The Darkest Hour



Copyright © 2000 by Talaran


Disclaimers: This is a sequel to my first story, Vendetta. There are things that happened in the first story that are relevant, so you may want to read that one first.

The two main characters and I think you know who they remind us of, are in deeply in love. There will be sexual interactions in this story so if this type of material disturbs you, you may wish to read something other than this story.

Part 5

Nic glanced at the luminous green numbers on the bedside clock. She had been in bed for over an hour, yet sleep seemed to be a lifetime away. Without Carly's warm presence, she couldn't seem to relax. She couldn't believe how much the young blonde's absence was affecting her. To make matters worse, her brain was on overdrive. Her mind bounced between the murder case she and Kate had been called in on and the reactions Carly and Jimmy had had when they'd heard about her new partner. She sensed that Carly was hiding her true feelings about the situation. Maybe Jimmy would have some ideas on the subject, she thought. I'll just have to find some time to talk to him alone. Placing her laced fingers behind her head, she alternated raising her elbows in an attempt to stretch her back, which felt tight from the stress of the day.

Staring through the skylights at the twinkling stars above, Nic breathed in deeply and let the air out slowly. Maybe if I concentrate on my breathing, I'll be able to drift off to sleep? Breathe in…breathe out…breathe in…breathe out. Several seconds passed when the image of the dead woman sprang back into her mind. What did 'AOD' stand for? Was it the perp's initials? As quickly as that question came to mind, she thought of the upcoming holiday. Thanksgiving is going to be very different this year. For the past five years, she had always requested holiday duty, much to the pleasure of her colleagues. She had come to hate holidays because they reminded her of everything she didn't have. Though, there had been times she regretted her self-imposed isolation. This holiday would be different, though, even more so now that Carly and Jimmy's two aunts were coming up. Nic was surprised that Carly hadn't seemed pleased about their upcoming visit. By contrast, Jimmy had seemed delighted.

Frustrated, Nic got up and headed to the kitchen. Harly remained curled up at the foot of the bed snoring softly. Nic shook her head as she eased out of the room. Cats! They don't have a care in the world. That's why they sleep so well. When she reached the bottom of the stairs, she noticed that the kitchen light was on. Maybe I just forgot to turn it off. She started toward the doorway. Her hand was reaching for the door when the light went out. Nic stopped in her tracks, her brain assessing the situation. The door swung open! Nic quickly stepped back to avoid it.

"AHH!" Jessie screamed.

"Jess, it's okay, it's me!"

Jessie slapped her sister in the darkness. "Jesus, Nic! Are you trying to give me a heart attack!"

"How was I supposed to know you were down here? I thought one of us left the light on." Nic stated.

Reaching around the corner for the switch, Jessie flicked the light back on. "What are you doing up, anyway?"

Nic followed her much shorter sister into the room. "I couldn't sleep, so I thought I'd make myself some tea. What's your excuse?"

Jessie smiled, innocently. "Me? Same thing, couldn't sleep." She filled the teakettle with cold water, then set it to boil. She wanted to tell Nic about Aunt Sylvia, but she wasn't sure just how to start.

The dark-haired woman watched her younger sibling. She wasn't buying that line. "Will you join me?"

"Sure," Jessie answered, suddenly aware that her older sister was studying her. "So, why can't you sleep?"

Stretching her long legs out across an adjacent chair, Nic yawned. "Well…it's not because I'm not tired, because I am…" She paused, contemplating what else she wanted to divulge. Oh, Nic, go ahead and admit it. Share with Jessie. "Part of it is because…Carly's not here. Believe it or not, I think I'm turning into a giant mush melon."

Jessie laughed at the revelation. "It's about time." Jessie sat down across from her sister, a huge grin plastered to her freckled face.

"Hey! Just what do you mean by that?" Nic asked, crossing her arms over her chest.

"Now don't go getting angry. I'm just saying that it's good to see you mellowing out a bit."

Nic smirked at her sister. Maybe she was right. Jessie was no longer that awkward teenager that used to follow Nic everywhere she went, but Nic could still see a glimpse of the child within the woman. Maybe the pale blue nightshirt Jessie wore with a picture of a smiling Dumbo on it helped a little. Jessie had always been a Disney fan and Nic imagined she always would be. She wished she could get back some of the time that they had lost. She had just been so damned afraid of losing someone else that she loved... Nic shook the solemn thoughts away. "I'm glad you're here to witness my transformation."

"Me, too. If I didn't see it for myself, there's no way I would believe it."

"Brat!" Nic teased.

"Bully!" Jessie retorted.

A high pitched whistle from the teakettle grabbed their attention. Jessie rose to pull the kettle off the stove. Taking two cups from the cupboard she dropped a teabag in each, then filled them with the hot water and returned to the table.

"Thanks," Nic said.

After fixing their tea the two women sat back and gazed across the table at each other. Nic felt that if she just closed her eyes she could transport herself back fifteen years. A time that she fervently wished could be retrieved.

"By the way, thanks for letting me use your car today. I would have been pretty bored around the house all day. Besides, it gave me a chance to stock the refrigerator."

"Not a problem. It was just sitting in the garage, anyway." Nic knew Jessie would need a car while she was here. She just wished she hadn't had that awful nightmare about the Miata the other night. At various times throughout the day it had slipped back into her conscious mind.

"So, how was your first day back on the job? Anything interesting happen?" Jessie asked, taking a sip of her tea.

Nic contemplated her answer. "Nothing much. I do have a new partner, though."

Jessie looked up at that statement. "What about Jimmy?"

"Well…he'll be out for awhile, so my lieutenant has paired me up with a transfer from Cleveland." Nic fiddled with her spoon as she spoke. "Her name is Katherine Shaw."

"A woman, huh? Is she nice? What does she look like?"

With a raised eyebrow, Nic sipped her tea. The hot liquid soothed her, just like it always had. "She's okay. About five ten with short, wavy brown hair."

"Why did she transfer from Cleveland?" Jessie asked.

"I don't know, but I'm sure I'll find out. It just feels weird not having Jimmy around, but I think Kate will work out fine for the time being."

The two women sipped their tea in the now-awkward silence. Jessie watched her sister, who was clearly lost in thought. She knew she should take this opportunity to talk to Nic about why she was really here, but she just wasn't sure what her sister's reaction was going to be, and that frightened her a little. Just as she was about to say something, Nic stood up and placed her cup in the sink.

"Listen, I better try to get some sleep or I'll be a real bear at work tomorrow. Why don't you do the same?"

"Sure," Jessie replied in a dejected tone. I suppose one more day can't hurt, Jessie thought, as she followed her sister back upstairs.


Jimmy lay quietly in his bed, staring at the red flashing light that advertised Mama Sirelli's pizza place. He could hear his sister moving around in the other room. He wondered if it had anything to do with Nic's announcement at dinner that she was being temporarily partnered with a woman. Jimmy had noticed his sister's reaction, though she had tried to hide it. He had a feeling he knew what had raced through her mind, and what was causing her current sleepless state, but what he didn't know was what to do about it.

Insecurities had plagued his sister since the day their father had walked out on them. Carly had and, Jimmy suspected, always would blame herself. She had been daddy's little princess since the day she was born. Jimmy was eight years older and though his parents worried that he would feel threatened by the addition of a baby sister, the opposite happened. He adored his baby sister from the day he first saw her. While Carly received a lot of attention from their father, Jimmy had always had a closer relationship with their mother.

He supposed that was why Carly had been so horribly affected by what their father had done. The memory of that day was still vivid to him. He had been watching cartoons when Carly and their father had returned home from the market. Carly bounced into the room and scrambled onto the couch next to him, placing a tender kiss on his cheek. She handed him a lollipop, a brilliant smile playing across her lips. Accepting the gift, he ruffled her blonde hair, then they both turned their attention to the television. Over the din of the cartoon he could hear his parents discussing something in the kitchen. They didn't sound angry, but then he seldom heard his parents even raise their voices at each other. Minutes later, he had watched his father don his hat and coat, then wave to them as he walked out the door for the last time. Carly had been too young to fully comprehend that their father had abandoned them. Every evening, for nearly a year, the small child would sit on the couch and stare at the door as if she were willing her father to appear. When their mother would finally get Carly to sleep she often suffered from terrifying nightmares that kept them all up for half the night, until exhaustion would finally claim the girl. There were many times Jimmy cursed his father, not just for abandoning them all, but for what he had done to Carly. He imagined that was one of the primary reasons Carly had had few relationships in her adult life. The odd thing was she never spoke ill of their father, but then she rarely mentioned him at all.

Jimmy hobbled from his bed and eased the bedroom door open. His sister was sitting on the couch with her arms wrapped around her legs, her head resting on her knees. "Carly, are you okay?" Jimmy asked as he made his way into the room on his crutches.

His sister instantly jumped up to help him. "What are you doing up? Jimmy, you need to get your rest!"

"I could say the same to you, now couldn't I?"

Carly gave her brother a sheepish look as she helped him to the recliner that sat next to the couch. He was wearing his favorite pair of sweatpants, the gray ones with the hole around the left knee. Though he was in his mid thirties, to her, he still looked like he had when he was twelve. "I'm just a little restless, that's all," she said, sinking into the softness of the couch.

Jimmy scratched at his unshaven face. "Not easy to sleep without my partner around, is it?"

Green eyes regarded him. "No, it's not," she admitted, pulling her legs up under her chin and wrapping her arms around them once more.

"Well, if I know Nic, she's having just as hard a time without you, too." His sister looked up with hopeful eyes, "What makes you think so?"

"I see the way she looks at you. Believe me, sis, she's head over heels for you."

Carly contemplated the statement, wanting, with all her heart, to believe that it was true. "I miss her so much, Jimmy. I want to spend every minute with her." And needing someone that much scares the hell out of me!

"I know, kiddo. And you two will be together, I'm sure of it. You don't have anything to worry about."

Carly scowled, "Who said I was worried?" She knew it was impossible to hide her fears from her brother. And there were so many things that worried her, not the least of which was how she could feel so deeply for someone she really didn't even know. Yet, it was there…a bond so strong that it scared the hell out of her.

"Come on, sis. This is me you're talking to. I know you weren't thrilled to hear about this temporary partner. I could see it in your eyes."

That's an understatement, dear brother. Not thrilled would be a step up from how I feel. Nic's going to be spending eight-plus hours a day with some other woman. What if she is as petrified of this bond we seem to share, as I am. What then? "Do you think Nic noticed?" Carly asked.

Jimmy furrowed his brows, "I'm not sure. There isn't much that gets by her, though."

"I hate feeling like this," Carly stated flatly.

"Maybe you should talk to Nic about it."

"No! The last thing I want is for her to find out how insecure I am. Promise me, Jimmy, that you won't say anything to her."

Jimmy looked into his sister's pleading eyes and his heart melted. "Okay, I promise." But inside he wondered if he could keep this promise, especially if it prevented him from helping the two people he cared the most about.


Nic was surprised to find her new partner sitting at her desk when she strode into the squad room at seven fifteen. She's definitely dressed more suitably, Nic thought, as she walked over to her own desk. Katherine Shaw wore a navy sweater over faded denims and a pair of black leather boots. A brown leather bomber jacket was casually draped over the back of her chair. She looked up as Nic approached.

"Good morning," Kate said.

Pulling her chair out, Nic sat down. "Same to you."

"Here, I thought you might like this," Kate handed Nic a bag. This morning, when she was standing in line at the coffee shop, she debated whether she should pick something up for her new partner, or not. She didn't even know what to get her, so she gambled and hoped for the best. Kate never made friends easily, but she liked her new partner, and for some reason Kate couldn't comprehend she wanted her partner to like her, too.

Opening the bag, the dark-haired detective smiled at the contents. She pulled out a Starbucks cup and something wrapped in a thin pastry paper that smelled fantastic. The coffee's aroma caused her mouth to water. French vanilla…now, how did she know I liked this kind of coffee? "And, to what do I owe this pleasure?"

Kate smiled, "Just thought I'd pick one up for you since I was getting something for myself. Is that kind okay?"

Nic's cobalt eyes twinkled, "It's perfect."

"Good," Kate replied, pleased with her selection. Sliding a manila folder across the desk to Nic she said, "Here's the autopsy report on the Jane Doe we saw yesterday. Her name was Amber Timmons."

Nic opened the folder and reviewed the first page. "Not much to go on in here."

"No kidding. And the lab results won't be back until Friday," Kate added. Leaning back in the swivel chair, she sipped some of her coffee. "So, what's next?"

Before Nic could answer, her phone rang. "Narcotics, Stone."

"Stone, Mosley here."

"What can I do for you?" Nic asked, taking a bite of the blueberry danish, enjoying the sweetness that exploded on her tongue.

"John and I would like to meet with you and your partner to discuss the AOD case. We'd like your assistance since you've got connections that may be able to shed some light on this."

"I see no problem with that," Nic answered. "Where and when?"

"The Café at nine thirty okay?"

"We'll be there." Nic hung up the phone then took a sip of her coffee. She looked over at Kate, "Looks like we're in on the AOD case. Come on, we better hit the streets. I have a few people we should talk to, then we have a meeting with Dryden and Mosley."

"Sounds like a plan," Kate said, shrugging into her jacket. Swallowing the last of her coffee, she discarded the cup along the way and fell into step behind her retreating partner.


The Larson Chronicle offices were located in a ten-story building on Washington Avenue in the middle of downtown Larson. A light drizzle was falling, making the sky dark and the hour seem much later than it actually was. Carly emerged from Jimmy's Camaro, popping open her umbrella, all the while staring at the imposing edifice that she was about to enter. Her stomach felt like it was in knots, but she was thankful that she had gotten in touch with Carol, her neighbor in her Washington apartment complex. Dutifully, Carol had shipped all the items that Carly had requested, including her portfolio. Now all I have to do is get a job, Carly thought, as she crossed the street and entered the building.

With her portfolio tucked under her arm, she walked over to the building directory, which was displayed on the wall across from a bank of elevators. People were coming and going in all directions, while two men, dressed in white overalls, were climbing a pair of ladders in an attempt to hoist a rather large wreath up onto the wall.

Carly ran her finger down the directory until she located the floor she needed to go to, then she crossed the lobby, narrowly avoiding several scurrying individuals and stepped into one of the waiting elevators.

A tall, elderly gentleman dressed in an expensive gray pinstriped suit smiled when she entered. He was standing next to the control panel, so he politely inquired, "What floor?"

"Five, please." Carly smiled.

The man nodded and pressed the button. He eyed the young woman who was smartly dressed in a tailored navy skirt and matching jacket. Her blonde hair was pulled back from her face into a french braid. She was quite beautiful, he noted. He couldn't help but notice the massive portfolio she was carrying. "Are you a photographer?" he asked.

Carly smiled, "Yes, I am, as a matter of fact."

"Here for a job interview?"

Carly's fair brows furrowed a bit. Rather inquisitive, she thought. "Yes, I am. Why?"

The man smiled, "Just curious."

The elevator stopped on the fourth floor allowing two women, who were chatting incessantly about some office clerk who was apparently the hunk of the week, to enter. One of the women, a brunette with large hips and a pair of small, round glasses that were barely hanging on her nose said, "Good morning, Mr. Stanton."

"Morning, Delores." The man with the graying temples looked down at Carly and gave her a wink.

Carly gulped, realizing that the man she was now standing next to was Edgar Stanton, the Larson Chronicle CEO. Her palms suddenly became quite sweaty.


Nic pulled her Xterra into the alleyway, which ran parallel to Arcadia Street. She stopped at the rear entrance to Imperial Lanes, one of Larson's larger bowling alleys. At this hour, the area was blissfully quiet with the only occupants being a pair of sleeping vagrants who were curled up inside a large cardboard box with the words Bounty Paper Towels emblazoned on the side.

"You don't look like a bowler, to me," Kate commented, getting a sardonic grin from Nic as they got out of the car.

"I'm not even going to ask what you think a bowler should look like," Nic stated as she opened the door to the rear entrance of the alleys and stepped into the dimly lit interior. Instead of entering the alleys, Nic turned right and began ascending a set of stairs. Kate followed her tall partner, one hand poised on the gun that was holstered on her hip.

"Mind telling me where we are going?"

"We are about to pay one, Tommy McKinley, a visit. If there is one thing Tommy hates, it's early morning visitors." Nic smiled at the memory that statement elicited. The last time she and Jimmy had rousted the addict from a deep drug-induced slumber they had been searching for a runner for a local drug lord. The runner had witnessed a liquor store massacre and they had been turning over every stone in their path to try to locate him before the killers did. Tommy had been a bit resistant to offer his assistance, but within a moderate amount of time she and Jimmy had convinced him to cooperate. Ice cold showers are wonderful motivators. "Of course, Tommy considers anything before three o'clock in the afternoon, early morning."

Kate chuckled. "Oh, one of those."

"Yep," Nic answered.

The door to Tommy's apartment was half way down the narrow, foul smelling hallway. A variety of debris littered the area, making it difficult to navigate the dark corridor soundlessly. Nic figured it didn't matter much at this hour, since the junkies that called the place home wouldn't hear them anyway. But, old habits were hard to break and since it was in her nature to be stealthy, she carefully maneuvered her way as quietly as possible. Her partner, on the other hand, was making her best attempt at following suit, but she wasn't nearly as successful. While circumventing a child's tricycle, the smaller woman inadvertently tripped over several empty cans, which clanked loudly against the wall. "Sorry, " she whispered to Nic, who kept right on moving, though a smile crossed her chiseled features.

Nic stopped in front of apartment 316 and pulled her gun from her shoulder holster. She nodded to her partner, who stood with her back against the wall and waited. With her left fist Nic hit the door hard. BAM! BAM!

She waited, but heard nothing. BAM! BAM! This time some grumbling moans could be heard inside the apartment.

Third time's the charm. BAM! BAM!

"Who the fuck is there!" a voice yelled from the other side of the solid door.

"It's Stone. I need to talk to you, now!"

A series of profanities followed. Nic looked at Kate and shrugged. "Some people have no manners at all."

With a smirk, Kate replied, "He doesn't sound happy, does he?"

"And all I did was knock," Nic retorted.

Suddenly, the door flew open to reveal a gaunt man wearing a pair of torn, faded jeans. His fly was unzipped, exposing certain parts that neither detective was pleased to see. Running a skeletal hand through his stringy, shoulder-length hair the junkie squinted at the tall, ominous form that filled his doorway. "Stone…what the hell do you want?!?!"

Nic stepped over the threshold, shoving the man back with a palm to his chest. He stumbled backwards onto a worn old couch. "You want to zip that up." Nic's eyes flicked below the prone man's waist. "I don't like what I see."

Kate snickered at the remark as she closed the door behind them. She was really starting to like this woman.

Tommy grabbed his crotch. For a brief second he wanted to whip his dick out and tell the dark haired beauty to suck it, but he knew he'd wind up with it stuffed down his throat, so he pushed his package back inside and zipped his fly closed. He hadn't had a visit from her in nearly six months, but here she was in all her six-foot glory. She looked no different to him. She wore her customary black ensemble, which made her appear that much more menacing and he was sure she liked it that way.

"That's better," Nic said. "Now, we just want to ask you a few questions and we'll be on our way." Her lips curled into a feral grin. At that moment, Kate thought her partner looked an awful lot like the Grinch. Tommy, on the other hand, peered into the steel blue eyes and an involuntary shiver ran right down his spine.


Carly had been sitting outside Thomas Thorpe's office for fifteen minutes watching with keen interest the activities surrounding her. The entire floor, except for the outer offices, was a massive network of cubicles with heads popping up and down as people went about their work. Carly thought that might be an interesting game. See how many employees you could hit with a spitball. She giggled to herself as Mr. Thorpe's secretary, a short, rotund woman with dark brown hair, approached with a steaming cup of coffee.

"Here you are, Miss Jamison. I'm sure Mr. Thorpe will be with you in a moment."

"Thank you, Mrs. Lindstrom." Carly accepted the coffee gratefully. Taking a sip, she wondered what Nic was doing at that moment. A pang of guilt struck her. She hoped Nic would be happy about her decision, but the seeds of doubt were still abundant in her mind.

Bzzzz. The intercom on Mrs. Lindstrom's desk sounded. "Yes, Mr. Thorpe?" She began jotting things down on a pad by her phone. "Three o'clock, yes sir. Oh, okay, I'll send her right in." The secretary gave Carly a polite smile. "Miss Jamison, you may go in now."

Carly took a last gulp of her coffee. Standing, she brushed her skirt to remove the wrinkles that were starting to form, then she picked up her portfolio and headed for the door. As she passed Mrs. Lindstrom's desk she heard the woman gave her a wink as she whispered "Good luck".

Thomas Thorpe's corner office provided a breath taking view of Larson Bay, even through the misty rain that was still falling. Carly walked with a purposeful stride across the cobalt carpet to the massive desk where Thomas Thorpe was seated. He rose a second before she reached his desk and extended his burly hand. "I'm Thomas Thorpe. It's a pleasure to meet you."

Carly's hand nearly disappeared inside of his, but she grasped it firmly and gave him a shake that defied her size. "Likewise, Mr. Thorpe. I can't thank you enough for taking the time to see me this morning."

He smiled, causing what seemed like hundreds of lines to appear on his face, mostly around his deep set brown eyes.

"Please, have a seat." Thomas Thorpe was a happily married man and had been one for the past twenty years, but he, like most man, never lost an appreciation for the fairer sex. And the young woman sitting across from him was one of the most beautiful representatives of the opposite sex that he had ever seen. She could have easily just walked off of one of California's many beaches, trading her bathing suit for a business one. Her small frame was lean, but muscular in a very feminine way, while her skin had a healthy tan, which contrasted nicely with her sun-washed hair. "So, why don't you tell me a little bit about yourself?" he asked, deciding that this was going to be a very enjoyable interview.



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