Quin turned the key in the lock of the large stained glass door to her house. The inside was quiet and dark. A soft fwap of the pet door and the click of a dog's paws was the only thing that greeted her as she closed the door. By the time she turned around to secure the door, the large head of the black Labrador was rubbing against her thigh in an attempt to get some attention. She let her hand drop and pat the dog's head and her fingers scratched behind each ear. As she squatted to retrieve the mail from the floor, the dog's wet tongue swiped her cheek several times.
"Thanks buddy." She smiled as she wiped the slick residue from her face with her jacket sleeve. She stood and flipped through the correspondence as she walked the long hall to the kitchen, her way lit only by the streetlights streaming through various windows.
She used her elbow to turn on the light in the kitchen and went to the fridge. The mail found its way onto a growing stack of letters and bills on the counter. Quin stood in front of the open refrigerator, peering in at the contents for several minutes. The big black dog sat on his haunches looking in as well. After several more minutes dog and human looked at each other and sighed. "We really need to go to the store Mike. This is pitiful."
Dark eyes blinked at her then turned back to the open fridge. The dog huffed once then walked away to his own food bowl to happily much on his standard kibble.
Quin shook her head. It had been a long day. She counted herself lucky not to be in jail. She had broken just about every rule possible today.
The refrigerator door swung shut with a slight push. The brunette opted for an apple from a bowl on the table and a glass of water. She stood leaning against the counter while she ate, watching Mike crunch endlessly on his food. She made quick work of the piece of fruit and downed her water in three gulps. The core flew effortlessly into the trashcan in the corner.
She returned to the fridge and made a quick ice pack for her bruised hand.
"Well Mike, another day, another dollar." Quin walked from the kitchen, stripping her jacket and depositing it on a bench in the hall, the clicking of paws followed behind her. It was still early. The fall sun had set leaving the early evening hours dark. She glances up the staircase; she hadn't ventured up the stairs since her return. Tonight would be no different as she headed to the basement door.
Her office took up most of the basement. There were several banks of computers strewn in a haphazard mess on three desks that formed a U off of one wall, as well as white boards on stands and one bolted to the basement wall surrounded by corkboard. A worn couch laid against one wall, a crumpled blanket pushed to one end, and a needlepoint pillow at the other. Three small TVs hung from the ceiling, and a police scanner chirped away from a low shelf that also contained a coffee maker.
Quin stood in front of one white board that contained pictures and notes from this latest case. She had found the boy, but not the person who had taken the boy. She let her eyes stay on the picture of the smiling eight year old, preferring that as a last image rather than the one she carried home with her from the dingy hotel room. The florescent lamp that lit the board's contents seemed harsh against the boy's likeness. This picture deserved to sit in a place lit by sunlight, she thought.
She also thought of the other little boy she found by happenstance. His condition appalling, his small mutilated body would never recover from the act of castration.
"Who are they Mike?" She asked the big dog who had taken up residence on the couch, his head resting on her pillow. "Who does things to children like that and lives with himself?" Dark eyes blinked at her.
She picked up a blue marker and wrote in large letters across the board, HOW MANY MORE? That had been the question that had been nagging at her since she tracked the boy down. He had been literally sold and bought as merchandise on the internet. How many missing children were sold and bought everyday? Who was taking them? How could they be stopped?
"Quite the can of worms Mike." Quin took a few steps and sank into a high back leather chair that sat in the space between the desks. Her hands bumped keyboards and a mouse to wake up the sleeping monitors. She reached behind herself and blindly pressed the recall button on the answering machine. The same hand picked up a remote control, and she turned on one of the TV's, muting the sound as she used the same remote to activate the sound system hanging from the wall under the TV's. Nina Simone's sultry voice sang to Quin as she started her nightly routine of information gathering.
Tom Ross entered his large ranch house just after seven in the evening. He quietly emptied his pockets into the glass dish that sat on a table beside the door. He could hear his family talking away in the dining room. Dinner well underway at this hour. He felt a pang of guilt at that, thinking that they probably waited much too long for him before they started the meal anyway.
He walked through the deserted living room. Schoolbooks littered the coffee table and floor, a tangible sign that school was once again in full swing for his four oldest children. He reminded himself to ask each of them about their classes and teachers. Sometimes he would forget such things, and his wife would have to remind him.
He shrugged out of his suit jacket as he crossed into the dining room. His children greeted him with genuine smiles and clamoring words of welcome home. He made his way around the table kissing each child, ending at his wife who looked at him with a knowing smirk. Tom leaned over and kissed her gently as the children voiced their disapproval of such a display by their parents. He couldn't help the smile that came to his lips as he sat back in his chair.
Generous amounts of food found way to his plate as the conversation picked up once again. He leaned towards his wife, "Sorry, I should have called, but…"
"We saw the news, Vivian handled herself well." Ruth Ross spoke while urging her three-year-old son to eat a small piece of carrot. "I'd hoped she would have been with you tonight. I found a date for her."
Tom raised his eyebrows as he himself shuffled his carrots to one side of his plate away from the rest of his meal. "Does she meet all the criteria?"
Ruth slowly nodded, "Employed, no children, and no recent criminal activity."
Tom laughed, "Wow, that list certainly has dwindled over the last two years."
"I kept telling her she was too picky." Ruth said as she speared a carrot on the end of her fork from her husband's plate and offered it to him much in the same way as she just had done to his son.
Tom looked at his wife, then the carrot. The table grew quiet and all eyes rested on him, waiting to see what he would do.
"Eat." The three year old encouraged him in much the same way he had recently been.
"You'll pay for this later, Dr. Ross." He softly said with a smile at his wife, then wrapped his lips around the fork in front of him and took the carrot into his mouth and made a good show of enjoying the small piece of vegetable.
His children cheered for him as he swallowed hard to get the now mushy substance to go down his throat. As a reward his wife kissed him on his rough cheek. He growled at the teasing his older two sons and two daughters gave him. It was wonderful to be home, and he wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.
Nearly three hours later and after having to resort to her reading glasses as eyestrain began to set in Quin looked up. There on the muted TV was Detective Walsh. The brunette felt a flash of heat at remembering the frank inspection the detective gave her in the late afternoon sun. She muted the stereo and turned the volume up on the TV.
"What's the boy's condition now Detective?" a disembodied voice asked.
"Scott is in good physical condition. He has been reunited with his parents. We are still trying to determine the identity of the second boy. His condition is guarded, but he's expected to survive." Bright blue eyes squinted slightly against the harsh camera lights as Vivian Walsh answered the barrage of questions hurled at her by the press.
"The man who was holding Scott was reported as being injured…."
"No comment on the condition of Mr. Peterson, except that he's under arrest for the kidnapping of Scott Peer. I'm sure further charges will be added as the days progress." This time the detective smiled slightly. "That's all I have at the moment ladies and gentlemen…"
"Detective! Is it true that Scott was found by the vigilante Angel of Justice and that the police happened onto the scene after several calls to 911?" The male voice off camera was booming and came over the other disappointed mumbles of the group of reporters loud and clear.
"Angel of Justice?" Quin said to her self… "God! How corny is that?" She rolled her eyes.
"I have nothing more at this time." Detective Walsh restated as she turned and made her way back into the building.
"Angel of Justice?" she repeated again, "Got to put an end to that moniker!" The sound of her doorbell ringing brought her to her feet and up the stairs two at a time. The bell rang again. She looked out the side window and raised a delicate black brow. She opened the door.
"Detective. I was just watching you on the news." Quin greeted keeping the Labrador at bay with one foot. Mike took the hint finally and shrugged off to the kitchen.
Vivian Walsh smiled, "And here I thought I was just dealing with another smart ass PI, when I actually have had the honor of coming into contact with the Angel of Justice."
Quin growled, "God is that awful or what? Did you get the name of that guy by the way? I'd like a word with him." She looked at the blonde standing on her porch, "I recall you saying something earlier about the chances of you calling me in this lifetime?"
"I'm not calling." Vivian smirked.
"Oh, true, you're not." The brunette paused for a moment, "How very clever." Quin stepped back from the door, "Please come in Detective."
Vivian stepped into the dark foyer of the big old house. It took her by some surprise that this was Quinlan McKee's home as she pulled up in front of it. Silverlake was an old, long-established Los Angeles neighborhood. Big, wood clabbered houses sat on hilly streets. They rarely came up for sale, and when they did, expect to pay three quarters of a million dollars or more for one that was in the condition that Quinlan McKee's house was. "Nice place." She commented as a light came on to her right, illuminating the space.
"Thanks, my… my partner and I did the work. It was worth every splinter, and bruise." She said tucking her hands into her pockets.
Vivian didn't miss the hesitation in the smaller woman's voice at the mention of her partner. "Well, it's beautiful. Perhaps sometime I could get the full tour. I'm a bit confused though; I thought for sure you were flirting with me earlier, and here I find you're already taken." She wasn't sure where her forwardness came from, maybe it was the fact that the woman openly came on to her and was in essence cheating on her partner.
"Was… she's gone." Quin stated softly, she found herself uncomfortable under the scrutiny of this woman. She lifted her head, "Grace was killed three years ago."
"I'm sorry… I had…" Vivian's heart sank into her stomach.
"No way you could have known." Quin shrugged.
"No, I suppose you're right, still…"
The brunette shook her head, "Forget it, besides I'm sure you have a reason for coming here."
Besides getting another glimpse at that physique? Vivian questioned herself, but said aloud, "We were wondering how you came up with Donald Peterson as the kidnapper. He's nowhere in our investigation."
"He's not the kidnapper," came the simple response.
"What do you mean not the kidnapper? Then what the hell is he?" Vivian's voiced raised in volume as she spoke. She felt suddenly on the end of a joke.
"A sick, child molesting bastard. A slaver for sure. And now ball-less. Follow me detective; I'll show you what I have so far." She motioned toward the basement door.
The blonde followed, "I don't detect much in the way of regret, Ms. McKee, for that action."
"Haven't been able to muster up any yet. Please call me Quin, Detective Walsh, I hear my last name enough during the day… usually taken in vain."
"Okay Quin, then please call me Vivian. The "Detective Walsh thing" is overdone as well." The blonde requested as she stepped of the last step into what could only be described as a messy bat cave. "Where do you keep your skin tight costume?" She couldn't help but ask.
Quin smirked, "It's at the cleaners today. Perhaps I'll show it to you at a later date." She pointed to the large white dry erase board, "I kind of stumbled onto Scott actually, I was just feeling around the pedophile online community while looking into other things, and got a hit on the Peterson guy. It took a couple days to track him down. He moves around a lot. " She pulled a paper off the board and gave it to Vivian, "Twenty addys in the last two years that I was able to confirm, he draws some kind of federal disability, so he has to report moves to them, otherwise he would have been nearly untraceable. He bought Scott from an unnamed source."
Vivian looked at the print out handed to her then back up at the board. "The other boy, do you think he was obtained the same way?"
"Purchased?" A confirming nod came from the blonde head, "Probably, or he traded for him. I'm getting to know how it all works. There's a lot of them though, and they aren't all as stupid as Donald Peterson, especially it seems the people who acquire the children."
Vivian looked at the various pieces of information the PI had gathered. It was quite extensive. "How is it we missed all this?" She wondered aloud.
"You were thinking abduction for ransom because of who Peer happens to be. I just worked a different angle, thinking maybe they didn't know whom they had, and once they had already struck the deal it was too late. Peterson had Scott in his custody from day three. No one knew anything of the kidnapping for a full week after it happened, because I suspect you all were waiting for a phone call."
The blonde head nodded, "We dropped the ball."
"No. I got lucky." Quin admitted.
The two women regarded one another for a silent moment.
Vivian spoke first, "I'll share this information with the department, and maybe Peterson will give up his contact. If you come across anything else…"
"You're more than welcome to any thing I have. I want this guy and his friends just as much as you. Let me get you a drink." Quin started for the stairs then turned back, "Have you eaten yet? I can order something in."
Vivian stared at the quantity of information in front of her. It would take several hours at best to sift through just what was organized on the board alone. "I haven't eaten, and only if it isn't too much trouble," she replied.
"No trouble at all. Be right back. Make your self at home." Quin sprinted up the stairs.
Vivian studied the board. She noticed a stack of folders on a low table in front of it with corresponding labels. She picked up the first folder opening it as she shrugged out of her leather jacket. She looked about for a place to sit, but decided the floor in front of the table and board would be the most convenient. A large black dog that wrapped his body around her back soon joined her. Dark eyes looked at her as the dog rested its head on its paws. "Well hello there? Where did you come from?" She asked as she stroked the dog's smooth fur.
"I see the resident lounge hound has found you."
Vivian looked up over her shoulder at the now barefoot brunette. The woman just stepped off the last step. She carried two glasses in one hand and a pitcher of ice tea in the other.
"I hope tea is okay. I ordered a pizza and some salad. Should be here in a few." Quin sat the glasses and pitcher on the low table. "If you would be more comfortable on the couch I could…"
"No… this is fine. I can see everything from here. you don't mind do you?" Vivian asked as she looked back down at the dog, "Besides the companionship is decent down here."
Quin chuckled, "Mike's just a big softy, loves the ladies." She sat down beside the blonde crossing her legs and resting her elbows on her knees.
"The big dog wrapped around you." Quin filled the two glasses and reached behind herself producing a long spoon and several small packets of sweetener and sugar. "I didn't know what you took." She held out the small paper packets in one palm and the spoon in the other hand.
Vivian smiled and took two small packs of sugar and a spoon. She prepared her tea and took a long drink. She watched the other woman dump the remainder of sweetener on the table. The brunette drank her tea straight, nearly emptying the glass in three gulps. Her eyes rested on the graceful neck as Quin's head tipped back. She quickly looked down at the file in her lap as the other woman lowered her glass. The detective looked at the words, but didn't read them. Her mind raced with the implications of her obvious attraction to the smaller woman. She closed her eyes and minutely shook her head to clear her thoughts. She then produced her small notebook and began to earnestly read the file, stopping only to make notes and ask defining questions of the PI.
They worked that way for nearly four hours. They took a brief break to eat, but that was it. Vivian was astounded at the amount of information Quin acquired in a short period of time. She was reading the last file when a name jumped up and smacked her in the head. "Justin Downs." She said aloud and looked over to where Quin was resting against the couch. "He sounds familiar; I can't place where I know the name from." She pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed. Her hand then combed through her hair and she stretched her back, emitting several expletives as a series of pops emanated from her spine. "Ugh! I need to move." Almost instantaneously a small tanned hand was in front of her.
"Getting cramped down there?" Quin's gray eyes smiled down at her.
Vivian accepted the hand and let her self be hauled up with astonishing ease. "Too much time in one position." She groused as she continued to stretch her back and legs after standing. She then stooped and picked up the file again. "Justin Downs." She looked at Quin again, "Did you interview him?"
The PI shook her head, "No, he was way down on my list. Did some wiring for one of the neighbors the week Scott was taken. I did a quick check on him and nothing came back, so it became a dead end."
"That's right. He umm… ran some kind of network wiring for the Taylor's a couple doors down from the Peer's."
Quin nodded in agreement.
"Dead end huh?" Vivian asked.
"Nothing I could connect anyway. Did you guys look at him?" the brunette asked as she sat on the couch, pulling her legs up underneath her.
Vivian crossed and sat at the opposite end of the old couch, "He had an alibi. His girlfriend said she had been with him all night on the evening of the abduction, but there was something that didn't click with Tom about that. I can't recall what it was."
"Tom was always good at ferreting out the liars."
The blonde looked up from the file once again, "how long have you known Tom?"
Quin bit her bottom lip for a second then shrugged, "For about ten years, he was Grace's partner."
Vivian's eyebrows raised, "But you didn't even acknowledge him today."
Quin shrugged again, "We didn't exactly leave on speaking terms. I'm surprised he didn't vote to haul me in."
"Actually he's the reason you weren't hauled in." Vivian said as she closed the folder and slumped back into the couch. "What time is it?" She asked as her eyes closed.
"Almost one." Quin replied as she thought about what the detective said regarding Tom Ross.
Vivian pushed herself up off the couch, closed the folder and handed it to Quin, "I think I'm done for tonight." She crossed to the low table and retrieved her mostly spent notebook. "Thanks for the food," she gestured to their empty plates, "I owe you dinner. And umm, thanks for the information. I'll let you know if we come up with anything further."
Quin escorted the detective up the stairs to the front door. "I apologize for my behavior this afternoon. I was a bit stressed; I don't handle children being in a situation like that well. I'm offering my services to you at anytime. You may need someone on the other side of the thin blue line. I can go places and do things that you can't." She paused in her ramblings, "That all sounded so not me. Good blackmail material for the future." She smiled as she opened the door.
Vivian Walsh didn't know what to make of the woman before her. She knew she would be grilling Tom Ross in the morning that was for sure. "I'll think about the offer. Have a good night Quin."
The brunette watched as the tall woman walked down the porch steps to a modest, four door Ford that was parked at the curb. She was undeniably attracted to the woman — a dangerous attraction. One that she was sure she needed to ignore in order to maintain her working frame of mind. She shut the door as the blue car pulled away. The couch in the basement called her name as she descended the basement stairs. Another night in denial. Another night with her nightmares. Maybe returning to Los Angeles wasn't such a good idea.
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