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For disclaimers see part 1.

Part 9

Okay, time to get back.

Sam turned off the ignition and gazed up to the second floor of the police station where the homicide division was housed.  The sudden take off of a horde of butterflies in her stomach made her grip the steering wheel with both hands.

She closed her eyes and rolled her shoulder in an effort to relax. Instead, it did just the opposite and the muscles in her shoulder cramped. The influx of pain caught her off guard and Sam wondered whether it was still from the shooting or from the anxiety of getting back to her old life. She took a deep breath letting it out slowly while she eyed the building with trepidation.

Sam looked at herself in the rearview mirror and saw something in her eyes that she had never seen before, hesitance. Slowly, she pulled the door open and got out of the car feeling slightly dizzy as she stood up. She walked a few paces toward the police station wondering why her heart was pounding so hard.

“I was shot.”

A sudden feeling of vulnerability bruised her haughty ego.

You saved a life. Her inner voice quickly turned it around.

“Bullshit!! They saw me down. I’m no longer their indestructible super-cop.”

Everybody has their flaws and you’re not a Goddess.

“Exactly!”

Sam made her way across the parking lot and through the front door.

“I’m a mere mortal who could crumple and fall like everybody else.”

The realization that she was afraid to fall short of her colleagues’ expectations made her feel unsettled, confused, and even a little lightheaded. Sam reached for the elevator button and realized she was shaking. Dumbfounded, Sam stared at her trembling hand.

“Christ, now what?”  

Suddenly she felt dizzy. Sam closed her eyes very aware of her breathing. She felt a tightness on her chest as her heart raced and pounded like it was going to explode. Sam took a deep breath realizing she was on the verge of a panic attack.  As unrealistic a reaction as it seemed she still couldn’t stop the tingling sensation in her hands from traveling all the way down to her feet.

Pull yourself together!

Sam entered the elevator and rubbed her sweat covered palms on her jeans. Her heart was beating so hard that she could hear it.  The ding sound coming from the opening elevator doors startled her a little.

“Fuck!”

Sam took a deep calming breath and worked on composing herself as she walked out. 

“Let’s get this over with.”

Sam dug deep for her resolve and pushed forward opening the door to a resonant round of applause.

Sam blushed as she was caught off guard by the greeting. Accustomed to hiding her emotions, it didn’t take long for her to recover and accept the homage that was being given her. She bowed flamboyantly and the ovation intensified.  Once over her initial shock, Sam couldn’t help but laugh as she reveled in the whistles and cheers coming from the group of officers squeezed into the room.

One by one Sam scanned their faces until she came upon Mark looking like the cat that had just eaten the canary.  Her right eyebrow arched as she narrowed her gaze in his direction.

You’re a dead man, lieutenant.

“Speech, speech, speech!” Mark’s grin widened as he started a chant all his own.

Soon everybody in the room joined in. “Speech, speech…”

“Okay, okay,” Sam said motioning for the commotion to stop.  Slowly she surveyed the room as she thought of what to say. “I have to admit that you’ve caught me off guard here.  I really, don’t know what to say.”  Sam cleared her throat.  “I’d like to thank all of you for the support whether it came in the form of visits, cards, and/or gifts.”

A rueful smile crossed Sam’s lips as she thought of one gift in particular.  “I particularly enjoyed the playboy collection. Thank you, Jimmy.”  Sam singled him out.  “I have to admit that there were some exceptionally nice articles that month.”

“More like no articles…of clothing,” Jimmy denoted a little too eagerly.

A shrill whistle broke the air as a redhead uniformed officer raised his cup and cheered, “I bet you could tell the story just by looking at the pictures…”

“Let’s keep it clean,” Mark side mouthed, feigning that he’d even said it a second later.

“The voice of authority,” someone chuckled.

Sam calmed the group with a raised hand.

“All in all, it’s really wonderful to be back.” Sam felt her throat tense at the thought of almost having died. She swallowed and forced her mind back to her cynical old self. “Now as I can see, you missed me more than I missed you, because the crime rate has come up during my absence.” Sam wiggled her brows teasingly and laughed out loud. “Okay, okay truth to be told, I missed you all very much. Now let’s back to work before this city falls into real chaos.”

“You heard the woman, people.” Mark mustered in a stern sounding voice.   “Belly up the donut bar and move your asses back to work.” He then raised his cup for a toast. “To Sam…”

“To Sam!” The group repeated in unison as one by one, everybody in the room extended their individual greetings to the prodigal detective as they passed by. The last one to approach her was a self-conscious rookie.

“Hey Jake, how is it going? Got a new haircut?”

“S-Sam I…” he stammered nervously. “I want you to know that…”

“We’ve already had this talk, haven’t we?” Sam did her best to put the young cop at ease as she’d done every time Jake had visited her in the hospital. “You did nothing wrong, on the contrary, you were very brave out there.”

“I was stupid,” he snapped.  “I could have jeopardized the whole operation, not to mention that you almost died to save me.”

Catching his self depreciatively tone, Sam tried to rid him of his guilt once and for all. “I’m alive and the operation was a success.  We did it as a team.  We all look out for each other.” She spoke seriously studying the young man before her. “How old are you Jake?”

“I’ll be twenty-three in two weeks.”

“Let me give you a piece of advice.  Consider it an advanced birthday present.” She motioned him closer. When they were only a hair apart, she spoke in a whisper that only he could hear.

“There’s nothing wrong in making mistakes, the problem is not learning from them. And most importantly, keep your eyes open and your head down. That way you can make sure you grow old enough to retire and tell your grandchildren how this beautiful woman saved your life just so you could become the best police officer in New York City.” Sam tousled his hair and smiled gently. “Keep doing the right things and you’ll be a great cop some day. I’m sure of it.”

“Thank you, Sam” Jake surprised her with a tight hug. “I only wish I can be as good as you some day.”

“Oh please! Don’t encourage her.” Mark came from behind and grabbed the rookie by the neck. “Lesson number one kid: don’t ever, ever tell Samantha Mathews how good she is or she’ll be unbearable to live with.”

Sam threw back her head and released a throaty laugh. “Nobody needs to tell me the obvious, Mark.”

“See what you’ve done?” Mark glared at Jake. “Now I’ve got to live with her cocky self the rest of the day.”

The look of admiration in Jake’s eyes gave away how much he idolized the woman who had saved his life.

“Mathews, Stevens…” the gruff voice of their captain split the air.

The two cops turned to see their captain standing by the door to his office.

“Alright boys, party’s over.” Sam called out then directed her gaze to Jake before patting his shoulder. “You take care, kid.”

“Thanks, Sam.”

***

Captain Troy Bennett was a hard, ambitious, and a very objective man who prized talent and competence. He played politics well otherwise he wouldn’t be in the position he was.  There was one thing that he was a real stickler for and that was following his protocols. The most important of which was keeping him abreast of every case under his supervision lest he be caught off guard by any impromptu press coverage.  His years of experience provided enough wisdom for him to know when a case had potential to escalate from ‘just an ordinary’ homicide to a public pressure case.  And in his eyes, a woman beaten to death in front of a little boy sure had potential to turn into something big. That’s why the reasonably large and very masculine gray haired man sat behind his desk, rolled up his sleeves and cut right to the chase.

“What do we know about the Jane Doe from the hospital that you two just happened to be there for?” He narrowed his eyes knowing that Mark and Sam had a magnetic attraction for hard cases.

Sam cleared her throat in an effort to hide her smile.

“We got a match for her fingerprints.” Mark briefed his captain. “Her name’s Glory Wilson. She's got a short rap sheet with a couple of arrests for drug possession and prostitution.”

“Have we got the autopsy results yet?”

“Not yet, but according to the doctors from the ER she died from blunt trauma that caused a massive amount of internal bleeding.”

“Of course,” Sam interjected. “That woman took a brutal beating.”

“Did you get her pimp?” Bennett reclined back on his chair.

“Ex-pimp,” Mark clarified.

“What do you mean?” Bennett lifted a curious eyebrow.

“According to some of Glory’s friends, she quit hooking some months ago.”

“That’s not an easy job to walk away from.” Sam’s brow furrowed. “It must have left a lot of people less than pleased.”

“One in particular,” Mark added.

“Which bring us back to the pimp,” Captain Bennett leaned forward and interlaced his fingers. “What do we have on him?”

“A solid alibi,” Mark smirked. “He was arrested for drunken drive the night Glory was attacked.”

“Could you track any witnesses?”

“The first officers at the scene said that the boy was the only one there. But there was a surveillance camera behind the restaurant where Glory was found,” Sam filled him in. “We sent the tapes to the lab yesterday.”

“What about that man harassing the doctor at the hospital, any confirmation on his ID?”

“Yes and no,” Mark answered cryptically. “There was a Sergeant Martin Miller on the force but he wasn’t from Domestic Violence.” He handed a folder to his superior. “In fact, all the records about him stop in 1995.”

Captain Bennett’s eyebrows furrowed in puzzlement as he flipped through the file. “What happened to him?”

“Now that’s the real mystery.” Mark’s brow furrowed. “Nobody knows. According to his partner he went out for some coffee and never came back. It’s like he just disappeared into thin air for twelve years.”

“Until now,” Sam added under her breath as she watched her captain skim over the pages of the file.

“He didn’t disappear…” Bennett’s expression hardened. “He ran. This guy is a tough customer. He was a dirty cop that had been on the take for years. I remember Internal Affairs was about to nail his ass when he took off.” Bennett frowned as he hastily read through the file. “I’ve never seen so many suspensions and reprimands for misconducts.” He slammed the file shut and chewed his lower lip. “This is getting weird. What was he doing at the hospital?”

“He seemed very eager to see the boy.” Sam spoke up.

“Where is this kid now?” Bennett alternated his gaze between the two partners.

“Social Services took him to a classified location,” Mark informed.

“Did he ID the aggressor yet?” 

“No, sir, he’s still not talking. But we do have a psychiatrist working with him.”

“Good!” Bennett nodded his approval then studied the case file carefully before issuing his orders. “Alright, go back to the hospital and see if they have any records of abused women cases in the past six months.”

“You got it, boss.”  Mark nudged Sam’s shoulder and they turned for the door.

“And talk to that doctor again,” Bennett called out after them.  “See if she can give us anything new on our Sergeant Houdini.”

“Yes, sir” Mark stopped to sneer at Sam but his teasing didn’t last long.

“Mathews?”

Bennett’s gruff voice stopped Sam in mid step. She turned to face him. “Yes sir?”

“Hand me your detective shield, will you?” Bennett rose from his chair and stood with his arm stretched outward.

The whites of Sam’s eyes became more evident as a cold sheen of perspiration beaded up on her upper lip.  Had she actually heard him correctly?  Did he just ask her to give up her badge?  How could she?  Giving it up would be like giving up her life.  Faster than the seconds could tick by, all those agonizing weeks of pain battling back to normalcy, her normalcy, stood out in her mind. 

“This can’t be happening.” Sam’s tone was flat and disbelieving as a look of utter confusion settled on her face.

Seeing her trepidation Mark surged ahead to come to the aid of his partner.  “But Captain, she’s been—”

“Promoted to sergeant,” Bennett tossed her a new badge. “Congratulations.”

The relief that washed over Sam was so overwhelmingly that it left her dazed. It took Sam a second or two to recover completely. However, her high-speed reflexes kicked in faster and she caught her new ranking shield in midair. She returned Mark’s sneer of a minute ago with one of her own as she glanced over at him. “About time, don’t you think?”

Mark smiled cockily. “Yes, but I’m still your lieutenant.”

“Bite me,” Sam muttered.

“Watch it or I bust the two of you down to patrolmen and you’ll be walking a beat tomorrow,” Bennett called out through the nearly closed door. “You both look good in blues!  Don’t think I don’t remember it.”

The familiarity of the retort brought a felling of comfort to Sam.  Slowly a smug grin eased over her face.  “Yep, it sure is good to be back!”

***

Inside the elevator Mark studied Sam’s pensive look. He knew something wasn’t right but he couldn’t put his finger on it yet. Since they left the captain’s office Sam hadn’t uttered a word with more than two syllables in it.

“Did you see the game last night?” Mark tried to start small talk.

“Yes”

“Were you at Leo’s?”

“No”

“How did you like that play of the game when they hit the basket from half court?”

“Okay.”

Her limited answers increased his concern.

“Are you okay, Sam?”

“Fine”

Knowing his friend well, Mark decided to probe without pushing it too far.

“So, you got a promotion, a considerable raise and a chance to see the cute doctor for the second time in less than forty-eight hours.” Mark teased as they reached the parking floor. “Not bad for your first day back.”

“Uh-huh,” Sam nodded and bit the inside of her lower lip.  Once the door opened she headed for the car.

Mark unlocked the car and got in.  He waited patiently for his partner to do the same.  Second by second the time grew longer until finally Sam opened the door and leaned down into the car.

“Listen Mark, why don’t you go ahead to hospital while I go check if there’s any news from the lab?”

“What?” his brows furrowed in confusion.

“You don’t need me at the hospital. I thought I could put some pressure to fast forward the lab results.  This way we could be killing two birds with one stone before our guy is out killing someone else. ”

Without a word Mark got out and closed the car door. He walked over to the passenger side of the car and leaned his back side against the fender before crossing his arms over his chest.

“Ok, Sam,” Mark looked nonchalantly about the parked cars. “What am I missing here?”

“What do you mean?”  She closed the car door and mimicked his pose.

“I mean you put me on a wild goose chase after some kind of angel hallucination. Skillfully, I come up with solid information and when you finally have the opportunity to get close to her, you chicken out?”

“I’m not chickening out.” Sam shot defensively.

“Yes, you are.”

“No, I’m not”

They both starred at one another for a few seconds then looked away as if they were headed back to their neutral corners.

“Then, why do I have the impression that you want to avoid seeing her?” Mark placed his hands on his hips impatiently.

“I'm not avoiding. I'm...I'm...just,” Sam pushed off from the car and took a few steps ahead letting her head drop. “I don't know what to say.”

“Now that’s a first, little Miss Sweet Talker left speechless.”

“Have you ever had someone save your life, Mark?” Sam looked at her partner straight in the eye. “I'm not talking metaphorically here. What would you say to someone who pulled you back from the brink of death and breathed new life into you?”

“I'd start off with a simple ‘Thank you, Doc’ and see where it leads from there.” Mark shrugged nonchalantly. “Sam, don't be such a ninny about this and let tunnel vision blind you. Look at the big picture here. She saved your life; maybe she's also given you new hope to leave the past where it is instead of continuing dredging up.”

“Mark…” Sam cautioned.

“Sam, do you think I'd have the family that I do if I didn't take a chance at getting Allison's phone number at that murder scene? No, I wouldn't. It's time to move on. You deserve a chance like everyone else.  Do it and get it over with before you beat yourself to death over it." He watched as she opened her mouth to protest. "Do it for me, Sam."

"What can I offer her? The woman is engaged to Bruce Wayne, for God’s sake. The man has everything:  money, impressive job, looks, fancy car—”

“He does?”  Mark squeaked.  “I don’t remember that being in the report.”

“I ran his name through the DMV files, Mark.  We’re cops, it’s what we do.”

“So, you are interested,” he watched Sam’s face for any indication.

“I was until I had all the reasons not to be.”

“Love isn’t about things, Sam.  It’s about the heart.  The question that needs answering is: Is he giving her his heart? Sounds to me like they are a match made in heaven and you know what they say about those.”  Mark paused for emphasis.  “It's too good to be true.”

“He can give her a life of a princess in their own little family with children. What about me? What can I offer her? A good fuck? An alternative lifestyle? A relationship without commitment?  Or better yet, a choice between adoption and a test tube to have a baby with?”

“You know what? I think my children are right...” Mark snorted crossing his arms over his chest. “You are sad and alone.”

“Fuck you!”

“No, I mean it.  You need to find someone.”

“No, I need to get back to the lab and keep my mind busy.” Sam chose a strategic retreat in avoidance of any more confrontation. “I've had enough of this romance bullshit.” She turned around and started back to the elevator grumbling under her breath.  “What I need is to get laid and put it all behind me.”

Mark watched helplessly as his friend run away from her feelings.

“You’re so mistaken my friend. I only wish you can see it before it’s too late.”

Having said his belief, Mark entered his car and drove off.

To be continued…

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