UNDER THE GUN
By Lori L. Lake
a/k/a Lorelei, Bard of the Lakes
email@example.com -- www.LoriLLake.com
TODAYS COMMENT: Thanks to the many of you who have written to express support for this story as well as condolences for my back injury. I am getting better. Im back to light upper body workouts, so that is a huge relief. Its easier to sit and work on my writing, so that is also good news. I will answer everyone who has writtenjust takes me a little time.
DEDICATION: I want to dedicate this section to three people who have gone over and above the call of duty in giving me feedback, editing, and beta-reading. I previously thanked Janet Catran, and I want to add Day Peterson, Nann "Pruferblue" Dunne, and Sue OBrien. Without their thorough and exacting feedback, this story would be a lot choppier and riddled with inconsistencies. I feel so grateful to them for their generosity and for sharing solid, honest, and helpful criticism. It would take twice as long without them.
BOOKPLATES: Its been fun to get requests for autographs and bookplates. Thanks for the honor of doing that! Dont forget that if you send me an SASE, I will send you a bookplate for your book(s). See "Bookplates" on my website at www.LoriLLake.com. Also, let me know your email addy if you have written me before. Its fun to know if I have corresponded with you in the past.
REMINDER: This is a sequel. If you havent read the first book, GUN SHY, you might want to go to: GUNSHY. You can purchase a copy of GUN SHY, published by Renaissance Alliance Publishing (Quest Division), at any bookstore or online bookseller. Also, I have another book just published, RICOCHET IN TIME (Yellow Rose Books), which has never been posted online. I just discovered that the best prices on both books are at Books-A-Million. Go "Books" on my website to order from them.
REITERATED DISCLAIMERS: The characters and the plot are original and mine. Please give me advice, feedback, and criticism. If something doesnt square up for you, go ahead and let me know. I wont bite. At least not very hard. This sequel is still about cops. It contains scenes of violence and/or their aftermath as well as one or two swear words here and there. The story depicts a love/sexual relationship between consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state/country where you live, either be very sneaky about reading this or else dont. Im not your mother. Do what you want. J
Dez slept restlessly, waking every half-hour or so with a throbbing in her eye and a headache that wouldnt quit. She wanted to sleep on her side, but she was afraid she might dislodge the bandage on her eye, so she tried to stay on her back, which, after a few hours, wasn't that comfortable. Each time the dark-haired cop drifted off to sleep, she was eventually jerked awake by bad dreams filled with fire, blood, and blades. She awoke sweating from one nightmare where she and Jaylynn had been chased by a wraith-like man with a knife. He kept drawing closer and closer, his breath on her neck and a maniacal laugh tickling her ear. No matter how fast she ran, she couldnt elude him.
Sometime after five a.m. she lay awake, a pulse beating in her eye and forehead. Jaylynn slept quietly next to her on her side, her blonde hair tousled. Dez thought about getting up to take a pain-killer, but before she could make a move, Jaylynn cried out, "No! No, please no!"
Dez rolled up on her side and reached for the smaller womans shoulder. "Jay," she said quietly.
The blonde tensed up, her legs thrashing. "No, dont!" She shook her head from side to side, burrowing into the covers and moaning "No" over and over.
"Jay! Wake up. Its a bad dream." The rookie kicked out, her instep nailing Dez in the kneecap. "Ouch!"
"No, no, dont lemme fall no ."
The dark-haired cop scooted over on the bed and pressed against the smaller woman. "Hey, hey, wake up, sweetie. Wake up."
Panting and whimpering, the blonde came to, her eyes focusing slowly in the dim light of the room. She groaned and swallowed with difficulty. Her voice was raspy when she spoke. "Oh, God . . . what a nightmare."
"Yeah, seems like it. Cmere." She pulled the smaller woman into her arms, and the blonde snuggled in, shivering. Dez sat up a bit and with one long arm, grabbed the rumpled quilt and tugged it up and over Jaylynn. "What was that all about?"
In a flat voice, she answered, "Same dream as always. Same scary shit."
"Not a replay of Nielsens attack?"
"No." Jaylynn shifted so that her head was against her partners shoulder and she was lying pressed up against the right side of the tall womans body. She put her leg over Dezs right thigh and held on tight. "Ive been having these same dreams ever since I was a kid. Its like these horrible, giant, alien monsters are chasing me and getting closer and closer, and trying to rip me to pieces and devour me."
"Sounds a little familiar. I was just having a similar dreamonly my monsters are more human sized."
"This one was a double whammy because I climbed up and up in this building, trying to get away, and finally I was on the roof, running fast as I could. I looked over the side and the whole thing was going up in flames. I had to choosejump into the smoke below or stay and burn to death, and all the while, I could hear the monsters footsteps and this deep growling. So I jumped, but then one of the aliens was waiting below with the same old blood and guts all over his teeth and jaws. As soon as I jumped, I just knew hed be there. Hes always there, and I couldnt figure out why I was so stupid that I had jumped again. Im falling and falling, and it scares me shitless, but there isnt anything I can do."
"Youve had this dream since you were a kid?"
"Did something happen in your childhood to provoke this?"
"I watched Sigourney Weaver in Alien in grade school. Apparently, that was all it took. My parents were pretty mad that Id done that, because Ive been having nightmares for years."
"Hmm." The dark-haired woman lay on her back, thinking of her own bad dreams as she stroked Jaylynns back through the sleep shirt the smaller woman wore. "I didnt used to have trouble sleeping at allnot until Ryan died. Id pay a lot of money to sleep the way I used to."
"You and me both. Guess Ill have to go back to my old fantasy and utilize it." She lifted her head a little and tried to look into Dezs eyes in the shadowy light. There was enough illumination for her to see the thoughtful look on the taller womans face. "Hey, hows your eye feeling?"
"I think its better than the way your face looks. Youve got the beginnings of two of the biggest shiners Ive ever seen." She lifted a hand to touch the side of the blondes face and caress her cheek tenderly. "What fantasy?"
"The fantasy you use."
"Oh, you mean for bad dreams?" Dez nodded, and Jaylynn let her head drop back down against the cotton sleepshirt that the dark-haired woman wore. "Its sort of embarrassing to admit."
"Good," Dez mumbled. "Its your turn to embarrass yourself anyway."
Jaylynn giggled. "Its just that its sort of juvenile. When I was having these dreams as a kid, my Auntie Lynn came to visit. Shes a psychotherapist, you know, and she taught me some guided visualization stuff to think of before I fell asleep and to try to incorporate into my dreams if I could."
"What kind of visualization stuff?"
"Thats kind of the embarrassing part. I would visualize a hero, someone to protect me, and then if the monsters showed up, all I had to do is call for help and ask them to come."
"So you imagined whatGhostbusters?"
"No. I imagined you."
"Huh?" She tipped her head to the side and tried to see Jaylynns face, but the blonde was pressed too closely against her chest for her to examine her expression.
The rookie went on, her voice slow and thoughtful. "I didnt know if I ever wanted to admit this to you because it sounds so bizarre. But youve already got a good idea of all my strange quirks, so you may as well know one more. The hero I created had long black hair and looked and felt and sounded just like you do. I let her save me practically every night. I got so used to seeing my hero that I almost enjoyed the bad dreams. I loved it when this tall, strong woman showed up. She was really fierce and absolutely fearless."
Dez let out a snort of laughter. "Well, it wasnt me, then. I might have a little fierceness in me, but no way am I absolutely fearless."
"Hey, Miss Prince Valiant, you are one of the bravest people I know."
Jaylynn pulled away and sat up. "Im not kidding, Dez. To have gone through all you have experiencedwell, thats taken some real courage. You face your fears. None of us are really fearless, except maybe in fantasy, but you dont let that stop you."
Dez wasnt so sure about that. Shed felt like a great big chicken lately, and one of the major strong emotions she had been dealing with felt like plain old fear. "I wouldnt put it that way, Jay. Im not fearless. Besides, you didnt even know me when you did this visualization stuff."
The blonde swung her leg over the bigger woman and straddled her hips, then lowered her upper body. With her elbows on either side of the dark-haired womans head, she shifted until she was comfortable, her face close to her partners. "The moment I saw you, for the very first time, in Saras room, I was electrified. I knew it was you, my dream hero. I cant explain it. I cant prove it. But I believed it then, and I still believe it now."
Dez peered up at her through her one good eye. She lifted her hands, put them on Jaylynns ribcage and slid them down to her hips, then worked her hands up under the t-shirt, feeling the warm skin at the blondes waist. "If Im such a great hero, how come youre still having the bad dreams?"
Jaylynn shivered. "I dont know." Her head dropped into the hollow at the right side of Dezs neck, and she held on tight. "I guess I havent been doing a very good job visualizing in my dreams since youre right here in my waking life."
They had fallen asleep again, and when Jaylynn woke up later in the morning, the sun was shining in through the small window over the bed. She heard a clunking noise from somewhere below her, and then the distant sound of water running, so she knew either Luella or Vanitaor bothwere up and about. She extricated herself from Dezs embrace and tiptoed over to use the bathroom, then washed her hands and face, and stood looking at herself in the mirror. A dark purple bruise the size of a dime adorned her right cheekbone, and above that, she saw two pale plum-colored circlets under her eyes. Both eyes were pink and bloodshot, and when she surveyed the state of her face, she had to admit that she looked awful. Puffy, swollen skin around her eyes and brows and an especially pale face contributed to making her look tired and wrung out. Oh well. I dont feel so bad, though I do look terrible. Its not as wretched as it appears, though.
She still had a bit of a headache, but it wasnt the pulsatingly painful kind. With a little food and liquid, she figured shed be ready to roll by noon. She stepped into the living room area and looked across the space to the bed on the far wall where the dark-haired woman lay sleeping on her back, her face turned away from the light coming in the little window. It wasnt like Dez to sleep longer than her partner, but Jaylynn figured there was some heavy duty healing going on, and she wouldnt begrudge her any rest.
She stood in front of the couch and rooted around in a pile of clean laundry until she came up with one of Dezs sweatshirts and a pair of dark blue sweatpants, which bagged on her when she slipped them over her bare legs. She pulled the white drawstring tight and looped it into a snug bow, then found some thick socks. After tugging the sweatshirt on over her sleep shirt, she paused a moment to examine the dark-haired woman as she lay sleeping so peacefully. She didnt show any signs of waking, so the blonde crept from the room, through the kitchen, and to the back door to head down the stairs.
Later in the day, they were supposed to stop by Colette Reillys house so that Dezs eye could be re-checked. Jaylynn didnt think the tall cop needed another exam, but she did think that a certain mother and daughter needed a good excuse to be in one anothers company. In the hospital, the night before, she had observed the desperation Dezs mother had been trying to conceal when she first arrived. It wasnt until Colette and Dr. Lefsky had ascertained that the eye injury was only mildly serious that the older woman had relaxed. Jaylynn didnt think that if she were a doctor she would ever want to examine her own wounded child, but Colette Reilly had done an admirable job, remaining calm and focused. Only the closest observer would have detected the slight tremble of her hand or the almost imperceptible crack in her professional demeanor.
But watching Dez the night before was even more revealing. The big woman drank up her mothers attention as though it were water at an oasis in the Sahara. At one point, Jaylynn could have sworn that her partner teared up and was going to cryand not from pain either.
And then after theyd finished the exams, the x-rays, and the stitching, the tall woman had received nothing short of a heros welcome in the waiting room when they went to leave. Lt. Finn, Tsorro, and Mac had been speaking to one another over in the corner, and Patrick and Monique stood, arms around each other, looking out the window into the parking lot. When the sliding glass door from the E.R. bay opened, and mother and daughter emerged with Jaylynn in tow, Dez was hugged by everyone, even Tsorro. The blonde watched. Despite the fact that her head was pounding and her eyes watered, it was clear that the Reilly clan loved their black sheep daughter. How Dez could think any differently was a real mystery to the rookie.
She made it to the bottom of the cold stairwell and tapped on Luellas back door. When she heard a voice call out, "Come in," she turned the knob and stepped in to the fragrant aroma of cocoa. "In here," she heard Luella say.
Standing in the kitchen doorway, Jaylynn smiled. The two women sat at the little kitchen table in the corner, drinking from steaming hot mugs. "Hey, Luella, Van, how are you both this morning?"
Vanita grinned at her, and raised her cup. "Great. Want to try some low-fat cocoa coffee?"
Before she could answer, Luella gestured toward the third chair at the dinette table and rose. "Grab a chair and Ill whip you up some of this good stuffand some oatmeal, too, if youd like."
"You dont have to go to any trouble."
"No trouble at all. I made enough for an army, hoping you two would come down." Jaylynn moved toward the chair, and Luella gave her a gentle swat on the butt as she went by. "Wheres the other fugitive from the chain gang?"
The rookie settled into the chair, her elbows on the table and hands folded in front of her. "Believe it or not, shes still sleeping."
Vanita reached over and patted her hands. "You look like hell, girl, and dont let anyone tell you any different. You definitely need some coffee."
At that moment, an over-sized tankard of chocolate-smelling coffee was placed in front of her, and Jaylynn picked it up, took a sip, and smiled with delight. "This is low fat?"
"Yup. Pretty good flavor, huh?" Luella set a bowl of oatmeal in front of her, too, with a spoon, a dish of brown sugar, and a tiny plastic container of raisins. "Its high in sugar, but not much fat at all."
Jaylynn grinned. "I do believe Ill be drinking a lot of this from now on." She took another sip. "Yum. Its great."
Luella lowered herself into her chair. "Got it from that low-fat recipe book Dez gave me for Christmas. Ive found a couple of good recipes in that. You like raisins in your oatmeal?"
"I can also make you some toast or"
"No thanks, Luella, this is all right for the moment. I dont even know how much Ill be able to eat. Lets wait and see." She picked up her spoon and scooped some brown sugar onto the oatmeal, then mixed it all together and took a bite.
Vanita took a slurp of her coffee cocoa. "I sure hope you dont work today."
Jaylynn swallowed. "No, thank goodness. I mightve had to call in sick. I feel like a truck hit me."
"Its a shame that man is such an ass," Vanita said. "I cant believe hed beat up on two women."
"Well, Van, if youd seen him when they hauled him away, I think youd have to admit that he regretted it. With the pounding Dez and Tsorro gave him, he was looking more than a little rough around the edges." She took another bite of the oatmeal. "Mmm, this is so good. Thank you."
The silver-haired woman beamed at her. "Youre welcome, Jay."
They talked for a little while longer, and then Luella cleared away the blondes dishes and asked for a favor.
"Sure, what can I help with?"
"Normally Id have Dez do this, but youre just as strong. Hows your head feeling?
"Pretty good for the moment."
"Would you feel up to helping us rearrange some furniture?"
"Absolutely. What needs moving?
Fifteen minutes later, when Dez tapped on the back door and poked her head in, the three women were busy in the living room. Vanita stood by giving instructions as Luella and Jaylynn moved two couches and five chairstwo of them reclinersaround the room, trying to make them all fit in a sensible way. The tall woman stood in the doorway and watched for a few moments before the blonde looked up from behind a wingback chair and caught sight of her. "Hey, you."
Luella strode across the room and put her arm around the dark-haired womans waist. She looked up at the bandaged eye. "Hows that eye feeling this morning?"
"Besides the little man pounding mercilessly on the backside of it, just fine."
"We need to get you some ice, girl."
Dez inhaled. "I think what I really need is some of that cocoa smelling stuff."
Luella grinned. "I take it you wouldnt want the coffee Ive been mixing in it."
"Ahhh . . . no."
"I can offer you some oatmeal, too."
Dez nodded and followed her wearily into the kitchen with Vanita and Jaylynn on her heels. Suddenly the kitchen was overflowing with people, and she felt claustrophobic.
"Sit down, Dez," Luella said. "Van, sit yourself down over there. You, too, Jaylynn. Give me some room to work here."
The dark-haired woman settled herself at the table in the wooden chair in corner of the kitchen and closed her eyes as the staccato pounding in her temple continued. She opened her eyes, startled, when she felt a cool hand on her forehead. Jaylynn said, "You know, I think you have a fever. Feel her forehead, Luella."
Next thing Dez knew, the three women were fussing over her, agreeing that she did, indeed, have a fever. Luella disappeared from the room for a moment, then came back and handed the blonde a cell phone. "Here. Give Colette a call, Jay, and get us some free advice."
"Im fine," the tall cop said in an obstinate voice.
"Yeah, yeah," her landlady said. "If youre so fine, then why are you in such pain?"
"Listen, you stubborn ox. If you can reduce the pain, then youll heal quicker than sitting here tense as all get-out. Tell her your moms number."
Wearily, Dez recited the numbers, and Jaylynn was soon talking with Colette Reilly. In the meantime, Luella dished up a small bowl of oatmeal and set it before the dark-haired woman. Dez picked it up, cradled it in her hand, and took small bites. Before she had eaten half of it, she put it down and closed her eyes. Why is this pounding so much?
Luella set a steaming cup of hot cocoa in front of the dark-haired woman and stood next to her, one soft hand on the back of her neck. "Why dont you try to get some of that down, kiddo. Take in some calories. You need em."
Jaylynn said goodbye to Dezs mother and flipped the phone shut. "She says that we should meet her down at her clinic, and shell take a look. She said it could be a lot of thingsinfection, complications, or something like that."
Vanita rose. "Well, Ill go get my purse and coat, and we can all ride over in the Chrysler."
Jaylynn followed her. "Ill go change into something a little more presentable."
"Good idea," Luella said. She turned, went to the stove and turned off a burner. She picked up the pan there, scooped the oatmeal into a plastic container, and put the pan in the sink, turning on the water and letting it run while she put the oatmeal into the refrigerator. "Can you finish that cocoa or oatmeal, Dez?" When the tall woman murmured, "No," Luella cleared the dish and cup from the table and set it into the sink with the other mugs. She ran water over her hands and dried them on a kitchen towel hanging from the fridge door.
In short order, Jaylynn was behind the wheel of the big green Chrysler, seated next to Vanita, with Dez and her landlady sat in the back seat. The trip down to the clinic was uneventful, with everyone trying to keep their voices low so as not to make Dezs headache any worse than it already was.
Dressed in casual slacks and sweater and wearing a white lab coat, Colette Reilly was already at the clinic when they arrived. Since the eye clinic was closed on Saturdays and Sundays, she had waited in the entryway to let them in. She greeted them warmly, took hold of Dezs arm, and led the whole crew into the dimly lit examining room, pulling up chairs by the doorway for the older ladies. "Dez, go sit in the examining chair there. Jaylynn, youll have to stand, if you dont mind. I dont have another chair."
"No problem, Dr. Reilly."
Colette focused steely blue eyes on her. "Call me Colette, why dont youor else Mom. No need for formalities, is there?"
Dez opened her good eye enough to see Jaylynn blushing, then caught Luella looking at her with concern on her face. She closed her eye again. She felt her mothers competent hands removing the bandage over her left eye. Though she knew both her eyes were open, out of her left eye, she couldnt see anything but gray fuzz surrounded by white light. For a moment, it hit her that she might lose the sight in that eye, and the thought frightened her. "Mom?"
"Mm hmm?" Colette had an ophthalmoscope in her hand and shone it first into one eye, then into the other.
"Am I going to lose my sight, and youre just not admitting it to me?"
The light went off and she felt her mothers hand on her forehead. "No, I seriously doubt that anything like that will happen. Here, open up." Dez opened her mouth, and a thermometer slid under her tongue, and she sat, patiently, waiting for more information. Her mother rolled the slit lamp up close to the examining chair and adjusted it up to her tall daughters height. When the thermometer beeped, Dez pulled it out and handed it to her mother who looked at it and said, "101.1. Youve definitely got some infection. Im going to take a look at each of your eyes, and then well take that other bandage off your eyebrow and see whats happening with the stitches." She moved the slit lamp frame in close and instructed Dez to put her chin on the rest. "Jaylynn?"
Colette laughed and turned in her seat. "Will you hit the lights, Ms. Savage?"
"Uh, yes. Sure." The lights went off, leaving only one dim side light.
Dezs mother spun around and moved close to the slit lamp. "Just a reminder: no need to be so formal."
"Yeah, yeah. Okay."
The tall cop thought Jaylynn sounded a little nervous, and she hadnt heard a peep from the old ladies, so without moving her head, she said, "Van Lu you guys sleeping over there?"
"No," they said in unison. Then Vanita went on. "Were just so glad to hear that you wont be a cyclops."
"Vanita!" Luella said, her voice sharp.
Dez chuckled, and her mother said, "Keep still, Desiree. Im almost done. Look up. . . down . . . left . . . now right. Blink . . . blink again." She shifted the light from the left eye over to the right eye and quickly went through the same routine, then shut off the machine. "Lights, Jaylynn." When they came on, she stood, moved the slit lamp out of the way, and came over to stand at the tall womans side. "Okay, first thing that you need to know is that your eye already looks a little better than it did last night. Its healing. Eyes heal surprisingly quickly."
"But I still cant see."
"True, but it takes a while for the blood and fluid to dissipate. Be patient. Another 72 maybe even 48hours and youll be amazed at the difference. Now, lets look at the stitches. Tip your head back against the seat now and try to relax. Im going to remove the bandage from the sutured area." With skillful hands, she worked the tape up off Dezs brow and peeled it and the gauze away. "Hmmm . . ."
"Hmmm? What does hmmm mean?"
"How is your head feeling now?"
"Still poundingbut not quite so bad. Why?" Dez felt her mothers fingers probing. "Ouch. Thats really sensitive there."
"Im not surprised. I think you have a bit of an infection here, and thats part of the reason why your head hurts. I am going to give you something for the pain and inflammation, and then I want you to put a small bag of crushed ice on thisgentlyfor ten to fifteen minutes every two hours for the rest of today."
"And youre sure Im not going blind?"
"Yes," she said in an annoyed voice. "I would not lie to you about that, Dez. You can sit up now." She turned around to the counter next to her and wrote on a pad of paper, then took a key out of her pocket and unlocked a cabinet over the counter and picked through it until she found two bottles. She slid open a drawer under the counter and removed two small envelopes, then smacked the drawer shut. As she counted out pills, she said, "Im going to give you enough meds to get you through today and tomorrow, and then on Monday, I will have Dr. Lefsky call your pharmacy with the antibiotic and a pain medication for you."
Dez started to frown, but it hurt her eye. "Why wait until Monday?"
"I dont think its appropriate for me, as your mother, to prescribe for you. Ill confer with Brad, and I know he will agree with my findings and course of treatment. The medical review board wouldnt have any problems under these circumstances. In the meantime, you can get started on these meds." She ran some water in the small sink, filled a Dixie cup, and turned around to hand it to Dez along with two capsules.
"Are we done then?"
"No, let me get a bandage back on the suture and a protective covering over your eye."
"Oh, geez, Mom. Do I have to have a big patch there? I feel like a pirate."
"Yes. You need to protect it for the next couple days. And you need to rest. Once your vision starts to clear, youll be able to remove it and get up and around a bit more."
Luella piped up from the corner. "Colette, just who do you think is going to force her to rest? She hasnt rested a day in her adult life."
The doctor smiled and, leaving her hand on Dezs shoulder, she turned to face the three waiting women. "Im banking on Jaylynn. You two sit on her, and Jaylynn can handcuff her if necessary." She turned back to find the tall woman blushing and staring daggers at her with her one good eye. "What? Now you listen, daughter of mine, your eye is a delicate instrument, and the cut in your brow is still very tender, not to mention mildly infected. You need to lie low around the house until Monday. If you feel better Monday, then you can go to work, but if your headache persists, you cant. I expect the truth from you about your medical condition, too, understand?"
The dark-haired woman nodded slowly as she shifted forward in the seat and prepared to rise. "Yes, mother."
Colette patted her on the back. "Good answer. Jaylynn, I expect you to rat her out if she doesnt take care of herself in the manner her doctor has ordered."
"Youve got it."
Vanita and Luella got to their feet, and Luella said, "Its near lunch time. How about we all go over to my house" Vanita cleared her throat and elbowed her sister. "Okay, I mean our house. Weve got some good sandwich makings and fruit, not to mention coffeecake. Well? What do you all think?" She met Colettes eyes and smiled.
"That would be very nice, Luella. Id like that. Give me a few minutes to make notes and close up shop, and Ill be right over."
Later that night, when Dez looked back on the events of the day, she felt a sense of satisfaction. For one thing, although the meds made her feel tired, the headache had gradually diminished, and it had been such a relief that she felt almost punch drunk. As the five of them had sat around the dining room table, shed been giddy with relief and fatigueand something else she couldnt quite explain, but it felt like something lost long ago had been regained. Once her mother took off her doctors hatand her mothers hat as wellshe had told stories and made a lot of jokes. She and Jaylynn seemed to have conversed amicably, and Vanita kept everyone hopping with her observations. The food, what little she ate, was excellent, and before she knew it, it was nearly two in the afternoon, and she could barely stay awake. She took a deep breath and tried to shake herself out of her torpor when her landlady said, "You dont look very lively, Dez."
The dark-haired woman closed her eyes and sighed. "Im beat."
Luella said, "Time for you to take a nap then. Go on now. Get up." Dez rose without complaint and let her landlady take her hand and pull her through the living room and down the hall.
Colette called out, "Time for a little ice, too."
"Ill get that." Jaylynn disappeared into the kitchen to pound ice cubes into bits with Luellas meat tenderizing hammer as the silver-haired landlady led her partner to the second bedroom, which now was Vanitas, and made her lie down with an afghan throw draped over her. Then a cool ice bag was brought in to soothe her forehead, and that was all she remembered. She slept so soundly, and dreamlessly, that she wasnt even aware of the ice bag being removed, and she didnt hear anything that was said, though Jaylynn informed her later that she and Colette and the two sisters had had a rollicking good time laughing and talking out in the living room.
She didnt awaken until after five p.m. when she felt a hand on her forehead, and her mother leaned over, said a few quiet words, and kissed her cheek. She wasnt even fully conscious, and then Colette was gone, leaving the faintest trace of her perfume in her wake. Dez felt drugged, and in reality, she was. She took a deep breath and slipped back to sleep and didnt awaken for another hour.
By Sunday night, both Dez and Jaylynn were feeling much better. Dezs vision had begun to clear, and her headache was gone. The wound in her brow seemed to be knitting back together, and the pink puffiness was dissipating. Even more encouraging was that the vision in her left eye had come backnot one hundred percent clear, but close. She went to sleep Sunday night without the awkward eye bandage, and as far as the blonde could tell, her partner had slept well, not waking her once during the night.
Of the two, Jaylynn looked far worse. The bruise on her cheek had spread out, dark purple and blue and green, and the left side of her face still looked swollen. But it was her eyes that were the real standouts. The blotchy black-and-blue moons under her eyes had also spread. Vanita laughed with her all weekend as the younger woman helped the two older women with organizing and unpacking. At one point she asked Jaylynn how it felt to look like an albino raccoon.
After a full night of restful sleep, the rookie rose early Monday morning, even before Dez awakened, and got ready for work. She was filled with a sense of anticipation and excitement. When she emerged from the bathroom after having showered, the tall cop was sitting on the edge of the bed yawning and looking bleary-eyed. The rookie ran her hands through her damp blonde hair, smoothing it back, and then, wrapped only in a towel, strode over to the bed and stepped between Dezs knees. The sleepy womans arms went around her waist, and the blonde leaned into her. "How you feeling, Dez?"
"Mmm . . . not bad." She tightened her grip around Jaylynns waist, and then suddenly picked her up off the floor and levered her back onto the bed, turning as she did so that they ended up lying on their sides, facing one another.
Jaylynn chuckled. "How did I know you were going to do that?"
"Ya got me."
"No, youve got me."
Dez slid her hand under the maroon towel and let it rest on the smaller womans hip, her thumb caressing the soft skin. In a husky voice, she said, "I think weve got each other."
"Well, you got that right." Jaylynn reached up and cupped both sides of the pale face before her. With her finger tips, she lightly stroked the high cheekbones. She looked into bright blue eyes that were so near she could see three different shades of blue all woven together in the dark-haired womans right iris. The left eye was still bloodshot and the iris was partly obscured by a dark fluid that shifted slightly as Dez tipped her head. It looked entirely different than it had 48 hours earlier though. "Your eye looks so much better, sweetie. Its improved immensely."
"Mmm hmm. It has. And I know Im healing, because my eyebrow is starting to itch like crazy."
"Let me see." The blonde lifted her hand and reached up to touch Dezs forehead. The bandage had been removed, leaving a tiny strip of stickiness from the adhesive that stuck to the blondes finger. "They did a very good job on the stitches. I dont think youll even be able to see that scar."
The tall cop nodded, gathered the smaller woman into her arms and pulled her close, tucking her face into the warm spot between Jaylynns neck and shoulder. "Would you stay with me if I was horribly scarred or disfigured?"
"You are scarred, my dear." When Dez pulled back and looked at her with alarm on her face, Jaylynn went on. "Just because the scars are internal, doesnt mean they arent there. And yes, I would stay with you. Always. I have to admit I do love how you look, but if something happened to change that, youre still the same person inside, and I love that person."
The dark-haired woman pulled herself up a little more, leaned her head on her elbow, and rested on her side, her face only a few inches above her partners. "Well, I suppose were going to get old and decrepit eventually, so we arent always going to be this beautiful."
Jaylynn laughed out loud. "Ive looked in the mirror more than once this morning. Vanita isnt that far off with the albino raccoon thing."
"Yeah, yeah. You look a little worse for wear, but your general beauty still shines through." She bent her head down, closed her eyes, and placed a soft kiss on the red lips below hers.
When they parted and opened their eyes, Jaylynn shivered. "I hope you always have this effect on me."
"And what effect is that?"
"You know, careening back and forth between feeling safe, comfortable, and loved, and then feeling like I want to ravish you for hours at a time." She wiggled one arm under her partners torso and brought her hands up under the dark-haired womans t-shirt to stroke her back.
"I see I have failed in my quest. Youre supposed to feel all of that at once."
Jaylynn smiled. "I do. In varying degrees." She caught her breath as two warm hands shifted from her lower back up to the sensitive skin on her sides and at her ribs. She took a sharp intake of air as the towel fell open and she felt cool air on her chest and stomach. As she wrapped herself around her bigger partner, she trembled again, this time more from arousal than the chilly air.
"Are you cold?"
The blonde shook her head. Breathlessly, she said, "Not really." She swallowed as she gripped her partners shoulder tightly. "More like excitednow theres a good E word for you."
Dez laughed. "How did that E business get started anyway?"
Jaylynn shrugged. "Im not sure . . . " She looked up at the ceiling, her forehead furrowed. "I cant quite recall." She looked back at the blue eyes and smiled. "We could go on to another letter. How about S?" Dez waited. "Dont you want to know all the words I had in mind?"
"I know youre going to tell me." The tall cop moved from her side and eased her torso over on top of the smaller woman, covering Jaylynns shivering body with her warmth, her elbows on the quilt below either side of the blondes neck.
The rookie inhaled and closed her eyes. In a whisper, she said, "Sexy. Theres your S word for the day. I find you incredibly sexy." Dez grinned and a blush began at her neck and rose, coloring her face so that when Jaylynn opened her eyes, she found the dark-haired womans face nearly scarlet. "What? You dont believe me?"
Dez lowered her face into the crook of her partners neck so that when she answered, her voice came out muffled. "If you say so."
"You doubt my opinion?" The blonde tightened her arms around the broad back, then pushed the shirt up until she was touching bare skin. "Oh, Dez, youve got such good hands. And youre a great kisser. And youre so responsive. And"
"Shhh." Dez lifted her head and put a finger lightly over Jaylynns lips. "I cant take that much information. Heres an S word for you: shy."
Jaylynn giggled. "Yeah, I know. Ill try to feed it to you in small doses."
"What time do you have to be to work?"
The blondes head jerked up and looked over toward the clock display on the VCR. "Geez, in about half an hour!"
As Dez rolled away, she sat up and scooted off the bed. The tall woman said, "If you want to eat anything before you go, then we had better stop shirkingnow theres a good S word. Shirk." She smiled, her face warm and open.
Jaylynn rose, grabbed the towel, and took it over to the laundry basket. "Guess Id better get a move on. What time do you go in?" She moved back over to the couch, picked up a duffel bag there and rooted through it until she found clean uniform pants.
"No later than ten. Dont forget I leave at three p.m. to go see Marie, and I wont go back to work. Ill see you back here when youre off duty." She sat back against the edge of the bed and crossed her arms over her chest.
"I have the nine to five shift, and then Ill head back here. Hey!" She stopped stock still, one leg in a pair of jeans and one leg out.
"That guys supposed to call!" She looked at Dez, the excitement in her face bringing extra color to her cheeks and making the black eyes slightly less noticeable.
"The phone card guy." She stuck her foot in the other pant leg and hastened to get them pulled up, zipped and snapped. As she hustled to finish dressing, she reminded Dez about the Tivoli lead. "I cant believe I forgot about that the entire weekend! What a space cadet Ive been."
"Its probably for the best, since you had to wait for so long."
"Yeah, maybe. What have we got to eat?"
"Not a whole hell of a lot." The tall woman strode over into the kitchen and opened the fridge. "Milk, eggs, frozen chicken breasts, leftover lasagna, some yogurt." She turned back to Jaylynn as she shut the door. "Tell you what, go downstairs and eat with Luella." She leaned back against the counter, lifting one bare foot and pressing the sole against the cupboard behind her.
"Weve been mooching off her all weekend, though."
"Yeah, and Ill go grocery shopping for her and spend about a hundred bucks on good stuff for her and Vanita. And for us. Ill be more organized now that I feel better, okay?"
"Are they up?" Jaylynn ran her hands through her still-damp hair.
Dez laughed. "Are you kidding? Luellas up before its light. Listen . . ." They both paused for a moment, and far off, the sound of a thump came their way, and then the distant drone of a voice. "See. Theyve probably been up for three hours, and nothing would please them more than to see your lovely face."
"Yeah, rightlovely. Okay. Ill be up in a bit to say goodbye."
"Im going to go hop in the shower." Jaylynn went to her and encircled the taller womans waist, letting herself lean into a tight embrace. She felt Dezs warm face against the side of her damp head, and then quiet words whispered into her ear. "I love you. Forever and always."
The blonde trembled once more. "Im thinking of that S word again. Ooh, and a new one, too, because youre making me shiver."
"Thats just cause your hair is wet."
Jaylynn leaned back, an amused look on her face. "Oh, thats all it is, huh?" She grinned and squinched up her face. "You totally underestimate yourself, Miss Bashful." Stepping back, she said, "Ill be back up in a flash."
"Okay. Ill be cleaned up by then."
Jaylynn was excited to be going back in to work. As she drove the couple of miles from Luella and Dezs duplex to the main stationhouse, she reflected on how quickly the last few days had flown by. Since Christmas, the time had whirled pastand yet, she didnt feel fatigued in any way. Even the wounds Nielsen had inflicted seemed inconsequential, and instead, she was filled with a sense of hope and excited expectation. Ive got no idea whatsoever of what the future holds, but Im healthy, Ive got a good job, and hey! Ive got Dez! I am pretty sure I can handle anything. Grinning, she turned into the parking lot.
The brisk wind she stepped into as she got out of the car found its way down the collar of her coat. She had thought her hair was dry, but clearly it wasnt, since her scalp tingled with the chill. She took off at a fast clip for the front door and, with relief, burst into the warmth of the station. She turned left and headed to the squad room. When she turned the corner and headed toward the coat rack, the first person she ran into was Parkins. He was hanging up his overcoat, and upon seeing her, said, "Savagehey, how are you?" He frowned. "What the hell happened to your face?"
She grinned at him as she unzipped her coat. "Looks pretty bad, doesnt it? I can only hope that Nielsen looks half as bad." She hung up the brown jacket. "Im sure glad youre back, Parkins. Got some promising news."
"Forget that and tell me what happened to you."
They walked over to the coffee machine, and he poured them each a mug full of the acrid brew while Jaylynn detailed the events of the previous Friday. She finished by saying, "Im still not sure why Nielsen didnt pass probation, but I guess he had a meeting or a hearing or something on Friday, and he was mad as hell when he came out of that, and thats why he decided to knock me around a little bit." She heard a voice over her shoulder and turned. "Hi, Tsorro." The Italian cop and another investigator, a grey-haired man named Marquette, joined them by the coffee machine.
Tsorro grinned. "Hey there, doll. Looks like you couldve used a little makeupyou know, I think my wife calls the stuff foundation."
Jaylynn rolled her eyes. "I think not. And good morning to you, too."
Marquette said, "I heard you asking about Nielsens hearing. Ive got a little background. Didnt you guys hear about his little stunt before Christmas?"
The rookie looked up at Tsorro, who was shaking his head. Parkins said, "Ive been on a much needed vacation these last two weeks. I havent heard a thing."
Marquette brushed his grey hair out of his eyes and grinned, his teeth gleaming in the morning light. "He roughed up a couple of young pups at the Gas-N-Go over near Highway 36. Apparently they had made some sort of disparaging remarklike calling him a pig or something like that. The kind of thing were supposed to ignore."
Parkins nodded as he slipped off his ill-fitting suit coat and slung it over his forearm. "What do you mean, he roughed em up?"
"Im not sure of all the details, but one of them had a bloody nose, and they both said they were victims of brutality. After taking witness statements, the brass couldnt support Nielsens actions at all. Oh, and one more thing " Marquette looked over his shoulder, and then back at them. "One of the young kids he hassled is dating the daughter of Lt. Commander Fullmer."
Jaylynn shook her head. "Oh boy, that was dumb. But it sure sounds like a typical Nielsen move. Where was his FTO?"
"Alvarez had gone into the bathroom at the Gas-N-Go, and by the time he came out, Nielsen had one of them handcuffed to the gas pump and was threatening the other with his weapon. Really makes us look stupid when some punk rookie screws up like that."
"Ill say," Tsorro agreed. "Im glad they canned him. I would have been glad to blow his head off after I caught him doing what he did to this sweet kid." He gestured toward Jaylynn. "How is Reilly holding up?"
Parkins rubbed his hand over his balding head and looked back and forth between the two of them. "Geez, I go on vacation, and things fall apart. Now what the hell happened to Reilly?"
Someone from the corridor called out Marquettes name, and he glanced at his watch, then excused himself, saying he had a meeting he was late for. He dashed from the room, leaving the two men standing around the coffee machine with Jaylynn. She and Tsorro took turns describing the events of Friday night, and the rookie gave them both an update on the condition of Dezs eye.
"Wow," Parkins said. "Sounds like I missed quite a bit of action. Whats happened on our cases?"
Jaylynn broke out in a grin. "Weve got a lead on the Tivoli case!" She told him all about the phone cards and that she expected to get information sometime during the day.
Parkins clapped her on the back gently and congratulated her. "Now if only there is something useful in the phone records."
Tsorro nodded. "We can always hope, but dont get your hopes up too high."
The detectives went out on a call regarding another crime, and the day dragged by for the blonde. She updated her database, took a few phone calls, and helped a new Criminal Intelligence technician set up a database for a a string of residential burglaries that had yet to be solved. Her lunch break overlapped with Dezs by fifteen minutes, so they spent a little time in the break room talking, but she was eager to get back to the phones.
The rookie was alone in the squad room just after three p.m. when the phone call from the manager at the phone card company finally came to tell her the fax was on the way. She hung up, leapt from her chair, and went to stand across the room by the fax machine. She flexed her bad hand, squeezing and opening her fist, waiting, as her heart beat quickly. Please let this be the lead that cracks this. Please. A good two minutes passed, and then the fax machine clunked on. The thin paper slowly emerged from the machine, and once it rolled out, she grabbed up the page and stared at it.
October 11, one nine minute call to a 312 area code. Every day from October 12 through October 27, calls to the same number: 717-555-0123, all of which lasted four to seven minutes.
She practically ran over to Tsorros desk and dug through the upper right-hand drawer until she found a small book with an area code directory, but it was only for Minnesota. She tossed it back in the drawer and slammed it shut, then went to a computer and began a search. Two minutes later she knew that 312 was in Chicago, and 717 was in Pennsylvania.
At this point, she got up and went to Lt. Finns office. The brunette officer was hunched over a report on her desk. She gave Jaylynn a distracted look when she burst into the office.
"Ive got the phone numbers, boss!"
"For the Tivoli murders?"
"No. One call to Chicago and sixteen to Pennsylvania."
The lieutenant set her pen down on the desk, crossed her arms, and leaned back in her chair. "What do you think your next step is?"
Jaylynn raised her eyebrows. "Go down to telecommunications and have them do a phone company search?"
Finn smiled. "Very good. Then what?"
"Come back and tell you what Ive found?"
Finn nodded. "If its anything useful, call Zorro and Tonto and get them back in here."
"Youve got it." Without another word, the blonde spun around and took off at a fast pace down the hall. It took the better part of fifteen minutes for the tech to get her the information she needed, but when he did, she thanked him and sped back to Investigations. The 312 number belonged to Raymond D. Archamble at a residence in Illinois. The 717 number went to Easy As 1-2-3 Game Enterprises, a business in Pennsylvania. She headed back to the computer and spent the next half-hour researching. At the end of that time, she sat back in her chair, puzzled. Raymond Archamble was deceased, and according to Ancestry.com, had been dead since 1991. Still, his phone was in service. The other number was for a business which had been incorporated in 1999, and according to records registered with the State of Pennsylvania, they ran toy and marketing campaigns for fast food chains.
On a whim, she dialed the number for the business. When she connected, she was treated to a twenty second serenade of peppy electronic music, and then a pre-recorded voice came on. At this point, Jaylynn looked down at her watch and began timing the call. The tape gave a one-minute introduction to the wonders of the burgers, chicken, and fish sandwiches at a nationwide fast food restaurant. Then the electronic music resumed, and an excited male voice came on the line to announce the beginning of the game. He gave the option of answering questions about Pokemon, Mickey Mouse, Lara Croft, or The Rock. After a moments hesitation, Jaylynn pressed two on the touch tone phone to select Mickey Mouse, assuming that she might know more about that cartoon character than the others. As she listened to the questions, the irritating electronic music kept bubbling and popping in the background. She feared it was going to give her a headache.
By the time she had correctly answered five questions, she estimated that a total of five minutes had passed. She missed the sixth question. Who knew the two buttons on Mickeys shorts were yellow and not gold? Geez. The music ground to a halt and emitted a raspberry sound.
Were sorry you missed that one, but you can carry five points over to your next game. Please enter your phone number, area code first, and tomorrow you will be eligible to try again. And heres a list of prizes . . .
She listened a bit longer to learn that 20 accumulated points would get her a free burger. 35 accumulated points resulted in a hand puppet, and 50 points yielded a stuffed animal. She debated whether to enter a phone number but decided against it. When she hung up the phone, shed been on the line a little over seven minutes.
She made a few notes on the printout, and rose, moving thoughtfully into Lt. Finns office. Finn looked up when she entered the room. "No go, huh, Savage?"
"Actually, I dont know yet." The rookie sat down in the visitors chair and relayed what she had learned thus far. "Id like to call this company and see if I can find out what kind of records they keep. Maybe we could cross-reference the phone calls that came in at those times on those days in October. And maybe whoever used the phone card after the murders knows something. In fact, maybe the murderer used it." She paused. "Though why the killer would call this kids promo line is beyond me."
The lieutenant nodded. "Good point, Savage. Could be that someone just found the card. What do you think we should do about the other number for the private home? That call occurred before the murder, right?"
"Yes. I didnt call that number. I am afraid that if it belongs to the killers, they would get a heads up, and I didnt want that. If its a witness, I think heor sheneeds to be interviewed."
"Very good rationale. Im glad you didnt rush headlong into it."
Jaylynn grinned. "Believe me, boss, I want to. So what do we do in a case like this where the personor peopleare outside our jurisdiction?"
"Tsorro and Parkins call out there and talk to some of their contacts. After we brief them, their local cops go out to the address and determine what the appropriate thing to do is. Why dont you call the guys and find out when they plan to come in from the field. Meanwhile, call this fast food promo company and get whatever information you can, then get all the data together and we can share it with the detectives."
"Roger." She rose from her chair and hustled into the squad room.
Dez sat in Maries waiting room. She had spent the morning sorting and organizing more of the Evidence inventory, and things were shaping up. If she had time before she was reassigned, she intended to go through all the Property items. Since Floyd had retired, no one had gotten together all the stolen and lost and found items and auctioned them off. Usually that was done every 90 days or so, and they were long overdue to do that. She wasnt sure whether she would have time, though, as she didnt know when she might go back on patrol.
The door opened and the curly haired therapist stood smiling in the doorway. As Dez rose and came toward her, Marie tilted her head to the side and got a quizzical look on her face. "What happened to your eye, Dez?"
The dark-haired woman paused in front of her. "It got bruised in a fight."
Squinting, Marie looked up into her tall clients face. "Hyphema?"
Dez was surprised that the therapist had popped up with that term, but then she remembered Marie had been a combat nurse and had likely seen eye injuries like this and other injuries that were much worse. "Yeah, now its something like hyphema, I guess. It started out as a hemophage."
"Can you see?"
"Yes. Pretty well now. I couldnt for a couple days though."
"Looks painful. How are the stitches there on your brow doing?"
Dez shrugged. "Mostly it itches."
"Hmm. Mustve hurt. Come in and tell me about it." She held the door wide, and they entered the room. Dez tossed her coat on the floor next to the chair and lowered herself into it. "You want some tea today?"
Dez shook her head. "No, but thanks."
"Okay, then." Marie settled into her chair and brushed errant curls up off her forehead. "You want to talk about the fight?" Dez nodded and explained what had happened the previous Friday. The therapist listened intently, giving a little whistle partway through the story. "So you mean to tell me this big hulk was smacking Jaylynn aroundlittle as she is?"
The dark-haired woman paused and didnt answer right away. Marie had just asked the very question that haunted her. When she spoke next, she was looking out the window and purposely not meeting Maries eyes. "Jaylynn is going to run into a lot of big jerks like that, and Im notwell, Im not all that sure she can handle them."
"I see." Marie nodded. "So this is still troubling you." She said it as a statement, not a question.
With a nod, the tall cop went on. "Ive tried my best not to think of this all weekend. Bottom line is that I dont know what she would have done if Tsorro and I hadnt gotten there when we did."
"So tell me what happened to you when you did get there. Anything unusual?"
Dez closed her eyes. She remembered that just as Nielsen struck out at her, things went gray and hazyand she had gotten confused. "For a brief moment, Marie, I didnt see Nielsen. I saw that big oaf who attacked Jaylynn last month." She paused, frowned, then went on. "But it was sort of like I shook myself out of it. I told myself to concentrate, and my head cleared."
"Excellent! Thats exactly the right thing to do. Did you read a little bit about that in the book I gave you?"
"Yes, but its not like I thought of it during the heat of the fight."
"Just putting an idea into your head often makes it available to you later. What youre doing right now, Dez, is retraining your mindin fact, re-tooling the neural pathways. Under extreme stress those pathways do strange things, and you have to work to correct that by preparing in advance. Sounds like that is just what you did. What else happened in the aftermath?"
She told the counselor about her mothers role, and Marie asked questions, and then Dez said, "I guess I ought to fess up about the bad dreams Im still having." They spent most of the rest of the time discussing her nightmares and the odd dreams, and by the end of the hour, she was feeling relaxed, unlike so many other sessions. "You know what, Marie?"
The curly-haired woman raised her eyebrows. "Hmm?"
"I must be healing or improving or something because I actually dont mind talking to you so much anymore."
Marie laughed, her eyes merry. In a mock-serious voice, she said, "Dont tell me you used to dread these visits? How could that be?"
"Seems like you were meaner at the beginning, but over time Ive probably worn you down."
She was answered with another laugh. "Now theres a case of projection if I ever saw one." The curly-haired woman sat smiling at Dez and didnt say anything for a full ten seconds. The tall cop started to feel a little edgy, but then Marie cleared her throat. "Youve been through a lot, Dez, but as near as I can tell, you have gone through a lot of the recovery process." She held her left hand up and pointed to her index finger with her right pointer finger. "First, you had to gain a sense of safety and security, but you couldnt do that on duty. Taking time off and getting away from everything was a good move on your part."
Dez gave her a little half-smile. "Its not like I had a choice about the time off."
"True, but you took the extra step of going out of town to get away to think. That was smart of you, even though you may not have realized it at the time." She held up a second finger on her left hand and pointed to it. "Secondly, you allowed yourself to remember the loss and mourn itactually to mourn them. Ryans death was a trigger to your fathers death, and both of them have been very painful to you, though you have avoided examining that until recently. Third, when you were ready, you took steps to reestablish connections with people from both your past and present, and it looks like youve embarked once more on what I hope you will find to be a normal life for you. This is all good workhard workwork that many, many people never have the resources or courage to take on." She dropped her hands into her lap. "Im pleased with your progress, and I very much respect your work ethic. Youre doing good, kid."
Dez felt her face flame red, but she met the therapists eyes and gave her a nod, then looked at the clock. "Time for me to go, huh?"
"Um hmm. Also time for you to get back to your regular job, dont you think?"
When Jaylynn arrived back at Dezs apartment, her excitement level was high. She came in through the back door, hollered "Hi" to Luella, and raced up the stairs. "Dez!" she said, breathlessly. "Youll never guess what!"
The dark-haired woman turned from the stove, where she stood cooking stir-fry vegetables. She raised an eyebrow and waited as Jaylynn shucked her coat and tossed it over a kitchen chair. The smaller woman was pink with exertion and excitement, and Dez grinned with pleasure to see the blondes smiling face.
"We IDd the girl!" She strode the three steps across the small kitchen floor and wrapped her arms around her partners waist.
"No kidding?" Dez set the wooden spoon down on the edge of the fry pan and encircled the rookie in a big hug.
Jaylynn tipped her head back. "Shes definitely Tivolis daughter. Anna Maria Archamble. Her mother, Lena Frances Archamble, died last August. It was a drug overdose. So Anna went to live with her grandmother in Chicago. In September, Tivoli found out the girls mother was dead, and he went to see this maternal grandmother. Thats when he found out that his daughter, age 13, was pregnant. She wouldnt give up the babys father, though. Anna stayed with grandma for a few more weeks, and then she was acting out so much that Mrs. Archamble put her on the bus to St. Paul. That was October 11th. Two days later she and her dad were both dead."
Dez brought her hands up and cupped the back of the blondes shoulders. "And you found this out how?" She dropped her hands and reached over to pick up the wooden spoon to stir the Chinese vegetables.
Jaylynn crossed her arms, unconsciously cradling her still-sore wrist. She leaned against the edge of the counter. "The phone card company gave us the lead. Anna called her grandmother on the evening of October 11th to tell her she arrived safely. We got hold of the Chicago police, and they went right out and talked to Mrs. Millicent Archamble and discovered all of this for us. We just got the information at the end of the day. That chicken looks good." She reached over to a dish sitting on the counter and snagged a chunk to pop in her mouth. "Mmm, it is good. Tasty spices." She turned and went over to the small kitchen table and sat in a chair. "At least now the girls people know she died. And Im glad I didnt have to tell a little old lady that her granddaughter and her son-not-in-lawthey never got marriedare dead." She put her elbows on the table and her chin in her hands. "The only bad thing is that were still no closer to a motive for the murder. The Chicago guys are going to do some investigating for us, so maybe theyll turn something up."
Dez took the lid off a pot that emitted a puff of steam, then stirred it.
Jaylynn breathed in the cooking smells. "Whats that?"
"Spicy brown rice."
"Hey, I have to tell you, its nice to come home from work to a homecooked meal." She gave the tall woman a smirk. "Wanna be my wife on a permanent basis?" Dez gave her a look out of the corner of her eye, all the while smiling, as the rookie rose and took a deep breath. "Im going to go put some loose sweats on. Be right back."
While Jaylynn was in the other room changing, Dez set the table. She had some news of her own to share.
In short order, the two women sat down to stir-fry chicken and veggies, rice, and big glasses of milk. Jaylynn dug into hers with gusto. "Mmm, this is so good. The broccoli is just right. I hate it when it gets all soggy or greasy." She shoveled another bite in with obvious glee.
"Well be eating like this a lot for a while."
"Yeah, Im going to take off these extra few pounds. I need to get back to my regular workouts and be a little more cautious about what I eat. Bacon, French toast, and fried eggs on toast are now verbotten."
"I suppose ice cream is outlawed, too."
"And chips. You can eat em if you like, but I wont. I think my metabolism is slowing down." She speared a piece of steaming chicken and held the fork up. "People say when you turn thirty, that happens."
"Yeah, cause you are oh-so-old." The blondes eyes shone mischievously.
"Easy for you to say, Miss Spring Chicken."
Jaylynn sputtered and nearly coughed up her food. She shook her head and swallowed. "Geez, you should warn a girl before you poke fun at her when her mouth is full."
Dez popped the chunk of chicken into her mouth, chewed it up, and swallowed. "Okay, lets be serious now. Its lucky I got the Evidence room pretty well squared around today. Im going back on patrol pretty quick."
"You are? Thats great!" The blonde reached across the table and put her hand over Dezs and squeezed. She looked down at the table and frowned, then put her fork down. When her head came back up and her eyes met those of the dark-haired woman, they looked troubled.
"Whats the matter?"
"Were never going to see each other, sweetie. Ill be on days, youll be on evenings."
A wisp of a smile crossed Dezs face. "Ill bid off swing shift."
"Yup. Wont be quite as exciting as swing shift, but what the hey. Lets see where you get assigned. If you end up on Tour II, then Ill just stay where I am, but if you get on days, Ive got the seniority to switch."
"You know I cant go on Dog Watch."
Dez chuckled. "Jaylynn functioning after midnight? I dont think so. But I dont think youll have to worry about it too much. There are a lot of openings right now, and the brand new rookies are going to get stuck with the least desirable ones."
They continued to talk about their jobs, and then, once they had each finished dinner, they cleared the table. Jaylynn washed the dishes and handed them to Dez to dry, and all the while they kept up a steady conversation. The dark-haired woman dried the last item, the frying pan, and put it away in the lower cupboard. She draped the damp dishtowel over the back of a chair and then turned to face the smaller woman. "So when do you think we should move over to the new place?"
Jaylynns face lit up. "Oh, I cant wait. Its going to be so great to have our own house." She came to stand in front of her tall partner and gazed up at her with a happy look on her face. Reaching around her to grab the towel, she wiped her hands dry and said, "If we move the weekend before the first of February, Luella can get someone else in hereif she hurries, that is."
Dez put her hands on top of the blondes shoulders and massaged the back of her traps with strong fingers. She looked off to the side. "Im really going to miss this place." She paused and looked down into the hazel eyes below her. "But I know Ill like the new place, too. Its just thatwell, Ive been here practically a third of my life. Ill miss it."
Jaylynn smiled. "So you want to hang onto it as a retreat place for when we have big fights?"
The tall woman looked surprised, then alarmed. "Hell, no. If you get abusive, you can just sleep on Vanitas porch."
The blondes mouth dropped open, and then a screech of laughter erupted from her. She tossed the damp towel up into Dezs face, startling her, then ducked around the tall woman, and ran shrieking into the other room. Dez followed, laughing to herself, and cornered the giggling blonde next to the bed. Jaylynn tried to duck under her arm again, but tall cop was ready for her and grabbed her around the waist. They piled back onto the warm comforter on the bed, with Jaylynn laughing and hollering out, "Stop, stop! You cant make me sleep on the porchyou cant! Just try to make me."
Dez put her hand gently over the blondes mouth. "Sashiyanow theres an S word for you. Sashiya."
Jaylynn paused, then grabbed Dezs wrist and moved the big hand away from her mouth. Breathlessly, she said, "What does that mean?"
"Its Taiwanese slang for you are so loud I want to die." She broke out in a wide grin, barely suppressing a laugh. "And believe me, its the truth."
The rookie let out another shriek of laughter. "You better get used to it, or you can sleep on the porch!"
She wriggled to the side, attempting to get free, but Dez encircled her tightly and threw a her leg over the squirming woman below. In her ear, the tall cop whispered, "I know two sure-fire ways to quiet you down." The woman in her arms stilled a moment, looking off to the side, waiting. "Feed yaor kiss ya. Guess which one Im gonna do?"
Jaylynn turned her face back toward her, unable to hold back her grin. "I just love you, Dez. You make me laugh." She put her hand behind the dark head and pulled her down for a kiss. When they came up for air, she said, "All I know is we definitely do need a bigger house. Its too easy for you to catch me in this tiny place."
"Works for me." Dez leaned down again and covered the blondes lips with her own, forgetting all else.
Jaylynn was thrilled when Easy As 1-2-3 Game Enterprises, the business in Pennsylvania, called at ten past nine the next morning. She had just finished building a database for the second of two murders, both over ten years old, which investigators were re-analyzing for leads. When she picked up the phone, she didnt expect it to be the game company. She took down the phone number they gave her and sat looking at it.
A St. Paul number. 651-555-9482. She rose, intending to head down to telecommunications, but stopped with a niggling thought in the back of her mind. She pulled up her Tivoli database on the computer and sorted the record electronically, then scanned the phone numbers in numeric order. The bottom of her stomach dropped out from under her and she gasped out loud.
She pushed away from the desk until the rolling chair bumped against the wall two feet behind her. Mouth open, she turned and ran the ten steps to Lt. Finns office. "Boss! Boss! You wont believe this!"
The lieutenant gave her a funny look. "Whoa. Hold the fort. Sit down, Savage, and tell me what youve got."
Jaylynn stepped around the visitors chair and plunked down into it. "Its the Vangs. The calls are coming from the Vang household!"
"All of them? The calls to the game number, you mean?"
The rookie nodded. "The game company allows you to carry over points from one game to another, but you only get to play once a day. Someone in the Vang house played every day until the phone card ran out."
"Refresh my memory on the Vangs."
Jaylynn explained that Sai Vang had been one of the boys at the scene who had come upon the bodies with his cousin and a friend. Her brow furrowed. "I just cant believe they would lie to us. I really thought the Vang kidin fact, all three of those kidswere straight shooters."
"Might be nothing, Savage. He may have found the card later. Could be a coincidence that doesnt help us at all."
Jaylynn gave a deep sigh. "I was really hoping this lead would crack it wide open."
Lt. Finn nodded. "I know you were. Youve worked hard on the case, and its been a good one to learn on. We try our best to get an arrest in every murder, every assault, every robbery, but some of the leads just dont pan out. Still, take this to the end of it. Get hold of Tsorro and Parkins. You can make another trip over to see these kids this afternoon once school lets out. This time I suggest that you round up all three boys and talk to them together."
"You think we need to bring them down hereor go to them?"
Finn paused for a moment, thinking, then said, "I suppose it would be better to just go see them. Its likely to turn out to be a dead end, and if so, I hate to drag three families down here and intimidate them any more than they already have been. Maybe you could convene at one familys house and meet with them all at once."
"Okay, sounds good." Jaylynn rose. "Ill touch base with the detectives, then I have work and home phone numbers for all the parents. Ill go schedule appointments."
The lieutenant returned to her paperwork, and the blonde headed back into the squad room feeling deflated. No sooner did she sit down than the phone rang. It was the physical therapy office, rescheduling her afternoon appointment because the therapist was out ill. She hung up the phone. That was lucky. I totally forgot about PT and would have missed the appointment anyway. She flexed her stiff hand. She knew she was close to getting it back to normal, but it still wasnt very strong. Rising, she let out another sigh and walked to the coat rack where she fumbled around in her coat pocket until she found the hand gripper that Dez had lent her. Long as Im going to be on the phone for a while, may as well work my hand with this.
She organized the database papers, found the phone numbers for the Lee parents and for both sets of Vang parents, then got to work calling to make arrangements.
Both Tsorro and Parkins were grim when they picked up Jaylynn at 3:45. Nobody had much hope that this final lead would take them anywhere, and Jaylynn thought they were all trying to be realistic.
"If things dont work out," Tsorro said, "dont feel too bad, Savage. At least you IDd the girl, and that was a major step."
Since the two Vang families lived in the same complex, she had made arrangements for the Lee family to travel the two blocks to meet in the party room at the Vangs apartment building. When the officers arrived, the three youths were waiting nervously for them along with five adults and four other small children. The little ones sat in the corner of the room with color books, crayons, and sketch pads. When the three cops entered the room, the kids were talking and laughing, but Sai Vangs mother, Mrs. Her, said something in Hmong, and all seven kids sat still in their respective places and were silent.
Standing in the middle of the room, Parkins took the lead, reintroducing his partner, Jaylynn, and himself. None of them had met Pao Lees father or Xiong Vangs parents, but Mrs. Her and Mrs. Lee were familiar faces. Jaylynn sat down in an overstuffed chair large enough for two people, and Parkins sat in the matching one across from the three couches which, from Jaylynns perspective, formed an upside down U. Tsorro stayed on his feet, working a toothpick between his lips with his teeth.
Sai Vang, his cousin Xiong Vang, and the other boy, Pao Lee, sat in a row on the middle of the three couches. All of the boys looked very serious. Pao looked scared. Their parents sat on the sofas on either side while the other four children remained behind Jaylynn, quiet in the corner to the right of the party room door. Sai squinted in the blondes direction and pointed toward her, then toward his face. She smiled. He had noticed her black eyes. She whispered, "Tell ya later," and he nodded.
Tsorro cleared his throat and began. "Some evidence has come to light, boys, so we need to know every single piece of the story about the night of October 13th. There is one thing you are all leaving out. Now, Pao . . ." Pao, the smallest of the three boys, flinched. He looked up, wide-eyed, at Tsorro. "Tell me, Pao, were you three boys together every minute? Or did you separate at some point?"
"You never split up? You saw every single thing each one of you did?" Pao nodded solemnly as did the other two boys. "One of you found something on the ground, something you took with you."
Sai frowned, then shook his head. He looked at Pao and Xiong, and all three boys shook their heads. Sai said, "We took nothing. There was nothing to take."
Mrs. Her spoke up. "Are you saying the boys stole from the snack shack?"
Tsorro shook his head as he met her eyes. "No, maam. We do not believe that." He redirected his gaze to the center couch. "Boys, one of you picked something up or took it out of the station wagon. You will not get in trouble if you tell us about it, but we need to know. Xiong, did either of your buddies pick up something?"
"No, sir. I never saw any such thing."
Tsorro took a deep breath. He pulled something out of his breast pocket, then squatted down in front of the boys. He held up a red plastic card. "Does this look familiar?"
In concert, three dark-haired heads leaned forward, squinting, then shook side to side like a trio of bobblehead dolls. Jaylynn watched their faces, particularly Sais, and she decided that if he was lying, he ought to go into used car sales or become a politician. Shed never seen anyone that young lie so convincingly. She stood and went around behind the chair she was sitting in and leaned her elbows on its padded top. Tsorro stood up from his squatting position, too. He looked behind him and saw the open chair and settled into it, the red card still in his hand.
Parkins let out a sigh. He scooted forward and perched on the edge of the chair, his beefy stomach hanging over his belt. "Sai, are you sure there isnt anything youre not telling us about?"
The boy was starting to get defensive now. "No, sir. There isnt. I dont know what youre talking about."
"All right then." The heavy-set man ran his hand back through his thinning hair, then scratched his bald spot. "Let me give you a little information. Every day from the day after the killings and for about two weeks after, someone called using a phone card that belonged to the man who died." He pointed at Tsorro who held the red card up in front of him.
Paos father spoke up in broken English. "We not understand how this means for usfor our kids."
Parkins let out a gust of air again and looked down. Jaylynn could see he was trying to decide how much to let out. When he looked up, it was Sai Vang he pinned with his eyes. "Someone has been making phone calls using this phone card, and all the calls have come from your house, Sai."
There was a collective gasp from all the adults in the room, and everyone turned to look at Sai. His eyes were wide and his mouth dropped open. "ButbutI . . . I didnt do it!"
Again, Jaylynn believed the boy. She watched as his face darkened and his eyes filled with tears. She pulled her left wrist against her abdomen and rubbed it as her mind cast about for possible scenarios. She glanced over at the right hand corner of the room to see Sais little sister, Sue, lying on the floor half-asleep. Two other small boys lay on their stomachs, whispering quietly, and coloring in open books. Against the wall, knees up to his chest, sat Sais little brother, Tong. With arms crossed, he was clutching a book to his chest, and he looked terrified.
Click. She remembered her last visit at Sai Vangs apartment, and it all fell into place. Jaylynn didnt ask for permission, didnt say another word. She caught Parkins eye from across the room, and when she was sure he saw her, she gave a toss of her head and walked slowly toward the little boy, Tong. She sat down, cross-legged, in front of him. "Tong, how are you doing today?" She adjusted the cloth on the legs of her blue uniform and leaned her elbows on her knees. "Lets take a look at your drawings, okay?" The small boy stared down at the carpet. She could see a fast pulse in a vein in his neck. "Dont worry, Tong. No one is going to hurt you." She reached out and patted his knee. "Your mom is here. Your brother is here. The police are here. No one will ever hurt you."
By now, the adults were on their feet, and all three of the bigger boys were on their knees peeking around the chairs that Parkins and Tsorro had been sitting in.
"You have some drawings to show us, dont you, Tong? You know who the bad man is, and you want to tell us some things now, dont you?"
From across the room, Sai said, "My brother doesnt talk much, lady."
Jaylynn looked up and over at Mrs. Her. "How long has he been silent?"
The thin woman hesitated. "Hes never been much of a talker. He hasnt said anything much for a very long time. He only seems to talk when he cries out in the night from bad dreams." She put her hand over her mouth for a moment, then with tears in her eyes, she said, "The school counselor has been worried about him. II haventknown what to do."
Tong looked up at his mother, his eyes full of misery, and Jaylynn watched as tears gathered in his eyes, then streaked down his cheeks. His little sister, Sue, sat up and yawned. She studied all the people in the room and frowned, a puzzled look on her elfin face. She looked over her shoulder at her brother, and then let out a sigh. "Tong, Tong, Tong," she said, in a musical voice. She crawled over to his side and huddled next to him, seeking out his hand which he let her enfold in her little mitt. "Its okay, Tong," she said. "Everything be okay."
The rookie said, "Tong, can you help the police? They want to catch the bad man. If you can tell us what you know, we can go put him in jail where he can never hurt anyone again." For the first time, the boy met her eyes. He gave her a slow nod. It broke her heart to see the pain and fear in this eight-year-olds eyes, but she shoved her own feelings down. She could cry for this poor child later. For now, she needed to be strong for him. She whispered, "Show me, Tong. Please."
He uncrossed his arms and hesitantly offered her the drawing book. She scooted back a couple inches and set it facing him, so that she was looking at it upside down, then opened the cover. It was the same artisits book she had looked at in the previous visit, only now it was nearly full, and there were multiple pictures on every page. She leafed forward a few sheets. The scenes were similar, some more detailed than others. She turned more pages until she found the drawing she remembered seeing before. In it, there was a long line of evergreens in the background. A tank-like car, with smoke coming out of an extra-long tailpipe, sat next to a boxy house. There were two dark-haired figures with guns. Drops of blood dripped from the muzzle of one of the weapons. She tapped the picture and looked up at Tong. He nodded slowly.
A shadow fell over her shoulder, and without looking up, she knew the detectives were standing over her. A glance down at wingtip shoes next to her confirmed that Tsorro was on her right and Parkins oxfords were on her left. There was a silence in the room as everyone waited, seeming spellbound. Jaylynn picked up the book, turned it around, and leafed through it. By now Tsorro was squatting next to her, and Parkins was down on one knee. In a quiet voice, the Italian said, "We ought to have the agency shrink take a look at theseand talk to this boy."
Jaylynn continued to quickly examine the drawings. They were violent sketches full of burning houses, crashing planes, guns, and clearly rendered figures bleeding from holes in their chests and heads. In almost every picture, the car was largeout of proportion for the rest of the pictureand dark gray. In several portrayals, the man who was in the car or getting out of the car had yellow hair, a brown jacket, and very red lips. His gun usually had blood dripping from it. Jaylynn looked closely at the car. She turned the pad of paper toward Tong and pointed to a box on the back of the vehicle. "What is this, Tong?" Her fingernail touched a rectangle with three letters that looked like @qq.
Tong picked up a red crayon from the floor and took the drawing book from her. He set it on the floor and shifted around until he sat cross-legged. With deliberate speed, he wrote a capital letter: E, then two more letters, G and G.
The rookie cocked her head to the side. "Egg?" When he nodded, she said. "Egg. What does that mean?" He pointed to the back of the car with the tip of the red crayon and looked up at her. She tried to figure out what he meant. "Eggcar . . . eggfarmer?"
He shook his head with vigor and gave her a frustrated look, then began to write with the blood-red crayon. L-I-S-E-N P-L-A. . .
Before he could get any further, she blurted out, "License plate!" He stopped and nodded, and for the first time, there was something of a smile on his face. "So this is part of the bad mans license plate number?"
Gravely, he nodded.
She glanced up at Parkins, for the first time feeling uncertain. As though reading her mind, Parkins muttered, "Dont look at me. Youre doing fine. Stay with it."
"Is there more to the license plate than E-G-G?" Tong nodded and wrote three numbers down.
"Thats very good that you remember thatvery smart of you. Now are you sure these are correct?" He nodded once again, his dark brown eyes meeting hers.
The two littler boys, Paos brothers, were watching everything silently, and Sue sat leaning against the wall, right next to her brother. The little girl looked like she was getting restless, and despite the fact that everyone was very quiet right now, Jaylynn worried that something would happen to wreck the mood or make the frightened boy crawl back into his shell. The thing that was bothering her the most had to do with how Tong had seen anything at all. Where was he at the time of the murders? She purposely made her voice soft and low. "How did you get to the snack shack, Tong? You were there, right?"
The dark-haired boy gave a deep nod, looking up at her mournfully. His mother let out a wheezing sound, and behind her Jaylynn could hear rustling sounds, but no one spoke. Tong dropped the red crayon and picked up a blue one. He drew two circles next to one another, then bisected the circles with lines.
Jaylynn wondered at first if he was drawing glasses, but then it hit her. No, those are spokes. Before he went any further, the blonde said, "Your bike? You rode over on your bike?" He looked up over her shoulder, and then his face crumpled into tears. "Your mom didnt know you went out, right?" He shook his head. "Dont worry." She reached over and put her hands on each of his knees. "Nobodys mad at you. Its not your fault that you saw that, Tong. Its not your fault."
She felt someone brush past her, and the perilously thin Mrs. Her squeezed in between Sue and Tong, muttering in another tongue, speaking words Jaylynn didnt recognize the meaning of, but which were very clearly soothing to her son. Now he began to cry in earnest. Mrs. Her leaned back against the wall and took the sobbing boy into her arms. He slid down between her legs and leaned sideways against her chest. It brought tears to the rookies eyes, but she forced them back.
Still speaking Hmong, the black-haired woman said a few sentences in a firm voice and gave a toss of her head. The Hmong adults in the room rose as did the two little boys. Xiong, Sai, and Pao got to their feet reluctantly as Mrs. Her reached next to her and patted Sue, saying something in a quiet voice. Although Jaylynn couldnt understand the language, she instantly knew that Mrs. Her had said something along the lines of, "You, too. Go with the others." In a few seconds, everyone had cleared out of the room except mother, weeping son, and the three cops.
Jaylynn wasnt sure what direction the interview was going next, but she sat cross-legged, waiting. Neither Parkins nor Tsorro said anything as they stood overhead, and as the silence lengthened, the blonde wondered what she should do. She met Mrs. Hers eyes. "Your son has been very brave. Hes been holding this in for so long. He will need help to deal with this."
Mrs. Her gave one nod, then smoothed the hair back off her small boys forehead. "Tong. It is time now to speak. In Englishin HmongI do not care. Now is the time. Be brave as the lady says. Be brave like your grandfather was. Sit up now."
Tong shifted his legs over his mothers and nestled back against her. He ran the sleeve of his sweatshirt across his face, wiping away some of the tears, took a deep breath, and said his first words in almost three months. "Mama was in the bathtub." His voice was raspy and much lower than Jaylynn expected. She waited until he went on. "I took my bike for a ride. To buy candy."
More to come next weekend!
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