThe Ratís Nestí, a topless bar and haven to many of the cities night dwellers. The red neon light advertising the establishment now dark in the Sunday sun. Upon entering the hotel her nose instantly crinkled at the unmistakable stench of smoke and urine. A skinny gentleman with a bad toupee and thin mustache was stooped over the counter idly turning the pages of the morning paper. A cigarette dangled from his lips making Nic wonder how he managed not to ignite the paper, the ashes hanging dangerously close. The man did not even bother to raise his eyes.

Nic slid her badge under his gaze and waited for the response. Gradually his blood shot eyes made contact with her penetrating blue ones, causing the man to stand up straight. "Yes, what can I do for you, detective?"

Nic liked it when they showed respect, especially when it went against every fiber of their being. "Iím looking for someone." She pulled Linettiís wallet from her back pocket. After she had shot and killed him she managed to go through his pockets before Carly had entered the room. She had been quite pleased when she found his wallet, knowing that it would give her a head start at getting to the bottom of this. The cops at the 45th or even Sanders and Mahoney, if theyíd get contacted would have to wait for a fingerprint ID. She had little doubt that the man she had shot had a wrap sheet. He looked the type. Opening the wallet she pointed to the driverís license photo. "Do you recognize the man in this photo?"

The man put on a pair of wire rim eyeglasses and inspected the picture. "Nope, havenít seenÖ"

Before he could finish the sentence he felt himself being lifted right over the counter. Nic brought him to within inches of her, now fierce, eyes. "Now listen to me. Donít jerk me around, okay." She held him by the collar of his shirt, which she tightened her hold of, causing him to choke. "Iíve had a bad weekend. Now Iím gonna ask you one more time, have you seen him?" Reaching into her pocket she extracted a matchbook bearing the name of the hotel they were in and stuck it into the manís pained face.

"AllÖright. JustÖlet go." He struggled for his breath as Nic released him and he dropped to the counter.

Returning the matchbook and the wallet to her pocket she commented, "Thatís better. Now stop choking and tell me what I want to know."

The desk clerk tugged his shirt back into place and shot her an angry glance. "He came in on Wednesday and rented a room." Nic raised an eyebrow. "Itís room 212. He paid through Monday, but I havenít seen him since yesterday morning." He handed her the room key, which she hadnít even asked for, yet.

"Was anyone else with him?"

"Yeah, some guy half his size. He was real nervous and jerky, if you know what I mean."

She turned the register around and flipped the pages back to Wednesday. She realized they probably didnít use their real names, but she had to check anyway. "Do you remember which ones were theirs?" she asked, tapping her finger on the page.

The skinny man started to snicker. He looked up into a menacing pair of eyes and stopped instantly. His heart beat fluttered from the fear that she might drag he over the counter and beat the crap out of him just for the hell of it. He looked at the page and thought for a second. He pointed to two poorly scribbled names in the middle of the page. "John Browní and ĎTom Jonesí were the name the desk clerk pointed to. Nic smirked, clearly not surprised, though ĎTom Jonesí wasnít one you ran across a lot.

"Did he get his own room?"

"YupÖ214." He handed her the key to that room, too.

"Thanks for the help." She climbed the stairs twirling the keys around her index finger on the small rings that held them.

********************************

Carly found Liz in the kitchen after she settled herself in the spare bedroom upstairs. The kitchen was bright and cheerful with glistening white appliances and walls covered in a subtle pattern of daisies and violets. A white wood table sat in the center of the room surrounded by four chairs with seat cushions that picked up the wallpaper pattern. A teakettle was whistling on the stove. Liz was busy preparing a salad, which Carly assumed was for the evening meal. To avoid startling Liz, Carly cleared her throat upon entering the kitchen, then preceded to deposit the cat on the floor.

Liz greeted her with a smile. "All unpacked?"

"Yes, thanks. Where should I put Harleyís food and water dishes?"

"On the other side of the refrigerator would be great."

Carly took the bowls and filled one with water, and the other with dry cat food, then placed them where Liz had indicated. Harley sauntered over to inspect her food, rubbing against Carlyís leg as she did.

"This is an interesting picture. What is it exactly?" She looked at the odd circular picture, divided into sections with an animal at the top of each one. Each pie piece had a series of numbers assigned to it.

Liz turned to find Carly studying the picture that hung next to the refrigerator. "Oh, thatís a Chinese astological chart.

"Chinese horoscopes?"

"Yes. Have you ever heard anyone talk about it being ĎThe Year of the Dragoní and such?" Liz asked, returning to the salad.

Carly thought about it for a second, "Yes, now that you mention it."

Liz took a ripe tomato and began slicing it. "Well, that refers to Chinese astrology. See those numbers on the chart?"

"Yeah."

"Find your birth year and that will tell you which animal ruled that year."

"According to this chart it was a rabbit."

"Oooh! Thatís interesting." Liz exclaimed.

Finishing the salad, she cleaned up the counter top and placed the salad in the refrigerator. "Would you care for some tea, or something?"

"Tea would be great. Let me help."

"Okay, the cups are in the cupboard above the toaster. What do you take in your tea?"

"Some honey, if you have it."

"Sure do," Liz replied. "I have tea every afternoon. The guys at work bust me all the time about it." Liz prepared the cups, placing a teaspoon of honey in Carlyís and a drop of milk and some sugar in her own. "Letís have this in the sunroom and Iíll tell you more about this stuff, if you want."

Carly cheerfully replied, "Yes, please do." She followed Liz into a small room that faced the backyard. The exterior wall was lined with floor to ceiling windows. Ferns, ivies, a Norfolk pine, and African violets were throughout the room. The sun was no longer hitting this side of the house, yet comfortable warmth filled the room. A white whicker loveseat and sofa faced each other, providing only the occupants of the sofa with a view of the backyard. Carly sat on the sofa. The navy, tropical design of the seat cushions were a nice contrast to the white wicker. Liz sat down across from Carly, kicking off her loafers and curling her legs up under her.

Carly sipped her tea. "So I take it that these horoscopes are a hobby of yours?"

"Yes they are, as a matter of fact. I made a couple of trips to China, for my company, and became friends with a woman over there who really hooked me on the whole thing. Itís really quite fascinating."

"Iíd love to hear all about it."

Liz cooed, "A topic Sue will tell you I have no problem discussing for hours on end." The two women giggled. Liz filled Carly in on the background of Chinese astrology and how it was used it the Orient for thousands of years. Both systems were divided into twelve segments, the Zodiac cycle completing in twelve months, while the Chinese system took twelve years. "According to Far Eastern philosophy, luck has little to do with our destinies. Instead it is the Ďanimal that hides in our heartsí that truly explains our characters and fortunes."

Carly was engrossed in what Liz was saying. She hadnít even noticed that Harley was now perched on her lap. "Go on," she pleaded.

Liz drank some tea and continued, "For example, people, like you, who were born under the Sign of the Rabbit, make good writers, musicians, artists, diplomats..." she paused to think, "therapists and doctors, too."

"Wow! My degree is in journalism. Thatís amazing."

"Yes, youíd be surprised. Chinese astrology can tell you things about yourself that will indeed amaze you. You will find things that you agree with and some that you donít."

"Like what?"

"WellÖIím an ox and ox people make good scientists and engineers, which is right on the mark for me, since I have a Computer engineering degree. On the other hand, ox people are said to be less than gregarious and I find that to be completely false for me."

"So, what youíre saying is that some things will apply and others wonít?"

"Right." Liz affirmed.

"In the kitchen when I told you my animal sign, you commented that it was interesting. Why?"

Liz considered her answer. "Because one of the many things the signs can tell you is who will make a compatible partner."

"Oh." Carly was afraid to ask the question that instantly popped into her mind. But she desperately wanted to know, so she bit her lip and asked anyway. "Do you know what sign Nic is?"

The hesitant look on Carlyís face did not go unnoticed. "Sheís a dog. Gosh that sounds awful," Liz laughed a little. Liz sensed Carly wanted to know more, but she was holding back. Iíll give her a little nudge, Liz thought. "Just in case you were curious, your sign and her sign are highly compatible, and not just as friends."

Though her cheeks flushed with embarrassment, Carlyís heart started to soar.

**************************************

Sal Linettiís room at the Arcadia Hotel was Spartan at best. A single bed, four-drawer dresser, and single drawer nightstand were the only furnishings in the tiny room. A red plaid bedspread lay in a heap on the floor. Matching curtains, that looked like they had been there for years, were drawn over most of the window, perpetuating the roomís dismal appearance. A suitcase stuffed under the bed offered her little assistance. She wasnít even sure what she was looking for, but sheíd know it when she found it. All of his things were still in his suitcase. Nothing was even hanging in the closet.

A small, metal trash container sat next to the dresser. Nic emptied the contents onto the floor and pushed through the small pile with her pen. An empty cigar box with no price tag, two crumpled napkins, an empty plastic cup from McDonaldís, a white lunch bag, also crumpled, like youíd get from a takeout joint, and an empty matchbook. Nic picked up the last piece and turned it over. ĎLorenzoísí was spelled out in bold, black ink. "Well, itís not a lot, but itís something." Nic mumbled. Sliding the trash back into the basket, she removed each drawer from the dresser and turned it over to check for anything that might be taped to the underside of the drawer. She repeated this with the nightstand. Nothing.

The bathroom offered nothing, either. A can of shaving cream, a razor, roll-on deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste were the only items in there. No medicine cabinet, just an oval mirror hung above the porcelain, pedestal sink. She checked the tank before she left. Still nothing.

She opened the manís wallet and stared at the New Jersey license photo. "Well, Mr. Linetti, Iíll give you thisÖyou sure travel light." She replaced the wallet in her pocket and closed the door behind her.

She moved on to the other manís room next door. It was nearly identical to the one she just left. This guy at least unpacked, though he only had enough clothes with him for about a week. Two suits were hanging in the closet and one was lying across the back of the only chair in the room. Searching the pockets she produced a cocktail napkin from ĎSammyís Bar & Grillí. She knew that place. It was on the south side, near the new bridge that had been built three years ago. On the back of the napkin a phone number was scrawled in red. She smiled. The rest of the room came up empty, but she had two places to check out, so this trip had not been a waste. Closing the door she strolled back downstairs whistling a happy tune.

********************************

Carly asked Liz a hundred questions about both her sign and Nicís. She wasnít surprised to learn that dog people made excellent police officers after Liz had filled her in on the characteristics that were an inherent part of their nature. Even though she had known Nic for less than 48 hours she could see in her the traits that Liz described. Nic was indeed an unselfish and altruistic soul, with a high regard for loyalty and honesty. A smile crossed her lips when she thought about her, a smile she didnít even realize was there.

"Carly, excuse me for being a bit forward here, but I sense that you are starting to really care about Niki?"

Carly nearly choked on her tea. "What makes you say that?" Come on Carly, itís as plain as the nose on your face. Youíve never been good at hiding your feelings and you know it, she chastised herself.

Liz gave her a knowing look. "I think it has something to do with the instant smile that appears on your face whenever you say her name."

"Oh." Carly felt a warmth creep up her neck. "I guess I am becoming rather fond of her. Is there a problem with that?" she asked, hesitantly.

The front door opened and the sound of footsteps could be heard coming from the foyer. "Weíre in the sunroom, Sue," Liz yelled. Hazel eyes looked into the inquisitive green ones across from her. "No there isnít a problem with that. I just donít want to see Niki get hurt, so please make sure this is what you want, okay?"

A bolt of anger shot through her, until she realized that Liz was just be a protective friend. The anger subsided when sheíd realized that. Carly was actually glad that Nic had a good friend like Liz. "I will."

"Hi there," a tall, brunette dressed in casual slacks and a button down shirt strolled into the room, "you must be Carly?" she presumed, extending a hand to the petite blonde.

Carly moved the cat onto the sofa, then stood and shook the womanís hand. The woman was almost as tall as Nic with similar features, except she had soft, brown eyes. She was quite beautiful with hr dark drown hair tied back in an intricate French braid that went past her shoulders. "And you must be Susan, nice to meet you." Harley stretched, arching her back. With a flick of her tail she jumped off the sofa and traipsed out of the room.

"Liz filled me in on what happened in the last couple of days. I was shocked! How is Nic doing and how is your brother?" Susan sat next to Liz, giving her a kiss on the cheek as she sat down.

Carly sat back down, running her hand through her hair. "Jimmyís doing okay. Heís going to be moved to a private room, hopefully tomorrow. Nic seems to be handling everything fine."

Susan nodded her head, "Yes, Nic is a very capable person. Wouldnít you agree, Liz?"

Placing her hand on Susanís back, Liz gently rubbed it. "Yes, I would. Sometimes sheís a little too capable, if you ask me."

Carly studied the pair. Theyíre a cute couple, she thought. "Susan, Liz tells me that you are an assistant DA. That must be a challenging career?"

"Oh, yes it is. Thatís why I was in the office on a Sunday, of all times. I have a case starting tomorrow thatís gonna be a real bear."

Liz collected the empty teacups and stood. "Iím going to excuse myself and go start dinner. Can I get either of you anything?"

"A glass of white wine would be great," Susan answered. "What about you Carly?"

"Nothing for me thanks. Maybe with dinner, though."

Liz retreated to the kitchen. She returned a minute later with Sueís wine, then retreated again. Sue was not sure what to talk about with Carly. According to Lizís report, Nic was acting strange about this woman, and apparently Carly was acting strange herself. Sue knew Liz was rarely wrong about these things, so she was naturally concerned about her friend getting hurt. Nic hadnít been involved with anyone seriously in a long time and with Carly being her partnerís sister, Sue could see problems ahead. Sure, Jimmy knew that Nic was a dyke, but accepting that was a whole lot different from accepting that your partner was involved with you baby sister.

Carly broke the awkward silence, "So you and Nic were college roommates?"

Sue laughed at the memory. "Yeah, but that seems like a lifetime ago. Weíve been good friends ever since and I suspect we always will be."

"My brother told me that Nic has been a cop for almost ten years. Did she drop out?" Carly watched the woman fidget as if she was uncomfortable discussing this topic. Before Sue could answer Carly interjected, "If you donít feel we should talk about this thatís okay."

Sue sipped her wine. "No, itís not that. I guess there are certain things you donít know about Nic and I understand your curiosity." Carly wondered what she had started. Was there some grave secret she would regret learning about? Suddenly this whole thing seemed rather ominous. "I donít know how much Jimmy knows about Nicís past, maybe everything, maybe nothing. Nic has never confided that to me. When Nic was twenty and we were in our second year at the University of Maryland, her parents were killed in an accident."

Carlyís face turned ashen. She gasped, bringing her hand to her mouth, her eyes mirroring her shock. "Oh my God! Jimmy never told me that! How awful." Carlyís heart sank at the pain that she could almost feel in her heart for this woman that she barely knew, yet wanted to know so much more. She wished she were here so she could hug her, if only to console herself. "What kind of accident was it?"

Sue looked at the blonde and started to see what Liz had described. She pulled her legs onto the loveseat and crossed them under her, resting her elbows on her knees. "It was a car accident, a terrible one. Nic was and still is convinced, however, that it wasnít an accident."

"Why?" Carly asked, bewildered.

"Well, Nicís father was a prominent prosecutor and at the time he was in the midst of a very high-profile case. Nic is sure he was eliminated, which caused the case to be turned over to his second chair. Two weeks later that man lost the case."

"What did the police say?"

"Nic went to them and they checked into that angle, but there was no evidence to support her accusations. Thatís when Nic decided to become a cop. From that day forth she was determined to find whoever was responsible for her parentís deaths."

"Did she?" Carly asked, hoping that she had.

"Yes she did. Thatís how she got her gold shield." Liz sipped more wine, then returned the glass to the table that sat between the sofa and the loveseat. "Two men, who worked for the man her father was after, were responsible. Nic spent all of her spare time for years hunting down any lead she could find. When she gets on something sheís very single-minded."

Liz entered the room and announced that dinner would be ready in five minutes. Liz noticed Carlyís pale expression with concern. "Is everything okay?" her question directed at Carly.

Sue answered, "I just told her about Nicís parents."

Liz shot her lover a stern look. "I leave the room for a few minutes and you go and get our guest all upset." Liz sat next to Carly and patted her knee. "You look a little pale. Are you all right?"

Carly covered Lizís hand with her own. "Yes, Iím fine. It was just a shock, thatís all. I really had no ideaÖI just feel so bad for Nicole." The green eyes blinked. She didnít quite understand the depth of pain that she felt at hearing that horrible news. It was like it had happened to her, that was how real the pain felt. Bracing herself she said, "Come on, Iím fine. Letís go eat." The trio did just that and decided to turn their dinner conversation to lighter topics.

***************************

Since it had been way too early for her to go to either Lorenzoís or Sammyís Nic went to the precinct to do some investigating. Someone was out to get both her and Jimmy and she needed to find out who and why as quickly as possible. The place was quiet, which was not uncommon for late Sunday afternoon. After pouring herself some of the lethal coffee they brewed around the clock in the bullpen, the office the detectives occupied, she sat down at her desk and reviewed all the old cases her and Jimmy had worked on. Mostly everyone they had taken down was either dead or doing time downstate. She called the parole officers of the few who did not fall into that category, but their charges were all accounted for both evenings. That left the Friday night fiasco as the only other possibility she could think of. Walking over to Tom Sanderís desk, she sifted through the files until she located the one from Friday night. Before returning to her desk she snatched a doughnut from box by the coffeepot. Opening the report she studied the contents. More information had been added, including identifications of two assailants that were shot and killed during the bust. Nic studied the sheets.

Charles Fong:

Height: 5í11í Ė Weight: 310 lbs. Nationality: Chinese

Hair Color: Black Eye Color: Brown

Residence: 51 James Street

COD: Fatal gunshot wound to the chest

DOB: 4/15/1975

City of Birth: Xian, China

Next of Kin: Lao Fong - Father

Residence: Xian, China

Thomas Murphy:

Height: 6í1í Ė Weight: 185 lbs. Nationality: American

Hair Color: Blonde Eye Color: Blue

Residence: Wilford Apartments Apt. 510, Connoly Street

COD: Fatal gunshot wound to the chest

DOB: 9/22/1978

City of Birth: San Francisco, California

Next of Kin: Carol Murphy Ė Sister

Residence: 69 Lincoln Avenue

Louis Gato:

Height: 5í8í Ė Weight: 135 lbs. Nationality: American

Hair Color: Black Eye Color: Brown

Residence: 221 Lexington Avenue

DOB: 2/08/1975

City of Birth: Brooklyn, New York

Next of Kin: None

Residence: N/A

 

Nic jotted down their addresses and turned the page to view their rap sheets. They had both been arrested for several minor offenses, including petty larceny and attempted assault. Murphy must have had a good public defender because he had beaten every charge. Charlie Fong hadnít been so lucky. He spent two years in prison on a drug possession charge and had only been out for six months. She neatly placed the paperwork back inside the folder and returned it to Sandersí desk. Just as she was sitting back down the office door swung open and Tom Sanders and Paul Mahoney entered the room. Nic scowled as she sat back down in her chair. It wasnít that she disliked the duo, she just wasnít in the mood to deal with them. Though, she admitted to herself, she did like Paul more than she liked Tom. She especially didnít like the way he treated his partner.

"Hey, look whoís here Paul? Just the person we need to talk to."

Nic responded without turning around, "And just what can I do for you two?"

Paul Mahoney leaned against the desk opposite of Nicís, while Sanders sat down in the chair next to her desk and gave her an even look. "For starters, what the hell happened last night?"

"Since you know something happened, I would imagine you know what happened" she stated, flatly.

Sanders scratched his chin and chuckled. "Very funny Stone. Paul and I would like your account of the incident. After all we are trying to help." He looked to Paul who nodded his head in agreement. "You know, as well as we do, that Jimmyís shooting and the attempt on your life have to be connected."

Nic digested this. She knew he was right. But what was the connection, she wondered. If they hadnít put Carly in danger sheíd attempt to go at this alone, but now she considered working with these two, at least a little, to speed things up. She doubted they knew where Linetti had been staying, but sheíd do a little fishing to find out for sure. "Okay, Sanders, what do you want to know?"

"Did you know the guy that you shot last night?" He briefly looked away at the angry stare that was directed at him the minute the remark left his lips.

"No."

"You didnít recognize him from anywhere?"

"Did no confuse you, Tom?" Nic asked with a sly grin. The question forced a laugh from Mahoney.

"Do you want to know who he was?"

He was baiting her. He knew her natural instinct was to always have one up on him, but she supressed the urge. "And how is it that you know?"

"Paul and I got Carl Rhineberg to come in and do the prints. The manís name was Salvatore Linetti. We pulled him up on the system. No priors in Larson, but he did do time down in Jersey." Nic listened, an unimpressed look on her face. "Mostly numbers running, a couple of larceny charges, one assault with a deadly weapon, that kind of stuff."

"Interesting," Nic commented.

Sanders narrowed his gaze, "Now, why do you suppose heíd be trying to kill you and Jimmy?"

"How do you know heís the one who shot Jimmy? Did ballistics match his gun with the bullets we recovered?"

"No, there wasnít a match. But that doesnít mean that he wasnít an accomplice."

"True," Nic agreed. "So was this guy living up here?"

"Donít think so. His last known address was Secaucus." Nic just smiled. "Paul and I are gonna get some copies of his mug shot and check out some of the local joints."

"What about the two guys that got killed during the Friday night bust? Did you look into their backgrounds at allÖfamily connectionsÖrevenge motive, that kind of thing?

"I think I know how to cover all the angles, Stone. Beside, Raimes said you shouldnít get involved."

Nic slammed her fist onto the desk, startling Sanders so much he nearly fell out of the chair. "Well I just got involved! I tend to take offense when someone tries to kill me, especially in my own home!"

Sanders raised his hands, palms out, "Okay, okayÖIím sorry. Iím just trying to follow orders." He took a deep breath in an attempt to get his heart rate under control. "The guy who got awayÖcan you give us a description?"

Nic settled back into her chair, fully aware that she could rip Sanders head off if she didnít calm down. "No more than what I told the police last night. It was too dark to really see much of anything. The guy was small, though, and thin."

"TerrificÖwell, maybe weíll get lucky." Tom shot a glance at his silent partner, who was still leaning against the desk in a casual pose, his arms folded across his chest. "Paul, why donít you get us some of those mug shots and we can get going." Paul strolled out of the office with the folder they had acquired at the morgue. The department copy machine was just outside the door. Returning his attention to Stone, he noticed she was glaring at him. "What?" he asked, hands raised.

"Heís not your secretary, you know?"

"Whatís that suppose to mean?"

"I really donít need to explain that, do I?" Nic asked arching her brow. Sanders got up in a huff and stalked off to find Paul. "Guess not." she replied, to herself as she exited the room on her way to Sammyís Bar and Grill.

*****************************

Continued in Part 5

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