Chapter XXVI

Nikki and Nora were already seated when Wendy and Catherine walked into the restaurant together. They watched Catherine say something to Wendy and pat her arm before turning to join another group of women a few tables over. They saw Wendy take a deep breath and then head towards them with determined steps.

Nikki stood and wiped her hands on her pants, relishing Nora’s touch on the back of her knee before she stepped forward and offered her hand to Wendy. “Miss Simms? I’m Nikki Beaumont. Won’t you please have a seat?” gesturing her to a chair with one hand while the other beckoned a server to their table and reseated herself.

Catherine and Sara exchanged impressed glances before returning their eyes to observing the tableau in front of them.

“Please, Miss Beaumont – under the circumstances do you think you could call me Wendy?” looking into eyes that were disconcertingly familiar.

“Sure... Wendy. I’m Nikki, and you’ve already met my partner Nora.” Conversation stopped long enough for the server to take their orders and fill their coffee cups. Then Nikki smoothed the napkin in her lap before turning her attention to her twin. “So, Wendy... where would you like to start?”

Wendy cleared her throat. “I thought maybe we could start with the basics and go from there. There’s got to be a connection somewhere; I for one would like to know what it is.”

Nikki glanced at Nora who held her gaze for a long moment. Then she gave a subtle nod and turned her attention back to Wendy. “All right, sugar. That’s fair enough, I suppose. But it’s probably gonna take longer than we have,” looking at her watch. “But we’ll do what we can, right?”

“Right. And what we can’t we’ll get to eventually, right?”

“Right. So, you want to go first?”

“Um... okay. My name is Wendy Simms. I was born and raised in San Francisco to a single mother... not that *that* is particularly unusual. Um... I went to Stanford University and graduated magna cum laude with a degree in biology in nineteen ninety-three. And I’m currently a CSI DNA technician at the number two lab in the country. You?”

“I’m Nikki Beaumont, special crimes detective for the New Orleans Police Department and daughter of Councilman Arthur Beaumont. My mama died shortly after I was born in nineteen seventy and it’s just been me and Daddy since then – or it was until Nora became part of my life.” She reached over and took Nora’s hand in hers. “I went to Tulane and graduated with a degree in criminal justice.” Nikki turned back to Nora. “Am I forgetting anything?”

“Plenty,” Nora replied instantly, rolling her eyes before giving Nikki a teasing smile. “How many secrets would you like to share?”

Nikki looked properly scandalized and Wendy just grinned. This was going better than she had hoped.



“Should I ask what the four of you are concentrating so hard on?” Claire asked leaning down beside Sara so the whole table could hear her without needing to raise her voice. “It must be fascinating, whatever it is,” she added when they all jumped at the sound of her voice.

“We’re just keeping an eye on Wendy; kinda like moral support,” Sara answered, nodding her head in the direction of the trio several tables over. Claire glanced that direction briefly, cocking an eyebrow in surprise.

“That must be some story?” more a question than a statement.

“We’ll let you know as soon as we do,” Catherine said drolly.

“Please do,” Claire requested. “Now if you’ll excuse me....”

“Would you like to join us?” Catherine offered. Claire shook her head.

“No, thank you. You four are almost done and I was actually on my way to the food court to pick up something quick. I just stopped in when I saw you sitting here so focused on something other than your meal and the company. Sara can confirm – I am innately curious, which is generally a good thing in our line of work.” She looked at them and saw confirming expressions on each of their faces. “I’ll see you all shortly.” Then Claire gave them all a little wave and walked out of the restaurant and down towards the food court.

They blinked when she was out of sight, then Catherine spoke. “Well, that was interesting. Wonder if we missed anything good in the meantime?”

“If we did, we should find out in about thirty seconds. Wendy is headed this way.”

Sure enough, Wendy was standing beside the table thirty seconds later. Her friends looked at her expectantly and she shrugged. “Nothing to tell yet. There hasn’t been time to learn a lot and we’re just starting to know one another.”

“It’s a shame we’re not at the lab,” Catherine commented. “We could run some tests... see if you two are long lost sisters or something. I mean, there’s gotta be some shared DNA in there somewhere or something. People don’t just have exact look-alikes without being related somehow.”

“Yeah, I don’t think Nikki would go for something like that, Catherine. Besides, once I got over my nerves, I actually enjoyed talking to her and Nora. They’re lovely people and obviously happy together.”

“Maybe we can all share lunch today,” Lilly said. Wendy smiled.

“I’d like that and I don’t think they would mind either. Nikki mentioned wanting to meet you all.”

“All right,” Catherine agreed. “But for now, we’ve got to get moving so we don’t miss today’s opening sessions.”

Four heads looked at their watches and as one body, they rose from their chairs. Catherine gave the server her keycard and in moments the charge was taken care of and they were moving down the hall towards the convention center.



Annabelle tugged gently on the hand she held and Simone obediently followed where she led. After a moment, they were standing beside Nikki and Helen and Annabelle was introducing them.

“It’s a pleasure, Ms Wade. Annabelle and I enjoyed your book immensely. And Ms Stewart... how lovely to meet you both.”

“It’s our pleasure as well, Ms Bradley,” Nikki assured Simone as they shook hands. “Annabelle tells me you do photography as well as editing,” stated, but with a hint of question in its depths.

Simone looked at Annabelle quizzically before returning her gaze to Nikki’s. “Yes. I consider it a hobby, but it’s a serious hobby.”

“So you have all the fancy equipment?”

“Yes. I even have a darkroom for developing prints.”

Nikki and Helen exchanged glances and Helen nodded briefly before Nikki spoke again. “How would you like to turn it into something more professional?”

“What did you have in mind?” Simone asked, her curiosity overcoming her natural shyness.

Nikki motioned towards the convention hall. “Shall we walk and talk? We don’t want to be late.” Helen took Nikki’s hand and Simone grasped Annabelle’s as they made their way down the hall. She turned to look at Simone. “Do you believe in ghosts?”



Natalie set down her phone and picked up her coffee cup.

“Still no answer?” Tootie griped around a yawn. Natalie shook her head.

“Straight to voice mail. If it was anybody but Jo and Blair, I’d be worried.”

“If it were anybody but Jo and Blair we wouldn’t have agreed to have breakfast at oh-my-God o’clock in the morning in the first place.”

Natalie rolled her eyes. “Eight o’clock is not that early, Tootie. Just because you usually don’t have to crawl out of bed before noon doesn’t mean the rest of us have that luxury.” She laughed when Tootie slapped her arm. “Best friend abuse!” she ribbed, knowing Tootie would laugh and roll her eyes. “I know you work hard, Tootie, and you’re good at what you do, but most of the rest of the world doesn’t function like that.” She blew out a breath. “God... the stories I could tell you.” Her face was teasing, but the look in her eyes was grave.

Tootie’s expression changed, eyes wide and serious. “Tell me.”

Natalie covered Tootie’s hand. “Not here... not today.”

“Soon then?”

“One day,” Natalie promised. She grinned impishly and her eyes regained their twinkle. “Actually, probably more like a week... or two. There are a lot of them, you know.” She propped her chin in her hand, her countenance one of contemplation. “Maybe I should just write my memoirs. You could read them. Or hey... maybe I could write a screenplay and you could star in it.”

“Read them? Girlfriend, I better be getting to hear them first-hand before you ever put pen to paper. Or fingers to the keyboard. Or whatever your preferred method of writing is these days.” She pointed her finger at Natalie. “Are we clear on this, Ms Green?”

“We’re clear, Ms Ramsey.”

“Good.” Tootie turned serious. “I really do want to hear, Nat. And I think you need to share. Your eyes....” Natalie cocked her head in question, but she didn’t ask. “Your eyes are old – like they’ve seen things....”

“I promise I’ll tell you all about it. But for now,” glancing at her watch, “we need to go.”

“What about Jo and Blair?”

“They’re big girls, Tootie. They can explain it to Xena.”

With a laugh, they headed out to the convention hall.



“Hey Sam, Brooke... wait up.” Both heads turned when Jordan called out to them, and they stopped and waited for her to catch up.

“What, no coffee this morning?” Sam asked jokingly as she held up her own cup. “I thought all you legal and medical types lived on the stuff.”

Jordan smiled. “And generally you’d be right. But since this is my breakfast as well as my morning go juice,” holding up the chocolate milk, “I figured I might as well enjoy it.”

“Gotta love a woman who loves chocolate milk,” Brooke said with a grin. She tugged on the hand she held. “C’mon, you two. We’re going to be late.”



Most of the legal team from New York had already gathered in the conference room, sipping from their coffee cups and talking quietly among themselves. The women from San Francisco joined them and invariably the talk turned to the poker run game they had all participated in the previous evening.

“I still can’t believe that kid snookered us,” Tracey grumbled good-naturedly. “I’ll bet you she was a ringer.” Her declaration fell into a well of silence and the women all exchanged speculative, thoughtful looks for a long moment. Then they all chuckled at the ridiculousness of the idea that a nine-year-old could be that sort of subterfuge.

“Nah,” they all agreed with a laugh.

Liz looked at her watch, then glanced around the mostly full room. “I wonder what’s going on. We should be starting, but I don’t see Xena or Lucy anywhere around.”

“Relax, Liz. We’re at Disney – they run on a different time than the rest of the world.”

“And you know this how?” Liz asked, cocking an eyebrow at Melinda, who just smiled.

“Because my husband and kids have been complaining about it already. It seems if a show is supposed to start at noon, it actually starts at twelve-oh-five by everyone’s watches. Apparently, it’s a Disney quirk.”

“I guess when you’re a multi-billion dollar corporation even the laws of time and space will bend to accommodate you.”

“Must be nice,” Alex muttered.

“Oh, please Counselor – like you don’t bend laws to suit you anytime you think you can get away with it.”

Alex’s professional response – sticking out her tongue – garnered a round of laughter. Then they noticed Xena standing in the side door with what they presumed was their first guest speaker. Automatically, people started finding their seats, ready to begin their next session.




She and Xena looked up at the hail. “We don’t have time for this,” Xena commented. She hushed when Gabrielle’s hand touched her belly.

“It’s all right, Xe. It won’t take but a minute.” Gabrielle turned and found Bailey standing in the doorway outside the small monitoring room. She sighed and looked at Xena, then motioned her to go ahead. Xena held her gaze a moment longer, then nodded and turned back to Lucy and Diana. It didn’t escape Gabrielle’s notice that not only did Xena not leave the room to start the law enforcement conference, but she had positioned herself to keep an eye on them. She smiled fondly, then focused her attention back on the nervous woman standing in front of her.

“Is there something I can do for you Ms...?”

“Bonner... Bailey Bonner.”

“Well, Ms Bonner, aside from allowing AVID Publishing into my media conference, is there something I can do for you?”

“No ma’am... not really. I just wanted you to be aware that Desdemona is not going to stop going after you. You’re a challenge like she’s never come up against before and I think it’s making her more than a little crazy.” At Gabrielle’s skeptical look, Bailey pushed on. “She called me forty-seven times last night – the first twenty-eight, she left increasingly frantic messages for me to call her back. Then she started leaving me.... Well, hear – listen for yourself.”

Gabrielle took the phone and listened, her face a cross between amusement and disgust. When she finished, she handed the cell back to Bailey, who took it and waited. Finally, Gabrielle looked at her seriously.


Bailey blinked. “Um... why what?”

“Why tell me about this? Why would you care? And if you do care, why do you continue to work for this woman? She’s more than a few slices short of a loaf. Surely you can do better.” Bailey snorted at Gabrielle’s description of Desdemona and Gabrielle smiled sympathetically.

“I warned you because I really think Desdemona has lost it this time. I’ve never heard her so... vitriolic... so passionate about anything before. I think she may actually be capable of some of those threats she made. And no one deserves not to have some kind of warning if a lunatic is gunning for them. As for why I continue to work for her....” Bailey shrugged. “Maybe someday when you have an inordinate amount of free time, I’ll share with you – if you’re still interested, that is.”

Gabrielle placed a gentle hand on Bailey’s arm, pleased when she didn’t back away. “When you’re ready to share, Ms Bonner, I’ll be here ready to listen.” She reached her free hand back to take the business card she knew Xena had ready to hand her. She accepted the card and signaled for Xena to remain, then she handed the card to Bailey. “When you’re ready to talk.”

Bailey took the card with a nod of thanks. “I should get going. Desi hasn’t called yet this morning, but I’m sure she will soon. Good luck with....” motioning around the room.

“You too,” Gabrielle returned, watching Bailey leave until she was out of sight. “Well, that was interesting. You think maybe that was the bad feeling Lucy and Diana were having?”

“I don’t think so,” Barbara replied as she rolled in from the other room.

Gabrielle turned at Barbara’s words, then crossed the small room to meet with her second. “Good morning, Barbara.” She took a second look at Barbara’s face, then noticed the look was mirrored on Helena’s and Dinah’s face as well. She sighed. “It’s not a good morning, is it?”

Barbara shook her head. “I don’t think so,” she said again. “There are a couple of detectives waiting outside. They want to speak to you and Xena.”

Gabrielle and Xena exchanged looks. Now what?


Chapter XXVII

A short brunette woman stepped into the room followed by a taller blonde. Before they could speak, another woman walked in right behind them, juggling several tubes and folders. “Xena... am I late?”

Dinah crossed to her side immediately, relieving her of part of her load and keeping her from scattering the papers she carried. “You’re actually a little early; we’re running a little behind this morning after all the trick-or-treating we did last night in the Magic Kingdom,” Dinah babbled.

“That sounds like fun. I wish I had been there, but....” The sound of a throat clearing stopped their conversation. They looked at the two women who had entered just ahead of the woman Dinah was currently standing beside.

The brunette woman looked carefully around the room before glancing at her notebook. “Excuse me... we’re looking for a Ms Xena or a Ms Gabrielle?” She turned and looked at her taller companion, dropping her voice to a whisper. “Did we get last names for these two?”

“Just Xena and Gabrielle, Miss...?” Xena broke in before the blonde stranger could respond to her partner’s question.

“Detective, actually,” the brunette answered. “Detective Sergeant Teresa Bornlan. This is my partner, Detective Shana Kennian.”

“Sergeant... Detective,” Gabrielle greeted as she stepped up beside Xena. “I’m Gabrielle; this is my partner Xena. What can we do for you?”

“You can tell us about your association with one Desdemona... Desdemona Imala Von A’Calandra.”

“Dinah, could you please take Dana to get a cup of coffee?” Gabrielle gestured slightly towards the back area where the kitchen was located. “We should be ready to start her seminar in a couple minutes, but no one should be expected to work without breakfast.”

“Thank you, Gabrielle,” Dana replied graciously. “If I could leave these here...?” setting her presentation materials down at Xena’s nod. “Please, Dinah... lead the way.”

Everyone in the room watched their exit before Detective Sergeant Bornlan cleared her throat. “So, you were going to tell us about your association with Ms Von A’Calandra.”

Xena frowned. “There is no association,” she replied firmly. “We only met her two days ago – when she tried to insist that Gabrielle include her in her conference. What’s this about?”

“Can you tell us why you refused to include her, Gabrielle?”

They were silent. The detectives exchanged glances and Kennian nodded her head. Bornlan gritted her teeth and blew out a breath. “Fine. Ms Von A’Calandra was reported dead this morning.”

“I’m sorry, but what has that to do with us exactly? As I said, we only met her two days ago.”

“All right,” Bornlan replied. “But will you tell us why you refused to include her, Gabrielle?”

“Certainly – she wasn’t registered.”

“And you couldn’t make room?”

“Actually, I *wouldn’t* make room.”

Bornlan’s brows went to her hairline. “Can I ask why?”

“I had no reason to.”

“Will you excuse us a moment?” Bornlan asked perfunctorily even as she turned and took Kennian by the arm and led her to a secluded spot by the door. Xena and Gabrielle shrugged and moved back to where their own compatriots waited.



“You get the feeling we’re being stonewalled, Shana?”

“Actually I got the distinct impression they simply did not care.”

Bornlan sighed. “Great. All right. Let’s get back to it.”



“Problem?” Barbara asked as Xena and Gabrielle joined them.

Xena shrugged. “Depends on your point of view. That DIVA person is dead.”

“Guess there is justice in the world,” Helena snarked.

“Helena,” Barbara chided.

“Let her be, Barbara. She’s just being honest,” Xena said.


“Gabrielle, no one here is going to miss her; I don’t think we should pretend otherwise.”

“In the meantime, let’s see what the good detectives want from us, shall we?” turning back to address the two women who were currently re-approaching them.



“How can we help you, Detectives?”

Detective Bornlan blinked and exchanged glances with her partner before speaking. “At the moment? Stay here and keep your attendees in their convention rooms. We need to return to the crime scene and then we’ll be back here to begin our interviews.”

“Wait,” Diana cut in. “You were at the crime scene and you left it to come here because...?”

“And you are...?” Detective Kennian cut in deftly, arching an eyebrow in a superior sort of way.

“Diana Prince – Office of Homeland Security.”

“Not that we actually owe you an explanation at this point, Ms Prince, but given what we found there initially, we judged it best to come here straightaway. And no, at this time you may not ask what exactly it was we found.”

Gabrielle stepped forward, feeling the tensions rise in every single person in the room at Kennian’s statement. “Detective Kennian, we realize that you’re just beginning your investigation and there will be a number of questions you won’t be able to answer to begin with... if ever. Please remember that most of us in this room are involved in law enforcement in one capacity or another and we are well acquainted with policies and procedures. That being said, would it really do any harm to you or your investigation for the two of you to practice a little common courtesy?”

“I am not sure I understand.”

“You obviously feel that we have something to contribute to your investigation. We will do our best to accommodate you; all we ask in return is that you treat us as adults and professionals.”

Bornlan and Kennian looked at one another for a long moment before reaching a silent agreement. “We will comply.”

“Thank you,” Gabrielle offered sincerely. “We will continue our seminars – that will be the easiest way to keep us occupied while you’re gone. There’s no reason to screw up everyone’s plans for this. When you return, we will be available to you. Will that be satisfactory?”

“Very much so,” the sergeant agreed. “Thank you, Gabrielle... ladies,” nodding to the rest around the room before jerking her head towards the door. Kennian took the hint and together they exited the monitoring room. The women watched them leave before exhaling almost simultaneously.

“Now what?” Lucy asked.

“We do what Gabrielle said – we continue the seminars as though nothing has happened. If and when the time comes to tell everyone about DIVA’s demise, we will. Until then, it’s on a need to know basis, and the only ones that need to know at the moment are the people in this room. No sense upsetting both conferences for this.”

“You really think people would be upset?” from Helena.

“About the fact that Von A‘Calandra is dead? Probably not. About the fact that they are all potential suspects? Probably so.” Xena looked around the room. “C’mon, ladies. We’ve got work to do. Helena would you please let Dinah know it’s time to begin?”

“Hey, Kid!” Helena bellowed, drawing a glare from Xena and a backhand on the stomach from Barbara. She scowled. “What? You said to let her know... not to go get her.”

Gabrielle chuckled. “She’s got you there, love.”

Xena tried not to smirk, but it was truly a losing battle... especially since she really *liked* Helena. It didn’t help that Lucy and Diana were covering up smirks of their own. Before she could formulate a reply, Dinah and Dana re-entered the room. Dana was wiping her lips on a napkin, though she still carried a partially full cup of coffee.

“Thank you, Gabrielle. That hit the spot. And thank you, Dinah.”

“It was my pleasure, Agent Scully.” She crossed over and took her seat behind her side of monitors. Lucy took her cue and her seat, and the rest began making their way to their respective rooms to get the day underway.



Gabrielle crossed into the media convention room, glad to see the women taking their places as soon as they saw her enter. She walked onto the stage and stepped behind the podium, and almost immediately the room quieted.

“Good morning, ladies. I hope you’ve all recovered from the Halloween party last night.”

“I’m never eating chocolate again,” came an anonymous voice from the back, causing the room to erupt in laughter.

“I’d say I was sorry to hear that,” Gabrielle confessed, “but if it means more chocolate for me....” She broke off with a grin and let the continued laughter roll around her as the implication of her words sank in. When it quieted again, she resumed speaking. “I apologize for our late start; I think we were all having one of those mornings. However, we have plenty to do, so let’s get started, shall we?”


Gabrielle looked out into the audience and Sam stood up to be recognized. Gabrielle smiled and nodded. “Yes, Ms McPherson? You have a question?” She cocked her head in a listening position.

“Yeah, actually. Um... I was just wondering, um... well....” Sam rubbed her hands down her jeans and scratched the back of her neck before dropping her eyes to the floor.

“Sam,” Gabrielle said softly, though her voice held a hint of a smile. “I don’t bite – unless your name is Xena or you ask me *really* nicely, okay?” causing another round of chuckles to skitter around the room.

Sam blushed beet red, but gamely cleared her throat and started again. “I was just wondering – after last night’s performance – is there any chance you might be willing to do a seminar yourself? You know... on the art of storytelling?”

Dead silence in the room – so quiet Gabrielle could hear the light tapping on the keyboards in the monitoring room. She blinked, trying to kick-start her mind. Whatever she’d expected Sam’s question to be, that obviously hadn’t been in her top one hundred of possibilities.

When the silence dragged on, Sam cleared her throat and resumed speaking. “It’s just that... well, we have editing seminars and submission seminars and selling yourself seminars and even networking seminars. And I know all those things are important... I really do. It’s just that....” She paused, not wanting to ramble and feeling as though she sounded like an idiot. Sam looked around and realized everyone was listening to her words with interest and she returned her eyes to Gabrielle who still stood behind the podium waiting patiently for her to finish.

“I’ve never heard anyone *tell* stories before. I’ve heard them read to me or read them myself, of course, but I’ve never seen anyone simply be able to tell a story like you did last night – with no notes or research or very little prep time.” Sam looked around the room again and this time motioned to the women surrounding her. “I don’t know about everyone else here, but before I can tell a story, I have to do interviews and research and take notes and write and rewrite and....” She trailed off and gazed at Gabrielle again. “I’d just like to know your secret, because I’ve never seen or heard anything as amazing as what you did last night.”

Gabrielle smiled gently, touched by the request. It had been a long time since she’d been a teacher of any kind and even longer since she’d been a student at the Athens Academy of Bards. She cleared her throat. “Sam, I’m not sure there’s a call for storytellers like myself anymore – not in this day and age where everything is digital and instant. However,” she continued, surprised to see the disappointment on a large portion of her audience. “Today’s seminars are scheduled to end at five. If any of you would be interested in a storytelling seminar instead of going to the parks or the clubs, we could plan something for after dinner – say like from seven to ten?”

Applause rang out across the room, causing Gabrielle to jump at the unexpected reaction to her suggestion. She couldn’t stop the grin that spread over her face, especially when Xena showed up at the side door with an inscrutable expression on her face. She looked over the room now buzzing with excitement, then cocked an eyebrow at Gabrielle. Gabrielle just smiled at her.

“I guess we’ll plan on it then. No need to sign up or whatever – just show up back here at seven tonight if you’re interested. For now though,” she added, raising her voice in an effort to temper the excitement, “we need to get our days activities underway. So if you’re ready....”

Without further instruction, the women started breaking off into their seminar groups and head to the smaller break-out rooms to begin the day’s sessions. Gabrielle waited until the last of them had entered their room before she jumped from the stage and sauntered over to meet a waiting Xena.

“So what just happened here?” Xena asked when Gabrielle reached her. “We could hear the cheering in the other convention room.”

Gabrielle stepped into Xena’s embrace, wrapping her arms around Xena’s neck and feeling Xena’s wrap around her waist. Xena held on, lifting Gabrielle up and feeling the bones of her spine slip back into place. Gabrielle moaned and leaned her forehead on Xena’s shoulder. Xena brushed a kiss over Gabrielle’s temple and smiled.


“You have no idea.”

“So you wanna tell me now what the cheering was about? Because I’m pretty sure it had nothing to do with our friends’ visit this morning.”

“Not at all.” Gabrielle leaned back and looked into Xena’s eyes. “I’m teaching a storytelling seminar this evening... by special request.”

“Guess this means the Food & Wine Festival will have to wait, huh?”

“Yeah... a little bit. Do you mind? I mean, this is kinda your fault and all.”

“My fault? How do you figure, bard?”

“Because you’re the one who made me a storyteller on the fly last night.”

Xena set Gabrielle on her feet but didn’t release her hold completely. “Fair enough,” she agreed. “And yeah, the Food & Wine Fest can wait. We’re on our own schedule here. Besides, I don’t know if those detectives are gonna be too keen on letting folks out of here.”

“Xena, they can’t keep us all prisoner in these convention rooms.”

“No, but they can make it impossible to have any fun.”

“Well, let’s hope they solve this mystery sooner rather than later. Figures she’d die just to screw everything up,” Gabrielle muttered, eliciting a silent chuckle from Xena.

“You think she did it on purpose then? That there was no foul play involved.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me,” Gabrielle griped, stepping back and taking Xena’s hand. “Wonder how soon we can expect them back.”

“Lunch,” Xena replied succinctly. “They’re police officers. They have a sixth sense for things like that.” Gabrielle just groaned.



“So what did you find?” Sergeant Bornlan asked the ME as she and Detective Kennian crossed back into the crime scene room. She was amazed at the discreteness of the hotel staff – if she hadn’t known there was a dead body in this room, she never would have guessed it. There were no reporters, no loitering guests and all the techs and equipment had been brought in through ‘cast member only’ access points. All in all it had been a very quiet scene so far.

“Well, she’d been dead since some time between one and four o’clock this morning. I still haven’t determined a cause of death.”

“Best guess?”

“Take your pick. There’s evidence of possible poisoning, blunt force trauma, drugs. There also seems to be an inordinate amount of blood considering I haven’t found a cause for it; I can’t even be sure it belongs to the victim at this point.”

Teresa nodded. “Has anyone been able to break into her computer yet?”

“Other than to discover she was looking up that Gabrielle woman? No,” the tech replied. “She’s got several encrypted files on here, though. It may give us some more to work with once we break them. Until then...?” She shrugged.

Bornlan nodded again. “All right. Get it back to the lab and let me know as soon as you find something. Shana and I will go back to the convention center and see what we can shake loose from the folks over there. Doc?”

“I’ll let you know, Terry... probably fours hours minimum. It’s the best I can promise at the moment.”

“Good enough. You’ve all got our numbers,” waiting for the nods from various people around the room. “Thanks, people.” Then Detectives Bornlan and Kennian exited the room at the Grand Floridian to head back to the convention center at the Coronado Springs Resort. It was going to be a long day.


Chapter XXVIII

“Why are we stopping here, Teresa? Surely we need to get back to the convention center,“ Shana commented as Bornlan stopped in the lobby of the Grand Floridian. Teresa walked to the atrium area and took a seat, then motioned for Kennian to do the same. Shana frowned, but did as she was asked, perching stiffly on the edge of the chair until Bornlan’s glare caused her to sigh deeply and slide back.

“Thank you,” Teresa said, leaning forward until her elbows rested on her knees.

“Will you answer my question now? Why did we stop here? Would it not be to our advantage to return to speak to Gabrielle before she and the rest have an opportunity to correlate their stories?”

“Shana, you’re assuming guilt.” Bornlan held up her hand before Kennian could retort. “Gabrielle is our best and only real lead at the moment; however, I think there is more to this than that. Otherwise, why was this DIVA woman looking for dirt on Gabrielle... dirt she obviously hadn’t found yet judging by what we found. Why did she have encrypted files on her computer... files Jackie hasn’t already hacked? Jackie’s the best at what she does – so why did this woman have things locked up tighter than Fort Knox? Also, she’s a publisher, right?” Shana nodded. “So why wasn’t she at the conference? From what we’ve seen so far, it’s a pretty massive convention, so why was she left out?”

“So we have more questions than answers,” Shana stated briefly. “That is normal at the beginning of a criminal investigation.”

“Yes, it is. I just want to take a few minutes to get down the facts as we know them, then write down all the questions we have as well. I would prefer to go in with all our ducks in a row, ready to ask our questions and get the answers we need. Remember that Gabrielle told us that most of the people in that room this morning were law enforcement officers of one kind or the other... which means they know how the game is played.”

Her phone rang. “Bornlan,” she answered without any further greeting.

“Hey, boss. It’s Jackie.”

“You broke the code?”

“Not exactly. We’ve got a woman up here... says she’s the dead woman’s assistant. Whatcha want us to do with her?”

Teresa tapped her fingers on the chair for a moment. “How does she seem to you, Jackie?”

The tech sighed. “C’mon, boss – you know that’s not my gig. But if I was to hazard a guess,” she continued, hearing Bornlan’s impatient intake of breath, “I’d say she was upset, but not unduly so. Apparently she came over at the behest of the rest of her fellow employees when none of them could reach their boss lady this morning.”

Bornlan pinched the bridge of her nose, then brushed the dark hair away from her face. “Kennian and I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

“Thanks, boss,” Jackie replied. Bornlan clicked off her phone and stood. Kennian followed her example, arching an eyebrow in silent question.

“Another piece of puzzle just walked in upstairs.”

“Lead the way.”



They stepped from the elevator a second time and walked the length of the hall until they reached the crime scene again. Jackie was standing just outside the door with another woman and Bornlan gravitated towards them. Kennian nodded her intention to Bornlan, then entered the room when Teresa stopped in front of the small blonde woman who seemed a little shell-shocked.

“Thanks, Jackie. I’ll take it from here,” freeing the other woman to return to her work. The blonde turned to her and held out her hand, which Jackie accepted perfunctorily.

“Thank you, Jackie.”

Jackie squeezed her hand briefly and nodded, then without a word, released her and headed back into the room to finish collecting evidence to take back to the lab. Teresa lightly touched the blonde’s arm and waited until their eyes met. “I’m Detective Sergeant Teresa Bornlan, Miss...?”

“Bonner... Bailey Bonner.”

Bornlan nodded and gestured down the hall, knowing full well it wouldn’t be long before the ME and tech team was ready to leave. Bailey took her cue and moved down the hallway with Bornlan walking beside her.

“Ms Bonner, you seem a little surprised by this, but not unduly upset. Can I ask why? I mean, she was your boss after all... correct?”

“I don’t think anyone expects to find someone dead when they go to their hotel room, Detective,” Bailey replied a little drolly. “The fact that it is being treated as a crime scene just makes it that much more bizarre for me. I mean... no one liked Desi, but I can’t imagine anyone killing her either. It’s not worth the bad karma.”

Teresa tilted her head. “What do you mean?”

Bailey blinked at her. “What part needs explaining?”

“You said no one liked her. How do you know that?”

“I was her assistant, Detective. I just knew. Not to speak ill of the dead, but Desi was a mean, manipulative bitch. You’ll find a lot of people are glad that she’s gone... no matter how it was accomplished.”

“You realize you’re putting yourself at the top of my suspect list?”

“Detective, I have nothing to hide. I didn’t kill her. But I’m not going to pretend I care or mourn her either. All that will do is make you look at me even closer... especially when you find out I’m telling you the truth about how most people will react to the news of her demise.”

Teresa blinked. “That seems harsh.”

Bailey shrugged. “Maybe. But it’s also true.”

“All right, Ms Bonner. I want you to remain available for further questioning. Where are you staying?”

“All of us except Desi are at the Coronado Springs. She wanted us nearby for the convention.”

“A convention you weren’t even attending, correct?”

“Yeah. Desi was sure she could convince Gabrielle to include her and AVID Publishing. It must have been quite a blow to find someone in the world she couldn’t bend.”

“What do you mean?” turning Bailey to face her as she noted the techs emerging from Desdemona’s room.

“Gabrielle,” Bailey replied. “Gabrielle told her no and didn’t back down when Desi threatened her.”

“And that was unusual?”

“I think your investigation will show you that not very many people told Desi no. And the few who did generally found their lives became a living hell.”

“Would you care to elaborate, Ms Bonner?”

“Not really, Detective. I’m already at the top of your suspect list.”

“And you don’t think helping my investigation would change that?”

“That all depends on what you found now, wouldn’t it?” Before Bornlan could formulate her next question, Bailey plowed ahead. “Are we done for now, Detective? I really need to let my friends know what is going on.”

“I can’t let you do that, Ms Bonner.”

“Excuse me?”

“Ms Bonner, until the Medical Examiner tells me otherwise, we are treating this as a homicide investigation.”

“All right. I understand that, but what does that have to do with me talking to the people I work with. They have the right to know.”

“And we’ll tell them. But for the moment, they would be considered persons of interest.”

Bailey sighed. “All right,” but before she could continue, Teresa’s phone rang again and she held up a hand and opened it.


“Boss, it’s me again.”

“Yeah, Jackie,” she replied, turning her back to Bailey and walking a few steps away from her before stopping. “What’s up?”

“Couple things, actually. We’re about ready to leave so if you don’t want the cute blonde to see anything, you’re gonna want to make sure she’s out of the hallway.” Bornlan smirked at the tech’s description of Bailey Bonner. Not that Jackie was wrong, but she was usually a little more detached when it came to first impressions of possible suspects.

“And the second?” Bornlan prompted when Jackie hesitated too long.

“I got through some of the encryption.”


“You’re gonna wanna see this for yourself.”

Bornlan absorbed this knowledge – hearing as much what Jackie *wasn’t* saying as well as what she *was*. “All right – send Shana out here. I need her to go back to the Coronado with Ms Bonner. Then I’ll be in to see what you’ve got.”

“You got it, boss. You’re gonna love this.”



“You’re sure about this, Diana?”

Diana nodded. “It’s a done deal. I contacted Paula as soon as you told us about Desdemona. Even if they manage to get through her encryption codes and firewalls, there’s not going to be anything for them to find.”

“And they won’t be able to trace her tampering?”

Diana just gave Xena a look. “Consort, we’ve been doing this for a long, LONG time and no one is even aware that we exist.”

“Do I even want to know?”

“Probably not,” Diana answered honestly and Xena nodded her acceptance.

“All right. We’ll talk about this later?” Diana bowed slightly and walked away just as Gabrielle approached them.

“Was it something I said?” Gabrielle asked. Xena just shook her head and took Gabrielle’s hand.

“What’s up?”

Gabrielle’s eyes returned to Diana’s retreating form once more before she directed her gaze at Xena. “Oh, um... I need to run back to our room for a few minutes to snag my laptop. Detective Bornlan just called and asked for a list of our attendees. Can you keep an eye on things for me til I get back? Barbara’s teaching a class at the moment.”

“She did?” Gabrielle nodded. “Guess we’ll hear about it eventually. But yeah, I can.”

Gabrielle smiled. “I’ll come and find you. Thanks, Xe.”

Xena leaned forward and kissed her cheek. “Anything for you, my bard. Now go get your laptop. Time’s a-wastin’ and our detective friends will be back soon, probably with your list in hand.” Gabrielle rolled her eyes and smirked in response, but dutifully turned and headed back to their room.



“Ms Bonner? I’m Detective Shana Kennian. Sergeant Bornlan has asked that I accompany you back to the Coronado Springs Resort.”

“Am I under arrest, Detective?”

“No, Ms Bonner. We are just trying to maintain a professional demeanor in this investigation.”

“I see. And you returning with me accomplishes that how?”

Instead of answering, ice blue eyes turned cold and Kennian straightened stiffly. “Would you prefer I arrest you, Ms Bonner? Would that ensure your compliance in this matter?”

Bailey huffed. “Fine. Let’s go.” Together they entered the elevator. Bornlan waited until she heard the doors close behind them before she nodded and opened the doors.

“It’s clear, guys. Let’s move.” The ME went first, followed by two techs with the gurney. Then came another tech – this one pushing a cart with several cases of evidence. Jackie was the last out, holding onto a laptop. She stopped and looked around the room before nodding at Bornlan. Bornlan pulled the crime tape over the doorway, then shut the door carefully.

“Thanks for the list, Jackie. Keep working – see if you can find out why all these names were in an encrypted file. I have a feeling it’s important.”

“Will do, boss. You going back over to the other resort?”

“Yeah. My best leads are there at the moment. You’ll call if you find anything?”

“You know it, boss. Good luck.”

Teresa sighed. “I have a feeling I’m gonna need more than that before this is over with.” She saluted slightly and headed towards the main elevator while Jackie went to the ‘cast members only’ elevator where the tech with the cart stood waiting for her to join him. They had a lot of work to do.

Teresa waited until the elevator door closed behind them, then entered her own. She looked at the papers she held in her hand. She was missing something important – the question was... could she figure it out. Then she stepped from the elevator back into the lobby, only this time she headed straight out the front doors. Time to get back to work, and if she timed it right, she would be able to get in a couple good hours work before the conventioneers broke for lunch. She could only hope.



“Hey,” Xena said approaching Gabrielle several hours later. “Time for lunch?” Gabrielle had been sitting in the media convention room since she’d returned with her laptop. She’d immediately sent the lists Bornlan had requested, then spent the better part of the morning writing furiously and Xena couldn’t help but smile at the look of supreme satisfaction on her face.

Gabrielle nodded. “Yeah, if we can talk Rita into starting a few minutes early. Despite everything, I think our attendees are starting to figure out something is going on and I expect our detective friends will be returning soon. Everything just feels... twitchy. Or maybe it’s just me knowing what I know reading too much into things. God knows I have the imagination for it.”

“I’ve learned never to discount your feelings, Gabrielle. If you say everything feels twitchy, it probably does. I haven’t noticed any odd behavior, but most of my people have been in different seminars all morning. Did you get a lot done?”

Gabrielle smiled. “Yes, thank you.” They crossed to the back room and motioned Rita over.

“Ladies,” she said by way of greeting.

“Hey, Rita. Are we about ready for lunch service?”

Rita looked at her watch and cocked an eyebrow at them, noting it was a little early, but not significantly so. She nodded and motioned to the servers who were discretely watching them. “We can get everything set up and ready to go in fifteen minutes. Good enough?”

“Perfect, Rita. Thanks.”

Rita bowed her head slightly. “I live to serve.”

They headed back into the law enforcement conference room. “Well, this should get our police friends back here,” Xena commented with a smirk.

“As long as we can get this over with. I have to tell you – I’m a little put out about this. Do you really think one of us could have done this?”

Xena shrugged. “Human nature being what it is and knowing what we know about her now? Yeah, I think it’s entirely possible someone here could have killed her. I don’t think anyone did, though.”


Xena shrugged again. “It would make it a crime of opportunity instead of a crime of passion or planning. No one knew she was going to be here – she wasn’t supposed to be. And if that was the case, why wait til now? Surely there have been other opportunities – discrete opportunities. However, until we have some cold, hard facts, it’s just speculation on my part.”

“Do you think they’ll give us any? Cold, hard facts, I mean.”

“They’re gonna have to give us something. The people in this room won’t let them get away with not.”

Gabrielle grinned. “Neither will the ones in mine. They are journalists, after all.”

Xena chuckled. “I’d almost feel sorry for the detectives if this whole thing wasn’t going to make life such a pain in the ass for us.”

Gabrielle rolled her eyes. “You’d think we’d be used to it by now.” They watched the servers scurrying around the room a moment longer before Gabrielle put her hand on Xena’s arm. “I’m gonna go check on my side of the hall. Meet you back in the monitoring room?”

Xena squeezed her hand. “See you in a few.”


Chapter XXIX

While Detective Bornlan waited for her car to be brought around, she placed a call to the manager at the Coronado Springs, then a second, brief call to her partner. So when Detective Kennian and Bailey arrived back at the resort, they were immediately met by a manager who escorted them to a small break-out room not far from the two conventions. Kennian looked around and gave the manager a small nod of her head.

“This is acceptable. Thank you.”

“Is there anything else I can do for you, Detective?” Shana looked around again, noting the carafes of coffee and a covered platter that she assumed was some sort of snack food.

“I believe this will be satisfactory.”

The manager bowed slightly. “If you need anything else, there is a house phone just outside this room. You simply need to dial the front desk and ask for me.”

“Thank you, James. We will.”

Taking the subtle hint, James nodded and exited the room, carefully closing the door behind him. Bailey looked around, then back at Kennian.

“Now what?”

“Detective Bornlan and I would like to speak to you and your compatriots. Would you prefer to invite them to join us or would you rather I had a uniformed officer escort them here?”

Bailey blinked. “You’re serious?” Shana maintained her rigid stance, merely turning her head to meet Bailey’s green eyes. “You are... unreal. I’ll call them.” She pulled her phone from her purse, then paused. “What do you want me to tell them?”

“Simply notify them that you need to see them and tell them to meet you in this location.” Kennian hesitated and crossed to the door. She opened it and stuck her head out for a second, then turned back to Bailey. “We are in the Cancun room.”

“And if they ask why?”

“Put them off and insist you cannot give them further information over the phone. If they become insistent, hang up. They will arrive simply to ensure themselves of your safety.”

Bailey stared at her. “And you know this how? You’ve never even met these people.”

“I am a police detective and there are certain aspects of human nature that remain fairly consistent. You have displayed concern and friendship towards these individuals. It follows that they will do the same to some degree.” Shana smirked. “Besides which, human curiosity is not to be underestimated. Even if these people do not consider you worthy of their concern or friendship, they will want to know what the mystery is. Therefore, they will come if you call.”

Bailey blinked again – this time to keep the tears from falling at the painful sensation Kennian’s harsh words and cold tone produced in her chest. Shana caught the aching expression on Bailey’s face and stepped forward hesitantly, placing a surprisingly gentle hand on her shoulder and looking at her with tender understanding.

“I apologize, Ms Bonner. It was not my intention to upset you. I am only speaking from my observations as a detective. My partner blames it on too many episodes of Dragnet on Nick at Nite,” hoping to add a little levity to the conversation. Seeing Bailey smile slightly, she stepped back, and removed her hand, resuming the detective’s mask she wore. “Please make your phone call.”

Bailey nodded, not wanting to embarrass Detective Kennian for her lapse. “Thank you,” she said quietly, even as she lifted the phone to her ear. Unexpectedly, she felt a little better.



Detective Bornlan walked into the room with two uniformed officers just as Bailey hung up her phone. She sent them to stand discretely in the back corners of the room. “Dot said she would get everyone together and they would be here in a few minutes.” Both detectives nodded. “Do you really think one of us killed her?”

“Ms Bonner, until I have evidence to the contrary, her death is suspicious and every one who knew her is a suspect.”

Bailey’s brows went into her hairline. “Detective, do you realize how many people that is?”

Bornlan nodded wearily. “Probably better than you do.”

At that moment, there was a knock on the door. “Bailey?” Kennian crossed the narrow space to admit the AVID people who brushed right by her without seeing her in their anxiousness to reach their friend. Harmon reached her first.

“Bailey? Are you all right?”

“Yes,” Franklyn cut in. “What’s going on?” Buster leaned against the door and took in the scene around him, noting the two strangers in their midst. He looked at Detective Kennian who merely arched an eyebrow in his direction. He understood the subtle hint and moved from the door, crossing to pour himself a cup of coffee.

When the melee died down to a buzz, Buster stepped forward. “Would you like to introduce us to your friends, Bailey?” causing the rest to notice the two detectives for the first time. All eyes turned back to Bailey, waiting for her answer.

Bornlan walked to the front of the room. “If you’ll all take a seat....” They looked at her, then at Bailey, finally moving when Bailey nodded her head. When they were settled, Bornlan cleared her throat, drawing all eyes back to her immediately. “I am Detective Sergeant Teresa Bornlan and my partner in the back there is Detective Shana Kennian.” As a group they turned to look at the blonde woman standing by the door, then refocused their attention on Bornlan.

“I am sorry to have to inform you all of this, but your employer, Desdemona Imala Von A’Calandra, was found dead in her hotel room this morning.” She watched their faces carefully, curious to see if Bailey had been correct in her summation of what reactions would be like. Most of them didn’t do more than bat an eyelash or two in surprise – just as Bailey had said. Two of them, however.... Bornlan looked at Kennian who nodded her agreement. Bornlan cleared her throat again.

“Until we hear differently from our Medical Examiner, we are treating this as a homicide investigation. As such, you are all persons of interest. I’m going to ask that you separate yourselves from one another and don’t speak until we’ve had an opportunity to speak to each of you?”

“And if we don’t?“ asked a disgruntled male voice. Bornlan looked into the face of the man who had shown a sense of relief when she’d given the news.

“And you are?”

“Warner Godwin... Desi’s brother.”

Bornlan looked at her notes. “Ah yes... the disgruntled brother. The one who felt that Desdemona owed him something when Daddy left him nothing.” Shock and surprise was clearly evident on every face in the room at her pronouncement. “Oh yes, ladies and gentlemen – we’re already well aware of a number of things about all of you... and your former employer. And if you feel the need to make things difficult, the nice officers in the back of the room will be happy to handcuff you and give you a ride down to the station. I promise you the accommodations aren’t nearly as comfortable as these.”

Without a word, the small group stood and moved around until there was space between them. Bornlan jerked her head at Warner. “You come with me,“ she ordered, motioning him to the front of the room on one side. “You,” nodding to Franklyn, “go with Detective Kennian.”

Franklyn rose slowly and waited for Shana to reach his side before following her to the opposite side of the room where Warner already sat. Bornlan looked at the rest who were currently sitting stock-still. “One more thing,” she commanded. “No cell phones, no texting and no emailing. Just sit, all right?”

Everyone nodded their understanding, but before she could move, Buster stood up. Teresa cocked a dark brow at him and waited.

“Detective, what about our right to counsel?”


“Goodfellow... Buster Goodfellow.”

“The lawyer... of course,” she muttered before giving him a piranha-like smile. “Mr. Goodfellow, this isn’t an interrogation and no one here is under arrest. We’re simply asking a few questions in an informal, comfortable setting in an effort to ascertain where everyone was at the time of death. However, if you’d like to make this official, we can take it downtown.”

“Buster, sit down and shut up. We don’t have anything to hide, and I for one would just like to get this over with,” Bailey said, pushing her hair off of her face. “I’ve got to work on my resume. We’re all out of a job now.”

Several pairs of eyes flew to Bailey’s face as her words sunk in and Buster blanched. However he sat down and remained quiet. Bornlan watched them for a moment longer before stepping back to where Warner waited with his arms crossed over his chest and a tiny smirk on his face.

“Now, Mr. Godwin... why don’t you start with where you were this morning between the hours of midnight and six? And tell me who can vouch for your whereabouts while you’re at it.” She snickered privately as she watched the smirk slide off his face and fear creep into his eyes.



Kennian rubbed her eyes briefly before pinching the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger. Bornlan scrubbed her hands through her hair and sighed loudly. The uniformed officers had been dismissed and it was just the two of them at the moment.

“You all right, Shana?”

“Yes, Teresa. That was less than informative.”

“Well, I’ll admit that in a perfect world, we’d already have this wrapped up. After all, we’ve been on this case for what...?” Bornlan looked at her watch. “Close to four hours. It only takes forty-two minutes on television.” Kennian smirked and Bornlan echoed her expression. “However, since this is the real world, it’s gonna take a little longer. My luck, it will be all day.” She glanced out the curtained windows. “After all, it’s a beautiful Saturday.”

“Naturally,” Kennian lamented.

Bornlan blew out a breath. “So what did you get?”

“Other than the beginnings of a headache?” Kennian asked. Bornlan stood and went to the snack table, pouring them each a cup of coffee. She put one in front of Shana and set the other beside it before she went back and snagged the nearly full tray. Setting it between them, she took a seat across from her partner and waited.

“Let me see,” Shana started, looking briefly at her note and shaking her head. “It appears Franklyn Mint had some sort of crush on the victim. He seemed almost genuinely upset about her death. The rest…?” She shrugged. “It is as Ms Bonner said it would be.”

Teresa grunted. “Same here. I didn’t get a sense of remorse or regret from anyone.” She took a sip of coffee and picked up a sandwich from the tray. She took a bite and chewed slowly. They were a little dry, but they were still better than the stale donuts they usually got in the squad room. She swallowed again. “No one appears to have liked this woman, but I have yet to find any evidence of anyone hating her enough to off her.” Kennian raised her eyebrow and Bornlan smirked.

“Okay,” Bornlan admitted. “Every one of them had a *reason* to want this woman dead, but who benefited from it?”

Kennian shook her head. “I do not know. Perhaps we should....” Bornlan’s phone ringing halted her thought and Shana sat back while Teresa answered her phone.


“Boss, it’s Jackie. You’re not gonna like it,” she said without preamble. “Whoever wiped it is better than I am. It’s clean. No ghosting and no trace.”


“Yeah, that was about my first thought. Sorry about that.”

“Thanks, Jackie. Guess we’ll just have to do this the hard way.”

“Sorry boss. Oh, before I forget, the ME wants a conference ASAP.”

“I’ll call her. Thanks, Jackie.”

“Later, boss.”

Kennian looked at Bornlan, who just shook her head and put the phone back to her ear as it started ringing. “Yes?” came a detached voice after one full ring.

“Doc? It’s Bornlan. Jackie said you wanted to talk to me?”

“Yeah. I’ve gotta tell you, Terry - I’m not liking this at all.”

“That bad?”

“I’m going to go ahead and rule it a homicide.” She paused.

“Why do I hear a ‘but’ in there waiting to come out?”

“Because there is one. But I’m not ready yet to give you a cause of death.”

“Not even a preliminary one?” Bornlan heard the aggrieved sigh. “C’mon, Doc... you’ve got to have *some* idea of what killed this woman.”


“Look, Doc – I know you’ve had to rush this case to the top of your load because of the logistics involved and that even rushing the lab work it’s still going to take time to get the results. On the other hand, I’m willing to bet good money against a steak dinner that you didn’t want to talk to me just to tell me you were calling it a homicide. We were already working it that way and you knew that. So what gives?”

Kennian leaned forward, putting her elbows on the table. Bornlan held up a finger.

“Doc, hang on. I’m putting you on speaker so Shana can hear this as well.” A beat and the phone came to rest between them on the table. “All right, Doc... go ahead.”

“Of course, without all the results I cannot say with utmost confidence that my deduction is completely accurate....”

“But...?” Bornlan encouraged.

“But, I am leaning towards the conclusion that this woman’s death was the result of a professional.” Dead silence met her pronouncement and the doctor felt compelled to speak again. “Detectives? Did I lose you?”

Bornlan cleared her throat though her dark eyes never left Kennian’s blue ones. “No, Doc. We’re still here. You’re sure?”

“As sure as I can be given the facts as I know them at the moment.”

“All right. Thanks, Doc.”

“Anytime, Terry. I’ll call you when I know more.” She didn’t say another word before the line went dead. Teresa and Shana looked at one another for another full minute before Bornlan blinked and shut her phone before snatching it from the table and replacing it in her pocket.

“You know what this means?”

Kennian nodded and stood, watching Bornlan do the same.

“Yes – we now have a convention full of possible suspects to interrogate. Teresa... they are all professionals.”

“Better? They were all listed in the victim’s encrypted files.”


“We find the answer to that, we will probably find our killer.” Shana cocked her brow again. “C’mon,” Bornlan invited. “Let me show you what Jackie found. Then we can decide how to play this.”


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