“Hey, babe!” Lucy greeted as she walked over to the table where her girlfriend was currently ensconced. Amy grinned and rose, embracing Lucy enthusiastically. Max rolled her eyes in mock-disgust while Janet just looked on and sighed.
“You two need a room,” Max muttered. “Oh wait... you have one,” snarking.
“Max!” Amy sighed, pulling back slightly from Lucy to glare at her friend.
“All right! All right!” holding up her hands in a conciliatory manner and stood up. “I'm gonna go find Dom since we should be starting soon.” She looked at Lucy. “Right?”
Lucy nodded. “Yeah. I'm just waiting on the word from the boss.” She gave Amy an Eskimo kiss.
“What's the hold-up?”
Lucy shrugged and turned enough to look at Max. “I dunno – I didn't ask. I just figured I'd take advantage while I had the chance.”
“Right,” Max said drolly. “You coming, Janet?” sounding more like an order than a question. Janet looked between her friends before sighing and nodding. She stood slowly.
“We'll be back,” she said as she reluctantly followed Max out of the room.
“I don't get them sometimes,” Lucy admitted while they watched them go. Amy grinned.
“That's okay – they really don't get you either.” She looked around. “Why is everybody looking at us?”
Lucy looked at the room. No one was overtly staring, but she noticed a number of eyes glance in their direction before skittering away followed by low conversation among tablemates. Then she saw their guest speaker making her way over. “I dunno, but I bet we're going to find out.”
Lucy eased away from Amy so they were standing side by side instead of next to one another as Dana reached them. “Agent Scully?”
“Hi, Lucy. I was just wondering if there was a problem. We seem to be running behind,” she added with a pointed glance at her watch.
“I'm just waiting for the boss to let me know she's ready to start the afternoon sessions.” Lucy pushed off the table she was leaning against. “I'll go see if I can find her.” She leaned over and pecked Amy's cheek, then headed back into the monitoring room. The other two watched her go, then Dana turned to Amy who just shrugged. Dana shook her head and turned to stand beside Amy while they waited for developments.
“Hey, boss,” Lucy greeted as she re-entered the private room. Xena was alone, and Lucy looked around pointedly before cocking an eyebrow in her direction.
“Gabrielle is checking on Barbara and her girls and the detectives got a call and left out of here pretty quickly,” Xena said as Gabrielle and Dinah crossed into the room from the back.
“Everything all right?” Gabrielle's question was directed at Xena.
Xena shrugged. “They didn't say. I expect if it's about DIVA's case, we'll find out soon enough.”
“In the meantime,” Lucy cut in, “people are getting antsy over there,” jerking her thumb towards the law enforcement room. “You think we can get things started soon?”
“Sure, junior,” Xena said with a grin at the glare Lucy gave her. “I'll take care of it.” She headed to the door, then looked back at Gabrielle who hadn't moved. “You gonna...?”
“Barbara's taking care of it for me. Can you ask Diana to come see me, please?” Xena nodded, then stepped over the threshold. Lucy and Dinah took their places behind the computers, checking the equipment as a matter of course and readying things to record the afternoon seminars.
“Hey, Dinah,” Lucy said as she got comfortable at the computer table again. Blue eyes met hers with a question. “Where's your Catwoman friend?” noting the startlement that Dinah swiftly hid. “Is everything all right?”
“Catwoman friend?” Dinah repeated, hoping Lucy couldn't hear the nervousness in her voice. “Oh,” she added more naturally, “you mean Helena ?”
“Of course I mean Helena ... who else? C'mon, doesn't she remind you of Halle Berry as Catwoman? Kind of slick and predatory in all that leather?”
“Are you talking about Helena ?” Barbara asked as she rolled into the room. Dinah nodded.
“Lucy was just mentioning how much Helena reminded her of Catwoman... like Halle Berry ,” Dinah added when she saw Barbara's eyes widen perceptibly, though that was the only indication Barbara gave to show her surprise. She tilted her head as of in thought.
“Now that you mention it, I guess she does a little bit. Although it may be her penchant for leather,” Barbara said, brushing off further questions by continuing. “ Helena can only tolerate being closed in with crowds like this for a limited amount of time. So she's taking a break.”
Lucy nodded. “I can understand that. I'm glad she's all right.” turning her attention to her monitors as the women broke into smaller groups for their sessions to begin again.
“So?” Blair asked as soon as Jo reached the table. She had already said her goodbyes to Natalie and Tootie and risen, knowing their time was short.
“She's going to talk to Gabrielle. We'll have an answer as soon as she does.”
Blair nodded. “Very well.” She turned to Jordan . “Did we miss anything interesting this morning, Jordan ?”
Jordan smirked. “Depends on what you consider interesting, Blair.” She held up her hand. “It's been a good morning; it's been a good conference.” They stepped back into the law enforcement room. “I think a lot of the women here are making friends they will keep long after this is over.”
Before either Jo or Blair could comment, they saw Xena enter the room and their focus turned to preparing for the afternoon seminars.
“Gabrielle, have you got a minute?” Barbara asked. Gabrielle motioned her over to the table and took a seat, waiting for Barbara to join her.
Barbara pinched the bridge of her nose. “Apparently word of your teaching seminar has reached the law enforcement room. I've already had a couple of attendees approach me to ask if they would be allowed to join us.”
Gabrielle's eyebrows hiked up to her forehead. “Excuse me?!” She waved off Barbara's words when she started to repeat what she'd said. “I'm sorry – I did understand what you said, I'm just a little surprised by it. Why would they want to?”
Barbara just leveled a look at Gabrielle. “Seriously?? Um, Gabrielle... do you realize the talent you have? Or how it touches people?” Just then, Xena and Diana walked into the room together and Xena arched an eyebrow in Gabrielle's direction. This time, it was her pinching the bridge of her nose and shaking her head. Xena transferred her attention to Barbara and waited for her unspoken question to get a response.
Barbara smiled. “Nothing bad, Xena. Your law enforcement types have gotten wind of Gabrielle's impromptu storytelling seminar tonight, and they want to be included.” Diana immediately went and knelt at Gabrielle's side.
“Your Ma....” She stopped, recognizing she couldn't address her queen as such in this company. “You're going to tell stories, Gabrielle? You have to let us come too,” her blue eyes pleading. She more than anyone but Xena missed the storyteller that Gabrielle had been before modern technology had changed the way stories were told and histories were passed down, and Xena had but to ask for a story to have Gabrielle tell one.
Gabrielle gently cupped Diana's face. “I'm not telling stories, my friend. I'm going to try and teach them how to do so.” Diana tilted her head and Gabrielle smiled softly. “It means so much?”
Diana nodded. “Because I have seen you teach. You will be telling stories to teach them.”
Gabrielle sighed. Diana was right. She looked at Xena, who returned her look with one full of love and support, then glanced at Barbara who nodded slightly in encouragement. Gabrielle turned back to Diana and nodded. “All right,” she replied, smiling when she saw the grin that lit Diana's features. She looked back at Xena who was smiling in satisfaction. “Will you let them know?”
Xena sketched a half-bow in her direction. “Your wish,” she replied with a quirk of her lips. Then she turned to re-enter the conference room, knowing she would have to visit each of the break-out rooms and interrupt the ongoing seminars in order to get the word out. However, if the rest of the attendees were half as enthusiastic as Diana had been, it would be worth it. She smiled. Despite everything, she was glad they had done this, if for no other reason than having the opportunity to see Gabrielle return to her roots for just a little while. With a hint of jauntiness in her step, Xena entered the first room to make her announcement, anxious to see a good response.
“Was there something else, Gabrielle?” Diana asked as Xena left the room. Gabrielle nodded.
“We have a slight problem.” Diana arched an eyebrow and Gabrielle's lips twitched. “Beyond that. It seems Paula was not able to finish erasing everything from DIVA's files before the police got into them.” Even though she wondered how Gabrielle knew of Paula's actions, Diana didn't even blink at Gabrielle's knowledge of what had been done.
“Isn't that tampering with evidence, Gabrielle?” Barbara asked quietly, glad Lucy and Dinah were too fully engrossed in their work to overhear the whispered conversation.
“Only if you get caught, Oracle,” Diana stated, knowing Barbara would appreciate the irony. Barbara inclined her head in acknowledgement.
“So you need to know what they got?” Diana asked. Gabrielle shook her head.
“Not exactly. I know all they got on our people were their names. The problem is Desdemona also had blackmail material on her own employees in a separate section, and Paula didn't catch those. So the detectives have assumed the other files were tampered with and everyone here was being blackmailed. Everyone is still a suspect at this point... except for you, Xena and I.”
“So, I want to know what she had on her people. And have Paula send you what she found on everyone else. I don't think anyone here did it, but….”
“But someone did,” Barbara said grimly.
“Exactly,” Gabrielle concurred. “And the sooner we find out who did this, the better for all of us.
Gabrielle looked around the room as Diana walked out and headed to the green room where Helena was currently resting. She knew Diana would take pains not to disturb Helena , but she needed the privacy the green room would afford her for however long she could get it. Gabrielle turned her eyes back to Barbara and sighed. Barbara cocked an eyebrow at her.
“I just realized – if we're doing a joint session tonight instead of waiting for the talent show tomorrow night, we're gonna have to reset the rooms now instead of waiting until after lunch tomorrow.”
Barbara's eyes widened, then she nodded. “All right. Well, we don't have to move Lucy and Dinah – they're behind the stage,” motioning to the platform that was already in place. “I'll contact Rita and let her know our plans have changed, then I'll relieve Lucy and Dinah. I can watch both sets of computers and they can help you get started in here.”
Gabrielle nodded. “Sounds good, especially since we don't know where our detective friends went or how long it will be until they get back.”
“What sounds good?” Xena asked as she stepped back into the room. “Where's Diana?”
“I'll explain that while you help me take the table down and start rearranging the room.”
It was to this controlled chaos that Detectives Bornlan and Kennian returned. They looked at one another then crossed to the front of the room, hoping to attract the attention of either Xena or Gabrielle.
Rita was the first to notice them and motioned towards them, then she gave Xena and Gabrielle a nod of understanding and went back to directing her set-up team. Xena and Gabrielle turned to the waiting detectives.
Both heads tilted in question. When neither Xena nor Gabrielle seemed compelled to offer an explanation, Bornlan gestured around them.
“You wanna tell us what's going on?”
“We're resetting the rooms.”
“For what purpose?”
“I am giving a storytelling seminar tonight and we need to be able to accommodate both conventions. The only real way to do that is to reset this room. We had already planned to do that tomorrow after lunch for the talent show tomorrow night. We've just adjusted our schedule to accommodate the change.”
“Is that prudent? We are investigating a murder after all.”
Xena and Gabrielle looked at Kennian for a moment before Gabrielle responded. “Detective Kennian, we realize that you're investigating a murder. And if you and Detective Bornlan decide you need to interview any or all of our convention attendees, we will of course give you the access you need to do so. However, in the meantime, these women have paid to be here and attend the lectures and seminars we've put together. We're not going to simply put everything on hold because of a murder that may or may not have anything to do with the women here.”
Bornlan nodded and held out her hand before Kennian could speak. “She's right, Shana. The world doesn't stop because we have work to do. Go set up the access we need,” motioning to the lone computer that Scud and Lucy had set up for them in the back corner of the room. Blue eyes bore into brown then Kennian jerked her head once and stalked off. Bornlan held up her hand before either Xena or Gabrielle could speak.
“I'm sorry. We're getting a lot of pressure to clear this case quickly.”
Bornlan frowned at Xena's terse question, so Xena reiterated it. “Why are you getting pressure to clear this case so quickly? What's so special about that DIVA person that it requires you to solve this crime immediately?”
“We know we need to solve it quickly simply from a logistics standpoint. Your attendees are only here for a few days, and unless we have a motive or murder weapon or a probable cause to tie someone directly into this crime, we're not going to be able to keep people here indefinitely. Our captain didn't appreciate the call he got exonerating you with no explanation, so I suspect he's getting some heat from someone pretty high up the chain to just make this go away quickly. That means....”
“Shit rolls downhill?” Xena offered deadpan.
Bornlan chuckled. “Something like that, yeah.”
“All right, Detective. Where do you want to start?”
Bornlan blew out a breath. “Do the women here know what's happened?”
“Only the people that were in this room when you told us this morning.”
“All right. Shana should be about done setting up our connection to Jackie. As soon as she's done, we'll go make the announcement to your con goers. Maybe you should go ahead and gather them all together in the main rooms. It will make things easier and a lot quicker for us.”
“Okay. I'll have Barbara keep an eye on things in here,” Gabrielle said, excusing herself. Xena looked at Bornlan.
“Would you like to come with me, Detective?” gesturing towards the law enforcement room. Teresa scratched the side of her neck and shook her head.
“Actually, would you take Shana with you?” She continued without verbal prompting, the query clear in Xena's blue eyes. “We're going to have to split up to interview people as quickly as possible; and since the law enforcement conference is your responsibility, I assume you'd want to be there,” waiting for Xena's confirmation. “So you'd be watching the crowd when the announcement was made.”
“Detective Bornlan, Gabrielle is....”
“Gabrielle is a lovely woman and I'm sure very capable in her capacity as a convention planner as well as whatever her day job is. But even without any details on the two of you, I know in my gut that the reason you are running a law enforcement conference is because that is what your background is in. You are naturally an observer of those around you.”
“And you're willing to risk your investigation on your gut, Detective?”
“It's all I've got at the moment, Xena; I'm running out of time and I'm running out of options.”
Xena held Teresa's brown eyes for a moment longer, then nodded sharply. “All right, Detective. I'll do what I can to help.”
“Thank you. If you can just get your people together on that side of the hall....” Xena nodded and motioned to Gabrielle, who took her cue and headed directly into the media room. The afternoon sessions were fixing to take an interesting turn.
Now what? Blake wondered as Gabrielle stuck her head into the room after knocking. She had just gotten rid of her headache and had made it into the conference room in time for Barbara to dismiss them from lunch and into their afternoon sessions. She sincerely hoped it wasn't anything bad, but the solemn look on Gabrielle's face told her that hope was going to be in vain.
However, Gabrielle simply asked them all to return to the main room without further explanation before she closed the door and moved to the next seminar room.
Blake and the rest looked around at one another, then as one body, rose and made their way out the door. Then they took their seats and waited for the rest of the attendees to join them... and for Gabrielle to tell them what was going on.
Xena sighed when she stepped into the convention room again. The instructors had been very forgiving of her first interruption – after all, it wasn't every day that people who routinely dealt with the baser side of man's depravity were included in something as astounding as storytelling. Especially by someone as gifted as Gabrielle. This, however, went right back to their jobs... their careers and livelihoods.
Still, she knocked on each door, stepping inside long enough to ask them all to gather in the main room for an announcement. They exchanged glances and sighed, knowing instinctively none of them was going to like what was coming.
Alex's phone buzzed once as she and Casey rose from their seats and she frowned when she glanced at the message. Casey placed a hand on her arm and asked softly, “Everything all right?”
Alex bit her lip. “I'm not sure,” she replied as they made their way slowly out of the small room and into the main one. “When I went back into Witness Protection, after the Conner's trial, I was sent to Albuquerque , New Mexico , and the Federal Marshal in charge of my case was a woman by the name of Mary Shannon.”
Casey nodded. “Right, so?” guiding Alex to a seat beside Olivia before she took Alex's other side and motioned for Abbie to come sit beside her. She held up a hand before anyone could interrupt. Alex kept her eyes on her screen, her brow still furrowed.
“Mary and I became friends... well, as much as a charge can be with their handler,” she added, then smirked. “She was much better than Hammond was, and I was nicer to her because of it. Anyway,” turning her attention to Casey and only then realizing they were seated at the table with their friends and colleagues. “Oh... hi.”
Olivia put a hand on Alex's arm. “What's wrong, honey?” Alex handed her phone to Olivia, whose expression mirrored hers almost exactly.
“Would you care to clue the rest of us in, please?” Abbie said a little impatiently.
Alex cleared her throat. “Mary Shannon was my Marshal liaison when I left New York the second time... after the Conner's trial. She was supposed to be attending this convention, but got held up in Albuquerque because of some last minute business. However, she contacted me this morning, saying she had made it into town after all and asking if we could get together for dinner. She and Olivia wanted to meet each other and I figured this would be the perfect opportunity without having to go back to Albuquerque .”
“Okay, so?” Liz prompted when Alex stopped to take a breath. Alex just gave her a smirk and an arched eyebrow. “Sorry. Go on.”
“Right, well – she just texted me that she'd need a raincheck for dinner. It appears that she has to escort someone out of Orlando immediately.”
“Well, with any luck, you'll get another chance soon,” Tracey offered.
Alex nodded. “Maybe. In the meantime, I wonder what's.... Hey, isn't that Pa...?” She trailed off as she endeavored to twist in her seat, eyes following the blonde currently accompanying Xena towards the front of the room. She shook her head. Olivia wrapped an arm around Alex's shoulders and leaned in to whisper in her ear.
“You all right, Alex?”
Alex nodded. “Yes. Overactive imagination, I guess,” she added when Xena called for their attention then introduced Detective Shana Kennian.
“Ladies, it is my duty to inform you that a woman known to you all, Desdemona Imala Von A'Calandra, was found dead in her hotel room this morning.” No one blinked, but Kennian felt the air suck out of the room. “At this time her death has been ruled a homicide, and you are all considered persons of interest.”
“Who asked that?”
“I did,” Doris said as she rose from her seat. “We have a right to know why we're being considered persons of interest.”
“At the moment I am not at liberty to disclose that information. However, it is substantial enough that I am going to ask that you all remain here until otherwise instructed. We will be questioning each of you as quickly as we can. Thank you.”
Kennian stepped from the platform and Xena took the microphone.
“I can assure you that this is mostly a formality, ladies, but you all know that the easier you make it for the authorities, the better it will go for you and the quicker we can be done with this business. I'd like you to return to your seminars and focus on them instead of this. I know it's asking a lot,” hearing the mutters at her words. “But it'll be better than sitting out here waiting. Besides, you paid for them,” she said with a crooked smile. “May as well get your money's worth, right?”
“She's right,” Catherine agreed unexpectedly as she stood up. “I'm not going to let the death of someone like that mess up a conference I've enjoyed a great deal.”
The air flooded back in the room and the women started murmuring to one another as they got up and slowly returned to their seminar rooms.
“That was unnecessary,” Kennian admonished Xena as she joined the blonde at the door. “Someone here is guilty, Xena. And we will find them.”
“Someone is guilty,” Xena agreed placidly. “I just don't think they're attending either conference.”
“And what is the basis for your theory?” her tone scathing.
“Years of studying human behavior.”
“I believe you are incorrect.”
Xena just smiled. “We'll see.”
“Natalia? What's wrong, baby?”
“Can you come back to the convention room?”
“Right now? We just got to EPCOT.” Olivia took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Natalia, what's wrong?”
Natalia raked her hands through her long hair and let out a nervous breath. “Desdemona was found murdered in her room this morning. And everyone here is considered a person of interest.”
“Excuse me? Are you serious?”
“Olivia, I wouldn't joke about something like this.”
“I'm sorry, sweetheart. I know you wouldn't.” Olivia ran a frustrated hand through her own hair. “It's just not something you expect to hear outside of Springfield ,” mocking the quirks of their hometown. “All right. We'll be there in a few minutes, okay?”
“Thank you, sweetie. I just... I need....”
“I know. Em will understand,” watching as her daughter's eyes turned towards her. She gave Emma a tremulous smile and put the car in gear, pulling out of the space they had just recently filled. “I love you, Natalia.”
“I love you more.”
“Not fair, Rivera. You know I've gotta hang up.”
The last thing Olivia heard was Natalia's soft chuckle before the line went dead. She edged back onto the road headed towards the resort, feeling Emma's eyes on her. “C'mon, Jellybean. Your mama needs us. EPCOT will be here later.”
“Is Mama all right?”
“I think so, but let's go make sure, okay?”
“Okay, Mommy.” A beat. “Mommy, do we get to go to Gabrielle's storytelling tonight?”
“Do you want to, Jellybean?”
Olivia laughed aloud at Emma's enthusiasm. “Then I guess we're going to storytelling tonight... as long as it's all right with Gabrielle.”
“Oh, it's all right with Gabrielle. I already asked.”
Olivia's eyes went into her hairline, but she just shook her head. “All right, Jellybean. I guess we've got plans for the night. Does that make it a date?”
“Mommy!” Emma said with laughter in her voice and rolling her eyes. Then they pulled back into the resort parking lot and headed in to find Natalia, wondering what else awaited them.
“Shana, you need to calm down,” Teresa instructed firmly. Blue eyes glared at her balefully, but Kennian stopped slamming things around. She took a deep breath and put her hands in her pockets to remove the temptation to resume her slamming.
“You do not understand, Teresa. Xena was mocking me.”
“No, she wasn't. She was stating her opinion.”
“She was patronizing – assuming she knows better than a police detective because of years of supposedly observing human behavior.”
Bornlan shrugged. “She may. We have no way of knowing what circumstances have given her the knowledge she has or how long she's had to acquire that experience. For all we know, she is some kind of government spook – which would explain why we can't find anything about her, why she would have that kind of knowledge and why someone very high up is looking out for her.”
“You agree with her,” Shana stated flatly.
Teresa shrugged again, this time with a sheepish expression on her face, then nodded succinctly. “I do actually. I think our best bet for suspects is going to be among the victim's own employees. However, we have an obligation to follow all the leads we have, and at the moment that means we need to speak to each and every woman in both conventions and see if we can discover what the victim had on each of them – even if it is only to eliminate them from the suspect list. Who knows... maybe we have a version of Murder on the Orient Express playing out here.”
Kennian just glared at her again. Bornlan returned the look stare for stare. Kennian looked away first.
“Look... we're doing all we can do. You've got the computer secured and set to ring you with any alerts and updates we might get. We've got unis standing by in case we need them and the Captain is trying to get a couple more detectives assigned to us to speed things along. Considering the constraints we are working under, we're not doing too badly at the moment.”
“I suppose. I am simply... frustrated by this entire process. I feel as though we are being played by someone, though as yet I could not say for certain who that might be.”
“Then I suggest we get to work and try to figure it out, because we're running out of time.”
“Gabrielle?” Gabrielle looked up at Helena as she approached. “Whoa,” she added, giving the busy room the once-over. “What'd I miss?”
Gabrielle smirked. “My class on storytelling has been extended to include the law enforcement conference as well.” Helena 's brows went to her forehead and Gabrielle smiled. “Diana asked... I couldn't tell her no.”
“All right,” Helena agreed. “And speaking of Diana,” she added in a lower voice, “she needs to see you,” jerking her head towards the back room she'd just vacated.
Gabrielle looked at her closely, seeing the residual exhaustion around her eyes. “C'mon,” she said, taking Helena 's elbow and guiding her back towards the green room. “You need a longer nap.”
“But nothing,” Gabrielle replied firmly, giving Barbara a reassuring nod before they crossed the threshold out of the monitoring room. “You and I both know you would be able to hear anything Diana and I said from here if you really wanted to. I trust you, and I promised Barbara....”
Helena stopped walking and pulled away from Gabrielle, crossing her arms over her chest defensively. “You promised Barbara what?”
Gabrielle stepped back to Helena , tugging on her arm gently until Helena relented and allowed Gabrielle to lock arms with her and move them along. “Nothing bad, Helena . I just promised Barbara I'd help keep an eye on you... you know, when she couldn't.”
“I can take care of myself.”
“Yes, you can... and you do, most of the time. But you have been known to be reckless with yourself more than once in your life.” Gabrielle sighed. “ Helena , you're the most precious thing in the whole world to Barbara Gordon, and if me making sure you get enough rest helps give her a little peace, then I will damn well make sure you get enough rest. Are we clear?”
Helena blinked, the augmentation disappearing as rapidly as it had appeared at Gabrielle's commanding tone. “Yeah... we're clear.” She let Gabrielle get them to the door before she pulled them both to a stop once more. Gabrielle looked at her with a questioning expression. “Can I ask why?”
“Why what? Why I promised?” watching Helena nod her head. Gabrielle dropped her chin to her chest briefly and blew out a thick, heavy breath. Even now, the memories of Mt. Fugi had the ability to steal the very air from her lungs and make her heart clench in remembered agony. She felt Helena 's hand cup her chin with a gentleness she had only known from one other. “Gabrielle?”
Gabrielle allowed her head to be brought up, but she kept her eyes closed until she felt Xena's arms wrap around her from behind. She relaxed into the strong body while bringing her hand up to cover Helena's that still rested on her face.
“You all right?” Xena murmured into her ear. Gabrielle nodded even as a tear trickled from her closed eyes. Then she opened watery green eyes and held Helena 's questioning gaze.
“This, Helena ... this is why I promised Barbara. I know what it's like to live without this.”
Helena inhaled sharply, feeling a little of Gabrielle's pain through the physical connection of their hands. It was a residual effect of her helping Dinah - and thankfully for her a temporary one – that she could briefly feel strong emotion in others. That had been what had woken her originally – the announcement of DIVA's murder had created enough of a stir in the air around her that it had jolted Helena from a sound sleep. Diana's entrance into the green room had actually been a calming thing as she had helped ground Helena until she could wake up completely.
Helena 's eyes augmented sharply and she met Gabrielle's pained ones squarely. “Now do you understand?”
Helena simply pulled Gabrielle's head towards her own until she could brush her lips over Gabrielle's forehead in apology. Then without a word, she slipped her hand from Gabrielle's grasp and walked into the green room.
Gabrielle let out a deep breath, and Xena let her hands draw soothing patterns on Gabrielle's belly. She felt Gabrielle relax further into her and pressed her lips to the juncture of her neck and shoulder. Gabrielle turned in her embrace, letting Xena see the flash of her eyes from green to red-rimmed yellow before forcing them back to their natural state.
“I'm all right, love. She just caught me by surprise... and so did the memory.”
Xena didn't have to ask which memory – there was only one memory that still caused this kind of reaction in Gabrielle. Before she could open her mouth to speak, Gabrielle covered her lips and shook her head.
Xena nodded and leaned down to catch Gabrielle's lips....
... before a throat clearing behind Gabrielle made Xena look up and glare into sheepish blue eyes. Still, Diana didn't look away and Xena sighed, pulling back reluctantly. She motioned to Gabrielle with her eyes and Gabrielle leaned forward and kissed Xena quickly and thoroughly, causing Xena's eyes to widen briefly before slamming shut and clenching her hands into Gabrielle's waist.
When it was over, Gabrielle eased away from Xena still licking her lips. Xena took a deep breath and forced her hands open. Gabrielle grinned and winked at her, then turned to face Diana with her Queen's mask firmly in place. She cocked an eyebrow, smiling big when she felt Xena's hands come to rest on her hips again. Diana cleared her throat and dipped her head, but didn't drop her eyes.
“Yes, Diana; speak, my friend.”
“I'm sorry to interrupt – is everything all right? Helena came back into the room without a word, curled back on the couch and is either deep in meditation or sound asleep again. When you didn't follow, I came out to see....”
“Diana, it's all right,” Gabrielle said gently. Diana nodded uncertainly, but straightened when the tone of Gabrielle's voice changed. “Now, what did you find?”
Diana jerked her head towards the green room. “C'mon... you're going to want to see this for yourselves.”
Xena and Gabrielle exchanged glances before turning to Diana simultaneously. “Is this for real?” Xena finally queried.
“Oh yes,” Diana affirmed. “Paula ran the checks twice to be certain. Every single employee she had was being blackmailed by her in some way or another, so all of them had a motive for wanting her dead. Some of them should be in jail for the stuff she had on them.” She hesitated, then drew a deep breath and continued. “In fairness, some of what she has on the people attending both conventions is just as bad... or worse. The question is – do we share with the police or do we make them work for it?” looking back and forth between Xena and Gabrielle.
Xena and Gabrielle looked at one another again. Xena arched an eyebrow and Gabrielle shrugged. Then Xena nodded and Gabrielle sighed.
“Have Paula send you the specs on everyone... even the ones who aren't here – men, women, corporations, whatever. If we're going to give the detectives a hand solving this, then we're going to be thorough.”
Diana reached behind her and picked up another sheaf of papers. “I thought you might say that.”
Xena accepted the pile of papers and straightened them, then passed them to Gabrielle. Within a few minutes, Gabrielle had them organized in the order Desdemona had placed them on her list. She gave them back to Xena and turned to Diana.
“Do we have any idea who did this yet?”
Diana shook her head. “Having looked through the list, I'd say there are a few likely suspects.”
“But what? If I was Bornlan and Kennian, I'd be looking a lot closer at those employees. There's only so much the human mind can take before it breaks and who's to say what form that breaking would take.” Diana shrugged. “On the other hand, we all know that what's on those pages doesn't necessarily reflect the whole truth.”
“So we let the detectives dig through this themselves?”
Xena smirked. “You really think they will accept more help from us? Detective Kennian is convinced I am plotting against them.”
Gabrielle's brows flew into her hairline. “Excuse me?”
Xena waved away her question. “Nothing to worry about.” She smiled when Gabrielle gave her a look of patented disbelief. “Trust me, Sweetheart. I'm not letting them mess this up.” She looked at Diana. “So we're good to go with this stuff.”
“All right. Let's go find Detective Sergeant Bornlan. I have a feeling she will be more gracious about accepting our help than Detective Kennian.”
“You and Diana go ahead, Xe. I'm gonna check on Helena and then go see how things are going in the monitoring room.” She smiled at the skeptical look Xena gave her and smiled softly. “I'm all right, love. I just don't want to get into something with Detective Kennian, and if I see her right now, I just might.”
“My defender,” Xena murmured and Gabrielle nodded.
“All right, you two – enough... before I need a shot of insulin.”
Xena snickered, even as she rose and grabbed the papers. “Jealous much?”
“You know it,” Diana agreed instantly as they headed towards the door. “Every Amazon wants what you have... together, I mean,” seeing the look in Xena's eyes when she glanced at Gabrielle and back to Diana.
“Xena, leave Diana alone.”
“Yes, my Queen,” sketching a half-bow in Gabrielle's direction before jerking her head at Diana. “C'mon, Princess. Sooner we get this done, the sooner the rest of this can be over with.”
“You really think they'll figure this out in time?” Gabrielle heard Diana ask before the door closed behind them. Though she was interested in Xena's response, she was more concerned about Helena , and she rose and crossed to the room Helena was currently ensconced in. She allowed her Bacchae instincts to come to the fore, seeing the rise and fall of Helena 's chest and hearing the even breaths that indicated the deep level of her sleep. Gabrielle noted how tightly Helena was curled and walked silently to the door, motioning Devon over with a slight motion of her head.
“Yes, Miss Gabrielle?”
“ Devon , could you bring me a blanket?”
He blinked twice before swallowing and nodding his head. “Sure, Miss Gabrielle,” tapping the phone he carried and putting in a request to housekeeping. “All done. Is everything all right? Do we need to adjust the temperature?”
“No, the temperature is fine, especially with all the people and the activities we've got going on. But Helena ... you remember, from earlier?” He nodded again. “She's resting right now and she's a little cold, so I thought a blanket might help.”
Just then a woman from housekeeping came around the corner with a perplexed look on her face. “Thank you, Stella,” Devon said as he took the blanket from her.
“Yes... thank you, Stella,” giving the woman a smile. “And thank you, Devon ,” Gabrielle added, accepting the blanket from him. The two cast members watched her disappear back into the green room, then returned to their current assignments.
Gabrielle studied Helena for a long moment. She knew from having talked to Barbara that Helena was hot-blooded by nature... a virtual furnace. Gabrielle wondered if Helena 's current temperature was tied into helping Dinah and figured it probably was. She carefully covered Helena , seeing the younger woman relax almost immediately. Then she left Helena to her rest and returned to the converted monitoring room to reassure Barbara.
Xena and Diana crossed the hall, intent on finding Detectives Bornlan and Kennian before they started their interrogations. Hopefully the information they currently held would help narrow down the suspect list. Xena had the distinct feeling if the two detectives tried to take on a roomful of law enforcement specialists OR a room full of reporters, things would go badly rather quickly... for everyone involved.
They could hear the raised voices as they approached the room and Xena and Diana exchanged glances, glad when it became silent. Diana lifted her hand and knocked on the door, then opened the door to allow Xena to enter in front of her. Kennian stiffened; Bornlan sighed quietly and beckoned them into the room.
“What can we do for you ladies?”
Xena arched an eyebrow. “It's actually more what we can do for you,” she replied as she passed the papers to Bornlan. The detective took a look at them, unable to keep the shock out of her expression. She handed the sheaf over to her partner, even as she pinned Xena with a look.
“Where did you get these?”
Xena shrugged. “I know people.”
Bornlan glared. “I'm sure you do. But that's not what I asked. Where did you get these, Xena? I have experts that couldn't pull this stuff up... and they're the best at what they do.”
“They're the best at what they do *that you know* - I just know better people.”
“What is to keep us from arresting you for obstruction of justice?” Kennian asked in an irritated tone.
“Aside from the fact I'm not obstructing anything?” Xena replied mildly. “Probably the fact that you've been told I am untouchable if you want to do more than write parking tickets for the rest of your career,” smirking just slightly when Kennian clenched her jaw. “Look, Detectives – doesn't it make sense that if I know people who can call off the dogs as it were, I also know people who can make things happen? Appreciate small favors and realize I'm doing this for myself and all the women here as much as I am for you.”
“You really do think they're all completely innocent, don't you?”
Xena snorted. “Detective Bornlan, no one is completely innocent and we've all got secrets we'd rather keep hidden. But I don't believe any of the women attending either my conference or Gabrielle's committed this particular crime.”
“And you, Agent Prince?”
“I believe Xena is correct, but I also know it is your job to investigate all avenues of interest.”
“So you think talking to all the women here is a waste of time.”
“I don't think you'll find your killer here.”
Bornlan motioned them to chairs. “Please,” she invited. “I'd like to hear what you have to say.”
“This ought to be interesting,” Kennian said before taking a seat and crossing her arms, waiting for the discussion to begin.
“So exactly how long are we expected to hang around here?” Warren asked, his tone petulant and whiny. “Desdemona's dead and we're free of her machinations. Can't we just get on with our lives now? I've got other things I'd rather be doing.”
Melissa cut her eyes in his direction. “We all do,” she huffed. “You'd like it to be that simple, wouldn't you, Warren ? You figure you can step into Desi's shoes and life will be just peachy.”
Graham frowned. “He's not stepping into anything. *I'm* still the President of AVID; if anything, this should move me up into the role of chairman.”
“Careful, Graham,” Harmon cautioned, leaning forward and lifting his drink from the table and bringing it to his lips for a long moment. “Your attitude could be construed as one of over-eagerness... something akin to joy. That kind of thing will make the police look longer and harder at you.”
Graham rolled his eyes. “Whatever... I didn't do it, so I really don't care. Desi's dead and that's a good thing as far as I'm concerned. I'm not going to pretend otherwise.”
Bailey nodded her head. “That's exactly what I told the detectives this morning.” Every member of the AVID team turned and looked at her with astonishment and she returned their regard in equal measure. Then she shrugged. “What? I wasn't going to pretend upset when I felt exactly none. We already know these detectives are worth their salt; they know at least part of the truth about Desdemona... and about our relationships with her.”
“So do you think one of us did it?” Adelia asked Bailey. Bailey looked at her and held her gaze for a long moment. Then she shook her head.
“I don't think so. I mean... if one of us were going to try to kill her, why would we wait til here... and now? Why not do it when we were actually somewhere we were familiar with... somewhere we could dispose of the body without anyone being the wiser to the fact that she was gone?”
“Given this some thought, have you?” Graham chuckled wickedly. Bailey just gave him a look.
“So who do you think killed her?” Dot asked, bringing attention to herself. “Because someone obviously did, and if it wasn't one of us....”
“Maybe it was one of those police people. God knows they would have the knowledge to kill Desi... or any of us,” Franklyn offered petulantly. All eyes turned to him, and Buster sneered.
“Are you trying to be that stupid or is it just a natural talent?” Before Franklyn could sputter out a retort, Buster continued. “They would also have the knowledge to keep from being found out.”
“What difference does it make?” Warren asked. “She's dead. We should be celebrating or something.” They all turned to him with something akin to disbelief in their eyes. He rolled his eyes at them and shook his head. “Look... all I'm saying is I didn't do it. And if the rest of you claim to be equally as innocent, we have nothing to worry about. We should be making plans for our futures.”
Bailey gazed at Warren with pity for a long moment. Then she sighed. “If they don't figure out who did this, we may not even have a future.”
Everyone stared at the table thoughtfully, then Harmon signaled for their waitress. Given the way their weekend was shaping up, a little fortification was in order. The rest smiled their thanks at him and the conversation turned to other avenues of discussion.
Barbara removed her glasses and pinched the bridge of her nose in frustration. “I know for a fact my IQ is supposedly above the dim light bulb level, but I'm not sure I understand what you're saying, Gabrielle. If you had already erased the records of all the convention attendees, why did you feel the need to go back and share those records now?”
Gabrielle sighed. “Since Paula didn't catch the file that held the list of AVID employees and Desdemona's reasons for blackmailing them, it made the detectives especially suspicious of the listing of our attendees. By giving them the full list, Xena and I are hoping it will eliminate our guests as suspects.”
“Gabrielle, I'm guilty of murder!” Her voice was a bare whisper in deference to the set-up crew that was putting the finishing touches on the room, even though they were far enough away from everyone not to be overheard.
“No, Barbara. What happened to Shiva's sister was an accident.”
“No, Barbara. No buts.” Gabrielle took Barbara's hand. “Trust me; I know the difference. Besides, no one is going to believe that an award-winning English teacher with ties to law enforcement is going to commit murder... especially of someone she has never met.”
Barbara looked up and cut her eyes in Gabrielle's direction. “I'm over-thinking this, aren't I?”
“Pretty much, Brain,” Gabrielle responded compassionately, though there was a distinct twinkle in her eyes. “Does this mean it's time to take over the world?”
Barbara snorted. “Not tonight, Pinky. One of my dearest friends is giving a command performance and I wouldn't miss that for any amount world domination.” She smiled at Gabrielle's almost bashful reaction. “ Helena will be thrilled, you know,” her tone dry. Gabrielle arched an eyebrow in mute question. Barbara shook her head. “She's been telling me that for years.”
Gabrielle smiled gently. “Sometimes it's easier to believe someone who isn't quite as, um... invested. Especially if that someone has personal experience from which to speak.”
Barbara cocked her head to one side and studied Gabrielle for a moment. Gabrielle held her gaze unflinching, allowing Barbara to read everything Gabrielle wanted her to see and making her wonder once again at the depths of experience and agelessness of the woman who stood before her. Despite their friendship, she knew there was so much more to Gabrielle than she let on and Barbara wondered if she'd ever be able to get past the first few layers.
Two blonde brows went into an equally blonde hairline and Barbara blushed slightly and dropped her chin to her chest in embarrassment for being caught staring. Gabrielle smiled.
“Go check on Helena . I can finish up whatever needs doing in here.”
“Go,” Gabrielle intoned. “Before I change my mind and find some serious grunt work for you to do.”
Barbara smirked and headed out the back towards the green room. Gabrielle watched her go, turning only when she felt Dinah come up beside her.
“Everything all right?” Dinah asked, looking at the empty doorway.
Gabrielle nodded wearily. “Of the things we have control over... absolutely. The rest?” She shrugged. “No sense worrying about it.”
“Do you think I should offer...?”
“No, Dinah,” Gabrielle stated emphatically. “The power you have is used to protect so many, and it works so well in that capacity because no one realizes it's real. If people found out that it was...” She shuddered slightly and shook head. “Besides, do you really think they'd believe you?” asked gently.
Dinah blew out a breath and shook her head. “No, probably not.” She nudged Gabrielle out of the way and took her seat behind the monitors once more. “I've got this if there is somewhere else you need to be,” making a shooing motion with her hands.
“Are you trying to get rid of me Dinah?”
Dinah blushed but held Gabrielle's eyes. “Nah... I know you and Xena sent everyone back to their seminars. I figure there's some responsibility for that.”
Gabrielle smiled. “Yeah, there is. You doing all right?”
“I'm fine. I'll be glad when this is over though.”
“Me too,” Gabrielle agreed as she headed for the door, only to turn back towards Dinah when the younger woman called out her name. She tilted her head to one side and waited.
“Do you think they'll find who did it?”
Gabrielle bit her lip. “Honestly? No. There are just too many variables in play, and they're running on a tight schedule.”
“Does that bother you?”
“I'll let you know,” Gabrielle replied, then headed into the media conference to check on how things were progressing.
“All right, Agent Prince. The floor is yours. Convince us that none of the women who are on your list could possibly commit murder.” Bornlan leaned back in her chair and motioned Diana to speak before she crossed her arms over her chest and waited.
“Would you like me to do so woman by woman or would you simply like a general statement?”
Kennian rose from her seat, blue eyes flashing as she clenched her fists at her side. Diana returned her look calmly and watched curiously as Shana forced herself to relax. When she spoke, Kennian's voice was low and controlled.
“Agent Prince, the courtesy that has been extended to Xena and Gabrielle in this investigation does not automatically translate to you simply because Detective Sergeant Bornlan asked for your input. Please treat this seriously.”
Diana returned her look evenly. “Detective Kennian, I have never treated this situation as anything other than serious and I resent your implication that I have. I was merely asking for clarification of what Detective Bornlan was looking for before replying.”
Shana held her gaze another moment before nodding her acceptance. “Very well – I can appreciate that. I... apologize... for the interruption.” She turned her attention to Bornlan. “Teresa?”
“Do you know any of these women personally... well enough that you would vouch for them in a court of law if called upon to do so?”
“A few, but I ran cursory background checks on everyone attending both conferences, so I can speak confidently on everyone from that standpoint.”
“Wait... you ran background checks on everyone, and it didn't occur to you to be concerned about some of these things?” Bornlan asked with more than a hint of disbelief in her voice.
Diana smiled patiently. “Taken out of context, Detective, everything can seem bad... horrible, even. But sometimes, when you know the full story, your perspective tends to change. And sometimes, it's just something so personal, you'd like to keep it private.”
“Simone Tillman. All she did to aid her first partner's suicide was to not prevent Amanda from taking her own life and holding her hand as she died.” Diana held up a hand to keep Teresa from interrupting and Bornlan bit her tongue and motioned for Diana to continue. “Amanda was in excruciating pain... both physically and mentally. She'd recently had a miscarriage of the baby she and Simone had planned to have together, and the reason for the miscarriage was cancer that by the time they found it was inoperable. Simone simply allowed her partner to die by her own choice with dignity.”
“And you agree with this, Agent Prince?” Shana asked quietly. Diana shook her head.
“It's not my place to agree or disagree, but I can't say I blame either Simone or Amanda for the choices they made. I can also understand why Simone wouldn't want something like that to become common knowledge; she knows what it's like to live under the scrutiny of the press and public.”
“All right,” Teresa conceded. “What about this Nikki Wade? She committed murder of a police officer.”
“Not exactly,” Diana returned, smiling slightly at the disbelieving looks the words garnered her. “Nikki did kill a police officer,” she acknowledged. “A police officer who was trying to rape her then partner. She was released on appeal with an apology from the courts for the injustice of her imprisonment.”
“Hmm,” was Bornlan's noncommittal response. “Lucy Reynolds – she's a criminal for God's sakes.”
“A reformed criminal, Detective,” Xena stated emphatically. “I trust her implicitly.”
“And Barbara Gordon?”
Diana smirked, knowing Barbara would kick her ass, figuratively speaking, if she got wind of Diana's reply, but knowing it was the quickest way to end this line of questioning. “Detective Bornlan, do you know who Barbara Gordon is?”
Teresa shook her head. “Can't say that I do.”
“You should – she's the woman in the wheelchair that's been running around the monitoring room all morning.”
“And do you really think a disabled woman could physically commit a murder that wouldn't leave a body to be found or a mark on her own?” Diana waited a beat then continued. “Detective, no matter how physically capable you are, a physical altercation of that nature would leave marks, correct?” waiting for Bornlan to nod her agreement. “Now look at the reports.”
“I don't see any reports.”
“Exactly. And that type of fight would generate police reports, hospital reports, even eye-witness reports.” She sat back and let the two detectives mull over her words.
“Then why would Desdemona have murder listed beside Barbara Gordon's name? Surely there isn't smoke without *some* fire?” Kennian looked at Bornlan who nodded and they both turned to Xena and Diana. Xena raised an eyebrow and Diana gestured for her to take over.
“I think you're considering this from the wrong angle, Detectives,” Xena replied evenly. “Instead of what Desdemona had to gain, what did these women... these people on her lists have to lose from her accusations?” She paused. “Think about it. It takes years to establish a good reputation, and only minutes to lose it to mere whispers that hint of impropriety. And all of these women had something to lose if Desdemona's accusations got out... true or not.”
“So some of these things are true?”
“Some of them are... yes. Others I doubt the veracity of, but the fact remains that any of the people on these lists could have been hurt by these things getting out, whether they were true or not.”
“In what way?” Kennina queried.
“I know for a fact that Olivia Benson is the product of a rape. But if that fact became common knowledge, especially among defense attorneys, some might question her ability to separate herself enough to do her job without prejudice. Colonel Samantha Carter is one of the brightest scientific minds in the world, and yet if it was found out that she was gay, she'd be dishonorably discharged and shunned by many of her peers. Sara Sidle's mother murdered Sara's father because she couldn't stand the abuse he meted out to both of them on a regular basis and that tends to make her more vigorous when those kinds of cases come her way. Again, a reason for defense attorneys to cry foul.”
Bornlan blew out an impatient breath. “All right! I get your point, since I'm pretty sure you could make a case for each and every name on this list. And yet I still have a dead body on my hands that my ME insists was murdered.”
“Has she determined the actual cause of death yet?”
“Not that we've heard. But she does believe it's the work of a professional,” a little surprised when neither Xena nor Diana blinked twice about that revelation. “Which would imply that pretty much the people from Gabrielle's convention could be cleared, because I'm fairly certain the Doc didn't mean someone interviewed her to death.
Xena cocked her head. “Did she say what kind of professional?”
Xena sighed. “Detective Bornlan, there is more than one type of professional hit. There's the assassin, the sniper, the mercenary....”
“Stop, please. I get the point. I'll see what I can find out,” pausing when Kennian rose and put a hand on her shoulder.
“I will go check the computer. Perhaps I did not set the alert correctly. Otherwise, I will call the doctor and let you know what she says.”
“Thanks, Shana,” watching the woman exit the room. “In the meantime, do you have any other suggestions? Is absolutely everyone in both conventions accounted for?”
“Last night or right this moment?”
Bornlan scrubbed a hand across her face. “Either,” she answered wearily. “Both.”
“Almost everyone was with us last night at the Halloween party at the Magic Kingdom . Those who weren't.... I'll get you the list. All of our attendees are present today.”
“All right. Can you start sending them in one at a time? I need to make it look like I am at least trying to do this by the book.”
Xena gave Diana a look and Diana gave a brisk nod and left the room. “So I take it you no longer believe you're gonna find your killer among my convention attendees?”
Bornlan sighed and scratched her head. “I don't know what I believe anymore. I just know I'm running out of time.”
Detective Sergeant Teresa Bornlan blew out a frustrated breath and scrubbed her hands over her eyes. It was just early evening and still she felt like this day had been years long already. All afternoon she and Shana had separately interviewed the women from both conferences. None had taken long and nothing extraordinary had been revealed as far as Bornlan's interviews were concerned. As she had expected, no one had shown significant remorse over Desdemona's death, and most, though not happy to discuss the things on Desdemona's list, gave no indication of being more than aggravated at being forced to do so. At least some of what Desdemona considered ‘secrets' were less ‘secret' and more ‘not for public consumption'.
Bornlan chewed on her lip while she let her mind run over some of the things she had learned – things that like Diana had told her, changed her thoughts about once she had at least part of the story and not just the accusation behind it.
She started slightly when her phone chirped and she snatched it from her hip. “Bornlan,” she growled, a little agitated to have had her train of thought so neatly derailed.
“Teresa, it's Shana,” she heard her partner say quietly into the phone. “The women have been dismissed from their conferences for the day and are making their way out of the convention rooms. That gives us about two hours before they return to this room,” cluing Bornlan in to just where Kennian was.
“Have you heard from the Doc?”
“She is on video conference now – we are simply waiting for you to join us.”
Bornlan scowled. “Why the hell didn't you say so?” she fumed. “I'll be right there.”
Kennian blinked at the dial tone suddenly humming in her ear and she closed her phone carefully before meeting the coroner's expectant gaze. “She is on her way.”
Just then, Bornlan stepped in through the unlocked back door, stepping to the side where Scud had placed their secure line access and sliding slickly into the seat next to Kennian. She gave her partner a cursory nod before turning her attention to the Medical Examiner.
“What's the word, Doc?”
“Well, the word from this end is it was definitely a professional that caused her death. I found a small puncture wound on her neck... just at the base of her skull. I am still analyzing the substance that entered her body, but I'm fairly certain it's a neuro-toxin. I can't say for sure what the neuro-toxin itself was or where it came from, but I have samples being rushed through the lab as we speak.”
“If you don't actually know anything for certain, why do you believe it was a neuro-toxin?” Bornlan asked, flinching back from the monitor at the look the ME directed at her.
“I don't ask how you do your job, do I, Detective?” the woman growled. Then she let out a sigh and pushed her hair back behind her ears. “Look Terry... just trust me when I tell you that the blood work is going to show some sort of neuro-toxin present in her system. I will let you know exactly what drug compound it is as soon as I know, all right?”
“Okay, Doc. But what about all that other evidence you told us about this morning – you know... the possible poisoning, blunt force trauma and blood? Why have all those possibilities been eliminated?”
The doc leaned forward and reached beyond the monitor, then sat back with a glass in her hand. She took a deep draught and released the breath she'd been holding. “I'm not saying that those things weren't intended to contribute to her demise, but they didn't kill her.” She took another sip of water and swallowed slowly before she continued speaking. “The food may have been poisoned, but she simply didn't eat enough of it to die from ingesting it. As for the blood....” The ME shrugged. “There was a lot considering there were no gunshots or stab wounds present on the body. But there wasn't enough for it to have been the cause of death. Part of it was from the blow on her head, but all indications are she did that to herself.”
Blue eyes met brown and two sets of brows flew equally high into blonde and brown hair. Bornlan gave a tiny shrug and Kennian turned back to the screen first. “Excuse me, Doctor, but why would she have given herself blunt force trauma to the head? It seems a less than efficient method to employ if she was intent on committing suicide.”
The Medical Examiner smiled, though she didn't laugh at the seriousness of the question. Given her own wording and the fact that Kennian was the most factual individual she knew, she basically set herself up for such a query. She waved her hand.
“I'm sorry, Detective – I worded that poorly. The blow on her head was a result of her falling and hitting her head on the corner of the nightstand and not someone hitting her with something.”
Kennian nodded. “Thank you for clarifying that, Doctor.”
“I wish the rest of it was as easy to explain.”
“So do I,” Bornlan agreed as she stretched. “But then what would we do with all that free time?”
“I dunno, Terry, but I for one wouldn't mind finding out,” the doctor commented wryly. She tilted her cup up and drained the last of its contents before leaning forward and placing it beside the monitor once more. “I don't know what to tell you guys. I'll give you the rest of the results as soon as I have them, but my personal belief is you're not going to find your killer.”
Teresa nodded. “Thanks, Doc. We'll be in touch.”
The ME returned the nod before reaching forward and cutting the connection. Teresa and Shana sat still for another minute before Bornlan sighed and stood up. “C'mon. I'm starving. Let's go grab a bite to eat and some fresh air. Maybe that will give us some insight into what we know so far.”
Kennian stood and together they walked out the door and down the hallway towards the food court. The investigation would wait for just a little while. And who knew – maybe a judicious time out would cause someone to give them the break they needed.
“Lucy! Calm down and take a deep breath,” Xena commanded.
Lucy snorted. “Easy for you to say. You're not the one with a target suddenly painted on your back.”
“Been there, done that... more than once.”
Lucy whirled and Xena met her eyes unflinchingly. Lucy cocked her head and her eyes widened as she recognized the truth of Xena's words in her expression. She took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. “You really have, haven't you?”
“Yeah,” Xena admitted, “and under much worse circumstances than this.” She held Lucy's eyes. “Did you do it – did you kill Desdemona?”
“NO! I'm a thief, not a murderer! I can't believe you'd even ask me that. I thought you trus....”
“I do,” Xena cutting off Lucy's accusation with serious intent. “But it got you to stop doubting yourself, didn't it?” chuckling at the comical bulging of Lucy's eyes. “Lucy, I told the police you weren't a viable suspect... that I trusted you completely.” She quirked her lips into a crooked grin. “Besides... killing her now because you were thrown out of Australia years ago? It's a stretch.”
Lucy nodded. “True. I hope Amy will understand that.”
“She will, Luce. She loves you.”
This time Lucy's smile was blinding. “Uh huh.” She blew her bangs out of her face. “So now what?”
Xena shrugged. “Now you go find your girlfriend and have some dinner.”
Lucy arched a brow at her. “What about you?”
Xena glanced at her watch. “Our dinner should be ready for me to pick up. Gabrielle and I will have a quiet meal in our room before we come back here for her storytelling seminar.”
“How do you feel about that?” Lucy asked as they left the green room where they'd gone as soon as the day's activities were over. “I mean,” stumbling to get the words out when Xena gave her a version of ‘the Look'. “How do you feel about Gabrielle doing a seminar tonight? Didn't you have plans?”
“Storytelling makes her happy, Lucy. The fact that people who are respected in their fields not only asked for it but are excited about it is a bonus. Our other plans will wait.”
“Whipped,” Lucy muttered as they walked into the hallway where Amy and her cohorts were leaning against the wall. With a word, Max, Dom and Janet turned and headed up the hall towards the food court while Amy sauntered in Lucy's direction with deliberate concentration. When she was less than ten yards from Lucy, she squealed and ran, causing Lucy to drop what was in her hands to catch the blonde bombshell headed in her direction.
“We'll discuss that whipped comment later,” Xena promised, then made her way around them to go to the Maya Grill. She had a bard to feed.
“That was uncalled for, Diana,” Barbara said flatly. Green eyes glared into blue before Diana glanced at Helena and Dinah who were watching the proceedings with interest. Diana pinched the bridge of her nose in an oddly familiar gesture before bringing her eyes back to meet Barbara's.
“Oracle... Barbara – it was necessary. You know and I know that what I told them was the truth... at least as far as they can see it. There were no marks... no reports... nothing to implicate you in the crime you stood accused of. Just as you know that letting them think otherwise is counterproductive – to their investigation as well as to your... other pursuits.” She hesitated, then resumed her speech. “You know how important it is for your opponents to underestimate you; you know the advantage that gives you. The fact that they can't see you past this chair is their loss.”
Barbara nodded reluctantly, recognizing the truth in Diana's words as much as she hated it.
“Red, lay off Diana,” Helena said, watching the green eyes flare with anger. “She was protecting you and shouldn't be faulted for that. I'd have said the same thing if they'd asked me.”
Diana cocked her head. “What did you tell them, Helena?”
“That killing's really not my style – I'd have just beaten the crap out of her.”
Dinah snorted and Diana chuckled. Even Barbara couldn't stop a small smile from gracing her face at the droll reply. “So why didn't you?” Dark brows flew into an equally dark hairline and Helena 's eyes asked her question silently. Diana cleared her throat before clarifying. “Why didn't you beat the crap out of her?”
“Because to beat out that much crap, I would've had to kill her. And that would have made Barbara unhappy. Besides,” not seeing green eyes widen at her admission. “Her death might have triggered that list to go public, right? And no one wanted that.”
They all halted as the implication of Helena 's words sank into their consciousness. “This is bad, isn't it?” Dinah asked as she tucked her hair behind her ear.
“You've got a talent for understatement, Kid.”
“This is highly unusual, Ms....”
“I understand, Marshal Shannon,” the redhead said, smoothly cutting off her keeper's objection. “However, it has to be taken care of, and it's my responsibility to take care of it.”
Mary Shannon screwed up her face in a frustrated frown. “Can I ask what the hell is so important you're willing to risk your life for it?”
The other woman's smile was big and predatory. “I'm not risking my life, Marshal. You're simply ensuring I made it out ahead of the dogs.”
Blonde brows went into her hairline and Mary's frown deepened. “Excuse me?”
The redhead chuckled throatily. “I promise to fill you in... as soon as I take care of my business in here,” indicating the large bank building they were currently standing in front of.
“Not without me,” Mary stated firmly, opening the door and gesturing her charge in front of her. The woman sighed but acquiesced and immediately made her way to the safety deposit boxes. Mary shook her head, wondering not for the first time what the hell she'd gotten into getting this woman out of Orlando .
“Everything all right here ladies?” Mac asked as she approached the table in the bar where Sam and Janet were having a drink. “You look like you got your feet taken out from under you.”
The two Air Force officers exchanged glances before turning their eyes to the Marine. Then Janet gestured to an empty chair and Mac took the proffered seat.
“We were just discussing the merits of retirement.”
“Was your police interview that bad?”
Sam and Janet looked at one another again and Sam took Janet's hand in hers as Janet answered. “Not bad, necessarily... just wearing. It gets old having to pretend, especially when you've given so much....” Mac held up her hand and nodded her understanding.
“I'm sorry. I can't begin to understand,” knowing both women had seen combat action. “But I hate that you feel like you're being forced to choose.”
Sam shrugged. “We've always known it was a possibility; this just sort of brought it all home to us I guess. At least we could both still find work in our chosen fields as civilians.”
“And probably with a lot higher salary,” Janet continued wryly.
All three officers chuckled. “Boy, that's the truth,” Mac concurred. Makes you wonder about us military types sometimes, doesn't it?” She paused then continued. “At least it's not something we have to decide today,” motioning the waitress over. “Next round's on me,” hiking her brows into her hairline when both of her companions ordered straight juice.
“We're going to hear Gabrielle shortly. We'd actually like to be sober.”
Mac nodded her agreement and soon they were sharing a pitcher of orange juice while talk turned to other things.
“I think the military has the right idea,” Liz said as the New York contingent filed into the bar and took over a large seating area in the back.
“We came to the bar to drink orange juice?” Tracey asked with a hint of disbelief in her voice.
“I didn't say that,” not surprised when Abbie and Casey stopped by the table where Sam, Janet and Mac were ensconced to extend an invitation to join them. Liz watched as the three turned to glance at them and then rose as one body to make their way to the back of the bar. Abbie took over the introductions and they quickly rearranged chairs so they were all sitting in a large circle.
“What can I get you ladies?” the perky waitress asked. Liz turned to Sam.
“Is that orange juice straight up or with a twist?”
Sam chuckled and blushed, ducking her head. Janet took pity on her partner and met Liz's eyes. “Straight up. We want to be sober to hear Gabrielle tonight and figured one drink was enough for now.”
“Right. I'll have what they're having... on the rocks, please. And some nachos... and some wings and – just bring one of everything on the menu. I'm pretty sure we can make it all disappear,” noting the number of people gathered together seemed to be growing. Alex and Olivia had motioned Jo and her friends over, while Abbie had made sure Lindsay and her crew were among them. That had brought the two young women who had gotten engaged the night before as well as Claire's doppleganger and the CSI group from Las Vegas . Together with the NCIS and FBI agents, Liz figured that a good percentage of the Law enforcement conference was now located in Rix.
Liz let her attention focus on the conversation that had immediately turned to the demise of the DIVA and their implication in it, not wanting to miss a thing. She wondered how long it would be before the rest of the women involved decided to join them, figuring it would be sooner rather than later. There was pride at stake here if nothing else.
She looked around in amusement, wondering if this group of individuals would be able to solve the mystery of Desdemona's murder before the police could. Given the minds involved, she wouldn't be a bit surprised if they did.
It was shaping up to be a most interesting evening.
“It's gonna be REAL embarrassing if they figure out the solution to this murder before we do,” Bornlan commented to Kennian as they passed the bar currently filled with a number of the women they had just finished interviewing. Kennian gave them a cursory glance, but her attention was focused inwardly and Bornlan decided to leave her alone.
She took Shana's elbow and guided her through the press of people making their way to the food court. It took a few minutes before Kennian realized that they had reached their destination and she looked around cautiously. Bornlan chuckled.
“Nice of you to rejoin us, Shana.”
“How did we arrive here, Teresa?”
“We walked,” snickered Bornlan. When Kennian arched a blonde brow, she made an effort to get her laughter under control, but she couldn't completely wipe the smile from her face.
“Thank you. Teresa. I believe I could have reached that conclusion on my own as I am fairly certain you could not have carried me such a distance.”
Teresa arched her brow in response. “Would you like to put that theory to the test?”
“No, thank you. I do not wish to become a public spectacle,” allowing her second brow to join her first when Teresa chuckled again. Bornlan raised her hands in surrender.
“Fair enough. We're close enough to becoming a public spectacle with this case as it is. C'mon. Let's grab something to eat and find a table outside before everyone here discovers it's nice out.”
“And what of them?” motioning to the full bar across the hall.
“Well,” Bornlan said as she accepted the loaded burger from the woman behind the counter. “If they figure it out, we won't have to,” earning herself a glare from Kennian.
“That is not very ambitious of you. Besides, do you really think they would share if they reached a reasonable solution?”
“This isn't about ambition, Shana. It's about realism. You heard what the Doc said – it's very likely that this case will remain unsolved. And given what we have and what we know, I am inclined to agree with her assessment... especially given the time constraints we're working under. As for them sharing – they are law enforcement personnel under suspicion of murder. Do you really think they *won't*?”
“Excellent point,” Kennian conceded, removing a salad and a fruit cup from the refrigerator unit. She placed them on the tray she carried and motioned for Teresa to lead the way.
“Nothing to drink, ladies?” the cashier asked as they reached the register. Bornlan gave a heavy sigh even as she reached for her wallet, causing the young woman to see the badge she carried. Without blinking, she held up a hand and motioned a manager over.
With a few whispered words and a slide of her card, the manager waved them out of the food court. “It's been taken care of, Detectives. If you'll tell me what you'd like to drink and where you're headed, I'll be happy to accommodate you.”
The two police officers exchanged glances, then Bornlan shrugged. “Well, thank you. We appreciate it. We'll take whatever you have on hand that's non-alcoholic and contains a significant amount of caffeine.”
The manager chuckled. “One of those days, is it?” recognizing the look in their eyes. “Don't worry, Detectives. We'll take care of you. Where will you be?”
“We're going out for some fresh air,” Teresa said with a nod towards the door just beyond them.
“Good choice,” the manager said with a smile. “Go grab a seat; I'll be right there.”
“That was unexpected,” Shana commented as she set her tray down on the table Teresa had selected. Teresa put her food on the table and dropped the tray to the ground beside her.
“Yes, but I can't say it's unwelcome. Especially given how the rest of our day has gone.”
Kennian nodded thoughtfully even as she dressed her salad. “So what are we going to do now?”
Bornlan picked up her burger and took a large bite, chewing with undisguised relish. “Well,” she started, only to stop speaking when the manager came out of the building with a tray of drinks – drinks, plural – as in several choices for each of them. There were two Cokes, two Red Bulls, two what appeared to be cappuccinos and two chocolate milks. Brown eyes met blue in surprise and they turned simultaneously to thank the manager. She waved them off.
“I just wanted to make sure I had all the bases covered. Now is there anything else...?”
“No, thank you. This is more than enough... thanks.”
“Good. The Market is open til ten and the Café is open until midnight, in case you change your minds.” And with a nod, the woman left them in peace to eat.
They ate in silence for a few minutes, allowing themselves a bit of a respite from the case and everything surrounding it. When they were mostly done, their eating slowed to nibbling, Shana asked Teresa once more, “Now what?”
Bornlan swallowed the last of her milk, then she scrubbed a hand over her face and blew out a breath. “I think our best bet is to go over everything we learned today. Maybe between us we'll see something the other missed.”
Kennian nodded her head and carefully wiped her hands and mouth on her napkin before setting her garbage on her tray and looking around for a trash can. Bornlan clearing her throat caused her to look up, realizing the other detective had already risen from her chair and now had a hand out to take her tray. Kennian handed it over without hesitation and sat back to wait for Bornlan to return.
“So what do you have?” Teresa asked, resuming her seat.
Shana blew out a breath. “Not much,” she confessed, eyes on the table. “A lot of the secrets are as Xena indicated – things one would not want made public. However, I did not get an indication from anyone I interviewed that they felt their secret was worth killing for. Some of them....”
“Yes?” Bornlan prompted when Kennian hesitated too long for her liking. “Some of them, what?”
Shana gave her head a frustrated shake. “It is all so ridiculous, Teresa. We have several suspects who, by all accounts, should have criminal records and yet they do not. There are even more who have been caught in moral ambiguities to say nothing of legal ones and yet aside from the listing of these charges that the victim maintained, there is not one word to be found against them except in cases where they have been found to be too passionate in their work. And that brings us to something else.”
“Would you like to share? Or should I try reading your mind?”
Shana glared before she relented. “Why is there no record of Xena or Gabrielle?”
“I'm not sure I'm following you.”
Shana allowed her eyes to meet Teresa's and hold them. “There is no record of anyone named Xena in any way, shape or form – none. As though she does not exist and never has. As for Gabrielle... even running the bots that Desdemona tried, we cannot get a hit. It simply comes back to Desdemona herself. And Gabrielle, though not a common name by any means is still a very broad search parameter. The fact that their last names are purported to be Smith-Jones, you can see why we are having a bit of a problem pinning anything down.”
“So neither Jackie...?”
“... or anyone else can find a word on either of them. And since we are no longer allowed to investigate them, we have absolutely nothing on them... good or bad.”
“Well, let's put Xena and Gabrielle aside for the moment. We can't do anything about them regardless, and frankly, I don't think they had anything to do with this.”
“Do you have your eyes on someone, Teresa?”
Bornlan shook her head. “No. There are women whose secrets should have landed them in an interrogation room at the least if not a jail cell. But none of them tried to hide anything when questioned directly about them. Even the ones who weren't with the group last night had alibis of one sort or another.”
“And your... ‘gut'? What does it say about them?”
Bornlan sat back and crossed her arms over her chest. “It says we're on a wild goose chase.”
“Would it be better if they were tame water fowl instead?”
The question was asked so calmly and with such a straight face that Bornlan blinked slowly twice before recognizing the twinkle sparkling back at her from shining blue eyes. She chuckled. “Somehow I don't think so, smartass.”
Kennian smirked. “All right. Where does that leave us?”
“We still have DIVA's employees. And we still have the list of guest speakers.”
“Do we even need to concern ourselves with them? After all, they were not part of Desdemona's list.”
“But they were present at the conferences – we need to check on their whereabouts... just in case.”
“And the rest? Those that were on Desdemona's list who were not present at either conference?”
“Someone is checking on them on their end. But so far, everyone checks out clean.”
“Did you ever stop to wonder if perhaps we were being set up to fail?”
Bornlan cocked her head in question. “In what way?”
“You yourself have stated several times that this case is practically unsolvable given the constraints we are working under. The Doctor has concurred in this opinion. The Captain has made it entirely clear he is unhappy with the interference and restriction placed upon him by authorities higher up than he is and though our team is as crackerjack as can be found, we seem to be hitting walls every time we try to take a step forward in this case. So it does appear that we have been set up to fail.”
“Except we were given this case *before* any restrictions were put into place or before any higher-ups felt the need to step in and interfere. I think it's mostly luck of the draw... even if it's only bad luck. The fact is, I think we would have been brought in regardless of who had caught the case originally; because I have a feeling we are better tolerated than any of our male colleagues would be.”
“Those are excellent points,” Kennian admitted with a defeated shrug of her shoulders.
“Then why are you still upset?”
“Because I do not like to be outsmarted by anyone.”
“Then I suggest we get back to work,” Bornlan said as she rose to her feet and grabbed their remaining drinks. “Who knows – we may get lucky.”
Kennian grinned wryly. “At this point, I'll take anything.”
“So what do they have... really?” Alex asked calmly, having managed to become the moderator of the conversation to keep things from becoming too heated or too personal.
“Well,” Lindsay drawled slowly. “It appears they have a number of theories and a lot of conjecture.”
“But as far as we can see, no physical evidence,” Catherine added.
“So in other words....”
“It's all speculation,” Garcia stated.
“And without evidence,” Abby said.
“They can't file charges,” Brooke finished.
“I don't know if I should find it scary or not that we're starting to finish one another's sentences. It's not like I have known most of you that long,” Emily said dryly, causing laughter to titter around the barroom.
“All right,” Liz spoke up. “Assuming that everyone here is telling the truth, and we're all equally innocent of killing that vile creature,” shuddering dramatically and causing laughter to ripple around the gathering again, “then where does that leave us?”
“In a hell of a mess,” Jo commented, seeing the other police officers nod in agreement, even as the lawyer and media types waited for further elucidation. “Because someone, somewhere *is* guilty of her murder, and until that person is caught people are always gonna wonder about us.”
“So her death caused what her blackmailing didn't,” came the flat statement from Sabrina.
“That depends,” Olivia replied.
“Whether or not our secrets go public now.”
“And that brings us to another point. Did Desdemona have a cache of these secrets stored somewhere?” Janet asked. “I know that's what we were told when she first approached us,” seeing others nod their heads in agreement. “Not that I don't think she couldn't have been lying – hell, she probably was. But we couldn't risk it... not and keep our careers.”
“None of us could,” Helen commented. “And some, like Nikki here, coulda lost more than that.”
“So we're just waiting for the other shoe to drop,” Kate commented.
“No,” Max stated unequivocally. “We figure out who did this first. Then we can decide what to do from there.”
“In the meantime,” Sam said, pointedly looking at her watch. “Gabrielle should be starting her seminar in about half an hour. I think I'm gonna head back down to the con room and get me a good seat.”
Her words had the effect of lighting a fire under everyone, and as a single body, they rose and headed out of the bar.
“Yes, my dear? I take it you were successful?”
“Completely, Uncle. The book has been left in your safety deposit box.”
“Excellent, my dear. And you got away safely?”
“Not a problem. By the time they figure out I'm gone, I won't even be me anymore.”
“You're sure about this?”
“A little late for me to decide otherwise, Uncle Sal.”
“I know sweetheart. I just wish....”
“It had to be done, Uncle. And we both know I was the best qualified to do it.”
“Perhaps,” was Sal's only concession to the truth of her words. “Has Marshal Shannon given you any trouble?”
“No more than I expected. I'm afraid she's never had a charge like me before.”
“Actually, that's not true,” Mary broke in, loudly enough that Sal could hear her voice over his niece's cell phone. “I was in charge of Alexandra Cabot once upon a time. She was probably my most difficult client, though you're running a real close second, Ms....” trailing off when the other woman held up her hand.
“Uncle Sal could hear you. He'd like to speak to you directly.”
Mary Shannon looked at the woman, then at her phone for a long moment before she sighed and accepted the device. “Hello? Yes sir... yes sir. I understand. All right, I will.” She nodded her head even though the man on the other end couldn't see her. “Yes sir... we'll call you when we reach Albuquerque .” Without another word, she handed the red head back her phone and moved away. She covered her face with her hands briefly, before allowing them to scratch through her hair.
It was shaping up to be one of *those* assignments.
The other woman finished her conversation with ‘Uncle Sal' and without another word took Mary's arm. “C'mon, Marshal. I need a cup of coffee and I owe you an explanation.”
“This ought to be a hell of a story.”
The red head laughed and the sound caused Mary to smile despite herself. “Oh Marshal... you have NO idea.”
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