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Disclaimers

Copyright: Although the main characters in the following do bear a strong resemblance to a cute couple with whom we are all familiar, all the characters in this work of fiction are the product of my own imagination and are therefore copyright to me.

For the rest of the disclaimers, please see the first chapter

Hunting Season

by Helen Smith, (continuum@sprint.ca)September, 2000

Chapter 19

Quinn finished feeding the kittens and rapidly checked video channels on the info feed. Once she found a likely source for the information that she was seeking, she waited to see if her guess was correct.

"We'll be right back with more news from the world of entertainment," smiled the suave anchor, as the screen changed to a picture of a smiling family gathered around the breakfast table.

"Good," said Quinn and flipped on the power to the coffee making machine. While the smiling family discussed the nutrients in their cereal, and agreed that it didn't taste like it was good for them, Quinn pulled the same cereal out of the cupboard and poured some into two bowls. Turning to the fridge, she discovered Hairy on top, peering over the edge at Charlotte, who was oblivious to his presence. The dark-haired woman watched in amusement as he leaped down, first to the counter then to the floor, swatted Charlotte, then turned and ran out of the room with her in hot pursuit. Grise stopped to watch them streak by, then went back to trying to get into the kitchen cupboards.

The security consultant's attention was drawn back to the info feed by the suave voice of the anchor saying "Good morning. It is 7:40 am and you are watching Entertainment-dot-com. In other entertainment news, EDC has learned that Ariel Pedersen, the sexy, reclusive author of Midnight Madness and After Dark, has been getting death threats. Our sources say she has received at least two letters that police are investigating. They were also called to a disturbance at the Museum of Modern Art on June 9 when someone wrote a threatening message in lipstick on the windshield of the author's limousine. Ms. Pedersen was there for the launch of her latest book, After Dark, a steamy, lesbian thriller. The author was attacked last year by a deranged man at the same location during the launch of Midnight Madness. A bodyguard suffered minor injuries. Willy McNaughton, an unemployed, self proclaimed prophet, is currently serving 40 years without parole at Randolph Maximum Security Institution for the offence."

Electing to leave the channel on while she set out breakfast, Quinn poured herself a cup of coffee and crossed back to the fridge to rummage in it for milk and fruit to go with the cereal. The reporter had tried three times yesterday, the day after they arrived back from the book promotion trip, to contact Ariel. On her last call, Quinn had played the part of the writer's secretary to see if she could glean more information about the reporter's source, but the woman had stonewalled her. It had been a long shot anyway.

Glancing at the info feed, she noted they were now playing a clip of Bobby Biro, a comic on whose late night talk show Ariel had recently appeared. The extract seemed to be from his opening monologue, for he was standing and seemed to be addressing an audience.

"I was just checking some stats," he said, and paused. The unseen audience giggled appreciatively.

"Morons," mumbled Quinn.

"Anyway, yeah, I was just checking some stats and discovered that we haven't executed anyone in over a month." Louder giggles from the audience. "It's true. No one has sat in the hot seat for four weeks." The audience was really starting to get into it by now, and cameras picked up the reactions of individual audience members. "And I ask you, now," Biro paused again. "I ask you, yes you sir, you must be from the midwest." That elicited some guffaws as the camera focused on a crewcut mouth breather in the front row, who nevertheless grinned when he was centred out, while the woman at his side leaned close and pointed offcamera at a monitor. "I ask you," again a pause, punctuated by more giggles, "WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS COUNTRY?!" Cameras swept the audience, which was convulsed with laughter. One camera returned to the mouth breather and his girlfriend/wife, both of whom thought the joke was a real kneeslapper.

"Ah, that Bobby Biro," said the handsome news anchor, with a grin, "What a guy."

Quinn grimaced, swiftly punched up her favourite classics program on the audio station and poured herself more coffee, then looked up as Ariel entered, ready to do her laps.

"Hi Love. All ready." Quinn picked up her gun and followed Ariel out to the pool and took up her guard stance. It was a gray, wet day and Quinn was pretty certain the writer wouldn't linger longer than necessary.

Since returning home, Ariel was focused but still subdued. She'd spent the previous day reading, and Quinn assumed she'd do the same today. Well, she deserved a break. Now if only this guy would make a mistake Her reverie was interrupted by the writer finishing her laps and pulling herself quickly out of the pool.

Back in the kitchen, Quinn said "I'll make some toast while you change, if you like."

"Ok. I'll be down in a minute, " said Ariel, as she sprinted through the door and up the stairs.

Before Quinn could act on that promise, however, she heard cutlery rattling and turned to discover that Grise had finally worked out how to pull the cutlery drawer open an inch or two, and was now happily fishing around inside to see what he could find to play with. Picking him up, she deposited him on the floor with a toy mouse that he sniffed, then abandoned with disdain.

"Your loss," she said as she removed the items that she assumed he'd been playing with and put them in the dishwasher. Grabbing a sheet of notepaper from a handy pad on the desk she folded it over a couple of times and wedged it in at the top of the drawer. "Ha! Betcha can't get that open!" But the kitten paid her no attention as he strolled over to his dish to finish the remains of his breakfast.

"Matching wits with Grise?" asked Ariel, as she returned.

"Yeah. And I have to say that at the moment it's neck 'n neck."

Ariel grinned, checked the toaster, discovered that Quinn had been otherwise engaged and dropped in a couple of slices of bread. "Would you mind if I invited Scott over tonight?" she asked as she sat down at the table.

"Not at all. Go ahead."

"Ok. Good." Quinn poured the writer a cup of coffee and conversation lapsed as they ate, accompanied only by the music on the info feed. Quinn, recognizing every selection, grinned to herself.

Picking up her coffee cup as she finished breakfast, Ariel asked "You going to go to work today?"

"Yeah. I think I'd better see how Kris and John got along in my absence. Vanessa will stay with you today, unless you want to go out?"

"No, I'll be fine. I just want to relax and recharge my batteries. I'll get some more reading done. The only thing I'm planning today is cooking dinner this evening."

"Good." Quinn got up but before she could start to clear the table Ariel stopped her.

"I'll do that."

"Ok, Love. Vanessa should be here..." The sound of the doorbell interrupted her. "Right about now. See you tonight. About six or a little earlier if I can." She bent to kiss the shorter woman.

"Umm. Have a good day."

"You too."


Quinn stretched and yawned as the taxi pulled up to the curb opposite Ariel's door. Not too bad a day, all things considered. The office had not been in too much disarray--in fact Kris and John had done a very good job while she was gone. Now if only they could catch this guy, she thought, she'd be happy. Not only would Ariel feel a lot better, but she, personally, could stop taking taxis. They really sucked.

Quinn grabbed her computer, paid the fare and got out into a fitful rain. Dodging the spray from a puddle as the taxi roared off, she climbed the steps and rang the doorbell. The door opened after a moment and Vanessa let her in.

"Hi," said Quinn. "How are things?"

"Fine, Quinn. Scott is already here and he and Ariel are in the kitchen."

"Ok, thanks. You probably want to get going," said Quinn as she put her computer on the seat of the antique hall tree, a combination bench and coat rack in the front hall, noting idly that a jacket she didn't recognize was tossed carelessly over one of its arms.

"Yeah, if you don't need me any longer."

"Ok. Give Kelly my best."

Vanessa grinned, grabbed her own jacket from the hall tree and said "Will do," as Quinn showed her out.

After locking the door, Quinn went down the hall to the kitchen from which she heard laughter.

"Oh, hi Love. We thought it might be you," Ariel greeted her from the oven where she was checking to see if a pan of lasagna was ready. "Vanessa gone?"

Nodding at Scott, Quinn walked over to the writer and gave her a quick kiss. "Umm. Hi there" she murmured. Yeah. Vanessa is gone. I have a feeling she had a hot date. Can I give you a hand with anything?"

"Just pour some beer. Everything's ready except for desert, which should be delivered shortly."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. When I ordered groceries yesterday, somehow I overlooked ice cream. The store promised to deliver it and some other goodies within the hour."

"Yeah," said Scott. "Aunt Ariel says it's make-your-own-sundae night."

"Sounds good," said Quinn and got some bottles out of the fridge. "Scott, which will you have--dark ale or honey brown beer."

"The honey brown, please" responded the young man, who was handing Ariel plates.

"Quinn opened and expertly poured the beer, dark for her and honey brown for the other two, into steins that she took from a cupboard.

Ariel pulled garlic bread from the microwave, put it into a basket draped with a cloth, folded over the edges to keep it warm, and put it on the table next to a tossed salad. "Ok all. Let's eat."

The lasagna was gooey, meaty, spinachy and just all round good. The bread was crusty, soaked in melted butter and pungent with garlic, the salad was light and crisp, and the beer was cold and biting. Quinn enjoyed sophisticated fare, but she concluded, you'd have to go a long way to beat this menu.

Ariel and Scott kept up a conversation all through the meal, joking, laughing, taking turns telling funny stories. Quinn sat back, listened and chuckled. She preferred to let Ariel carry the conversational ball in company. And besides, she liked to listen to her anyway. Quinn drained the last of her beer and got up to get another.

"Either of you like a beer while I'm up?"

"No thanks, Love. One's my limit."

"Sure. Please," said Scott.

As Quinn opened the bottles she listened to Ariel recount a glitch early in their trip.

"Thanks to a tail wind, we arrived earlier than expected at the airport where we had to transfer to another flight. There was a flight leaving in 20 minutes, rather than the hour and 10 minutes that we were expecting to wait. So naturally we thought, why not take the earlier flight out. We'll get in sooner, get settled sooner, relax a bit before the interview."

"Not a good idea?" prompted Scott.

"Well, everything was fine until we got to where we were going. Then we discovered that the luggage hadn't followed us. And it didn't follow us on the next plane either. Meanwhile, I have nothing to wear to the interview that is creeping ever closer..."

"Except jeans, a T-shirt and hiking boots," said Quinn, recalling the panic. "Oh, and a baseball cap."

"Yeah. Don't forget the cap. Anyway, I might have been able to get away with it on a late night talk show where anything goes, but not on a daytime show where you have to look halfway glamourous."

"Not hard for you," interjected Quinn.

Ariel smiled and said "Thank you Sweetie."

"So what did you do?" asked Scott.

"Went into the first women's clothing store we saw and bought out the store," offered Quinn with a grin.

Ariel slapped her arm. "Now, now, it wasn't quite that bad." Turning back to Scott, she said "Since I didn't know when the luggage would catch up with us I decided I better buy a couple of outfits..."

"More like four..." interjected Quinn, again.

"Just to make sure I had something to wear," concluded Ariel, doing her best to ignore her lover.

"And the luggage caught up to us the next morning," added Quinn.

"And I had even more outfits to chose from for the rest of the trip," said Ariel.

"A bonus for sure!" grinned Quinn and rolled her eyes.

Scott laughed. "So it turned out ok."

"Yup," Quinn said, "although for a while there, Dr. Jeckyl here," indicating Ariel "was definitely in the running for the role of Sister Hyde."

"Sister Hyde?" asked a puzzled Scott.

"An old movie of Quinn's. A re-telling of the Jeckyl and Hyde story with a twist--the doctor, a man, turned into a female nurse, Sister Hyde. And I was no such thing, I'll have you know," said Ariel, addressing the last part to Quinn.

"No? What about..." The ringing of the door bell interrupted the dark-haired woman. "Ah. Dessert. I'll be back in a minute."

"Good," said Ariel. "I'll make coffee."

Quinn went down the hall to the front door. Checking the monitor, she saw a stranger standing outside carrying a plastic bag with the name of the grocery store where she and Ariel shopped. Good. Ice cream with lots of gooey, sticky, sweet stuff on top would just about hit the spot after that main course. Extracting a couple of bills from her wallet, she tucked them in the change pocket of her jeans, checked the monitor one more time, pulled her gun and opened the door.

"Delivery," said the man as his eyes dropped to the gun. "Um, really," he added, and swallowed.

"Where's the usual guy?" asked Quinn.

"Ronnie?" He's studying for an exam. Correspondence course or somethin'," he added helpfully, eyes still on the gun.

Quinn took the bag, letting go of one handle so that she could give the contents a quick once over and still keep her gun trained on him. Satisfied, she put down the bag, pulled out the bills and handed them over saying "Keep the change."

"Hey thanks!" he responded, gun forgotten, and jogged down the steps to his waiting car.

Quinn shut and locked the door, holstered her gun, checked the contents of the bag more thoroughly, and, satisfied, turned to go back down the hall to the kitchen. It was then she noticed Grise on the seat of the hall tree, fishing around in the pocket of Scott's jacket.

"Hey you little menace. Stop that!" said Quinn.

The kitten didn't look up, just worked all the harder and triumphantly fished what he'd been playing with out of the pocket and onto the floor.

Quinn made an unsuccessful grab then chased him down the hall, as he batted whatever he had found toward the kitchen. Just as he shot it in the kitchen door Quinn finally caught up with him, scooping him up with one hand. Transferring him to the arm that already held the plastic bag, she picked up the object he'd been playing with, just inside the kitchen door, and discovered it was a tube of lipstick. Her first thought--what's Scott doing with lipstick--was replaced in an instant by a sudden, terrible suspicion. Rolling it back and forth in her hand made the Rubinstein-Factor-Disney logo appear. A quick check of the colour--'Passion'--printed on the bottom, confirmed it to be the same as the lipstick used to write the message on the limo's windshield.

Before she could formulate what to do next, she heard a scuffle, an intake of breath and then a cold voice saying "Been going through my pockets, Quinn?"

The security consultant looked up, and was momentarily shocked into immobility. Scott had an arm around Ariel's waist, and was holding a knife from the knife safe on the counter at her throat. The writer's eyes were huge.

Think, Quinn! she told herself. "Why?" she said, and carefully put both kitten and bag of groceries on the floor, then pushed the lipstick into a jeans pocket. "Why did you do it?"

"Money, why else."

"Money?"

"Sure. Dear Aunt Ariel's money."

Quinn took a step toward him.

"Stay right there or I'll cut her."

Quinn stopped. Had to keep him talking while she figured a way out of this. There had to be a way out of this. No two-bit son of a bitch was going to hurt her Ariel!

"These last few weeks must have been really fun, watching us run around chasing our tails." As she spoke, she noticed the coffee maker, just to Ariel's left, had finished its cycle. Could she, or Ariel, use it in some way?

Scott snickered, and hugged Ariel tighter, caressing her neck with the knife. "Oh yeah. That was great. Even the part where I got hurt."

"Yeah. What happened there?" She shifted her eyes to the coffee maker and back to Ariel.

"I hired a couple of bozos in a bar. Just drive by at this time, take a couple of shots, but make sure you miss. Got a little out of hand but it got me in even tighter with you guys, so all in all, not bad."

"And at the museum?" Ariel seemed to get the message. At least Quinn hoped so.

"I slipped out the side while she was signing books. Didn't take me more than a couple of minutes before I found some kids who'd fire off some shots around the corner."

"And you did the writing yourself."

"Yeah."

"What were you going to do if the young cop hadn't gone too?

"I dunno. I'd have figured something out."

"Yeah, I'll bet you would," said Quinn, and shivered inwardly. "But not a smart move, keeping the lipstick."

"Hey, well, you can't think of everything. I've hardly worn that jacket since."

"I see," said Quinn. "So why were the reviews photocopied? I got stuck on that, and couldn't get by it." Think! she told herself. How can you distract him, to give Ariel a chance to make a move.

"Oh easy. I was reading them in the school library. Why buy the paper if you can get what you want for the cost of a photocopy, ya know?"

"Ok. That tidies up some loose ends. So what was the plan?"

"Simple, really. Drive her nuts with notes and shit, so that she'd kill herself."

"And you, as the only relative she had any ties to, would inherit it all."

Scott smiled unpleasantly. "That's about right."

"Oh, Scott, Scott, Scott," said Quinn, with her eyes on Ariel, "there's got to be more to it than that. You're too smart to think anyone would buy that. What were you going to do about me, for example. I'm her heir."

"She was going to make a new will," said Scott, who had just realized that Ariel's hand was inching toward the coffee pot. "Oh no. You're not going to throw that stuff at me, bitch," he said as he pulled her away, roughly.

"Let go of me you prick," grated Ariel, while conveying apologies to Quinn with her eyes.

Don't apologize for trying, Quinn sent back. Aloud, she said "Wills have to be properly written and witnessed. A forgery would be spotted immediately."

"Why do you think I got her to autograph a book for me? I've been practicing her signature ever since."

"Hmm," said Quinn, as she folded her arms and stroked her chin, the picture of quiet contemplation. "No," she said slowly, "I don't buy it and no halfway competent cop would either. Were you going to forge the witnesses' names too? And what about the legal language? No, that would be too hard, and I don't think that's your style. I think you had something else in mind." Quinn noted that Ariel was clearly sending her mute signals not to give him ideas.

"You're smart, Quinn," said Scott, realizing that Quinn had seen through the plan. That was ok, since he already had a better one. "So tell me, what was I going to do?"

"Oh, I think that was probably your plan to start with, but you improved on it a lot." The security consultant noted an involuntary nod from Scott confirming this. Good, she thought, keep him thinking about how smart he is and maybe you can catch a break. "I think you decided that Ariel would not only kill herself, but me too. In fact, she kills herself in part because she's overcome with remorse. Uh, let's see. I don't think there's any convincing knife scenario, it would have to be my gun. She's hears a noise, my gun is handy, she fires and discovers too late that it's good old Quinn."

By this time Ariel was clearly sending Quinn signals asking what she thought she was doing. Quinn ignored her, and said "Am I close?"

"Not bad," responded Scott. "Not bad at all."

"Now," said Quinn slowly, "being able to forge Ariel's signature would come in handy here, because you could type up a quick note on the computer saying that she had killed me and that she now left everything she owned to you. It might not stand up in a court of law, particularly if your parents decided to get into it too, but even if it didn't, and you had to split with mom and dad, you still stood to come out of this with a fair chunk of change."

"Hey, you're good!" said Scott, admiringly. "I'm really sorry I've got to kill you."

"Oh, Scott," said Quinn, her voice full of pity, "who writes your dialogue? Don't you know by now that you're screwed?"

He looked petulant. "Yeah? Why?"

"Think about it. We're at an impasse here. You've got to get my gun from me so you can shoot me, right?" At his nod, she continued "So, how you going to get the gun?"

Scott grinned nastily. "I'm going to cut her, until you give me your gun."

Quinn noted that at these words Ariel's eyes became wider than ever but the security consultant could tell she was following the conversation and seemed to see where Quinn was headed.

"Wrong, wrong, wrong. I'm not going to give you the gun. But if somehow you manage to get it and kill me, and if Ariel is found with a bunch of cuts on her throat or elsewhere, the coroner is going to get suspicious immediately."

"Well, there's hesitation cuts, or whatever they're called," argued Scott.

"True, but there's never many. More importantly, if the scenario you've dreamed up is that she's shot me, why would she then kill herself with a knife?"

That one seemed to sink in, thought Quinn. Scott's eyes were darting around as he tried to think of a plausible answer. He never got the chance. Ariel and Quinn made eye contact, and a message was sent and received. Ariel's right foot rose slowly against his leg but he was unaware of it until it came crashing down on his instep.

"UNNGHH!" Scott yelled. Simultaneously, Ariel threw herself to the left away from the knife in his right hand, while Quinn drew and fired the Glock in a blur of motion. The sound of the shot echoed around the room. One was all it took. Scott was on the floor writhing, his left hand clasping his shoulder as blood pooled under it. Quinn walked over to him, slide the knife well away with the toe of her boot, then pulled her foot back and kicked him hard in the ribs. His scream didn't quite distract her from the satisfying feel of bone breaking. She looked at him a second longer then went to over to Ariel, who was huddled 10 feet away.

"Oh Goddess, Quinn..."

"It's alright. It's alright now." Quinn lifted the other woman and wrapped her arms around her, holding Ariel tight without ever taking her eyes from the figure on the floor. Keeping one arm around the writer, she took her phone from her belt and punched in Hank Walsh's number, praying that he was reachable quickly.

"Walsh."

Oh, thank the Goddess. "Hank. Quinn Thanatos. I need you to bring some EMTs and come over to Ariel's house. I've got some garbage for you to take out."


Epilogue

Quinn jumped in the car. "Ariel's, best possible speed."

"1420 Rochester, by way of...the Michael Callaghan Parkway."

"Oh. Another execution in process in our fair city?"

"I'm sorry. I do not understand that command. Please restate the command using vocabulary to which I may respond. If you are having difficulty, please press the help button to the right of the monitor in the dashboard."

"Forget it and just drive, asshole."

The Mark 5 picked up on the word "drive" and pulled out into traffic. Quinn leaned back in her seat but she was hardly relaxed, as she reviewed the conversation she'd just had with Hank Walsh.

"He's denying everything," said Hank. "I hope we've got enough to tie him to it. His fingerprints on the inner lipstick tube casing certainly count for something."

"Not to mention the knife he held at Ariel's throat."

"Yeah, but a good lawyer can cast doubt on anything, as you should know." Hank tilted his chair back as he put his feet up on his desk. "It would be nice to find the two he hired to do the drive-by."

Quinn nodded grimly. "What about bail?"

"He may get it, since on the surface he seems pretty clean. Depends on the judge. If he gets it let's hope it's set so high it's as good as no bail. By the way, what do you know about his sister?"

Quinn, wondering at the change of topic, said, "Ran away when she was 16, why?"

"Well, looking for stuff, I talked to a cop in his hometown today. Seems that when she disappeared, the parents actually filed a missing persons report, although they later claimed that they had changed their minds and were now convinced she had run away. It's just that several girls were reported missing at that time. A couple of bodies turned up that were identified as two of those missing. Never got the perp. Scott Johnson was down as someone interviewed by the cops since he was a relative of one of the missing girls."

Quinn stared at Hank. "Do you think it's possible?"

"Anything is possible. At the moment, there's nothing more known."

Quinn nodded and stood up. "Thanks Hank, I owe you."

"No problem. I should warn you to back off and let the police look into this."

"Yes, you should. I promise we'll stay out of everyone's way."

Hank grunted. "I guess that's all I can reasonably expect. By the way, if anybody else's ribs get broken by falling over kitchen chairs you'd better not be anywhere in the vicinity, or I might have to take a second look."

Quinn looked at him. The EMTs had advanced the ribs-broken-by-a-kitchen-chair-as-he-fell theory when they'd arrived on the scene, three days ago. Quinn had said nothing to disabuse them of it, nor had Scott, who'd been screaming in pain, and Hank hadn't mentioned it before this. "I don't think that's likely to happen again," she said.

"Good. Keep in touch."

Quinn nodded and left.


The Mark 5 pulled up across the street from Ariel's house and a knot of people surrounding the step immediately rushed across to the car. Hank had tried to keep the story from the media but was unsuccessful--they were already gathering by early the next morning. As Quinn made her way across the street, responding "No comment" to any and all questions, she noted that the crowd was a bit thinner than it had been the day before. Good. Maybe in another day or two they'd be gone.

Reaching the step, she swept the crowd pressing in on her with an icy glance, forcing them back momentarily, and pushed the button for admittance. Although Ariel no longer needed guarding, Quinn hadn't wanted to leave her alone. In a few seconds the door swung open and Vanessa, with gun drawn, admitted her.

Inside, the security consultant breathed a sigh of relief. "Everything ok?" she asked.

"Yeah. Ariel's on the deck. She said she needed some air."

Quinn nodded. "That crowd isn't going to get any better. I'm afraid you'll have to run the gauntlet, no matter when you leave."

"Yeah, I know. I might as well go now unless there's something else you need?"

"No. we'll be fine. Thanks Vanessa."

"No problem." The tall woman started toward the door then turned around. "She's really hurting, Quinn." Suddenly she added "Damn it but I wished we'd figured that one out! He seemed so normal. I thought of him as a nice kid! Shit!"

Quinn patted her on the back. "Hey. You and me both. I thought it was really nice that at least one member of Ariel's family wanted to be friends. So don't beat yourself up, since you're not in this boat alone."

"Yeah. Ok," said Vanessa, and sighed. "Alright. You need me again you just have to holler. Ok?"

Quinn nodded and looked up into the other woman's eyes. "Count on it."

"Ok. Good. See you."

Quinn let her out and shut the door behind her as the media charged up the steps. Quinn took a breath, locked the door and went down the quiet hall.

The sun, playing hide and seek with the clouds, produced a warm light that came and went on the deck and in the backyard. Ariel was sitting on the outdoor couch watching the kittens, who were experiencing the yard for the first time. Hairy and Charlotte stalked each other through the flower garden, which Ariel could now get back to spending time in, while Grise had discovered the fun of chasing flying insects.

"Hi," said Ariel in a small voice.

Quinn bent and kissed her. "Enjoying the sun?" she said as she sat down next to the writer and put an arm around her shoulders.

"Yeah. It's nice."

The writer fell silent. Quinn gave her an encouraging squeeze but said nothing.

"Quinn?"

"Uh huh?"

"How is it possible that I didn't know? I've always thought of myself as a pretty good judge of character. He just seemed so nice. I've been sitting here going over everything, looking for things that should have told me. And there's nothing."

The dark-haired woman's calm fašade betrayed nothing of the rage in her mind. Since the shooting, she'd gone over the scene many times. She acknowledged to herself that she'd been trying for a chest shot, but got his shoulder instead--a combination of not wanting to hit Ariel and snapping off the shot quickly. If she'd put it where she'd meant to, this would be over, she thought, but a part of her knew that Ariel would then have been agonizing over being the cause of Scott's death, and that would have been equally hard. Goddess damn that son of a bitch for all eternity! Aloud, she said "I don't think you could have possibly known. I think people like Scott learn very quickly how to appear like everyone else. He's had 22 years of practice.

Ariel nodded but remained silent. Then, "Was it his upbringing, genetic makeup or what?"

Quinn rubbed her nose and said, "As much as I'd like to blame this entirely on your sister, I don't think I can. From what I've read, they aren't sure why people like Scott happen, they just know they do. I'd bet it's a combination of factors. Whatever it is, sometimes people just turn out...hollow."

Ariel nodded and snuggled a bit closer. After a moment she asked "What did Hank say?"

Uh oh. Quinn mentally prepared herself. "Well, Scott's denying everything, so the fingerprints on the interior lipstick casing are crucial."

"'Cause most everything else is circumstantial," finished Ariel.

Quinn nodded. "He did say that finding the two who did the drive-by would help a lot."

Ariel nodded, but remained silent. Quinn took a breath--now or never she thought--"Ariel, there's something else."

The writer, picking up on the tension in the dark-haired woman's voice, turned her head and looked in her eyes. "Yes? What?"

"Well," Quinn looked down as she scuffed the toe of her boot on the deck, then looked back at Ariel's face. Ok, hotshot, spit it out. "Scott...Scott may have had something to do with the disappearance of his sister."

Ariel looked at her blankly. "What do you mean? Katie ran away." Then a change came over her face. "Or so Scott said."

Quinn nodded. "Your sister and her husband reported her missing, although later they said they were sure she'd just run away. Apparently other girls went missing at that time. A couple of them turned up dead. Scott was interviewed as a member of a missing girl's family. Standard procedure." Quinn fell silent, wishing that the check she'd had Joe perform had turned that up. It might have saved a lot of heartache, but since Scott hadn't been arrested or charged with anything, Joe hadn't found it out.

Ariel was silent. Please say something, thought Quinn.

"That son of a bitch." It was said quietly, with an undercurrent of emotion that only Quinn could have detected. Quinn waited, and said nothing.

"But they don't know, do they?"

"No."

Ariel nodded and lapsed again into silence. Quinn kept her arm tightly around the shorter woman, and watched Hairy, tail slashing back and forth, as he planned his next attack on an oblivious Charlotte, who was entranced by a butterfly that had just floated into view.

"Is that all Hank told you?"

"Pretty much, yeah."

"I want to know more."

"Ariel..."

"Forget it Quinn. Don't bother arguing with me. I want to know more."

Quinn blew out a breath. "Ok. I kinda told Hank we'd be looking into it."

Ariel looked at the security consultant for a long moment. "You know me pretty well."

"Yeah, well, when I'm interested in a subject , I study up, ya know?"

Ariel put her head on Quinn's shoulder and slid an arm around her lover's stomach. Quinn tightened her hold and the two sat quietly looking at, but not really seeing, the garden. "I love you," murmured the writer, "more than I can ever say."

"Likewise, Love." Quinn brushed the honey blond hair with her lips, and said again, putting all the feeling she could never express otherwise into that one word, "Likewise."

The End

To be continued in Family Values

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