For disclaimers see part one.
“I can’t believe Jack beat us to it,” Maureen sighed, steering her car out of the garage. “Who knew he’d send us to check out that dredged- up car? He’s smarter than I gave him credit for.”
“Don’t underestimate the boss,” Lauren chuckled, flicking through some documents she had stored in her PDA. “I’ve worked with him for a few years now and I know the man has an amazing instinct. He thinks our Jane Doe and this car they’ve found might be connected.”
“Well, so do we,” Maureen answered. “The question though is: ‘How?”“
”We’ll have to find that out,” Lauren mumbled, reading the small display in her hand. “The sheriff I talked to promised they would not touch the car, until our forensic team has been able to have a look at it.”
“Do you think they’ll find any drugs in the car?” Maureen asked, glancing aside at Lauren, who had pulled her hair back into a braid again, showcasing her profile to the red-head’s admiring eyes.
“I’m not sure,” the dark-skinned Agent answered, not taking her eyes off her PDA. “I’ve got the feeling we’re talking murder here and dumping the car in the lake was probably an effort to get rid of some evidence. They might have cleaned out the car before they got rid of it.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me,” Maureen mumbled, looking in her rearview mirror before changing lanes. “What do you think about that guy trying to call Hannah at work?”
After breakfast, just before they had left, Maureen had called Hannah to see if she had some information about the recent health fair. The blonde had confirmed there recently had been a St. Andrew’s sponsored health fair, so Lauren had immediately made a few phone calls, making sure the security tapes of that day would be sent to the office.
“I’m not sure what to think about that,” Lauren answered, putting her PDA on her knee and turning her head, so she could look at Maureen. A smile curved her lips when she noticed the look of concentration on the red-head’s face. It was obvious Maureen’s brain had kicked into high gear. “I do know he has scared the heck out of Rachel and Hannah. They’ve been through enough with Nathan, last year. His phone call has brought that all back.”
“Hannah said she and Rachel had their first big fight over this,” Maureen sighed. “Apparently, Rachel didn’t want Hannah to go to work next week. Not until they’ve figured out who the caller is and what he wants.”
“I can’t blame her,” Lauren muttered, understanding the Doctor’s fears. “But somehow I don’t see Hannah doing that.”
“No, I don’t either,” Maureen chuckled. “She’s as stubborn as she’s tall.”
“Like someone else I know,” Lauren smiled.
“What does that mean?” Maureen frowned, shooting Lauren a quick, inquisitive glance. “You’re not talking about me, are you?”
Lauren did not answer, she just looked at Maureen with a raised eyebrow, smiling when the redhead, frustrated with the silence, moved back to the right lane, so she could reduce speed and have a longer and better look at her friend.
“You are talking about me,” Maureen accused. “You think I’m stubborn?”
“Just a tad,” Lauren answered, holding up her thumb and index-finger, measuring about an inch.
“Oh, really?” Maureen snorted.
“Oh, yes,” Lauren answered, biting back a laugh. It was so much fun to tease the red-head.
“When have I been stubborn?”
“Oooh, you want an example,” Lauren feigned innocence. “Let me see, I think I can come up with something...”
Maureen concentrated on the road, mumbling something unintelligible, completely missing the amused twinkle in Lauren’s eyes.
“How about...when you were in the hospital, after you were shot?”
“What about it?” Maureen frowned.
“Well, if I remember correctly, you were ready to leave four days before they discharged you. Weren’t you ready to go AMA?”
Maureen rolled her eyes and her right hand quickly left the steering wheel to slap the dark-haired woman’s knee.
“Am I ever going to live that down?” she sighed. “I wasn’t being stubborn, I just...I just...I didn’t want to be in the hospital.”
“You were being stubborn,” Lauren replied calmly. “You almost forced me to take extreme measures.”
“Like what?” Maureen chuckled, amused by the tone of frustration in Lauren’s voice.
“Handcuff you to the bed.”
“You wouldn’t have !” Maureen laughed, glancing aside. “Would you?” she added when seeing the look of determination on her friend’s face.
“Oh, yes,” Lauren nodded. “I would have.”
“So, are you telling me you’re that bossy?” Maureen smiled.
“Not really,” Lauren answered, reaching out her left hand and tucking a strand of hair behind Maureen’s ear. Her fingers lingered for a moment, caressing the soft skin, before withdrawing again.
“I was just worried,” she confessed in a soft voice.
“You were, huh?” Maureen answered in a slightly husky voice. “Why?”
“Because,” Lauren took a deep breath and swallowed hard. They had never really talked about the moment Nathan Kendrick had shot Maureen in front of Hannah’s cabin. Every now and then, Lauren still woke up in the middle of the night, bathed in sweat when, in her dreams, the vivid image of the red-head getting shot made her relive that awful memory. “You could have died,” she finally continued, after clearing her throat.
There was a moment of silence and Maureen sensed the tension in Lauren’s body. Silently, she stretched out her hand and covered Lauren’s, feeling her heart skip a beat when the other woman entwined their fingers. Lauren made her feel so much and so deeply, she knew it would take her a while to wrap her mind and heart around the fact they had finally given a voice to their attraction.
“I didn’t,” she replied in a soft voice. “Thanks to you.”
Lauren let out a shaky breath and brought their entwined hands up, so she could kiss the back of Maureen’s hand.
“I still dream about it, every now and then,” Lauren confessed, immediately feeling the grip on her fingers increase. “Reliving it is actually a lot scarier than the moment itself was. I guess that’s because I didn’t have time to think, I just reacted. Later on, when I realized what could have happened...”
“I know what you mean,” Maureen nodded, taking the exit to a roadside rest area. “I need to stop driving for a moment,” she explained when she saw the questioning glance that was sent her way.
The rest area was quiet. There were two semi-trucks parked in a faraway corner and an SUV just pulled away when Maureen parked the car. Turning in her seat, the re-head looked at the woman next to her and shot her a small smile.
“Why have we never talked about it before?” she mused.
“I don’t know,” Lauren sighed. “Maybe we just...wanted to forget it. Maybe we just wanted to shrug it off as an occupational hazard.” Dark, warm eyes caught Maureen’s green ones and Lauren smiled. “Maybe I just didn’t want you to know how much you getting shot rattled my world.”
“I remember the look on your face, when I took that dive to get away from Nathan’s gun,” Maureen remembered, her voice soft and gentle. “I’ve never seen so much focus or dedication on anybody’s face. I was scared when Nathan aimed at me, but when I saw your face, I knew everything would be alright.”
“Really?” Lauren asked in surprise.
“Yes, really,” Maureen smiled. “I knew you’d make the shot. And you did.”
The red-head put her hand on Lauren’s arm, rubbing the warm skin with her thumb, somehow needing the contact.
“I just knew I’d only get one chance,” Lauren sighed, unbuckling her seatbelt. She turned in her seat and wrapped her arms around the surprised red-head, pulling her into an awkward, but very welcome hug. Maureen put her head against Lauren’s shoulder and let out a deep sigh.
“Thank you. I needed this,” she smiled against the smooth skin of Lauren’s neck.
“I did, too,” Lauren confessed with her face pressed into fragrant red hair. “I guess we should have talked about that incident a long time ago.”
“Probably,” Maureen mumbled, distracted by the feel of Lauren’s arms around her. “Maybe we’re too much of ‘an Agent’, you know. We’re tough as nails kinda gals.”
That remark made Lauren laugh out loud and the arms around Maureen squeezed a little tighter, before they let her go.
“Have you been watching Charlie’s Angels again?” she teased, making he other woman smile.
“Nope. I haven’t seen much TV lately, but I wouldn’t mind watching a movie with you,” Maureen answered wistfully.
“How about as soon as we’ve sorted out this mess?” Lauren suggested. “I’ll take you to the movies, or, we can watch a DVD at your place.”
“Why my place?” Maureen frowned, noticing the amusement in Lauren’s eyes.
“Because you owe me dinner, remember? So, when I cash in on our bet, we can watch a movie after, to take my mind off my hurting stomach.”
“Oh, ouch, you rat,” Maureen laughed, putting her hands on Lauren’s shoulders so she could give her a good shake. “You think it’s going to be that bad, huh?”
“I’m not sure,” Lauren chuckled. “But I’ve seen your fridge.”
“Well, there was nothing in it, because I’m never home,” Maureen defended herself. “But as soon as I know when you’re coming over for dinner, I’ll make sure it’s filled.”
“Sounds like a deal,” Lauren smiled, amused by their gentle bantering. “I’ll bring the wine and some TUMS.”
“You do that,” Maureen laughed. “Don’t be surprised when you don’t need them, though.”
“We’ll see,” Lauren answered, cupping Maureen’s face and playfully kissing the tip of her nose.
“I guess we need to get going,” the red-head sighed regretfully, basking in the warmth of Lauren’s dark-brown eyes. “Duty calls.”
“In a minute,” Lauren whispered, ducking her head and capturing Maureen’s lips in a slow deliberate kiss. For a long moment, they leisurely explored each other, until Lauren finally broke away, causing Maureen to let out a soft whimper.
“I’m sorry, but I just had to kiss you,” Lauren confessed, stroking Maureen’s cheek with the back of her hand.
“Don’t apologize for that,” Maureen answered softly, leaning into the gentle caress. “I love your kisses and right now, I wish we could turn around and go home, but we’ve got a job to do.”
“Yes, we do,” Lauren nodded. “And I’m sure the rest of the day is going to be quite ugly, but at least you’re there with me.”
“You mean that, don’t you?” Maureen smiled, having seen the truth of Lauren’s words in her eyes.
“I do,” Lauren replied. “I know it’s part of our job, to be confronted with nasty things, like death and abuse, but when you’re with me, it makes me feel better, just because you’re there.”
Staring into the warm depths of Lauren’s eyes, Maureen swallowed hard and tried to blink away an unexpected tear.
“Lauren Darkwolf, you make me fall deeper and deeper,” she whispered. “Have you any idea how special you are?”
“No,” Lauren smiled. “But I’m sure you’ll tell me all about that, later.”
“I will. Later,” Maureen promised with an answering smile. “After we catch the bad guys.”
“Jones, make sure those news people stay behind the tape. I’m getting tired of them,” an older police officer shouted to one of his younger co-workers. “Tell them the next one who crosses the line will be arrested for interfering with police business.” From the corner of his eye, he noticed a movement and he turned his head, immediately letting out an exasperated sigh.
“That also applies to the two of you,” he yelled angrily to the two women who had just stepped over the yellow tape. “Get back behind that tape, before I throw your asses in jail.”
When there was no reply, the bulging vein on his forehead became even more prominent and Officer Jones quietly wondered if it was possible for a person’s head to explode. True, it had been annoying to deal with the press. They were like flies, buzzing around a sweet treat, but in Jones’ eyes there had been no incidents of misbehavior. The press only wanted to do their job.
“Is he always like this?” Maureen asked the young officer, after she and Lauren had flashed their badges.
“Pretty much,” Jones shrugged. “He’s a little short-tempered.”
“A little?” Lauren mumbled, squaring her shoulders and heading straight for the red-faced man.
“Haven’t you heard me?” he screamed. “Get back behind that tape. Now !”
Lauren had made good use of her long legs and stopped just a few feet away from the man. Her dark eyes were calm when they stared at the man, who was a good four inches shorter than she was.
“Deputy March?” she asked in a low voice.
“I told you to get...”
“I heard you the first time, I’m not deaf,” Lauren answered deceptively calm. “You’d do yourself a favor to keep your voice down, Deputy. I don’t appreciate being yelled at.”
Her reaction was not what he had expected and, for a moment, he gasped for air, while his face became a darker shade of red.
“Who the f...”
“Do not, I repeat, do not say it,” Lauren’s voice had lost its soothing tone. Within moments it had become sharp and harsh. “Deputy March, if you’d paid any attention to your surroundings, you’d have noticed we were let through, by Deputy Jones after we showed him our badges.”
Again, Deputy March had to gasp for air, all of a sudden feeling thoroughly rebuked by the tall woman’s words.
“Ba...badges?” he managed to croak.
Without taking her eyes off the man, Lauren flipped open the leather cover of her wallet and showed him her badge.
“Agent Lauren Darkwolf, Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation,” she said calmly. “This is my partner, Maureen Lawrence. We’re here to help canvass the crime scene.”
“I...I hadn’t expected...”
“If you hadn’t been so occupied with the press, who, if I may say, is behaving absolutely correctly, you would have known who we were the moment we stepped across the tape,” Lauren interrupted him coolly. “I suggest you relieve Jones from his duty, so he can lead us around.”
When Deputy March opened his mouth to speak, Lauren glared at him, effectively silencing him.
“If I hear as much as one profanity or unnecessary loud word out of you, I’ll have your...” Lauren’s eyes traveled up and down the Deputy’s body before she finished her sentence. “...jewels on a silver platter, delivering them to Sheriff Crow myself. Understood?”
Deputy March did not answer her, but when he turned around to stomp off, Maureen was sure she heard a mumbled ‘bitch’.
“Wow, that was...um...was that...?
“Yes, that was necessary,” Lauren sighed, staring atthe retreating back of the Deputy with a dark look.
“So, you know him?” Maureen asked curiously. “Was he a cop when you grew up here?”
Lauren pulled her eyes away from the man who had angered her and turned to cast a look at the red-head. Immediately, her eyes lost their harsh expression, which Maureen noticed with fascination.
“Remind me never to underestimate your brain,” she smiled.
“Thank you,” Maureen smiled back. “But that didn’t answer my question. Was he?”
“Yes, he was,” Lauren sighed. “And the arrogant idiot doesn’t even recognize me.”
“Well, considering he was always out to get me and my brothers and considering the fact his Sheriff is my cousin, yes, I guess he should,” Lauren chuckled.
“Maybe he has blocked you out of his memory,” Maureen joked, elbowing the taller woman in her ribs. “Oh, is that your cousin?” she added when she noticed a tall, broad-shouldered man walking towards them. His long legs ate up the distance and before Lauren could answer, she was enveloped in a bone-crushing hug.
“Cousin Lauren, where have you been hiding?” Jeremy Crow laughed when he stepped back to take a good look at her. “Catching bad guys?”
“Among other things,” Lauren laughed.
“It’s good to see you, Lauren,” Jeremy smiled. “I’ve missed you. You’ve been away too long. We’ve all missed you. I’m sorry we’ve got to deal with...this situation first,” Jeremy sighed, gesturing to the dark-colored Jetta where a team of OSBI specialists were meticulously inspecting every square inch of the vehicle.
“I know, Jer, but that’s my job,” Lauren nodded. “By the way,” she continued stepping aside so she could push Maureen forward. “Have you two...?”
“Yes and no,” Jeremy interrupted, extending his hand and grabbing Maureen’s in a firm grip. “I was there that day you got shot, but I didn’t think you felt like being properly introduced to all the brothers and cousins,” he winked.
“Not exactly,” Maureen laughed. “Especially since I was bleeding all over the place.”
“It’s good to see you’re completely recovered,” Jeremy spoke with sincerity. “And it’s nice to meet you.”
“Likewise,” Maureen smiled.
“We’ve heard a lot about you,” Jeremy continued, pretending he did not see the dour look his cousin sent him.
“You have?” Maureen asked in surprise.
“Yes, Aunt June has been singing your praises and yours, too, of course,” Jeremy grinned, turning to Lauren.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Lauren sighed. “Let’s keep the small talk for later, shall we? What have you got for us?”
“Follow me,” Jeremy gestured, all of a sudden all business. He walked a few steps in front of them, occasionally looking over his shoulder while talking to the two women. “You know about the hand, right? The one that was fished up out of the lake?”
After a solid three hours of searching the area the car had been dumped in, the OSBI forensic team had found some interesting evidence; a clear plastic bag had been taped underneath the passenger seat of the car. In it, a mixture of different colored pills and a few small, one inch bags that contained white powder. Also, in the back of the glove compartment, they had found a soggy envelope. The address was barely visible, but in the high-tech environment of the forensic lab, it was not unlikely for the scientists to discover a name, or address, which could be helpful in the investigation.
In the meantime, three police boats had been dredging the area where the hand had been found and, to nobody’s surprise, they had found the owner. The second body that had surfaced had been unexpected though. Immediately, it was clear both men had been murdered. The bullet-hole in their foreheads had been a dead giveaway. Both victims had been separated from their hands that had been stuffed inside their pockets. Even the rookie police-officers knew it had been an execution. The question that needed to be answered was: ‘why?’
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Maureen asked Lauren who was studying the battered, drowned car from different angles. Her dark eyes held a pensive expression and the look on her face was one of pure concentration. She had been silent for a very long time, just like her cousin, Jeremy. He was patiently waiting, his arms crossed his chest, watching Lauren with calm, dark eyes.
“Are you thinking we should visit our friend, Morty, and show him some pictures?” Lauren answered in a low voice, not taking her eyes off the car.
“Something like that,” Maureen smiled. “I’ve got this sudden urge to be insulted again.”
Finally directing her gaze to her friend, Lauren chuckled. There was a twinkle in the red-head’s eyes and Lauren appreciated the fact her partner could laugh at herself like that.
“He likes you, you know,” she said, stuffing her hands in her pockets, rocking back and forth on her heels.
“Sure he does,” Maureen snorted.
“No, he really does,” Lauren insisted. “You remind him of his wife.”
“Now, that’s a scary thought,” Maureen joked.
“It’s true. He told me,” Lauren shrugged. “His wife died in childbirth. She and the baby both.”
“Oh, my God,” Maureen responded. “That’s awful.”
“Yes, it is,” Lauren sighed. “After you left and sat in the car he told me about it. He loved teasing his wife and since you remind him of her, he couldn’t resist.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, about his wife, I mean. But next time he starts teasing me, I won’t give him the satisfaction of responding,” Maureen replied. “So, are we heading to Elk City today?”
Lauren shook her head. She wanted some answers and the faster the better, but she was so close to her family the desire to see them was almost painful. She knew there was always a place for her in her parent’s house. All it would take was one phone call to tell them she was on the way. Lauren looked up at Maureen and shot her a smile. To tell them they were on the way, she mentally corrected herself.
One glance at Jeremy’s face made it clear to her that her cousin was waiting for her to tell him she would stick around a little longer.
“I think it would be better to drive to Elk City tomorrow,” Lauren answered, immediately noticing the big grin of her cousin’s face. “Why don’t we stay at my folks tonight?” she suggested, sending Maureen a hopeful look.
The red-head suppressed the urge to reach out and ruffle the taller woman’s hair. Lauren looked so much like a little girl, she almost melted on the spot.
“Why don’t we?” Maureen smiled, knowing how much her friend had missed her family. Her reward was a dazzling smile and for a brief moment, Maureen caught a glimpse of the little girl Lauren Darkwolf used to be. With a smile of her own, Maureen reached out and gave Lauren’s arm a warm squeeze. She hoped she would get to see more of that happy, relaxed part of her friend and deep down inside she knew she most likely would.
“Hey, Musk, what are you doing here, man? Haven’t seen you in a long time,” a well-dressed young man was greeted by a short, muscular man as soon as he entered the small hallway that lead from the house he had just entered to the fairly large shed behind it. “Are you here to inspect the merchandise?”
“Hey, Brains. How are you, dude?” Musk greeted his friend with a firm handshake. “I trust your skills, buddy. I’m sure my investment is safe in your capable hands. No, I’m here to ask a favor.”
“I’m all ears,” Brains replied, raking his fingers through his short-cropped hair.
“Are you still seeing that chick? You know, the one who works at Saint Andrew’s?”
Brains chuckled and shook his head. His clear, blue eyes took in his friend and a small frown appeared in his forehead. He had the impression something was wrong.
“No, I haven’t seen her for a very long time. When she found out what paid my rent, she didn’t want to have anything to do with me anymore. Pity, she was pretty cute .” Again, Brains raked his fingers through his hair. “What’s up, Jake? You look like hell,” he asked, unconsciously using his friend’s real name.
“Ah, man, what a mess,” Jake sighed, loosening his tie, to give himself some short-lived relief from the heat that had been clinging to his skin all day. He could feel the perspiration on his back and he could not wait to go home and take a well-deserved shower.
“So, what’s up? Come here, I’ll get you a nice, cold beer,” Brains said, gesturing Jake to follow him into the shed that was big and at first glance looked well-used. Boxes were stacked high on one side of the wall. They gave the impression they were moving boxes that still had to be unpacked. A large work bench stood in the middle and on it was a children’s bike. It was upside down and the front wheel was missing. Apparently, it was being repaired.
The other wall was covered with shelves that held a variety of items. Underneath one of the shelves was a small refrigerator and when Brains opened its door, Jake saw it was stocked with beer and soft drinks.
“Thanks,” he sighed when his friend handed him an ice-cold beer. He brought the bottle to his mouth and gulped down half of its contents. He belched loudly, making his friend chuckle and follow his example.
“Doesn’t that make you feel better?” Brains asked with a grin, downing the rest of his beverage.
Jake just nodded and rolled the bottle around in his hands. His eyes studied the room they were in and mentally he applauded his friend. Brains was doing a great job. The shed actually looked just like that; an ordinary shed.
“Where’s the stuff?” he asked after a brief moment of silence.
Brains pointed toward the boxes and grinned when he saw Jake frown.
“If I can fool you, I can fool anybody,” he laughed, very pleased with himself. “I’ll show you.”
“You’d better,” Jake mumbled, following his friend, who had walked up to the boxes and was pushing the outer row aside. That action revealed a hatch in the floor and effortlessly Brains opened it. A sturdy ladder brought them underground and when Jake followed the other man down, he whistled softly.
“I love what you’ve done to the place,” he said, making Brains chuckle.
“Not bad, huh?” Brains responded, looking at the neatly organized area. “I got some stuff in yesterday,” he explained, pointing at a corner, where red cans were lined up against the wall. “I’ve got some Iodine and HEET, so I’ll be cooking up some nice stuff today.” Brains turned around to look at Jake who was standing in the middle of the converted storm-cellar, quietly sipping his beer.
“Have you found another buyer yet?”
“I think so, but I’ll need to go over there and check it out. We might need a new route, too.”
“Why?” Brains asked in surprise. “I thought Ape and Squid...”
“They cashed in,” was the short reply.
“They what?” Brains asked, stunned.
“They’re dead,” Jake repeated with a voice that was void of emotion. “I had to off them.”
“Shit ! ” Brains exclaimed, slamming down his beer- bottle on the table in the middle of the room. His move shifted small bags that were filled with a powdery substance and Jake shot him a warning look.
“Shit, man. Why?” he asked, this time a little calmer.
“Because those idiots put the cops on my trail, that’s why. I had no choice, man. And they screwed up with Jess.”
“Oh, man, this is not good. What about Jess?”
“She took an overdose,” Jake explained, immediately seeing the blood leave Brains face.
“She...? Oh, jeez, is she...?”
“She’s gone,” Jake sighed. “Those idiots left her where the cops could easily find her. Now they know about the stuff. We’ve got to lay low for a while, man.”
Brains was still trying to wrap his mind around what he had just heard and he silently nodded.
“So, it’s you and the kid then, huh?”
Jake shook his head and his eyes narrowed when they looked at his friend.
“They left him with Jess.”
Brains’ face turned a new shade of white and drops of perspiration formed on his forehead.
“Left him with Jess. He’s alright, but I need to find him. That’s why I needed your girlfriend. Now I’ll have to come up with something else.”
“What are you going to do?” Brains asked.
“I’ve got an idea,” Jake smiled and, involuntarily, Brains shivered. Jake’s smile was devoid of any warmth or emotion. “There’s this nurse I’ve seen. She might be able to help me.”
To be continued in part 8
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