Kate had gone before Carling’s alarm went off. She rushed about with her morning tasks, and was standing on the front steps when Paul’s patrol car drove up. She would be compiling certain portions of her examinations today, and she wanted to get the details of the reports on her laptop. Paul arrived, giving the Dr, a hearty good morning. They proceeded to the hospital where Carling had set up a decent replica of the states forensic lab. Anything she couldn’t do here she could send to her colleagues’ upstate.
"Paul, please put those canisters into the refrigerator for me." Asking the deputy for his assistance, she went back to the beer bottle she held up to the light with forceps.
"That one of the beer bottles from the Clayton’s place?" The deputy asked.
"Yes," she responded, turning the bottle slowly.
"Any particular reason you keep going back to that one and the one off to the side instead of the four you have placed together over here." He indicated the bottles to the side.
"Yes, Paul. These two have the same DNA. The other four have young Clayton’s DNA and prints on them. These two bottles, although they have been wiped clean of prints, have saliva deposits on the inside, and they are from the same individual that left saliva residue on the pillow case we removed from the bed at Clayton’s."
"Kate said you were the state’s top forensic investigator. Can you tell what happened yet, and who else was involved?" Paul asked.
"Paul, we offer the sheriff a well-rounded approach to an investigation. We seek only the truth. We conduct evaluations, examinations and inquiries and report the true results of our findings in an unbiased and objective manner. Isolating DNA from cells is an important first step in doing DNA analysis. This procedure is used to extract large amounts of DNA from onions, and similar protocols are used to isolate DNA from other sources, such as the two blood samples found at the Clayton place. From the procedures used, I can probably tell you most of the physical characteristics of the individuals involved."
"From my training I know the footprints could reveal height and probable weight. And with the DNA from Clayton’s blood already on hand from the blood bank where he gave only three weeks ago, we can give a very concise scientific opinion of what belongs to Clayton and the other person involved. Right?" The inquisitive deputy looked at the young investigator.
"After all the evidence is processed, we’ll have a pretty good picture of what we’re looking for…at…realistically, that is. No need to tell you not to discuss this with anyone outside the sheriff’s office. Right?"
"I’ve worked for Kate much too long to go around blabbing about anything that happens in the sheriff’s office," he assured her.
"Good. Then I’ll tell you young Mr. Clayton was entertaining an older woman, that may be responsible for his disappearance."
"Damn. He wasn’t a really good-looking fellow, or even that outgoing kind of guy, but he was really gentle. I’d sure hate to think the worst happened to him," he paused and looked over at the investigator.
"Think you’d better toss that idea around a bit Paul; for I think young Clayton never left this area. The blood stains on the dock at the empty boat slip are pretty convincing that he didn’t leave on his own volition."
"Yeah. Kate took one look at that empty slip, and the boy’s toy…his truck, then looked out on the lake and just shook her head. She’s convinced the shooting over at the Sterns and Tommy’s disappearance are connected. Taking that into consideration, she has already drawn up a list of trained underwater diving teams to get prepared for an entire underwater lake search."
"Those observation sound like Kate has a good handle on the turn of events."
"Yep, she is not only the best sheriff this county has ever had, but her natural instincts are the finest I’ve ever seen, including her old man."
Paul’s lapel radio went off.
"Paul, I just got a call from Dr. Muscale. He said Don Philbrook called for an ambulance to remove him from the hospital. That is not to happen. I want you to have the hospital switchboard block any calls in or out of his room. We recovered his cell phone from the floorboard of his vehicle, so that will eliminate that possibility. You are to station yourself outside his room. That will ensure he has no further contact with anyone. I personally will be there in twenty minutes to place him under arrest. I want this done by the book, so that he doesn’t have a loophole to get out of the DUI, homicide or drug charges. Don’t say anything to him. OK?"
"Read you loud and clear, Kate. I’m on my way." Paul clicked his lapel radio.
"Oh, Paul, I called Booth to come to the hospital also. He is to stop the ambulance if they arrive before I do."
"I understand, Sheriff. Anything else?" He asked.
"No, that about covers it, Paul. Thanks." She said.
"I have to go, Carling. I don’t know when I’ll be back. Do I need to get someone to come over and help you?" he asked as he removed his gloves and placed them in the garbage can and quickly removed the disposable lab suit in the same receptacle.
"No, Paul. I can handle the tests by myself. See you later." The young forensic scientist returned to her notes.
The following week went by rapidly, with Kate and Carling engaged in long conversations until late in the evening. They spent as much time with each other as their jobs permitted, and often had lunch together, and every evening meal when their work would allow.
On nights that Kate’s duties kept her from home, Carling would prepare dinner and put it either in the refrigerator, or the microwave for Kate. She had been encouraged to play the grand piano, and the young scientist did so frequently. Their relationship was getting so comfortable that each felt as if they had been together for years.
Their bond was strengthening at a slow but intense pace. It seemed they were merging toward an integral bond, which was clearly visible to them as well as others. They kissed and snuggled often, but continued to sleep in separate bedrooms. Both women realized their desire for each other. Each wanted the intimacy, but getting to know each other better was more important to both of them. They knew it was just a matter of time before the familiarity became more, but neither wanted to rush the event and both knew when the time came, it would feel and be right for them.
Carling turned down numerous dinner invitations from Willa, and several from Gloria, to the displeasure of both women, who nevertheless pursued their endeavors with extra zest. Finally, Carling addressed each of them, stating she was seeing someone, and her principles did not permit her to accepting their invitations, and that it simply wasn’t her style. However, both women continued their chasing, making contact whenever possible, but trying to be a little less obvious.
It had been raining all morning as Kate and Carling spent three hours in court. Don Philbrooks was finally able to appear before the judge in a wheelchair for his preliminary hearing on the DUI, vehicular homicide and drug charges.
The prosecuting attorney wasn’t pleased about the attorney’s motion for a venue change, but the judge wasn’t having any of it, and denied the motion immediately. Kate had video taped two of the conscious passengers admitting Don was the driver. They also testified to the speed he was going and that they were all drinking heavily, including Don. The hospital’s report alone on the blood alcohol level allowed the judge to suspend the man’s license for five years. Philbrooks stated his displeasure, and that he would be taking the matter before a higher court. Carling’s testimony about the fingerprints on the steering wheel, gearshift, whiskey bottle, and Philbrooks fingerprints on the stash of drugs was adequate to bind the attorney over for trial on the two other charges. The judge set bail at a million dollars, which the lawyer posted in less than an hour and was driven away from the courthouse in the back of a private ambulance.
The prosecuting attorney complimented Carling on the thoroughness of her evidence investigation and reports. Then he turned to Kate and praised her for the excellent police work. It was obvious they made an excellent team.
Kate informed Carling that Booth would be assisting her in the afternoon and taking her home. She had to go to the other side of the county to the sheriff’s substation, where the wolf had been captured. They needed the sheriff’s signature before it could be removed from the county.
Kate arrived home to find Carling had prepared a light meal for them, and insisted they eat on the back porch instead of the breakfast nook. They discussed the day’s events, and the progress each had made during the day. After the meal, Kate helped Carling clean the picnic table and put the dishes in the dishwasher. The close quarters in the kitchen had them bumping into each other at every turn.
Carling was about to burst. She hadn’t pushed Kate on anything, but she was ready to advance their relationship. Now, if only Kate would cooperate. Seduction crossed her mind, but another idea popped into her thoughts.
Slowly she approached the tall woman, and slid her arms around the strong neck. "Sheriff, could I interest you in a hot bath?" She offered hopefully.
Carling dared to glance up. Her fledgling confidence was stirred by the flame in Kate’s gaze. "I would very much like to feel the silky softness between us," she whispered unevenly.
She barely had time to note the sharp way she inhaled before Kate bent and kissed her with unexpected vigor. Carlings heart sang and she locked her arms around her neck.
Kate lifted her head too quickly and her voice throbbed low against her awakened lips. Her bright blue gaze brought the shorter woman’s very blood to a boil and Carling was euphoric that her offer seemed to have been accepted.
"Are you certain of this Carling?" Kate murmured.
"I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life, Kate."
She was surrendering to the allure of a handsome woman, it was true, and it might well lead to an echo from another lifetime. A happy fate she was sure. Carling’s revelation swept over her--her destiny was before her once again. When Kate kissed her with such abandon, she could think of nothing but the promise of her touch. If this was the most gloriously misbegotten error of all her days, then so be it. Somehow, deep within the recesses of her soul, she knew that being with Kate was not a mistake.
Kate did not need Carling to issue such an invitation twice. In fact, so elated was she by her offer that she meant to leave the lady no time to change her mind. She could not reach the upstairs bath quickly enough.
The tall woman swept her into her arms and strode toward the stairs before Carling could summon a word to her lips.
Carling flushed slightly, her eyes sparkling as she looked up at Kate, but she did not request the dark woman to stop. That she should be so receptive to Kate’s touch was amazing, but not unexpected. To be sure, there were too many feelings bubbling up from within her that she was sure it was connected to times gone by that she could not explain. She knew it was more than just an evening in bed. They were offering themselves to each other.
Kate set Carling down on the foot of her bed. She watched as Carling swallowed and opened her mouth as if to protest. Kate gave her no such chance. She kissed the ruby ripeness of her lips with a tenderness aimed to reassure her.
Slowly Kate’s long slender fingers started their caress, vulnerable with an uncertainty the tall woman could not explain. Carling sensed Kate’s momentary insecurity and smiled warmly as she slid her fingers through the older woman’s short hair and brushed the bangs gently from her eyes. Kate instantly relaxed. Her hesitation was short-lived. Carling was so soft against her, so demanding in her own savored combination of softness and strength.
Indeed, there could not be a woman like Carling anywhere. Kate was about to taste the fire she felt radiating from the smaller woman. This was a lady Kate was proud to make her own, and in return, to surrender her heart in exchange for a life full of love and desire.
Reluctantly, Kate lifted her lips from Carlings’, enjoying the way she looked, slightly disheveled in the wake of her kisses. Carling’s cheeks were flushed and her eyes bright, combined with her smile to make her look younger and almost fragile. It was a side of her few had the grace to see and one that Kate would treasure as time between them passed.
Kate started to slowly release the tiny pearl buttons on the silk blouse Carling had worn that day to work.
Carling noticed the fumbling fingers, but could see the idea had an appeal. "I can do that more quickly."
"I want to take my time. I want to relish this moment and remember it forever. Okay?" She countered quietly, letting her fingers mold to the curve of the young woman’s breast. "I would like to take the clothes from your flesh with my own hand. I want to bath you slowly from head to toe, just so I can learn every part of your body, Sweetheart."
Carling felt her knees become weak at the proclamation.
"Do not move," she advised, ignoring the demanding ache in her own loins. She wasn’t going to rush this. When Carling had suggested a bath, Kate’s mind painted a tapestry of lovemaking. This could be no petty bathing, but a lovemaking that would tempt every possible nuance of response from the younger woman’s flesh. She would make this evening fulfill every fantasy Carling had ever possessed.
"I would not dream of it," the smaller woman whispered throatily.
Kate crossed the room hastily and threw open the bathroom door. "One hot bubble bath coming up!" She chortled. She hastily turned on the taps, and poured generously from two bottles into the rising water.
Kate reentered the bedroom to meet Carling’s gaze and could not keep from trembling at the sight of the captivating young woman. The petite blonde had not moved from the spot at the foot of the bed. A shy smile covered the lovely face.
Kate was drawn back to the foot of the bed as steadily as a fish might on a lure. She sat on the edge of the broad mattress and captured Carling’s hand securely with her own, feeling a tremble in her grasp. She gently pulled the petite figure down to her lap. An uncertainty lurked within her that she wanted to banish beyond all else. ‘Accept this gift Kate… stop allowing your skepticism and hesitation to cause you to question this! Can’t you feel deep within your soul that this is right, regardless of the doubts that keep surfacing? YES! I can. It does. Then stop this doubt right now, Mary Kate’ she shuddered at the thought, but firmly grasped the outcome with decisiveness.
"I like that you are not afraid to show your desire," she murmured, and Carling stared up at her. "It feeds my own, as nothing else could." She looked deeply into her eyes, willing Carling to believe her, a confession she might have once found difficult to make falling readily from hers lips before the young blonde. "I like that there is honesty between us, in this."
Carling’s broadening smile lit all the secret places of Kate’s heart.
"As do I," she whispered. Her hand landed on her chest, the slender fingers pressing lightly against the stoic woman’s right breast.
Kate captured them within her grip and pulled her yet closer. "I want this to be good between us," she added unevenly, as though she was not certain it could or would be. Carling quickly dismissed the doubts.
"It will be," Carling said with heartfelt conviction.
"We shall make it be so, I promise you." Kate gave her word.
Her smile turned impish. "Kate, you do not need to promise anything to me. I trust you to do as you say." She held the dark woman’s gaze with her usual unsettling directness.
The words buoyed Kate as nothing else could have done. This wonderful lady trusted her! "It is my way to give my word when something is of importance to me," she explained quietly, hers fingertips brushing several strands of blonde hair away from Carling’s cheek. The porcelain milk skin was so very soft as her fingers gently swiped the hair. "Does that trouble you, Sweetheart?"
"No." Carling shook her head, the heat in her gaze making Kate’s’ lower stomach tighter by the moment. "I like very much that you are true to your word. It shows your honor."
Kate could have willingly drowned in the sea green pools of her eyes.
"Hmmm. How much water do we need for a bath, Darling?"
Kate muttered a curse, the back of her neck heating when Carling laughed at her as she quickly stood up and placed the petite woman on the bed. "Don’t move," she said and stalked back into the bath once more.
The merry sound of her laughter filled the two rooms as brightly as the sunlight did during the day. Kate turned and wagged a scolding finger at the reddish-blonde waiting patiently on the bed. "Don’t move, I said."
Carling made no attempt to hide her delighted grin, but teased, "You need to hurry up with that bath, Honey. Or I just may have to take certain matters into my own hands." The young blonde let her escape with nothing, and Kate liked her cleverness well.
"We shall have the bath, my sweet," Kate declared, and disappeared quickly into the bath, and returned just as quickly.
"And time enough it took," Carling acknowledged gruffly, yet, in a teasing manner.
Her words precipitated a decidedly unladylike guffaw from the tall woman. Then conspiratorial grins were exchanged as the steaming water filtered into the bedroom.
The specter of the unknown Lois rose at this most inconvenient moment. Carling hated the reminder that another woman had touched Kate before her. No, it was not that, but it was the fact that Kate had loved Lois that rankled her. No, it was that she might still love Lois that lay at the root of her dissatisfaction. She looked at Kate walking towards her. Lois had undoubtedly seen her in such casual intimacy thousands of times. The very thought was sobering, the ghost Carling had fought to keep in the background forcing her way into the bedroom now, when she was least welcome.
Carling wished with sudden fervor that she had had the opportunity to win this tall woman’s heart first. Because she knew Kate’s was the one she would treasure beyond all else. But was Kate’s heart grated and lost, buried forever with a woman who had died by the cruelty of a terrible illness? Had the two ever loved here in this bedroom? No! Kate had stated, Lois never saw the finished house. Then why was she suddenly so jealous of a former lover? Her jealousy made no sense. She did not even know the woman. Hadn’t she herself had other women? Hadn’t she played the field? Yes, it was true. But, she also had decided to wait for her sole desire and stop the senseless sexual escapades. ‘STOP THIS IMMEDIATELY!’ Her mind screamed. ‘She is with you now, and wants only you. Kate is yours. Accept that fate finally allowed you two to be together again.’
"Have you changed your mind, Carling?" Kate asked, her voice void of emotion. The tall woman looked toward the floor and clenched and unclenched her hands, not knowing what to do with the tide of unruly emotion she had seen unleashed in the young blonde’s face.
Carling sobered, though her gaze did not waver. "No," she said flatly, then rose to her feet to come to Kate’s side. The blonde looked up at her, even as her fingers landed on her arm.
"I have not changed my mind, Kate. I only wish we had met years ago, and that you had been my first and only love." She advised softly. Carling could not evade the truth. Her heart was lost to this woman and likely always would be.
"I wish you had been my first too, Carling, and I wish I had been your first. But, we both have our pasts. And it is just that, PAST!" Though Kate had kept her heart locked away for a long time, she was willing to hand it over to this young woman without any attachments, if she would accept it.
"I will not mention this ever again," she pledged, fully meaning the words. Her fingertips rose to Kate’s face and desire rolled through Carling with new vigor.
Kate could only hope that the petite woman before her would allow her to prove that trust and love, and perhaps, in time, they both could forget the past, and offer to the other all they had. Offer themselves completely.
Carling met the blue-eyed gaze, and took the half step remaining between them. She reached purposefully for the buttons on her uniform shirt, but Kate evaded her grasp.
Kate returned to grasp the small buttons on the blouse once more and her fingers made short work of stripping the blouse loose. Ye gods, but this woman fired her blood!
"You wear too many clothes for a bath!" Kate teased, bending quickly and removing the blouse from the small shoulders and allowed it to drop to the floor. Carling gasped, but did not move away. She seemed surprised at her quick action, and Kate took advantage of that rare state. She slid her hands around the neat indentation of Carling’s waist. Kate moved like a cat until she was behind the young woman and encircled her waist once more.
Kate was standing so close to her back, she could feel the warm breath on the side of her face, causing her to gasp as she felt the heat beginning to creep up her body. Carling leaned back into the firm body and turned her head to gaze up into Kate’s deep blue eyes. Reaching around the small waist, the concealed button at the top of Carlings slacks was quickly undone. Her long fingers slowly slid the zipper down as she admired the view of the lacy bra covering Carling’s firm breasts. Running her hands over Carling’s stomach and slowly up the small woman’s chest until her large hands settled on the bra. Carling’s nipples were bulging against the lacy material, as the long fingers seemed to magically caress the outline of the erect nipples. Kate was awed by what she saw and began nibbling on Carling’s exposed neck and ear. She smelled the sweet perfume of Carling’s skin and felt the heat from her flesh, the combination feeding Kate’s desire.
When the bra hung loose, she could not resist sliding hands through the open sides of the lacey garment. Kate’s fingertips touched Carling’s rigid nipples and the soft warmth of her curved breasts filled her hands. Kate straightened slowly, looking into the lady’s eyes and let her hands gently cup her breasts.
She gasped when the taut nipples came under the pressure of the long, slender fingers. In the same moment, Kate bent and captured Carling’s lips with her own.
Carling felt Kate’s heat even as her thumbs stroked her nipples. The young blonde slowly stretched to her toes, her strength curved into Kate’s chest in a most intoxicating manner.
Kate kissed her deeply, their tongues tangling together in an elaborate kiss, and Carling, to her delight, did not draw away from the flame they kindled.
Surely she was burning with the same desire that met hers. Kate wanted no less than overwhelming pleasure on this special night, not only for Carling but for herself as well. Nothing else would suffice. The younger woman fit perfectly into the curve of her body. Neither could deny the arousal, or the desire. If Carling did not want her, this would be her last chance to turn aside. But the young lady rolled her hips against her without hesitation.
Although she knew Kate wanted to take her time and experience a sensual bathing together, she paused and looked up. Her fledgling confidence seared by the flame in Kate’s’ gaze. "Ohh, Goodness… Kate, please," she moaned. "I can’t wait any longer."
She exhaled sharply as Kate bent and kissed her with such energy, Carling thought her heart would burst. She locked her arms around her neck once more, and returned the kiss.
"Always, your desire is my command, my lovely." The tall woman murmured. Before Carling could summon a word to her lips, Kate swept her into hers arms and strode toward the bath.
She was yielding to the allure of this handsome woman, it was true, and that might well lead to an echo of her deep recessed knowledge of their past experience together…even if it was eons ago. Carling did not care. When Kate kissed her with such abandon, she could think of nothing but the promise of her renewed touch. If this was the most gloriously undertaking of all her days, Carling would never regret it. In this moment, perhaps for the remainder of her existence, reuniting with Kate was the most important thing in her life.
Carling flushed slightly, her eyes sparkling as she looked up at Kate’s, but she did not request that she stop. That she should be so receptive to her touch was somewhat unexpected, but exciting beyond belief. To be sure, this bathing her idea had appeal…a deep arousing appeal. No one had ever offered to bath her before. Her pulse raced through her body with anticipation.
"I can remove the panties more quickly alone."
"I told you, Sweetheart, speed is not at issue," Kate countered quietly letting her fingers mold to the curve of Carlings’ full breast "I will take the sponge to every inch of you. The bath will be slow and lingering so that I don’t miss any spot. Once that is finished, I will wash your hair slowly, rubbing my fingers through each strand."
"Ohhh!" Carling whimpered.
Kate watched as Carling swallowed once more. She opened her mouth as though she would speak again, but Kate granted no such opportunity. She kissed the ruby ripeness of her lips with a tenderness aimed to reassure her.
Her caress was gentle, but certain. Kate realized the smaller woman was feeling it as deeply as she was. Kate slowly lowered her panties, leaving a trail of soft kisses behind and then retracing her path as she rose back up. Carling swayed, her knees almost buckled, but Kate swiftly pulled the younger woman into her arms. Indeed, there could not be a woman like Carling anywhere… and she was hers.
Reluctantly, Kate lifted hers lips from Carling’s, enjoying the way she looked, slightly disheveled in the wake of her kisses. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes bright… that, combining with her smile to make her look younger than she was, and so very open and anxious. It was a side of her few had the grace to see and one that Kate would treasure always.
This would be the consummation of their union after all, and the first time she and Carling would touch this intimately. This would be a night that would linger in their memories for a long while, if not forever. Kate would make it as leisurely and sweet as she could with the woman before her. Carling deserved no less.
The fire Kate kindled beneath her very flesh was a sensation unfamiliar to Carling, but still she recognized this deep flame from someplace in her ancient past. She closed her hand over Kate’s breast. When the tall woman drew away from her, she caught her breath, her green eyes blazing. "This is not going to be one sided, Kate. It isn’t fair."
She worked her uniform shirt buttons loose and Kate aided her by removing the shirt and tossing it off to the side. Carling’s hand fell immediately to her leather belt holding up her trousers, with a purposefulness born of the familiarity of this task. The smaller woman snickered beneath her breath, filled with anticipation of Kate’s body. Finally, Kate stood before her in matching cream bra and panties.
Kate caught her efficient fingers with her own. Carling looked to her in surprise, but Kate merely planted a kiss in each of her palms. "There is no rush, Sweetheart," she charged softly, and uncertainty claimed Carlings’ lips once more.
She was unfamiliar with the proposed bath ritual, but it seemed Kate wanted to do this her way, and did not want to join her immediately in the tub, or completely disrobe. Carling did not know how to proceed. And Kate’s kisses really distracted her from what she knew she wanted to do…. Rip Kate’s clothes off and have her on the rug on the bathroom floor. She had to fight every urge racing through her. It would not be easy to simply relax and enjoy the ministrations planned for her.
However, to change Kate’s endeavors would have been grievously wrong. While Carling fretted, Kate discarded her uniform socks and tossed them over her head. The young blonde moaned a deep guttural growl. The tall woman slowly unfastened the front clasps of her bra. Bit by bit, she lowered the straps down her shoulder and holding her arm straight out from her body with the garment held between two fingers, she leisurely dropped the bra to the floor. Carling thought her body would explode as the full breasts of the taller woman escaped their confinement. Carling thought she would come on the spot when Kate slid her panties down to her knees and stopped momentarily, then wiggled her knees once and the panties dropped to the floor exposing the dark center of the tall woman. Carling could barely swallow, and stood with her mouth open. Her hands clinched into fists with an impatience she guessed Kate could not see. Could this woman possibly know what she was doing to her? Did she know the desire that swept her body? She couldn’t stand it anymore and started to move her hand toward Kate’s breasts, when the larger one again caught it.
"Not so fast, my dear. This is your bath Carling, and you are not to do any touching…just yet…" She deliberately surveyed the beautifully shaped body before her.
Carling was suddenly aware of her own nudity. She staid her hands and knew her cheeks burned when she met the blue analytical gaze.
Heaven knew she was not oblivious to the shapely form before her, as the heat continued up her body. "Carling, There is pretty. There is beautiful, and then, there is you. You are absolutely exquisite. " Kate approved softly.
Carling felt her self-conscious flushes deepen: "I am not as beautiful as you are, Kate. Not by any stretch of anyone’s imagination. Remember what I said, inside and out." She whispered. Her gaze fixed upon the tall nude figure before her. "Kate, I can’t stand much more. Please, get into the bath with me… NOW!"
Kate lifted her chin so that she was forced to look into her piercing blue eyes. A compelling sincerity gleamed there, and once the glittering green orbs met the blues, she could not turn away.
"My sweet, is the thought of my bathing you so displeasing you would refuse me the pleasure?"
Carling swallowed as she stared up at her, knowing she could not lie. The very thought of those strong hands sliding over her bare flesh was enough to make her knees weaken. The young blonde remembered they had pledged to have honesty between them.
She shook her head, unable to give further voice to any objections. A slow smile curved Kate’ lips. Despite the sheer energy and need that raced through her body, Carling’s hands trembled as she reluctantly lifted them from Kate’s.
Kate looked upon her nudity in silence--silence that filled the room with eagerness and anticipation.
Carling studied the steaming bath. Oh, this bold proposition of Kate’s had indeed been the most thoughtful that had ever been proposed to her. Could she just stand here and accept the gesture, and keep her hands to herself? By all that is holy, she certainly was going to try.
"Kate," Carling murmured, her low voice catching at her heart. "I’m yours. Do with me as you will." The glow of admiration in the young blonde’s eyes met the blue gaze and held.
Kate stepped forward with uncharacteristic hesitancy. She tentatively lifted a single finger to Carling’s chin. Gaining confidence she let the heat of her hands caress her hair. Her fingers worked methodically, releasing the blonde French braid.
Carling closed her eyes at the sight of her bare breasts so close to her lips. She inhaled deeply of her scent. She felt herself tremble as she had never before in such a moment of intimacy.
The pins scattered about her feet and she shook her head to free the mass about her shoulders. Kate gently pulled the strands forward, and the honey-blonde tresses brushed her already erect nipples, sending a charge through the small, shapely body.
Kate cupped her face in her hand and smiled down at her. "You are a beauty, indeed, lady of mine," she declared softly. "Never imagine otherwise." Carling blinked astonishment, as Kate bent to close hers lips over her own once more.
Though Carling knew she flattered her, she could not deny her touch. She wanted her, she loved her, and knowing she wanted her…however enduring that desire might prove to be…was a call she could not and would not ignore.
Before Carling could say a word, Kate scooped her up and slowly lowed her into the bath. Carling gasped at the shock of her momentum as water closed over her.
Kate leaned over the tub side and watched the blonde’s eyebrows rose at her in a mimicry of a tantrum.
"Not yet," she scolded with mock severity. Carling splashed the water playfully in the tan face.
"Coward!" Carling charge, and Kate chuckled at her playful antics. "You see me naked but will not join me…"
The tall woman grinned like a young girl and cast her chin downward as she propped her bare arms along the tub top, the soap dangling from her fingertips.
"Better?" she breathed. Her hands slid slowly across the submerged bare chest.
Carling closed her eyes momentarily; Kate’s touch over her bare skin was overwhelming. A slow grin turned the corners of her mouth as she imagined the gorgeous woman kneeling beside the tub.
Kate’s dark hair was tousled, as Carling had never seen it before, her smile disarmingly confident. Her bright gaze missed none of her perusal, she knew. A perfectionist was making love to her.
Kate leaned closer and her breath fanned the small ear. "What do you think so far, lady of mine?"
"I think you are as vain as ever a woman was," Carling throttled, feeling decidedly perky by her own utterances, "NO doubt you think no further than your own satisfaction this night," she charged, knowing the accusation was not true, but hoped to entice Kate into the tub with her.
"Oh, no," Kate murmured. "I mean to see fully to your own pleasure first,"
‘My own pleasure?’ Carling jumped as the wet heat of Kate’s tongue leisurely outlined the curve of her ear. She might have pulled away from the unfamiliar but delightful sensation, but Kate’s arm had slid across her back. Kate’s large hands locked on her shoulder, lifting and turning Carling gently against her bare chest, their nipples firmly pressed together.
If she could not have Kate in the tub with her, she rationalized she might as well enjoy this interlude while it lasted. That was an excuse and Carling knew it well, but she did not care. But, oh, there was much to be enjoyed!
She stretched her neck back as Kate nibbled a lot of infinitely small kisses along her jaw-line. She paused at the corner of her lips, hers own mouth but a finger’s breadth away, and Carling felt her head turn that increment toward the tan face. Their kiss was gentle and languid at first as though Kate would coax a wholehearted response from Carling. Surely the tall-dedicated bather did not imagine that she did not desire her? Carling knew how to dismiss that thought. She raised her hand from the heat of the bathwater and let it trail up the long arm. She traced the outline of her shoulder with her fingertips, before grasping her neck. Then abruptly she pulled Kate closer demanding more of the dark woman’s deep kisses.
Kate hauled her more tightly against her bosom with a vigor that made her heart lurch in anticipation. Kate’s mouth slanted purposefully over hers, and Carling’s blood boiled as her tongue tangled once more with her own.
Carling closed her eyes with a sigh and leaned back in Kate’s embrace. Her arm gripped her shoulders like a safe harbor sheltering a ship in a storm; her other hand cupped her face with a tenderness unexpected. Kate’s thumb slid along her jaw in a caress that could melt Carling, and the young woman forgot whatever she was supposed to do next, except to let, the tall woman do whatever she wanted to do.
Kate’s fingertips slid down the length of her throat. The soap traced a path across her skin in a smooth caress that made each increment of flesh it passed resonate in its wake. Kate’s other hand lifted from her shoulder, her fingers spearing demandingly into her hair. And the errant hand slid beneath the surface of the bathwater.
Carling arched backward, unable to contain herself when the long fingertips curved possessively over her breast. The recurring build up of lather with the soap made her ministrations all the more gently seductive.
Kate swallowed Carling’s gasp as her thumb and finger kneaded her nipple to an aching point. The young blonde was powerless against this sensuous assault, so far beyond anything she had experienced before. Kate’s hand slid lower and she thought she would faint at the power of her desire. She abandoned the soap and it bobbed to the surface with a little splash.
But Carling was aware only of the downward spiral of those long exploring fingers. Kate traced the curve of the underside of her breast; she caressed the silhouette of each rib; she encircled her navel, and then tickled inside it. Kate’s fingers played and her hand flattened against the soft curve of her belly.
Carling gasped at the sensations flying through her body. However, Kate granted her no time to think, much less react. Her fingers slid through the nest of curls at the apex of her thighs and slipped into the sensitive flesh hidden beyond. That secret part of her throbbed with desire as Carling sat in the tub. Pushing her lips from the tall woman’s, "Kate," she gasped, certain she would come immediately.
"Relax, Carling. Let go," Kate crooned softly with graceful suppleness. "I will be gentle, and I promise you will reach the highest pinnacle," Kate murmured soothingly.
Carling could hardly argue with that, for the weight of her hand, even where it rested now, was far from unpleasant… Her eagerness caused her lips to tremble.
"I have never felt so aroused, Kate," she said uncertainly. "I feel so selfish."
"Just relax. Don’t think selfishness. Only think what you are feeling. You have nothing to do, but enjoy."
Carling opened her eyes and frowned, for that made no sense at all, and reached for her bather. "Let me touch you too," she suggested, feeling that familiar ground would be welcome despite the temptation of this woman’s arousing touch.
"Nah," Kate said with quiet resolve "Your pleasure must come first."
"But nothing," she chided, silencing her argument with a quick kiss. Kate brushed the tip of her nose against her own one and smiled that half smile that so disarmed Carling. "Trust me," she urged quietly. "You will not regret this."
Carling’s resistance melted before this charm. She argued no more and did not protest when the full lips lowered to hers again. For the first time since they had crossed this threshold, Carling ceased to fight her intuitive response. She welcomed the beat of Kate’s thrumming fingers and trustingly parted her thighs for the gentle caresses.
She was rewarded by a surge of sensation that shook her to her core. The secret spot between her thighs hummed as a busy bee on a summer’s afternoon, and Kate expertly cajoled it to yet greater heights. Carling moaned, but the tall woman did not halt her caress, her fingers coaxing and teasing as she writhed in response. Her kiss stole her very breath away and she felt as if she floated in the warm water on a tide of sensation. The grip of Kate’s hand upon her nape was the only fixture in Carling’s world.
The desire that had coursed within her veins ever since the first morning they had met rose to a crescendo. Her very flesh heated and she trembled in anticipation of something she could not name. She clutched at Kate’s hair, she gripped her broad shoulders; she twisted and squirmed. The heat rose increment by increment, each moment taking it yet further beyond what Carling thought she could endure. She ached for something, felt a void deep within her and wanted only to have Kate fill her with her long fingers and her strength. Kate sensed what Carling needed and entered her, pushing her over the edge. That finger thrust made everything within her explode in a sea of brilliant light. Carling cried out, "Kaateeeee," and felt herself storm ever higher as the tumult of her release swept through her, and left her trembling in its wake.
Kate kissed her brows as she slipped limply into the bathwater, yet the hollow ache within Carling still not completely satisfied. The small hand reached up to cup her in turn, the soapy water dripping from her fingertips. Her need demanded more, though, and she reached up to cup her breast in turn, the soapy water dripping from her fingertips.
"I want you. I want to make love with you," Carling whispered hoarsely, not caring if Kate wanted her to reciprocate now or not. "I want you now, Kate."
Kate’s striking blue eyes blazed into hers for a timeless moment. Kate brushed the suds aside. "Your wish is my command," she muttered, and marveled that this young woman had such an effect upon her. Her tall body was halfway over the tub rim already, and was tugged the rest of the way by eager, small hands. Both chuckled as the water sloshed over the sides of the special built, oversize tub.
Carling pressed herself against her lover and kissed her with a fervor she had not known she possessed, rolling her hips against the tall woman’s strength as her own need rose once more. Kate groaned and her grip tightened upon her, but Carling in turn granted her no escape from the primal power of their lovemaking. She wanted to have this woman. She wanted to love her. She wanted to satisfy the flooding desire she knew was there. Before Kate knew what was happening, the tall woman found Carling skillfully turning the tables with an eager grin and straddling her lap like a mountain lion ready to pounce.
Carling watched a flush rise across the tall woman’s flesh. The sight of her desire burning in her eyes and the strength of her seemed to surrender as Carlings hand pressed her to the back of the oversized tub. Kate yielding fed her own hunger yet again.
Insatiable, Carling strained, kissing her demandingly, clutching at her hair, and sending their passion escalating madly. Quickly, she kissed her way down the well-proportioned body, stopping to feed on aroused brown nipples. The assault continued until Kate’s moaning turned to pleading whimpers. "Pleassse, Carling!"
Kate spread her legs, making room for her lover’s body and touch. Carling nibbled one nipple then the other before she continued her jaunt down her lover’s long body until her lips found her quest. Kate raised her hips slightly out of the water. Her lover’s tongue flicked back and forth over the sides before she slid, wet and squirming into Kate’s damp core. The dark-haired woman’s desire was warm and slightly salty. Carling eased her hand into place and slowly one finger was joined by the second. The younger woman knew she was about to reach her own pinnacle, but held off until she felt her sole desire rising in momentum to meet hers.
Kate gripped the sides of the tub. Her eyes glowed. "Carling," she murmured, her name a caress falling from her lips. "You are my sole desire."
Suddenly Kate released her hold on the sides of the tub and clenched the blonde head tightly. Then she tipped back her head and bellowed Carling’s name several times. The heat of her climax raged and burst forth, even as the smaller woman’s own flooded her veins with new vigor. Both women strained together, arching for the sky, then plummeted from the heights they had won.
After regaining some strength, the spent younger woman kissed her way back up her lover’s body.
"Carling," Kate whispered against her temple, her voice ragged.
Carling closed her eyes and lay exhausted on top of the larger woman. She could sleep for a week. "Never before, never like this," she managed a whisper, and she felt Kate smile against her hair.
"But soon again," Kate assured her.
Carling looked to the wonder below her, liking the crooked grin that curved her lips. The dark haired woman arched her brow. "Next time though, it will be in the bed, Sweetheart."
Carling wanted to laugh, but instead she forced a sigh of mock contrition. "I suppose I could let you into my bed," she said, as though the concession was a trying one. She looped her arms around her neck and pursed her lips. "Perhaps once a month or so…."
Then there was no more time to marvel, for Kate quickly stood up with the smaller woman in her arms and stepped out of the tub. Carling threw her arms around Kate’s neck and squealed. She quivered against Kate as rivulets of water ran from her flesh to make a puddle upon the floor. It was as though she united with some pagan god, emerge and gilded, possessed of an immortal’s strength. Kate’s gaze drifted over her as though she marveled at her and Carling’s pulse accelerated anew. Carling locked her legs around her waist and twined her arms around Kate’s neck.
"Perhaps twice a day, if not more often," Kate injected, eliciting a ragged breath from the tan throat.
Carling laughed. "We shall never get anything done!"
Her blue gaze turned hazy with intent. "Tell me anything more worth doing."
Carling tapped her chin as though she had to consider the matter seriously. "Well, there is always some report to be written, and then there are tests to be run," she mused, whooping in surprise when Kate reached under her buttocks, and pushed her over her shoulder and made for the bed.
"Teasing wench!" she charged in a playful growl, crossed the room with long strides and tossed her onto the king size bed, following suit before she even bounced twice. Her large hands were on her, tickling mercilessly so that the small woman wiggled and begged aloud. Her pleading didn’t work, and the tickling continued. Carling dove beneath the coverlet still begging, and loved how close the taller woman was behind her.
"I shall make you forget any tests, or reports!" Kate’s arm quickly reached around the small waist as she hauled her against her naked body.
"Will you, now?" Carling looked over her shoulder to a purposeful gleam in her lover’s eyes. ‘Lover.’ Carling’s lips quivered at the thought.
"Come here, my sweet, and I shall show you what this bed is for," Kate teased threateningly.
Carling snuggled against her in anticipation. Indeed, she could hardly wait.
There was such need in her and such passion as she feasted on Carling’s lips. Kate plundered her mouth, tasting, devouring, like a woman who’d been starved. Her tongue tangled with hers, teasing, tempting. The hands at her shoulders were trembling as she dragged her fully against her bare chest once more. While her mouth savored the taste of her, her hands began a frantic exploration, moving along her back, sliding up her sides until they encountered the swell of her breasts. Her clever, work-roughened thumbs found her taut nipples already hard, and began stroking until she thought she’d go mad.
Carling pushed against her and lifted her head, taking in a deep draught of air.
Kate pulled her close, nibbled her throat. "Having second thoughts?"
"Not on your life." The words came out in a sigh as she arched her neck to give her easier access. "I just need a moment to catch my breath."
Instead of giving her what she sought, Kate dipped her head lower… until her mouth found her breast, further robbing her of breath.
Ignoring her own desires, she began to nibble and suckle until Carling moaned and caught her face between her hands. "Do you know what you’re doing to me?"
She grinned, sending her heart spiraling out of control. "I hope it’s the same thing you’ve been doing to me since the day we met, my lovely Carling Marie." She kissed her again with such passion she drove her backward until she was pressed tightly against the oversized pillows.
Her small hands were locked in the dark hair. Almost savagely she pulled her head back while she rained kisses along her cheek, to her lobe, which she took between her teeth, nipping lightly. She gave a yelp of pleasure and surprise. "Kate. Wait. There will be sharing this time."
The dark woman growled against her cheek, "I hope you didn’t think loving me would be all neat and tidy."
Her hot breath tickled her ear. But it was her words that had her shivering. "I’m not interested in neat and tidy, Mary Kate, just sharing. I’ll take your love wherever you offer it. Whenever you offer it. But I’ll demand the same of you. Love me as I am. Where I am. And let me do the same."
"Oh Carling. I will." She sighed. Swallowed. "I do." Her lips covered hers in a kiss so hot, so hungry; she had no choice but to answer in kind. But even as they struggled to fill each other, the hunger between them grew.
The wrinkled, twisted covers dug into her back, but she was too drunk with her kisses to notice. Kate brought her mouth to her throat, and then swore in frustration. She heard the covers being pulled hastily away, felt the coolness of air against her skin, and was stunned to see her lover’s stare drifting down her body. Then her big hands reached for the full breasts and cupped them gently.
The look in this dark woman’s eyes had her throat going dry.
"God in heaven, Carling. You’re even lovelier than I’d dreamed."
Then there was no need for words. Her hands, her mouth, told Carling all that she needed to know. Kate was a thirsty woman, drinking her fill, a desperate woman, clinging to her as though to life itself.
Carling desired to see her, feel her, in the same way. Nerves made her fingers tremble as she reached for the flesh at her waist. Slowly the smaller hands lowered from the waist, feeling every inch of the larger body as her hands reached their destination and she closed her hands over the full buttocks.
When Carling drew her close and began to press kisses along her shoulder, across her throat, her legs were trembling so violently she feared they would fail her, but she spread them wider nonetheless. Sensing Kate’s hesitancy, Carling caught her hand and drew it down between them, placing it firmly over her patch. Then found her fingers searching for her new lover's core with the same urgent need. The need to take was almost overpowering. But for Kate’s sake, she would force herself to move slowly as her fingers found her entrance, and began their dance of love.
Kate’s touch gentled, as did her kisses. With her free hand, her fingertips explored Carling’s face, her throat, the sensitive hollow between her neck and shoulder. With each touch, each taste, she felt her body grow tenser, her breathing grow shallower.
As her blood heated and her body pulsed, Kate felt her inhibitions begin to slip away. She had feared that she would feel shy and uncomfortable with Carling making love with her. But with the blonde, she felt no shyness, no inhibitions and no doubts. With her she felt bold and free, free to be herself. Free to touch her and enjoy as Carling touched her. Free to love Carling in every way, and allow herself to be loved in the same manner in return.
She savored this gentler side of her lovemaking. Steeped in pleasure, she sighed with contentment as she kissed and caressed. The pleasant sensations curling deep inside her lulled her into believing that passion, at least her own passion, was a quiet whisper. Quickly she flipped the taller woman, who looked pleasantly surprised.
Carling’s lips trailed her throat, then dipped lower to her breast. Without warning, a demon seemed to spring to life within her. The pleasant sensations were suddenly writhing and twisting, demanding to be set free. The quiet whisper became a roaring of blood throbbing inside her temples. Kate sensed the change in her and thrilled to it. Here was more than mere pleasure--more even than passion. This was need, raw, and demanding; need that had long slumbered within her, awaiting the right touch to awaken it. She could read it in her eyes, taste it on her lips. Hot. Wild. Pulsing. Kate’s body quivered as the release came, but the onslaught continued, and the first release was followed by the second. Knowing she could stand no more for now, Kate’s fingers tangled in the long hair tightened as she drew her head back to her lips and covered her mouth in a savage kiss.
"Even I felt that, Kate. That was so intense." She lay on top of the taller woman, and could still feel the trembling subside slowly. "The most powerful and moving experience ever… You are one sensational lover, Sweetheart."
"Even if I’m an older lover?" The dark haired woman asked.
"Kate haven’t you ever heard that older women make better lovers. It’s celebrated in song and folklore. Their life skills uplift shy youthful lovers past barriers of fear and inexperience. Unexcelled as nurturers and teachers, they bestow patience and understanding. They care." Carling nibbled Kate’s lips.
"You," Kate returned the nibbling, "don’t need teaching and you don’t have a shy bone in your well experienced, patient, and fearless body."
Their breathing slowed, but the fire within began to rekindle again.
"Now," Kate whispered against her mouth, "I’ll show you all the other things I’ve dreamed of doing."
She turned the smaller body over on the bed and quickly covered it with her own. With teeth and tongue and fingers she moved over the smaller body, touching, tasting, until Carling was unbearably aroused. Following her lead Carling brought her arms around her waist and buried her lips in her throat. She felt her muscles contract violently.
With a new sense of power, Kate explored her as she had been explored, daring to touch, to taste, to entice. Her body was alive with need. She had planned to go slowly, to make this reciprocal ministration as easy, as gentle as possible. But now, with their passion fully unleashed, she had to call on every ounce of self-control to keep from losing herself.
With exquisite tenderness she kissed her until they were both breathless. At her whispered sighs she lowered her head to her breast, nibbling, suckling, until she moaned and writhed and begged for release. Instead of giving her release, the taller woman moved to the other breast, feasting until Carling clutched at the bedding beneath her. The smaller woman made a sound that could have been a plea or a protest, and still she held back as she lowered her suckling to Carling’s naval, then settled on her center, driving her higher, then higher still. Kate was relentless as her suckling and tongue movement drew out every pleasure until it bordered on blissful delight.
The cool air in the room whispered over them, but nothing could ease the thirst that parched their throats or the sheen that covered their flesh.
Carling strained her hips upward against her, her body screaming for release as Kate moved back and forth on her center. Her whole world was now focused on this dark-haired woman.
Kate’s clever fingers joined the tongue and enticing lips in their lovemaking arousal. Her demanding tongue swiped across the sensitive clitoris with skill and just the right pressure. Kate felt the young body stiffen as she reached the first crest. Kate gave her no time to recover as she moved over her again, this time even slower than before. As she entered her she felt an even deeper arousal. It only served to arouse both of them more when Carling wound her legs around the strong shoulders, needing to hold on to her as the storm began anew.
She didn’t think it was possible to want more. But she did. She wanted all Kate could give. "Kate! Sweet heavens, Kate. Now! Please. Now!"
Kate filled her with another finger, and knew, even as they began to climb together, that she had lost herself completely. Lost herself in the wonder of her. In the beauty of her… In the love of her… her sole desire.
"Mary Kate. God in heaven Kate." Her lover’s name escaped from Carling’s lips as she closed her hands in the short hair of the taller woman’s head moving just below her naval. She felt Kate’s mouth close over her center and experienced her throbbing desires race toward the very edge of the highest pinnacle of eruption the sensational storm within was causing. She was about to explode, and knew Kate was experiencing the same explosive charge. And then she was moving with her, racing, climbing. And as they reached the final shuddering release, she felt them soar through space and shatter high among the stars.
They lay, still joined, unable, unwilling to move. Little by little they seemed to drift back, to settle, to find a calm after the storm. They lay there happy-- deliriously happy.
"I’m strangling you."
"Nah." She lifted a hand to Carling’s leg, raised her head, then kissed her way up the smaller body. Reaching the younger woman’s cheek, she kissed it gently, lowering her lips to the curved neck before she sank to the bed, partially covering the smaller body.
She started to move away, but Carling reached over and captured her hip with her hand.
Carling reached up and caught her chin and she stilled.
She stared up at the green eyes. "Okay." She purred. "We have all evening."
Carling caught her breath but certainly was not inclined to argue. Her hand locking around Kate’s neck, she turned to kiss her deeply.
"You have but one thing upon your mind," she scolded, eyes dancing at the thought of that very same thing.
"It is true," Kate conceded with a sigh. "As you say, I think beyond keeping any promise granted."
"For you to reach the highest pinnacle and to show you the merit of a bed such as this," she retorted, permitting herself a wicked grin.
Carling laughed and swatted her shoulder. "Incorrigible" she charged. "There will be enough time for that later."
"Yes, my sweet, there will be time for a lot of things between us." They kissed again--a gentle, settling kiss.
Raising up and placing her elbow on the bed and her head in her hand, Carling touched Kate’s chin with her spare hand and lifted it slightly. "You look..." she stared down the glittering blue eyes. "Stunning. You look stunning, and I can’t believe how you make me feel."
Kate managed a laugh. "I’d say stunned alright. I don’t know when I have ever felt this way before."
"Umm. Me too. Kate, I love you." She uttered softly.
Kate looked into the green eyes for a wordless moment, "And I love you, Carling." Her hand reached up and drew the blonde head to her for a long lingering kiss. Through the close proximity of their lips, Kate breathed out, "I love you with all my heart."
They kissed again. Carling snuggled close into the shoulder of the taller woman, who reached down with her other hand and pulled the covers up over their body. Both were asleep before Kate’s hand rested the covers on the back of the smaller body.
********** Chapter 8
Kate awakened to gentle music from the clock radio. She stretched, smiling at Carling’s softness nestled so tightly against her side. Still slumbering, the smaller leg had found itself over the longer body.
Kate ran an admiring finger along the gentle sweep her jaw, marveling at the magic they had made together. And would make again. Carling was tempted awake with a soft kiss, just as a knock sounded at the door.
Carling’s eyes flew open in alarm. Kate did not move any and Carling’s green gaze leaped to meet her blue ones. She almost flushed even as she smiled shyly up at her. Kate smiled back, called out, not troubling to hide her impatience. "What do you want Mary?"
Carling giggled and gave her a hearty poke in the ribs. "You will fuel her gossip, and you mother will know before we get downstairs."
"It already has…no doubt. Mary has never knocked at my door before. She has undoubtedly checked your room first," Kate murmured. She gave the smaller shoulders a minute squeeze. "Do you care?"
Carling shook her head, her eyes shining. "No. Do you?"
Kate grinned. "Not a whit"
"Mary Kate, I am most sorry to disturb you two," Mary declared from the hallway outside. "But John needs your assistance for about ten minutes this morning, if you can spare the time, and I need to get to your laundry basket."
Kate looked to Carling anew. "Do you mind?"
She shook her head and propped herself up on her elbows. Her breasts were laid delightfully bare by the move and Kate could not resist bending to kiss one pert nipple. Though she did not pull away, she did reach over and pull the covers over both their bodies before she called out, her voice uneven, "Come on in Mary."
Mary entered and briefly surveyed the bed and the couple there, before she made her way to the bathroom for the clothes. "You two should be up by now. The sun is almost up."
Kate grimaced and propped herself up on her elbows in turn. "I would rather stay here and enjoy a leisurely morning."
Carling stiffened a little. "We can’t stay here for long, Kate. I have several DNA tests to complete this morning, and they won’t wait. I need to be at the laboratory early." She leaned up and kissed the older woman. "And didn’t Mary say, John needed your help for awhile?" she asked.
"I sure did, young lady. He’s waiting at the warehouse for you, Kate." She answered as she came out of the bathroom and made straight for the bedroom door without looking at the bed, or the women. "You two might as well forget any ideas you might have about me gathering up all those strewn clothes, because I won’t. You best be putting them in the clothes basket if you want them washed." She chastised them as she walked through the door. "You both are going to get my broom on your buttocks," they heard her grumble as she pulled the door closed.
"Alright, I’m going, but this had better not become a conspiracy between you two." Kate muttered as she got out of bed and headed for the shower. At the bathroom door, she turned and looked back at the smaller woman. "You interested in a little water conservation?"
Carling sprang out of bed. "I’d be interested in the joint shower, but don’t know how much water will be saved." She chuckled and joined the open arms of the taller woman.
Kate returned from the warehouse to find a hearty breakfast on the table. Later Mary poured her another cup of coffee, and asked if there had been any word or findings on young Clayton.
"Nope, not a thing Mary," the sheriff answered.
"I’m giving part of my report to the sheriff this afternoon at her deputy’s briefing. It doesn’t look good." Carling added.
"That’s too bad. Young Clayton was such a nice boy. He never was much in the brains department, but you couldn’t ask for anyone to be any more polite, and well mannered." Mary said, setting the coffee pot back on the stand.
"That’s the truth, Mary. Tommy’s parents did an excellent job on his up-bringing," she stated to her part-time housekeeper, then turned to Carling.
"I’ll drop you off at the lab today, Carling. You think you might be at a breaking point about lunch time?" she asked. "The food in the cafeteria at the hospital is pretty good, then I could drive you over to the office for the meeting."
"Sure. Why don’t I meet you in the cafeteria about noon," she responded.
The sheriff’s SUV drove up to the side door to the hospital, and Carling leaned over and kissed Kate before she exited the vehicle. Kate blew the reddish-blonde haired woman another kiss as she put the vehicle in reverse, touched the brim of her hat and nodded to her before she drove away.
Carling stood on the stoop and watched the patrol vehicle until it was out of sight. The ear-to-ear grin still remained on her face as she finally turned and unlocked the door to enter the hospital wing. Her humming turned into a song, which filled the space as she unlocked the converted coroners office and placed her briefcase next to the computer on the desk. Still singing, she slipped on a lab jumpsuit then her apron, before retrieving some test tubes from the refrigerator to be analyzed. Her singing was replaced by a chuckle, as Carling thought of the long shared, morning shower. Shaking her head at the thought, she started humming again, and started the chemical analysis.
Nearing noon, Kate had called Carling and told her she was running late, to go ahead and get her lunch and she’d join her as soon as she could.
Carling put the results of the test into the computer, and printed out the results on her laptop that had been set up with a printer on one of the desks. She glanced over the report, and finally reached into her brief case for her pen. After placing her signature on the documents, she placed the papers neatly into a folder, and slid the folder into her briefcase along with her pen. She removed her apron, folding it smartly and placing it on the stool in front of the microscope. She slipped out of the disposable white laboratory jumper suit and tossed it in the trash receptacle. The blonde head looked around the room before she picked up her wallet and keys from the briefcase and locked the door to the laboratory as she exited. She strolled leisurely down the hall to the next corridor and the all-purpose lunchroom.
Making her way through the line, she chose a tuna salad plate, and a bowl of fruit and placed the items on her tray. Paying the cashier, she glanced around the room. Spotting a small table at the side of the cafeteria, she quickly walked to the area, and placed the tray on the clean surface. The crisp tuna salad was eaten rather quickly and Carling had only a spoonful or two left of her fruit bowl when she was interrupted by a familiar voice.
"Mind if I join you?" Gloria asked, setting her iced tea on the table, and seated herself across from Carling without waiting for the young forensics scientist’s answer.
Carling stiffened. She didn’t want the woman’s company, but thought better of saying anything to cause a disturbance. Kate would be here momentarily, and she only had two bites of fruit remaining. She exhaled slowly. She could stand the few minutes of un-pleasantry, if only for manners sake… Couldn’t she? ‘It will be a sacrifice,’ she thought and raised the glass to her lips. Taking her time with the beverage, she finally lowered the glass. "I’ve finished eating, but you’re welcome to join me while I finished my apple cider," she said.
"How thoughtful of Kate to grant us a chance to chat!" Gloria exclaimed. Carling arched a fair brow at the remark. "You know, I rather expected to see her with you at lunch after seeing her drop you off this morning." The woman’s lips were drawn in a harsh line, her eyes fixed upon Carling.
Carling forced a smile. "Something came up, but she will be joining me any minute." The young woman raised her glass again, and drank purposefully. ‘So, I let you know I saw you and Kate’s display this morning, and you’re telling me in your own way, that you don’t give a figs ass.’ The hospital administrator thought, and snatched her tea from the table.
Gloria chortled. "Oh yeah, she can get tied up with lots of things." Her lips curved in a knowing smile, her gaze trailing to the top two open buttons of the young investigators blouse. "You know, she is quite a catch."
Carling fought to hide the way the woman’s words made her temper start to rise. "We seem well suited," she satisfied herself with the declaration.
Gloria laughed throatily at that. "Yes, you with a young, rich professional background and her with a handsome visage! However, I cannot blame you welcoming her between your thighs, she is quite the lover." Then she forced a catty smile for Carling and beckoned the younger woman closer as she leaned over the table. "It will never last. You are not well suited to each other. Kate is so needy, whereas, you on the other hand…."
"You are quite brazen, Gloria." Carling bristled anew at the woman’s view of her and Kate’s business. But, she did not think it wise to disclose to such a gossipmonger the truth of what had occurred between Kate and herself.
"Oh, Carling, do not be coy! We have shared the same woman, have we not? And what objection can you have?"
"I do not know what you mean," Carling protested.
"I mean Kate, bless her heart had the enthusiasm, but not the techniques, if you will forgive me for speaking so boldly." Gloria nodded to the young blonde across the table once more. "Do not look so surprised, Carling!" Gloria reached over and patted her hand. The gesture was obviously meant to be consoling, but the young blond woman’s hand was like ice.
Then she met what she thought was Carling’s stunned gaze and laughed. "Oh, Carling, you play the wounded lover too well! Surely you saw how she looks at me, and we do have a history. Kate was far from discreet, after all. Why, the woman had me in the hospital flower garden once, while her partner lay in her bed, not two-dozen feet away, unable to lift her head. Lois must have known!"
Carling gasped. Her green eyes looked down at her entwined hands and noted that they gripped each other so tightly that the knuckles were white. She wanted to stand up and knock the miserable woman half way into the middle of next week for her insulting remarks concerning Kate.
"Our situation is not any of your concern, Gloria. I also doubt your insinuations concerning Kate," Carling stated stiffly. The young scientist was painfully aware that striking the woman was now becoming more than just a possibility, but however tempting the thought was, she realized that slapping her would only cause problems. "If you find her alleged behavior so abhorrent, then why do you still pursue her?" Carling charged.
Gloria frowned, unable to see the stirring anger in the young woman across from her. "You doubt me? Ha Ha! If you only knew."
Carling glanced up, only to find Gloria watching her closely, a curious knowledge in her gaze. Carling shivered at the thought of taking the physically drastic step of striking the woman, or even insulting her. So, she folded her napkin gracefully, placing it neatly on the tray next to the empty tuna plate. She placed her hands elegantly on each side of the tray and leaned forward just slightly while maintaining a steady glare at the incorrigible woman.
"You are a very troubled woman, Gloria. You are certainly one with a very vivid imagination, but also one that is twisted and warped, and without one ounce of validity. Kate has explained to me her relationship with you, and the destructive actions, and even your deceit. I suggest you refrain from such accusations in the future, for I will not remain silent, as Lois deemed necessary for friendship sake. I, in fact, will personally tear those dyed roots one at a time from your overstuffed, lying head." Carling stood, vividly obvious in her demeanor. She picked up her tray, without leaning down, "Do I make myself clear, Gloria?"
"Indeed! Indeed you do, Carling. But, I need to point out, I don’t take well to threats." Gloria’s head snapped up. The older woman’s attention diverted too quickly by the younger woman’s directness, and the obvious vestige of her charm.
"No threat, Gloria. My solemn promise." The young woman turned and walked towards the tray return area, not seeing Kate crossing the room with purpose to her every step.
She quickly dispensed with the trash on her the tray and slipped out the side door of the cafeteria into the very garden Gloria had mentioned only minutes before. She needed to calm down, and regain her composure before Kate appeared. Kate! What did she tell Kate? Carling picked up her pace as she turned the corner of the building and walked down to the small pond behind the hospital. A spectacularly arranged flower garden surrounded the small pond, and extended to the far corner of the hospital property. Gloria’s cruel insinuations and untruths rang in her ears.
Gloria looked up to find Kate approaching quickly. What chance had she of winning Kate’s heart, especially now that Carling was obviously involved with the sheriff? Her gut writhed as Carling’s condemnation echoed in her ears once more.
Kate knew something was wrong with Carling. She could tell from across the dining facility that Carling was not her usual, calm self. Kate stepped up to the table, and glared at the woman she was certain was responsible.
"What did you say to her?" The frigid voice asked.
The woman smiled coyly and patted the chair that Carling had abandoned. "Come and sit with me," Gloria cooed, "and I’ll tell you anything you want to hear." She picked up her tea and drank once more.
Kate did not care for the woman’s manner, or for the way she had looked at Carling when she left. Carling was upset, there was no denying that, and she felt Gloria was responsible. Kate had seen this one stir the pot for her own entertainment many times in the past. "You would not tell me anything that resembled the truth and you know that, Gloria. Carling and I are friends. I don’t like to see my friends upset. So in the future, please do not do or say anything to Carling or myself. In fact, stay away from me. Stay away from Carling. Leave us alone." With that, Kate pivoted and went in search of Carling.
"But you cannot mean that!" Gloria cried. "I am your friend."
Kate fired a glance over her shoulder. "An underhanded friend, and by your behavior already apparent in this room…deceitful and dishonest. Stay away, Gloria. Or else!"
Gloria sputtered in indignation, but Kate had no time for her. Carling was distressed and she could only hope she could mend whatever damage had been done. Kate found her leaning against a tree on the bank of the pond, a shadow against the shadows, her face buried in her hands. Kate stepped onto the rock walkway at the bank edge, knowing Carling must hear her. Carling stood quietly, but she did not acknowledge the tall woman’s presence.
"Carling? What did Gloria say to you?"
"Nothing of importance" she retorted. Kate ached at the ravaged sound of her voice. She was about to cry, and she didn’t want Kate to become upset as well. "It isn’t anything to be concerned about."
"It is my concern," Kate corrected gently as she took a step closer to the tree. The gardens were extensive, the herbs and flowers surrounded by a good size orchard. The leafs were in the fullness of the summer now, a gentle afternoon breeze lifting Kate’s short hair as she progressed. But the beauty of the garden was tainted by the distress she felt coming from the younger woman.
Carling said nothing, but she thought she heard herself stifle a sob.
"It is my concern if you weep, because you are my…"
"Your what, Kate?" Carling burst out unexpectedly.
"My sole desire." Kate reached up and drew her hand over Carling’s cheek, then folded her arms across her chest and surveyed the young blonde. Carling was obviously troubled to have abandoned her usual clear thinking.
"What did Gloria tell you? She is a troublemaker and gossipmonger."
"She may be all that, Kate, but she is also gorgeous!" Carling retorted.
Kate snorted at that. "She is not!"
Carling looked up at her, her features drawn in expression so forlorn that Kate dared not step closer. "She is a very beautiful woman and to make matters worse, she is in love with you," Carling said quietly, but Kate shook her head and stepped closer.
"She may have been born with pleasing features, but the darkness of her heart overshadows any physical attributes she might have." Kate was close enough now to see Carling nibble her lip.
Then she tossed her hair and stepped away. "You do not find her attractive, even with her tainted heart?" Carling asked.
"Not in the least, and not for a very long time." Kate stretched out a fingertip and touched Carling’s long hair. "I only want you." Kate stated simply.
Carling’s heart pounded beneath her clothes.
Kate felt her lips set in a grim line. "What did Gloria say to you?"
Carling’s mouth worked as though she could not bear to put a voice to what troubled her. Then she blurted out, "She made love with you, in this garden, with Lois lying inside the hospital, dying!" The voice broke and a flood of tears were released.
Kate winced and clutched Carling in her arms. The smaller woman did not struggle, nor did she fight. She stiffened briefly then suddenly crumpled against her chest, threw her arms around the taller neck, her breathing difficult.
"Carling, it is not true. None of it. Gloria lies," she stated. "She has been known to tell tales merely for her own amusement" She tightened her arms around the smaller woman.
"It makes me want to want to retch." Carling inhaled raggedly. Kate could well understand that sentiment.
"How could she say such a thing about you when that period in your life was so hurtful?" Her voice was soft and sad. She was sad because someone Kate trusted, and valued as a friend, had betrayed her, and said things to hurt her. "By all that is holy Kate, she is no friend. I doubt she ever was your friend."
"We all have our faults, Carling. Gloria bathes in hers. Perhaps we reserve the weight of our disappointment for those who shatter dreams." Kate closed her eyes against the significance of her words. Disappointment raced through the taller woman, as she raised her hand to the chin resting on her chest.
Looking into the blue eyes, Carling wanted to reassure her lover that she understood. "Her betrayal is over and done, however newly discovered it is by me. I will not allow her to come between us, or hurt you ever again, Kate. Do you understand?"
"Understood!" She bent down and provocatively traced the outline of the smaller woman’s lips with the tip of her tongue. She liked how Carling caught her breath, and felt powerful in her femininity. "I trust you are no longer disturbed by Gloria’s remarks or her intentions?" She murmured against the smaller lips.
"You are correct, my darling. Gloria will never be allowed to undermine you in my presence again, nor will I ever give her the opportunity to attempt to upset me either." Carling growled with purpose, catching the sheriff’s upper lip between her teeth.
"Uh…Carling," Kate grinned wickedly as she loomed over her. "I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to be doing this here. Half the windows in the hospital face this pond, and we obviously have an audience already." The tall sheriff’s head nodded toward the building.
Carling quickly looked over at the structure and laughed. "Why, Sheriff, I think you have a following. Want to continue this at home tonight?"
"That sound like a good idea. We need to get over to the briefing. Do you have your notes ready?"
"I do," she sighed. When Kate bent to claim her lips in a bone-melting kiss, Carling could barely wait for the evening to come.
"Well, that tied up the hub cap stealing ring. Good job Capel, Shorts, and McGregor. None of us like to lock up teenagers, but sometimes the only solution is to spend a year or two in the Juvenile Offenders Boot Camp. Judge Creel weighed the home situation of each of the youths, and I agree with his decision for them." Kate laid her clipboard down on the counter and looked out over the twenty-seven deputies that had gathered for their bi-weekly briefing.
"Now to some good news. Fletcher Buchanan and her crew, along with the volunteers from our west side substation captured that big chilling wolf of hers. He has a brand new collar transmitter radio, which I don’t think he can get off this time, and is now back in the Adirondack’s park where he belongs."
"Yeah…" several of the deputies voiced and clapped their hands in approval.
"I’ll be congratulating the west substation later today. They volunteered a lot of off duty time to capturing that animal, and official accommodation letters are going in their personnel files." Kate smiled.
"Now, for a preliminary report from our State Forensic Scientist Investigator, Dr. Carling Reed." Kate turned to the younger woman that was sitting next to Elaine with her folder open. "All yours Dr. Reed," she motioned to the front of the counter.
Carling rose, and walked around the divider, and quickly slid up on top of the vacant stool. She crossed her legs as she opened the file and looked up at the group. "Physical, chemical, and microscopic analysis is used in the examination of a variety of types of physical evidence, including impression evidence, such as: shoe prints, fingerprints, tire marks, and tool marks, and trace evidence, such as paint, hair, blood, or fibers. These analyses can lead to the identification of perpetrators, association of one individual with another individual or a scene, or a more comprehensive understanding of the series of events that occurred during an incident under investigation." Carling laid the folder on the counter behind her, and looked over the faces of the deputies.
"I deal in scientific facts. Sometimes those facts are dry, and quite boring. But, sometimes the dull and boring facts can make or break a case. I’d say, one of the most useful tools a scientist has, besides the physical evidence is the ability to reason. But logic skills are important in all fields of scientific inquiry, and an investigator must use reason and logic in their analysis. Of course, I left out something I deem just as important, and that is we must not forget to have a sense of humor when we work with facts, or you can go nuts." The young pathologist attempted a half-smile before she continued. "The final product of scene investigation, evidence analysis, and case review is a comprehensive report. It fully explains the significance and limitations of the physical evidence in the case. When appropriate, it presents a reconstruction of the incident based on information gained from the scene, the evidence examination, and the review of relevant additional information." Carling looked over at Kate, who had taken the seat next to Elaine, and was smiling back at the young investigator.
"All technicalities aside here, I don’t know how one could survive this job without some humor. In no way are we, investigators and other personnel who work crime scenes, trying to belittle or minimize the tragedy of the scenes we work. Unfortunately, by the time my unit is called to assist an agency, someone has died under suspicious circumstances, usually in a violent manner." The smaller woman’s hand gestures were just as impressive as the words the seasoned investigator was saying.
"So, I’m going to dispense with the rest of the formal mumbo jumbo, and just explain some basic information on the Clayton case, and give you my formulation of some additional information that I think might help solve this crime." Several deputies squirmed in their seats, and Booth who was leaning against the doorframe shook his head.
"The crime? The long and short of it is, he’s dead, isn’t he Dr. Reed," Booth asked, scratching his day old beard with one finger.
"All the evidence points in that direction, Booth," replied the young investigator and picked up the folder once again. "Let me tell you what we do know, and what I believed happened."
Carling explained about the hairs, body fluids on the bed, and DNA on the inside of the rim of several beer bottles found in the trash. She also brought up the footprint beside the tire track, and the blood stains at the scene. Carling had talked for about ten minutes, when she closed the folder, and laid it back down on counter.
"Ok, to sum this up quickly, as Booth stated, the long and short of this is: Tommy Clayton probably entered the boat on his own, whether voluntarily or made to is not known at this time. But the blood on the pier at the empty boat slip indicates he stepped into the boat and was not dragged or pulled. His body dumped in the lake, along with the weapon that caused him to bleed in the backroom and on the dock. The missing boat is probably someplace on the bottom of the lake also. The evidence shows he had intercourse with a dark hair woman several times the day of his disappearance. From the DNA and the footprint beside the tire tracks out back of the building, the woman is around five and a half feet tall, weighs from 110 — 115 lbs, and is probably in her early to mid thirties. She is smart, in that she wiped her fingerprints from everything in the bait-shop, and didn’t allow anyone to see her with Tommy except…." She opened the folder again and produced a blown up photograph taken by Raven Longgear of a Clayton speedboat on the lake headed away from the Stern cabin a day prior to the shooting.
"As you can see by this blow up, there is a caramel skinned woman sitting very close to young Clayton and is probably his companion, and most likely his killer." She passed the photograph around the room for each deputy to view. "You can’t see her face, only the back of her head and her arm around Tommy, but her hairstyle is unique."
"Holy Crapola!" Paul stood up, and walked over to Kate. "Sheriff, I didn’t think it was important at the time…not until Carling explained the description, and it may not be significant at all…" The deputy handed her the photograph.
Kate stood up. "What are you saying, Paul?" She asked, taking the blown up image from him.
"Well, about a week after young Clayton disappeared, I was on road security duty at the main road and turn off to the Boat Landing. A woman fitting this description drove up to the roadblock. She asked if the blocked gravel road was the only way to St. Joe Lake Realty. I told her she had the wrong lane, that the Realty road was another mile further down the main highway. Although she asked about the realty, she attempted to look down the blocked off road. I just passed it off as curiosity. But, this hairdo," he tapped the photograph Kate was holding, "The woman had this same style hairdo."
"Good!" Kate snapped the photograph against her other hand. "Did you notice anything else about her, or the vehicle she was driving?"
Paul closed his eyes, attempting to recall the brief meeting. "It was a silver color, late model Volvo, with New York license plates." He opened his eyes, and continued. "There was some sort of parking permit in the lower front window…. It had green…No, it was blue ink on a light green background. And as she drove off, I noticed a New York Jets sticker on the left rear bumper."
"That’s great, Paul. Now write it down, in detail. Try and remember anything you can about the woman or the car. Also, what time was it?"
"Shoot, that one is easy. The woman asked the time. It was 10:33 a.m. She said she would be late for her appointment with the realtor."
"Good. Now we have a potential description and a possible suspect. Paul, after Carling completes her report, you and I will drive over to the realty, and check this out." Kate handed the photo back to Carling.
Carling placed the photo back in the folder and removed her ballistic report on the slug found in the tree at the Stern cabin.
"Now for the shooting, I have a few pieces of information, but not much. The bullet is from a 308 rifle. From the location of the bullet in the tree, the trajectory of the bullet places in about ten yards from the end of the pier. That means the shot came from a boat. The blood from the bullet is Longgear’s. Both Raven Longgear and Joanna Stern saw the boat with one occupant. Stern recognized the boat as being one of Clayton’s speedboats as she stores her boat at their boathouse when she isn’t here. From the photographs Longgear took of the lake the day before, we know that this boat, with two occupants, one obviously young Clayton, and the other was the woman with the dark bouffant hairdo, did go by the Stern cabin several times. The photograph I passed out earlier is only one of several with the same figures appearing. Find the 308 and I can positively tell you if it was the one used in the shooting. Find the woman and I believe you’ll find your shooter." Carling put the ballistics report of the shooting back in the folder. "Kate that does it for this briefing." Carling smile became even larger when her eyes met those of the tall sheriff.
"Do any of you have any questions?" The sheriff asked the group. Upon them shaking their heads, she dismissed them, and thanked Carling for the extensive report.
"Glad to be of service, but I’ll know more once I finish the remainder of the tests on the life preserver, and the blood DNA." She smiled up at her lover, and winked.
"You need to stick around for a few minutes, and answer any last minute questions this group comes up with…that is, if you don’t mind. Willa will be working with your this afternoon, and will be your driver." The sheriff smiled at Carling.
"That’s fine, Kate. You asked me to remind you about notifying divers, and equipment for searching the lake." She said.
"Dang… I almost forgot. Thank you Carling." She went into her office and returned with a page of instructions and handed it to her dispatcher who doubled as office administrator.
"Elaine, please call Fletcher Buchanan, and the other names on this list. We need their expertise in diving, and underwater recovery to examine every inch of this lake. I want as many of them as possible here to start tomorrow at first light." Handing the list to her dispatcher, she turned to Booth. "You need to take Baker, and get the barge out of moth balls, and have all the gear needed on it and in front of the municipal pier by daylight.
"Will do, Sheriff," the deputy nodded.
"Come on, Paul. Let’s get to the realty office." She reached for her hat, and turned to the young blonde. "Do you need anything for the laboratory, Carling?"
"Nothing that I can think of right now. Thanks, Kate." Her voice dropped an octave as she leaned in and added, "Be careful."
"I will." She said, with a touch of desire filling her loins. "I’ll see you tonight."
"Absolutely." Carling almost sang her answer. Green eyes followed the tall woman out the door, and continued to watch the sheriff through the office window. Kate removed her hat, and tossed it in the back seat before she slid behind the wheel. The blue orbs instinctively looked up, fixing her gaze directly on the petite investigator observing her. Kate’s head nodded in acknowledgement, then put the vehicle in gear and backed out onto the main road.
Carling sighed as the car drove away.
Elaine heard the soft sigh and looked over at the young woman still staring after the disappearing vehicle. ‘Looks like Kate has another admirer. I wonder if Mary Kate knows she has been caught, hogtied, and branded?’ she chuckled to herself. ‘Well, Carling seems like a wonderful woman, and Kate deserves someone to genuinely care about her.’ Elaine’s grin echoed positively beatific, in unnerving contrast to the devilishly wicked gleam in her dark eyes. ‘You’re off the market sheriff.’ Fighting to suppress the way her mind replayed the image of Carling’s lovesick look at Kate, her head lowered toward her chest. Her long African beaded braids made a swishing sound as Elaine’s head shook back and forth, followed by the almond skinned woman beginning an intense sound that resembled a snort more than a chuckle.
"You want to let me in on the humor, Elaine?"
"I’m planning a wake," she retorted sweetly. Her heartbeat had accelerated rapidly at Carling’s sudden question.
"Not mine, I hope." Carling’s eyes traveled the contours of the finely structured face, as if seeking a clue to the woman’s devilishly wicked gleam. The young pathologist sensed the good nature of the dispatcher, and felt the budding of a close friendship with the older woman.
They looked at each other thoughtfully, their expressions lightened only slightly. Moments later, both women erupted into mutual laughter. They had reached a silent understanding.
"It was a personal observation, Carling." She offered, cocking her head slightly, the braids clicked together.
The young investigator grinned acceptance of the unnecessary declaration.
"Carling, you say a person in your field has to have a sense of humor? Why? And do you?" The dispatcher asked the investigator as she placed the list Kate had given her on her desk and slid the phone over next to the paper.
"Humor is a coping mechanism to help us deal with the horrendous circumstances of the job. A person wouldn’t last long in this profession without a good sense of humor, Elaine". She leaned forward and asked, "You seem to have somewhat of a…uh…sense of humor yourself."
"Yep, you might say I have a sense of humor," the older woman chuckled.
"She has a damn weird sense of humor, Carling." Willa leaned over the counter, "Strange and often bizarre if you ask me." The deputy offered.
"Well, Miss Know It All, who asked you?" The older woman groused, but didn’t wait for the deputy to respond, "Your sense of humor helps you with the job you say, I can imagine all that scientific stuff clogging the brain. How do you do it day after day?" Her eyes carefully roamed over the features of the smaller woman’s face.
"If I didn’t maintain some degree of personal distance, if I let myself get personally involved with the victim or perpetrator, I couldn’t focus on the science and details of doing my job correctly. I could not process the scene," she said, shaking her head. "The key is to think of a crime scene in terms of the science--the interpretation of blood spatter, proper collection and preservation of evidence, and so on. I want to correctly and accurately process the scene evidence so that detectives and agents can then investigate and hopefully arrest the bad guy, or gal who committed the crime. There is great satisfaction when the evidence and investigation all come together and we can catch the bad dudes!" she responded to the dispatcher, and sat down in the chair she had used prior to her report.
Elaine opened up her desk drawer and drew out two of Carlings’ novels and tossed them on the desk next to the seated investigator. "I’ve read these. They are very good. Looks like you nailed both cases right on the head. Do you see yourself becoming a full time writer? And, what are some common mistakes you see writers make when writing suspense or murder mysteries?"
Carling smiled as she picked up the novels. "You read them both, and liked them? Thanks." She grinned at the dispatcher. " Well, first off, I have to state a disclaimer here. I don’t actively read murder mysteries or suspense novels. I deal with the violence and aftermath of murder scenes on a daily basis, so the last thing I want is to come home and read about it too. If I want to read on this subject, there are dozens of medical and scientific journals littering my desk at work that I can peruse at my leisure... whatever that is. My division is on call 24/7--365." The young forensic scientist placed the two books back on the desk.
"I like to read lots of fan fiction and fantasy simply because it's so far removed from my job. As you can see, I even write a little, that is, when I think I can put a spin on the case to make it interesting to the general public. However, I do a lot of consulting with other writers and have read a few novels in these genres. I would say that lack of accurate research is probably the largest mistake I see. Don’t assume what you see at the movies or on TV, such as the three lettered top forensic show, is accurate, Elaine."
She stood up, walked over to the coffee pot and poured a cup, stirred in a sweet and low and added cream enough to color the dark liquid. There were several other deputies leaning over the counter when she turned around and strolled back to the chair.
"You guys are experienced enough to know, a body doesn’t fly across the room from the impact of a bullet. It takes at least four minutes for the brain to die from lack of oxygen when someone is strangled. Movies/media tend to show this in less than 10 seconds. The amount of blood loss from a wound will depend on a number of factors such as type of wound, i.e.-knife, gunshot, blunt trauma, temperature, angle of the body and so on. Not every wound will immediately or automatically produce a large amount of blood that soaks the victim’s clothes and runs down their body. That’s something the media does for drama and shock value. It is effective…just not accurate for every situation and wound type." She answered as she sipped the coffee and puckered up her face at the taste. Carling made a mental note to apologize to Mary about the coffee the next time she saw the housekeeper.
"Well, that sure shot my favorite TV show all to hell," Willa replied dryly. Numerous deputies at the counter snorted at the admission, while several others agreed.
"You need to read a good book once in awhile, Willa," Booth stated as he clipped his lapel radio in place and signed the in and out board with his destination.
"You spend your spare time with a book, Booth. I’ll take a hot date and a imaginative TV show anytime," the woman deputy offered mockingly to the back of the senior deputy as he left the office.
"I’m ready to go to the laboratory, if you are, Willa." Carling stated, downing the last of the strong coffee and returning the cup to the tray.
"Sure…Sure, Carling…uh…Elaine, if you call Buchanan, how about seeing if that brunette that works for her is coming for the lake search?" Her eyes pleaded for a moment, "Will you do that for me, Elaine?"
"You never give up, do you Willa?" the dispatcher asked, then ran her finger down the list the sheriff had given her, "Her name isn’t on the list. But, I’ll run the possibility by Fletcher when I talk to her. Willa, you better not cause trouble about it."
"Thanks." The deputy grinned, turned and signed the destination board, then bowed and waved her uniform hat to allow Carling to pass. The dispatcher just rolled her eyes and picked up the phone to make the request for the divers.
********** Chapter 9
The sheriff and her deputy left the realty office and continued their discussion as they sat in the patrol SUV.
"The old man was rather clear about the caramel skin woman, Sheriff. She only wanted to see a piece of property just down from the Stern cabin, but hasn’t called him again for an appointment to walk the property," Paul stated. "That seems strange to me."
"Yeah. He said she slid closer to him as they got to the other side of the lake, and definitely took quite an interest in the goings on of all the people on the Stern dock and property. Even stranger was when she had him speed up once they got past the Stern cabin, and didn’t really seem too interested in the available property." Kate taped her pad on the steering wheel. "He may be old, but he is as keen as they come. If we can get a police artist here, he seemed pretty positive he could describe the woman. I’ll call Albany when we get back to the office. " She turned the switch, cranking the SUV, but didn’t put the vehicle in reverse.
Looking over at her deputy, her eyes narrowed. "Paul, why don’t you call the highway patrol, and check to see if they issued any tickets for a late model, silver Volvo in the last month any place within a hundred miles of here." She put the vehicle in gear and backed out of the parking space. "It’s a long shot, but it would be worth the effort. Also, run the type and color of car through the state DMV database. They might come up with something." Kate put the vehicle in gear and pulled onto the road. "While you’re at it, you might as well go through the DMV also. If she has a NY driver’s license, her photo will be on file. Filling in her approximate age and description should narrow the list. Don’t get your hopes up on that avenue either, she probably has an out of state license."
"Good call, Sheriff." He wrote in his pad and replaced it in his shirt pocket. "I’m sorry about not getting that woman’s license plate, Kate. I just didn’t…I…" he uttered, somewhat disgusted with himself.
"Don’t worry about it, Paul. You had no reason to be suspicious of anyone yet. When we check out the name she gave to old man Collins, I bet it is as fake as her desire to view the property he showed her." Kate quirked. "We’ll find her one way or the other. Trust me, we’ll find her." Kate wasn’t sure how this declaration was going to come about, but she was determined to make it happen.
"Carling found muck from the lake in the footprint next to the car tracks, Paul. That means the woman was in the water, and walked out of the lake." The tall woman voiced her theory.
"Are you sure that’s what the murderer did, walked out of the water?"
"I’m not sure of anything, Paul. No one saw a person pinch the boat from the dock, but I believe that was what happened. Why one bare footprint beside the tire track behind the bait-shop? So, I’m assuming that whoever it was came from the lake." The tall woman stopped at the intersection and looked both ways before she pulled out on the main highway and headed in the direction of the town.
"I wouldn’t have parked it there myself. A car like that pulled into that particular area would scratch the sides for sure. It might have been a rental, and scratches would have been very hard to miss." The deputy took his pad back out and flipped the page forward. "If its okay with you, I’ll call every car rental in the New York area, and work all the way up to Albany to see if any rentals were returned with unexplained scratches?"
"Yes, do it. But hold up until we check out the three letters on the front plate of the Volvo the Realtor gave us. How many silver Volvos have license plates with X&G the first three digits? The state DMV should be some help with that."
"You think we’ll find the car?" He asked
"A car like that would be hard to miss, and I doubt that it’s a rental. They check those cars out closely when they rent them and when they return, and not too many have parking permits in the windows, or stickers on the bumpers." Kate explained, "And there is the concealing it so that no one would know it was there. That had to be on purpose. Obviously, so that no one would know she was there." The tall woman tapped her finger on the wheel, as if to keep up with her thoughts.
"You could check out the possibilities with the rental agencies, but I’ll buy you dinner if you find anything. This was well planned, down to the last detail, and this woman didn’t want anyone to see her or the vehicle. Paul, I have a theory, all the pieces aren’t in the puzzle yet, but they are falling into place with each piece of information we receive." She slowed down as a semi-truck flashed lights to pass.
"Your theories are usually right on the money, Sheriff. So, do you want to share yours?"
Kate exhaled slowly, "I believe Joanna Stern and Raven Longgear have a very vindictive enemy. I think this woman got to Tommy sexually. I believe young Clayton was hoodwinked by this woman to have access to the Stern cabin by water so that she couldn’t be traced. This woman, for whatever reason, not only fired the shot over at the Stern place, but also did away with the boy to keep her identity a secret. Both Stern and Longgear said there was a lone shooter in the boat that sped away." Her long fingers continued a slow tap on the wheel as she talked.
"You think she took Tommy out on the lake, killed him, dumped his body, then used the stolen boat to do the shooting over at the Stern place and get away without being seen?"
"Yes, that’s exactly what I believe happened. We’re dealing with a shrewd woman, Paul. She is clever and cunning, and I believe she is a cold-blooded, ruthless killer."
"Lord-a-mighty, Kate. Women aren’t usually that cruel…well, not around here at least. Did that PI over at the Stern cabin have any leads?"
"I had several talks with the that private investigator that Ambassador Stern hired to check out the stalking of his daughter. He thought he knew the identity of the person, and indicated it was a woman. He was scheduled to come up here about a week ago to layout his summation for me. However, another freak accident took his life in, of all things, a gas fire. Only… it mysteriously burned one area of the floor… The area the man’s offices were located."
"You think all this is connected?" Paul asked.
"Yes, I’d bet my badge on it." She nodded to her deputy. "Paul, you need to do a separate composite with the state sketch artist of the woman. That way, we will have two different sketches for comparisons and matches. Between the two of you, the composites should be more accurate. As soon as you and the realtor authenticate the features of this fruitcake, I intend to fax the composites to Joanna Stern, Raven Longgear and Ambassador Stern. If any of them recognizes her, I think we will be well on the way to solving these mysteries." she said, tightening her hold on the steering wheel.
"Dang-nab-it, Kate, young Clayton’s didn’t deserve to be used like that, or caught up in some psycho bitch’s revenge scheme." The deputy retorted bluntly.
"I agree with you, Paul. But some women just can’t take rejection.
"Not just women, Kate. Lord Almighty, men are just as temperamental when they are rejected. Probably worse."
"From what the detective told me just before he was killed, Stern and Longgear only knew of one individual that resented them being together, and it is a woman." She offered.
"Sure sounds that way. Why aren’t they still over at the cabin?" I know a few days after the shooting, while I was on duty there, they took off in a helicopter, with some of their security team, and four others drove the Stern’s jeep back to New York."
"Keep this on the QT, Paul, for Ambassador Stern called me at home the morning they left and notified me they were getting married, and didn’t want the publicity. He did tell me they were having a commitment ceremony in another state, and were getting legally married in Vermont, but didn’t give any other details. Can’t tell who wanted them dead, but I’ll wager those events would have caused another attempt on their lives." she said strongly, as she turned from the main highway onto the road that leads to the town.
"Wow!" He exclaimed, rubbing his hand through his crew cut. "Those are two beautiful women. And from what I saw of them on security duty there, they are pretty much inseparable. Seemed like they were head over heels in love with each other."
"That’s the same impression I received," she shared.
They remained silent the remainder of the ride to the sheriff’s office.
Kate couldn’t help but overhear her lover talking on the phone to her parents. When Carling’s voice started talking in a uniquely different tone, the dark headed woman looked over curiously towards her lover.
The glowing blonde was grinning as she spoke into the phone. "Be a good girl, and don’t whine or bark all night. Daddy told me you chased Drake today, bad doggie, bad! You be good Shelby and don’t chase the swans. You hear me Shelby? Be good and I’ll get you a new chew toy. Okay?"
Kate was touched by Carling’s love for her pet. A lump slowly came to her throat as she thought of her faithful Collie that had passed away some six years before. ‘They should not be separated. I wonder if Carling would bring her dog back with her when she returns from Albany after she testifies? I’m sure I can convince her, and it would really be nice to have a dog around again. She seems to really love the lab. Yeah, I’ll have to talk to her about it’ Kate grinned as Carling continued to talk to her dog.
Carling completed her call, and placed the phone back on the kitchen wall. "Sorry honey, I didn’t mean to be on there so long." She sat down on Kate’s lap and kissed her gently.
"It’s okay, Carling. You talk to your family as long as you want, and to Shelby too." Her lips sought her lover’s once more.
"She’s family too. Hmm, you do that so well, Mary Kate."
"You’re not half bad yourself, Beautiful."
Carling leaned into the lips once more and whispered, "How about we go sit on the rocker on the dock for awhile and watch the stars come out?"
"All right. You want some iced tea or apple cider?"
"Sure, cider. I’ll get it for us," she said, and went to the cupboard for glasses.
They strolled hand-in-hand through the garden and down the path to the dock and took up their normal position in the rocker. Carling’s feet brought up under her and her body leaning against Kate’s. The sheriff rocked the double rocker gently back and forth.
"Carling, why don’t you bring Shelby with you when you come back? I know you miss her and we have all those geese and ducks that could use the exercise," she said lightheartedly.
Carling looked up lovingly at the tall woman and grinned, "You sure you don’t mind? She can be such a mischievous terror sometime."
"No, honey, I would love to have a dog around. It has been a long time, and I really love dogs. Been going to get one from a litter of Mother’s clan, but I just keep putting it off."
"You should have a dog, Kate. Your mom told me about some of your adventures with your first dog. Mary even had me holding my sides when she told me about some of your antics with your dogs; especially the one about your training your first dog to dance with you." Carling kissed the pulse point on Kate’s neck.
The tall woman’s body shook. "Don’t do that, Sweetheart, or we will have to go in and…."
"We will do that, trust me, Kate. We’ll be up late into the night." She chuckled, kissing the pulse point again.
"I’ve created a insatiable sex fiend."
"Abso-freeking-utely," she purred.
Kate tightened her hold on the smaller figure, and Carling snuggled even closer to the sheriff.
"Carling, you have told me so much about Shelby and her some of her adventures. So, tell me about that truck incident you keep snickering about and saying, later, I’ll tell you later." Kate finished off her cider and sat the glass down on the deck of the dock.
Green eyes closed as her head settled back down on Kate’s shoulder. "Day before yesterday, when my friends Nancy and Janet came here for the day to visit, did you notice what they were driving?" She asked, her eyes still closed.
"Honey, I’m a cop, of course I noticed Janet’s GMC truck. We took my Jeep to the Inn for dinner because we couldn’t all fit in the cab of the vehicle." She bent down and kissed the blonde’s hair. "By the way, I like your friends very much. I don’t know when I have laughed so hard. It was nice to go out with your friends for a change."
"Thank you, Sweetheart, they really liked you also. Both told me I had a jewel in you, Kate." Carling kissed Kate’s neck again.
"Don’t know about that, I believe I’m the fortunate one," Kate eyes twinkled. "Maybe the next time they’re over, we can invite Fletcher to go out with us."
"That would be great. Fletcher was so witty when she came to dinner the other night, I know they would hit it off," Carling’s face curved into a grin, making her eyes twinkle.
"Hey! No getting sidetracked again, back to the Shelby and truck story."
Carling burst into helpless giggling, "Well, my townhouse has a double garage so naturally it has a wide driveway. Janet and Nancy’s townhouse only has a single garage just off the street with no place to park in a driveway. I’ve allowed Janet to park her truck on the far side of my driveway ever since she and Nancy bought the townhouse next door. Janet always parks her truck head in, and frequently, I use the truck to take Shelby for a ride. Janet likes the mutt too, so Shelby gets a lot of attention and lots of rides in the truck."
"You’re saying Shelby is spoiled?" Kate asked, chucking.
"Rotten as she can get," Carling sniggered.
"That is the only way pets should be."
"But some are spoiled more than others. Take Shelby and the truck. Shelby loves to ride in the back. Don’t censure me, please. That was before I knew better and I don’t allow her to do that anymore." Carling shifted her head as Kate squeezed her shoulder and pulled her closer.
"Shelby’d stand there with her head sticking into the cab through the rear window. Being an athletic dog, when we were going for a ride, I'd say "Load up!" and she'd jump right into the back over the side or tailgate. Going for a ride was the high point of her life next to swimming and chasing the folk’s waterfowl.
"One evening when Janet came home from work, for some reason she backed her truck into the driveway, something she had never done before. The next day, I was playing with Shelby in the front yard and the dog across the street, the sweetest Cockle Spaniel I've ever known, came over to play with Shelby. They were having a high time when the neighbors started calling Sassy to come home. Sassy was having too much fun with Shelby to comply, so in order to get Shelby out of the scene, I yelled, "C'mon, Shelby! Load up!" at which point she stopped playing and ran for the truck. She jumped right up on the hood! Curplot!
"The scene that followed simply can't be appreciated without pictures, but there she was, perched on the hood of the truck, her feet sort of splayed out, nails trying to grab for ‘something’ and a look on her face which absolutely said, "What the ‘HECK’ is going on here? Where's my truck bed?! Something is very, very, wrong here!" while she slowly slid off the hood onto the driveway. She then shook, looked around while stealing glances at the truck, found the back end and jumped in. Her expression became, "That was interesting. Now, where are we going, Mom?" Carling rambled on.
"I just about had to change my panties after that, I was laughing so hard. She has never repeated anything quite so silly." With that, both women started laughing until tears were rolling down both their faces. Before Kate knew what was happening, Carling stopped and screeched, "Oh…oh," jumped up, and ran towards the house. This time she did have to change her panties.
"It was so nice of your mother to have us over for dinner. I could get used to her wonderful meals, and I really like your Mom." Carling said gracefully, snuggling closer to the taller woman’s side, and placing a nibbling kiss on the pulse point on her neck.
"Mom really likes you too, honey. The dinner invites are her way of letting you know she accepts you and she accepts us." The blue eyes grinned.
"She knows about us, doesn’t she?" Carling whispered, breaking the nibbling.
"I’d say she knows. Mom reads me like a book. Besides that, she and Mary have probably had several talks today about us," a playful light flashed in her eyes. "That bother you, Honey?"
"Nope. Not in the least. It’s okay by me and how about you?" She asked between nibbles.
"S’okay. When I’m happy, Mom is happy. You make me extremely happy, Carling." It was a sincere proclamation.
"Well then, we are all set, for you my darling, make me blissfully happy as well. I’m one very fortunate woman." Her hand found its way to the top button of Kate’s uniform shirt.
"Uh…Carling…I…Uh…" her breathing erratic as the deep voice lowered an octave. "You have to stop that until we get home. I need to keep my mind on the driving, and with your hand doooiiinng." Kate moaned, and quickly reached up and removed the hand from the inside of her shirt, where it was fondling her left breast. She held the small hand snuggly in hers and drew it into her lap. "Honey, you can’t do that when I’m driving. The roads are too dangerous. In about three minutes, you are free to do as you please."
"You promise?" The reddish-blonde’s tongue flickered across the tall neck, and slowly circled Kate’s ear.
"Doggone it Carling, behave for two more minutes. I promise you I’ll make it worthwhile."
The smaller woman removed her tongue from its course, and laid her head on the taller woman’s shoulder. "That is all you had to say. Drive faster, darling."
"I’ve awakened an insatiable green eyed monster." She chuckled.
"Abso-freeking-lootely, My Sole Desire. NOW, DRIVE FASTER, Sheriff!" Carling exhaled noisily, snuggled closer to her lover, and squeezed the hand that held hers.
Slowly Kate’s eyes opened. She reached over and turned off the alarm. The warmth cradled in her side had stimulated her inner self. An unhurried smile came across her face. She hadn’t been seeking romance, or even a relationship. Kate wanted the glorious adventure of being valued as unique and accepted for any eccentricities she had. This included being herself, or so she thought. Then the fates introduced this most alluring and absolutely delightful beauty into her life... Dr. Carling Reed. Everything changed… everything.
‘What a boost to libido and jaunt into possibilities.’ Kate grinned as she leaned closer to the young woman, and kissed her forehead gently.
It was true that subconsciously, she hungered for "real time" shared life experiences and was all too ready for the road to romance and intimacy. In her mind she could always produce the zest for ‘a first meeting’ even with a monogamous romance! She laughed to herself. ‘Always the optimist! Huh, Kate?’ Yes, everything changed for the better!
The more years that passed, the more clearly knowledgeable she became about herself. Surely, that must promise the successful outcome of this…an appropriate union. One of appreciation, respect, physical intimacy, responsibility, and lots of laughter! With a heavy sigh, she marked that she was no longer in denial with a denied fantasy. Growing to know someone in a short period of time was awkward at first, but the freedom she felt with Carling tended to relinquish inhibitions.
‘We each also need to be seen for the person that we are. The one we acknowledge to ourselves and the one we feel comfortable portraying to the world.’ Kate considered. Her idea of a truly meaningful relationship involved sharing of inner journeys and being unafraid to risk exploration…to show "feet of clay", or her vulnerability. Carling had opened up those possibilities to her and even… more. The young woman was willing to share the explorations with her, including unconditional love.
Kate reached over with her left arm and ever so lightly, brushed several strands of hair from the young woman’s forehead.
"Mumm." The smaller body stirred in Kate’s arms as she snuggled closer. The feelings Kate elicited from her were beyond her control. She grinned to herself. She said the words on a sigh, "I love your touch."
"I’m glad you want me to touch you. Didn’t mean to wake you this early. Sorry. "
"Don’t be." The blonde arose from her reveries and looked over at the dark haired woman. Carling quickly scooted over and positioned herself on top of the tall frame. She most definitely held a flair for the dramatic. She thought of her expanded spirits with the connection to her lover. Energies surging into this reality made her eager to fill her life with action and expression. This flow felt like the first scenes from a science fiction film: the lightening cracked and the sky broke. Static awareness awoke the silence. A writhing thread of brilliant white, like that of an electric arc ripped through the black, velvet fabric of space. Light bore its generating offspring of twilight, the moment of dissipated light — a gateway between worlds, between choices, really. Then there was Kate. My Kate!
"You move and it wakes me, my love." Carling breathed the words on the taller woman’s lips. "I am so in love with you, Mary Kate."
"And I love you, Carling. I’m the luckiest woman on earth." The smaller ones touched Kate’s lips gently. ‘Old’ girl, this is not a dreamscape moment slipped into a memory space for later reflection. This is a real live wonderful woman. This is reality, Katie old’ girl. This is here and now.’ Kate grinned at the silent reflection.
"We’re both fortunate, Kate. Do you feel lucky enough to have this arrangement for the rest of your life" Carling nibbled Kate’s lips.
Kate opened her eyes, and met the questioning gaze of the smaller woman laying snuggly over her body. "Yes, Carling. I want nothing better than to share the rest of my life with you." She waited for Carling’s reaction to her statement.
"Then, you should know, that is exactly what would make me happy as well; spending the rest of my life with you." A big grin covered the blonde’s face.
"Guess forever sounds about right then, huh?"
"No guessing about it, Sheriff. Forever and forever without end!" She lowered her head and Kate’s lips met hers. The kiss went on, until Kate attempted to turn Carling over onto her back, but was gently pushed back to the bed. Carling pushed her tangled hair off her forehead, her high cheekbones still flushed with sleep. "What time is it?"
Sunlight was barely filtering in around the edges of the curtains. A flock of wild geese squawked raucously overhead. "It’s okay, it’s only six o’clock," Kate said, having just a minute ago checked the clock radio and pushed off the alarm.
A slowly aroused tension was released from her body and she smiled down at the older woman, totally comfortable with their nudity. She liked that. "I slept remarkably well," she said, touching Kate’s lips with a finger.
Kate grinned at her and took the finger into her mouth, sucking it gently before letting it go. "Me, too. Maybe we could market the concept, suggest everyone throw away their sleeping pills and try lovemaking, instead."
A broad beam crossed the younger woman’s face. "Absolutely," she said categorically. "But heck, Kate, the pharmaceutical companies would sue us for destroying their pill business. Forget the marketing concept. Why don’t we just offer some free advice on the internet or something?" She said, leaning down to taste the full lips below hers, then her eyes opened wide at what she had said. "Blast-it! They might want demonstrations… and Mary Kate, I am not willing to share anything. Not one single thing that has happened between us." She teased.
"Neither am I." Kate hastened to add with complete truth. "Don’t forget, most women are inclined to be particular about semantics.’
"You can say that again, Kate. We want it all drawn out. Most of us believe making love is a cut above sleeping together and a vast improvement over having sex. To me, kissing and cuddling is much better than necking or making out. The roads to intimacy and harmony are paved with such land mines. Which I, for one, don’t want to set off any more detonations in my life, except for lovemaking and gentle loving for a long time to come!"
Smiling vigorously, she put a hand on Kate’s cleavage and stroked it lightly with her fingertips, setting up a delightful friction that to Kate’s amazement caused arousal to burst forth in her loins and move quickly past her center and up her body. "Forget the internet. Let them take the sleeping pills." Carling declared.
"It far transcended anything I’ve ever experienced." Kate groaned, "Carling," she whimpered and attempted to pull the smaller frame closer.
Sitting bolt upright on top of the longer body, and looking alarmed Carling stammered, "Whoa! We can’t start that up this morning, Kate. You have to be at the dock in a half an hour and I have to go by the laboratory before I leave." Carling bent down, placed one last kiss, hopped out of bed then added, "You behave yourself while I’m gone. I don’t want to come back here and find you have gotten into something you can’t handle."
Kate’s head snapped up and she too shot out of bed, "Dang! I forgot you were called back to Albany to testify." She circled the waist of the smaller woman with her long arms and pulled her close. "Too bad you can’t wait until we get this wrapped up, and I’d go with you."
"But you can’t, and I have to be away for four or five days, possibly a week. You’ll get the opportunity to meet my family soon, Sweetheart. I want to show you off to all of them and my friends also." Carling tiptoed and nibbled the chin of her lover. "Think about the homecoming," she teased.
"Homecoming? Yes, that’ll be nice, but I’ll miss you." Kate shrugged.
There had been good times and rough points in her life and she always hungered to experience whatever life had to offer. But she had had her share of difficult times and Carling being gone would be another trial for her. This was reality. Veils of reality reflected her unobtrusive and seemingly passive nature in the mirror of this plane of existence.
Underneath, however, a determined warrior rode the currents of this "here and now." Unlike the presence manifested through the veils, this being radiated confidence, strength, self-determinism, and ferocious courage. She embodied the personality traits of that long ago warrior, and yet, she felt weak in the knees at the thought of her newly discovered love disappearing, even for a few days.
Carling remained silent for a minute, gnawing her lower lip. She was sure she saw fear in the older woman’s eyes, and felt the uncertainty in the taller woman’s body. "Kate," she smiled and tightened her arms around her lover. "I don’t want to go. My heart is here with you, and I will miss you more than I can say. We can talk on the phone during the day, and I expect us to have long conversations every evening. We’ve discussed my moving here, and I intend to make this move known to my supervisor this trip." Carling felt the tension in the older woman’s body loosen up somewhat.
"I know. I’m just being silly, I guess." Kate had become aware of her pulsing energy flowing within her heart, and the awakening connection to the smaller woman. "You’re right, Darling. Go on and get dressed, I should already be at the dock." Kate’s head was pulled down for a searing kiss, before Carling let her go, and gave her a heart felt smile. "Thompson will have a coronary when you drop your moving on him." She retorted, looking sheepishly at her lover.
Perhaps personal revelations occur only when one undergoes the trial of ‘separation,’ like standing in awe of a lightening storm…waiting on the sideline, seeing the landscape differently...and each time is the first time, and this might even be good for both of them. ‘I seriously doubt that!’ Kate forced a lopsided smile.
Carling was as perplexed as Kate about the separation, but she was determined not to show it. "He’ll get over it…eventually. I’ve already sent him a dozen memos about a district lab here, so I’ve laid the ground work," she grinned. "I know you don’t want to keep everyone waiting. I’ll call you before I leave darling."
"Good. Drive carefully, Carling." Kate pleaded.
"Safer than I have ever driven." Carling forced herself to turn and walk into the bathroom.
Kate dressed hastily, and hurriedly left the room, fastening her gun belt into place as she descended the stairs, a grin covered her face from ear to ear. "Hot Damn!" The tall sheriff jumped into the air, clicking her heels together as she hit the floor of the entryway. "She is going to move here to live with me." Kate howled with glee as she hurried through the hallway and kitchen to the garage.
Carling had heard the ‘hot damn’ from the bedroom and could not keep from chuckling. "You don’t know how happy this makes me too, Kate.
********** Chapter 10
Kate stepped onto the barge and glanced over the individuals gathered there. Her call for divers had been answered, which meant scouring the lake bottom would go even faster than she had anticipated.
Fletcher Bucannan was there with six of her certified divers and several wave runners to boot. Kate approached the Wildlife Director and extended her hand, which was taken immediately.
"Thank you for coming Fletcher, and that goes for the rest of you also. The Sheriff’s office appreciates your dropping everything you have going on, and coming at such short notice." The sheriff nodded to the gathering.
"I brought two extra certified divers, and some extra equipment. We can give you four days, and then we have to get back. We have several events already scheduled, and vacation time for part of the staff will leave the park shorthanded." The Park Director was already in her diving suit, and handed an underwater camera over to one of her assistants.
"We actually arrived last night, and we are staying at Flowery’s Bread and Breakfast. Mr. Flowery will be sending you the tab." Fletcher grinned.
"We’ll take care of it." Kate smiled back. "That is where we recommended everyone else stay, but the Concord Inn will take the overflow."
"His wife had a hardy breakfast ready for us at five this morning. Can’t get better service than that." Fletcher said.
"Nope, Mrs. Flowery is one of the best anywhere." The sheriff agreed, and motioned to the underwater gear stored on the barge that had begun moving away from the dock. "We should be able to complete the search within four or five days," Kate said and laid out a topographical map of the lake. "I thought we’d start the search about a mile south of here," She pointed to the first inlet of the shoreline.
Although Kate was a certified diver, and so were her Sheriff’s Office five-man diving team, she would remain topside to direct the search.
All the diving team members were equipped with wireless underwater communications kept with each diver and would be monitored by Booth once they were ready to go under and start the search. Additional equipment, air tanks, emergency oxygen, decontamination wash down, etc., were placed in specially designed covered area of the barge, so that divers could respond with all necessities and safety requirements of the search.
Most dives conducted at the Catskills, were for the recovery of homicide or drowning victims, gathering evidence from various crimes, and dignitary protection. All the divers taking part in the search today, had been on several other searches for the sheriff’s department and knew what was expected of them.
The Sheriff’s Diving Unit, and the Park’s Divers Team had also gone through intense training to conducts long term case specific investigations, diving and a myriad of other law enforcement education. The diving units, as well as Kate and Fletcher were part of the State’s Special Technical Services, which provided support to many law enforcement activities.
The two women were good friends, and helped each other out in any way they could. "Fletcher, if I had as many acres of water to be responsible for as you do, I think I’d throw up my hands and go raise apples full time." Kate adjusted her shoulder strap as she sat down on a crate next to the Park Director.
"Fortunately, we have several sheriff’s departments and other law enforcements agencies to take care of most of the crimes. But, like you, there is always the need for specialized training to handle cases such as this."
The younger woman continued to check out her tanks, and regulator. "Don’t get me wrong Kate, sometimes, I have more than my plate full, and we are one of the largest parks in the states and have jurisdiction over a hundred thousand acres. I’m just glad we have good, qualified law enforcement people to make the job easier. "
The women laughed and continued to discuss the search plans, and stopped only when the barge’s installed inboard motors throttled down and stopped.
"Sheriff, this is the grid section where you wanted to start." Booth called out from the small round house.
"This will be ok, Booth. Set the anchors, and help with getting the gear in the water." Kate stood and turned to the divers.
"Each of you as team member knows it is necessary to take detailed action to preserve all evidence for the crime laboratory tests. In this case, it would mean everything would be processed methodically for Dr. Reed to test and examine. We anticipate the search will turn up the boy, and the boat. I want to remind you to be careful with all you find. Hopefully this effort will help connect the unknown suspect or suspects to the crime." Kate gave final instructions as the divers went over the sides in pairs.
The Sheriff’ Dive Team was composed of highly trained deputy sheriffs who possess a large variety of skills and abilities such as the operation of four-wheel-drive vehicles, all-terrain vehicles, patrol boats, jet skis and an air boat, which was still tied to the right side of the barge. All deputies, and the Park Rangers participating in this lake search were also certified Emergency Medical Technicians and several of the Park Rangers were Paramedics.
Kate and Booth carefully recorded each section search, and each divers find. The dive teams took turns in the water and relaxing on the deck. Kate would not allow any diver to stay down longer than fifty minutes without taking a two-hour break.
Willa arrived at the barge with a patrol boat full of hot lunches and hinted to Kate she’d like to stay for the rest of the day. Kate noticed that Willa smile at one of the park rangers was more than just professional courtesy. Kate finished her lunch and placed the Styrofoam container in the trash drum before she called Willa to the side of the barge and told her she could stay, but she’d have to follow Booth’s instructions and help him record the dives.
"Hey, Booth," the deputy yelled, "I’m your new assistant, what do you want me to do." The grinning deputy walked by the pretty park ranger and asked her if she needed another drink with her lunch.
Kate removed her hat, and placed it on the crate where she had been sitting and sat down on the deck next to Fletcher. She took a deep breath as she slowly sat back, and her arms, dropped limply to her sides. ‘Dang, I miss Carling and it had only been a few hours,’ Kate thought, not really paying attention to the tall park director who had sat up and gently poked her in the ribs. ‘Hot damn, she’s actually moving here.’
"Kate?" Fletcher spoke to her once more.
The sheriff, although somewhat startled, did not jump. "Sorry, Fletcher, I was thinking about some… Uh… something back at the office." She finished her sentence differently and the park director laughed out loud.
"Uh Huh! Couldn’t be something about five feet four inches of a fine-looking blonde could it?" Fletcher chuckled. "Kate, you look- -you look so caught." The park director elbowed the sheriff several times. "Hey, girlfriend, it looks good on you. I’m happy for you." She said.
"Is it that obvious?" Kate asked.
"Yep! Must be something in the water down here." Fletcher chuckled again.
"Okay, Fletcher, cut that out, or you might get back into this lake before your scheduled time." The flustered sheriff pushed the shoulder of her friend.
"All right, Kate. I won’t kid you anymore. But tell me, is this serious?"
"Good." She placed her arm across the shoulder of her friend, leaned over and whispered in her ear, "Does Carling have a sister?"
Kate glanced over at her buddy, and raised an eyebrow, "Not an eligible one. But, I’ll ask if she has a friend."
Fletcher removed her arm, "Nope. If there is no sister, then forget it." They both laughed. "By the way, your little red-headed deputy is wasting her time on Jamison. She is engaged, and is to be married next month."
Kate looked in the direction of the mentioned diver. "Oh! Cute and engaged, huh?"
"Cute and engaged to someone just as adorable, only much deadlier. Tammy is a fourth degree black belt Karate instructor and is highly protective of our little diver there, and their happy home life."
Kate shook her head, and both women chuckled at the situation. Willa made another intentional trip to the area of the seated diver and started up a light conversation. Almost as soon as the young deputy sat down across from the park ranger, Booth called out her name. Although Kate could see a constant smile on her deputy’s face, she knew that inside, Willa was fuming at being summoned by the outranking deputy. Within minutes Willa was making her way back to the divers resting place.
As she passed the sheriff and park director, Kate spoke to her. "Willa, how about you helping Director Bucannan with refilling her air-tanks?"
Willa glanced at Kate, and took a momentary look in the direction of the young park ranger-diver. "Uh- -Sure." She reluctantly reached for the double tanks, which were no longer there. Fletcher had already picked them up and was walking towards the compressor when Willa looked back up and saw the tanks being carried away. "Hey, wait up, Ranger Bucannan." Her voice rang out as she trotted off behind the tall park director.
Within a minute, Kate heard a loud "WHAT?" come from the direction of the compressor. Kate started chuckling again when the young deputy threw up her hands and stomped off in the direction of the roundhouse murmuring, "I can’t win for losing."
Kate took a sip of her tepid coffee then lowered the mug to the palm of her free hand. She maintained a neutral expression. She had never been quick to spit out her thoughts regarding her personal life, but in everything else she was forthright, and she had a legitimate concern about the missing man. Her instincts told her it was a matter of a few hours or days before young Clayton’s body turned up, and she’d have a murder on her hands.
She kept running the scenario over and over in her head as the divers radioed in the results of their search coordinates. Nothing showed up but discarded tin cans, old bottles, a broken anchor, half dozen rods and reels, and the remains of an old stove, which Kate purposefully plotted on her grid map of the lake.
"Dag-nab-it!" Kate threw the remainder of the strong coffee into the lake and stood up, just as her cell phone rang.
"Sheriff McGuinness here," Kate answered, attempting to hold the small phone on her shoulder while pouring a fresh cup of coffee in her mug.
"Hi, Sheriff. Did I catch you at a bad time?" The soft voice on the other end cooed.
Kate almost dropped the phone as she reached for it with her free hand and held it to her ear. "Hi, and no, Carling, just pouring another cup of Elaine’s coffee from a thermos. You have any difficulties in your drive to Albany?" She looked around to see if anyone was close enough to hear her conversation.
Booth was glued to the underwater radio so that he could hear the divers, and Willa had joined two that just returned to the barge for their rest and was helping them remove their tanks. Kate sat down on a crate and propped a foot on the barge’s guard rail and raised the mug to her lips.
"No difficulties, and the trip was uneventful except for the speeding ticket yours truly received within ten miles of Albany." Carling halfway muffled the end of her remark.
"What was that you said? Did I hear you correctly, a speeding ticket?"
"Yes, I said a ticket." Carling tone indicated she was expecting a scolding remark from Kate for the ticket.
Instead she heard Booth shouting to Kate, "Sheriff, come quick! They have found the missing Clayton boat."
"Uh, Carling, I have to go, the divers have found something. We’ll talk about your speeding tonight. Okay?"
"Certainly. Kate, I’m going to the office then to my parent’s home. You can call me there if you need me." She said.
"Fine." Kate started towards Booth, "Carling, drive carefully, please."
"I will, Kate. I promise no more speeding."
"Talk to you tonight honey, bye."
"Until tonight sweetheart." Carling whispered into the phone then hung up.
Kate held the phone to her ear until she heard the click, pushed the off button and placed the cell phone in her pocket.
"Kate, can you send down that underwater camera? Make sure you have tape in the recorder." Fletcher’s voice came over the underwater wireless communications system.
"Booth has the tape ready, and Willa is taking the camera to the departure shelf for someone to take down to you." Kate spoke into the microphone.
"Jamison is on her way up now, Kate. She is the one that spotted the boat," Fletcher stated.
"Great. Make sure the divers don’t touch anything without having on their underwater gloves," the sheriff directed.
"Everyone has on gloves. My prelim look-see doesn’t indicate any holes on the craft, Kate. Ugh! Oh, wait a minute." The park director went silent.
Booth and Kate looked at each other.
"What’s going on, Fletcher?" Kate inquired.
"Just a minute more, sheriff, I want to check under the wheel. Nope, nothing there. Kate, from what I can tell, this boat was deliberately sunk. The fish box drain plug has been unscrewed. I estimate water poured into the well and overflowed into the boat causing it to go down." The diver stated. "Kate, one other thing," she paused momentarily, "There seems to be a bullet hole in the instrument panel. I can see part of the bullet sticking out."
"God! I can’t believe this," Booth wiped his brow with his uniform sleeve.
Kate hung her head at his comment.
"Sheriff, look! They have the camera working." Removing his air tanks, and sitting them in the refill crate, chief deputy Frank Stranton joined the sheriff and Booth at the monitor.
"Can you see this clearly up there?" The park ranger asked, focusing the underwater camera through her mask.
"Yes. Booth has turned on the recorder. Go slowly over the boat, the open well cap, and the instrument panel several times. Then let us see the surrounding area. I want to know your exact location. Can you send up a buoy?"
"Way ahead of you." Fletcher said the same moment an orange buoy broke the surface.
"There it is," Frank pointed fifty yards to the south of the barge.
"Got it," Booth said, "Kate, you want I should move the barge?"
"Yes, and Booth, notify all the divers first. I don’t want an accident." The tall woman kept her eyes on the underwater images.
"Will do, Kate." Booth picked up the mike to the underwater communications system and sent out warning to the divers, then went to the small roundhouse to raise the anchors and move the barge.
A few minutes later, Willa raised her hand to indicate more to the left as the barge came close to the buoy. You would have thought she was directing visiting traffic on carnival day in town. Quickly she raised her hand, palm towards Booth, indicating stop, as the buoy was only feet from the stern of the barge where the crane and hoist were located.
Within an hour, the missing boat broke the surface. Booth stopped the crane that held the lines secured around the boat. Carefully, he reeled up one line and the boat tipped sideways, draining the water quickly from the boat. Just as skillfully, he leveled the boat out again, and maneuvered the crane to safely set the boat on the wooden surface in the middle of the barge.
"Mark the spot with a large buoy, Paul. Frank you need to help him with that buoy, it’s too heavy for one man," Kate directed her deputies.
"I think I can handle the chain and anchor, Frank, if you can manage the right side " Booth proposed.
"No problem. Let me get out of these flippers," Frank sat down on the deck and started removing the fins.
"It is getting late, and I don’t want divers in the water once we leave here. Make sure all the divers come on board, or get into surface craft before Booth starts the barge up and we head back to the municipal pier." Kate motioned to Frank, her chief diver and senior deputy. Kate turned to look at the speedboat several deputies were securing to the platform. Kate then turned and looked directly towards the outlet to the east. She then did an about face and surveyed the opposite side of the lake, spotting the red brick chimney of the Stern Cabin. "I thought as much," the sheriff shook her head in disgust.
"Whoever sank the Clayton boat had a straight shot to the boat-landing, Sheriff." Paul pointed to the Clayton Boat and Bait Shop.
"Yeah, I know. If you look towards the municipal dock, you’ll see this outlet branches out blocking off any clear view to this area and the Clayton’s place."
Fletcher Buchannan sat her tanks down on the deck, and tossed her flippers on top of them. "Kate, you definitely have a crazy on your hands if they swam from this sunken boat to the dock. The only ones who knowingly go into this water this time of the year are law enforcement divers looking for bodies embedded in a bucket of cement." She stated, unzipping her scuba top and sitting down on a bucket to remove her feet gear. "The water has to be 55 degrees down there."
"Maybe so, but I wager that’s exactly what happened," the sheriff said, looking towards the Clayton pier again.
Fletcher caught the sheriff’s intense look, and turned to check out the distance for herself. "Yep, a crazy alright, but still an easy distance for a skilled swimmer."
"Yes, and I bet we find our body soon, but don’t count on it being in cement. Notice the boat doesn’t have an anchor." Kate indicated the craft resting on the barge’s pad.
Fletcher got up and walked around the boat. "Doggone! You could be right, Kate, no anchor, and no anchor chair." The park director ran her hand through her wet hair before reaching down to pick up her towel.
"Kate, I’m bushed. You buying some hot apple cider?" Fletcher asked.
"Yep, Cider for everyone, and I’ll even buy dinner." Kate said. All the divers and barge crew gave nods of acceptance to the offer of free food.
"I assume you want us on the barge by 7:30 in the morning?" Fletcher asked.
"We will have another busy day tomorrow, and I want us on the water by 7:00 a.m." Kate replaced her hat, picked up the bathrobe and tossed it to the park director.
"Holy Cow, Kate! That means we need to be there by…Oh, heck! Forget it." Willa spluttered and stomped off towards the roundhouse, still whining when Booth yelled for her to unfasten the crane lines so he could swing the crane arm back over the barge and secure it.
"You might as well forget it, Dr. Reed. I’m not going to change my mind about transferring you to some other part of the state." Dr. Ward Thompson tossed his pen back onto the desk. His chiseled face with its square-cut chin told of strength and determination, his tenacity tempered by the glint of mockery in the depths of his eyes.
Carling knew from experience that those same eyes could take on the hardness of steel. She could expect no consideration from him unless she came up with some angle as to how it would benefit the department. His scorn was a double-edge sword, yet to her consternation she had discovered the hardcore department head was vulnerable to the charm she seemed so unaware of. If it came to a battle, he was no match for the young forensic investigator. Men of his stamp were completely out of her league, if she chose to turn on her charisma in that fashion.
Pushing these thoughts aside, she addressed her supervisor again. "So what happens now, Dr. Thompson? I have made it clear to you that I’m determined to move to the Catskills, and I won’t change my mind, even if I have to leave the department."
The head pathologist looked at Carling, who stood up, picked up her briefcase from the floor, and moved away from the desk. She turned to Thompson, a wary expression on her face. "Since you seem determined not to consider my proposal for a state sub-laboratory, as soon as I complete my testimony and finish the Catskill investigation, you’ll have my resignation."
"I will not accept it, Carling," he denied promptly. Golden sparks flashed in his brown eyes. "I can’t let my top investigator do this. And you Carling, can’t be seriously contemplating giving up everything here that you have worked so hard for–your position, your friends, your home–to move down there. Surely you aren’t suggesting that I give up my right hand and second in command? No, never!"
"Look, I’m not suggesting you consider any proposal that you haven’t already had presented to you over the past five years. The Catskills needs the sub-laboratory, and the area needs to have a state office. You have even set-aside funding for the operation," she said quietly, then waited or him to respond.
When she remained stubbornly silent, he sighed in exasperation. "You realize I can prevent you from working in the forensic field until your contract is satisfied, don’t you? But I don’t want to do that. If you’d just think for a minute, you’d see it would be better for both of us if we worked this out. What ever burr you have gotten under your skin in the three and a half weeks you’ve been gone can’t possibly be all that important."
"No," Carling said obstinately, refusing to budge from her position. How could she make him understand how important her newly found life with Kate meant to her? "No," she said again, not attempting to explain how her life had changed.
From the stubborn set of his jaw, Carling knew she wasn’t getting anywhere. Impatiently she added, "You will have to accept my decision, Dr. Thompson."
For a moment he almost looked stunned. Then his jaw lightened, and she could see he was physically trying to restrain his annoyance.
"You have a contract, Carling," he said almost accusingly. "Do you have any idea how breaking that contract will affect your life?"
"I know my legal responsibilities, Dr. Thompson." Carling stated sternly. "I do have other ways of making a living."
"You don’t honestly expect me to believe that, do you? Forensics is your life, Carling." The department chief didn’t even attempt to conceal his disbelief. "Talk about farfetched!"
Carling winced inwardly. She couldn’t begin to describe how she had felt when she had passed her state exams in pathology. However, the deeper feeling of having found her hearts desire, her soulmate outweighed anything else. She would not compromise her life with Kate. Nothing was more important then her future with the tall woman. She wasn’t going to allow anything to overshadow the joy she felt, and that had taken her a long time to have finally come into her life. She refused to feel guilty for what was a natural reaction. "My life is different now, Dr. Thompson. There has been a new development that I will not give up."
"But how…" Thompson frowned in confusion. Her statements made absolutely no sense. "Carling, I’ve know your family for thirty years. Do your parents know what you are about to do?"
"Leave my parents out of this," Carling warned him. "I’m going to have lunch with them, and they will support me completely, I’m sure.
Lifting her chin, staring directly into his gaze, the light of battle was in her eyes.
"I suppose that’s your not too subtle way of telling me to mind my own business. Well, it won’t do any good because I’m going to find out everything I can ab…."
"Don’t think you can bully me, either. I won’t knuckle under to pressure." Carling snapped back at the long-time family friend and supervisor.
Thompson’s eyes were diamond sharp. "Young lady, I’ll have you know…"
"HEY, you two, time out!" Laughingly, Anthony Oliver, the district attorney interrupted the heated words, his glance taking in both their flushed faces as he entered the partially opened door, which the young blonde had just released to clinch her fist. "If I’d known there was going to be a fight, I would have sold tickets!" He leaned down to Carling, a warm smile lighting his features. "Are you all right? Ward can be a pretty tough opponent. Do you want to throw in the towel or go on to round two?"
A little appalled at her own vehemence, she grinned shamefacedly, allowing his laughter to ease the suddenly tense atmosphere. "I’m sorry, Dr. T. I didn’t mean to turn your office into a battlefield. I guess I got carried away."
Patting her on the shoulder, Morgan smiled reassuringly. "Don’t worry about it, Carling. You’ve had a rough day… You’re entitled to blow off a little steam. Why don’t you go back to your office and drop off your brief case, and get a head start going over your notes for your testimony? You’ll feel a lot better after this trial is over, and you get this nonsense of leaving out of your head."
Anthony Oliver saw the fire return to the young blonde’s eyes. "Have you had lunch, Carling? Anthony’s smoothing voice cut through the air, once more drawing her glance back to him. When she shook her head, he said. "Here, let me have that briefcase, and I’ll take you to lunch. No wonder you’re in such a bad mood. You’re hungry!"
"Damnit, Tony!" Ward protested indignantly before she could reply, "I was going to take her out."
Unperturbed, Oliver laughed. "Sorry, the lady’s already spoken for. You should have asked sooner."
Well, he certainly was confident, Carling fumed. He and Ward obviously expected her to fall in with their plans without a word of protest. For a minute she was tempted to turn on them, when she glanced up, intending to tell them both exactly what she thought of them and their smugness, but her good nature and upbringing wouldn’t allow for poor manners, and the words died in her throat.
The look Carling was directing at the men surprised them. This was business, nothing more.
With that resolve firmly fixed in her mind, she took her brief case from the hands of the district attorney and turned to Oliver, offering her hand with a charming smile. "Thank you so much for your coming to my aide, however unnecessary."
Warmly shaking her hand, he grinned, "Believe me, it was my pleasure, Carling. I need my key authority to be at ease. And before I forget," he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a court order and handed it to her. "This makes it official. You’ll need to be in court at 9 a.m. tomorrow to give the forensic evidence needed. You are our expert witness for this case, Carling."
Carling reached for the summons eagerly, and then spontaneously shoved the summons into her jacket pocket. "That is what I’m here for, I have everything ready. But I can’t go to lunch with you. I already have a luncheon scheduled with my parents." She moved through the door, her previous expression replaced by a warm smile. "I have an announcement for them." As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she quickly exited the outer office, leaving both men with their mouths half open.
The middle aged, administrative assistant for the department head had observed the incident and quickly broke into a wide grin. ‘Neither of them have a clue what is going on with that young lady,’ she thought, picking up the last of the report she had been editing for Thompson. She placed it into the brown folder, and returned her gaze to the two men now standing in her office still staring at the closed door Carling had just gone through.
"You always were a sore loser, Ward, but I think she just dumped the both of us." Tony said, flashing him another grin.
"Looks that way," the taller man responded, scratching his head in puzzlement of the young forensic investigator’s unusual behavior.
The administrative assistant stood with the folder in her one hand and her purse in the other. She rounded her desk and extended the folder to her supervisor. He accepted the folder and attempted a halfway smile to his long time employee.
"The report is complete, Dr. Thompson. I’m going to lunch." Bettie Calvert turned and strolled to the outer door. Her parting shot as she opened the door was delivered with an ear-to-ear grin. "You two gentlemen just witnessed a young woman that is head over heels in love and has her mind set. Neither of you will change it." Bettie closed the door gently, and her soft humming followed her down the hallway.
Thompson moved to Oliver’s side, his previous expression replaced by a warm smile of understanding. "Damn, Ward! Bettie may be right."
Shaking his head, he grinned boyishly. "God, I hope so! Would that be wonderful if she had found someone?"
"Yeah, wonderful. Guess I’ll have to reconsider that sub-laboratory with Carling heading it up, or lose her." His voice shifted into a higher gear, his mind racing with the situation.
"Yeah, I guess you will." Oliver replied mockingly.
Both men laughed until Thompson offered to buy Oliver’s lunch. Flashing another grin, he ushered the taller man out of the office. Hopelessly, both men returned to their chuckling about the young scientist’s love possibilities, and clapping each other on the backs, as if it were their daughter and they were the proud parents.
Carling sat in the witness alcove. Her eyes were closed and a sensual smile turned up at one corner of her mouth. Her thoughts were of Kate. ‘It will be so good to get back to her. Golly! I miss her so much.’ She thought, opening her eyes and turning her head in the direction of the court officer, who had just called her name as the next witness. Carling picked up her portfolio with the test results, charts and displays for her testimony and walked through the door into the courtroom. All heads turned to watch the elegantly dressed young woman as she quickly walked down the isle to the front of the courtroom. Carling placed the portfolio next to the witness chair and stood before the stand as she had done so many times before and raised her hand. After the preliminary swearing in, and stating her name, the judge nodded to the District Attorney.
"You may begin your questioning, Mr. Oliver."
"Thank you, your honor." District Attorney, Anthony Oliver smiled as he stood and spoke to Carling. "Good morning, Dr. Reed. Thank you for being here today."
"Yes, it is quite the nice morning out, and you’re welcome." Carling smiled back at the aging man now standing before her.
Oliver smiled back at Carling. "Dr. Reed, for the court, would you please state your qualifications in the field of forensics?
Railio Dixolon, the defendant’s defensive attorney rose. "Dr. Reed is well known to us, and to save time, the defense will waiver the presenting of her credentials and accept her as an expert witness in the field of forensics."
"So stipulated," the judge indicated agreement to the court reporter.
"Dr. Reed, you’ve been the chief investigator at the State’s Forensic office for over seven years now, and performing forensic DNA testing as part of your assigned duties, is that correct?"
"I’ve been with the office for almost nine years, but I have only had the title of Chief of Forensic Science Pathology for six years." Carling crossed her legs and looked directly at the DA. "DNA Forensic testing is a part of my responsibilities."
"Forensic Science. Hum, could you explain briefly how Forensics relates to the law?" The District Attorney asked.
"Forensic Science, also called forensics, is the application of science to law. Forensic science uses highly developed technologies to uncover scientific evidence. Forensic science is most commonly used to investigate criminal cases involving a victim, such as assault, robbery, kidnapping, rape, or murder. " Carling reached up and scratched her nose gently. "I can go into greater detail if you wish?"
"No, that was simple enough, and adequate I believe. You are here today for testifying about the DNA in this case." He waved his hands in an upright motion and turned to face the jury. "DNA is still seen as something that only scientists in white coats in laboratories understand, and as a result, it has something of a voodoo quality about it–it’s mysterious, perhaps a little spooky. Because it’s such a part of our lives, I believe strongly that every effort should be made to demystify it. People need to understand it if we are to make sensible decisions about how to use DNA-based technologies or evidence from that application. Too often today, the voodoo factor wins out." He saw that the jury was agreeing with him.
The defense attorney did not object to the editorializing by the DA. Any confusing wording or misunderstood scientific definitions would only help his client.
Placing one hand on the rail that separated him from the jury box, Anthony Oliver turned to face Carling. "Dr. Reed, let us talk just about the DNA testing. Please explain to the court, as simply as you can, the process you undertake to evaluate the DNA evidence you are going to give here today."
"Mr. Oliver, there is nothing spooky or mysterious about DNA, or the results from the various evaluations of the results obtained from testing. It is a highly technical scientific procedure, and it is exacting and quite accurate." Carling’s eyes remained on the DA. She knew he was laying the groundwork for his case and her testimony.
Carling glanced at the jury, then back at the DA, before she began. "Although the process is technical, it can be broken down into five strategic steps, or procedures. Step One is called Isolation. Scientists extract DNA from the nucleus of cells in tissue or flesh to you, blood or fluids. Those samples yield the most genetic material. Quality of tissue DNA samples degrades as the body decomposes. Mitochondrial DNA test performed on bone or hair in absence of tissue, takes longer than nuclear testing. Scientists "wash" the DNA with chemicals, removing unwanted cellular material. Isolation takes about one to four hours depending on sample type. Quantifying is step two. Tests are run to determine the amount of recovered DNA present. Estimates are made by comparing the sample to standards of known quantities of DNA. Targeted amount is approximately 1 nanogram."
"Excuse me, Dr. Reed, did you say one nanogram, and that is how much?" His eyebrows rose with the question.
"One nanogram is a billionth of a gram."
"A billionth of a gram!" Holding up two fingers tightly together, he only restated Carling’s explanation, allowing the jury to hear the size once more. He was known for his thoroughness, and this case was a brutal murder. Carling’s DNA testimony was the most conclusive evidence the prosecution would present. "Please continue Dr. Reed."
"Quantifying takes about one to two hours. If inadequate quantities of DNA are recovered, Step One may have to be repeated. PCR as we call it, or Polymerase Chain Reaction is step three." Carling reached over and raised the glass of water provided for her. After drinking heavily from the glass she continued. "Chemicals added to allow specific fragments of DNA reproduce millions of times. Thirteen DNA locations are targeted for examination in an instrument that cycles heating and cooling steps. Approximately 28-32 cycles may be run. PCR takes approximately three hours. Next we do the Typing. A machine called genetic analyzer records the images of DNA segments as it moves through a small tube. Results appear as spikes or peaks similar to an EKG chart. Computer generates a picture of data represented as numbers as compared to standards .The numbers correlate to one of the 13 specific locations labeled in the PCR step and that is a person’s DNA profile. Typing may take 20 minutes per sample."
"Excuse me again, Dr. but you are going to show us these spikes or peaks on the charts you have brought with you, aren’t you?" Anthony Oliver asked.
"All applicable charts, graphs, and results on the DNA for this case will be shown here today," Carling stated.
"Fine, thank you. Please continue."
"The last step in the process is called Interpretation. DNA scientist reviews the DNA profile produced during Step Four to determine if there is a match. A match would indicate a particular individual contributed DNA. A non-match would indicate an individual is excluded as the donor. Interpretation may take less than an hour but is dependent on the quality of the sample being tested. Statistical weight may be given to the profile by calculations from a population database." The young pathologist looked at the jury. She realized that even though her remarks were technical, the nods of the heads of some jury members gave the impression of basically understanding the complicated process.
"I believe you gave us the fundamentals necessary for understanding the DNA testing process." He said.
He picked up a notebook for the table. "The victim had been at her parents Florida home for a full month before she returned to Albany. Her car was secured in the hanger that housed her parent’s aircraft. She drove directly back to her condo and called her parents on her cell phone as she exited the elevator and unlocked the door to her apartment. A neighbor heard a large bump a few minutes later and called the building security. The deceased was found lying on the floor of her living room. The defense has stated their client was not at the scene, didn’t know the deceased, and there are no witness to connect him to the crime. The only connection thus far with the deceased is he was arrest less than an hour later, running from police officers with some of the deceased jewelry in his possession." He leaned on the rail of the witness stand. "We believe he was there, and did commit the murder. Further, we believe the DNA evidence will verify that viewpoint. How is your testimony here today going to prove this matter, one way or the other?" He asked.
"I object, your honor. My client still maintains he was never in the condo, had never seen the victim, and has never had contact of any kind with the deceased, and found the jewelry in an alley twenty blocks away."
"Your honor, the DNA will make the connection, if we are allowed to continue." The DA stated.
"Upon examining the body with the medical examiner. We located a minute piece of fingernail embedded beneath the tissue of the deceased left breast. We evaluated the DNA samples of the defendant’s hair, nails, and blood, along with the piece of fingernail found on the deceased. The results obtained from the methods we used were conclusive. The fingernail in the tissue of the victim is that of the defendant."
"Hum. No chances the results could be flawed, Dr. Reed?"
"Objection, prosecutor is badgering his own witness."
"I withdraw the question. Dr. Reed, I'm assuming a number of statistical techniques are now used to confirm the reliability of these methods you use? Can you explain how the most fundamental technique, the allele multiplication rule, is used to rate the odds of a match between specimens?"
Carling again scratched her nose and sighed. "If we want to come up with a figure for the frequency of the pattern, we rely on statistical model. A DNA profile contains information from let’s say five RFLPS or five PCRs. This provides at least ten pieces of information. The entire profile has almost never been seen. Out of the 60,000 people who have been typed and their profiles put into database, no two people have had same profile with five loci.. While the entire profile has not been seen, each component has been seen quite often. Let’s say each variant at each locus occurs about ten percent of the time. So, say we have a ten-band profile based on five loci, with each band occurring ten percent of the time. We then multiply the ten numbers together to gain a probability for that combination. While no two people have the same fingerprints, footprints, or even ear-prints, DNA profile is just as exacting. Not even identical twins have the same exact DNA. There will be similarities, and test results will confirm their relationship."
He continued for over three hours, with Carling displaying and explaining the graphs and test results from the embedded fingernail. After removing the last graph from the easel, Carling returned to the witness stand.
"That’s all the questions we have of this witness, your honor." The District Attorney tossed his pen on the table and then took his seat; satisfied he had made his case.
"Your witness, Mr. Dixolon."
"Thank you, your honor. We have listened very attentively to all the good doctor has had to say, and we will make this brief. I only have a couple of questions for Dr. Reed."
The lanky defense attorney knew the evidence was overwhelming and very damaging to his client. His only hope was to throw a reasonable doubt issue out for the jury to consider. Human error was the only concern he felt might sway the jury, and even that issue ad little possibility, but he was willing to try anything at this point to cause the slightest discredit to Carling’s testimony.
He scratched his head as he stood before the witness stand, and then looked directly into Carling’s steadfast gaze. "Dr. Reed, doesn’t it seem that human error involved in the laboratory work would be the weak link in the chain of DNA forensics?"
"There has been a lot of discussion already today about the potential for human error. I would think the weak link would be right at the beginning, for example, does the tube labeled ‘crime scene blood stain’ reflect the true source of that material. The forensic laboratories have a lot of safeguards built in, such as dual observation of each step, and signing for custody of the evidence. Forensic laboratories have a lot of experience in taking care with evidence. But I take your point, if there is going to be an error, it would be of the gross human kind, rather than in technique. However, since I removed the fingernail from the tissue, in the presence of the medical examiner, and bagged the evidence according to police regulations, and both he and I initialed the evidence vile, there were no inaccuracies in obtaining the evidence. Escorted by two police officers, I transported the evidence packets to the laboratory, where all three of us signed the roster for the evidence. There I performed the test on the fingernail myself, with two other pathologists standing by and verifying the results. In this case Mr. Dixilon, there was no human error involved in the obtaining or in the processing of the laboratory work of this evidence."
Dixolon’s lip twitched. His body stiffened, and suddenly he slammed his hand down on the witness rail. "ARE YOU certain there were no mistakes in any of the handling of the evidence or the testing? Dr. Reed, a man’s life is at stake here. Are you 100% certain this evidence isn’t tainted?"
Carling felt the hairs on the back of her neck start to rise. She leaned forward slightly, and with a clear, calm voice replied, "I am 100% certain that the fingernail found under the skin of Margarete Wilheim came from your client. I am 100% certain the DNA testing on the body evidence and of your client samples are true and accurate. There are no mistakes, or errors, Mr. Dixolon, the fingernail found in the flesh of deceased is your client’s."
"No more questions of this witness." Dixolon turned and tread heavily back to his chair a defeated man.
Later that day, Carling was informed the State had agreed to accept a change in plea of guilty from the defendant. The man would be sentenced to life in prison without the possibilities of parole. She would not be needed further on the case.
Carling rushed to her townhouse to pickup additional clothing. Once the trunk of the BMW was completely full of Carling’s wardrobe, she called to her beloved Shelby to hop in the back seat, for a quick drive to the Catskills and Kate.
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