"Are you sure this is all going to work when you get done?" Quang Ngo was crouched down peering under a desk as Justin Downs plugged in the last few power cords to the new computer system he had built over the last three days.
"Positive." Justin scooted out of the cramp opening and stood up. "At least now she can use the stuff without creating a fire. Some of those monitors were older than me." He said as he poised his index finger over the power button of the new server. "Here goes nothing."
Quang held his breath as the machine whirred quietly and images popped up on three monitors. A smile started to tug at his lips when everything seemed to be working. He and the blonde man had split their time between the computer repair and helping Anthony with the kids. Justin offered to do the upgrade on the computers if someone would venture out to buy the stuff he needed. It was the only way he had to say thank you at the moment, and he hoped that Quinlan McKee would like it.
Vivian stepped of the bottom step into the basement, "Please tell me it works." She pleaded with the young men who were congratulating themselves.
Justin turned and beamed a triumphant smile at the detective, "Like a charm."
"Lucky for you," came the clear voice of McKee as she joined Vivian at the bottom of the steps. She made her way to her desk and sat in her customary chair. She sniffed the air, "Well at least nothing is burning." She furrowed her brows at the now mostly empty space. "Mr. Downs, where are my computers?"
The blonde young man gulped, "I… I…" A stiff elbow from Quang dislodge Justin's voice, "I built a server?"
"You don't sound sure Mr. Downs." McKee turned her chair, narrowing her eyes at the nervous man.
"I put all your drives in the same box." Justin pointed to the lone tower sitting on the desk. "You can access them from any of the three work stations." He moved around McKee and demonstrated. "Everything is here, just like you left it."
Quin watched, then followed Justin's example. Sure enough all her programs worked and her data was still available. "Very awesome Mr. Downs." The brunette smiled at Justin and received a nervous smile in return. She turned back and accessed her email, groaning at the copious amount that streamed in.
"Hello all." Tom Ross announced as he came down the stairs, his very pregnant wife just behind him. He shook hands with Quang, "Sorry to hear about your car kid, probably would have done less damage if you had hit a brick wall though."
Quang nodded in agreement and received a hard glare from McKee. Vivian chuckled and helped Ruth sit on the couch. Justin replayed what the detective said a few times and let out a roaring laugh.
"A brick wall." The young man repeated, "That's a good one."
McKee ran her tongue along her front teeth, "Need I remind you Mr. Downs that you are a guest in my house, at my discretion?"
Justin's laughter faded off and he ended by clearing his throat, "Umm, sorry." He shrugged his shoulders and sought refuge behind the tall blonde detective.
"All right then." Quin swiveled to face the room full of people, "I think it's time we get back on track. I do believe Mr. Downs has a story of amazing fact to tell us." She looked at the man in question and pointed to an empty chair, "Whenever you're ready."
Ruth Ross cut a stitch from Quin's scalp, the brunette wincing at the tug of the tweezers then the sting of the antiseptic that was immediately applied.
"You're such a wuss McKee."
Quin said nothing as another resounding snip foretold of another tug and another sting.
"Did you believe him?"
That's the question of the hour isn't it? Quin thought as she sucked in a bit of air. "Could you be a bit gentler there Doc?" She received a soft slap to the back of her head.
"Sit still. I'm almost done."
"Fine." Quin crossed her arms. Soon she was surrounded by children wondering what was going on. The smallest of those present climbed into and stood on McKee's lap and peered at Ruth's ministrations. "How's it look Timmy?" She questioned the five year old.
"You gots a bare spot Kin, and some little bits of blood." The boy informed the PI. "Does it hurt?"
Ruth gave the last stitch a particularly hard tug. Quin yelped, causing the group of boys to laugh.
"Guess it does." Timmy said as he slid down into Quin's lap facing her.
"A little, but not bad." Quin confided.
Timmy raised his chin and pointed to a scar, "I got this when I was three."
Quin made a show of regarding the thin scar, "That's a beauty," she ran her finger over the underside of the boys chin, "How'd ya' get it?"
"Fell on the steps."
"Hmmm." Quin pointed to her left temple, "That's how I got this one here." The boys gathered closer to look at the fine line. Christopher the oldest of the group whistled, then rolled up his pant leg.
"I got this on the jungle gym." He pointed with pride to an oval shaped scar on his shinbone.
This led to an unveiling of numerous more scars and great tales of playground adventures. Ruth quietly packed her things back in her bag as McKee entertained the group of children. She watched as the brunette examined each little imperfection as it was unveiled by a child. It struck her again what a good mother the woman would make if she had children of her own. Then she felt ashamed at the way she had treated Quin after Grace's death. She had time to really analyze her behavior and found she had started separating herself from Quin almost immediately after Grace's funeral.
Ruth had never thought herself to be a prejudiced person, but her behavior three years ago was nothing but that. She just figured since Grace and Quin were two women that Quin wouldn't have as hard a time dealing with the loss as a heterosexual couple would. She didn't believe that their emotional attachment could be so great that Quinlan McKee would literally go off the deep end. Why was it so hard for her to accept that Grace and McKee had loved each other on the same enormous scale that she felt love for Tom? She thought on it for several days and concluded that it was simply ingrained in her mind that gay couples couldn't share the same feelings for their same sex partner as a heterosexual couple did with theirs. Once she found the flaw in her thinking she set out to correct it. She vowed she would no longer think of her gay friends as having the inability of deep lasting love. She knew for a fact, and by example, that it was untrue. She only had to think of Quin to remind herself. The doctor snapped her bag shut just as Anthony came to gather the boys up for their nap. She smiled as the youngsters put up a valiant fight, but were persuaded by the dark man that their rewards would be great if they complied.
Quin waved to the last of the kids as they exited the big kitchen and headed up the stairs. She thought about how much different the house was with children in it. It felt alive and vibrant. She hoped it would last for a while longer.
"So you never answered me?" Ruth said as she eased into a chair across from McKee.
"I believe him." Quin said with a soft nod of her head in agreement with her own words. "But it doesn't simplify our task. And it gives us another job to do."
Justin Downs had told his sad and often emotional story for several hours. He had himself been abducted at a young age. So young that he didn't remember his parents at all after a while, although he held onto the fact that he had parents out there somewhere, and that they would one day come for him. He still ‘performed' for his current ‘owner', but had a certain amount of freedom. But that freedom came with a price of its own. He was often sent to stake out possible procurements. He would watch children for several days, find their routines, and designate the best time to grab them with the least amount of risk to the party who was taking them. He didn't know who would pick the child up, or who would make the sale afterward. He did know the address of his current owner, and his last name. Other than that, he was grateful that he was away from the man, and that he and his girlfriend were safe. He offered any help he could in finding the people responsible for Scott Peers abduction.
"We'll go through missing person's reports from fifteen or so years ago, see if we can get a hit on Justin." Quin had stopped using the man's last name after finding out it was what was given to him by one of his owners. He couldn't remember his real last name, and he wasn't even sure if his first name was Justin.
"Is there a chance you'll find them." Ruth rubbed her belly with both her hands.
Quin watched the redheads hands glide over her extended abdomen. The thoughtful gaze didn't go unnoticed by the doctor. "Won't be long now huh?"
Ruth smiled softly, "Nope, soon number six will be here. I told Tom I was calling it quits."
Quin snorted, "That's what you said after number four." She tentatively reached out her hand to touch Ruth's belly. Her hand was taken and guided to lay flat against the soft cotton t-shirt that covered Ruth.
"This time I mean it."
Quin moved her hand over the taut surface. A smile that expressed her awe of the life that Ruth carried covered her face. Suddenly the doctor gasped and there was the sound of water trickling on to the wood floor. "What did I do?" Quin questioned.
"My water just broke…"
"Oh shit!" Quin jumped up only to be held in place.
"Quin, it's okay. Just go fetch Tom, and maybe loan me a towel or two." She released her hold on the small woman who ran off to do her bidding. Ruth rubbed her belly again, "Okay Ross number six, keep it cool in there; everything's gonna be fine."
Vivian approached the glass window and purposefully pressed closer than she should to the back of Quin as she peered over the smaller woman's shoulder at the newest addition to the Ross family. The brunette's body heat warmed through her clothes and she sighed. "She looks like she's had a tough day."
"It's hard work coming into the world." Quin replied and leaned slightly back into the solid body behind her. "How's Ruth?"
"Hmmm," Quin turned and leaned against the low wall and window, the tall detective seemed to press even closer, "Are we having personal space issues?" Long arms came down on either side of her hips grabbing hold of the rail there.
"Nope… you?" Vivian scooted forward and parted Quin's legs with one of her own. She leaned down and brushed her cheek on top of the dark head, smiling when she felt Quin's fingers hook into her belt loops on her jeans.
"No…. It's nice." Quin closed her eyes and let the warmth spread through her. She felt safe — almost unburdened. It was a different feeling for her in the arms of another. Not to say Grace was a needy woman who always required comfort. Quite to the contrary she was a strong-minded, strong willed woman. But Quin was often left to deal with the tough stuff; she called it crisis control. She got the feeling that Vivian was just as good at crisis control as she was. It would be nice to have someone else deal with life's unexpected.
"Hmmm?" Quin half sighed as she nuzzled Vivian's warm cleavage.
"Dinner. I owe you dinner. How about tonight?" Vivian asked.
"Tonight?" Quin's cell phone beeped and she reluctantly let go of Vivian's belt loops to check it. After checking the phone's display, she asked "I um, need to make a call, walk with me out side?"
Vivian nodded taking one last look at the newest Ross then turned and joined Quin down the carpeted hall. A couple turns found them outside a set of double doors. Vivian stepped back to give the smaller woman some privacy as Quin covered one ear to ward off the blaring hospital intercom system. She listened to the one sided conversation, her smile fading to a frown as her planned evening unraveled.
Quin cursed silently as she listened to the woman's dilemma on the phone. Normally it wouldn't be a big deal to handle the request, but it was bad timing. She wanted to go to dinner with Vivian.
Vivian watched Quin's reflection in the glass door. She wasn't sure but she thought she saw a slight pout on the brunette's face. There were a few more words exchanged by the PI and the other person on the phone. Soon Quin was once again standing beside the detective.
"Trouble?" Vivian asked.
"Well…" the brunette shrugged, "kind of." There was a moment of silence between the women, and then Quin turned to the blonde with a smile, "Do you like greasy spoon fare?"
"This isn't exactly what I had in mind." Vivian mumbled across the small square table that sat in a dark corner at a very old Los Angeles diner. She watched as Quin scanned the room once again — those gray eyes taking in every detail. She tried to figure out what exactly the smaller woman was looking for. Her eyes landed on a scraggly looking character that had just sat at the counter. The man struck up an animated conversation with the waitress poised to take his order. The waitress shook her head and looked up and over at their table, which when Vivian looked, she was the only occupant. It took her a moment to locate the brunette as the PI made her way to the diner's counter to stand behind the man Vivian had just been watching. Quin leaned down and said something in the man's ear. Whatever she said didn't sit well as the much larger man suddenly stood and landed a square fist in Quin's face, ending the PI on the floor stunned. It only took Vivian seconds to un-holster her gun and make her way across the short distance to press the weapon against the man's back as he leaned down to take another go at Quin.
"I wouldn't if I were you." Vivian said evenly, she looked down at Quin who was regaining her feet, "You alright McKee?"
Quin shook her head slightly, "I must be losing my edge."
"You had one?" Vivian joked as she took hold of the man's arm.
"Funny." Quin wiped away a trickle of blood from her nose with a damp towel the waitress pressed into her hand then looked up at the man, "Help me get him out back." She motioned with her head as she walked towards the double swinging doors that led to the kitchen. It was a straight shot through the kitchen to another door that led to an alley.
Vivian pressed the man against the rough stucco wall of the building, "What now?"
Quin looked up and down the alley then at the man. In a blink of an eye she landed a solid punch to the man's stomach. "Whom do you work for?"
Vivian's mouth dropped open, "You can't do that." She protested as Quin landed a second punch.
Quin turned to look at the detective, "Let him press charges if he wants for assault." She grabbed the man and stood him up straight against the wall. "This woman," she jerked a thumb at Vivian, "is a police officer. Would you like to have her arrest me?"
The man shook his head no then regained his breath, "I work for Verccetti. He's not gonna like you roughing me up."
McKee let a thin smile cross her lips, "Oh I don't know. He may like it well enough." Headlights lit up the alley as a large black car came around the corner. It came to a stop a few yards from where she stood. A click and a solid thump followed by the confident foot steps of a man made the smile turn almost sinister. "Let's ask him shall we?"
The blonde detective felt as though she had fallen into a 1930's gangster movie as the cities most notorious mafia boss came to stop beside Quin.
"This had better be good McKee." Dorian Verccetti looked every bit the part of a mafia boss, from his thousand-dollar suit to his solid mahogany walking stick.
"Is this yours?" Quin asked as she pulled the now cowering man into the dim alley light.
Verccetti lifted the man's chin with the end of his cane, "Never seen him before." He motioned with his head at Vivian, "Don't know her either."
Vivian stepped forward and pulled her jacket back to reveal her badge, "Detective Walsh, L.A.P.D."
"You brought a cop to help you McKee? You must be slipping." The man chuckled. "Speaking of cops…"
"Don't" Quin cut the gangster off. "Let's keep on track here. This guy…" Quin jerked the man forward again, "has been hustling protection money in your name. Otherwise we have nothing to discuss."
Verccetti regarded the man, then the tall blonde detective. He knew that he was unable to handle the situation as he liked to in front of the cop. He approached the now visibly shaking man and leaned in to whisper into his ear.
Vivian had no idea what the threat was, although she was certain there was a threat as the man paled and look as though he might fall over any moment if it weren't for McKee holding him up.
The gangster straightened after his words of discouragement to the two-bit hood. He reached forward and patted the man's cheek with a leather gloved hand. "Now leave here and be very careful of what you do or say in the future. Next time there won't be anyone to curtail my baser urges." He winked at the tall detective.
Quin let lose her hold on the man who stumbled backwards falling on his rear, but quickly recovered, running down the alley as if the devil himself were after him.
"He won't be bothering anyone again. Not around here anyway." Verccetti stated as he adjusted his gloves, "Thanks for the heads up McKee."
"I didn't do it for you." Quin said as she moved passed the gangster to stand beside Vivian.
"Of course not. Still championing the common citizen, I wouldn't expect anything else. I was surprised to get a summons from you. Last I heard you had a melt down and went home to Chicago." Verccetti approached his car. Another well dressed, well built man opened the car door for him. He stopped just short of entering the car, "I'd like to say it's nice to have you back, but we both know what a terrible liar I am." A pressed smile crossed the man's lips, "I would like to say that I'm sorry about Grace. She was a good cop, a no bullshit cop. No matter how much I offered her she couldn't be bought." Then with a leer in Vivian's direction he added, "Perhaps we might do some business Detective. You scratch my back I scratch yours?"
"I don't think so Mr. Verccetti." The blonde stated seriously brokering no argument with her tone.
The gangster shrugged, "Never hurts to ask." He lifted his cane to his forehead and gave a small salute, "Good evening ladies." He then ducked into the car followed by the second man.
Quin and Vivian watched as the auto disappeared around the alley corner. Just as Quin turned to reenter the restaurant Vivian grabbed her shoulder and pinned her to the wall.
"Who in the hell do you think you are? You can't beat people up to get answers! At least you could have warned me of who we would be meeting in a dark alley. Christ McKee, that man is on the federal most wanted list." The detective pumped her finger in the direction the car had disappeared. "Don't ever pull anything like this again in front of me. I will arrest you!"
"You do what you must Detective Walsh; just as I'll continue to do what I must. What was this owner suppose to do? She was warned not to call the police. Her husband was beat to a fucking pulp last week because she was ten bucks short on the protection money." Quin threw her head toward the restaurant, "What the hell do you think that hood and his friends would do if they called the cops?" The brunette jerked free from Vivian's hold, "Keeping up appearances is a dangerous game."
Vivian watched as the smaller woman paced back and forth. She knew what Quin said was true. In order for the wannabe cons to go smoothly they had to carry through with threats of violence; they had to make their victims believe they were dealing with Dorian Verccetti and his army of thugs. So when the business owners they were blackmailing were short or went as far as calling the police there was going to be bloodshed.
"I'm the next best thing to the cops." Quin poked herself in the chest as she stopped in front of Vivian. "I do things my way and hopefully everything works out like tonight. I operate outside of the law Vivian. I was wrong to involve you, and it won't happen again. I'll take you home." She stepped back into the restaurant's kitchen.
"Wait!" Vivian called out and was relieved when the departing woman stopped. "Is that it?"
Quin shook her head and turned back to face the blonde, "I'm not going to change Vivian. This is me." She held out her arms, "Like Verccetti said, I'm for the common citizen. Our jobs aren't that different. I just don't have as many rules as you do."
"Fine." Vivian nodded her head once and pushed through the door "Let's eat." She said in passing as she disappeared into the kitchen.
Quin stood for just a moment wondering what exactly "fine" meant. Was it a final statement of acceptance? Or was it a final statement of dismissal. She pursed her lips in a thin line as she followed the blonde back to their table. The food they had ordered earlier was waiting for them.
Vivian slid into the booth and sniffed at her pot roast. She decided she was just going to go with the flow that was Quinlan McKee. There seemed little use in fighting it. She would bide her time with the brunette, and hopefully somewhere down the road she might get a glimpse of the whole woman who took the seat across from her. Vivian knew she was falling in love hard. Everything about the woman seemed to be enigmatic, and that seemed to act as an aphrodisiac for Vivian. Quinlan McKee was the great unknown, and the blonde detective wanted to be the one person in the world who had an understanding of that force.
Quin picked up her fork and poked at her own pot roast. She looked up for some clue from the blonde about their status. She watched as Vivian took a small taste of her meal then casually added a bit of salt and pepper to the mix. Another bite, a bit bigger than the first, disappeared. Then an appreciative smile crossed the taller woman's lips as she pointed her fork at Quin.
"This…" she pointed the fork at her plate, "is fantastic." Vivian looked closely at the woman across from her. The sharp gray eyes from earlier were gone. In their place were the panicked eyes of a person desperately trying to find answers without asking questions. Now Vivian's shoulders slumped. "Quin." The eyes rounded a bit in recognition of the name, "Don't worry. Eat your dinner."
McKee gave a small nod of acceptance and began to eat earnestly.
"Of course," the blonde said in between bites, "I've not had a very good time tonight and will require a replacement date." The dark head across from her tilted at the last word. "I'll make the arrangements." Vivian concluded with a sweet smile.
The bit of roast in McKee's mouth seemed to fight its way down her throat. The word ‘date' echoed through her mind.
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