Part Four



“Hang on, I’m coming!” Julia yelled down the stairs as the doorbell chimed a second time.


“Thought you already did that.  Twice, as a matter of fact.” Maggie smirked at her unrepentantly, causing an unexpected flush on the dark-haired woman’s cheeks.


Gaping at the young blonde in amazement, Julia turned from where she was pulling a bathrobe out of the closet..


“Sshh.  You’re terrible.” She grinned fondly at Maggie, who was looking her up and down with open admiration.


“Hmm.  Well, you’re gorgeous,” Maggie breathed happily.


Completely flustered, Julia blushed more deeply at the compliment.  She shook her head, speechless, as she wrapped a thick bathrobe around herself and hurried downstairs.  Her leather jacket was thrown casually over the banister at the foot of the stairs, and she fished in the inner pocket for a $20 bill.


“Hi, Hector.  You’re right on time, as usual,” she greeted the gawky teenage pizza boy.


“Always,” Hector agreed solemnly.  “Did I wake you up, Ms. Cassinelli?  You look like you just got out of bed.”


Julia coughed into her fist.  “Uh, yeah.  Something like that.”  She took the hot cardboard box from the boy and handed him the money, waving him off as he started to dig in his pockets.  “Keep the change.”


Hector smiled.  He loved delivering here.  Unlike many of the people he delivered to regularly, Ms. Cassinelli was always nice to him, and more often than not, she let him keep the change.


“Thanks, Ms. Cassinelli,” he called over his shoulder as he bounded down the front steps towards the scooter parked haphazardly at the curb.


“Have a good night, Hector.  Drive safe,” Julia called back.


Something caught her eye in the neatly kept flowerbed next to the steps.  It was the morning newspaper, half-hidden beneath the lilies. 


“Oh, hey.  I bet Maggie’s story is in there,” she murmured as she descended the steps to retrieve the paper.  She set it on top of the pizza box and headed back inside, pausing to pull two bills and another annoying credit card offer out of her mailbox.  She stopped in the foyer, smiling up at Maggie, fully dressed, coming down the stairs.


“Pizza’s here,” she said, holding up the box.


Maggie eyes brightened.  “Good.  I’m starved.”


“Heh.  Can’t imagine why,” Julia returned, leading the way to living room. 


She turned on the light, revealing more of the room than Maggie had been able to see earlier.  Like in the rest of the house, dark cherry floors gleamed at her.  The long, black leather sofa took up most of one wall, facing a big screen TV.  An antique rocking chair sat in the corner, next to a cozy fireplace.  Maggie sat down in the chair, running her hands over the polished wood.


“Oooh.  I bet this is comfortable in the winter.  Get a nice fire going, curl up with a book.”


Julia swept aside a scattering of magazines on the coffee table and set the pizza down. 


“Yeah, it is.  Only in my case, it’s usually a case file instead of a book.”  She pushed an unruly lock of hair back from her face.  “I’ll get some plates and stuff. Is iced tea okay?”


“Sounds great.”


While Julia was occupied in the kitchen, Maggie examined the contents of her bookshelves.  Lots of heavy law books alongside a few worn paperbacks.  Mysteries mostly, she noted.  A vast CD collection containing selections from just about every musical genre imaginable filled two shelves.  Each disc was categorized by genre and then alphabetized.  A smaller DVD collection, dominated by science fiction and horror titles, took up another shelf. 


Maggie wandered over to the other side of the room.  The fireplace mantle was empty, except for a single, framed photograph.  It was a picture of a woman, tall and striking with midnight hair swept back from her face and piercing blue eyes.  She was smiling and happy, standing on the beach, the ocean behind her. 


Julia watched from the doorway.  “My mother,” she supplied quietly.


Maggie spun around, startled.  She hadn’t heard Julia return.  “You look like her.”  She walked over and took the two glasses of iced tea from her, setting them on the coffee table.


Julia handed her a plate.  “She died when I was very young.  That picture was taken the week before.”


“I’m so sorry, Julia.  That must have been really hard for you, growing up without a mother.”


Julia shrugged noncommittally, seating herself on the sofa.  She patted the space next to her.


“I never really thought about it,” she lied blandly.  “Come on and eat before the pizza gets cold.”


Maggie joined her on the sofa as Julia turned on the TV and began flipping through channels until she found an entertainment news program.  They each took two slices of the warm, gooey pizza, and Maggie was glad that Julia had thought to grab extra napkins.  Although the alternatives were interesting too.  A blonde eyebrow rose thoughtfully as she noticed a spot of pizza sauce near the corner of Julia’s mouth.  Leaning over, she licked it clean.


“You had a little bit of sauce there,” she explained, getting a bemused chuckle from the tall woman.  “Hey, is that today’s paper?”  Maggie switched gears, noticing the rolled up newspaper on the table.


Julia pushed it over towards her.  “Yep.  Think there’s anything interesting in it?”


Maggie grinned and seized the paper, opening it with as much excitement as a child on Christmas morning.  Quickly, she thumbed through the pages until she reached the local news section.  There it was on page two. . .her byline.  The story had been pared down a bit to fit in the allotted space, but most of her words were still intact.  She reminded herself to thank Jessica for the great editing job.  Jessica.  The paper.


“Oh shit!”  Maggie smacked her forehead, her outburst nearly causing Julia to spill her drink.  “I have to make a quick phone call.  I haven’t checked in at work all day.”


 “See, that’s one of the advantages of being your own boss.  You never have to check in with anybody,” Julia laughed.  “Use the phone in the kitchen.”


“Okay, thanks. I’ll be right back.”


Maggie hurried down the hall towards the kitchen, her socks sliding precariously along the polished floor.  She couldn’t believe she had gone all day without bothering to check in at work.  Picking up the cordless phone, she glanced at the clock on the microwave.  Probably ought to check up on Patrick, too, she mused.  Dialing from memory, she punched in Jessica’s extension. 


After a brief conversation with her friend, she hung up the phone.  Apparently, she hadn’t missed much at work, although everyone wanted to offer her their congratulations on her first news story.  Catherine Richards was on the rampage again, but that was nothing new, and Maggie had quickly defused that situation.  She smiled at the sound of footsteps in the hall, and she swiveled around as Julia appeared a few feet away.


“Just getting some more iced tea,” she said, holding up her empty glass as evidence. “Everything okay at work?”


“More or less.  Although I’m gonna have to buy Catherine Richards a new pair of shoes. Apparently, my brother spilled coffee on her shoes this morning.”


Julia cast a surprised look over her shoulder as she refilled her drink.  “Your brother? He’s okay, then?”


“More or less,” Maggie repeated. “He turned up at the paper this morning. That’s why I had to sneak out of here earlier. He’s fine, I guess.  He swears he’s going to clean up, but I don’t know. I’ve heard his promises before.”  She picked up the phone again. “I need to check up on him. God knows what kind of trouble he could be in by now.”


“Oh, okay. I’ll give you some privacy.” Julia started to move away, stopping as Maggie grabbed her arm as she passed.


“Stay.  Please,” Maggie said softly, her fingers lightly encircling the other woman’s wrist.


Julia hesitated for a moment, unsure if she should intrude on what was obviously a family matter, but the pleading look in those green eyes tugged at her heart.  Maggie needed her to stay, and that was all that mattered.  Silently, she took a seat on the other barstool and propped her elbow up on the counter.  Her other hand rested on Maggie’s thigh, and she squeezed encouragingly as her lover took a deep breath and dialed.


The phone rang.  No answer.  Maggie’s eyes closed and her stomach dropped.  Patrick wasn’t there.  Ok, wait, maybe he’s asleep or in the shower.  Give him a few more seconds, she told herself as the fifth ring sounded in her ear.  Her answering machine clicked on, and she ground her teeth in frustration while she listened to the sound of her own scratchy, muffled voice on the outgoing message.  Julia had inched closer, and recognizing Maggie’s tension, she began rubbing the blonde’s lower back.  The answering machine beeped.


“Patrick, are you there? Pick up the phone, dammit!” Maggie felt her temper slipping away from her.  Anger flashing in her eyes, she turned to Julia.  “He’s not there,” she said, disgusted.


Maggie hit the off button as the irritation built inside her.  She had asked her brother to stay out of trouble for one day.  Just one day.  He had been in San Francisco for less than a week, and he was already turning her life upside-down.  Just like he had before.  She wasn’t going to let him do it again, she vowed silently.  Not when her future suddenly looked so bright.


Julia watched the mix of emotions play across her lover’s face, darkening her usually cheerful countenance.  Clearly, there was a history between Maggie and her brother that she knew nothing about.  Julia reviewed her last thought with a wry grin.  There was a lot about Maggie that she didn’t know, given that they had only met a short time before.  She promised herself that she would work on fixing that situation immediately. 


“Son. Of. A. BITCH!”  Maggie burst out suddenly, slamming the receiver down against the tile counter so hard that the plastic cracked.


Julia jerked backwards, nearly toppling off her barstool.  Waves of fury radiated from the young blonde who was now pacing angrily around her dining room.  Frozen in place, Julia watched as Maggie muttered to herself, her hands gesturing forcefully.  She tried desperately to think of an appropriate response.  People skills had never been one of her strong points.  She slid down from her barstool and warily approached the fuming blonde.


“Um, Maggie?” She began slowly. 


“Why did he come here?  Why can’t he just leave me alone?” Maggie asked, teetering on the edge of tears.


Without thinking, Julia stepped forward and pulled Maggie into a tight hug.  At first, Maggie resisted the comforting embrace, but as Julia’s lips tenderly brushed the top of her head, her anger began to melt away.  The tears started then, increasing until she was sobbing like a heartbroken child.  Through it all, Julia held her and rubbed her back gently until her sobs had slowed to faint hiccups.  Maggie tucked her head beneath Julia’s chin, resting her cheek against the taller woman’s chest.  She frowned, listening to her lover’s pained, shallow breaths.  Suddenly, she remembered Julia’s bruised ribs.


“Oh god, Julia.  I’m so sorry.  Why didn’t you tell me I was hurting you?”  Maggie pulled away quickly, angry at herself for forgetting Julia’s injuries. 


Julia caught her hand and lifted it to her lips, kissing the backs of her knuckles.  “Shhh.  It’s okay.  You didn’t hurt me.” 


Gently, she wrapped her arms around the Maggie’s shoulders again and wished she could take away her lover’s pain.  She hadn’t met Patrick McKinnon yet, but Julia was beginning to like him less and less, and she silently vowed to protect Maggie from her brother.  Maggie mumbled something against her chest.


“What was that?” Julia asked, tilting the blonde’s chin up.


Maggie sniffled, scrubbing at her tear-stained cheeks with the back of her hand.  “I’m sorry I broke your phone,” she repeated mournfully, staring past Julia’s shoulder.


Unable to help herself, Julia started to laugh.  After a moment of confusion, Maggie joined in, leaning against the taller woman until they were both giggling helplessly.  The tension around them dissolved, and with one arm draped across the blonde’s shoulders, Julia led the way back to the living room.


“Don’t worry about the phone.  I can always get a new one,” she said, guiding Maggie to the sofa.  She was about to resume her seat in front of the television when Maggie stopped her.


“Wait.”  Maggie bit her lip as she searched frantically for the right words to describe what she was feeling.  It was crazy.  She made her living as a writer, but now, when it was important, her mind was a complete blank. 


“Maggie?  What is it?” 


Fear tightened around Julia’s chest, and, irrationally, she began to wonder if the reporter had changed her mind about their relationship.  She swallowed hard, bracing herself for the blow.  Inhaling deeply, Maggie took both of Julia’s hands in her own.  The taller woman was shaking slightly, and she looked as if she was waiting to be kicked in the gut. 

“I just want to thank you for everything you’ve done for me,”   Maggie began.  She shook her head, cutting off Julia’s protests.  “Wait, there’s more.  I know I shouldn’t say this.  I shouldn’t even feel this.  It’s too soon.”  She paused, steeling herself.  “I, I know....that I’m falling in love with you.”


Maggie watched as the color drained from Julia’s face and blue eyes widened in astonishment.  Julia swayed slightly, blinking rapidly, and Maggie feared that she was about to faint.  Carefully, she helped Julia sit down on the sofa.  As she seated herself on the edge of the coffee table, Julia opened her mouth to speak.  At  first, nothing but a faint squeak emerged.  Maggie smiled as her friend stammered nervously.




Leaning forward, she placed two fingers on Julia’s lips, silencing her.  “You don’t have to say anything.”


Gently, Julia took her hand and kissed the palm, sending a warm shiver through the blonde’s body.  Oblivious to her bruised and tender ribs, she pulled Maggie into her lap, wrapping her arms securely around the younger woman’s waist.  Her inner voice screamed inside her head, telling her to return the sentiment.  Taking a deep breath to steady herself, Julia summoned every ounce of courage she could muster.


“I love you too,” she whispered, scarcely believing that she was saying the words out loud.


It had been three years since Julia had opened her heart to anyone.  Not since that awful day when she had come home early and found her lover, Kirsten, in bed with someone else.  She had tried, then, but it had been too late to save their relationship, and Kirsten had simply laughed at her awkward declaration of love.  She still remembered the harsh words and the cruel, mocking tone.  You love me?  Don’t make me laugh, Jules.  You’re great in bed, babe, but you’re incapable of love.  You have the emotional range of an ice cube.  I’m sick of it and I’m sick of you.  I can find plenty of other people who are just as great in bed.  Hell, my vibrator gets the same results.  With that, Kirsten had stormed out of the house, setting off a nasty chain of events that led Julia to swear off love for good.  Until now.  Julia shoved the bad memories of her time with Kirsten into a dusty corner of her mind and locked the door on them. 


Maggie was staring at her, a look of utter disbelief on her face.  “Did you just say what I think you said?”


“I don’t know.  What do you think I said?”


“Hey, don’t play games with me, Cassinelli.”  Maggie punched her lightly in the shoulder.  “What did you just say?”


Julia cleared her throat as a slightly embarrassed, lopsided smile spread across her face.  “I love you, Maggie,” she said firmly.  The words had never sounded so right.


Maggie beamed in wonder as the words penetrated her brain.  Julia loved her.  It was a dizzying, exhilarating feeling….like standing at the edge of a cliff.  Only she knew that Julia would keep her safe and never let her fall. 


“Oh,” she murmured, gazing intently into those brilliant blue eyes.  “Oh!” A different tone, this time, as insistent fingers wormed their way beneath her waistband.  A small sigh escaped her and she scooted closer, eager for the touch.


“Aren’t you tired yet?” she teased, tilting her head back as teeth nibbled at her throat.


Julia lifted her dark head and grinned at her devilishly, her eyes twinkling.  “Nah.  I work out.”


“Hmm.  Good to know.  Whaddya say we test that stamina?”  A blonde eyebrow arched suggestively and curious hands slipped inside the thick folds of Julia’s bathrobe.


A low, sultry laugh was her only answer, and without realizing how, Maggie was lying on the sofa.  Julia knelt above her, straddling her hips. 


“The pizza’s gonna get cold,” Maggie pointed out reasonably.


Julia shrugged. “That’s why God invented microwaves.”


Maggie started to laugh, giddy with pure happiness.  She put all other thoughts out of her mind, focusing her attention on the woman smiling down at her.  So this is what love feels like.  I think I like it.  Yeah, definitely.  Reaching out, she tugged on the belt to Julia’s bathrobe.


“C’mere you.” 


Laughter filled the room and quickly turned to low, passionate moans. Followed by a scream or two.  Julia winced inwardly for a moment, wondering what the neighbors were going to think.  Oh, who the hell cares?





Patrick leaned back in the passenger seat of the red Camaro, one arm dangling out of the open window.  The heavy bass in the music blaring from the stereo was making the whole car vibrate, and Patrick nodded along with it.  He stole a sideways glance at Eddie Machado and wondered briefly how the muscular, tattooed man could drive at night with those dark sunglasses plastered to his head.  Eddie took a long drag from his cigarette and flicked the glowing red butt out the window.  Both men laughed and hollered wildly as they sped through a red light, narrowly missing two cars.


The cool night air whipped past them as they careened through traffic, weaving in and out of the lanes.  Honking horns and shouted curses drifted their way, but neither man cared.  For a moment, Patrick thought about his sister.  Maggie was going to be furious with him when she found out he had left again.  He shrugged, swigging from the beer bottle in his left hand.  She would get over it.  She always did.  Idly, he opened the glove compartment, jerking his hand back when Eddie reached over and slammed it shut.  Eddie glowered at him menacingly.  At least, Patrick thought he did; it was hard to read the other man’s expression behind his sunglasses.


“Yo, dude. Stay out of there,” Eddie warned.


Patrick nodded agreeably, dangling his arm out the window again.  He didn’t want to upset his new friend, especially since Eddie was hooking him up with his dealer.  The last thing Patrick wanted to do was blow his chance at some really good stuff.  He decided to forget about the gun in Eddie’s glove compartment.


Several minutes later, they had pulled up at the wrought-iron gates of a sprawling mansion.  The guard, in his little booth, nodded at Eddie and pressed a button.  Slowly, the gates swung inward and Eddie drove up the long driveway, gravel crunching beneath his tires. 


“C’mon, man,”  Eddie said, hopping out of the car and starting towards the imposing front doors.  He glanced at Patrick, who was gaping at the enormous estate, his eyes practically bulging out of his head.  “Look, just keep your mouth shut when we get in there, okay?  Let me do the talking.”


Patrick nodded, following Eddie up the steps.  He wished he had dressed better for the occasion, but glancing at his companion, he realized that it probably didn’t matter.  Eddie rang the doorbell, and they waited for several long minutes while the deep, sonorous tones reverberated throughout the house.  Finally, they heard slow footsteps approaching and an beefy, hulking man in neatly pressed suit opened the door.  The man gave Eddie a contemptuous look and barely glanced in Patrick’s direction.


“He’s out back,” the man grunted at them, standing aside so they could enter.


Patrick gawked openly at the expensive furniture and the artwork on the walls as he followed Eddie to the rear of the house.  They exited through a set of double doors and found themselves standing on the terrace.  A vast, plush green lawn spread out before them, and off to the left, under a set of lights, a man was practicing on a putting green.  He looked up as they drew near, resting his golf club on his shoulder.  He was average-height and athletic-looking, with sandy brown hair and friendly hazel eyes.  He smiled at them and stepped forward to shake Eddie’s hand warmly.


“Eddie, good to see you, man.”  His eyes flicked to Patrick curiously.


“This is Patrick, the guy I told you about last night.”  Eddie made the introductions. “Patrick, this is DC.”


“Right.  Patrick.”  DC held his hand out, and Patrick took it, surprised by the man’s painfully strong grip.  “Have a seat, guys.  I’ll have Gloria bring some drinks.”  He indicated a table on the terrace and nodded to a middle-aged woman waiting near the doors.


 “So, Patrick, Eddie tells me you might be interested in coming to work for me,” DC said after they were seated.  He settled back in his chair, casually resting one ankle across his knee.


Patrick looked at him, then at Eddie uncertainly.  No one had mentioned anything to him about a job.  He shifted nervously in his chair.  Gloria returned with a tray of imported beer bottles, giving him a few extra minutes to think. 


“Um, I don’t know.  What kind of work?”  Patrick asked.


DC and Eddie exchanged a look.  “I own several warehouses in the city.  I’m always looking for reliable guys to help unload merchandise.  That sort of thing.”


“Oh.  Yeah, I could do that.” Patrick said, relieved.  He had been worried that DC was going to ask him to deal or something.  That was a line he had promised himself he would not cross.


“Good.  That’s very good, Patrick.”  DC smiled at him.  “It’s hard work, but I think you’ll find the pay is worth it.  Plus, there are a few perks.” 


DC produced a plastic baggie from his pocket and tossed it on the table in front of Patrick.  He met Patrick’s gaze and nodded once, indicating that he should take it.  He smiled again, exposing a two rows of perfectly straight, white teeth as Patrick pocketed the drugs.


“Excellent,”  DC grinned, sounding very pleased.  With a wave of his hand, he beckoned Gloria over.  “Gloria, this is Patrick.  He’s going to be working for me.  Would you take him inside, please, and have Tom get him set up.”  He glanced at Patrick.  “I believe you met Tom Becker on your way in.  He’s my right hand guy.  He’ll get you all taken care of.”


“Oh, okay.” Patrick stood.  “Listen thanks Mr…..” he trailed off uncertainly.


“Just call me DC,” Patrick’s new employer continued to grin at him like a Cheshire cat.


DC watched until Patrick disappeared into the house.  He turned to Eddie, all traces of good humor gone from his face.  His eyes, friendly and engaging just moments before, went flat and cold.  Eddie took a long swallow of the dark German beer that his employer preferred.  He jumped, spilling the amber liquid down the front of his shirt as DC swatted the sunglasses from his head.  The false bravado slipped for a split second and fear shone in his eyes.


“Take those damn things off.”  DC demanded.  “What do you know about this guy?”


Eddie shrugged, composing himself quickly. “He’s a junkie, for starters.  He was already wasted by the time I found him at that rave last night.”


“Yeah, that much is pretty obvious.  Did you see him light up when I tossed that shit in front of him?  Thought he was gonna cream his shorts right here. Loser.”  DC spat, disgusted. “What about his background?  Anyone gonna come looking for him?”


“Nah,”  Eddie said. “He’s from some small town in Ohio.  He has a sister out here, but from what he says, she’s pretty busy.  Probably won’t even miss him. He’s your guy, DC.”


“He’d better be.  For your sake,” DC snarled, eyes glinting dangerously.


DC’s housekeeper, Gloria, led Patrick down a long hallway.  His dirty running shoes sank into the thick carpet, and he was acutely aware of his scruffy appearance.  He swore internally at Eddie, wishing the man had told him where they were going.  He would have dressed better.  Everything in the house screamed of money. 


Gloria stopped in front of a door, and Patrick nearly crashed into her back.  He mumbled an apology, grinning sheepishly as a flush crept up his neck.  The housekeeper regarded him impassively for a moment.  She’d seen dozens of young men and women come through this house in the last few years.  Shaking her head sadly, she pointed at the door and walked away, leaving Patrick alone in the corridor.  Patrick pushed up the sleeves on his faded sweatshirt and knocked on the door.


“Yeah.” A gruff voice barked at him from within.


Tentatively, Patrick opened the door.  The same hulking man he’d seen earlier was pouring himself a drink at a well-stocked bar.  As Patrick stood quivering in the doorway, Tom Becker swirled the golden Scotch in his glass, listening as the ice cubes clinked together.  He took an appreciative sip, letting the smooth alcohol slide down his throat and warm his stomach while he eyed the other man speculatively, knowing that his silence was unnerving the young man.  Tom wasn’t especially tall, but what he lacked in height, he made up for in sheer bulk.  The expensive suit he wore was stretched tight over his powerful frame, and his massive hands looked as if they could crush Patrick’s throat with an effortless squeeze.


Patrick fought the urge to turn and run away.  “Uh, DC said I should come see you.”


The brawny man grunted.  “You came in with that Machado punk, right?”  He didn’t wait for a response as he poured himself another drink.  “I don’t know why DC keeps taking in pathetic scum like you guys.  Siddown.”


Patrick did as he was told, taking a seat in front of a large desk.  He waited nervously while Tom tossed back his second Scotch.  Finally, the big man circled around him, like a jungle cat stalking its prey, and sat down behind the desk.  He tore a sheet off a memo pad and scribbled something on it, pushing the paper over to Patrick.


“Show up at that address tomorrow. Seven a.m. Don’t be late.” 


Tom opened a drawer and took out a bundled stack of crisp one hundred dollar bills.  Licking his thumb, he counted out ten and laid them on the desk. It was more cash than Patrick had ever had at one time, and he could smell the newness of the bills. Waving his hand, Tom indicated that Patrick should take them.  Quickly, before Tom could change his mind, Patrick snatched the money and shoved it into his pocket.


“That’s an advance on this week’s salary.” Tom advised him.  “Where are you living?”


“My sister’s place.  It’s in Richmond, I think,” Patrick offered hesitantly.


Tom shook his head.  “No good.”  He pretended to think for a moment, going over his instructions in his mind.  “Okay, listen. You’re gonna move into one of the guest rooms here. You call you sister and tell her you’re fine, but don’t tell her where you are. She wouldn’t understand anyway, right?”


Patrick agreed readily.  Maggie definitely wouldn’t understand this.  He didn’t think he understood this either, exactly, but he certainly wasn’t going to turn down $1,000 a week.  Reaching for the phone that Tom was offering him, he paused, frowning.


“What’s the problem?” Tom asked, his flinty eyes narrowing.


A cold sweat broke out on Patrick’s back and under his arms.  He was scared to death of Tom Becker.  He swallowed hard.


“I…I don’t remember her number.”


Tom gave him a disgusted look and yanked the phone out of his hands, his thick fingers punching the numbers so hard that Patrick thought they would break. 


“Yeah, I need a number in Richmond for a ….” He looked at Patrick.  “What’s your sister’s name?”


“Maggie.  I mean, Megan.  Megan McKinnon.” Patrick wasn’t sure which name his sister would be listed under.


“Maggie or Megan McKinnon,” Tom repeated, waiting as the operator searched for the number.  He nodded, carefully writing on another scrap of paper.  “Thanks.” 


Tom dialed Maggie’s phone number himself and thrust the receiver at Patrick. “Here.”


Several cover stories rushed through Patrick’s mind as he took the phone. Maggie was bound to ask a bunch of questions that he couldn’t answer.  He breathed a sigh of relief when the answering machine picked up.


“Hey, Mags.  It’s me.  Look, I know you’re pissed, but I just wanted to let you know that I’m okay.  I found someplace else to stay so I won’t cause you any more trouble, okay? Bye.”  He set the phone back on the desk and wiped his sweaty palms on his pants.


Tom Becker stared at him, a disdainful sneer on his face.  Hoisting his bulky frame out of his chair, he loomed over Patrick, close enough to smell the sour sweat that was pouring off the nervous young man.  The kid was terrified of him, Tom thought with a satisfied smirk.  He shook his head slowly and hoped DC knew what he was doing with this one.  Crooking a finger at Patrick, he started towards the door.


“Follow me.”


Tom led him upstairs to a guest room at the back of the house.  It was large and neat, with an adjoining bathroom containing fresh towels and a new toothbrush.  There was a television and a clock radio, but no windows and no telephone.  Still, the queen-sized bed looked soft and inviting, especially after the couch in Maggie’s apartment.


“This is your room,” Tom said brusquely.  “Be ready to leave by 6:30 tomorrow morning.  Someone will drive you to the warehouse.” 


Abruptly, Tom shut the door, leaving Patrick alone in his new surroundings.  Patrick started toward the bed when a soft click sounded behind him.  Whirling around, his stomach heading for his feet, he gripped the doorknob.  It wouldn’t turn.  He had been locked in.


As panic began to set in, Patrick backed away until his knees hit the edge of the bed.  He sat down with a thump, bouncing a little on the mattress.  Scratching furiously at his goatee, he tried to force himself to calm down.  There was probably a perfectly good reason why he had been locked in this room.  He just couldn’t think of any at the moment.




Maggie opened her eyes two minutes before the alarm was set to go off.  Blinking to clear her sleep-blurred vision, she stretched an arm out and flipped the switch to the off position.  The cool plastic cube felt strange under her fingertips, and she suddenly remembered that it was not her clock.  She was not in her own bed, and she definitely was not alone.  She lightly stroked the arm that circled her waist, smiling as Julia’s fingers flexed in response.  Work was the last place Maggie wanted to be this morning.


Sighing regretfully, she carefully slid out from under Julia’s arm.  The weather was starting to turn, and Maggie wrapped her arms around herself, shivering.  She smiled down at her sleeping lover as memories of the previous night surfaced.  Julia’s hands and lips on her body.  Maggie’s stomach fluttered as the rest of her body was instantly jolted awake.


“Ok, enough of that,” she scolded herself.  “Gotta go to work. Now where the heck are my clothes?”


 She thought hard.  Downstairs.  Her clothes were downstairs on the living room floor where they had been abandoned, along with Julia’s robe and a half-eaten pizza.  She headed for the bedroom door, stopping when a warm hand grabbed the back of her thigh.  Turning, she found a pair of sleepy blue eyes gazing up at her.


“Hey, where ya going?”  Julia mumbled petulantly, trying to draw the blonde back into bed.


Maggie leaned down and kissed the bridge of her nose.  “Good morning to you, too.  I have to go get dressed and go to work.”


Julia pouted, poking her lower lip out comically.  She shook her dark, disheveled head and tried to pull Maggie back to bed again.  Maggie laughed, slapping her hands away playfully.


“Stop that!  I have to go get dressed.  It’s cold out here.”  Goosebumps covered her body, and her teeth were starting to chatter.


Propping herself up on one elbow, Julia stretched her other hand out and traced a slow spiral around one of Maggie’s breasts.  The blonde gasped as the wandering fingers hit their mark. 


“There are certain advantages to keeping it cold in here,” Julia gave her a seductive grin.  “Besides, it’s nice and warm under the covers.”  She patted the bed invitingly.


Maggie backed out of reach.  “Don’t tempt me.  I have to go to work today,” she said firmly.


“Oh, all right, then,”  Julia said, letting out an exaggerated sigh as she threw the blankets back.  She winced as the cold air hit her bare body.  “Whoa, you weren’t kidding.  It’s freezing out here.”


She slid out of bed, dragging the flannel sheet with her.  Pulling Maggie into her arms, she folded the sheet around them both and kissed the young woman thoroughly.


“Come on, let’s go get you dressed.”  Still wrapped in the sheet, she tugged Maggie toward the door.


Laughing, Maggie stumbled along with her, trying to keep their feet from tangling together.  “I can let myself out, you know.  You don’t have to get up.”


“I want to.  I have stuff to do today, anyway.”  They had reached the top of the stairs.


“If we fall down the stairs and you hurt yourself, it’s gonna be your own fault,” Maggie warned.


Julia grinned, hearing the challenge in Maggie’s voice.  “Guess we’d better not fall then.”


They made it downstairs in one piece, and Maggie extricated herself from the sheet.  She dressed hurriedly while Julia curled up on the sofa.  Sitting on the edge of the coffee table, Maggie put on her socks and fished her shoes out from underneath the sofa.


“So what are you doing today?” she asked.


Julia yawned and stretched luxuriously.  “I have a case to work on, remember?”


Maggie thought for a moment….the Netsports burglary.  She nodded.  “Right.  Well, take it easy, okay? You’re not supposed to do too much.”


Julia rolled her eyes.  “Yes, mother.  I’m just gonna make some calls.  I want to talk to Danny again, see if he remembers anything else yet.”  She paused, grinning wickedly.  “Besides, if I could survive the workout you put me through last night, I think I can handle just about anything.”


The tips of her ears began to burn, and Maggie fidgeted awkwardly.  “Yeah.  Last night was….incredible.”


“For me too,” Julia assured her, following Maggie to the front door.


“I have to stop at home and grab a shower.  Maybe Patrick turned up again.” She shrugged, not wanting to go into it any further.  She glanced up shyly. “I’ll, uh, call you later?”


“You’d better.” 


Lowering her head, Julia kissed her.  Totally oblivious to the fact that she was clad in nothing but a sheet, she stood on the porch and watched Maggie get into her car.  The engine roared to life, and Maggie lifted a hand to wave before speeding away into the early morning gloom.  Julia waved back, waiting until the car had disappeared from view before turning back to the house.  There was surprisingly little fog, but a brisk wind was blowing inland and dark storm clouds loomed to the west.  Rain was on the way, Julia noted sourly.  She sighed, pulling the sheet tighter around her body.


“Oh well.  It’s better than the damn fog.” 


To be continued - Part 5


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