chapter nine

At 7:24 a.m., Rebecca held up her identification to the impersonal eye of the video surveillance camera again and motioned to Watts to do the same.

"What is this, Mission Impossible?" he grumbled. Looking over his shoulder, he added, "Uh oh. Looks like we have a babysitting assignment on top of everything else."

"That's not we," Rebecca reminded him, turning her back to the camera as she followed his gaze. Lowering her voice to avoid being overheard by the audio she felt sure was connected to the camera, she whispered, "You're just here as an invited guest, remember? Try not to say anything when we get upstairs. If I know the feds, it will all be taped."

"Hey!" He tried to look offended, but he was aware that Frye was stepping outside of channels to bring him in on this, and he was grateful. He wasn't foolish enough to think it was because she felt any special friendship for him, but just the fact that she let him ride along was enough for him.

A young uniformed officer approached, her smooth unlined face set in a determined expression. She looked as if she were about to salute when she came to a smart stop in front of them. "Detective Sergeant Frye?" At Rebecca's nod, she continued, "I'm Dellon Mitchell from the one eight. The duty Sergeant told me I was to report to you here."

"Did he say why?" Rebecca asked, trying not to allow her annoyance to show. She absolutely did not have time to keep an eye out for a rookie, even though the uniform looked a little older than the usual recent academy graduate. In fact, something about the younger woman looked familiar.

"He just said..." Mitchell hesitated, looking uncomfortable for the first time. Then she squared her shoulders and continued, "He said you would need a clerk, ma'am."

"Ouch—sounds like you’ve been sat down," Watts observed with a chuckle. “What did you do, kid? Forget to shine your shoes?"

"No, sir. I –"

"Never mind that, Mitchell," Rebecca interrupted curtly. "If this is where you've been assigned, that's good enough for now."

She turned back to the video camera and said in a firm tone, "Philadelphia PD. Three to come up."

Without the slightest hint of crackle or electronic interference, a male voice said from the invisible speaker, "Good morning, Sergeant. Please come ahead, and welcome aboard."


They were silent on the ride up, although Watts snorted derisively at the elaborate security measures throughout the building, muttering colorfully about spy games and cop wanna-bes as he peered about. When they exited the elevator directly into a brightly lit, wide-open room that was sectioned off by partial walls of glass and steel and filled with surveillance equipment and computers, he said, "What the hell is this place?"

From their left a man said, "This is the tech center for Sloan Security Services." Nodding to the group, and giving no sign that he was perplexed by the unexpected presence of Watts, he stretched out a hand toward Rebecca. "Avery Clark. Justice."

"Rebecca Frye," she replied, assessing him quickly. Standard government issue—somewhere between thirty-five and forty, brown hair, dark steel-framed glasses, conservative hair cut, well-tailored but conventional suit, dark tie, white shirt. Wedding ring, hip holster, sharp eyes. And he'd been briefed. He didn't make the mistake of thinking that Watts was in charge, but had addressed himself to Rebecca. She gestured to the others with her. "Detective Watts and Officer Mitchell."

"Detective, Officer," he added as he shook both their hands, then turned, saying, "The briefing's down the hall. Coffee and such there, too."

"Very fancy," Watts observed dryly.

Rebecca said nothing. It was Clark's show.


The conference room was in the corner of the third floor, walled on two sides in floor to ceiling glass and outfitted with sleek Bauhaus furniture. The occupants who awaited them looked right at home in the high-tech, urban surroundings. Rebecca nodded to the civilians she'd met the day before. As previously, Sloan appeared deceptively casual at first glance, in jeans again, this time with a white oxford shirt, sleeves rolled up, and ankle-high leather boots. But her eyes were lasers, scanning everything, on high alert. The amazingly handsome man at her side gave off a lazy aura of insouciance, but Rebecca had no doubt that he was just as sharp. Interesting pair. Watts gave them both a suspicious nod when introduced, and then they all filed past a counter in the corner for drinks and food and eventually migrated to seats around the granite-topped table.

Clark walked to the head of the table and set a cup of coffee on the smooth surface. Smiling, he looked at the group. "Everybody get coffee, something to eat?"

There were a few grunts and one clear, Yes, sir. Watts gave Mitchell a look that suggested she needn't be so polite.

"So." He sipped his coffee. Suddenly his smile disappeared. "This is what we know. Six weeks ago an international web-monitoring group called the Action Coalition Against the Exploitation of Children, whose members surf the Internet looking for child pornography activity of any kind, alerted us to a number of references concerning a real-time child sex ring operating, and apparently broadcasting, from this area."

"How'd the watch-dog group pick up on it?" Sloan asked.

"Chat rooms. Unfortunately, nothing too specific—just enough for them to realize there was a live feed somewhere in the Northeast. As you may know, most of the organized distribution of sex material on the internet occurs through private bulletin boards, and they're all carefully screened, password controlled, and often encrypted. If you aren’t a member, you don’t have access."

"Whoa—" Watts interrupted, ignoring the swift look from Rebecca implying that he shut up. "You want to translate that? I still can't figure out how to put the paper in the fax machine."

Clark regarded him expressionlessly. He'd had plenty of experience dealing with local law enforcement, and he was used to the obstacles, resistance and outright obstructionism that was almost ritual. This guy had the look of old-school hard ass written all over him. "There are two kinds of internet pornography activity. The most wide spread is the kind of stuff that anyone can find easily—chat rooms, mostly. People meet there, try to connect for sex, and even try to set up f-to-f—“

“Huh?” Watts asked, looking dazed. This time it wasn’t an act.

“Face to face,” Jason remarked quietly. “In person.”

“Right—sorry,” Clark added. “Real life assignations—dates for sex. Nothing wrong with that, unless it happens to be an adult looking to hook up with a minor. That’s where we come in.” He glanced at the expressions of the individuals seated around the table. Everyone was alert, watching him, waiting with more than a hint of reservation. He was used to being viewed with suspicion by the locals--hell, not even the locals always--sometimes by other federal agents. Unperturbed, he continued, “At any rate, those kinds of open channels usually prevent file trading, so guys who want pics, and most serious pedophiles do, usually trade privately after they initially connect in a chat room. Until the last ten years, kiddie porn was pretty much limited to still pics and homemade videos. Distribution was via the good old US Mail, and it was geographically restricted to interstate distribution as opposed to internationally. Getting tapes through Customs is tricky, although a lot easier in Europe than here."

"I thought we were expecting someone from Customs," Rebecca asked quietly when he paused. The young officer, Mitchell, who was sitting to her right, was taking notes on one of a stack of pads that had been scattered over the wide stone surface. Sloan and McBride looked quietly intent, but she had a feeling that none of this was news to them. It shouldn’t be, if the Internet was their street and they were any good at what they did.

"I told them we'd keep them informed if it looked like we were going to move into their territory,” Clark replied casually. “They've got their hands full with the terrorists."

Politics, Rebecca thought, but she merely nodded.

"Anyhow," the Justice agent went on, "with new digital technology, the game has changed. High quality images can be uploaded and transmitted anywhere almost instantaneously. That's the venue of the other form of trafficking in child pornography—image production and procurement. It's a much more covert, highly organized, and sophisticated operation. There are bulletin boards that screen members, authenticate identities--or at least aliases, which most subjects use--and limit access to those with passwords or electronic keys. This is where most of the image exchange occurs. And this is where we'll find a way to break into this network. The Internet is a superhighway running directly right from one bedroom to the next." He looked pointedly at Sloan. "Internet law enforcement is way behind the perps in terms of expertise. The private sector has a head start on us in terms of the ability to find and infiltrate these sites, but if anyone repeats that, I'll deny I ever said it."

Sloan, Rebecca noticed, smiled, but her blue eyes were dark with something unrequited. Old scores, still unsettled? Rebecca'd run a check on both the security consultant and her associate, McBride, the previous afternoon because she was certain that the Justice department hadn't hired them without cause. Interestingly, she'd drawn blanks on most of her inquiries. Not blanks, exactly. Gaps. Erasures. Missing data. Sloan Security Consultants had filed taxes for the last four years; Sloan and McBride were registered to vote; their credit records were clean; their driver's licenses unbesmirched; and their pasts a complete cipher. They might have been born four years ago. That had the smell of ex-Agency all over it. If she had to guess, she'd guess Justice. Because both of them looked like the kind of whiz kids the government hired right out of college to do the kinds of things the old guard wasn't equipped to do. Just like what they were doing now. Rebecca was curious--because she was a cop, because she would be working with them, and because she needed to know who she could trust. Sloan had given her some intel the day before, and she hadn't had to. That was a point for her, but it was too soon to tell how far that cooperation would extend. Traditionally, local and federal officers didn't mesh well. And now Sloan was technically neither. Rebecca flicked her gaze back to Clark.

"Why involve us at this stage?" she asked. "It could take months before you get a solid lead." Unless there's something you're not telling us. And there always is.

Clark nodded. "Because we want to cover every contingency. I don't need to tell you that child prostitution and child pornography go hand in hand. Once someone has access to kids for sale, they usually take the next step toward photographing the sex and selling that, too. You busted up a couple of kiddie rackets not long ago, didn't you?"

"Small time houses—no big connections. At least none that we could find then."

"We're betting that they're there. It's another place to look. With those cases and the info from the watch dog groups that I’ll be giving to Sloan and McBride, we’ve already narrowed the search and cut out weeks of web trawling. If you dig around in the background of the guys you busted; talk to your contacts—" he stopped, grinned disarmingly. "Sorry. You know what to do without me spelling it out."

"Sure," Rebecca replied dryly while across from her Watts huffed. She shot him another look.

"Let me wrap this up then," Clark added smoothly, ignoring Watts. "A few big busts have been made in the last five years. Two international clubs—the Wonderland Club and the Orchid Club—each with network members in the United States, Australia, Canada and Europe, were infiltrated by members of various police agencies. There were several hundred arrests and thousands of images and videos confiscated. The problem with this approach is that it's hit or miss, and even when you make an arrest, it's only hitting the bottom of the food chain. Pedophiles watching porn in the safety of their own homes. If it weren't for the fact that the material featured kids, it probably wouldn't even be illegal." His expression became starkly predatory, and for the first time, his charming mask slipped. "We're not after the guy looking at dirty pictures in his bathroom. We're after the businessmen who are sitting around a boardroom just like this one right now planning on how to make even more money off the sale of children. What want to know who’s behind it, how they’re getting the kids, and where they’re broadcasting their real time images from."

Business men. A nice word for organized crime, Rebecca thought. So why am I here and not someone from the OC division? This doesn't add up. She knew, however, that that was not the kind of question you asked. Like a lawyer who was taught never to ask a question they didn’t know the answer to, a cop knew never to let on that there was something they didn’t know.

"Technically any information which leads to an arrest needs to be documented and a chain of evidence recorded. The detectives should make out contact reports recording any intel from informants, per usual. Officer Mitchell can take care of organizing that. In addition, a log of all internet activity, any leads generated by that route, and any street follow-up instituted needs to be charted."

Jason spoke up. "That's not really possible." And definitely not even desirable. "Some avenues of investigation are too...uh...fluid to document."

Sloan smiled. Fluid. Only Jason could come up with that term to describe the fact that in a few hours they'd be hacking their brains out, breaking into anything and everything they could, including government databases and private systems.

"I'm sure you'll give her the salient details," Clark concluded easily.

Sure, Sloan thought. And we'll take the heat for anything construed later as illegal. Which explains why Justice isn't using their own people, even if they do have someone who could do the job. Surprise. So nice to know the Agency hasn't changed. Disavow all knowledge…and on and on and on.

"Since this is a joint venture with the Philadelphia PD and our department, I'll leave the day to day decisions up to Detective Sergeant Frye. Keep me informed of any major developments. We'll brief every few days. More often if things start rolling." He glanced at his watch. "I've got another appointment. Any questions?"

"Yeah," Watts replied. "I missed what you said about what you'll be doing in this operation."

"If the trail leads across state lines it becomes federal, so it seemed prudent for us to be in on the investigation from the start."

Rebecca met Watts' gaze for the first time. His expression was blank but his eyes spoke for him. He knew as well as she did that Clark knew much more than he was saying.

chapter ten

The five of them left at the table when Clark walked out remained in silence for a moment. Clark had implied that Rebecca was in charge of the nuts and bolts aspects of the operation, yet there they all sat in the middle of Sloan's territory. Rebecca and Sloan looked at one another across the expanse of smooth black stone. Watts and Jason watched them. Officer Mitchell stared straight ahead, her eyes fixed somewhere over the Delaware River.

"What's your plan?" Rebecca asked finally. There was no point in drawing lines in the sand over false issues. She and Watts couldn't do what Sloan and McBride could. Chances were they'd never even get to the point of arresting anyone. Clark was after something with this fishing expedition, she had no doubt of that, but there was more smoke in the room now than before the briefing.

"This kind of Internet surveillance op isn't new," Sloan said with a shrug. "And like Clark said, it usually involves a huge number of man hours for something that often produces short-lived results."

"Like busting hookers," Watts remarked. "No percentage in it."


"So why hasn't he given you a dozen people to sit here and surf the internet—flood the system and maximize his returns?" Rebecca persisted.

"Can't say. It's costly, there aren't that many computer savvy agents readily available, or..." she considered her words carefully, because she didn't know the blond cop at all. She was bothered by that fact as well, had been since the first phone call had come from Washington asking her to head up the computer side of the investigation. "He wants to limit the number of people exposed to the operation."

Rebecca nodded. That played with her sense that there was a hidden agenda beneath the stated objectives of the investigation. And there was nothing to do but do the job and keep her eyes open. "Did he give you anything specific to work with?"

"Actually, yes," Sloan affirmed. "There are probably 100,000 sites that supply child sex images world wide. Many of them link to credit-card transaction and on-line billing sites that take Visa, MasterCard, and AmEx. When you trace them through their domain registry, they turn out to be in the Balkans or Bali or some other even more remote locale."

"Untouchable," Jason commented.

"Right," Sloan agreed. "A more profitable place to search is the web-hosting companies. Most porn sites are explicit about their content when they register with a server—you know, clever names like and Justice's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section has given us a prescreened list of potential US-based companies that specialize in porn sites. I'll start there, looking for intersecting references to anything in the Northeast corridor as points of origin. If there is a big supplier, particularly a live feed line somewhere local, we'll get a whiff of it eventually."

"Sounds simple," Watts commented dryly. "What's the catch?"

"There's an international network of Web resellers who buy and sell space on hosting frames. They can cloak the site content so it's not so conspicuous to broad searches."

"And that's what we're looking for, right?" Rebecca asked. "A central clearing house."

Sloan nodded, an appreciative glint in her eye at Rebecca's quick assessment. "Yes. That's very high up on our list of desirable intel. While I do the broad sweeps, Jason will try for individual contacts."

Watts regarded the only other man in the room sympathetically, feeling an instant kinship with him based on that fact alone. “Jeez, you’re gonna pretend to be a perv?” he asked.

“Sometimes,” Jason replied flatly. “The rest of the time I’m going to pretend to be a girl.”

“We’re going to go at this from every angle we can,” Sloan affirmed, shooting Jason a bemused smile that no one else noticed.

Rebecca stood. "Is there someplace here where Mitchell can set up shop for us?" She didn't add that she wanted a place where she could discuss the street side of things with Watts privately, but she didn't imagine she needed to. Sloan was too sharp not to know that no one shares everything, ever.

"I'll show you," Jason offered. "There's another meeting room you can have at the other end of the floor. It's small, but the coffee machine works."

"It'll be fine," Rebecca acknowledged. "Thanks." She glanced at Sloan. "The first time you get a hint of anything that even vaguely connects to here, let me know."

"No problem."


When Jason left them in a conference room that made anything at the one-eight look like a slum, Rebecca said, "Mitchell, take ten. We'll discuss your assignment when you get back."

"Yes ma'am. I'll be back in ten. Bring you anything?"

"No thanks. How many open cases do you have?" Rebecca asked Watts when the uniform left. "Because officially, you aren't even on this case."

"Nothing pressing. A few follow-up interviews, two coming to trial, and those cold files I've been slugging through." He hiked a hip up unto the corner of another sleek tabletop, the fabric of his shiny brown suit stretching over his ample middle. "I thought were just supposed to be the contact person when these eggheads find something. If they find something."

"That's what Henry said," Rebecca agreed. "I think we're all going fishing for Avery Clark, and I don't like that too much. Let's poke around and see if we can find out what he really wants us to catch."

"You think it's Zamora?" Watts asked flatly, watching her carefully. Nicholas Zamora was the head of the local organized crime syndicate, and he had been amazingly successful at avoiding prosecution. So successful that most cops believed he had friends in high places.

"I don't think anything," Rebecca replied steadily.

"Wouldn't it be a bite in the ass if Zamora goes down for selling dirty pictures after all the times we've tried to nail him for drugs and racketeering. Justice is a funny thing sometimes." His expression was one of happy expectation.

"Don't jump to conclusions, and don't talk this up at the squad," she warned sharply. I don't want another...partner...winding up dead.

"Wouldn't think of it," he replied. “Especially if chasing around for you keeps me from hunting down weenie waggers in the park. Can you get me some slack with the Cap?"

She considered her options, and they were slim. Officially this was a desk job for her. Talking to the feds, coordinating with the computer cops, and sitting on her ass until something happened. Which might be never. "I could probably justify some time for you on this by telling him I need you to run down the guys Jeff and I put away in that kiddie prostitution bust last spring. Find out if any of them are out of jail yet. Shake them down for some names. Go through the paperwork—you might even dig something up that would give us a lead."

"Good enough for me," Watts said. "I don’t suppose whatever we're going to be doing is going into the rookie's log book.”

She just looked at him.

“Right. I’m ready,” he said more seriously. “Just give me the word."

"Go ahead and start on it," she said as a discreet cough from the doorway to the conference room announced the uniform's return. "I'll call you later."

"What're you gonna be doing?" he asked as he ambled toward the door.

She didn't answer. He hadn't expected her to. It would be a long time—maybe never—before she confided in him. Some cops never accepted another partner after one was killede. Didn't want to take the risk of losing another, or as in her case, most likely, they could only form that kind of attachment once in a lifetime. He put his hands in his pockets, walked to the elevator, and tried not to be bothered by her secrets.


"Come in, Mitchell," Rebecca said as she slid open a drawer under the counter that held an automatic coffee machine and discovered prepackaged coffee packets of a better than average brand. She didn't speak again until she had poured water into the coffee pot from the cooler in the corner of the room. Then she turned to face the officer who was standing just inside the room, shoulders back, hands straight down at her sides. It was a posture most young officers assumed when dealing with superiors, but on her it looked a lot more natural.

"What did you do before you were a cop?" Rebecca asked, walking to the windows and glancing at the view. Breathtaking. For an instant she thought of Catherine, and wondered what she was doing at that moment. She looked away from the pristine sky and glistening water.

"I was in the Army, ma'am."


"No, ma'am. Second Lieutenant."

"West Point?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Serve long?"

A tightening of the muscles along her jaw which might have gone unnoticed, but Rebecca was looking for it. "No, ma'am. Just over a year."

Rebecca studied her, noting the faint bruise on her left cheek that was more obvious in the sunlight coming through the windows than it had been previously.

"How long have you been on the force?"

"Eight months."

Allowing for her time in the academy, she was probably in her mid-twenties, which was about how old she looked. Rebecca poured herself a cup of coffee. "Have some coffee, Mitchell."

Mitchell glanced at her, surprised. "Thank you, ma—"

"And you can relax. Save the sirs and all for the brass. They like it. The rest of us are just cops, okay?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"So. Want to tell me what your situation is?" She could find out, and eventually she'd take a look at the kid's file, but she wanted to hear it from her. You could tell a lot about a person by the way they explained their problems.

"I've been taken off street duty while the review board investigates a complaint against me," Mitchell answered immediately.

Which probably means someone in the department is covering their ass instead of supporting one of our own. If Mitchell has done anything even remotely prosecutable, they'd have suspended her, not just reassigned her. "Justifiable?"

"I subdued a suspect with force. He's complaining."

Well, that explains the bruise. Very smart answer, too. She isn't excusing herself, and she isn't admitting guilt. If she survives this inquiry, she's got a future in the department. Rebecca sipped her coffee. "Okay. This assignment will probably be deadly boring, but it's what you've drawn. For the moment, you'll be based here. If Sloan or McBride need you to do anything for them, go ahead. You can run backgrounds for them at the one-eight if there's something they can't find out for themselves."

"I doubt they'll need that," Mitchell remarked. "They're hackers."

"Yeah, that's what I figured, too. But just the same, if they need something that could later be construed as chain of evidence, try to make it look official. Go through channels and keep some kind of log so we know what the hell we have to work with if we ever need to get a warrant."


"I'll be in and out. Page me if something comes up."

"Yes, ma'am" For the first time Mitchell looked uneasy. "I have to report for my psych eval three times a week until I'm cleared. I'll advise you of—"

"Just go, Mitchell," Rebecca said brusquely. I know all about it. With any luck we won't run into each other in Whitaker's waiting room.

Mitchell stiffened at the change in the detective's tone. "Yes, ma'am. Understood."

"Hopefully, we'll all be off this duty in a week or so. Be here at seven-thirty tomorrow." She tossed her cup in the trash and walked out, leaving Mitchell to stare after her. She had three hours to kill before her appointment with the psychologist. It was too early in the day to find the people she wanted to talk to, and she admitted to herself as she rode swiftly down on the silent elevator that the only person she really wanted to see at the moment had nothing to do with the investigation.

chapter eleven

Catherine Rawlings stepped away from the group of residents and looked at the readout on her pager, then walked to a wall phone and dialed the number.

"This is Doctor Rawlings."

"Any chance you're free for lunch?"

Smiling, she turned her back to the hallway and lowered her voice. "Where are you?"

"In the lobby."

She was aware of her heart beating faster and a faint stirring within, and the fact that the mere sound of Rebecca's voice could do that to her was astounding. And a little frightening, too. The newness of anyone affecting her quite so much would take some getting used to. "Damn. I can't. I scheduled an extra patient session right before I have to go to the outpatient clinic. I'm sorry."

"That's okay. I was just in the neighborhood," Rebecca replied quickly. She glanced around the lobby and rolled her shoulders, trying to shake out some of the tension. The frustration she'd felt upon awakening that morning on Catherine's couch just as dawn had begun to cast the room in a gray pall lingered still. She'd opened her eyes, struggled to remember where she was and how she'd gotten there, and finally realized that yet again she had fallen asleep, leaving Catherine hanging. By the time she'd stumbled, still stiff and groggy to the bedroom, Catherine's alarm was going off and they'd barely had time to say good morning before rushing to shower, dress and head off to work. She missed her, and worse, she had the uneasy feeling she was letting down her end of...things. Again. Fuck.

"Dinner?" Catherine asked into the silence. She wanted to ask her if she was working, and what she was doing, and how she was feeling, but she resisted, not wanting to burden this spontaneous moment with her own uncertainty and unease.

"Sure. Page me when you're finished tonight."

"I have patients, and then an appointment. Is nine too late?"

"It's fine." The detective hesitated, then added, "About last night—I won't make a habit of crashing before the appetizers—"

"No, really," Catherine interjected, glancing at her watch. "It's all right. Hell, I have to go—"

"Right. I'll see you later then."


Five floors apart, they each stood still for a moment, holding a phone with only a dial tone, considering the things they had left unsaid.


CSI Chief Dee Flanagan didn't look up at the sound of footsteps approaching across the tile floor of her lab. Carefully, she pipetted an aliquot of fluid containing an emulsion of the material scraped off the bottom of a murder suspect's shoe into a centrifuge tube. If she were right, there'd be trace amounts of a very specific high-grade motor oil in the supernatant that would match the composition of the brand in the victim's Ferrari. Because the murderer stepped in the oil puddle when he'd crossed the garage on his way to crushing in the back of the victim's skull with a tire iron. Not a very inventive means of dispatching his neighbor--a fellow who was apparently spending the afternoons in bed with his wife--but then murder was so rarely clever. The gas chromatography analysis would confirm the match, placing the suspect at the scene. Not enough for an arrest in and of itself, but another link in the chain. Another piece in the puzzle fit neatly into place. Dropping the tube into the centrifuge cradle, still without turning toward the intruder, she said into the quiet room, "I don't have anything for you yet, and I won't for another two hours. If you keep bugging me, it's going to be tomorrow. And don't touch anything."

"I haven't been gone that long," Rebecca remarked dryly, standing as she always did when in Flanagan's lab—with her hands safely in her pockets. "I know the drill."

Flanagan, the forty-year old forensic chief, small and wiry and a head shorter than Rebecca, known to be notoriously short-tempered, turned toward her visitor with undisguised delight. "I'll be damned. Frye." She held out her hand. "Maggie said she saw you at the gym. You back in the saddle?"

Rebecca took her hand, grinning. "Looks like."

"Good. Maybe those monkeys in your division will get some cases solved for a change."

"Thanks—I think."

Flanagan gestured toward a small cubicle adjoing the sparkling, equipment-filled room. "Come on into the office—I know you didn't drop by just to be sociable."

Rebecca followed her. "I need to catch up on a few things. I figured you'd be the one to ask."

Flanagan gave her a wary glance as she settled behind her surprisingly messy desk. In sharp contrast to the rest of her domain, which was obsessively organized, her private office was apparent chaos. However, she knew precisely where every piece of paper, dental model and crime scene mock-up resided, and woe to the unwary cleaning person who dared move anything a micrometer. "You're going to start poking around in things again, aren't you?"

"Just getting up to speed," Rebecca replied neutrally, eying the one chair piled with copies of the Journal of Forensic Pathology and concluding it would be safest to remain standing.

"In the two months you've been gone, Frye, I haven't gotten senile. And the only open case I can think of that you might be interested in is a double homicide that someone would like to see forgotten."

"Two dead cops," Rebecca said softly, her expression darkening. "Jimmy Hogan and Jeff Cruz. I have to ask myself, why hasn't the department been turning the city upside down to find out who killed them? Every day while I lay up there in that hospital bed I waited for someone to come and talk to me about it. One of the Homicide dicks to question me, to fill me in, or to ask me about Jeff's cases. Nothing."

Flanagan nodded as she leaned back in her chair and regarded the tall cop steadily. "I know that Cruz was your partner, but maybe you didn't know him as well as you think."

"Don't play games with me, Flanagan. If you've got something to say, spit it out," Rebecca said, her tone lethally cold. She respected the CSI chief, and over the years had grown to like her, but Jeff Cruz had been her partner. No one came before him in her allegiance; no one except Catherine.

"I'm not the enemy here, Frye," Flanagan pointed out in what was for her a reasonable tone. "You may not realize it, but those homicides are open cases on my books, too. Even if they weren't cops, I'd want to find the perp." When Rebecca didn't reply, but merely regarded her with a flat opaque gaze, she exhaled slowly and continued. "There's been  some not so quiet speculation that Jimmy Hogan was dirty. He'd been working underground in the Zamora organization a long time. He had no family, no real friends, and even his bosses didn't always know what he was doing. His files are so thin you can see through them."

"Yeah. He was a perfect undercover agent. For that he gets this from us in return?" Rebecca commented bitterly, expecting no reply. Where is the famous solidarity of the Thin Blue Line now? Bastards.

 "But he did call Jeff Cruz. More than once."

"They were training partners when they got out of the academy. Then Jimmy went to Narco and Jeff to Vice. But they had history."

"That may be it, Frye. I'm just telling you what I've heard."

"So what's the theory?" Rebecca asked tiredly. "That Jimmy went bad, enticed Jeff with—what? Money? Jeff and Shelly lived in a starter home, for Christ's sake. He drove a ten year old Mustang."

"Did you get anything solid from Hogan's intel?" Flanagan asked, ignoring the questions no one could answer.

"Not much," Rebecca admitted. "Supposedly, he had gotten on to something involving the chicken trade. He was going to feed us some names. He never got the chance."

"Or there wasn't anything there to report, and Jeff's meetings with him were a front."

"If that were the case, why would Jeff have even bothered to tell me he was meeting Hogan?" Rebecca countered. "He could have done it all under the table."

"Maybe Jeff was hedging his bets and covering all the bases. Maybe he figured if things went south with Hogan, he could always claim he was working Hogan for information, and just pretended to be rolling over."

"That's bullshit."

"Yeah. I agree with you." Flanagan had the uneasy feeling that Frye was about to fold. Her face was unusually pale, even considering her normally light Nordic coloring, there were faint beads of sweat on her forehead, and her breathing was a bit jerky. In fact, she looked like hell. The criminalist got up and moved around to the front of her desk where she might have a prayer of catching the detective if she dropped. Suggesting that the cop sit down wasn't an option. You didn't tell Frye to take it easy. "Look, Frye. All I'm saying is that's there's a lot going on around their deaths that none of us understand. As far as I can tell, Homicide has backed way off it, and the brass aren't going to be real happy about anyone stirring it up. So—be careful who you talk to, and don't trust anyone."

Rebecca leaned a shoulder against the doorframe, wondering if it had suddenly gotten warmer in the small space. A river of sweat ran between her shoulder blades and she had to blink several times to clear her vision. "I want to see the autopsy reports and your crime scene files."

"I can't give them to you."

"Damn it, Dee." She pushed away from the wall so quickly, Flanagan actually held out a hand to ward off a blow.

"Jesus," Flanagan breathed when Rebecca halted a few inches from her. "I don't have them. The whole file was pulled."

"Who has it?"

Flanagan shrugged. "It says Homicide. I suspect it's IAD. You know they'd be looking into any officer related death. That's SOP."

"You gave them your file?" Her tone was incredulous. No one got a hand on Flanagan's files. Impatiently, she swiped moisture from her forehead and considered taking off her jacket. She moved back a step, putting distance between them, searching for some air.

"Fuck, no," Flanagan said, her composure cracking at last. "The bastards raided my files. I don't know how, but the data are gone."

"Don't you—keep copies, or something?"

"My reports are all computerized, Frye. Supposedly the system backs up automatically. Except it didn't, or someone is lying to me. All I know is that I can't find them, and the idiots who are supposed to know something about this can't tell me jack shit."

Rebecca looked around the office. Motioning with her head toward a computer nearly buried by stacks of folders and reports, she asked, "Is that where you input all your final data?"

"There and substations in the various lab divisions. Serology, Toxicology, Prints—they all enter their findings under the case file number and it gets stored that way."

"But one way or another, it's all generated down here in your section?"

"Yes." Flanagan could see the wheels turning. "Why? You any good with this kind of thing? I tried but nothing worked."

"Not me." Rebecca said with a short mirthless laugh. "But I might know someone. I'll let you know."

"There wasn't much in the file anyhow. There was precious little evidence from the scene. I've got a few of my hand written notes from the first walk through. You're welcome to see them, and I'll tell you anything I can."

"Why get involved?" Rebecca asked, her tone not critical, merely curious.

"Because it's my job."

Their eyes met in a moment of perfect understanding, and for the first time Rebecca smiled. "Thanks, Flanagan."

"Don't mention it. Oh, and Frye?"

Rebecca raised an eyebrow. "Yeah?"

"Watch your back."

"Yeah. I'll do that."

chapter twelve

Catherine unlocked the door that opened into her office from a hallway off the main corridor and crossed the room to her desk. Normally, her patients exited through this door so that they did not have to go out through the main waiting room and running to other patients who were waiting. It also allowed her to come and go without seeing her patients before or after the session. She glanced at the clock on the opposite wall and saw that it was 5:28 pm. Sighing tiredly, she settled into the high backed leather chair behind her desk and picked up the phone. Dialing the extension for her secretary , she closed her eyes briefly.

"Yes?" Joyce asked.

"Is my 5:30 here yet?"

"Yes," Joyce answered. Right on time and looking like she's about to face a firing squad. She smiled faintly at the serious-faced young woman sitting across from her and was rewarded by a brief lift of her surprisingly full lips in return.

"Good. Give me a minute, and then tell her to come in."

"Anything I can get you? I put fresh coffee on."

"No, thanks. I'll grab a cup between this one and the last one."

“Very well."

A moment later, Catherine's door from her waiting room opened and her 5:30 appointment walked in. "Good evening, Officer."

"Hi." Mitchell settled into her customary spot, the right hand leather chair of the pair that faced the psychiatrist's desk. As she sat, she plucked at the thighs of her sharply creased trousers to minimize the wrinkling. Her back did not touch the upright portion of the chair.

"I see you're in uniform, so you are still working, I take it?"

"More or less," Mitchell acknowledged. "I'm getting paid. No street duty though. It's a desk job, more or less. "

"And I assume you find that frustrating?"

"Well, until this morning I would have said so, yes."

Catherine raised a surprised eyebrow. "Really? I got the impression you considered anything other than a street assignment almost a disciplinary action."

Mitchell smiled. "Most cops like to think of themselves as street cops. After all, that's where the action is. That's where you make your stripes. The only ones who don't want street duty are the ones who come to law enforcement with the intent to be administrators. They're the MBAs who want to be commissioner someday and the lawyers who can't find jobs, and hope that a year or two of police were will give them a step up into the prosecutor’s office. They only put in enough street time to fulfill their basic requirements before angling for something that will get them an administrative position."

"So most officers would find your present duty undesirable?"

"Well..." she still wasn't entirely certain how much you should reveal to the psychiatrist. She felt a lot safer talking to her then she would have to the departmental shrink, but there was no telling how much of what they discussed would make its way back to her division commander or into her personal file. Still, it felt good to be able to talk to someone. Carefully, she continued. "The duty Sergeant gave me an assignment that I'm sure he thought would just take me off the streets and put me somewhere where everyone could forget about me. Usually when they want to bury someone they move them to the property room, which is an assignment that most people get when they've been disciplined but can't be fired or older uniformed officers who are approaching retirement and want something easy to do. He probably figured if he did that it would have been a little obvious. Then if I complained to my union rep it would have made things touchy. So he posted me to what he thought would be a dead-end duty, but I think he figured wrong."

Catherine laughed. "You're going to have to do some translating for me here, Officer. The intricacies of police politics escape me."

Laughing, Mitchell relaxed enough to lean back in her seat. "Me too, although I'm learning quickly. He put me on this new task force that's just getting underway, probably figuring it would be nothing but a bureaucratic nightmare and all I would be doing is filing paperwork. Probably all I will be doing is filing paperwork, but I'm working with someone who almost anyone in uniform would give an arm or a leg to work with."

"I think I see," Catherine remarked. "So you think that might be an advantage to this assignment that no one appreciated, is that it?"

"Maybe. First of all, it's an interesting assignment. Plus, several federal agencies are involved, so there's a chance it could turn into something really big. If I can contribute something, maybe I can show that I'm not a screw up."

Catherine didn't reply, and her face did not show her consternation. There couldn't possibly be two task forces like this at one time. Rebecca’s assignment. Attempting to redirect the conversation away from the specifics in hopes of avoiding any discussion of her lover, she asked, "So you're not displeased with your current work situation?"

"No, not at all. The fastest way for someone to get promoted out of the ranks into the detective division is by assisting a detective with their case. And the detective in charge of the PD end of things is Rebecca Frye. You know her, of course, because you were involved with her during the Harker thing. If I can manage to make any kind of impression on her, it could actually end up helping my career."

"Yes. Of course." Catherine had known that her involvement in the serial murderer/rape case might come up with any of her patients. Unfortunately, it had been heavily publicized, and the dramatic ending had also been covered by the news and print media. Despite her attempts to downplay her involvement, her photograph had been displayed on television and in local newspapers and magazines. Nevertheless, anticipating that it would come up in session and actually having it presented to her were two different things. Still careful to keep her expression neutral, she continued, "I'm glad this new assignment hasn't turned out to be a punishment."

"Are you kidding?  As soon as I get a better idea of how she's going to run the street end of things, I'm hoping I can make myself useful. I've been working the Tenderloin for more than half a year. It could be I know some people who might give us some leads. But no matter how it turns out, any uniformed officer would pay money to work with her."

I don't doubt it. Except this is supposed to be desk duty for her. But I can't very well bring that up, can I? Mentally turning that thought aside, the psychiatrist concentrated on her new patient. Mitchell's entire demeanor had changed from one of quiet resignation to enthusiasm. It was clear how important her work was to her emotional state. And it was time to get back to that. "Our last session ended before you were able to tell me what happened in the alley that night. We need to go through it, and talk about what happened after, before I can sign off on my evaluation."

"I know." Mitchell's expression became serious as she met Catherine's eyes. She was ready to get it over with. Perfunctorily, she stated flatly, "There isn't very much more to tell. I went down the alley—"

"Wait," Catherine interrupted softly. She didn't want a recitation; she wanted the remembrances. "It was dark, and you were alone, and your backup hadn't arrived. There were sounds of a struggle, and you went to investigate, correct?"

Mitchell's eyes darkened as Catherine's quiet voice brought her back to the moment that was still as clear in her memory as the instant it had happened.

"I had my weapon out and my heart was beating so fast it was like a drum beating in my ears. I pressed my back flat against the brick wall and I could feel the uneven surface of the stones catching on the back of my shirt as I eased my way down the alley. I didn't want him to know I was coming until I was close enough to subdue him, because I didn't know if he had a weapon. It's impossible to subdue a suspect hand to hand if you're not within arm's reach. If he has a gun and you can't physically reach him, you're dead. It was hard not to stumble over bits of trash and broken glass and rocks. I was certain I was announcing my presence with every step I took. The gun barrel was angled up--I was holding it beside my face in a two-handed grip, and I was looking past it towards the shapes that were just shadows moving in the little bit of light that filtered down from the windows high up above me. As I got closer I could hear him grunting, and she was..." Mitchell swallowed, trying not to remember the sound of a skull being slammed hard against a stone wall and the soft moan of pain.

"She had been screaming before, shouting, I think, for him to stop. Now she was...whimpering. I was afraid he was going to kill her."

Without realizing it, she had clutched the arms of the chair, her hands white-knuckled with the force of her grip. "I could see them more clearly now. He was big--linebacker kind of big. He had one hand around her throat and the other under her skirt. Her thighs were bare, pale, ghostly in the moonlight. I saw her face for the first time then. There was blood on her face..."

From across the desk, Catherine could see the sweat bead on the young woman’s forehead and knew that although her eyes were open, she wasn't seeing anything except those moments replaying as real as if they were happening now. She didn't have to imagine the feeling. She knew the feeling. "Go on," she said very gently.

Mitchell jerked slightly at the sound of the voice that seemed to be coming from very far away. "I announced myself...I think I yelled ‘Police! Put your hands up where I can see them.’ God, he was fast. It was almost as if he knew I was coming, or at least he wasn't surprised to find me there. He let her go and she slumped to the ground. My eyes followed her for just a second, but it was enough time for him to swing around with his hands locked together and catch me in the side of face. Stupid move on my part. I went down on my knees and he followed up the punch with a kick. At least I saw it coming and managed to roll away from most of that. His foot connected with my hip but it wasn't that bad. I was still between him and the street and the alley wasn't that wide. I knew I had I had to get up or he would just jump over me and be gone. As I got to my feet, he grabbed my shirt and punched me low, below the bottom of my vest. And that's when I hit him with the butt of my service revolver."

"He hurt you." It was a statement, because the facts spoke for themselves. "Do you remember hitting him?"

Mitchell blinked as if awakening from a dream. She could still smell his sweat, and the coppery odor of blood, and the acrid stench of her own fear. She felt the ache between her thighs where his fist had landed, and she saw with perfect clarity the battered face of the woman lying on the ground.

She stared at Catherine for so long that Catherine began to wonder if she would answer. Finally, the psychiatrist asked, "Officer, do you remember striking him?"

Mitchell wasn't certain what she should say. She didn't know how her words would be used against her. She met the warm green eyes that held such tenderness, an acceptance that eased some part of the terrible pain, and she answered hoarsely, "No."


"Sorry I'm late. Traffic."

"That's all right. How are you? I haven't seen you at all the last few days except at conferences." Hazel Holcomb settled into her chair and regarded her young colleague with a speculative expression.

Catherine shrugged wearily as she dropped her briefcase by the sofa, then smiled deprecatingly. "I could plead workload, but...I think I've been avoiding you."

"Ah ha." Hazel sipped her coffee and pulled an ottoman over in front of her chair with her toe. Propping both feet up, she raised her cup slightly. "Coffee?"

"Tonight, I think I'll take you up on it." Catherine walked to the antique credenza against one wall in Hazel's home office/study and poured the aromatic brew into a delicate china cup. "I'm surprised that you even use these except for special occasions," she remarked absently as she sat down across from Hazel. "They're so beautiful."

"Too lovely to keep behind glass. Now, let's get back to that therapeutically laden statement about avoiding me."

"You said I should see you regularly, and I didn't want you to remind me about that."

"Why not?"

"Probably because there's something I don't want to talk about."

"Only one thing?" Hazel asked in mock seriousness. "How fortunate. We should be able to clear that up tonight then."

Catherine laughed. "All right. Several things."

"And yet you called me for the appointment this afternoon."

"Yes," Catherine admitted. "I know enough to recognize avoidance, and I know that's not the answer. So, here I am."

"How are you sleeping?"


"And the dreams?"

Catherine shook her head. "Not for the last couple of nights."

"Good." She didn't need to add that it might be temporary. The younger psychiatrist knew that, of course. "Then what's troubling you?"

"I suddenly realized that I don't know very much about being in a relationship."

"Interesting, isn't it, how we never appreciate that until we're actually faced with it," the older woman mused. "What's happened to make you think that now?"

"Rebecca has gone back to work, and I don't know how to...react to it."

Hazel emptied her cup and leaned over to place it on the end table next to her chair. "Reactions aren't something you think about, they're something you feel. How do you feel, Catherine?"

"A little insecure. I'm not certain where I fit in her life any more." She hesitated, then added, "Or where she fits in mine."

"Do you love her?"

"Yes." That was something she didn't even need to think about.

"And her? Does she love you?"

"Ah," Catherine said softly. "How do you do that?"

"What?" Hazel asked quietly.

"Ask the right question?"

"Part of it is practice, as you very well know. And part of it is knowing you. And part of it is knowing what we all fear—that our love will not be returned. So...why are you insecure?"

"She's so damn self-sufficient," Catherine replied, surprised at the anger she heard in her own voice.

"And?" Hazel prompted.

"I'm afraid that all she really needs is her work."

"Some people would say that about me. Or you."

"Yes," Catherine countered, her tone still sharp. "But my work won't get me killed..."

"And hers might," Hazel finished softly.

Catherine leaned back into the cushions and closed her eyes. Finally she said, "I'm supposed to meet her for dinner after this." She opened her eyes and sat forward. "Would you mind very much if we cut this session short? I just need to see her."

"It's your time, Catherine. I'm certain you know how best to use it. Go see her and let her remind you of what it was that first touched you about her."

"Thank you."

 "And Catherine," Hazel added as her colleague gathered her things to leave. "Give yourself a little time. She wasn't the only one struck by that bullet."

chapter thirteen

Catherine waited until she reached the expressway before calling Rebecca. She drove with one eye on the traffic, preparing herself for disappointment as she half expected that the detective would not be home. When the phone was answered on the second ring, she realized she'd been holding her breath. Hurriedly, she said, "Hi. I'm done early and I was wondering—"

"Terrific. Would you like to go out or—"

"No," Catherine said quickly, "let's stay in. We can watch a movie. I can cook—"

"I'll take care of that," Rebecca said swiftly, then broke into laughter. "Maybe if we stop interrupting each other, we'll be able to figure out what we're doing. Is thirty minutes all right?"

"Anytime," Catherine said, her voice suddenly husky. God, she'd never thought she could miss someone so much after just a day.

"I'll be right there," Rebecca replied in a tone filled with promise.

In fact, by the time Catherine found a parking place and walked the half block to her brownstone, Rebecca had arrived and was waiting for her on her front steps.

"Have you been waiting long?" the psychiatrist asked as she hurried up the stairs, searching in her briefcase with one hand for her keys.

"Only a minute."

The four marble stairs bracketed by wrought iron railings that led to Catherine's front door were not very wide, and as she reached past the taller woman to fit her key into the lock, their bodies brushed lightly together. Absurdly, her hands began to shake. It was moments like this that made her wonder how she had ever believed that she understood anything about life, or human relationships—when she had never experienced anything like this before. Of course, there was no understanding it because it made absolutely no sense that the mere presence of this woman could reduce her to nothing more than raw nerve endings and mindless desire.

"Are you all right?" Rebecca murmured.

"No," Catherine said as she pushed the door open and entered.

Rebecca followed with a paper bag filled with groceries tucked under her right arm. She set it down on the telephone table just inside the door and stood still, regarding Catherine as she dropped her briefcase. "What's wrong? Has something happened?"

"No. Everything is fine." She hesitated, wondering how much to say and then, at a loss for logic, simply said, "It's just that...these last few weeks, I was so used to coming home and you would be here. We'd have dinner; we'd talk; we'd sleep together. I miss you."

For an instant, Rebecca was stunned. She still wasn't used to the fact that someone like Catherine, someone so accomplished and intelligent damn wonderful, could even want to spend any time with her, let alone miss her when they were apart. It was fantastic and terrifying and she expected at any moment for it all to disappear. But there Catherine stood, three feet away, looking at her with something close to sadness in her eyes, and the thought of Catherine hurting in any way tore through Rebecca more sharply than any bullet ever could. She crossed the distance between them and pulled the other woman close, whispering fervently, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry about last night. I wanted to be with you."

Threading her arms around Rebecca's neck, Catherine pressed tightly against her, content for the moment to forego words and simply feel. Besides, there were no words to describe the sensation of everything suddenly being made right by a simple embrace. She didn't understand it, but the veracity of it was undeniable. Rebecca's hands moving softly over her back felt more essential to her being then the air she was breathing. "I love you."

Rebecca closed her eyes and pressed her cheek against the silky softness of Catherine's hair. "I love you."

"Is there food in that bag?" Catherine asked after her breathing had steadied, leaning back slightly in the circle of Rebecca's arms and letting her eyes play over the blond's face.

"There is," Rebecca replied, but it wasn't food that she hungered for. Deftly, she lifted the blouse from beneath the band of Catherine's slacks and slid her hand onto the warm skin at the base of Catherine's spine. Circling her fingers over the hollows just above her lover's hips, she pressed her own hips forward, drawing a gasp from the woman in her arms. "But it will keep."

Their lips met, and for a time they merely swayed together in the midst of the gathering darkness, hands claiming flesh and lips making promises with kisses that grew more abandoned with each passing second. Catherine finally pulled back when she thought she was in danger of falling, her legs shook so badly. Gasping, she asked, "Does this go away? This feeling of never being able to get close enough?"

"I don't know," Rebecca answered desperately, her chest heaving. "I've never felt it before."

"It doesn't really matter," Catherine murmured almost to herself as she began to work the buttons free on Rebecca's shirt, pulling it from her trousers as she did. She pushed the constraining fabric aside and slid her palms over firm muscles, capturing the soft swell of breasts in her palms. "It's beyond my control."

"Good...don't stop then..." Rebecca groaned, her knees nearly buckling as pinpoints of pleasure streaked from beneath Catherine's fingers. Arching her back, she closed her eyes and tried to steady herself with her hands on Catherine's shoulders. She'd never had a woman take her this way, and she'd never even known before how much she'd wanted it. But she did. The feeling of surrendering to Catherine's passion was more freeing that anything she had ever experienced.

"Can't," Catherine moaned, her head throbbing and her vision nearly gone. Some small working part of her mind reminded her that they were standing in the middle of her living room, and she grasped Rebecca's hand and pulled her urgently toward the sofa. "Sit down," she commanded as she yanked down the zipper on Rebecca's trousers.

The backs of Rebecca's knees hit the edge of the sofa and she had no choice but to comply, feeling the clothes stripped from her body as she went down. She found herself nearly naked, Catherine in her lap, their mouths dancing over one another's skin again. When fingers slid between her thighs, all she could do was drop her head against the back of the couch and moan. It had been like this that first night, her need rising so fast she'd never had a chance to contain it, but this time she didn't resist. She welcomed the fire that burned through her blood, purging the wounds far deeper than flesh. "Please," she begged.

Catherine slipped to her knees between Rebecca's legs, and then leaned forward to take her with tender hands and demanding lips. No thought, no insecurity now. This--this splendor, this wonder, this indescribable beauty—this was hers for the taking, and take her she did. With certainty of touch and surety of heart, she lifted her lover on the wings of her own breathless desire to a place beyond knowing.


Rebecca sifted strands of thick auburn hair through her nearly lifeless fingers, unable to muster enough strength to lift her head from the cushions of the couch. Her thighs still trembled, and her stomach rippled with aftershocks. "Catherine?" she asked hoarsely.


"I'm wasted."

"Me too."

"If you help me up, we can probably make it into the bedroom. You must be uncomfortable." With effort, she slipped her palm beneath Catherine's chin, raising her lover's head from where it rested against her own inner thigh, and managed to focus on the deep green eyes. "If you give me a few minutes, I might be able to reciprocate, too."

"I'm fine." Catherine smiled. "Making love to you seems to set me off."

"Still, I have plans for you." She was tired, and her chest ached, and the lassitude that lingered after her release had nearly lulled her into sleep, but she needed Catherine to know how much she wanted her. She needed to show her, and there wasn't much time.

"Hold that thought," Catherine said warmly as she pushed herself upright and extended one hand to Rebecca. "Let's have dinner first. We both need to eat."

"All right. Food first, but don't think I'm forgetting."

"Oh, believe me, I won't let you forget."

As it turned out, time slipped away and it was close to midnight by the time Rebecca had stir fried the vegetables and noodles she'd picked up earlier in the evening, and even later by the time they'd finished eating and piled the dishes into the dishwasher.

"Come on," Catherine announced, grasping Rebecca's shirttail and tugging her away from the sink. "Bed. I'm fading and..."

"I need to go out later."

Catherine stopped moving abruptly, letting the material fall from her fingers. "What?"

Rebecca turned and rested her hips against the counter. She didn't want to see what was in Catherine's eyes—she was afraid it would be that combination of hurt and resentment that had so often been in Jill's—but she forced herself to meet the other woman's gaze. There were questions in the depths of those green eyes, and confusion, but they hadn't grown cold. Not yet. Drawing a deep breath, she steeled herself for the pain that was sure to come when Catherine turned from her in anger. "I've been away from the job a long time. I need to get a leg up on this new case, and there are some people I need to see."

Catherine stared at her, struggling to absorb the words and place them into some context she could deal with. There wasn't any. "Tonight? In the middle of the night—alone?"

It was Rebecca's turn to be confused. "Catherine, I'm a cop."

"Of course, I know that, Rebecca," Catherine snapped, rubbing the bridge of her nose and pacing the length of the kitchen. "I thought this was desk duty. A paper chase."

"It is—well, it is and it isn't. It's a real investigation, and a lot of it will be done through computer searches and whatever the hell else it is that those eggheads are going to do, but there's real police work to be done, too."

"What about Watts? I thought he was going to do the street work?" She forced herself to slow down. Screaming would not help, and the very fact that she wanted to scream was upsetting enough.

"He is," Rebecca affirmed. She took a chance and walked the few feet to her, tentatively taking her hand. The slight contact eased some of the tension in her stomach, although Catherine's response was guarded. "But he can't talk to my contacts. It took me years to cultivate them, and they don't talk to just anyone. I'll just be talking. I swear."

Catherine took a step away, but she kept her hand in the detective's. "Why didn't you tell me this earlier? When you got here--or on the phone when I called you from the car?"

The cop was silent.


"I was..." she ran a hand through her hair, shrugged her tight shoulders. "I thought you'd be angry. I thought you wouldn't want to see me."

"Angry," Catherine said softly. "Did you think that I might be worried? That I might be concerned that you've barely been out of bed a week and you're already working fifteen hour days? God, Rebecca—"

She walked over and sat down at the small kitchen table, motioning to the adjoining chair with one hand. "Sit down. You look tired."

Rebecca sat. "I meant to tell you, but when we got here—"

"I didn't give you much chance to talk then, did I?" Catherine filled in, a faint smile relaxing her troubled expression.

"I wanted you, too. Badly." Rebecca took her hand again, and this time Catherine's fingers laced comfortingly between hers. "When you touch me, everything just...falls into place. Everything makes sense."

"I know." She brushed her fingers over the detective's cheek. "For me, too. Our non-verbal skills are just fine. Outstanding, as a matter of fact. But we need to do a little better on the verbal parts."

"I'm bad at it," Rebecca said honestly. "Around my house, the job came first. My father never explained; my mother never complained. But I know there were a lot of nights he never came home. And then—well, then he never came home."

Catherine's heart thudded painfully, but she just nodded. Rebecca's expression was distant, and she doubted that the detective really saw her.

"I grew up with silence. That's the way most cops are." The blue eyes she lifted to Catherine's swirled with anguish. "I've never even said these things out loud before."

"And that's exactly why I love you," Catherine whispered. "Because you're saying them now."

chapter fourteen

In the hours after midnight, the streets in Catherine's sedate neighborhood were eerily quiet, but as Rebecca approached the Tenderloin in the heart of the downtown area, foot and vehicular activity picked up. Here on the neon-lit sidewalks and in innumerable rundown bars, strip joints, and cheap hotels, life teemed with restless energy. She pulled to the curb not far from an all night diner that was a local hangout for the area's denizens—mostly prostitutes taking a break between johns, panhandlers who had been lucky enough to scrounge the price of a cup of coffee, and bar goers who hadn't been lucky enough to find company for the late lonely hours. Stepping from the Vette into the night for the first time in nearly two months, Rebecca felt another piece of her life slip back into place. On these streets, she knew exactly who she was, and exactly what was expected of her. A strange comfort, but a familiar one. Her blood hummed with the faint stirring of anticipation that being out here, hunting, always produced. She wasn't hunting a person, not tonight, but the information she gathered--the odd comment, the offhand observation, the bit of gossip bandied about—might someday lead her to her prey. She'd almost reached the brightly lit spot on the sidewalk in front of the diner when she caught sight of a familiar figure push through the revolving door on the way out. Quickly, she stepped into the darkened overhang of a boarded up video store and waited for the person to pass. She only had a fleeting glimpse of the leather jacketed, blue-jeaned form as the woman strode quickly by, but the sharp, clear features beneath midnight black hair were impossible to mistake. Dellon Mitchell was out very late in a very dicey part of town.

Rebecca decided to wait a few minutes before checking out the diner. The minute she walked in, she'd be obvious to everyone. Those who didn't know her would still be able to tell she was a cop. Even in jeans and a tee-shirt, a light windbreaker covering her holster, her eyes screamed cop. Usually, she didn't mind. Visibility could be a form of power, especially if it intimidated informants into to telling her what she needed to know quickly with a minimum of pressure. But she didn't know who might be inside, and Mitchell's presence here, for no reason that Rebecca could imagine, worried her. Maybe it was coincidence, but any cop could tell you that there was no such thing. Ignoring the smell of urine and rotting wood, she leaned against the moldy wall of the tiny dank alcove and watched the diner.

She didn't have to wait long. Less than five minutes later, three young women came out and headed her way, walking close together as they laughed and talked. It didn't require a detective's skills to determine their occupation. Their too-short skirts and body-hugging, scooped neck tops, along with too much make-up and cheap accessories, spelled hooker. Rebecca fell into step next to a thin blond with spiked hair who might have been anywhere from twelve to twenty.

"Hiya, Sandy," she said quietly.

"Christ!" the young woman exclaimed. Glancing quickly at her companions, who were staring at her curiously, she grabbed Rebecca's arm and pulled her into the shadows under an awning. "Go ahead, you guys. I'll catch up." When they'd moved away, she hissed, "Goddamn it, Frye. When are you going to leave me alone?"

"I did. Two whole months."

"Well, it seems like yesterday. What do you want?"

"Let's go somewhere we can talk," Rebecca offered. She knew that being seen with her could be a problem for the young prostitute, although she didn't care if she ruined her business for the night. She did care if she put her in physical danger. Anyone in that part of town appearing too friendly with the police could make enemies quickly. "I want to catch up on old times. Have you eaten? I'll buy you breakfast."

"It's four a.m."

"Okay—dinner then."

Sandy snorted in disgust. "Fine. Chen's. Come on."

They moved quickly through back streets that were so narrow they might have been alleys except for the historic townhouses lining them. The residents of Society Hill, as the area was called, issued constant complaints to City Hall regarding the Tenderloin and its undesirable activity. Unfortunately, the seedy par of town bordered some of the most expensive real estate in Center City. Every six months the police swept the area nightly for a week or two trying to reduce the nightlife, but it always returned.

Rebecca kept a careful eye out for anyone following them or lurking in the shadows as they hurriedly along. Ten minutes later they emerged on South Street, another pocket of late night activity, although here the crowd was younger and the excitement centered more on alcohol and drugs than sex. Chen's House of Jade was a hole in the wall restaurant that looked like a Board of Health citation waiting to be served, but the food was good and the proprietor discreet.

Rebecca and Sandy took a booth in the back beneath flickering fluorescents, and a smiling waitress materialized with a pot of steaming tea and a bowl of crisp noodles before their butts had hit the cracked vinyl seats. She began to hand them menus, but Rebecca shook her head and Sandy said, "Moo shu pork with extra pancakes. And a Tsing Tao."

Then they were alone, staring at each other across the stained Formica surface. Automatically, Rebecca took inventory, her eyes flickering over the blond's face and then down to her bare arms. The pretty young woman's eyes were clear and her arms bore no track marks. The detective was glad. She liked the spunky kid.

"What happened to your head?" Rebecca asked.

Sandy shrugged and lightly traced the fresh red scar on her forehead. The suture marks still showed along the edges of the cut. "I fell."

"Did someone help you fall?" Rebecca asked casually, plucking a twisted, crispy fried noodle from the bowl. There were a dozen reasons why a woman in Sandy's position could end up dead—turf issues from veteran prostitutes who didn't want her moving in on their corners; angry pimps who didn't think the nightly returns were high enough; a trick gone bad. But Sandy was Rebecca's informant, and the cop protected her own. It was one reason why Sandy helped her, although unwillingly sometimes, with street intel.

"I already said. Accident." She studied the cop, noting the shadows under her eyes. Her normal leanness bordered on gaunt.  "I didn't think you'd be back."

Rebecca was silent.

"I heard—well, everyone heard, about what happened to you the day after Anna Marie got—killed." The last time Sandy and the tall cop had seen one another, Sandy'd been crying on Frye's shoulder and her best friend had been lying upstairs in a rat-hole hotel dead. She could still feel the safe, solid feel of the cop's arms around her. Shaking her head to dispel the memory, she added, "I'm glad you blew that fucker away."

"So am I."

Sandy looked at her in surprise, her skin prickling at the cold hard flatness of the cop's voice. She was starting to wonder if she hadn't been wrong about a lot of things about cops. Frye wasn't like those prick bastards who hassled her and her friends for sex in exchange for not running them in on prostitution charges that they all knew wouldn't stick past night court. Frye was different; she cared, just like— The waitress interrupted her musings as she deposited an enormous platter of steaming moo shu on the table between them along with pancakes and sauce.

"More beer?" the waitress asked Sandy, who shook her head no. Looking at Rebecca, she asked, "How about you?" The word detective hung in the air.

"No—I'm good."

As Rebecca watched her companion pile food on her plate, she remarked, "I'm looking for somebody selling young stuff."

 "Everybody sells young stuff. That's what sells. Or haven't you noticed?"

"I'm talking about the real thing, not the eighteen year olds pretending to be thirteen."

"Don't know anything about it." Sandy rolled another pancake and sipped her beer, keeping her eyes on her plate.

"This is probably a big, well-run operation, not some pimp selling chickens out of an apartment in the slums," Rebecca continued unperturbed. "Maybe a well-organized operation."

Sandy raised her gaze to Rebecca's. Their blue eyes met, but try as she might, she knew that she couldn't match the hard stillness of the cop's cold stare. Sandy blinked, then said softly, "Are you fucking nuts? I don't know anything about that, and I don't want to know anything about it. If this is organized, then asking about it gets you dead. Look at what happened to your cop friends last spring."

Rebecca's expression became granite. "What did you hear?"

"Just that they were poking around where they shouldn't have been poking--in somebody important's business. And that somebody shut them up."

"You get this important person's name?"

Sandy shook her head. "Uh uh."

"Who did you hear this from?"

"Can't recall."


"Are you looking to get offed, too?" Sandy hissed, leaning forward across the small tabletop. "What is it with you?"

For some reason, Rebecca answered. "One of them was my partner."

"Well, now he's dead. End of story."

"No," Rebecca said quietly as she pulled her wallet from her back pocket. "Not yet." She laid four twenties on the table. "Ask around. Be careful, though."

"Yeah, right. Thanks." Her tone was not grateful. "Listen," she said quickly as Rebecca slid across the seat and stood up.


"A friend of mine is in a jam. An undercover guy busted her tonight—not before she finished the hand job I might add, although of course he denies that--and I know she doesn't have the bail. She's been picked up before. She could go away for this."

"What's her name?" Rebecca asked, glancing at her watch. "If the paperwork's not processed yet, I'll see what I can do."

"Rita. Rita Balducci."

"I'll see you soon."

"Can't wait," Sandy grumbled, watching the cop walk quickly through the narrow aisle between the rickety tables and out into the night. Some part of her felt better knowing Frye was back on the streets.


"Oh God, I need a shower. I need two showers." Jason McBride pushed away from the computer terminal and rubbed his face with both hands. "I always heard it, but I never really knew how many sickos there were out there."

Sloan swiveled in her chair and faced him from the console where she had been working. The clock on the far wall said 4:42 a.m. The last time she could remember seeing the time it had been eight-thirty the previous evening. Jason's hair was uncharacteristically disheveled, and his shirt actually appeared to have been untucked. Intentionally. That was highly unusual for her fastidious friend. It was the hollow-eyed expression on his face that caught her attention, though. It wasn't fatigue—they'd worked forty hours or more without stopping when they'd had major system failures to repair or massive viral infestations to cleanse. This was something else. "I guess you've been successful?"

He winced. "If you can call almost having sex with a dozen perverts successful, then yes—wildly so."

"Who are you tonight?"

"QtGrl13. She was a big hit."

"Where have you been trolling?"

"The Hot4U message boards. As soon as I showed up and announced that I was a new girl in town, I had three offers to move off to a private room to get acquainted. I was in an out of the chat rooms all night after that."

"Anything look promising?"

He shrugged, then sighed. "Too soon to tell. The patter is pretty sophisticated for the most part--except for the high school boys who are the same the world over whether it's cyber space or the junior prom. They just want to get laid and they're not too subtle about it. But I have a feeling that the real pedophiles are being very careful not to expose themselves.  They're probably pretending to be kids until they feel safe enough in a relationship to cop to their real age. There were one or two who sounded like they might be angling for more than a quickie, but I'll have to go back on again a few more times to see. If I move too fast it will spook them."

"All right. As soon as you have a possible, let me know and we'll start a back door trace. And we need to narrow down geographic locations. There are literally thousands of people using these boards, and we have to search for a local hit."

"Got it."

"Try to bring the conversations around to pics, especially current ones or anything with videos."

"I'm doing that when I go on as BigMac10—that's where I've just been. Swimming with the scum who are looking to trade files. I'm posing as a guy who's interested in 12 or 13-year-old girls.  But I haven't been real specific yet. These guys aren't stupid, and the people we're looking for are going to be very savvy. I can't just ask to see some guy's etchings." He sighed and stood. "I'm going home. Sarah got in from that alternative medicine conference in Sante Fe tonight. Last night—whatever. Somehow, being with her always makes me feel normal."

"Yeah, she has that effect on me, to."

"That's a stretch," he said good-naturedly.

Sloan just laughed. "Say hi for me—and tell her she owes me a workout."

"Will do. You should quit for the night, too. Michael home?"


"Then go."

She glanced at the screen, considering the credit card clearing houses she still needed to trace, then thought of the woman upstairs asleep. The case was already getting ugly, and it was likely to go on for a long time, and get even uglier. She stood and stretched. "Excellent advice. I'm gone."

She locked the office doors as Jason descended in the silent elevator, then walked the length of the dimly lit hall to the rear stairwell and climbed the one flight to her fourth floor loft apartment. As quietly as possible, she fitted her key into the lock and slid the large double doors apart, closing and bolting them behind her. Making her way through the darkened space by memory, she shed her clothes along the way and crossed to the bathroom on the far side of the partitioned sleeping area. She left the light off so as not to awaken Michael, but as she reached into the shower to turn the water on, she heard a soft sound behind her. Turning, she was startled as a warm body pressed into her arms.

Nuzzling Sloan's neck, Michael murmured sleepily, "Is it morning?"

"Not yet." She kissed her gently, then added, "Go back to bed. I'll be in as soon as I shower."

"Mmm. Want company?"

"Now that is by far the best offer I've had all night."

"Oh?" Michael asked, sounding much more awake. "And have you had many offers this evening?"

"None worth mentioning," Sloan said reassuringly. Unfortunately, she had a feeling that was a circumstance that was about to change, given their current undertaking. Pushing aside thoughts of predators and innocent victims, she drew her lover into the shower and let the warm water and Michael's embrace wash the unwelcome images from her mind.

chapter fifteen

When the alarm went off, Michael made a quick grab for it in an attempt to silence the insistent buzzing before it awakened Sloan.

"What time is it?" came a husky whisper from the darkness.


"Do you have a meeting this morning?" Sloan asked, clearing her throat and trying to dispel the cobwebs from her brain.

"Yes. Development and Marketing are meeting to discuss agendas.”

Sloan rolled over as Michael sat up in bed, appreciating the way the sheets cascaded down her lover’s body, leaving her breasts bare. Suddenly, she forgot the fact that she’d only had an hour and a half of sleep. They hadn’t been able to have dinner together the evening before, because by the time Michael had gotten back from a late business meeting, Sloan and Jason had been deep into another night on the job. Internet traffic was high between four and two a.m. when kids were home from school. That’s when adults looking for a contact would be trolling. With effort, she pushed aside those thoughts. Running a hand down Michael’s bare arm, she said, “I missed you last night.”

“Me, too.” Michael sighed. “I’d better go. I want to be there to referee. You know those two groups can never agree as to whose timetable should take priority. And of course both division directors are total hotheads, and usually one or the other or both of them threatens to quit after every meeting. I figured I'd save myself some time by being there to put out any fires."

"They'll play nice if you're there. And you could always threaten to can them before they have a chance to quit."

“Maybe.” Michael laughed and leaned down to kiss her. "Go back to sleep."

"Mmm. I will," Sloan murmured languorously, her arms encircling Michael's waist. Pulling the other woman down into her arms, she added, "In just a few minutes."

Surprised, Michael emitted a short peel of laughter that turned to a muffled moan as her body met Sloan's, and her skin began to hum with the familiar pulse of desire. Her body called the next shot, and before she knew it, she was straddling Sloan’s thigh and devouring her lover's mouth, suddenly ravenous for the taste of her. While she was lost in the kiss, Sloan lifted her hips, rolling Michael over, and then settled possessively upon her. The hum became a roar.

Unwillingly, Michael pulled her mouth away from the kiss, gasping, "No time."

"I'll be quick," Sloan growled, her lips against Michael’s neck, her hand brushing the length of Michael’s side to her hips.

"Liar. You're never quick." But she wasn't moving away.

Sloan pushed herself up and in one quick motion slid down the bed until her breasts nestled between Michael's thighs and her cheek was pressed to Michael's stomach. Nipping at the sensitive skin around Michael's navel, she trailed her fingers lightly up the inside of her lover's left thigh, dancing back and forth over the tender places between her legs.

"Tease me like that for very long and it will be quick," Michael warned, arching her hips under Sloan's clever fingers.

"I know."

Still, Sloan took her time, drawing her fingertips along the warm sensitive folds, dipping into welcoming heat, then pressing the length of Michael's clitoris only to move away quickly, eliciting sighs and faint cries from her lover. Only when Michael's long delicate fingers fluttered over her cheek in mute appeal did she lower her head and take her gently between her lips. At Michael's sharp cry, she pulled her in more deeply, her tongue stroking counterpoint to the pulse that hammered through swollen tissues. Careful not to increase the pressure enough to snap the threads of Michael's control, she kept her quivering on the edge for long moments. Only when Michael began to thrust erratically against her, impossibly hard now and clearly on the verge of exploding, did she relent and increase the rhythm of her strokes.

Instantly, she was rewarded by a rigid stillness in Michael's legs followed by a wrenching gasp, then a quiet sob of surrender. Sloan closed her eyes and savored every tremor that spiraled beneath her lips and moved outward through her lover's body. Then she lay quietly, one hand extended, her fingers intertwined with Michael's, completely satisfied.

Sloan was almost asleep again as Michael whispered in her ear, “I’ve set the alarm. Be careful today. I love you.”


Catherine turned off the alarm twenty minutes before it was set to ring. She’d been awake for a long time, listening to the silence in the still house punctuated occasionally by the distant sound of a car door opening, an engine starting, and someone leaving for an early day. And it had taken her a long time to fall asleep after Rebecca had left the night before, too. It was impossible not to wonder where she was going, who she would be talking to, and with whom she would be spending the last dark hours of the night. She had hoped that Rebecca would return when her work was done, to come quietly through the door to rest at her side. Once she had even awakened, her heart beating fast with anxious anticipation, only to realize it had been the wind blowing branches against her window that had called to her.

Wearily, she swung her legs from beneath the covers and stood, reaching for her robe as she straightened. She was tired, not from lack of sleep, although that had certainly been fitful, but from something deeper that tugged at her heart. As if standing at a distance, dispassionately watching a scene played out on stage, she studied the feeling, finally recognizing it as a combination of loneliness and fear. The loneliness did not surprise her. She missed Rebecca, which was only natural. The fear would take some time to understand, but part of it was simple enough. She was afraid because her love made her vulnerable--vulnerable not only to her own fate, but to Rebecca's now as well. Their paths had crossed, their lives had intersected, and now their futures were entwined. It was entirely possible that the road ahead would be paved with disappointment and sorrow. How many times she had counseled others that there were no guarantees in life, and that only by living it could we ever hope to be fulfilled. She smiled to herself as she made her way toward the shower, thinking how easy it was to give advice and how hard sometimes to heed it.


Rebecca parked illegally in a bus stop and left her flashers on. She jogged up the block, glancing at her watch and searching for Catherine's car. She didn't see it, but Catherine had returned late the previous night and she probably hadn't been able to find a place on this block. Her breath was a little tight and she was aware of a faint stabbing pain deep in her chest that pulsed with each footfall. Chalking it up to scar tissue that hadn't yet matured, she ignored it. Nevertheless, as she pressed Catherine's doorbell, she had to work to suppress the sound of her own breath wheezing in and out. What she didn't need was to give Catherine something else to worry about. After a minute, she pressed the doorbell again, but she knew that she had missed her. When they'd parted the previous evening, they had been careful with one another, trying not to ignite the fires of anger that still smoldered dangerously. She hadn't thought to ask Catherine what her morning schedule was. Turning away, she walked more slowly now down the marble stairs to the sidewalk and toward her car. There was a place inside of her that still hurt, and it had nothing to do with her injuries. It was just the part of her that always felt empty when they were apart, and now she knew it was going to ache all day. Cursing softly, she slid into her Vette, gunned the ignition, and roared away into the morning.


Her temper hadn't improved any by the time she reached the station house, and it wasn't soothed by the thought of her 7:30 appointment. Rand Whitaker opened the door to his office precisely on time.

"Come on in, Sergeant," he said with a welcoming smile.

Rebecca followed him, carrying a cardboard cup of coffee she had picked up from the vending room on her way to his office. She settled into the straight-backed chair and balanced the cup on her knee.

"So you've been back on the job a few days now, isn't that right?"  he asked, jotting the date and time on a yellow legal pad as he sipped from his own mug of coffee.

"Not precisely," Rebecca corrected in an even tone. The one place you didn't want to appear disgruntled was in this room. "My normal assignment is working active special crimes cases--detective work. For the time being, I've been assigned as an intermediary between the Police Department and a government agency that's running a multijurisdictional task force."

"That sounds like a desk job."

"More or less," she conceded, not seeing the necessity of offering anything further. The less he knew, the less he could report to someone else.

"You okay with that?"

"It's not what I'm trained to do, and it wouldn't be my choice of assignments. I'm assuming it will be temporary and as soon as you sign off on my evaluation, I expect my captain to pull me off it and put me back on regular duty." Hopefully, he'd get the hint and do what everyone knew he was going to do anyhow, which was certify her fit for duty. Christ, I'm the one who got shot. You'd think that would earn me some slack.

He eased back in his chair, nodding as if he agreed with what she was thinking. "I'm curious, Sergeant. Why didn't you wait for backup that night with Blake? Wouldn't that have been standard operating procedure?"

"As I told you before, I felt that the hostage was in imminent danger and that any delay would put her at risk."

"Your partner stated in his report that she had not been harmed up to that point. What made you think the situation was so serious?"

"Detective Watts stated in his report that Dr. Rawlings had apparently not been sexually assaulted up to that point, but he confirmed that she was physically restrained and in immediate peril." Jesus, doesn't he know that I would have read Watts' report by now? He is clearly not a detective.

"The reason I'm asking is that if someone were to look at this from the outside, your actions could be construed as taking the law into your own hands. You not only saved the hostage, you executed the perpetrator."

Rebecca almost smiled. Now he was trying to provoke her into saying more than she intended to reveal. Another interrogation technique that he wasn't employing very well. "Dr. Whitaker, I did not execute the suspect. I used appropriate force to subdue a violent criminal who gave every indication that he was about to inflict severe bodily harm on a civilian and who gave verbal confirmation that he intended to kill her as well as me."

"Let's cut to the chase, Detective Sergeant."

"That would be nice."

"Given the same situation, would you do the same thing again?"

"Yes," Rebecca answered without hesitation. Her eyes met his, and whatever he saw in her steel gaze made him blink.

"Would you risk your life for any hostage, or only one you were personally involved with?" he asked softly.

She leaned forward, never taking her eyes from his, and her voice was flint. "Meaning what?"

"You knew the hostage personally, didn't you?"

"I met her during the course of the investigation, yes."

He gave no sign that she hadn't precisely answered his question, but merely continued. "Did the fact that you...knew her...influence your reaction to the situation?"

"No." She didn't see any need to tell him that she'd been almost out of her mind with fear and anger only a short time before she'd finally found Blake and Catherine. Because her mind had been crystal clear when she'd stepped into the room with them. She'd been in perfect control.

"So," he said with soft finality. "What you're saying is that you would risk your, forfeit your life...for anyone in the same situation."

"I'm a cop, Whitaker," Rebecca remarked sharply, finally allowing her impatience to show. "In case you haven't noticed, that's what we do. I'm not a loose cannon; I'm not a danger to society. I'm not a risk to anyone."

"Except yourself."

Standing, she asked quietly, "Are we done here?"

"For today, yes. I'd like to see you one more time, which is my standard operating procedure." As she turned to leave, he added, "You might consider, Sergeant, that you would be much more effective if you valued yourself as much as those you were sworn to protect."

She didn't answer, but closed the door gently behind her.

chapter sixteen

When Rebecca walked out into the hallway after leaving Whitaker's office, she turned right and almost walked into Watts, who was leaning against the wall smoking a cigarette under a big bright red No Smoking sign. She stared at him. “What are you doing here?”

"I saw you pull into the parking lot this morning."

"And what?" she asked tersely. "You didn't have anything better to do than hang around out here?"

Well," he said unhurriedly, taking the last drag on his cigarette and dropping it on to the stained tile floor and crushing it beneath his scuffed wingtips. "Now that you mention it, I do have something better to do, and I thought you might like something better to do, too."

"What have you got?" she asked, curious despite her irritation at finding him outside the psychologist's office. It wasn't exactly a secret what she was doing there, but she still didn't like being reminded that her colleagues were aware of the fact that she was undergoing evaluation. Even though she was not under any kind of suspicion, it still made her feel as if she were not on firm ground within her own province. As much as she understood intellectually the need for police officers, with their steady diet of stressful and dangerous situations, to have the access to and support of psychologists who understood the pressures of the job, it was still something of a stigma. Before he could speak, she snapped, “Let’s get out of here.”

The two of them began to walk toward the exit sign above the stairwell at the end of the hallway, and Watts replied, "I've tracked down a guest of the state, located right here at our own correctional institution, who might be willing to give us some information for something in return. You know the drill—these cons will roll on their own mothers for extra privileges or a shot at an earlier parole hearing."

"Who is he?" Rebecca asked, her pulse quickening at the thought of any kind of hard lead. It wasn't in her nature to sit by and wait for other departments, or in this case, federal agents to point her in the right direction on a case. If Sloan and McBride turned up something with their Internet searches, all the better, but she wasn't holding her breath.

"A guy by the name of Alonso Richards. He's doing six to ten for possession with the intent to sell."

"Huh," Rebecca said disappointedly. "Drugs. What makes you think he can help us?"

"Because when they raided the house where he was holed up with his stash of crack cocaine, they also found some very interesting videotapes. Tapes with a whole bunch of teenage girls and a couple of …uh… mature men frolicking in the nude in a variety of combinations. And they weren't commercial tapes--these were home movies."

"Do you have the tapes?"

Watts shook his head disgustedly. "Nope. I checked with the evidence room last night. Mysteriously, the tapes have disappeared."

"So we don't know who was on them?"

"No such luck. There was no mention as to whether the men were ever ID’d or not."

Rebecca stopped at the bottom of the stairwell and stared at Watts. "How did you find this? And how come we're just hearing about it now?"

Watts shrugged, but his expression was wary. "Something doesn't smell right, but I can't figure out where the smell is coming from. Since we're Vice, someone from Narco should have tipped us off about it. But it was buried in the arrest report, and the only reason I found it at all is because I pulled the files on the busts you and Cruz made when you closed down that chicken coop last spring. I was trying to find some connection with the guys running that deal, hoping we’d find someone still working the streets, so I cross-referenced the names of the guys you sent away for known associates. Then I ran the names of those guys looking for recent activity and out popped this Richards."

They pushed through the exit door into the parking lot, where Watts promptly lit another cigarette. Police vans, cruisers, and unmarked vehicles were interspersed with civilian cars, and as the two of them wove between the haphazardly parked automobiles towards Rebecca's Corvette, she asked, "You must have spent a lot of time humping that computer. Nice job."

He didn’t reply but a smile flickered across his face and was just as quickly gone. "I think we need to hunt down the narc dicks who made the bust and find out why we never heard about the pornography tie-in. I've called and left messages, but no callbacks. Anything to do with prostitution and kids should have automatically been kicked over to someone in our division, and I couldn't find a record of it."

As Rebecca opened the door and slid into the seat, she grumbled, "There seems to be a lot of things that we should have been informed of that we haven't been. Come to think of it, Cruz and I were lucky to have made that initial arrest. We were tipped off to the place by a junkie we were questioning about something entirely unrelated, and he gave up the location hoping we’d leave him alone. Now I wonder if we hadn't moved on it so quickly whether there would have been anyone there at all when we showed up." When Watts had settled in beside her, she swiveled in her seat and said to him, "How come you didn't tell me about the rumors that Jeff Cruz was dirty?"

Watts merely regarded her with his bland, laid-back to the point of stupor expression and said, "Because it's bullshit. And if I had any idea who started that talk, I'd wait for them out here in the parking lot some night after dark and kick the crap out of them. Cruz was a cop who died in the line of duty, and you don't tarnish their badge until you see it carved in stone."

Rebecca started the engine and pulled out of the parking lot. There wasn't any reason to comment. For once, she and Watts were in perfect agreement.


Three hours later, Rebecca dropped Watts off in front of the 18th. "I need to stop around to Sloan's office and put in an appearance," she said. "You want to write this up and run those names through the computer?"

Sure," Watts said, considering it wise not to mention that she was supposed to be on desk duty and he was supposed to be the leg man. Whoever thought they could put Frye behind a desk didn't know her very well, or knew her well enough to know that it would be a sit down job in name only. "Hey Sarge," he added as if in afterthought, "if you're going to be poking around in other departments, you might not want to spread around why."

Rebecca studied him thoughtfully. Not counting the period of her recovery, she and Watts had really only worked together a few weeks. She had absolutely no reason to trust him, but she finally had to admit to herself that she did. "What are you saying, Watts?"

"I'm not saying anything," he said innocently. He looked like he was about to scratch his balls, and then thought better of it, putting his hand in his pocket instead. "I just think it pays to be careful until we know what happened to Hogan and Cruz."

"You think we have a mole?"

"Don't you?" His expression didn't change, but his eyes grew hard.

She looked away for a second, thinking of all the inconsistencies that had surfaced in just a few days. Homicide had apparently dropped the investigation of two dead detectives; files were missing from the crime scene lab concerning the deaths of the same two cops; arrest reports containing information that might have pointed towards a local child pornography network had been buried; and, finally, she had been quietly assigned to an investigation that was being run from outside the department but which seemed to have connections to local organized crime figures. She was beginning to wonder exactly who Avery Clark was investigating. "Yeah, Watts, I do. So you watch your back, too, okay?"

"You don't have to worry about me, Sarge. I don't intend to make waves." Whistling, he turned and walked away.

She watched him for a minute, wondering how many people he had fooled with his nonchalant facade. Watts was a good cop, and that was one department secret she was happy to have uncovered. Just as she was about to pull away, her beeper went off and she recognized the University Hospital's number. She fished her cell phone from her pocket and punched in the number even as she headed across town toward University City.

"This is Frye," she said when the call was picked up.

"It's Catherine, Rebecca."

Rebecca's heart skipped a beat. "Hey. I'm just on my way over. Can I see you?"

"I'm in my office.”

"Is everything okay?" There was an odd formality to Catherine's tone that made Rebecca uneasy.

"Everything’s fine. I just wanted to talk to you for a minute."

“Okay," Rebecca replied suspiciously. It hadn't been her experience that when a woman wanted to talk to her that it was something minor. Especially not when she and that woman had parted on less than perfect terms the night before.

Catherine laughed, picking up on Rebecca's uncertainty. "And I wanted to tell you that I miss you."

"I miss you, too."

"Good. Drive carefully."


An instant after Rebecca knocked, Catherine answered the door.

"Hi," Rebecca said, feeling uncertain.

"Hi." Catherine took her hand and pulled her into the waiting room that adjoined her office. She closed the door behind Rebecca. "Joyce is at lunch, and I don't have a session for an hour. What about you?"

"My schedule is my own. I'm still on light-duty, remember."

"Yes, I know that's what it's called," Catherine said dryly. "Come on back to my office."

Catherine locked her inner office door and motioned Rebecca to the couch, then settled beside her. Before she could speak, Rebecca slipped an arm around her waist and kissed her. It was more than a simple hello kiss. There was an edge to it, an underlying pulse of hunger that immediately aroused her. She kissed her back, for longer than she should have, but she liked knowing that she stirred this desire in her lover. Finally, she broke away, her palm against Rebecca's chest. "I’m working," she gasped. "I have to see patients in less than an hour. I can't sit here all afternoon in a state of sexual frustration."

"I could fix that in just a few minutes."

Catherine laughed. "I have no doubt that you could. But I think I'd rather anticipate now and be satisfied later at a slightly more leisurely pace."

"Then that's what you shall have," Rebecca to promised, lifting Catherine's hand from her chest and kissing her palm. Serious now she asked, "What did you need to see me about?"

Catherine appeared uncharacteristically hesitant as she glanced away, and then met Rebecca's gaze squarely. Taking a deep breath, she said quietly, "I was contacted by Agent Avery Clark this morning. He requested my services as a consultant to a task force he's running."

Rebecca stiffened and her eyes grew cold. "Son of a bitch," she said softly. "How did he get your name?"

"I'm on the list of departmental consultants," Catherine said. "He also mentioned Captain Henry."

Rebecca got up and quickly crossed the room to the window that fronted the street. She’d stood there once before, the first night she'd met Catherine, but it had been dark then. She watched University students come and go, carefree and confident. It was a beautiful early September day. Without turning, she said, "What did you say?"

"I said I would get back to him. This is your task force, isn't it?"

"No," Rebecca said sharply, her back still to the room. “It's Clark's task force."

"You know what I mean."

There was no anger or accusation in Catherine's voice, and Rebecca realized that Catherine had not instigated the situation. Turning to face her, she tried to figure out why she felt like punching something. "I'm sorry. You caught me off guard. Yes, it's the task force I'm involved with -- the pornography prostitution investigation."

"I work with the police fairly frequently, Rebecca. It's likely that you and I will come into professional contact from time to time."

"I know. Why didn't you give Clark your answer earlier?" She tried and failed to keep the anger from her voice.

"Because this is the first time it's come up for us," Catherine said gently. "I wanted to see how you felt about it."

"The last time you and I worked together it ended badly."

"This isn't the same thing, though, is it?" When Rebecca was silent, Catherine rose and crossed to her. "Is it, Rebecca? You said this was more or less an administrative assignment for you. That it wasn't dangerous. Is there more to it than that?"

"No," Rebecca said, deciding that there was no point in bringing up her suspicions and speculations about something going on behind the scenes in the department. She didn't really have any facts, and there was no point in worrying her for nothing. Still, she didn't like the idea of Catherine being anywhere near the investigation. "I wonder why he isn’t bringing in his own people. If there's one thing the feds have plenty of, it's profilers."

"I asked him the same thing," Catherine said. "Clark pointed out that we're not profiling an individual, but just a general pathologic type, and that I probably have as much experience with it as anyone. He also suggested that it would be helpful to have someone local so that... he mentioned two people, Sloan and... McBride... so they would have someone immediately available if they got a hit."

"That makes sense," Rebecca agreed reluctantly.

"Rebecca," Catherine said, taking her hand. "This is what I do, and it's something I love to do. If it's going to be a problem working this closely with me --"

"No," Rebecca interrupted swiftly, finally getting her emotions under control. "It's not. When you first mentioned it, I thought about Blake. That's all."

Catherine moved closer, gently threading her arms around Rebecca's waist. "It's not the same thing. I will never do anything like that again. I would never put you in danger."

Rebecca stared at her. "What are you talking about? That wasn't your fault."

"Yes, it was." There were tears in her voice, although her face was calm.

"Jesus, Catherine. Is that what you think? You blame yourself?" She pulled her tightly into her arms, resting her cheek against Catherine's hair. "Is that what the dreams are about?" When Catherine didn't answer, she leaned back, cupping Catherine's chin in her palm. Looking into her deep green eyes, she could see the pain swimming close to the surface. "No. It wasn't your fault. It was my decision. I thought of Blake just now because I don't want you anywhere near an investigation that might be dangerous. I can't stand the thought of anything happening to you. I can still see him, with that fucking gun against your head."

Suddenly, they were both trembling, both of them remembering the moment, each fearing for the other. Finally, Catherine said quietly, "I love you."

Rebecca pressed her lips to the Catherine’s temple, her fingers curved possessively on the back of her neck. "I love you." Sighing, she asked, "When are you briefing with us?"

"Tomorrow at 7." Her cheek still nestled against Rebecca's shoulder, she added, "Will you come to me tonight?"

"It might be late," Rebecca answered reluctantly.

"I don't care."

"I want to. I miss you so much."

Eyes closed, listening to Rebecca's heartbeat, Catherine said softly, "Then don't stay away."


IPoJ: Chaps 17-24


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