Unfinished Business - the whole truth
Dee Dee became aware that Rick was watching her questioningly from across the table. She’d been so deep in thought that she hadn’t even heard his question. “Sorry?”
“I said, are you feeling OK?”
“Oh, yeah. I’m fine. I was just thinking … about Steve,” she lied. Today would have been their anniversary. Even after six years she still missed him and on their anniversary the pain was closer to the surface than usual. But tonight, indeed for the past three weeks there had been other things on her mind.
Three weeks ago she’d come oh-so-close to being another victim of Lloyd Fredericks, dubbed ‘Bigfoot’ by the press because of the size 10 shoeprints he’d left at several victims’ homes. He had raped nine other women, killing one in the process. She had only barely managed to escape; and but for the fickle hand of fate she would have lost her job for not reporting the attempt. But she couldn’t, not again. Two years earlier it had happened for real. While working on a rape homicide at the Curaguayan Embassy she had been raped by their so-called ‘cultural attaché’. Because he had diplomatic immunity no one done a damn thing about it, except Hunter, who had followed the bastard down to South America and eventually killed him.
It had seemed, at times, as if she would never recover from the rape, and indeed it taken a long time. It was many months before she could sleep without reliving the terror over and over again. Hunter had spent more than a month camping out on her couch, comforting her when the nightmares awoke her trembling with fear, and lending his broad shoulder when it all became too much.
Of course, it had all faded eventually, and life had continued much as before, leaving her with some painful memories and the occasional bad dream. It had also altered her relationship with Hunter subtly, but immutably. Together they had survived it and they could never be the same again. They were no longer just partners, friends; they were closer than she had ever felt to anyone, including Steve. They could communicate on a level that was not always verbal, but nevertheless quite clear. It was a platonic relationship of course, as the job demanded, but the bond that linked them was inextricable, and she doubted that anything could ever change that.
Now the nightmares had returned with a vengeance, sometimes of Fredericks, but mostly of Raul Marianos. It was almost as if they were trying to make up for lost time. Dr Paxton had offered to prescribe tranquillizers to help her sleep more easily, but they didn’t stop the nightmares, they only made it harder to escape them. Instead she had been surviving on three to four hours of sleep a night. The urge to cling to her partner for support once again was strong, but she resisted. Her ribs were slowly healing, and she had fought Fredericks off. She felt guilty and embarrassed at needing her friend so badly over something so trivial as a few nightmares. No matter how close they were he still had his own life to lead; he was not her personal teddy bear, after all. She hoped this trip to Virginia would help her to put it all behind her. She sighed and fiddled absently with her wine glass.
Hunter watched her with concern. He knew she was not handling the rape attempt nearly as well as she wanted him to think. It brought back too many bad memories of the real thing. For him, too, he thought ruefully. Now, as then, he felt frustrated by what he perceived to be his inability to comfort her adequately. She was hurting and he didn’t know how to help her. He hoped he’d been right in persuading her to go on the FBI training course in Virginia. He didn’t want her to think that he was trying to get rid of her.
As the waiter took their orders he decided to try a different tack to get her talking. “So, how did you and Steve meet?”
She smiled, for perhaps the first time in weeks, and recounted for him the day at the Police Academy when she and Steve had first bumped into each other – quite literally. She was in her first week there, and he was giving the new recruits a lecture on life as a detective.
“Oh, yeah, I remember that,” Hunter recalled. “We drew lots to see who was going to do it and Steve got the short straw. He was really nervous about. I guess he didn’t regret it for long. You know, we wondered why he was in such a good mood the next day.”
Their meals arrived and the conversation moved on. Gradually, Dee Dee began to relax, and soon discovered she was enjoying herself. The soft, candle-lit ambience of the restaurant, and the comforting presence of her partner made her problems seem nonexistent. For the first time in weeks she found herself really laughing, and before long they were clinging to each other’s hand. By the time the waiter brought the bill they were discussing her trip to Quantico. She was looking forward to the trip, she decided. The waiter smiled indulgently when he noticed them holding hands. Catching the look Dee Dee flushed as she realized what he must be thinking, but then dismissed the thought. It was his problem, not theirs.
When Rick pulled up outside her house she hesitated before getting out of the car. She’d had more fun tonight than she’d had in a long time. She didn’t want it stop right now. Not for the first time, she was glad to have Rick as a friend. She could talk with him like she could with no one else and tonight it seemed they had talked more than she and Steve had in three years of marriage.
She realized she would miss him while she was away. Six weeks suddenly seemed like a long time. “Listen, do you want to come in for coffee? It’s still early.”
“Sure. Why not?”
Rick was silent as the made the coffee; he simply stood and watched her, his expression as unreadable as ever. As she brought the coffee over he took it from her and placed the cups carefully on the table beside him. Then he leaned down, cupping her face in his hands and kissed her gently, but intently. After a moment he stepped back. His eyes never left hers as he waited for a response. By way of reply she stepped closer to him, sliding her arms about his shoulders as he enfolded her in an embrace and they kissed again. The thought that they really shouldn’t be doing this nagged momentarily at her, but she banished the idea – it felt so right. For more than three years they had been friends and partners, and any attraction they felt for each other had to be put aside. They were partnered police officers first and foremost. But just this once, what harm could it do?
To ease the strain on his back from bending so far, Rick picked her up, supporting her weight with ease as he held her even tighter to him, not breaking the kiss for even an instant. As it became even more intense, he began to slowly carry her up the stairs to her bedroom, unwilling to let her go for even a second.
“Are you sure about this?” he asked as he lay her gently on the bed.
She murmured her assent, pulling him down to her.
Many hours later he lay wide awake, staring at the ceiling, wondering why he had woken up. Dee Dee lay cradled in his arms, fast asleep, her head resting on his shoulder, he hair soft against his cheek. His body was urging him to sleep, too, but his brain would not let him. Vague feelings of guilt nagged at him. He felt as if he had taken advantage of her in some way, which was ridiculous. She was, after all, a grown woman, capable of saying no if she wanted. And it wasn’t like he had planned for this to happen. It just had. Nevertheless, the feeling persisted.
With an exasperated sigh he rolled onto his, pulling her closer without waking her, and tried to clear his mind. Eventually, warmed by the soft body beside him and lulled by her gentle breathing, he drifted back to sleep.
As the other customer left he put down the girlie magazine he had been leafing idly through and shuffled up to the lottery counter. “Got any winners today?” he growled.
“Not here,” Mao Lin replied cheerfully. To his horror, the great bear pulled a large gun from his jacket and pushed it in his face. Mao Lin was no expert, but it looked to him like a .44 Magnum – the kind Dirty Harry used.
The growl was now a snarl. “You wanna bet?” From another pocket a cloth bag was produced. “Put the money in the bag.”
Hypnotised by the enormous gun, Mao Lin hesitated. His limbs seemed unwilling to move.
“Come on!” The gun was thrust closer to him. “Hurry!”
Galvanized into action, he began stuffing notes into the proffered bag. Not once did he take his eyes from the nor, nor the finger pressed against the trigger which seemed to twitch with eagerness. The old man fought to keep his face expressionless as he thought of his own gun, resting on the shelf below the cash register, just inches away from his hand. Just a few moments were all he would need.
Neither man noticed the woman just outside the window, staring in at them in horror. She was frozen in the act of picking up a paper from the stand mesmerized by what she was witnessing. The spell was only broken when saw the huge man with the gun prod the shop keeper menacingly. He looked agitated. If she didn’t get the police here quickly he might start shooting the place up. Praying she hadn’t been seen she hurried to the pay phone on the corner, Her hand trembled as she punched in 911.
Rick Hunter pulled his battered Lincoln green Dodge to a halt outside the Burger King restaurant and turned to his partner. “What do you want?”
She gave the matter some serious consideration. “I want a cheeseburger, and a large soda.”
“Want any fries?”
“No. I’ll pass.” Dee Dee wondered whether she should tell him he was too old to be a McDonald’s employee.
“I’ll take a large order.” Hunter buying fast food, other than chilli dogs, was an unusual sight, and not something to be taken lightly. Neither was the chance to eat lunch. It was a rare day when they had time to stop long enough to eat a proper meal.
Hunter laughed and shook his head despairingly at her as he climbed out of the car. Before he could close the door the radio crackled into life. Dee Dee could sense another meal was about to go begging.
“All units in the vicinity of 1Adam29. Possible 211 there now. Mao Lin Market. 10th and Alameda. Code 10-High.”
McCall looked at Hunter. “That’s four blocks from here.”
“Let’s take it.”
She was already pulling her seatbelt back on.
Mao Lin thrust the half-full bag back at the hairy giant and groped under the counter for his gun. The man was half turned away, heading for the door, but turned back, as if alerted by some sixth-sense. The last thing Mao Lin saw was the brilliant flash from the muzzle of the Magnum as a cannon-blow to his chest felled him.
Hunter slammed on the brakes just time to avoid being rammed into by a blue van pulling out of the lot in front of the market. “That looked like our boy.” He could hear the wail of sirens getting closer and closer. “Backup’s behind us. Let’s take him.” After nearly six years of being partners he didn’t need to at McCall to see her nod in agreement. Instead he shoved the Dodge into high-speed pursuit after the van.
The traffic was blessedly light for the time of day, so keeping the van in sight was no problem. Catching it was another matter, however. Hunter silently cursed his car, not for the first time. It was an antiquated hulk with no get up and go. But it was all they would requisition him. In less busy moments he had wondered why.
As McCall updated Dispatch on their current location they were joined by a black and white unit, which had no more luck closing the distance to the suspect Hunter noted with some satisfaction. By now they had entered the warehouse district. Most of them were abandoned, awaiting demolition. Hunter would have bet money that the perp was heading for one of them.
“Here we go.” McCall pointed to the warehouse the van had disappeared into.
Hunter pulled the Dodge in front of the loading bay doors the van had driven through. It was parked just inside, the driver’s side door still open. It looked innocent enough … Hunter instructed the uniformed officer to go in the back way and try to drive the guy towards them.
“Let’s check the van,” he suggested to his partner. Covering each other they advanced towards the vehicle. In all likelihood he was hiding somewhere in the bowels of the warehouse, but failing to check the van could cost one or both of them their lives.
The van was empty and there was only one door. Cautiously, they proceeded down the steps, straining to see in the murky blackness. It was cold and damp, and the sound of dripping water echoed through the cavernous expanse. Discarded packing crates, piled high provided ample places for the suspect to hide.
Hunter gestured with his free hand. “Why don’t you go left, I’ll go right,” he whispered. Stepping over a puddle he added, “Watch you step!”
Clutching the .38 in her hand tightly, McCall moved off quietly. Pumping adrenaline enhanced her senses, making her hearing more acute, compensating for the diminished visibility. To her right she could vaguely hear Hunter moving stealthily forward. She paused. Was that a noise? Holding her breath she listened more closely. She was sure. Someone was moving around between her and Hunter.
Almost silently she doubled back. Once again she paused. The noise had stopped. Then she heard it - a furtive movement just ahead. She edged forward, gun at the ready, poised to fire. She stepped around the corner of the packing crates to find herself staring down the barrel of Hunter’s gun. For a moment they both froze, then sagged with relief.
Hunter was livid. “What are you doing? I thought you were going to go left!”
McCall tried to explain. “I heard a noise behind you.” It sounded unconvincing, even to her ears.
“You heard a noise? That was me. You heard me!”
“Well, this place is like an echo chamber.”
They both spun around as Officer Williams came pounding through the back door. “What’s up?” he panted. “Did you see him?”
“Didn’t you see him?” Hunter demanded.
“No. Not a trace.”
Hunter spun back to McCall and glared down at her. Suddenly there came the noise of a car being started. The engine was reluctant to turn over. Only one car they knew sounded like that. “Come on,” Hunter snarled at McCall.
They got outside just in time to see their car careening away. “What a day it’s been, huh?” Hunter commented snidely, reholstering his gun.
McCall simply shot him a glare.
Charlie wasn’t unduly concerned. These things happened. “Well, did you get the license of the car he was driving?”
Sitting on the bonnet of a black and white, Hunter appeared to have regained his sense of humour. “It’ll be in the report, Captain,” he grinned.
“’Scuse me, Sergeant Hunter,” Officer Jakovich approached. “They just found your car. It was left abandoned a couple of miles from the warehouse.”
Charlie looked at the officer in astonishment. “Abandoned?”
“That’ll be in the report as well, Captain.”
Before Charlie could pursue the matter a voice called out to him. He turned to see who it was. “Lieutenant Malone, nice to see you. Your captain said you were on your way down.” He turned to introduce her to Hunter and McCall before realizing that it was unnecessary. It seemed they already knew each other.
Lt Malone approached Hunter and clasped his hand firmly. “Rick. It’s been a long time.” She nodded over her shoulder. “McCall.” Dee Dee nodded in return.
“Hunter and I worked a case together three years ago,” she explained to Devane.
“Yeah, but she wasn’t a lieutenant then.”
“Well, I had a few lucky breaks.”
“I think it was a little bit more than luck.”
Charlie glanced at McCall, standing away from the rest of them, noting her reluctance to join them. Maybe more went down at the warehouse than they had told him. Later he’d have a word with Officer Williams, but now there was work to be done.
“Lt Malone’s been working at Hollenbeck, in the Robbery Division. Her captain called this morning and said they may be looking for this guy.”
Malone continued. “His name’s Nick Streiber. He hits lotto places Wednesdays and Saturdays when there’s been a big score. Up until now, that’s as bad as it’s been.”
“Well, McCall and I got a pretty good look at our guy,” Hunter told her.
Malone took out a wanted poster and showed it to him. “Is this him?”
Hunter nodded in confirmation. “Looks like your boy’s graduated to murder.”
It was almost two hours before Charlie had time to collar Williams for a chat. Things were winding up a the scene and many of the officers where heading back to Parker Centre, including Williams. He looked rather abashed at having to the Captain about Hunter and McCall’s argument, but an order was an order.
“So, Hunter blamed McCall for losing the suspect and the car? Is that all?”
Charlie put him out of his misery and dismissed him. He couldn’t understand why it was causing so much animosity between them; it was so out of character. But no doubt they’d have it all sorted out by tomorrow.
Before he could climb into his own car he heard the sound of raised voices from within the store. McCall came storming out. As she did so she snapped a reply back over her shoulder at Hunter, “… and you can pick up the car yourself, since you obviously don’t need my help.” Ignoring the looks of surprise on everyone’s faces she stalked across the parking lot and hitched a lift with Officer Martinez. Charlie frowned pensively in the wake of the car.
Hunter was going over his preliminary report early the following morning when McCall arrived. She headed straight for the coffee machine, without saying a word. In fact, apart from the argument in the market, she’d barely said a word to him since the warehouse. He realized he’d been rather brusque with her, maybe an apology would smooth things over.
“Lookit, what happened at the warehouse yesterday – it was a big misunderstanding. I’m very sorry.”
She still sounded a little distant, but no doubt she’d get over it. They had work to do. “Oh, Megan sent over all her information on Streiber.”
“How considerate of her,” McCall murmured sarcastically without looking up from her paperwork.
Hunter was perplexed. “Is, um, is something bothering you?”
“Just making a statement.” Still she refused to look at him.
Before he could delve further Charlie approached, pulling absently on his ear lobe. Obviously he had something on his mind. “You know, I think we’re going to need some help on this Streiber case,” he announced. “I was thinking about asking Lt Malone to join us.”
McCall appeared less than impressed. “She’s been working on the Streiber case for what, two months now, and she hasn’t gotten the guy? So, I think we can just read her reports.”
Charlie looked at Hunter. “What do you think?”
“Well, I disagree. I think that Lt Malone’s a very good police officer.” Last time she was here she’d broken open a case that had flatlined on them. “And we do need all the help we can get on this case.”
Nodding in agreement, Charlie said, “That’s right. I’m going to talk to her captain.
Hunter looked speculatively at his partner. It wasn’t like her to refuse help with a case when they both knew they needed it. And although he’d been rather curt yesterday she didn’t normally take criticism so personally. There had to be some other reason. “What’s going on with you?”
“There’s nothing ‘going on’ with me,” she snapped. “Can’t I have a different opinion, other than yours, without it becoming a big deal here?”
“I just asked a question.”
“Well it sounded more like an inquisition to me.”
Hunter felt his hackles begin to rise. “Well maybe you’re not listening to me clearly.”
McCall shoved the report aside, looking directly at him for the first time, her eyes spitting fire. “I suppose like yesterday?”
“Look, I didn’t say that.”
“It’s exactly what you’re thinking.”
That was the final straw. If she wanted a fight, she would damn well get one. “You know, come to think of it, it was a very standard tactical procedure that you blew yesterday.” By now they were practically shouting at each other.
“What are you talking about? ‘Standard tactical procedure’? Right! ‘I’ll go in this way, you go in that way’.” Her expression changed to a sarcastic sneer, “That’s textbook strategy right there.”
As they both glared at each other across their desks, Hunter became uncomfortably aware of how quiet the room had become. Work had ceased as their colleagues whispered amongst themselves. The odd disagreement was nothing out of the ordinary, but for the two of them to be sitting shouting at each other was an unusual spectacle. “Look,” he began in a lower, more reasonable tone of voice, “let’s not discuss it, OK?”
McCall picked up the next page of the report and slammed it down on her desk. “Fine. Drop it.”
The icy silence lasted only a few moments. Poking his head out his office door, Charlie bellowed their names. It was a summons that could not be ignored. McCall gave Hunter one final glare before throwing her pencil aside before heading for the Captain’s office. With a puzzled frown, Hunter followed her. Dee Dee strode to the window on the far side of the office, putting as much distance between herself and Hunter as possible. It didn’t go unnoticed by either Charlie or Rick.
Devane began without preamble. “Alright, you two have been fighting like a couple of alley cats. What’s going on?”
Hunter wasn’t too sure himself. “There’s nothing going on.”
Charlie wasn’t buying that. “Oh, crap!. I want both of you to sit down.” Neither made a move to comply, so he continued anyway. “Alright, I’ve read your report. And whatever this is, it has nothing to do with losing that car. Something happened at the warehouse yesterday. I want to know what it is.”
“Look, all we had is a little miscommunication at the warehouse, that’s all,” Hunter said placatingly. He knew there was more to it than that, but he didn’t see how getting Charlie involved in this right now would solve anything.
“We almost shot each other,” McCall revealed when Charlie turned to her.
Hunter looked at her in exasperation. What the hell was she trying to do?
Charlie was less than happy. “Alright, I want you to listen to me. Consider this: if you had actually fired shots yesterday you’d be required, by Departmental policy, to see the psychologist…”
“But you see, we didn’t do that,” Hunter interrupted.
“Obviously you didn’t do it, thank god. But I don’t see there’s any harm in you talking to the departmental psychologist.”
“We’re fine,” McCall protested vehemently.
“It doesn’t look that way to me. Now, I need the two of you to be focussed.”
McCall had obviously had enough. “Look, I cannot speak for you,” she jabbed a finger in Hunter’s general direction, “but I am just as focussed as I have ever been.” She walked towards the Captain and Hunter – towards the door and noticed the large number of people who all miraculously appeared to have urgent business near the Captain’s door suddenly find things to do back at their desks. “So with all due respect Captain, this is something that I’m just not interested in, OK?”
Charlie nodded with resignation. They all knew that at this point there was nothing he could do to force the issue.
They both turned to Hunter, who was gazing nonplussed at his partner. “Well, me either!” he blurted, caught unawares.
McCall was already half way out the door. “Well, we have a lot of work to do on the Streiber case. So….”
Devane and Hunter watched her go. “Something is wrong here.”
“Yeah.” Hunter patted him on the back. “Don’t worry, we’ll figure it out.” Privately he wasn’t so sure. He had the unpleasant feeling he was losing her.
They spent the rest of the morning working their way through the stack of paperwork, avoiding any conversation. Though there were no more heated exchanges the entire department was on tenterhooks, waiting for the next explosion. A collective sigh was heaved when McCall left for lunch on her own.
Dee Dee sat in one corner of the vast couch, examining Dr Tate’s office as he studied her, and feeling very uncomfortable. She didn’t really know why she had made the appointment, and if he hadn’t had an immediate vacancy she probably would have cancelled. But she was here now, and like the Captain said, it wouldn’t do any harm to talk to this guy just once.
“How long have you two been partners?” Tate asked suddenly.
Dee Dee gave him a long look, still trying to get his measure. Obviously Charlie had talked to him. “Almost six years now.” Has it really been that long?
“That’s a long time to be together. Things must be pretty good between you two.”
Not right now, she thought. “For the most part they are. This isn’t exactly a nine-to-five job. So, occasionally, you do get on each other’s nerves.”
“That could be happening right now. Maybe that’s all this is.”
“You think so?” The truth was, she didn’t have a clue why she was so angry with Rick, or why her temper had snapped this morning when he’d tried to apologise. But she’d get no magic-genie answers from Norman Tate.
“Do you think so?”
Oh, great. Answer a question with a question. Would I be here if I knew? “You don’t make this very easy, do you?”
“Sometimes it isn’t.” Aware that she was losing patience, he tried a different tack. “At the warehouse, when you came around that corner, tell me how you felt when you saw Hunter with his gun pointed at you. Describe the moment.”
This was easy enough. “Well, it’s just like everything goes into slow motion. My heart was really pounding, and my finger was just starting to pull down on the trigger. I came around the corner, we saw each other, we froze.” Just retelling it she could feel the tension again.
“And in that instant one of you could have died.”
A valid point, but he had the wrong end of the stick, if not the wrong stick altogether. She had told Charlie about that only the hopes of finding some explanation for what was happening between her and Hunter. “Yeah, but sometimes things like that do happen. That is part of the job.” She fidgeted for a moment, adjusting the collar of her jacket unnecessarily and brushing back her hair. “It was what happened afterwards that’s … We had gone back to the scene, and we’re doing our job just like we always do, and up steps this Lt Malone from Robbery who just completely takes over.”
“And that bothered you.”
“Yes, it bothered me.” It was bad enough being blasted by her partner about making a mistake with another officer stepping in and taking over like she couldn’t do her job. “I’m just standing there and all of a sudden she and Hunter are just talking up a storm about all these old times. And I felt like … I felt like I wasn’t even there.”
“The Lieutenant’s a woman?”
The wrong stick again. “Right, yeah, she’s a woman. That’s not really the issue here. It’s … you see, this is the second time this has happened.”
“Tell me about the first time.”
“Well, I don’t know. I don’t think it’s that important.” It was so long ago, what possible bearing could it have?
“It won’t hurt to tell me.”
She took a deep breath. OK, then. “Well, it was three years ago. I had just gotten back from this six week training course that the FBI gives over at Quantico. I walk in, and there’s Hunter with Megan, who’s sitting at my desk. And they’re both very wrapped up in the D’Angelo case, which, by the way, was mine before I left …”
The scene replayed itself in her head as she told the story. Megan Malone was sitting at her desk, talking to someone on the phone. Hunter was watching her intently. Malone hung up as she walked into the office.
“I talked to a friend in the DA’s office. The warrants are no problem,” she informed Hunter.
“You do such good work.” He glanced up and saw McCall approaching and greeted her with a marked lack of enthusiasm.
“Hi. I was just on my way back from the airport, and I figured I’d stop by.”
Hunter performed the introductions, but Sgt Malone was in a hurry. “Rick we don’t want to be late for the DA’s.”
“You’re right.” He jumped up and grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair. “Hot case – the D’Angelo case,” he explained.
“D’Angelo? I thought that was thrown out in arraignment.”
Malone was already half way out the door. “We reopened it,” she tossed over her shoulder.
“Yeah, we got some new leads.” Hunter glanced back at her. “Listen, we’ll take care of this. Why don’t you go home? Rest, relax … change your clothes.”
Tate’s question intruded upon her thoughts. “How did you feel about that?”
She’d never thought about it before, but now it was obvious. “I felt left out. It was like I wasn’t even there, he wasn’t glad to see me. I felt very left out.” She pouted like a small child. That was exactly how she’d been made to feel yesterday at the crime scene, too.
“It seems to me that you and Sgt Hunter have some unfinished business. This is a pretty safe place to talk about it. Would you be willing to talk with him here?”
“What, me? Well, yeah.” The thought of Hunter talking to a shrink was almost enough to make her laugh, except she was in no mood to do so. “But he would never come in here.”
Tate’s smirk disturbed her somehow. “People change.”
Mr Banana-smoothies-for-breakfast-every-morning change? That would be the day.
“Keep it in mind. Anyway, our time is up. I’d like us to keep talking. You game for another appointment?”
Dee Dee considered it. It hadn’t been as bad as she’d expected. It hadn’t been particularly helpful at this stage, either. Dr Tate had leaped on the obvious answers, all of which she’d considered herself and rejected. But still, she wasn’t getting anywhere on her own, and sometimes a fresh perspective helped. “Yeah, I guess so.”
He held the rear door open for her. “Good. Same time tomorrow?”
Tate closed the door behind her, then opened the waiting room door. His next appointment should already be waiting – Sergeant Hunter had called half an hour after his partner to make his own appointment. “Hello,” he greeted the tall man flicking idly through a fishing magazine. “I’m Norman Tate.”
Sgt Hunter shook his hand and settled on the couch. He appeared more relaxed than his partner had, although judging from his record, he was not the sort of man who sat down at just opened up to strangers. He would have to tread carefully.
“Have you ever been to a therapist before?”
“No. You see, there’s nothing a shrink can do for me that a good game of gold can’t.”
Unfazed Tate decided to probe further. “You’re pretty emphatic about that. Does being here bother you?”
Hunter waved his hands in a conciliatory manner. “No. Look, I’m sure you’re a very good doctor, helped many, many people. I’m here because my partner has a problem with us – therefore I have a problem with us. Now I’m here to try to make some sense of it – try to solve the problem. Normally she’s quite reasonable about these things. But lately it’s become, well …”
“You’re afraid it’s going to get in the way of your work.”
“You’ve been partners for six years now. Maybe you two are on burn-out.”
Hunter shook his head dismissively. Obviously he’d already considered that option.
Time to beard the lion. “Has she ever been like this before?”
“No.” Hunter stopped and thought carefully. “Except for the D’Angelo case.”
Interesting. “What happened in the D’Angelo case?”
“That was the year McCall took the FBI’s forensic course at Quantico, Virginia. Another detective was temporarily assigned as my partner.”
“Who was that?”
Hmmm. He sensed they were getting close to something here. “How did that work out?”
Hunter paused, wondering why that was relevant. “Sergeant Malone had a knack for making things happen. Which explains one of the reasons she’s a lieutenant today.” Other than that she was just another police office as far as he was concerned. He didn’t really understand why his partner would have a problem with her. “I think McCall felt guilty about being away. I mean, especially after we opened up the D’Angelo case – that was her case. As a matter of fact, I had to talk her into taking some time off …” He tailed off. Tate didn’t need to know about the Fredericks case. Instead he tried to fix in his mind what had happened when McCall returned.
He’d been sitting at his desk, going through a witness statement when McCall came into the office. “McCall, it’s good to see you! You’re finally back!”
She dumped her briefcase on her desk, reclaiming her territory. “Well, no one knows the D’Angelo case better than I do.”
He indicated to Sgt Malone sitting meekly next to him, “Well, you know, Megan has some interesting points on that case. Why don’t you fill her in?”
Malone deferred to him. “You go ahead. I mean, I think Dee Dee should know where the case has gone.”
“Well, alright. Now, your theory was that D’Angelo killed his partner Clay because Clay found out that D’Angelo was embezzling from their company, right?”
“Right,” she confirmed.
Megan took up the thread. “Well that, I mean, excuse me, wasn’t the case at all. You see, Clay found out that D’Angelo had a mistress. Now, D’Angelo’s wife was the one in the family with the money, and he couldn’t afford a divorce, so Clay was blackmailing him.”
McCall was scornful. “Well that’s a very interesting angle. Do you have any proof?” she asked caustically.
“She’s working on that right now,” he informed her.
McCall opened her briefcase and began slamming it’s contents onto her desk. “Great,” she said, looking daggers at both of them.
Hunter sat bolt upright, as if having been suddenly struck by a thought.
“What is it?” queried Tate.
Why hadn’t he thought of it before? “Dr Tate, do you think Sgt McCall could be behaving this way out of professional jealousy?”
“Well, I mean, Megan did solve a case she couldn’t.”
“It’s possible. It does seem to strike me as more than just coincidental that Megan was around both times you noticed your partner acting strangely.” He paused, and Hunter caught a glimpse of the strange expression that flickered across the doctor’s face. “Would you and McCall consider talking about this together? You could do it here.”
Rick shook his head, amused. “You’re not gonna get her to come in here, Doc. Not in a million years.”
Hunter went back to Tate the next day, despite his misgivings. He realized there was more at stake than his personal dislike of psychologists in general and Tate in particular. For some reason his partnership was on the line. So far there had been no more arguments, but the atmosphere was decidedly more chilly than the season warranted. The whole department felt the tension.
He got back to the office a little late from his ‘lunch break’ to find McCall at her desk wading through reports. She didn’t look very happy.
She looked up as he approached. “Where ya been?”
“Hospital. Seeing a sick friend.” Honesty was definitely not the best policy at this point in time. He figured the more he said to her the more likely she was to find some excuse to blow up at him.
She stood up. “Well, come on. We’ve got a lead on the guy who might take us to where Streiber is.” Without another word she strode off towards the elevator, leaving him floundering in her wake.
They pulled up across from a mechanic shop on Allen Street, in a seedy, run down neighbourhood. The man they were waiting for was just as seedy – one Earl Bingham, a known associate of Nick Streiber.
As they sat waiting for Bingham to put in an appearance McCall decided she should make some attempt at normal conversation with Hunter. The constant feeling that she was going to explode every time he opened his mouth was very tiring. She thought she’d start with an easy topic. “How’s you friend doing?”
“He’s doing just fine.”
Not much of an answer, monosyllabic, but it was a start. “What’s wrong with him?”
“Got a bad liver. Had to take it out.”
Take his liver out? “What do you mean ‘had to take it out’?”
Hunter was getting tetchy. “Just what I said. He has a bad liver and they had to take it out.”
“You can’t remove someone’s liver.”
“Yeah, you can. They do it all the time. Medicine can do incredible things now.”
“What are you, crazy? Medical science has proven that you cannot live without your liver!” Her uncle had died from liver failure. She ought to know something about it.
Now he was really irate. Defensive, even. “So what are you, now? A Surgeon General? OK, they didn’t take his liver out at all! They took everything out, except a little piece of it. He now has a liver the size of a hamster’s, OK?”
Before she could snap out a suitable reply, she noticed movement across the road. “There’s our guy.” Argument almost forgotten they moved in. ‘Take out his liver’ – what sort of an idiot did Hunter take her for?
Bingham had just hoisted a car onto an overhead bay when he heard footsteps enter the garage and move to stand behind him.
“Earl Bingham?” said a voice in his ear.
“Who wants to know?” he asked without turning.
“I do,” was the impatient answer.
With a sigh he twisted to find a woman standing close behind, holding a badge under his nose. From the look on her face, and that of the big guy behind her they were not in the mood for games.
With another weary sigh Bingham laid down his spanner. “Look, whatever this is about, I didn’t do it.”
“We know. But you know the guy who did. And you’re going to tell us where to find him, right?”
Bingham took a nervous step backwards. Women like this one intimidated him, and he much preferred the shoe to be on the other foot. And this one looked to be in no mood to be tangled with. Still, if they were after the guy he thought, he’d much rather have these two angry at him. Big Nick was liable to snap your arms off if he thought you’d crossed him. “I don’t know nothing,” he mumbled.
The tall guy grabbed his arm and led him outside. “Let’s talk about this back at the station, shall we?”
Back at HQ, Bingham was no more forthcoming after an hour of intense questioning. McCall found she was fast losing patience with his obdurate refusal to admit to more than knowing Streiber. Hunter’s patience had reached breaking point quarter of an hour before and he had left her to it.
Bingham just sat there, looking bored by the whole thing. “How much longer is this going to go on?” he sighed.
“Until I get the answers I need.”
“I don’t know how many different ways I can tell you. I ain’t seen Streiber in months.”
“That’s not good enough, Earl.”
He was getting stroppy. “Hey, I wanna see a lawyer. I got my rights.”
“Alright, I’ll get you an attorney. But I’m not through with you yet.”
Hunter watched from the other side of the two-way mirror. He didn’t think they would get anything out this guy, so he’d left McCall to it. Maybe she would work off some of her aggression on Bingham. He heard the door behind him open and turned to see Lt Malone standing in the doorway.
“Any luck?” she queried.
“No, not yet.”
“You heard?” McCall appeared in the doorway behind Malone, obviously tired of banging her head on the brick wall of Bingham’s obstinacy. Megan moved aside to let her in.
“Yeah, I did.”
Malone gave them both a sly smile. “I found out something that might help. Do you mind if I have a crack at it?”
She grabbed a clipboard off the wall and entered the interview room, seemingly absorbed in the paperwork. McCall joined Hunter at the observation window and they watched the performance.
Bingham eyed Malone apprehensively, but his nervousness did nothing to diminish his smart-arse attitude. “Funny, you don’t look like my lawyer.”
Megan glanced up at him as if surprised to find him there. “You’re not going to need one. We’re cutting you loose.”
He stood, and had take two steps towards the door when she continued. “Oh, on your way out, say ‘hi’ to an old acquaintance of yours – a fence name Rivera.” Bingham paused, as if sensing more. “We picked him up. Told him someone had snitched him off.” With that she went back to her clipboard, writing furiously.
Bingham wasn’t about to leave it at that. “He’ll think it’s me,” he protested.
“Especially after I tell him it was.”
Earl turned away from her, uncertain. “You’re bluffing,” he said without conviction.
Malone, on the other hand, was full of confidence. “Then call it. Go ahead – walk.”
Hunter and McCall exchanged a glance as he wavered, obviously torn between telling her where to stick it and protecting his own hide.
Streiber …,” he cleared his throat and tried again. “Streiber’s got a girl named Suzy at the Malobar Arms in Montebello. I’ve been there. And that’s all I know.”
Megan allowed herself a victorious smirk. “You’re a regular encyclopaedia, Earl.” With that she strode out, leaving him pissed off at being so easily manipulated.
“Very nice.” Hunter gave his partner a sideways glance. “She’s good, isn’t she?” He was aware that deliberately baiting McCall was counter-productive, but he couldn’t help himself.
McCall was well aware of what Hunter was doing. With a supreme effort she forced herself not to rise to the bait. “Yeah, well, it does pay to have inside information, doesn’t it?” she murmured, only slightly sarcastically.
Megan reappeared in the doorway.
“Very nice,” Hunter repeated for her benefit.
“Thanks,” she replied, placing her prop back on its hook. “Let’s go find this Suzy. We might find something – like Streiber.”
Damn, thought Dee Dee, glancing surreptitiously at her watch, it’s almost time for my appointment with Tate. “You know, I’ve just remembered, I’ve got a … dentist’s appointment. So let me just cancel, and I’ll be right with you.” She hoped Hunter hadn’t noticed her hesitation.
Megan waved a hand dismissively. “That’s OK. Hunter and I can handle it.”
“No, no. It’s a loose filling …” Dee Dee protested, taking a step forward.
Hunter held up a hand to stop her. “That’s a good idea,” he said to Malone, then glanced back at her. “Why don’t you go to the dentist, get your stuff taken care of, and we’ll fill you in a little bit later on.”
With that they were gone. She hadn’t missed the fleeting look of relief that had crossed his face as they left. Her stomach clenched, and suddenly she felt like crying without really knowing why.
As he drove eastwards through the thick afternoon traffic towards Montebello, Hunter realized that he had just unceremoniously dumped his partner. But her appointment had seemed like a small god-send. A little time apart would give them break from each other and the sniping that seemed to erupt without either of them meaning to start it.
Thankfully, Megan was absorbed in a report, leaving him free to concentrate on his partner’s puzzling behaviour. He couldn’t for the life of him understand what had caused her to go on the attack two days ago. Nor could he explain his own counter-attack, or why every time one of them made an attempt to break through walls that had sprung up between them from out of nowhere the other retreated further. He didn’t want to do it, and he sensed Dee Dee didn’t want to either, but countless times over the past three days they had both done it.
Damping down a frustrated sigh he pulled the car into the parking lot of the Malobar Arms. From the outside it was typical of the buildings in the area. The façade was a crumbling shadow of its former glory in the days before this was just another East LA slum. Now it was just the right side of seedy. In twenty years, assuming it had crumbled to dust in an earthquake or under the weight of the LA smog, it would be just another cess pit.
Inside was much the same. The dark, sticky carpet had seen better days and the lighting was almost non-existent. Locating the number Bingham had given them in the dingy light was difficult, but eventually they stood outside Suzy’s door. Hunter tapped firmly on the door. There was no answer, so he knocked louder. “Police. Open up.”
The door opened widely and a young Asian woman with a bitter, hardened expression stood to one side, allowing them entry. “Hey, I didn’t do anything,” she protested without force. Presumably, she had been through this before.
Obviously, though, she knew the drill. “No, but you know someone who has.” Hunter handed her the photo of Streiber.
She glanced cursorily at it. “I don’t know him.”
“Lookit, Streiber is a killer,” Hunter explained. “You don’t want to be hooked up with him, Suzy.”
The indifferent look slipped from her face, replaced with seething resentment. “You know, I don’t need some cop coming in here and telling me who my friends are!”
Malone closed in on her like a jackal smelling blood. “I thought you said you didn’t know him?”
“Get out of here!” With that she flung the door open again.
Megan wasn’t about to let go yet. “You help him, you’ll go down with him as an accessory. You think about that, hmm?”
Cast in the unfamiliar role of good cop, Hunter handed Suzy a card as he left. “If you see Streiber, give me a call.” The door slammed after them, and through it they could hear Suzy muttering curses.
“She’s not going to call,” Malone said, striding to the exit. “We need to put a surveillance team on her.”
Norman Tate furtively studied the woman sitting in front of him. She appeared less on edge than she had the day before, but still cautious, as if she might say too much. Right now she was abashedly trying to explain why she had almost cancelled today’s appointment.
“I just feel like I should have gone with them, instead of coming here. I just don’t know that this is really doing an awful lot of good.”
“I see some progress already,” he lied smoothly.
“Really?” She looked doubtful. “It’s just seeing Megan again – it felt like three years ago.”
“The D’Angelo case, wasn’t it?” Whatever was going on between Sergeants Hunter and McCall, Tate was more certain now than ever that their problem had its genesis three years ago with that case.
“Right. And you know, even then, she was on the fast track.”
He nodded encouragingly, wanting her to continue. She didn’t need much encouragement.
“We knew D’Angelo had killed his partner, so she wanted to set a trap for him. So, she picked up D’Angelo’s accountant, a man by the name of Glazer. Now, I didn’t think this man was of any value to us at all …”
They were heading up the stairs of the old metro division headquarters. She’d only been back at work one day, and she felt like she was barely holding her head above water. Hunter wasn’t helping any. Hunter, and Sergeant Malone. He was bounding up the stairs with those long legs of his, and Megan seemed to have no problems keeping up. They were on their way to put the screws on Glazer.
“We’ve got him cooling his heels in interrogation room one,” Malone explained without slowing.
“I questioned Glazer months ago,” she tried to explain. “I don’t really think he’s of any use to us.”
Hunter practically scoffed. “Well, the information Megan has proves that Glazer was helping D’Angelo funnel money to his mistress.”
“What really happened,” Megan continued, “was that Glazer told Clay about D’Angelo’s bad habits.”
“Yeah. And he used that information to make about a couple of hundred thousand dollars.”
“Which means that we can put the squeeze on Glazer. He’s going to look like and accomplice to murder.”
At the top of the stairs they finally paused to let her catch up. “Well, Glazer knows who I am, so why don’t I take the first shot at him?”
Hunter frowned at her. “You’ve been away for six weeks. Why don’t you rest, relax, come along for the ride? I think Megan and I have this thing handled.” He turned to Malone. “Come on,” he said placing a hand on the small of her back to lead her away. Like he couldn’t be far enough away.
“And now it’s happening all over again?”
For a moment Dee Dee just blinked at Tate, his sudden question jolting her out of memories that were surprisingly painful.
“Yeah,” she eventually answered. She thought back over what she had just revealed to Tate, not liking the picture she was building.
“You know, I’m sitting here listening to myself babbling on and on – and, this is terrible, I sound like someone who is so jealous.”
“Are you jealous of Megan?”
She had been asking herself that question for days now, seeking an answer to that irrational surge of anger that burned through her every time she saw the two of them together. “I don’t think so … I don’t know,” she hung her head momentarily in despair. “It’s not like me to be envious of someone just because they get ahead.” The second she said the words she knew what Tate’s next question would be.
“That’s an interesting phrase – ‘just because’. Do you think there could be another reason why you feel jealous?”
“No…” Why would I? It wasn’t like she believed Hunter had a thing for Megan, and even if he did, his girlfriends had never bothered her before … Oh, God no. Before her face could betray what she wasn’t ready to share yet she shook her head dismissively. “No,” she repeated decisively, more to convince herself than Tate.
Old man Franklin noticed the guy the minute he entered the store. His wife shook her head in despair every time he turned on another reality cop show or sat down to read another issue of Gun World Magazine, but she just didn’t understand. This was a dangerous city. You had to be prepared to defend yourself at a moment’s notice. So he continued to watch the stranger as he cruised the aisles, comparing him to the mug shot on the wanted poster he had pinned carefully to the wall beside the counter.
“Anything I can help you with?” he asked, hoping the unwashed creep would come a little closer to where his failing eyesight could make a positive ID. One step, two steps closer – it is him! A sensation somewhere between excitement and terror ran through him as the man came closer still. Before Franklin could reach under the counter for the security alarm a cloth bag was thrown at him, and a gun levelled in his face.
“OK, pops, fill it up – and don’t forget the lottery money.” The gravel-voiced lunatic shifted impatiently as he fumbled with the till. “Come on!” he roared.
I’ll show you, you two-bit, no-good … He flung the bag back, surprising his assailant long enough pick up his .38 snub-nosed revolver and fire a panicked shot at him. He watched with some satisfaction as the miscreant stumbled back into a display stand then collapsed to the floor. The return shot was so unexpected that he didn’t have time to react before a thunderous pain sent him reeling backwards into some shelving and the world began to darken.
Lieutenant Malone was already on the scene when Hunter and McCall arrived. McCall went to talk to guys from Forensics who were crawling all over the store while Hunter questioned the old man. He was weak, but determined to make a statement as the paramedics loaded him into the ambulance.
As Hunter showed him the picture of Streiber he nodded. “That’s him alright. Ugly sucker.” Then the doors closed and the ambulance pulled away.
“How is he?” Malone asked.
“Well, he’s tough. He’s going to be OK.” He smiled at her. “He did identify the man as Streiber.”
“Good, good.” She looked around expectantly as McCall joined them.
“The owner wounded the suspect, just like he said,” she informed them. “There’s a trail of blood going out the door.”
Malone nodded as she digested this. “If he was able drive himself away we should notify all the emergency rooms and clinics in the area.”
Hunter saw the dubious look on McCall’s face. “I don’t think this guy’s just going to stroll into a hospital.” She looked at him for support.
He nodded. “Yeah, I agree. We’re looking for a street medic who makes house calls.”
“You’re probably right,” Malone conceded. “Follow up on it.”
When the phone rang Suzy leapt from the shower, forgetting in her rush to turn the water off. She snatched the phone up as she wrapped a robe around her still dripping body. She hoped that it was Nick, but feared that it might be the police again.
“Hello?” she answered cautiously. The sound of the voice that croaked through the wires sent waves of relief through her. But something was wrong. “Where are you?”
“The usual place. You know that doc you told me about? Get him. Get him fast.”
He sound weak. “What is it? Are you hurt?”
“I’ll be alright. Just get that guy. And don’t come here. The cops’ll be watching you. I’ll call you.”
With that he hung up, and she began searching frantically through her address book for the number her brother had given her – just in case. An ex-paramedic who wouldn’t ask too many questions as long as he got paid in cash.
Streiber lay on his bed in the Galaxy Motel, a towel wrapped around his meaty shoulder, absorbing the blood that still dripped from it. As he gritted his teeth and tried to ignore the pain he tried to imagine all the ways he and Suzy could spend the money he had stolen. Just a couple of more stores and they could take off for Mexico and leave LA and it’s stinking cops far behind.
Footsteps in the hall outside roused him from his dreams. He listened as they came closer and paused outside his door. Two taps rang out. Painfully he stood and moved to the side of the door, gun at the ready.
“Who is it?” he mumbled
“Rydell,” slurred a broke voice. “Suzy sent me.”
He unlocked the door and sat back down on the bed. “Let yourself in,” he instructed.
Rydell almost slid through the door. He was forty-ish, with long greasy hair, rumpled clothes and a Camel permanently glued to his bottom lip. The rough voice and bleary eyes betrayed his other vice – cheap bourbon. “I get paid in advance,” he mumbled.
Streiber indicated to a wad of notes lying on top of the TV. Rydell flicked through them, then opened the bag he carried. A cursory examination told him what he needed to know – slug lodged in the shoulder, not deep enough to touch the bone, but messy.
“You want anaesthetic?” he asked, reaching for his scalpel.
Streiber shook his head.
“Well, if you change you mind, just yell.” He began to chuckle at his own wit as he started cutting.
As Hunter and McCall returned to their desks Ray Garrett waved at them from across the room. “Dee Dee! You just got a call from a Dr Tate.” He handed her a slip of paper. “He wants you to call him.”
Dee Dee took the message, smiling tightly at Garrett in thanks and sat down, trying to appear immediately engrossed in a report. She kept her head down, somehow just knowing that Hunter wouldn’t let it go at that.
“Dr Tate?” he asked with a smug smile on his face. “Gee, would that be the department psychiatrist?”
She attempted to remain aloof. “I just made an inquiry.”
He nodded sagely. “Oh, ‘an inquiry’. That inquiry wouldn’t be yesterday’s dental appointment, now would it?”
For a moment she said nothing, then something clicked and she glared suspiciously up at him. “How do you know that Dr Tate is the departmental psychiatrist?”
“That’s common knowledge,” he tried to bluff.
“Even though he’s filling in for the regular psychiatrist who’s on vacation?”
“I’m very well informed.”
She levelled a sceptical look at him, then went in for the kill. “How’s your friend’s liver?”
Several hours later they both sat in Tate’s consulting room, on opposite ends of the couch like a pair of mismatched bookends, glaring at the psychiatrist. For his part, he looked a little sheepish, and rather surprised that they were more angry at him for deceiving them than at each other. “I’m sorry my phone message let the cat out of the bag,” he apologised. “But I’m very glad you decided to come here and work this out together.”
He paused for a moment, seeming to choose his next words with care. “You know, it’s interesting you both chose to discuss the same events. In particular, the first time you worked with Megan Malone. Why is that, do you think?”
Dee Dee was confused. “You talked about Megan Malone?”
“Yeah. What’s the big deal?” Hunter sounded defensive.
“It’s not a big deal. I just … I didn’t think she was that important to you.” Maybe she had miscalculated.
“Lookit,” he snapped, “she’s not that important to me.”
Stung by his tone, Dee Dee opened her mouth to snap back a retort when Tate cut in, averting what looked like turning into another verbal brawl. “We might get further if we pick up where you left off, Dee Dee.”
“Yeah, where was that?” Hunter wasn’t ready to let it go.
“You said D’Angelo’s accountant, Glazer, rolled over on his boss.”
Hunter jumped in. “Yeah, I remember that. You see …”
“Please,” Tate cut him off, “I’d like Dee Dee to finish to the story.”
Dee Dee glared at Tate for a moment. What does he think this is, story time? We’re not here to keep him amused. Nevertheless, she continued. “Well, Megan had this idea to put a wire on Glazer and have him try to squeeze some money out of D’Angelo – the same way that Clay did. We were going to be sitting in the surveillance van, and we’d be listening to everything. I, personally did not think it was a very good idea, but nobody seemed very interested in what I had to say on the matter …”
She described for him how D’Angelo had become so angry with Glazer’s demands for hush money that he had grabbed Glazer, tearing his shirt and exposing the wire he was wearing; but not before admitting to killing Clay. Malone had delayed sending the team in, wanting more evidence, but when they had heard D’Angelo threatening to kill Glazer too, McCall sent Hunter in herself, despite Malone’s protests.
Tate leaned forward eagerly. “Well what happened? Did you save Glazer?”
Hunter and McCall exchanged a glance. “I jumped in just as D’Angelo was wrapping a light cord around Glazer’s neck,” Hunter assured him.
“Glazer threatened to sue the Department,” Dee Dee added.
“But the DA cut him a deal, so he kind of forgot about it.” Hunter turned towards her. “I must say, we handled that case pretty well.”
“Why don’t you tell him what happened afterwards?”
Tate watched the pair of them, fascinated. Despite their problems there was still a strong rapport between them. Obviously they were accustomed to communicating easily with each other, but now there was something preventing that and that was causing additional friction between them. Dr Harris, before going on leave, had told him that dealing with partnered police officers was very similar to counselling married couples. At the time he failed to see the validity of the analogy, but the more he studied these two, the more sense her theory made.
It seemed that the press had found out about the case in a way that was by no means mysterious to McCall, and turned it into a three-ringed circus. Malone had received sole credit for solving the case, and was today a lieutenant. Tate wondered how this made McCall feel.
“Well, you know, we did a lot of work on this case together. I’m not saying that she didn’t deserve her promotion …” A short, sharp laugh from Hunter cut her off. She swung accusingly on him. “What does that mean?”
Hunter sounded disappointed with his partner. “You see, it’s clear to me now. This whole thing is about you being jealous of Megan Malone.”
Dee Dee could not believe what she was hearing. “What? I am not jealous of her!”
“Yeah, you are.”
How can he not know? “What is it with you? Are you asleep, or what?”
“What are you talking about?”
Her anger grew. “You know exactly what I’m talking about! Think back for just a minute. Think back to what happened three years ago.” His puzzled frown made her heart constrict. Had it meant so little to him that he had to struggle to remember? Then she saw the look of dawning realization on his face. “Oh, now he gets it,” she remarked, unable to keep the sarcasm from her tone.
Having finally understood, he was now almost tripping over his own tongue to explain. “I … Nothing ever happened between Megan Malone and me.”
“I don’t care if it did.” Not strictly true, but that wasn’t the point. “This is about, after what happened, I leave for six weeks, I come back and I needed to talk to you. I couldn’t! There you were with Megan everywhere you went. You both were together.” It was like he was using Megan as a shield to avoid talking to her, just like he had done after their argument at the warehouse days ago. “I needed to talk to you. I needed to connect with you after what happened.”
Tate was mystified. “After what happened?”
Hunter waved him away. “Just a second, please. Lookit, I called twice a week. All you ever talked about was Quantico this, Quantico that, your work … You never once brought it up!”
“Bring what up?” They ignored him.
“Well, you know, on the phone you didn’t exactly sound like you … Wait a minute, what do you mean me bring it up? Why didn’t you bring it up?” Why was it solely her responsibility?
“Because I didn’t think you wanted to bring it up.”
She hung her head in despair. “Why wouldn’t I want to talk about it?” He obviously had no idea, so she turned to Tate. “You see? Why is it that a woman always has to carry the ball in an emotional involvement?”
“You still haven’t told me what you’re talking about.” He was beginning to sound annoyed.
They looked at each other, neither willing to be the first to say it. After several seconds of silence Dee Dee conceded, but not without shooting her partner a final glare. “Alright, I’ll tell him.” She paused for a moment to compose her thoughts. “After …” No, Tate didn’t need to know about that. “Before I left for Quantico … we slept together.”
Tate looked from one to the other, somewhat stunned. Whatever revelation he had been expecting, that was not it. Neither of them would meet his eye. Instead they looked at the floor, the walls, anywhere but at him or each other. From a professional point of view he could see why they wouldn’t want anyone to know about their liaison. If it became public knowledge it could spell the end of their partnership. But on a personal level, he could not understand how they could have avoided discussing it for three years. Obviously though, they had avoided the issue for far too long.
“Are you willing to talk about it now?”
They glanced bashfully at each other, then nodded. Rick began. “It just sort of happened.”
McCall squirmed as they both turned to look at her, expecting a response. “Yeah,” she agreed, “it just … happened.”
Hunter took pity on her. Tate deserved some sort of explanation, even if there would never be enough time to explain the complexities of their relationship and all the events that had culminated in that night. “We had been …” he paused. Dee Dee had avoided mentioning the Fredericks case; there was no real reason to bring up something they would both rather forget. “Well, we were both working kind of hard, especially McCall. She was getting ready for her trip and all. It was her wedding anniversary and she seemed a little down, so I thought I might take her out to dinner. We started the evening off talking about Steve – that was her late husband – he was killed in the line of duty some years ago. It seemed to help. By the end of the evening she was talking about her trip to Quantico, and the mood was really up.” He remembered the sound of her laugh, something he hadn’t heard for quite a while now. He also recalled how it made him feel warm inside.
“We were having a lot of fun that night. We didn’t want it to stop. So, when I took her home and dropped her off, she invited me in for a cup of coffee. We came inside and we just talked – talked more than most married people do.” The way she had looked that night made it impossible to ignore the deeper feelings he had for her. The inappropriate ones that he usually denied, even to himself. But those dark eyes fascinated him, and he’d wanted to hold her tightly to him forever.
“Just this once, it all seemed to hit me. It hit her, too” She’d offered no resistance when he’d kissed her that first time, and she had come willingly into his arms for more.
“The next morning you left for Quantico?” Tate asked Dee Dee. She nodded. “How did you feel?”
“Great,” she admitted. “I felt great. It was really nice having him …” she broke off, and turned to face Rick. If she couldn’t tell him how she felt about that night she could hardly expect him to tell her. “ … having you there in the morning, you know, waking up together. I knew that it wasn’t going to be a pattern, or anything. That was probably the only time that that would happen. But still, it was … it was very special.”
Tate wanted to know what had happened next. She knew what he was getting at, but she wasn’t ready to answer that yet. “Well, then, he made me breakfast.” She laughed as she remembered the mess he’d made of both her kitchen and the omelettes.
“It was a fabulous breakfast,” Rick insisted, but he knew what she was getting at.
“Yeah, except for the eggs.”
Obviously Tate had decided he’d let the main issue slide for long enough. “Did you two talk about it?” They shook their heads. “What about later?” he pressed. Again they shook their heads. “You never talked about it?” He sounded almost incredulous.
Dee Dee wished they had, but at the time it had been so difficult. “Maybe we were just both too afraid to say anything. I was busy packing for the airport. Probably conveniently busy, you know what I mean? He helped me pack, and we drove to the airport. We kissed goodbye, and I left.” She turned to Hunter again, a troubled look on her face. “And six weeks later, I walk in and I see you with Megan, who’s sitting at my desk, and I felt like I was looking at my replacement. And you didn’t even seem to care that I was back, or that I was even there.”
“Oh, but that’s not true,” Hunter protested.
“But that’s the way I felt.”
“But you know I never meant that.”
What am I, a mind reader?
Tate interrupted before she could voice the thought. “And after Megan left?”
“Well, after she left it was like we turned the clock back. It was as if it never happened at all.”
“Except that it did,” Tate observed – rather unnecessarily, she thought. “What about you, Rick? How did you feel?”
“I thought about it a lot.”
“No, no. I asked you how you felt.”
Rick turned to gaze at Dee Dee. “I felt great. I’m glad it happened. But as time went on I just pushed it aside.” He looked beseechingly at her. “Look, what happened between us just evolved. I just didn’t think it needed to be explained at the time.” The last thing he had wanted was to hurt her. “The more time that went by, the more I pushed it away, the more I got afraid of looking at it.” The feelings that had been liberated that night were more difficult to stuff back into their box than he could have believed. “I didn’t want to lose my friendship with you. I didn’t want to lose my partner.”
As they clasped hands from their respective ends of the couch the phone rang. Tate excused himself – it was the emergency line. While he took the call they watched each other in silence, finally realizing how close they had come to destroying the precious relationship they shared.
Tate hung up the phone. “That was for you. Lieutenant Malone wants to see you. Right away.”
As one they stood, wondering what was so urgent that they had been summoned from here. Only Charlie would know where they were, so Malone must have found a big lead. Any further discussion would have to wait until a later date.
Before they were out the door Tate stopped them. “I thing you both should come back next Monday. Just to tie up the loose ends.”
They both agreed, but privately they knew they wouldn’t be back. What was left to say had to be said just between the two of them. They had no further use for a mediator.
Megan was hovering anxiously by their desks when they stepped off the elevator. “The surveillance paid off,” she informed them, without preamble. “Suzy’s on the move. She’s on foot, carrying a suitcase. She’s going to Streiber.”
Malone sounded so certain, but McCall wasn’t so sure. It was all a little too obvious. Before she could voice her doubts a uniformed officer whose name she could never remember handed her a sheet of paper. It was the phone list she had asked for. Now things made much more sense. Suzy, it seemed, had called a sleaze-bag ex-paramedic named Rydell.
The Lieutenant was not impressed by this information. “We can follow that up later. She’s leading us now to Streiber.”
McCall looked to her partner for support, realizing with a jolt how much she had missed knowing that he would back her opinions, even when he didn’t believe them himself. This week seemed to have been achingly long. “I don’t think so,” she told Malone. “I think this suitcase deal is one of the oldest tricks in the book.”
“So what do you suggest?” Malone’s sharp tone suggested she didn’t like being contradicted.
“I think we’ve got to sweat Rydell, and we’ve got to do it now.”
Hunter stepped in, seeing Malone was not swayed yet. “I think she’s right.” Dee Dee didn’t fail to notice that he had moved fractionally away from Malone, as if subconsciously taking sides. “We should go for Rydell.”
“You know, after all this work, you could miss the bust.”
“Well, I don’t think so.”
“OK,” she conceded, “I’ll keep my people on Suzy.”
As they turned and headed back to the elevator, she felt Hunter’s hand slip into it’s customary place against the small of her back. She almost grinned with the sudden, heady feeling that all was right with the world again.
“You got Rydell’s address there?” he asked, leaning forward over her shoulder.
“Yeah, but he spends most of his time at a bar in Pico. We should try there first.”
She felt, rather than saw his nod of agreement.
Rydell was staggering out of the bar when they caught up with him. Hunter grabbed his arm, steering him towards the car and McCall.
Wha’s goin’ on here?” he demanded blearily, as if thinking he was being mugged.
McCall flashed her badge in his face. He was so drunk he probably couldn’t read it anyway. “How badly do you want to stay out of jail, Rydell?” she demanded.
“It’s real simple, Larry,” explained Hunter. “You tell us where we can find Nick Streiber, and we’ll forget we ever met you. Otherwise, you can look forward to a nice stretch for practising medicine without a license. Among other things.”
“Who? I don’t know …”
“OK. McCall, read him his rights.”
“No! Wait! He’s in a motel, on the corner of Crenshaw Boulevard and West Olympic.”
McCall waved to him as they tore away. “Such a nice, helpful man.”
They parked in the alley behind the Caldwell Motel. Hunter headed for the manager’s office while McCall called in their Code 6 location. As she spoke she could down the alley, onto Olympic Boulevard. At the newsstand across the street a familiar figure was browsing. The bulky profile and long greasy hair was unmistakable. Grabbing the mike again she requested backup, then took off down the alley. Hunter was on his way the stairs when she called his name and he saw her sprint past. Following behind, he soon saw then reason for her rush.
Streiber had also heard her call. Nervously he looked around and saw two people running down the alley towards him. Recognizing them as the two cops he’d given the slip five days earlier, he began shoving people aside, cradling his wounded shoulder, and lumbered in the direction of Wilshire. Ducking down another side alley, he lead them into yet another disused warehouse.
With an apprehensive glance at each other, Hunter and McCall followed him in. Personally, Hunter felt he had spent more than enough time empty warehouses recently. Cautiously they made their way up a stair case, only to be met by a volley of gun shots. Backing down the steps into cover they considered their next move. The warehouse had no other exits on the ground floor – the large stairwell to their left was the only course he could have taken.
In the distance they could hear the insistent wail of police sirens coming closer. Backup was arriving. A ladder leaning against one wall gave Hunter an idea. Crouched on the stairs he explained his plan to McCall. “Got it?” With a nod she set off.
As she began to slowly and quietly ascend the stairs, Hunter took the ladder and put it up against the wall. Just as he’d though, it reached the third level, which should put him ahead of McCall, and just behind Streiber. He clattered noisily up the next flight of stairs, hoping that Streiber could hear him. Passing the fire escape, he didn’t notice the bulky shadow lurking out on the balcony, but his instincts twitched, sensing that Streiber was close.
A shot rang out and he whirled around. Streiber was standing ten feet behind him, in the doorway of the fire escape. At the foot of the flight of stairs stood McCall, gun trained on Streiber. Her shot had struck him in the back of a meaty thigh, preventing him from getting off his own shot into Hunter’s back.
Trapped between them, but refusing to surrender, Streiber swung between the two of them, like an enraged bull uncertain of which to target first. Ignoring Hunter’s command to drop his gun he decide on McCall. Before he could fire, Hunter’s shot caught him in the ribs, and sent him stumbling back onto the fire escape where to teetered momentarily on the edge. Hunter got there just in time to see him hit the pavement below. McCall joined him a moment later. They watched as two uniformed officers checked the body then called for the ME’s wagon. As they turned to leave their gazes locked. There was still so much to be said, and they were both anxious to do so, but it would have to wait a bit longer. There were still reports to be made and paperwork to be filed.
Lieutenant Malone arrived with the rest of the backup, somewhat miffed at having missed out on the bust herself. But she was willing to be gracious in defeat – Nick Streiber would be ripping off no more stores. As the activity wound down Malone decided it was time to head back to her own division and make out her report. She said goodbye to Hunter and McCall, wishing them luck.
Hunter looked at his watch. It was after seven, and he hadn’t eaten since breakfast. “Where would you like to go to get something to eat and figure out what we’re going to put in this report?”
McCall was still puzzling over Malone’s parting remark. Why had she made a point of wishing them luck? How much did she know about what had been going? “I’m not really hungry,” she replied, when his question filtered through her preoccupation. “Why don’t we just do the report, then drop me off at my house.” She wanted work out of the way before they started to talk about anything.
Realizing what she was thinking, he agreed. “Good idea.”
It was almost eleven by the time they pulled up in front of McCall’s house. The silence had become almost awkward. Walking along her front path she thought desperately for something to say to get the ball rolling. “Been quite a week,” was the best she could come up with.
Hunter nodded thoughtfully. “Glad this case is over with.”
They lapsed back into silence as she unlocked her front door. Rick decided he could wait no longer. “Look,” he blurted, “I want to apologise to you again. This should never have happened. This is a monumental blunder on my part, and I should have confronted the issue from the outset.”
“I had my part in it too, you know?” she conceded. “I’m sorry. I apologise.” She was embarrassed by the way she had behaved this week.
“We have to make a pact,” Rick decided. “Anything like this ever happens again, we speak up immediately.”
“Absolutely. No matter what it is, no matter what comes up. Confront it, and talk about it right then, OK?” Dee Dee held out her hand.
“It’s a deal.” He took the proffered hand and held on to it with both of his. Gazing down at her he thought again how close he had come to losing her. It was an unpleasant thought.
“Want to come in for coffee?” she asked softly.
Rick froze, uncertain of what she meant, uncertain of what he wanted her to mean. Then he noticed Dee Dee freeze too, like a deer caught in headlights, as if she had just realized what she had said. For once he found himself stuck without a comeback. Over the years he had perfected the smart-arse reply as a means defuse the sexual tension that could just spring upon them out of nowhere, even if he thought it was mostly one-sided.
This time there was no doubt she was feeling it too. So, while his brain stalled in neutral, his body took charge. Tugging on her hands, still clasped in his, he drew her closer until she was close enough to kiss. As she made no move to stop him, still gazing up into his eyes as if mesmerized, he disentangled their fingers and placed his hands on her shoulders. Closing the final distance he claimed her lips with his. Kissing her was still the small piece of heaven he remembered.
With his body suitably occupied, his mind suddenly snapped out its fugue state and regained control. What are you doing? Are you nuts? You’re going to ruin everything! He straightened up with a jerk, breaking the kiss and holding her at arms length.
“We can’t … I can’t do this.” His voice was so ragged he barely recognized it. “I can’t,” he repeated, then turned and fled back to the safety of his car. But he wasn’t fast enough to miss the look of hurt and confusion that was written across her face. Nor to hear her whisper “I’m sorry,” almost to herself.
“Do you want to come in for coffee?” She heard the words and saw Rick freeze before she realized she said them aloud. Did I really just say that? The intense look on his face held her spellbound as he slowly drew her closer. She knew she should stop this now, for so many reasons, but couldn’t. I want this, she realized. Not just for one night. Forever. His kiss was gentle, but every bit as intense as she remembered.
When he thrust her suddenly away, murmuring that he didn’t want this it felt as though she had been punched in the stomach. She found herself struggling to draw breath. This is all my fault. In other circumstances the speed with which he turned and ran may have been comical. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t funny at all.
Barely holding back the tears she let herself in the front door, automatically locking it behind her. Numb, she sank to the couch and let the tears flow. She felt like six years of partnership, of friendship was tumbling down like a house of cards. They had set the wheels in motion three years ago. Had they been fooling themselves, waiting for the other shoe to drop? Damn you, Rick Hunter. Damn you for making me forget my vow never to fall for another cop again. And damn you for not knowing what you want from one minute to the next.
But suddenly she could see the walls that had grown up between them over the past three years. Walls that had not been there since the early months of their partnership. Once they would spend several evenings a week together off duty – having a meal, catching a movie, or just hanging out – now there was only the occasional get-together, usually with friends. Conversations which had once been littered with light-hearted sexual innuendo and flirtation now rarely ventured further than work, or anything similarly ‘safe’.
How could she have been so blind? He had been retreating, centimetre by centimetre ever since they had slept together. It had been so gradual that only now was she seeing it. And she wasn’t sure she wanted to know whether it was because he wanted to make sure it never happened again, or if he was afraid it would.
Aware that she was becoming melodramatic she sighed in frustration. The initial panic and humiliation was beginning to subside. She was still afraid of what was going to happen to their partnership, and she was confused by Rick’s attitude. Charlie once complained that he had the emotions of a giant redwood, and while she agreed that he had never been an open book, she’d never had much trouble reading him. But now … Rubbing her eyes wearily she rose and headed to bed, resolving not to let Rick Hunter rob her of another night of sleep.
Early the following morning Hunter pulled up outside Charlie’s home. He didn’t need to look in the rear view mirror to know that last night’s lack of sleep was clearly etched across his face. He was exhausted. He’d spent the entire night going round and round in circles and running head first into the same brick wall every time. Yesterday’s events had dug up all the feelings he’d spent three years trying to bury. Now he couldn’t see any way forward, nor any way back. He was hoping Charlie could show him some alternative.
As Charlie opened the door Hunter saw the look of surprise on his face quickly change to a frown of concern as he gave him a once-over. “Hunter? What’s going on? You look like hell.”
“I know, Charlie. Can I come in?”
Charlie stepped aside to let him in, then directed him into the living room. Harry lifted his head and regarded the intruder with an inscrutability Hunter had only ever seen before in his partner’s eyes, before deciding he was of no interest and returning to his nap on the sofa. Hunter sat warily beside him.
“So …?” Charlie prompted.
Hunter sighed deeply, cautiously tickling Harry behind the ear was he tried to think of where to begin. “Do you remember the Fredericks case?” he asked at last.
“How could I forget?”
“Yeah, of course. Well, do you remember how McCall went to Quantico a few weeks later?”
“The night before she left we … I … we slept together.”
“I see. Does that have something to do with what’s been going on between the two of you this week?”
“Yeah. We never got around to talking about it while she was away – it was just too hard over the phone. And by the time she got back I’d managed to rationalise it myself – pretend it was just because of the Fredericks case, that if I just didn’t think about it our partnership wouldn’t have to change. I guess once she got back I kind of used Megan as a shield to avoid being alone with McCall, so we wouldn’t have to talk about it.”
Charlie nodded, obviously putting the pieces together faster than either of them had. “So Lt Malone showing up again after that fracas at the warehouse kind of set off a ticking time bomb?”
“Hell, yeah!” Why hadn’t he seen the connection for himself?
“So, now what?”
”So, now I can’t see any way to avoid losing my partner!”
“Hang on, hang on. Back up a minute here. Why do you assume you’re gonna lose her?”
Rick sighed and looked intently at his shoes. “Yesterday things were finally getting back to normal – I mean, we still needed to work some things out – but instead I ended up kissing her again. Now I don’t know how I’m supposed to work beside her pretending that I don’t want to do it again. At least last time I had six weeks to get the feeling under control.”
“Try that again and you’ll end up right back where you’ve been all week. Providing you survive the initial explosion again.”
The mental picture of his usually even-tempered partner exploding in a fit of rage and taking him out with her gun gave him a momentary smile. “So what do I do?”
“Do you love her?”
And there lay the crux of his dilemma. Trust Charlie cut so easily through all his prevaricating. Against all his better judgement, despite everything he’d been trying to convince himself of for the past three years – longer, if he was being honest with himself – he was in love with his partner. “Yes.”
“And she feels the same.” It was more a statement than a question.
“Yeah, I think so.” Self-doubt niggled at him. “I mean, I guess so …”
Charlie cut him off with a chop of his hand. “Oh, come on Hunter! Of course she does! You can’t be that blind!” Startled out of his slumber by Charlie’s sudden outburst, Harry uncurled himself and gave both men a look of icy disdain before stalking huffily away to find somewhere quieter to sleep. Charlie continued in a quieter tone. “OK, you love her, she loves you. So where’s the problem? Are you worried that the relationship might not work?”
“Actually, no.” Hunter was surprised to discover that this was the truth, but on some level he’d long suspected Dee Dee was ‘the one’.
“Well then what?”
“For a start, McCall wants more from life than just being a cop. She wants a home, a family. I can’t give her that. And I can’t ask her to give up those dreams.”
“Surely that’s her decision. She might not see it as giving something up. And you could change your mind.”
“Maybe. But there’s still Steve standing between us.”
Charlie was puzzled. “What do you mean?”
“A long time ago we had this conversation, out of the blue almost, about how she’d never get involved with a cop again. Losing Steve was too painful. ‘He won’t be a cop,’ was what she said. At the time, I figured it as her way of telling me that we’d never be an item.”
“You said yourself that was a long time ago. Things have changed between the two of you, they have to have done after so many years of being partners. Whether or not you’re a couple, losing each other would painful. She must realize that. Don’t buy yourself more trouble than you’ve already got.”
“You’re right. I know that.”
Charlie quirked an eyebrow. “But? I know you, Rick. I know there’s more.”
“Well, OK then. There’s this – me sitting here telling you all about it. If McCall and I do decide to take the risk you’ll split us up. So any you look at it I lose my partner.”
Charlie frowned. “Why would I split the two of you up?”
“Departmental rules. I mean, Visser and Reno …”
“I think you should actually read the Department regs. Section 271 states that as long as a relationship doesn’t involve the chain-of-command it’s none of the department’s business who you see in your private life. I’m assuming you and McCall are mature enough adults to keep your hands off each other during working hours?”
Hunter nodded dumbly, then opened his mouth to protest again. Charlie cut him off.
“ … and as for Visser and Reno, getting caught by Commander Stone doing ‘the wild thing’ on the table in interrogation room 2 is not the way to keep things discrete.”
“You’re kidding me!”
Charlie shook his head. “So is that it? You run out of reasons why you can’t be together?
“Yeah. Thanks, Charlie.”
“So get out of here and go convince McCall.”
Hunter stood. “Can’t I just send her over here. You’re much better at this.”
Charlie opened the door. “Just get going. And remember – keep it quiet at work. I’m going to lose out on the office pool if anyone finds out you two aren’t already a couple.”
“There’s an office pool about me and McCall?”
“Geez, Hunter! And you call yourself a detective? Now beat it. I want good news on Monday.”
Dee Dee lay on her back staring at the ceiling, knowing she should get up. There were dozens of things she could be doing with her Saturday, and a lot of things she should have been doing. None of them involved lying in bed for half the day – at least not alone.
Despite her best intentions sleep had been elusive. When it finally came it was full of dreams. Gentle at first. Memories of Steve and the two years they had been together. But then the dreams changed and could still feel the pain of the months following his death. The black hole in her chest where her heart had been that threatened to suck her into its depths, mercifully numbing everything, but never quite succeeded. The often contradictory sensation of having been torn in half, a raw a ragged wound where the better part of herself used to be. And in the haze of agony the vision of Steve, smiling at first, then screaming in pain. Only then it wasn’t Steve at all. It was Rick.
With a groan she rolled out of bed. She didn’t need Tate to tell her she was afraid of losing Rick the way she’d lost Steve. She glanced at the phone, wanting suddenly to talk to Rick and make sure he was alright. She needed to know how things stood between them. But she knew he would only stonewall until he was ready to talk.
Maybe a bath would help. A nice, long, hot, frothy bath. And this time I’ll lock the bathroom door, too. With Rick’s immaculate sense of timing he’d probably decide it was time to talk the minute she was in the tub, and she’d need more armour than a towel or a wash cloth before she faced that.
With a sigh she lay back in the fragrant bubbles, her body relaxing in the soothing warmth. Her mind refused to cooperate, though. So what do I really want? I want for none of this to be happening. I want things to be the way they used to between us before we slept together. So what if I love him? That doesn’t have to mean that I’m in love with him. She slid beneath the water with a groan. If she couldn’t even lie to herself about how she felt about Rick how could she do it to his face? While every part of her nature told her she needed to act, not wait passively for Rick to take the initiative, a stronger instinct told her to be patient. She was still half hoping that Rick would eventually come and tell her that the kiss had been a mistake. That he had just been caught up in the moment again.
Half-convinced that she was right she resurfaced, wiping water and bubbles from her eyes, resolved to wait patiently. Breathing deeply she forced herself to relax. After a few minutes it began to work and she could feel her brain wind down a notch or two, the tension in her limbs unknot. That was more like it. Rick who? she thought with some satisfaction.
As if in response to her silent query she heard a pounding on the front door. Yep, some things never change. Rick’s timing was as impeccable as ever. She reached out and snagged her towel and was about to leave her warm, soothing haven when she thought, No. By the time I get there he’ll have let himself in anyway, so why should I? She’d given him a key largely to stop him shooting and/or kicking her door in when he thought she was in trouble, and by the sound of the hammering he was about ready to do so. She remembered the other times he had burst in on her in the bath, and kept a firm grip on her towel.
“McCall!” He sounded panicked. Probably had his gun drawn, too.
“In here,” she called.
“Why didn’t you answer your door?” he demanded loudly.
“Because I’m in the bath,” she shouted back.
“I can see that.”
She jumped as she found him standing in the suddenly open doorway. How does he do that? He stood there grinning at her.
“So did you come here to watch me take a bath, or did you actually want something?”
“We need to talk. But I’m happy to wait here until you’re done.”
She rolled her eyes at him. Typical! He runs the minute things get intimate, but he’s happy to stand there making jokes while he ogles me. Aggravating man. The thought of him watching her didn’t entirely displease her. Not that she’d ever admit that to him. “Get out of here,” she said instead, waving her hand at him.
With a last leer he retreated, closing the door behind him. Once she was certain he had gone she rose, wrapping the towel around her and stepping carefully out of the tub. I can do this, she assured herself, cinching the belt of her bathrobe tightly around her waist. She paused with a hand on the doorknob to take a deep, steadying breath before facing her fears.
He was standing in front of her piano, gazing at the framed photos on top of it, a faint smile on his face. Many of the photos were of the two of them. He turned as she approached and her anxiety level cranked up a notch. Things were going to change today, one way or another. There was no way back.
“Look, I’m gonna just
leap in here. Can you just let me
talk? Then if I’m making a
complete fool of myself here we’ll both pretend I never said a word.”
She nodded, her eyes dark and serious.
“And one more thing. Please, don’t look at me like that.”
“That. I can’t think straight when you do that.”
She shrugged, confused. “Sure.”
“OK. For a start, I’m sorry about last night. I promised myself that I wouldn’t kiss you again, not after the way it almost messed things up between us last time. But then you were standing there looking at me that way, I just couldn’t stop myself. Anyway, I spent the rest of the night awake thinking about us. I meant what I said yesterday in Tate’s office – I don’t want to lose my partner. I love you, you know that, right?”
She nodded, but didn’t look at him. “Yeah.”
He stepped closer and cupped her face in his hand, stroking her cheek with his thumb. “That’s never gonna change. No matter where we end up next.” He let his hand drop then backed away to give them both some space. “But I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t want more.” He watched her carefully, trying to gauge her reaction, but she continued to stare at the floor. “If you don’t want the same thing …”
Dee Dee looked up at him now, and he was totally unprepared for the level of fear reflected in her eyes. “It’s not that I don’t want more with you, Rick,” she said softly. “It’s just that I’m afraid. I couldn’t bear to lose you.”
“I’m scared of the same things. I know what it’s like to lose someone you love. But we’ve got an advantage that Steve never had.”
“We’ve got each other’s backs. I could never trust someone else to cover you like I do, and I wouldn’t trust anyone else to watch my back like you do.”
“But what happens if that’s not enough?”
“I’m not gonna lie and tell you that won’t ever happen. It is a dangerous world out there whether or not we’re cops. There are no guarantees in anything. But if you don’t take a chance of being happy then what’s the point of anything?”
She still didn’t look convinced so he stepped closer and took hold of her shoulders, forcing her to look at him. “Let me ask you this – if you could go back in time to when you’d only just met Steve, knowing what you know now, would you give him up? Give up the good times to spare yourself the pain?”
She was silent for a moment, seriously considering his words. “No. I guess I wouldn’t.”
He almost breathed a sigh of relief. “Good. Because we’ve already survived some pretty bad times, and we’ve got a helluva lot more good times still to come.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” she said softly, a tired smile on her lips. She leaned into him, resting her forehead against his shoulder. His arms wrapped firmly around her.
He wanted to kiss her now, before she could come up with any other arguments, but there was one more subject he needed to broach first. “There’s one other thing I want you to think about for me. I know that a family is something that you’ve always wanted. Now, I’d never ask you to give up that dream, but I’m not sure I could give you that. I mean, let’s face it, I’ve already got a teenage son who would prefer never to have met me. Any more might be really tempting fate.”
“Aren’t you getting a little ahead of yourself here?” she teased, suddenly grinning at him.
“Maybe. But once I’ve got you I don’t plan on ever letting you go again.”
Her grin faded as they studied each other, both contemplating the enormity of the decision they were making. “I think,” she began at last, “that we should take it one step at a time.” She lay her hand against his cheek, unconsciously mimicking his earlier caress. “Besides, you could change your mind.”
He gave a short bark of a laugh. “Charlie said the same thing.”
“What?” Her hand dropped and she took a step back.
“You talked to Charlie about this?” Her eyes were spitting fire again.
“Lookit, I was going round in circles all night. I needed someone to convince me I wasn’t about to pound a stake through our partnership.”
“Then why the hell did you talk to Charlie? He’s probably already organizing new partners for us!”
He captured her in his arms again. “Will you relax? He’s not going to split us up.”
“Why wouldn’t he?”
“Because there’s nothing in the regs that says he has to – as long as we’re discrete about it. You know, we really should read them sometime.” He felt her relax into his embrace again for a moment.
“But what about …”
He shut her up with a kiss. “I’ll tell you about them later,” he murmured.
Much later he lay on his back, dozing, Dee Dee half sprawled across his chest. He felt her stir and prop herself up above him. He opened his eyes to find her watching him, a serious expression in her dark eyes. “You OK,” he asked.
She nodded. “I guess this changes everything, huh?”
“No. Not really.” He wound his fingers through her hair and drew her closer for another long kiss. Eventually she pulled back. “What were you going to tell me about Visser and Reno?”
“Huh? Oh. Well, let me just say this: Reno and Visser, interrogation room 2 table, Commander Stone.”
“Oh.” She though about it for a moment. “Ewww.”
“Yeah. Don’t ever be tempted to eat lunch in there.”
“So does this mean I have to keep my hands to myself when we’re at work?”
“I’m afraid so, Sergeant.”