At the back of her favorite diner, Emily waited for her companion to arrive. She spun the fork on the table and recalled a time not long ago. The former undercover detective had sat in that very same spot alone and awaiting Kronk’s heavy bulk to slide into the seat. That was after…
Emily slammed her eyes shut against the unwelcomed memory.
The sound of rapid popping filled her ears. The nauseous smell of rubber tires burning around metal suffocated her lungs and the toxins that filled the air stung her eyes. She used her dirty sleeve to wipe her eyes and peered across the short distance to Randy hiding behind the bullet riddled car.
In an eerie slow motion she watched as her image grinned at Randy then rolled into a stance gun held high. Emily had made it to the downed detective and was back peddling dragging him when she let out a scream and felt the pain in her neck followed by something wet draining down her throat and shirt. Her hands twitched as the bullet bit into her gun arm. Fingers wrapped tightly around her favorite weapon fluttered and loosened.
The edge of Randy’s boot was barely visible in the smoke and her watery vision. She shook the dark head to clear her eyes when the third bullet hit her leg. She crashed onto the pavement.
“Hey you, long time no see.” Randy called and slapped his former partner across the shoulder. Emily jumped and her eyes flew open wide in panic. Before his next breath, Emily’s reflexes had her fist wrapped around the gun in the small of her back. “Whoa!” he cried with both hands in the air. “It’s me Em. What’s with you?”
Randy knew her well enough to know that something was bothering her. He also knew that color in her eyes and the way her shoulders hunched meant she was either on a hair trigger or she was the cat about to catch the mouse.
He’d hoped it was the latter but he’d seen that look many times. When Emily was entrenched in a case she could be too intense and explosive. Randy was uncertain if she was on a case with her new job or not. The other reason she could’ve become unusually concentrated and edgy would have something to do with Harley.
Emily released a heavy sigh and raked shaky fingers through inky black hair. “About time you show up. You’ve misplaced your sense of punctuality now that I’m no longer with you.” She forced a playful smile. I know that look. Come on Randy let it go. All my marbles are in tact.
The cup of cold coffee captured her attention. She didn’t want to look at her former partner lest her resolve and crumble and break as she was inclined. The images had been so clear and vivid as if the scene were playing out in 3-D before her. The stench was so fresh in her nostrils she could smell the scorched rubber on her skin. The pain was so real it made her healed wounds throb.
“Not really. I just wanted to make you wait.”
“You’re such a funny guy,” Emily said. “Don’t quit your day job.”
“I don’t plan on it.”
“Good.” Emily waved her hand at the waitress and gestured for two more coffees. Once she had delivered them and a Danish for Randy, Emily said, “So what did you bring me?”
“You know I could get into some serious shit for this.”
“Serious shit is your middle name.”
“That’s only because I was partnered with you.”
“Then you’ve learned from the best. Now quit stalling and give it to me.”
He sighed heavily and extracted a manila envelope from inside his coat. “I made a copy of the folders. You owe me big for this Em.”
“No we’re even for let’s say…the time you lost the captain’s daughter in that strip joint you took her to.”
“Hey,” he pulled the folder against his chest and whispered. “You said you’d never mention that again.”
“And I haven’t until now. We’re even for you getting me out of bed to help you find her.”
Defeated, Randy slumped in the booth. The waitress’ arrival prevented his response. Randy ordered a club sandwich and waited for the girl to leave. “That isn’t nice Emily. Friends are supposed to do for each other unconditionally.”
“I told you if I left the comfort and warmth of sleeping next to Harley, you’d pay. Did I not?”
“I don’t remember that statement.”
“No of course you don’t. Give it to me.”
He slid the folder across the table and watched her read the reports Detectives Mollier and Odesser had filed. Emily eyebrows furrowed after reading several pages. “Have you read this stuff?”
“I’ve scanned it,” Randy said as the waitress placed his order on the table and left. “What are you getting into?”
“What’s your opinion?” Emily ignored his question.
He chewed quickly, swallowed and sipped his root beer before he answered. “I think that they’re all connected.”
“They? What they?”
“Mollier and Odesser were given an arson case to investigate.”
“Arson’s pretty lame case for them isn’t it?”
“It’s what happens when ya piss off the captain.”
“Must’ve been major for them to get put on an arson case?”
“Not sure. I know that Mollier’s been grumbling ever since. So far it’s led them to one of the karate instructor’s whose home had been vandalized.”
“And these two things are connected how?”
“Not sure. But I’ve got a gut feeling.”
“You and your gut feelings.” She shook her head.
“Yeah well it’s been right on more than one occasion. Penny said that Mollier has a gut feeling too.”
“Whatever.” She sipped her coffee. “What would Mollier know about a gut feeling?”
“Be nice,” Randy warned playfully, eyes twinkling. The animosity his partner held for Sierra Mollier seemed eternal. “Still holding onto that grudge are you Emily?”
“Holding onto what?” she feigned.
Randy recalled the precinct Christmas party the year before. Like always, Emily waited until the last minute to write the reports she dreaded and Harley had sat at their table waiting for her to arrive. A slightly inebriated Sierra engaged the lovely Harley in conversation then turned on her subtle charm in hopes of winning her affection for the night. Harley could be naive when it came to the nuances of being hit upon. That innocence was rare and it was that part of Harley that captured Emily’s heart so quickly. A slow song drifted from the speakers and Sierra asked Harley to dance just as Emily arrived to the table.
“If I have told you once I have told you a thousand times…” He smirked at her look of jealousy. “Sierra had no idea that Harley was your wife.”
“She challenged me for my own woman.” Emily growled. Sierra had boldly stood to proclaim that she’d seen the Asian woman first and that Emily should go find her own.
“Emily.” He shook his head.
“She saw the wedding band on her finger. That should’ve given her the hint Harley was taken.” Emily’s anger rose. “The woman wouldn’t know a clue if it bit her in the ass yet she can make detective. Now that is scary.”
“Emily.” He sighed knowing his former partners stubbornness. “If you’re investigating this…” He threw his hands up to stop her argument. “And I’m not saying outright that you are. If you’re working on this then you need to put aside the past and collaborate with Mollier and Odesser.”
“I appreciate you doing this, Randy. I really do.” She indicated the folder in her grasp letting him know that subject was closed. He was right, gut feeling or not, but she just couldn’t get the picture of Sierra’s challenge out of her mind. Without a doubt she trusted Harley.
“Yeah right,” he said unconvinced. “There are copies from forensics in there too.”
“From what and where?”
“There were footprints found at both the karate school and at your friend’s home. That one isn’t back yet.”
“But I know you’ll get me a copy when it does come in right?”
“Don’t want much do you?”
“Not much.” She stood and zipped the leather jacket midway to her chest. “Thanks again for this.” She patted the folder hidden beneath the jacket. “I gotta get back to work. Thanks for lunch too.” She turned and quickly walked out of the diner leaving a surprised Randy coughing on a mouth full of sandwich.
“Ok let’s see what we have here,” Emily muttered and leaned back in the stiff office chair at her desk. She began to read the file from Randy.
Her “new squad room” as she affectionately named it was far different than that of the precinct. The room where the detectives were housed under the rule of Captain Jenkins would never have been painted in mauve and rose. Tall potted trees wouldn’t have graced her old work area nor would scenic photographs around the room. Most importantly, the scent of the new room was more healthy and soothing than the scent of burnt coffee, sweat, and an incompatible mixture of colognes and perfumes.
“Break in at the Karate school,” she read aloud and continued to scan the report filed by the first officer to arrive at the scene. “They tore the place to pieces.” After several more pages she shook her head, “You didn’t copy any pictures Randy? I thought you were a better spy than that.”
“I think you should’ve had a more thorough psyche evaluation before you started this job.”
“I’ll be in line right behind you,” Emily said to Kronk.
“Ladies first.” He bowed his head.
“I love seeing the newbie’s hungry and diving into their cases feet first.” He indicated the file on her lap.
“I’m far from a newbie Kronk.” She shot him a glare.
“You are kinda.”
“Just don’t try and send me on any snipe hunts. “I’m onto that.”
“I would never Em.” He laughed and all his burly mass moved solidly. “Anyhow, now that you’ve read the file lets go catch us a cheater.”
“No really. We need to leave now to catch his midday rendezvous and it’ll give me a chance to check out your moves.” He wiggled his eyebrow lecherously.
“Check out my moves. How about if I tell Harley we’re going to hang out together for a while and see what she says?” Emily roared with laughter as the two-hundred and seventy-five pound hulk shrank and paled at the mention of Harley’s name. “Something wrong Kronk?”
“Let’s not go there Emily,” Kronk soberly replied.
“Are you sure?” Emily failed to hold her snicker and burst into pearls of laughter.
Kronk was absolutely sure. The memory the night he and Randy brought an extremely drunk Emily home to Harley was still clear in his mind. Emily was out on her feet as he and Randy dragged her from the apartment building elevator and dropped her unceremoniously upon their bed. Randy had the good sense to slink quickly onto the elevator while Kronk was backed into a corner by an incensed Harley. Several days later Randy told Emily he could hear Harley’s screams clear to the front room as the elevator doors safely closed on his escape.
“When did you get so cruel?” Kronk whined.
“When did you start pouting Kronk?” Emily wiped the tears from her eyes as she laughed.
“Screw you Emily.”
“No thanks.” The former detective reached into the desk and withdrew a similar folder to the one in her lap. The file skidded across the desk top in front of Kronk. “No need to go find the cheater, I caught him early this morning.”
“Really?” Kronk opened the folder and briefly read the pages within including the black and white photos. “You did all this before noon?”
“You sound surprised? I though you knew how I worked?”
“I do, but…”
“If you did you wouldn’t be surprised.”
Emily had read the file that Kronk left regarding the unfaithful stock broker and yawned. Not wanting to remain idle any longer, Emily set about tracking down the gentleman and followed him from his home to the mistress’ apartment above the Asian food market. He was careless, easy to track and film. So her first job as a private investigator was far simpler than tracking drug kings and street thugs.
“Yeah well, it’s been a while since we worked together Em. I’m impressed nonetheless.” He closed the folder and pointed a beefy finger at the one in her lap. “So what do you have there?”
“Another case.” She sipped her cold coffee.
“You were only assigned one case.”
“I have an assault case.”
“I don’t recall an assault.”
“Just happened and it’s a friend of mine.”
“It’s always a bad move to work for friends,” he warned.
“Maybe.” She thought of Boney’s plea in the hospital. “I had no choice.”
“You always have a choice, Emily.”
“Not this time. This whole thing seems like it was personal.”
“What is it?”
“Cliff’s Notes version, a burglary and vandalism at a karate dojo. In the same night, one of the instructor’s homes was spray painted. For certain that’s a vendetta. No fingerprints but several droplets of blood were found near the door leading to the locker room. They don’t match anyone attending the school or instructors.”
Emily didn’t tell him about the state of destruction to each room in the karate dojo. Several punching bags and hand pads had been sliced open and tossed about. She especially omitted “Pax the cunt sucking bitch!” graffiti spray painted across the large mirrors in red, on the dojo’s carpet, and in black on the wall in the women’s locker room.
“The perp was careless simple enough.”
“I wish it were. Later the dojo is torched and then Jo gets assaulted in her home a few days ago.”
“You’re thinking there’s a connection.”
“There is. The instructor’s home that was vandalized is also a friend of Jo’s.”
“I see where you’re heading but you need more than that.”
“I know. Forensics lifted two footprints one from the dojo and the other from Jo’s home. Kronk, I was there that night with the police. I found the oily tracks leading out of the garage and away from the home. Nothing else was disturbed in the home.”
“Wait forensics? This is an open case Emily. Tell me you’re not…how did you get that information anyway?”
“I can’t reveal my sources. You know that.”
“Don’t play with me Emily,” Kronk’s voice deepened with warning. “If the dicks at the precinct have this, you’ve got to work within boundaries.”
“No Em I mean it. I know the rascal in you finds that difficult to understand.”
“The rascal in me?” Emily smiled but Kronk didn’t.
“Sometimes and it’s one of the things that I like about you.”
“We have to keep a positive rapport with those assholes or they could make our lives a living hell. You got me?” She only nodded not trusting herself to speak. “Good. Who got the call?”
“Mollier and Odesser.” Emily rolled her eyes.
“Mollier I like; Odesser is an ass-wipe.”
“I agree with you on Odesser.”
“I mean it Emily…”
“Mollier and Odesser are focusing on the victim’s partner. She hired me to find out who beat the shit out of her wife Kronk.”
“Are you thinking some kind of hate crime?”
“Maybe, I don’t think so.”
“Wish I knew.” Her cell phone rang and she expertly flipped it open. “Hello?”
“Emily this is Boney.”
“Hey, Boney how are you doing?”
“Decent thanks. Listen, those detectives know that Jo’s awake and are on their way over. Can you come?”
“Sure Bone. Be there in a few.”
“I appreciate it. Goodbye.”
“Going somewhere?” Kronk asked as she returned the telephone back to her pocket and closed the file.
“I’m off to General Hospital to see my client.”
“Just remember Emily, play nice with Mollier and Odesser.”
“Sure boss man.” She turned and left the new squad room.
The nurses had removed most of the tubing and monitors that were attached to Jo sometime mid morning. She had a gentle washing and her bedding had been changed. Now the battered psychiatrist slept comfortably within the clean linens. A haggard and tired Boney remained watchful for a fourth day.
As she slept in the recliner beside her love, Boney’s dreams repeated the same sequence of events. She parked the SUV in the garage, went into the house, put things in the fridge, called out for Jo and then walked through the kitchen door to the living room. There the visions ended in her bolting upright covered in sweat. Or she remained asleep and the sequence would repeat itself but go no further than that moment.
Refusing to leave her lover’s side for too long, Boney remained in the hospital room with Jo. Teela and the others had visited and made their plea for her to take a break, to go home and rest for only a few hours. Boney was determined and was an unmovable mountain. Besides, she was not ready to see their home.
Eventually she would have to return to their home and face her nightmare in order to prepare for Jo’s arrival. Eventually the changes that Teela had helped her to make have been completed.
More importantly, how would Jo deal with returning home?
“Boney?” Amanda said softly.
“Hey,” Boney replied and got to her feet. She stretched her arms towards the ceiling and the vertebrae popped loudly in several places. “Thank you for coming.”
“No problem,” she glanced around the room and indicated the disheveled first bed. “Yours or a roommate?”
“Roommate. I heard the nurse say they were taking her down for some tests and then to surgery.”
“I see the detectives have not arrived.”
“Soon. Why can’t they wait until she is better and at home?”
“That isn’t how they work Boney. The details are still fresh in Johanna’s memory and they need to know what happened.”
“I know but I still don’t like it. I don’t want her to be hurt again and reliving that night is going to do that.”
“I can understand how you feel but it needs to be done.”
“I know and I still don’t like it.”
“Have you told her about…you know…?” Amanda trailed off and she pointed to Boney’s bruises.
“No I haven’t.” Boney lowered her eyes.
“But she will,” the voice came from behind them.
“Honey you’re awake,” Boney said cheerfully and kissed her wife’s forehead. “Can I get you anything? Some water maybe?”
“I want to know what you aren’t telling me.” Jo stated and watched her lover swallow hard.
“Jo you remember Amanda Rippington, Pax’s friend?”
Jo’s gaze spoke volumes to her lover a moment longer before turning a more pleasant one on Amanda. “We seem to always meet in hospitals Amanda. Why is that?”
“I’m not sure but hello again.”
“Hello. Care to tell me why my wife looks like she’s been in a battle royale?”
“Battle royale.” Boney guffawed. “Jo you slay me.”
“I just might do that,” she replied firmly and noticed a flash of mirth in Amanda’s.
“Now baby it’s not good for you to be getting upset…”
“Do not patronize me Augusta Jean Bonniker.” Jo’s anger flared and Boney jumped.
Jo closed her eyes and drew a deep breath. The release filled the silence of the room. “Boney,” she began calmly, “I know that you’re trying to protect me and I love you for it. But I need to know what is going on around me. That means knowing what happened to you.”
“I know,” Boney replied.
“You have managed to con everyone including Teela into not saying a word. This is far from over Augusta Jean. You and I will talk after Amanda’s visit.”
“I promise sweetheart.”
“Now Amanda, it’s nice of you to visit.”
“I wish it were just a social Jo.” Amanda cleared her throat. “The detectives assigned to the investigation are on their way here to question you. Boney felt it a good idea to have me present when they do.”
“And why is that?”
“I’m an attorney and I represent you both.”
“You represent us? How did you come to represent us Amanda?” Jo turned to her wife and waited.
“Pax recommended me.”
“And what do these detectives want from me?”
“Answer their questions with as much detail as you can recall,” Amanda suggested.
“Most of it is still a little fuzzy.”
“I’m sure that it is.”
Loud voices sounded in the hall and directly into Jo’s room. Amanda stepped to the side so that Jo could see Emily and the detectives in their heated discussion.
“I’m warning you Oliverez…” Detective Mollier said.
“Oh blow it out your ass Sierra.” Emily waved the angry detective away and headed for her friend. “Hey there Jo, it’s good to see that you’ve come back to us.”
“It’s good to be back, Emily.” Jo’s smile was filled with concern.
“Ms. Forrester,” detective Mollier interrupted. “I’m Detective Mollier and this is,” she half turned to indicate the bulk standing near the door, “my partner Detective Odesser. We’ve been assigned to investigate what happened in your home.”
“I understand and will be more than happy to cooperate in any way I can.”
“Thank you ma’am.”
“Please, call me Jo.”
“Thank you Jo.”
“Do you know my partner Augusta Jean?” Jo’s attention turned from Detective Mollier towards the chuckle that came from the door. The detective was unsuccessful in his attempt to camouflage his chuckled by pretending to cough. Jo glanced at her lover and wondered why she had such a murderous look towards the man.
“Detective,” Boney replied tersely. “You remember our attorney Amanda Rippington.”
“Yes, we’ve met. Hello counselor.” She nodded at Amanda.
“Detective,” Amanda replied coolly.
“Jo, can you tell us what was the last thing that you remember before the attack?” Detective Mollier asked.
“I had just finished talking with Boney on the telephone.”
“Where were you?”
“In the living room sitting in my favorite chair reading and then I saw a shadow. I was hit in the back of the head and I fell to the floor,” her voice softened. Boney sat and took Jo’s hand.
“Did anything else happen?”
“I was kicked…” her eyes clenched tight as she put words to the nightmare that had plagued her unconscious sleep. Boney listened in horror as her wife described the attack.
“I pulled my knees to my chest and covered my face to protect myself as much as I could. I kept getting punched and kicked; they were coming so fast.”
Another kick slammed into her once again and a loud crack caused blinding pain to streak throughout her body. What was left in her stomach spewed from between her lips alternating with a scream. Several blows bludgeoned her face, her shoulder, and directly in her sternum. The force of the blow caused her body to bend upward as the air expelled. Her limbs flopped weakly on the floor.
“I couldn’t move. I…” she trailed off as her voice cracked. Boney kissed her forehead with her lips and with the tears that streamed down her own cheeks. “I was like a rag doll the way he shook and yanked me around by the throat.” She sobbed.
Jo was yanked upright and shaken. Her head bobbed upon her shoulders like a rag doll as she moaned and coughed out dark red blood. Her body burned white hot. She welcomed the darkness that beckoned. Just as she closed her eyes to allow it to envelope her, in the far distance she heard a ringing.
“No, no, no. Don’t fade on me yet,” the voice hissed.
She gasped as a hand curled around her windpipe and tightened. Her own hands immediately went to the attacker’s fingers and trying desperately but ineffectively to loosen them. The attacker made a strange sound while sweeping Jo’s legs out from under her. The carpet provided no cushion as Jo’s back was driven into the floor. Jo’s arms flopped out to her side. Her vision faded to black as she heard the grisly laugh.
“You’ve been through quite an ordeal Ms. Forrester,” Detective Mollier said.
“No shit.” Boney hissed and hugged her wife closer as her tears continued to fall. “If you have what you need Detective, I would like to be with my wife in private.”
“Just a few more minutes please.” The detective’s heart went out to the couple but she needed more information. “Ms. Forrester, Jo, can you describe your assailant?”
“Medium height, slender build…” She sniffed as Boney wiped her eyes gently.
“Male or female?”
“I couldn’t tell. They were dressed in all black including a hood of some kind. Around the eyes was all black too.”
“What about their voice? Anything distinctive?”
“No, it was…” She trailed off. “It was low, but they must like garlic and coconut.”
“Garlic and coconut?” Amanda asked.
“Yes. They only said for me not to fade out on them. Then I was slammed to the floor and everything went black anyway.”
“Can you remember anything else about that night?”
Jo shook her head and leaned against Boney. What little energy she had stored was spent on reliving her worst nightmare.
“Jo and Boney, who has keys to your house?” Emily asked and received cursed looks from the detective.
“Just Teela. Why?”
“There’s no evidence of a break in.”
“You don’t know that Emily,” the detective said.
“No evidence of forced entry anywhere. Most likely entrance would have been through the garage door.”
“That’s a pretty far leap even for you Emily.” Detective Mollier said.
“Do you leave you garage door up?”
“Not all the time.”
“But you said that it was stuck in the upright position when you got home from work right?”
“Yes and it was down when I came home from bowling.”
“And that kitchen door,” Emily continued. “Do you leave it locked all the time?”
“Not all the time. Look, are you implying that we asked for Jo to be attacked? Cause if you are…” Boney’s anger came to the front quickly.
“That’s not what I’m getting at here Boney,” Emily soothed. “I believe who ever it was came through the garage and entered and left through the kitchen door.”
“It also means it was someone who knew them or their habits,” Detective Mollier added.
“I don’t like the sounds of this.” Boney said. “First you accuse me of hurting Jo and now you are saying it’s one of our friends? Emily I didn’t hire you to go after our friends.”
“Wait a minute.” Jo tapped Boney’s arm. “You hired Emily? Why did you hire Emily?”
“I’ll explain later,” Boney firmly said.
“Let’s say that Emily is right. Is there any one of your friends that you would suspect?”
“Detective, we do not keep company with the sort of people who would do this to me,” Jo said curtly.
“Do you know anyone who would have a grudge against your friend Pax or the karate school she works for?”
They fell silent and looked stunned at the detective. Her question struck them suddenly and one name came to the both of them and they said it together.
“Tanesha Evans,” Boney supplied.
“Why?” Mollier asked. That’s the second time I have heard that name.
“She has a grudge against Pax.”
“You need to ask Pax.”
“And this Tanesha Evans,” Emily added.
“Detective,” Amanda finally spoke, “I would like my client to have protection.”
“Protection? Amanda what are you talking about?” Jo asked.
“Now that you are awake, that person could come back to do more harm,” Amanda explained.
“She has a point Jo,” Boney said.
“She’s right. Now that you are awake and people know it, it would be a good idea. Don’t you think so Detective?” Emily asked.
“Yes, I do. Rod,” she called over her shoulder. “Please call the captain and request a guard to be posted outside Ms. Forrester’s room. In the meantime,” she glanced at the untidy linens of the first bed, “I’ll see what I can do about transferring your roommate to another location.”
“Is this all really necessary?” Jo asked.
“Yes, Jo. It is,” Boney said with finality.
“Jo, if we have any further questions we’ll contact you.” Detective Mollier stated. “She reached into her jacket pocket and extracted a business card. “If you remember anything else, just give me a call.”
“I’ll do that.”
“Thank you. Emily, may I speak with you a moment in the hall?”
Emily and the detective walk the short distance to the lounge with Detective Odesser in tow. They were grateful no one was in there besides themselves. The two women stared at one another for a moment before Mollier decided to go first.
“I know this hasn’t been easy for you, Emily, seeing your friend like that.”
“Get to the point Sierra.”
“If you’re willing to set aside your animosity, I believe we should work together on this thing.”
“You have a partner.” She nodded her head towards the bulk of the man getting candy from the vending machine.
“Yeah well, he can ride backseat.”
“Now wait just a goddamn minute!” Detective Odesser cursed around a mouthful of gummy candy.
“No you wait,” Sierra corrected. “This case requires a sensitivity that you obviously don’t possess. You have managed to offend first our suspect and botch the interviews with her friends.”
“I did no such thing.”
“Shut up Rod. You’ll still be on the case with me but working an angle that hopefully won’t put you in touch with these women or their friends.”
“I can’t believe you are picking those lezzie’s over you partner. We have been partners for three years Sierra.”
Three years too long, she thought. “That is exactly what I am talking about. I’ll inform the captain when we get back to the station.”
“Don’t bother.” He dug into his jacket breast pocket extracting his cell phone. “I’ll tell him myself.” He grumbled and moved to the other end of the room.
“Don’t forget to request the guard.” She sighed wearily and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Where were we?”
“Trouble in paradise?”
“Give me a break Emily.”
“All right. Why don’t I meet you back at the station in an hour and we can go over the stuff that you have for all three incidents involving my friends.”
“Three? How did you know there were three crimes?”
Emily wiggled her eyebrows. “I have spies everywhere.”
“You mean Randy?”
“I mean I have my sources and will not divulge them,” Emily said as she headed for the door.
“See you in an hour then,” Sierra called out just as Rod handed her his cell phone.
“The captain wants to speak with you.”
Emily settled in the passenger seat next to her temporary partner. The moment the door of the sedan closed her irritation spontaneously soared. It felt as though a noose draped around her throat and slowly tightened its grip. Her chest heaved and she recognized the feeling of unequivocal annoyance.
Of all the places in the city she could be at that moment, anywhere was preferable to being trapped alone with Sierra Mollier. The images of the precinct Christmas party toyed with her again and her fingers choked the length of seat belt across her chest.
Play nice, she groused. Everyone is telling me to play nice. Even Harley’s parting words to her before leaving the apartment that morning was for her to be congenial to Sierra. I’m not a child. I just can’t stomach the woman.
“Ya know…” Sierra began as she broke for the red light and turned towards her passenger. “I don’t like this anymore than you do, but we have to try to work together.”
“I should have said this sooner but I’m sorry for how I behaved that night.” Thankful for the green light Sierra trained her eyes on the snow covered road.
Emily inhaled deeply and released the tension that had her muscles wound tight. Randy and Kronk had asked her when she was going to let the past remain there and so did Harley. So why am I keeping the animosity alive?
“You’re very lucky to have someone like Harley.”
“That I am.” She raked a nervous hand through her hair. “Listen, I ah… I’m sorry for that night too. Harley’s a special woman. She means everything to me and… I see red sometimes when it comes to her. Ya know what I mean?”
Wish I could feel half of that for someone. “Yeah I know what you mean.” Sierra stole a quick glance. “Good. Now that’s out of the way, how shall we proceed at the Women’s Center?”
“How is Dr. Forrester, Detective?” Jo’s receptionist at the Women’s Center asked.
“She’s alive,” Emily said dryly.
“Ms…” Sierra said.
“Crenshaw, Alice Crenshaw.”
“Ms. Crenshaw, what types of clients does Dr. Forrester treat?”
“Mainly cases with mental health and relationship problems. If you want to be specific you would have to ask her.”
“How long have you worked with Dr. Forrester?” Emily asked.
“About four years.”
“In that time you have come to recognize most all of her clients.”
“Have you seen any of her clients become angry with her?” Emily prodded.
“There have been a few.”
“Do you recall who they were?”
“You will have to ask Dr. Forrester.”
“Ms. Crenshaw, do you know of anyone who might want to hurt Dr. Forrester?” Sierra asked.
Alice drew out chewing on an already non-existent nail. “She’d go out of her way to help someone. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to hurt her.”
Finished with their interview, the pair systematically went through Johanna’s immediate office mates. The responses to their inquiries were the same as Alice Crenshaw’s. Johanna was an honored member of the staff at the Women’s Center. No one had a negative word to speak about her. Just before lunch they met with one of the nurses in the OB-GYN department. Melissa Reddon had lain in wait for her turn with the detectives.
“Hello I’m Detective Sierra Mollier and this is my partner…”
“Emily Oliverez, I know. I have been waiting for my interview.” Melissa smiled seductively and ran her hands over her ample breasts down the front of her smock to smooth any wrinkles that were not there.
“You have?” Emily looked at Sierra curiously and then back to the nurse. “Why is that?”
“Because this place is a veritable soap opera and no one really wants to admit it.”
“A soap opera?”
Melissa brazenly eyed Emily from head to toe and then smiled as their eyes locked in understanding. “Oh yes. Affairs run rampant and the tears of hurt feelings could douse a four wick candle.”
“Affairs, Mrs. Reddon?” Sierra asked and the nurse’s attention turned fully upon her. Sierra mentally shivered at the open appraisal while Emily moved behind her for a shield.
“It’s Ms.” She cooed. “And yes new liaisons form and old ones break only to start again.”
“Did Dr. Forrester have any of these liaisons?” Sierra shifted uncomfortably with the feeling that she was completely undressed by the nurse.
“Rumor had it that she did.”
“Only rumor. No one saw anything definite. You know how some people try to hide a romance but are as obvious as the sun in daylight?”
“I guess, sure.”
“Well, it wasn’t for certain with Dr.’s Forrester and Evans.”
“Dr. Matthew Evans the eye doctor?” Emily frowned.
“No silly, Dr. Tanesha Evans.”
“She used to work here until a few months ago. She was one of the psychiatrists here until she got ‘laid off’.” She made quotation marks with both hands.
“They had an affair?”
“People around here thought so. When Dr. Evans arrived, she and Dr. Forrester used to have lunch together all the time. Then something happened I guess and they stopped, but Dr. Evans started seeing one of Dr. Forrester’s friends.”
“So they were still socializing?”
“Sure. They had to work together.”
“How did Dr. Evans react?” Sierra asked.
Melissa shrugged. “She was calm. Very calm like it was no sweat.”
“Do you have any reason to think that she might want to hurt Dr. Forrester?” Sierra asked.
“Not her, but maybe the woman that dumped her. Which was a smart move if you asked me?”
“What woman dumped her?”
“That woman friend of Dr. Forrester’s she was dating dumped her hard. Cecil in billing told me that Dr. Evans got into a big fight with some woman over that and landed in the hospital all broken up.”
“When was this?”
“A few months ago. The best I can figure is that she was absent too long and they hired someone else.” She eyed the detective seductively.
“You said that it was a smart move for the woman to dump Dr. Evans. Why?” Emily asked behind her partner.
“Dr. Evans…she ah…” Her gaze locked with Sierra’s. “She was exciting but a bit too rough for my liking.” The nurse pouted.
“Rough?” Sierra’s voice etched higher against her will.
“You and Dr. Evans had a…liaison?” Emily asked giving her partner a chance to regain her composure.
“Once and only once. She was an interesting time but…”
“But…” Emily encouraged her to continue.
“Like I said, she liked things a little too rough for me. I prefer,” her eyes never left Sierra’s, “a slower tempo with gentleness.” She smiled as the detective swallowed visibly. “Don’t you think a deep slow rhythm is more satisfying Detective?” She directed at Sierra and flipped her hair. The detective couldn’t respond. All professionalism was forgotten.
“Do you know where we could find Dr. Evans?” Emily tried to regain control of the situation as her partner stood in a sexually fascinated daze.
“I’m not sure where she is practicing. She goes to Cybil’s night club sometimes and that little place in the next county.”
“Little place in the next county?” Emily shook her head. “Can you be a little more specific?”
“Not really. I had only been there once.” Her smile beamed at Sierra. “Have you ever been to Cybil’s Detective?”
Sierra snapped out of her haze to ponder the question. “Yes, on police business of course.”
She gave the detective a knowing smile. “Police business. Would you like to go with me when you’re off duty?”
Sierra cleared her throat and shook her head slightly to clear it. “I’m sorry Ms. Reddon that would not be advisable.”
“I’m sure we could find other things that would be advisable. Hell they’re down right recommended.”
Emily held her snicker as her partner colored red from her collar to hair line. “Thank you Ms. Reddon for you time. You’ve been most informative and helpful.”
“Yes,” Sierra cleared her throat, “most helpful.” She reached into the pocket of her jacket and extracted her business card. “If you think of anything else that would help us in our investigation, please call.”
Melissa turned the card over and over in her fingers and then eyes the detective once more. “I’ll do my best to find a reason to call, Detective.”
Sierra gently pushed Emily out of the room. The car doors were barely closed before Emily burst into gales of laughter. Sierra calmly sat in the driver’s seat unnecessarily adjusting her mirrors and jacket as her partner’s laughter continued. After several minutes her patience wore thin and she turned to Emily refusing to allow the tears to fall.
“Are you through now?”
“Oh God Sierra, that was too funny.”
“I am so glad that you’re finding humor at my expense.”
“Oh come on, that woman was so hot for you I thought she was going to jump you right there.”
“Yeah right.” Sierra lowered her head and fought her own painful tears.
Emily doesn’t have any idea how painful it is to be so introverted. She would never know how like a disease, shyness had robbed Sierra of opportunities others had taken for granted. It shielded her in loneliness. All she knows is my actions at the Christmas party.
“Did you want her to?” Emily barely contained her snickering then sobered when Sierra didn’t answer. “I didn’t mean to…I just thought it…”
Silently, Sierra gunned the engine to life and pulled out of the parking lot. They had driven for several blocks and she still fought to contain the tears that threaten to spill. You arrogant piece of shit, you have no idea what its like to be me. To be trapped inside your own insecurities and lacking courage unless the confidence is provided by a tall glass of Captain Morgan.
“Sierra,” Emily said softly.
“Our next move should be to speak with Dr. Evans.” Sierra effectively stopped Emily. “Her name has come up more than once during this investigation.”
“She’d had her heart broken by one of Jo’s friends. It’s understandable that they would point a finger at Dr. Evans as a sort of revenge thing.”
“It’s a close knit circle Dr. Forrester and her wife have around them. I’m sure they would protect one another. We’ll check out their suspicions especially in light of what Ms. Reddon said about a fight. You’re friends with them. Know anything about a fight?”
“No but I’ll ask.”
Sierra reached into her breast pocket for chirping cell phone. “Mollier,” she answered tersely.
“Sierra, it’s Rod. I got that address that you wanted.”
“You have perfect timing Rod.” She tapped Emily’s leg and motioned in the air as if she was writing. Emily understood and withdrew her pen and small note pad. “Go ahead.”
“Four seventy-eight Heyferd Road apartment number six, drives a black Magnum plate number FSB 1378.”
Sierra repeated the information aloud and waited for Emily to nod that she had written it down.
“Jacket is clean no priors.”
“I got it. Is there any word from forensics about the footprints?”
“There’s been a delay. A couple of their high tech machines are on the fritz.”
“Damn, how long?” Sierra sighed heavily.
“Great, just great. Tell them to send it to another lab or whatever.”
“Yeah like that’s going to happen.”
“Just keep me posted.”
“That I can do.” And the line went dead.
“And how is my patient today?” Dr. Keating entered the room adjusting his white lab coat.
“When can I go home? The food is lousy and this bed is giving me a back ache?” Jo grumbled.
“Need I remind you that you have some serious injuries and your body needs time to recover?”
“I can recover in the comfort of my own bed.”
The doctor motioned for her to be quiet as he listened to lungs. After several long seconds, he wrapped the stethoscope around his neck and asked, “How have you been sleeping?”
“A few hours here and there.”
“Uh huh. Having any nightmares?”
“Some.” Jo shifted uncomfortably while he examined her.
“Do I need to say that you should see a therapist about what happened to you?” he asked.
“No,” she said through clenched teeth when he touched her ribs.
“Good. I was hoping you’d take your own advice.” She looked at him puzzled. “Last year you talked my niece into continuing her sessions with you.”
“I’m sorry Dr. Keating I’m not following you.”
“Heather Sampson, you helped her to cope with…” His voice trailed away. The words were still difficult for him to say. Even though his niece had been rescued by other dorm members before the boy could rape Heather, she still had the nightmares. That is until she met Dr. Forrester.
“She saw the article in the newspaper about you and asked me if I knew you. I told her that you were my patient…”
“I don’t give a shit if you’re new on duty or not!” A shout sounded from outside Jo’s hospital room. “I’ve just about had it with you people.”
Jo sighed heavily and shook her head. “Dr. Keating, could you please drag my wife in here before she lands herself in jail again?”
The amused doctor chuckled and went to open the door. On the other side of the entryway Boney stood several feet from the police officer. The angry woman pointed her finger at the irritated officer who had one hand resting on his hip. Unfortunately for Boney, it was the hip that carried his gun.
“You can either get the hell out of my way or I’ll…”
“Augusta Jean!” Jo bellowed and heads snapped to the woman inside the room except the officer that remained fixed on Boney. “You behave yourself.”
“Officer, this is the patient’s significant other,” Dr. Keating said and fought to keep his laughter quiet, from a wildcat to a kitten in a split second.
The officer reluctantly stepped aside and watched the woman pass by. Boney turned to shut the door and her hazel eyes locked onto the officer’s blue ones. In a flash she stuck her tongue out and then pushed the door closed. A laugh sounded from the other side.
“How’s my sweetie today?” Boney turned with a wide grin.
“Wonderful. Dr. Keating was about to tell me when I could go home.”
“And…” They both looked expectantly at the doctor.
“I want to rerun a few scans and if they’re okay then tomorrow afternoon.”
“What time tomorrow afternoon?” Jo pressed.
“Before…three perhaps,” he bartered.
“Now that is good news,” Boney chimed. “What do I need to do when she gets home? Does she need anything special? What about a nurse?”
“Whoa honey slow down.”
“All she needs is rest for the next three weeks.”
“Three weeks!” Jo’s mouth fell ajar. “I can’t be off for three more weeks. What about my job and my patients?”
“Reschedule their appointments or give the cases to someone else. You’re out of commission.”
“I hope you have cable because the soap opera’s have not changed in the past two years.” Amanda said entering the room. “Susan is still sleeping with Tom and Sarah’s pregnant with Rebecca’s husband’s baby.” She laughed.
“God, still?” Jo sighed.
“Always,” Amanda touched her shoulder. “Hello Doctor, Boney. So the patient can go home?”
“And rest yes,” Dr. Keating said with finality and gathered his belonging from the empty bed. “Until tomorrow then.” And he was gone.
“Hello Amanda, this is a surprise.”
“I wanted to speak with you Boney and thought you might be here.”
“What did you need to see me about?”
“There won’t be any charges against you for poking the police officer.”
“Really?” Boney smiled and looked at the mixed expression on Jo’s face. Damn, still not out of the dog house on that one yet. Ha, when she sees the presents I got for her I will be. That and a lot of begging won’t hurt.
“That’s good news Amanda. I want to thank you again for helping her out.”
“It wasn’t a problem.”
“What made him change his mind?” Boney asked.
“Let’s just say.” Amanda smiled wickedly. “That he had a little encouragement.”
“What did you do, kick his ass?” Boney said and received a backhand across her stomach.
“I do not like this violent side of you Boney,” Jo said.
“That clears Boney. What about me?”
“Until this is over I’ll continue to represent your interests if that is alright with you?”
“It is, but I’m not sure if we could afford your fees.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Amanda,” Jo said.
“It’s taken care of. Boney promised to help me with some presentations to a few second and third graders.”
“I did what?” A flabbergasted Boney looked from Jo to Amanda. “I never…”
“And she promised to make a five hundred dollar donation to the zoo exhibit restoration project.”
“She did?” Jo eyed her wife.
“I most certainly did not.”
“Sure you did. In all the excitement and things going on you’ve just forgotten.” Amanda winked.
“Second and third graders? Aw come on,” Boney whined as Amanda left the room.
“You’ll do fine with them honey,” Jo said.
“Maybe.” Boney bent and kissed her wife tenderly upon the lips. “I love you.”
“I love you baby with all my heart.”
“Hey Autumn,” Tanesha yelled as she came through the apartment door. “Go get a towel I have the…” her voice faded seeing her living room with two not entirely unfamiliar people along with her girlfriend. “…ice,” she finished and stepped further into the room. The expression on her face hardened as she stared first at Autumn and then at Emily sitting so close to her. “What is this?”
“Dr. Evans, I’m Detective Sierra Mollier, and this is Emily Oliverez.”
Her gaze never left Emily’s. I know you. I would rather know your pretty girlfriend instead. “And what are you doing here Detectives?”
“I’m a private investigator,” Emily said.
“Good for you,” replied Tanesha.
“We’d like to ask you a few questions about a case we’re investigating,” Sierra said. She decided not to correct Tanesha’s address to Emily.
“I’ll take this into the kitchen,” Autumn said quietly as she tentatively reached for the bag of groceries in Tanesha’s arm and the large bag of ice hanging down by her side.
“Put the ice in a baggie first and then wrap it in a towel,” Tanesha instructed her flatly pointing to the blackening patch beneath the woman’s eye.
Emily watched Autumn closely. The woman never looked Dr. Evans in the eyes during their exchange and her hands shook even more as she took the bags. Autumn winced as she turned to go. Emily could tell that her entire body was sore and bruised.
After she had left the room Emily couldn’t keep her thought silent any longer. “She took a hefty beating?”
Tanesha’s darkened gaze turned on the private investigator and held. “I would say that she’s clumsy which she is, but she didn’t cover up fast enough,” she replied casually.
“Cover up?” Sierra asked
“I was teaching her karate,” the psychiatrist explained as she took a seat on the couch. “She didn’t cover up fast enough and one of my punches unfortunately slipped through.”
“How fast were you throwing them?” Emily asked through clenched teeth.
Tanesha studied the private investigator for a moment. The corner of her mouth turned downward and the Rattler leaned forward with menace. “Are you accusing me of something Detective?”
“Not at all.” Emily stared in returned unaffected by the attempted intimidation. “I always thought the first principle of karate was control.”
Tanesha held her position for a moment longer before leaning back into the cushions. The Rattler recoiled for now but posed ready to spring again if needed. Sierra looked from one woman to the other. Her mouth soured instantly with the tension between them.
“You said that you were doing an investigation Detective Mollier. What has that to do with me?” She kept her eyes trained upon Emily for seconds longer before turning a calmer look to Sierra.
“We’re conducting initial interviews with anyone connected with the victim.”
“What has that to do with me?”
“You’re friends with Dr. Johanna Forrester.”
“Were acquaintances,” Tanesha stressed. “But I’m sure that Ramirez can attest to that.” She smirked.
“It’s Oliverez,” Emily said through tight lips and ignored Sierra questioning gaze. “And I know that you and Dr. Forrester had a falling out of sorts. Care to explain what that was all about?”
“We did not have a falling out. I chose not to be in her circle of friends. Detectives, should I telephone my lawyer?”
“Do you feel that you need to?” Emily baited.
“I don’t see a need to Dr. Evans,” Sierra jumped in. “This is just fact finding. However, if you feel that you need to…” Tanesha waved her hand in dismissal. Sierra glared at her partner then continued. “You say you chose not to be friends with her. Why’s that?” Sierra asked.
“Outside of golfing we had nothing in common.” Tanesha said flatly then bellowed, “Autumn!” The nervous woman appeared instantly at her girlfriend’s side. “Bring me a tea.” Autumn hurried back into the kitchen and returned in less than a moment with a bottle of cold green tea. Emily and Sierra watched her twist the cap open and placed it on a coaster beside Tanesha then scurry from the room.
“That’s a nice trick. Does she fetch the newspapers and your slippers too?” Emily said.
“Private Dick, I don’t like what you are implying. If you’ve got something to say, say it.” She challenged and held Emily’s cobalt eyes with her own. You don’t want to make me angry you puny piece of shit.
Tanesha thought then forced the grin to remain hidden as a television show came to her mind. In that instant she remembered the Incredible Hulk’s human self would say “you don’t want to make me angry” as a warning and finish with “you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry”. You definitely wouldn’t like me then.
“Dr. Evans, when you worked at the Women’s Center, what types of cases did you treat?”
Tanesha rolled her eyes at Emily and said, “I’m a psychiatrist that usually means mental health cases. However, there were others taken on a case by case basis.”
“Was Dr. Forrester’s cases determined in the same way?”
“You would have to ask her.”
“Do your clients ever get angry with you?”
“There are times when the client’s hear things they are not fond of and their first instinct is to lash out. There is no difference between them and us Detective.”
“Do you think some strike out more than others?” Emily asked.
“Dr. Evans, in your time at the Women’s center, have you witnessed any such outbursts with clients of Dr. Forrester’s?”
“Probably, it’s an inherent risk with counseling and treating people Detective.”
“Dr. Evans,” Sierra interjected. “Can you think of anyone that would want to harm Dr Forrester?”
“You taught at the Okinawian Karate School correct?” Sierra changed the subject.
“You don’t anymore?”
“I’m an instructor at the Wild Crane Academy in Dystoff now.”
“Do you know Pax Baldwin?” Emily asked and saw the almost imperceptible twitch at the corner of Tanesha’s eye. Ah that seems to be a sore spot.
“Yes,” was Tanesha’s clipped reply.
“You were instructors together at the Okinawian School?” Emily continued.
Sierra and Emily saw Tanesha’s body become rigid at the mention of Pax’s name. Nurse Reddon at the Clinic mentioned a fight over a woman and both wondered if Pax was involved somehow.
“Are you aware that the Okinawian School was burned down?”
“I knew it caught fire. I called and spoke with Master Min.”
“How do you feel about that?”
“Tragic.” She took a drink of her cold tea. “I understand Master is planning to rebuild an even better dojo.”
Emily seethed at Tanesha’s smugness. You have an answer for everything don’t you? “Back to Dr. Forrester, rumor had it that you two were involved?”
Tanesha shifted in place as she crossed her legs then met Emily gaze directly. “If you’re implying that we had a sexual relationship that’s far from the truth. She’s married to that,” Tanesha rolled her eyes, “mountain woman.”
“But you wanted to?” Emily pressed.
“I wanted no such thing.”
“You were dating a friend of Dr. Forrester’s. What happened there?”
“My personal life is none of your business detective,” Tanesha warned. “Now is that all?”
Sierra looked from Tanesha to her partner and felt the chill course through her body. We are going to have a talk about communication Emily. Knowing that getting any more out of the psychiatrist would be impossible she was resigned to question Tanesha another time without Emily or with me on a leash.
Autumn made another appearance in the room. With her head bowed she silently walked through and disappeared. A moment later she came out of what is most likely the bedroom with her coat and a small overnight bag.
“Where are you going?” Tanesha barked and caused her girlfriend to jump.
“I’m…going…home,” Autumn stammered. While in the kitchen she debated on leaving and knew that with the detectives in the other room, she had a good chance of getting out of the apartment without consequence.
“Your car is at your apartment.”
“I’ll catch a cab.” She shrugged into her jacket without meeting Tanesha’s gaze.
“We can drop you off at your apartment if you like,” Emily offered and stood.
“I’ll take her home,” Tanesha said in defiance and got to her feet also.
Emily and Sierra made their way towards the door and paused in front of the woman. Emily waited for Autumn to look at her. When it didn’t happen, Emily’s heart broke even further in sadness for the woman.
“Thank you Dr. Evans for your time,” Sierra said and reached into her breast pocket extracting her card. “If you think of anything that would be helpful, call me.”
“I will do that.”
“And that goes for you also Autumn,” Emily said softly and offered her own business card. It was then that Autumn met her eyes but her hand took some time before it moved to accept the card. “Anything at all, just call.”
Reluctantly, Emily stepped through the door, Sierra on her heels. They were a few steps away from Tanesha’s apartment when they heard a thump against the inner wall. Emily turned sharply towards the apartment when she was stopped by Sierra.
“You know she’s in there beating her Sierra. We can’t just stand here and let her do it.”
“I know how you must feel Emily, but we can’t until Autumn decides she’s had enough.”
“Sierra,” Emily pleaded.
“Go back there and you’ll just make it worse.” Emily stopped her struggling, shoulders slumped in defeat.
“What did you tell them?” Tanesha hissed into Autumn's ear.
“Nothing, I swear,” she cried.
“Why don’t I believe you?”
“I don’t know Tanesha,” she gasped through the hand that pressed her against the wall and tightened around her throat. “They asked me about my face and I told them just what you told me to say. I swear.”
Tanesha let go of her girlfriend’s throat and watched as the woman slumped to the floor. She walked over to the couch where her tea sat and took a heavy pull from the sweating bottle. When she turned back around her lips curled into a sneer.
“Why are you still here? Go home.” Slowly, Autumn got to her feet. She adjusted her coat and opened the door. “You better be there when I call.”
The detective pulled away from the curb and drove several blocks neither dared to speak. Sierra’s knuckles gripped the steering wheel and would have shown white if she weren’t wearing winter gloves.
“You want to tell me why you got into a pissing contest with Dr. Evans?” Sierra said tersely.
“What she did to Autumn doesn’t piss you off?”
“That’s irrelevant. We were there to conduct an interview and not to get involved in a domestic dispute.” Sierra voice rose.
“A domestic dispute? What the fuck Sierra?” Emily shouted.
“If you’re going to act like this then we have a problem.”
“How can you be so cold?”
“How can you not be professional? You’re not working the streets anymore Emily. Things work differently. If you’re not up to it say so.”
Emily mumbled under her breath as she watched the pedestrians walk along the street and the children playing in the snow. Sierra was right but she didn’t want to admit it. Tanesha left a horrible foreboding feeling in her stomach. It was there that night at the bowling alley and on New Years at Cybil’s. You’re involved in this and I’ll prove it. When I do, I’m putting you in a cell with the meanest bitch in prison.
“She’s lying,” Emily finally said. “She knows something and she’s lying.”
“I agree with you but we’re not going to find out what that is today now are we?” Sierra couldn’t help the sarcasm.
Emily huffed and sat back with arms folded across her chest. The snow had begun to fall again and she hoped that Autumn would call for help.
The toll of the day’s emotions weighed heavy on Emily as she dragged herself from the private elevator and into the apartment. It was good to be home. The knots between her shoulder blades lessened magically as the scent of lavender, violets, and musk drifted her way. Harley’s ESP must’ve working overtime with her selection of fragrances. The private investigator chuckled at the dozen lavender roses she held in her hands.
“Harley!” She called and threw her jacket across the back of the couch. “Sugar baby you’re cuddle bear’s home.” She laughed to herself and made her way across the room towards the kitchen.
Emily froze inside the kitchen doorway and her mouth fell open.
“Hello cuddle bear is it?” Babbette laughed, touched Harley’s arm and whispered loudly, “Her father called her piggy toes when she was little.” Harley joined her mother-in-law laughing.
“Mom,” Emily whined. “Don’t tell her that.” She blinked at the coziness of them sitting at the kitchen table like old friends. A cup of coffee for Harley and a glass of wine sat in front of her mother. “What are you doing here?”
“It’s nice to see you too dear.” She smiled faintly.
“It’s nice to see you mom but what are you doing here?”
“I thought I would come for a visit.”
Finally leaving the doorway Emily approached Harley bouquet held out, “For you,” she said and kissed her on the lips.
“Oh honey they’re beautiful. Thank you but why?”
“Because you love me,” Emily softly replied loving the instant blush that tinted her wife’s skin.
“Emily, that was so sweet,” Babbette said.
“Thanks mom.” She smiled watching the shape of her wife’s buttocks when she went to put the flowers in a vase. “A visit,” she thought suspiciously. I deal with other people’s mysteries all the time and now I have to come home to one in my own kitchen. A visit my ass.
“You were here not too long ago Mom. What’s up?”
“Honey, why don’t you go shower and Babbette and I will finish dinner by the time you’re done.”
She eyed her mother and then Harley and back again. You want to spend time alone with her in the kitchen now I know you’re both up to something. I’m not sure I like this. I should be happy.
Reluctantly, Emily left the kitchen for the bedroom. She quickly stripped her clothing and stood beneath the hot shower hoping it would push the day’s experiences into a closet until tomorrow.
Dinner was pleasant for once with the three of them at the same table. Harley and Babbette had been unusually tolerant and polite to one another through the entire meal. After the dishes were cleared and desert was served, Emily had enough and had to know.
“Ok you two I want to know what’s going on.” Babbette looked to Harley who suddenly wanted to clear away the table. She was stopped by the grip upon her wrist and the blue eyes that bored into her.
“Emily, I…” Babbette started.
On the flight from Texas to Michigan her time was spent practicing what she would say at this moment. It flowed so smoothly for three hours and thousands of miles in the air. Why was it now a jumble of incoherent babble? The fear of Emily’s reaction hit her squarely and she fought to keep her dread from lodging within her throat and preventing her from speaking.
“Mom what is it?” Emily’s face grew with concern. “Is Dad ok?” She helplessly looked at Harley and back to her mother.
“Yes, your papa is fine honey.” Her mouth opened and closed several times before the air that escaped between them made intelligible words. “I need to tell you something that I should have told you years ago.”
“You’re scaring me mom. What is it?”
“I’ll leave you two alone to talk,” Harley said.
“No,” Babbette replied too quickly and caused Harley to stop where she stood. “I mean, stay Harley.”
“If you want.” She returned to her seat next across from Emily. Babbette hadn’t told her the reason for the surprise visit. She was a little more than curious as to why her mother-in-law was there. Whatever it was couldn’t be good news. Harley did notice the lack of dramatics that Babbette often exhibited during her visitations. Her solemn demeanor was definitely uncharacteristic.
“My name is Brenda Devereaux and you were born Angelica Devereaux.”
“What?” Emily whispered.
“My real name is Brenda. I changed it to Babbette three years after you, Angelica, were born.” Unable to meet the questioning blue eyes, Babbette sipped her wine and waited.
“I don’t understand. Why would you change your name, our names mom?” She rubbed her temples. Keep calm, let her finish. Remember earlier today.
“I…” She paused and wiped the lone tear that threatened to spill. “I think it’s time you knew everything.” She inhaled sharply and let the tears flow. “This is so hard for me, baby. I’ve lied to you for so long. I’m so sorry Emily.”
“Mom?” Emily stood and embraced her mother. Dark eyebrows knitted in confusion she frowned. The question remained as to why and until that was answered she would reserve judgment and listen.
“Emily.” She sniffed and dabbed at her eyes with the cloth napkin. “I’ve wanted to tell you everything.”
“I’m listening mom.”
“When I worked for the Liddio’s Corporation in San Antonio I was the executive secretary for Robert Sumner and John Baldwin. John and I started seeing one another a month after his transfer to the San Antonia Branch.” She paused to see how her daughter accepted the information so far. “Your uhm…real father’s name is John Baldwin.” She dabbed at her eyes once again as images of John came to her.
John Baldwin was a handsome man of six feet four muscular and fit. She couldn’t resist that straight blue-black hair. That was what drew her to him. The cleft in his chin sealed her sexual attraction as did the chest full of hair. Her daughter was conceived during their sixth month together.
“Fredricko isn’t my father?” The voice of a wounded little girl sounded at her mother’s shaking head. “John Baldwin.” The name repeated again and again in her mind like a mantra. She gazed towards her lover. Harley reached across the table and took her hand in her own. “Where is this John Baldwin?”
Babbette tilted her head to the side at the calmness in her daughter. It was not the reaction she had expected. Something a little more animated and emotional would have been preferential to the calm. As a child, Emily was the epitome of the calm before the torrential storm as her temper outburst had become legendary in junior and high school.
“I’m told that he died of heart problems.”
Emily felt numb at the news of his death. She had no other reference to her lack of emotions. How does one react when you find out your whole identity has been close to a lie? Not adopted just… what?
“Harley, may I have some more wine please?” Babbette asked and then at the reproachful look on her daughter’s face. “In this instance, it helps me.”
“I’ll have a beer please,” Emily said. Harley listened as she retrieved the drinks and then settled back at the table.
“John remained in Dallas for a year and then went home to be with his family. I knew he was married when I pursued him, but a girl could always hope.” She gave them a half smile. “It wasn’t until he left that I found out I was pregnant with you. I didn’t want him to feel obligated to be with us. I knew what I was getting into. John loved me, I know this.”
“Obviously not enough.”
“That’s not true. He did, but his family needed him more. He provided for us when we needed it the most.”
“As hush money no doubt.”
“No because he loved us.”
“Yeah, ok so get to the part about changing our names? Was it to protect him?”
Babbette’s first instinct was to spout her own sarcasm but thought better. Let her be angry. She deserves this. “After you were born, I met Jonathan Stevenson and we moved to Dallas.”
Babbette trembled visibly at her memories with Jonathan. As construction worker, jobs had been scarce for Jonathan. They were barely making ends meet. Moving to Dallas Jonathan was able to find steady work. He also found that selling drugs was more profitable.
Babbette recounted for Emily that Jonathan began using more drugs than he sold and those people wanted their money. “He turned to gambling to pay back the drug dealers and that just got him into a bigger mess. One day I took what money he had in his pocket, you, and some clothes and left.”
“Didn’t he come looking for you?”
“He tried but I had some good friends in Dallas and San Antonio that hid us real well.” She paused and sipped her wine. “This is turning out to be a fantastic story ya know?”
“Something like that.”
“Anyhow, two months after we left Jonathan died from a fall at the construction site. My friends, you remember the Cowen’s?”
“Yes I remember them.”
“They called me the day that Jonathan died and let me stay with them until arrangements were made for his burial. I was terrified. I knew that he owed those people money and I was afraid to have to do anything for him fearing they’d come after us. The drug dealers and gamblers would be looking for Brenda Devereaux not Babbette.”
She had returned to Dallas for a few days as Babbette. Her husband was cremated and she kept the remainder of the insurance money for them to live on until she found another secretarial job.
“I met Fredricko.” She genuinely smiled at the mention of her husband’s name. “Just before we married I told him everything. Fredricko wanted to adopt you and made one request before he did.”
“What was that?”
“That he name his new daughter. He called you Emily after his mother.”
“I remember grandmother.”
“He loves you very much Emily.”
Emily stared at her sweating beer bottle for some time. Her mind reeled with the truth her mother had revealed about her life and her biological father. It was indeed a fascinating tale. Questions filed one behind another in her mind until she felt dizzying nauseous from the spinning. It was more than she could stomach for one night.
“I know this is a lot for you to take in Emily,” her mother said.
“Don’t you mean Angelica?”
“No, I mean Emily,” she said through strained lips. “I’m so sorry that I did not tell you sooner.”
“I know mom.” Emily sighed. “But why now? Why after all this time?”
Babbette twisted the stem glass between her fingers and exhaled. “I’m telling you now because your sister and brothers want to meet you.”
“My what?” She jumped to her feet and locked with her mother’s.
“John’s children, you have two half brothers and a sister.”
“What? You’re kidding? No you’re not kidding. Why would you be?” Emily paced around the kitchen. “This is all too surreal.”
“Emily honey, calm down,” Harley said.
“Would you be calm if this were you Harley?” She snatched the bottle from the table on her pass by and continued to pace.
“Emily, hear me out.”
“I’ve heard you mother. I’ve heard everything you have said.”
“This could be a good thing. You’ve always wanted brothers and sisters.” She tried levity.
“When I was a child!” She shrieked.
“Baby, come on,” Harley said.
Emily walked silently on the tiled floor. She chugged the rest of her beer and instantly reached into the refrigerator for another. After a brief drink and a healthy belch she looked at her mother. “Where do they live?”
“Here in town.”
“Do I have to meet them?”
“It would be nice.”
“What if I don’t like them?”
“Then you don’t like them. I have met the oldest named Zander. He seems like a very nice man. He looks like John.”
“What do they want from me?”
“Nothing I assume. I believe they want to give you something.”
Emily looked at her mother with suspicion. “What?”
“I’m not sure and Zander didn’t say.”
“When?” Emily barked.
“I told Zander to give me some time to speak with you and then I would contact him. You could call him and set things up.”
Emily looked at her mother and then to Harley. She was torn. Not knowing what to do or how to sort her feelings, she took another pull from the beer and sat it sharply on the counter.
“Goodnight mother.” She left the room.
Surprised, Harley and Babbette watched her leave without a look back. Babbette shook her head wearily and lifted her wine glass to her lips. “That went well don’t you think?” she said and drained her nearly full glass of wine.
It was sometime before Harley entered their bedroom. Emily was propped up on the bed with her hand cradled behind her head. She was counting the ceiling tiles or marks again, something she often did when she was troubled and was waiting for sleep to arrive.
Harley kicked off her shoes and opened the snap on her jeans. A smirk came upon her face as she saw the slight flicker in Emily’s eyes. Emily heard the button release and the zipper pulled down a bit. She had her lover’s attention if only slightly.
Harley slid onto the bed and came to rest with her head resting in the dip of Emily’s shoulder. She waited for Emily to slip her arm around her shoulder. Then she knew it would be okay to start to talk with her. Until then, Emil did not want consolation or discussion.
It was several moments and Harley began to worry. Tentatively, she touched Emily’s stomach. The muscles jumped beneath her finger tips, again she had gained her attention if only momentarily. But she wanted her full attention. She needed to know where her wife was at, what she was thinking.
“Are you ready to talk yet?”
“I’m not sure.” Emily’s voice sounded weak.
“Should I leave you alone for a while longer?”
“No. I need you. At least you are true. You are real.”
“That isn’t fair to your parents.”
“My parents, ha.” She guffawed. “Do I really know who they are?”
“Shame on you Emily Oliverez,” Harley chastised.
“No seriously Harley,” Emily looked at her for the first time since she entered the room. “I don’t know what to believe. I don’t know who I am.”
“You are Emily Oliverez, daughter to Babbette Devereaux Oliverez and beloved daughter of Fredricko.”
“It’s sounds very noble, but there is little comfort in that.”
“Tell me how you feel Emily.”
“It’s all a circus of emotions. I can’t sort them out.”
“I bet it is for you.”
“It’s the whole lying thing,” Emily said and rubbed her eyes to prevent them from filling with tears. “I can understand why she changed her name. I used to be a cop so I understand. But to never tell me about a father I’ll never get a chance to know?”
“A biological father that you’ll never know Emily, there is a difference. I’m sorry that you’re going through this but when you are having doubts about Fredricko ask yourself this: who raised you? Who taught you to swim and to fish?” Emily’s eyes filled with tears. “The man who taught you to throw a jab and to slide and all those other things was your father.”
Emily sobbed and Harley enveloped her lover in her arms. Pressed against the head board Harley’s body shook with her lover’s weeping. It was some time before Emily reached across to the nightstand to grab several tissues. Emily sat on the edge of the bed, back towards her lover. A comforting hand moved in small circles across the taut muscles in her back.
“Hmm that feels wonderful. You always know what I need don’t you?”
“Come lie down with me. You must be whipped.”
“I am. It was a day full of surprises.”
Harley quickly removed her clothing and slipped beneath the covers. On the edge of the bed her limbs moved as though they weighed a ton. It had been an emotionally draining day and an equally emotionally roller coaster night. The only constant in her life at the moment was the woman beside her.
Emily snuggled closer to Harley needing to be a second skin. Always warm, she loved the fit of her hips against her lover’s. Involuntarily she moved against Harley’s thigh and felt the muscle twitch. Fingers caused the taut stomach to tremor as they trailed a circle. Emily closed her eyes and marveled in the kiss that was being placed upon her head and another on her forehead.
Emily kissed the skin beneath her cheek and her hand grazed over a pebbled nipple. Harley inhaled and touched her lips to the forehead once more.
“Emily, what are you doing?” Harley asked as her lover’s fingers began to circle the outer part of her breast.
“I love these you know?”
“I’m gad that you do.”
“They are so…so…beautiful.” Her hand closed around the breast as her hips ground against Harley’s side.
In a sensually slow rhythm, Emily’s hand and hips caused the bundle of nerves between Harley’s legs to throb. She hesitated to say what she wanted for fear of losing the connection if only for mere seconds.
Their bodies shifted so that Harley lay on her left facing away from Emily. The contact was better than before as Emily’s mound pressed into the firm globes of Harley’s ass. They both released a moan. When her right hand enclosed over Harley’s breast, Emily’s eyes rolled back and closed.
“Oh baby these are so wonderful.”
“Honey, aren’t you tired.” Harley asked.
“Not anymore. Please?” It was easier for Emily to chase down drug dealers than to make her body stop what it was doing.
“Stop now and I’ll hurt you.”
Their bodies moved together in tempo. It was a measured dance beneath the sheets as Emily’s hand squeezed Harley’s breast and her hips moved along the flesh of her wife’s butt. Emily’s mouth sank onto the exposed area of Harley neck and continued to suck gently, tongue circling. Her hand moved across her breast and around the nipple.
Harley groaned reaching around behind Emily’s head, her right leg flat against the mattress knee bent. Frantic hands traveled every inch of Harley’s body over the round globes of her buttocks cupping and squeezing. She knew Harley wanted her to touch the place where she needed it the most. Not yet.
“Don’t tease me.” Harley panted pushing her hips into the air and then grinding them onto the mattress.
Forgoing slow torture, Emily let her fingers glide over swollen folds. Harley’s hips shot upward begging for harder contact.
“Emily,” Harley warned.
Harley removed her arm from around Emily’s neck and covered the hand teasing her. She used Emily’s hand to palm her center and ground her hips harder. The fingers rubbed against her clit and she released a deep moan
“So that’s what you meant?” Emily whispered, “And this too?”
She plunged two fingers deep within Harley causing her to inhale deeply and her legs to tremble.
“You’re making me wet.” Emily panted pulling her fingers to the edge of her opening and then returned deeply within.
Harley’s walls embraced each thrust drawing them further and further inside trying desperately to hold them prisoner.
“Turn over for me,” Emily said groaning when her fingers were released. They were quick to return to their task of deep pleasuring as Harley lay on her back to receive her lover.
Emily lapped at a hardened nipple before sucking it into her mouth. Harley’s fingers buried themselves within the thick mass of hair holding Emily’s head in place. Harley’s center throbbed around Emily’s fingers and her leg burned from the fire that contact with Emily’s thrusting hips. She could feel her lover’s wetness along her thigh and it drove her closer to orgasm.
“Come with me,” Harley whispered.
Emily mounted Harley’s thigh and began her rhythm once more. With each slow thrust her hips followed and brought them closer together. The lovers rocked and panted reveling in the fine sheen of sweat they created.
“Emily.” Harley legs twitched violently. “I can’t hold it.”
“Don’t baby, I’m with you.” Emily’s hips spasmed and jerked. “I love…”
She couldn’t finish as her teeth clamped together and the yell was barely restrained. Back arched, Emily accepted the blunt nails Harley dragged across her back as her orgasm erupted.
Emily staggered into the bathroom. It was as if she walked on jelly. Making love with Harley always left her weakened and praying for more. Finished with her morning ritual, she opened the bathroom door and followed the scent of fresh blueberry muffins and coffee.
“You made muffins.” Emily’s voice cracked.
“Yes.” Babbette smiled. “Come sit down. I’ll get you some coffee.”
“Thanks Mom.” Emily reached for the plate of muffins on the table and the butter.
Her mother returned with a steaming cup of coffee and Emily gingerly sipped the dark brew. Her eyes closed and she moaned at the delicious melting flavors in her mouth. One bite then two or three and she was reaching to the plate for another muffin.
“This is heaven Mom, thank you.” Emily sucked the dripping butter from her fingertips.
Babbette softly laughed then stroked the hair back from her daughter’s face. She remembered Saturday morning when her daughter would smell the blueberry muffins and nearly sleep walk down the stairs to the kitchen. When her Emily had gotten sick, sore and scratchy throat or not, she wanted her muffins hot and buttery. She could smell a fresh batch through a stuffy nose.
Babbette hooked strands of black hair behind her daughter’s ear and whispered, “Te amo Emily.” I love you Emily.
Emily leaned over and kissed her mother’s cheek with buttery lips and smiled. “Te quiero Madre.” I love you too Mother.
“Can you forgive?”
“There is nothing to forgive you for Mom. You did what you had to do to keep us safe. I will always be grateful to you for that.”
“Thank you.” Babbette wiped her tears.
The two of them ate their muffins in silence for several moments. Emily was curious about her new siblings. How did they feel knowing about her? Did they have anything in common? Would she like them?
“How much do they know about me?”
“John’s children.” She could not bring herself to call him “father”. Harley was right. He was someone who gave her existence, but Fredricko was her dad, and she his little girl. Always.
“Not much I suppose. They were able locate me in San Antonio using a private investigator. I believe John had a safety deposit box in which he kept my letters to him and a copy of your birth certificate. They know that you work for the city. Anything else, I believe is up to you to tell them.”
“Thank you mother.” She sipped her coffee. “What do you want?”
“For you not to get hurt, that’s all.”
Emily took several sips of her coffee before getting up to refill both of theirs. She moved slowly giving herself a chance to phrase her next questions without offending her mother more than she may already have.
“You said this Zander looks like John.” She stammered and peeled the paper from another muffin.
“Do I...” She hesitated focused on carefully peeling the paper. “Do I…”
A warm hand covered hers. “You have my skin and height. You have his nose, eyes, and coal black hair.”
“You do.” Babbette gave her daughter a loving smile. “When you’re a smart ass I’ll blame that on him.”
“Very funny mom.” Emily bit into the muffin “Do you know the others names?”
“There is Damian; he owns a restaurant here in town. He is the youngest.” She watched Emily attempt to be nonchalant but knew she was listening carefully. “You sister’s name is Pax. She works for the zoo here and…”
“Wait, did you say? Pax?”
“Yes. Odd name for a girl don’t you think? Zander said John and his mother loved Greek culture and gave them all Greek names.”
“Why are you looking so strangely dear?”
Emily burst into laughter. “I can’t believe it.”
“Really Emily, you must try and get a hold of your mood swings. I can barely keep up with you. One minute you’re angry, the next hysterical and laughing.”
“Mom, I know Pax Baldwin. I’ve known her since last fall. Oh my god, no wonder everyone was saying we could be sisters. Son of a bitch if we are after all.” Emily chuckled.
“Emily don’t swear. It’s not nice.”
“This should be interesting.”
“If you know Pax already, what do you think of her? Is she someone that you feel comfortable being with?”
“Yes,” she said without hesitation.
“Will you call Zander and arrange to meet with them?”
She grabbed another muffin and peeled it. “Yes.” Emily got up to leave the kitchen.
“Su esposa,” Your wife, Babbette said.
Emily smiled and felt her eyes swelled with more tears. Finally, her mother had finally recognized Harley’s importance. It was one surprise she would welcome anytime.
“Si,” Emily said yes to her mother with a broad smile.
“Ella toma real de una buena atencion de ustedes que no?” She takes real good care of you doesn’t she?
“Si lo hace Mama.” Yes she does mom.
Babbette chuckled against her coffee cup. “A pesar de que ella no es una chica blanca, quiero demasiado.” Even though she is not a white girl, I love her too.
Emily burst into pearls of laughter grateful for her mother’s sense of humor. “I’ll give her your love.”
The door opened on the bathroom turned sauna and the scented steam escaped. Pax inhaled deeply and a salacious smile spread across her face at the sight of Teela relaxing in her bathtub.
“There you are,” Pax said. “I was about to call the police and tell them a four legged beast broke into my home.”
“Thumper is not a beast. She wanted to come see you.”
“Oh I doubt that very much.” Pax placed a kiss on her forehead before sitting on the toilet seat.
“We both wanted to come and see you.”
“I’m glad you’re here.”
“Why don’t you join me?” Teela winked.
“I could. Can you be trusted?”
“Hell no.” Teela laughed. “But I promise not to do anything until after we’re squeaky clean.”
“Hmm I guess we won’t be spending much time in here then.”
In moments Pax’s clothing lay on the floor in a pile with the leg brace buried beneath. Pax hissed as the hot water’s tiny needles pricked her skin. An adjustment to the small bath pillow allowed Pax to lie back comfortably and to pull Teela to rest against her.
For several moments Pax was lost in the feel of Teela’s smooth skin against her own. The silkiness of the bubble bath beaded across her arms. The scent of the bubbles were alluring, she loved the smell of amber and roses an arousing combination in itself. To have Teela bathed in the fragrances and lying in her arms made her senses swoon.
Teela drew Pax’s arms tight round her but was silent. “What are you thinking about?”
“I was thinking… I have a question to ask you.”
“Okay,” Pax said.
“I have to go to a conference and…”
“You’re going away?”
“It’s the annual Alzheimer’s Conference in Langdon.”
“Only for a couple of days.”
“A week from Monday. I usually drive down the night before and get a hotel room. I will be back on Tuesday night.”
“I don’t think I could survive not seeing you for forty-eight hours. That seems like a long time.”
“That’s sweet.” Teela snuggled against Pax’s chest. “I was wondering…” Teela paused and chewed on her lower lip. She was unsure how Pax would react to her request.
“You were wondering if I wanted to go with you right?” Pax’s cupped hand emptied the water over Teela’s breast loving how it ran over the raised nipple.
“I’ve thought about that but you would be bored out of your skull. Actually I was wondering if you’d keep Thumper while I was gone.”
Pax’s hand remained beneath the water. “You want me to babysit the beast?”
“She’s not a beast. You two can keep each other company until I get back.”
“She has to stay here?”
“It’ll be the perfect opportunity for you two to bond with one another,” Teela said.
“An opportunity for us to bond? You have got to be kidding me. That dog has it in for me. She always has.”
“She does not,” Teela said trying hard not to snicker. Her head shook from side to side amazed that her lover and her dog mixed like oil and water. She was sure that their relationship had improved or so she had thought.
“And now you want to give her the perfect opening to take her final revenge on me with no witnesses.”
“My baby is innocent and you know it”
“Sure she’s innocent. When you get back and see that I’m shoeless and have no underwear on then you’ll be sorry.”
“You without underwear on…I would definitely be sorry.” Teela laughed.
“She had better behave. You should have a serious talk with her before you go.”
“So that means you’ll keep her?”
“I guess so.” Pax sighed wearily.
“But she will sleep on the floor and not in my bed. That’s not negotiable.”
“It’s a small sacrifice for Thumper to make but she’ll understand.”
“She’d better because I’m the master of this house.”
“Yeah.” Teela chuckled and then became pensive.
“What are you thinking about?”
“About taking a trip,” Teela said.
“You are taking a trip remember.”
“No silly,” she playfully slapped Pax’s arm, “I meant us taking a trip, a long weekend somewhere.”
“Sounds nice but I hope to be back to work soon.”
“You’ve heard from Dr. Caldwell?”
“He called and wants me to come by this afternoon. He has something to discuss with me he said.”
“You think they know what happened to Cloe?”
“That and to clear me of any suspicion.”
“That would be good news.”
“Terrific news because I can’t take daytime TV much longer.”
“Oh poor thing.”
“I’m serious. I have no idea what possessed me to watch a talk show where the woman confessed to her husband, on national TV mind you, that she was sleeping with his mother.” Pax shook her head. “I couldn’t stop watching it.”
“Oh my, you do need to get back to work.”
“But time alone with you and leaving all these cares behind sounds wonderful. It would be a chance to focus on just us. Someplace like New York.”
“That does sound wonderful but we can’t leave with Jo’s attacker still on the loose as well as the arson investigation ongoing. Since we’re dreaming, New York is too congested,” Pax said.
Pax’s hands closed around Teela’s firm breasts and squeezed. Their moans filled the air. Teela arched into the strong hands and felt Pax’s breasts glide sensually along her back.
“How about someplace,” Teela breathed heavily, “exotic like Aruba or Bali?”
Pax rolled the hardened nipples between her fingers and pressed her own against Teela’s skin. “It’s just us right now. What would you like to do?”
Pax traced the small ear with her tongue and Teela shuddered. She let go of one nipple and let her hand trail down Teela’s cleavage to her stomach to make small circles around her belly. Teela gasped as stray fingers stopped making circles to dance through the tight blonde curls below.
“You’re making it hard to stay in here.”
“Let’s not stay then,” Pax said as she purposefully brushed a finger across Teela’s swollen clit then stood. “Follow me.”
“I appreciate you taking the time to come in today Pax.” Max settled behind his cluttered desk.
“I wanted to get the rest of Cloe’s paintings anyway.” She tapped the rolled pictures against her knee. “You said that progress had been made on the investigation about Cloe.” She stretched her leg with the brace. The icy temperatures made the metal cold and heavy.
“There has. The part that stumps the team is where the cyanide came from. They thoroughly searched your office and belongings and could not find anything incriminating.”
The investigating team couldn’t find their ass in a paper bag. “You sound disappointed Max.”
“Not at all. I have attested to your innocence right from the beginning. Anyone will tell you that I have said this whole thing was a fluke.”
Pax eyed her boss skeptically. Sure you have vouched for me, you kiss ass. “So that means I can come back to work when?”
“Very soon. The team isn’t quite finished yet and they need to report their findings. When they do that, I’m certain you’ll be cleared to return.”
“And the damage to my professional reputation?”
“None,” he said with finality.
“Why has it taken so long Max?”
“You know how it is dealing with humans.” He chuckled but Pax didn’t. “Listen I know that you are probably bored out of your skull there at home and I was wondering if you could lend me a hand?”
I knew there was another reason you wanted to see me. What have you screwed up now? “What is it?”
“Donations have been pouring in lately and the board has granted approval for remodeling a couple of the exhibits. Especially since the viper pit turned out marvelously.” He beamed.
“Gary told me it looks fantastic,” Pax forced the sarcasm to disappear from her voice. That’s my project you’re taking credit for. Gary telephoned her the day the board toured the new exhibit. They were thrilled at the interactive components she added and the combined teaching stations. Max took credit for the additional hardware and ideas and hinted she was responsible for the delays and over budget construction.
“I have approval to remodel the wild cat exhibit next.”
“The blueprints aren’t completed yet, but there are some things I’m not so sure about. That’s where I could use your help.”
A rap sounded on the door and then it burst open. There stood Tammy Reynolds text book in hand and not aware she had interrupted their meeting. “Max I was wondering something.”
“Ah Tammy,” Max stammered.
She looked up from the book, thick lenses reflecting back at Pax. “Oh I’m sorry Max; I didn’t realize you were busy.”
“It’s quite alright Tammy. Next time you might want to wait for a response before you enter a room,” he said politely.
“Yes, Dr. Caldwell.”
“Is it critical, or can I find you later?”
“That’s alright Max.” Pax tightened her grip on the cane and stood not wanting the opportunity for an escape to close on her. “I have to be going anyway.”
“But Pax.” He stood. “We haven’t finished talking about the wild cats.”
“I’m sure you’ll handle it just fine Max.”
“At least take a look at the plans. They should be finished by tomorrow or the day after and I can drop them by your place then.”
“Dr. Caldwell,” Tammy shyly spoke. “I can drop them off for you?”
“Thank you Tammy but I couldn’t impose on you like that.”
“It’s not a problem. My favorite coffee shop is in that area. I’d love an excuse to stop for a latte.” She chuckled. “I’d be happy to drop them off for you.”
“If you’re sure Tammy?”
“I am.” She then turned to Pax with a smile. “It’ll be nice to have you back Pax.” Tammy pushed her glasses back onto her nose
Pax kept her eyes from rolling and left Max with his adoring fan. She would rather be with Teela at Jo’s.
Though the serving tray was heavy with coffee mugs and condiments, Boney was able to place it upon the dining room table without spilling a single caffeinated drop. The three friends sitting around the table were momentarily joined by Teela entering from the kitchen. She placed the cake she’d picked up from the bakery on the table and began to slice it.
“You guys didn’t have to come. She is doing fine,” Boney said.
“We wanted to stop over yesterday, but thought better to give her a chance to get home and settled.”
“Good planning because I got her home and took her straight to bed.”
“We don’t want to hear about your sex life Bone,” Teela baited her old friend and waited for her witty retort.
“That is not what I meant Teela, and you know it,” Boney said dryly.
Saddened, Teela looked at her friend. Since the attack on Jo, Boney hadn’t been her usual goofball self with flippant but witty responses. Teela had thrown some of her best comments leaving herself wide open for the comical retorts she knew her friend was capable of making. Time after time each opportunity passed without challenge. She wasn’t the only one that noticed the change in the hillbilly.
“Yeah Bone, I know,” Teela said meeting Harley’s troubled gaze as well.
“So how is she?” Harley asked.
“She’s well as could be expected. Coming through the door yesterday was rough. She started crying and shaking,” Boney shook her head to prevent the tears from falling. “She still gets frightened and nervous sometimes. Yesterday every little sound made her jump.” Boney wiped the lone tear from her eye. “I have to go back to work in a couple of days and I’m afraid to leave her.”
“What can we do?” Harley asked.
“You guys have done so much for us with all of this. I can’t thank you enough for helping me.”
“That’s what friends are for Boney,” Harley said.
“Still, you took time to be here for the cleaning crew and Pax was here for the security company. I really appreciate everything. Teela she loves the new carpet.”
“I knew she would. Has there been any news from Emily about finding the guy who did this to her?” Teela asked.
“Not yet. I hope they catch the bastard and leave me with him for ten minutes,” Boney said between clenched teeth and pounded her hand upon the counter. After a long moment of silence, her anger faded and she sighed. “Amanda said she may stop by tonight.” A faint mewling sound came from below them and they all turned to the basement door.
“Your little packages are down there waiting,” Teela said. “Are you sure you want to have two?”
“Two of what?” came the soft voice behind them.
“Jo honey, what are you doing out of bed?” Boney asked and rushed to her wife’s side. “You should be in bed. If you needed something why didn’t you use the walkie talkie I gave you?”
“I am sick of lying in bed. You don’t have to wait on me hand and foot,” Jo said.
“The doctor said for you to rest.”
“Baby I love you, but…”
“But I’m smothering you.”
“So deal with it,” Boney’s voice deepened as her arm tightened around her wife. Harley and Teela gawked at their stern friend. “Let’s get you settled in the living room and then everybody can come say hello.” Boney steered her out of the kitchen.
As she refused to lie on the new couch, Jo sat in the equally new rocker recliner. Boney made a quick jog up the steps for pillows and blankets. A comfortable warmth from the fire in the hearth filled the living room. Jo remained tolerant as Boney adjusted the blankets and fluffed the pillow behind her head. She smiled at the thoughtfulness of her hillbilly and the strength she’d shown over the past week. But something was missing.
“There now,” Boney grinned, “all snug as a bug.” She tucked the edges around Jo’s body and paused only when her hands were grabbed.
“Where is my hillbilly?”
“I’m right here Jo,” she said and stroked her fingers through her mate’s straight hair. Since her attack, Jo had not curled or styled her hair and it lay limp against her scalp. “Tell me who I should call to come out and do your hair.”
“To do my hair?”
“You missed your appointment last week.”
“Where is my hillbilly?” Jo repeated and searched her eyes. “I haven’t seen your beautiful smile or heard your laugh for quite some time.”
“Jo.” Boney caressed the bruised cheek. “There hasn’t been much to laugh or smile about.”
“My hillbilly always found something to laugh about.”
“Not this time.”
“Especially now. Honey I’m okay. I got knocked around and I’ll live. Don’t let this change who you are, who we are.”
“I wasn’t here for you Jo. That immature person that I was couldn’t keep you safe. I don’t want to be her anymore. I want you to know that you can depend on me.”
“This is not your fault Boney, none of it,” her voice rose with intensity and a finger poked her in the chest. “You couldn’t possibly have known someone would break in here and attack me. So don’t you dare lay that lame assed guilt trip on yourself.” In her peripheral vision, Jo saw her friends gather near the entry way. “We can’t live like that. I couldn’t love the person you think you need to be now.”
“I want my hillbilly. The one that makes me laugh.” Her voice softened as she said, “Please give her back to me.”
Boney turned and kissed the palm at her cheek. “What about your ribs? Laughing could hurt.”
“I’ll take that chance.”
“I love you so much.”
Their lips met softly under the watchful eyes of the others. Boney melted within Jo’s arms and felt herself sinking happily in her warmth. She released the fear that was stored inside since the moment she walked through the door and found her lover unconscious. Everything, Boney thought. I was so close to losing everything.
“You two do have company you know,” Harley said.
“I don’t see anyone. Do you honey?” Jo grinned.
“I see only you sweetie.”
“Say stuff to me like that and I’ll follow you anywhere.”
“Ew you two.” Teela chuckled.
“I guess we should pay attention to them huh?”
“Come on in you guys.” Jo chuckled.
The others made their way into the room each hugging Jo in turn giving Boney a chance to slip from the room. Teela kissed her friend on the forehead and sat next to Harley. Jo saw the relief and concern in their eyes as they took in her bruised and haggard appearance. Her heart warmed with the knowledge that she was so well loved and more importantly, that she could trust her friends to look out for Boney.
They were talking about the furniture and the new carpeting when something crashed into Jo’s leg and caused her to jump. “What the hell?” She looked down and saw a fat furry puppy clawing at her to be picked up. “Where the devil did you come from?” She laughed at the dancing black and rust colored puppy. Suddenly it was joined by another identical Rottweiler puppy. “Augusta Jean I know this is your doing. Where are you?”
“Right here babe. Aren’t they the cutest things you ever saw?” Boney sat at her lover’s feet and was instantly attacked by the furry balls.
“Yes they are Boney and what are they doing here?”
“They’re for you. These brothers will be dedicated to your protection.”
“My protection huh?” Jo looked skeptically at the puppies. “Is that so?”
“Sure once they get older and we train them.” Boney smiled.
Teela left the safety of the couch and ventured upon the floor to instantly be jumped by the puppies. They provided entertainment as their portly bodies ran, hopped, and attacked sock protected feet or one another. Jo shook her head at Boney’s odd reasoning but her eyes shown such love the others in the room were engulfed in the tenderness as well.
“Oh they look so vicious Boney.” Harley chuckled.
“Wait a few months and then see if you’ll be laughing.”
“Are you sure you’re up for this Boney?” Jo asked. “They seem like a handful now I can imagine how they’ll be in a few months.”
“We always wanted children.” Boney gave her a wide grin.
“Yeah right,” Jo laughed. “What are their names?”
“That’s for you to decide.”
The door bell rang and Boney got up to answer followed by one of the puppies. The other was busy playing tug of war with Teela and her sock. “Wait until you meet your cousin Thumper. You little guys are going to have so much fun.”
“Jo they are so cute,” Harley said and petted the brown and black fur. “What are you going to name them?”
“Don’t know, for now Imp One and Imp Two,” she shook her head again. “What am I going to do with that woman?”
“Jo we have company!” Boney yelled from the other room.
“Thanks Boney,” Pax said walking into the room laughing.
“Hey honey,” Teela greeted. “How did your meeting go?”
“Tell ya later,” Pax whispered.
“Not you smart ass,” she said from the door way. “This company,” she stepped aside for Deanna to come into view.
“Deanna!” Jo exclaimed and opened her arms wide and winced at the pain in her ribs. Ow, ow, ow! Bad move Jo.
“Hi Mom.” Deanna crossed the room dropped to her knees and hugged her mother. She ignored the yelps as best she could but the pouncing on her legs shortened their hug. “What the devil are these?”
“They are my viscous guard dogs.”
“Laugh now,” Boney said to the group. “When they are a hundred pounds you won’t be.” She whistled and coaxed the puppies to follow her. “It’s potty time boys.” When they did not trot behind her, she retrieved them. One squirming under each arms, Boney headed for the sliding back door.
“How are you feeling Mom?”
“I’m fine baby girl, just fine.” She smiled and caressed her daughter’s cheek. “What are you doing here?”
“I came to see about you. I would’ve been here sooner but it was hard finding someone to cover for me.”
“You didn’t have to come all this way.”
“Yes I did, you’re my mother.” Her eyes filled as the warm hand pressed against her cheek. “It must be serious Mom if you have police guards outside the house and attack dogs inside.”
“Yeah well, I had no say so in either. They’ll only be out there for a little while I hope. It’s starting to make me feel trapped or like I’m the one who did something wrong.”
“Apparently it’s necessary and I’m grateful even though you hate it.” Deanna smiled.
“You sound like Boney.”
“And Boney says,” Boney said from beside her, “are you hungry?”
“Ya know,” Teela interjected. “You’re probably tired and we should go so you can get some rest.”
“Nonsense.” Jo waved her off. “Honey did you wipe their paws?”
“Yes I did dear. There’s a towel by the door for that.”
“Good woman,” Jo said. “It feels good to have my friends and family together.”
“Jo honey, Teela’s right.”
“I’m fine. Everyone is here so let’s have a party.” Jo’s grin tried to spread across her face but was stopped by the ache of her bruised cheek.
“Jo,” Boney warned.
Jo entwined her hand with Boney’s to pull her down to eye level and whispered, “I need this.”
Boney stared into the pleading gaze and saw the fear that had coursed through her partner. She saw Jo’s need to celebrate life, to have family close. Everything was nearly taken away in a single act of malice. “If that’s what you wish my love.” She kissed her hand once more and then stood to face the group. “Ladies some of us are hungry. Who wants to help me with food?”
“Jo we really should let you get some rest,” Harley added.
“You really should call Emily and tell her to get her butt over here,” Jo countered.
Jo settled upon the couch as her friends took over the kitchen to prepare something for all of them to eat. Teela and Harley scavenged the cupboards for likely items. She gave in to Boney’s insistence of taking a short nap while things were being prepared. The four legged protectors were encouraged to lie on the floor beside Jo and to nap as well. Jo was more cooperative to take a nap than Imps One and Two.
It wasn’t long before Boney gently stirred her awake. She helped Jo to prop against the arm of the couch with the blankets tucked around her. Once comfortable, Boney brought her a plate of fruit, meatballs, crackers, cheese, and other snacking foods.
Jo nibbled a cocktail wiener and glanced about her living room. Her friends were scattered about in chairs and sitting on the floor trying desperately to balance their plates in their laps. Silently she was amused at their extreme carefulness not to drop anything on the new carpet. She could care less about the deep shag. Tonight she would savor the presence of her friends about whom she cared deeply and who loved her in return.
A knock at the front door drew Boney’s attention. As she neared the door Boney grinned at her new son waddling beside her. She petted his fur and received a lick to the palm of her hand. I can’t wait to go shopping for you guys. Suddenly her mind pictures the boys running about wearing University of Michigan football jerseys.
“Ready boy?” she asked enthusiastically and received a single bark in return. “Good boy.” She grinned and peered through the hole in the door. Boney opened the door and greeted the woman on the other side. “Amanda what are you doing here?”
“Just came by to check on things.”
“Come in.” Boney guided the attorney through the door and waved at the officers sitting in the police car parked in the drive. “At your feet is our new son temporarily named Imp One.” Boney introduced the furry creature sniffing Amanda’s shoes. “At least I think it’s One.”
“Hello Imp One nice to meet you.”
“Jo’s in the living room.” Boney took her coat as Amanda slipped out of her boots.
“Amanda,” Jo greeted, “hello.”
“Johanna, I just stopped by to see how things are going but I see you must be feeling well.” She glanced at the women around the living room.
“We told her she needed to rest but she wouldn’t listen,” Pax added stepping up to Amanda. “Good to see you my friend.”
“Same here Pax,” she nodded and watched her friend migrate towards the entryway.
“I’m doing better now that I’m home and surrounded by good people.” The half grin gave her fatigue away. “Have you heard anything from the police?”
“Nothing yet I…” her voice fell silent as Deanna entered the room.
“Mom where do you keep the…” Deanna stopped abruptly as her eyes met the attorney’s. I’m sorry to interrupt.”
“Deanna, this is our attorney Amanda Rippington. Amanda may I introduce you to my daughter Deanna Abrahams from New York.”
“Hello,” Amanda said and reached out her hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Same here,” Deanna said and grasped her hand. For the freezing below temperatures outside, Amanda’s palm was incredibly warm and soft. “There’s plenty of food left in the kitchen.”
“I really don’t want to impose.”
“You’re not.” Deanna turned a brilliant smile to Amanda. Jo looked at Boney questioning and received a shrug in return.
“No really, I just came by to make sure you were all right and to…”
“No shop talk tonight, I’m afraid,” Deanna interrupted. “Mother’s not thinking about anything stressful this evening.” Deanna looked at Boney who gave a confirming nod. “So Amanda are you hungry?”
“I am a little. Thank you,” Amanda said and followed after her to the kitchen.
Teela approached a tired looking Jo. She smiled at her friend stroking the sleeping puppy in her lap. “Are you up to being a puppy mom?”
“I’m going to have to be. Funny, I never knew Boney was pregnant.” Jo laughed with her friend. “I want to thank you and Pax for taking care of Boney.”
“You don’t have to Jo. We were glad to help out.”
“How are things with you and Pax?”
“They’re wonderful,” Teela said.
“Uh huh. You two just picked up where you left off then?”
“God I hope not. Where we left off was me being a selfish bitch and shutting her out.”
“That is true.”
“Friends are supposed to tell you things you don’t want to hear,” Jo told her.
“Yeah well, as far as emotions and making love goes, then yes we have picked up where we left off.”
“Your relationship should be based on more than making love Teela.”
“It’s not but it helps. I think some of her trust in me has returned but it will take time.”
“That sounds more realistic.” Jo nodded her approval.
“I want us to go away for a long weekend so that we could focus on us.”
“You can’t do that here?”
“No. I want her alone and without distraction. So much has happened and I think a little solitude would be good for the both of us.”
“That’s putting it mildly,” Jo said and touched her rib. “To be honest,” Jo lowered her voice to not be overheard, “I’m worried about Boney.”
“I don’t like the level of violence she has shown during this whole ordeal. Fighting in jail, her temper has been quick to flare. I know,” she put up a hand, “it’s response to being scared and shocked. Teela, she purchased a gun. You know how I feel about those things and I can understand her reasoning but…”
“She loves you very much and is trying to protect you.”
“She’s done that with the ridiculously expensive alarm system she had installed and with these little guys. A gun is a bit much.”
Teela had noticed Pax and Emily huddled together in the vestibule near the front door. She had watched them hold a deep conversation one minute and laughing the next.
“Can I ask you a question?” Emily said.
“Sure.” Pax shoved a cocktail wienie into her mouth.
“What do you make of all this? I mean you and me being half sisters?”
“Honestly?” Pax received a curt nod. “I don’t know what to make of it or how to feel about it.”
“I like you Emily, have from the beginning, so we have one up on the boys.”
“What are your brothers like?”
Pax paused and thought of how to answer. Damian was easy to describe. It was Zander she had a hard time not tainting. Yes she’d forgiven him but some of the mistrust remained. “Like brothers. You had some nerve not helping me with those two while I was growing up.”
“Sorry,” Emily chuckled, “my bad.”
“Actually, I think you should get to know them and decide for yourself.”
“I will tell you this.” Pax poked a wienie at her.
“Damian is the gentlest of us three. I call him the peace maker. Zander and I have hotter tempers.”
“Make that three of us then,” Emily said and then looked seriously at Pax. “This might not be so bad.”
“Could be worse.” Pax chuckled. “You could be Boney’s sister.”
“God no,” Emily nearly shouted. “But bless her heart Jo loves her.”
“Wait until they find out you’re a lesbian.”
“You didn’t tell them?”
“That’s not my place. All they know is that I’m friends with you through Jo and Boney and that you’re a private investigator.”
“How do they feel about you being a lesbian?”
Pax hesitated then answered, “It was a long road. Things are better now.”
“I know what you mean. My mother…” Emily rolled her eyes and Pax burst into laughter.
“Okay, you two have been in cahoots over here long enough,” Teela said stopping next to Pax. “What are you up to?” Both women shook their heads innocently.
“Just talking to Emily and enjoying these wonderful cocktail wienies.”
“I don’t believe you. Save some of those for Thumper.”
“I’m not saving anything for her. She has her own food.” Pax frowned.
“I thought you wanted to bond with her.” Teela looked at Pax’s distorted face and laughed.
“Bonding doesn’t mean I have to give her my food. Beside’s we’ll have plenty of time to bond soon enough.”
“What’s a Thumper?” Emily said.
“It’s a beast that likes to eat underwear,” Pax groused.
“If she’s going to stay with you while I am gone, keep them off the floor.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Pax rolled her eyes. “She’s probably destroying things as we speak.”
“You’re going somewhere?” Emily asked.
“To a seminar and Pax is going to bond with Thumper.”
“Blah, blah, blah bonding is overrated,” Pax grumbled again.
“While she’s gone we should get together and do something,” Emily said.
“Great idea,” Pax replied.
“And you expertly changed the subject. I want to know what you two are up to.”
“Hmm.” Pax studied her then looked at her sister. “Does Harley know?”
“Yep was there when I found out. Teela?”
“What are you two talking about?” Teela’s head turn from one to another.
“Should I tell her?” Pax toyed.
“You could,” Emily said then laughed at Teela’s frustration.
“Can you keep a secret?” Pax asked a nodding Teela. “You were right when you said we could be sisters. We are.”
“Yeah, yeah ha ha.” Teela gave her a soft backhand in the stomach.
“No it’s true Teela,” Emily said. “We just found out. No one but you and Harley know now.”
Mouth open, Teela’s gaze bounced from one to the other. The two sisters beamed a smile at her and began to laugh. “Oh my God, you are?”
“Yes, but we don’t want to tell everyone yet. Tonight is for Jo.”
“But how?” Teela stammered.
A knock sounded on the front door behind them. Teela stamped her foot in a tantrum as she wanted to find out about Emily and Pax. She yelled into the other room that she would answer the door. She looked out the peep hole and gasped.
“Teela.” Pax became concerned watching Teela’s muscles tense. “Who is it?”
Teela put up a hand signaling Pax to hold her thoughts and quickly entered the other room. She returned with a sour faced Boney trailed by an excited Imp One. Boney opened the door to Tanesha holding a square florist’s box.
“Hello Boney,” Tanesha smiled.
“What can I do for you Tanesha?”
She recognized Pax’s glacial stare behind Boney and the identical pair next to her. Oh lookie who we have here, Fric and Frac. Everyone on the A-list is present and accounted for. I guess her beating wasn’t bad enough to keep her from having a dinner party. Just for sheer delight let’s say hi to the girls. Tanesha waved at Emily and Pax.
“I heard what happened to Jo and I was concerned.”
“She’s doing fine, thank you.”
Imp One got to his chubby legs and began to growl.
“That’s a cute puppy.” Don’t even think about it mutt. “I wanted to give her this.” She extended the box. “It something to say I was thinking about her.” She rubbed her sleeves for warmth and then clasped her hands together.
In the awkward pause, Boney briefly toyed with the idea of inviting her in but thought better of it. “I’ll see that she gets this. Thank you for coming Tanesha.”
“Good night.” She waved again and made her way past the policemen to her black car parked in the drive.
Boney turned to her friends. “That was uncomfortable.”
“And odd,” Teela said.
“Yeah,” Pax said.
“What was all that about?” Emily asked her sister. I know why I detest her but what did she do to them?
“You two can tell her. I’m taking these to Jo,” Boney said and immediately left the room.
Teela took the plates from the sisters and excused herself as well. Pax sighed heavily and began to tell Emily what happened between them. As Emily listened, her mind recalled details from the break-in at the karate school and the vandalism to Pax home. She heard how Tanesha challenged Pax and lost. So their dislike of one another came from Tanesha’s feeling she had been cheated out of a World Karate Title shot and for the love of the small blond social worker. To make it worse, Pax humiliated Tanesha in a no holds barred contest in front of her students.
“So you never worked with her at the karate school.”
“No, I replaced her. Although Master Min disapproved of our fighting, she made the poor judgment of having the students follow her. He also discovered that she was teaching dirty fighting tactics to those kids.”
“You think she trashed your home and your truck don’t you?”
“I think she did. It was a childish thing to do, but yeah she did it.”
“And the school?”
“Not sure. At first I thought so, but the security tape showed someone in a Metro Park uniform and my ID tag was found there. Tanesha doesn’t have access to that stuff.”
“Anyone else that you can think of? Someone you work with?”
“Not really. I’ve got my own problems going on there?”
Pax told her younger sister about the accidents at the zoo. The snakes and that the investigation into their mysterious delivery to her office was inconclusive. She was lucky. The diamondback gave her a dry bite. If he had injected his venom it would’ve been a different story. The zoologist feared that Cloe’s death would go unresolved and the suspicion would remain with her.
“Pax, those don’t sound like random incidents. Imagine if you’d been eating those apples instead of Cloe.”
“I have and it scares the shit out of me.”
“Is there anyone there that you’ve angered, fired, stepped on their toes maybe?”
“My boss, Max Caldwell’s the only one that I may have alienated. The board of directors gave me supervisory powers over a project he screwed up. That hurt him a little but he came out on top. I can’t believe he would try to hurt me over something like that.”
“People can hide a lot you know.”
“What about this stuff with Jo?”
“I can’t talk about that.”
Pax watched her sister make her way to sit beside Jo and start a conversation. Amanda saw her as well and kept a watchful eye on Emily while she spoke with Deanna.
“How are you holding up Jo?” Emily asked.
“Fine Emily thank you,” Jo said as Imp Two’s shifted in her lap.
“That must be painful. Do you want to put him on the floor?”
“No, he’s fine.”
“You should really rest with what you’ve been through,” Emily coaxed.
“I have plenty of time for resting.”
Amanda was not able to concentrate on what Deanna had been saying as she was more focused on the interaction with her client and the private investigator. She hadn’t known that Harley was her partner. I need to stop. They are friends after all. Friends have simple conversations. I should pay more attention to Deanna. Oh damn, this is aggravating me.
“Excuse me one moment Deanna,” Amanda said and headed for Jo and Emily. “I hope you’re here to socialize Emily and not working.”
“I’m doing the same as you counselor.” Emily grinned.
“This is a bit discomforting isn’t it?” Jo looked from one to the other. “Well listen up girls to the new rules,” Jo announced with a little firmness. “In social settings, especially those conducted inside of my home, no work for either of you. No drawing sides or a line in carpet or whatever else that you macho women like to do. Any questions?”
“None,” each of the women replied duly chastised. Emily found Harley in the kitchen and Amanda went back to listening to Deanna.
Jo eventually had to say goodnight to everyone as Boney insisted she go to bed. While the others were cleaning up the kitchen, a dark clothed figure crept alongside Pax’s home. No basement windows to speak of. What else do we have? The stranger walked to the rear of the home and saw the neatly shoveled steps leading to the back door.
Boots crunched on the hardened kernels of rock salt as the three steps were climbed to the door. No screen door, that’s should make it easier. The leather gloved hand reached out and jiggled the cold brass knob. No surprise there, they thought.
The lacey curtains moved slightly as the figured jiggled the knob once more. Suddenly the large head of a dog parted the curtains. Startled the stalker jumped backward tripped over their feet tumbled down the steps landing in the snow with a resounding thud.
“What the fuck?!” The dark figured shouted looking up at the door.
The dog’s canine teeth were bared and paws scratched at the window for purchase to remain standing. The bark was loud, deep and menacing. The neighbor’s porch light turned on and the stalker scrambled to their feet. The shadow just made it to the far side of the house and into the darkness as the elderly man appeared on his porch baseball bat at the ready.
When the fuck did Pax get a dog? The voice screamed.
A gloved hand rested across a thundering heart only briefly before the figure darted to the front of the home and down the street. Inside the old car the engine started with ease and the heater warmed the chilling air. The suffocating knit mask was pulled from the stalker’s face to let the warmth spread further. Besides, driving down the street wearing a ski mask was asking for something or someone to ruin carefully laid plans.
Concluded in Part 9
Return to the Academy
Extended Intentions comments to the bard at Jynaki@aol.com