Part 8 of the After Montana Series
After The Storm
After the Honeymoon,
After so Long
After the Damage was Done
After the Last Time,
After a Carson Family Christmas
DISCLAIMERS: **PLEASE READ THE WARNING! THANK YOU**
This romantic thriller is an Uber, however all characters are created by me.
All characters depicted, names used, and incidents portrayed in this story are fictitious. No identification with actual persons is intended nor should be inferred. Any resemblance of the characters portrayed to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
** This story contains a serial killer who targets children and includes some description of the condition of the victims. If you are offended by, or are sensitive to, this sort of content, PLEASE DO NOT READ ON . These stories portray what can - and does - happen in this world and the events included here can be an unfortunate part of any law enforcer's life. This is the type of fiction I choose to write. Please choose carefully when deciding to read it or not. Thank you. **
The registered trademarks mentioned in this story are © of their respective owners. No infringement of their rights is intended, and no profit is gained.
This story depicts a loving, sexual relationship between consenting adult women. If such a story frightens you, you better click on the X in the top right corner of your screen right away.
* * * * * *
This is the eighth full-length installment in my series ‘After Montana' which can be found at http://marshallcarson.wordpress.com . To get the most out of this episode and understand who everyone is, it would be best to start at the beginning ;)
Once again, I cannot thank my beta-reader, Norsebard, enough. You continue to be very much appreciated. And thank you for giving me permission to use Stella Starr and Regina Harrison.
If you haven't met Stella and Regina yet, what are you waiting for? You can find them here… http://www.academyofbards.org/fanfic/n/norsebard_harrisonstardetectiveagency.html
I also want to thank my readers. Your feedback and support are most welcome. Any comments can be left at http://marshallcarson.wordpress.com or sent to email@example.com.
* * * * * *
“I can't believe you talked me into this.” CJ Carson looked out of the car window as the black Mercedes pulled up in front of the Krikorian Theater in Monrovia, where a charity event was to take place this evening. The guest of honor was her wife who sat beside her with a cocky grin on her face.
Kate Carson – although she would be Hollywood actress Kate Marshall for this public event – bit her bottom lip and slipped her hand onto her tall spouse's thigh. “Honey, you know it's for a great cause and I promise it won't be as bad as the Emmy's. Look… there's hardly a photographer in sight,” she said, gesturing out of the darkened privacy glass.
Their driver, Tony Wilkinson, glanced in the rearview mirror at his employers. “Just think CJ… you get to auction off your wife. How many people can say that?”
The Federal agent narrowed her eyes playfully at the young man and heard said wife chuckling at her side. “Uh huh,” she mumbled before turning to the blonde bundle of energy who had just squeezed her leg. “What's the charity again?”
“It's called Helping OUT Our Kids, or ‘HOOK' to those in the know…” Kate winked. “It's for children and teens who are having any kind of problems coping with their sexual orientation. They deal with worries relating to Body Dysmorphic Disorder too… so amazing! When I went down to their center in Long Beach last week I met a ten year old girl who already knew she wanted to be a boy. Her Mom and Dad were there and they couldn't stop raving about the HOOK staff! They give these kids and their families support and refer them to the best counselors if that's what they need… it's really incredible. They don't turn away any child who asks for help, so it's not just for sexual health problems… although that's what they specialize in… but it's for all kids,” the actress nodded enthusiastically.
“Wow, honey, you seem so passionate about it. Right! Let's go raise a ton of money and uh, get you auctioned off,” CJ responded with an eyebrow curl.
“Aww, you only need to give me up for one dinner, CJ. I'm sure you'll survive.”
“Yeah, yeah… just let me know if you want a chaperone.”
“I will want a chaperone… and you, my darling, shall be that chaperone. A lot of these people will be fans because the information about tonight was put out on my main fan page on the Internet and I don't think going out to dinner without you in the vicinity would be a good idea. Maybe you could go undercover…”
CJ looked at her spouse and saw the mischievous sparkle behind those green eyes. “Undercover, huh?”
“Uhm, Kate… I think they've figured out who's in this car,” Tony interrupted, pointing to the cameras that were suddenly hovering around the Mercedes.
“Right… let's do this.” The actress kissed CJ and grabbed the bag with their outfits inside. They had decided to wear matching navy blue apparel since the charity logo was navy and yellow. They would get their yellow ‘HOOK' badges when they got inside.
CJ took the bag from her excited wife and flashed a winning smile. “I'll carry that, my little superstar.”
Kate didn't get a chance to answer since she had stepped outside the car already and was bombarded by the three photographers who had suddenly morphed into twelve over-exuberant journalists and interviewers. CJ took a deep breath and followed her celebrity wife.
* * * * * *
A stark hour later, the time had come for Kate to go up onto the stage. The excited chatter and murmuring in the audience exploded into raucous applause and a screaming chorus when the Deadline actress appeared from behind the curtain. CJ listened and watched from stage left. She was still surprised when her wife appeared at a public event. Kate's stardom seemed to be growing exponentially and it startled the agent every time she witnessed it. The blonde looked a little overwhelmed too, as she smiled widely at her fans and swiped up a white rose that landed on the wooden boards at her feet and waved it in the air.
After a thank you to the crowds, Kate began the little speech she had prepared, explaining about the charity and how she supported them fully. Then she introduced the chairman - a Mr. Mack McGhee - who conveyed how the auction would work and thanked the audience in advance for their generous contributions.
Nobody knew at this point that there was a petite blonde private investigator in one of the back rows - practically exploding with excitement - in the form of Stella Starr, Kate's very own energetic doppelganger. Stella's partner, former model Regina ‘Reggie' Harrison, stood beside the younger woman rolling her eyes under the dark shades she'd decided to wear because they would hide the fact that she was the spitting image of Kate Marshall's wife. The appearance of the duo would probably freak the entire theater out. She was slightly shocked that nobody had stopped Stella yet, and asked her if she was Kate Marshall's twin sister.
Regina's eyes opened wide when CJ Carson walked out onto the stage. When Stella had shown Reggie the picture of Kate's wife in the newspaper - when the Federal agent had accompanied her spouse to the Emmy's - she had noticed a vague resemblance to herself but seeing the tall woman in the flesh was a different thing entirely. She could see CJ was her mirror image. ‘ Oh my God! She looks just like me… and if that's the case… I definitely still got it! ' Reggie silently exclaimed with a little self-assuring hip-wiggle.
“Hey everyone,” the special agent's deep but feminine voice said into the microphone her partner had gleefully handed her,” …I've been talked into auctioning my wife for this great cause.” That earned her a roar of laughter from the crowd and she raised her hand to try and quiet them. “Wait… wait… it's just a dinner with my wife! So without any further procrastinating on my part,” she added with an eyebrow curl, “let's start the bidding at two hundred dollars.”
No less than ten numbered paddles went up in the air and Mack McGhee started shouting and pointing in his best impersonation of an auctioneer. Stella Starr jumped up and down with her paddle lifted high then the paddle suddenly disappeared from view when she tripped on the leg of her chair and fell into Reggie's firm grasp. “Waaaahh! Good catch, Reggie!”
The former model looked affectionately at her clumsy girlfriend. “Gimme the paddle, Stell,” she smiled.
“Thanks, Miss I-Don't-Need-A-Step-Ladder… great idea!” Stella squeaked, pushing her glasses up her nose and running her hand through her chopped, dirty blonde locks.
When the bidding got to fifteen hundred dollars, Reggie looked worriedly at her fidgeting partner but Stella just nudged her with her hips and pushed on the former model's elbow, shooting the paddle right back up in the air. Thankfully, at two thousand one hundred dollars, Stella won the auction. Reggie breathed a sigh of relief since she knew her mad-Kate-Marshall-fan of a lover would have kept going until she had to re-mortgage her apartment.
As Kate waved goodbye to the crowd, CJ was unaware of who had bought the dinner date with her wife but the actress had spotted Stella and Reggie and covered her resulting laugh with her hand. ‘ Oh, this is gonna be fun .' Kate turned and whispered to Mack McGhee that the winning bidder and the woman accompanying her should be brought backstage since they were friends of hers. The chairman was only too happy to oblige the famous actress and ordered a security guard to collect the winners before he gleefully moved on to the next auction item… a fully autographed Deadline script.
* * * * * *
CJ finished packing various little HOOK gratuities and promo material into their bag as Kate hovered at the door of the dressing room waiting for Stella and Reggie to appear in the corridor. When she saw the private detectives approaching, she turned to her wife. “Uh, honey, the winner is here.”
CJ turned just as the two visiting women walked through the door and the agent's jaw dropped. A ripple of disbelief passed through her when her eyes landed on Regina Harrison. She moved her mouth to try and say hello but no sound came out. Then she looked to her wife who was hugging a petite blonde who was virtually identical to Kate in her facial features… only those features were partially obscured by the woman's glasses. It was a very weird sight.
Kate turned to see her spouse's expression and after saying hello to Reggie, the actress approached the speechless woman. “CJ… are you okay?” At the agent's silent nod, Kate smiled. “You see now why I screamed when I first met Stella?” Another nod... “Honey… can you speak?”
CJ suddenly snapped out of her gaping idiot look. “Oh… sorry… hi, I'm CJ Carson,” she said as she approached the other ‘her'. The woman's hair was longer than CJ's… and it was a dark, dark brown, not quite raven… and her facial features seemed identical if only a tiny bit narrower, but she had the same bright blue eyes and the agent thought it quite possible they had been separated at birth.
Reggie was also taken aback as she stretched out her hand to the Federal agent. “I'm Regina Harrison. I have to say… uh, wow!”
CJ nodded and flipped her dark ponytail over her shoulder. “Yeah… that about covers it.”
Reggie turned to see her lover shifting from foot to foot. She realized Stella hadn't met CJ in the flesh yet either. “This is my partner, Stella.”
CJ had calmed herself and took a step toward the little woman who - with a new hairstyle, no glasses… and perhaps if she lost the uncoordinated outfit she had on – could pass quite easily for Kate. “Hi, Stella… Kate told me all about you. It's nice to finally meet you.”
“Oh… well… it's so great to meet you too. And I'm so happy I won the auction. You did a great job up there… really swell.” Stella retracted her pumping hand before she took CJ's arm off and clenched her fists, feeling how sweaty her palms were. ‘ Oh cripes… did I just saturate her hand with my sweat? '
Before she had a chance to panic about that, Kate had found a few of her headshots in the bag – having brought them in case a fan won the auction – and was searching now for something else. “CJ, where is that Sharpie we brought with us?”
The agent shuffled over to her wife's side. “In that pocket there,” she said, pointing to the appropriate zipper.
“Thanks, honey. Would you like these, Stella?”
A wide-eyed Stella nodded profusely. “Yes please, Kate. I won the Deadline script too!”
“Great! Want me to sign it to you personally?”
“Oh… oh that would be… yes!”
While the two blondes began the very important task of discussing what should be written on each item, Reggie took the opportunity to chat to CJ about her job. The former supermodel turned private detective was intrigued as she watched her ‘twin' enthuse about the FBI. They both seemed to be studying each other's faces as they spoke, not quite believing the incredible similarities. But for some reason, unbeknownst to any of them, the weirdness disappeared and they eventually gathered into a huddle in the middle of the room, talking about this and that and planning when the dinner would take place. Since Reggie and Stella had to go home in a few days, they decided on the day after tomorrow at Kate's favorite restaurant. They'd be able to get a private booth in the back since the eatery regularly dealt with celebrities who wanted a little seclusion. And Kate needn't have worried about not having CJ with her… Stella wouldn't have it any other way.
* * * * * *
When the Carson's arrived home, Shannon and Lucy were already in bed. A sleepy Tony and Cyn were curled up on the couch watching TV… watching Kate on TV. “Hey Kate,” the make-up artist slurred as the blonde walked in, “we were just watching your first movie. It's pretty…” Yawn “…darn good!”
The actress chuckled as she propped herself on the arm of the couch. “Thank you, Cyn. Did you have any trouble with the girls tonight?”
“Never,” replied Tony. “Those two are angels.”
“I think they just love you guys… they're not angels all the time,” Kate said, stifling a yawn of her own.
“Well, we'll head home and give you some peace.”
“You're both welcome to stay if you want…”
“Thank you, Kate but Cyn has an early start and we didn't bring anything for overnight anyway. Oh… how did the auction go?”
“It went great. I'll tell you all about it when we're more awake.”
The make-up artist yawned again. “Are you in tomorrow, Kate?”
“I sure am… I'll see you around ten.”
“Oh, you're lucky… I'm in at 7am. Ugh!” Cyn hugged her friend and on her way out the living room door she hugged CJ as the agent entered the room.
“Night all,” Tony added as he followed his girlfriend out.
“Night,” both women retorted in unison. “Thanks again,” CJ shouted.
With the house to themselves, Kate fell into CJ's arms. “I'm exhausted, baby. Let's check on the kids and go to bed, huh?”
“Yeah.” CJ had been a little bewildered-looking since her first encounter with their look-a-likes. “That was a weird night,” she murmured as she nuzzled Kate's hair.
“I know. I told you those two were almost identical to us, didn't I?”
“Yes… but it has to be seen to be believed. Maybe Monrovia is the door to another dimension…”
Kate giggled. “Poor Stella has to do something with that hair though…”
CJ laughed and squeezed her beautiful wife. “C'mon… I'm taking you to bed.”
“Lead the way, my darling.”
Since Kate felt a sudden need to pee, CJ checked on their daughters. On entering the first room, the agent found Shannon lying in a strange serpent-like position which caused a light snore to emanate from the young girl. She shifted the sleepy body a little until the snore disappeared. Pulling the powder blue sheet back up, she leaned over and kissed her child on the forehead then padded down the hallway. She had to hold back her giggle when walked into Lucy's room. The energetic three-year-old had somehow migrated to the foot of her bed and was now sleeping soundly with Barney the bear in a tight little ball. CJ turned to Kamali who was sprawled in his usual guarding position outside Lucy's door. He wagged his tail lazily when his human looked at him then plopped his head back down on the soft carpet. CJ sighed and debated whether or not to move Lucy since she was a much lighter sleeper that Shannon. The infant looked mighty comfortable so CJ just put one of the pillows in the space behind the girl's back just in case she rolled off the bed in the middle of the night. Since Lucy was sleeping on top of the linens, the agent snagged a bright yellow ‘Finding Nemo' sheet from the nearby closet and covered the tiny form, tucking the material around her to create a lightweight cocoon. Smiling contentedly, she kissed Lucy and left.
On her way back out of the room, she bid the dog goodnight and yawned as she trundled toward the master bedroom. Hearing the soft sounds of the shower in their ensuite, the agent's eyes sparkled and she inhaled deeply at the thought of her nude wife. “Hmm…” she moaned quietly as she closed the bedroom door behind her, “I suddenly feel a lot more awake…” She curled her body around the doorframe and watched Kate washing herself in the shower. The actress' hand slowly slid down over her abdomen as she rinsed away the fruit-scented soapy lather that clung to her skin. CJ's eyes were visibly darkening as Kate – who now sensed her wife watching her – made a play of holding the shower head in front of her intimate mound and using her other hand to make sure that she had gotten every bit of shower gel from between her legs.
CJ swallowed the sudden torrent of saliva that invaded her mouth and licked her lips at the thought of what Kate was touching. Not realizing her wife knew she was there, CJ dropped her right hand to her breast as Kate's buttocks pressed against the partially-misted glass partition when the actress pretended to lose her balance. She then turned around and pressed both breasts against the shower screen and smiled seductively when she saw her wife's hand playing voraciously with a protruding nipple. Caught, CJ began a stealth-like approach toward her very eager prey but Kate decided that her amorous spouse would be driven insane this night and held up her hand to halt the agent.
“Don't come any closer…” the blonde husked. She got out of the shower and toweled herself off deliberately slowly and sensuously as CJ stood, mouth gaping and blue eyes following her lover's every move. Kate then dropped the towel and headed into their bedroom, making sure her hips swayed perfectly as she went.
The agent turned to continue her arousing surveillance of her wife, who now sat at the edge of the bed with her hand slowly massaging her left breast. CJ made a move toward Kate but again, the blonde stopped her… this time, when she was about two strides away. The tall woman was fixated as Kate's hand tickled a lazy trail across her skin, making two pinkish nipples stand to attention along with a plethora of goose bumps. Kate's hair was damp from the shower and her body still glistened here and there as it reflected the low light on the nightstand. CJ's breathing deepened as she watched the blonde bring a finger up to her mouth and poke her tongue out to lubricate the digit. The agent could only imagine where that finger would go now. “Oh… Katie…” CJ was incredibly wet and beyond aroused. She decided she couldn't wait any longer. She just had to touch her wife.
“No… you only get to watch tonight. Kneel down on the floor,” the actress instructed. CJ's mouth opened to protest but after the smaller woman took her hand from where it now was on her center and returned it to her slightly open mouth, she decided she could watch this for a while longer and bit her lips in an effort to calm herself. Kneeling down right in front of the display, CJ watched as Kate sucked the juices from her own fingers and lowered the digits to graze against her clit once more. “Oh yeah…” the blonde gasped. “Take your clothes off, Ciara…”
The agent couldn't remember a time when she had ever moved so fast. Each item of clothing was thrown aside at lightning speed and she resumed her front-and-center viewing position in seconds. She could smell Kate; that enticing combination of the shower gel and her wife's arousal was driving CJ to the brink. “Baby please, I-“
Kate was still trailing an appreciative eye over the tall woman's nude body. CJ's neck and upper chest were flushed and her nipples stood painfully erect. The blonde licked her lips. “Touch yourself. I want to watch you… come with me…”
“Oh…” CJ adjusted her position so that they both had a clear view of each other. She leaned back, supporting her body with her left hand and let her legs fall open. She ran her right hand down to her aching clit. Feeling the amount of lubrication there, she knew she had almost climaxed simply from watching her teasing spouse.
Kate's body surged forward when her wife touched herself. Green eyes concentrated on the movement of CJ's hand and she quickened her pace, her fingers now vigorously rubbing up and down her swollen skin. Taking her other hand, she reached down and slowly entered herself with two fingers. CJ squeaked at the sight; her nostrils flaring and her breathing labored as she began to crash over the edge. The actress knew it was time. “Yes... now…”
CJ did not need to be told. Her orgasm had built to its pinnacle and when the heat burst forth from her center and swallowed every nerve ending in her tall, lithe body, she locked eyes with Kate as she let out a quiet scream. The actress climaxed, trapping her hand inside herself while she gentled the strokes with the other. CJ's left arm suddenly gave way and she fell back onto the floor with a slight thud. The smaller woman - feeling sated for all of five seconds – removed her hand from her body, dropping slowly to her knees on the carpet. She straddled her wife as CJ came back from wherever she had gone during her peak.
“Hey beautiful… did you hurt yourself?” Kate whispered as she kissed her partner lovingly on the lips.
Feeling the warm body covering her and the softest lips in the universe kissing her, CJ opened her eyes. “N-no… but please, please… please let me touch you now?”
“Oh, yeah… lots of touching.”
“Thank you. I almost didn't survive that. You're such a tease sometimes,” the agent murmured, going in for another blissful kiss.
“You love it really,” Kate winked once they parted.
“Hmmm, I dunno. There's nothing better in this world than touching you…”
The actress slipped her hand under her wife's neck as her hips pushed their bodies together. “So touch me then… with your mouth.”
Darkened blue eyes bore into hazy green as CJ rose up from the floor. In a show of her physical strength and obvious eagerness to fulfill that request, she carried Kate to their bed and began the rather wonderful task of tasting everything she could lay her lips and tongue on. Kate was more than happy to return the favor and later, they both fell into a deep, sated slumber wrapped around one another… as always.
As Kate strolled through the Olympian Studio lot the next morning, she breathed in the warm and suddenly sweet-scented air. She glanced at her watch. “Ooh, only nine fifteen…” The smell of fresh baked cinnamon bread was proving too much to resist and she made a brief diversion to the cafeteria before heading to her trailer. Inside the large eatery, she waited in line like everyone else but in her head she was really reaching out a very impatient hand to the pile of delicious looking baked goods she could see only a few paces ahead of her. The rich coffee scent was doing nothing to quell her stomach gurgles either. ‘ I shoulda had a bigger breakfast. Ah, who am I kidding... that smell gets me every time Sylvia bakes those treasures .'
To distract herself for a few seconds, she scanned around her and spotted Jack Bannerman sitting at a corner table with his head hung low, nursing what looked like coffee but could easily have passed for liquid tar. Scrunching her nose, she continued her scan and saw a few faces she vaguely knew. Her eyes stopped again when they landed on Tina, her floor manager, at the far side of the cafeteria. The sturdy woman caught the glance, throwing a salute to Kate in acknowledgement. The actress chuckled and waved then turned around when someone at the counter said something. “Oh sorry… what?”
“Would you like something to eat, Miss Marshall?”
“Oh heck yes, Sylvia,” Kate cheerfully retorted to the silver-haired woman who was always a kind face in a sea of grumps. “I'll have a piece of your magnificent cinnamon bread, please!”
“Well, I did bake cinnamon bread but there's also something new…”
Kate raised an eyebrow in what was quite a passable CJ impression. “Tell me more?”
Sylvia let out a hearty belly laugh. “I swear, Miss Marshall, I don't know where you put all that food you pile in there but it's nice to see an actress who actually eats on occasion.”
Kate had to grin. Sylvia always spoke her mind and the blonde appreciated that. “Well, I do have to work out pretty hard to keep up with my love of all things tasty,” she smiled.
“Uh huh… well, this new thing I tried last night… cinnamon and banana bagels… might not sound good to some but they turned out a treat, so I made a tray this morning when I got in.”
“Oooh… I'd happily be one of your guinea pigs, Sylvia. Lemme try one with my coffee.”
With another laugh, the older woman moved away and a scant moment later, Kate's usual coffee was set down on the counter. Sylvia then presented a plate with one cinnamon banana bagel on it. “There ya go. Still warm… just add the butter… let it melt a little.”
“Thanks. I'll update you later with my results.” After Kate winked and paid for her order, she walked away hearing Sylvia's throaty chuckle ringing out behind her. She knew she had spent too much time stopping for this little luxury so she quickly crossed the lot and entered her trailer to find a toe-tapping makeup artist waiting for her.
“What time do you call this?” Cyn said with her arms crossed over her chest.
“Uhm… late?” Kate replied with a smirk.
“Hell yes. Sit your cute butt down in this chair and… holy crap, what is that smell?”
Kate put her coffee down and suddenly got protective when Cyn spotted her bagel. “You can have one bite if you forgive my lateness,” the actress said while covering the food with her free hand.
“Actually, I'd kill for a gulp of your coffee. I've been non-stop since I got in this morning.”
“Go for it… and I'm only kidding about the bagel. You can have two bites… but make ‘em small,” Kate winked.
The black-haired makeup artist – who now sported two eyebrow piercings on the same eyebrow – pointed to the chair in front of her. “Sit… butt… down.”
Cyn lifted the cup of sweet-smelling nectar and took off the lid. Inhaling deeply, she rolled her eyes closed and took a sip… then another… then one more for good measure. “Oh… better, better, better. Thanks, Kate.”
“You're…” Munch, munch. “… welcome.” Kate took another bite of her treat and made yummy moaning sounds as she rolled the baked treasure around in her mouth.
“Please tell me that's not the sound you make in bed,” Cyn teased. The evil eye Kate shot at her was not sincere and the artist knew it. She stuck out her tongue and after another sip of the coffee she started applying Kate's makeup… which was quite a task considering the actress was chewing rather large chunks of bagel. “I do like a challenge,” Cyn shrugged to herself.
* * * * * *
About an hour after Kate had left for work with Tony and Shannon in tow, CJ and Lucy headed out for a walk with Kamali since it was the agent's day off. CJ planned to spend some quality time with her youngest daughter since she never seemed to have the chance in recent weeks.
Lucy had started out riding her tricycle but soon tired of it and they had left it behind on the trail. CJ loved that they had their own land and could just collect random items on their way back to the house later. The tall agent watched the infant skipping along in front of her, the girl's brown curly hair bouncing against her chubby cheeks as she threw Kamali's ball for him. As the big German Shepherd came lopping back towards Lucy's small frame, CJ knew he would respectfully stop and drop his favorite catch toy in front of her. He had never bowled her over by accident or been too boisterous with her, however the same could not be said the other way around. Lucy was quite rough with the dog sometimes and CJ had tried to teach her daughter that she must respect his space too. Even though Kamali was the perfect dog, he could still suddenly feel threatened or afraid and bite any member of his family. Lucy had taken heed of the teachings so far which had reduced the agent's stress level considerably but she and Kate were still ever-vigilant with both their children and the powerful canine.
“Mommy, look!” Lucy shouted.
Two long strides took CJ to the spot where the little girl was crouched down near the scrub at the side of the trail. “What ya got there, Little One?”
“It's… it's a cat!?”
The raven-haired woman raised her eyebrows. She shifted behind Lucy and saw what the girl was referring to. “Oh no, sweetie, that's a squirrel.”
The small animal was foraging under a nearby bush and was surprisingly bold, only occasionally freezing in his tracks to observe the strange beings watching him. “Scurl?” Lucy tried.
“Close enough, Luce. It's a hard word to say. Isn't he cute, though?”
“Yeah… he has a big tail!” the girl squeaked.
CJ chuckled. “He sure does. C'mon, let's leave him to his snack before Kamali decides to chase him.” The agent reached out a hand and Lucy took it.
CJ waved at the little gray animal and swooped Lucy's tiny body up into her arms, keeping an eye on the dog as he happily pranced on the trail with his ball in his mouth. Thankfully he hadn't noticed the squirrel. “Let's go, boy.” Holding Lucy in one arm and taking the dog's tennis ball between two fingers, she threw the drool-covered item far down the track. Kamali galloped after it with his tongue lolling out the side of his mouth. When he came back, she noticed the dust clinging to his black coat. “Bath for you tonight, Kamali…”
Lucy curled her arm tightly around CJ's neck as she lifted her head to look up at the sky from under her very own FBI ball cap. “Mommy… plane.”
“Wow, yeah. It's waaaay up high in the sky.” As the agent scanned the blue above her, she took a deep breath and savored this peaceful time with her daughter. It was a rare moment and CJ decided that the whole family needed to spend more time out in nature. ‘ Maybe we could camp out one night ,' she thought as she placed Lucy back down on her feet. “Wanna race, Luce?” After the girl chuckled and started running, CJ shook her head and laughed. “Ah well… she can have a head start…” The dog bounced between them as if to tell CJ to get a move on. With a loud “I'm gonna getcha,” the tall woman took off and the three of them raced back towards home leaving a plume of dust in their wake.
* * * * * *
At 12.45pm, Kate yawned as she walked out of an unexpected two hour script meeting with the cast and crew. She had asked for a rewrite of three of her lines a couple of days ago which in turn had held her back to debate her request with the writers, the director and two of the producers. Being one of the last to leave the building, she turned the corner in the lonely, windowless hallway and groaned internally when she saw Jack Bannerman standing blocking her exit. He had his usual ‘I'm so special' grin on his face but Kate sensed something different too. She couldn't pin it down and approached the actor, throwing a polite smile his way. He hadn't been at the meeting and she fleetingly wondered why. The answer was more evident when he spoke.
“He'Kate… d'I miss the party?” he drawled, blowing out a breath that smelled like the inside of a brewery.
With a tightening of her mouth – a result of having to endure the stench – she stopped a mere foot in front of the tall man. “I'm afraid so, Jack but I'm sure someone will fill you in…”
“Oh… and I'd like that someone to be you,” Bannerman slurred as he moved to counter Kate's sidestep. “What's the rush? Don't you have a minute to share with ole Jack?”
As he leaned in toward her, Kate felt her body tense at his close proximity. She stopped trying to get by him and backed up a pace. “Actually, I don't have time. The meeting ran over and now I need to get back to the studio, so if you'll excuse me…”
The big actor leaned closer and laid a hand on Kate's shoulder. “Bu' wait… I thought you were gonna fill me in? O‘course, I think it would be much more enjoyable ‘f I filled you in.”
The blonde was quietly fuming now. The mere thought of his innuendo was making her sick. “If you don't let me past, I'll have to let the bosses know about this-”
“The bosses? Oh well… I thought we could keep this just between us but if you wan' them t'join in, I'll try anything once. Kinda like a ménage a twenty, huh?” He was having some trouble keeping his eyelids open at this point and was using the wall for support.
‘ I can't believe he's drunk and it's only lunch time ,' the actress griped internally. After a deep breath to try and calm her nerves, Kate once again moved out of his clumsy embrace. “That would be a ménage-a-vingt, Jack… and no, I'm not interested.”
“What? You wanna do it in a van?”
Kate impatiently narrowed her eyes. “Back off, Bannerman… I need to go.”
“Aww, c'mon now, Katie-“
The actress was furious at his presumptuous familiarity. “Don't you ever call me that again… and I said, BACK OFF, Jack!”
“No, no… I believe what you said was back off, Bannerman… tha's different.” As he leaned in again, he batted his dark eyelashes at the actress as if his current actions were so irresistible, she couldn't fail to be impressed.
Kate clenched and unclenched the fist that hung at her side and ground her teeth together. She lifted the other hand to rest it on Jack's well-built chest. With a light push, she moved her body away from the wall and grasped his cashmere sweater. The blonde could feel the frustration building up inside her and tried to contain it. In normal circumstances, Jack irritated the hell out of her but right now, with the pungent alcohol breath that accompanied his smart-assed remarks, she was ready to punch him right between the eyes… or the legs, whichever would have the most effect. “You listen to me and listen good. I will never be interested in a ménage a-anything with you! Not now, not ever! Do you understand me?”
Kate was pretty close to his face now and she could see from the glazed look in his eyes that her words weren't really penetrating the fog. She stepped back and to the side, escaping the circle of his groping arms yet again. “I need to go.” When Jack moved to touch her she stiffened again and her words took on a menacing tone. “Don't. Touch me. Jack.”
It must have held more of a warning than even she had anticipated because the big man frowned and stuck his bottom lip out in a pout, letting her leave without another word. He shrugged and rubbed his hand through his black goatee, wondering why it pissed him off so much that Kate didn't want him. He seemed to have conveniently forgotten about the fact that she was happily married to a woman. “I'll convince her,” he muttered under his breath. “She'll surrender to my charms… soon.”
* * * * * *
“What's dis one?” Lucy asked, pointing to part of her lunch.
CJ swallowed the bite of peach she had been chewing on. “That's a grape.”
“And dis one?”
“And dis one?” Lucy said gleefully.
“Strawberry, Luce…” the agent smirked.
“That's a baseball.”
Lucy stopped her automatic questioning and looked up. “No… orange, Mommy.”
“Well, whadya know… so it is! Silly me,” CJ chuckled, giving the child a knowing sideways glance. It was a game they had played before but it never failed to amuse the girl so CJ was happy to participate. She held up her fork with a raspberry on the end of it. “And what's this then?”
Lucy's little nose crinkled – something she had picked up from Kate - as she thought really hard about it. “Raz'bry.”
“Clever girl!” the tall woman praised right before popping the juicy fruit into her mouth. Lucy let out a hefty chuckle before continuing with her dessert bowl of fresh fruits. When CJ's phone rang, she finished chewing and fished it out of her hoodie pocket. Seeing the number on the display, she smiled. “Hey, beautiful.”
“ Hi, honey. Is this a bad time?” Kate's voice sounded a little desolate.
“Never a bad time for you, my darling… we're just eating lunch.”
“ Who's we ?”
“Lucy and I. Are you okay, Katie?”
“ Oh yeah… God, I forgot you were off today. I'm not quite with it. We had a long meeting this morning. I guess I'm not keeping track very well... and I had a little run-in with Jack too .”
CJ straightened up at that. “What do you mean, ‘run-in'?”
“ Oh, he was just being an ass, CJ… you know, the usual. But I could smell drink on him too. Don't worry about it… it was just weird, that's all. Anyway, I just wanted to hear your sweet voice .”
“Aww, well I'm glad you called. I miss you and your voice every minute.”
Lucy's eye lit up as she realized who was on the phone. “Mama?”
CJ nodded. “Katie, Lucy wants to say hi…”
“ Okay… ”
When the young girl took the phone and started yapping to her Mama, CJ rubbed her chin and wondered what was going on with Jack Bannerman. He was never in Kate's good books but she didn't mention him often either. ‘ Hmmm… ' When she heard Lucy making kissing noises down the phone, she looked up to see her daughter passing the handset back. “Thanks, Little One.” When Lucy's attention went back to her bowl, the agent pursed her lips. “Katie?”
“ Hey… ”
“Honey, do you need me to… uhm, talk to Jack?”
“ No, CJ. I deal with him every day. Honestly, it's fine. I'm gonna go get some work done then I can get home to my gorgeous family, okay?”
“Okay. I love you, Mrs. Carson.”
“ I love you too. Bye .”
“Bye.” CJ hung up the call and looked at the child sitting adjacent to her. Lucy had decided that it would be fun to smash her fruits together with the back of her fork and now the contents of her bowl – and part of the tabletop - resembled a berry crime scene. CJ grinned and with a sigh, she stood up to get the cleaning cloth. ‘ Ah, who am I kidding? I love bein' a Mom .'
* * * * * *
Assistant Director Mark Mulroney paused outside his agent's office. He could hear them chatting inside and with a guilty look on his face, he checked the corridor to see if anyone could catch him loitering with intent. With a mischievous grin, he leaned his shoulder against the wall and listened to the lighthearted conversation coming from his three on-duty employees.
Inside the room, the banter continued. “… and not everyone loves a muffin,” Agent Jamie Green snorted.
Mikey Ryan tapped away on his computer. “Okay, I'll give you that, Jamie, but really… what's not to love?”
A round of barely contained laughter filled Mark's ears and he kind of wished he had been in on the joke. Missing the beginnings of the conversation had clearly meant he hadn't the opportunity to fully appreciate the punch-line. He could only imagine what they were talking about and chuckled to himself, re-focusing on the chatter when he heard Mikey mention a new Federal Prosecutor.
“Where did you hear that, Mikey?” Ethan Matthews probed.
“I, uh… got it from an inter-office memo…”
When no other information was forthcoming, Jamie's eyes narrowed. “What inter-office memo? I didn't get it…”
“Uhm, it wasn't sent to us but the subject line was so ambiguous that I had to check what it was about.” Mikey was sinking deeper into his chair with every word.
“Oh Agent Ryan… please don't tell me you've been hacking into the system again… I mean, without the boss' authorization?”
“Well… yeah. Aw shit, don't tell him! I actually did it because the memo was about our unit and wasn't being sent to Mulroney. That's what made me curious. The only person receiving it was the DD.”
Jamie twisted her mouth while she thought about that. “One of these days your techy skills are gonna get you into trouble, young man.” She grinned and paused to scratch her forehead. “I wonder who's been assigned to us…”
“Apparently, his name's Paul Mitchell and he worked in Washington DC and New York years ago. He moved here in 2005. Seems he has quite an impressive track record and he's now our permanent attorney but he'll be covering a few other departments here at the LA field office too. Shit, I hope they give him a second chair. This place gets real busy at times,” Ryan said, not realizing there was a potential connection to Deputy Director Julius Mitchell.
Jamie sighed. “I'll tell the boss when I see him… no fair that he was left out of the loop.”
A tall figure appeared in the doorway. “No need, Agent Green.”
The three seated agents froze. Jamie's eyes lifted slowly to take in the boss' stern expression. “Oh Sir, we… uh… well you see…”
Mark held up a hand to quiet the stuttering agent. He silently took a step forward and closed the door behind him. Now all three stared at him expectantly and waited to get chowed out for their gossiping. He walked over to CJ's empty desk and pulled her chair out. Once he was sitting comfortably, he placed his hands on the desktop, pyramiding his fingers in the usual steeple pose. “So… I'll overlook the unauthorized hacking, Agent Ryan, if you tell me what was in the email… exactly?”
Mikey finally let out the breath he was holding and tapped on his keyboard. “Uh, yes Sir. It says that due to the Specialist Serial Homicide Unit becoming a valid non-experimental section of the FBI… and having a now-proven and impressive 97% success rate to date… we were to receive a dedicated team of experts. They've assigned us a new Federal Prosecutor by the name of Paul Mitchell.”
“Hmm… impressive huh?” Mark mumbled as he leaned back in Agent Carson's chair. “I heard his name from your earlier discussion… oh and by the way, if you guys are going to do that again, please close the door first… but I had no idea we were getting a team of experts all to ourselves. I wonder who else is being assigned. When was this email sent, Mikey?”
“About three hours ago, Sir.”
Jamie sensed the Assistant Director wasn't angry with them after all. He'd called Mikey by his first name. That was usually a give-away. “Sir… do you think maybe the DD hasn't told you about it yet because of the name of the attorney? I mean, it's kinda coincidental that he's a Mitchell.”
“It's a common name, Jamie but I will be asking some questions soon if-“ Mark's beeper interrupted him and he pulled it roughly from his belt. “Oh, lookie here... the Deputy Director wants to see me.” After a smirk to his three slightly sheepish-looking agents, he got up and left.
When the door closed behind him, Ethan bit his lips. “Well, he seemed to take that well. Thank God we weren't mouthing off about him or anything.”
“Have we ever done that, Ethan?” Jamie asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Actually no, good point. Never needed to,” Matthews winked. With a snort from Agent Green, they all decided to look out any non-urgent paperwork that needed attention and get it done. It had been such a quiet week… so far.
* * * * * *
Mark grumped to himself as he took long strides along the corridors of the FBI field office. ‘ Am I pissed? Yeah, a little bit. Am I gonna tell him that? Hmmph… better find out what the situ is first… and who this Mitchell guy is …' He turned to stand in front of the silver elevator doors, brushing down his suit jacket and straightening his tie. When the doors opened he stepped inside and spun on his heels, waiting the few short seconds until the contraption took him two floors up. ‘ Why can't he be on our floor if he's our Deputy? Bet he wants to make sure we know our place in the world… down in the dungeons. ' Mark forced his inner voice to shut up for a while and cleared his throat as he stopped outside Julius Mitchell's office.
After hearing a shout from the other side of the closed door, Mulroney entered the room to find the tall, dark form of the Deputy Director standing looking out the window. “Afternoon, Sir.”
Julius turned around and smiled at his AD. “Afternoon, Mulroney. Pull up a chair.” When they were both seated at opposite sides of the large oak desk, the Deputy flipped through some papers. “I'm very satisfied with the work you and your team are doing, Mark… and I made that clear to the Director when I met with him last week. I requested a few things and they've started to filter through to my desk now.”
“Thank you, Sir. I'm very satisfied with my agents too.”
“Oh, don't thank me yet. I've only managed to acquire a few people so far but I feel the SSHU needs a dedicated group of trusted professionals. Let's see if we can build that… and let's see if that 97% success rate of yours can to go up to 100.”
Mark kept his illegally-gained knowledge of the situation to himself. “97%? I hadn't been given an up to date figure.”
“Well, it's one of the highest in the Bureau and I want it… at least maintained. Not that I think your team won't keep it up because I know they will… but having to wait for a forensics expert, a medical examiner, prosecutors and everybody else we have to share, just isn't making your job any easier. So, I requested a team solely for your unit.”
“I have to say, Sir… that's quite a trick considering we're in our infancy.”
“But worth the ask, I feel,” the Deputy Director nodded.
“Oh absolutely! I'm grateful for your efforts, Sir.”
“Mark… we seem to have a decent working relationship. Call me Julius when we're not in front of the troops.”
Mulroney quirked an eyebrow. “Okay, Julius. That, I can do.”
“Good! Now, I'm going to send you the email I got today. Our first newbie is a top Federal Prosecutor. His name is Paul Mitchell… no relation,” Julius grinned. “He came in from the East a few years ago and has been gaining quite a rep since he got here. We'll still be sharing him with a couple of other units but I plan on changing that as soon as I can.”
“Sounds fine. When's he coming in? I mean, I assume he'll want to meet the team?”
“I think we'll wait until tomorrow… when Agent Carson's here... do all the introductions at once?”
“Good deal. If you send him to me, I'll take him to their office,” Mark said with satisfaction. He was quite happy with the Deputy Director's explanation of the situation.
“I'll bring him down myself. I'll let you know when we're on our way. It's been a quiet week so far so I'd like to visit the team anyway.”
“Thanks, Julius,” Mark said, rising from his chair. “I'll make sure the agents are informed.” As he left Mitchell's office with the Prosecutor's file in hand, he rolled his eyes at the DD's final sentence. “Why did he have to say the Q-word? Damn it…”
* * * * * *
Kate Carson stretched out her compact body when she entered her trailer. She looked around and realized she was pretty unusual amongst her co-stars. She loved using her trailer, even when they weren't on location. The fact that she had bought it herself so she'd always have her own space didn't really put her in the ‘diva' category, in her opinion. “I just like some peace and privacy… it's not much to ask,” she reasoned. It was the only luxury she wanted here at work and it felt like a little piece of home, with a few pictures of her loved ones around the place and a Native American throw on the couch that CJ had bought her for those little naps when she had some down time between shoots. With a heave of her weary shoulders, she picked up her bag just as someone knocked on her door.
“ Kate… it's Tony. I'm ready when you are… no rush .”
The actress smiled and opened the door to her devoted driver and friend. “Hey you… I'll be right out.”
“Hi. I just wasn't sure if you saw me waving when you left the studio. There's no hurry…”
“Sorry, Tony… I guess my mind is a little distracted. I'm ready now.”
As they approached the black Mercedes, Tony opened the passenger door and with a dramatic bow and arm gesture, invited his boss to enter the car. Kate chuckled at the man as she sat in the plush leather seat. “Why, thank you, kind Sir.”
Tony smirked, pleased to see her smile. “Have you home in a flash, Ma'am.”
Kate turned around to see a sleepy Shannon smiling widely. The girl had been at her after school group today and Tony had taken her for something to eat before coming to pick the actress up. “Hey, honey. How was school?”
“It was good but it was such a long day and I'm tired now…” Shannon said dramatically.
“Oh, me too! I can't wait to get home.”
Tony buckled his seatbelt. “Home it is, ladies…”
That made the blonde snort out a laugh and as they set off, she thanked her friend for distracting her from her unwelcome thoughts. In truth, she was thinking about Jack Bannerman. His behavior was more disturbing than normal, although she'd never use the word ‘normal' when it came to Jack. She shook her head and tried to forget about it but as Tony drove the car over to the studio gates, the actor's sports car was in line in front of them, waiting to pull out into the traffic on Warner Boulevard. The bright red Ferrari F430 let out a satisfying roar as Jack revved the engine while he waited not-so-patiently. When he finally found a gap in the constant stream of vehicles, he roughly shifted the stick and hit the gas pedal, swerving out into both lanes and causing a tirade of horns to sound as other drivers slammed on their brakes to avoid him. Kate's look of concern was mirrored on Tony's face and she wondered if her driver had noticed Jack's inebriation earlier in the day. She knew the actor had been hung over quite a lot recently and couldn't help but think his behavior was only going to get worse.
* * * * * *
As CJ walked from the crèche into the kitchen, she heard the sound of a car engine in front of the house. With the window open, the echo of two doors slamming followed. Once she heard the three voices – one male, one female and one seven year old who seemed to be singing quite loudly – she knew the other half of her family was home. Just like every other day, CJ's belly flopped at the thought of seeing her beloved spouse and she turned, only to laugh at Kamali who had his two front paws on the sill and was wiggling profusely in his desperation to welcome the newly-arrived humans. CJ went in search of Lucy but she needn't have bothered… the young girl came bounding into the room.
“Mama's home… n'Shan!”
“They sure are, Little One. Let's go get ‘em,” the agent smiled as she was pulled along by a strong mini hand.
The big dog pranced ahead of them and practically bowled Shannon over when she came in the door. He shook himself off - having run into her by mistake when they both crossed the threshold at the same time - and nuzzled the girl's hand as she patted him on the head. “Good boy, Kamali.”
Kate appeared behind her daughter and after a brief smile to CJ, she crouched down to catch a fast-approaching Lucy. “Hey, Luce. Did you and Mommy have a good day?”
“Yes! We saw a scurl!”
“You did? Wow… that's cool.” When Kate let her younger daughter go, the little ball of energy skipped merrily through the house, following her big sister as she headed upstairs.
“Shan? Leave your bag down here… we'll do your homework before dinner,” CJ shouted.
The tall woman turned to her spouse and opened her arms. “Hello, my love.”
“Hey… I missed you today,” Kate replied as she walked happily into the strong embrace. “Ohhhhh, that's wonderful.”
“It really is.” As they stood in the middle of the hallway, CJ basked in the feel of holding her wife. Only the distant voices of their children and the deep breathing coming from the woman in her arms broke the silence. It was bliss, and for the millionth time since she'd met Kate, she thanked her lucky stars. She nuzzled the blonde's hair and sighed. “You know, holding you is when I feel most at peace.”
Kate pulled back only slightly. She searched the deep blue eyes of her soul mate. “Me too. It's an amazing feeling.”
“Yeah… ” CJ bent down and captured the softest lips she would ever know, making Kate forget any concerns she had about her day at work. Little did they know their peace would soon be shattered…
* * * * * *
Late that night, a very tired-looking Elizabeth Marshall Emerson disembarked at LAX and headed for baggage claim. Since her last encounter with her daughter, Elizabeth had been doing a lot of thinking… or was it planning? Whatever one would call it, she had made a decision. Her mind was now focused on one thing and one thing only - getting her daughter back. ‘ There must be a way to make Katherine see sense. Maybe my current condition will make her more open to my way of thinking ,' the woman said to herself as she dragged her expensive suitcase from the moving belt.
She stretched out her strained shoulders and reminded herself to bring a personal bell-boy next time she traveled. Someone of her delicate build should not be hefting weighty baggage around on her own. Seeing a desk for limousine hire, Elizabeth's eyes sparked back to life and she promptly regained her superior gait, striding purposefully toward the unsuspecting attendant.
CJ and Kate sat in the private restaurant booth with their guests for the evening, finishing up what had been a very pleasant meal. The agent's mouth was slowly masticating her last piece of tuna steak accompanied by some creamed herb potatoes and her eyes were wide at the ever increasing speed of Stella Starr's yapping mouth. The private investigator never seemed to relent and CJ was amazed that she had even managed to finish her meal. Stella's partner, Reggie, was obviously very used to the million-words-per-minute monologue and sat beside her mate in a contented but regal pose that could only come from years of catwalk training. CJ sipped from her glass of water as she studied Reggie's relaxed face and twinkling cobalt eyes.
CJ had never understood why anyone would be attracted to her… especially Kate… but looking at this other person who was indeed her mirror image, she actually thought she must be quite good-looking; a thought that startled the tall woman. ‘ What… now I think I look okay? Sheesh… I'm pretty sure I gave myself another compliment at Christmas. What is the world coming to? ' She decided to quit talking to herself after a quick side glance from Kate. The special agent waited for a gap in the conversation and since Stella was taking a gulp of her wine, that gap was now. Soon, all four were engaged in one of their weirdly comfortable discussions.
Just under thirty minutes later, CJ's cell phone began to ring, momentarily disrupting the natural flow of their evening. “Excuse me,” she said and stood up from the table. Recognizing her field office number, she answered the call accordingly. “Agent Carson.”
“CJ, its Mark… I'm sorry to disturb. I know you're out tonight but we have a case and it won't wait. I need you here as soon as…”
The tall woman could hear the sense of impending doom in her boss' tone. “I'll be right there, Sir.” When the call was disconnected, she turned back to the ridiculously weird sight of Kate sitting across the table from a Kate-double… and a CJ-double. She shook her head to snap out of the Twilight Zone once again and looked at the three. “That was work…” she said with regret.
Kate saw the look in CJ's eyes. “It's okay, honey… I'll be safe enough in the company of these two private investigators.” She stood up and hugged the agent briefly. “I can see you need to go. Be careful please.”
“I love you,” CJ whispered into the blonde's ear. Letting her wife go, she tilted her head at their dinner guests. “Apologies but the FBI calls. Thank you for your company tonight. It was great to meet you both… weird, but great.”
Ever-ready Stella piped up. “No worries, CJ. It was great to meet you too! I'll guard her with my life,” she said, nodding toward Kate.
“Uh huh. I'm pretty sure she can take care of herself. She's a Taekwando master, you know… but thanks for the reassurance, Stella.”
Regina and Kate waved at CJ as Stella's eyes lit up at the new conversation fodder she had just received. When the agent turned to go, Kate rolled her eyes and prepared herself for yet more questions from the adorable, insistent chatterbox that was Stella Starr.
* * * * * *
CJ draped her jacket over her shoulders as she tried to hail a cab. After the third attempt, she contemplated calling Jamie to come pick her up since the blonde agent lived not too far away. ‘ Nah… she'll be asleep or… somethin' …' Her thoughts were interrupted by an argument across the street.
Stepping back into a puddle – a result of the briefest of rain showers earlier in the evening – was Jack Bannerman. The big actor awkwardly staggered toward a bright red sports car and his drinking buddy was trying to stop him from driving the high-powered vehicle. CJ watched as Bannerman pushed his friend away and stormed off down the street with a young slip of a girl who looked like she had hit puberty quite recently and who probably hadn't eaten anything in at least twenty four hours. Jack's buddy strolled off in the other direction triumphantly swinging the car keys around his finger. Someone somewhere was going crazy with a camera, the bright flashes blinding some passers-by as they tried to avoid bumping into Jack. The pictures would probably end up in some trashy magazine or newspaper article the next day.
CJ grumbled to herself as she turned away to continue her search for a cab. She had a vision of her drawing the gun she had hidden in her ankle holster to commandeer a vehicle, but thankfully a cab came around the corner and let its passengers out right at the eatery she had just left. She jumped into the cab and as it moved off, she glanced at Jack who was walking down the sidewalk doing his best to identify the obstacles in his way. She wondered what would snap him out of his seemingly destructive lifestyle… and when.
* * * * * *
Back inside the restaurant, just as the three women were preparing to leave, Kate heard a faint tune coming from her bag. She fished out her phone and checked the caller ID. It displayed ‘Private number' and she frowned as she answered the call. “Hello?”
“ Katherine? ”
Kate knew who it was immediately and her heart sank. Only her mother called her Katherine. “Yes. Why are you calling, Elizabeth?”
“ Please, Katherine… don't take that tone with me .”
“What do you want? You disowned me, remember?”
“ You don't have to remind me. But I… I need to see you. Can't I have a chance to explain myself?”
The actress felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end in a clear warning but she also felt her unending compassion asserting itself. “Do you think you deserve a chance to explain?” Kate was not prepared for the reply she got.
“No. No, I don't. But I must see you, Katherine… while there's still time,” the older woman said.
Kate frowned. “Why wouldn't there be time?”
“Please, darling. I need to see you. Please?”
The actress couldn't believe her ears. Her mother was begging to see her and calling her darling? Something was definitely going on here and Kate's curiosity got the better of her. “I'll give you ten minutes, Elizabeth. I'll call you back when I can get away from work tomorrow.”
“Thank you, dear. Until tomorrow then…”
“Okay, bye.” Kate was very suspicious when she hung up the call but was willing to give her estranged parent the opportunity to explain things when she saw her. As much as it was nice to hear some positive words from her mother, the actress was wary of any kindness coming from such a bitter woman and she didn't trust any of it. ‘ Hmmm… why would the leopard change her spots now? '
After a quick walk to the truck, Kate graciously said goodnight to her private investigator escorts. Stella still seemed a little fired up…
“I've had a great time and thank you so much for being so kind and accommodating… really, truly was a night to remember for me… can't tell you how much I loved meeting you… and CJ… it was so cool and…”
Regina put a calming hand on her partner's shoulder. “I think she gets the idea, Stell.”
“Hmm? Oh yeah… sorry, Kate.”
The actress grinned. “No need for apologies, Stella. I had a wonderful time, as did CJ.”
“Tell her we really enjoyed meeting her. She's amazing. Keep in touch?” Stella said hopefully, wiggling her hand next to her ear.
“Of course! Send me a text message once you're both home safe, okay?”
“Okay. Bye, Kate.” Stella waited for her idol to open her arms in invitation. When Kate did so, the quirky blonde investigator accepted eagerly.
Regina waited her turn and once they'd parted, the actress bid them goodnight once more and got into the blue Dodge Ram. The tall ex-supermodel put her arm around Stella's shoulders as they waved. Regina recalled their pleasant evening and her conversation with CJ about their differing taste in cars. The agent loved her truck and Regina loved her low-slung sports car. ‘ Aww… CJ must have driven and she left the truck for Kate .' She looked at the little blonde at her side. ‘ Heck, of course she'd leave the truck… I'd walk a thousand miles rather than leave Stell stranded .' And with that, Regina Harrison strolled the few blocks to their parking spot, arm-in-arm with her partner, Stella Starr… who was still chattering excitedly about their impromptu and most enjoyable trip to Los Angeles.
* * * * * *
As she lay in bed that night, Kate's mind was buzzing with the day's events. “What a strange but fun day. But I need to find out why Elizabeth's here…” she muttered as she tapped her fingers on her belly. She lifted her cell phone to see if there had been any contact from CJ. There was no message and she turned to look at her wife's pillow. “I'll never get to sleep. Ugh!”
* * * * * *
Just after 11.30pm, CJ strolled briskly along the corridor toward Mark's office, her mind constantly trying to prepare itself for the certainty of a horror case. When she walked through the door she saw the AD behind his desk and a short but rather commanding man pacing the floor. She also saw Mark eyeing her evening attire which included navy blue dress pants, a light sky-blue sleeveless blouse with a plunging neckline and a sparkling silver necklace with a stone pendant. Not exactly FBI issue but he had called her away from a night out, so what did he expect?
The commanding man walked over to the agent and stretched out his hand. “Agent Carson? I'm Captain Stevens, LAPD Homicide. Take a seat.” CJ shook the man's hand and glimpsed at Mark, who nodded his ascent. The Captain did not miss the signal and apologized for his commands. “I'm too accustomed to ordering my cops around. I forgot where I was.”
“No problem, Captain,” the tall woman replied amicably.
After a brief humorless smile, Captain Stevens took a deep breath. “I'm here to hand a case over to your unit. As I told the Assistant Director here, it's an unusual state of affairs but I wanted to bring this one to you personally. One of the worst serial killer cases I've seen… hoped you could take it off our hands. We just don't have the manpower right now and we know you guys have a lot of experience with this sort of thing. Started with homeless kids… we got three John Doe's, one Jane. Two of them were minors who helped out at a drop-in center. When they didn't come in at their usual times, the supervisor thought it strange and called the cops. He gave us first names and approximate ages of his helpers who might not have revealed their true identities. Three other bodies have now been found… not street kids. These ones were reported missing by their families… Nadine Bareski, Jordan Ford and Denise Bryant. Seems our killer likes them under fifteen… and he takes trophies,” he finished with a heave of his shoulders.
“Why is it only coming to us now, Captain? I mean, after so many bodies…” CJ asked then looked up at the silence that ensued. “Uh, I didn't mean that to sound…”
Mark held his hand up. “I didn't take it that way. Captain Stevens, my agent wasn't inferring anything negative with regards to your department.”
“I actually thought it was a good question… and I hadn't taken offense.” Stevens sighed again. “It's only coming to you now because the three latest killings… Bareski, Ford and Bryant… were all found in the space of two days in Los Angeles County. The MO was matched to the previous deaths which only came to light in the week prior to these murders. They're horrendous… this killer is very messy about… well, I'll let you look at them, Agent. From what we can gather, the trophies he takes are significant. I guess he doesn't want his victims to uh… see him?”
She took the bundle of files from the Captain's offering hand and started flicking the pages of the top one – Denise Bryant, twelve years old. She stifled her grimace at the photos of the young girl's body and the extent of the seemingly frenzied attack on her limbs. When she saw the close-up photo of the child's head, she ground her jaw and closed the file. Maintaining her professional poker face – which coolly covered up the twisting feeling in her gut - she looked between the two men. “Yes. I see what you mean. He could be a spree killer… seems a little manic. What's the age range so far?”
“Difficult to tell due to the John Doe's… but our ME puts the youngest one at roughly eight years old.”
With a nod of her head, CJ began mentally preparing herself for a horrendous few days… weeks… however long it took to catch this killer. Her quick glance at one file was enough to make her feel quite sick. She wondered how the hell she was going to continually look through the rest of them, never mind work the case to its conclusion.
* * * * * *
When CJ got back to her office, she dropped the bundle of case files on her desk and sparked the coffee machine to life to let it warm up. She switched on the desktop spotlight that shone on the photo frame containing her favorite picture of Kate, Shannon and Lucy, and threw her jacket over the back of her chair.
While the coffee machine entered its gurgling stage, the agent sent a quick message to her wife whom she knew would understand the short phrase. It was one they had used before and would no doubt use many times in the future - ‘See you when I see you xx'. When Kate sent back ‘Stay safe xx', she knew the actress had received the message loud and clear. Now she could drown in her work for a few hours, completely undistracted since it was now after midnight. With a yawn, she rose to get her coffee and when she sat back in the chair, she opened the first file with a sigh and a frown. It was not going to be a pleasant night.
* * * * * *
Just before 4am, CJ had looked thoroughly at each file and had made a dent in the profile for this killer who she had to admit might be her most gut-wrenching case to date. She finished looking at the crime scene photos of the last three victims; one found in suburbia in a park, and two found in built-up city locations. Denise Bryant was the victim found in the park. From the information in the pictures, the location could have been a wilderness instead of a park in the middle of a densely populated area. The body had been haphazardly wrapped in a tarp and dumped behind some bushes. The deep lacerations to the girl's leg and the ruptured eye sockets made the agent close her eyes and grasp at her temples with thumb and forefinger. With her other hand, she closed the file then added a few more notes to the profile. She got up a short while later and pinned the copies of the pictures to the board.
As much as the mutilation to these precious children was all post-mortem, it still offered CJ a glimpse into this murderer's mind and she did not like what she saw. It made her sick and she put her weary head down on the desk for a few moments of reprieve. That ended up being a huge mistake. She dozed off and slipped into a dream that was influenced by her current, disturbing thoughts.
Shannon stood motionless on the soft forest floor. The rugged path carved a channel through the surrounding trees. The tall trunks were lined up military style, as if setting a fake scene for what was to come and saluting in their knowledge. There was an eerie stillness; no birds, no wind, no sound; and a mist hung heavily in the dusky air. Shadows threatened with hints of evil. The girl moved toward CJ but she wasn't walking; just gliding like a weary apparition. The rigidity of Shannon's body and the feeling of a dark presence was enough to bring tears to CJ's eyes. She was scared, terrified… of what, she didn't know. But she did know. It just wasn't obvious yet. She searched the darkness for answers and not finding any, she turned back to her daughter's face now streaked in blood; her eyes too dark for the agent to see what was wrong with this picture. As the Shannon figure moved closer, CJ screamed. The child had no eyes… but suddenly from the empty sockets, a bright white light shone vividly. But it wasn't a light of hope or wonder. It only increased CJ's fear that she had lost her daughter. Her heart was beating way too fast and she broke out in a sweat. Shannon lifted one arm and then the other, reaching out to her mother and showing her that he had sliced through the fragile limb. More blood poured from the wound and CJ tried to reach forward to save her beloved Shannon but the agent found she was paralyzed and helpless. The image of Shannon disappeared. She had lost her. He had killed her…
* * * * * *
Jamie arrived at work just as the first glimpse of sunlight broke the dark skies. She had received a call from Mulroney to be in as soon as she could to assist CJ in the investigation. Rubbing her eyes and yawning, she dragged herself through the office door and found CJ slumped over her desk, seemingly asleep but whimpering quietly. As the blonde agent got closer to her friend, she saw the beads of sweat and labored breathing and realized CJ was having a nightmare. She wasn't sure how to wake her colleague without getting a beating for her trouble. Moving around behind the sleeping woman's chair, she reached down and brushed her hand through CJ's raven locks.
“Hey, Dangermouse… wake up… you're having a nightmare…” No response; just a shudder from CJ's body and an increased frown on her face. “DM… wake up, honey. C'mon…” Jamie shook her gently.
CJ bolted upright and roughly grabbed the arm that shook her. “No! You can't take…” Agent Carson shouted before she got her bearings and glanced at her friend who had now moved round to her side. “Oh… sorry, Penfold. I must have dozed off.”
“You sure did. Are you okay?”
“Uh… yeah. Did Mulroney call you in?” CJ asked, hoping it would distract Jamie while she wiped the sweat from her brow.
“Yep. Hey, are you sure you're all right?” Jamie could see something in CJ's eyes. Was it fear?
“I'm okay, Penfold,” CJ lied. “But this case… it's... well… I… I'm not sure…” She faltered and paused to collect her thoughts. “I need to go see Mark.”
As CJ left the office, Jamie sat at her friend's desk since the files were spread all over the surface, and began the unwelcome task of catching herself up. She was worried about CJ already and when she saw the crime scene photos, she understood why the usually-unflappable agent looked so stressed.
* * * * * *
CJ stared at her reflection in the restroom mirror. Noting the crease between her eyebrows and the faraway look in her dull blue eyes, she felt a sense of panic wash over her. “I'm disappearing so fast… I won't do this to Kate again.” She sat on the bench next to the lockers for a short while, regurgitating her all-too-vivid nightmare and trying to calm her nerves. She gasped out a single sob and caught herself before it took hold of her completely. ‘ Shannon's okay. She's at home with Katie, sleeping in her bed. Damn this fucking case… it's barely started and look at the state of me! ' As she splashed her face with cold water in an effort to wake herself up a little more, she saw the shadow consuming her; that shadow was a tell-tale sign that she was about to go down the proverbial rabbit-hole. She was determined she wouldn't do it this time and ground her jaws together as she left the room.
It was something o'clock in the early morning when CJ strutted along the corridor. She got to Mark's office and the door was ajar. The Assistant Director wasn't there. She turned to go just as she heard the water running in his private washroom. She loitered outside until she heard him sitting down at his desk and coughing. She then poked her head around the door frame. “Uh, Sir?”
“CJ… come in.”
The agent sat in the chair across from her boss, her back straight and rigid, her face the picture of discomfort. “Sir… I can't… I can't work this case.”
Mark's head snapped up with a fleeting look of surprise. “CJ, I have no choice but to demand you work this case. The SSHU have been entrusted with ending this… this nightmare… we need to catch him as fast as possible.”
The tall woman sighed, her jaws clenching in her agitation. “I thought you might say that… was worth a try though. Mark, I'm not sure how I'm gonna deal with this one. I'll need to talk to the team… let them know what to expect.”
The agent threw her hands up in the air. “Anything… everything? Who the hell knows?”
Mark could already see his agent fading into the background as she went into her profiler mode. He prepared himself for at least a few days of ‘unpredictable CJ'. “I'll give you as much support as I can, CJ but I know you'll work through this somehow. That's why you're the lead agent in this unit and the quicker you resolve it, the better… for everyone.”
“Yes… yes, I know that. It's just so damn ugly. They're… kids, you know? I mean… the mess he made of Denise's body… she was just…”
“I know. And I know that you'll have difficulty with this… even more so now that you have children of your own. But CJ, you're supposed to identify with the killer, not the victim. Get rid of those feelings right now,” Mark said firmly.
“With all due respect, Sir, I need to work this case the way I see fit.” CJ stood up and looked at her watch. “I'll have the finished profile on your desk by 9 o'clock.” And without a dismissal, she turned and left the office under a veil of darkness.
Mark sighed and looked at the empty doorway. “I hope Kate's ready for this one.”
* * * * * *
After handing in the first draft of her report to Mark a couple of hours later, CJ jumped in the truck and pulled out of the parking garage earlier than she'd anticipated. As she drove home for a wash and change of clothes, she considered how she would interact with Kate this time. Having the presence of mind to think about how she handled this case was a big step for Agent Carson. She would normally just get on with it without considering how it would affect anyone around her. But she had a family now and she remembered the Davenport case. It had been very tough for them and CJ would be damned if she would let Kate go through this one the same way. She just wasn't sure how to make it easier for her wife.
By the time she got home, Shannon and Lucy – and possibly Kate - would be in bed since it was still incredibly early in the morning. The agent was crawling out of her skin and knew she only had a couple of hours to get back to work. This investigation would not slow down now until the killer was caught. She was just glad of the short amount of time to refresh while Jamie did the initial investigations and background checks at the office. While she had been driving, CJ's mind was already forming an image of the killer based on what she had read so far. The agent had dealt with a few child victims before but she'd never dealt with a serial killer who exclusively murdered children.
As she opened the front door of the house, the tall woman shook her head reflexively and tried to clear her mind of what happened to Shannon in her dream. With a convulsive gulp, she failed to erase that haunting image and the thought of each young victim's demise. This was going to be such a grueling case.
Once CJ was inside, Kate stood in the doorway to the living room watching her troubled spouse trying to process what the actress knew were dark thoughts. She hadn't been able to sleep and had dozed on the couch most of the night. When she'd heard CJ come in, she got up to greet her. A vast array of emotions washed over the agent's graceful features and Kate remained quiet until CJ's face tensed and she swallowed repeatedly, almost like she was ready to empty her stomach. “Honey, are you okay?” the blonde asked cautiously.
CJ looked up and stared blankly for a few seconds until she regained her focus. “Hold me…” she whispered. Kate crossed the space promptly and wrapped herself around her tall wife. She was concerned when she felt CJ trembling slightly in her embrace; a combination of the early morning chill and the thought of what was to come. As the agent's arms slid around her shoulders and a hand cradled the back of her head, Kate lowered her brows with concern. “Tighter,” CJ requested.
The actress squeezed the larger body and inhaled deeply, hoping that CJ would match her slow, relaxing breaths. When she felt her partner try to emulate her technique, she rubbed the agent's back and spoke softly. “Please tell me what happened at work, CJ?”
The tall woman leaned her mouth on Kate's shoulder. “Not this time. I have to catch a child killer, Katie… I'm not sharing this case with you.” CJ lifted her head and moved back. When green eyes met blue, she continued. “No details… no MO's… no crime scene photos. I'll be on this case now until it's done. Just know that when I need you, I'll come to you. You can be certain of that. But I can't discuss this one. Please tell me that's gonna be okay…”
Kate searched deep into her wife's eyes. “Do you… do you want me to leave you alone?” she said worriedly.
“Never. I just can't discuss it. If I discuss it, I'll get emotional… and I can't do that right now. I have to identify with the killer not the victims, as Mark so pointedly reminded me.”
Kate nodded mournfully. “Then it's gonna be okay. Just catch the bastard and come home to me. I'll deal with the aftermath... but, CJ?”
“What?” the agent said quietly, holding her spouse's stare with a complete love she had no idea her solemn face was showing.
“I need to keep in touch with you,” Kate said, holding her hand to CJ's heart to show her what she meant. “Even if you can't answer the phone or don't have time to see me, will you make sure to contact me any moment you can?”
“Of course. We learned a lot from the Davenport case… I learned a lot. I won't shut you out. All I'm asking is that you don't make me discuss the details this time… not until it's over… and maybe not even then.”
Kate raised her hand and gently brushed a strand of raven hair behind CJ's ear. “Okay. As long as you know you can discuss it if you need to… okay.”
CJ wrapped her body around the actress again and savored the feeling, knowing she wouldn't get much chance in the coming days. Kate returned the gesture, wondering how she was going to cope with everything. And there was no way she would tell CJ about Elizabeth showing up in LA… or her increasing problems with Jack either. It was Kate's job to keep CJ's stress levels as low as she could while she worked this type of case. She didn't realize that she was doing the same protective thing she had always asked CJ not to.
They ascended the stairs together. Kate wanted to be there while CJ got washed and changed but before they went to their room, the agent shuffled over to Shannon's door. She peeked inside and watched her daughter sleep. From this distance, she couldn't see the child breathing so she entered quietly. Kate stayed at the door. She was worried about CJ. The tall woman was almost fearful in her movements and when the agent knelt down next to Shannon and leaned over the sleeping girl to kiss her on the forehead, Kate heard a small cry and made a move toward her wife.
CJ quickly stood up and turned to Kate, showing her the tear-filled blue eyes. “I'm okay… just a little overwhelmed.”
Kate grasped her hand and led her to their master suite where she closed the door and sat with her spouse on the edge of the bed. “CJ…?”
“I… I just wanted to see her.”
“Why? What's going on in there?” the actress asked, tapping gently on CJ's temple.
The agent took the hand and held it to her lips, kissing the knuckles before answering. “I dozed off at work… for a few minutes, I think. It was enough for me to have a nightmare.”
Kate paused for a beat to think before speaking. “About Shannon?” CJ nodded and grimaced and the actress grazed her thumb over the hand she was holding. “This case… you told me it was a child killer. I'm guessing you merged the two in your nightmare?”
“You guessed right.” CJ looked at her love. “You know me too well.”
“Never too well… but CJ, I do know you. You'll try and keep this case from me because you think it'll affect me the same way it affects you. Can I remind you again that I'm tough?”
The expression on the blonde's face was compassionate and sincere but it also held a hint of dark humor. The tall woman quirked her mouth in a fleeting half-smile. “I love you. And I already told you, I'll come to you when I need you…”
“Yes, but you also said you won't talk about the case and…” Kate held a finger to CJ's lips to forestall her obvious response. “I know you can't in order to handle this one without falling apart… but I don't want you heading to that place where you end up drinking for the wrong reasons or carrying so much darkness alone that you end up drowning in it. Remember you're only human, much as you hate to admit it.” She kissed the agent tenderly. “I'm here… you're allowed to let it all out in front of me… and I can handle it.”
CJ was completely in love all over again. Even though Kate knew she had to work the case her way – which meant a dark, disturbed and moody CJ – she had just given the agent her ultimate support. “I know you can. I promise if it gets that bad, I will talk about it.”
“Good.” Kate kissed her softly once more and went to the closet to grab some fresh towels. “C'mon…” She held out a hand and when CJ took it, the actress led her into the ensuite for some TLC before she had to leave again.
Dressed in her finest dark green pant suit, Elizabeth Emerson sat in the rear section of her luxurious limousine. The long, shiny silver vehicle pulled up outside the Olympian Studios around 9.45am, the driver getting out and opening the door as instructed. Elizabeth adjusted her wide-brimmed hat to make sure her face was sheltered from the sun and approached the guard at the booth. “Good morning. I'd like to see Kate Marshall.”
The security officer smiled politely. “I'd need to see if Miss Marshall's available, Ma'am. Do you have an appointment?”
“No… but I am her mother. My name's Elizabeth Marshall-Emerson,” the woman replied, pushing a twenty dollar bill into the man's hand.
He looked at the note and calmly handed it back. “Sorry, Ma'am, I still need to see if Miss Marshall's available. Security's pretty tight at our studios these days. Problems in the past, you see…”
“This is preposterous. She's my daughter! Let me through these gates this instant!”
“Ma'am, please wait here for a moment. I'll be right back.” The guard entered the booth and began looking for the correct number. He watched Elizabeth through the glass as she stormed back to her car.
The fair-haired woman huffed and grumbled to herself as she searched for her cell phone. She would call Kate herself and get this sorted out. Placing her handbag on the trunk of the limousine, she was startled by a loud, roaring engine coming to rest beside her.
Jack Bannerman's red Ferrari made its presence known with a few thousand revs and a squeal of its brakes. The burly actor got out of the sports car when he saw the attractive, albeit older woman, whose limo was causing a mini traffic jam at the studio gates. He ran his fingers over his dark goatee and quickly cupped his hand over his mouth to check his breath. With his most charming smile plastered on his face, he moved to stand next to the obviously-rich woman. “Hi… need a little help?”
“Excuse me? Who are you?”
“Well, it's a shame you have to ask. I'm none other than Hollywood actor, Jack Bannerman.”
“Oh. Well yes, I've actually heard of you.” Elizabeth looked him up and down and thought maybe he could help her get inside the studio. “Tell me, do you know Kate Marshall?”
“Why yes… Kate and I are thick as thieves,” the actor replied, nudging Elizabeth's shoulder.
“Really? I'm her mother… and silly me… I seem to have forgotten to make an appointment with my lovely daughter and this gentleman here won't let me in.”
“An appointment to see your own daughter? Oh that's ridiculous. I tell you, since that nonsense last year, security here is tighter than the Pentagon,” Jack laughed.
“What happened last year?”
“Just some insane woman wanting to hurt…” Bannerman realized he shouldn't be discussing it. Kate had almost been killed and her mother didn't seem to know about it. Hell, he didn't even know Kate had a mother. “You know how it can be with us actors… people go crazy for us… heh.”
“Ah. So… you're thick as thieves with my daughter. Are you two… you know, an item?”
“That would be very nice but she seems to fight me all the way. Shame really… we'd have such cute kids, don't you think?”
At that information, Elizabeth's mind was whirling. Her Katherine, settled down with a nice man and some children? “Absolutely, Mr. Bannerman.”
“Please… call me Jack. And you are…?”
“Elizabeth,” she announced, holding out her hand so the handsome actor could kiss it.
They were interrupted by the guard returning. “Mr. Bannerman, apologies for the wait.” He turned to Elizabeth. “Ma'am, your daughter will be right down. Please ask your driver to pull the car in just over there.” He pointed to a parking bay immediately inside the studio gates.
She nodded and knocked on the limousine window. Her driver got out and opened the door for her. “Thank you for chatting, Jack. It was very nice to meet you… very nice indeed. Seems we have some ideals in common. Maybe we could chat more while I'm in town… here's my number.”
“Pleasure was all mine, Elizabeth,” Jack drawled, taking the small card from the woman. “I'll text you later… that way you'll have my number too.” Jack liked the thought of having an ally in his quest to get to Kate. ‘ This could be a way to make her see sense. Impress the mother… manipulate the daughter. Worth a try .'
As Bannerman walked away, Elizabeth once again conveniently forgot about CJ. ‘ I must talk to Kate about this wonderful, handsome, rich actor. Surely she can see how perfect he would be for her …'
* * * * * *
Samantha Morris crossed the parking lot with a cup of coffee in her left hand and a clipboard clamped to her body with her right elbow. Her auburn hair shimmered in the late morning sun and the smile on her face was most likely at the memory of a romantic night with a certain blonde Special Agent. She greeted the various colleagues and acquaintances as she passed them but her smile faltered when she saw a very distracted-looking Kate Carson heading her way. Sam took a few seconds to appreciate the actress, who was dressed in form fitting black jeans and a feminine cream-colored cotton shirt with oversized collar and cuffs. She wore her rich blonde hair in a loose ponytail and looked beautiful; but the lack of her usual vibrant smile made the producer worry. “Kate!”
The actress paused in her stride then continued toward her friend. “Hey, Sam… what's up?”
“Not much. You look a little concerned. Anything I can help with?”
Kate sighed. “Not really, hon… there's someone here to see me and I'm not really looking forward to talking with her, that's all.”
“Elizabeth.” At Sam's confused look, Kate relented. “…My mother.”
“Oh! I guess in your case… that would ruin your morning. Want me to come with you?” Sam knew about the incident outside the Carson's house with the infamous Elizabeth and, even though she had never met the woman, she had formed a rather negative opinion of her already.
“Thanks for the offer but I'll deal with it. See you later?”
“Sure. I'll come find you. Call me if you need me.”
“I will. Bye, Sam.”
“Bye.” The redhead watched as her friend purposefully strode towards the studio gates and wondered where on earth she was going. Then she noticed the limousine parked in the visitor's bay and put two and two together. “Cruela DeVille,” she muttered before wandering off.
* * * * * *
Elizabeth Emerson sat powdering her face in the back of the limo and jumped out of her skin when Kate tapped on the darkened window. She opened the door and invited her daughter inside. “Katherine! Come sit with me for a moment.”
“Elizabeth. I'm afraid I don't have time right now. I said I'd call you when I had a break in filming.”
“Oh well… I thought I'd surprise you. I really want to have a nice chat with my daughter.”
Kate shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. “It wasn't so long ago you were calling me and my partner all sorts of names and disowning me, Elizabeth. Do you expect me to want to have a nice chat now?”
“Please, darling, we should talk. I'd like to explain my behavior and spend some quality time with you while I can,” the older woman said, patting the seat beside her.
Kate looked around her before glancing at her watch. For some insane reason she would feel guilty if she walked away and she entered the vehicle against her better judgment. “Two minutes… that's all I have.”
“Thank you, dear.”
“Why are you being so civil? And why do you keep saying ‘while there's still time'?”
“Do we have to get straight into that? I want to know how you've been. I met that nice actor you work with a few moments ago. He's wonderful…” Elizabeth raved.
“That lovely Jack Bannerman. What a handsome devil he is… don't you think?”
Kate sighed and chose not to answer that one. “Why are you here? I really need to get back to work so if you could tell me now…?”
“Okay, sweetheart, I'm sorry. I… I'm sick and… well, I just wanted to make amends…”
“Yes, dear… and there's no cure. Please can we meet so we can really talk? I could come to the house…?” Elizabeth tried.
Kate frowned and shook her head. “No. No, that wouldn't work. But I don't understand. When were you diagnosed and what were you diagnosed with?”
“It's the cancer. Doctor Selman told me last week,” the older woman said solemnly.
The actress didn't know who Doctor Selman was but it didn't matter. She could at least give Elizabeth some of her time and she wanted a chance to find out more about the illness. “We could meet for dinner tomorrow night. I know a little restaurant. What hotel are you staying at? I'll come pick you up.”
“Oh thank you, darling. That sounds wonderful. I'm at the Beverly Wilshire.”
“Of course you are.” Kate hoped that didn't sound too sarcastic. “I can be there around seven. I'll call you when I get to the reception desk.”
“All right… I'll let you get back to your work. I hope the show is going okay…”
“Yes, it's going fine,” the actress lied. “See you tomorrow then.”
As Kate stepped out of the limo, Elizabeth leaned forward to wave. “Tomorrow then. Thank you, Katherine.”
Kate walked away from the car with her mind in tatters. She wondered why she didn't feel much after getting the news that her mother was ill and didn't have much time left. ‘Oh God, do I hate her that much?' She crinkled her lip in disgust and tried to get her mind back on her job, but it would be a tough task. Tomorrow night would go some way to helping her make sense of it all.
* * * * * *
Special Agent Jamie Green sat in the passenger side of the Bureau sedan. She was out in Orange County doing some leg work with CJ, following up on information they had received from a possible witness. They had been told of a suspicious male who was seen in the vicinity of one of the murders near the relevant time and as much as he could fit CJ's profile, it didn't seem to be leading them anywhere.
CJ had mapped out a possible scenario for the murders and in her gut she felt the perpetrator had started with easy targets he saw on a regular basis. Going by the victim's medical reports, that meant the homeless children. The Jane and John Doe victims had all been found within a fifteen mile radius of a ‘Help the Homeless' shelter and it now turned out that the staff at that shelter had noticed two of the street kids had stopped coming in for food – which they had done routinely up until a couple of weeks ago. It seemed the killer had headed into Los Angeles County when his need escalated or when he ran out of victims he could access on the streets… or both.
Jamie's cell phone began to ring and she fished it out of her jacket pocket. “Agent Green…”
“ Jamie, its Mark... we have another one. Stand by for the address. I want you and CJ to go there immediately .”
“ Yes… ” Mark paused and Jamie could hear the sound of a printer reeling off its ugly news. “ Okay… body found in a dumpster in the parking lot off Harlem Place… young male. Same MO. Cops are holding the scene and Belzano's on his way. I want you and CJ there now! ”
“Yes, Sir… on our way.” Jamie hung up the call and checked her email when the cell phone binged again. Mark had sent her the details.
CJ glanced across to her colleague and the expression on the blonde's face said it all. “Where?”
“Parking lot off Harlem Lane.”
“What!? That's Downtown… and close to the LAPD buildings. Fuck…“ Agent Carson spun the car in a perfect handbrake turn and sped off in the direction of Downtown LA. She was trying to decide whether or not to get on the freeway when her cell vibrated and bleeped.
Jamie reached over and dug around in CJ's pocket – as was their agreed routine when the driver was… well, driving - and read the display. “It's a text from Kate. Want me to respond?”
“No. I'll get it when I have a minute.”
* * * * * *
As the black sedan crawled into Harlem Lane, Agent Green flashed her badge out the open window. The officer nodded at her and lifted the cordon tape, allowing the Bureau vehicle access. The sun was beating down on the concrete parking lot and a few irate people were arguing with the cops because they couldn't get their cars out. CJ grumbled under her breath at how inconsiderate the human race could be. Someone had been murdered – a child no less – and all they could think about were themselves.
Both women headed toward the blue dumpster and swallowed the gagging caused by the heat-intensified stench. As CJ looked inside, she saw the hideous sight of a contorted blond-haired body wrapped in plastic sheeting. The boy couldn't have been more than thirteen years old and was lying amongst trash bags and other stinking garbage. CJ's heart was breaking and yet at the same time, her anger was rising rapidly at this killer's atrocities. Pain and rage waged a fiery war inside her but on the outside she was her usual cool, professional self. Deep gashes on the boy's ankle confirmed to CJ that this was definitely their perp. She snapped on a latex glove to double check. Leaning into the dumpster with one arm, she gently pushed the bloodied eyelid open. “It's him,” she said quietly to Jamie.
The blonde nodded. “I'll talk to the first cop on the scene while we wait for Belzano.”
CJ nodded and turned away from the gory sight. She visually searched the surrounding ground for any signs of a blood trail or perhaps items belonging to the perp or the victim that had been dropped. There was nothing so she figured the killer had performed his horrifying deeds elsewhere and decided on a midnight body dump. She would confirm time of death when the Medical Examiner arrived. The tall agent pulled the camera from its bag and started taking photos to add to the pin board back at the office. Once she'd got enough pictures of the body and the dumpster, she moved to take pictures of other areas of interest.
CJ jumped when she heard the voice right behind her. “Oh… hey, Belzano.”
“Sorry. Didn't mean to startle you,” the shorter man said. He was dressed in his usual one-piece forensics suit and carried his medical bag. A full head of dark hair was slicked back and away from his deeply tanned face.
“No worries, Victor.”
“Which dumpster?” he asked, pointing to the wall lined with various commercial trash receptacles.
CJ began walking with the ME. “That blue one right there. It's definitely our guy. No one's touched the body except me and the first cop on the scene. He searched for a pulse and I had a glove on… just wanted to check the eyes.”
Belzano gave her a single nod. “I'll do what I can here. Gimme a couple of minutes.”
CJ spoke to the officers who guarded the dumpster and told them it was now okay to lift the body – still in its wrapping – and place it carefully on the ground for the ME to examine. Seeing Jamie a short distance away, she went to her colleague to catch herself up on the cop's story. As she read from the page, she looked at her watch. “Found an hour ago… by Sadie… a cleaner from The Smell?”
“Yeah, it's a club… right over there,” Jamie pointed.
“Ah. Where's Sadie now?”
“Waiting inside with a couple of cops…”
CJ sighed. “Okay, good. Once Vic's done his stuff, we'll go speak to her.”
After taking notes on the surrounding buildings, snapping shots of any civilians watching the scene and asking the local cops if they had spoken to each observer, the two Special Agents met up again near their sedan to compare notes.
Belzano waved them over a few minutes later. “Time of death… around midnight but I'll be more certain when I get him back to the office. The heat inside the dumpster could've altered the body temp. It looks like your killer all right… exact same damage to the body. This kid… I'd say someone's missing him. He has good body condition and weight, well groomed and has pretty expensive clothes on. Seems your guy's moved on from the homeless ones, huh?”
“Seems like it,” Agent Carson replied tightly. “Anything else?”
“Cause of death is difficult to ascertain. I'd guess at suffocation since everything else this guy's doing is the same but don't quote me on that yet.”
Jamie got out the mobile fingerprint scanner. “Can you get me a print?”
“Sure.” Victor handed the small machine back to the blonde and a few seconds later, she shook her head.
“No match… but I bet he's been reported missing. We'll need DNA for sure.”
The examiner agreed. “I'll call you as soon as I'm done with the autopsy.”
“Thanks, Belzano,” CJ said, giving him a small salute. She spun around and pointed at a surveillance camera on a faraway wall across the parking lot. “Let's see where that thing was pointing last night… and then talk to Sadie.”
“Had that in my notebook, Agent Carson,” the blonde said, tapping her pencil on the paper.
“I didn't doubt it for a second, Agent Green.”
* * * * * *
Kate was stressed out. There was no denying it. The filming schedule was taking a severe beating today and they were way behind. Her shoulders ached from the tension – mostly caused by Jack Bannerman's behavior and her mother turning up – and she had just called Alice to let her know she would be home late. The actress knew she was indebted to her child minder. Alice Matthews had set up the crèche wonderfully and was always happy to stay late when she was needed, even though that meant her own two young children staying late with her. The Carsons had managed to maintain a great working relationship with the woman. Still, these long days worried Kate and she had sent Tony back to the house to help. And to top off her stressful day, CJ hadn't replied to the message she sent five hours ago. ‘ I have to quit worrying… she'll get back to me when she can .'
“Three minutes!” came the call from somewhere behind the cameras.
“Kate… come sit,” Cyn instructed, patting the fold-away chair with her hands. “Touch up required.”
As Kate sat down, her make-up artist and friend leaned down until her face was on the blonde's shoulder. “You need a touch up… you look like you've been crying.”
Lifting a finger to her face and feeling the dampness on her cheek, Kate frowned. “Oh. I'm… I'm just a little stressed and tired. It's nothing, really.”
“If you say so…” Cyn came around to crouch in front of Kate and raised an eyebrow, raising her two piercings with it. “You know I'm here if you need me, right?”
“Okay. Let's get you fixed up.”
As the make-up was applied, the petite actress glanced past Cyn's head and saw Jack watching her with a strange expression on his face. The big actor looked like he had sobered up a little and was trying to remember what the hell he had done whilst drunk. Feeling uncomfortable under his scrutiny, she was relieved when the make-up artist conveniently moved to block his view. With a heave of her shoulders, Kate tried to refocus on her job… a job that was starting to feel more like a dismal chore.
* * * * * *
It was the end of a very, very long day. CJ and Mikey sat in the office, Ethan had only just gone downstairs to run an errand and Jamie was in the morgue talking to Belzano and picking up the report on today's victim. It would be emailed to them all but CJ still liked original hard copy – another of her quirks when working a case like this.
Mikey glanced up at his colleague to try and judge CJ's mood. She looked surprisingly approachable. “Want some coffee, CJ?”
“Hmm? Oh sure, Mikey… the good stuff?”
The younger agent pulled his light jacket from the coat stand. “Yep. I'll be right back… it's on me.”
Once he left, CJ got her head down to process more information and alter the profile a little. It was ever-evolving, much like the killer. She estimated he was a Caucasian male, 20-30 years old, had suffered some form of extreme physical or mental abuse as a child, could have been homeless – possibly still is - and must have access to a vehicle. The fact that he was repeating very similar injuries on each body – the attempted amputations of a limb and the removal of their eyes – indicated to her that he had witnessed something in his past and he seem to be reliving it over and over. Whatever his motivation, she knew his need was changing. She had gone down to the morgue during the autopsy and Belzano had told her the cuts to the body were much more deliberate and precise but the killer still hadn't achieved what seemed to be his goal – to sever the limb. That part was confusing CJ a little but she promised herself she would figure it out.
* * * * * *
Assistant Director Mulroney walked along the corridor followed by a tall brunette; her eyes, dark pools of anticipation. But Mark didn't notice. He had no idea that Medical Examiner, Dr. Chris Wilder had a brief fling with CJ Carson many years ago. During her days at the Academy, CJ dated Chris for a few months and Miss Wilder sure lived up to her name. The woman was definitely wild back then, especially in the bedroom. But she had been a predator and had used CJ much like she used her other conquests.
As they stepped into the agent's office, Mark introduced Chris before CJ had even looked up from her work. When the tall woman heard the name, her mind filled with dread and she raised her eyes slowly to see her old flame standing directly in front of her desk. The AD's voice began to drift back into CJ's ears. “…she was interested in our current case and just dropped by for a visit before heading back to San Diego.”
“Oh.” CJ stood up belatedly and rubbed her hands on her pant legs. “Nice to meet you, Doctor Wilder.”
Chris stepped forward, her nostrils flaring slightly at how incredibly hot CJ looked with her dark hair hanging wavy and loose, her stormy blue eyes that held exhaustion and determination, and her crisp white shirt clamped to her body by her gun holster. “The feeling is entirely mutual, Agent Carson,” the brunette said, holding onto CJ's hand a little longer than necessary. “I was in town for a conference and heard from another California Medical Examiner about your unit… and this case you're working on. I was intrigued and thought I'd stop by to check you out.”
CJ caught the double-entendre and chose to ignore it. She eyed the woman suspiciously. “Which examiner told you about our confidential case?”
Mark flinched a little at his agent's tone. Chris just shrugged. “Richard Masters… he autopsied one of the first bodies in Orange County. He's a friend of mine and thought I would like to talk with you. Was he wrong to tell me about it?”
CJ glanced at her boss, whose eyebrows were lowered in a frown. He gave her a look that ensured she knew she had to be nice to San Diego's most glamorous ME. The agent tried not to groan. “Not at all but I am very busy. Perhaps the Assistant Director could talk to you about the basics?”
At that moment, Mark got distracted when Ethan came into the room with some information he had asked him to get. As the AD wandered off, Chris took a step closer to CJ. The agent was stunned at the change in the brunette's demeanor. “You look better than ever, CJ,” Chris drawled, licking her lips.
“I'm more married than ever, Doctor Wilder,” CJ responded quietly.
“Wow… I'd never have believed it,” Chris looked at the ring finger on the agent's left hand. “Who finally hooked you?” she added, playing with her hair and stepping closer to CJ.
“My wife finally hooked me… the wife I love more than life itself,” the agent growled, taking a step back. She was in a stinking mood and this wasn't helping.
Chris put her hands up in surrender. “I just thought the memories of our time together would persuade you to give me another shot.”
“I'm in the middle of a nightmare case and you're trying it on? I remember you, Chris. I remember you certainly lived up to your name but I also remember that you're a bitch. You used me.”
“I see. Well, I recall you didn't seem to mind at the time… if the moans of ecstasy were anything to go by. Maybe you'll change your mind someday and I can use you again…“
The agent clamped her jaws together. “I won't-“
She was interrupted by Mark coming back across the room with Ethan at his heels. “Right… Agent Matthews and I are going out to follow up a possible lead. CJ, I'll call you if we get anything.” He nodded an acknowledgement to his top agent and decided to let her get on with her work. “Doctor Wilder, could you walk down with us? I can fill you in on our way out…”
Knowing Mark's question wasn't really a question, CJ sighed with relief. As Chris left the room, she turned around quickly and threw CJ a look that would've sparked a damp campfire to life. “Shit,” the agent muttered, “I used to go for that ? Thank God I grew up.” She turned and went to her desk just as Jamie arrived back from the morgue.
“Who the hell was that?” the blonde asked, throwing her thumb over her shoulder.
“Ugh! That … was Doctor Chris Wilder who wanted to stick her nose in where it's not wanted… in more ways than one,” CJ snorted.
“Ah… she was hot for ya, huh?”
“Uh… we were involved years ago. She seems to think the wedding band on my finger means squat to me.”
“Oh… well she obviously doesn't know you at all now.”
“She never did… she just used me for sex…” CJ trailed off, making an apologetic face to her friend.
Jamie snickered. “It's okay, DM, I know I was a bitch like that. Thankfully, we've both gotten older.”
“Speak for yourself, Penfold,” CJ chuckled. “Hey… thanks for making me laugh in the middle of all this shit.”
“You're welcome. Now, do you want Belzano's report?” Agent Green said, waving the file in the air and getting them straight back to business.
CJ blew out a breath. “Yeah… let's go over it now.” As she slapped the folder down on her desk, she shifted uncomfortably in her seat. The look Chris had given her meant trouble. That woman always got what she wanted in the past and it seemed she wanted CJ now. The agent groaned internally. ‘ Jeez, I hope I'm wrong. She knows where I work now but I just don't have the energy for her games.' Opening the report distracted her and she skimmed over the details. “Rope fiber?”
Jamie nodded as she typed on her keyboard. “Still need to narrow down the search. They're running more tests on it. It really was a trace… only a couple of millimeters long.”
“Hmmm… still, it could definitely help.”
* * * * * *
A couple of hours later, Agent Matthews came back into the Assistant Director's office with a pile of files. They had been brainstorming and Ethan had singled out some potential suspects from his searches earlier in the day. He picked one off the top of the bundle and handed it to Mark. “Gregor Sparks… 24 years old? He has all the markers in CJ's profile… and he's an escalating recidivist. His rap sheet's a mile long and has just about every type of crime on it. Grand theft auto, vandalism, assault, robbery, menacing in the first degree, criminal solicitation… it goes on and on. Believe it or not, he got out of prison a month ago. Could be our guy,” Ethan said.
“No,” CJ replied wearily, “that's just it. Our guy… he's a spree killer… I don't have him down as having any priors. These murders are too… God, what's the word… tentative? He kills them by smothering them, like he wants them to sleep peacefully. There's no physical abuse to the body prior to death. Then he removes their eyes and seems to butcher them in his attempts to remove a limb. Anyone who'd been violent in the past and who wanted to cut off someone's foot would just get an axe or something… and do it. This guy makes many attempts with a small cutting tool or knife. As much as it pains me to say it, it's not that difficult to remove a foot or an arm. But this guy… it's like… like it hurts him to cut into the body and yet he seems compelled to do it. He doesn't want to cut off the limb and he doesn't want them to see him try… or succeed in doing it. I think he's so fucked up by something in his past he doesn't even know why he does what he does,” she finished, blowing out a breath to cover up her gut heave.
“Do you think he witnessed something heinous in his past? Is he re-living it?” Mark posed, leaning his elbows on his desk.
“It's definitely something that crossed my mind, Sir, and I think that's why he cuts out their eyes. He saw something. And it could be something from his childhood hence the child victims. I have him down as an only child but maybe he wasn't. Maybe he became an only child…” CJ's mind was ticking over, rewriting the profile even as she spoke. “He does feel the need to expel some violent tendencies of his own… but he seems to hate what he's been doing. I could be wrong though…”
“With your track record, CJ, I doubt it,” the AD said, pursing his lips in thought.
“I might be wrong one day, Sir. This is my gut I'm going by.”
“Your gut is just fine with me, Agent. And it's an educated gut. Do you have anything else?”
Ethan watched the tall woman think for a moment. He was always curious as to how her mind worked at times like these. He inhaled gustily in sync with CJ as she took a deep, cleansing breath. “Well, Sir,” she began, “the only other thing I thought about was that this killer might try to take his anger or emotional rage out in legal ways. Like I said, he seems disturbed by the violence and the fact that he is committing terrible crimes… and yet he still does it. It's like he's two people…”
“Legal ways? Like sport… karate or boxing?” Mark suggested.
CJ looked up from her musings and stared at him. “Yes.” She turned to Ethan. “Can you go look out the files from the ME and forensics? I think there's something we need to re-check…”
“Sure, CJ,” Matthews said, getting up from his seat.
“Thanks. I'll be right there.” CJ turned back to Mark when Ethan left. “The fiber the Doc found on the last body… that type of material is used in the production of ropes commonly bought by sports centers for climbing walls and other purposes… but they could be from the ropes at a boxing ring.”
“Look into it. Keep me updated, CJ,” Mark nodded.
Getting a second wind, CJ jumped up from her chair and left the office. Before she knew it, she was back at her own desk looking at the report on the fibers. After a quick call to the forensics lab and a whole lot of research, she tracked down the company that produced the ropes and initiated a search for all facilities in the Los Angeles area that used the company. A couple of hours and a host of calls later, she had narrowed it down to seven sporting facilities, only three of which had boxing rings. That's where they would start.
* * * * * *
Finally, at 11pm Kate stumbled through the door of her beloved home. She felt like her legs were about to give way under her and willed them to carry her a little longer. Dropping her bag in the living room, she went in search of Alice but only found Tony perched on the stool at the island unit in the kitchen. “Tony?”
“Hey Kate… long day, huh?”
“Yes… too long. Where's Alice?”
“Oh… I hope it's okay but I sent her home a couple of hours ago. The twins were real cranky and since you told me to stay here, I thought you'd take a cab home.” At her blank look, he began to worry. “I… I should've called you… I'm sorry-“
“Heck no, Tony… you did great. Thank you so much.”
“Uh, you're welcome. Would you like some peach tea?”
He was being so incredibly sweet and supportive that Kate felt like crying. “I'd love some. I'll just go check on the girls and settle myself in. Be back in a few minutes.”
The weary actress made her way upstairs and looked in on both her daughters. They slept soundly and she knew they would have had a fun night with her driver. Once again, the actress counted her blessings at having such an amazing employee and friend.
She slipped into her bedroom, switched on the lamp on the nightstand and found some comfy sweats. On her way back to the kitchen, she checked her cell phone for the hundredth time and was saddened that there were no messages from her wife. She was just about to send another one to CJ when she heard a key in the front door.
* * * * * *
Coming along the upper hall at a speed she'd thought herself incapable, Kate spotted the very welcome form of her tall wife stretching up to lock away her weapon in the gun cabinet behind the front door. Once the Glock 23 was safely put away, the agent stood static facing the wall for a moment and Kate realized she would have a difficult time communicating with CJ tonight. But she was about to be surprised by her strong partner.
As the blonde descended the staircase, she called out. “Hey, honey…”
CJ jumped a little and turned on her heels. “Hi, Katie...” She watched the blonde give her a small hesitant smile as she approached in her old sweats and the agent's tee-shirt. “Now there's a sight for sore eyes.”
“Are you okay? You seemed to be staring into space…” Kate said, slipping her arms around CJ's waist.
The taller woman returned the embrace. “I was actually thinking… how I just don't like my Glock. Weird, huh?”
“Well, they won't let you carry your .45 at work so I guess you'll have to put up with it,” the blonde retorted, tweaking the end of her wife's nose with her finger.
“Ah, the voice of reason.”
“Always.” Kate paused and searched CJ's face. “Are you… you know, okay?”
With the subject change, the tall woman's blue orbs clouded over. “I'm… trying to be.”
The actress nodded knowingly. “I understand. So how come you're home? I wasn't expecting you but I'm very glad you're here.”
“I needed,” CJ signaled between them with her hand. “…to connect.”
“Me too. You didn't reply to my message so I guessed your day was pretty bad,” Kate said, kissing CJ's knuckles since the hand still lingered in the air.
“I'm sorry, Katie… I… I got swamped by-”
“I know… and it's okay. C'mon, Tony's made some peach tea. I only just got home myself.”
CJ frowned and held Kate to her. “How come you worked so late?”
“A really crappy day of filming… seems to be a recurring theme for me these days. I'll tell you about it when we can relax… after your case is done.” Kate led her wife into the living area and after ten minutes of polite conversation, Tony graciously bid them goodnight.
The two women drank their remaining tea in a comfortable silence; only a few words passing between them as they sat close to one another at the island unit. When the mugs were empty, CJ gazed blindly at the counter surface while Kate loaded the evening's crockery and utensils into the dishwasher. When she was done, she turned to see the faraway expression on the agent's face and decided some loving distraction would be required. Not necessarily making love, but some sort of relaxation to divert CJ from her overactive mind.
Kate wrapped her arms around CJ's neck from behind and kissed her cheek. “Earth to CJ…”
“No apologies. Will you do something for me?”
“You know I'd do anything for you…”
“Will you come upstairs with me… no questions asked and let me take care of you?”
“You do have time, right?” Kate asked, nuzzling her wife's dark hair.
“Yeah... Mark ordered me to take a few hours. I think he's trying to stop me going down into my dark little dungeon… plus, he wants Jamie to get more involved in this one. Gives me a little down time…”
“I think I'll have to make dinner for Mark again to thank him for that. Let's go.” They went up the stairs slowly, hand in hand. As they passed the children's bedrooms, the actress stopped. “Do you want to check on them?”
“Not tonight. I'll call tomorrow after school,” CJ whispered, nudging Kate down the hall to the master bedroom.
Once inside, Kate went to the dresser and pulled out a huge fluffy towel and a dark bottle of massage oil. “Strip… and lay your beautiful body across the middle of the bed, face down,” she said while straightening out the towel for her wife to lie on.
CJ did as asked without a sound. The blonde failed to contain her chuckle when her spouse lay down with her feet hanging off one side of the mattress and her head barely on the other – even though it was a very large custom-made bed.
“What you laughin' at?” the agent slurred against the sheet.
“Well quit it, Shorty… and rub me.”
Kate was incredibly pleased that CJ felt able to joke with her. Her Special Agent wife really was trying this time. “Yes dear.” She adjusted her sweat pants and straddled the back of CJ's thighs. Pouring a few drops from the bottle and letting the friction between her palms warm the oil, she moved both hands slowly over CJ's tense shoulder blades. She felt and heard her wife exhale gustily and decided to try something else.
“Close your eyes… try to clear your mind,” Kate said softly as she watched CJ's eyelids drop. “No thoughts… just feel. Feel my hands. Feel my weight on you. Feel my love.” Kate's hands gently rubbed up and down her wife's back, massaging smoothly down her spine; her fingers feeling into each little bump under the skin. “Release every muscle… let me mold them. They're mine now… let them go.”
CJ couldn't stop the moan that escaped her lips and Kate leaned over to kiss her shoulder. The actress saw the tears that streamed unbidden down her partner's face. Kate knew the tears were just another form of release. She could only imagine the stress her wife had been under today and what she would continue to endure until the case was concluded. She was happy to see her technique was working and continued her massage. “Try and remove all thought. Concentrate on what I'm doing… and remember a moment where you felt complete peace. Go there now…”
The blonde's quiet, affectionate voice was hypnotic and CJ couldn't have moved or spoken if she'd wanted to. Her place of peace was right here in the hands of her soul mate. The anxiety was draining out of her body with every stroke of Kate's magical fingers. The actress worked around the base of her spine and seemed to know where to ease the pressure and where to dig deep. It felt amazing. She concentrated on the feeling as the hands moved onto her buttocks. A shudder vibrated through her body but she didn't think it was arousal. She always felt too guilty about wanting to feel good during any sort of nasty case and this one was no exception. But what Kate was doing felt so good and she knew her body was reacting to her feelings, not her thoughts. She made another effort to stop her mind from running in circles and succeeded to a degree, blocking just about everything except Kate.
The actress shifted to sit beside CJ. She took her wife's left arm and draped it across her thigh. As Kate tried to massage the arm, CJ's hand curled to grasp the sweatpants. She squeezed the underlying leg softly. The agent felt the need to hear her wife in the throes of passion. That sound connected to her very soul and grounded her in a way nothing else could. When she heard Kate's breathing hitch, she willed her heavy eyes to open. A long, slender hand moved to the actress' hip then up to the slim waist under the tight Foo Fighters tee.
“This is… supposed to be for you,” the smaller woman breathed.
CJ rose up in front of her wife, exposing her toned feminine body to an appreciative gaze. Kate moved to touch her but the taller woman caught the hand. “Not me, only you. I need… let me make love to you tonight, Katie.”
As always, Kate read her wife's mind. “You're allowed to… feel good too, you know,” she stammered. Concentrating was getting a little difficult due to the proximity of CJ's body and the roaming hands that now removed her clothing. She had not expected this tonight but couldn't stop her love either. Kate needed to connect too. It was the ultimate joining.
“I do know. But this is what I want…” CJ lowered her wife down onto the bed, the blonde hair sprawling over the pillow and reflecting the light from the nightstand. The agent's gaze trailed slowly over the beautiful form below her. She looked deeply into her lover's eyes and felt like she had been drugged. She brushed her lips against Kate's, feeling certain that there was nothing else like it in the world. Their tongues began a slow dance, one sliding around the other in a lazy fight for control. When Kate's hand came up to grasp CJ's hair, the taller woman pulled back ever so slightly. With her mouth still very much over Kate's she whispered. “Put your hands above your head… and keep them there. I'm going to love you…”
Kate complied and let herself be taken. That was what CJ wanted this night and the actress understood that her wife didn't need the extra stimulation of her touch. The tenderness CJ was showing made her heart thump harder in her chest. How could someone love another so much? Kate didn't think this depth of love was possible before she met CJ and now she couldn't imagine life without it. As soft lips teased her neck and an inquisitive tongue tasted the hollow of her throat, she closed her eyes and focused on the sensation.
CJ reached out with her right hand – not pausing in her movements – to switch off the lamp. Now it was all but dark and there was nothing but the feel and scent of Kate, the sound of her breath and the pulse of her beating heart. Perfect.
Kate's body was experiencing a state of bliss. CJ was worshipping her, savoring every piece of skin, moving slowly so as not to miss anything. It was such a powerful connection that there was nothing else in her world at that moment. Her wife's heart seemed to surround her; love her; protect her. That's what CJ did to her. It was extraordinary and the actress was profoundly grateful. She was aware of what her wife was going through right now and tears traveled down her cheek bones at the thought of the torment. But their interaction seemed to help CJ and Kate was very willing to give her what she needed and wanted. This moment was for them.
CJ lingered for an eternity at her wife's firm bosom. Feeling the velvety points harden under her ministrations was both delicious and satisfying. But Kate was being unusually quiet tonight and CJ knew why. The agent just wasn't in a place where she wanted to receive physical pleasure and Kate was holding back because she didn't want her cries of passion to frustrate her taciturn spouse. A wave of guilt momentarily covered CJ and she lifted her head. “Don't hold back, Katie… I want to hear you.”
“I… I can't…”
“Yes, you can.” CJ's hand found its way between the blonde's legs and delicately parted the soft skin she found there. “Let go… for me.”
Kate's moan filled the agent's ears and she twitched her mouth in a fleeting smile. She returned that mouth to Kate's breast before her tongue took a trip south to join her warm hand. CJ slid her body down onto the mattress and positioned herself between Kate's strong thighs, hearing the smaller woman's breathing quicken in response.
The agent licked her lips and instinctually found the moist bud with the tip of her tongue resulting in a muffled cry of passion coming from her aroused wife. Using her fingers to spread Kate wide open, she slowly lapped at the salt-sweet flesh and couldn't stop the moan that vibrated against the engorged ridge. She circled around the swollen skin and heard Kate's fingernails scrape against the wood at the head of the bed. She knew the actress was looking for something to hold onto and realized her wife was about to come already.
“Ciara… I… oh God…”
CJ stopped for a few seconds – leaving her lips resting on Kate's center - and inhaled the scent of her mate. She heard what could only be described as a growl coming from the blonde and decided she shouldn't make her wait after telling her to let go. She began a slow stroking, much to the relief of her spouse whose hips now thrust in time with CJ's tongue.
“Oh yes… n-now…”
The agent continued to feed on her sensuous lover as the pressure built to its climax and shook Kate's compact body, causing her to instinctually push onto the mouth that bathed her. The taller woman suckled gently and swirled her tongue around the warm opening now heavy with nectar. She felt her own breathing slow as Kate came back to herself and had to admit, she had certainly been aroused to a degree. It was impossible not to be. She kissed the tender clit beneath her lips and slithered over the recovering body, enveloping Kate with her larger frame.
“Thank you,” CJ whispered.
Kate's lips covered hers in a kiss that left the agent breathless. “Thank you .” She pushed her wife's dark hair back and cupped her cheek with a shaky hand. “I love you.”
CJ swallowed back her emotion. “I love you more.”
“It's not possible.”
“I beg to differ.”
“Shall we agree to disagree?” Kate asked in their well-loved exchange.
“I believe we shall.”
The blonde stole another kiss. “Are you sure you don't want anything?”
“Positive. I'm gonna try and get some shuteye for a couple of hours. I'll try not to wake you when I get up,” CJ said, setting the alarm.
“It doesn't matter if you wake me.”
“Yeah, I know but still…” The agent scooted up close to her wife. “Turn around and I'll spoon you…”
Once Kate got comfortable, she grabbed CJ's hand and placed it on her belly. “Night, CJ.”
A mere five hours later, CJ pulled into the underground parking lot under the field office. She had managed to leave Kate sleeping soundly, having awoken before her alarm went off and canceling its infernal bleeping before it disturbed the actress. Her dark thoughts had come back and sleep had eluded her for most of the night. Just as well, as it would probably have led to another nightmare anyway. She decided she'd be better off working and now here she was, walking into a dull elevator at 5am.
The thought of the bitter office-machine coffee created a grumpy lip-curl on the otherwise blank face. She would get the good stuff later when the coffee shop opened. Walking along the corridor with a very distracted mind, she was surprised to find her colleague sitting at his desk. “Mornin', Ryan.”
Mikey appeared a little drowsy when he belatedly looked up. “Oh hey, CJ… what you doing in?”
“I could ask you the same thing, man.”
“I tried to get a few hours shuteye on the crib,” he replied, waving his hand at the storage room containing two fold-away beds. “…Didn't work, so I came back in here.”
“Yeah, I couldn't sleep either. Did Mulroney ask you to pull an all-nighter?” CJ asked as she sat down.
“Nah. I wanted to take a good look at your profile… and anyway, my apartment's being fumigated.”
“I won't ask,” CJ smirked.
“Let's just say I need to move. It's a crappy building.” Mikey shuffled some papers. “Here… you might want this. Belzano sent an addendum to his report. They found a second DNA sample on the last body,” he said, getting up to put the papers on CJ's desk.
“Really? Thanks… “
“He identified the boy too. Jamie and Ethan went late last night to tell the parents. So sad.”
“Tony McGill, twelve years old. Did Jamie find out where he was taken from?”
“The parents were devastated. The boy had a silly argument with his father and ran away only eighteen hours before he was found. He musta been somewhere on the street.”
CJ lowered the report to her desk and glanced at Mikey. “Eighteen hours? So he wasn't even reported missing yet?”
“Apparently not. His father called the police but of course they couldn't take the report due to the time frame,” Ryan said. “This killer must have either known him or just came across a boy wandering around completely by accident.”
CJ shook her head. “Possibly… we'll need to go round the boxing clubs again with this kid's picture. Maybe he went there when he ran away… could be a member. Or he could just have stopped for a nap… maybe on a stoop or something… and it was just wrong place, wrong time for him.” They both sighed in unison and CJ returned to her study of the report. “They found a match for the second DNA sample?!”
“Yeah… they couldn't say for sure because the older sample will have to be retested but there were two brothers reported missing in 2005. One could be our guy,” Ryan said as he carried two paper cups of coffee over to CJ's desk.
“Where are the Mis-Per files?”
“Here… they both disappeared from a house in Torrance eight years ago.”
When he passed her the information, she read out loud. “Jonathan Hess, aged 6 years… and Eric Hess, age 9. That would make Eric seventeen or eighteen now. Hmm, maybe our killer's even younger than I thought. Wait… Jonathan went missing a few days after his brother?”
“A trip to Torrance is our next port of call then,” CJ yawned, running her hands through her hair and scratching her scalp. As she read a little further, she noted that an uncle - Samuel Hess - had reported the boys missing on each occasion. She also noted that their father was the sole parent after the mother died in 2003, and he had also vanished. When the home address was searched in 2005, DNA was collected from hairbrushes and toothbrushes. Seemed they were close to identifying their murderer but they had also come across a family mystery.
* * * * * *
It had been a long, long day. All four agents had their heads in paperwork. Last thing CJ remembered, it was morning and they had just gone to the former Hess household. Now, darkness was fast approaching and they didn't seem to be much further ahead. A new family now lived at the house in Torrance and there was no valuable evidence to be collected. They did, however, talk to a long-time resident and neighbor to the property. Mrs. McKinley had some useful information to share… although what was gossip and what was fact was quite hard to differentiate. Mrs. McKinley liked to speculate but some of what she had told them needed to be investigated and all of it was noted in her statement.
“Yeah, CJ,” Ryan responded with his head in a filing cabinet.
“What did you think of McKinley's story?”
The young man stood up straight. “She talked about the uncle coming to visit a couple of times. She also said she saw Eric running away from the house one night. Then the next day, Mr. Hess and Jonathan were nowhere to be found. It seems to fit and sounds plausible to me.”
Ethan waved his hand. “I checked those other homeless organizations and shelters in the area. Nobody recognized Eric from the description… although it is an eight year old description. As soon as I get my hands on his picture, I'll go back.”
With a distracted nod, CJ pursed her lips and decided it was time to connect with her wife. Kate had sent her a text message about ten hours ago and she hadn't returned it yet. She looked at her watch – noting the time at 7.15pm - and hoped Kate would be home. “Shit… the girls are home!”
“What?” Jamie said.
“Oh, nothing… I forgot I said I'd call the kids today.”
“Missing ‘em huh?”
“Hell yes.” CJ dialed her home number from the phone on her desk.
The agent's brow lowered. “Shannon?”
A chuckle was heard on the other end of the line. “ Yes! Mama said you'd call!”
“Well, she was right. How are you, Squirt?” CJ asked, seeing Jamie smile at the nickname.
“ I got a gold star at school today !” the girl said excitedly.
“Wow… that's fantastic. Well done! What was your star for?”
“ My pictures. I did a picture of you at work and a picture of Mama at work .”
The agent's heart was aching with love. “Tell me about the pictures… what was in Mama's picture?”
“ She was standing in front of a big camera. She had blonde hair and green eyes!”
“Amazing! And what about mine?”
“ You… you were running and you had your gun… and dark hair and blue eyes ,” Shannon finished.
The tall woman was wondering why she was a little disturbed that her daughter had drawn her with a gun but she supposed it was a fair likeness. “Very good, Shan. Hey, did Mama tell you to answer the phone?”
“ Yes. She's here with me an' Luce. I'm going to finish my dessert now. I love you, Mommy… bye! ”
“Love you too, sweetie. Bye.” When she heard clicks and giggles on the other end of the line, she smiled. She wanted to be at home with her family.
“ Hey, you .”
“Hi, Katie. Thanks for that… made my day,” CJ said.
“ You're welcome. I was going to put Lucy on but she's running around the coffee table in the living room. So… how's your day going, CJ?”
“Slow. We've made some progress but it's all about following leads today.” She brought her voice down to a whisper. Only Jamie would hear her, if that. “We got some DNA and a suspect so at least that's something.”
“ It sure is. I hope you catch him soon. It's such an awful case .”
“I know. I'm doing my best. I'm sorry it took me so long to get back to you. Damn… I'll call you back as soon as I can,” CJ said, noticing Mark coming in the door. “Gotta go…”
“ Okay, bye honey .”
“Bye.” CJ hung up and listened to what Mark was saying. He wanted an update and one by one, they told him what they had so far. When he had left to report to the Deputy Director, CJ forgot she had been mid-phone call and restarted her search into the current whereabouts of Samuel Hess.
* * * * * *
Just as Kate put down the phone, the doorbell rang. She entered the hallway and saw Cyn squishing her nose against the glass. “Get in here… I'm gonna have to wash that window now,” she teased.
“Ha! I'm not that dirty,” the make-up artist winked.
Kate rolled her eyes and invited her friend into the living area. “Want anything to drink? Tea… coffee?”
“Mmm, coffee please.”
“I'll go get it. Tony won't be long. He's taking a shower in the guest room. Poor guy hasn't had a chance to get home today.” Kate paused on her way to the kitchen. “I'm sorry I've asked you guys to babysit again…”
“Kate, I told you… it's no big deal. Tony and I love your kids… and we love you. Now go get my coffee before you go out,” Cyn grinned.
“Okay. Love you too.” The actress left the room and was lucky to avoid two speeding children as they ran to the couch and piled on top of Cyn. A roar came from the artist as the full force of her load became evident. Kate could still hear the racket when she was in the kitchen and wondered if the girls would ever get to sleep tonight.
A short while later she was in her car on her way to the Beverly Wilshire. Her stomach was unsettled and her mind, distracted. Before she knew it, she had pulled the Mercedes into the parking lot in front of the plush hotel. An attendant came over and leaned down to her open window. “Good evening, Ma'am. Let me get the door for you.”
“Oh, it's okay. I'm just picking someone up,” Kate responded with her best smile.
“You can park just over there for up to twenty minutes if you wish,” he said politely, directing her to a nearby bay.
Once inside the lobby, she asked the woman at the reception desk to call Elizabeth down and waited on a rather sumptuous couch. Kate wondered if she was doing the right thing. She didn't want to be here… not one bit… but her mother was dying. She should at least hear the woman out, right? That sick feeling returned to her stomach when Elizabeth came gliding across the shiny floor. “Darling… thank you for coming.”
Kate wanted to throw up. “Shall we go?”
“I thought, since this place is so wonderful, we could stay here in the lounge area.”
“Oh… well I have to go move the car then…”
“Nonsense.” The older woman approached the desk. “Please make sure they don't move my daughter's car. We're going into the lounge for a while.” She turned to Kate. “What kind of car?”
“It's a black Mercedes… in the bay outside the front door.”
Elizabeth turned back around and put a fifty dollar bill on the counter. “Black Mercedes.”
“Yes, Ma'am,” the woman said. “Thank you.”
‘ Seems money can buy just about anything ,' the actress thought to herself. They ventured into the lounge and found a corner booth. Elizabeth ordered a vodka martini for herself and a lemon-water for Kate.
“So tell me… how is your job going?”
The younger woman was confused. “My job is fine, Elizabeth. I'm here to talk about your illness. I need to know why you contacted me?”
“Well, if I'm going to die, I need to get my affairs in order. I need to decide who will inherit my estate.”
“ That's why you're here?”
“That… and to persuade you to give me grandchildren before I go.”
“I… how do you propose I do that?”
“Well, there's that lovely Jack Bannerman. Oh I'm sure you have many handsome men in your life but he's rich too,” Elizabeth said, taking a sip from her glass.
“So let me get this straight. You're here to tell me that you're dying and that I have to marry a rich, handsome man so that I can have grandchildren for you.”
“That would make me so happy, dear.”
Kate looked down at the woman's hand as it patted hers on top of the table. She was stunned silent. Gathering her thoughts, she pulled her hand away. “Elizabeth… I'm sorry you've got this illness but you know very well that I am already happily married.”
“Oh darling, that's not a marriage. A marriage is between a man and a woman, just as God intended.”
“I can't listen to this anymore. I have to go,” the actress said, getting to her feet.
“Don't be silly. You haven't even touched your drink. Please, sit.” The older woman held Kate's wrist. “We can talk about something else.”
Kate felt the guilt and shame she used to feel as a child and reluctantly sat down. “Tell me when you were diagnosed… and how long you think you have left.”
“A few weeks back, Doctor Selman told me there was a problem. He thinks I have no more than a year. They can't do anything for me.”
“And it's cancer?”
“Yes. Isn't it terrible? I never thought I'd be struck down so young…”
Kate watched the woman as she spoke. Elizabeth didn't seem upset or worried about the fact that she was dying. Something didn't sit right with Kate but she supposed people deal with these things in different ways. “I'm not really sure what to say. Maybe you should spend as much time with loved ones as possible?”
“I'd like to. That's why I dream of seeing you settled with a lovely family… with grandchildren I can leave some of my vast fortune to.”
The actress felt they were getting off topic again and took a gulp of her water. She was feeling emotional and wasn't sure why. Elizabeth had done awful things to her all her life and Kate always felt so small around her – a result of years of mental abuse. Now that the woman was dying, she wasn't sure how to react. “I really need to go now. I… I could maybe meet with you again before you leave.” She got to her feet, knowing that tears were threatening. “I… I can't do this right now. I'll call you. I need to go…”
“Oh, all right dear. If you feel you must.” When her daughter left, Elizabeth stared coldly ahead for a few moments before a slight smile crossed her face. She lifted her glass and finished her drink in one smooth movement.
Kate shot out the door and got into her car. A suppressed groan escaped from her lips as she tried to stop the onslaught of tears. “Damn it! I should be stronger than this!” Slamming her hand on the steering wheel, she wiped a stray droplet from her face, started the car and drove off.
* * * * * *
The dark sky over the city twinkled with a million stars. Agents Carson and Green were driving north on the 405 after visiting half the boxing clubs on their list and CJ was taking a rare moment to appreciate the beauty of the natural lights above them. They had shown an old picture of their suspect to the owners. The agents found it hard to connect the young boy in the picture with the serial killer who mutilated so many innocents but there was no denying he was their number one suspect. No one had recognized the boy so far but CJ wasn't ready for giving up. They had three more places to check out and one of them was of particular interest. They were en route to a sports facility for homeless kids and teens… and they specialized in boxing. “Sports in the Community… I have a hunch about this place,” CJ said as she scribbled notes on her computer print-out.
“Me too,” the blonde agent replied as she swung the car off the freeway.
“I hope they're still open.”
“Some of them have late night matches… let's chance it and see,” Jamie suggested.
“I'm all for that. If somebody here recognizes Hess, they might know where he hangs out.”
Jamie noted the agitated way CJ spoke. It wasn't directed at her at all but she could feel the agent's unrest. “This case is getting to you, isn't it, DM?”
CJ glanced at her friend before averting her eyes out the window. “Yes. It doesn't help that the guys from Behavioral Analysis Units three and four are scrutinizing everything about my profile and breathing down Mark's neck.”
“Why would they do that?”
“They don't like the fact that we're a specialist unit doing the job they do. Yes, they have a much farther reach and cover a wider range of crimes but we're still stepping on toes, Penfold. I guess it'll take time to prove ourselves as an asset to them.”
“Well, when you put it like that...” The blonde agent knew CJ had neatly diverted her away from the true meaning of her original question but she wasn't going to push it. A few quiet moments later, she turned the sedan into a dark street bordered by warehouse-type buildings. One of them had a huge sign above the front door that boldly stated, ‘Sam's Hang Out – A Sports in the Community project'. Jamie eyed her colleague. “We couldn't be that lucky, could we?”
“You think it's Samuel Hess' place? Nah, it's never that easy for us… c'mon.”
Since the light was on inside the front office, CJ and Jamie approached the door and stepped inside. The interior smelled of sweat and stale cigarette smoke, and the echoes coming from the large space beyond the confined room signaled that someone was closing up for the night. “Hello?” CJ called out.
“Yeah?” The disembodied voice came from somewhere inside so they both stepped into what they now identified as the spectators hall. Rows of blue plastic seats lined the walls but the area immediately around the large boxing ring was for standing room only.
“I'm Special Agent Carson… we'd like to speak to the owner?”
“Oh,” A bald headed man came around the side of a brightly colored ticket booth. “Feds?”
“Yes. I'm Special Agent Carson… this is Special Agent Green. We were lookin' for Jim Claron?” CJ said, showing her badge.
“You found him…”
“You own Sam's Hang Out?” CJ replied, not giving any clue as to why they were here.
“I certainly do. How can I help you ladies?”
“We just have a few questions about the work you do here and the kids who come in,” CJ said with a smile. “Tell me… why is it called Sam's Hang Out?”
“Previous owner… good friend o'mine. Sammy Hess… he got the funding and started this place up.”
“We'd like to speak with him. Do you know where he lives now?”
“Well, I'd like to help you agents but Sam passed away two years ago… the drinkin' finally got ‘im,” Jim said, dabbing his brow with a towel.
Jamie was noting the information down in her notebook and paused as she waited for the next question. CJ looked around the large space. “It's a good thing you're doin' here, Jim. I hear a lot of kids need this place. Helps them stay clean while they're living on the streets, huh?”
“Oh, you're right there… Uh, what was your name?”
“Agent Carson… you can call me CJ,” the tall woman said in an attempt to make him more agreeable to talking.
“Well CJ… the kids that come in here are mostly a good bunch. They love having a purpose, ya know? It's all about self-esteem and taking control of their lives… some of these kids have been livin' rough for a while.”
“I'll bet. Did you know Sam's nephews?”
Jim nodded then shook his head sadly. “Those kids had a hard life. When they disappeared, Sam thought somethin' was afoot.”
The agent showed the photo to Claron. “Did he tell you anything about their disappearance?”
“Oh, that's Eric. Yeah, Sammy didn't say much but he thought maybe his brother was beatin' them kids.”
CJ gave him a nod. “What do you think happened to them?”
“In all honesty, Miss, I truly don't know. There is a boy…” The man stopped talking and Agent Carson waited patiently.
“You know, there's this kid who comes in here now and then for a fight. See, the kids who participate get pocket money from the takings… the rest goes into runnin' the place… anyway, this boy comes in on occasion… reminds me of the older Hess boy. He's got this birth mark at the bottom of his neck? I remember little Eric havin' one too. He stopped coming in about a month ago though. No idea where he's livin'.”
CJ remembered the descriptors on the missing persons report. The birth mark was mentioned. And the fact that the boy stopped coming in a month ago followed the timeline of the murders. “Maybe it is him… he ran away back in ‘05 right?”
“Oh, is that why you're here? You lookin' into that case?”
“Sort of, yeah. We need to speak with him in connection to something else too.” The agent thought carefully about how to continue. He seemed to want to help. “Can you remember Sam talking about the two boys at the time they went missing?”
“Heck yes. He was worried sick. When Eric ran off, he went to Sammy's house first… looked terrified. Then when Sammy told him he was gonna call the boy's father to try an' work things out, Eric took off again. That was the last time he saw him. Poor Sammy talked about it all the time. I think he felt guilty he couldn't do more. When the little ‘un was nowhere to be found too, the stories came thick an' fast.”
“Stories?” CJ probed, seeing Jamie writing frantically from the side of her eye.
“Well, you know the father disappeared too, right?” At both agents' nods, he went on. “People said Mr. Hess… his name was Frank… was hurtin' the little ‘un and that's why Eric ran. Both those kids had regular bruises… sometimes broken bones.”
“You've been a great help, Jim. Is there anything else you can tell us?”
“I can't think o'much more but if you leave me a number, I'll call you if I see that boy again? We try to do right by all the kids and I think he could use some help.”
CJ wanted to hug the man. He had filled in so many gaps in the case that she truly hoped the information checked out. “This is my card. If you think of anything else… or you see the boy, please call. It would be better if you didn't tell him though… don't want to frighten him off.”
“Don't you worry, Agent… oh, there is one more thing,” Jim said, stepping closer between CJ and Jamie. He lowered his voice even though there was nobody there to hear it. “The boy I was talkin' about? Calls himself Ricki… but I think he's got some issues… ya know, mentally?”
“How could you tell?”
“Kid has a hard time fittin' in… only time he looks someone in the eye is when he's fightin'.” The man scratched his bald head and popped a piece of chewing tobacco in his mouth. “If there's a fight between the other kids… ya know, outside the ring… he's always shoutin', ‘It wasn't me… I didn't see it'. Sometimes he just blurts it out… I don't even ask him a damn question!”
Another huge piece of the puzzle slotted in to place for CJ. It was starting to make sense to her now. “You've been a great help. Hope to hear from you soon, Jim.”
They both thanked the man again and bid him goodnight. Once in the Bureau sedan, CJ was busting to talk with Jamie but since they were both highly suspicious – as FBI agents tend to be – they waited until they drove out of the area. CJ had no idea why but it gave her time to think so she went with it.
It was close to midnight now and Agent Green pulled into a drive-thru for two coffees. Once they were safely parked up in a dead end street, they sipped gratefully on the hot, sweetened liquid for a few seconds. CJ stole the blonde's notebook from her lap. “I think I figured out the cold case… you know, the whole family disappearing?”
“I thought you might…”
“I think this Ricki kid is our guy and I think I know how he ended up this way too.”
“Go on,” Jamie said, keeping her eyes on CJ while she sipped some more coffee.
“From what Jim said, it follows… at least to me… that Eric ran away that night because he saw his brother being hurt… or worse. It seems Jonathan Hess and the father went missing the day after, according to Mrs. McKinley… which makes me think that the father was the one who's responsible for the disappearance of Jonathan. If Eric is our killer… he's probably reliving what he saw. Jim just told us he says ‘I didn't see it' when something violent happens outside the ring… I think Eric witnessed Frank Hess murdering his brother. According to the files, Jonathan was never found and the father has fallen off the radar completely.”
“You must be rubbing off on me, CJ, because that's what I thought too. It all fits.”
“So now, we need to catch him… hopefully before he finds his next victim. Let's set up surveillance… there was a derelict building across the street from Sam's Hangout. That should be perfect.”
“Did you see the opening hours on the office wall? 6pm ‘til midnight, Wednesday thru Saturday. Mikey and I can take first shift.”
CJ swallowed her gulp of coffee. “Good… but we'll pull in a few more troops to share the stakeout. Let's get back and find out who owns that building.”
The next morning, Kate walked off set after a disastrous bunch of retakes. She was frustrated with herself because she knew she was distracted. As she prepared to leave Stage 12, Phil Romaine caught up with her.
“Kate! Do you have a minute?” the tall lean man said. It wasn't really a question.
“Yes, Phil. Listen, I'm sorry about that…”
“Well, I was just gonna ask you if you're okay? I mean, I know Mischa didn't have much to smile about in that scene but you seem… I dunno, sad?”
Kate sighed. “I have a lot on my mind, Phil. I'm dealing with some personal stuff right now but once I go for my break, I promise I'll be back on my game.”
“Okay. You know where I am if you need to talk. Enjoy your coffee.”
The man walked away and Kate knew that brief conversation had been a gentle way of telling her he had noticed her mood and she needed to buck up. With a heave of her shoulders, she headed to the cafeteria to meet Sam. She needed someone to talk to and she hadn't seen CJ for two days. The agent had managed to get home for about three hours last night but Kate was already asleep. So far, a text message today was her only ‘chat' with her stressed out spouse.
Once she had purchased her coffee, she spotted Sam coming into the large eatery. She intercepted the redhead and asked her if it would be okay to take their drinks back to her trailer and Sam agreed.
When they were settled on the compact couch a few moments later, Kate turned to her friend. “Sam… can I talk to you about something?”
“Yes… and whatever it is, it better be the something that's making you look so melancholy.”
“Is it that obvious?” Kate asked worriedly.
“Not to others… but to me, yes. CJ got a tough case… I know that much. But what's going on with you? It's your mother, isn't it?”
“She's part of it, yes. A big part.”
“What did she want the other day?”
“She wanted to tell me she has a terminal illness.”
Sam gasped. “Oh, Kate… I'm so sorry.”
“I don't know how to feel about it really. It doesn't feel real and to be honest, I'm kind of numb. Her dying wish is also upsetting me,” the blonde said, curling her lip and putting down her coffee.
“I dread to think…”
“She wants me to settle down with a nice man and give her some grandchildren.”
The producer's jaw dropped. “She still won't even acknowledge you have a wife and kids… and that you're happy?”
“No. But she doesn't know we have the girls. I haven't told her.”
“Oh…” Sam pursed her lips. “Maybe you should tell her. Maybe then she'll back off or realize that she has grandchildren already… if only she would accept your lifestyle.”
“I wish it were that simple. She'll never accept CJ. And I'll never leave CJ. My mother's done so much to me over the years… so much… why am I giving her this chance now?” Tears sprung to Kate's eyes and she couldn't stop the sob that escaped her lips.
The redhead took her friend into her arms. “Because you are one of the most loving, compassionate, forgiving people I know, Kate. I just don't think she deserves you… or your family.”
The actress just sobbed more and squeezed Sam to thank her for the words. She soon had her crying under control and sat back. “Thank you. I think I just needed to hear someone else say it. Still, I'll meet with her one more time before she goes back home. I kinda ran out on her the last time.” Kate walked the few steps to the bathroom and grabbed a tissue.
“So what else has been bearing down on that precious heart of yours?”
“You're gonna have to stop being so nice to me… I'll start bawling again.”
Sam chuckled. “We can't have that. Cyn will kill me if I wreck your make-up any more than that,” she said, pointing to the black streak on Kate's left cheek.
“I'll fix it in a minute. The other thing is Jack.”
A reddish-brown eyebrow curled. “What's he been up to?”
“You know how he always used to try and rub up against me and make contact any time he could, especially on-set?”
“Well, it's been worse recently. And he's drinking too,” Kate sniffed, still not fully over her emotional release.
“Touching you off-set?”
“Trying to… very much trying to. It was sexual harassment before, Sam… and I put up with it because of my job. But now, it's bordering on sexual assault. The fact that he's drinking too… it scares me a little.”
“It sounds horrendous, Kate. Report him!”
“It's my word against his but if it happens again, I'm gonna talk to the studio bosses. It's getting to the point where I don't care if I lose my job,” the actress said dejectedly.
“Shit. He should be the one to lose his damn job.”
“I can't see that happening. He's the big Hollywood star that came to work on an up-and-coming TV show. I told you what they were like when he came on board. He could've pissed on the table and they'd probably just smile and nod.”
Sam bit her lips in an effort to stop her response. Kate was stressed out and all she could do was laugh. The blonde looked up and saw her friend's expression. She smiled and Sam could no longer hold it in. “I'm… I'm so sorry, Kate. I… hah… I just got the mental image of Jack pissing on the table during the morning meeting…”
“Uh huh.” Kate let out a chuckle of her own. “Hey, thanks… you made me laugh.”
“You deserve to laugh every day, Kate.”
“And I do… at home. I just haven't been too happy here recently… and I haven't been home as much either. That has to stop.”
“Time to rethink a few things?”
“Hmm… no, not yet. I have a little more staying power than that.” Kate looked at her watch. “Crap… I have to get back.”
“Me too… walk with me ‘til the trash can?”
“Sure thing.” They both left the trailer and went their separate ways at the bright red trash can near the parking bays. It was one of their meeting spots and it was also half way between their studios.
Kate took a few deep breaths before walking through the door. She scanned the space for Cyn and found her touching up the make-up for one of the other actresses. On her way towards the young woman, she looked around the set; the cameras; the boom operators; the crew running around or chattering with one another. It just didn't feel the same to her anymore. ‘ It must be this stuff with Jack… I'll get past that soon. Then it'll be better again, right? ' She hadn't convinced herself at all but when she got to Cyn, the vibrancy of the young artist made her smile and she put on her game face and got back to work.
* * * * * *
It was now Friday. The surveillance had turned up nothing so far and CJ hadn't seen her wife and kids in… too long. She was pretty cranky and exhausted, and she and Agent Matthews had just met up back at the office to guzzle down a quick dinner after an entire day of legwork and investigation. CJ knew her wife would have the weekend off. She also knew she wouldn't be so lucky and hadn't really spoken properly to Kate for forty eight hours. She could feel the effects of that gnawing away at her patience… and her mood.
As much as the case was taking little steps forward and no more victims had been reported in two days, CJ still wanted to find Hess as soon as she could. They were gathering pieces of information together and had the retested DNA evidence. It re-confirmed that Eric Hess was their main suspect but they really needed a break in this case… something to help them locate him. It seemed he was living on the streets or in a car and it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Mikey had called in from the stakeout in the abandoned building; there had been zero sightings of Hess and CJ thought he might not go back to the place she suspected he had met his first victims.
About an hour later, she had only just sat back at her desk after a quick meeting to update the Deputy Director when Mark entered the office. Both she and Ethan saw the well-known expression on his face and braced themselves for the inevitable. “Another body found. They're preserving the scene for us. Let's go.”
Agent Matthews holstered his gun, grabbed the camera and searched for the keys to the new Dodge Charger. CJ turned around once she'd donned her suit jacket and extracted her Glock from her desk drawer. Sliding the piece into her own holster, she walked towards the door, dangling the keys from her finger. “I already got ‘em, Ethan…”
On the way to the crime scene in Trancas Canyon, Mark filled them in on the little information he had. A young girl had been found by two women who were hiking in a pretty remote area, which made CJ think the killer had taken a leap forward in some way. He was planning the body dumps more carefully now and it seemed he definitely had a vehicle. Before, he was leaving them in built-up areas leading the agent to believe he must have had temporary accommodation close to each location and used the cover of night to get rid of the remains. What he was doing required privacy; not necessarily remote privacy since the children had been suffocated before he took them, but privacy nonetheless.
CJ's mind was swarming with possibilities. Was this body out here in the open space because he had achieved something with this kill? Had he needed even more privacy for this one? And if so, why? Was his motivation changing? She didn't have the answers yet but she wished she could give all the victims their lives back. At least catching the killer would go some way to getting justice for them.
* * * * * *
As they approached the location, CJ realized just how remote it was and wondered how the body had been found at all. Once they had walked up from the hiker's parking lot, she spotted local law enforcement scattered around the outside of the crime scene. She found it hard not to notice the beauty of the forest but it was marred by the eeriness of the situation and the heavy mist in the air. Dusk was also fast approaching and CJ's gut heaved as she remembered her nightmare. It felt identical to this and it all came flooding back to her. Shannon's bloody face flashed into her mind and she closed her eyes for a few seconds in an effort to erase the image. With a shiver running coldly down her spine, she showed her badge to a cop and ducked under the cordon tape in a well-practiced ritual. Mark spoke with various officials as CJ pulled two latex gloves from her pocket. Walking carefully over the ground, mindful that her boots could destroy critical evidence, she made her way slowly to the victim. She paused and turned around to see Ethan following in her footsteps. As they proceeded through a row of very tall trees, CJ looked beyond the shrubs and spotted the only person who was allowed into her crime scene. Victor Belzano had somehow gotten here first. He was a seasoned professional, having been on the job for almost twenty two years so she knew he would not have compromised the location.
CJ nodded to Ethan. “Just up ahead,” she said, pointing to the dirty tarp that Victor was hunched over. Nothing could prepare her for seeing this young girl. Her nightmare was replaying over and over in her head and she made a last attempt to shut it out. She ignored the lurch in her heart and focused on Belzano in full agent mode. “Hey, Vic. Is it him?”
Belzano looked over his shoulder and it took him a moment to realize what she meant. “I think so. Same hack job… on the leg… eyes gone too but this time he succeeded in removing an arm… he didn't take it with him though,” he added, moving the wrapping the girl had been partially buried in.
The tall agent crouched down next to the ME. She noted the amputation just below the elbow and the grayish hue in the dark-haired girl's still features. “Time of death?”
“Roughly between midnight and 2am… yesterday morning,” Victor replied, finishing off his initial examination of the body.
CJ took notes in her book. “Almost the same time of day as the last one. Any obvious trace evidence?”
“I know I'm good, Carson, but gimme some time. I need her taken back to the office still inside this tarp. There's nothing obvious here at the scene. I'll send everything to the lab as soon as I find it.”
“Cause of death?”
“Well… all the wounds were delivered post-mortem… but only just, I'd say. She wasn't killed here and he's wrapped her quite carefully this time. Staining on the body confirms that she's been moved at least twice since her time of death. I wish I could look at the eyes and I'd give you a definitive answer but since he took those, I'd only be offering an educated guess that she was suffocated the same as the others. I'll know more after the autopsy. The only difference I can see is that her death was not as peaceful.”
“How do you know that?” CJ asked, looking more closely at the small body and making sure she maintained her professional exterior.
“See these marks here on the neck? He manually strangled this one. That's something new for this guy.”
“It's possible he's been attacking them in their sleep… making sure the others didn't struggle. But if she was awake, his need is definitely escalating. And she could've fought back…” CJ turned to Ethan who was snapping pictures at her back. “Agent Matthews… make sure to get some pictures of her neck and both hands for me, will you? The left arm is over there.”
Ethan turned to where his colleague was pointing. “Sure.”
CJ stood up, very aware of the fact her gut was trying to rebel. “This is the first time he's succeeded in severing the limb. I think it means something significant to him and I'm truly hoping to catch the bastard this time. I need every inch of her body checked for fibers and fluids, especially around the severed arm. Believe it or not, this could have been an emotional moment for this guy. Anyway, I'll see you back at the office, Victor. Thanks,” the agent nodded.
“I'll finish up here and take her in before it gets any darker, CJ. I'll call you as soon as I'm done,” the ME said with a hint of melancholy.
CJ nodded once more and turned to leave, trying not to notice the chill that devoured her body. She distracted herself by analyzing Victor for a moment. He was a straight up, get-on-with-the-job kind of guy but she knew he was always respectful towards the deceased and was good at his job. She also knew this case was affecting them all and when she looked back at Belzano's face, she knew that included the usually-upbeat medical examiner. On her way out of the crime scene, she gave the nod to the rest of the CSU to let them know they could get on with their jobs, and headed back to the car to update the Assistant Director.
* * * * * *
As he hid beside the fitted closet inside Kate's trailer, Jack Bannerman's mind was whirring as he tried to come up with a smooth enough line to hook Kate and drag her around to his way of thinking. ‘ Hmmm, what a nice surprise it'll be for her when she finds me here. Who wouldn't want to be swept off her feet by a handsome hunk like me? ' he foolishly thought.
Due to his inebriation, Jack hadn't realized he had sabotaged his Romancing-Kate plan before it had even started. As he pumped his fist in the air at his falsely foolproof ideas, he banged his elbow on the wooden cabinetry that caged him in. Grumbling under his breath, he set his jaw and tried to stand as still as possible, letting out a rather loud belch that sent a cloud of bourbon-riddled air out into the trailer… the trailer that Kate had forgotten to lock when she went to the vending machine for a bottle of water.
The actress came in the door and pulled it closed behind her. She put the bottle on the nearby table and was about to unbutton her shirt – which was covered in fake blood – when she spotted movement out the side of her eye. The blonde was about the kick the crap out of whoever was there when the big actor put his hands up in surrender. “Whoa, whoa… it's me!”
“Jack! What the hell are you trying to do to me?!”
“Hey baby… c'mere…” The big actor leaned in towards Kate and pinned her to the door. In the space of a couple of seconds he forced a kiss, slobbering his tongue across Kate's cheek and lips before roughly entering her mouth.
The actress' mind suddenly caught up to what was happening and she managed to bring her elbow up to crack the man across the jaw. “Get your stinking hands off me!” she yelled.
“Whoa… hey… what gives?” the drunken hulk grumbled, rubbing his sore cheek.
“What part of ‘leave me alone, Jack' do you not understand?” Kate blurted, preparing herself for another fumbled assault.
“You don't mean it… you need a man. Th'wife don't got what I got…” he slurred, manhandling his crotch.
“Get the fuck out, Jack! You come near me again and I will go to the bosses… and the police. No more messing around. I don't care what the consequences will be! Do you hear what I'm saying?”
“Jeez, Kate, what the hell? We ain't s'posed to be actin' right now, ya big drama queen.”
As Jack drunkenly staggered towards her couch, she knew he was getting ready to collapse. She hurriedly pushed his back and ushered him to the door with all her might. As he muttered incoherently, she shoved him outside and closed and locked her trailer from the inside. Breathing deeply and slowly to try and calm her nerves, she called security and asked for Kevin. That particular guard owed her a favor after she caught him smoking weed in one of the studio offices.
Kate watched through a gap in the window blinds as Kevin led a swaying Jack Bannerman to a waiting cab and sent him home. She sat on the couch and closed her eyes for a second. This was getting out of control and tonight had scared her a little. She couldn't call CJ. ‘ She has enough to deal with right now… I can't burden her with all this crap. ' She felt herself get very tired very quickly and decided she had to get home. ‘ I'm not working another day like this again. I'll quit first ,' she thought as she noted the time was 11.15pm. After almost fifteen hours at work, Kate finally left the Olympian Studios in a cab of her own. She had a lot of hours to make up to Tony but hoped the young man had managed to look after the girls without too many problems.
* * * * * *
It was late Saturday morning. CJ sat glaring at her desk, which was covered in the files of every victim to date. She couldn't believe what she had just discovered and cursed herself for not noticing it sooner. “Hey, Penfold?”
“I've been looking through every damn word of every damn file…”
“And you found?” Jamie knew CJ had just advanced the case, simply by the look on her friend's face.
“Yes, I found. I found that every single victim we have here has been on the streets at some point.”
“All of ‘em?” The blonde agent got up and perched on the edge of CJ's desk.
“All of ‘em. Obviously the homeless ones lived on the streets but the others… they had all run away from home at one time or another. Aaaaaand… it says in the statements and various other reports that they had intervention from an outside source to reunite the kids with the parent or parents.” CJ looked up. “What's the name of that project… you know… the one the retired LAPD cop started for the homeless?”
“Oh! The… the Nicholson Project!”
“That's the very one. I'll let Mulroney know,” CJ said, picking up the phone. “Can you find the address and we'll go now?”
“I have to switch places with Ethan at the stakeout in half an hour. Come with me and he could go with you before he goes home for a break?”
“Sounds like a plan…”
* * * * * *
It turned out that Ethan wasn't going to be signing off until much later that day. A top priority ‘Be-On-the-Look-Out' alert was reactivated for one of the suspects on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list. A report had been received that the man had been spotted in the Downtown area of LA and all available agents were dispatched, which included CJ and Jamie.
After a five hour search of the area and investigation by a host of agents, including a team from the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, it was found to be a hoax call and the two SSHU agents returned dejectedly to the office. The last thing they needed was to be pulled out of their investigation. Six very important hours had been lost even though Mark had tried to get their unit excused due to their current case.
The Assistant Director paced the floor in the agents' office. “I spoke with Mitchell. He's going to put forward my request that if the SSHU are in the middle of a case, they shouldn't be dragged out to anything else. That was a waste of your time. They had fifty-six other agents out there and we have a killer to catch!”
“Sir… we'll catch him. Still, I hope your request is granted,” CJ ventured.
“I know you'll catch him, CJ, but you're all working 24/7 on this… don't think I didn't notice… and the last thing you need is to drop everything and go searching the streets of Los Angeles on the whim of some idiot who is so pathetic he places a hoax call to the FBI!”
Agent Carson got up and stood in front of her boss, stopping him in his tracks. She was the only one who had the gall to do it. “You've been here constantly too, Sir. I'm gonna push my luck here and suggest you go get a coffee and we'll get back on the case?” She hoped that didn't sound too much like an order and waited for Mark's response.
After what felt like forever, he broke his stare at her. “What's next for you?”
“I'm gonna sit with Jamie for five minutes and file the paperwork for today's charade… then we'll go rescue Matthews from the stakeout.”
“Oh God, Matthews! Okay… I'll grab a coffee and go check up on Ryan. He's down in the dungeons somewhere.” Mark rubbed his hand through his hair. “Good luck, Agents.”
Once he left, CJ let out a breath. “Well, he coulda had my head for that…”
Agent Green snorted. “Nah. He knew you were just tryin' to be helpful.”
“Uh huh. Let's get this done.”
* * * * * *
A long eighty minutes later, Agent Matthews pulled at his seatbelt and clicked it into place. “So… where we goin'?” he asked CJ.
“You heard of The Nicholson Project?”
“It was started by a retired cop… Bill Nicholson… who wanted to help the kids he saw living on the street during his time with the force. He started the project with some of his retirement money. Even though it was set up for street kids, they ended up welcoming runaways and introduced a mediation service to bring the families together again.”
Ethan was impressed and nodded. “Do you think they'll have any info for us?”
“They should do. Every victim we have in this case has been either homeless or a runaway. I only put it together today. This could be the place they all have in common,” CJ said, signaling right for the freeway on-ramp. “Hey, I could take you back to the office so you can get home… I can do this by myself.”
“I'll come with you, CJ. Alice is already pissed at me… another hour won't make any difference.”
“Oh shit… sorry man. I hope Katie's not in the mood to kick my ass. I haven't spoken to her in… God, it feels like forever.”
Ethan's only response was a chuckle… most likely brought on by his exhaustion and the mental image of CJ getting her butt kicked. They had all been running on determination and caffeine and he wondered how much longer they could go without real sleep.
* * * * * *
In stark contrast to Sam's Hangout, the Nicholson project was in a well-maintained office building and occupied the entire first floor. Inside, the walls were painted in mute colors and there were framed pictures lining the corridors. Each picture was held in bold paint and had what was obviously a child's signature in the bottom corner. As they walked further, more picture frames adorned both walls and Ethan stopped in front of one of them. “Hey… look.”
CJ turned to find him pointing at one of the large group photos. She had been looking at a similar picture on the opposite wall. “What?”
“Isn't that one of our vics… right there?” he said, pressing his finger against the glass.
The tall woman looked closely. “It sure looks like it. There are a few in that one over there too.”
“Damn… looks like you were right, CJ.”
“Let's not count our chickens just yet.”
As they turned the next corner, the corridor finally came to an end and Ethan's tired eyes focused on the sign above the double doors. “The Nicholson Project. All welcome.” Since it was now pretty late at night, the doors were locked and the young agent pressed the buzzer.
A disembodied male voice crackled through the intercom. “ Hi… how can I help you both?”
CJ raised an eyebrow and realized they must be on camera. Glancing around and finding it, she held her badge up in full view of the lens. “Hi, Special Agents Carson and Matthews… FBI… we'd like a word?”
“ I'll be right with you. ” A few moments later, the door opened and a middle-aged man with a full mustache appeared. “Hello again… could I please see your badges?” Both agents did as requested. “Thank you.”
“Sorry about the hour,” CJ said as they entered the reception space.
“Oh, no problem… we're here 24/7 but we don't usually get visitors like you at night.” The man gestured for them to follow him over to a large desk. “I'm George Harper. What can I do for you?”
“We're looking for a young man and we think he might work here? Or perhaps be someone you'd recognize?”
“Oh. Is he in trouble?”
“We just need to speak with him. This is an old picture…” CJ took the photograph from inside her file. “… and we think he might go by the name Ricki?”
George looked at the crinkled picture then tilted his head and looked again. “He looks… familiar.”
“Does he come in here at all?”
“I just can't place him. Do you have anything else that could help… a newer photo maybe?”
CJ shook her head. “No… but I do have a list of names I'd like you to take a look at.”
The man took the sheet of paper that was handed to him and scanned the list. His frown increased as he got further down the page. CJ and Ethan both looked at one another and then back at George when he raised his head. “These names… what happened to these kids?”
“How do you know they're kids?” Ethan asked.
“Out of the first five, I know three used to come in here. If I checked our computer, I bet I'd find more. Most of them ring a bell…”
CJ nodded. “Could you check this list against your records?”
“Yes but a lot of our homeless kids... which I know some of these are…” George said, shaking the paper, “… didn't give their real names. I can look up some of the group photos. We kept track of who was in each one.”
“That would help a lot, George,” the tall woman said with a wan smile.
As the man typed all the names from the list, he offered the agents the adjacent chairs. Ethan preferred to stand but CJ took the seat nearest to George so that she could see the screen.
“Are you able to tell me why you have that list?” the man asked as he moved the mouse over the desktop.
CJ decided to let him know the truth. “I'm afraid they're all dead.”
George looked up and shook his head sadly. “I think I knew you were going to say that.”
“Gut feeling maybe. The ones I do know from your list… I haven't seen them in months. That wouldn't be unusual for the children who had parents… but it is unusual for the homeless kids. When they come here, they've gotten to the point where they really want help and they don't usually drop off our radar without telling us. Damn, that's so sad.” He sat back when the computer finished its search. “Every one of them has been through our doors at some point. There are three names that don't quite match up but I'll bet they're the same people. Do you have any Does?”
CJ was watching the man curiously. “Yes… only one now though… we've identified the others. Tell me, what did you do before you came to work here?”
“I think you already know the answer to that, Agent. Bill Nicholson and I worked together… LAPD. When I was injured in the line of duty, I retired and came here to help him out.”
“You seem to do some amazing work here, George. Do you have a lot of staff?”
“Not a lot, no… we're volunteers and do the best we can with about ten of us in total.”
CJ nodded. “Do you take on any casual helpers?”
“Actually, yes… they usually come in to wash up in the kitchen… we have a cafeteria. They do other cleaning and general handyman kinda work too. Why?”
“Well, the kid I showed you… this picture,” CJ said, producing the photo of Eric Hess again, “do you think-“
George raised his hand, cutting her off. “ That's where I know his face from!”
“This kid here… he reminds me of a boy who worked in the kitchen a while back. Hell yes, his name was Ricki… that's what you said, right?”
“Yes. He worked here?”
George nodded. “Did cleaning work and helped serve up the food in the cafeteria.”
“Does he still come in?” CJ asked hopefully.
“Not for a while now…” The ex-cop paused for a moment. “I might have a number for him. Let me check.”
As he typed away on the keyboard again, Agent Carson chanced a glance at her colleague. Ethan looked as apprehensive and hopeful as she did. If they could get a contact number for Hess and he still had the phone, they could just have gotten a huge break in their case.
George suddenly stood up. “No luck but don't lose heart yet. Filing cabinet…” He stormed into a back room like he was on a mission. CJ suspected he missed the job. When he came back through the doorway, he had a sheet of paper of his own. “Got it… this is a copy. You can keep it. He had a cell phone number. Want me to call it?”
Agent Carson stood up. “Not right now. I want to check it out first.” She gratefully accepted the information. “Are you working tomorrow?”
“Not after nightshift, no. Bill is on tomorrow.”
“Would you be able to come by the FBI field office at some point?”
“Sure. What time?” George answered eagerly. It felt like the old days again. He wanted to help the agents… with what, he didn't know. But if it increased their chances of finding out what happened to those children, he'd do it.
“How about 4pm tomorrow?”
“Great. I'll be there… on Wilshire, right?”
CJ smiled. “Yeah. You know it?”
“Oh, I went there on a few occasions during my time in Homicide,” George nodded.
“Yep. I was workin' there when I got shot. That's what retired me…”
“Sorry, man. Tough break,” the tall woman sympathized.
“Hey it's the job, right. Anyway, I get to do all this now… so I guess it was meant to be.”
“I like your attitude, Harper. See you tomorrow.”
The ex-cop shook both agents' hands. “Tomorrow, Carson… Matthews.”
As she left the building, CJ was ever hopeful that the cell phone number would lead them to Hess. She wanted to run it by Mikey to see what he could find out. Tracing cell phones was his department. If they couldn't trace it by tomorrow, she would ask George to call Ricki and offer him some work at the project. It might just give them a way to bring him in.
After her last meeting with her mother, Kate had spent a lot of time thinking about how Elizabeth saw the world; her bigotry and ignorance seemed to warp the woman's every view. She had also researched various types of cancer and thought about how the older woman might be afraid of her illness. The actress felt her compassionate side assert itself. She wasn't ready to forgive her mother - she didn't think that would ever fully happen – but she was willing to talk with her and try to at least keep in touch for the remainder of her estranged parent's life. When she felt tears sting the back of her eyes, she shook her head vigorously to stifle her emotions… emotions she didn't think Elizabeth deserved.
This morning, Kate had found herself at work again – but only for a half day to catch up on what didn't get done on the disaster that was Friday – and had called Elizabeth to ask her to come and have coffee in her trailer while she was on ‘lunch break'. She figured having work as her way out was a good idea and didn't tell the woman she had a half day. So the time had come and Kate now sat across from her mother at the small fitted table inside the private space.
“I need to talk to you more about your illness,” the actress began. “You said you had cancer… what kind of cancer?”
“Why do you ask, dear?” Elizabeth said calmly while sipping her peppermint tea.
“I ask because some stages of cancer are treatable. Are you sure there's nothing that can be done for you?”
“Oh no… it is terminal, Katherine. My doctor is the best money can buy.”
Kate scrutinized her mother but her face remained impassive. “Why did you really come here? I'm just curious because you don't seem to want to tell me anything more…”
“Oh darling, I told you it would do my heart good to see you settled down with a nice man and have some wonderful children. I'd love grandchildren. You know that's why I'm here.”
The actress was close to her tolerance limit where her mother was concerned so she tried to remain open and calm, but she knew where this conversation was heading. “Elizabeth… CJ and I-“
The older woman halted the mug that was on route to her mouth and interrupted her daughter. “I don't want to hear mention of that awful woman again, Katherine!”
All the suppressed hurt and anger came rushing back and Kate failed in her attempt to hold it together. She got to her feet slowly. “She is not awful! She is the most incredible, beautiful soul I have ever known! You just can't see through your envy, hatred and bias.”
“Envy… I'm envious? Of what… of your unholy lifestyle? Of your disgusting perversion?” Elizabeth blurted. She realized what she had said and settled her hands on the table surface. “Oh… I'm so sorry dear. Please forgive my outburst. I'm just so upset.”
Kate eyed her suspiciously now. She was just the same old Elizabeth deep down. The actress sat back down, giving her mother yet another chance to accept her life choices or even try to build something of a relationship before it was too late. “The only reason CJ has reacted badly to you is because she won't tolerate anyone hurting me.”
“Let's not talk about that now. I know you'd like a nice man to settle down with. I mean, you liked that nice boy, Jason…”
Kate raised her hand sharply. “Remember when I was abducted a few years ago?” When Elizabeth averted her eyes and nodded, she continued. “That nice boy Jason was the one who did it. He was on drugs and was mentally ill. He hurt me… very badly.”
“I didn't know that,” the older woman said rather coldly. “You should've told me. Well, what about Jack Bannerman? He's handsome, rich and very polite…”
Kate felt her blood pressure rising. “He has slept with every woman he could get his slimy hands on and spends most of his time these days in a drunken haze. And he's been borderline sexually assaulting me lately so no, he is not nice either. Are we done with that?”
“You must have provoked him… probably because you need a man in your life and you just haven't realized it yet.” Elizabeth looked up from her mug and saw the green in her daughter's eyes turn to fire.
Kate was back on her feet in a flash – followed by her mother - and her face gradually reddened with barely suppressed rage. She concentrated on her deep breathing and tried not to explode but her voice was laced with a self-defensive hatred. “Elizabeth… I don't want to fight with you!”
“Then don't, dear. Just do as I say and life will be much better for everyone.”
“Do as you say? I'll do what I feel is right for me. I'm living my life… not yours. And I think you'd realize that's the best thing for me.”
“Oh, I see… and what about me? Don't I count?”
Kate was about to lose it. Her mother was using that tone… the same one she used when Kate was a child. And the woman's bitterness was clearly not something she was going to let go of at any cost. “Like I said, I don't want to fight with you and I'd think you wouldn't want that either considering your illness!”
“What illness?” Elizabeth retorted a bit too sharply.
“What… the terminal cancer you just told me about!”
“Oh… that.” The older woman sat back down. With her heart missing a beat, she hoped to change the subject and thought furiously about what to say next to cover her faux pas.
But she was too late to take it back and Kate was already figuring things out. “You… you lied to me, didn't you?”
“I did not! I am appalled you'd even think that, Katherine!”
“Then come with me to see my doctor. I think you should have a second opinion. Maybe it was misdiagnosed?”
Elizabeth felt she was losing control of the situation and her plan to get Kate settled down with anyone who wasn't CJ… or a woman. “I… I will not. Doctor Selman is first rate.
Kate saw it. She saw it clear as day; the loving, remorseful mother routine; the lack of any real information about her terminal illness and the constant talking-up of Jack Bannerman. “This was all just an attempt to get me away from CJ, wasn't it? To try and make me… normal again?” She made sure to exaggerate the air quotes around ‘normal'.
“How dare you accuse me ? I'm dying and you tell me I'm making it up? I am shocked, Katherine! All I want is to see you get through this silly phase, find a husband and have some children… a nice family!”
“I have a nice family! How dare you dismiss CJ like she doesn't exist! And if you must know, we already have two beautiful children. CJ and I are not breaking up for you or anyone else. I've had it, Elizabeth. I tried to show you compassion… I really did, but you will never accept the person I am or the people I love. I think you need to go.”
“You have children?” Elizabeth was more than disgusted. “Whose children? You haven't given birth, Katherine… even I know that. Did that… that woman have a child?!”
“No. Dear Lord, you are so far removed from reality. We adopted two amazing girls… two girls you will never meet. I will not have this much negativity around them! Just go home. I don't want to spend another moment with you… sick or not sick! Do you really think I care? I try not to hate you… I really do! But this is never gonna work!” Kate was ready to fall down in tears. Her heart was in shreds yet again and she knew she was lashing out because of it. And as much as she felt sorry for saying these awful things, she wanted the truth before Elizabeth left and felt playing her mother at her own game was the way to get it.
In the heat of their argument, Elizabeth allowed herself to be baited by Kate's words. “Well, I think you just confirmed that disowning you was the right course of action. But I will make sure you get rid of that woman. She has poisoned you so much you can't even help your own mother when she tells you she's ill!”
“You're not ill. You lied!”
“How…” Elizabeth was just about to deny it again when she cunningly decided to change her tactics. “Yes, I lied. You pushed me to it. I tried to make you see sense and to make you something I could be proud of but you are worth nothing, Katherine and I will prove that. I will make sure you and your… your dyke know that. You will never inherit a penny from me… but I will have my grandchildren. I will. You will not deny me that.” And with that ominous threat lingering in the air, the vile, evil woman grabbed her handbag from the couch and left the trailer. Her limousine pulled out of the lot a scant moment later.
Kate was still sitting totally stunned, totally gutted by the woman's words and hateful actions. As the actress stared blankly ahead – still at the space where Elizabeth had been – she felt her stomach rebel and her eyes fill with tears. She jumped from her chair and threw herself into the tiny bathroom. Her lunch was violently expelled as she cried painfully into the toilet bowl.
* * * * * *
The hours were ticking by at a ridiculously slow rate. CJ had opted to stay in the office, waiting for yet another coroner's report from yet another body found earlier in the day. That news had made her totally depressed and she felt the darkness consume her once again. She was getting too tired to fight it off. She had thought the killer would've stopped after severing the arm on the girl found in Trancas Canyon but this victim was in the same condition; successfully severed limb and an exact match to the other post-mortem inflictions.
CJ's colleagues were all out doing various case-related tasks and enquiries. As soon as Jamie got back, they would go out to Sam's Hangout to pick up samples of the actual ropes used in their ring. Jim had not been too pleased with their court order to extract part of his boxing ring but every angle had to be covered.
Looking into her FBI ‘Female Body Inspector' mug – which Kate had thought was hilarious - CJ grimaced at the cold liquid she hadn't gotten around to drinking and rose from her seat. A quick look at the clock told her it was rapidly passing 9pm and she swore she'd lost a day somewhere along the line. As she headed to the coffee machine for what seemed like the fiftieth time that day, her phone rang. The tall woman's shoulders fell then her head drooped as she slammed her hands on the counter. While her bitter drink was haphazardly sputtering from the nozzle, she shuffled back to her desk. “Agent Carson.”
“ Hi honey, are you okay?”
As usual, Kate's voice released something inside the agent although she didn't know what, and her tired blue eyes closed as she slumped into the chair. “Hey… I'm okay. How are you?”
“ I'm fine, CJ. How's your case coming along?”
“Yeah, we're making some progress…” CJ said, rubbing her eyes with her free hand.
“ Do you want to tell me about it ?” the actress probed gently, wanting to hear her wife's voice and needing a distraction from her anxiety-ridden thoughts.
Looking round quickly, CJ checked the office door was closed and thought about what she could tell Kate without going into detail. “Sure. We lifted fibers from one of the victims. They're a match to fibers found in ropes used on some boxing rings. It seems like they could've transferred from the ropes to the suspect to the victim. We've narrowed down the search and put surveillance on the place we're interested in. Nothing's turned up yet though…”
“ Locard's Theory? That's great, CJ ,” Kate responded. CJ's mouth hung open until her wife spoke again and Kate knew exactly what caused the agent's silence. “ Honey, I play a forensics expert, remember ?”
“Oh… yeah, Locard's Theory. Anyway, it's a good piece of evidence and I've got a few more strong leads to go on now.” CJ said distractedly.
“ That sounds positive. How are you coping today ?”
“Fine, Katie. I can manage, you know?” the agent snapped.
Kate sighed miserably. “ I know that. Sorry… I wasn't trying to be pushy or anything .”
“No, I'm sorry... God, I need to stop doing that. I'm really trying to be better at this.”
“ Honey, its fine… maybe try and get home for a few minutes tonight. I just want to see you and check in with you… in person?”
“I'll try. It's been about what… a zillion hours now… I could use some ‘you' time,” CJ said dejectedly.
“ I know the feeling.”
“ So what did you do today? Did you have to work?”
“Just this morning… my afternoon seemed to disappear…”
“ I hear that. Katie, are you sure you're okay?” the agent asked. Something didn't feel right to her.
“Yeah… I'll be fine. I love you, CJ .”
“I love you too.”
“ Talk to you later. Bye .”
“Uh, okay. Night, hon.” When CJ hung up the call, she frowned at the abrupt ending to their conversation. Her wife seemed stressed and she couldn't even go home to her. It worried her and she missed the blonde like crazy. But she couldn't leave work… they were too close now and CJ did not want another call about another victim. There had been way too many already. “Damn it.”
Back at the house at the exact same time, Kate knew her wife wouldn't be home. The agent had just told her goodnight, not goodbye. She supposed she could understand that; they had some good leads in the case and she wanted them to catch the killer but she also really wanted and needed her partner. When she had left work earlier, she'd asked Tony to drop her at the beach for a while and she wandered aimlessly along the surf before going home. She felt lost and had cried again when she had climbed into bed only a half hour after the girls had gone to sleep. If CJ had been there to hold her - just hold her - she would have felt a little better. “Damn it.”
* * * * * *
Agent Ryan had thought he'd done it. He had just spent hours with his techy friend, Agent Colin Ridley, tracking down information on the cell phone number they had been given. They were keeping tabs on it and when the suspect suddenly switched on the phone, Mikey and Ethan had immediately called the Nicholson Project and stayed on another line with George Harper while he called the boy he knew as Ricki. They gave the ex-cop a brief script to stick to - which he had done admirably – but their killer was not playing ball. He told George he was out of town and didn't want any work at the project. He seemed quite adamant and Harper couldn't tempt him at all. They had confirmed one thing; Ricki still had the phone. The cell was now turned off again and the agents thought maybe the call had rattled the perp a little. After spending another hour with Colin trying to track the location of the phone – even though Hess hadn't stayed on the line long enough for a full trace - Mikey Ryan now dragged his feet along the corridor to meet up with his own team. As he opened the door he heard Belzano's melodious tones inside the room. “… thought I'd stretch my legs and hand-deliver this info to you.”
“Much appreciated, Victor,” CJ replied. “Hey Mikey… any luck?”
The young man sat down. “Nothing yet. He switched the phone back off. Colin's keeping on it.”
“Okay. Sorry Victor, go on…”
“Well, I found traces of skin and blood under today's victim's fingernails on the right hand. I think he got a piece of our killer,” he announced, handing the file to CJ.
She flicked through the pages of the ME's report. “You think the boy marked him?”
“Most likely to his face or forearm. Going by the differing layers of epidermis, it'll be three pretty deep gashes,” Belzano nodded.
The tall woman scanned the analysis sheet in front of her. “DNA?”
“Oh, yes. Basically, the rapid turnover of ocular surface epithelium and microbial colonization of the eyelids are continual sources of DNA in tears so I was able-” Victor enthused.
“In English?” CJ interrupted with her signature eyebrow quirk.
“Your killer cried over the victim. He might have done it before but this time his tears landed on the body and I was able to get a sample.”
The agent ran her tongue around her teeth. “Like I said before, I think the severing of the limb is significant. What he's doing is totally horrific but it's also emotional for him. Damn, we need to catch him. He's never gonna stop...”
“You bring him in and the lab can match his DNA. You know where I am if you need me,” Victor said as he turned to leave.
“Thanks.” CJ was feeling the exhaustion bearing down on her. She felt like they were standing still… one step forward, one step back. She rubbed her weary eyes and looked around the office. Another night without Kate was going to be impossible to stomach. When Jamie walked in the door, she knew what she had to do.
* * * * * *
A very emotional, very tired Kate Carson sat at the top of the staircase in her pajamas. She couldn't sleep and every minute that passed felt like an hour. Her heart was aching at what Elizabeth had done. How could a mother tell her daughter she was dying just to manipulate an outcome for her own selfish benefit? The actress would never understand those thought processes and tears stung the back of her eyes as she relived their last meeting.
The long hours at work were also taking their toll. She had barely seen the girls in the past few days and it was having an effect on her wellbeing. She wanted more time at home but the end of season filming schedule was demanding on everyone. ‘I wanted to be an actress… so I can't complain… can I?'
Kate needed to talk it over with someone. Actually she wanted to talk it over with her wife but knew that was just not possible right now. Maybe she could call her father. Craning her neck and narrowing her eyes in the low light, she managed to read the clock in the lower hallway and sighed. Dad would be asleep. It was the middle of the night in New York.
Scratching through her blonde hair, she got up and headed to the kitchen for a glass of milk. For the first time in years, she felt truly alone. She knew it was partially her own doing because she wouldn't burden CJ with what was going on, and that fact only added to her heavy heart. The feelings had barely settled in the pit of her soul when she thought she heard someone in front of the house. A ripple of fear washed over her. Had Elizabeth already put her threats into motion? Would she really do something to hurt their family? She quickly got to her feet and approached the window with caution. ‘ God, I'm such an idiot!' she told herself. Her wife's truck was visible out in front of the house.
Kate entered the hallway just as the agent locked the door behind her. “CJ?”
“Hey, Katie… what are you doing up?”
“I… I couldn't sleep. I wasn't expecting to see you…”
The agent approached her partner in the semi-darkness and pulled her into a hug. “How come you couldn't sleep? Anything I can help with?”
Kate basked in the long arms around her and wondered if CJ was psychic in some way. This was just what the blonde needed to make it through another day. She wound herself as tightly around the taller woman as possible. “You're already helping… I love you.”
“I love you too. Tell me what's wrong…” CJ said, kissing the head at her cheek.
“Not now. How's the case?”
“Not now? Honey, you shut down our phone conversation earlier and now you won't tell me what's bothering you?”
“I will tell you, CJ, just let me process it for a while… please? And anyway, I want to know how you are.”
“Hmmm… I feel like you're trying to divert my attention. I'm fine and the case is going… slowly.” She pushed back to see the badly-hidden sadness on her wife's face. “We thought we had our suspect tonight… tracked a cell phone and we tried to set a trap for him but he wasn't interested. Then he switched the damn thing back off… really frustrating…”
“Sorry, honey. I know how hard you're all working to catch him,” Kate said, bringing her hand up to CJ's cheek and caressing it. “I'm so glad you made it home for a bit. I assume you're about to leave again though?”
“Why would you assume that?”
“You didn't lock your gun away.”
“You‘re right, Detective Carson, I do have to go soon but I told you I'd come to you when I needed to, right? Well tonight, I wanted to come home. I wanted and needed to hold you and I'm glad I didn't have to wake you to do it. But I'm still worried about you… long day at work again?”
Kate stifled her sigh. “Not so much but it was longer than it should've been. And I shouldn't have been there at all this weekend. I'll be okay… honest, hon.”
CJ eyed her skeptically. She wanted to delve deeper but didn't have long enough to do it. She would just have to trust Kate to tell her if it was urgent. “Hmmm. C'mon, I'll make you my famous warm milk with a hint of cardamom.”
“Famous? I believe you've only made it for me once before so it can't be that famous,” Kate jested. Just seeing her wife had cheered her up immensely. It was magical.
“Hmmm, we'll have to remedy that right now. I think I have time for a mug myself… and maybe a kiss from my beautiful wife before I go…” The taller woman led Kate into the kitchen with an arm fitted snugly around her shoulder.
CJ's face was cloudy and dark but the smirk that was plastered over the top of all the anguish made Kate realize how much her wife was fighting to remain close to her. She had to grin in response. She watched the conflicted emotions play across the agent's eyes as she set the mugs on the island counter. Even in the midst of her nightmare, CJ was somehow managing to stay connected but Kate could see the effort it took. The actress knew everything was bubbling just beneath the surface and decided that when this case was over, her strong spouse would be talking about what had happened whether she liked it or not. She knew CJ would avoid going to the Bureau shrink at all costs so it was up to her to persuade her wife to open up and deal with it. She also knew the same would be true for her. The agent was already seeing through her thinly veiled façade and would no doubt force her to unload her troubles too. But she could live with that… after the case was closed.
As they sat close together on the sumptuous couch, they talked quietly for half an hour about this and that. Nothing serious came up as they both seemed determined to talk about anything but themselves. Both were aware they were doing it but in each woman's mind, they were in some way protecting the other.
It turned out to be the best half hour they had experienced in what felt like forever but all too soon it was over and CJ left after a deep and loving kiss to her soul mate. Kate returned to bed and was soon unable to resist falling asleep. Just before she drifted into the land of nod, one thought floated through her mind… that her wife was magical indeed.
* * * * * *
Upon her return to the office CJ found the entire team there, including the Assistant Director. Mark sat with Jamie going through the evidence and reports with a fresh eye, Ethan took off his jacket having just arrived ahead of her and Mikey was grabbing forty winks on the cot in the storage room. Two other agents had been drafted in for the stakeout but CJ suspected it would be called off if no sighting of Hess was reported soon. They were all working hard on this case and she had faith they would bring it to a conclusion. She just wished it was now. As soon as that thought passed through her mind, Mikey's cell phone rang. A thud was heard as he jumped up from his sleep and banged his head on the top bunk. “Oww… shit! Hello…? Oh Colin… gimme good news, man…”
The entire office went silent in order to hear what Agent Ryan was saying. The anticipation was killing CJ and her gut was screaming ‘This is it!'
Mikey came rushing out of the storage room with his spikey brown hair in disarray and his eyes barely open. “Thanks, Colin.” He clumsily hung up the call. “We need to go. Hess turned on his cell again but he's out in the boondocks… and he's on the move.”
“In the middle of the night…? Boondocks where?” CJ asked as everyone grabbed their guns and jackets.
“North on the Zuma Ridge Motor-”
“Shit!” CJ spat, silencing the young agent. She knew the girl found in Trancas Canyon had been significant to the killer and he had used a nearby area to dump their last victim too. If her suspicions were correct, he was going there again now. “We'll never get there in time...”
Mark threw a set of car keys at CJ who caught them without batting an eye. “We'll take two cars… come at him front and back if we have to. Mikey… got your tracking whatsit?”
“Right here, Sir. Colin hooked me up… tracking now.”
As the two cars screeched out of the field office parking garage, CJ's heart was racing. She wanted to bring him in before he took another life. They had to get him. There was no bringing back the ones they'd lost but she prayed they could save the one she was sure he had with him right now.
* * * * * *
A few restless hours later, Kate noted an unusual feeling in her gut as she arrived at the Olympian studios… and it wasn't the Monday morning blues. It dawned on her that she didn't want to be there today. The recent events had blighted her workplace and she wanted to tell Tony to turn around and head for home. She kissed Shannon and Lucy goodbye and after a loving smile to her daughters, she got out of the car and threw her trusted driver an uncharacteristic half-wave. Tony waved back and drove off, heading for Shannon's school then the Carson home. He was on child-minding duties today.
Walking with purpose towards the offices, Kate decided now was as good a time as any to have a word with her casting director. She knocked and entered Derek Trent's room, noticing one of the writers was also present. ‘ Perfect . Maybe he can write me into the background for a while .'
The casting director waved her in, then hung up the call he had been on. “Kate… how can I help?”
“I need to back away from the show for a while, Derek,” she said adamantly.
“Yes. I have a few problems and I need to do less hours. Is there anything you think they could do to accommodate that?”
“Kate, the show is about the ME's office and you are their chief forensic scientist. You can't back away. You're one of the stars!” the director said emphatically.
“There must be something that can be done. Isn't Jack the big movie star? He can take the lead for a while, can't he?”
Derek pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. “You alone bring in over forty percent of our viewers, Kate. We can't just have a part-time forensics expert. Phil and the producers wouldn't allow it… and it doesn't work in this show. It's all or nothing.”
“I see,” Kate replied solemnly, noting that Jim the writer hadn't said a word.
“Can you sit down and tell me why you want away from here so bad?” the casting director asked.
“No… it was just a thought. Thanks anyway,” she said and walked out the door.
Derek Trent looked concerned and slightly puzzled by the interaction. “Any idea what that was about, Jim?”
“Not a clue. She's always been one of the happy ones around here… never had a problem with her.”
“Me neither.” Derek drew his brows together and rubbed his cheek as he processed the apparent sudden change in the actress. He would speak with a few of his colleagues discreetly, to try and find out what was going on around the studios.
* * * * * *
Meanwhile as the sun broke over the mountains, two FBI sedans sped in formation toward their moving target. Mikey was in the lead vehicle with Ethan and the Assistant Director while Jamie sat in the passenger seat of CJ's car. The blonde agent was trying to distract herself from what might happen next by going over a conversation she'd had with Sam yesterday. She turned to look at CJ to see if the woman looked approachable. “You okay there, DM?”
“I'm fine. Did Kate sort out the issue with her mother?”
“You know… her mother being in town an' all?”
“Elizabeth's here? Why?” CJ was taken aback by the news. She detested that woman.
“Ah… you don't know. Forget I said anything.”
“How the hell do you know and I don't?”
Jamie shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “Uh, Sam said-“
“Sam? Damn it, I knew there was something going on with Kate… why didn't she talk to me?”
“CJ… she does have other people she can talk to, you know… and you were busy with the case an' all so-“
The look in CJ's eyes was enough to stop her in her tracks. Thankfully, Mark's voice sounded in their earpieces and she was saved from further scrutiny. “ The cell phone is still switched on… we might get lucky . We're almost on him. Keep your eyes open and wait for my signal!” the Assistant Director barked.
“Roger that,” Agent Green responded. This was potentially the climax of their case and she had upset CJ at a critical time. ‘ Jeez… will I ever learn to keep my big mouth shut?' As she glanced covertly at her friend once more, she noted the fixed and lowered eyebrows and the blue orbs scanning their surroundings as CJ drove. An image of the Terminator came to mind and Jamie would never be able to liken this machine-like agent to the friend who called her ‘honey' or laughed and joked with her on so many occasions. She knew this was what CJ did to enable herself to work these cases in a professional manner and she admired her for that. It was just very weird to witness the two different sides of her best friend. Jamie blinked away the thoughts and focused back on the road. After all, they had a killer to find.
* * * * * *
Kate left her trailer feeling the weight of her worries bearing down on her. She tried to appreciate the early morning sunshine but nothing could dissipate the cloud that hung over the actress' head. That cloud got darker as she spotted Jack Bannerman – looking slightly more fresh-faced than usual – coming towards her with a bounce in his step. “Hey Kate, how goes it?”
“I'm not in the mood, Jack.”
“For what? Talking to a co-worker? Aww, c'mon… hey, I meant to say to you… I loved your Mom. What a great lady…” It seemed the actor had completely forgotten his drunken behavior.
“Yeah… she has a good head on her shoulders. And what nice shoulders they are. She sure warmed to me, I tell ya.”
“Really?” Kate never trusted Jack and now was no different. “How do you know anything about her?”
“Oh, well we spent some time together after we met at the studio gates. I think you should listen to her. It's about time you came to your senses and married me instead of that cop… hot as she is…” he added with a chuckle.
Kate couldn't believe her ears. Her mother had been discussing her life with Jack? She was furious. “If that woman ever comes back here, you just stay away from her. Do you hear me?”
“Why would I want to do that? Your mother's a lovely woman. You know, she agreed we should be together. Me and you, Kate… our babies would be gorgeous,” Jack said, wiggling a self-assured eyebrow.
“You don't get it, do you Jack?”
“Exactly! Just leave me the hell alone and don't come near my family again! I didn't need you to give me kids…” she said without thinking.
“You already have kids?” the actor blurted. “When?”
Kate had turned away from him but stopped in her tracks and closed her eyes. They had managed to shield the children from the media and she didn't want him knowing anything more about her private life either. She turned around and approached him again. “Like I said, don't come near me again. If you thought CJ was scary, just try hurting our family and see what happens. Two mothers protecting their young… they'd kill the predator, Jack. Don't you ever watch those nature documentaries?” Kate snarled, her green eyes piercing into the man so much he had to take a step back.
The blonde was holding back her rage and an image of a highly-provoked and angry CJ standing next to her popped into Jack's mind. He made a silent ‘O' with his mouth. “I didn't know… I mean, I'm sorry about…”
The actress took another step toward him. “Sorry about what , Jack?”
The confidence and power he foolishly perceived to be all his had shifted and the actor felt confused. “Uh, well I…”
“What else have you done that you're sorry about, hmm?”
The big man now felt like she had punched him in the gut, her glare was that intense. “Shit… uh, I'm just sorry for anything… everything. I gotta go.” And with that, he made a hasty exit.
Kate stared after him for a few seconds, her eyes narrowing dangerously. She knew he had been involved in some way. He was always lurking in the background when problems arose. The actress wanted to interrogate the man… better yet, let her wife interrogate him. She curled her lip in another snarl and spun around to head for her trailer.
As Mark pulled the car onto the side of the road, Mikey blinked and double-checked the screen in front of him. “We should be right on top of him,” he said to the AD and the whole team via his hidden microphone.
“Damn it,” Mark muttered. He couldn't see anyone out there. They were in a pretty remote area. The last stopping place was about ten miles back and that had only been an unmanned restroom. “The speed he was moving at five minutes ago… he should be in a car… or at least we should see one parked up.”
“ Uh, Sir …” Agent Carson said in his ear.
“Go ahead, CJ…”
“ There's something in the forest… ten o'clock… about fifty yards ahead, other side of the road. It looks like the tail end of a vehicle. ”
Mark scanned the tree line and couldn't see anything. “Are you sure, CJ?”
“ Yes, Sir. It's a dark green color but I just saw it glisten in the sun… definitely metallic .” A pause. “ Sir, Jamie just checked the plate… it's stolen .”
“How did she manage that? I can't even see the damn thing…”
“ Uh, we've got binoculars, Sir .”
“That's good enough for me. Let's go… Scorpion formation.” Both sedans instantly reversed and parked in a hidden location off road.
The Assistant Director didn't need to say anything else. Scorpion was the approach method they would use. Two agents came at the suspect or vehicle from either side in a pincer movement but the main body of agents – the remaining three – would bring up the rear like the sting in the scorpion's tail. If the suspect was there, he would be watching the two who'd approached first, hopefully giving the other's the element of surprise. The SSHU agents had decided ‘Scorpion' was the name they'd give it.
So now, without further instruction, CJ and Ethan stealthily approached on foot, drawing their guns as they moved along the side of the road. CJ guessed Hess wouldn't be in the car. He was most likely out amongst the trees doing… something. The problem was, if Hess stuck to his previous pattern, that ‘something' would already be dead. It was times like these CJ hated being right.
Once she was sure everyone had seen the vehicle, they ventured further into the woods. CJ signaled with one hand to Ethan that she would go past the dirty green Mazda pickup truck to the far side. When she was in place, Ethan moved quickly in sync with her until they were level with the doors. Just as CJ suspected, there was nobody in the driver's cab.
With another hand signal – and a shiver at the thought of what might have happened inside this vehicle - Agent Matthews suggested checking the rear space under the hard top. They did so – noticing that Mark, Mikey and Jamie were closing in from behind the truck. CJ pulled at the handle on the back door with no luck; it was locked like the rest of them, making her think he had stolen the car using the key. She peered through a gap in the ripped reflective covering that was supposed to block the view into the rear cab. There was no one inside but she did spot plastic sheeting similar to the type the other bodies had been wrapped in. She also saw a phone. “Damn it… he left the cell inside.”
The tracking device was now useless and as soon as Mikey had pocketed the gadget, a snapping sound in the forest made him raise his Glock and point it into the trees. As five agents scanned the area, guns aimed and ready, a branch that had broken off fell naturally from above and thumped to the ground.
“Jeez…” Jamie breathed.
CJ surveyed the area and figured out which direction Hess had gone in. “Sir… I think I can track his movements… all this ground is undisturbed.” She pointed to the surrounding area. “But this part here… someone's walked over it recently. Look at the foliage… freshly broken stems.”
Mark shook his head slowly. “Is there anything you can't do, Agent Carson?”
“Just remembering old stories my mother told me about her grandfather, Sir,” CJ replied as she led her team forward. Ethan moved with her, his gun poised at his shoulder. Mark and Jamie revived the Scorpion and fell in behind, fanning out as they followed at a distance. Mikey remained near the vehicle, concealed in the scrub at the side of the road. He listened carefully for any movement coming his way and also for any voices in his earpiece that would signify signs of trouble for his colleagues. Only then would he break his cover.
* * * * * *
Samantha Morris threw her bag over her shoulder and made a bee line for Kate's trailer. The actress had been covering her stress and sadness quite well in public but she wanted to check the strong woman was coping behind the scenes as well. With a knock on the door, Sam stood and looked around the studio lot, closing her eyes for a second in the warm afternoon sun. There was no response to her knock and she wondered if Phil Romaine had given her the wrong information about the actress taking a late lunch. “Kate?”
Sam jumped out of her skin when her friend came up behind her with a cup of coffee in her hand. “Jeez, you scared me.”
“Sorry, Sam… want to come in?” the blonde said, opening the door.
“Sure I do. How are you, hon?”
Kate blew out a breath as she sat down. “Truthfully?”
“Damn straight. We FBI widows need to stick together.”
“Oh Sam… don't say widows.”
“Sorry… so tell me…”
“I… I'm coping fine. I just have a lot to think through…”
“About… work or family or life?”
“Yeah,” Kate answered, taking a sip of her coffee.
“All of them?”
“Yes. Work is feeling so off right now. My family… I miss them like crazy. I know its end of season but the filming schedule is really ridiculous and I've barely seen the girls for two weeks. That wouldn't be as bad if CJ was home… but she's not…”
“That can't be helping either… you and CJ not getting time together. I know it's frustrating Jamie and I too…”
“I know. Sorry Sam… I'm going on and on,” Kate said with a small smile to her friend.
“Not at all. And I know you have Jack to deal with on a daily basis. That has to drag you down…”
“I guess I just have to rethink what it is I really want.”
The redhead looked into Kate's eyes. “I know that you know what's important. My advice…? Take all the time you need to think things through.” Sam stood up to go back to work. “But today, tell them you have to leave, Kate… and go home to your daughters.”
Kate got up to hug her ex-producer. “Thanks, Sam. I love you.”
“Love you too, kiddo. See you tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow.” Kate closed the door and went to finish her drink. She hadn't eaten anything today and knew it was her nerves that were upsetting her stomach. She tapped her fingers on the table surface. “Some decisions need to be made during my few weeks off.”
* * * * * *
As they walked along what CJ had deemed the path of the killer, Ethan did a sweep of the tree branches. They didn't take it for granted that he would be on the ground if he had managed to spot them first. A second later, CJ stopped in front of him raising her hand in a halt signal. She sidestepped into the unbroken foliage to let her colleague see the fresh footprint in the muddy patch ahead but as she did that, her left boot sunk into another soft spot. “Shit.”
Ethan saw the brownish goo that covered CJ's footwear and scrunched his nose as he whispered, “Nah… it's only mud.”
CJ would have laughed out loud had they not been tracking a serial killer. Instead, she smirked as she looked back down at the footprint she'd found. “What d'ya think… some kind of combat boot… size eleven?”
“Close enough,” Matthews replied quietly.
Mark and Jamie were not far away in the back-up position when they all heard a noise in the distance. Moving forward slowly, they took absolute care not to make a sound.
CJ's sharp hearing picked up a low voice. It seemed to be repeating the same words over and over, barely deviating from a monotone murmur. “Hold,” she whispered into her mic. When all other agent's stood still, she moved steadily and listened again. The voice continued and she tried to make out the words. Her stomach dropped when she figured it out. ‘ I'm sorry. I didn't see it… I didn't. Sorry… so sorry… I didn't see it…'
Mark watched his lead agent. “Report, Agent.”
Since she was closer to where she thought Hess was situated, she turned briefly and signaled once again with her hand, telling them where she was going. She also told the AD and Jamie to wait. Ethan knew he should go with her and sidestepped over some moss-covered ground, making sure to avoid the twigs strewn over their path. He glanced at Agent Carson when they both spotted a dark head of short hair behind a crop of ferns. Hess was kneeling – CJ suspected, over a body – and he was still repeating his chant.
They approached about ten feet apart from behind each of the suspect's shoulders with their guns trained on him. CJ had thought he hadn't heard them but his mantra changed a moment later.
“Just kill me… I didn't… I didn't see it… kill me.”
“FBI… put your hands on top of your head…!” CJ said loudly. Hearing her words, Mark and Jamie came up behind them. Back at the vehicle, Mikey listened carefully and was poised and ready for any command.
“Kill me!” Hess shouted.
“I'm not gonna shoot you in the back, Ricki. Stand up and put your hands on your head…”
“No! I didn't see it! Shoot me… it has to stop. I can't… it has to stop!” Hess stood and turned to face the agents. As his body moved, CJ saw the tarpaulin on the forest floor and the bloodied hair that protruded from it. She also saw the tear-stained face of Eric Hess and the red staining on his own clothing. She grimaced and knew her suspicions were correct. He had killed again.
When she noticed Jamie moving swiftly and stealthily in the trees and approaching Hess from behind, she knew she should keep him talking. “Eric…” She deliberately called him by his given name and it had the desired effect. He looked up sharply at her but in the next second his eyes darkened, his expression tightened and he decided it was time to pull his knife from his pocket. “Eric… put down the knife!”
“No… it has to end. Just shoot!”
He lunged forward and held the knife high. He was going to attack CJ to force her into pulling the trigger but he wasn't as fast as Jamie who was right behind him. She firmly grabbed both his elbows and wrestled him to the ground. As he lay on his front still screaming for them to end his life, all four agents pounced on him and pinned him down. His knife-wielding arm was immobilized and Mikey – who had suddenly appeared from nowhere - quickly removed the weapon from Hess' iron grip. The blood all the way up to the hilt made it obvious that this weapon had been used to cut his victims.
CJ read Eric Hess his rights and informed him that he was now under arrest for ten counts of murder in the first degree before Agents Ryan and Matthews led the suddenly-subdued killer away in cuffs. CJ frowned at the differences she had seen in Hess in the space of a couple of minutes and realized this case was even more complicated that she'd thought.
She turned to the body of his final child victim and brushed her hand over her forehead to remove the unruly bangs that had fallen forward in the scuffle. She had lost her earpiece so Mark came up behind her and touched her shoulder. “Ryan called in the CSU. They should be here within the hour.”
CJ nodded and bent down to check the body for a pulse. She had to be sure even though it was obvious he was dead. “I just wish we'd been able to save him,” she said, crouching over the boy on the ground.
“I know… but you caught the killer… you did your job.”
“Not soon enough.”
“It's never soon enough, Agent Carson… don't torture yourself. That's an order.” When no response was forthcoming, Mark walked back through the forest towards the car.
CJ pulled on a pair of latex gloves and moved the light blue tarp. Hess had removed the victim's right arm and placed it inside the plastic this time. The eyelids were closed but CJ knew what lay behind them. The body was wrapped very carefully as if Hess had taken more time with the victim after his kill and she wondered if he had started to enjoy what he was doing. He had seemed so disturbed by it at first and the tears they'd found seemed to confirm that. She knew the interview would give her a better understanding and as much as she didn't want to venture into Eric's mind, she did want to gain better knowledge of this type of insanity. He was clearly traumatized to the point of madness but in her mind, it would never excuse his actions. Nothing could.
She stood and looked toward the sky. She had seen enough dead bodies to be able to cope with this but still, she would never get used to seeing dead children. It was almost too much to bear.
Jamie, who was now placing numbered markers at each evidential point at the scene, carefully walked over to her friend. “Hey… can you…?”
CJ took the camera from the bag on the blonde's shoulder and noticed the glint of moisture in Jamie's eyes. She wasn't the only one upset by the sights they had witnessed during this case. “Sure. Let's get this done before Victor gets here. There's a breeze getting up. He'll want to get him back before we lose any evidence.”
Agent Green gave a somber nod and continued with her work. CJ sighed and with a silent ‘sorry' to the boy, she began cataloging the tragic event.
* * * * * *
As the evening sky settled over the Carson farmhouse, Shannon and Lucy played in the backyard with Kamali. Shannon had done her homework, Lucy had swept the floor – strangely, one of her favorite pastimes - and they'd both eaten dinner by the time Kate walked in the front door. She was thankful that she was at least home before they went to bed and quickly dropped her bag on the couch. She was about to search for her beloved daughters when she ran into Alice Matthews and one of her 3 year old twins. “Hey, Alice…” She blew a raspberry into Melissa's little hand. “Hi, beautiful girl…” The child chuckled merrily at the funny sound.
“Kate… you're home.”
“Yes. I escaped early today so you're free to go anytime, Alice.”
“Great. I'll collect up my other tyke and leave you guys to it,” the young blonde woman smiled.
A scant five minutes later, the Matthews family had left. The actress knew Alice would be just as glad as she was to have an evening to spend with her own children, although Kate suspected Ethan would be working late just like CJ. That thought led her to wonder what her wife might be doing right now and she could only imagine the thundery storm inside the tall agent's mind as she tracked the killer. She attempted to put those disturbing thoughts aside and focus on the girls. She needed time with her daughters.
It wasn't long before Lucy was sprawled on top of her and Shannon was sitting at the other end of the couch rubbing Kamali's head as she stared at the fireplace. Kate was listening to Lucy's contented noises - a result of the actress scratching her small back gently with her nails – as she watched her older daughter with concern. Shannon had greeted her with a hug but there was something bothering the girl. “Shannon? Come here, sweetheart.”
The dark head turned but Shannon didn't move from her spot. “When's Mommy coming home?”
“I'm not sure, Squirt. She has to work a lot this week.”
“She always has to work.”
“Sometimes she does… yes.”
“Well, Daddy always had to work and look what happened.”
Kate's heart lurched. “Shan, Mommy will be home. And remember, she took you out on Nevada last week? Sometimes she gets busy but sometimes she spends all day with you. Please come give us a hug while we talk about it?”
Shannon slid along the couch and crawled up inside Kate's spare arm. “I miss her.”
The blonde almost cried. “I miss her too, Shan. Do you remember when I told you about Mommy's job?”
“Yes. You said that when people do the wrong things… bad things to hurt other people… Mommy works hard to catch them.”
Kate nodded. “That's right. And that's what she's doing right now. She told me she misses us all so much and she'll get home as soon as she can.” A small murmur sounded from Lucy but she was drifting off in a blissful haze. Having her back scratched was one of the best things ever.
“Will she come home by Friday… when school stops?”
“Oh, honey… of course. I'll make sure she has dinner with us at least one night. And remember, the week after school stops for the summer, I finish work for a while!”
“Promise.” Kate squeezed the girl's shoulders.
“I love you, Mama,” Shannon said as she buried herself deeper in the blonde's embrace.
“I love you too.”
Lucy stirred very slightly. “Me too.”
“You too, Luce,” Kate whispered, kissing the child's head.
* * * * * *
It had been a silent journey back to the LA field office. All five agents had worn their mics and earpieces during the trip and Hess had not said a single word to anyone. Once he had been placed in interrogation, Mark, CJ and Ethan gathered in the dark observation room behind the two-way mirror. Hess sat at the table facing them and his condition hadn't changed.
“What was he like in the car?” Mark asked.
CJ sighed heavily. “He sat absolutely still… didn't say a word. It looked like he was staring at a single stitch in the leather seat and he barely blinked his eyes. I think we need the Doc to assess him but I'll try and speak with him first.” She was talking about Forensic Psychologist Dr. Liam Martin who was on his way in. “I'd recommend suicide watch. I think he went into some kind of stupor when we wouldn't shoot him… I doubt he'll say a word.”
“Give it a try, CJ. We'll be right here. Make sure and repeat on tape that he's entitled to an attorney. I don't want this case going to shit because of a technicality… I want it one hundred percent by the book.”
“As always, Sir,” she replied as she turned to Ethan. “Can you get an ETA on Martin?”
“Sure.” Matthews used the phone on the desk next to them and called up to Jamie. Sixty seconds later, he hung up. “The Doc's about five minutes out.”
“Okay. I'll go in now… see if Eric feels like cooperating.” Both Mark and Ethan nodded and she headed into the corridor, flipping through her notes and taking a deep breath before opening the next door.
Hess didn't even register her arrival when she walked into the interrogation room. She took the seat opposite him and he shifted in his chair so that he wasn't directly facing her. His shoulders were tensed and his hands were hidden between his knees. He wouldn't look anywhere but the floor and resembled a lost child. CJ tried to avoid feeling sorry for him. Opening the file and seeing the photographs of the bodies he had dumped erased any feelings of sympathy she might have had. She looked up to the camera in the corner of the ceiling and saw the red light was shining bright, signifying that they were being recorded.
No response except more tension in his shoulders.
“Eric… I'm Special Agent Carson. I need to remind you that you are under arrest and that you don't have to say anything. Do you remember when we told you that in the forest?”
The tiniest nod came from Hess.
“I have to ask you again if you want an attorney. Do you understand that you are entitled to have one here?”
Still staring at the floor, Hess nodded again.
“Do you want an attorney?”
“No. I want to die.”
His voice was monotone and his eyes didn't deviate from whatever they were focused on. It was chilling and CJ could see how damaged he was. She was sure her profile was pretty much spot on and wanted to know what had happened to Hess when he was younger. She figured it was as good a place to start as any. “Eric… what happened to Jonathan?”
The mere mention of his brother changed his entire demeanor. He escaped his chair and scampered into the corner of the room. Curled in a ball on the floor, he began the chanting he was repeating when they'd found him. “It wasn't me… I'm so sorry… I'm sorry…”
CJ got to her feet slowly. “Eric…”
“Don't call me that.”
“What should I call you?”
“Ricki… I want to understand,” she said calmly as she approached him. “I want to understand what happened to Jonathan…”
“No… it wasn't me… it was him. I'm sorry, Jonathan.” Hess rocked back and forth with his arms still curled around the knees that he held to his chest.
CJ crouched down – still keeping enough space between her and the killer in case he lashed out – and changed her tactic a little. “Ricki… we want to find Jonathan and help him. Can you tell me where he might be?”
The rocking stopped and the change in Hess' face shocked CJ, though she hid it well. It was like he had just regressed ten years. Wide tear-filled eyes looked up at her and a hopeful smile creased his mouth. “You could find him? I play with him in the back yard. Maybe he's there?”
The agent was now remembering what she had witnessed in the forest and it confirmed to her that Eric had multiple personalities. He got up off the floor and went back to the table. CJ turned to see him place both hands neatly on the surface and bring his knees tightly together as he sat down. She returned to her seat and closed the file, not wanting the photos to ruin her chances at getting some sort of answers from the young man. “What's on your mind, Ricki?”
“Who's Ricki? My name's Eric,” the eighteen year old said shyly.
“There was a barrel out back at our house. One day, Jonathan knocked it over and all the rain water spilled onto the yard. It smelled real bad.” He scrunched his nose at the memory. “Dad was angry and took Jonathan inside. I went in too and I don't remember what happened… but I do remember Dad saying that Jonathan should be put in the barrel and he would learn his lesson when he got all smelly too… we thought it might be fun but… but…”
CJ watched in muted astonishment as the face across from her changed again. Hess the Killer came to the fore and she knew she had to be careful. “Did Jonathan go inside the barrel?”
“Just leave him alone! Don't hurt the boy. He doesn't deserve it!”
“Little Eric… just leave him alone.”
“I don't want to hurt Eric, I just want to talk to him,” CJ said cautiously. “Can you let me speak with Eric now?”
“I… he's… no!”
“What is your name?”
“Frankie. You leave him alone, ya hear?” The eighteen year old got to his feet and CJ went into full alert. His stance was angry and threatening and he leaned over the table to try and provoke the agent. CJ got to her feet and was poised to tackle him when she heard the door handle clicking.
At that moment, Mark entered the interrogation room. He had learned so much from CJ - even though he was her superior - and decided that if a father figure came into the room, the boy might change out of the Frankie personality. He was right. Eric dropped down and cowered in his chair as Mark sat down next to CJ. He looked the killer in the eye. “We have a doctor here to see you. His name is Liam and he'll talk to you soon. We want to find Jonathan and I need you to tell us where to look. Can you do that?”
“Yessir. No problem, Sir.”
CJ looked at Mark and then back at the killer. The accent had changed. “What is your name?”
“I'm Charles, Ma'am. How can I help?”
“We're trying to find out where Jonathan Hess is? Where should we look, Charles?”
“At the ole house… in Torrance. They tore it down about three years ago but the stench is still there.”
“Stench?” CJ probed.
“He killed Jonathan. Eric saw it. We try to help Eric, y'see… to show him why his brother was killed… so maybe he could make some damn sense of it all. That's why Frankie put those kids down… to show Eric why it had to happen to his kid brother. Eric has to understand why…”
Mark sat back quietly - his presence being the only thing required of him at this point - and let his top agent do her job. CJ proceeded with caution. “Do you know who murdered Jonathan Hess?”
“Eric saw it. So I saw it too.”
CJ nodded. “Who was it, Charles?”
“Frank Hess. He was always beatin' those kids. Eric tried to stand up to him once and got a cracked jaw for his trouble. One night, Frank was drinkin' real hard… he did that a lot… and he took to beatin' Jonathan. They boy was out cold… and… and Frank started hacking at him with a knife. Maybe he thought the boy was already dead or somethin'… he sure was a few minutes later. Eric saw that… but Frank didn't see him watchin'. That scared kid saw his father choppin' his brother in pieces and baggin' him up. The man was in a mighty rage. I think he buried the boy in the yard. Like I said, the stench is still there.” The Charles personality pushed his sleeves up then crossed his arms over his chest. That's when CJ saw the white bandage with three small bloody marks seeping through it.
“What happened to your arm?” The young man tugged the sleeves back down and didn't answer but he didn't need to. The agent could see the tail ends of the gashes peeking out from under the wrappings. CJ sighed and didn't want to push her luck at this point. He was talking and she wanted to keep it that way for as long as possible. “We went to the house a week ago, Ric… Charles. There's a new family living there now.”
“I'm sure… but I'm talkin' about the house they moved to while their roof was gettin' replaced. They moved three doors down for more than a month. Frank had a friend who was outta town so they stayed there free of charge. They never did get rid of the stench at that house… probably why they pulled it down eventually. That's where you'll find it…”
“What will I find?”
“The boy… he's there…”
“Charles, what happened to the eyes of the other children?”
“Oh… you ain't findin' them…”
CJ observed him closely and noticed the Charles personality was fading. “Charles, stay with me for a minute.”
“Not a chance, lady. You're asking the wrong questions. He won't be telling you shit!” Frankie was back and both CJ and Mark knew it immediately.
“Calm down, Frankie. We've heard enough for now.”
“You're damn right you have. Oh… and the eyes are gone. Those kids never have to see the evil in this fucking world again…”
The tall agent stood and Mark followed but when he did, the killer shied away from the table. Just the action of the Assistant Director rising to leave brought the scared and seemingly helpless Ricki personality to the fore again.
“Leave me alone! I didn't do anything… I didn't see it!”
CJ held up her hand. “It's over for now, Ricki?” When he nodded, she sighed. “The Doctor will come and talk to you soon. Sit tight.”
As they walked out the door, another agent came in to stand with Hess. They went into the observation room to meet with Liam Martin and saw that Eric was rocking back and forth once more. CJ worried that he might not be fit to stand trial.
Kate had enjoyed a relaxed evening with her children and now that they slept peacefully in their beds, she headed to the kitchen to make herself a treat. “Hmm, a latte with cream on top, I think.” Kamali seemed to agree and she patted the big black German Shepherd on the head as she walked through the living area. She had become highly sensitive to any unusual noises in the house and suspected it was because of her mother's parting – and hopefully, empty - threat. She was so glad to have the dog there. Kamali would hear any suspicious noises before she would and the dog knew exactly when CJ was coming in and when someone else was outside the house. He was a great and loyal companion.
Her mind drifted to thoughts of CJ as she powered up the coffee machine. She hadn't heard from her wife since last night and was trying to teach herself not to worry every time CJ had a killer to catch. “I don't think I'll ever stop worrying about her,” she mumbled as she collected her mug from the dishwasher. As she put it on the counter, her cell phone rang somewhere in the living area. She rushed through the double doors and snagged the phone, seeing CJ's office number on the display.
Kate hadn't smiled so widely in days and tried to contain her exuberance. “Hey, you!”
“ Hi, Katie. May I beg your forgiveness?”
“What for, honey?”
“ We haven't spoken since yesterday .”
“I know… but you don't need to beg for anything, CJ. I know you're up to your ears in work right now.”
“ I miss you .”
CJ sounded so melancholy and Kate felt her heart expand in her need to comfort her wife. “I miss you too. The girls can't wait to see you.”
“ I don't feel like a very good Mom right now… or partner, for that matter .”
“CJ, stop this. You are the most amazing spouse and mother… and you work damn hard too. Remember how I told you to stop beating yourself up?”
“ Yeah, yeah… so how are you, Katie?”
“I'm okay. Things have been weird this past week… but I'm doing fine. Just get home to us as soon as you can. I need to hold you.”
“ I will. It should be soon since we caught the killer today.”
Kate's eyebrows curled. “You caught him already?”
“ Yeah… he's in with the shrink right now. He's really screwed up .”
“He would have to be to do what he was doing, honey.”
“ True… true. Anyway, I'm gonna get the rest of this paperwork done and go meet the Doc when he gets out. I should have a few days off soon… so I'll see you when I see you?”
“Yes. CJ… I'm really proud of you. You guys do good work.” Kate knew her wife would be berating herself for not catching the killer quicker.
“ Thanks, Katie. Talk soon… I love you .”
“Love you too. Bye, CJ.”
“ Bye .”
Kate sighed when she hung up the call. She could only imagine the torture the agent was putting herself through. CJ may be hard on the criminals she dealt with but she was hardest on herself. The blonde resolved to make sure her wife knew how amazing she was… just as soon as they had some time to spend together.
* * * * * *
It was almost ten o'clock and CJ briefly wondered where the day had gone. As she sat at her desk typing updates onto her case file, the time she'd spent with Hess kept running around in her mind. She could only imagine what went on inside his head. It would be bad enough with one voice convincing him to kill, never mind four… at least four. She wondered how many other personalities Martin would find. She had given him the video of her interview with the killer so that he could go in there with as much information as possible. Now she waited for his report. She didn't have to wait long as Liam Martin and the Assistant Director walked in the door a couple of minutes later.
Mark sat down in Ethan's chair since he had sent the young agent home to his family. Jamie and Mikey were out checking into the location of the house ‘Charles' had spoken of. It would be secured until they could get a team out to investigate it tomorrow. The Assistant Director offered Dr. Martin one of the other chairs but the man declined. Instead, he perched on the corner of Jamie's desk to avoid having his back to anyone. CJ and Mark waited for him to speak first.
“I'm glad you caught this guy,” Liam began.
CJ bit her lips. “That bad, huh?”
“He has the most complex MPD I've seen in someone so young. I believe you witnessed four of them?” When CJ and Mark both nodded, he continued. “During my session with him, I saw at least six. The Ricki personality seems to be the one that's dominant and he uses it to function on a daily basis. The Eric personality is the victim… the victim of the abuse from his father and the victim who witnessed the atrocity of his little brother being murdered. Ricki and Eric seem to merge into one another frequently.” Liam flicked through his papers. “Frankie… he seems to appear as a protector but he's also very violent, which could explain why he has the father's name… and it's quite common for a yearning child victim to identify their abuser as a protector...”
“A type of Stockholm Syndrome?” CJ asked.
“Yes. In most cases, people suffering from Stockholm Syndrome come to identify with and even care for their captors in a desperate and usually unconscious act of self-preservation. It occurs in the most psychologically traumatic situations… kidnappings, extreme abuse, hostage situations… you must have dealt with this, Agent Carson?”
“I have… but most of the hostage situations I dealt with were pretty instantaneous. I didn't come across any long-term hostages in my time as a negotiator.”
“Indeed. Still, you'll know that the effects of Stockholm Syndrome don't end when the crisis ends. In most classic cases, victims continue to defend and even care about their captors. What I see with Eric is a variation on this and his personalities make it a much more complicated case. Some of them seem to defend his father and some try to protect Eric from what he witnessed. There's no doubt both those boys were severely beaten on a regular basis and I absolutely believe Eric saw his father brutally murdering his little brother and possibly disposing of disemboweled remains. That type of incident is horrific for any child, or adult for that matter… throw in a personality disorder and extreme physical and mental abuse and you've got yourself a nightmare... a ticking time bomb.”
“Did you manage to pin down which of the personalities was dominant during the killing? I mean, it seems that Ricki was the one who was crying over the children and perhaps both he and Eric were the ones I heard about at the boxing ring…”
Doctor Martin nodded at the agent. She had a decent grasp on what was going on inside Hess' mind. “I got that too, Agent. After watching the recording of your session with him, I hoped the Charles personality would come out for me. He seems to want to explain why the others do what they do. He did suggest that there was a dark force in their midst. I wanted to find out who that dark force was so I pushed him… and Frankie appeared. He seemed to be sticking around this time… I wasn't able to bring anyone else back out. That's when I had to terminate the session and let the two agents posted outside take over. Hess was restrained and is now in lock-up… under constant observation.”
“Did ‘Frankie' get violent?”
“He started to… threw the table across the room while screaming and shouting that he was going to do to me what he did to the children. I'll be putting in my official report that he is the one who kills.”
Mark leaned forward and laid his arms on the desk. “What will happen to him now, Liam?”
“Well… he'll need further evaluation but with the evidence in your case and the information I'll be putting in my report, he'll never be a free man again. He's far too dangerous. I do believe he'll be incarcerated in a secured medical facility though. He shouldn't be in a regular prison and certainly not in general population. He's an extreme threat to himself and to everyone else. I'll let you know when he's fit to stand trial. As soon as I know, you'll know.” Liam stood up to leave.
“Thank you, Doctor,” CJ said, extending her hand.
“Thank you , Agent Carson. Thank you all… for ending this, and for the way you handled Hess in your interview,” Martin replied while shaking the hand firmly.
Mark escorted the Doctor out and CJ gazed at the pinboard as she processed all that she had heard. She only broke out of her thoughts when Jamie and Mikey dragged themselves back into the office a short while later. “Hey… how did it go?”
Jamie slumped into her chair and kicked off her shoes. “The lot is still vacant and lucky for us, it's locked up good. Six-foot fence and a chain on the gate... its private property under lock and key so I requested a patrol car be posted on it tonight and I've called for a priority warrant.”
“You requested a patrol car?” CJ asked with her signature eyebrow curl.
“Yeah… I got some friends in the LAPD too, ya know.”
“Uh huh.” CJ was satisfied that she could go home for the night and once she finished up today's report, she did just that.
* * * * * *
When CJ finally managed to leave the office, it was 11.30pm. Almost an hour later, she arrived home and locked away her Glock before checking the living area for her wife. Kate was nowhere to be found and the agent grumbled to herself on her way upstairs. She found Kamali in his usual spot – or close to it – in between Shannon and Lucy's bedrooms. She quietly looked in on her daughters before heading to the master suite. As she entered, she could smell the familiar aroma of Kate's strawberry bubble bath and knew her spouse was soaking in the tub. She exhaled gustily at the normality of the situation… something she had been missing for the past couple of weeks… and uttered a gentle ‘Katie?' to alert her love to her presence.
“In here, CJ.”
“I know. I just didn't want to scare the crap out of you,” the tall agent said as she came around the door jamb.
“I heard you coming in, honey,” Kate smiled when she saw her bedraggled wife.
The actress grinned at the way CJ was looking at everything but her ears. “Do you want to join me or something?”
The taller woman continued to stare at her wife's body and didn't hear the question at first. She was mesmerized by Kate's swollen breasts. “Hmm?”
“If you don't stop that, you'll drool into my bath. I said… do you want to join me?”
“Oh… yeah… uhm, what happened to your…? I mean, they've gotten…”
“Jeez, CJ… I'm pre-menstrual, okay? Way to make a woman feel self-conscious…”
“No, no… I love it… I love you all the time and you know it… maybe it's because I haven't seen you in so damn long…” CJ shrugged and Kate knew her wife was feeling the effects of their enforced separation. There was always a carnal hunger after they'd been apart for a while and now was no different. She was just glad CJ was allowing herself to feel. It would be a primitive rejoining. Kate had always loved these times and as much as she was stressed out by other people in her life – and she knew CJ was too – she also knew they would have quite a night. The thought of that raised her temperature a few degrees and the blood rushed to all sorts of places in response. She hadn't touched herself in her wife's absence and she knew CJ wouldn't have either. By the looks of the dark eyebrows that now crawled up the agent's forehead, the hardening of Kate's nipples was rather obvious.
The actress inhaled slowly to exaggerate the effects to her entranced spouse. “Get in here…” she purred. CJ instantly noted the deepening of Kate's voice and locked eyes with her soul mate.
Without a word, she undressed, feeling the green orbs watching her every move. As she swayed slowly toward the tub, her breaths shortened and her pupils dilated but then her expression changed and Kate looked at her with concern. “What, CJ?”
The agent pouted. “I need to pee…”
She didn't expect the actress to howl with laughter. Kate slid under the water as she lost control and CJ watched the bubbles explode through the white strawberry froth as the blonde continued to laugh. She had to smile herself; it was pretty funny and she realized they had both needed this. Not just to connect but to make one another laugh, to release the tension they each felt. As Kate resurfaced, CJ put her hands on her hips. “Are you quite finished?”
“Pah! Yes!” The actress wiped her face down to remove the bubbles. “You always do that… just before you come into the bath and usually when you're in the middle of your sexy swagger approach…” She started laughing again as CJ headed to the toilet.
“Yeah well, me and my bladder… we like to keep you amused.”
“I love you, CJ… even when you're peeing.”
The agent had to chuckle as she sat down. “Uh huh… I love you too.”
* * * * * *
CJ was now in one of her favorite places; molded in behind her wife in a warm bath with her arms tightly wound around the smaller body. Kate ran her fingertips softly up and down CJ's arm and both seemed to know that few words needed to be said tonight. They were both quiet. There was too much to talk about and now was not the time. CJ didn't dare move the arm being caressed but the other hand was hovering over Kate's full breast; the fingers teasingly circling the nipple. Kate knew the next few hours would be filled with soothing touches, sensual looks, soulful love-making and plenty of satisfaction. Her body was on high alert and the simplest of contact was driving her insane.
As if reading her wife's mind, CJ decided it was time to get out of the tub. Every move the agent made was intensified by their highly sensitive bodies. Kate rose with her and they washed one another. With her hand slowly massaging CJ's intimate mound, Kate breathed close to her partner's chin, taking the skin into her mouth when CJ gasped out her pleasure. Kate slipped her hand lower and made sure to wash between the soft folds carefully… and thoroughly. CJ couldn't wait another second. She climaxed, curling her body over Kate's and biting into the convenient creamy shoulder still damp with warm water. Kate gulped and sunk her teeth into CJ's neck in response.
The agent whimpered and tried to regain her control. “Damn it… you barely touched me…”
Kate smiled seductively. “If you don't wash me soon, I may come before you touch me…”
CJ didn't even look for the soap. She had much better way of washing her wife. “I'll get started on that… with my tongue.”
Since the water in the tub had almost drained away, CJ decided this would be a quick but irresistible orgasm for her wife… just to take the edge off. Once they headed to bed, she wasn't letting Kate sleep for at least an hour. She crouched down and slipped her tongue into a very cute naval. Her teeth nipped at the surrounding skin while her hand pushed a nearby leg upward. The actress took the hint and rested her foot on the side of the bathtub, opening up to give her lover great access. The mere action sent Kate's aroused flesh into a frenzy and when CJ sunk the tip of her tongue under the blonde's clit and gently pulled it upward, the cry from Kate came straight from her soul.
She held onto CJ's head as the agent manipulated the supple ridge in perfect synchronicity with her body movement. She couldn't help the thrusting of her hips and as she tilted the exposed flesh toward CJ and moved her leg back further, it opened her up even more. The taller woman curled her tongue and plunged it inside her wife and as she did so, she brought her hands up to manipulate the soft buttocks and hold Kate in place. She continued to thrust even as she felt the velvety walls tighten around the muscle and made sure her nose grazed over the moist, swelling clit at the same time. She opened her eyes as Kate gripped at the dark head in her hands and pressed CJ's face into her. The agent loved this… she loved Kate in the throes of her orgasm. There was nothing but the two of them, so vulnerable yet so protected by one another.
As the blonde recovered she scratched through CJ's hair. “Oh… you can… ah… stop now…”
“I non' wandoo…”
Kate smirked as her breathing slowed to normal. “I know you don't want to… but… I have plans for you in bed…”
CJ disengaged her mouth from her wife and stood up, making sure to keep their bodies connected as she did so. Her breasts slowly trailed over Kate's and came to rest just above them. “Then let's get into bed…”
The husky voice made Kate's eyes widen and a smile quirked at the side of her mouth. About four minutes later, they were in bed in that same position – only horizontally. Kate ducked her head slightly to place a soft kiss on the swell of CJ's breast and the agent pressed her lips onto the blonde locks at the same time. Within both of them was the desire to make love but they knew it would happen without thought, without expectation, when it was supposed to. The anticipation itself increased their heart rates.
A few long moments later, Kate elevated herself on her elbow. She looked at CJ who smiled lovingly at her. The actress straddled the taller woman's thighs and began to stroke the lithe body beneath her. CJ closed her eyes and concentrated on the skilled hands as they touched her in all the right places. Her skin was aflame and her body buzzing. She could feel the soft yet wiry hair at Kate's center as it moved with the blonde's body… a body that was now heading towards the agent's face.
Blue eyes opened and looked down. The low light behind Kate shone through the tiny gap between them and highlighted the actress' engorged clit as it tickled over CJ's skin. “Oh yeah…” The agent was suddenly short of breath. Kate was caressing her with her center and when the salt-sweet flesh came to rest on CJ's breast, she thought she might have a heart attack as a slow rocking movement began.
Kate looked over her prey and felt the area between her legs burn fiercely. CJ had that look in her eyes and the agent's mouth was open in an attempt to draw more air into her lungs. The actress sensually moved so that the tip of her clit was only just touching her spouse's nipple, resulting in a gasp from both of them. CJ's raised her arms above her head to give the smaller woman complete access to her body.
“Do it…” CJ husked. Kate licked her lips and began to thrust back and forth over the eager flesh. The bud hardened and there was no holding back the moans of pleasure. Kate threw her head back as the sensations shot through her but CJ watched with sheer unadulterated joy as the delicious ridge rode her breast right in front of her face. “Oh God, yes…” The agent felt a flood of wetness between her legs and would never tire of the way Kate could arouse her to a point of utter madness.
The blonde was thrusting harder now and when she shuffled her knees up onto the pillow and held onto the head of the bed, CJ's mouth filled with saliva. “Ciara… I… your mouth…”
CJ glanced down and decided she more than wanted to grant the request. A pink, wet, alluring, hypnotic and highly addictive part of her wife's body was a mere inch from her face. It was impossible to resist and she wrapped her lips around Kate and suckled… gently at first but after the third ‘Yes!' from the feisty blond she suckled harder, bringing her tongue into play and rubbing the tip vigorously over her lover's clit. CJ raised her hands higher and covered Kate's. The actress released her grip and took CJ's hands, interlacing her fingers with her soul mate's strong digits. The agent watched in a trance as the body above her swayed and gyrated, riding her with wild abandon. She knew she was going to climax soon and wondered if she would get there before her wife. That thought was fleeting as Kate tried to stifle a scream and her body stiffened as her climax took hold.
“Oh… y… yesssss!”
CJ drank it in. The nectar flowing from Kate ran straight into her mouth. She extended her tongue just to make sure she didn't miss any and teased the warm entrance as she did so. Kate's body reacted and another spasm flowed through her. The feelings passing between them were so overwhelming that CJ shed a tear of gratitude. Kate's second orgasm came to an end and she finally collapsed in her exhaustion but not before slithering down CJ's body to rest her head on the agent's upper chest. Long arms wrapped her up securely as she shook in the aftermath.
Kate nibbled on the soft skin on her wife's collarbone as she swallowed repeatedly to try to produce some of the saliva she'd lost from breathing so hard and fast. “That… wow.”
CJ snickered. “Yes. Yes it was.”
“I… I need to make you come like that… I…”
“You already do, Katie.”
“And I will again,” the blonde said as she rose up once more. “What do…?”
The agent chuckled at her wife's inability to finish her sentence. “What would I like?” Kate nodded as she kissed the nipple she had been ‘using' earlier. “I want you inside me… the rest is your choice…” The lips on CJ's body were fueling her desire and she was already on the brink of climax after watching Kate's erotic display.
The actress nudged her wife's legs apart and wrapped her thighs around one of CJ's. Now with a slight shift, she could join her most intimate area with her lover's and still have her hand free to grant the agent's wish. As she pushed herself against her wife, she found the welcoming opening and let two fingers sink inside.
“More…” CJ panted.
Adding another two fingers, Kate began moving her clit across the agent's in a gentle stroking movement. She was feeling insatiable and wanted to join her lover when they came. The four fingers barely had to move as their bodies nudged the hand doing all the hard work for them. CJ could feel her excitement building already and grabbed Kate's curvaceous derriere, squeezing it between her strong fingers. Kate was amazed to find she was becoming aroused already. “Ciara…”
CJ sensed Kate wanted something but she wasn't any condition to give it to her right now. She pawed at her wife even more, her fingertips gently traversing the space between the blonde's buttocks. The resulting squeak was definitely a sound of acceptance and she did it again, sinking her hand further to find the base of her wife's clit. She could feel them moving against one another and it sent her over the edge. As her climax exploded through her, she entered Kate and pumped her fingers in time with the thrusts inside her own body. The unexpected internal, and the most delicious external stimuli brought the actress to orgasm just after her.
Kate's four fingers were trapped in the grip of strong, warm muscles and the pulsations she felt mirrored her own. She managed a smile at the thought they even did that at the same time. CJ's fingers moved slower and eventually stilled. Kate looked at her and they both withdrew at the same moment. Sweat covered both bodies, making it easy to slide together in a binding bear hug. Kate ended up on top of her tall wife and they rested together in the afterglow; their hearts beating as one, their breath the only sound; both of them knowing the night was far from over.
At 6.30am the next morning, CJ left for work after kissing a very sleepy Kate on the forehead. The blonde had a lie in – for another hour - but CJ wasn't so lucky. She had to finalize the Hess report and go out to the site in Torrance. She really hoped the warrant came through early and swore to herself she would close the cold case and find Jonathan Hess.
As she drove to the office, thoughts of the night before entered her mind. She smiled as her body remembered the sensations and gave a little shudder. She had missed Kate more than she had realized and couldn't wait for time off to spend with her family. She knew there were still some discussions to be had. Kate would force her to talk about the case. That woman was better at drawing her out than any therapist CJ had ever known. Then there was the stuff going on in the actress' life that she hadn't shared… well, it seemed she had shared it with Sam but CJ wanted to know everything. She wasn't sure why it pissed her off that Kate couldn't come to her. “Am I really so selfish? I'm not the only person in her life… Penfold was right. But still, I want to be there for her… for everything.”
She quit talking to no one and as she waited at a red light, something colorful in the door pocket caught her eye. She reached down to feel the item and pulled out one of Lucy's toys. It was a fluffy Nemo and the agent grinned. The light changed and her face fell as she realized she hadn't had any time with the girls since last week. “Okay, get today done… go see Mark… and get the hell outta there as early as possible.”
When she reached her office, Jamie was already in and just as CJ sat down, the blonde agent waved a piece of paper at her. “Nuh-uh… no rest for you. I've got the warrant and I've been waiting for a partner, so let's go. The CSU are on their way and the ground-penetrating radar should be at the site in about…” She looked at the clock high up on the wall. “…forty-five minutes.”
“I don't have time for coffee?” CJ scowled.
“I'll get you one on the way… good stuff.”
That did the trick. Once on her feet, CJ snagged the camera and noticed that Jamie already had their crime scene bag of tricks… just in case they needed it. She yawned as she approached her friend. “Do we need anything else?”
“Just your good self, DM. Let's go.”
As they drove to the scene – after stopping for the really good coffees – CJ decided to check up on how her friend had coped with this case. “How've you been, Penfold?”
Jamie knew what she was referring to. “I'm okay… had a few dubious moments at home… cried it out a few times but Sam helped me through it.”
CJ sighed. “I've barely been home to let Kate help me through it. And you were right the other day… she does have other people in her life… I'm glad she has Sam.”
“She does. And what you have to do is let it out… the difference between me and you is that I'll go to Sam or chat on the phone… and let out a stream of curses or just grumble my head off while crying at her. She just puts up with me and listens…”
“But even if I could do that… and I'm not saying I could during a case… Kate has a ton of stuff on her mind right now and I don't want to add to that.”
“Well… you have a point… but DM, let her reach out to others… you don't have to carry everyone,” the blond winked.
“I just have to learn not to be a possessive pain in the ass…”
“But then you wouldn't be you…” Jamie chanced.
“Aww, I'm not that bad… am I?”
“Of course you're not. CJ, you're not possessive… you're protective. There's a difference.”
“So you're the relationship guru now?”
“Hah!” The blonde almost snorted her coffee down her nostril. “Definitely not… I just know you.”
“Hmmm. Okay we're here…” CJ slowed the car to a halt at the padlocked gates and looked around the vacant lot. With that eerie feeling hovering around her again, she got out of the car and wished they could put this case to rest. But if they found Jonathan's remains here, the manhunt would be on for Frank Hess. They couldn't find any trace of the man's existence for the last four years, his last known address being the house only a few yards from where they stood now. He had vanished and CJ hoped he hadn't felt the sweet release of death. She wanted to stand face to face with the animal who could murder his own son. If that had indeed happened, she was going to find irrefutable proof and make sure he got what he deserved.
* * * * * *
Tony finished drying off the Mercedes. He had gotten to the Carson house early and figured the car could use a quick hose down. As he bent over to buff the chrome around the headlight, he heard a familiar voice behind him and turned to see one of his best friends coming down the steps from the front porch.
“Hey Shannon, how's your hand today?”
The driver was referring to the palm she had grazed in the school yard yesterday and the girl had to look at it just to check it was still there. “It's better. I can't even feel it anymore. Mama put some special lotion on it after my bath last night!”
“Great!” He lifted Shannon onto the hood of the car. “I'm just gonna finish cleaning this light… you sit here and wait for… oh, there she is.”
Kate shouted goodbye to Alice and closed the front door behind her. “Are you guys ready to go?”
“Yes, Mama... look! Tony cleaned the car!”
“Wow… so he did.” Kate helped her daughter onto the ground. “Thanks, Tony. It looks great.”
“Had a few spare minutes. Good morning, Kate.”
“Morning… the usual run today but remember Shannon finishes at 2pm for summer break.”
“I'll remember.” The young man opened both car doors and laughed as Kate rolled her eyes at him. Shannon got in the back and Tony helped her buckle up. Once their journey was underway, the girl began a singing contest which she inevitably won. Tony was too busy driving and Kate wasn't the best at holding a tune.
After Shannon was safely in school, Kate thought it necessary to speak with Tony about recent events. “I wanted to tell you about Elizabeth's visit…”
“You already know how she is… you saw it before… but this time she threatened us. It may have been an empty threat but I want you to keep an extra sharp eye on the girls, especially Shannon since she has to go back and forth to school.”
“You really think your mothe… I mean, Elizabeth would harm them?”
“Probably not but I know she would harm me… and CJ. If she thinks she can do that by going through them, she might try it. I wouldn't put anything past her and her money,” the actress said with a sneer.
“What exactly happened this time?”
“Sorry, Kate… you don't have to tell me,” the driver said regrettably.
“No… you should know. You're one of the few people I trust, Tony.”
“I won't betray that trust, Kate.”
“I know,” she sighed. “Elizabeth told me she was dying but it was just a deception to try and make me conform to her ideals.”
“Wow… no way?!”
“Yes way. I'll never understand her hatred… and that's why I want you to be extra careful. I hope that's not asking too much…”
“Oh goodness… no! I love your family, Kate… I'll watch over them like a hawk,” the driver said, keeping his eyes firmly on the road.
“Thank you. We love you too.” Kate turned to see a bashful smile on Tony's face and couldn't help but grin at how sweet the man was. She was so lucky to have found him all those years ago. But her grin was soon wiped off her face when they arrived at the studio gates. She felt her jaws grind together before she even got inside the damn place.
* * * * * *
The team was halfway through the underground search in the vacant lot. CJ watched the
Radar as it moved across the dirt at a snail's pace. Jamie was standing next to her cataloging potential evidence they had bagged from the area and CJ nudged her gently with her elbow. “This place feels creepy.”
“Yeah. I think we're gonna find Jonathan.”
Jamie looked up from her task. “Gut feeling…?”
CJ nodded and turned around to pick up another sealed evidence bag from the back of their black SUV. She started to fill out the description on the front when someone shouted “We've got something!”
Once they'd locked up the car, both agents headed over to look at the view screen. CJ saw the rough outline of a human torso and head but her stomach reeled when no other parts were revealed. She turned to Sid, the experienced Ground Penetrating Radar operator. “Is that what I think it is?”
“Looks like a small… partial body,” the man nodded morosely.
The rest of her crime scene agents had gathered close by and she instructed them to start excavating the area. Jamie marked the perimeter with numbered flags and Sid continued his search. It seemed they had missing limbs to locate.
* * * * * *
CJ was torn. She was anticipating a conclusion to the Jonathan Hess case but at the same time she wanted to cry her heart out. Watching her team meticulously excavating the earth, in what had turned out to be a rather shallow grave, was tormenting her. With a blank, emotionless stare – a look born of years of attending many gruesome incidents – the tall agent identified the curved struts and metal bands of a wooden barrel. The interview with their killer replayed in her mind and she knew the body inside was going to be that of six-year old Jonathan Hess.
Her deliberations were interrupted by a voice in another corner of the lot. She turned to see Jamie heading toward the small group of agents who'd gathered there. When she got close to her friend, she tapped her on the shoulder. “What do we have?”
“Arms or legs?”
Jamie frowned. “One of each…”
“How the hell did they get all the way over here?”
Agent Green signaled her away from the others. Once both women had a little privacy, the blonde whispered. “They appear to have been gnawed at…”
“Please tell me they're animal teeth marks?”
“Looks like it. Explains why they're some distance from the body…”
“Jesus…” Just when CJ thought it couldn't get any worse, Agent Gilmour waved her over to the initial location. “Stay here and oversee this one, will ya?”
“No problem, Agent Carson.”
As CJ took long strides over the rough ground, her cell phone rang in her pocket. “Carson.”
“ CJ, it's Mark… any news?”
“Sir, I'll have more info for you in about three minutes. We've found remains but I'm about to get an update from Special Agent Gilmour. Can I call you back?”
“ Sure thing, Agent… I'll let the DD know .”
Once she hung up the call, she stood next to Gilmour whose brow had been permanently knitted together since he'd arrived at the scene. “I've managed to look inside the barrel but they're still digging it out. There's a child's body in there, tied inside a black, partially ripped garbage bag. At first glance, it seems like the limbs have been severed in order to fit the remains inside the bag… and the cuts are messy. Looks like the neck is broken too.”
CJ wanted to throw up. “I can't believe this monster got away with this all these years. Why did nobody look into the disappearances further?”
“I… well, I…”
“Sorry, Gilmour… I'm just thinkin' out loud.” She walked away when she saw the Medical Examiner entering the lot. “Belzano!”
“Agent Carson… I was told you found a body… where do you need me?”
“To be honest, we need to get the remains back to the morgue. We'll need a ton of tests to identify them. So far, we have the head and torso… and two severed limbs. If the information we have is correct, this kid was killed by his own father. It's so…”
“It does sound incredibly brutal. I'll go and see what I can do here and then order them moved to my office as soon as possible.”
“Thanks, Belzano… they almost have the barrel freed now,” CJ said, rubbing her forehead.
“Yes. Go see for yourself…”
The Medical Examiner walked away and CJ hoped this was the end of the horrifying massacre this case had become. ‘ I need to sleep for a week… without nightmares .' She shook her head at that thought. It was never going to happen anytime soon.
* * * * * *
Tony got out of the car and waited at the gates in front of Shannon's school. When he saw the young girl skipping out the door, he waved. The smile he got in response was all the reward he would ever need for doing his job. “Hi, Tony!”
“Hey, Shannon… how was school?”
“It was good. My friend, Sian and I did a project together,” she replied while taking the driver's hand.
“Was it an art project?”
“No. It was a siiiiy… science project…”
“Wow… science huh? What did you have to do?”
Shannon climbed into the car when Tony opened the door for her and waited while he helped her with her seatbelt. “Well… we were all doing stuff with water…” She paused while Tony got into the car and secured the door locks. “…and some kids were putting water in a beaker and then they put a piece of cardboard on the top and turned the beaker upside down and let the cardboard go. Guess what happened?”
Tony knew what would happen but he loved that Shannon was always so excited to tell him stuff after school. “Uhhhh… the water spilled all over the place?”
“Noooo…” the girl chuckled. “The piece of cardboard stuck ‘cause the water held it in… like magic!”
“Wow!! So what experiment did you do with Sian?” As he drove off he scanned the area for anything suspicious and found nothing out of the ordinary.
“Yes… the projects you were doing today are called experiments…”
“Oh, that's right. The teacher said that. We were trying to make an egg float in water!”
“But isn't the egg too heavy for that?” the driver said knowingly as he signaled for the freeway.
“Yes! But we did it. We added lots of salt to a beaker that was half full of water. Then we added normal water really slowly and filled the beaker right up!”
“And then the teacher told us to put the egg in the water very carefully…” Shannon paused to take a sip from her carton of fruit juice. “… and we did and the egg didn't fall right to the bottom. It went half way down and just stayed in the middle! It floated!”
“Amazing! Well done, Shan!”
The girl continued to chatter excitedly for the rest of their journey. She didn't even notice they were headed to the studios to pick Kate up from work. The actress had called Tony. She was finishing early.
* * * * * *
As soon as CJ parked up the SUV, Jamie got out and headed straight to the morgue. CJ grabbed their gear and trundled into the elevator. She dumped the bags in her office and grunted a hello to a few agents as she walked the corridors, her feet finally landing at the Assistant Director's door.
She entered and sat in the chair across from her boss. He finished signing whatever he was signing and looked up with a crooked smile. “You look like shit, CJ.”
“What's that in your hair?”
CJ reached up to where he pointed and found a tiny twig with a leaf on the end. “I've been on that sticking lot all day. Some of it had serious undergrowth. I'd have thought Agent Green wouldn't let me drive all the way back with this sticking outta my head though…”
Mulroney shook his head. “So… what do we have?”
CJ took her notebook from her pocket and placed it on the desk. “You can find it in there… I can't talk about it anymore today. Please don't make me.”
Mark didn't make her describe what they'd found but he didn't let her leave either. He read from the book, occasionally squinting at the scribbled handwriting and grimacing at the descriptive details of the remains. “Is Belzano back?”
“Yeah… Jamie went down to see him. I hope he can ID the body. Maybe we can finally lay the poor boy to rest.”
“The information we got from Hess suggests this is his brother. That personality… Frankie, was it?” CJ nodded and Mark could see the distance in her eyes. “He seemed to know exactly where to look. Is it possible that he put him there?”
“Eric Hess has pretty much lived up to the profile I created, Mark. Everything fits that the father killed this one. Eric and his personalities are a result of that event… in my opinion.”
“And in Liam Martin's opinion too… he concurs with your findings. What do we know about Frank Hess?”
“Not a lot. Cops are still canvassing the area surrounding the lot. According to Mikey, Frank Hess disappeared off the face of the earth four years ago… no record of his death either.”
“So he's on the run?”
CJ gave a nod. “…or hiding in plain sight. He might just have changed his name… or stolen someone's identity. I'd like to keep on it when other things don't take priority…”
“I don't see that being a problem. I know it's not exactly our remit but it's connected to your case and to be quite honest, nobody else seems to be looking for him. Keep that file open. I'll clear it with the Director.”
“Thank you, Mark.”
“Write up your report for today and go home, CJ. Even I can see you need to sleep.”
The agent's shoulders slouched at the thought. “Sounds good. What time do you want me in tomorrow?”
“Well… I have Dr. Martin's full report. If you can finish yours today and liaise with Belzano, I don't see why you can't have a few days off,” Mark said, handing her notebook back to her.
“Not sure that's fair, Mark. The others have worked just as hard… we all took shift 24/7 during this.”
“I know but Agents Green and Ryan already approached me about letting you and Ethan go home to your families first. This isn't some huge department where nobody cares about you, CJ. We take care of each other here. Now go finish your work… and go home!”
CJ's eyebrows crept upward. If she hadn't felt so numb because of the case and everything they'd seen today, she might have cried. In all her time in the FBI, she'd never had a team like this and as much as the cases they faced were some of the most heinous she had ever come across, she knew they could continue to cope with them if they worked together like they did right now. “Thanks,” she whispered as she stood to leave.
“Well done. You did good… and try not to beat yourself up about how long it took. Without your profile and hard work, I'm sure it would've taken longer.”
Mark knew that last part fell on deaf ears. She would beat herself up no matter what he said. He had seen how this investigation had affected all of his agents and he didn't want any of them to suffer. This case had been particularly devastating and he thought he may have to make a Critical Incident Stress Debriefing mandatory for all four of them. He noted in his diary to ask Dr. Liam Martin for his professional opinion tomorrow.
* * * * * *
When CJ got back to her office, she found Ethan with his head down on the desktop. The young agent had fallen asleep and she nudged his elbow gently. “Ethan?”
“Calm down, man. Why don't you go home?”
Matthews rubbed his eyes. “What time is it?”
“Almost five thirty. Call up to Mark… he says we can all go once we finish up the reports for today but just confirm it with him.”
“No worries. Hey… did Jamie come in here?”
“Don't think so… haven't seen her since this morning.”
“Okay.” CJ left the office once more and headed to the morgue. There, she found her friend leaning against the wall talking with Belzano as he finished up his examination on the arm they found earlier. Thankfully, the torso was covered up. “Hey.”
“Hi, CJ. I was just waiting ‘til Victor was finished. He's almost done,” Jamie said sadly.
“Agent Carson… how you holding up?” the ME said from behind his white mask.
“I'm fine, Victor. Any news?”
“Well as I told your esteemed colleague here… I took a DNA sample from the boy and sent it to the lab. They'll compare it to the sample from Eric Hess. Maybe we'll get a familial match… then once I get hold of the dental records for Jonathan Hess, I can give you a definitive answer. I can give you a COD right now though…”
“Blunt force trauma to the head?”
Belzano looked up at her. “Are you psychic, Agent Carson?”
“Just a lucky guess...”
“And your guess would be right. Blunt force trauma caused by a severe blow to the head, resulting in this poor boy bleeding into his brain. The amputations were post mortem… made with some haste and very little skill.”
“What about his neck?”
“Also post mortem…”
CJ heaved a sigh. “Could you send your completed report to Jamie once you're done? I need to go home for a while.”
“No problem. I'll send it to you as soon as I have the DNA results, Agent Green,” the man said, waving them out.
“Thanks, Victor,” the blond shouted as the door closed.
In the elevator, both women were silent, the recent events catching up to them as they tried to slow down. Back at their office, CJ sat at her desk and stared at her computer screen.
“Go home…” came a voice from her side.
“Not yet, Penfold. I need to type up this report.”
Jamie squeezed her arm. “All right… but then I'm throwing you out.”
“You won't have to. I'll be running out the door.” CJ began to write up the days findings. She didn't want to have to go over this again until it went to court. Her mind could only take so much horror at one time… and it was getting close to its limit now.
* * * * * *
As the Blue Dodge Ram slipped effortlessly onto the freeway, CJ switched on the radio and listened to the ridiculously upbeat tones of the DJ. “ Aaaannnd for all you rock fans out there, here's some Avenged Sevenfold… I tell ya, it's a favorite of mine… it's Seize the Day! ” As the song began to play, the agent's eyebrow curled.
“ Seize the day or die regretting the time you lost,
It's empty and cold without you here,
Too many people to ache over…”
As she listened to the song, her eyes seemed to mist up. “Avenged who?” she mumbled.
“ I see my vision burn,
I feel my memories fade with time,
But I'm too young to worry…”
CJ hurriedly wiped her eyes and concentrated on the road. The song was making her think of the children that were lost and how once they were gone she could never bring them back. She tried to ignore the lyrics. It didn't occur to her that she could just switch the radio off. Her mind drifted and she began to see the images of the lifeless, innocent faces of the children in the morgue.
“Newborn life replacing all of us,
Changing this fable we live in.
No longer needed here so where do we go?
Will you take a journey tonight?
Follow me past the walls of Death,
But girl, what if there is no eternal life?”
The tall agent angrily turned the music off. “I'm so not in the mood for that !” By the time she stopped in front of the farmhouse, a deep frown was etched on her beautiful face. She slammed the truck door and on her way up the porch steps, she belatedly realized she was actually home. CJ was a little startled by how distracted she was and before she walked through the door, she made sure she didn't look angry or irritated. The last thing she wanted to do was scare or upset the girls. Hidden from view, her mind was in turmoil. It felt like a thunderstorm inside her skull and she knew a painkiller wouldn't help.
“Hey… I'm home.” There was no response as she locked up her weapon and placed her jacket and holster on the hall table.
Kate came through the open double doors. “Hi… I thought I heard something.” The actress approached her wife and slid her arms around CJ's waist. “I'm so glad you're here.”
“Me too...” The agent's eyes filled with tears and she held Kate close until the emotion passed. She felt she should be able to leave work behind immediately and was annoyed with herself that she couldn't do it this time.
The blonde could feel that something was wrong and she squeezed the taller woman before she spoke. “What do you need, honey?”
“I just need you, Shannon and Lucy. I just need to be home. Where are they anyway?” she asked to divert the attention away from the fact she was sniffing away her tears.
“I'll go say hello then come back down for a drink. I guess you guys had dinner, huh?”
“We did. I got home early today,” Kate said, stroking her wife's cheek.
“Good. I'll be right back.” CJ moved away and Kate was concerned.
They had done so well this time to try and stay connected but the blonde worried that all the stress would catch up with her partner. She wandered into the kitchen and chose some peach tea from the cabinet. While she waited for the kettle to boil, she leaned her hip against the counter and bit her lips as she drifted away in her own troubled thoughts.
* * * * * *
CJ got to the top of the stairs and was expecting two pint-sized bear hugs from her daughters. She followed the vroom-vroom noises and found the girls in Lucy's room playing on the floor with toy cars. “Hey, you two…” she smiled as she entered.
“Mommy!” Lucy exclaimed and jumped up from the floor. Dark curls bounced as the youngster pranced across the room. “You home!”
“I sure am, Little One. I missed you guys.” The agent lifted her daughter and hugged her but didn't fail to notice the lack of welcome from Shannon. “Shan?”
“Yes?” the girl said quietly while continuing to move the cars across the carpet.
“I'd really like a hug…” CJ put Lucy down and sat cross-legged beside Shannon. Lucy lost her balance a little in her attempt to copy her parent and was assisted by a guiding hand. “Well… can I have one?” The older girl shook her head and her face was the picture of unhappiness… and a little stubbornness too. The tall agent sighed. “I know I haven't been around lately but I had to work real hard. It was important, Shan… please try to understand that?”
“Mama said you had to work hard but you didn't even come home to see us. When Daddy worked hard, he was home sometimes in his office.”
That stung and CJ hid her pain. She took the small chin in her hand and tilted Shannon's head to see tears in the girl's eyes. It broke her heart. “C'mere, honey... I'm sorry we haven't seen each other but I did come home and I did look in on you. Thing is… you and Lucy were asleep because I came home late…” she explained as Shannon begrudgingly allowed herself to be cradled in long arms. “… but every time I was home I came into your room and kissed you goodnight.”
Shannon thought about it for a moment. “Why didn't you wake me so I could kiss you back?”
“I would have loved that but I thought it was better to let you get some rest. You girls are growing up so fast. It takes a lot of energy for your bodies to do that and you need to sleep so you can end up as tall as me!”
“As tall as you?!” Lucy squealed while running a toy car up and down CJ's thigh.
“You might just be… so sleep and good food and lots of love from me and Mama… you need all of those things.”
Shannon continued to ponder those words as she unconsciously surrendered to her mother's embrace and snuggled deeper into CJ's chest. “Okay. I'm glad you're home, Mommy.”
“Aw, Squirt… so am I.”
Nothing else was said. CJ and Shannon just sat there and watched Lucy as the energetic child explained what all the car's names were and where they had to park. The agent tried to keep her mind focused on her daughters but she wasn't winning the fight. It scared that she was so trapped in work this time. She couldn't just file it away like the reports she did every day and that just made her more frustrated.
* * * * * *
Forty hours had now passed since CJ had come home. A very distant FBI agent had gone to bed that night and she had remained there ever since. When Kate came into the room she would either pretend to sleep or barely say a word. She only got up for necessary bathroom breaks or the occasional drink. Kate knew she hadn't slept or eaten anything since yesterday morning.
CJ was wallowing in her work and as much as she wanted to leave every memory of that case behind, she just didn't seem able to focus yet. It was hurting her, it was hurting her family and it was time to move on… but how? ‘ God, I miss them ,' she mused, reminding herself how much her family had to put up with. Just as she thought of Kate, she was sure she heard someone coming in the front door downstairs and she suddenly realized just how much they would be missing her too. The world was moving on around her and it was time to rejoin the land of the living.
The actress got home after another half day at work and greeted Alice and the children before heading for the master suite. She found CJ in the same position as yesterday and she recognized that the past couple of weeks had come crashing down on her taciturn spouse. The agent now had time to think about what had happened and having that time seemed to be killing her.
Kate crouched down into her line of vision. When CJ's bloodshot eyes met with hers, she tried to hold back her emotion. “Is it really worth it?” she asked quietly.
CJ nodded minutely. “Yes. I can suffer for two weeks if it means I can stop a killer…”
“But it's not just two weeks, CJ… this will stay with you forever. I don't want to see you completely destroyed one day because it all got to be too much.” Kate couldn't stop the tears that stung her eyes.
“I promise I can cope,” the agent croaked, opening her arms to her wife. “I feel better today. I just need to reconnect… to really connect with you and our daughters. I'm so sorry, Katie. I've never been like this before.”
“Don't be sorry. I'm just worried about you.”
CJ sighed and held her precious partner in her arms. “I needed some time to process everything. Thank you for giving me that time. I know it musta been hard to see me like that.”
“It's hard seeing you in any kind of pain. I really want you to share everything that happened… share it with me …” Kate sniffed.
The agent craned her neck to look at the blonde. “I don't know that I'll be able to share absolutely everything with you but I do know this zombie stage is over. I hate it and I miss you so much. That's what I was just thinking when you came in. I miss you all. I know I've been home these past two days but I don't feel like I've been with you… my head's been so fucked up… but that's going to change as of right now.”
It was the most CJ had spoken since she had solved the case and come home, and Kate sat upright to look at her love. She gazed into the eyes she knew so well. “You're so strong…”
“Only because I have you, Katie.” CJ leaned forward and kissed her tenderly. “Let's get back to life, huh?”
Kate was so glad to see CJ like this… it was a definite improvement. But still, she would have to figure out how to get the tough agent to share what she was holding back. Kate wanted to support her wife in everything… including how she coped with the atrocities of her job with the Bureau. She knew it would take a little more time but they would talk about it. They had to.
* * * * * *
Lucy stood on top of two bales of hay. It was the only way she could brush down Idaho's back. Kate was right beside the girl, combing through a few knots in the horse's mane. Shannon sat a few feet away in the middle of a pile of saddles and bridles. Her soaked sponge dripped over her bare knee as she brought it from the bucket to the leather. “Oh it's cold!”
The actress chuckled at the rather surprised expression on her daughter's face. “Make sure you squeeze it out a little more, Shan… then maybe you won't soak yourself.”
A scuffle at the other end of the barn indicated that Kamali was having way too much fun playing a game of Tug O'War with a huge rope that hung from the hayloft. The occasional growl was heard and his humans laughed when he became a little too exuberant, jumping up to a higher point on the rope and swinging in mid-air suspended by strong doggy teeth.
Unbeknownst to any of them, CJ was watching her family from the side of the large wooden doors. The agent's heart was pounding with love and she felt a pang of guilt go through her at the thought of her recent abandonment. ‘ I'll just have to make it up to them ,' she thought. Nevada gave her away by whinnying and snorting at her. The big golden mare was standing in her stall and was another member of the family who hadn't seen her in a while. She smirked as she stepped inside. “Hi… seems somebody's missed me,” she said, tipping her head toward the horse.
“We all did,” Kate replied with a hint of melancholy.
“Mommy! Look at Kamali… he's stuck!”
CJ glanced at the dog, who was still swinging in the breeze. “He's not stuck, Shan… he's just having fun.” Just as she said it, the big German Shepherd dropped to the ground and came bounding up to her. He stopped abruptly and sat down to wait for his greeting. “Smart… and handsome,” the agent praised as she scratched behind his ears. “So… what's my beautiful family up to? Oh, lots of cleaning…”
“We sure are,” Kate replied. “Want to help us?” CJ sent her wife a look of such intense love, it made the blonde want to reach out and grab her.
“I sure do… but where to start?” CJ winked at Kate as two little voices came up with all kinds of suggestions and the agent knew she would be fine. She would always be fine with these three wonderful people in her life.
It was CJ's last day off and she could spend it with her whole family. Kate only had a couple of days to work before she stopped filming for this season and Shannon was off school now for the next few weeks. The agent yawned widely. She had slept pretty well considering. Kate had simply held her close last night, which probably helped in creating a more restful night.
Now, the agent looked to her right to find the most beautiful woman in her world breathing heavily in her slumber. She watched Kate for a few moments and appreciated everything about the view. But deeper than the glorious womanly body was this incredible soul within whom she couldn't live without. “How can I ever explain to you what it feels like to love you?” she whispered. Kate whimpered in her sleep and the taller woman smiled. A sudden warning from her bladder forced her to get up and rush into the ensuite.
When she was done, she smirked at Kate's change of position. She was now flat on her back with a very easy-to-remove sheet covering half her body. CJ peeked at the clock and saw it was only six thirty. She walked to the door and leaned her ear against it. All was quiet in the house and it had been a very long time since she had given her wife a wake-up call.
The thought sent a jolt through her tall, slim body and she crawled carefully onto the bed. She took in the way Kate's hair curled around her neck and the delicate hand that sprawled against the pillow. CJ would always be in love with this woman and it never ceased to thrill and amaze her. Cautiously pulling the sheet down, she inhaled deeply the scent of her wife. Her heart skipped a beat when Kate whimpered again and moved her legs apart. CJ froze. Was Kate already awake? Her question was answered when a moan and a gasp came from the actress' parted lips. She was dreaming.
CJ responded even though she knew her spouse was asleep. “I'm here, baby…”
The agent lowered her head and kissed a bare thigh. She knew Kate was already partially aroused due to the heady scent that greeted her nostrils. It lured her to soft, dark blonde curls and she explored the tender flesh beneath. Finding the enflamed nodule was easy and CJ began to manipulate it slowly with the tip of her tongue. Kate gasped again, still caught up in her dream and as the actress opened her legs further, CJ flattened her tongue and drew it from the base of her wife's clit to the top, returning downward again in the same motion.
After a few of those blissful strokes, Kate opened her eyes. She was sure she was still in her dream because everything felt exactly as it should. Except the early morning sun; it had been night in her dream. CJ's mouth was really on her and she immediately felt her desire escalate. “Oh Ciara…”
The agent looked up and saw her spouse now gazing back at her. She smiled but didn't stop her most pleasurable of tasks. She circled her tongue around the delicious ridge and noticed her breathing becoming shallower as she experienced the desire with her wife. She broke the contact for the tiniest of seconds. “I love you…”
“Oh… love… you too. Don't stop…”
CJ delved deeper and entered Kate just a little. The blonde dropped her head back onto the pillow and grasped at the sheets beneath her. Feeling the pulsing begin, the agent began batting her tongue up and down over the tip of the engorged clit. She would stop every few motions and slide the muscle inside her wife before resuming the stimulation. It had the desired effect and Kate's orgasm took hold.
CJ curled her arms around her wife's thighs to hold her in place as she bucked off the mattress and tried to writhe around, the intense feelings overwhelming her senses. Once her orgasm abated, she relaxed onto the bed and breathed deeply. The agent kissed and gently licked at the sensitive bundle causing Kate to react by closing her legs around the taller woman's face. CJ giggled and Kate tightened her hold.
“I don't… want to you stop…” she panted, releasing the very happy agent between her knees. “…but you're gonna have to. That was too much for my little clit to cope with.”
CJ grinned and crawled up to kiss her wife. “I don't know about the little… it was pretty big just a minute ago.”
She got a slap on the butt for that comment but at least she made Kate laugh. The actress was just glad to see the twinkle start to reappear in those cobalt eyes. “That was all your doing…”
“Mmm, I know. I love it.”
“I know the feeling,” Kate winked. “So… what do I get to do next?”
“Not a damn thing. I'm going to go get you breakfast in bed… then I'll get our wonderful daughters up and feed them.”
“And what about you?”
“Don't worry… I'll eat.” When Kate looked slyly at her, the agent rolled her eyes. “I meant food!” she added. She snagged her robe and left the room with Kate's laughter ringing in her ears.
* * * * * *
They'd had a good afternoon. It had been spent out on their land and for the most part, CJ had managed to push her work aside and concentrate on having some fun. At one point about an hour ago, Lucy had wandered off in search of squirrels with Kamali and Kate had lost sight of her for a few seconds. The actress had definitely overreacted since CJ could still see their daughter over the top of the foliage. The agent had noticed her wife was a little jittery when they were out in the open space and wondered what was running through the smaller woman's mind.
They were indoors by dinner time and had all eaten together for the first time in weeks. Two grubby children had been bathed and at 8.30pm, were put to bed with a story and a loving kiss from both parents. CJ and Kate found themselves back in the kitchen, clearing up the aftermath of their feast. It was unusually quiet since both women had various things to think about. The agent was the first to speak.
“So what's been going on with you, honey?”
Kate sighed and continued to collect up the plates as she thought about what to say. “Oh this and that… work isn't great but I'm not going to go on about it considering what you've just been through.”
“It doesn't matter what my week has been like, I still want to hear what you've been doing… if that's okay?”
The actress looked at her spouse strangely. “Of course it's okay…”
“So why didn't you tell me Elizabeth was in town?” CJ suddenly probed.
There was no malice in the tone but Kate wasn't expecting the question. “I didn't… how did you know that?”
“Katie, you told Sam. Surely you knew she would be worried and tell Jamie, which would mean it would eventually get to me?”
“No, I didn't actually. I trusted Sam to shut up about it. I didn't want to stress you out any more than you already were!”
“Okay… I think we need to do the sharing thing now… I need to know what's been happening and what your mother did while she was here.”
“She's not my-“
“Okay,” CJ said, holding her hands up. “What did Elizabeth want and what did she do while she was here?”
“I… she just came to see me… I didn't want to tell you at the time because I could see what you were going through. She said… she… look, I just didn't want to add to your stress!”
Kate's voice was getting louder and more desperate and CJ could see the trauma her wife had endured in those normally bright green eyes. She quickly crossed the room before this turned into some sort of argument. That's the last thing she wanted. She took the woman by the shoulders and looked directly into the troubled face. “Honey, nothing in this world can stress me out so much that you couldn't come to me and tell me what's hurting you. Don't ever feel like you have to do it all on your own. I mean, look how I've just come to you when I needed you during this case. We support one another and you shouldn't ever feel like I can't be there for you. I've failed you if that's what you think…”
“Oh CJ, don't you ever say that. You have not and could never fail me. It was my fault for trying to keep it all to myself. I wanted to deal with it without adding to the huge amount of shit you were already drowning in. I'm… I'm sorry.”
CJ pulled her wife close. “Don't apologize for trying to help me, Katie. Just don't shut me out… no matter what. Come to my office and drag me to the restrooms if you need to, okay?”
Kate pushed back a little to meet her spouse's blue eyes. With a deep sigh, she nodded. “Okay.”
“Good. Now let's head up to bed early and you can tell me everything,” CJ suggested.
“All right… but that means I want to know all about your case… even the stuff you think you can't tell me.”
“But I don't think-“
“Ah-ah-ah!” Kate interrupted, wagging her finger at CJ. “This works both ways. I tell you everything then you tell me everything. It'll be better for both of us if we just get it out. Problems shared… deal?”
The agent took in the sincere and now brighter eyes and the outstretched hand waiting to be shaken. She pursed her lips together, rolled her eyes and grabbed the hand. “Deal.” They switched on the dishwasher, let the dog out for a few minutes then locked up the house and walked hand-in-hand up the stairs. Once they'd looked in on the girls and gave them an extra kiss goodnight, they went to their room and closed the door. CJ pulled on her tank top and a pair of soft boxer shorts and Kate donned an old oversized tee shirt belonging to her wife. They crawled under the sheets, plumped the pillows and sat in bed leaning against one another to unload the strain of the past couple of weeks. CJ turned to kiss the blonde hair at her cheek. “Tell me.”
“Oh… where to start?” Kate was a little worried about sharing this. She thought CJ might actually kill the guy. “Jack… Jack has been drunk a lot at work. He's been coming on to me.” At the tension in the body next to her, Kate put a calming hand on CJ's belly. “Let me finish. I have it under control now… I think… but he got very hands on and I've told him if he comes near me again, I'll report him. I don't care if I lose my job.”
“Hands on?” CJ said, trying to reign in her anger toward the man.
“Yes. Basically, he assaulted me… not violently.” Kate cringed a little. She didn't want to say that it bordered on sexual assault because she knew that would enrage the agent and she knew there was nothing they could do about it right now. She wished someone had seen it happen… that would have helped her decide what to do. “He forced a kiss but I've handled it. Can you trust me on that?”
CJ glared at her for a second. “I… no… yes, I trust you… I'll take your word for it this time but you won't be able to stop me if he touches you again.”
“I can live with that. And I promise I'll come to you.”
“He didn't hurt you, did he?”
CJ tried to relax her shoulders. She was ready to beat the crap out of Jack. “Okay, I want to know more about that later. What happened with you mother? Strike that… with Elizabeth?”
The actress sighed heavily. “She told me she had terminal cancer…”
“Oh, Katie…” CJ gasped.
“No, wait… there's more. She lied to me, CJ. It took me a few days to realize it was some sort of perverted attempt to get me to leave you and settle down with a… what was it? A ‘nice man'… and have some children.” Kate shifted her body to face her spouse. CJ features were cast in a look of utter disbelief and she was struck dumb. Rubbing her thumb over the tall woman's knuckles, Kate continued. “I hope you're not pissed at me but I told her we already have children and that I don't want any man! I already have the perfect life partner.”
CJ finally found her voice. “Pissed? I would never be pissed at you . No way… nu-uh. I'm still stuck on the fact that she lied about a terminal illness. I mean, of all the sick things to do…”
“I know. I was… really hurt by everything. Then I got mad because she managed to fool me…”
“Honey, why didn't you tell me you were going through all this?”
“CJ, you know why! Your case was horrendous. I couldn't be something that added to your burden… I just couldn't-”
“Whoa!” the agent interrupted. “If there's one thing you'll never be to me, it's a burden! You can share anything with me… any thing!”
“I felt like I couldn't. Maybe it was partly me trying to help you by not adding to your stress but it was also the fact that we never saw one another. And before you say anything… that is not your fault! It's just the way our jobs and our lives work sometimes… thankfully, not often!”
“Ya got that right. Sheesh…” CJ was feeling incredibly protective towards her wife because of Elizabeth's actions. She was also feeling possessive because of Jack… unnecessarily so but it didn't stop the feeling. The guilt also crept back because she hadn't been there for her spouse. “Honey, can I just say again if you are ever going through something like that… even if I'm on a case… will you just come to my office and drag me away? I need you to tell me if you're having problems or I won't realize you need me.”
“Okay… so did you not need me this past fortnight?”
“Of course I did!”
“Same works for you, CJ. I know you came to me a couple of times but I also know how hard this case was on you. Yes, you have your colleagues but I would guess you only speak to them about the case, not about how you are feeling or coping?” Kate said, raising a questioning eyebrow.
CJ quirked her eyebrow in response and bit her lips in thought. She had to admit Kate was right. “Well, yeeeeah…”
“See? It's a two way street, my dear.” The actress crossed her arms over her chest in triumph for a second before relenting. “But in all seriousness, I want you to tell me everything, including how it made you feel… and I want to know what happened in that nightmare you had. Like I said… a problem shared…”
“I can't argue with that, can I?”
“No... no you can't. You know better.” Kate sat for a moment until she remembered Elizabeth's parting words and thought she should tell her wife, whether it was an empty threat or not. “CJ… Elizabeth said something that has me feeling uneasy.”
“Something else, you mean?”
“Yeah, something else. Just before she stormed out of my trailer, she said she would have her grandchildren no matter what. I'm not sure if she meant the girls or…?” The blonde couldn't finish the sentence.
“If she threatened our family, I need to pay her a visit!” CJ detested Elizabeth Emerson more and more with each passing moment. “Are you worried she'll really do something?”
“I'd like to think she was just angry and said it in the heat of the moment. Surely she doesn't think she can do something like that…”
The agent thought for a moment. “Tell you what… just leave it to me. I know what to do.”
“I won't kick the crap out of her, Katie... although I'd like to.”
“So what're you gonna do then?”
“I'll just keep tabs on her for a while. Shouldn't be too difficult… I know some people in the Bureau who owe me a favor or twelve. I worked on the East Coast, remember?” She moved to kiss her spouse. “Don't you worry about it anymore, okay?”
Kate studied the taller woman for a moment. “Tabs, huh? Okay. I'll trust you not to have her killed.”
“Thank you,” CJ replied sarcastically.
“Oh… and one more thing?”
“I was pretty worried… I guess I maybe blew it out of proportion but I gave Tony a scaled down version of what I just told you… and he knows to be more vigilant around the girls,” Kate said tentatively.
“Okay… if you think that's necessary…”
“It will give me a little peace of mind… that's all.”
“I guess I can understand that,” CJ sighed.
The actress snuggled down on the pillow on her side. “So… it's time for you to talk now.”
CJ mirrored the pose and with their noses mere inches apart, the agent unloaded most of her ordeal throughout the Hess case. She told Kate what condition the bodies were found in but left out the finer details – which Kate agreed upon – and she explained the killer's motive, his multiple personalities and everything she had felt during and after his capture. And it did feel good to finally share it with her one true soul mate. It felt very good. She really needed to learn - and remember - that lesson.
After working through all the pent up feelings – and using a half roll of toilet paper on their tears - they fell into a much less fitful sleep than previous nights, wrapped together in a comforting huddle.
* * * * * *
About 4am, CJ awoke with a vague recollection of a bad dream. A few seconds later, she couldn't remember a damn thing about it. She was thankful for that and her thoughts turned to her slumbering spouse and their discussions last night. They had more to talk about but at least the bulk of it was out in the open. They were both working today and that thought forced CJ's bottom lip outward. She turned to face Kate and the space just under the actress' raised arm looked very inviting so she scooted over a few inches and snuggled her face into the soft skin of her wife's bosom. The arm subconsciously coiled around her and she drifted back to the land of nod for a few more hours.
* * * * * *
As the agent left the house, she saw Tony leaning against the black Mercedes and elected to speak with the driver about a thought she'd had when she woke up earlier. “Hey, Tony.”
“CJ… hi… how are you?”
“I'm slowly feeling better, thanks. I wanted to talk to you about the situation with Elizabeth… you know, what Kate asked of you?”
“I should have some down time soon. How about I teach you a few tricks… maybe do some advanced driving techniques?”
“Holy sh… I mean, that would be so great, CJ!”
“Well, I'm glad you're on board,” she smirked at the man's enthusiasm.
“I've been a lot more vigilant but anything you could teach me would be much appreciated.”
“We don't need to go overboard. I really don't think it'll come to anything but it can't hurt to have you trained up a little, huh?”
“Cool. See you later, Tony.”
“Later, CJ.” The young driver was buzzing at the thought of CJ giving him some FBI training. He knew her early years with the Bureau had been spent at Quantico and a fair bulk of her job back then was to physically train cadets and other agents. He also knew she'd been invited into the Naval base to train some of their people in firearms, surveillance and hostage recovery techniques. He felt quite honored to have her show him a few moves.
* * * * * *
CJ arrived in her office and found Ethan with his feet up on his desk and a newspaper in his hands. “Morning, CJ.”
“Morning… is the coffee on?”
“Sure is. How were your days off?”
“They went some way to helping me recover. How about you?”
“Well, once I begged Alice's forgiveness for being MIA, it went okay. I couldn't believe how exhausted I was… and how much the case had affected me. I kept looking at my kids and feeling so… relieved that they were safe.”
CJ had never heard Ethan speak of how he felt before. “You know, something Kate said to me has stuck in my head. She told me that I probably talked with my colleagues about the criminal aspects of the case and stuff… but never how it affected me or how I was coping. It's like we always have to stay tough and not show weakness while we're out there… right?”
Ethan nodded. “That's the way it is.”
“Yeah, but it doesn't really have to be like that inside this office, Ethan. I think we all trust one another enough to know that if we're struggling, we can tell each other why…”
The man tilted his head while he thought about that. “Actually… that sounds kinda cool. Maybe we could try that in the future.”
“I agree. Now, did Jamie leave us any messages?” she said, getting up to go to the coffee machine.
“No… because she's here. She went to the restrooms about fifteen minutes ago. Actually… you should go find her?”
“Is she okay?”
“Not sure. I think we all crashed and burned a little after this one… but she hasn't had a day off yet.”
“She's supposed to be off today…”
“Yeah, I know but she was here when I got in.”
“I'll go find her.”
When CJ got to the restrooms, she didn't have to look far to find Agent Green. The blonde was sitting on the wooden bench near the lockers with her head in her hands. “Hey Penfold… what you doing here?”
When Jamie looked up, her dried up tears were hard to miss. “Hey…”
“Why you crying, hon?”
“I came in this morning to get the final lab reports. Belzano hadn't completed them because he was called out of state yesterday and I wanted to make sure we received them in full this morning.”
“So… again, why are you crying?” CJ asked, sitting next to her friend and rubbing her back soothingly.
“This poor boy… DM, there's evidence he was repeatedly beaten over a period of years… he was only six when he died!”
“I knew that might be the case…”
“But you didn't know that there's evidence of sexual abuse too. What kind of a monster does this to a child… and if it was Frank Hess… he did this to his own child? It's horrendous… I guess it's all just catching up with me now,” Jamie sniffed.
“I hear ya. It's impossible not to let it get to us. I had a rough few days and I just spoke with Ethan about us sharing this kinda stuff and supporting one another when we're here in the office.”
“That sounds nice. I mean, I have Sam but we're the only ones who actually see what we see every day,” the blonde agent said, flipping her hand between them.
“Yeah. Listen, you need to go home and sleep for a day or so… see Sam as much as you can and let her help you through it.”
“Did you let Kate…?”
“Eventually, yeah. This was a tough case, Penfold… even for us oldies,” CJ grinned, squeezing her colleague in a hug.
“Hah… speak for yourself. I'm not that old.”
“You have almost as much service as I do... so yeah, you qualify as an oldie.”
“Nuff said.” Jamie picked up the file that lay at her feet. “Here… I'll leave this with you and go tell Mark I'm outta here. He already threatened to have security escort me from the building.”
“Uh huh. See you later… I'll call you.”
“Roger that, DM. Love you.”
“Love you too.” When Jamie left the room, CJ looked through the report. The injuries on the small body – both old and new – were more than horrendous. CJ felt the anger she thought she had buried rising at an astonishing rate. She turned on her heels and lashed out at the lockers, kicking the doors until she realized she'd damaged two of them. “Fucking bastard!” she shouted. Walking a few paces, a burst of unspent rage pushed its way out and she kicked out once more at the trash can, sending it careening across the floor.
Breathing heavily through her mouth, she threw the report onto the nearby bench and began clearing up her mess. She knew now she had to sit down with Kate and tell her everything… including what she had just done. She realized she hadn't worked out for a while and not expending her physical energy could have resulted in it building up to this but she wasn't going to let it happen again. “Not good enough…” she muttered as she stood the trash can back up. She wondered what would happen if she ever came face to face with Frank Hess. Right now, she wanted to beat him to a pulp and let him slowly bleed to death. But as much as the man deserved it, it just wasn't in her heart to kill someone in cold blood. “I will find him,” she promised. She was talking to herself but she was also letting Jonathan know she wouldn't forget.
Around one week later, CJ walked through the front door of her haven feeling indescribably exhausted. Her body felt like it could easily sink to the floor and remain there like a large blob of FBI Jell-o. It had probably hit her so hard because she knew she now had at least four days of nothing but her family. She locked her gun away and unloaded her jacket, holster and car keys on the chair in the hallway.
Hearing the quiet voices of her loved ones sparked a little life inside her and her legs began making their way into the living area. She was elated that they could all spend some time together and had their home to themselves. Pausing at the door, she saw the three people that she could not live without, sitting in a little circle on the floor. Kate had a laptop in front of her and the two children were fixated on their Mama as she spoke.
“The language is very difficult for other people to understand, Shannon. It's amazing and it would take us a long time to even begin to speak it… but let's try a few of these words, huh?”
“Okay! What's the word for Kamali?” Shannon asked exuberantly.
“Well, Kamali means ‘Spirit Guide' but it's not Navajo. Mommy and I picked it because it meant something special to us and it sounded nice.”
“What does it mean to you?”
“That's very complicated to explain, sweetheart. How about we learn a few other words… aaaand…” Kate checked the laptop again. “I have the word for dog. Ready?”
“Yes!” both girls responded together.
“It says here the Navajo word for dog is ‘lééchaa'í'…”
Shannon frowned a little then copied the sound. “Leee-chaaa-eeeee.”
“Very good, Shannon.”
“Chaaaeeee…” Lucy exclaimed loudly.
“Yes, Luce!” Kate praised as she clapped her hands and smiled.
CJ was entranced by her family and leaned against the doorframe since she didn't want to disturb them yet. Her body was telling her to lie down on the couch but she was enjoying this little lesson. She was bursting with love for these three females and the fact that they were trying to learn her great Grandfather's spoken language.
“Amá…” Lucy repeated the word for mother.
“Adeezhi,” Shannon said, craning her neck to see the screen and pointing to Lucy.
Kate was impressed. “Yes. That means younger sister… that's great, Shannon!”
CJ felt a sneeze coming on and a few seconds later, it announced her presence.
Shannon turned around. “Bless you, Mommy!”
“Thank you. Hello, family.”
Kate smiled and CJ could see the difference in her wife's face. They had done a lot of talking the past week and CJ had reassured the actress that some of her connections in the Bureau would know if Elizabeth Emerson did anything out of the ordinary. Kate hadn't wanted to know what that meant exactly but it had definitely released a whole bunch of her stresses. She trusted her spouse and now she looked more radiant than ever. “Hey, honey. Are you home for a few days?”
CJ paused half way across the room due to a more-than-welcoming Lucy attached to her leg. “Yes… I'm all yours for five whole days!” Shannon and Kate both made surprised faces at one another, resulting in a chuckling agent. “Could someone help me get this strange monster off my leg?”
Lucy freed her captive parent. “Not a monster… it's me!”
CJ feigned relief. “Oh, thank goodness… I was scared there for a minute.”
“You don't get scared, Mommy…”
CJ knew that was not true but she never wanted her tiny daughter to know that. “Not of you, Little One,” she said, lifting the precious bundle into her arms. She lowered them both onto the floor beside Kate and Shannon. “Can I learn some words too?”
“Yes, Ama,” Shannon replied with a cheesy grin.
“Let's get started then… Mai.”
“What does that mean?”
“Let's find out…” CJ said, pointing at the screen. “It's a nickname my Mom used to call me sometimes.”
That started a whole new batch of research and Kate smiled knowingly at her wife. As Shannon leaned her elbow on Kate's outstretched leg, Lucy rested her head on her Mommy's belly. CJ turned to kiss her wife and the look that passed between them said more than any words ever could. It was a look they'd both seen before… a look of love, happiness and the knowledge that they had overcome another difficult time in the journey of their lives. They knew that together, they would be stronger than any darkness that was to fall on their path.
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