A HIGHER ORBIT
Disclaimers: Uber alert! The characters that appear in this story totally, utterly and completely belong to little old me. Any resemblance that they may bear to two other certain characters that we all know and love is coincidental (honest!). Ahem...well maybe not. Anyway, those characters belong to MCA and Renaissance Pictures and no-one else, (just in case anyone was unsure by now).
Plot: Yes this is what's known as a novella, so I hope you're all sitting comfortably, 'cause I'm about to begin. For those of you who are bored to tears by stories of length, I feel sorry for ya, as I've never been able to get enough of them, and I wish you well.
Subtext: The short version being, "Yep!"
The long version being, "This story depicts graphic scenes of two women making love, and the theme of same-sex love runs throughout."
Violence and Bad Language: Yes, violence effects most of the characters in this story, but I have tried not to let it get too gruesome. Plus, some naughty words do get said.
Geography: In my lifetime, I have been to Montreal, Canada once, and New York twice. As a result what I can remember - I put in, what I can't - I make up. Sorry for those who find this irritating (I'm doing my best!).
Thanks: My motivation and inspiration came from each and every author who has submitted Xena fan fiction. I am honoured to be counted among you. (I know, I'm such a suck!)
Enough of the boring stuff - let the games begin!
Comments and the like can be sent to email@example.com
The city was shrouded in a misty haze. It was the manner of evening when people walked briskly, with coats pulled up against their necks as close as possible, hands buried in gloves or deep pockets, and when children opened their mouths to see if they could breathe shapes into the air.
More simply put, it was cold. As cold as it could ever be along Canada's southern borders, which meant that if you stood still long enough, you ran the risk of being accused of trying to commit suicide. Christmas in Montreal could be a surreal experience for a tourist, if unused to waking up on Christmas Day and seeing snow.
Despite the painfully biting temperature, the exhilarating briskness was one of the reasons that Joanna Westwood loved living in the city, and right now she was sitting in another.
Leaning back against the smooth wooden pew, Joanna's radiant green eyes took in the awesome sight before her. She had first visited the magnificent church with her parents and older sister when they had taken a two week couch tour along the East Coast, years ago. It had affected her deeply then, as she desperately tried to capture the atmosphere of the consecrated ground, by buying postcards and taking souvenir photographs. Ten years on, Joanna now shook her head, acknowledging the fact that they had never done this place justice.
Joanna Westwood was as a respected artist in the diverse and culture-driven city, the adage-old clichZŁ being true that she expressed her hopes, desires and fears through her work. When she had begun her Arts degree, she quickly discovered that her talent lay within sculpture. Never proficient at abstract works, she excelled in capturing likenesses, her work intending to embody simple emotions, but provoking more complex reactions. She could remember the first time that she had exhibited any of her work, at a fund-raising event for one of the University societies she was involved with.
She had decided to work in clay. She enjoyed getting her hands dirty and her clothes grimy and messy. It made her feel more involved in what she was trying to do. Most of the time she always had a specific goal in mind, a clear mental image of what she wanted to accomplish. This time however, she let her imagination run wild, with no destination, just letting "the muse take her".
It took the better part of a week until it was done. The finished product depicted two forearms clasping each other. One was larger and had more muscle definition than the other, but nevertheless it's dependence on the other was just as great, shown by the strain in the fingertips that were gripping the smaller arm tightly. Joanna had entitled it "Synchronous", and had been surprised when her best friend and classmate had turned and hugged her fiercely. She had pushed him away slightly, and tilting her head slightly to the side, asked sincerely. "Do you like it?" To which he had smiled strangely at her and softly replied " Jo, I love it."
Caught in her fond memory from long ago, Jo shook her head slightly to clear it and glanced down at her wristwatch.
"Shit!" She exclaimed, jumping to her feet.
Guiltily, she looked around at the church's other visitors who were staring at her and a flush rose on her cheeks. Oops, gotta watch that tongue. Mentally admonishing herself, Jo took one last look at the brilliant sights before her - the startling azure glow at the front of the church and all the ornate wooden carvings, before turning and hurrying out of Notre Dame as fast as possible. Running as fast as she could in her dressy shoes, she visibly paled as the cold blast of winter air struck her and quickened her step towards the main street to try and hail a cab. Looking at her watch, she winced. I hope I'm not too late... then...Ramon's going to kill me!
* * *
Ramon was thinking just that, as he poured himself another glass of expensive champagne, downing it as though he were in the desert and it was cool, thirst-quenching water. Wrinkling his nose from the aftertaste, he looked at his watch. It's 8.45, she was supposed to be here 45 minutes ago! She'd better have a good excuse for not being here to hold my nervous, not to mention extremely sweaty hand.
Walking around the gallery he stopped frequently to check on his guests, trying to be the perfect host. It was the opening of a new business venture for Ramon Douglas, having discovered soon after University that creating art, always a dream of his, would unfortunately remain that way as he could never attain the originality in his work that he had always striven for. However, the contacts he had made in the art world while accepting this fact, were happy to invest their money into their friend's new business for exhibiting other people's work, which had culminated in this opening night. Due to the good PR he had received in the media over the past few weeks, a large gathering of the most influential people in the city had accepted his invitations to view the artwork displayed.
"Paul! It's good to see you, thank you for coming tonight."
"Ruth, you're being too kind! It was really my pleasure."
"What was that Mr Greeson? Ah, yes! That piece is a Joanna Westwood. Of course! I'm sure Ms Westwood will grace us with her presence soon." Turning away from the seedy little man he had just greeted, he muttered under his breath. "She'd better be..."
* * *
Jo bent her head and paid the cab driver through the open window.
"Thanks very much!" She smiled and waved as the man pulled away from the sidewalk. Clutching her scarf tightly, she gingerly made her way to the brightly lit building across the street, being careful not to slip and fall on the frosty ground. The short cab journey had been pleasant, despite constantly glancing at her watch to determine how late she was going to be. The city was gorgeous at night, most cities were, she concluded. The multitude of twinkling lights always seemed to project such a welcoming atmosphere, as though the city's inhabitants were trying to beckon you into their lives and homes.
Upon reaching the white double doors, one side was pulled open for her by an attendant who was dazzled by her thankful smile. A welcoming rush of warm air hit her body and she sighed in relief. She began pulling off the layers of her protective clothing - a long black woollen coat, a green scarf, her black woollen hat, and a pair of warm gloves. Pulling out a ticket from the small purse that she carried, the eager attendant checked it, then taking her clothes, handed her a ticket so that she could reclaim her belongings on the way out. She quickly ran her hands through her short blonde hair, and risked a quick look at herself in the full length mirror that hung against the wall.
Her soft makeup tones highlighted the bone structure in her face, and the green eyes that were staring back at her attentively. The black strappy dress that she was wearing did nothing to hide the lines of her trim figure, and showed off her toned legs from just below mid-thigh. With the two inch heels that she wore, she stood at 5 ft 6, making her feel more comfortable in the presence of the other guests that night who longer could be said to tower over her.
Making her way to the centre of the room, she let her eyes roam over the exhibits, oblivious to the appreciative looks that were cast in her direction. Suddenly, she felt a warm hand grasp her arm and she turned around. Seeing Ramon's eyebrows raised in a questioning manner, she pulled him to one side, effectively cutting off whatever he had been about to say.
"Before you say anything, I just want to say that it looks like everything is going perfectly here. I've just heard these people talking amongst themselves and they really seem to love the kind of work that you've gathered. I'm sooo proud of you!" She finished with an easy grin.
"How do you do that?" Ramon asked, exasperated.
"Do what?" Came the innocent answer.
"Make me feel guilty for being angry with you."
Jo chuckled and linked their arms together. "I don't know, it must be a gift. Now come on, let's mingle!"
Sighing ruefully, Ramon began introducing her to his guests, each one eager to meet the renowned sculptor. "You look gorgeous by the way." He whispered in her ear. She blushed and bumped him slightly with her hip.
"Had to make a good impression for your guests."
* * *
Three hours later, opening night was over. The guests were gone and Ramon had stored away a large list filled with orders for the exhibits. The two friends were relaxing on one of the plush sofas that lined the walls, finishing off the dregs of the champagne.
"You know, this stuff isn't too bad when you've had a couple of glasses of it." Jo giggled, toasting the air with her glass. "Your hair looks funny." She continued, pointing at Ramon's head.
"Oh yeah?" He ran a hand through his dark locks, trying to make them lie flat. "It's all the stress I've been under."
"Was it worth it?" Jo asked, suddenly serious.
They sat together silently for a few moments. The dimmed lights of the gallery gave it a somewhat eerie air, especially with the faces of people staring down from the various portraits that lined the wall. "Jo, do you ever get lonely?" Ramon finally said.
"Well, that's an odd question." Jo said in a vaguely confused tone.
Jo sighed and set down her empty glass. "Kind of. I mean I do wish that there was someone to go home to, but I've always felt that when it was the right time, love would find me. It's just not time yet. Hell, I'm only twenty-six!" A pause. "Does that sound stupid?" She finished plaintively.
Ramon shook his head. "Do you remember that first clay piece that you did? The two forearms?" Jo nodded. "Well, I remember looking at that and thinking to myself, you knew."
She furrowed her eyebrows. "Knew what?"
"What love should be, how it should truly be. Being whole just because you're with another human being that is right for you. I was really moved that day. I guess that ever since then, I've wanted to find that same sense of belonging."
There was a contemplative silence. Finally, "You got all that from a couple of arms?"
A moment of stunned silence was interrupted by Ramon's burst of laughter, Jo joining in soon afterwards, before quieting herself to look sternly at her best friend, an eyebrow raised in query. "Why are you thinking of it now?"
Ramon waved his arm in front of him. "This. All of this. I'm a success now, after all those years of practically living on the bread line. I don't know how long it's going to last, but I just wish that I had someone to share it all with while it does, you know?"
"I know that this conversation has taken a distinctly depressing turn. Besides, you've always got me!" With that, Jo got to her feet, and pulled Ramon to his. "Come on. I'm tired and I'm going home. You should go home too, I have a strange feeling that we've had too much to drink." Picking up the shoes that she had discarded, she padded to the back room in bare feet to retrieve her other clothes. She met Ramon by the double doors after he had finished locking up and she waited patiently as he set the alarm on the building.
Stepping out into the midnight air, they began walking to find the nearest cab. They hadn't travelled ten yards before the shadows moved ahead of them. Jo and Ramon took an instinctive step backwards only to find someone behind them as well.
Jo's eyes widened as the reality of their situation struck her. Out of the inky blackness, four men had come to surround them with no chance of escape. There was no-one else around. Fear began to make its presence felt deep within her. She swallowed nervously, her mouth suddenly dry.
"What is it you want? Money?" Ramon asked. He dug into his pockets and threw his wallet on the ground. "Here." Jo quickly followed his example and handed over her purse. She quickly realised that with the alcohol they had both consumed, there was no possibility that they would have any chance of success if they tried to fight back. One of the men looked her up and down as she moved, the leer evident on his face.
"Well, what do we have here?" His hoarse voice rumbled.
Ramon stepped protectively in front of Jo. "Leave her alone. We've given you our money, just go and that can be the end of it." His voice didn't even shake as he said it. Jo was proud of him.
The man stepped forward, the streetlight reflecting a sharp glare off the knife that he held in his fist. Placing it under Ramon's chin, he broke the skin with ease. "Don't ever tell me what to do, got it?" He yelled.
Blood trickling down his neck, Ramon kept the hateful eye contact defiantly.
"No! Wait, please!" Jo darted around Ramon and placed a beseeching arm on the threatening man's shoulder, ignoring the danger that her sudden movement had placed her in. "He didn't mean it, he's only trying to protect me. I'll do whatever you want, just don't hurt him."
The knife was removed and Ramon pushed back into the arms of the other two men, as the attention was now refocused on Jo.
Ramon struggled in futile, as Jo was roughly led behind a large pile of dustbins, and pushed down onto the cold, wet and unyielding ground. The stench of the men more than the stench of the dustbins made her gag. Her coat was taken from her, and she heard a rip as the knife was used to cut her dress. She fought to get away, but her resistance was weakened as she knew these men would not hesitate to kill Ramon if she did not accede to their demands. She closed her eyes as she heard the sounds of the zip on someone's trousers become undone. Resigning herself to her fate, she just hoped they wouldn't hurt her too much.
She thought she was dreaming when she heard a siren in the distance, getting louder as it drew near, but the pressure on her arms disappeared as the men stood up in the direct glare of headlights. They turned and bolted, Jo's helpless state forgotten.
She lay gasping on the sidewalk, slowly comprehending that she was not going to be raped. Reaching for her discarded coat, she wrapped it around her shaking, shivering body, and got to her feet, holding onto the dustbins for support. She could hear the sounds of a pursuit on foot in progress and the monotonous voice of the police operator over the scanner. Blinking in the glare of the police headlights, she tried to adjust her eyes to find Ramon.
"Ramon?" She called out. Stepping closer to where she had last seen him, she noted a crumpled heap on the floor and a police officer kneeling down next to it. The officer was requesting backup and an ambulance for a knife victim. Jo let out a cry and fell to her knees next to Ramon's body. She rolled him over onto his back and saw his lifeless eyes staring up at the night sky. Gulping her sobs, she cradled his dark head in her lap, shrugging off the officer that was trying to pull her away. She ignored the cold puddle of water that she was kneeling in, and only vaguely registered the contrasting warmth that was generated by Ramon's precious life blood escaping from his body, steaming in the night's frosty air. They would never talk again, share their dreams, successes or failures, she would never be at his wedding, never be godmother to his children, or laugh at how old and decrepit they would become. She would never see him smile at her, with his slightly crooked teeth, or run her hands through his messy hair and tease him about it.
Tears pouring down her face, Jo did the only thing she was capable of doing at that moment. She let out an anguished scream, which echoed eerily into the night.
* * *
At the hospital, they checked her over and treated the minor lacerations to her face and arms that she had sustained during her struggle against the men who had tried to rape her. She was in a daze throughout the examination, barely even noticing the police officers who took her statement, and declined when they offered to contact a relative or friend for her. She was released from the hospital in the early hours of Saturday morning. The drive on the way back to her apartment was a sobering and lonely experience. Jo stared out of the police car's back window, not really seeing any of her surroundings, lost in grief. Upon reaching her apartment, she assured the officers that she would be fine and left them at the door. Her apartment felt different, she was sure. Am I safe here? Are any of us safe anywhere? She slowly headed for the kitchen, all the while aware that the last time she was in her apartment, her life made sense. Entering her small kitchen, she sat at the pine wood table and rang her sister.
Alexandra Wilkinson nZŁe Westwood was horrified to hear what her baby sister had gone through, and cried sympathetic tears when she was told what had become of her sister's best friend. Alex had known Ramon through her sister for eight years and had always been fond of the handsome, charming young man that Jo had bonded with.
"Mom and Dad are away for a couple of weeks. Dad surprised her with a holiday in Mexico as a thirty year anniversary present, but I'll give them a ring and let them know what happened, OK? I'm sure I've got the number of the villa here somewhere."
Jo sniffed and wiped her reddened eyes with the back of her hand. "No, don't bother them. I'm fine, really. I just wanted to know if I could come and see you for a while. It's going to be hard to stay here by myself. Would that be all right? I know that you probably don't have a lot of room with Ben and the twins..."
"Now hold it right there, young lady. There's plenty of room, so don't worry about it. You just let me know when you're coming and I'll pick you up at the bus station." Alex sounded firm, her mind made up.
Jo smiled faintly. She could just picture her sister standing with one hand on her hip, speaking sternly into the phone. "I'll need to finish some things up here, speak to Ramon's family first. It'll probably be a week or so."
"That's fine with us." No-one spoke for a few seconds, Alex unsure of what to say, and Jo too tired to say anything.
"I'll speak to you soon, OK?" Alex said softly. "Just hang in there kiddo, I love you."
"I love you too Alex. Kiss Ben and the babies for me."
As she hung up the phone, Jo walked slowly to the bedroom, shedding the clothes that someone at the hospital had provided her with, as she went. The police had taken her own clothes as evidence, her black dress needing only a slight tug before it fell apart in her hands, the knife having cut it to shreds. Collapsing on the bed, she pulled her pillow towards her and wrapped her body around it. Exhausted, it didn't take long for her to fall into a restless sleep. Her last thought before succumbing was I wish it was the right time, Ramon, I wish I did have someone to help me through this.
"Come on, Jo. Time to wake up little sister." Alex strode into her guest bedroom and flung back the curtains. The sunlight fell directly on the bed and the brightly coloured duvet and a groan emitted from its occupant. Alex sat on the bed and smiled. Why this girl can't wake up like normal people, I'll never know. The smile faded, lately she's been lucky to get any sleep at all what with the nightmares.
Jo finally accepted the fact that it was morning, and sat up slowly. She rubbed her eyes, still vibrant if a little bloodshot at the moment. The dark circles underneath them were a stark testament to how badly she had been sleeping recently. Jo had been at her sister's apartment in Manhattan for a little over a week now. Her nightmares had begun soon after her arrival. Knowing that the police had failed in their attempts to capture any of the men from that night, made her feel all the worse. After much pleading and coaxing by her older sister, not to mention the gentle nagging from her parents, she had been persuaded to go and see a therapist to talk through her experience. This morning was the big day.
Flinging herself back onto the bed and pulling up the bedcovers, she mumbled "fhigg gjdfi gnfk gfhi."
Poking her head out again, she repeated. "I've changed my mind."
"Oh no you don't. You've got an appointment in one hour, and you've got to be ready to go in forty minutes. It will take you twenty just to walk there."
"Why can't I get a cab?"
Alex burst out laughing. "In Manhattan? At 9.30 on a Monday morning in rush hour traffic? Yeah, good luck with that one!"
Jo crawled out of bed and turned to face her sister. Poking out her tongue, she gracefully made her way to the bathroom to have a shower.
* * *
What now? If he doesn't shut up in the next ten seconds, I'm going to have to arrest myself for police brutality. The woman in question stretched her long legs across a chair. Shutting her eyes and sticking her fingers in her ears, Detective Geri McGreevy began humming to herself to block out the unwelcome noise coming from the holding cells behind her. Geri had arrested Joel Green, a drug user who frequently resorted to petty theft, or shoplifting to finance his habit, late the previous night. Off duty, she had gone to the all-night pharmacy a few blocks from her apartment, when she had noticed Joel attempting to break into a car. When searched, he was found with a car stereo hidden in his trousers, a screwdriver in his back pocket and heroin in his socks. This was the fourth time she had arrested him and the novelty was beginning to wear pretty thin.
"I KNOW YOU'RE OUT THERE MCGREEVY!"
Sighing, Geri got to her feet and stretched out her near six foot frame. Where is Harvey? He said he'd only be gone for a couple of minutes. Walking to the doorway leading to the cells, she leant against the door frame and cocked her head around the door. Joel was not doing himself any favours by making a fuss. She could clearly see the other prisoners staring at him in disgust. All the cells were full, mostly with prostitutes or hung over young men and women who had partied too hard that weekend. Almost all would be released without charge, a night in jail intended to service as a deterrent for any future visits. Geri snorted to herself. Yeah right.
"Was there something that you required Mr Green?" Geri said sweetly, her deep blue eyes conveying a sentiment as far removed from sweet as you could get.
Joel took an involuntary step backward, at once intimidated by the dark-haired woman's gaze.
"I....I want my lawyer." He stammered. In truth, Joel was beginning to suffer withdrawal pangs, after being without a fix for almost twenty-four hours. He wanted out. Now.
"You'll get your lawyer soon enough, don't get your boxers in a twist." Smiling at him again, noting his discomfort, Geri turned her head at the sound of footsteps approaching.
"Well, it's about time, Harvey. How long does it take to buy a lottery ticket for God's sake?"
The plump, balding little man wiped his sweaty face with a handkerchief, which was then tucked away in one of the many pockets of his uniform.
"Sorry, Geri but you know how Alice gets when I forget to buy it. Believe me, I only needed to forget once to learn my lesson." Shuddering, Officer Spencer recalled how his wife and her friends (whom he kindly referred to as "wild harpies") had verbally hung, drawn and quartered him when he had forgotten to buy their syndicate ticket.
"I am never going to subject myself to that horror ever again."
Geri grinned and made her way to the stairs that led up to the main offices in the police station. Harvey called out to her as she started up the stairs.
"Hey, Geri! When are you coming round to mine to get some proper food in that skinny frame of yours?"
"Tell Alice I'll call her soon." Geri called over her shoulder.
Geri really enjoyed her visits to the Spencer household. As soon as she stepped in the door she was engulfed in warmth and love and Geri found herself filled with a yearning to be part of a family once again. The comforting smells from the kitchen, the general messiness of all the rooms, due to Harvey's three teenage daughters. It was an atmosphere that she really missed now that she had no blood family left of her own. Geri put her hand to her chest as she thought about her family and the familiar dull ache spread over her.
Trying to clear her mind of unpleasant memories, Geri made her way through the crowd of officers and detectives on her way to her desk. The large room was, as always, pulsating with the sounds of people speaking on the phone or amongst themselves. This is what she lived for now. The job. It was the only constant in her life and she clung to it like a life-preserver. For the past five years, she had focused on her work and nothing else. Rising through the ranks quickly, she made detective at twenty-six, and for the past three years had been known as one of the best.
She cut quite a figure as she strode through the room and many conversations halted as people turned to admire the beautiful, confident woman who was dressed casually for work in her jeans, loose-fitting white shirt, and a beige suit jacket. Everyone at the station, male and female alike admired the detective. She was known as tough, fair, intelligent and had an uncanny knack for solving unsolvable cases. Her technique for dealing with the dregs of human society was simple. Intimidate the hell out of them by using her formidable physical presence and a wry wit, and the rest she made sure fell into place. Geri had a lean, muscular body that she used to her full advantage and so she didn't mind the effort that came along with keeping her body in shape.
Max Dawson looked up from the paperwork he swore was making him old before his time, as a shadow fell over his desk. Irritated, the blonde man squinted up at the tall woman who stood before him.
"Morning, Maxim. I see you're looking as bright and chirpy as ever." His partner raised her eyebrow, smiling slyly at him.
"Goddamm it, Geri! Where the hell have you been? Couldn't you drag your lazy butt out of bed this morning?"
Geri visibly tensed, and Max noticed it as he held up his hands in front of him as he got to his feet.
"Sorry.....I'm sorry. I'm a little on edge right now. Ellie wants me to go and make that "appointment" for us today." Max placed a disdainful emphasis on the word "appointment".
Scrunching her eyebrows together as they made their way out of the station to their unmarked police car, Geri asked, "What appointment?" as she got in the driver's seat.
"You remember...the marriage counselling thing." Max answered dejectedly, his lack of enthusiasm evident on his open face.
"Ah." The dark woman said sympathetically. She knew that Max and his wife of seven years were going through a rough patch, but as much as she liked Max's wife, she didn't know if she would have agreed to sharing her feelings with a complete stranger.
"Anyway, she wanted me to go downtown and book us in personally. I think she feels that it would make me feel happier about the whole arrangement. To be honest, Geri, I can't think of anything else that I wouldn't want to do more." Max glanced at his partner as he manoeuvred the car through the morning traffic.
A low chuckle emanated from the passenger seat, as Geri shook her head, not meeting the directed gaze.
"You know, you wouldn't be in this mess if you had just told her how you felt in the first place." Never one to shy away from hypocrisy, Geri chided her best friend. Max and Ellie had made an unspoken agreement when they married three years ago that neither of them had any desire to produce offspring. However, Max being the soft-hearted soul that he was, had inevitably become broody and tried to subtly steer his wife into changing her mind about having children. When his "subtle" attempts had involved almost all of their respective friends and family, Eleanor Dawson had found out and was less than amused by her husband's efforts. Perceiving it as a betrayal of their trust, in recent months their marriage had become plagued with subsequent problems, resulting in Ellie delivering an ultimatum, either to receive counselling, or be led down the rocky road to divorce.
* * *
Leaving the car (its blue emergency light flashing on the dashboard), parked just outside the tall building that leased out its offices to a variety of businesses, Max made his way to the security desk opposite the entrance. Geri followed silently, her eyes taking in every detail around her.
The lobby was not overwhelmingly large and there was only the one guard in sight. A large, wooden plaque adorned the wall adjacent to the desk, which stated which floor was allocated to which business. Scanning her eyes down the list of names, Geri found the relevant information quickly.
"Seventh floor." She indicated to Max, who nodded and led the way to the elevators.
Riding up the short distance in subdued silence, Geri found it difficult to lighten the mood and gave up, leaning against the panelling of the elevator walls.
As they stepped into a light, cream coloured reception area, with many a potted plant and a number of magazines strewn across a low coffee table, the detectives approached almost apprehensively. As her partner approached the young, obscenely bright woman behind the desk, Geri sank gratefully back onto a plush sofa and proceeded to bury her nose in one of the magazines.
"Is this your first time?"
Startled, Geri turned to face the owner of the voice, surprised that someone would choose to strike up a conversation.
"Uh...no. I mean yes...but it's not for me you see. It's for my partner." Geri finished.
The middle-aged woman leaned over and patted Geri's hand awkwardly.
"All his fault is it, dear?" Then she quietly tutted to herself. "Denial. There's always one."
Sighing, Geri fell back amongst the cushions. It's going to be a bad day. I can just tell.
* * *
Jo strained her neck, looking up at the tall building where she would be spending the next hour. She sighed upon realising that she was in fact on time for her appointment with Dr Carter. The only reason that she had agreed to come here, was because she didn't want to worry her family any more and she wasn't sure she could endure their "suggestions", without actually causing one of them physical pain.
Stepping into the crowded elevator, she pushed the button for the seventh floor and stood back to allow even more people on. Pressed against a chubby young man, she smiled apologetically up into his shiny face. He smiled nervously back, unsure of where to look, knowing only that he couldn't look at the small, beautiful woman in contact with him without flushing in embarrassment.
The lift creaked protestingly as it began its journey upwards. Jo vainly tried to wipe the perspiration from her forehead as the heat began to become unbearable even with the air-conditioning.
Third floor, fourth floor, fifth floor.......
* * *
Gratefully, Geri left the reception and the woman she had been sitting next to, with Max trailing behind her. As they neared the elevator, they could hear a faint noise, the sound of heavy metal reluctantly moving against more metal. Curious, Max pushed the button to summon their ride down, then pressed his ear against the closed doors. Geri mirrored his action, tucking her long hair behind one ear as she leaned forward.
A couple of minutes passed, as Max and Geri remained in their comical positions. However, after that first initial noise, there were no more sounds and no elevator had arrived.
"Something's wrong." Max stated, even as Geri turned on her heel and headed back to the receptionist.
Geri marched up to the desk, clearly on a mission as her blue eyes blazed with intent and Max was amused to see the ditzy woman behind the desk, visibly shrink back.
"Call security and tell them that the lift on the east side of the building has broken down somewhere below the seventh floor." Eyes wide, the woman nodded and picked up the telephone.
Geri quickly headed for the stairs and made her way down to the sixth floor. This was not exactly in her job description, but she had been intensely bored and restless after waiting for Max to arrange his first counselling session. Was there any particular reason that it took half an hour? Exactly how many disclaimer papers did he have to sign? She was selfishly thankful that a small emergency had intruded itself upon their day, which would have otherwise been occupied with the paperwork from the last case they had been working on.
Opening the fire escape door that led onto the sixth floor, Geri located the elevator and looked around for an instrument to wedge open the doors with.
"Uh, Geri? Is this such a good idea? Maybe we should just wait until the professionals arrive."
Geri rolled her eyes at her partner, who was gazing uncertainly at the metal doors. "Come on...all I'm doing is opening the doors. How hard can it be?" Turning her back on him, she abandoned her search for a crow bar like device and decided to use brute force instead. Standing with her legs planted shoulder-width apart, she dug her fingers in the join and pulled as hard as she could. Managing to separate the doors by about an inch, she was saved from further strain as Max yanked a fire extinguisher from the wall and jammed it in the gap to widen it even more. With the doors open about eighteen inches or so, the detectives peered down into the fuel and grease smelling blackness.
About six feet below them, they could see the top of the elevator. Muffled sounds from within it drifted up the shaft and reached the two would-be rescuers ears. The vehicle was at a slightly odd angle and by straining their necks, Max and Geri found the cause of the abrupt stop. The elevator had slipped off one of its tracks and as it had moved further upwards the problem had been compounded by more strain being placed at other points around the lift.
"Is it just me, or can I hear more than the allowed fifteen people in there?" Max asked wryly. "Sorry Geri, I know you were hoping for at least a terrorist attack."
She elbowed him in the ribs, an "I'm amused but desperately trying not to show it" look on her face.
"Ooooof!" Was the properly chastised reply.
"Where are the maintenance crew?" Geri asked, frustrated but the tension had now eased from her face.
Almost before she had finished speaking, they heard footsteps approaching and turned to see three uniformed men, one carrying portable radio communication.
Geri produced her police identification and the man carrying the radio nodded in recognition. Max stepped out of the way as the crew looked up and down the elevator shaft. The man in charge stood back and quickly spoke into the radio. Concluding the conversation, he addressed the waiting detectives.
"We can attach another cable onto the top of the elevator to stabilise it. There shouldn't be any further danger for the passengers. Unfortunately, we can't fix anything until the passengers are out of there. All we can do is temporarily secure the lift and free the people inside."
Geri and Max listened intently and nodded their understanding.
"It would probably be easier, not to mention safer, if we took the passengers off at the fifth floor." Max added.
"I agree." The man spoke again into his radio. "If you're willing to help, I'll send one of these guys to prise open the doors for you. Don't feel pressured, but it's not exactly a difficult task."
Geri smiled ruefully. "I think that we'd be willing to help, don't you, Max?" The tall man also smiled.
"Just another day in the life, eh Geri?"
* * *
Jo was distinctly unimpressed.
She was firmly wedged between two of the other lift commuters, with her back to the doors and the smell of panic-induced sweat was rising. Cursing to herself, definitely shoulda stayed in bed this morning, she wriggled a bit, trying to get some more air. Her fellow passengers were all in various stages of agitation, whether in genuine fear of their lives, or because this was all such a big inconvenience in their working lives.
Looking up at the young man whose personal space she had been invading for about five minutes now, she attempted to communicate her resigned acceptance of their fate by raising her eyebrows and blowing out her cheeks. He looked down hesitantly at the small woman and she could literally feel his temperature rise.
After the most uncomfortable ten minutes of her life, the occupants of the lift could hear a sound coming from beneath the elevator. Jo craned her neck around, trying to determine the source of the noise.
"I think someone's coming!" An excited voice exclaimed from a far corner.
Jo rolled her eyes. Thank God. If I can just get out of this death trap, I can go home and Alex will never know I didn't make it to my appointment. Unable to turn her body around to face the elevator doors, Jo had to accept the fact that she would not be able to see what was happening, only to hear it.
The lift doors protested loudly as they were prised apart and the commotion that began at this new development was deafening. Jo winced at the noise but in truth the relief that spread over her was immense as she realised that they would all be freed soon.
Geri angled her head to look up into the sea of legs in the elevator. "One at a time, I want you to sit on the edge of the elevator and we'll help you jump down. One at a time, all right?" She said firmly.
Jo raised her eyebrows at the sudden, authoritative sound of the smooth, strong, feminine voice. God, you could really get someone's attention with a voice like that. The pressure on her back eased somewhat and she was able to take a step back, breathing deeply. Turning round, she could now see that people were disappearing through a gap of about two feet and being helped out in the process. Jo waited patiently for her turn, then when it came, she sat down on the edge, extended her arms which were grasped firmly and eased out through the gap.
Landing lightly on her feet, she ran a hand through her hair and looked up and up into a blue ocean of colour. Her mouth dropped open, suddenly dry as she gazed at the most striking woman she had ever laid eyes on.
For her part, Geri was momentarily distracted from the job at hand by the small woman standing in front of her, whose arms she was still holding onto and whose vibrant green eyes and soft features she could not resist from staring at.
"Uh...Geri? Elevator? People stuck?" Max prodded his partner in the arm.
"Wh...What? Oh right. Sorry." Geri let out a breath she hadn't realised she'd been holding and abruptly let go of the woman before her, before turning back to help the rest of the passengers.
Jo knees almost buckled as the grip on her arms was released. Max stepped forward to help support her and she smiled weakly up at him, allowing herself to be led to some nearby seats.
"Can I get you something? A glass of water?"
Jo held up a hand, embarrassed by the fuss she had caused. "No, no, I'm fine. It was just that the heat in there really got to me."
Max settled himself beside her. "Well, it's no wonder really, with so many people in there. Are you sure you're OK now?"
Jo nodded and got to her feet. "Yes, I'm sure. But anyway, thank you for everything you've done. Do you work here?" She was curious after noticing the lack of any uniform for the first time. Max chuckled, shaking his blond head and stood also, reaching into his coat pocket to extract his ID.
"Nope, just a lowly detective I'm afraid." He showed his badge to Jo, who was mortified to find herself blushing furiously.
"Oh! I'm sorry, Detective. Did we actually warrant you coming down here?" She asked curiously.
"Well, no, my partner and I were in the building, so we thought we should help out a bit."
Jo turned at the sound of footsteps approaching and was once more struck dumb by the sight of her black-haired rescuer.
"Max? I think we're done here." Geri stopped short when she saw who Max was chatting with.
Jo switched off her mute button and stepped forward, a warm smile on her face. Let's see if I can get a sentence out this time. "Detective? I'm Joanna Westwood. I was just speaking with your partner here and I wanted to thank you as well for vanquishing that horrible metal monster."
Geri automatically swallowed her initial response, "Huh?" in favour of something more articulate.
"Don't mention it. No trouble." I knew my conversational skills were in there somewhere.
Geri could not stop staring at the young woman, she had this aching feeling that she should know her from somewhere. Where? Where have I seen her before? Never mind, it'll come to me. She studied the woman carefully, noting the casual attire, jeans and a blouse that hung freely instead of being tucked in neatly. For all of that, Geri could tell that Joanna had money. Hers was a prepared casualness, a look that had been perfected to go with the welcoming presence that she strongly projected. Remembering that an introduction had been made, she offered her hand quickly.
"Geri McGreevy." She said shortly. Looking at her watch she caught Max's attention away from the attractive young blonde. "Max? It's after ten. We'd better make a move." Nodding her head towards Jo, she made her way towards the stairs, effectively making a quick getaway from the unnerving emotions she was feeling. Behind her she could hear Max ask Joanna where she was headed and worse still, could they offer her a lift!
"No really, it's only a short walk."
"Well, it'll be an even shorter drive then, eh?"
Geri rolled her eyes in disbelief. He's such a sucker for a damsel in distress.
Jo thought for a few seconds. It really wouldn't hurt to go with them. Maybe I could satisfy that curiosity of mine about the enigmatic Detective McGreevy. She has a wonderful face for sculpture. That's right, Jo mentally nodded to herself, this is purely work-orientated.
"Well, if you're sure it wouldn't be too much trouble, then I would really appreciate it, thanks." Jo smiled warmly at the friendly detective.
As Jo made her way down the stairs, Max following, Geri threw him a withering glare that would have cowered a lesser man. He just grinned and winked at her.
* * *
Jo found that she was terribly relieved that the detectives drove an unmarked police car. She had been afraid that it would bring back memories of the drive to and from the hospital just over two weeks ago. Sitting in the back seat, she stared out of the window until Geri addressed her in the rear-view mirror.
"So, Miss Westwood, have you lived in the city long?"
"It's Joanna, and I've only recently moved back to Manhattan. Before that I was living and working in Montreal."
Max glanced back over his seat. "Really? I hear it's a beautiful city. What is it that you did there?"
Jo shrugged her shoulders, "I'm an artist, usually I sculpt. I find it much more fulfilling." It was not that Joanna was reluctant to talk about what she did, just that most people dismissed it as a waste of time and she found it hard to explain in depth what she did without sounding pretentious. But Max's interest was piqued and he pushed on.
"Oh, wow, creative talent! I have to admit, I'm really jealous. So what kind of things do you sculpt?"
Jo found herself warming to the man who was turning out to be as talkative as she was. Detective McGreevy could probably do with some of his interpersonal skills, even if she is gorgeous. Gorgeous? Where the hell did that come from? She leaned forward in her seat, gripping Geri's headrest at either side to continue chatting to the blond detective.
Geri shivered slightly as Joanna's hands briefly brushed her hair and tried to focus on the road. That was difficult, especially as the traffic seemed to be blocked up for streets ahead of them. Getting bored, she interrupted the conversation. "So why is it that you decided to leave Canada, Miss Westwood?"
Catching the uncomfortable millisecond pause before Jo answered, Geri turned to gaze at the young woman.
"Uh...my family lives here and I thought it was about time I moved nearer to the flock. That's one of the perks of my work - I can move about at any time." Jo inhaled deeply, she was not comfortable talking about what had happened yet and it did not seem like an appropriate topic for a light-hearted conversation.
"Right, right. Your work. I suppose that is a perk of the job. Tell me, Joanna, is there a large market for your art?"
Jo's head snapped up, green eyes flashing, even as Max inwardly winced. "I would certainly like to think so, Detective McGreevy. Plus, it's the perfect way to get out of doing any real work, don't you agree?"
"I'm sorry if you took offence."
"No, no, no! None offence taken whatsoever." Jo sat back against the seat, grinding her teeth together. Of all the pompous, snobbish things to say! She says barely two words to me in the past half hour, then when she does open her mouth, it's to put me down! Of all the pompous, conservative, snobs.....
Max glared at his partner, pursing his lips together in a straight line. Geri ignored him and clenched the wheel tightly as she drove. Spoilt little rich girl I'll bet. Daddy is probably the only one who buys her art, which makes her think she's a bloody Picasso.
Blue eyes darkened with anger and frustration at something she couldn't quite put her finger on, Geri pulled up outside Alex's apartment block. All three emerged from the car, but Geri made no move to leave the vehicle's side. Audibly sighing, Max grinned as he shook Jo's hand. "Pleasure to meet you, Joanna."
"Please, call me, Jo. Thanks again for everything." Jo turned and hurried into the building, anxious to get away, upset at the unwarranted rudeness she had received and yet disappointed that she had not managed to break through Geri's impenetrable shield, to find out if there was any human warmth buried in there.
"Geri!" Max looked accusingly at his reticent partner as he got back into the car.
"What?" She didn't look at him.
"Why were you so rude to that poor girl? You had about as much warmth and compassion as an icicle!"
"Look, I didn't mean to come off sounding like that. She was just being overly sensitive."
"I'm not surprised! How would you like your life's work to be put down in such a patronising tone of voice?" Max stopped his speech to glance at his partner who was looking uncharacteristically flushed. "Hey, are you okay? You look a bit weirded out."
Geri shook her head slightly to clear her head and gripped the wheel firmly. Weirded out? Why do I feel so hot? What's wrong with me? Her mind continued to ask itself a barrage of questions as the car wound its way down Broadway, and she only vaguely registered Max's words.
"Huh? Oh all right, maybe I was a little harsh with her." She conceded reluctantly.
"Thank you!" Max chuckled to himself and ran his hand through his hair as he placed his mirrored sunglasses on and squinted out of the passenger window into the rare wintry, bright sunshine. "I don't think we'll be getting any complimentary civilian recommendations from her, anytime soon. Or at the very least, you sure won't. I, on the other hand, was the epitome of tact and diplomacy." Geri could almost hear him puffing out his chest as he spoke. She just gritted her teeth and gripped the wheel even tighter.
* * *
Jo opened the door to her sister's apartment with the key she had been given, as quietly as possible. She looked around cautiously, and tiptoed into the lounge trying not to make a sound on the wooden floor, ears pricked as she listened for signs of life. Upon hearing nothing, she let out a sigh of relief and flung herself into the comfiest armchair she could find. She let her eyes travel around the room, noting the family pictures that were liberally placed in every nook and cranny, smiling at the intimate family portrait of her sister, her brother-in-law, and their two children, all beaming into the camera, the twins proudly displaying the few teeth that they had grown. Sighing heavily, she closed her tired, green eyes and rubbed them with the palm of her hands. Relaxing, despite her efforts to stay awake, Jo could feel herself drifting off into a thankfully, dreamless sleep.
It was later, that much she knew. And something was definitely wrong with her eyes. They definitely felt heavier than they usually did, and she opted to rectify the problem by blinking her eyes wide open as soon as possible. Big mistake. The bright light that compounded her senses posed a confusing problem, and the face of her sister staring down at her from a distance of approximately one millimetre didn't help matters any. Yelping loudly, Jo jumped a foot off the chair, even as Alex also screamed, startled by her sister's sudden return to consciousness.
Regaining control of herself quickly, Alex placed a restraining arm on Jo's shoulder, who now stood, clutching her chest while her heart hammered.
"Ooops, sorry. Didn't mean to startle you like that, y'okay?"
Jo nodded, realising that Alex would want to know how her appointment with the therapist had gone. Glancing at the clock on the mantelpiece, she noted with surprise that she had fallen asleep for almost two hours. "Mmmm? Oh yeah, I'm fine. Where've you been?" She asked, her brain working furiously to find something to tell Alex that would satisfy her.
"Aaahh, I went to take Joey and Jamie to Mom and Dad's." Alex looked at her sister worriedly. "Don't you remember? I only told you this morning."
Amused and somewhat exasperated, Jo gently shoved her sibling. "Yesssss." She drawled. "You maybe surprised to learn that I'm not actually insane and forgetting everything that you tell me. I can even dress and feed myself these days." She added brightly.
"Okay! I'll stop talking now." A pause, as Alex searched for a delicate way to ask the looming question.
"Ask me." Jo stood with her arms crossed over her chest as she waited. A small foot tapped the floor impatiently.
"How did it go this morning?"
"Oh, fine." Jo stretched her arms over her head and yawned. Deliberately ignoring the frustrated look on her sister's face, she turned and made her way into the kitchen in search of food. Drumming her fingers steadily on the door of the refrigerator, she bent over and peered inside, the first pangs of actual hunger arising since before Ramon's death.
Alex followed her sibling into her kitchen, and perched herself on the edge of one of the work surfaces. "Spill it." She demanded, then caught herself at her harsh tone. "I mean...if you're all right with that."
Jo sighed at the compassionate tone in Alex's voice, and shut the refrigerator door, leaning against it as she turned for the inevitable confrontation. "I didn't go." She said quietly.
Alex's eyebrows shot up. "What?"
"Something came up."
"Something came up?"
Jo allowed herself a small chuckle. "Stop repeating everything I say, its not a different language."
Alex tiredly rubbed at her eyes and shook her head. "But why? I thought you agreed with us that it would be for your own good if you just talked about it. You can't keep bottling this all up, Jo."
Her smile now gone, Jo extended a hand to her sister. "I'll tell you all about it while I go change."
Alex frowned. "You going somewhere?"
Opening the closet once she got to the spare bedroom, Jo pulled out a handful of casual attire. "Yep, I feel like taking some photos."
"You're gonna work?"
"You're the one who keeps telling me not to hold everything in, right?"
"Well..." Alex sounded uncertain. "Where are you going to go?"
"In New York? Central Park, of course."
Max kept silent on the rest of the drive back to the station, occasionally stealing glances at his stoic partner. He sighed dramatically as he got out of the car, heading up the steps towards the station without so much as a backward glance. Upon hearing his obvious ploy to force her into asking him what was wrong, thereby leading to her sharing feelings, Geri snapped out of the funk she was in and glared daggers at Max's back.
"Shut up, Max." She said irritably, her long legs easily catching up to his stride.
"I didn't say a word."
"You didn't have to. I can hear those rusty old cogs squeaking loud and clear."
Flopping into the chair behind his desk, Max propped his legs up on top of a mound of files and regarded the tall woman. "Ouch! Watch who you're calling old, thank you very much."
"I'm glad that's the only part of that sentence you feel you need to defend." Geri relaxed into the jovial insults. Relaxing for the first time since meeting the blonde artist , she realised. She mentally shook herself, annoyed that such a meaningless encounter had lead her to feeling guilty, and over hurting someone's feelings no less!
"Hey, Dawson! McGreevy!" Max swivelled in his chair, as Geri caught sight of Captain Harlow leaning out from his office, one meaty hand clutching the paint peeling door frame, the other beckoning the two detectives into his domain. "Get in here!"
Max stood, and extended his forearm in a gallant gesture. "After you...I insist." A sharp smack across the top of his head sent him spinning around a couple of times before he regained his balance, and hoping no one saw him being punished like a misbehaving child, he hurried after his partner.
As she entered the large office, Geri's eyes automatically swept the sunlit room with its grey lining of filing cabinets, her senses noting at once the quiet presence of someone else in the office. Examining the slim built young man sitting at the Captain's desk, she was at once struck by his earnest air, reinforced by the pressed dark suit he wore and the folder that was tapping repetitively on the edge of the desk. Raising a sleek, dark eyebrow in curiosity, she shook her head at the Captain's offer to seat herself, preferring instead to lean against the wall on the opposite side of the room, where she had an unobstructed view of its occupants. Max shrugged good-naturedly and sat his large frame next to the stranger, ignoring the heavy anticipation that had manifested itself in the few seconds since they had gathered together. Geri hid a smile as she saw how Max almost dwarfed the newcomer he was seated next to, then turned her head to look expectantly towards man the who had summoned them.
Just by looking at him, it was obvious that Captain Frank Harlow of the 18th Precinct encompassed almost every known stereotype of the American police chief. On the windowsill, a half eaten doughnut sat on top of the styrofoam lid of a now cold cup of coffee, the jam slowly working its way down the side. However, the rest of the office was relatively clear, a testament to the fact that Captain Harlow firmly believed that a clear office meant that he was on top of his work load, even if it was just a substitute for the few precious minutes he stuck his head in the sand. Grasping the knot of his tie, he worked it loose and breathed a sigh of relief.
Still standing, he looked at the slight man and then at his two subordinates. "Detectives Geri McGreevy, and Max Dawson, this is Agent Robert Nelson from the Bureau. He has something of interest for us, and I thought that you two would be just perfect to suit his needs." With that, Agent Nelson got to his feet and extended a hand to conclude the introduction.
Geri just nodded and made no move to shake the agent's hand. Her blue eyes were icy, as she looked him over again. "Why can't the FBI handle it? I assume you are aware of the limited resources that we have here." She referred to the over-stretched budget that was in place already.
Agent Nelson swallowed his misgivings about handling such a delicate situation to the expressionless yet obviously hostile woman that stood before him, and opened the folder that he carried, on the Captain's desk. Max leaned forward to glance at the documents spread before him, recognising them to be a number of depositions, and what looked like a coroner's report and some photographs. Geri stepped forward, perched herself on the edge of the desk, and extracted a newspaper clipping from the pile. "Art Dealer Murdered on Opening Night" She read aloud, tossing the clipping back onto the desk.
"So what's going on? That clipping was from a Canadian newspaper." She gestured towards the contents of the file. "If that's the case, and its linked across the border, you know that its well within your own jurisdiction."
"Let me tell you a story, detective." Agent Nelson began. "About some art, a little bit of murder, and a lot of drugs......"
By the time the story of Ramon's death had been covered, Max held up a hand in protest. "Wait a minute, that explains a death, not a premeditated murder. What else happened that you're not telling us?"
"If you'd bear with me for a moment, I'd tell you." The official young man cleared his throat and continued. "At first, the police were convinced that this was a straightforward mugging that went wrong, but they later came to realise that there was more to it than that. They located some witnesses from a restaurant on the same street, that gave sworn statements about a dark coloured van that remained across the street from the gallery all evening. At around the time that Mr Douglas was stabbed, the van was seen to pull away in a great enough hurry to leave skid marks on the road. Plus, some shots were fired at the pursuing officers, and five bullets were recovered. Most were too damaged to give any useful information about their origin, but they were all found to be hollow-tipped."
"Hollow-tipped bullets?" Geri frowned. "That's a little exotic for an ordinary mugger to be carrying around with him."
"Exactly, but there didn't seem to be anything else to go on from there. The bullets were untraceable, as were the skid marks from the car, and the witnesses who saw the van didn't think to note down the licence plate."
"Go on." Max prodded, becoming more interested as the tale developed.
Agent Nelson pulled another newspaper article from the table and handed it to Max, who glanced at it, before passing it to his partner, who still wore a look of impatience. "In a seemingly unrelated incident, a Mr Joshua Greeson committed suicide the next morning. Single gunshot wound to the head. However, what is interesting is that we had been keeping an eye on Greeson for a little while now. He was an influential businessman in Montreal, invested his money wisely in various stocks and new pursuits. He stuck to being a silent partner, possibly a prudent choice as all of his pet projects flourished quite happily without his input. But, we suspected for quite some time that he was directly involved in the large scale transportation of cocaine across the Canadian border along the East Coast. "
Geri stepped back, leaning against the wall, the aloofness in her gaze diminishing somewhat as she processed the outpouring of information. Harlow grinned as he saw the slight change in her stance that spoke volumes about her change in attitude towards the case. Aha! Got her interested in something. Maybe it will take her mind off the anniversary of her family's death. Harlow grimaced, remembering the rough patches she seemed to go through every year at this time.
"When the crime scene recovery unit had recovered the bullet that penetrated his cranium, we had it analysed. We suspected that there was more to it than just an ordinary suicide. The bullets were found to be fired from a similar weapon to the one used to fire upon the police officers that night at the art gallery." Agent Nelson paused to rummage through the papers that littered the Captain's desk.
Geri had a sudden mental image of what a hollow-tipped bullet could do to the head at close range. Eeewww, gross!
"At that point, we took over both investigations. Running a cross-referenced background check on the two deceased, it was discovered that Mr Greeson had attended the opening of the gallery the night before he allegedly shot himself."
"Do you think that this Greeson character was involved in the murder of the art dealer?" Max asked, his blond brows knitted together.
"We believe that a double assassination took place. That the man who had hired Greeson to find ways to deliver large amounts of cocaine across the border, had decided to terminate their arrangement."
Nelson shrugged. "Who knows? Most likely is that Douglas got wind that his exhibits were fulfilling a whole other destiny then that which was intended for them. Records of Greeson's bank accounts were checked. Over the past six months, he had invested in no less than half a dozen art galleries and sponsored three struggling artists. Why the sudden desire for cultural enlightenment?"
"Smuggling." Geri stated quietly.
Nelson looked at Geri and nodded at her assessment. "That's what we believe." He agreed. "Greeson managed to get his hands on a number of legitimate "parcels", and concealed large quantities of the drugs within them. Moving them across the border would then not be difficult, especially with the proper documentation from the registered galleries and proof of purchases."
"But how do you conceal drugs in pieces of art?" Max asked, baffled.
"Obviously you can't in paintings and the like, but 3D works such as statues or sculptures are very easy to tamper with. He moved enough valuable paintings along with them, the paintings often attracting more attention, so as to not draw suspicion to the bulk of the other pieces."
"So why are you here?" Geri said, her impatience back in full force. She was thinking of all the Canadian based artists she knew of. There being just the one in fact. Coincidentally. The feeling of being propelled towards something or someone without having any choice in the matter was so strong she could almost taste it.
"Most of the larger pieces of work that Greeson had purchased was done by a single artist."
Geri swallowed, a sense of foreboding falling over her. Uh oh.
"She was the eye witness to the Douglas murder, and the only link we could find between the drugs, the galleries and Greeson. Your job, is to keep an eye on her, until this case develops."
Geri exploded in disbelief. "Keep an eye on her!" She spat. "We're not fucking baby-sitters! If you want her arrested, fine we'll do it, but," She turned to the Captain now "don't ask me to watch her criminal ass all day!"
Nelson spluttered. "She's not under suspicion for the moment. She may just be an innocent victim in all of this, in which case she needs to be protected from the drug cartel that seems to be tying up its loose ends. Either way, she might be able to lead us to the people behind all of this, get some real evidence that will hold up in a court of law."
The detective shook her head, still upset that her Captain was allowing the FBI idiot to order them into baby-sitting "Her Royal Pain in the Assness". Snatching the file from Nelson's grasp, she swept from the office, her fingers smudging the black and white picture that showed the mourners who had gathered at Ramon Douglas' funeral. Joanna Westwood's face was just covered by her index finger. Max stood up, smiled wryly at the Captain and his guest, and shut the door quietly behind him. Barely containing the smile that bubbled up, he almost ran to his desk. Anything's better than the paperwork, right? His step faltered as he caught up to his tense partner, and noticed the clenched fist around the file she held. Right?
* * *
Jo sat on one of the many man-made rock protuberances, wrapped up warmly in a fleece sweater and hat, her glove less hands cradling her beloved camera. She squinted against the sunshine that was reflected off the skyscrapers surrounding the park. Funny that the contrast between the buildings and the park doesn't seem so strange. Ooooo, is that a hot dog stand? She got to her feet, and stringing her camera around her neck, carefully found her footing to reach solid ground. Striding past a couple that were busy being occupied with each other under a tree, she paid for the largest hot dog the vendor sold, complete with mustard, ketchup and fried onions. Grabbing a handful of napkins, she thanked the man and walked further into the centre of the park.
Lost in thought, Jo walked not knowing where she was going, only having the basic awareness needed to avoid the skaters and bike riders that made their way past her. I can't stop thinking about Ramon, why can't I just get past this? She knew not much time had passed since that night, but she had long since run out of tears to cry, and she couldn't keep relying on Alex to cheer her up everyday. Finishing her hot dog, she tossed the napkins into a nearby trash can and lifted her camera up to her face. Maybe if I start working again, these painful feelings will go away and I can just think about the happy memories with Ramon. Spotting a rustle among the bushes to the side of the footpath she was strolling along, Jo stopped, focusing her camera quickly even as a grey squirrel emerged and scurried towards the nearest tree. Click!
The camera achieved its purpose, and Jo smiled as a new idea for a sculpture came into her mind.
* * *
"Any thoughts you'd like to share on this new and interesting development?" Max gently extracted the file from Geri's iron grip.
Geri continued to quietly fume, her thoughts in turmoil. So what? I should be glad that we've got something a little different than the usual murder and mayhem we have to deal with. But Frank's treating me with kid gloves, and I don't need him to do that dammit! But it was more than that and Geri knew it. With a sickening feeling she realised that for the foreseeable future she would have to spend a lot of time with Joanna Westwood, and while she was sure that Max would no doubt enjoy the prospect of spending time with someone who exercised their vocal chords as much as he did, she viewed it with a sense of impending doom. Even if she is pretty cute.......and sexy. Geri admitted to herself. It had been a long time since her last relationship, almost a year. The dark woman had found that she was too private an individual to allow anyone to get close to her. She didn't feel the need to burden even her worst enemy with her private woes, let alone someone whom she was meant to love. The thought of becoming dependent on a single person, and that person pinning all of their hopes and dreams on her, was just a terrifying prospect that she could happily do without.
"Helloooo! Anybody in there?" The big man waved his hand in front of her face, trying to gain her attention. "Are we thinking of any gorgeous, vulnerable young artists?"
Her mood having sunk to the bottom of the barrel and now deciding that there was no other place to go but up, Geri managed a withering look with relative ease. "Grow up, Dawson! I'm a bit old to start getting crushes on any pretty girl that walks by."
"So you admit she's pretty! I knew it! All that "sexual tension" smouldering beneath the surface. S'probably why you two started arguing, right?" Max mentally patted himself on the back for his brilliant deduction.
"I'm warning you, Maxim..." Geri pointed an elegant finger at him.
"Okay, okay!" He raised his hands in mock defeat, and retrieved his jacket from the back of his chair.
"Where are you going?" Geri asked curiously.
"Appointment, remember? Ellie and I are having a late lunch first, so I'll see you in the morning, okay? Oh, and good luck with Joanna, by the way." His exit was blocked by the hand that was suddenly placed on his chest, impeding any further movement.
Geri stretched to her full height so that they almost saw eye to eye. "What do you mean, "Good Luck with Joanna"? Are you implying that I make first contact by myself ?" She asked in disbelief.
"Well, technically Jean Luc, this will be second contact, as you know each other already."
"Yeah, and she hates me!"
"Naaaahh, you'll bring her round. Easy!" Max said optimistically, though he was undergoing an internal struggle with that one. Taking advantage of a momentary pause, while Geri was trying to get over the fact that Max was effectively leaving her out to hang and dry, he made a quick dash for the exit.
Geri spent a whole hour fuming in a sullen silence, but also reading all the relevant documents contained in the file, before she eventually got up, grabbed the car keys and made her way outside. Slamming the car door shut, she drove in the direction of the address that she and Max had dropped the blonde woman earlier that morning. There's no point in staking her out, she'll have no protection that way, and yet I can't tell her why I'm really there in case she's actively involved in this mess. Trying to decide on a course of action preoccupied her mind throughout the whole drive.
It was over much more quickly than she would have liked, and so she headed into the underground parking area of the apartment block. Showing her badge to the guard on duty, she was directed to the visitors parking spaces, which usually had to be booked in advance, but an exception was made with the flash of a badge and one cool gaze from the imposing detective.
Frowning hard in thought, Geri closed the door to her own car, a deep rich blue Porsche, her only possession whose sentimental worth far exceeded it's monetary value. Her motives were clear, she wanted the artist to realise that the visit was purely personal, with no police involvement. Unfortunately, beyond that little titbit of wisdom, the tall woman was drawing a blank as to how to go about infiltrating her way into the life of a woman she had only met this morning. I'll apologise for my apparent rudeness this morning, ...yeah that'll work. Making her way to the stairwell, she stopped abruptly at the door. "But then what? Asking if I can be her best friend isn't exactly going to cut it." Geri rubbed her eyes in frustration as she pulled a scrap of paper from her jacket pocket. Glancing at the apartment number she had hastily scribbled down before leaving the station, the dark woman took a deep breath as she started climbing the stairs to the fifth floor.
Jo shut the door to the refrigerator, carefully balancing a plate full of cold meats and salad. Placing the plate on the kitchen counter, she began to prepare a sub sandwich for herself. Inwardly, she recognised that her appetite was coming back in full force after an uncharacteristic two weeks of not wanting to eat a thing. She also noticed that today something had changed, she had found the desire to work again, be challenged by new things. Ironically, it's probably from being so angry at that infuriating detective from this morning. Reaching for the butter knife, she almost dropped it when the doorbell rang loudly. Knowing that her sister had gone to pick up the toddlers, and Ben had not yet returned from work, Jo made her way to the front door, nudging the refrigerator door shut with her foot as she passed it.
Standing on tiptoe to peer through the peephole, she almost jumped back in surprise when she saw who it was. Forgetting about their previous confrontation, curiosity got the better of her, and she took the door off the latch, pulling it open.
"Well, this is an unexpected surprise!" Jo smiled at the suddenly fidgeting detective.
Looking the blonde artist in the eye, Geri regained her composure and went to work. "I'm sorry, am I disturbing you?" The detective took a step backwards. "I can come back later if you're busy."
"No, no! I'm not busy, just fixing myself a late lunch. Would you care for something to eat, Detective McGreevy?" Jo walked back to the kitchen, leaving the door open, an unspoken invitation for Geri to enter.
Raising an eyebrow and pursuing her lips, Geri entered the apartment, shutting the door behind her. Nice place. The sister and brother-in-law must be pretty well off to afford a roomy apartment like this in Manhattan. Hang on, why is she being so nice to me? Watching Joanna's back as she continued to make herself a sandwich, Geri took the opportunity to study the small woman unobserved. Clad in a pair of jeans with a lilac fleece, Geri thought Joanna looked like a teenager. Nice butt for a teenager though.
Her train of thought interrupted, Geri forced her mind out of the gutter, and into the sparkling emeralds that were staring at her. "Wh..sorry, no thank you, I had something to eat at the station." Leaning awkwardly against a cushioned armchair, she fell silent, waiting for Joanna to ask the obvious question.
She didn't have to wait long, Jo had reached the same conclusion as she had. Why am I being so polite to her? "Why are you here?" Jo didn't bother asking how the detective knew what apartment she was living in, it would be simple enough to obtain that information.
"Max, you remember him, he was the blond drooling guy, informed me that I might have given you the wrong impression this morning." Geri thought it best to keep the conversation as light as possible.
"I don't know how he could possibly think that, do you? I mean, all you did was imply that what I do for a living was a mere waste of tax payers money." Jo got up from the kitchen table and bit into her sandwich furiously.
Hiding a chuckle at the artist's controlled anger, Geri bit her lip in an attempt to appear contrite. "I know, and I feel simply awful about it." Ooh Max, I'm glad you're not here to see me grovelling to a woman half my size. "If you'd just accept my sincerest apologies, I'd like to make it up to you."
Jo stopped her tirade before it had even begun. Narrowing her eyes in suspicion, she put her sub down, and approached the tall woman. "I accept your apology, but there is no need for any further reparations." Confused, she leant against the door frame leading into the kitchen. "Why would you want to make it up to me? I'm sure you have better things to do with your time then spend it hanging around me." Even though for some reason you still fascinate me.
Geri shrugged, "I just thought that being an well known artist, you might be interested in a little work."
Smiling sheepishly, Geri held up her hands in surrender. "All right, so I did a little checking up on you."
Jo felt her ego inflate, then remembering what the dark woman had said, it deflated just as quickly. "You think I need a little work thrown my way? I'm not a charity case, Detective McGreevy!" What kind of checking up? Does she know about what happened to me two weeks ago?
For an instant, Geri considered packing it in and just leaving the indignant woman to her personal tirades. This requires way too much effort, how much can one woman talk? "Apologies again, Miss Westwood. That was not my intention. "Geri said coolly, walking to the door. "On a purely personal note, I'm in the process of renovating my place downtown, and I have been looking for some unique artwork to buy. After doing a little amount of research this morning, I had thought to ask you if you could take a look at my place and see what it needed. But if you're still upset with me, then by all means, I will have to find someone else." Will she take the bait?
There was silence for a few moments as Jo digested this new information. Turning away from Geri, she found herself torn between what her head was telling her, and what her heart wanted to hear. The sound of the door opening propelled her to turn around and say something. "Wait. Please?"
Geri inwardly smiled, and was then surprised to feel herself fighting down a pang of guilt over lying to the trusting woman behind her. This is what you wanted, be glad that it's worked. Turning around, she waited patiently, one hand still on the door latch.
Finding it difficult not to lose herself in the steady sapphire gaze, Jo cleared her throat and stepped forward. "I'm the one who should be sorry. You came all the way over here to apologise and ask for my help, the least I can do is believe you." Jo put her hand over Geri's, the one that was still on the door, and unclasped her fingers. "Let me help you with your artwork situation. Tell me about your home. What is it that you feel is needed?"
Ignoring the warmth that she felt when Joanna had covered her fingers with her own, Geri shrugged. "I'm not sure. It's not really my home, I have an apartment in Brooklyn, but I've decided to rent it out and move back to Manhattan. It used to be my parents house, and at the moment it's pretty empty. I just felt that I would do something completely different, so I wouldn't see it as their house anymore, you know?" It wasn't a complete lie. Geri had actually planned to move back into the house, but although she planned on decorating, there had never been any plans for specific art pieces. But it was a convenient cover. I knew there were sparks of genius in there somewhere.
Jo nodded, intrigued as to how a detective, even a very successful one, could afford to have two places to live in New York. But she kept quiet, as she could already sense that the tall woman wouldn't be too appreciative of inquisitiveness. "It sounds interesting, Detective McGreevy,"
"As long as we're working together, please call me Geri."
"Does that mean that once we stop working together, I have to go back to calling you "Detective McGreevy", again?" Jo asked impishly.
Maybe I was wrong about this woman. Geri laughed out loud with that one, a deep, rich laugh that made Joanna return in kind.
"If you're not due back at the station, would you like to get started right away? I could take a look at the house..." Jo trailed off, looking up at the dark woman.
"No, I'm actually finished for the day, so if you want to come now, it shouldn't take too long. I parked my car downstairs and your attendant's probably getting a little antsy right now."
Jo chuckled and headed towards message pad next to the phone, ripping off a piece of paper, scribbling something down and then pinning it to the refrigerator door with a magnet. "I'll just leave a message for my sister......there, that should do it." Picking up her purse and keys, she made her way back to Geri. Walking through the door, she stopped at the top of the stairs and looked up at the woman still standing in her sister's doorway. "Are you coming?"
Blinking in astonishment, Geri closed the door behind her, then tried the handle to ensure it was locked. Making her way to the stairwell Geri followed the blonde artist down the stairs. I feel like I've been hit by a truck. A small, blonde truck. The light euphoria of unknown origin that was swirling in her mind stopped suddenly, as the grainy image of Ramon Douglas' body lying on a wet sidewalk made its way into her head.
Clenching her jaw muscles, Geri regained her focus and resolve. This is not the time to be making new friends, this is not a holiday. Joanna Westwood could be responsible for the slaying of her best friend. She could be a cold, calculating murderess. The short period of time spent in the young woman's company told her otherwise, no matter how much evidence there was against her. But unfortunately, Geri knew only too well that wanting to believe in someone, didn't mean you could trust them.
Continued in part two.
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