Ruth bolted awake moments after her husband's shout and his abrupt waking. Her hand went to his back; the sweat dampened the t-shirt he wore was stuck it to his body. She rubbed soothing circles on his broad back. "What is it honey?"
Her husband's low whisper stabbed at her heart. She rolled to the side and turned on the small lamp there. She picked up an ever-present glass of water and offered it to her husband. "It's been a long while since you've had that particular nightmare," she said as she accepted the nearly empty glass back.
"I saw Quinlan McKee today."
Ruth sat completely up and scooted back against the headboard of the bed. "Where?" It was a name that Ruth Ross had wished never to hear again.
"She broke the Peer case. She found the boy." Tom pushed himself up to sit beside his wife.
"She shot that man. Didn't she?" Ruth asked as missing pieces of news reports fell into place.
"Yes. Didn't kill him though. I think I might have if I had seen what she did." His hands brushed through his graying hair, recalling the scene when he had arrived.
"She's dangerous, and should have been put away a long time ago."
"NO." Ruth said forcibly. "She's not right Tom. She's crazy. Something broke when Grace died."
Tom nodded. There was no denying that Quinlan McKee was forever changed by the death of her lover. He had even become one of her targets. He had actually feared for his life, but then she up and disappeared. And he had nearly forgotten that the woman had even existed until this afternoon. "She seemed more like her old self though, gave Vivian a run for her money."
"Vivian? Tom, Vivian does not need to get involved with that woman."
"That woman was one of our closest friends Ruth, how can you just turn…"
Ruth threw the covers off and exited the bed, she paced the floor, "She came into our house Tom, intent on killing you."
"She didn't though." Tom said moving to sit at the side of the bed and watched his wife pace.
Ruth rubbed her extended belly thoughtfully, "I can't forgive that Tom, and I certainly can't forget it."
Tom reached his hand out and waited for his wife to take it. After a few moments he felt her small soft hand slide into his own. He pulled his wife to stand in front of him and wrapped his arms around her. He laid his head against her swollen abdomen. "I thank god every night that I have you Ruth, and pray that I keep you every morning. I can't imagine what Quin went through after losing Grace."
That was something Ruth hadn't thought about. What would she do if something happened to Tom and he didn't come home from the job? Would she react as McKee had? She stroked his head, running her fingers through his thick hair, looking down on him in a way his fellow officers were never likely to see him. Perhaps if she had the capability that McKee had she would take revenge for her husband's death. Hopefully she would never have to answer that question.
"Let's go back to bed love. We both have busy days tomorrow." Tom urged his wife under the covers. He lay close to her with his hand over her stomach, making small patterns with his fingertips. He felt her move just enough to reach the nightstand and extinguish the light. He continued his movements until a soft snore indicated that Ruth had fallen asleep once again. He rolled over onto his back and let the images of his nightmare play against the darkened ceiling. He wished someone could take the images from him, but knew he carried them for a reason, what it was he didn't know. Maybe Quinlan McKee had an answer for him. There was more to know about the incident three years ago, something he was yet to discover. Something that would put it all to rest for all of them. Sleep wouldn't return to him this night as with so many others when the nightmare came. He was content to know that Ruth had returned to sleep. At least one of them would have a decent nights rest.
Vivian threw a worn file on top of her partner's desk. "Donald Peterson." She said as she plopped down in her chair.
Tom Ross looked at the thick and obviously well-used file, "Has our boy been a busy lad during his life?" he needlessly asked as he opened the volume and began to read.
"Six offenses in the state of California alone. Boys, girls, animals, the guy is a real sicko. They put him in a hospital for a few months, declared him competent, and released him back into mainstream society where he gets another kid and continues on his merry little way." Vivian opened her own desk drawer pulling out a brown paper sack. She emptied the contents on her desk, a sandwich, bag of chips and a candy bar landed in a heap. She tossed the candy bar at the man across from her, "You look like you could use a boost."
The man accepted the candy gratefully. "I didn't get much sleep last night."
"I know what you mean." Vivian opened the baggie that contained her sandwich, pulling the bread apart to check its contents. "I was up late myself, got some interesting information from your PI friend." She took a healthy bite of the ham and cheese sandwich that her landlord had made for her. She was grateful the matronly woman had adopted her and provided for her midday meal. It was often the only sustenance she would take during the day until she got home to a bowl of soup.
Tom raised a salt and pepper eyebrow, "You went to see McKee?"
"Why did you think I asked for her address?"
"Thought she wasn't your type?"
Vivian looked across their joined desks, "I didn't fuck her, and I wanted to know how she came up with Peterson," she said a bit harshly.
"Sorry." Tom said as he chewed another bite of sweet chocolate and caramel, "I really didn't mean it that way."
"Anyway," Vivian started again, "it seems Peterson isn't our kidnapper, he's a lot of other things, but he didn't take the kid." She tried to keep the conversation on track and away from any kind of personal feelings she might or might not have for the small brunette.
Tom watched his partner for a moment. She had been a bit edgy all day, and he became concerned that something might have happened between the two women. "Did McKee give you a hard time about showing up unannounced last night?"
"No, should she have?" Two chips fell victim to Vivian's hunger simultaneously, "That reminds me, why didn't you tell me how well you knew Quin? How long were you partners with Grace?"
My my they did have quite the chat, Tom thought as he swallowed the last of the candy bar. "Ten years."
"And you see her lover after how long and not even a hello?"
"After three years, and we didn't leave things on the best of terms. Now I would really like to change the subject."
Vivian smiled, "Not so comfortable huh? But let's do change the subject. The lieutenant is going to want to know why we aren't filing kidnap charges against Peterson. He's going to want to know against whom we are going to file, and I like to at least give him some kind of idea, seeing as we have no one at all to pin this on."
"Did McKee have a clue?" Tom asked sitting back in his chair.
Vivian sighed, "No."
"No name? No direction to head in?"
The blonde pointed a finger at her partner, "No name, but she did have a direction, and is still working on it. She said she would let me know if anything came up, in the mean time I want to take a look at Justin Downs again."
Tom sneered, "I don't like that guy. Something's up with him."
Vivian nodded, "I know, so let's dig deeper. Maybe we missed something. We also need to schedule an interview with Peterson. Maybe he can shed a bit of light on it for us."
"There's certainly more light shining between his legs these days anyway." Tom smirked as he leafed through the file once again, this time making notes while looking for any connection to their current investigation.
A full week passed before Quin emerged from her house again. Quang Ngo was missing and she needed him. He was a native of Orange County, the great suburb south of Los Angeles. Quin hated the place with its neatly arranged neighborhoods and cookie cutter people. Quin couldn't find one redeeming grace for the place, except for maybe the prolific punk music that seemed to stream from behind the Orange Curtain as a protest to the conformity that was imposed on its youth.
She drove her white Chevelle across the invisible line separating Los Angeles from the overly cheery Disneyesque, Orange County. Her destination was just a few more exits down the 405 freeway. Little Saigon was located in Garden Grove California. It was heralded as the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam itself. Quin had little doubt of that as she made her exit onto Brookhurst St. headed north. A few more miles brought her to her destination.
Quin made her way into the import shop ran by Quang's father. Business appeared to be brisk on this sunny Friday afternoon. She stopped to look at a set of teacups when her name was called from the back of the shop.
"Ms. McKee, what a wonderful surprise, I wish we would have known you were coming; we would have made preparations for a feast." Quang's father was a rail thin man with dark eye's and jet-black hair. He spoke with a soft accent and his voice carried a great deal of emotion. Quin liked the man the moment he had come to her with his problem son. An elderly woman took Quin's arm from behind and pulled her down. Quin knew very little Vietnamese, but was able to pick out just enough to smile and nod. She spoke a reverent thank you, and kissed the small woman on the cheek, causing a small giggle and a swat to her shoulder.
"You enchant my mother as always Ms. McKee." Tran Ngo said as he walked Quin back to his office, "How may I help you this fine day? I hope my son is not the cause of your visit." The thin man sat in a leather chair indicating that Quin should take the one opposite him.
"Actually I was sort of hoping I would find Quang here. I need his help, but am unable to locate him."
"He came last Sunday. He was here until Tuesday afternoon. A woman came to the shop and he left with her in a bit of a rush." The man looked down as he spoke, and then glanced up nervously at McKee, "I hope he is not in trouble."
"I'm sure it's nothing he can't handle, but it is perplexing why he hasn't called or is not answering his pages. It's not like him." Quin thought for a moment, "Did you recognize this woman?"
"I'm not certain, but I think she was a friend of his from high school, a close friend of one of the girls Quang dated. I haven't heard from any of those kids since Quang was arrested; he became a non-person to that world."
Quin nodded her understanding. It was one of the reasons Quang had asked to join her in Chicago. He found his friends in crime would not tolerate his law abiding behavior and turned their backs on him. It was hard to leave that behind and move forward, but Quang had managed. "I think I remember where they hung out. I'll start there." She said as she stood and offered her hand to the man. "Don't worry. I'm sure he's fine, and if he isn't I'll kick his ass." She grinned.
Tran smiled at the woman he credited with saving his son's life and his honor. "I shall be happy to hold the boy for you." He joked back as he bid the dark woman farewell.
The industrial buildings that lay empty were often taken up by small gangs of youths. This is where McKee knew she would find the people for whom she was looking. Most people would be frightened to enter such areas at the late hour it was, but she wanted to talk to the right people, and to do that you had to risk a little injury. On the other hand, those who didn't want to answer her questions risked an equal amount of injury by her hand.
She cruised by a large concrete building. Large fifty gallon barrels lit the interior as they burned what ever was handy — gang members constantly feeding the flames for warmth against the chilly fall night. It never really got cold in southern California, especially along the coast. But the damp air did tend to settle in ones bones, so to ward off the chill the gang members huddled around the barrels telling tales of their day and exaggerating heroic deeds in the name of the gang.
She parked the old Chevelle along a brick wall and walked into the open building. Her memory called up names she had stored away for no particular occasion. She almost immediately found the girl Quang's father had described standing with three boys. A large bottle of beer was being passed among the four. One of the boys noticed her approached and took up an offensive stand. Quin raised her hands, "I'm looking for Quang. If you tell me where I can find him then you can go right back to what you were doing."
The girl took a step forward and placed her hand on the boys shoulder, "S'okay, she's not a cop. She's Quang's sponsor." The boy immediately relaxed, "Quang's not here; his old lady got busted, and he's looking after the kids."
"Kids?" Quin gaped at the plural.
"They're not all his, but one of em' is." The girl clarified.
"Where can I find him?"
The girl was more than helpful in providing an address and gave fairly precise directions to the small apartment at which door she now found herself knocking. The hollow wood was hardly a barrier between the hall and what lay beyond. It always amazed Quin what people considered suitable housing. The door opened a crack, and her gray eyes had to look down the space to find the person who had opened it. Two big blue eyes blinked at her. "It's kind of late for you to be up isn't it?" She questioned the child peeking out at her.
The child shrugged, "Baby brother is sick and the man needed help." Was the simple explanation given through the crack.
"Okay." Quin drew the word out, "Do you think you could tell the man that McKee is here?"
There was a slow nod and the door shut tight. She could hear small bare feet slap against a tiled floor. A few minutes later heavier footsteps approach the door. It jerked open wide and a flustered Quang Ngo stood on the other side covered in something Quin was unable to identify. A relieved smile crossed his lips.
"McKee, man are you a sight for sore eyes." He stepped back so the woman could enter. "Sorry about the mess and all… I've been kind of preoccupied, the baby is sick," he pointed to a baby lying on a ragged couch. To Quang's credit he had made a soft bed of clean sheets and blankets for the infant. The boy who had answered the door was sitting beside the couch with one hand on the baby's back.
"How long has it been sick?" Quin asked as she placed her hand on the child's head feeling for fever.
"Couple of hours, I was just trying to figure out how to get the mess of ‘em with me to the ER if he didn't start to get better…"
"How many kids are there here, and why didn't you call me? Better yet, why haven't you been answering your phone or pager?" Quin picked up the baby, the older boy looked at her with a mix of mistrust and a glint of protectiveness for his baby brother. Quin smiled at him, "What's your brother's name?"
"Mark. I'm Christopher." He pointed at his chest with a finger. The boy was of obvious mixed racial heritage with his kinky black hair and olive complexion. Bright blue eyes dominated his round face. Quin estimated his age to be about eight.
"I'm McKee, and I'm here to help Quang. Can you get me a bottle of water for your brother?" She asked and smiled as the boy nodded and ran to do her bidding. She looked back at her protégé, "Answers Mr. Ngo."
"Umm, there are five kids, one is mine, but I couldn't see just taking one and leaving the rest for CPS, so I stayed. I don't know what happened to my phone or pager, they're here someplace," he flailed his arms indicating the apartment, "and I wanted to call you, but there is no phone here, and I haven't talked with an adult since Tuesday." He finished. His shoulders slumped and he idly brushed at the sticky stain on his shirt.
Quin looked at the young man who was as close to tears as she had ever seen him. "Quang," she said softly to gain his attention, "you've done a good job, okay. I'm here now. What do you need?"
"I need to get out of here, get them out of here. The place is infested with almost every critter imaginable, and the food is about gone. I need to get the baby to a doctor, and I could really use a shower and about eight hours of sleep, consecutively if possible…"
Quin smiled at the young man, "Okay. Wake em' up; forget about clothes and such; we will get them new. We'll go to my place. I'll call ahead and have someone meet us there to look at the little guy. I'll spot you while you get cleaned up, and sleep. Fair enough?"
Quang looked at his mentor with a bit of surprise. She had come in with a kick ass attitude and ended with being an understanding friend. He was certain that he would never figure the woman out as long as he lived. He nodded his assent to the plan and moved to the back of the apartment to wake the children and get them ready to travel.
Quin settled in a vinyl chair cradling the fussing baby in her arms. She pulled the infant against her and cooed softly to him. The older boy returned with the requested bottle. Quin placed it to the baby's lips where it was eagerly suckled.
"Are you taking us away?" Christopher asked, his eyes showing just a bit of trepidation.
"You'll be coming to stay at my house for a while, until we can find out about your mom. It's a big house, plenty of room for everyone." Quin tried to ease the boy's discomfort with the arrangement. "It isn't perfect, but it will be better. Okay?" The boy nodded and ran off to join his siblings as they began to rise. She watched as Quang organized the group. There were four boys including the baby, and one little girl. It took some doing and some convincing on the two adults part that they were not going to be separated or discarded.
The trip to Los Angeles was mostly quiet. An occasional murmuring from the back seat as the children pointed out the window at the passing city skyline. Quin had made a phone call to a friend to see about the baby's condition. Quang had passed out almost as soon as the car hit the interstate. The PI tried to remember if there was ever a time in her life that things weren't complicated. When memories of quiet Sundays spent with Grace came to mind she smiled to herself. Life had given her some precious moments after all.
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