Stone Walls, part 7

"This is it," she said with trepidation, staring at the building.

"You'll do fine Debra. Really. You already know how to run a forklift and read computer invoices. Just relax, pay attention, and before you know it, you'll be an old hand at the job," Sandra reassured her.

Debra was a bit pale but she'd survive. The guard leaned over and gave her a kiss for luck.

"Play nice and share your toys with the other children," she teased, hoping for a laugh. Debra smiled sickly and got out of the car. They waved to one another then Sandra pulled away from the curb.

Duster took a deep breath to steady her nerves and entered the building, looking for the Personnel Office. A secretary greeted her and asked her to sit down. Agonizing minutes later, Doug Wilson himself joined her.

"It's good to see you Ms. Michaels. How are you feeling?" Noting her lack of color and how sweaty her hand had been when they shook hands.

"Scared out of my wits," she admitted freely.

"You'll do fine. Jessica will help you with all the forms you need to fill out then call Bob, the supervisor for the section you'll be working in. He's a nice guy, I promise. He only eats workers for breakfast on the 5th Friday of the month."

After wishing her a good first day, he escorted her into the personnel office and introduced her to Jessica, a middle aged woman who was pleasantly plump and had her hair dyed red. After filling out forms for nearly an hour and given an employee handbook, she was taken to the break room and given a locker. The fridge was pointed out to store her lunch and there was a cafeteria on the first floor. After she put away her things, she was taken through a maze of rooms and aisles in a gigantic warehouse. Duster was convinced she'd never learn her way around.

Bob was of average height and weight, the type that blended into the crowd because he was so ordinary. He grinned when they were introduced and had Debra follow him around until he had time to get her started.

"I understand you've never worked in a warehouse setting before?" he asked blandly, unaware of her background.

"Or anywhere else for that matter," she told him honestly. She and Janice had spoken about it at length. Don't hide what you are. Just look them in the eyes and be honest. People will forget quickly enough, she had advised. "I just got out of prison Bob. I've been in there since I was 15."

"Oh? Then you don't have any bad habits from elsewhere I have to knock out of you then," he grinned, surprising her. She had expected a shocked look, or nervousness, but not that. She stuttered out a no.

"Debra, Doug Wilson himself hired you and that's good enough for me. Just do your job as best you can and we'll get along," he stated clearly. He led her into the heart of his section and showed her the basics and introduced her to key people who knew the ropes. It was going to be a long and confusing day, he promised.

Towards the end of the work shift, Doug snuck into Bob's office.

"How's Debra doing?" he asked.

Bob chuckled. "Well, other than getting lost a few times, she's doing good. She's a bit nervous but that's typical for new hires. She's as eager to please a puppy."

Doug grinned but didn't say much.

"She told me she was fresh out of prison. You don't normally hire someone with a record Doug," he said, not directly asking for more.

"No, but it's not everyday you meet someone who has worked so hard to change. The first time I saw her, about 5 years ago, she was so prickly and surly that I figured her for a lifer. Last, year, she was a lot different. She fell for one of the prison guards. Seems the guard told her point blank she wouldn't put up with her crap and had better change her ways or forget it. That's all it took. She's had a rough year but I think she's earnest in wanting to live on the straight and narrow."

Doug looked at his employee with serious eyes. "I don't want her history spread around, but I thought you ought to know. Give her boundaries but give her room too. Right now, she's probably pretty overwhelmed by everything and I want her adjustment to be as easy as possible." Doug sighed.

"May I ask what she was in for at such a young age?"

"Assault with a deadly weapon. But it wasn't what you think Bob. It was the first time she ever broke the law. Her therapist said she had a good reason for what she did although we never learned what it was. But prison hardened her, made her a survivor at a very young age. But I admire her grit. I think she'll make a good employee."

"I think so too Doug."

Duster walked out of the warehouse along with dozens of others at the end of the shift. It had been a tense day but she thought she did well. At least no one gave her any disgusted looks or acted impatient with all her questions. Someone wolf whistled.

"Oh God, I love women in uniform," one of the workers gasped. Duster didn't even need to look up to know who he had spotted. Hiding her grin at his nearly silent prayer that the woman approaching would ask him out, she turned and stopped just as her petite lover threw her arms around her neck and gave her a kiss.

"Aw man, she's yours?" Jared whined.

"Yup. Eat your heart out," she grinned at her co-worker. A few others chuckled and stopped, hoping for an introduction to the pretty woman wearing a gun.

"Sandra, this is Jared, Will, and Ellis. Guys, this is my favorite person in the whole world," she smiled widely, putting her arm around her lover's shoulders.

"Hi guys!" Sandra said, smiling at the men and waving briefly.

"Debra, Friday nights we usually all hang out after work over at Tony's pizza. Maybe you and Sandra would like to come along?" Ellis asked. Sandra didn't mind, it was her short day.

"Sure, sounds like fun," she answered for both of them, pleased Debra was getting along with people at her new job. They all said goodbye to one another and separated.

"So, it looks like you played nice with the other children today."

"Yes mommy, and do I get a present for good behavior too?" she asked playfully.

"Oh, you bet. I have this little tangerine number at home that-"

"Sandra!" she hissed, hoping no one overheard them.

The guard laughed evilly and gave her a look that caused the ex-con to swallow hard and rush them towards the car.

"Well, we never made it to the bed," Sandra giggled. She was sprawled over Duster in the hallway. The larger woman still wore one sock and her open shirt, minus several buttons. Surprisingly enough, Sandra was still wearing her tie and nothing else. She tried to sit up and remove it but Debra grabbed it and pulled her back down.

"C'mere you," she growled, claiming her mouth. It was much later before they took the time to shower and eat.

Duster ate heartily, stealing kisses between forkfuls. "I don't know why I bother having an apartment if I'm never there," she said without thought. Once the words were out, she blushed.

Sandra gave her a thoughtful look. "Sweetie, I would have you move in except for one thing."

Duster felt a lump form in her stomach instantly.

"You have never had your own place or had to deal with day to day living. I think you need to have time and privacy doing just that. To know inside you can handle it. Let's wait six months before we discuss you moving in, okay?"

Duster nodded, the knot easing inside. They needed more time before they took the next step between them. She still had to deal with all these new experiences, and to get past this fear that gripped at her every time she thought of their relationship.

All in all, Debra was getting along with the people at work. If asked a personal question, she answered honestly with exception of anything dealing with her father. Only a small circle of women gave her the cold shoulder but again, they were a snobbish group who never socialized with others in the warehouse anyway. The rest seemed okay with her past. The men especially ignored it. She was one of the guys in their eyes. Hell, didn't all the guys get into trouble of some sort growing up?

There were a few other lesbians there, and she had a nodding acquaintance with them, but the women were obviously in the closet. As to the other women, their initial nervousness stemmed more from her being openly gay. It wasn't Debra's fault actually. Prior to her working there, one lesbian had been outright aggressive in her pursuit of women inside the warehouse. She had been written up several times for her behavior and then finally fired.

But after a while, they realized Debra was devoted to her girlfriend and never flirted other than teasingly with those who didn't mind. They relaxed and took her lifestyle for granted.

As to her home life, she was learning to deal with paying bills, housekeeping, and learning the ins and outs of everyday living. Sandra was trying to teach her to cook, but Duster doubted she'd get beyond frying eggs and making salads. She had gotten her driver's license but couldn't afford a car yet. That was okay, since the bus was cheap and only took 15 minutes to get to work anyway.

Eventually, she became an old hand at her job and was surprised to find herself teaching a new hire. Watching his floundering behavior, she whispered to Will. "Was I that bad my first day?"

"Yep," he snickered. She slapped his arm and went back to work.

That was odd, Duster thought, looking over the invoices logged into the computer for that day's shipments. There were two purchases but in the logged in section was nothing. Every transaction was logged in by someone, either the person taking the order or the electronic ordering code. Orders taken by an employee was subject to commission, so why did they neglect entering their code?

Tracking it back, she couldn't even find a date or origin to it. Wondering if she ought to show it to someone, she hit print and waited for the copies to pop out of the machine. Taking them, she walked over to Bob's office and knocked on the door jam.

"Bob? Can I show you something?" he sat back and motioned her into his cubicle. She handed the hardcopies to him and pointed out the blank fields.

"Hmm, let me pull up the orders." Punching in his access codes, he opened the orders.

"That is weird. I can't find out which terminal even received them. It's like they just appeared out of no where. Let me do a little research Debra, and thanks for bringing these to me."

Duster muttered a no problem, and headed back to her station.

Bob began running a search program on the anomaly and found pages' worth of such orders. All of them untraceable. Every such order was for an inexpensive item and sent to a variety of PO boxes. There wasn't a phone number for the customer on any one of them. He picked up his phone and called accounting. A long conversation later, he was more puzzled than ever. Each of those orders was paid by money orders, unusual nowadays.

Picking up his notes and copies, he headed for his supervisor's office. Maybe Luke could figure it out.

Sandra was already holding their usual table at Tony's. Duster and the guys poured in after work and sat down, eager to begin the official start to their weekend.

The waitress took their order and Ellis stood, challenging Duster to a game of darts. The guys began placing bets and laughed as the game began. Sandra shot her lover a wink and sat back, sipping her beer. Debra was getting better at the game to the point she and Ellis were about the same in skill. Duster, unable to take being defeated every week, bought a board and practiced daily, determined to beat her co-worker one day.

"That's all I get? A wink? Where's my inspiration for winning?" Duster teased.

"You want inspiration? Okay, the winner gets a kiss," the guard teased, knowing Debra wouldn't tolerate Ellis kissing her girlfriend! The guys hooted and sat back to enjoy the competition.

It was close, but Ellis choked at the last moment and missed his shot by a mere 1/8 of an inch. Duster held out her hand for her winnings then stepped over to Sandra, demanding her kiss. Her lover smiled and paid in full, to the men's delight.

"If you want your pizza, then you had better get off the table," the cheeky waitress ordered, snapping her gum. She was used to the Friday night crowd and nothing fazed her. Duster blushed and slid down into the booth.

A knock at the door woke them the next morning. Duster crawled out of her bed and yanked a large t-shirt over her nude body. Peeking out of the peephole, she spotted two men in suits. Curious, she asked who they were.

"Detective Anderson with the 3rd precinct Patrol. Please open the door Ms. Michaels," one of the men ordered, showing his badge.

"Just a moment, I'm not decent." She rushed over to the still sleeping Sandra. "Wake up, the cops are here for something. Put something on before I open the door!"

Still groggy, the petite woman grabbed a robe and tied it around here as Duster grabbed some jeans. Going back to the door, she slid back the security bolt and unlocked it. Duster waved the men in.

The man spoke without preamble. "Ms. Michaels, we want to ask you where you were between 5 PM and 10 PM of last evening."

"Last night? We were at Tony's pizza until about 8:30 or so, then came home. What's going on?"

"Do you have any witnesses to your location during those times?"

Duster pointed to her lover. "She and three guys from work were with us at Tony's. We came home together afterwards. Now, are you going to ignore me again or are you going to tell me why you've knocked on my door at…6:42 in the morning?" she asked, glancing at the alarm clock.

"We're investigating a homicide. We would like you and …"

"Sandra Yunez, Officer Sandra Yunez for the Women's Prison here in Piedmont," Sandra answered his questioning glance.

"Officer Yunez to come down to the station and answer a few more questions. Give us sworn statements to your locations last evening."

"If you came to me, you must have a reason detective. I'd like to know why," Duster demanded.

"I've already told you Ms. Michaels, we're investigating a homicide."

Duster finally digested that part. "Who is dead?" she asked in concern.

"Robert Brown, your supervisor at Wilson Electronics."

"Oh my God! What-?" she asked in shock.

"We're not free to discuss the details of our investigation Ms. Michaels. Now, will the both of you come to the station or must we issue warrants?"

Return to the Academy

To Be Continued