Helena Jones stood calmly in the arrivals area of Dane County Airport. Despite its small size, Madison’s only airport was a busy portal, serving the state capital more than adequately. Even at this hour of the night – Helena glanced down at her watch and noted that it was just after 11pm – people were still streaming in and out of the terminal, most of them coming on and off the small commuter flights from Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Chicago. The petite and elegant woman stayed still as passengers milled around her, preferring to keep her eyes fixed on the small door that opened out onto the tarmac.
It had been four months since she had seen her only daughter. That had been a Christmas visit cut short when some urgent business had unexpectedly taken Cadie and Naomi back to Washington.
There's been an awful lot of water under the bridge since then,Helena thought. She had known for a long time, of course, that all was not entirely well in her daughter's relationship with the senator. Cadie had kept most of it to herself, but it didn’t take much for a mother to know when things were not quite right. A long, and well overdue, phone call from Cadie when she had made her escape from Naomi in Sydney, had filled in all the details.
Since then Helena had had the chance to speak a few times, briefly, with the woman who had stolen her daughter's heart, and had found herself quietly impressed with Jo.
Not that that would be difficult after Naomi, she ruefully admitted. Naomi had always been utterly charming whenever she had been in their home here in Madison, but Helena had seen enough of the senator in her own environment to know there was a mean streak there that had developed more of an edge over the years.
Jo, she wasn’t yet entirely sure of. The Australian had sounded very pleasant on the phone, if shy and reluctant to talk about herself. Her daughter was head over heels in love, that much was obvious, but there was also a much quieter sense of happiness in Cadie when they had talked on the phone, that pleased her mother very much.
Cadie had called home, sounding tired and a little sad, once her plane had landed in Los Angeles. She was due any minute on the shuttle from Minneapolis. Helena moved to one side slightly so she could see around the large, farmer-type walking towards her from the tarmac. She was rewarded with the sight of her daughter's compact frame coming through the door, a backpack hanging from one shoulder and a light sweater over her other arm.
Cadie caught sight of her mother and broke into a broad smile, dropping all her load on the floor before walking into Helena's open-armed embrace.
"Hi Mom,” Cadie said, trying hard to keep the weariness out of her voice. She had forgotten just how draining the trip from Sydney would be and it felt like about three days since she had had any kind of decent sleep. Let alone a meal that had any flavor to it at all.
“Hello darling,” her mother replied, happily squeezing Cadie in a gentle hug before they stepped back for a good look at each other. The two women were more or less the same height and resembled each other enough that there was no doubt to anyone walking past that they were related. The only real differences were in hair color – Helena’s was a refined silver-grey throughout – and build, Cadie having muscles in all the right places, while her mother tended to be more willowy. "My, look at you, so brown,” Helena said, brushing a lock of blonde hair off Cadie’s tanned face. “You look wonderful, dear.”
Cadie grinned at her ever-elegant mother, who didn’t have a hair out of place, and was wearing a beautifully turned-out pantsuit. “Well, I feel like I’ve been dragged through a bush backwards. I can’t wait to get out of these clothes.” She rubbed her face wearily and glanced at the older woman again. “You, on the other hand, look fabulous, Mom,” she said. “Sorry I'm late. We got held up on the ground in Minneapolis.”
“That's okay. I've been having fun watching people.”
Cadie smiled. Her mother had always been the quiet observer of people, finding amusement in the quirks of strangers.
“Thanks for coming and picking me up,” she said, as she picked up her backpack again. Her mother wrapped an arm around her shoulder and she reciprocated, sliding her own arm around Helena's waist as they walked towards the baggage claim area. “It was lovely to know there was going to be a friendly face at the end of all this traveling.”
“Well, of course, darling. I wasn’t going to make you catch a cab to the house, after all.” Helena smiled at Cadie, the mirror image of her own eyes glinting back at her. “You must be exhausted.”
Cadie shrugged. “Actually I just feel kind of discombobulated. It's weird to hear all these American accents again.” They reached the baggage carousel assigned to her flight and she put down her bag again. “I was just getting used to hearing nothing but Australian sounds.”
Helena laughed gently, sensing that there was more than a touch of, if not loneliness, then a certain pining in Cadie's manner.
“I suspect part of that is just because you're missing Jo,” Helena said, chuckling quietly at her daughter's startled response.
“Gee, Mom, nothing like cutting to the chase,” Cadie replied.
Helena shrugged. “I think we know each well enough not to beat around the bush, don't you?”
Cadie didn’t reply, but squeezed her mother again in a silent acknowledgement. It felt good to be around someone warm and familiar. A siren sounded somewhere and the red light on the wall above the carousel began flashing. Machinery ground and the belt jolted into motion.
“The good news is my bag was probably one of the last ones on the plane,” Cadie said. “So, in theory it should be one of the first ones off.” Several bags pushed through the rubber strips at the start of the beltline, none of them Cadie's.
“Nice theory,” Helena murmured, provoking a snort from Cadie. “What's your plan, Arcadia?” she continued. “How long are you going to be with us?”
Cadie stifled a yawn. She kept one eye on the conveyor belt as she thought about her answer.
“Well, I thought I'd spend a few days with you and Dad, while I get over the jetlag and get my sleeping patterns back to at least functional. And then, I guess, I'd better drive down to the Chicago house and pick up the rest of my stuff.” Can’t say I'm looking forward to that, she thought glumly. “That's mine,” she said, grabbing her one piece of wayward luggage as it drifted past.
“I left everything Naomi sent up when she first got back in boxes in the basement,” Helena said. She grabbed one side of the handle of Cadie's bag, and the blonde got on the other side. “I thought it best that you go through them, but at first glance it looks like she just threw in whatever she could reach easily.”
Cadie sighed as they began walking towards the main exit and the car lot. “Why doesn’t that surprise me?” she muttered. “I'd be amazed if Naomi even knew what was mine and what was hers.”
Helena kept silent, knowing that trashing Naomi was probably not the best idea at the moment. However acrimonious their parting had been, Cadie and the senator had spent a lot of years together, and Helena knew better than most that that added up to a lot of mixed feelings.
Cadie shivered, surprised by the cool bite to the wind as they walked outside the terminal.
“I forgot it can still be a bit cold in April,” she said wryly. They stopped long enough for her to pull on her sweater.
“It was a late winter, remember?” Helena said. “No snow at Christmas and then it all starting coming down in early January.”
“That’s right,” Cadie murmured, remembering the heavy snowfalls just before they had left for Australia. “I guess three months in the sun can make me forget Midwest winters.”
“Mmmm sounds lovely,” Helena said. “I must persuade your father to take me out there one of these winters.”
Cadie laughed and picked up her side of the bag again. “Well, now you have the perfect excuse. You know you can always come and stay with Jo and I.” She grinned. “And, it looks like her parents are going to move up there as well.”
They reached the car and Helena handed Cadie the keys. She watched as the blonde opened the trunk and lifted her luggage up. “This really is what you want, isn’t it?” she asked quietly. Cadie nodded, finding tears suddenly very close to the surface. Her mother saved her from actually having to string a sentence together by kissing her on the cheek softly. “It’s okay, sweetheart. It’s actually wonderful to see that look in your eyes again. It’s been a while.”
Cadie smiled wanly. “It has,” she finally managed.
“Come on. Let’s get you home.” Helena glanced knowingly at the blonde. “So you can give Jo a call.”
Jo rubbed wearily at her eyes. So far she had done nothing but sit on the hard, wooden bench outside Criminal Court 1. She hadn’t been called since the committal proceedings had begun at 10am and she had a sinking feeling the rest of the day was going to be more of the same. From what she could gather from Harding’s sporadic updates, the hearing was so far mired in legal argument, largely over the preliminary decision to allow Josh to testify by video.
“We could’ve had him testify and be done with it by now, for all this arguing,” she had grumbled at the time. Harding had just shrugged his shoulders and gone back inside the courtroom, leaving Jo to her own devices.
This afternoon doesn’t seem much different, Jo pondered. Same old lawyers in the same old wigs and robes, talking the same old crap. She sighed and looked at her watch. Just after three. Can’t imagine they’re going to go much longer. Judges don’t like to be late home for dinner, after all. She grimaced ruefully as she leaned back against the wall, her arms crossed. Should’ve brought a good book.
She felt a rhythmic vibration on her hip and dug into her trouser pocket to retrieve her cell phone, flipping it open.
“Yep, that’s where I am.” Cadie’s soft, welcome tones were like an instant shot of muscle relaxant for the tall, tense Australian.
“Hiya, gorgeous,” Jo breathed. She let her head drop back against the wall. “Damn, it’s good to hear your voice.”
“Mmmm, likewise. Where are you?”
“Sitting outside court like a shag on rock. Just like I have been all day long.”
She heard Cadie sigh. “They haven’t called you yet, huh?”
“Nope. Don’t think they will today either.” Jo glanced left as someone opened the courtroom door from the inside and walked through. But it turned out to be just a reporter, notepad and pen in hand, and she turned her attention back to the phone. “Where are you, more to the point?”
Cadie laughed quietly and Jo absorbed every second of it. “Well, I think I’m at Mom and Dad’s place, but as my brain dribbled out of my ears about 10 hours ago, I can’t be certain.”
Jo looked up at the drab ceiling of the corridor and let herself smile at Cadie’s weary humor.
“I’m glad you got there safely, sweetheart.” She remembered what time it was where Cadie was. “And go to bed, for crying out loud.”
“I will. I just wanted … I just needed to talk to you.”
Awwwwww. “I’m glad you did. I needed to hear you talk to me.” Jo heard Cadie shifting her position, and tried to imagine her lover’s face. “I think I’ve figured out that I really hate being out of contact with you.”
“Oh yeah,” Cadie agreed. “I’m ready to get some sleep, hopefully start to feel human again, and get all this housekeeping done so I can come home again as soon as possible.”
Mmmm, music to my ears, Jo thought. “Just in time to get jetlagged again, huh?” she said out loud.
“I won’t care if it’s you I’m using as a pillow, darling,” Cadie replied, her smile almost audible through the phone line.
Jo chuckled. “And who are you using as a pillow tonight?” she teased.
There was a pause and a sound of something that could well have been bedclothes being pulled back.
“Winnie the Pooh, actually,” Cadie finally replied, provoking a more solid laugh from her partner.
“Fair enough,” Jo conceded. “Call me in your morning?”
“That’ll be pretty late in your night, won’t it?”
“I don’t care,” Jo said, her voice suddenly rough with tears. “Please?”
“Of course, okay,” Cadie answered, and Jo could hear that her lover wasn’t so far from crying herself. “I miss you, Jo-Jo.”
“I’m right here, love,” Jo replied, trying to be reassuring. Somehow, saying that from a distance of 9000 miles, no matter how good the quality of the phone line, just didn’t wash. “I miss you, too.”
There were a few seconds of silence before Cadie yawned. “I guess everything will be a bit better in the morning, huh?” she finally said, fatigue making her sound somehow much younger to Jo’s ears.
“Most things usually are, darling,” Jo agreed, charmed. “Wrap me around you, and sleep deep, okay?”
“Always,” Cadie murmured sleepily. “’Night.”
Jo could feel the cloak slip over her personality even as she stalked into the courtroom and down the centre aisle towards the witness box. She had contemplated willing it not to happen, but as soon as she had stepped inside and seen the all too familiar faces lined up on both sides, she knew she might as well just let it.
I should have known there was no point fighting it, she thought grimly.
It was Friday morning and, surprisingly, Jo had found herself called to the stand almost immediately. There had been a strange sense of satisfaction for her at the semi-audible gasp when she had walked into the room. Even those who knew nothing about her history – and she supposed there were a few of them – were impressed by the figure she cut.
And the weird thing is, I knew that would happen or I wouldn’t have chosen this outfit. I wanted it to happen, apparently, she thought as she walked forward. She was all in black – black leather pants and boots, black turtleneck and a mid-thigh length leather jacket added to her usually imposing stature. It was a color she had pretty much avoided since leaving Sydney, but today had been different. Jo knew damn well she was making an impression. With her long hair, and startling blue eyes, it wasn't too difficult to live up to the reputation she obviously still had.
A quick glance left and right told her there were many in the room who, if they didn’t want her dead, then they certainly wanted a piece of her. Marco di Santo, of course, sat at the defendant's table, looking sullen and ... she half-smiled ... twisted. I guess being castrated will do that to a fella.
Behind him were a row of henchmen, most of whom were known to Jo. In her day they had been minor thugs, just soldiers on the street. Now, she guessed, with di Santo at the top of the tree, these were the yes-men who kept him safe and supplied him with whatever was his drug of choice these days. He used to be a coke-freak, she remembered. One look at his haggard features told her his time in the prison hospital had been less than friendly to his habit, though. They must have kept a 24-hour guard on him.
Jo stepped up into the wooden witness box and settled herself into the chair. She kept her face cold and closed as she took in the details of the courtroom. She was damned if she was going to give anyone in the room, least of all the rows of hungry reporters she could see behind the prosecutor's desk, anything.
Technically, of course, this wasn’t a trial, just a committal hearing. The prosecution would be trying to convince the judge that there was enough evidence with which to go to trial. And the defense would have its chance to get the whole thing thrown out. That was where Jo came in, she knew.
The courtroom made an interesting sight. All the lawyers were bewigged and robed. The judge beside her was even more so, his robes red and draped in silk, unlike the lawyers, who were in plain black. His wig hung down below his shoulders, and his tiny half-glasses perched on the end of what was a rather florid nose. Too much red wine and gin chasers. The clerk of the court approached.
“Please place your left hand on the Bible,” he said, the radio mike attached to his lapel carrying his words to the rest of the room. “Raise your right hand. Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”
Oh, I wish Cadie were here, Jo thought. “I do,” she said aloud.
“Please state your name for the record.” She smiled as he omitted the requirement for stating her address as well.
I'm still getting some protection, then. Good to know. Not that it did me much good when this goose came calling, Jo thought, looking at di Santo briefly. “Jossandra Cristie Madison,” she said quietly, trusting the microphone perched on the edge of the witness box would catch her words.
The clerk moved away and there was a pause in proceedings as the lead prosecutor shuffled his papers and gathered his thoughts.
Jo knew, because she had been well briefed by the lawyer and by Harding, that more hinged on her testimony than just the charges stemming from the attack on her home and Josh. Di Santo had been one of the few who had slipped through the net when Jo had first turned state's evidence five years earlier. The police had tried many times to bring charges against him, but he had evaded them each time. The home invasion against Jo had been just what they needed to get him into court. And now she would have the opportunity to bear witness to a number of incidents that they hoped would help put di Santo away for a long time.
Jo swallowed and moistened her lips as the prosecutor cleared his throat and looked up at her.
“Miss Madison, could you please tell the court about your association with Marco di Santo, the defendant. How long have you known him?”
“I've known him about 15 years.”
“What was the nature of your relationship?”
“I worked for Tony Martin as his bodyguard. Mr di Santo was Tony's second in charge. He ran the King’s Cross Martial Arts School, the protection rackets associated with it, and the numbers games for Tony.”
“Tony Martin, as in the Tony Martin who you helped put in prison five years ago on three counts of murder and …” He shuffled his papers again, finding the relevant page. “And five counts of dealing in illegal substances?”
“Yes. That Tony Martin.” Jo could hear the coldness in her own voice and hardly recognized herself. I guess that woman’s never going to leave me.
The defense counsel, a small, slightly sweaty man with a number of nervous affectations, rose quickly from his chair.
“Objection, your Honor. This witness is offering nothing but hearsay regarding issues that have nothing to do with the matter before this court. She is a paid informant, whose best interests are served by fabricating evidence against my client.”
The prosecutor almost snorted his derision.
“Miss Madison is a material witness in this case, your Honor. It will be shown that it was her home which the defendant invaded, her house-sitter who was held hostage. In fact, it was Miss Madison who detained the defendant long enough for the police to arrive. By detailing her history with the defendant we intend to establish a pattern to his behavior that will prove he had ample motivation and the methodology for the attack on Miss Madison.”
Jo watched the interchange calmly, almost amused by the game-playing. The judge removed his spectacles deliberately, and gazed sternly at both attorneys.
“The objection is over-ruled. This witness’s history with the Department of Public Prosecutions is irrelevant. She is the alleged victim in this case. But I will remind the prosecution to stay focused on this case. I will not tolerate any straying from the path …” He glanced at the defense brief again. “From either side.”
The prosecutor turned back to Jo.
“Are you being paid for your testimony today, Miss Madison?” he asked.
“No, I am not.”
“Could you tell us in your own words about the events of February 10, this year?”
Jo nodded and shifted slightly in her chair.
“I was working as a yacht skipper in the Whitsunday Islands,” Jo replied carefully. “My next-door neighbor, Josh Matthews, was house-sitting for me, as I was going to be away for about three weeks. On February 10, I received a phone call from Marco di Santo.”
The prosecutor stepped out from behind his desk and walked slowly towards her, hooking his thumbs under the edge of his robe in a rather pompous fashion.
“And what did Mr di Santo say to you?” he asked. Jo watched a thin bead of sweat trickle from under the man’s wig, across his temple and down the side of his jaw.
“He said he was at my house, that he had Josh, and that if I didn’t come to him straight away he would make Josh a lot less pretty,” she answered.
“And what did you take to be his meaning?”
Again the defense counsel piped up. “Objection, your Honor. She’s testifying about the inner workings of my client’s mind, which, unless she’s some kind of telepath, is impossible for her to know.”
“Over-ruled,” the judge said curtly.
Jo smiled wryly, and, with a nod from the prosecutor, continued. “He meant that he would, at the very least, cut Josh, if not kill him.”
There was another pause as the prosecutor turned away from her slightly before he asked her the next question.
”Did your previous experience with Mr di Santo suggest that he would carry out his threat?”
Jo almost laughed.
“I knew he would,” she said.
The lawyer walked over to the far corner of his desk, where an easel stood. It held a large, rectangular card which was covered with a light cloth.
“Miss Madison, do you recognize this?” Quickly he whisked the cloth away, revealing a full-color, blown-up photograph.
At first Jo struggled to make out anything recognizable in the mess of reds and blues and flesh tones. In the time it took for her eyes to adjust and for her brain to be able to distinguish the figure into something that made sense, Jo felt her world telescope in on itself. It took all her famous self-control not to suck in a deep and noisy breath. Instead she ground her teeth together. The photo was all too familiar. It was the girl Marco di Santo had shot and beaten to death in a Sydney back alley after he had king-hit Jo into oblivion – the girl who had changed Jo's life. The girl she had been sent there to kill. Jo swallowed.
“Yes, I recognize it,” she said, her voice a deathly calm, cold whisper.
“What is it?” The prosecutor was in his element now, loving the drama of this line of questioning, and he didn’t much care what it was doing to the former assassin.
Jo had a moment of dizziness, backed by a wave of nausea that threatened to double her over. Instead, she folded her hands over each other and gripped tightly until her fingernails dug into the skin. And now I'm very glad Cadie isn’t here to see this.
“It's the body of a girl called Shannon, who was a drug addict and a casual employee of Tony Martin's,” she said. “She had cheated Tony out of a few dollars and he had sent me to kill her.” The frankness of those words chilled her, and she felt the eyes of the entire courtroom riveted on her. Jo flinched and looked down at her hands, wondering at the tiny semi-circles of blood where her fingernails had cut. “I couldn’t do it, but before I could let her go, di Santo ambushed us both.”
The prosecutor walked back towards her, forcing her to look up at him before he continued.
“Was this the first time you had witnessed the defendant in such an act of violence?”
Jo smiled wryly. “No. He made a habit of it.”
“Objection, your Honor. Relevance?” The defense counsel had leapt to his feet once again. “I’m at a loss to know just what this has to do with the events of February 10.”
The prosecutor sighed dramatically. He’d played tennis with the defense counsel two days earlier and they were, in fact, good friends. But all was fair in love and court and he was enjoying his moment in the sun.
“It goes to establishing a pattern of behavior, milord,” he said patiently.
The judge chewed the end of the arm of his half-glasses contemplatively. “I’ll allow it,” he said finally. “But please get to the point, Mr. Roberts. I don’t have a lot of patience for these sort of histrionics.”
Old bugger’s probably got a late golf game lined up, Jo reasoned. Her hands were still shaking from the shock of the photograph, and she was finding it hard to tear her eyes away from it. All those nightmares. As bad as they were, they never matched the reality, she thought, staring into the lifeless eyes of the girl crumpled on the damp roadway. In the corner of the photograph was a man’s shod foot, and with a burst of remembrance, Jo realized it was Harding’s. She turned to look at the detective, who was sitting two rows behind the prosecution. Sympathetic eyes met her own.
The prosecutor was talking again.
“Let’s go back, shall we Miss Madison, to February 10 this year,” he said. “After you received the call from Mr. di Santo, what did you do?”
Back on relatively safe ground, Jo stuck to the facts of her rescue of Josh and the arrest of di Santo. By mutual agreement between herself, the prosecutor and Harding, the only thing she left out of her account of the events was Cadie’s involvement. She was brutally honest about her own part in the tale, right down to the violence she had committed on di Santo as they had waited for the police to arrive.
By the end of the prosecutor’s questions, Jo felt drained and sickened by the whole thing. But she knew there was no easy escape. The defense counsel had to have his turn. With a curt, “your witness”, the lead prosecutor sat down and left Jo to deal with the cross-examination.
The defense counsel stepped forward and looked at Jo carefully, allowing a few seconds of silence before he began.
“Miss Madison, let’s go back to that alley in King’s Cross, for a moment, shall we?” He gestured toward the still-exposed photograph on the easel. “Did you actually see my client kill this girl?”
“He had pistol-whipped me and I was unconscious, so no, I did not,” Jo replied, experienced enough at these games to know how to maximize her case even when the defense was making a relevant point.
“So, you just assumed that my client had done the deed?”
“Given that he had threatened to before he hit me …”
“A simple yes or no answer is all that is required, Miss Madison.”
Jo sighed. “Yes.”
“I see,” said the lawyer. “Was there anyone else in the alley, anyone who could corroborate your story?”
“No, there was not.”
He turned away from her and returned to his desk. “So, we have only your word – the word of a hardened criminal, a killer in your own right, in fact – that it was my client, and not you, who killed that girl?” He pointed at the photograph again.
“Yes, that’s all you have,” Jo admitted.
He changed tack, this time going on the offence. “When the police arrived at your house in Shute Harbor on February 10, they found my client on his knees and you were standing over him with a garrote around his neck. Is that correct?”
Jo nodded. “More or less.”
“And once again, we only have your word for it that you were acting in self-defense. Correct?”
“You have Josh Matthews’ word that he was held hostage,” Jo said.
“Well, I have my own theory about that, Miss Madison,” he said, somewhat smugly. “Would you like to hear it?”
“Objection,” called the prosecutor. “Are we here to talk about evidence, or my learned friend’s, no doubt rich, fantasy life?”
“Get to the point Mr. Barclay,” the judge said, the note of impatience clear in his tone.
“Certainly, milord,” replied the defense counsel agreeably. “I put it to you, Miss Madison that my client is an old acquaintance of yours, and he arrived in Shute Harbor to visit you, found you absent, called you and when you arrived home, you got in to an argument. I put it to you that Josh Matthews got caught up in the middle of it all and hysteria, combined with his youth and loyalty to you, convinced him to give the fanciful testimony we saw yesterday. I put it to you that what the police actually saw on February 10 was you brutalizing a man with whom you’d had a long and antagonistic relationship.” He looked at Jo and smiled. “How am I doing?”
Jo shrugged. “This is your fantasy, not mine,” she answered. “That’s not how it happened.”
“Mmmmm, so you say,” he replied. “Once again, all we have is the word of a woman who has killed many times, and is here today as part of an immunity deal with the prosecution. It’s not a lot to go on, really, is it?” Abruptly he sat down, dismissing Jo with a wave of his hand.
“Do you have anything else for this witness, Mr. Roberts?” the judge asked the prosecutor. There was a pause before he replied.
“Just one question, milord,” the prosecutor said, standing. He leant forward, his hands pressing on the table in front of him. “Miss Madison, are you here today as part of the immunity deal you struck with the Department of Public Prosecutions five years ago?”
Jo considered the question carefully. Would she be here if she hadn’t had that previous relationship with the police? She thought about what di Santo had done to Josh and, she supposed, to her. Damn right I would be, she concluded.
“That deal covered criminal acts I had committed prior to that time. And I believe at the end of the three trials that resulted from me turning state’s evidence, that I signed a piece of paper that allowed me and the DPP to go our separate ways,” she replied, with a half-smile. “There has been no new deal struck. I’m here as someone whose home was invaded by that man …” She pointed at di Santo. “And whose house-sitter was held hostage. That’s all.”
The prosecutor nodded in satisfaction. “No more questions, milord,” he said, as he flicked the tails of his robe from under himself as he sat down. “The witness is dismissed,” the judge instructed.
S’funny how such an evil place can look so pretty. Jo leaned against the a/c-cooled glass, gazing out over Darling Harbor and the other sights of Sydney. The bridge, the Opera House, all the tall city buildings were lit in various shades and styles. It was a beautiful sight from high in the hotel, but it left Jo cold.
She was naked, having just crawled out of bed after a fruitless few hours of attempting to sleep. I’m sure I’m making somebody’s night, she thought. They’d need a pretty good set of binoculars, though. Jo was sitting on the narrow window ledge, side-on to the window, her legs outstretched and slightly bent, her hands wrapped around her knees. Her forehead was pressed against the glass as she looked down on the city.
Ken Harding had wanted her to have dinner with him after they were done in court for the day, but Jo had declined, the pounding headache behind her eyes claiming all her focus.
I’ll make it up to him over the weekend, she had reasoned on her way back to the hotel. I just can’t face company tonight.
The day had ended on another downer, with Jo informed by the prosecution that she could be called again on Monday and to make herself available, condemning her to a whole weekend in the city she loathed. She had spent the early part of the evening half-heartedly picking at her room-service meal and making her way down a bottle of red wine. It hadn’t done her headache much good, but it had at least taken the edge off the churning in her guts.
Her mind was another thing, of course. The moment Jo had climbed in to bed and closed her eyes, she had known it was going to be futile. Her brain was running at a million miles an hour, with the picture of the dead and mutilated girl swirling around like some kind of sick, perverted slide show.
Jo sighed, the condensation from her breath forming a misty cloud on the cool glass. She knew Sydney was one of the world’s great cities, but right now all she could see were the bad memories. She swore the damp stench of that alley was still in her nostrils.
Of course, I could just be losing my mind. Jo slid a fingertip through the condensation, idly drawing a meandering line, her eyes focused on the running lights of a boat out on the harbor. Wouldn’t be the first time.
The phone rang, its modulated tone harsh against the quiet in the room. Jo knew it could only be one person at this hour and she slid off the window ledge with an enormous sense of relief. Her blood pressure dropped 20 points even as she reached for the phone.
Cadie curled onto her side and snuggled deep into the bedclothes as she tucked the phone under her chin and listened to the ring tone. It was still early in Wisconsin but Cadie knew it was past midnight in Sydney and she was probably waking her lover up. Something told her Jo wouldn’t mind even if she did, though. Finally, it was picked up.
One word told Cadie so much. She’s really down, the American realized. Must have been a bad day in court.
“Hello, gorgeous,” she replied, matching the soft tones of her partner. She heard Jo exhale slowly, followed by a low groan, as if the tall woman had just relaxed totally. “Did I wake you?”
Jo laughed with gentle irony. “I wish,” she answered. “No. I couldn’t sleep and was sitting by the window. Guess I got a little stiff.”
Hmmm. “Where are you now?”
“On the bed. How about you?”
“In the bed. Care to join me?” Cadie smiled to herself, knowing Jo would find that hard to resist. She was rewarded by another soft chuckle from the Australian.
“Sure.” Cadie could hear Jo rearranging herself and the bedclothes. “Okay, I’m in bed,” Jo said redundantly. Her voice now sounded much closer, and a whole bunch more intimate.
Like she’s right here with her mouth close to my ear, Cadie thought, noticing the tingle that image produced. Nice. She forced her mind back to her lover’s mental state. She’s not saying a lot, which says a lot, she thought.
“What are you wearing?” Jo said, out of the blue.
Then again I could be completely wrong, Cadie thought with surprise. “Um, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” she answered quietly, glancing down at the pajamas she was wearing.
“Tell me,” Jo’s voice quietly urged.
Cadie laughed softly. “Okay. An old pair of pajamas I haven’t worn since I was sixteen,” she replied.
“And what impossibly cute motif do they have?”
Cadie felt herself blushing. “Um, would you believe lots of little pink panthers?” Jo’s answering laugh rumbled seductively in her ear and Cadie shivered despite the warmth of both the blankets and from the sun peeking through the half-drawn curtains of her childhood bedroom. Mmm, I’m sure seduction is the last thing on her mind, though, the blonde reasoned. “Tell me about your day?”
Jo sighed. Cadie waited as the silence lengthened until she thought her partner wasn’t going to answer at all. But then a very quiet, small voice piped up.
No kidding, my love. “I thought so,” Cadie said aloud. “What happened?”
“Some of my history came back to bite me in the arse,” Jo replied.
“But weren’t you expecting that? I mean, the whole reason di Santo came after you in the first place was because of your history with him.”
“Yes, but …” Jo hesitated. “I guess I wasn’t expecting it to be quite as hard as it was,” she said eventually. “They … um …” She sighed again. “Do you remember me telling you about the girl in the alley? The last person I was sent to …” Cadie heard the words stop dead in Jo’s throat.
“Yes, of course,” she murmured.
“That came up,” Jo said hoarsely, and Cadie could hear the tears much closer to the surface now. “Complete with full color pictures of the …”
“Oh, Jo-Jo, I’m sorry.” Cadie wished more than anything in the world that she could wrap her arms around her lover. But all she could do was listen to Jo sniffling.
“S’okay. It just was a bit of a surprise. I guess I should have known all that stuff would come up, especially given the briefing the prosecutor gave me, but …” Jo sniffed again. “But I guess I’ve just been avoiding thinking about it at all. My own stupid fault, really.”
“Shhh. Don’t do that to yourself, Jo. I wish I could have been there for you.” Cadie ran her hand through her hair, frustrated at feeling so helpless and far away. “God, my timing really sucked on this, didn’t it?”
“Not your fault, love,” Jo murmured. “S’just the way things worked out. And you couldn’t have done anything to change things today, even if you had been here.” Her voice sounded grim and weary. “I would still have had to have been that … that … person that I was back then, and I still would have had to look at that picture and remember the way she felt in my hands … and the end of my gun barrel.”
Cadie swallowed around the sudden lump in her throat.
“You’re not that person any more, love,” she said quietly.
“No?” Jo replied, a trace of bitterness in her tone. “It sure felt like it today. All the old cronies were there. And the reporters. I was good copy.”
Cadie knew, suddenly, exactly why Jo sounded so exhausted.
“Jo, don’t you see that it’s all an act these days? That’s why it takes so much out of you and leaves you feeling like a limp dishrag. You have to put on that persona to survive in that environment. But it’s an act, darling. And it takes a lot of effort. That’s not who you really are inside.”
There was a long pause while Jo digested her words.
“I … I used to be able to push aside everything else I was feeling,” she said finally.
“And now you can’t.”
“And now I can’t.”
“I’m glad,” Cadie whispered.
“I miss you … wish you were here.”
“I’m right here, angel.” Now it’s time to distract her, Cadie decided. “So, what are you wearing?” she asked, dropping her own voice down to a more intimate level. There was a pause as she suspected Jo was absorbing the abrupt change in subject, not to mention tone. Cadie held her breath, wondering if she had completely misjudged the situation. It wasn’t long before she got her answer.
“Naked as the day I was born, darling,” Jo burred in the low register that was guaranteed to send tingles up and down the length of Cadie’s spine.
“Mmmm. So I guess if I turned around so I was facing you …” Cadie paused as she did turn over onto her opposite side, even though she had no way of knowing, really, which way Jo was positioned. “I guess if I did that, then I could just slide my hand up your side until I can cup your breast in the palm of my hand.” The catch in Jo’s breath was audible and deeply arousing to Cadie. “And of course, once I’m there I might as well explore a little bit.”
Cadie smiled, hearing the beginnings of desire and intrigue in Jo’s tiny hesitation.
“Mhmm. I can just brush my thumb across your nipple, for example.” A low groan curled through the phone line, so close, Cadie almost felt Jo’s breath on her skin.
“Are you trying to seduce me, over the phone?”
“That’s the general idea, yes. Is that okay?” There was another pause, and for a moment Cadie thought perhaps she’d hit upon a sensitive spot in her lover’s otherwise robust sexual psyche.
“Um, very much okay, I think,” Jo finally replied. “I’m not really sure … I don’t think I’ve ever … um …”
“Had phone sex before?” Life is full of surprises, Cadie thought.
“Um, no.” Jo cleared her throat. “What do we … I mean, how do we …?
Cadie chuckled lightly. “Well, for a start, get comfortable.” She heard Jo sigh again and tried to imagine the long, naked form of her lover, sprawled across the bed.
“Isn’t this going to cost you a fortune?” Jo murmured.
“Nope. It’s Mom and Dad’s phone,” Cadie reminded her. “And trust me, they won’t notice, and if they do, they won’t mind.”
“Oh, god, don’t mention parents,” Jo groaned, provoking a laugh from Cadie.
“Don’t worry, my love, I’m going to distract you with far more interesting thoughts,” she said wickedly.
Jo gulped. “Um, okay. So, what do we do?”
“Close your eyes.” Cadie shifted slightly so she could tuck the phone between her cheek and the pillow. She closed her own eyes, blocking out the view of her childhood bedroom and toys, not to mention the presence of her parents on the other side of the wall. Instead she focused on the picture of Jo in her head. “Now really concentrate on my voice,” she said, almost whispering. “Jo-Jo, I want you to do something for me.” There was another sharp intake of breath from her partner.
“Anything, you know that,” Jo murmured.
“Let your hands be my hands.”
Jo’s orgasm, when it hit, was not only an intense physical release but an emotional explosion. As her body shuddered and shivered in response to Cadie’s touch and words, all the tensions and worries of the day erupted in a disconcerting flood of feeling. She sobbed, tears flowing freely even as the last throes of the achingly deep climax ebbed away. Jo could hear soothing, calming words from Cadie, but her heart was beating so fast and hard that she thought it was going to burst out of her chest.
“Shhh, sweetheart, it’s all right,” Cadie murmured, close and tender. “Feel my arms wrapped around you?”
“Y-yes,” Jo stammered, and she was almost certain she could feel the American’s reassuring presence. Well, damn, that was certainly unique. So intense. She let out a long, ragged breath as she finally got to the point where she could formulate a rational sentence. “Y-you kn-know that I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone, r-right?”
Cadie laughed gently. “Yes, I think I know that, love.”
“And you’ve made me so happy, Cadie. I’ve never been so happy, ever, in my life.” Jo sniffled again and wiped her nose with the back of her free hand. “So, c-can you explain why it is that I’ve done more crying since I met you than in my entire decade of being a hard case. Not to mention the five years since then. How is that possible?” She could hear Cadie shifting position, sighing as she found a new, comfortable way of lying.
“I think it goes back to what we were talking about before,” Cadie said finally. “You built up a lot of layers of self-defense. You needed every damn one of them from what I can work out.”
“S’true,” Jo acknowledged. “And I guess I don’t need them around you, right?”
“Mhmm. Actually, I think there’s a bunch of people you don’t need them with, but I’m the first one you’ve felt safe enough to let your guard down with, so far. And at the moment I think you’re rubbed raw by everything.”
Jo nodded silently, realizing belatedly that Cadie couldn’t see her response. “You’re right. I am a bit.”
“And I’ve been a bit of a … um …” Jo heard Cadie struggling for the right words.
“Lightning rod,” Jo murmured.
“Well, that’s probably as close as anything, yes,” Cadie acknowledged. “Sorry, sweetpea.”
Jo laughed softly. “Don’t be sorry. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” She grunted slightly as a small aftershock reminded her of their love’s more physical manifestations. “And if the last half-hour is any indication, I may never let you out of the bedroom.” She sighed dreamily. “That was awesome.”
“It sounded wonderful, darling,” the American said, her own voice still a little rough with barely-suppressed desire. “You are the sexiest woman on the planet. You know that, right?”
Somehow Jo found the breath to laugh. “All your doing, my love,” she replied. “My hands were your hands, remember?”
“Not to mention my tongue,” Cadie drawled.
“Mmm, quite,” Jo breathed. “God, woman, I don’t think I can move. You’ve paralyzed me.”
“Well, the lovely thing about phone sex is that as long as your voice is audible, you can still work miracles,” Cadie replied.
Jo chuckled, relishing the fact that she felt more relaxed and stress-free than she had in days. “Is that a gentle hint, sweetheart?”
“Mmm, I want your hands all over my body, Jossandra,” was Cadie’s answer, and Jo could hear every ounce of desire in her tone.
“Then close your eyes, and let your hands be my hands.”
“Are you sure you don’t want us to come with you?” Stephen Jones asked his daughter as he watched her loading empty, folded packing cases into the trunk of the rental car. He knew better than most that Cadie was more than capable of handling things, but something about her being alone in the Chicago house bothered him. Maybe it was because he had spent the last two days hearing about the dissolution of Cadie’s relationship with the senator and Naomi’s subsequent descent into instability.
Cadie looked up at her father where he stood on the bottom step of winding pathway up to the front door. In the four months since she had last seen him, he seemed to have aged. His tall, thin frame was more stooped than she remembered, she was sure. He also looked worried.
Probably with good reason, she thought grimly, though the last thing she wanted to do was to admit that there might be a real cause for her parents’ concern. “No thanks, Dad,” she said aloud, smiling up at him. “Naomi’s not going to be there, so there won’t be any distractions. I’m just going to pack up my stuff and get the heck out of there.”
“Are you sure she’s not going to be there?” Stephen asked.
Cadie thought about that. She knew the US Senate schedule, and she was certain it was in session. Besides, she hadn’t told Naomi she was coming. But if Toby and Jason were right, she probably does know, she realized. If I tell him that, though, I’ll be hard-pressed to stop him coming, with his hunting rifle in tow, if I know him. She had called the boys once she had recovered from the jetlag, but they were away on their Caribbean cruise and not due back until the following weekend. Cadie had also called the Chicago house with no result, not even from the housekeeper – a sure sign that Naomi had closed up the house for the duration of the Senate session and headed back to DC.
“I’m sure, Dad. Senate’s in session and she can’t afford to be missing any votes. Not with the way she damaged her reputation while we were in Australia,” she said as she dropped her overnight bag on top of the packing cases and closed the trunk. Besides coming to Chicago would entail a little effort on her part, and God knows, that’s just not Naomi.
“All right then,” her father conceded. “You know where we are if you need us.”
Cadie stepped up to him and placed her hands on his shoulders, reaching up on tiptoes to kiss him lightly on the cheek. “Thanks Dad.”
“Drive safely,” he reminded her. “Have you got enough change for the tolls? Have you got your cell phone?”
Cadie laughed and patted him on the chest. “Yes, I have enough change. No, I don’t have my cell phone. That’s at the house where I left it before we went to Australia.”
“Then take mine,” he persisted.
“Dad,” she answered, mock sternly, hands on hips. “Don’t worry so much, okay? It’s not that long since I did the drive to Chicago.” She walked back to the car and opened the driver’s side door. “I’ll give you a call once I’ve reached the house, okay? Besides, you need your cell phone tomorrow.”
“All right, but make sure you call,” Stephen said gruffly, sticking his hands in his pockets. Cadie waved as she drove away, the sight of him in her rearview mirror a comforting and familiar one.
It was about 4pm on Sunday and Madison was at its springtime best. The sky was clear and blue and there was a touch of warmth about the sun even though it was making its way down to the horizon. Before long Cadie had wound her way through the flowering suburbs and onto the beltline skirting the southern side of the city. Traffic was light, thankfully, and soon she swung the car onto I-90 heading south. As she settled in for the drive Cadie started to plan just how she would get things done.
She would have preferred to have left that morning and spent only one night at the house, but her parents had organized a family barbeque at lunchtime and Cadie hadn’t had the heart to make them change their plans. Anyway, it had been fun catching up with all the cousins and aunts and uncles. And by mid-afternoon she had been too antsy to hang around until the next morning to leave.
Looks like I’m going to make good time, she thought as she looked around at the traffic, or lack of it. I should make it to the house by 7pm or so. I can probably get a bit done tonight, and then I’ll have the whole day tomorrow to do the rest. One more night in the house should do it and I can be back in Madison before lunch on Tuesday. Perfect.
She hadn’t yet figured out exactly how she felt about it all. The Chicago house had been something of which both she and Naomi had been very proud. It was in an old part of the city and they’d spent a lot of time and money renovating it and making it exactly what they both wanted. Saying goodbye to it, finally and forever, wasn’t necessarily something Cadie felt happy about.
M’losing a lot, she considered. A lot of pieces of history. She thought about Naomi’s extended family, including nephews and nieces of whom she was really quite fond. A lot of people.
She contemplated that as she dodged around a slow-moving car that refused to move out of the middle lane of the highway.
Then again, look at what I’m gaining. A vision of Jo’s face filled her mind’s eye and she couldn’t help smiling. More love than I’ve ever known and no strings attached. No game-playing, no politics, no bullshit neediness and the kind of equality in a relationship I’ve always craved. All wrapped up in a drop-dead gorgeous package. Cadie overtook a UPS semi-trailer and ducked back into the slower lane once she had passed. Not that that’s important, her thought process continued. A lovely bonus, admittedly. She grinned to herself. But it’s Jo and that feeling of safety that I get when I’m with her that I love. I never had that with Naomi, not even in the early days. I never quite knew what she was thinking. So I guess I can live with what I’m losing, because what I’m gaining is more important to me. I don’t think I really believed that until I got back here.
She rested her left elbow on the windowsill and let the wind whip through her hair as she pushed the car just above the speed limit.
I can’t wait to get the next couple of days over and done with, though.
Jo sat across the small table from Ken Harding and tried not to think too much about the big man’s eating habits. They were sharing a late breakfast in a café across the road from the court complex and Jo winced as she watched the detective plowing his way through a plate of bacon and eggs like a man who hadn’t eaten in a month. She contemplated starting a conversation but the thought of him trying to talk with his mouth full almost put her off the croissants and black coffee in front of her.
She had spent most of the weekend inside the hotel, making use of its swimming pool and gymnasium to ward off boredom and lethargy. The thought of being out and about in the city, particularly when her former colleagues knew she was in town, didn’t seem all that sensible, even if she had wanted to. The highlight of her weekend had been the twice-daily phone calls with Cadie.
Breakfast with Harding had been her concession to turning down his dinner invitation on Friday.
“You not hungry?” Harding finally said around a mouthful of fried egg as he watched Jo pick at a corner of her croissant.
“Yeah, I’m okay,” she replied, giving him a half-smile. “Just got a lot on my mind, that’s all.”
Harding slurped at his cup of coffee and looked at her over its rim. “Don’t worry about it,” he said casually before diving in for another noisy mouthful. “They’ll be done with you today for sure. You’ll probably be home by tonight.”
“Trouble is, I don’t want to be home,” Jo muttered, not really intending for him to hear. She glanced up in time to watch Harding drip a glob of egg yolk on to his tie and she winced again. He was oblivious, noisily chewing on another forkful of bacon. Jo twirled her coffee cup absentmindedly with the fingers of her right hand. “Ken, can you find something out for me?”
Harding stopped eating long enough to look at his breakfast companion more carefully. She looks buggered, he realized, noticing the dark circles under her eyes for the first time. Missing that little American sheila, I bet. Jo had told him about Cadie’s trip when he had wondered why she hadn’t hung around for the court case.
“If I can,” he said aloud, putting his knife and fork down. “What’s up?”
Jo gazed into the depths of her coffee for a few more seconds before she looked up, almost as if she’d made an important decision, just that second.
“You know Cadie’s in the US, right?” she asked, continuing on when she saw Harding’s answering nod. “If I wanted to go over there to join her, what would it take?” He hesitated and she rushed on. “I mean, I guess I’ve kind of just assumed that with my criminal record, that they wouldn’t let me in the country, but … I don’t know … I guess I just wondered if you knew for sure.”
Harding blinked at her, surprised that she was turning to him for the information.
“Um … no, I don’t know for sure, not off the top of my head,” he answered gruffly. “I can find out though, if you give me a few hours.”
Jo brightened considerably. “Can you? That would be fantastic. I just want to know for sure, if you know what I mean. If I can go, then I think I want to.”
Harding cleared his throat, unnerved by the look on Jo’s face. Even though he’d seen quite a bit of her since they’d reconnected earlier in the year, he still expected to see that hard, cold expression that had been so characteristic of her persona during her killing years. Seeing her oscillate from lonely depression through to quiet hopefulness in the space of a few seconds was more of a surprise than he cared to admit. Hard to believe it’s the same woman sometimes, he thought.
“Yeah, well, they probably won’t need me for more than a few minutes in court today,” he said. “Then I can make some phone calls for you, see what the go is.”
“Thanks Ken,” Jo said quietly, smiling across at him. The day was looking up.
Cadie slung her overnight bag over her shoulder and tucked a few packing cases under her other arm. It was well after dark and the large house in front of her was completely unlit. She juggled her house keys in her free hand, using the light from the car’s interior to help her find the key that would open the front door. Finally she had it and she made her way up the path to the imposing portal. She was a little disconcerted that the movement-sensitive security lighting hadn’t come on when she’d pulled into the driveway.
I guess Naomi disconnected it last time she was here, she thought. Either that, or something’s tripped the circuit off. Maybe a power surge or a blackout or something. God, I hope the power’s not still out. A tiny shiver went through her at the thought and she drove it to the back of her mind as she inserted the key in the lock and turned it.
She pushed the door open and stepped inside the darkened foyer. With one hand she fumbled for the light switch, her heart sinking when no illumination was forthcoming.
“Fuck.” The hairs on the back of Cadie’s neck stood up and she fought the urge to back out of the house as quickly as she had come in. “Don’t panic,” she muttered. “It’s just an empty, dark house. You always said you knew it like the back of your hand. Here’s your chance to prove it.” Her voice sounded hollow and amplified in the large foyer, and somehow she found it reassuring.
She blinked, letting her eyes adjust to the dark. Gradually she began to be able to make out shapes in the gloom.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck.” She thought hard about the layout of the foyer and reached out with her right hand. There was the small antique table, just where she had expected it to be.
“Okay. Let’s see if I know this place well enough to find the emergency supplies in the pantry.”
Cadie moved forward slowly, using her hands as advance scouts. She made her way down the corridor, towards the kitchen, pleased to find her eyes adjusting even more as she progressed. The living room opened out on her right, and she was aware of the deep, dark space beyond the open doorway, but she didn’t care to look too closely. She stubbed her toe once on the porcelain cat she had forgotten was sitting at the foot of the stairs, but it wasn’t too long before she wrapped her hand around the doorknob of the pantry.
It was even darker inside the spacious cupboard, but Cadie thought she had a pretty good idea where to find what she was looking for. She crouched down, relieved to find the box of emergency supplies exactly where she expected it to be.
“Okay, flashlight, flashlight, where are you?” she muttered as she dug around in the box. “God damn it!” The big, black torch was nowhere within touch. “Shit!” Another wave of panic set Cadie’s heart racing and she felt the heavy darkness all around pressing down on her. “Get a grip, Arcadia, for God’s sake.” She took a deep breath and reached into the box again, forcing her brain to run through the list of what else was supposed to be in there.
“Ahhh,” she breathed, as her hand closed around a smaller box she knew contained candles. “Now we’re talking. Matches, matches, matches – yes! Matches. Thank you, Jesus.”
Cadie felt almost chirpy as she struck a match and put it to the wick of a brand new candle. For the time being she didn’t care about the wax dripping on the floor, or finding something to stand the candle on, she just wanted light. The warm, yellow glow flickered, then grew, and Cadie slid down onto the floor, leaning her back against the open pantry door. She forced herself to breathe more evenly.
“Okay. So … this isn’t so bad,” she said to herself. “It’s just an empty, dark house. Nothing to be freaked out about.” She laughed, but the sound of it echoing off the walls only weirded her out further, so she cut it off mid-chuckle. “Ugh.”
A drop of melted wax fell on to the back of her hand and Cadie hissed at the sting. Pushing herself up she went in search of a saucer to stand the candle on. The kitchen was basically clean but there was a fine layer of dust over every horizontal surface.
I’m guessing Naomi hasn’t been here since she first got back from Australia, she thought as she dripped a pool of wax into the middle of a small plate. Can’t say that surprises me. Cadie dropped the rest of the candles on the countertop and went about setting a few more onto plates. Might as well throw a little light on the subject.
A few minutes later she had three candles burning cheerily and she picked them up, making her way back along the hall to the living room. One she placed on the side table in the corridor. Cadie stood on the threshold of the spacious room, the candlelight penetrating only so far. All the furniture was draped with sheets and all she could make out were lumps and bumps amongst the silhouettes.
Might as well start here as anywhere, she reasoned as she took a step forward.