UNDER THE GUN
By Lori L. Lake
a/k/a Lorelei, Bard of the Lakes
firstname.lastname@example.org -- www.LoriLLake.com
Part Fourteen, The Conclusion
GREAT NEWS!!: If you enjoyed this novel and want it in book form on your bookshelf, it will be published by Autumn, 2002, courtesy of RAP, Inc. The contract is signed and sealed, and Ive been celebrating for a couple days. J In fact, I do believe its time for some more dark chocolate and Cheezits!
MUSIC: Just to let you all know, Hydraulic Woman is close to finishing the acoustic CD she is putting together, and so far, Ive heard seven of the not-yet-mixed tracks. They are wonderful! Keep an eye at her site, www.hydraulicwoman.com if you are interested in getting this CD which includes "Dezs Song" and "Late At Night," which are featured here in UNDER THE GUN.
DEDICATION: This section is dedicated to MaryD for her friendship and support all the way back to early 1999 when she first posted GUN SHY. She has been a real friend, true blue, ever since then. In addition to creating a wonderful website, she is also a talented writer and graphics artist. She did a bang-up job on the cover to RICOCHET IN TIME. But most of all, she is a woman of integrity, and I love her for it! Mary, thanks for your caring and your humor. You make life-in-general a lot more fun for me. J
BOOKPLATES: Its been great 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 published recently, 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 to "Books" on my website to order from them if you like.
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
And Now for the Conclusion:
The ride back to the station was tense. Jaylynn and the two detectives were wired beyond belief. They had a description of the man, details about the crime, and a possible license plate number.
"What happens next?" Jaylynn asked.
Tsorro let out a sigh. "We go work on what we have learned, and we get one of the departments shrinks to start working with the boy."
"I feel so sorry for that little guy," Jaylynn said. "Think we should call the Victim/Witness people over at the prosecutors office?"
"Yeah, doll. Thats a good idea."
"This isnt possible," Parkins said. He shook his head and cleared his throat repeatedly as he steered through a yellow light. "I cant believe an eight-year-old boy might be the key to this whole sordid mess."
Tsorro agreed. "Thank God the murderer didnt see him, or we wouldve had three vics."
"You know," Jaylynn said, "hes actually a very smart kid. He had the presence of mind to duck under the snack shack and hide. It must have scared him half to death. For our sake and his, I only pray the information pays off." She was hoping with all her heart that the license number was correct and that they could quickly capture the killer. If she were eight-years-old, she knew she would be terrified that the bad man would come for her. That thought bothered her, but most of all, she couldnt stop thinking about the little boy who, because of the fear and trauma, hadnt spoken for three months. She wondered if he would have ever gotten psychological help and, at some point in the future, come forward. What if witnessing the murders and being scared half to death had twisted him in some weird way? She had no way of knowing, but she thought that she would try to keep in touch with Mrs. Her. She couldnt help but feel both concern and curiosity.
They arrived back at the station shortly after 5:30 and caught up with Lt. Finn to update her. Though shift was over for all three cops, they immediately headed to the computer to run their checks. Parkins ran down to telecommunications and pulled some information, while Jaylynn and Tsorro checked other databases. Ten minutes later the three cops sat in wobbly desk chairs, deflated. There was no such current license plate numbernot with EGG at the beginning or at the end. With EGG as the preceding block of figures, the number had been in existence, but it had been seventeen years since it was last used.
The rookie scowled. "How can this be? Is it possible the plate could have been used illegally?"
Parkins looked off in the distance as he shook his head. "Highly doubtful. Expired plates back then were usually turned in to the DMV. Besides, they looked totally different. Surely in seventeen years, some astute cop would have picked up on it not being kosher."
Jaylynn put her head in her hands. She wanted to scream. "Dammit! This is just too frustrating."
"Tell me about it," Parkins said. "Its the way a lot of investigations go."
She shook her head. "What do we do next?"
Tsorro stood. "We get the psychologists take on this in a day or so. We talk with Tong some more and go over the evidence againand again and again." He pulled at the cuff of his long-sleeved shirt and tipped his neck first to one side, then the other. "The other thing we should do is double-check surrounding states. Might not have been a Minnesota vehicle. And if Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, and the Dakotas dont turn up anything, well try every state in the union and follow up every vehicle until weve eliminated them all."
Jaylynns eyes lit up. "Thats a thought. What if its someone from Chicago? What if its not Stephen who was the intended victim, but Anna?" She took a deep breath and held it as she looked down at the desk and let the implications of that run through her mind.
Parkins gave a nod. "That is always a possibility. Maybe we ought to get more information from Illinois about the girl. All weve got so far is cursory. Ill go get in touch with my contact." He picked up the phone on his desk. "Dont fret too much now, Savage. This case isnt dead yet."
The dark-haired cop was working Tour II, but it was a late startfrom ten a.m. to six p.m. It was after four already and had been uneventful for the first half of the shift. She had always known that calls picked up considerably after two oclock, when the schools let out. In keeping with that pattern, she was on her way to the Target store on University to check out a retail fraud complaint. Store officials were holding a male juvenile. She couldnt believe how much shoplifting was done most afternoons. In fact, she wondered if the majority of all retail thefts didnt happen before dinner every school day.
As she traveled the last mile to the store, she reflected upon how well things had been going. She was acquainted with most of the officers on her shift, but didnt know any of them particularly well. A lot of them were older and family men. There were only two women, both of whom were pleasant and collegial toward her. All in all, she felt welcomed and had already been called as backup a number of times without any unexpected incidents.
Now she pulled up to the Target store and parked around the side and out of sight, then hustled through the cold January air to the automatic front door. She knew her way around the store, and headed back to the managers office where she found a 13-year-old boy seated in a red plastic chair and trying very hard not to cry. Within sixty seconds she had his story and had decided he was probably a halfway decent kid who had made a really bad decision. Another kid at school had threatened harm and had ordered him to steal music for him or be beaten up, so this boy had come to the store to take Tools new CD. As he waited for his parents to show, the teenager was totally cooperative. He admitted to the crime, and Dez felt sympathy for him.
As she took down the kids name and parents information, the stores Loss Prevention Officer, Joyce Gray, shook her head. She was staring into a huge bank of 10-inch TV sets which showed mostly eagle-eye views of various departments. With a sigh, Joyce said, "Good God, were getting hammered today."
Dez paused in her writing. "What do you mean?"
"Look at these guys." The blonde-haired woman pointed to one of the TV displays. There in all the splendor of black-and-white technology, Dez watched as a kid in "phat" trousers and a baggy jacket shoved a stack of at least three CDs, plastic theft holder and all, down the front of his pants. The other kid, dressed similarly and wearing a Twins baseball cap, walked behind a shelf with a stack of CD's in his hand and came out seconds later empty handed.
Dez shook her head. "Yeah, this must get old." She turned her face into her shoulder mike and quickly informed dispatch there was a retail theft in progress and asked them to send another unit. She turned back to the kid. "Youre going to have to sit here and wait until I come back." Solemnly the youth nodded. "If you leave this office, well track you down, you know." With a mournful look on his face, the boy nodded again, and his eyes filled with tears.
Joyce leapt up from her chair. "Oh, hey! Officer, theyre heading for the exit." She pointed at one of the TVs in the middle of the twelve sets that allowed the store official and Dez to watch the guys on the cameras as they worked their way to the front of the store. As they watched, the tall cop relayed information to Dispatch so that the backup car would have full descriptions of the two males. She mentally crossed her fingers and hoped that Pace and Rinaldi would arrive in time and be waiting outside when the two teenagers exited the store.
Dez strode quickly from the security office, down the long aisleway, and toward the red-framed sliding doors. Joyce Gray followed her part of the way, but looked back to the office and made the decision to keep an eye on the kid she already had. When Dez glanced over her shoulder, she saw the blonde-haired detective disappear through the office doorway far away at the end of the hall.
When the tall cop passed through the sliding doors into the cold winter air, Pace and Rinaldi were standing in the chill air on either side of a white Ford Explorer parked in the Handicapped slot closest to the front door. With the front windows rolled down and the back doors open, the cops stood talking to the occupants. As Dez approached, they pulled the kids out of the back and patted them down, finding seven unwrapped CDs between the two. Pace was shaking his head as the dark-haired cop joined them. Without warning, the kid in the baseball cap stepped to the side and took off across the parking lot.
"Ill get him," Dez said.
Her long legs tore up the turf. Despite his panic, the boys "phat" pants slowed him down, and before he reached the far corner of the lot by the Blockbuster store, she had clapped a big hand on his shoulder and jerked him back. He stumbled and nearly fell, but she held him up, grabbed his arm and twisted it behind him, then slapped on cuffs. She turned him around and pushed him back the way they had come. "Its a shame youre not only a thief, but also stupid. Whered you think youd go, little man? Youve got three friends back there just waiting to give you up."
"They wouldnt," he panted.
She smiled. "Yeah, Ill just bet." As she walked the teenager across the lot, the chilly wind nipped at her nose. She took a deep breath of air and felt her heart rate return to normal, then looked up at the thick clouds and smelled dampness in the air. More snow is on the way. The air smelled so fresh, and for just a moment, there was no sound of traffic coming from the street, and all she could hear were footsteps and the beating of her own heart, slow and steady.
In the distance, she saw Rinaldi cuffing the other kid as the blond-haired Pace stood at the drivers window writing something. Oh, thats rich. Hes giving the driver a ticket for parking in the handicapped spot. Thats great. A bubble of merriment rose up in her, and she wanted to laugh out loud, but knew that it wasnt appropriate. Ryan would have loved giving a ticket like that. That is so totally Ryan! Waitll I tell Jaylynn this one. Shes gonna howl. She and the sullen boy reached the Explorer, and she handed him over to Rinaldi. When Pace closed his ticket book, he came around the other side of the white Ford and took hold of one kids arm while his partner escorted the other. He jerked his head toward the store. "Youve got another one locked down?" When Dez nodded, Pace said, "Okay, well take these two. Good job, Reilly."
"My pleasure," she answered with a grin. "Throw the book at em." She watched as her two brothers in blue stuffed the kids in the back of their cruiser and then got in the front. As Pace stuck his leg in the vehicle and slid into the front seat, she was struck by how much the blond-haired officer looked like Ryan from behind. And then as she turned away, in the back of her mind, she heard Ryans voice: "Yeah, good job, kiddo. Youve still got wheels, even at your advanced, decrepit age."
It was exactly the tone he would have taken, the words he would have used, and she could almost see that mischievous smirk of his and those baby blues winking at her. She took a deep breath, and for the first time in a year and a half, her memory of her old partner wasnt crushingly painful. Instead, she felt a strange surge of bittersweet happiness when the tears rushed to her eyes. Happiness that she had known him. Happiness that he had been in her life. Sadness that he was forever gone.
She paused a moment to compose herself, still thinking about her old partner, then nodded a bit to herself. Im back in business, Ryan. Yup . . . back in business. With that thought in her mind, she squared her shoulders, took a deep breath, and headed back toward the entrance of the store.
The next couple of days moved quickly for the rookie. She went to physical therapy and learned some exercises and stretches to use on her hand, and she found out that in a few days she would be healed up with a strong enough hand to return to patrol. In the meantime, she and Dez worked over at Vanitas housesoon to be their house. Vanitas clan had finished helping her move all her things over to Luellas, and now only a few garage sale items remained. They would pack them up and store them at the duplex until spring when Luella planned to have a big sale.
Jaylynn loved Vanitas house. The kitchen was roomy, with new appliances; the living room, spacious. The carpeting had been replaced just five years earlier, and the bathrooms on both floors had been modernized. Vanita told them that the reigning color schemes had once been olive green and gold, but she had remodeled in 1990. The interior of the house was now off-white and warm peach colors, contrasting delightfully with all the gorgeous oak woodwork and trim. With the exception of the downstairs bedroom needing a coat of paint, the main floor was in excellent shape. The upstairs was a different story. All three bedrooms and the hallway and stairwell needed painting, and the woodwork would require some scrubbing with a good dose of Murphys Oil Soap. Other than those cosmetic changes, though, the house was solid and clean.
After work, the two women put on their painting clothes and headed over to the house in the truck. Snow swirled in the air and blew across the roadway. Jaylynn could see very clearly how breezy it was. The bare branches of the maple trees along the route bent and swayed in the wind. She tumbled out of the truck and slogged through the light, fluffy snow up the front walk, climbed the stairs, and for the first time, inserted her key in the lock to let them in. "Brrrr, its nippy in here."
"Actually, its plenty warm enough to paint."
"Maybe for the paint, but Id like just a little more heat, Dez."
The tall cop slipped off her boots in the hallway and set them on a piece of thick carpeting under the coat rack. She opened a paper bag she was carrying and took out two pairs of old tennis shoes, handing one pair to Jaylynn and then putting hers on. When they were tied, she went to the thermostat and turned it up. "Itll be plenty warm in here soon enough."
They headed upstairs. Jaylynn went first into the front bedroom that they had just painted the night before. She turned on the overhead light, then clicked on the two worklights which cast a strong halogen glow. "Wow! Dez, this looks great." She looked back at the dark-haired woman who stood leaning against the doorframe, her hands in her jeans pockets. "What do you think, sweetie? Should this be our room? Its the closest to the bathroom, and I like it best, I think." It was also the largest of the three rooms and contained a small walk-in closet as well as a set of cupboards and drawers built in behind the door.
Dez surveyed the ceiling, then met Jaylynns eyes. "Yeah. I was thinking that, too."
"Excellent. We can put the bed hereand our dressers there." She pointed to various spots in the room, talking out loud as she made suggestions, then looked over at the tall woman, her eyes shining. "Whats your opinion?"
Dez took her hands out of her pockets and moved across the room to put her arms around the blonde. "Works for me, Jay. When we get tired of one arrangement, well just move things around. The room is plenty big enough for that."
Jaylynn gave the tall woman a squeeze. "Well, lets get cracking. We ought to be able to get at least one of those other rooms finished in an hour or two tonight." She turned out the worklights and dragged the stand into the other room and turned it on there. Dez spent a couple minutes shaking up the paint can. Then they set to work opening cans, selecting brushes and rollers, and setting out newspaper and drop-cloths. The blonde poured a splash of paint into an empty plastic butter tub and dunked her paintbrush in. She set the container down and flexed her left hand.
The dark-haired woman finished arranging the ladder and turned toward her. She frowned. "Is your hand hurting you?"
"Mmm, well, no. Its just really stiff."
"Should you be painting then?"
"Oh, sure. My right hand is fine. I just dont think Ill hold on to the paint tub too much. Ill set it down and dip from it."
Dez looked skeptical. "Theres really no hurry to get things done, you know. Take it easy on yourself, and lets just do whatever we can before February rolls around. Then well have lots of time to keep making improvements once we move in." She picked up the can of paint, poured a big blop of it into the rolling pan, set down the drippy can, then gently dunked the roller in and made sure she evenly distributed paint on the roller sleeve. Shed already rolled the ceiling the night before, so they only had to coat and trim the four walls. She started in the corner opposite from Jaylynn and rolled the first strip. The latex went on smoothly and adhered well. The walls in the upstairs hadnt been painted many times, so they would hold the paint effectively, unlike a living room in a house she remembered working on when she was part of the paint crew in college. There had been so many layers of paintssome water-based, some oilthat the only way to get the coat to adhere was to rough up every inch of the walls with sandpaper. It took hours. She was happy that Vanitas house wasnt that way. Using the ladder, she got up close to the edge of the ceiling and wall and rolled horizontally as close to the white ceiling as she could, knowing that would give Jaylynn less to have to trim.
She got down off the ladder, reloaded the roller, screwed an extender on the other end, and started spreading it on the wall again. The paint was going on nearly orange, but Jaylynn had assured her it would be a deep tan color when dried. She had tried to hold out for a bright blue, but the blonde had rolled her eyes and told her the room would feel and look arctic. Dez wasnt so sure about that. She had gotten her way in the room next door, though, which would soon be a bright blue den. But since this particular room was going to be the guest quarters, she accepted Jaylynns reasoning.
"Dez?" Without a pause in her rolling, the tall cop waited for the rookie to go on. She had that tone in her voice that meant she was going to ask some tricky question. "Under what circumstances would you have quit the force and moved up to Deweys?"
The dark-haired woman stepped back and set the roller down in the paint tray. She thought about the question and about some of what had happened since she was suspended on the second of December. She brought a big hand up to her long hair, which was tied back in a ponytail, and smoothed back a few stray strands. "Im not sure I know how to answer that."
The blonde paused from her kneeling position where she was working along the floorboards. "Why?"
"Too many ifs. I cant say anything for sure, but I dont suppose I would have done that." She loaded the roller with paint and touched it to the wall. "Maybe if I had lost my job."
"Did you really think youd be let go?"
"I didnt know. I dont know if they would have fired me, though I thought they might at first. But before too long, it seemed to me that it was sort of up to me whether I went back or not. I felt like I had to swallow my pride with the counseling and all."
"Did you feel that way about coming to get me at the airport?"
"What?" The tall woman stopped rolling and looked over her shoulder. "No. Why in the hell would you think that?"
"Just wondered." She had a sheepish look on her face when she turned back to the trimming.
Dez put the roller head back down into the paint tray and stood, one hand on her hip, the other holding on to the long extending handle. "You, my love, were the main reason I was drawn back here. Ill admit, I was very afraid I would lose you, but more of me was hopeful that youd wait and wed work things out."
"Oh, I would have waited, thats for sure." Jaylynn looked up and grinned.
The tall cops eyes narrowed. "Thought you said at Christmas time you gave up on me."
The rookie rose and looked at her right hand which was now stained with orangy-colored paint. The brush was overfull, so she went to the corner where Dez hadnt yet rolled and brushed there. She turned to face her partner who still stood in the same position. "I didnt know what to expect. I didnt know where you were. I had some moments of real weakness and doubt, but I can tell you for a fact that I really believed that if I could see you and talk to you, we could make things right."
Dez gave a nod, and neither woman spoke again. After a few seconds she picked up the roller again, and finished the wall she had been working on, then stood back to look for lines or globs in the paint. "How does that look?"
Jaylynn leaned down to set her paintbrush across the lip of the little container and surveyed the wall while stretching her arms and shoulders. She swiveled the worklights a few inches on their stand and examined the wall more closely. She came to stand next to Dez, put her arm around the tall womans hip, and hooked a thumb through the belt loop of her jeans. "Looks great. Isnt this going to be a pretty color?"
Dez let out a snort. "Not the way it looks right now. I feel like Im standing inside Cinderellas pumpkin coach."
"Guess youll just have to trust me, huh?" She leaned into the tall woman as Dez put an arm across her shoulders. "I hope we always like to work together on projects."
"Why wouldnt we?"
"No reason. Isnt it great to see something like this all come together and look so nice?"
"Yes, it sure is." She leaned down and set the extension handle on the paint tray, careful not to jar the roller end or spill any paint, then took the blonde into her arms and kissed her. In a husky voice, she said, "Too bad we havent got a stick of furniture in here."
"You mean like a bed?"
"Yeah, that would be nice."
In a mock serious tone, Jaylynn said, "Listen, you hedonist, get back to work. No excuses. As soon as youre done with your chores, thenand only thencan you sluff off and start making the fancy moves on me."
Her gaze was met by twinkling hazel eyes. "Of course. But if you want to get any quality time in our nice warm bed, then youd better get on the stick, missy. We havent got all night."
Thursday was a day Jaylynn figured she would always remember. It was the day the Tivoli case, at long last, came together. It had taken 72 hours, but the Chicago detectives finally called with bunches of information, and between their data and the facts gleaned from further interviews with Tong Vang, the picture was coming into focus.
The rookie found it interesting that Tong had been interviewed every day this week by a high-level department investigator and a psychiatrist named Marie Montague. When shed told Dez, the tall cop hadnt seemed surprised. She had said that Marie didnt work solely with adults, but also dealt with young children who had been exposed to trauma and destruction. Somehow it warmed the rookies heart to think that the therapist capable of reaching and soothing Dez might be the one to do the same for Tong. A part of her wondered if perhaps she might not like a similar sort of job.
But she put that out of her head as she worked on cataloguing the information that Chicago had provided. Their prime suspect was Tom Flanders, a 33-year-old married man, father of two, who drove a silver 1992 Buick with a license plate number beginning with EGG. He also happened to be the Youth Lay Pastor at the church where Anna Maria Archamble and her mother had attended until Lena Archambles drug overdose in August. The Chicago cops had Flanders under surveillance until further instructions came their way. What they had found out from Annas friends gave them plenty of clues about the young girls attachment to the older man, whom she had apparently trusted. Even before her mother died, Anna had spent considerable time at the nearby church, and her closest girlfriend, age 13, had actually been aware that Anna was pregnant.
Jaylynn shook her head and felt the same anger surface that she had felt so many times concerning this murder case. How could a man in his thirtiesolder than medo such a thing to that tiny little girl? First he gets her pregnant, then he kills her to cover that up?
Just then Tsorro and Parkins came striding into the squad room. "Well, sweetie pie," the Italian said, "have we got news for you." He rubbed his palms together, looking positively merry.
The rookie pushed her paperwork aside. "What? Whats up?"
Parkins tossed a file folder on his messy desk, slipped off his suit coat, draped it over his filing cabinet, and lowered himself into the straight-backed visitors chair next to her desk. Tsorro came over and leaned against the edge of the desk behind Parkins. "Well, doll, Tong really gave it up."
"Yeah," Parkins said. He had a half-smile on his face, a sort of satisfied look that Jaylynn didnt recall ever seeing before. "With the help of the shrink, he was able to reconstruct what he heard and saw, and weve got motive and a positive ID."
"Youre kidding!" Jaylynn said with excitement. "He picked the guy out of a photo spread?"
Parkins nodded. "And we went out of our way to be sure were covered. Two prosecutors were there as well as a Public Defender, and we showed him 15 photos total. No sweat. He nailed him in seconds."
"So we really do have the right guy then." It wasnt a question from the rookie; it was a statement of disbelief.
Tsorro said, "If there is anything to be said in his favor, it might be that he probably didnt come planning to kill either one of them. From what Tong heard, he brought the gun because he thought that Tivoli was an ex-con who might hurt him."
"Heres what we think happened, Savage." Parkins stood and spun the chair around so that the back of it was in front of him. He sat down and settled his forearms on the chair back. "Flanders drives up after dark. He parks off to the side of the snack shack about the same moment that the Vang boy rides up on the path behind the shack. He never saw the boyotherwise we all know what could have happened. Flanders had probably waited there until there was a lull in the action and no customers were around. He gets out of the car, leaving it running, and slips around to the screen door. He goes in. The kid, back behind the shack, heard one voice say, Hey, who the hell are you! Get out! or something like that. Tivoli is a head taller than Flanders and outweighs him by fifty, sixty pounds. Flanders gets out the gun and tells Tivoli to get on his knees."
Jaylynns thoughts flew to the young girl. "Where was Anna?"
Tsorro nodded. "In a second."
Parkins continued. "Tivoli knelt. Flanders held the gun to his head and told Tivoli he wasnt afraid of him. He demanded to know where the girl was. From the way Tivoli fell and the fact that he was shot in the right side of the head, Flanders had to be standing with his back to the window of the snack shack. Anna Maria was sitting below the counter there, shielded partly from view by all those empty candy boxes. From what Tong heard, we think the girl got up to run, and Flanders pulled the trigger. She could have jostled him. He could have just been trigger happy. But then he turned around and shot at her, hitting her in the back as she went through the screen door. At this point, Tong ducked under the snack shack in the shadows, behind the big tire. Little Anna fell down the stairs and tried to get away. Flanders followed her and finished her off not ten feet from Tong." Parkins stopped and cleared his throat. "Lucky for us, Tong saw his face very clearly as Flanders knelt down. In fact, Tong has been terrified that he was observed. He doesnt fully understand that Flanders was in a shaft of lamplight, but that he, himself, was concealed under the snack shack.
Tsorro said, "We think that when the gun went off, Tong was already off his bike and getting ready to walk around to the front window to buy candy. As soon as he heard the shot, he dropped down and scooted behind the tire and beneath the undercarriage of the trailer. Just in time, too. It must have all happened so fast. We are so damn lucky that Flanders never noticed him or he might have gotten away with murder."
Parkins let out a sigh. "It was so useless and stupid. This Flanders guy just killed two people and likely screwed up one eight-year-old boy for life."
Jaylynn nodded slowly. "Hmm. So how did Tong get the phone card?"
Parkins frowned. "Hes a little fuzzy about the phone card. He had some trouble putting things in sequence. The shrink said he is still so focused on the sight of the gun at the girls head, but as they talk more, he may remember things better. The only thing Tsorro and I can figure is that Anna had dropped it earlier. When Tong first arrived, he saw it on the ground and picked it up. Could be that the few seconds in picking up and examining the card were just enough of a delay to keep him from being shot, too."
The rookie shook her head. She looked up at Tsorro, then Parkins. "What happens now? Do you guys go to Illinois and arrest him?"
Tsorro stood and tilted his head to one side. "Chicago has already done that, I think." He cocked his head to the other side, stretching his neck. "Soon as they compare the fingerprints, well know for sure. Well get him extradited soon. Take some DNA samples to link him to Anna for good measure. Well nail him for murder, crim sex assault, and anything else we can throw at him. By the way, Tonto, show her the guys photo."
Parkins spun around and picked up the file folder he had come in with. He opened it and pulled out an enlarged photo and handed it to her. She looked down at the Illinois Department of Motor Vehicles color photo in amazement, first noting that Flanders weighed 140 and was five feet, seven inches tall. But what she was struck most by was that the man was as beautiful as Kevin. He had soft blond hair, blue eyes, and a beguiling smile. It was one of the nicest DMV photos she had ever seen. Somehow she always expected murderers to be ugly, unkempt, and scary-looking. This guy looked like a choir boy, and he certainly did not appear much older than 25. Glancing up at the investigators, she let the photo drop to the desk. "This just makes me feel sick."
"Tell me about it, babycakes." Tsorro looked at his watch. "On that note, Im knocking off a little early today. Soon as the lieutenant gets back from wherever the hell she is, we can update her and get the hell out of here for the night."
"Yeah. Me, too," Parkins said. "Weve put in plenty of extra hours on this one the last week or so. You want to go a bit early, Savage? Im sure the lieutenant wouldnt mind."
She shook her head. "No, Ill finish up a few things here. Tomorrow is my last day anyway, guys . . ."
Tsorro looked outraged. "Youre leaving us again?"
The rookie grinned. "Im pretty well healed up, so Im going back on patrol on Monday."
"Oh, no! This is ridiculous. A little slip of a thing like you! For Christs sake, Savage, youve got a good head on your shoulders. Stick around here and work with us."
"Afraid it doesnt work that way, guys. I have to have more than a good head on my shoulders to warrant a promotion to detective."
Tsorro adjusted the cuff of his jacket. "Well, thats senseless. We need you here."
"Yeah," Parkins said, grinning. "Its all about us, you know."
Jaylynn heard the sound of footsteps clicking on the floor, and the two cops turned and watched as Lt. Finn entered the area. As she headed for her office, Finn saw they were all looking her way, and she hesitated.
"Over here, Loot," Tsorro said in a raised voice. She came their way, looking classy in a blue skirt, white blouse, and jacket.
Parkins said, "The best. We put down the Tivoli case, mostly compliments of Savage here."
Lt. Finn gave them a big smile. "Oh, wow. That certainly is good news. Congratulations. So the phone card lead ended up paying off after all. Good work, Savage, and you two, as well. Youve all worked very well as a team."
Tsorro cleared his throat. "Thats true, weve been a super team, and wed like to have a word with you about that. Savage needs to stay on here. She tells us youre sending her back to patrol."
"Actually, Im not doing any such thing. To be precise, she belongs to the Western Precinct and weve just had her on loan. They have reclaimed her now that shes no longer needs desk duty for medical leave."
Parkins chuckled. "Youre making her sound like a library book, boss."
Everybody laughed, and Jaylynn said, "Guys, dont worry about me. Im looking forward to getting up and around again. I like this job a lot, but really, I very much enjoy patrol."
"But its dangerous," Tsorro said in disbelief, "and youre just a tiny thing."
The blonde felt the blood rush to her face, but before she could say anything, she met Denise Finns eyes, and then the lieutenant was speaking. "Tsorro, Savage is one capable officer, and she belongs to the Western Precinct. If she wants to come back here, she can apply for jobs as they open, but hey, I cant kidnap her." She let out a trill of laughter. "Youre just mad because youre losing a fine assistant, and now you have to do your paperwork yourself."
Tsorro looked like a big dog getting his hackles up. "This girls got a fine mind. She could do our jobs. The brass is wasting a resource."
"No." The lieutenant reached a hand out and put it on Tsorros forearm. "Savages skills and talents have been duly noted, and Im not going to forget. In the meantime, Ive requisitioned for a new position, a Criminal Intelligence Technician, who can work with you guys and also with the Arson and Vice investigators."
Parkins mouth dropped open. "Youre kidding? Really? Were actually going to add staff, not cut?"
"Thats right," she said. "Savage, you are welcome to apply, but it isnt an officer position. Its a very important civilian job, though."
From her seat at the desk, Jaylynn nodded. "Thanks, boss. Ill think about it." She had settled back in her chair and calmed down in the wake of Tsorros sexist comments, and now she knew it wasnt worth the challenge to him. He had his own agenda, and it wasnt just about her, but also about needing help. She met the lieutenants eyes and could tell just by the look on her superiors face that the lieutenant shared her amusement at this situation. When I started here, they were keeping track of things on three-by-five cards. Now theyre scrambling to get a CIT because they liked the computer work I did. She glanced up at the lieutenant, and all of a sudden she wondered how much of this Lt. Finn had orchestrated. Well, no matter. All I know is that you can teach an old dog new tricksor at least make him want to use the new tricks. And hey, its always nice to be appreciated.
Tsorro followed Finn toward her office, still arguing, and Parkins dropped back into his desk chair. After a moment, he rose again. "Will I see you tomorrow, Savage?"
"Okay, then Ill save my goodbyes. Have a good night, kiddo."
"Thanks. You, too." As he left, she checked her watch. 4:30. She still had some time left to kill. She put her elbow on the desk and her chin in her right palm and sat thinking. What an anticlimactic resolution to the Tivoli case. She was thankful that it was actually coming to a close, but it troubled her that even though the killer had been caught, it didnt change anything. A man who had been trying to put his life in order after engaging in criminal activity, who had finally attempted to do right by his 13-year-old daughter, a guy who Jaylynn had met and who seemed ordinary enoughthat man was now dead along with his little girl. The sense of justice she had expected to feel wasnt there. Now some woman and two children were likely finding out that their husband and father was a murderer, and unless the wheels of justice derailed badly, Tom Flanders was going to jail for a very long time. Everybody involved in the case, right down to an eight-year-old witness, was scarred by the actions of one desperate, amoral man.
Despite the fact that Zorro and Tonto so generously praised her and asked for her to join them, she didnt think she would want to work in Homicide for any great length of time. In fact, perhaps she had had enough of it with just this one case she had worked intensively and the few others she had tangentially labored over. It was something to think about and puzzle over. She turned back to her work and lost herself in it.
The next time she looked up at the clock on the wall she was surprised to see it was eight minutes after six. Id better call Dez and let her know Im going to be late. Before she could reach for the telephone, a movement by the lieutenants office caught her eye, and she swiveled in her chair to see two lieutenantsFinn and Malcolmstanding outside the Lieutenants office. Another man in street clothes whom she didnt know stood speaking to them. She had begun to turn away when she overheard Finn say, "Shes still here. Ill get her."
The rookies head jerked back up, her heart pounding. She watched as Lt. Finn strode toward her with an odd look on her face, then called out, "Savage, we need to see you for a moment."
The bottom fell out of the blondes stomach, and she thought she was going to be sick. Oh, my God. Dez? Oh, my God. She rose, mechanically, her legs wobbly beneath her, and forced herself to take one step forward, then another.
As she reached Lt. Finn, the older woman turned and walked alongside her back to where the two men stood. "Looks like were all going to be here a bit late tonight, Savage."
Now Jaylynn was shaking. Lt. Malcolm extended his hand and said something to her, but the blood was rushing in her head, and she couldnt do anything more than shake his hand, feeling fear and something cold and liquid-like running through her limbs. Then he introduced her to the other man, but she hardly heard his name. He, too, reached out and shook her hand.
"Graul is working in the Lieutenants office now," Finn said, "so lets go over to the conference room."
Jaylynn took a deep breath and her head cleared a little. This cant be about Dez. She looked at Malcolm and then Finn, and even a quick examination revealed that neither was upset or even nervous. Uh oh, I think I just overreacted. A grim smile crossed her face, and the relief that blossomed through her body made her feel tingly and overly warm and damp. She knew she was blushing with embarrassment and that she only had a few steps to compose herself. Taking another deep breath, she tensed her shoulders and arms, making fists, and then blew out the extra air she had been holding in. Then they were all passing into the small room to the side of the squad room, and she grabbed a chair and plunked down into it.
Puzzled, she looked up at Finn as the dark-eyed officer seated herself. "Is this about the Tivoli case?"
"No," Lt. Malcolm said before Finn could answer. Still standing, he removed his overcoat and slung it over the back of his chair. "This is about the Savage case." He had a half-smile on his face as he seated himself at the head of the table with Finn and Jaylynn to his left and the other man across from the rookie on his right. "Sergeant Vail here helps run the Police Training Academy. You remember Sergeant Slade?"
"Oh, sure. He was my favorite instructor when I went through the Academy."
"Vail is newly assigned to the Academy, and he and Slade are revamping the curriculumreorganizing to prepare for one of the biggest classes of new cadets weve ever recruited. We also have a record number of women. Thats where you come in." He smiled at her. "I was just going to discuss this with Lieutenant Finn and Sergeant Vail, but as long as youre here, we may as well talk about it with you present. Weve hatched up a plan, and Commander Paar is in favor of itif you are, that is."
Now Jaylynn was out-and-out curious. She looked at Malcolm and then across at Vail. Like Slade, Vail was fairly young. She put him at around thirty. He had a head of thick dark brown hairalmost blackand his eyes were dark and soulful. A very handsome man, but he seemed unaware of it, almost shy. His forearms rested on the table, his fingers interlaced with one another, and the blonde could see the wide gold band he wore on his left hand. She met his eyes, and he smiled hesitantly. She got the distinct feeling that she would like him.
Finn said, "Its kind of funny to talk about this today, Savage, especially after what Tsorro and Parkins were saying earlier. I already had a bit of information about this, but I couldnt say anything at the time." The rookie sensed the excitement the other three officers were feeling, and a nervous thrill ran through her. Finn went on. "Weve got a proposal for you. You can think it over for a few days if you like. Ive written a favorable reportwell, actually, a glowing reportabout the work you have done here in Investigations."
"And I concur regarding the work youve done on Patrol," Malcolm said. "We think your talents can be used in a couple areas, and heres what weve come up with."
Jaylynns head truly felt like it was swimming as she drove home at a quarter to seven. Between the Tivoli case and the job arrangements, her mind was full. The momentary panic she had felt when she saw the lieutenants and the sergeant also surfaced, and she thought for a moment about how frightened she had been. Is that what Dez has been going through? Geez! If thats the kind of fear I have to look forward to, well, then Im not looking forward to it at all.
Before she left the station, she had made a quick call to the apartment to let Dez know she was running late, and the tall cop asked her to stop on the way home and buy milk, so she steered into the mini-mart and, as if in a daze, meandered back to the dairy case and picked up a gallon of milk. She was nearly to the counter when she looked down and saw the red cap on the milk, then tilted the plastic jug so that she could see the label: Homogenized Whole Milk. Oops. Cant have that. Dezs diet would go all to hell. She reversed course, grabbed a green topped skim milk, and headed back to the checkout stand. As she waited for the man in front of her to purchase cigarettes, she thought about the job offer. She couldnt wait to discuss it with Dez.
Quickly, she drove home, parked, and dashed up to the apartment. She set the jug of milk on the counter and tugged off her coat as she cut through the kitchen to the front room. Dez sat on the couch with the new Melissa Etheridge CD playing softly in the background and the libretto in her hands. She looked up and smiled. "Hey, you."
Jaylynn kicked her shoes off and started to unbutton her blue uniform shirt. "Youre never going to believe this. We solved the Tivoli case and the Chicago police are going to pick up the guywell, by now they have probably arrested him. And another thing . . ." Dez tipped her head to the side a little and waited. "Finn and Malcolm called me in today and offered me a new job."
The dark-haired womans eyebrows went up, as did her heart rate. New job? She took a deep breath and waited.
Jaylynn stepped out of her slacks and grabbed a duffel bag up off the floor which she rooted around in until she found a clean t-shirt. She pulled it over her head. "Theyve got a whole new class of rookiesa really big classcoming through, and they need trainers. Sgt. Sladehe was my teacher at the Academysuggested that it might be helpful to have a woman trainer. They asked a couple other cops, but no one wanted to do that on a part-time basis. So the new sergeant working with Sladehis names Vailcame over to the main station with Malcolm and Finn, and they asked me." She strode over to the bathroom door, reached around to the other side of it, and snagged a pair of sweatpants from the hook on the back.
In a low voice, Dez said, "Whatll you do with the other part of your time?"
The rookie smiled broadly, then stepped into the sweat bottoms. "Downtown beat patrol, mostly in the skyways. Doesnt that sound great? Ill be out of the cold."
A snort of laughter burst from the tall cop, and then she was laughing out loud in relief. It was just like Jaylynn to be excited about a warm assignment. She hoped the blonde would take the job, even though she, herself, would go crazy with boredom if she were expected to wander the skyways in downtown St. Paul. The rookie, on the other hand, would get to know all of the restaurant, store, and business owners and be a positive presence. It would likely be an excellent post for her. "Youll be very good at the training piece, and I think the skyway beat patrol could be fun for you. Congratulations on that, and its great you solved the case."
"I didnt do it alone."
"No, but you did find the one true lead. That was nice work, and we should whoop it up. Lets go out for a big dinner and celebrate the solving of the case and the new job."
Jaylynn sputtered and gave a half-laugh. "I havent even accepted the offer yet. I wanted to talk to you first. What if I decide against it?"
Dez shrugged. "Its nice to have options. And besides, I just feel like celebrating. That and this . . ." She picked up a packet of papers that was sitting on the couch next to her.
Jaylynn moved over to the couch, and knelt on the cushion right next to Dez, then curled up against her. The tall cop set the papers and libretto down on the couch, put an arm around the blonde, and pulled her close. She pressed her face into the short hair and inhaled the soft fragrance of strawberries.
Jaylynn tilted her head up and looked into the dark-haired womans bright blue eyes. "What have you got there in that stack of papers?
"Credit approvals and approved loan paperwork. Looks like were pretty well set for the house loan."
"And did you have any doubts?"
Dez shrugged. "You never know. When Crystal and Shayna went for a simple car loan one time, they ran them through the wringer. And when Julie and Ryan bought their house, he ended up with someone elses credit problems on his report. Took him weeks to get it straightened out."
"But ours turned out fine?"
"Well, thats good to hear." She reached up a hand and smoothed a stray lock of hair off the tall womans forehead.
"Whaddya think? Want to go get something to eat? I meant to cook something, but I just got carried away listening to this new CD."
Jaylynn smiled. "That would be nice. You mean like at the Cutting Board?"
"Nuh uh. I mean lets go someplace nice. You know, dress up."
"I just got changed."
Dez laughed. "Its not irreversible. Put on some nice duds, and well go get any kind of food you like a lot."
"Sure. If thats what you want."
"But what about your diet? Noodles equal lots of carbs."
Dez blushed and frowned. She started to speak, but Jaylynn interrupted. "Dez! Im teasing. Dont take things so seriously. Im just kidding you."
"But I like Italian food."
"Whatll you have: three olives and an ice water?" Jaylynn laughed.
Dez elbowed her gently in the side. "Youve got a cruel streak, you know that?" But she said it with a trace of a smile on her face.
"Okay. Ill go." Jaylynn gave her a squeeze around her middle.
"Which olive and ice water joint do you want to visit?"
"Definitely Pazzaluna. Kevin and Tim have been raving about it ever sincewell, for ages. But I have to go over to the old place and get some clothes out of the closet. I dont have anything nice enough at your place."
"Wait a second, Jay. I hear that Pazzaluna is hard to get into. I think wed better call and get a reservation."
"I know just who to call to get in at the last minute." She rose and grabbed up the phone.
Dez picked up the sheaf of papers and slipped them into the manila envelope in which they had arrived, then put the libretto back in the CDs jewel case. By then an animated Jaylynn was talking to Kevin, and it certainly sounded like he was going to get them in.
The blonde hung up the phone and turned to her, triumphant. "No sweat. 7:30." She looked at her watch. "Whoa! Doesnt give us a lot of time. Ill have to hurry and run over to the house to get decent clothes."
"What? You dont want to go in those old gold sweats?"
"Not really." She whisked around the room, putting on shoes, gathering things up, and then went into the kitchen to grab her coat. Dez followed her and stood leaning against the cabinet nearest the living room door. Jaylynn zipped up her coat and said, "You go ahead and get beautified, all right? Then Ill come back and pick you up."
The tall cop shook her head slowly. "No, you take longer than me. Just go and get ready. Ill pick you up about 7:20." She smiled, then tilted her head to the side. "Meanwhile, Ill just put away this rapidly warming milk."
Jaylynn stared blankly for a second, then got an amused look on her face. "Oops. I was in such a hurry to tell you all the news."
Dez grabbed the milk jug, and opened the refrigerator to put it in. "Youre nuts, you know, Jay? I never know what to expect from you."
Sheepishly Jaylynn said, "Keeps life interesting, dont you think?"
Jaylynn dressed carefully in an outfit she hadnt worn since she became a police officer. Black tapered pants and a lime green silk blouse were topped by a black toreador style jacket that accentuated her slim waist. In a pair of black leather zip-up boots with two-inch heels, she thought she looked tall. She came down the stairs and peeped out the window just as Dez drove up in her red truck. The blonde grabbed her coat and pulled it on, picked up a pair of mittens, and tore out the door and down the walk. When she got to the truck and opened the door, she was surprised to see the tall cop dressed all in white. Standing on her tiptoes, she looked in the open door of the passenger side. "Wow! Get out and let me get a look at that suit."
"No way," Dez said, as she tried unsuccessfully to keep from blushing.
"Oh, come on. Ive never seen you in such finery."
"You can see at the restaurant." The dark-haired cop was embarrassed, but grinning.
"All right, be that way." The blonde crawled up into the cab and slammed the door. "Great jacket though. And how the heck can you sit there in that suit without a coat on? Arent you freezing?"
Dez shook her head and pulled away from the curb. "Ive got an overcoat behind the seat if I need it. Heck, were just going from the truck to the restaurant and back. Im not going to get cold." She glanced to the side at Jaylynn and smiled at her.
"Im in black. Youre in white. Sure hope no one confuses us with the salt and pepper shakers."
The dark-haired cop grinned. "Not with that neon green on."
As she drove, it occurred to Dez that she was feeling nervous. She hadnt ever dressed up and gone out to a fancy place with Jaylynn. She was glad her stomach was empty because it was churning. She didnt want to blow this. She wanted it to be a perfect night for her partner.
"Whatcha got for tunes in this heap?" the blonde asked.
Dez flipped open the armrest. "By the time you pick something out, well be there."
"Ill bet not." Jaylynn extracted a CD case and pulled out a disc, then slid it into the player and advanced the tracks. After a second, the sounds of an accordion filled the truck cab. "This is one of my favorites ever."
"Mine, too." Dez thought about how k.d. langs song "Constant Craving" reflected the reality of her life. It had only been the last few weeks that she realized she even had cravings. Thank God for Marie. I dont know what I would have done without her. When she thought of all she had learned in the last couple months, it almost made her head spin. But at least it wasnt spinning as badly as it had in the wake of Ryans death. So many bad things had happened in the year and a halfso much confusion. From such violent and painful events came the dawning of the knowledge that she wanted to live, to be happy, that she wanted to feel again. And that it was okay to admit not just those desires, but also that she was in love and that she felt tremendously vulnerable, that she hurt at times, that she did indeed cry. And even though she had no idea how exactly to proceed, she knew she wanted to keep sharing those things with Jaylynn.
They pulled into the restaurant parking ramp as the song ended. "Guess you were right," Dez said. About more than one thing, she added to herself.
They cut across the darkened street, walking under a decorative lamppost that illuminated the corner in a strange orangy hue. A trifle ill at ease, the tall woman followed Jaylynn into the restaurant. She looked down at the marble-chip floors and painted tiles, and then around at shiny wood and tall, antique columns and thought the place was quite beautiful. The first face she saw was Kevins, and he was grinning with glee.
"Yo, girls. I have just the spot for you." He waited for them to check Jaylynns coat and then led them past several occupied tables and over to a corner booth that was a bit out of the way and more private than some of the tables. In a stage whisper, the handsome blond man said, "I arranged for our best waiter to cover you guys. Youll like him, and youll get the absolute best of everything.
"All right, thats great, Kevin," Jaylynn said. "Thanks a million." He reached down to squeeze her shoulder and then strode off toward the front.
For no good reason at all, Dez found herself at a loss for words, but Jaylynn didnt seem to notice. As usual she more than held up her end of the conversation, telling Dez all the details of what had happened on the Tivoli case. When the exceedingly polite waiter came over, they ordered soda as their beverage and Focaccia Contadina for an appetizer.
"Hey, Dez, guess what I found when I got over to Tims tonight? I shouldve brought it with me."
The dark-haired woman shrugged. "What?"
"A nearly shredded postcard delivered in one of those clear plastic containers that the Post Office uses when they screw up."
Dez looked at her blankly with no clue as to what she was talking about.
"The entire upper half of the card was ripped up, but two words at the bottom were clear. Love, Dez."
A wisp of a smile started on the tall womans face. "I told you I sent you a card."
"I believed you! But isnt it funny that out of the zillions and billions of cards and letters, they picked yours to be the one to mangle?" She shook her head. "Im telling you, I couldve really used that card back then."
Dez raised an eyebrow. "But now, its pretty useless, huh?"
"Well, we sure wont be saving it for the Tretter Gay/Lesbian Archives at the U of M." She giggled and started to say something else, but just then, the waiter arrived carrying a platter of four tasty-looking pieces of Tuscan flat bread with white bean puree, chunks of roasted garlic, warm goat cheese, and olive oil. Jaylynn took one look at the plate with all the food displayed so elegantly, and said, "Yum! Two for each of us."
"No, three for you and one for me."
Jaylynn gave her a stern look. "I thought you said you were going to splurge tonight."
"What? I cant fill up on appetizers. I wouldnt be able to eat whatever decadent main course you make me order."
"Okay, so no argument then, because Ill be thrilled to eat all three." She proceeded to smear cheese, oil, and bean puree on the bread and then groaned with delight as she savored the first bite. "Oh . . .isnt this luscious?"
Dez laughed out loud. "You enjoy food more than anyone Ive ever known."
"Isnt it great?"
In a flash, Dez was filled with a sense of peace and well-being unlike anything shed felt for a long time. She actually felt like getting up and doing a few jumping jacks or a jig. Instead, she stretched her legs out under the table, nudging Jaylynn in the process. "Whoops. Sorry." She smiled and Jaylynn beamed back as she took another bite of the tasty morsel.
"Ive never been here before," Jaylynn said, "but Tims right. I can tell already this is going to be a fabulous dinner."
"And Ill bet the food will be good, too."
"Why, I do believe you have a sense of humor after all, Miss Big Shot Cop."
"Thank you," Dez said smugly. "Contrary to popular belief, Im not always grim and unforgiving."
Jaylynn looked thoughtful. "No, youre not. I think your real nature is to be mischievous and kind."
Dez shifted in her seat and thought about that. "Ryan and I used to play a lot of practical jokes, but youre right, not the mean kind. Like, one of the best ones ever was how every night for a week we took Sergeant Andres keys out of his jacket pocket and moved his car from wherever hed parked on one side of the lot to the other. I usually kept a lookout, and Ryan moved it. Pretty soon everyone knew but Andres, and you never saw anyone so befuddled in your life!"
Jaylynn picked up another piece of flatbread and began to decorate it. "You miss him terribly, dont you?"
Dez looked away. "Yeah. I think about him a lot."
"Sometimes I can tell. You get this wistful look in your eye."
The tall woman turned back to her partner. "How do you know Im not thinking about you then?" It popped out before Dez could even think about it, and she held her breath.
Jaylynn gave a short bark of laughter. "Desiree Reilly, youre getting positively flirty!"
Dez felt the flush start at her neck and wash up her face, but she smiled back at the rookie as the waiter appeared to take their order. They ordered Rigatoni for Jaylynn and Manicotti con Ricotta with extra meatballs for Dez.
"Youre actually having that with meatballs?" Jaylynn asked.
"Big night. Gotta celebrate."
There was a moments pause at the table as the two women waited for the appetizer dishes to be cleared, and then they were alone again. They looked at one another shyly, neither fidgeting, neither moving.
In a quiet and low voice, Dez said, "Ive never liked going to places like this. In the past, when Ive imagined getting all dressed up and going out to a fancy place, I thought this would be hard. I havent asked anyone else outto do something like thisever before. I was always tooyou knowtoo nervous. But now that were here, and its you and me, its not so hard after all."
"Why? Why would you be nervous? You look wonderful, Dez. You seem totally at ease." Jaylynn couldnt help but smile at the dark-haired woman who looked so beautiful in the flickering candlelight, the lines in her face magically gone, the usual tension around her eyes softened.
"Well see how at ease I stay when these plates of red sauce show up."
Jaylynn looked down at the stark white suit her partner was wearing. "Just try not to get too close to me."
Dez rolled her eyes. "Believe me, Ive already thought of that." She met the blondes eyes and they both laughed, but then the laughter trailed off and Dez suddenly felt breathless. She cleared her throat and looked away, and when she looked back, she said, "I brought you a present."
"You did?" Jaylynn said with excitement. "Where is it?"
Dez patted a small velvet box in her pants pocket. The tiny box contained a ring exactly like the one she was currently wearing. She blushed some more. "Id like to give it to you a little later, okay?"
Jaylynn nodded and looked across the table, her face shining. She whispered, "Dez?"
"How am I gonna make it through this meal?"
With a puzzled look on her face, Dez said, "What do you mean?"
"I have this overwhelming need to touch you." The hazel-eyed woman looked around at all the other diners in the room and then felt two warm legs press up against either side of her calf.
"Best I could do on short notice," Dez said conspiratorially.
"What?" Dez said, alarmed.
"Now its worse."
Dez moved her legs away and tried to stifle a grin. "Dont make me laugh." She took a sip of her ice water and said, "Werent you the one who once said food was as good as making love?"
In mock horror, Jaylynn said, "No! I would neverIm sure I said almost as good."
The dark-haired woman smiled. Without a thought as to what others might think, she reached across the table and put her hand over Jaylynns. She leaned forward, and in a soft voice said, "I love you very much."
She squeezed the smaller womans hand, then let go, but she hooked one long leg around the blondes calf and smirked.
"Youre not going to make this easy on me, are you?"
"Nope." Dez crossed her arms over her white jacket. In fact, tonight may be the night that I sing that song I wrote for you. She sat smiling to herself as Jaylynn launched into a question about where they might want to go on their first big vacation, and once again she was hit with the realization that everything was going to be all right.
The second of February dawned cold and clear, with the smell of burning firewood wafting through the neighborhood. The tall cop dressed in sweat pants over running tights, thick socks, running shoes, and an insulated but breathable skintight shirt under a zip-up jacket with a tall collar. She wore a Thinsulate hat that pulled down over her ears and tied under her chin, and she had on lightweight Gortex gloves. Right now, it felt a little chilly, but once she got moving, she knew shed be fineperhaps even overly warm.
According to the thermometer outside Luellas back door, it was 24 degrees out, but there was no wind, so Dez expected a pleasant run. She walked alongside the duplex and out to the sidewalk, then turned left and headed for the lake. At seven-thirty. on a wintry Saturday morning, it was still halfway dark, with the last vestiges of night beginning to lift. The streets and walkways were deserted. She could only hope that the park personnel had done their jobs and cleared the running path around Como Lake. Otherwise, shed have to run in the street, and with all the patches of ice, that didnt look too promising.
She quickened her pace to a very fast walk and let the kinks in her legs work themselves out. Stretching her shoulders and arms and rolling her head a little, she felt her muscles start to warm up. When she reached the arch a few moments later, she was pleased to see that the paths were clear and well-lit, with the electric lights still shining silvery beams all around the lake. She walked a little further until she was ready to pick up to a slow jog.
It hadnt snowed for three days, but there was a thick layer of the white stuff over the top of the ice-covered lake. Some brave soul had stomped down the embankment to the edge and then walked across the ice all the way to the other side of the frozen water. His or her bootprints pointed toward the Pavilion on the far side. It had been well below freezing for several weeks, but still, Dez didnt think shed take that kind of a chance out on the ice.
She continued forward, extending her stride now that she felt she could trust the surface of the footpath. Looking off to her left and across to the other side of the lake, the tall, white columns on the front of Pavilion stood, sparkling as the early morning sun rose. The green tiled roof looked almost black. She chugged along toward it and started around the turn. Now, beyond the parking lot, she could see the wood frame over the fountain. The wooden cover for the fountain had been painted green, but it looked out of place, like a giant mottled toad plopped down next to the stately building which was all closed up for the winter. As she ran past it, she thought about the Tivoli murder and how senseless it had been.
She put that thought out of her mind, and now, up on her right, she could see the house where Tim and Sara and Jaylynn lived. Not for long, she thought. Just a few hours, and she and the rookie would be unpacking at their new house. They hadnt actually had the closing on the property yet, but the two sisters were insisting that they move in and start getting settled. They had the rest of the month before the new tenant, a greenhorn police recruit, moved into the apartment above Luella on the first of March. She was glad Jaylynn had found a nice female cadet, and the new rookie, Meghan Petersen, was thrilled with Dezs place.
She felt a pang of sadness. As much as she looked forward to the new adventure of moving into a house with the love of her life, still, she felt a sense of grief. She had been pushing it into the background and telling herself for days to stop feeling it, but it hadnt worked. The same sad feelings crept up on her when she least expected, and here they were again. She slowed her pace and let herself feel.
Fear. It was fear again. What if something happened to Luellaor to Vanitaand she wasnt there? What about her calm, orderly life? Would she and Jaylynn drive each other crazy? What if she wasnt meant to live with someone else? What if it ruined things between her and the blonde? How could she be sure this was the right move? Once the new rookie moved into the apartment above Luella, she knew she couldnt move back. What would happen if something went wrong?
She slowed to a walk, panting less from fatigue and more from the stress of asking herself these questions. Her breath came out of her mouth in puffs of white smoke. She fell into a quick walking pace, and then popthe electric lights around the lake all went out at once. She surveyed the sky and saw a weak sun trying to peek through the clouds.
All right, lets be logical here. She went through her questions in her head again and reasoned with herself, walking at least a third of the way around the lake before she suddenly heard Luellas voice in her head. "Dez, honey, you have to believe in something bigger than you, something or somebody who rules the Universe. Things have a way of working out if you just trust that. Just trust in the Universe or God or whoever. Thats all you have to do. Focus on trust."
That sounded just like something Luella would say. She took a deep breath and leaned forward to start jogging again before she got too cold. But she couldnt prevent tears from springing to her eyes. Luella was old. She wasnt going to last forever. What would I do without her?
And then another voice came into her head, that of Marie Montague. In an amused tone, the therapist said, "You never totally lose anyone you love, Dez. They are always there in your headin memories that you can draw upon."
The tall cop frowned. She didnt remember ever hearing Marie say that to her, and yet, it was exactly like something Marie would say. A startled laugh emerged from her, and she found herself thinking that Marie and Luellas voices were there, in her head, in her memories, in her heart. Just like her fathers sometimes wasand Ryans. Not just people who were alive, but also the voices of the dead. In fact, more and more, lately, she had found herself carrying on little conversations in her head with Jaylynn, and later, when she broached the subjects with the blonde, much of what Jaylynn actually did say ran along the lines of what the dark-haired woman had imagined in her musings.
She picked up the pace. Okay, now I guess Im losing it. This is way too weird. But the more she thought about it, the more it made sense. She could integrate a lot of peoples viewpoints and ideas, even their voiceswhat was so wrong with that? She continued to think about it all as she reached the arch and completed her second lap around the lake. She wondered for a moment if she should head home, but she decided to take one more lap. Lengthening her stride, she asked herself the key question: do I want to move over to the new place with Jaylynn? She picked up the pace, pumping hard with her arms.
Is it a good idea, and do I really want to do that?
And without a doubt, the answer resounding in her head, with each pound of a footstep, was yes, yes, yes. After leaving her parents home, she had lived in three different dorm rooms and then in the apartment above Luella. Getting ready to move to those four places had been a little exciting, but nothing like how she felt now. She thought about Vanitas house, about having three bedrooms upstairs and one downstairs, a big kitchen, a roomy living room and dining room, a full basement where she could set up a workshop, and a nice yard where she and Jaylynn could grow plants and flowers. Sure, theyd have to rebuild that dinky garage, but that would be fun. She and Jaylynn could cook and eat and entertain and sleep together every day, every night, all the time. There would be room to grow, to laugh, to love, to wrestle, to grow old.
When she thought of it that way, the sadness she was feeling squeezed over into a corner of her heart. It was still there, but it was only a piece of all the feelings she had. She could still acknowledge that sometimes to gain something, she had to lose something, but what she was losing wasnt as terrible as she had worried. Ill still see Luella as much as I can. Ill definitely be over there periodically helping with the yard and other things. And now Jaylynn can help, too. Shes good at painting, and hey, she can help me with the shingle job on Lus front porch. Ill miss my old apartmentespecially the whirlpool bathbut maybe we can install one at the new house.
The longer she thought about it, the more she became certain that there was no reason all of this would not work out just fine. In fact, she started to question why she had been worried. She reached the arch and turned right, heading at a slow jog down Como Avenue toward her landladys place. By the time she was a block away, she had slowed to a walk. All around her, the neighborhood was waking up. A newspaper boy rode along on a wobbly bike and threw the Pioneer Press toward houses, more often than not missing the porches. A woman dressed in a bulky jacket over a skirt, hose, and heels came out of the house across from Luellas carrying a silver insulated coffee mug. The brown-haired woman gave a little wave, and Dez waved back, then she turned up the walk to her landladys place. Obviously, everyone was up. There were lights shining in every window, up and down. When Dez opened the back door, she could hear the trill of a whistle and smell something cinnamon-flavored. She kicked off her running shoes, removed her hat, and headed up the stairs.
The blonde woman woke slowly, light filtering into her consciousness ever so gradually, until she became aware of a shaft of bright light shining through the porthole of a window over Dezs bed. The air was cold on her face and neck and she snuggled deeper in the blankets and quilts, then reached out to find the space next to her empty. She opened her eyes and surveyed the room. No Dez. She wasnt in the bathroom, and she didnt hear the tall woman in the kitchen either. Wonder where she is? Maybe downstairs with Luella and Vanita.
Jaylynn turned over on her side and looked at all the boxes stacked up in the middle of the room. It was hard to believe that this bare apartment had yielded so many packing cartons. They sat stacked four boxes high and three or four deep. Of course the books and videos and CDs had taken up a lot of space, and who knew that Dez had packed away so many things under the eaves in the deep closets there. Some of those items were not easily boxed upa backpack frame, a tent and poles, other camping gear, two toolboxes, a ladder, and various odds and ends. She was surprised to discover that Dez owned three times more things than she herself did. Where did she keep all that stuff? Shes just better at organizing than I am, thats all.
With a groan, she sat up and slid out of bed. Barefoot, she hustled over to the thermostat and turned it way up, then went in to use the bathroom. When she emerged, hugging her flannel top, she scooted past the boxes, took a few running steps, and leapt back on the bed, grateful that it was still warm. She curled up under the blankets on Dezs side of the bed, and once she got settled, looked toward the entertainment center to check the time, but the VCR player was packed and the stand was bare. She had no idea what time it was, but she could hear someone bustling around downstairs, and she smelled something sweet and breakfast-like, so she figured it couldnt be too late. Besides, they had planned to start loading around ten a.m., and surely Dez would have awakened her if it was getting close to that time.
She took a deep breath and exhaled in a rush. Today is the day. She had thought that it would never come, and now that it was finally here, she decided she was a little bit nervous. She wasnt sure what that was all about. Picking up her pillow, she stacked it on Dezs and got comfortable with her back against it and the covers pulled up to her neck. She was glad that they had invited Sara, Bill, Crystal, and Shayna to come help them pack up the truck and then unpack at the new house. She hadnt seen Sara, except in passing, for days and days, and she realized she missed her best friend. She hadnt talked to Tim for three weeks either, though she had recently seen Kevin at his restaurant. It would be fun to have a few friends helping with the move. There was more to carry than either she or Dez had anticipated.
She rubbed her hands together and felt the metal on her finger press into her palm. Pulling her hand out from under the covers, she examined the band she wore on her left ring finger. She wasnt used to wearing rings, but this one she had grown accustomed to quickly. Every time she looked at it, she felt a shiver of happiness. She liked to slide it off and look at the engraved inscription on the inside: You are my light Love, Dez.
She smiled. I love this ring.
Her thoughts shifted to how life was going with her tall partner, and she considered how things had been the last couple of weeks. Settling in to work at the Police Academy had been much easier than shed expected. Until mid-March when this class completed their training, she was assigned there full-time, and she came home each day physically and mentally fatigued from all the exercises and activity. She was thankful that the work assignment and the painting over at the new house had only overlapped by one day. It hadnt been until the last two days that she had gotten over feeling stiff and sore. She ran and lifted weights and did calisthenics with the recruits, and she didnt think it would be very inspiring if she complained or showed fatigue.
She was tired each night by ten, but Dez wasnt always home by then. The dark-haired cop was working mostly Tour II days, but sometimes they had her on Tour III swing shift or late-starts that took her until after midnight or as late as two a.m. They both agreed they didnt like having such divergent hours, but it was only a matter of time before Dez was transferring away from the Western Precinct. Jaylynn had worried about that, but Dez said she was fine with it, that she was ready for a change. In the meantime, they were getting by and trying to adjust to odd hours.
The blonde yawned and rolled over on her stomach, burying her head in the pillow. She wanted to go back to sleep, but she knew she should get up and get going. She started to shift onto her side when, without warning, she was clutched from behind and felt arms slip around her. A startled yelp came out of her mouth, but at the same time, the grip was familiar. The sound of the breath by her ear, the smell and the presence were all welcome. "How in the hell did you sneak up on me like that?" She managed to twist around so that she was looking up at the dark-haired woman who had piled on and was now smiling down at her. Dezs face was pink from exertion, and though her clothes felt cold, she herself was emanating heat like a furnace.
"Youve gotta be half-deaf. I strolled up here noisy as you please." She shifted to the middle of the bed and turned on her side, up on one elbow. With her free hand, she unzipped her jacket and wrestled her arm from the sleeve, but before she could get the other arm out, the blonde reached over, grabbed her and pulled her tight. Dez shifted so that she was lying half over the prone woman, and then Jaylynn kissed her.
"Brr. Your face is cold, Dez."
"Mmm, and yours is warm for a change."
"In contrast to yours, Im a heating pad."
"Believe me when I tell you Im plenty warm." She wriggled her other arm out of the jacket, leaving the skintight, insulated shirt.
"Youre also damp."
"Yeah, this shirt wicks away the sweat."
"Whereve you been?"
"I took a little run around the lake. I needed some exercise."
"Why didnt you wake me up to go?"
Dez laughed. "I think youve had enough exercise lately. Besides, me coming in late last night woke you up. I thought you might need the sleep. I got up and made all sorts of noise, and you didnt budge."
Jaylynn didnt know how that could be. She always thought she slept moderately lightly. Noises in the night woke her up, but if she felt safe and comfortable, even the TV didnt cause her to stir. "What time is it?"
"Yup." She slid a hand under the covers and found a warm patch of skin at the blondes midsection. "This feels nice."
Jaylynn shivered. "What a switch. Youre usually the warm one. You must be freezing."
"Actually, Im not. My skin feels chilled, but my muscles are stoked and burning. I feel fine."
"Yeah, right. Take those clothes off and get in here with me."
Dez raised an eyebrow. "That sounds suggestive." The blonde didnt answer. Instead, she unzipped the insulated shirt and pulled it down and off the tall cops shoulders. Pushing the bigger woman off to the side, she tugged at the waistband of the sweat pants. They slipped down with no problems, but the running tights were another matter. They clung to the dark-haired womans damp skin.
"Good grief, Dez. Youre soaked."
"I told you, these tights wick away the sweat. My skins not so dampjust the clothes." She shifted a long leg off the side of the bed, then swung her other leg over and stood to peel the tights off. Briefs, socks, and bra landed on the floor on top of the tights, and then the tall woman was sliding under the covers next to the flannel-clad furnace. She shivered.
On their sides, they lay nose to nose, giggling, as Jaylynns warm hands stroked the chilled skin next to her. The blonde, still in her pajamas, closed her eyes and breathed in, feeling rapidly warming hands caressing her shoulders, her back, her breasts.
"You feel very good right now, Jayreal toasty."
The blonde let out a sigh. "Thought you didnt like flannel."
Dez let out a throaty chuckle. "I wasnt talking about your pajamas." She worked her hands up under the cloth and kneaded the muscles in the smaller womans upper back, then pulled a hand out and unbuttoned the front of the sleepshirt and swept it back so that her lips could have free rein in the crook of her partners neck.
A door slammed downstairs, and Jaylynn opened her eyes. "Umm "
Dezs head came up and their eyes met. In a breathless voice, she said, "Weve got plenty of time. I told our helpers to come at ten, and Luella doesnt expect us down there until then."
"Mmm-kay." The rookie closed her eyes and forgot all about any noises downstairs, focusing instead on her partners smooth skinskin that had somehow heated up to the burning point. So intent was she on kissing the tall cop that she hardly shifted when long arms slipped off her flannel bottoms, but then she realized she was grateful to feel skin on skin, warm legs wrapped around hers, hands pressing against the front of her, and the steadily increasing heat at her center. They made love slowly, deliberately, without speaking a word, each sensing what the other needed, and when their passion was spent, they lay wrapped tightly together, whispering words of love and pleasure.
When she caught her breath, a quiet laugh escaped from Jaylynn. "Now that was a real nice wake up. You ought to go running in the wee small hours of the morning more often."
"It wasnt quite that early." The tall cop shifted onto her side, lying pressed up against her partner, then settled with her dark head on Jaylynns shoulder. She placed her hand, palm down, on the blondes chest and let out a sigh. "I love making love with you, Jay. Youre just sosoI mean, were just in sync."
"Yeah, thats a good way of putting it. We fit together. Its comfortable, and at the same time, its terrifically exciting." Her hazel eyes looked down into the bright blue eyes gazing up at her. "I hope its always this waythat you dont get tired of me."
A big grin broke out on Dezs face. "Im not gonna get tired of you, sport. It just isnt gonna happen." They both jumped when a door slammed below them.
"Geez, whats with Luella today? She trying to send us a message?"
"Could be." Dez pushed herself up to a sitting position and tossed the blankets off, then flexed the muscles of her broad shoulders and back. "Well, what do you think? Should we get up and get going?"
"I suppose. I have no idea what time it is. I totally lose track of everything when we make love." Her face turned a little pink at that admission.
Dez leaned down and gave her a soft kiss on the lips, then crawled over her and strode across the floor to the bathroom. She picked up her watch off the counter and called out, "Hey, weve still got fifty minutes."
Jaylynn got out of bed and followed her. "Brrr, its cold outside the blankets. Want to jump in the shower?"
"Ive got a better idea." The tall cop reached down and turned the water on in the tub. "Lets run a bath and sit in the Jacuzzi." Jaylynn frowned. With a hopeful look on her face, Dez said, "Cmon, Jay. Its the last time well ever get to use it."
Thirty minutes later, Jaylynn wasnt exactly sure how she could be expected to carry boxes up and down stairs and haul furniture into their new house. Her legs were warm and relaxed, not so much from the second round of lovemaking, but from the hot, frothy water. She also wasnt sure why she and Dez hadnt used the Jacuzzi more often. It was wonderfully relaxing. "Oh, Dez, youre going to have to carry me out of here."
"Dream on, baby," the dark-haired woman said with a wicked smile as she rose up from the steaming bubbles. Water sluiced off her unnaturally pink skin, and she stood above Jaylynn looking like a muscular goddess.
"Whew. You have any idea how beautiful you are?"
The tall woman turned even redder as she grabbed a towel and rubbed it over her upper body, then lifted one foot out of the water and dried off her leg. She stepped out of the tub and onto the maroon rug, then dried off the other leg. When she was satisfied that she was sufficiently swabbed off, she wrapped the towel around her middle, under her arms, and tucked the end off to secure it. She picked up her hairbrush from the counter and ran it through her hair, then, in a few deft motions, she worked her long tresses into a French braid. Once finished, she turned back toward the tub. "Cmon, you little hedonist." She reached down and took Jaylynns hand and hauled her up to her feet. "Heres a towel."
The blonde trembled for a moment, but she took the folded dark blue towel, and once she got to work drying off, she warmed in the misty air. Dez reached out and wrapped an arm around her as she stepped out of the tub, and they embraced for a moment on the soft rug.
"Im always going to remember this morning, Dez. Its a nice way to say goodbye to this place."
The dark-haired woman looked away, out toward the living room. "Its been a good home for me."
"Will you miss it awfully?"
Her voice sounded so wistful that Dez turned back and looked into the worried hazel eyes. A little smile crept to the corners of her mouth. "Ill think of this place fondlybut you were right the other day."
Jaylynn frowned. "About what?"
"That you need more room to run. Its way too easy for me to catch you in this apartment. You deserve a little more room in our new place."
The blonde put her arms up on the tall womans shoulders causing her own towel to fall to the floor. With one hand on either side of Dezs head, the blonde said, "And we need a porch for you to sleep on when youre mad."
The tall woman let out a guffaw. "Nice try, sweetie. Youre stuck with me, mad, sad or glad."
Jaylynn felt herself falling into those bright blue eyes above her, but then the front door below them slammed shut, and she shook herself from her reverie. "Thats our signal to get rolling, I guess. How much time before ten?"
Dez picked up her wristwatch from the counter beside the sink. "Eleven minutes. Get a move on."
By the time they got downstairs, it was a few minutes past ten. Jaylynn had taken the time to dry her hair, but Dezs was still damp in the back. She didnt care. She figured it would keep her cool. They werent going right outside anyway. Luella had made coffee cake the day before, and the tall cop knew she and Jaylynn would want to visit for a while and take a few minutes to eat before they started hauling things around.
Leaving the apartment door open, they moved out onto the landing, Dez in the lead and holding the blondes hand. She ducked around the eave and descended the stairs, rounded the newel post, and tapped on Luellas door. As they waited to hear one of the ladies call out, she looked down at Jaylynn and found her smiling up at her. The shorter womans eyes communicated a very clear I love you, so the tall cop smiled and nodded. "Me, too." They stood grinning at one another like fools, when the door opened.
"Its about time," Luella said, a big smile gracing her lovely face.
"Morning, Luella," Jaylynn said.
"Good morning. Im so glad to see you two are finally up and about."
She stepped back to let them in, and for a brief moment, Dez had an inkling that something was up. She passed down the hall, still holding Jaylynns hand, and heard the door shut quietly behind them. By the time the thought registered that neither Luella nor Vanita had ever slammed a door in their lives, she was through the doorway to the living room and stopping short. Jaylynn bumped into her, then pushed around as a roar of laughter rolled over them.
Dez stood with her mouth open, just about as stunned as she had been the last time people had surprised her. The first thing she thought to say was, "How in the hell did you all keep so quiet?"
More laughter from everyone. Crystal called out, "Everyone wanted to help you two sleepyheads move."
"Wouldnt miss it for the world," Mac said.
The dark-haired woman gazed around the room, a giant lump forming in her throat. Crystal and Shayna, Bill and Sara she had expected. But not her mother and Mac, Patrick, Monique, Julie, and Ryans two little ones, Jeremy and Jill. Vanita sat in one of the three recliners with Tim on one arm and Kevin on the other. Mitch Oster and his new wife, Donna, sat in the other two recliners, with Cowboy towering over the two of them. Everyone was dressed in jeans and sweatshirts, and most of them had steaming mugs of coffee or chocolate.
Jeremy wormed his way through the living room and ran past the length of the back of the sofa before throwing his six-year-old self at her legs. She let go of Jaylynns hand and picked him up, feeling the solidness of his little boy body. He was getting bigger, but she could still hike him up on her hip and hold him comfortably. He patted two little hands on either side of her face. "Were gonna help you move your stuff, Dez, and then guess whatwere having a big party!"
"Oh, we are, huh?" Her voice came out sounding fine, but she was choked up. She felt another small hand find hers, and Jill looked up, her sweet face shy and serious.
"Were not too little to help, are we, Dez?"
"No, Jill. Not at all. Youre going to be a big help." For just a moment, surrounded by all this love and affection and the wealth of expectations around her, she could almost feel Ryan in the room. A brief dagger of sadness cut through the bittersweet pleasure she was feeling . . . but then it crossed her mind that Ryan would be very happy for her today, and she put that thought aside.
"Breakfast first," Luella called out from the dining room where she had been hovering.
Dez strode forward, Jeremy on her hip and Jill walking hand in hand. She glanced over her right shoulder to see Jaylynns face shining, then met her mothers smiling eyes across the room. She turned back to the dining room table to see the spread of not just coffee cake, but three warming skillets filled with scrambled eggs, sausage, and pancakes. The table was loaded down with toast, preserves, and fruit.
"Eat before it gets any colder," Luella said. Jeremy squirmed to be let down, and Jill let go of the tall cops hand. There was an orderly rush forward, and both Dez and Jaylynn stepped to the side, next to the built-in buffet. Jeremy and Jill went first in line, followed by Patrick and Monique. All around her, the adults were talking and laughing. Colette made her way to her daughter and gave Jaylynn a hug, then Dez. Julie grabbed the front of the big womans sweatshirt and kissed her on the cheek. Everyone was talking and laughing, and the noise level was considerable.
Dez looked over at her partner. When there was a lull in the hugging, she tilted her head down and said, "I still dont know how they stayed so quiet that we didnt know they were here."
In a whisper, Jaylynn said, "I just hope they thought we were asleep." She gave Dez a knowing smile, and the two of them started laughing, then tried to stifle it.
Vanita shuffled across the hardwood floor and came to stand in front of them. "You two better get some food in you before the rest of these gluttons hog it all up."
Dez reached out and put her hand on Vanitas shoulder, then pulled her close, hugging her gently. "Thanks, Van. Youre the best." She released her and if she hadnt known better, she would have sworn there were tears in the older womans eyes.
Vanita drew herself up tall. "Hate to tell you, but you cant give me much credit. That wacky sister of mine is responsible for this little shindig."
Luella, who was helping Jeremy with his plate as he carefully balanced an overly full glass of juice, looked over and smiled. She guided the boy to the table in the kitchen where his sister was already camped out, then she came back to the dining room and put one arm around Dezs waist and one around Jaylynns. "Well, girls, have at it, why dont you? Ive got plenty more in the oven if we run out."
"Thanks, Luella. This is just great." She planted a kiss on the cocoa brown cheek below her and squeezed her tight. Quietly, in the silver-haired womans ear, she said, "I love you, Luella."
In response, her landlady gave her a squeeze around the middle. The dark-haired woman stepped forward and snagged a heavy-duty paper plate. She grabbed up a silver fork and speared a Little Smokey sausage, then looked back over her shoulder as she popped the whole thing in her mouth. She was grinning as she chewed, then she shouted out, "You all better eat up. Youre gonna need the energy. Weve got a lot more stuff than any of you realize." And suddenly Cowboy was in her face, making fun of her and pointing across the room at Crystal.
Dez knew it wouldnt last forever, but right at that moment, she felt a thrum of elationalmost like an electrical currentrun through her body, and she knew she was nearly as happy as she could ever remember being. There were people missing, so the circle wasnt quite complete, but still, it was quite the circle. She looked to her right and met Jaylynns eyes. It occurred to her that a whole new life was beginning, and at long last, she was anxious to get on with it.
The End ..for now.
<who is still pondering if the next book should be called JUMPING THE GUN, SMOKING GUNS, or HAVE GUN, WONT TRAVEL ? J >
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